52 Poems, Week 20: Ballad of Fine Days (Phyllis McGinley)
52 Poems, Week 21: Home Is So Sad (Philip Larkin)

Sunday Night Journal, May 20, 2018

[Update: the first part of this post attracted some hostile attention on Facebook. It was taken as intending to disparage and dismiss concerns about the mistreatment of women by men. That was most certainly not my intention. I was about to say "Needless to say..." but clearly it's not needless, at least for some people.]

[Update 2: see also some follow-up in next week's journal (scroll down to the third section).]

I was reading someone's complaint about "toxic masculinity" the other day and thinking "Yeah, that's true, and there's also such a thing as toxic femininity." I figured I was not the first person to have that thought, so I did a net search for the latter term, but it didn't turn up much of interest. When I looked for "toxic masculinity" I got a long list of discussions, many of them academic-scientific, starting with a Wikipedia entry. But though "toxic femininity" returned a good many results, only a few of them actually took the subject seriously, and those were just complaints by right-wingers. I don't think I saw anything, at least in the first fifty or so items, that treated it in a serious or academic sort of way. Well, that's not surprising, considering the power of feminism--or at least fear of feminists--in the academy and journalism. You'd probably need tenure and a thick skin to make it a subject of academic study. Pretty quickly the list of search results was mostly about toxic masculinity.  And there is no Wikipedia entry. 

TM certainly exists, and at its worst it takes the form of violence or is a precursor to it. So what would qualify as TF? I'd say it's similar in that the goal is to impose one's will on others, but it doesn't involve physical violence. An attempt to define it can begin with something like this: the infliction or threat of emotional injury, or the claim of having suffered emotional injury, as a means of getting one's way. If I remember correctly, the mother in The Screwtape Letters does that sort of thing: "You know how it upsets me when you.."--which means that her son must stop doing whatever it is. 

I've noticed that an awful lot of the crazier stuff we hear about on college campuses involves women (or girls) doing pretty much the same thing--"You aren't allowed to say that because it upsets me"--just with a thick overlay of left-wing academic jargon.

The "safe space" thing, for instance: I first heard the term some twenty-five years ago, and that's the purpose it served. I was in a pre-Web online discussion group for Catholics. A woman arrived one day and announced that she wanted the group to be a safe space for discussing the Church's teachings on sexuality. And then she denounced the teaching on contraception in what I thought were fairly wrong-headed terms. So I made an attempt--and you'll just have to take my word for it that I made it as non-confrontational as I could, with (as best I remember) a sort of "have you considered this or that angle?" approach. Well, she freaked out. "I THOUGHT THIS WAS GOING TO BE A SAFE SPACE! This is so upsetting to me!" Etc. And of course that was the end of that conversation. Or any, as far as I was concerned.

Conservatives (myself not excluded) tend to jeer at campus leftists' insistence that words are a form of violence. But really, when you consider it in the context of TF, it makes a kind of sense. If words are your most important tool for controlling others, and punishing them when they don't fall into line, well, those words are weapons of a sort. And using them this way is in a sense a form of violence.

No sooner had I gone through this little train of thought than I happened across this piece in The Guardian: "How white women use strategic tears to silence women of colour." Perfect. If you've paid attention to the feminist movement over the past few decades, you know the in-fighting can get extremely vicious. Consider the sad story of Shulamith Firestone.

And then the next day there was a story about the professor (male) who made a rather lame, meant-to-be-funny remark, and found himself in serious professional trouble. I'd say the remark was at worst in bad taste, but that's not how a woman who overheard it reacted. Which put me in mind of an old joke:

Q: How many feminists does it take to change a light bulb?

A: That is not funny.


Last week I said I would report this week on Marillion's album Brave. Along about Tuesday I began to have misgivings about that, because I wasn't sure I'd have time to hear it properly. I have a sort of personal policy--no, let's call it a code: a man's got to have a code. And mine requires that I not publicly express an opinion of a piece of music until I've heard it at least three times at least somewhat attentively. My code also requires that if I state here that I'm going to do something, I have to do it, or at least make a serious effort to do it. So at the cost of neglecting a couple of other things I needed to do, I took, over the space of four days, some three and a half hours to listen to Brave (seventy minutes) three times.

It's very, very good. If you are a prog fan, or if you just like any of the great (canonical, you might say) progressive rock groups of old (Yes, Genesis, the rest) you will probably like this. It's continuously interesting both musically and lyrically. It's brilliantly performed and so well recorded that it's a pleasure on that count alone. I don't think I've ever heard electric bass that sounds so clear and deep. You might need to hear it on a good system with a real subwoofer to appreciate some of that. One of my three hearings was mostly on headphones that I think are fairly decent--not great, but many steps up from earbuds--and simply as a recording it wasn't nearly as impressive, the bass especially. I listened to the new Steven Wilson remix only, so I can't compare it to the original, but suffice to say this is one of the best-recorded albums I've ever heard.

It's what used to be called a concept album, the songs all involving a girl who has run away from sexual abuse at home. And it works better than most. As a narrative it's not always clear. I'm not sure who is "speaking" at some points. But the overall picture is plain enough, and powerful. 

