Toronto, Theweleit and Misogyny

There are some obvious things to say about the attack in Toronto yesterday  as well as some less obvious ones.

The first observation is that the number of commentators rushing to condemn Islamic extremism before any evidence was available has certainly reduced. Someone like Katie Hopkins in the UK or just about anyone from Fox News would, only a couple of months ago, have rushed into print to condemn the attacker and along with them all Muslims.  (of course it may well be the case that they  did indeed do this, but I have missed them if so) Instead, a near universal silence has fallen and a different message has started to arrive. It would appear that the attacker was part of a movement, the Incel movement, that sees men as being on the receiving end of some sort of feminist plot to do men down in the modern world, predominantly sexually.  As this message comes to the fore, coverage decreases accordingly. It becomes an interesting if incomprehensible event, unrelatable to others and not representative of anything.

Minassian’s attack seems so far from a grasp of reality that it is tempting to write it off as the ravings of an individual who displays all the signs of serious mental illness. However, this would be a mistake, because if it does turn out to be the case that the killer is part of this group then further questions flow from his attitudes and actions. If the motivation is truly one of the hatred of women per se then it will be important to point out that rather than being separated off from the rest of the hard right and the alt right, it will be necessary to make the point that hatred of women is an essential part of the psychology of Fascism.

Klaus Theweleit’s 1977 two-volume work Male Fantasies stands up to rereading in this context. He points out quite convincingly that the male fear of the female body and women as humans as such is an integral part of the fascist mindset and that it emerged out of both Willhelmine Germany and the trauma of the First World War and Weimar. Anything that threatens to undermine or penetrate the rigid male carapace is to be rejected as “unworthy” of existence. For fascism the only true role of the woman is that of the wife and mother, subordinate to the fighter. It could be argued that the weapon that was chosen in Toronto, and in so many other recent attacks; namely, the car or the van is so often seen as an extension of the male personality, providing a solid, armoured, even penile, carapace itself.

A centenary after the end of the First World War we are still confronted by male attitudes to women which essentially still nestle in the same folds of the male psyche. The attack in Toronto represents the armed extension of the Weinstein phenomenon  and the #metoo movement will need to take account of that. Men will also need to think about what Toronto says about us.

Fundamentalists of every stripe are almost invariably men and their first target, whether it be religious fundamentalism or secular, is always women.

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