by Mary Harrington
Monday, 28
March 2022
Reaction
11:57

Is John Mearsheimer guilty of “toxic masculinity”?

Foreign policy realists are being seen through the prism of gender
by Mary Harrington
Mearsheimer… a toxic male?

Much has been angrily made of statements by the scholar of realist foreign policy John Mearsheimer that Nato bears most of the responsibility for Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine. Over the weekend, US foreign policy journalist Melissa Chan upped the stakes with a liberal feminist gloss on this condemnation, declaring that his view is ‘basically the “‘she wore a short skirt’ argument”.

Instead of doing the geopolitical equivalent of slut-shaming, she says, we should take her word — “as a woman covering foreign policy and simply as a woman in society who sees regular justification of male violence” — that Mearsheimer’s views are not just wrong but noxious in a wider sense too.

What we’re seeing is in truth “Putin’s toxic masculinity against Ukraine”. Mearsheimer’s position “isn’t just a ‘take’, it is morally deplorable and based on misogyny.” What’s at stake here is not just a war over who gets to control Ukraine, but also a war within the West over which of two irreconcilable world-views is accepted as the default account of reality.

Foreign policy realism views international relations as fundamentally anarchic and amoral. Realists understand states to pursue often competing interests based on an ever-shifting calculus of strategic priorities, ability to control resources, military strength and wider alliances.

Against this, Melissa Chan has transposed wholesale onto geopolitics the idealist perspective core to liberal feminism. This worldview understands ‘toxic masculinity’ — a cocktail of misdemeanours in which the central feature is overt aggression — as central to the world’s ills. Inculcated by millennia of patriarchy, it’s nonetheless capable of being undone, for men and women would be fundamentally the same in behaviour and outlook were it not for the imposition of harmful stereotypes. And the un-doing means challenging overt aggression at every turn.

There’s no disputing the overtness of Putin’s aggression. But Chan is angry at Mearsheimer for offering an explanation of this aggression based in an assumption that aggression as such can’t be eliminated. In the field of international relations, from the realist viewpoint, military aggression can be explained, contained, directed or occasionally suppressed by opposing violence. But it can’t simply be ended. To anyone proposing to do so, realists might offer the classic schoolyard retort: “You and whose army?”

This in turn has troubling implications for the theory of ‘toxic masculinity’. If geopolitical aggression can’t be contained save by countervailing pressures, backed up ultimately by someone’s army, what of aggression directed in the social field against women? We may try and explain, contain, direct or violently suppress it, but can we eradicate it?

It’s a core tenet of liberal feminism not only that we can, but that pessimism on this front makes you part of the problem, as a water-carrier for ‘toxic masculinity’. Thus, from her perspective, Mearsheimer’s worldview is not just wrong but actively harmful on the home front too. For while (to my knowledge) he has nothing to say about sexual assault, his explanation of Russian aggression in realist terms is based on his prior assumptions about the anarchic, amoral and power-based nature of geopolitics. As such, it assumes the futility of liberal feminism’s central objective — abolishing overt aggression — and is thus not just bad but ‘based in misogyny’.

There isn’t space in this short piece to discuss the plausibility of eradicating overt aggression from interpersonal relations between men and women, and I leave it to the reader to consider the plausibility of doing so internationally. History will decide which worldview, Mearsheimer’s or Chan’s, has greater explanatory power in the context of the current conflict.

But we should be in no doubt that Chan’s is the stance which currently holds greater sway among journalists and the laptop classes. And we should be in no doubt that a premise as fundamental — and as fundamentally metaphysical — as the possibility and moral urgency of eradicating overt aggression from the world is one with profound policy implications. Up to and including, perhaps ironically, the deployment of someone’s army in order to enforce its beliefs.

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Tom Watson
Tom Watson
4 months ago

These people really are mad (sorry, these people really do live with mental health challenges inflicted by white male capitalist oppression).

Julian Pellatt
Julian Pellatt
4 months ago
Reply to  Tom Watson

Venomous femininity vs toxic masculinity. God, these people are so shallow, bigoted and intellectually puerile!

Malvin Marombedza
Malvin Marombedza
4 months ago
Reply to  Tom Watson

Ah yes. How kind of you Tom to remind us of the real reason behind the madness. As a young man of color, I find this refreshing. You are a much needed white ally.

Last edited 4 months ago by Malvin Marombedza
Tom Watson
Tom Watson
4 months ago

Solidarity, sibling!
I have a sneaking suspicion from those downvotes that not all commenters are truly intersectional in their appreciation of irony and some of them need to Do The Work.

Lennon Ó Náraigh
Lennon Ó Náraigh
4 months ago

Bravo! Echoes of George Orwell’s aphorism, that we sleep safely in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would harm us.