Like a lot of prog albums, Brave doesn't have many memorable songs in the usual sense, compositions that stand alone and that you can imagine another band or a singer at an open mike night covering. That's an observation, not a complaint. There aren't a lot of tunes that stand out as being catchy, but that doesn't mean the compositions don't touch your emotions. And unlike some prog, it's not instrumentally excessive or indulgent.  You never get the feeling that they just like to play, and that composing is an instrumental affair, with lyrics something of an afterthought. Musically the album is all over the place, ranging from very delicate to thunderous, but it's all in the service of the overall vision, of which the lyrics are an essential and memorable part. All in all, I'd rank it up there with the absolute best progressive rock albums. This is definitely a band I want to hear more of. 

Here, just to give you a taste, is a track that pretty much includes all the elements. 


Janet Cupo has started a really interesting blog project: Reading My Library. I guess most people who read a lot end up buying more books than they can read, and if you do this for a long time you can end up with a lot of unread ones. I certainly have. Janet has a plan for working her way through all of hers, and it sounds like a good one. You can read the details of the plan in her first post. It involves doing a blog post about each one, though she's not promising  She's done five books so far, all this month, which I'd say is excellent progress. Anyway, it's very enjoyable and I hope she keeps it up.


Easter ended today--or rather yesterday, I guess (today is Pentecost). These lilies didn't bloom in time for Easter Sunday, but this picture was taken on the 11th, so well within Eastertide. They have now all wilted and look pretty sad, as is always the way with flowers. But while they last...



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Thanks for the link. We have been busy with family all day, but I will read soon.


You're welcome.

The kind of toxic femininity that I am concerned about is the kind that thrives on the toxic masculinity and enables it--women who use men's weaknesses to obtain money and power, or just women who like to have sex with powerful men. That's not to say that the problem with men's behaviour would go away if those women weren't there, but they certainly make things worse for other women.

On a more pleasant note I am glad you are posting these pictures.


It's an old, old story. There actually seems to be more of that behavior since feminism became more or less the norm. Not that feminism causes it. I guess it's partly just due to the general relaxation of sexual morals.

I think most of the world missed 50% of the significance of the Trump "grab" remark. 50% of course was that Trump is a jerk. The other 50% is that he was talking about the fact that some women would allow such things because he was rich. "When you're a star they let you do it." Not that many I think and hope.

Another type of toxic femininity is in the idea that "sexual liberation" itself is equal to "empowerment," although I'm hesitant to describe this as "femininity," really.

The combination of feminism with the overall relaxation of sexual morality serves to enable the "cad" and the "player" far more than it empowers women; the irony is that a lot of "liberated" women simply do not get this.

Absolutely true, and a consequence that was both predicted and observed as it really got going in the '70s. Though as you suggest I wouldn't describe that as having anything to do with femininity. Sometimes it looked like a male plot.

I'm sorry this post got flak on Facebook. Some people are just killjoys.

So you took it as being at least a little humorous? If so, good. That was more the mood in which it was written, but people took at as "So you mean your encounter with an annoying woman is in the same class as rape?!?!" I should have mentioned, though it might not have helped, that the TM complaint I'd been reading was not about serious and awful stuff like sexual assault, but relatively trivial things like "mansplaining".

I just think about things like the Annette Funicello beach movies, and commercial with men whistling at women, and one Coke commercial where the women are doing the same to a man, and nobody complained about any of that, and now it is heinous toxicity. This is really a schizophrenic culture.

It's not that I am defending catcalling, but where the heck have these people been?


My wife said something similar.

Of course. She is a wise woman.


If my memory is correct, most of the influential feminists back in the 1970s were definitely killjoys, and were super-sensitive with regard to male dominance and saw it in just about everything. The difference now seems to be that they're pretty much in control of the game, having secured a strong foothold first in academia and now pretty much everywhere.

That's certainly how it looks to me.

I was young and still more or less leftish in the '70s, and pretty sympathetic to the movement, or tried to be. But it was such a mixture of reasonable and crazy, e.g. Shulamith Firestone's vision of the future.

Yes, Janet, she is. :-)

The exchange on Facebook has finally convinced me that "virtue signalling" is actually a thing.

If this were Facebook I would reply with a thumbs-up and a smiley. It is indeed a thing, I think.

Isn't virtue signaling what predators do to lure in the unsuspecting?

I think it's more akin to the stuff Jesus criticized the Pharisees for: trying to make sure everybody knows you're "not as this publican."

Ha. My friend Sheila sent me a thank you note that had a stamp on the back saying it was printed on recycled paper and she drew an arrow pointing to it and wrote, "virtue-signaling stationery!"


Ah, I see this is the post that started it all. I have a hard time relating those Easter lilies to that conversation.


Actually I had sorta wanted to talk about Marillion. :-/ I'm not sure anybody read past the first section though.

Well, I hope they read the next to last paragraph. ;-).

Maybe Rob will come and talk about the music with you.


I hope they do, too. In case they didn't but are reading the comments:


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