Saturday, July 08, 2006

The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Attwood is the favourite feminist horror novel among the women of my generation. The author describes society after a Right-wing Christian extremist coup in the United States, in which women have become the legal property of men. Interestingly, the rationale the author offers for the regime’s emergence is a racist one, not a sexist one, but oddly enough, black people are almost never mentioned; the Handmaid’s Tale is very much a novel about white people. This, as I shall argue below, is somewhat strange.

The idea, we find out only at the very end of the novel, is that white-supremacist elements in the Establishment were worried about the fact that the non-white birth-rate in the United States was so much higher than the white birth-rate, so they decided to implement a eugenics program to breed more white people. In order to do this, they staged a political coup and seized power, and implemented a regime in which women were legally classified as the property of men. Any white woman who is deemed by the regime to have led a less than moral life before the coup is re-classed as a ‘handmaid’, or concubine to a ‘commander’, a male member of the ruling regime. A handmaid is expected to become pregnant by the Commander and deliver a white baby, but they are only permitted a very limited number of copulations. It seems that any form of artificial insemination is outlawed, because it is never mentioned. The Commanders are all elderly, and their ability to impregnate a woman naturally is therefore severely limited. The Handmaid, predictably, gets the blame for not getting pregnant quickly enough, and after doing a short tour of duty with three different commanders, if she is still not pregnant, she is sent to ‘the radiation pits’ to clean up nuclear waste without any protection. In other words, she is killed.

The novel is undoubtedly a horror story aimed at white middle-class women. The horror derives largely from the setting of the novel; as with ‘1984’, it is the society forming the background to the events of the plot rather than the plot itself which is important, as the events of the plot can only be understood with respect to the context of the setting. However, I will argue that, unlike 1984, this setting is completely incoherent.

The Setting
I would like to discuss the question of where political sovereignty lies in the society created by the author; as a novel set in a feminist anti-utopia, this is an important question. The society is intended by the author to be a ‘Patriarchy’, a word which is normally taken to be the rule of men, but technically means the rule of the father. The rule of men would be ‘andrarchy’, but there is no such word in English. The society in which the novel takes place is certainly not an ‘andrarchy’, however, because most of the men in the society, as indeed in our own, have no political authority whatsoever, have little or no control over their own lives, and do not seem to benefit from the regime in any tangible way. Their lives seem to consist mainly of military service and hard work with very little reward.

The only men who have any authority are the ‘Commanders’, an elite group of elderly rich men, who constitute only a tiny proportion of the male population. However, they have to share some of their authority with their wives, as is evidenced by the fact that wives are always present while the Commanders are having sex with their handmaids. We are specifically told by one of the Commanders’ wives ‘This was something we had to fight long and hard for’. We can, therefore, reasonably speculate on what other concessions the Commanders wives could have won for themselves, but the fact that they exerted control over this one issue shows that they wielded considerable power in the regime. In a perfect Patriarchy, if they had demanded anything, they would simply have been slapped down; they would have got nothing. In fact, it would not be unreasonable to imagine some Commanders in a perfect Patriarchy simply having their aged and inconvenient wives shot in order to make way for a small harem of youthful slave-concubines, if sexual gratification is what they were after. However, it seems that in the novel, the Commanders were unable to do this. Of course, it might be that the case that the whole rationale for the Handmaid system was something other than the Commanders’ sexual gratification, but if so, then I cannot imagine what, because it served no function in a eugenics program, as I shall argue below.

In conclusion, then, as black people and almost all white men and women had no share of sovereignty whatsoever, and ruling class men were forced to share sovereignty with ruling class women, the society portrayed cannot be a pure Patriarchy. It is in fact a kind of oligarchy, which is the rule of a (usually self-appointed and self-perpetuating) minority. In other words, a system of sovereignty much like our own - however, in this case, the Oligarchy consists of extremist Right-wing racist and Christian elements in the government, corporate, military and religious communities.

