The Privileged Sex by Martin van Creveld is a breezy history of Western gender relations intended to counteract the envelopment of our university History departments by ardent feminists. Mostly a military historian, the author bounces from classical references to Freud to more contemporary writers in describing the relative station of women in society.
With over 1,100 footnotes and a sterling reputation, it’d be hard to crack his reputation as a scholar. Much of what’s said in the Men’s Rights Movement could be refuted with a copy of this book, but you won’t see feminists bothering to cite it.
What makes this useful is that it establishes a record of human nature. van Creveld writes:
Human laws reflect those the gods had made. Men and women are praised or blamed according to whether they follow their respective natures.
The irony of academic ‘privilege-checkers’ who write screeds about ‘male privilege’ is that the historical record supports pervasive norms of female privileges. Men are biologically predisposed to not just want to sacrifice financially for women, but to sacrifice their lives by the millions for both the honor and the safety of their women. Men at all times and places have had a legal and socially-enforced duty to die in battle on the demands of their sovereigns. Women have always, owing to weaker constitutions, had lower expectations accorded to them in both labor and war.
It’s a book about gender relations that travels between the Scylla of whining about male disposability and the Charybdis of complaining about male oppression of women.
In particular, van Creveld dissects the female malingering behavior encouraged by psychology since the beginning of the modern era.
On the right, we need to express the correct level of resignation towards the immutability of human nature. Complaining that the lot of men is to suffer and die — usually for women — is a dead end, because it’s the nature of our species.
In particular, popular-internet-man-writer invocations to stop ‘white knighting’ are doomed to fall on dead ears. Men are hard-wired to fight in defense of women. They’re also hard-wired to kill off enemy men to seize the women that their opponents are defending.
The most interesting claim that the author supports is that relating towards the flip in gender life expectancy. Before modern medicine, women, owing to their greater vulnerability to infection and death in childbirth, had lower life expectancies than men did. Since that ended, we’ve seen substantial social changes in gender relations. As van Creveld writes,
Since 1920, the gap between life expectancy for American women and men has grown by several hundred percent. In Germany, meanwhile, the difference increased by more than 20 percent between 1964 and 1984.
This swap tends to be under-appreciated in typical history survey courses.
The author’s case is that feminism (and other brands of gender equality advocacy) will eventually collapse under its own contradictions. It suffers from a need to advocate for both ‘equality’ and the traditional privileges of women, which even the most ardent feminists tend to be unwilling to give up.
His alternate projection is that the genders will continue to grow apart, to become more alien to one another, until an external shock forces it to end.
Should you buy the book?
Yes, if you want to counteract equality-driven propaganda, or perhaps to understand better your role as a man or woman in historical context.
Thanks for the review, I’ve read nearly all of Creveld’s books but missed this one. A few spelling corrections: woen -> women (first quote), Charbodis -> Charybdis.
Thanks for the corrections. Could have sworn I fixed the second one last night, but apparently not.
I had no idea Van Creveld wrote on this topic.
He touched on gender relationships in previous military-focused books, “The Culture of War” and especially “Men, Women & War.”
I’ve only read his essays (for years… probably going back to ~2005), but only recently read the Rise and Decline of the State. I may pick up those next. When it’s a major author, I like to polish off everything that they’ve written.