Skip Simonds
Skip Simonds
4 months ago

What Ms. Chan is attempting to do is hijack the legitimate anger, angst, and moral outrage generated by a true conflict (at least as measured by dead bodies and destroyed buildings) and incorporate it into use to sustain and amplify a social/cultural conflict. The opposition to “toxic masculinity” has become a cottage industry to generate a platform for those who might otherwise not have one. It is hard for me to get by the virtue signaling aspect of all this by Ms. Chan. Churchill’s “never let a good crisis go to waste” comment comes to mind. The tragedy of this whole line of thinking is that it takes true human suffering on a scale measured in tens of thousands of deaths and displacements and attempts to equate it with what is at best a social construct. Really, Ms. Chan? That’s all you got out of this?

Michael Askew
Michael Askew
4 months ago

The worldview Mary Harrington is criticising is the Blank State theory of human nature – namely, that there is no such thing. i.e. human beings have no innate instincts, tendencies or personalities. All is imposed by societal pressures. Steven Pinker has demolished this idea comprehensively in his book “The Blank Slate”, but it is still beloved by idealogues, utopians and totalitarians everywhere. Every parent knows the idea to be fallacious as each of their children comes into the world with a unique personality. Human naughtiness does not seem to disappear with better educatoin and stronger propaganda. It can be limited but not abolished. All the attempts so far have ended in tyranny..

Peter B
Peter B
4 months ago

History will decide which worldview, Mearsheimer’s or Chan’s, has greater explanatory power in the context of the current conflict.”
I can tell you right now. Neither.
Mearsheimer is not a “realist” and more than the Bolsheviks were the majority socialist faction pre-1917. That’s just fake branding. A few months ago, I would have had some sympathy with Mearsheimer’s thesis. Now, none at all. Putin and his clique were always going to do something like Ukraine – exploiting the “frozen conflicts” left in the states bordering Russia. It wasn’t “if”, but “when”. Putin and his cronies are professional liars – good luck negotiating with them. Far better to confront this now and let Putin “do a Scargill” and self destruct. Mearsheimer is a delusional fool who’s too old to change his mind when the facts change. By not stretch of the imagination a “realist”.
As for Chan, the less said the better. Trying to crowbar a feminist angle into the Ukraine conflict isn’t just noise (i.e. harmful) – it’s actually of negative value as it promotes misunderstanding.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
4 months ago
Reply to  Peter B

Bravo!

Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
4 months ago
Reply to  Peter B

And what happens if Putin doesn’t self-destruct. And I suspect very strongly that Putin won’t. You need to look at the map and see what territory the Russians are actually holding, together with the fact that they are laying siege to a number of big cities medieval style, until their food and supplies run out.
Here’s the thing. What Mearsheimer said is spot on the money. That doesn’t excuse what Putin did and no doubt Putin is the primary aggressor in terms of the current situation. But there is also no question that the US and NATO have continually pushed eastward and have interfered in the internal politics of Ukraine. Poke the bear long enough, and eventually the bear will bite back. The Maidan 2014 revolution was US/CIA instigated with Victoria Nuland at the helm. That’s not a conspiracy theory but a fact.
Unfortunately, the current war in Ukraine will continue as long as the US and its military-industrial complex continues to benefit from it. The US is basically fighting a proxy war against Putin in Ukraine. And everybody heard very clearly what Biden said in his speech on Saturday: he want Putin overthrown. I heard it live, and yes Biden may have gone off script, but this was the whole drift of the speech. The entire speech was nothing but warmongering and jingoism of the very worst sort.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
4 months ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

It’s funny how the rival systems both produced madness, Putin went crazy from his Covid isolation where he spent his time amid bowing yes men brooding on the blood-and-soil history of Russia, and advanced age gave us nutty Joe who should be in a rest home at this time of his life.

Thomas Bartlett
Thomas Bartlett
4 months ago
Reply to  Jerry Carroll

The urgent need to defeat 45 is what gave us Biden. He was the only one who could do it. If his other son hadn’t died, he’d have run in 2016 and Trump wouldn’t have dared to run then. Trump ran because he knew Biden wouldn’t.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
4 months ago

What do you mean by ‘defeat 45’?

Claire D
Claire D
4 months ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

It strikes me that the deal Biden has just made with Ursula and the EU, out of the kindness of his heart, to supply Europe with 15 billion cubic metres of LNG this year to “wean it off Russian energy supplies”, might be relevant.
War is always about power, land and money.

Last edited 4 months ago by Claire D
Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
4 months ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

The Maidan was not ‘CIA-instigated’ any more than Trumps victory was ‘FSB-instigated’. In both cases the spies gave a hand but the event was there without them. The west mainly gave Ukraine a choice – it promised that if they did not submit to becoming a Russian satellite state, the west would help them. And Ukraine made their choice. If the west had openly sided with Russia, Ukraine would surely had gone into Moscows orbit – and the FSB would have had a monopoly on interfering in the internal policies of Ukraine. The interesting question is what would have happened then. How would Ukraine have fared? Would Russia have settled to benevolent friendship with the rest of the world, or would they have used their additional strength to force further concessions elsewhere? What does Russia want, are we willing to let them have all of it, and what would it take to make them settle for less than the maximum? These are the questions we would need to look at before we decide that appeasement would have been a better choice than taking the trouble now.

