Crucial Minutia
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Ethan Todras-Whitehill
Punch-for-Punch: What Men Can Learn From Wenches
3 Comments | posted April 09th, 2007 at 02:08 pm by Ethan Todras-Whitehill

“A good wench is so hard to find,” laments King Phillip, sitting on his throne, speaking with Hank Hill. “You are fortunate. Yours seems sturdy. If I had her in my employ, it would solidify the bond between our two kingdoms.”

In the King of the Hill episode “Joust Like a Woman,” Hank Hill is trying to make a big propane sale to Phillip’s traveling Renaissance Fair. But Phillip refuses to drop character, speaking only with thee’s and thou’s in a British accent. (He’s voiced by Alan Rickman.)

Phillip’s kingdom is a misogynist’s fantasy. Women are put in the stocks for “the crime of offering her own opinion,” paid less than men, and have no rights. To help Hank make the sale, though, his wife Peggy agrees to work for Phillip. Upon discovering the inequalities, she goes to speak with Phillip, who ignores her unless she addresses him as King. When she asks him if he’s familiar with the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, he asks how could he be? After all, it is but the year 1590. Peggy tries to organize a revolt of the wenches by throwing tomatoes at Phillip, but the other women abandon her at the last second. To keep Peggy from the stocks, Hank agrees to fight a joust for Peggy’s honor—and the propane account.

“Take off that crown! I’m kicking your ass!”

*     *     *

Here’s the thing: men are in trouble in our society.

Boys account for 71 percent of all school suspensions. They get lower grades than girls and are held back 50% more often in eighth grade. As a percentage of college students, college graduates, and graduate students, boys are shrinking each year.

If we ask “why now,” one answer is obvious: feminism. It’s a pretty easy scapegoat, and many men (and women) take it. David Kupelian, managing editor of the arch-conservative magazine Whistleblower, said:

The problem is that misguided feminists, intent on advancing a radically different worldview than the one on which this nation was founded, have succeeded in fomenting a revolution. And that revolution amounts to a powerful and pervasive campaign against masculinity, maleness, boys, men and patriarchy.

Kupelian is part of a feminist backlash that is extreme in the political far right, but is nonetheless present squarely in the middle. Consider the “lad mag” (Maxim, Stuff, etc) craze of the late 90s, or websites like Railing against the same feeling of incursion on their masculinity that drives Kupelian and King Phillip, men revel in childish stories that glorify the few pursuits still considered solidly male: tits & ass and blowing shit up. (I’m not exempt from this by any stretch of the imagination.)

Here’s another take on it: men are in trouble because of the feminist movement, but it’s not feminism’s fault. The feminist movement broke the gender roles that had existed for millennia. Woman took for themselves the right to define themselves and their gender—as traditionally “masculine” or “feminine” as they want to be. And in doing so, they gave men the opportunity to do the same.

We didn’t take it. It’s kind of understandable. Power is a zero-sum game, so at the same time women were decreasing our share of power to a fair level, they were suggesting we join them. For men, it was like someone kicking them in the nuts, then asking them to dance.

But that’s just what men need to do. Pre-feminist women lived by a gender definition not of their making. Men today live by two gender definitions not of their making: one from time immemorial, and one from modern women. We are expected to be macho and sensitive, and we never asked for either of them. But the older definition is at least familiar, if equally oppressive, so we retreat from the new to the old—just like King Phillip. But really, what men need to do is get off their duffs and come up with something themselves.

*     *     *

In the first pass, King Phillip knocks Hank on his ass. Just as he’s standing over him, gloating, a masked knight appears and charges towards Phillip. They joust, and Phillip is quite literally knocked off his high horse—the masked knight is Peggy.

“Hey King Make-Believe! You just got beat by a girl!” Peggy cries, lifting her visor.

The wenches gather around Phillip, and he grumpily orders, “Help me to my feet, you gaggle of magpies.”

Instead, they hand him a scroll.

“What hand you me?” he demands.

“It’s a lawsuit.”

Phillip drops the accent (or rather Rickman affects a terrible Texas drawl). “Crap! I’m gonna lose my fair. I don’t wanna go back to selling real estate!”

This entry was posted on Monday, April 9th, 2007 at 2:08 pm and is filed under Pop Culture, Politics, Gender. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

There are currently 3 responses

  1. I get what you’re going for here–the sensitive, macho dichotomy can be just as oppressive as the whore, virgin one that has so affected the lives of women and girls.
    But, I have to say that you have a pretty narrow definition of “power” at work here Ethan. Part of what feminism also speaks to is the idea that power does not just come in the form of money and/or traditional forms of influence–fame, authority, giant and amoral media conglomerates or corporations.
    Power is also alive and well in an inspiring, honest relationship. Or the bond between a father and daughter. Or the release from expectations that a man must always be strong and resolute.
    It seems like creating a healthy dichotomy of masculine and feminine, relational and independent, cognitive and emotional, is what we are all–men and women alike–trying to achieve.

    April 9th, 2007 | 6:52 pm
  2. I’m referring to power in the broadest sense, the kind that is the agglomerate of the different factors you’re pointing out. Really, I think I’m talking about the psychological “sense” of power, rather than actual power.

    You’re approaching it on a much more individualistic level, and I don’t disagree with what you said. With reference to what I’m saying, I think most individual men (and women) could only relate to part. That’s the nature of speaking in generalities. What I’m getting at is that men as a whole, as a culture, respond to this perceived power shift.

    April 9th, 2007 | 8:01 pm
  3. […] to diversify and enrich our churches and organizations, how do we avoid disempowerment? This post touched on something I’ve been trying to articulate for a few years now: “Men are in […]

    April 11th, 2007 | 4:08 pm

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