The Eugenic Program
As I mentioned above, the whole justification for the regime, and therefore the setting of the novel, and ultimately the novel itself, is a eugenic breeding program to maximise the white birth-rate. However, this program as described is hopelessly ineffectual. In order to properly understand why, it is necessary to think about what such a program would have to consist of.

The birth-rate depends on what some anthropologists call the ‘reproductive potential’ of the community, which is the number of reproductively-healthy females in the population. In the case of humans, this means the number of women of child-bearing age (i.e. post-pubescent and pre-menopausal) in the population. As each woman can only produce one child per year on average, the maximum number of babies the community can produce in a year is roughly equal to the number of women of child-bearing age. The reproductive potential of the community does not depend on the number of men, because in a year, one healthy man could potentially father hundreds of babies; we could remove several percent of the adult male population from the community, as we have done many times in the past through war, without affecting its reproductive potential significantly. When it comes to reproduction, women are the limiting factor.

If you want to change the demographic mix of the population to artificially increase the proportion of one ethnic group over another, and you are absolutely without scruple, there are two things you can do:
(1) You can organise a eugenic program to breed more of the people you do want.
(2) You can use military force to exterminate some or all of the people you don’t want.

Fascists may be evil, but they are not all stupid. Any self-respecting fascist is going to undertake both of these measures at the same time, and pursue them using all available means. In the case of the Handmaid’s Tale, the entire economic, technological, military and industrial might of the world’s most powerful country would be brought to bear on the problem, and so it is likely that a significant impact could be made on the population demographics in a relatively short time. Measures taken might include some or all of the following:

Part 1 (Eugenics)
• The outlawing of racially-mixed marriages.
• The outlawing of contraception, abortion and homosexuality in the white community.
• Fertility treatment offered to white women.
• White women prohibited from smoking, drinking alcohol or taking drugs.
• Compulsory health and fitness program for white women.
• National awards given to white women who have had the greatest number of children.
• White ‘handmaids’, or concubines, to be awarded to young white men for military prowess or other service to the state.
• Sperm to be compulsorily harvested from the most physically fit young white men and used to artificially inseminate white women.
• Compulsory medical examinations for white women who fail to become pregnant after a specified time.

Part 2 (Extermination)
• The introduction of military conscription for all white men.
• The complete banning of the ownership or use of weapons in the non-white community.
• The forcing of the non-white population into ghettos surrounded by a militarily secure perimeter. Anyone trying to leave to be shot on sight.
• White military death squads to mop up any other non-white people in the countryside.
• If there is dangerous work to be done, such as cleaning up radiation, the obvious thing is to force non-white slave-workers to do it.
• The non-white ghettos to be exterminated by military means, such as aerial fire-bombing.

There are plenty of historical precedents one could draw upon in designing such a program. This would be something approaching a realistic program to achieve the ends described in the novel. However, let us consider the measures actually taken by the regime.

Women on the breeding program.
If the regime really wanted to embark on a eugenic breeding program, it did a remarkably poor job of organising it. This is a government which sends young white women to certain death in the ‘radiation pits’. How is that going to raise the white birth-rate? The regime, rather than trying to maximise the white community’s reproductive potential as we might expect, is deliberately reducing it! This makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

There were other classes of women apart from handmaids, for example, ‘Marthas’, who acted as cooks and housekeepers to the ruling class. It is implied in the book that most of these women were sexually inactive. So, as a proportion of the population, very few women were on the breeding program in any case. It would make far more sense to mobilise the entire white female population to child-rearing.

Men on the breeding program
The idea of only assigning handmaids to Commanders was also nonsensical. To have frail old men as the only men on the program was self-defeating. A possible rationale might be that as most of the authority lay with Commanders, they decided to give themselves Handmaids for their own sexual gratification, but this view is contradicted by the fact that the Commanders had almost no opportunity to derive any sexual gratification from their handmaids. I think part of the real explanation is the long-standing feminist love-affair with the idea of male sexual impotence. Perhaps the author wanted to portray heterosexual sex as a sad and seedy affair. It could also be a plot device to make the Hand-maids’ job of getting pregnant more difficult, and therefore increase the horror of their situation.