Last edited 4 months ago by Rasmus Fogh
Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
4 months ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

I think you need to read more carefully what actually went down in Ukraine in 2014 and how the west instigated and encouraged the Maidan revolution, for the purposes of overthrowing an elected regime. Now, I have no doubt that the Ukrainians, or at least those in Western Ukraine, were very pleased about this. But that’s not the point. The US, NATO and EU effected regime change in a country we had absolutely no business interfering in. i.e. Ukraine was in Russia’ orbit, not the US’s and the US had absolutely no security interests in Ukraine whatsoever other than to create trouble with the Russians. Now comparing the Maidan revolution and the role of the US with the now amply debunked claim that Russia had anything to do with Trump’s victory in 2016, is just nonsense. It’s simply not comparable.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
4 months ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

So your point is that Ukraine is owned by Russia, and neither the US, the EU, NATO, nor the Ukrainians themselves have any business intefering with other people’s property?

Christian Moon
Christian Moon
1 month ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Let’s hold a war and see who turns up heh? Hope it doesn’t proceed to playing chicken with a nuclear war.
For what, exactly? Why do we care?

Thomas Bartlett
Thomas Bartlett
4 months ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

Russia had much to do with Trump’s victory in 2016. “Russia, if you’re listening.” “If that’s what you have on Clinton, we’d love to see it.” Bannon running Cambridge Analytica with top programmer from St Petersburg. Mueller indicted a dozen or so Russians for interference. Russian Federation has inherited USSR’s deep legacy of relentless moral and psychological assaults on democratic countries. It’s unthinkable that Russia was not doing that in 2016. Putin replied to the journalist’s question at Helsinki, candidly saying, “Yes, I preferred Trump in the election,” while he was grinning from ear to ear and Trump was denying that Putin would have had any reason to interfere, so all 17 US intelligence agencies’ estimates were nothing but Deep State corruption.

Andrea X
Andrea X
4 months ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

More to the point, if Putin self-destruct l, he is certainly not going to be replaced by Prince Charming.

Thomas Bartlett
Thomas Bartlett
4 months ago
Reply to  Andrea X

Well, Zelensky speaks native-level Russian, so ….?

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
4 months ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

So from what I can gather from your recent posts, Western interference in Ukraine around the protests that removed Yanukovych are bad, whereas Russian interference in the country (plus many others) is perfectly acceptable?
Russia deserves a sphere of influence in the countries on its periphery such as Ukraine and the Baltics, but Europe doesn’t deserve a sphere of influence in the countries on its periphery, such as Ukraine and the Baltics even if those countries have actively sought to join the West due to Russias aggression against them in the past?
Putin shelling civilian cities, bombing hospitals and using medieval siege tactics to starve cities into submission is just war and anybody complaining about such barbaric behaviour needs to get in the real world, while the West supplying arms to Ukraine to help them repel the Russian invaders is warmongering?
NATO allowing the eastern bloc to join is poking the bear despite their never having been any written agreement to try and prevent it happening, whereas Russia is justified in ignoring the Budapest agreement that prevents it from attacking Ukraine and respecting its territory in exchange for Ukraine giving up its arsenal?
To me it all sounds rather hypocritical

Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
4 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

It’s really very simple, and it has to do with an overall understanding of the history of the region. Ukraine was a part of Russia every bit as much as Scotland and Wales are a part of Great Britain. That’s the difference. If Scotland sought to enter into a military defense pact with Russia or Russia succeeding in carrying out regime change in a newly independent Scotland with the eventual aim of placing advanced weaponry on the scottish-english border, and Scotland was all in with this, as you should be given all your talk about free choice, what do you think England might do. I suspect that England may act in a similar way to how the Russians have reacted. I would expect the US to react in a similar way if this type of thing happened in Mexico. And of course, US interference is South America, including regime change, is a long standing practice of the US. In fact, what do you think happened in the US Civil War when the Southern states decided to secede from the union.
The problem in your thinking is that you are looking at this from the perspective of enlightened European man living in a post-historical world where countries no longer chose to pursue politics by another means, namely war. Unfortunately, Russia doesn’t live in that world yet.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
4 months ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

