Tenn’s “Masculinist Revolt”

I’ve been reading William Tenn stories, from NESFA Press’s 2001 volume Immodest Proposals: The Compete Science Fiction of William Tenn, Volume 1. I used to like Tenn’s work a lot, but these days I’m not a good audience for satire, even when I agree with it politically. I’m skimming the stories and mostly rolling my eyes, but I’m finding that I like some of the Afterwords a great deal. I think I’ll end up keeping the book just for the Afterwords.

And also to have easy reference to one particular story: “The Masculinist Revolt,” written in 1961, and set in a near-future in which women are more or less in charge and unisex clothing has just come into fashion, and oppressed-feeling men respond by starting a masculinist movement.

It’s definitely satire, but in various ways I found it remarkably (and unfortunately) prescient/modern. I only skimmed it, but here are some quotes from it:

…he brooded on the pushing-around men had taken from women all through the twentieth century. Men had once been proud creatures; they had asserted themselves; they had enjoyed a high rank in human society. What had happened?

[A character suggests setting up a] movement fighting for men’s rights, carrying on propaganda against the way our divorce laws are set up, publishing books that build up all the good things about being a man.

Those who took the Albany Pledge swore to marry only women who would announce during the ceremony, “I promise to love, to honor, and to obey”—with exactly that emphasis.

[One of the leaders of the new Masculinist movement is an out-of-work computer programmer.]

He spent eighteen years brooding on his wrongs, real or imaginary, eighteen years studying the social problems from which they sprang, eighteen years reading the recognized classics in the field of relations between the sexes: Nietzsche, Hitler, the Marquis de Sade…

[The Code Duello is reinstated, and the first rule of dueling is:]

Absolute secrecy was demanded by the Code Duello from all concerned…

…the Masculinist Society pledged its resources to any man fighting the great fight for what came to be called the Privilege of the Penis.

And so on. Oh, and the early Masculinist icons don’t wear fedoras, but they do wear bowler hats. All the story is missing to be really modern is a reference to ethics in journalism, a mention of involuntary celibacy, and some negging.

As with a lot of satire, I wasn’t completely sure that I had correctly identified the intended target; I was a little worried that it might be a discrimiflip parody of feminism. But apparently Tenn didn’t originally intend it that way. Interestingly, according to the 2001 Afterword, the story cost him some female friends, and his female agent; they saw it as “a castration nightmare” or as vicious trash. And a male friend of his read it as “the manifesto. The statement of principles for all the guys in the world.” But Tenn intended it as satire. But then he adds this: “Apparently I picked the wrong sex, but I was right about the nuttiness either of the two could develop as it wriggled in the throes of gender-political militancy.” Sigh.

Anyway, I don’t particularly recommend reading the story. But I was impressed at how accurate a portrait of the Men’s Rights movement he managed to write, sixty-plus years ago.

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