Equating enemies is often a cheap trick designed to elevate oneself above them both. Nonetheless, it can be fair. An article by Laurie Penny, a bright star of intersectional feminism, is strikingly similar to writings of the “manosphere”. Here, in a piece titled “Maybe you should just be single” one finds strange, resentful generalisations and unmerited claims to victimhood. In its fervent advocacy of female independence it even reflects the MGTOW (“Men Going Their Own Way”) desire to “preserve and protect [their] own sovereignty above all else”.
Penny universalises both the bad and good aspects of her experiences in a manner one can only call irrational. Men, generally, for her, are “not worth it”. They are often “lacklustre, unappreciative [and] boring” people who “have not yet learned to treat women like human beings”. They pressure girlfriends into “organising, encouraging and taking care of [them]” and then are liable to go walkies once they tire of the sex. I can tolerate some polemical overstatement but if such men represent Penny’s experiences of our kind she has been quite unfortunate.
Penny appears to think that once a guy gets with a gal he assumes that he has rounded the corner of Easy Street. Women, she asserts, are expected to “take care of people, soothe hurt feelings [and] organise chaotic lives”. Men, meanwhile, are just expected to “[be] their awesome selves”. Which relationships are these where men do not advise, console and encourage their partners? Who on Earth has she hung around with? In a bizarre flourish, she asserts that young men tend to be so idle that they “do not worry about how they will achieve a “work-life balance””. A friend of mine is working twelve hour days at the moment and I might well pass this on to him.
Having effectively written off the male sex, Penny talks up singlehood. She tells young women that it is “usually better for [them] to be single” as they should be seeking “the kind of adventures you really ought to be having in your teens and twenties”. This is easy for someone who has had her career success and social status to propose but others do not have such grand adventures on their horizons. It is also easy for a young person to propose, for as one grinds into one’s older years it can be harder to meet dates, keep up with friends, make new acquaintances and avoid all the numbing hours of loneliness that afflict the aged.
I will pause to grant that romance should not be idealised. (Idealising romance, indeed, can inspire divorce, for the greatest expectations lead to the bitterest disappointments.) From the briefest of flings to the longest of marriages, relationships involve risk and a great deal of work. So do jobs, friends, hobbies, children and everything else that matters.
Now, jobs, friends and hobbies are enough for many to get by. There is nothing bad, in itself, about singlehood. Yet most of us want to love, and to be loved in return. What to do, if one rejects traditional arrangements? Cynics in the manosphere promote cold-hearted promiscuity, which, in the long-term, sounds like a good way to rot your soul. Penny is more idealistic, saying that love need not be “boxed” into monogamous relationships but should, one guesses, spill out into all kinds of exciting polyamorous directions. If a small subsection of the populace wants to pursue this kind of innovative, untried and, it seems to me, hazardous lifestyle they are welcome. The results of their experiments should be interesting. Most people, however, I suspect, want something more reliably and intimately exclusive. I hope that most parents want this for their kids as well.
Penny closes by saying that being single gives one time and energy to spend on politics. “We have to get on with saving the world, after all,” she writes, “And we can’t do it one man at a time.” What better substitute for romantic relationships could one find than political activism? Why risk being trapped in a tedious and abusive relationship that brings out your worst instincts with one human being when you could could trap yourself in a tedious and abusive relationship that brings out your worst instincts with thousands of them?