But none of this happened did it? Ukraine was no closer to joining NATO than it was 20 years ago. NATO had no offensive weaponry anywhere near the eastern bloc members until Russia helped itself to Ukrainian territory in the Crimea and the east.
In your hypothetical scenario of an independent Scotland joining a defence pact with Russia I’d expect England to heavily fortify its northern border, and financially and diplomatically isolate Scotland, I wouldn’t expect it to carpet bomb Edinburgh and try to starve the Glaswegians.
You keep describing the Ukrainians and Russians as one people, however who decided that? The Ukrainians clearly don’t believe they’re the same as Russia, or don’t their wishes matter to you? They’ve asked for help to defend their sovereignty, why shouldn’t the West help them?
You final point about not holding Putin to the same standard as other world leaders is a cop out. Its akin to the colonials dealings with the “Savages” during the days of empire, thinking them not intelligent enough to know the difference between right and wrong. I think most Russians would find that attitude incredibly condescending

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
4 months ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

Don’t all sane people who in any way wish to see a better society in Ukraine AND Russia want Putin overthrown? We don’t doubt much that it would have been a good thing if Hitler had been assassinated. These people don’t comprise the whole essence of power in their countries but they are the charismatic centre of them, and getting rid of them undoubtedly weakens their states. Of course it was idiotic for Biden to explicitly say so. Freddy Gray on the Spectator said recently that Biden seems to think his role should be ‘commentator in chief’!
Like so many people you seem to have some almost nostalgic view that the US determines everything. It hardly reflects your narrative that so far the US has spoken openly about what it will NOT in any circumstances do, including vetoed the Poles passing on MiG jet fighters to the Ukrainians etc.
The war will continue not for the reasons you say, but rather for as long as Putin thinks he is more likely to claim victory and weaken or destroy Ukraine’s will to resist. And of course as a proven serial liar – perhaps that is too moralistic, but all recent experiences shows that his word cannot be trusted – he will then be able re-start the war at any point he wishes.
The West instead seems to have the rather sensible approach of supporting whatever the Ukrainian government wishes; peace talks if these seem fruitful, or helping them with more weaponry to increase the costs to the Russians. Whatever the undoubted missteps the West may have made before, the alternative you are advocating now, but don’t explicitly say, must be that the Ukrainians effectively surrender. As all ‘foreign policy realists’ know, that is simply the BEST way to get good terms at the peace talks!

Last edited 4 months ago by Andrew Fisher
Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
4 months ago
Reply to  Peter B

And what happens if Putin doesn’t self-destruct. And I suspect very strongly that Putin won’t. You need to look at the map and see what territory the Russians are actually holding, together with the fact that they are laying siege to a number of big cities medieval style, until their food and supplies run out.
Here’s the thing. What Mearsheimer said is spot on the money. That doesn’t excuse what Putin did and no doubt Putin is the primary aggressor in terms of the current situation. But there is also no question that the US and NATO have continually pushed eastward and have interfered in the internal politics of Ukraine. Poke the bear long enough, and eventually the bear will bite back. The Maidan 2014 revolution was aided and abetted by the US.
Unfortunately, the current war in Ukraine will continue as long as the US and its military-industrial complex continues to benefit from it. The US is basically fighting a proxy war against Putin in Ukraine. And everybody heard very clearly what Biden said in his speech on Saturday: he want Putin overthrown. I heard it live, and yes Biden may have gone off script, but this was the whole drift of the speech. The entire speech was nothing but warmongering and jingoism of the very worst sort.

Peter B
Peter B
4 months ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

Can you just explain to me why it is right for Russia to “interfere in the internal politics of Ukraine”, but not for the US or NATO (or anyone else) to do so ?
What gives the Russians this unique privilege ?
I’m asking because every commentator I’ve read who has criticised US/EU/NATO “interference” seems at the same time to actually support Russian interference.
I do hope you are not going to claim that Russia has the “right” to a buffer state – and furthermore the “right” to interfere in such a state.

Douglas McNeish
Douglas McNeish
4 months ago
Reply to  Peter B

If Putin were interfering in the government of Mexico, while arming it and courting it to become an ally of the Russian Federation, would the US government consider a military response? And if it did, as I suspect it would, would there be condemnation by the international community? I suspect not, apart from the obvious players.

Aidan Trimble
Aidan Trimble
4 months ago

Ah, the old ‘Mexico defence’. Handed round for use by Putin apologists since 2022.

Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
4 months ago
Reply to  Peter B

Douglas has fully addressed your question. But I also think you are completely missing perspective. Not only was Ukraine in Russia’s orbit, but it was part of Russia (one country) for a very long time. i.e. Ukraine was far more closely associated with Russia than say with Hungary or Czechoslovakia or Poland. In other words Ukraine wasn’t a satellite state but an integral part of Russia. In UK terms it would be the equivalent of the association of England with Wales (Henry VIII in 1536) and Scotland (1707 (with the accession of James VI of Scotland to the British throne) into a single country. Now one doesn’t need to support Putin’s current actions to realize that the situation is complex, and that the West’s interference ultimately led to the current situation.

