Hating Women – a Read-Along

I picked up Hating Women (2005) by Shmuley Boteach when I was at Tara and Gabrielle’s house. Shmuley Boteach, for those of you who don’t know, is an Orthodox rabbi who has gained some fame with best-sellers like Kosher Sex and a short-lived TV show on TLC called Shalom in the Home. And for an Orthodox rabbi, he’s sort of liberal. For instance, his views on homosexuality run something along the lines of, “‘Thou shalt not lie with a man as with a woman’ and ‘Be fruitful and multiply’ are commandments, and the first one is certainly being violated by gay men, and the second is sort of hard to fulfill for gay men and, to a lesser degree, gay women, but look, those are two commandments. Out of 613. Nobody can fulfill them all.”  He has also gained notoriety by being involved in some serious financial scandals, sadly.

The thing about him is that he wants to be, like, this super-progressive, pro-woman, pro-feminist kind of guy, but he just does not get it. So the premise of Hating Women is that American culture is going to hell in a hand-basket because we portray women as stupid, slutty, gold-digging whores whose only value lies in their fuckability (my word, not his) And as far as that goes, I agree with him. The way women are portrayed on reality TV, in scripted TV, in magazines, etc., is all damaging to women and to men and to people. And it’s important because, as I’ve said before, humans build culture through story and then live in that culture. So I agree with the premise of this book. But then he says shockingly clueless, asinine, nonsense things about women being, I don’t know, more pure and shit, and then I realize that fundamentally, we don’t agree about anything at all.

So here’s what we’re going to do. I’m going to read it. When I come to a passage that blows my mind, I will share it with you and share my reaction. So you get to, like, read the book in my head.

Wait, where are you going?

Okay, for those of you sticking around, here goes:

From television to the Internet, women are portrayed as stupid, shallow, parasitical bimbos who will do anything for money and fame – anything, from dating men solely for their money, to having sex with horses . . .

See, I’m with him . . . until the “having sex with horses.” I mean, I know that kind of porn exists but . . . it’s hardly mainstream. You have to be looking for that kind of thing to find it. And it’s always existed, and it’s always existed in a “wow, this is the sickest shit we can think of” kind of way. Not in a “all women are totally willing to bang horses” kind of way.

(Fun fact: Jason and I both had to read The Golden Ass in our respective Latin classes. It’s the only Latin novel to survive intact or something? It’s got sex with a donkey. Well, okay, the donkey is a person temporarily trapped in a donkey’s body. But neither the prostitute having sex with the donkey in front of a live audience nor the live audience know that.)

(Funner fact: We still have a copy of this book on our bookshelves. Look, it’s not all donkey sex, okay?)

It is often said that one of the most accurate measures of a society’s moral state is how it treats its most vulnerable members – its women and children.

See, he’s mad that the feminists don’t love him, but this is the fundamental thing he doesn’t get. Feminists don’t want to judge society on how well they treat women as their most vulnerable members. Where women are vulnerable, power is being wielded pretty much exclusively by men. Feminists want women to not be the most vulnerable members of society. We don’t want to be equated with children, Shmuely, even if that equation grants us some protections. We want to wield roughly half the power.

This is what he has to say about “Joe Millionaire”:

And yet, the show’s revolting premise wasn’t met with angry protests by the viewers. No feminist organization made a significant stink about it. Nope, there was no feminist picket line outside Fox studios. Instead, women watched the show by the millions and loved it.

Now, for those of you who don’t know, “Joe Millionaire” was a reality show on Fox in which several women were taken to a villa in Italy or some such thing and told that they were vying for the affection of the millionaire owner of the villa, one Evan Marriott. Only at the end of the series would they reveal that good old Evan was in fact a construction worker making less than $20,000 a year. Then the girl he’d chosen, “Bachelor” style, would have to decide if she wanted to stick with him anyway. It was obviously a big joke for Fox, an attempt to prove that women are, in fact, gold-digging whores, and apparently no one considered that a) reality television is not reality, and b) a woman could conceivably be aghast and offended by Evan Marriott’s participation in such a joke, rather than turned off by his lack of money. (I understand there was a second season, with someone else as Joe, but I don’t get why.) In any event, Shmuley seems to think there was no feminist reaction. There was plenty feminist reaction. Shmuley, for your reading pleasure, I offer you Jenn Pozner’s Reality Bites Back. I know it was published later than your book, but she’s been doing her work for years, and feminists like the ones at Bitch Magazine have been commenting on this stuff, like, as their main function. You’re just not paying attention.