In short, there were very few people actually on the program, and only men of the lowest quality in the entire male population. As for the other side of the fascist eugenic coin, extermination, there was absolutely no sign of it. As I mentioned at the beginning, black people barely get a mention in the entire novel. As a eugenic program, then, this is hopelessly misconceived, and doomed to almost certain failure. However, if she had described a more plausible one, such as the one outlined above, her society would not then have been a sexist hell, but a racist one. In order to write her novel, the author needed to contrive an excuse for creating a feminist anti-utopia, and in my view, she failed. Basically, she couldn’t come up with any plausible reason why anyone would want to do the things that she wanted her characters to do, and I have to admit, neither can I.

There is a scene in the handmaid’s training camp, where most of the guards are women. We are told 'The nazis also used to use women against women'. This is interesting because female nazi guards are forgiven. They weren't nazis themselves, they are merely 'being used' by nazis. It's somehow not their fault that they are concentration camp guards. Of course the same thing would never be said of any male guard, conscript or not. Feminists insist on women's status as innocent bystanders and victims. Even when women are perpetrators, they are somehow still the victims. Even when men are the victims they are somehow still the perpetrators. Luckily, the judges at Nuremberg didn’t take this view, and convicted many female guards.

The one man in the novel who is portrayed as being sympathetic to women’s rights gets kicked to death by a group of them. Most of them do it because they hate him, but one more reflective individual does it as an act of mercy.

‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ is political pornography for white middle-class Western women, in which they are given permission to hate men, feel sorry for themselves, and take violent revenge. No wonder it sold so well.

Fan Mail

Dear Heretic,
"As a long-standing Left-wing sympathiser, I am deeply offended by feminism's appropriation of the Left and of 'progressive' causes".

In the context of the present day that is an irreconcilable paradox. Feminism is the cherished sceptre of the modern left.

Identifying oneself as a 'Left-wing sympathiser' (the left having evolved into something that is now both inhuman and anti-human), whilst at the same time claiming to be offended by feminism would be no different to a hypothetical statement, made by a 1930's German Nazi, declaring outrage at the anti-semitic propoganda and practise of his time.

The tide of political opinion has changed dramatically over recent decades. But extremists lurk deceptively behind old ideological names and labels. Even the Tory Party is being used as camouflage for such people.

Regards,

Peter.

Dear Peter,
Thank you for your message. I am glad that you found something of value in my site.

I think we disagree on the definition of what constitutes the Left. I have always been a secular thinker, and deeply opposed to totalitarianism in any form. When I refer to the Left therefore, I am not referring to the governments of China or the Soviet Union, whom I would strongly oppose. The Left in a broad sense has always concerned itself with the plight of the underdog, the poor and dispossessed, and with attacking unwarranted privilege. This is the sense in which I am a Left-wing sympathiser. Many commentators have pointed out that Jesus of Nazareth was, in this broad sense, one of history's greatest Left-wing activists, in his teaching that all men are created equal, his promotion of social justice, and in his concern for the poor, sick and needy. These are all classic Left-wing causes.

As the South American priest Dom Helder Camara once said "When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist"

In fact, the terms Left and Right do change meaning, and they are used in a different sense in the US and Europe. In the US, 'Liberal' seems to mean the same as Left-wing, whereas in Europe, a Liberal is a person of the political centre. These days, I would regard myself as strongly liberal in the European sense.

A very good resource to look at is the Political Compass, an interesting and unbiased look at these concepts. Take the online quiz to find out where you stand on the political map. As the site explains, there are really two different political axes, not just one.

There is, firstly, the degree of government intervention in the economy. Left-wing governments exert a high level of control over the economy with high taxes and high spending. Right-wing leaders such as Thatcher and Bush promote a free-enterprise economy with low taxes and low spending. The two ends of the spectrum can be called Left and Right.

