A Brief History of Misogyny – J Holland

A friend of mine recommended this to me ages ago. I didn’t have much desire to read it. I don’t think I needed much help learning that the world is misogynistic. That much seems clear from just my ability to look about at the world around me. I certainly didn’t think I needed to dedicate this many pages to learning the facts of the matter.

Because that is all Jack Holland’s ‘A Brief History of Misogyny’ is. It can be looked at as a laundry list of the worst facts about human beings from the beginning to modern times. The book is rather intense, and there were certainly times where the absolute cruelty of what was being described made it hard to read.

As humans, we don’t have a lot to be proud of.

I agreed with the majority of the book. But I don’t think it was a very good book. I at some point began to have doubts about the author. The genesis of scepticism begins at a single kernel. To be clear the skepticism began with wondering why this author choose to be so damn gentle with early Roman Christianity and its misogyny (not to mention they way this book completely evades the Orthodox church and its misogyny). He goes so far as to paint Paul / Saul or Tarsus in an incredibly positive light.

Really?

One google rabbit-hole later and I find that there are some groups within the church that try to uphold Paul as a pro-gender-equality precursor. These people are demonstrably wrong.

But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.

But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.

Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head.

But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head — it is the same as having her head shaved.

If a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head.

A man ought not cover his head, since he is in the image and the glory of God; but woman is the glory of man.

For man did not come from woman, but woman from man.

Neither was man created for women, but women for man.

Corinthians 11:3-9

Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered?

Doesn’t nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair it is a disgrace to him, but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory?

For long hair is given to her as a covering.

If anyone is inclined to dispute this, we have no other practice, nor do the churches of God.

Corinthians 11:13-16

Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law.

And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.

Corinthians 14:34-35

 

Sure, this isn’t the most damning evidence ever, but it isn’t exactly positive. Plus, ‘A Brief History of Misogyny’ never seems to give points to people merely being better than the norm around them, which would already be giving Paul more than he deserves. One wonder if this gets a pass simply for the author’s own religious beliefs.

Except, I don’t think the author is religious.

But I am not an expert on the bible. I am a little more well-versed in Greek mythology. Here there was a different kind of skepticism, one that asked to what extent the author was looking at the most heinous possible interpretations of the stories. My personal fascination with Greek Mythology is that the stories are so frequently awful that I have always doubted that the Greeks believed them at all (something I still don’t have a clear answer to). But nothing in my very brief university career looking at classics suggested that the ancients looked to myths for guidance. Myth’s were not Aesop’s fables. The notion that one should look at Greek mythology for an understanding of beliefs of the actual ancients Greeks seems a bit laughable. And then I wonder if there had been a Jack Holland who was a believer in this mythology with the same strength that he a modern person believed in the bible, we would have a different book in our hands.

But that is the even weird thing. From everything I can piece together from reading this book, Jack Holland is not terribly religious, or if he is, he isn’t all that kind to religion generally speaking. The whole thing just doesn’t make all that much sense to me. Fine.

There were other claims peppered here and there in the book that made me think that the author chose hyperbole over actual research. And he made claims that I don’t think he could actually back up if he needed to. Calling the Jack the Ripper ‘the world’s greatest misogynist’ might seem reasonable, but that is a statement with a burden of proof that you cannot actually meet. For that matter, no one can.

Proof is important when we are going to talk about serious topics. And the world is misogynistic enough without having to make claims we can’t actually back up. I should repeat, I (largely) didn’t disagree with this book. I just think we could have done a better job.

Frankly, I have no idea. And I am happy this way.

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