Peter B
Peter B
4 months ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

Well, the situation is not “complex” any more. Not after this invasion. The Ukrainians certainly know what they want now. And it’s not Russia. Where is the uprising by the 8 million Russian speakers in Ukraine to support Russia ? There isn’t one.
Ireland was historically part of the UK. We’re not asking for it back. Nor should we.
Russia needs to grow up. We’re in the 21st century.
The Ukraine doesn’t want to have anything to do with Russia now. No one west of Moscow outside Russia does (I include Belarus in this). Get over it.

miss pink
miss pink
4 months ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

Thanks for your helpful and unemotional analysis of this situation. Many of those commentating here appear to take this as an approval of what Putin is doing and react in an emotional way. (Putin is mad, it’s a ‘simple’ situation etc). In addition you are expected to come up with all the solutions!

Phil Rees
Phil Rees
4 months ago
Reply to  Peter B

Perhaps, instead of just asserting that he’s wrong, you can say where in his work you find him mistaken; for he argues very cogently for his view.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
4 months ago
Reply to  Phil Rees

See my post below. He treats Putins reaction as unavoidable and hence justified, but expects the West to take all responsibility for keeping the peace. He does not consider the choices made by Ukraine, nor the reason why they might feel the need for protection from Russia. And he does not even discuss what concessions it would have taken for Russia to not go to war in order to get more, nor how the alternative world order would have looked like.

Peter B
Peter B
4 months ago
Reply to  Phil Rees

I have already pointed out that his starting assumption – that Putin can be negotiated with – is flawed. He may well “argue very congently” from this assumption. But it’s still a false one.
Even if Putin could be negotiated with, the demands Putin made are unaccpetable to any free, independent country.
The fact that Mearsheimer doesn’t see things as they really are marks him out as the fantastist and not a “realist”.
I quite understand that he’s preaching a coherent message that a lot of people would like to believe. It’s still a dangerous fantasy though. Millions of peoples’ lives are at stake here. This is not some academic game.

Bernard Hill
Bernard Hill
4 months ago
Reply to  Peter B

…timeliness for negotiation, was the early 90’s. When the West could have negotiated from strength. And the thing to have negotiated towards, was Russian security, as perceived in Russian terms. At that point, Western magnanimity had a chance of modifying the centuries old propensity for Russia to rely on being feared by its neighbors, for its sense of security from threats east and west. Threats which have of course been realized in the past.

Bernard Hill
Bernard Hill
4 months ago
Reply to  Bernard Hill

…and of course most importantly, threats from the south, since the Ottomans were Imperial Russia’s longest standing opponent.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
4 months ago
Reply to  Bernard Hill

The concept is interesting, but you owe it to us to specify what kind of concessions you propose that might have made Russia feel secure. It is always nice to know the cost before you buy. Russia is not threatened militarily by the west. OK, the Rand corporation convinced me that their fears are real, but they are still irrational. If a lack of actual threat is not enough, what would be? The obvious answer is power. Russia wants to be a great power, and control its neighbours as great powers do – and the neighbours want to be part of NATO because they are afraid of exatly that. Maybe Russia could do some work on how to make Lithuania and Poland feel secure without depending on NATO? More specifically, Russia clearly believes that Belarus and Ukraine are ancient Russian lands that belong under Moscow’s authoritarian government. So, we let them have Ukraine, like Adolf got the Sudetenland, and earn the eternal gratitude of the Ukrainians. What would Russia want next? And how would we convince them to stick to what they had?

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
4 months ago
Reply to  Peter B

That’s a very strong reaction to Mearsheimer, especially if your own views have changed ‘in the last few months’. Putin is a dictator and a war criminal but just shouting that isn’t unfortunately going to remove him from power. It is extremely unlikely that the Russians can be militarily defeated, after all, Hitler didn’t manage it! (when Russia was also ruled by a tyrranical Soviet government), so how confident can.we be that ‘Putin and his cronies will self-destruct’? And even if they do, at what cost? Ultimately there does need to be some sort of deal to end the war.

Although appalled by the Russian invasion, which can’t be condoned, the West has some responsibility, not least by encouraging Ukraine to believe it might at some point acquire NATO membership that was never on offer. There has been a lot of hot air, empty grandstanding and not much clear thought from the western political class.

Last edited 4 months ago by Andrew Fisher
Emre Emre
Emre Emre
4 months ago

I had to pause and literally laugh out loudly multiple times reading this – it is like a witty comedy sketch, only it’s real.
I still maintain the genesis of today’s crazy politics is the election of Trump and near nomination of Sanders. That put the liberal globalist class into a desperate overdrive in identity politics to retain their positions of power which is how we ended up in this surreal place.
In an evolution of trends, feminism seems to be replacing the “force feeding of democracy” as a justification for invading other countries now. I’ve first spotted this with attempts to justify continued occupation of Afghanistan e.g. that women were being denied eduaction.
It would be a big irony, if feminism would become a main reason for the West to justify occupying other countries and in general arming itself – talk about subversion of an ideology.