Secondly, there is the level of government intervention in private behaviour, or social policy. How liberal is the government on issues such as sexual behaviour, homosexuality, abortion, recreational drugs, gambling, prostitution and pornography? Is there a free press, or is the media heavily censored? How much free speech or private freedom do people have? The two ends of the spectrum can be called Libertarian and Authoritarian.

By plotting a position on each axis, you can locate yourself on a 2-dimensional plane.

Although the conservative regimes of Thatcher and Reagan were extremely liberal on economic issues, they were deeply authoritarian on social issues. China is extremely authoritarian on both axes, with a high-level of government intervention in both the economy and private life. The site has many more examples.

I found myself located alongside Mahatma Ghandi and the Dalai Lama, which I dont think is too bad! I am slightly Left on economic issues, in that I support free education and health-care for the poor, for example, while at the same time recognising the need for free enterprise. I'm sure Jesus would have agreed with me on that. I am libertarian on social issues. People will pursue their sex lives whether you like it or not, so you may as well let them get on with it. Education, not legislation, is their best protection in my view.

Many people embrace Left-wing causes in their youth and later move to the Right once they get more life-experience, and this is true of myself. Someone said, "If you are not Left-wing at 20, you have no heart; if you are still Left-wing at 40, you have no brain". I recognise what they meant by that.

Now to explain what I meant about feminists appropriating Left-wing causes. I have abandoned Left-wing causes partly because I found myself no longer welcome. I was driven out by feminist hostility. They make it clear that men have no place in humanitarian organisations, child-care, or charity organisations. Part of their evil mythology is that all the world's problems are the fault of men, and it is the task of women to fix the problems. They have systematically penetrated charities, aid agencies, media organisations and government departments in the last four decades, and turn these institutions to promoting their own agenda. Read my piece about Amnesty International for a good example. Naomi Wolf advocates that women should take control of all such organisations; women, in her view, should enjoy a monopoly on compassion.

I hope you are not implying that I am an extremist (although I am extremely anti-feminist). I oppose feminism precisely because it is so authoritarian, on both economics and social policy.

I hope this clarifies things.

Enjoy your weekend.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

A New Sexual What?

Dear Libby, I read your article ‘A New Sexual Manifesto’ in today’s Guardian, and I ended up almost as confused as you obviously are.

The line of your argument, as far as I understand it, was as follows: 1 I am not a puritan. 2 I am unhappy with the way sex is portrayed in popular culture, both in terms of quality and quantity. 3 I hold free-market capitalism responsible for the situation. 4 I call upon my readers to join together in some kind of bloodless cultural revolution and ‘take back control of sex’. 5 I am angry and disappointed that other middle-class people do not automatically subscribe to my feminist opinions, which I hold to be self-evidently correct.

To consider each of your points in turn. “…it is considered hip for middle-class men and women to visit swanky lap-dancing clubs while remaining oblivious to the continuum of exploitation that links those polished performers with the crack-addicted working girls on the street corner”. This argument strikes me as bizarre, confused, and not a little disingenuous. I suggest that the existence of any such ‘continuum of exploitation’ is highly questionable at best. What is this claim supposed to mean? A more plausible ‘continuum of exploitation’ could be drawn between poor coca farmers in South America and your ‘crack-addicted working girls’. I fail to see how ‘swanky lap-dancing clubs’ have any bearing at all upon street prostitutes. The only thing they have in common as far as I am aware, is that they are two things that heterophobic puritan feminists disapprove of. You seem to be recommending that we should all boycott lap-dancing clubs as a measure calculated to help crack-addicted street prostitutes. How exactly would such a boycott help them? This is a nonsense argument. Surely, decriminalising prostitution and increasing drug-treatment provision would be a more effective package of measures.

I think the real logic here is simply that you dislike lap-dancing clubs, swanky or otherwise, and you attempt to draw a link between the two in order to ‘delegitimise’ them in the minds of your readers. You are offering us the claim that “going to a lap-dancing club is the same as funding a prostitute’s crack habit”, and you do this simply in order to persuade us not to go to such clubs. This is disingenuous and arguably, deceitful. The fact is that these clubs are legitimate businesses which provide lucrative employment to women who are by your own admission ‘polished performers’, and that these women do their jobs at least as voluntarily as you do yours. You are desperate to find some way of delegitimising these clubs, and the spurious connection with crack-addicted street prostitutes is the best you can come up with.

