She is Olivia Gazalé, author of Le Mythe de la Virilité – A Piège pour les Deux Sexes, a book that is much talked about around the world with a theme that – always – causes controversy. When there is little willingness to listen honestly, it is evident that everyone loses. The French essayist’s research proves this – and perhaps so does this interview. Exclusively for FAUSTO, Olivia Gazalé talks about masculinity, virility, the role of women in all this crisis and, of course, the (im)possible end of the war of the sexes. Reflect if you can.
FAUSTO – Is masculinity different from virility?
Olivia Gazalé: I believe it is important to distinguish masculinities, which are plural, multiple, various, as are feminities, that are as many ways to inhabit male or female sex, from Virility, which is a normative model, an ideal, an archetype, a cultural construction. Virility designates what a man MUST be in order to be fully recognized as one; virility is therefore looking to abolish diversity and standardize masculinities.
That’s interesting. How important to distinguish…
The term “virility” does not have any female equivalent, and this is for a good reason: it is because it is something women are missing, and which therefore places them, irredeemably, in a position of inferiority.
Because the heart of the myth of virility, the original idea, the basic principle is the postulate of a hierarchy of the sexes, the postulate of superiority of the male over the female. It is the idea that the man is the most accomplished representative of the human race, whereas the woman is, by nature, inferior. Where the woman is essentialized as weak, fragile, fearful, entirely governed by her entrails, unsuitable to control her emotions, irrational and passive, the man, on the contrary, is perceived as rational, vigorous, active, powerful and dominant. Virility is a model of omnipotence, of warlike, political and sexual omnipotence.
You say men have fallen into their own trap. In what sense do you say that?
What is well-known, is what this ideology of domination generated throughout history, in terms of oppression and woman appropriation. But, what is way more taboo, is that the counterpart of this is in fact a trap form men. In reality, sexism is a trap for both sexes.
Yes, that’s what I believe in. Everyone loses…
Because the duty of virility is also a burden for men, a burden that consists in submitting to a set of heavy injunctions, which are coercive and discriminatory. Such are a burden to every man who wants to be recognized as a “real man”. “You will be a man, my son“, says Kipling’s poem. But the work will be long and tough. In the same way that Simone de Beauvoir wrote “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman“, one is not born a man, one becomes a man. But “becoming a man” is a painful and coercive process.
What does it mean to be manly?
Being virile consists in demonstrating an appetite for power, an aptitude to dominate, in showing faculties of self control and emotional retention: a man must appear as strong, brave, ardent in the fight, victorious, even heroical. A man never should never show his weaknesses, never cry. A man is above suffering and defies death. The role model is Herakles, or Hercules, the invincible god. It is also Zeus, or Jupiter whose innumerable sexual conquests are proof of incomparable power. Because the more sexual conquests a man has, the more he shows the extent of his power.
What is behind this obsession?
We can ask ourselves if this obsessional track of power and performance does not reveal an abyssal fear of powerlessness, and if the passion for victory does not hide a primary fear of defeat, be it a military, athletic, professional or sexual defeat. Behind the cult of the performance, the terror of failure can always be found. So, the injunctions to virility are coercive; but they are also and above all truly discriminatory. Every man who does not show the markers of triumphant virility is not considered as a “real” men, he is regarded as a subhuman, or an underman.
Can you give us a few examples?
Starting with the “effeminates” who have forever been stigmatized, insulted and abused. Indeed, homophobia stems from misogyny: it is because the female is degraded, that effemination is considered as demeaning. But subhumans are also all men suspected of sexual impotence, who were the object of the worse condemnations throughout history. Let’s just remind that there was, during the 16th and 17th centuries in France, a so-called court of impotence, the judgments of which were particularly severe.
Finally, the subhuman is also, of course, the foreigner. The myth of virility strengthens xenophobia, anti-semitism, racism, but also class contempt. The superiority of one necessarily implies inferiority of others, whether they are Jewish, Arabic, black, or simply poor. Being a man is dominating. The hierarchy of the sexes is inseparable from the hierarchy of the races. No supremacy can exist without an inferior to despise, to enslave, to colonise or even to eliminate. We know where this supremacist ideology historically led to the darkest times of slavery, to fascism, to the passion for war and capitalist exploitation of man by man.
Is this why this ideology is currently going through a crisis?
Yes, because it demonstrated its deadly potential, and then because the ideal of omnipotence has become an utopia in a society that produces today infinitely more losers than winners.
So it has nothing to do with women?