[E]very day I receive about fifty junk e-mails with headlines like the following: ‘Teen whores and sluts who want their mouths stuffed with _____”; “Tear her Womanhood Apart,” “Dumb bitch blondes who are so stupid they only know how to ______”; or the especially inventive and disturbing, “This girl loves being ravaged by her horse.”

First of all, you guys, having typed that quote, I am going to get the weirdest shit in my search engine terms stats this week.

Second of all, “Womanhood”? Those e-mails aren’t using the term “womanhood.” You couldn’t use _____ for “pussy” and “cunt” the way you did for “cocks” and “suck cock”? (And if my search engine terms weren’t going to be awful before . . . )

And finally, Shmuley, what in the hell is going on with your e-mail? The usual dirty spam is more like, “Elongate your Dong!” and “Hot Asian Teens!” And even that is pretty easy to get rid of. You gotta get an e-mail client with a better spam filter, dude.

I know a less mature person would snicker and imply that you were only getting this e-mail because you were looking at some extremely dirty sites for your own personal pleasure. I do not believe that to be so. I just believe you are an old, old man with no clue how to use the Internet.

Comedy Central’s South Park [Hey, I thought TV shows got “”, not italics.] aired an episode about Paris Hilton in 2004. The name of the episode was “Stupid Spoiled Whore.” The highlight is where the Paris Hilton character puts a pineapple in her vagina to compete in a “Whore Off” with a gay sadomasochistic teacher from the local school. To top her stunt, he then puts the entire body of Paris Hilton into his anus. This edifying spectacle is follow by his speech about the horror of becoming a stupid spoiled whore. How could a national network get away with portraying women in such a negative light? Easily. They could say that Paris Hilton already portrayed herself this way. They’re just following her lead.

Oh, Shmuley. You really are an old man. “South Park” is a cartoon. The whole episode (which I saw, oddly, since I didn’t think I’d watched “South Park” since, uh, 1998, but apparently I have) is not about how awesome Paris Hilton is, or about how women are all like Paris Hilton. It’s about the exact same thing your book is about – that a culture that reveres women like Paris Hilton, you know, “stupid, spoiled whores,” is a culture that is terrible for women, for girls and for people in general. It’s a culture that honors the ridiculous and the disgusting – the Whore-Off. They are making their point with vulgarity and satire. You are making your point with old-man preachiness. But you are in fact making the exact same point.

Much more than men, when women behave in a sleazy fashion, they compromise something essential within. Sex without love for a woman offends her most innate sensibilities, even if she is not fully conscious of it. Lovemaking for a woman, unlike for a man, is an internal rather than external undertaking. It is literally opening oneself up for invasion . . .

Yeah, Shmuley, I don’t know why the feminists are so mean to you.

Listen, not for nothing, but if we’re going to do this sex-as-war thing, couldn’t one say that men are subjecting themselves to a siege? Being, uh, surrounded and all? I mean, I wouldn’t say that, because I don’t think of sex as war. But if one wants to come up with war-related sex metaphors, uh, why isn’t mine as good as yours?

In past ages, four noble attributes characterized a woman. She was deemed to be:

1. A creature of superior dignity and grace, interested in love over money, and in a rich inner life rather than a shallow outer life

2. A spiritual intimacy seeker, unwilling to surrender to a man who was not her soul mate

3. A strongly productive but nonaggressive team player

4. A nurturer and comforter, capable of uplifting man to heights of insight, nobility, and pleasure that he could otherwise scarcely comprehend

Hahahahaha! Shmuley, you kill me.

As we all know, The Past was one giant monolith. All points in The Past are the same as each other, and all people at any given point in The Past thought exactly the same way. And what they thought was, women should never have to surrender to anyone but their soul mate, because they are creatures of superior dignity and grace.

Hahahahahahaha!