You then go on to mention the fact that gossip magazines publish details of celebrities’ sex lives. I feel obliged to point out to you that these magazines sell in huge numbers, that the people who buy them are almost all women, and that these women buy these magazines of their own volition. You then commit another bizarre non sequitur by attempting to link celebrity gossip magazines with sexual coercion in marriage. What possible connection you see between these two is utterly beyond me.

In attempting to pay lip service to impartiality, you mention that “similar data for young men does not exist”. You do not bother to question the dubious data produced by feminist advocacy-studies, or the fact that they exclude men (for an insight into this, read “Who Stole Feminism?” by Christina Hoff Sommers, or “Heterophobia”, by Daphne Patia). Why does the data for young men not exist? Because feminist advocates have no interest in collecting it.

I would like to point out, for the benefit of the deconstructionist in you, that I do not frequent lap-dancing clubs, hire crack-addicted street prostitutes, buy celebrity gossip magazines, or rape my girlfriend.

Your next paragraph seems to be the claim that, having won the right to have sex, women must now fight for the right to abstain from it. On the face of it this seems to be a reasonable enough sentiment, but it seems perfectly obvious to me that women do have, and always have had, this right. Of course, I haven’t read all of the radical feminist advocacy studies explaining that rape is an all-pervasive reality under the capitalist-patriachal system that you have obviously read.

You go on to say, “…the images of women presented by advertisers are eager to please, easy to satisfy, and as challenging as a blow-up doll”. Firstly, are the images of men presented by advertisers any different? I suggest not. Secondly, you seem to completely misunderstand the role of advertising. It is intended to persuade us to buy products, it is not some sinister propaganda machine designed to brain-wash us with patriarchal-capitalist ideology. You seem to be suggesting that advertising should be censored for political correctness. Would you prefer it if advertisers portrayed women as churlish and difficult to please? Who would buy the products? No-one, and the advertisers would quickly go out of business. Consumers vote with their money. The free market is a kind of evolutionary environment in which the fittest products survive and others perish. You may claim not to like this, but you participate in it every time you go shopping, particularly if you buy something because you know it is fashionable.

What is this about being ‘challenging’? Are you so insecure, so desperate to be taken seriously as a thinker, that you have to adopt a permanently combative posture towards the world, and towards men in particular? Do you have to think of yourself as always being ‘challenging’? Sometimes, I get home from work too tired to be bothered with yet another challenge, and just want to be with someone friendly. If you want to be taken more seriously as a thinker, then your best policy is to think more, not to censor the media. Your ideas in this this article are certainly not very challenging.

You then go on to say, as a kind of silver lining in your cloud, “there is some evidence that teenagers are becoming more confident about reporting rapes and sexual assaults…younger women know that they have the right not to be abused”. What about younger men? Whenever boys complain that they have been sexually assaulted by women, society treats it as a joke. What about homosexual rape which is endemic in American prisons, as well as occurring in private life at least as often as heterosexual rape? We are not allowed to mention this, for fear of being called homophobic. You also mention nothing of false accusations of rape against innocent men, which are becoming increasingly common. As a typical feminist, all you are concerned about is the welfare of women, whom you perceive to be eternal victims. Nothing else matters.

You put forward a Romantic notion of sex as a kind of magical mystery, private and unanalysable. “celebrating the human freedom that sex embodies…desire can take us to the heart of our greatest potential…in a moment we might be anybody or anything…to desire and be desired can be many things: funny, awkward, transforming, sacred and profane”. You seem to be saying that representations of sex in the media and popular culture – what you refer to as “the megaphone imperialism of cultural sexism” - somehow degrade that magical mystery, and this seems to be the source of your discomfort.

