The Paris Review ran a thought-provoking piece last month by Claire Dederer, who reflects upon What Do We Do with the Art of Monstrous Men? set against the backdrop of series of allegations of sexual assault and misconduct by several famous men, who have also been exceptionally good at what they do for a profession. As Dederer lays out in the beginning, ‘They are monster geniuses, and I don’t know what to do about them.’ She ends with, ‘What is to be done about monsters? Can and should we love their work? Are all ambitious artists monsters?’. I am fascinated by the journey of the author in-between these points.
Beyond that clarity of question, the impressions, views and observations in the piece are often mixed. It is a difficult subject understandably. The point of me writing this post is to note that I wish she meant people when she wrote men because it is art and a certain monstrosity of human behaviour that she discusses and not just predatory sexual behaviour. In their monstrosity men are not alone. It can be said as much about women, although it happens that the gender balance (and some would obviously add power balance) across professions in the world is skewed with men outnumbering women everywhere. This is likely to rile the feminists.
Without a doubt this is a brilliant piece and I love it for the analytical yet personal tone. By the end, Dederer comes close to looking at monstrosity that in the beginning verged on sexual conduct of men to a certain selfish behaviour. This softening of view is worth taking note of because when reasoned, people undergo this kind of softening, not out of fatigue of reasoning, but perhaps out of an understanding that human failures and moreover, perspectives, beliefs, convictions and values among people has tremendous variation. Your morality isn’t your neighbour’s. If it was, law wouldn’t have had such a hard time in societies across the world!
Oddly, when Dederer does get to writing about ‘female monster’ she ends up portraying them as victims with Doris Lessing and Sylvia Plath. These are monstrous women just because they placed their writing before family, children and others, she seems to argue. There is sympathy for women and relentlessness for men, which, as a view is okay. But it seems to be an epidemic now. This needn’t be. And this is my contention with opinion pieces and commentaries being published every week since the Weinstein scandal, that hatred for men and assertion of women as weak is back with a greater force. The propensity to hurt, violate and perhaps force others to do things towards one’s own interest is perhaps the same in men and women. Men do it and get noticed (or caught, if you will) for their acts far more than women. Maybe? It is naive to imagine violence only as physical. Both men and women can be violent in same or different ways. Each of these have consequences. In these times we are only willing to speak of consequences of actions of men. I do not even for the slightest part mean to say that men should not be pulled up for what they do. They must pay for it. Retribution after all is a part of justice. The problem is with generality of it and the sweeping generality that takes over later too – that men are the problem. It is them, always them.
The argument is not in defense of men. I am merely trying to figure out if we are helping anything by bring in gender in almost every issue that occupies humanity’s attention today. Or is it complicating matters needlessly. I have a feeling we are complicating and adding to the noise much more than trying to get any helpful reason or solution across.
The gender divide is affecting all of us, in varying degrees and for sure, negatively. It doesn’t help to infuse ‘feminist perspective’ in every aspect of life. As I write this, I recollect that while teaching sociological perspectives to A level students at Poorna, not every girl student had that revelatory moment when they figured what feminist perspective meant in a broader sense. In fact, some remarked if there was a need to have such an exclusive perspective and if it wasn’t already implied in views on society and social processes that are discussed in contemporary sociology.
4 thoughts on “Art of Monstrous Men”
Thanks for addressing this issue. I keep wondering if I should say anything on this subject. I think a lot of men are at odds as to what, if anything they can say. My perspective and life experience crosses the gender line, and it concerns me that there are no grounds for open conversation. There are complex issues here, and without excusing abusive behaviour, we have to be able to listen to all sides. And living on the doorstep of the US, I cannot understand what kind of cognitive dissonance allows people to accept a President who has been accused of egregious behaviour by countless women or support a Senate candidate accused of child molestation while powerful men are falling all around them. Shouldn’t politicians be held to at least an equal level as artists?
Joe, thank you for the comment. I agree with you on there being no grounds for open conversation. And I think, you or any of us who obviously is placed somewhere on the gender spectrum has an opinion which has a place. Maybe it is the absence of voices across, which makes some prevail, which I see happening in the feminist discourse lately. As for politicians, I can only say that day to day affairs in the US are just amazing!
We all have the monster in us, the degree varies and sometimes it’s just a matter of circumstance. As a woman, I find feminism’s fight pointless. There is a fundamental difference between men and women and that’s how it is across species. Not better or less than, just different. Perhaps, it’s a very simple worldview but if we look to how nature functions, we would have less angst.
I am inclined to your simple worldview. Although, it can be dangerous for men to say the same – that feminism’s fight is pointless. Often, I feel similar in situations. However, my friends allege that this is a reason of convenience, as it serves men better. 🙂