I just suffered through a bitter, vitriolic essay titled 80 BOOKS NO WOMAN SHOULD READ by Rebecca Solnit, a feminist writer. My head still hurts from the purposeful ignorance of this entrenched ideologue. She is objecting against, of all things, a reading list put together by Esquire, a men’s magazine. She inserts a curt sentence “Of course, ‘women’s magazines’ like Cosmopolitan have provided decades of equally troubling instructions on how to be a woman”, apparently to cover the bases, then goes on a full blown tirade against manly books, but the whole thing reads like an excuse to serve up some poison on men rather than a critique of a book list.
Half way through the third paragraph, her anger is already so palpable, you can hear her voice screeching through your head. Clearly she has no intention of convincing people who disagree with her. She just wants like-minded ideologues to nod in agreement. This essay is a virtual book burning fest. Non-believers are not invited.
I would like to add one more author to her lengthy list of writers to hate. Ryu Murakami. When I first heard that Haruki Murakami was being nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature, I thought the reporter had made a mistake. I thought it had to be Ryu Murakami, who writes gritty stories about war, injustice, bigotry and its origins. His books are harder to translate into English and thus he is less known in the English speaking world.
Ryu Murakami pointed out in his best selling series of essays (back in the 1980s), that all men are expendable. Men fought wars while women stayed at home for millennia because wombs are precious, and it takes only one pair of healthy testicles to service a large number of wombs. Thus, in a biological sense, men are expendable while women are not. Male lives don’t matter. Murakami argues that the subconscious understanding of this biological standing is the bases of how wars, politics, religion, social class, and gender inequality are structured. Boys must become “The Man” or remain nobody at all.
Solnit writes (on Hemingway) “Manly sentimental is the worst kind of sentimental, because it’s deluded about itself”. I respectfully disagree. Hemingway’s stories are about manly death, in Murakami’s words, death of an expendable man. If there is any delusion here, it is the hopeful delusion that maybe this individual expendable man might matter in the world. About the one-night-stand described in On The Road by Jack Kerouac, Solnit notes “It assumes that you do not identify with the woman herself, who is not on the road and not treated very much like anything other than a discardable depository”. But that is exactly how men are treated in the world and have been for thousands of years. Murakami pointed out decades ago that that is the very essence of male literature.
Solnit admits, in a smart-alecky sort of way, “Scanning the list … I was reminded that though it’s hard to be a woman it’s harder in many ways to be a man, that gender that’s supposed to be incessantly defended and demonstrated through acts of manliness.” Yes, it is exactly that. The male existence is a constant struggle not to be expendable. Yet she continues: “I looked at that list and all unbidden the thought arose, no wonder there are so many mass murders. Which are the extreme expression of being a man when the job is framed this way”. No, it is the other way around. Men think and behave this way because we are expendable. 99% of the males could be wiped out and the species can continue. “Kill the men and take the women” had been the rule of war for almost all of human history. This mass murder is the underlying foundation of all gender based attitudes. Men’s attitudes are not the cause, but the result of mass murders.
In the 21st century, we live in a world where women are no longer breeding machines and men are no longer expendable sperm providers. Women accept combat missions in the military, and men can become stay-at-home dads. Yet society is still riddled with remnants of the expendable man paradigm. Eurocentric feminists of the Solnit school willfully ignore the biological expendability of the male gender and its effects on society, and chastise men for their lack of “empathy”. They reject the notion that the gender that needs to be incessantly defended and demonstrated through acts of manliness is itself in need of empathy. They are stuck in the pre-Murakami era; i.e. the seventies.
Some men are still raised in a culture that evolved from a world based on biological reality. Most corporations, bureaucracies, political bodies, and religious organizations still base their structures on this biological reality. Women who don pant suits and walk into occupations previously reserved for men chafe at the sexism every day and still refuse to see it. They are willfully ignorant that the societies that are so unwelcoming for women are structured that way because men are expendable. Feminists complain that men are egoistic, violent, selfish, obsessed with winning, strength and size, but refuse to see how society prizes those qualities. Nice guys still finish last.
Of course we want a kinder, gentler world. We are not cave men anymore. We should be able to create a society that is divorced from the biology that our current flaws are based on. But sometimes, men are forced to be realists in a mean world that is designed to treat them as pawns unless they stand out. The so-called male literature is designed to teach us to navigate through such a world. They are in that sense “instructions” on how to be men. Burning these books, however figuratively, is not an “empathetic” response to the biological plight of men. And it is not going to change the society that fostered the books. You are quite blindly killing the messenger.
The comments from the readers tend to support her and praise her sense of humor. Frankly, I don’t see what’s funny about it. Maybe it is because I am Japanese that I don’t see the charm of this Eurocentric trope. Women are under-represented in literature because you only read in English. In medieval Japan, male writers used feminine pseudonyms to disguise the fact they were men. Modern Japanese writers are overwhelmingly female. But for the likes of Solnit, non-English literature don’t count.
Solnit concludes her reverse-misogynistic essay by saying that she favors books that are “instructions in extending our identities out into the world, human and nonhuman, in imagination as a great act of empathy that lifts you out of yourself, not locks you down into your gender”. If such instructions exist, she is painfully in need of them herself. Maybe she should read Ryu Murakami, just a suggestion.