However, you seem deeply confused about this too. “It seems that private language is being gradually eradicated from the public domain”. Surely, if it was in the public domain, it can’t have been private in the first place. I am far from persuaded that there is such a ‘megaphone imperialism’. Personally I am not “overinformed about how other people while away their bedroom hours”, because I don’t choose to read celebrity gossip. If it upsets you so much, perhaps you ought to stop reading it too.

Having outlined your vague and rambling complaints, you then turn to the issue of possible causes. You consider - and I use the word in the broadest possible sense – the question of whether male and female sexuality differ. You quickly brush evolutionary biology aside and declare yourself to be a social constructionist. No surprises there. I suggest to you that familiarising yourself with evolutionary psychology and sexual selection might help to clarify things for you. For me to explain it to you is far beyond the scope of this essay, but you might like to read “Why is sex fun?” by Jared Diamond, “The Red Queen”, by Matt Ridley and “The Mating Mind”, by Geoffrey Miller. Yes, all men, unfortunately. For one thing, “the slapper/stud convention around promiscuity” makes sense when seen from an evolutionary perspective, but we can’t have that, now, can we?

Your diagnosis of the problem is the standard leftist-feminist model: the problem is due to the way in which society is organised. In this particular case, it is the way in which boys and girls are socialised into gender roles. The problem is what you call ‘cultural sexism’, a concept which, although central to your thesis, you leave undefined. Personally, I am concerned by cultural Marxism, and in order to practise what I preach, I will define it.

I defer to the definition offered by Gross and Levitt in their excellent work “Higher Superstition”. Cultural Marxism is the prevailing political ideology within feminist and particularly academic Leftist circles. Feminism has been termed ‘Marxism without the economics’. After the trial and very public failure of Marxism in the Twentieth century, leftists have turned away from economics and concentrate instead on culture. In former times, the way in which society was organised economically was deemed to be the root of all social evils; today it is, instead, ‘discourse’, the way in which we speak, and indeed think, which is deemed to be the problem. Your own article is a textbook exercise in cultural Marxism.

The very name, ‘A New Sexual Manifesto’, alludes, no doubt deliberately, to the Communist Party Manifesto of Marx and Engels. Your faith in social constructionism, your disdain for anything ‘essentialist’ in your rejection of Darwin, your rabble-rousing call for cultural revolution, all of these are familiar Marxist tropes. Even your glassy-eyed Romanticism about the nobility of sexual love before capitalism came along and spoiled it all, seems to mirror Marx’s historical analysis, with its fond notion of primitive communism. Your ‘revolution’ is to be the development of a new vocabulary – you believe that the solution lies in reforming ‘discourse’. You complain that “men and women are no closer to developing a common erotic language”, although you do not specify what this could be, or why it might be of any help. Your very final words are “we’re going to need a new manifesto”. Presumably, one who has your insight would be best placed to come up with it, and yet you offer us nothing concrete, just vague complaints about too much sex in popular culture.

If we were to implement your demands, as I understand them, there would be no images of the person in advertising (or certainly not images of women anyway), there would be no public discourse about sex, and there would be no lap-dancing clubs. Crack-addicted working girls, however, would still be there, because you have nothing substantive to recommend to them. It would, be in short, a return to the Britain of the Nineteenth Century (with the addition of crack). People's private sexual behaviour would not alter one jot. In short, I thought your entire article was churlish, incoherent and politically juvenile. I am surprised that the Guardian even publishes such unutterable drivel. Despite your protestations to the contrary, you obviously ARE a puritan.

"It seems to me that we need gender, as much as sex, education in our schools". One of your key recommendations is that schools should become chapels of gender feminism, to indoctrinate children into marxist/feminist ideology. God help us all. Are people still spouting this kind of Maoist nonsense? I wonder if, after their 'gender education', they will end up as confused as you are. If you read the works of Christina Hoff Sommers, you will learn that this kind of left-wing social engineering of children's minds is already being attempted in American schools, with disastrous consequences. Ten percent of American 12 year old boys are now being prescribed Ritalin to make them sit still and behave more like girls. Side effects including hallucinations and sudden death from heart failure are now coming to light. Women's studies 'professors' on american campuses make it their mission to convert all of their female students to lesbianism. Good idea Libby. I hope you are going to sign your sons and nephews up for the first class.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

The Skimington

All schoolchildren know about the scold’s bridle and the ducking stool used to punish women, but they are not told about the skimmity ride.