Jürg Gassmann
Jürg Gassmann
4 months ago

Western civilisation is doomed

Tom Lewis
Tom Lewis
4 months ago

This all assumes that women ‘don’t do violence’, and presumably therefore, violence is a male construct. In this assumption Ms Chan is wrong. They might be less effective, or better at choosing their moment for physical violence, but it also assumes that woman can’t be protagonists or that all ‘assault/violence’ is physical.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
4 months ago

Let’s begin the discussion of toxic liberal feminism. For starters, is Chan female and if she thinks she is, what proof does she have? Indisputable proof.

AC Harper
AC Harper
4 months ago

Viewing the world through a particular lens can be distorting. Most ‘experts’ looking at events bring their own expertise to bear, naturally enough… but is it appropriate?
Next week: The effects of the Ukraine ‘special military operation’ on stamp collecting, by A Philatelist.

laurence scaduto
laurence scaduto
4 months ago

Mearsheimer’s point about NATO’s (and the US’s) behavior in the aftermath of the fall of the Soviet Union is very apt. It’s his philosophy of “realism” that sticks in the throat.
There were a multitude of opportunities to help the millions of people who suffered under the CCCP; to befriend them and invite them into the fold of liberal market comforts. Instead we turned our backs on them, almost guaranteeing that something like Putin would happen. Even afer it became apparent what a social disaster we caused by pulling the (threadbare) rug out from under them we still did nothing.
But also, is the end of overt aggression really a fundamental aim of feminism? This is the idea that broke Jesus. I hope the feminists know what they’re doing.

R Wright
R Wright
4 months ago

Are feminists deliberately trying to provoke men to anger to thereby perpetuate a need for feminism?

Bernard Hill
Bernard Hill
4 months ago
Reply to  R Wright

…you might say that and you could be wright, but those who uptick you couldn’t possibly comment.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
4 months ago
Reply to  R Wright

It does seem that way, doesn’t it? By now though, I think most men are familiar with feminism’s motte-and-bailey tactics and are able to comfortably ignore them. Unfortunately, politicians do not and so devise policy based on ideological assumptions.

Thomas Clark
Thomas Clark
4 months ago

A conflict of visions – Thomas Sowell

Saul D
Saul D
4 months ago

When a man uses violence to defend his wife’s honour (eg from a joke), is that also toxic masculinity?

Rob Wright
Rob Wright
4 months ago
Reply to  Saul D

Chris Rock was wearing a short skirt.

Michael Friedman
Michael Friedman
4 months ago

Mearsheimer is a rigorous scholar whose views should merit deep engagement and not empty rhetoric

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
4 months ago

Just to pre-empt Johann Strauss, there is a difference between saying that aggression is part of the world and being realistic about how far you can push it back – and claiming (with WC Fields) that it is morally wrong to give a sucker an even break. On this point Mearsheimer is borderline at best, depending on which of his words you read. Many of his fans are not even borderline. The problem is not in his (very perceptive) analysis. It is in taking Russias behaviour as unavoidable (and therefore acceptable) and blaming other countries for provoking it – without also asking why countries in Eastern Europe have such a strong desire for NATO membership, and asking what Russia may have done to provoke that.

Last edited 4 months ago by Rasmus Fogh
Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
4 months ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Seems to me you are living in a world of make-belief rather than the world as it is. i.e. You hold post-modern, post-historical and ahistorical views. Time for you to perhaps pick up a history book, especially of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
4 months ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

The usual insults. Is that the best you can do?

The problem is that Mearsheimer is skipping some fairly important parts of the world as it is. First, Ukraine, Poland, the Baltic states exist, have interests and make choices – they are not NPCs. Second they have a strong, well-justified interest in being protected from Russian aggression. Third, the expansion of NATO is not a threat to Russias territorial integrity (I mean, really?). It is a threat to Russia’s ability to force its neighbours to do as they are told, which Russia no doubt sees as a vital interest. Fourth, Europe and the US have their own interests, which include having friendly neighbours and allies. Any stable settlement needs to consider all these things. If, at the end, you still tell me that the best policy is to make it official that Ukraine (and who else?) should remain under complete Russian domination, say so openly, and I will give you a respectful hearing. But ignoring half the players, putting all the blame on one side, and not even considering how the alternative would have played out – that is not ‘realism’.