Indeed, it is not women who are responsible for the male discomfort, it is the domination model on which the male hegemony was founded that went into crisis. Men find themselves caught in their own trap.
What can we do for each other, in fact? Without utopia. Do you see any signs of “peace” between men and women in the near future?
The time has come to get out of the dead end in which the speeches about relationships between men and women have locked themselves in for many decades. Indeed, in this matter, the public debate is often monopolized by two irreconcilable radical speeches, as shown by endless confrontations on social media. On this theme, the public debate is indeed often monopolized by two irreconcilable radical speeches.
What are they?
On the women’s side, feminism considers women as victims of the male domination and denounces discriminations, injustices, and violences which are still inflicted on women today. Rightfully so. The glass ceiling is a fact, everywhere, and the #MeToo movement has reminded us of the extent of sexual violences incurred by women everywhere around the globe.
Feminism has still many important fights to lead, but one should really try to avoid the trap of misandry, or androphobia, which consists in refusing to consider men other than as oppressors and predators.
According to the androphobic speech, the man is systematically guilty and the woman is systematically a victim. The mere evocation of male suffering is enough for being accused of anti-feminism.
Yes, absolutely. I share this idea and sometimes I’m criticized for it…
On the men’s side, the masculinist current appeals to more and more followers. Their creed is the following: women, greedy of revenge, have bereft the man from his supremacy, they have taken the power and emasculated men. Not only do they claim recognition of their suffering, but they also consider that there is now a female domination, or rather a female tyranny, even a female fascism. They say it is the “end of men”, they deplore a “crisis of masculinity” and their answer to this is the virilist regeneration and the return to the traditional polarity of gender roles – like every time virility feels threatened throughout history…
What is virilist regeneration?
Virilist regeneration is, by exemple, a recurrent incantation of the fascist ideology. The problem is that they are often violent: verbally, they daily vomit their misogyny on the internet, and physically, they sometimes even encourage others to commit crimes, like the Incels, [involuntary celibacy] that go so far as sometimes support the misogynic murders or glorify rape.
Do you believe all this is reconcilable?
These 2 extreme postures – androphobia versus misogyny – will forever be irreconcilable and all they do is stir up the war of sexes. This is why I think we should address the issue differently: yes it is true, women suffer from sexism and inequalities, but yes it is also true that there really is a massive and painful male distress.
I think the same thing…
The suicide rate is much higher for men, as well as the burn out, work accidents, addictions, alcoholism, violence, and criminality; men’s life expectancy is shorter, and boys’ academic performances tend to be lower compared to girls’ and so on… There is, in fact, a male discomfort. Yet I am convinced that it is wrong to say that women and their emancipation are responsible for it. According to my research, men are the victims of the ideology of domination, they are dominated dominants, dominated by the gender system they have created – I call it “viriarcal system” – which reveals itself as being a trap for them today.
If the feminine revolution will be fully realized when the masculine revolution occurs, aren’t women relying on men again? Or do you say this in the sense that there will never and never be independence at all because we need to see ourselves on others?
As long as men will not emancipate themselves from alienating conformisms which amputate a large part of their psychic truth, they will remain unable to pursue balanced relations with the other sex, and women will continue to suffer discrimination and violence. The revolution of women will be fully accomplished when the revolution of men will have taken place, when men will have freed themselves from gender roles.
Is there a way for this to happen?
For men to change the way they look at women, they have to change the way they look at themselves. In the same way that women do not “masculinise” themselves where they seize positions of power, men do not “feminize” when they are gentle, empathic and sensitive, when they look after babies, cook, iron and clean: they simply reclaim the fact of being a complete human being. Benevolence, empathy and patience have no gender. Nor to the taste of power. Masculine investment of the private sphere and emotional life, reinvention of paternity, expression of emotions already accomplished by many men, do not constitute a “decline”, as masculinists think, but an opportunity for humanity, perhaps its greatest opportunity: that of announcing, not the desolate “end of men”, but the exciting birth of new masculinities, an indispensable condition for a better balance of relations between both sexes. If we want to end the war of the sexes, it is necessary that men reinvent themselves.
You mentioned in other interviews that women are attacking your work, but what about men? How are men reacting to your book? Are they showing interest in learning more about all these changes?
I did not suffer from many attacks from people who red the book. But I was mostly attacked by persons who reacted to radio or TV interviews. Some women react on a hysterical way when they hear about male suffering; and some men react on a hysterical way when they hear a woman daring talking about men and virility. But apart from that, my book has been very well received, because now the French society is ready to deeply examine its conscience. It is high time.