In Western Europe up until the early Twentieth Century, husbands who were victims of infidelity or domestic violence by their wives would be subjected to ritual public humiliation by their entire community. The practice was known in France as ‘Charivari’, in England as ‘the Skimmington’ or later ‘Skimmity-riding’, in Germany, by a variety of names including ‘Katzenmusik’.

The skimmington in England was a large skimming-ladle, seemingly the weapon of choice of many an abusive wife.

The practice always involved noise and discordant music, and in France and Germany frequently involved animal torture, particularly of cats. ‘Katzenmusik’ literally means ‘cats’ music’, and probably refers to the howls of tortured cats.

The practice also transferred to North America, where it was known as the ‘Shivaree’, a corruption of the French ‘charivari’. Reference

All of these words reward an internet search if you’re interested in finding out more.

In 18th- and 19th-century France, a husband who had been pushed around by his wife would be forced by the community to wear women's clothing and to ride through the village, sitting backwards on a donkey, holding its tail. If he tried to avoid the punishment, the crowd would instead punish the man's closest neighbor--for having allowed such a travesty to occur so close to his own home. This humiliating practice, called the charivari, was also common in other parts of Europe. In Brittany, villagers strapped wife-beaten husbands to carts and "paraded them ignominiously through a booing populace." Reference

This source has a much more feminist perspective.
“In France most charivaris were conducted against husbands who were beaten by their wives; in England many skimmingtons were directed against husbands whose wives had been unfaithful... This…was a shaming ritual. It was an element of popular culture that took place against the wishes of local authorities and without their connivance. Its purpose was twofold: to identify and punish sexual misconduct and to maintain the male-dominated gender system”.

The problem we have in discussing issues such as this is that feminists have got there first. The writer characterises the skimmington as one of the bad things that society did to women. This is truly an astonishing piece of intellectual gymnastics. The husband has suffered twice over; once by being the victim of domestic violence or marital infidelity and again by being the target of ritualised public humiliation. Yet the writer maintains that the charivari is a social instrument for controlling women. Women’s marital infidelity and domestic violence against men is implicitly condoned. I do not imagine for one second that the writer would take the same lax attitude towards the ritualised public humiliation of battered women. However, this is in general a useful source.

The same source continues:
Athough skimmingtons and charivaris differed from place to place, they all contained similar elements. These were designed to invert normal behavior in one way or another. The rough music symbolized the disharmony of a household in which the woman dominated, either by her physical conduct-adultery or husband beating-or her verbal conduct-cursing or abusing her husband or other men. The music was made with everyday objects rather than instruments, and pots and pans were universally present. The "riding" of the husband was another common feature. In many rituals the "husband," played by a neighbor, was placed facing the tail of the horse or donkey to symbolize the backwardness of his behavior. In some, a "wife," also acted by a neighbor, rode behind the man and beat him with a stick or, in England, with the long-handled ladle used to skim cream that was known as a skimmington. In the end, the real husband or wife was captured, the man to ride in shame throughout the town, the woman to be sat on a cucking stool and dunked in water.