Last edited 4 months ago by Rasmus Fogh
Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
4 months ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

As I said, read a little history, and open your eyes to look at a situation from all perspectives, not simply that of the West, and stop treating the West as a saint that can do no wrong.
Now, nobody in the US or UK or Western Europe would doubt that our democratic system of Government is better than an autocracy and dictatorship. I’m thankful to have be born in the UK and not in the Soviet Union or in the People’s Republic of China, for example. But that’s not issue. The issue is that we in the West should leave our noses out of places and regions that do not concern us and do not pose a direct threat to our security. More often than not where the West interferes it leaves things in a worse state than they were originally.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
4 months ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

Looking at the situation from all perspectives is excellent advice – unfortunately I think I am following it rather better than you are. The whole point of the post you are answering is the various perspectives Mearsheimer is ignoring, from those of the Ukrainians and East Europeans, to the actual long term goals of Russia, and the political rather than military aspects thereof. Mearsheimer provided some interesting insights on the Russian point of view, but that is not the only thing to consider.

As for “leav[ing] our noses out of places and regions that do not concern us”, speak for yourself, Yank – which is clearly your current position! Here in Europe, Russian dominance over its neighbours does concern us, and does pose a threat to our security. Anyway I’d say that Iraq etc. notwithstanding, the US has done a pretty damn good job interfering in Europe over the past 75 years, both for their own interests and for that of the locals. Which is why the US kept supporting NATO, and why countries are queuing up to get in under their umbrella, and away from the Russian one. If you think that this one is too expensive, or that there is a better deal to be made this time by not trying to support Ukraine against Russia, by all means spell it out and let us argue it. If it is that the US has grown too weak or disinterested to handle the task any more, that is for the US to decide. Just, please, do not try to dress your withdrawal up as some kind of moral obligation.

Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
4 months ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

And frankly I don’t need a respectful hearing from you, given how you tow the party line, whether it comes to the business in Ukraine or the management of the COVID pandemic where you and the people followed were 100% wrong 100% of the time.
As for Ukraine, I’ll tell you what I think. The West should never have put its nose where it doesn’t belong. Simple as that. The result of Western interference is the current disastrous and incredibly dangerous situation we now find ourselves in. And this is a result of nothing more than Western hubris and an evangelical desire of the West to spread their form of Government everywhere, including places that are simply not ready for it.

leculdesac suburbia
leculdesac suburbia
4 months ago

Chan is offering a cartoonish version of second wave radical feminism. A more serious analysis might be found in Catharine MacKinnon’s “Toward a Feminist Theory of the State.” There are hundreds more.
Characterizing Mearshimer in this way is intellectually lazy. But Mary, please stop generalizing about “feminism.” It’s like using the term “liberalism” or “humanist” or “secular”–concepts that are very complex, encompassing numerous debates and analyses far more complex than reducing one State actor to a rapist and the other to the victim.
And yes, attempting to reduce male violence against women and children (and each other) is a worthy goal–it’s why we have rape crisis centers, battered women’s centers, prisons, juvenile rehab facilities, and a focus on violence prevention throughout the first world and in our outreach programs. Doesn’t mean we can eradicate it, just like we can’t eradicate human slavery, but we sure as hell can reduce it.
Are you seriously insinuating that there’s been no improvement in intimate partner battering over the past 100 years? Why are you throwing your foremothers under the bus when they’ve sacrificed so much to improve the life conditions of so many?

Emre Emre
Emre Emre
4 months ago

I think her point (as she reveals in the last paragraph) is that views like Chan’s have more influence in today’s decision making despite being cartoonish you as call it. Not sure if you agree with it.

Andrew D
Andrew D
4 months ago

I’m not sure that ‘improvement in intimate partner battering over the past 100 years’ counts as progress

Dennis Boylon
Dennis Boylon
4 months ago

Boiling down Mearsheimer’s argument into a childish analogy is just plain funny. Not even the author articulates his arguments in detail let alone the childish tweet. Is it really too much to ask of the woke crowd to articulate an argument? Is it really “mansplaining” to ask a feminist to make an argument? Can she for example explain the 2018 Rand paper discussing the strategy to destabilize Russia? Does it not appear that this plan was implemented? How do you listen to the leaked 2014 Nuland phone call and not see US involvement? Mearsheimer is making a valid point. We have war in Ukraine because the US government wanted war in Ukraine. They have been implementing this plan since the coup in 2014. How many people really believe Russia is about to lose this war and collapse? Victoria Nuland and the neocons may be back in power in DC but their best laid plans seem to never work out as expected. The West has bit off more than it can chew. Poor leadership means it is only going to get worse.

https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR3063.html

Last edited 4 months ago by Dennis Boylon
Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
4 months ago
Reply to  Dennis Boylon