Okay, so after that one, he talks about the terrible archetypes promoted by reality TV of women – gold digger! bimbo! – and the resulting archetypes of men – crotch-scratcher! porn addict! – and then there’s this:

In the Middle East, the brutal belligerence of the once great Islamic world is a supreme example of the consequences for a society that denies women public roles and influence. Arab mothers regularly extol their suicide-bomber children as martyrs and one wonders how, in a culture where even the nurturers have become bloodthirsty, we will be able to bring civilization back from the brink.

Wow. I don’t even know where to begin with this incredibly offensive, short-sighted, narrow-minded, self-righteous, bloviated bit. I think I’ll just stick to criticizing you on your own terms and point out that the women who have suicide-bomber children don’t even watch “The Bachelor.”

In 2004, the biggest-selling relationships book in the United States was coauthored by a man and a woman, both of whom were screenwriters for Sex and the City. The book is called He’s Just Not That into You, and its premise is that a man who treats a woman poorly does not have a real character flaw, but rather “he’s just not that into her.” The book tells women to stop blaming men for being jerks, and just accept that they have a right not to like any specific woman that much: If he doesn’t like you, move on and enjoy life. Amazing, isn’t it? A book that says if men treat women like garbage, it is because, essentially, they are just not hot enough.

Look, I have my own problems with He’s Just Not That Into You. Maybe I’ll write about it sometime. But for the most part, it’s not about men treating women “poorly,” it’s about men not acting like they’re head over heels in love with you. Because they’re not. I don’t know about y’all, but I do actually think that men have a right not to like any specific woman that much. Just like women of grace and dignity should be permitted not to surrender to anyone who is not their soul mate. Right, Shmuley?

Three quarters of all divorces in America are initiated by wives. And unlike husbands who, when they leave their wives, are nearly always going to the arms of another woman, less than 10 percent of wives who leave their husbands are entering into another relationship. Indeed, the vast majority never remarry. But they would rather be alone than be with a husband who is seldom affectionate, rarely helps with the housework, and stares at other women’s cleavage to boot. Since the chances of divorced women remarrying are statistically remote, these women are prepared to be alone, perhaps for the rest of their lives, rather than continue to live with men who seem incapable of valuing them.

There is a good point buried somewhere in there. It is interesting that women initiate divorces more often given that they are less likely to remarry AND by some accounts are more likely to take the steeper financial hit.

BUT Shmuley is making a few big assumptions here:

1. People understand statistics and probability and apply them sensibly to their own lives.

2. People are good at predicting what’s going to make them happy.

3. It’s the men who’ve changed, and not women’s circumstances.

Look, I am really, really willing to bet that in that simplistic monolith known as The Past, men were just as likely to withhold affection, fail to do housework, stare at other women’s cleavage (or ankles, or whatever), and be as incapable of valuing women as they are now, if not moreso. But women didn’t used to initiate divorce as much, and in fact, divorces didn’t happen as much. But there are lots of reasons for that, depending on when “in the past” you’re talking about:

1. Divorce was either legally impossible or so outside the normal social order as to be unthinkable.

2. People didn’t expect marriage to be what we expect marriage to be in terms of emotional fulfillment, so the fact that their spouse was unappreciative or inactive was an annoyance, not a sign that you were in The Wrong Marriage.

3. People died earlier. You know, before they could get sick of each other.

4. People were more reliant on their spouses for economic viability (pre-Industrial Revolution).

5. Women were more reliant on men for their earning power (post-Industrial Revolution) and therefore couldn’t leave.

Obviously, this is a complicated issue and if you’re interested, I recommend HIGHLY Stephanie Coontz’s Marriage: A History, but I really think we need to give space to the idea that some of the rise in divorces in the last fifty years is a sign that people no longer have to stick with people who make them miserable.

And that people are really bad at predicting what will make them happy.

On his mother:

She gave her life to us, and she instilled within me veneration for women in general, and for women like her in particular. No sacrifice was beyond my mother.

Ah, yes. Jewish men and their mothers. There is no love like it.

I saw women as divine creatures who exhibited a unique nobility of spirit. I observed their consummate devotion to all that is precious in life, and I noted that they were garbed with a dignity that made them appear almost angelic.

Once again, Shmuley, I can’t imagine why feminists don’t cotton to you.