Such events of ‘matrimonial lynch law’ took place in the nineteenth century in many parts of the country, especially rural areas. The practice had other names across the country. The practice seems only to have rather vague rules and therefore inevitable variation exists between any one procession and another. However, in all the skimmity processions, the aim was largely one and the same, although the seriousness of the performance was known to vary. But the skimmity ride was rarely a humorous event quickly forgotten by villagers. The intention of the skimmity was, most commonly, to drive the persons out of the area. As Roberts states, ‘the parties for whom they ride never lose the ridicule and disgrace which it attaches’. The most famous account of such an occasion in Dorset is Thomas Hardy’s, in ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’, where the skimmity ride causes the death of Lucetta Farfrae. In 1882, skimmity riding was made an offence against the Highway Act, punishable by fine and imprisonment. Apparently though, such an event occurred as recently as 1917 in Dorset. Skimmington was certainly common in rural Dorset during the nineteenth century. Reference

In 1832 a Parisian publisher started a satirical magazine called ‘Le Charivari’ which poked fun at the Establishment. The idea was taken up in England, in 1841, and the magazine ‘The London Charivari’ later changed its name to ‘Punch’. Reference

The cuckolded or abused husband was often forced to wear a horned mask, known as the Ooser. This may be the origin of the contemporary practise of holding two fingers up behind the head of one having their photograph taken in order to ridicule them.

A very similar practise can be seen in Hogarth’s illustration ‘Sir Hudibras encounters the Skimmington’. See the figures in the window at the top left of the picture.

The skimmington later became more of an innocuous celebration, in which a raucous group would gather outside the house of a newlywed couple, and refuse to leave until they were given a drink. It may be the origin of the practice of tying tin cans to the back of a wedding car, in order to create discordant noise.

Additional references:

Dictionary definition - riding skimmington

Article in the Journal of Men's Studies

Make it so

At the recent London conference Barry Worrall mentioned that the Men's movement suffers from weak philosophies; all we have been demanding is child contact or equal parenting time. My own agenda is slightly different, due in no small part to the fact that I am not a parent. Rather than a lack of child contact following separation, what has brought me to this place is a feeling I have had throughout my adult life that I am, despite my best efforts to be a good citizen and do all the right things, a kind of social pariah, a second-class citizen in my own house, while the moral high-ground is dominated by people who are selfish, narcissistic, manipulative, petulant, opportunistic, hypocritical, deceitful and anti-intellectual, whose world-view openly derides reason and embraces instead any passing faddish mysticism, people who have, in short, absolutely no right to claim any kind of moral or intellectual superiority. I have been chronically and systematically offended by the behaviour of the feminists I have met, even while I supported them. My university years, my peace movement activism in the 1980s, my workplaces and my private life have all been consistently blighted by feminism. I cannot pick up a broadsheet newspaper without finding myself being derided by the narrow bigotry of those who claim to be in the vanguard of liberalism. The closet totalitarianism of feminism, and the resulting cultural position of men, are simply intolerable. As a long-standing Left-wing sympathiser, I am deeply offended by feminism's appropriation of the Left and of 'progressive' causes. I find myself being derided as an arch-conservative social reactionary by people who have no idea of my beliefs, and who, moreover, are not interested in having any kind of meaningful dialogue. I am, despite my activism, derided as hopelessly sexist by people who are themselves the most sexist people I have ever met. I am profoundly offended by feminism for many, many reasons, both intellectual and political. But it is not just about me. Even if we could stop them today, the social, political, legal and cultural damage already wrought by them would take decades to repair. This is the message I wish to communicate. It is not really about child contact. It is much, much bigger than that.

I believe that there are many men, perhaps mainly educated, young, middle-class men, who are as outraged as I am by the situation, quite apart from fathers. But they have no idea how to articulate it, much less what to do about it, and they feel isolated, as I did.

Family law, however, is currently providing the principal catalyst for a raising of male political consciousness. The two main issues are lack of child contact and false accusations of child abuse and domestic violence, which often occur together as a result of divorce. These issues are affecting the lives of many, otherwise non-political, men, including working-class men.

The best thing men can do is to stand up for ourselves and publicly oppose feminism. Provide inspiration, support and leadership for other men, and make hay with stories of false accusations, female offenders or wronged fathers. We should make alliances with pro-family interest groups as much as possible, and if this means conservative or religious communities then so be it. They are perhaps our best hope at the moment. I believe that there is a mass movement waiting to happen. The men's movement is lively on the internet, and growing. I believe there are grounds for optimism.