Fascinating document, that Rand paper. Thanks. It convinced me of several things, for instance that the Russian government actually does fear a military attack from the west – even if this seems totally ludicrous. And that Putin really is quite popular, and that Russians in general are OK with autocracy. But for someone who supposedly believes in foreign policy realism, I do not understand why you get so heated about it. Russia is a strategic competitor to the US, so the US is considering possible ways it can weaken Russia. I am sure Russia, China, Israel, France etc. all have similar documents about how to deal with potential strategic adversaries. Anyway, is that not what you would expect a great power to do? If you then read their actual recommendations, you will notice that most of the more aggressive options are judged to be too risky, and are discouraged as likely to be counterproductive even by great-game standards. Let alone (as they also say) when judged against wider US policy goals. As for Ukraine, sending lethal arms there gets no more than a maybe, on the judgement that you cannot push Russia out, and that a higher intensity of warfare in the Donbass is not in the US interest, even by the great-game-only metric that this report follows. They keep saying that sending arms should be carefully calibrated to avoid escalation.
Anyway, the report says that Russia’s main goals are to avoid democratisation as a threat to the regime, to control the near abroad, and to rebuild Russia’s status as a great power. Which also has an important function in buttressing the legitimacy of the regime. Even if it is too late now it would be interesting to consider what could have been achieved by alternative policies. But it seems quite doubtful to me whether the respect and power Russia would need to protect its self-esteem would not be way more than its neighbours and competitors were willing to give. And whether Russia would not have taken by force – eventually – what they could not get as a concession, unless they were shown clearly that such an attempt would be a costly failure.

Dominic A
Dominic A
4 months ago

The problems of gender equality aside, two things are abundantly clear:
Women are not raped for being under-dressed – rapists are psychologically disturbed people with a profound underlying and pre-existing propensity for sexual violence, which is very rarely even triggered by ordinary sexual cues. Their targets are usually people they know, and wish to harm for reasons unrelated to the victims personal qualities or dress style. It is a fundamental mistake to assume rapists’ motivation is anything like ordinary sexuality.

Likewise, Putin has a underlying,psycho-cultural disturbance (his feelings of humiliated rage around the fall/failure of the USSR) and a pre-existing propensity for proactive, uninvited violence, which is not triggered by ordinary threat cues. It is a mistake to assume his motivation is anything like that seen in normative threat-challenge scenarios.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
4 months ago
Reply to  Dominic A

I doubt your description fits all rapists. At a guess, a lot of rape cases come about from men who are pushing hard in order to get sex, and who believe (or convince themselves) that they have enough positive signals to count as go, or at least acquiescence.

Douglas McNeish
Douglas McNeish
4 months ago

Ms Chan (assuming a declared female gender,).must have got top marks for this as her uni thesis in Gender Studies.

Neven Curlin
Neven Curlin
4 months ago

Best, most interesting and thought-provoking piece on Unherd’s entire front page as of this moment.

Alan Groff
Alan Groff
4 months ago

John Mearsheimer presciently made the case in 1994 that Clinton was making a colossal mistake pushing Kravchuk into signing the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances because it would lead to Russia invading Ukraine. 
He said beware! In Melissa Chan’s vernacular, your neighbor is a sex offender. Don’t be home alone without a gun.
Fast forward to 2022, Mearsheimer says I told you so.
The media says Mearsheimer blames the West, which isn’t exactly what he said. How unfair. But John, you of all people should know to deal with the media as it is, not as you wish it to be.
Our narratives inhibit our perception, blinding us to new aspects that would give us the ability to see reality in such a way that would enable our reasoning to make progress.
The challenge to Melissa Chan is to see new aspects by learning to see people like Mearsheimer, who, despite their lack of social awareness and political sense, may have some critical insight into our civilization that will be lost if we label and shame them. 
We may abolish masculinity at home; still, the masculine creed surrounds our borders. What do you say of those who leave their families in Poland’s safety and go back to risk their lives to fight and kill to save Ukraine? What masculinity is worthy?  

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
4 months ago

Gosh, just when you thought the woke cult couldn’t plunge any further into gibbering idiocy! Melissa Chan doesn’t seem to realise that her views are at best completely irrelevant to Putin, and at worst reinforce his view that the West is utterly decadent and ultimately unwilling to use masculine brutal force to back up its posturing. ‘Poor women’ doesn’t really rise to the challenge, and at the risk of being a bit ‘woke’ myself, focussing on gender politics when thousands are dying, some of them tortured and/or massacred, is an utter obscenity. (Presumably it doesn’t matter much if it is white men who are dying).
Being wilfully impotent she reverts to the usual identity politics comfort zone and instead attacks John Mearsheimer, maybe as some sort of displacement activity. That’ll show them!

Last edited 4 months ago by Andrew Fisher
Chris Whybrow
Chris Whybrow
4 months ago

To be honest Foreign Policy “Realism” holds about as much validity as CRT or Gender Theory. Like them it is based on a number of faulty assumptions and enforced primarily by peer pressure and a lack of research. One only needs to open a history book to realise the notion that every state always acts in its own rational self interest is a total absurdity.

Last edited 4 months ago by Chris Whybrow