As is common for orthodox Jews, his schooling as a teenager took place in a same-sex environment, with a same-sex girls’ school nearby.

Distant and elusive, women became even more divine in my eyes.

See, that’s the problem. Women know perfectly well that maintaining this illusion of superior grace, dignity, purity, blah blah blah, requires distance and elusiveness. We want to participate in the actual world instead.

We looked at these girls as if they were seraphs of heaven whose gentility moved us even from a distance. I remember, too, that our gazing was devoid of lust. We weren’t looking at them like horny teenagers. Instead, we looked at them with a sense of jubilant wonder.

Yeah, sure, Sparky.

We knew that these heavenly creatures had emotional softness and comfort to offer that could take away our loneliness and pain. They could make us feel cherished and worthy.

Dude, you have a host of psychological issues you need to look into. But please, let me clue you in. Women don’t want to be your teddy bears any more than they want to be your blow-up dolls. Objectifying is objectifying; it doesn’t matter all that much which object you are.

So then these same girls get hollered at by a store owner on Ben Yehuda street.

I was in shock. How could a man raise his voice to young women? Did he realize to whom he was speaking? These were not men at whom he could yell. These were young ladies: beautiful, gentle young ladies who deserved reverence rather than chastisement. How could he be so blind to the aura they carried?

Shmuley, you say on the one hand that where women embody dignity, grace, etc., men are inspired to become gentlemen, and that’s the whole problem with the world, that women don’t act like ladies, so men act like brutal boars, and then on the other hand you observe that these dignified, graceful girls, these seraphs of heaven, failed to turn the shopkeeper into a gentleman. Are you not getting the point here?

Look, if a woman is complicit with a culture expects her to be compliant with male sexual demands, that her body be open to their eyes and their desires, that she act like she wants nothing more than to be the giggling bimbo bouncing on one of their legs, then when those same men violate her in some way – yell at her, attack her, whatever – she has little defense. She hasn’t learned to defy men; she’s learned to please them. Saying “No,” or “I don’t like that,” or “Get the fuck off of me, asswipe” becomes really incredibly difficult to the point of unthinkability.

But if a woman is complicit with a culture that expects her to be a gentle seraph of heaven, a repository for all of a man’s emotional needs, the means by which he becomes a gentleman, blah blah blah, then, likewise, she’s going to have a hard time saying “No” or “I don’t like that” or “Get the fuck off of me, asswipe,” too. Because both positions put her in a relationship with men that’s about them, not her.

And this delusion you have that men behave better to their teddy bears than to their blow-up dolls is just that – a delusion. Men “in the past” raped and abused and mistreated women. Men now in communities like yours, religious communities that hold up women as closer to God, rape and abuse and mistreat women, especially if those women reveal a chink in their angelic armor. Not all men, but enough that women do know, no matter how much you deny it, that the pedestal is no better a place for them than the gutter.

We don’t want to live in a world where it’s our responsibility to act so angelic that men are inspired to protect rather than mistreat us. Because absolutely everything is wrong with that world. It’s a world that expects women to be angels, not people. We are, in fact, people. It’s a world that expects men, at heart, to be animals, not people. You are, in fact, people. It’s a world that offers women no protections or defenses against men who choose to be animals. It’s a world where women are still dependent on the men around them to have a place and a purpose.

You want to be hailed as a feminist hero, an Abraham Lincoln leading the Negro out of slavery. (Yes, he really says that. No, seriously. He makes that comparison. I am not making this up.) But when the land you show us just has a different sort of cage, we’re not going to follow you. And you pout and you stomp and you insist that it’s only because we’re so blinded by our chains or we’re willfully misunderstanding your point and that’s why we won’t let you lead us but we’re not stupid. You can insist all you want that the pedestal is awesome, but we know. We’ve been there, and we know that sure, we can be cloaked in angelic grace, but the minute we show an ankle or fart, it’s over for us. (Not to mention that, at no point in The Past were all female persons granted equal access to a pedestal. Why not ask some of those actual female slaves you’re so comfortable using in metaphor about that?) We don’t want to be cloaked. We want to be people. And we don’t want to spend our lives hauling your asses out the muck.

You guys, I’m only on page 43. I don’t think I can go on.

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