Dialogue: Angry Feminist Assails Socrates In Epic Rant

Characters:

 Know it all (KIA)—the author imagines this to be a cis-gender, heterosexual male, a stereotypical mansplainer, but it could be anyone, really.

Knows more (KM)—the author imagines this to be someone who presents as a woman, the usual victims of mansplainers, but it could also be anyone.

Setting:

The characters meet in the kind of place people might meet and have a conversation. It could be a train, a food court, a post office, or even an open marketplace (Agora).

Our characters come across one another and greet each other in the usual ways.

KIA: Hey, what’s up?

KM: I have to go to a lecture on Socrates as the father of philosophy, which excites me as much as watching algae grow on paving stones.

KIA: I love Socrates! What’s wrong with you? Haven’t you read the dialogues?

KM: I’ve read them.

KIA: Most people who read them love them.

KM: And?

KIA: How can so many people be wrong? The people who understand him love him.

KM: So, I don’t understand him?

KIA: It’s just that most scholars find the dialogues enthralling.

KM: If you didn’t know, the dialogues are written by Plato. Socrates is just a character.

KIA: I see no reason to think Socrates wasn’t as Plato portrayed him. Anyway, Plato is just as good.

KM: Plato’s Socrates is not the same as everyone else’s Socrates. And I’m no more fond of Plato than Socrates. They both seemed to be a bit too fond of tyrants.

KIA: I thought you would like Plato because he was an early feminist.

KM: How is he an early feminist?

KIA: He wanted women to be trained as men and to share in rule as philosopher queens.

KM: Why did he want them to be trained as men?

KIA: To rule equally as men.

KM: Then why couldn’t men be trained the same as women?

KIA: Women had been deprived. He wanted to lift them up.

KM: Lift them to the level of men?

KIA: Yes.

KM: So men would have to lower themselves to be equal to women?

KIA: No, that’s not what he meant.

KM: I think it is.

KIA: Why

KM: Well, he said, “We will not then allow our charges . . . to play the parts of women.”

KIA: Because men and women would play the same parts.

KM: And he said men shouldn’t “imitate a woman young or old”

KIA: Well, of course, no one should be false to himself.

KM: By being “involved in misfortune and possessed by grief and lamentation”?

KIA: He only meant we should respond to tragedy rationally.

KM: By “rationally,” you mean “like a man.” He also said no man should act as “a woman that is sick, in love, or in labor.”

KIA: But, still, he felt that women could be elevated.

KM: And he felt they needed to be elevated.

KIA: He wanted them to make society better.

KM: By not being women.

KIA: But he recognized the potential in women.

KM: Excuse me if I’m not flattered by his opinion that I can be a worthwhile person if only I try to be more like men.

KIA: He didn’t mean it that way. He recognized many wise women.

KM: Many?

KIA: Look at Diotima. She’s the voice of reason in The Symposium. The wisest person in the dialogue was a woman.

KM: Diotima wasn’t a real woman.

KIA: Many people believe she existed.

KM: Why?

KIA: Because Plato used people’s real names.

KM: How do you know?

KIA: Because they match historical accounts of the people.

KM: Do they match historical accounts of Diotima?

KIA: There are no historical accounts of Diotima.

KM: So why do you think she was real?

KIA: Why would I think she wasn’t?

KM: Because there is no record of her other than Plato, and Plato rarely made mention of women?

KIA: He spoke fondly of Aspasia.

KM: Socrates liked Aspasia because she wasn’t a shrew, which is what he thought his wife, Xanthippe, was.

KIA: But Plato respected the opinions of Aspasia and Diotima.

KM: Because Aspasia knew how to manage a household and Diotima spoke of non-physical love as ideal Forms, but he had to invent Diotima to make his point.

KIA: Still, it was a woman who instructed the men on love.

KM: Yes, and she taught that the only true love was between men.

KIA: She taught that love was of the mind. Of ideas.

KM: And it is men, not women, who are ruled by their minds. Ultimately, The Symposium is just about Plato’s ideal forms, love being one of them. He speaks of true love between men because he didn’t see women as being capable of true understanding.

KIA: Not all the men. Not Alcibiades. He was a libertine and a horrible traitor to his country.

KM: And friend of Socrates—someone who wrestled with him, slept with him, and drank with him.

KIA: But Socrates rebuffed him.

KM: And everyone else. Or, all the men, anyway.

KIA: Socrates hated Alcibiades.

KM: But they slept together? As enemies do?

KIA: Again, nothing happened.

KM: Some might think naked wrestling is something.

KIA: But Socrates didn’t respond.

KM: I find it interesting that Alcibiades expected all wrestling matches to become sexual.

KIA: How do you know that?

KM: Why else would he be surprised that Socrates didn’t respond?

KIA: I think he was just disappointed Socrates didn’t return his feelings.

KM: Maybe it was just because Socrates was so old?

KIA: Socrates wasn’t interested because he was concerned with more important things.

KM: Maybe Socrates wasn’t interested because he wasn’t gay.

KIA: Socrates was a philosopher. Alcibiades wasn’t a serious thinker.

KM: Do you think Alcibiades might have represented Plato’s feelings?

KIA: What? Why?

KM: Well, I mean. Plato was gay, wasn’t he?

KIA: Why would you say that?

KM: Hey, remember in the Republic where it says women should do physical training like men? You know, naked? And it says it would be hard to look at the naked women, especially the ones who are ugly or old.

KIA: I’m sure he was just addressing the concerns of the day.

KM: Oh, I’m sure. By the way, who did Plato marry?

KIA: I don’t know. No one does.

KM: Socrates had two wives (see Myrto). So did Aristotle. If Plato had one, don’t you think someone would have mentioned it?

KIA: What does that matter, anyway?

KM: Well, it’s consistent with him being gay.

KIA: And why would Plato portray himself through such an awful person as Alcibiades?

KM: Maybe Plato wasn’t proud of his feelings.

KIA: What!?

KM: Maybe Plato wasn’t proud of his erotic love for Socrates, so he portrayed it in a disgusting manner.

KIA: Why wouldn’t he be proud? Homosexual relationships were encouraged in his society.

KM: I didn’t mean he was ashamed of being gay, but embarrassed that his own feelings for Socrates weren’t returned. Also, maybe being embarrassed by his less than “Platonic” love for Socrates. Also, it was Plato, not Alcibiades, who was the wrestling champion.

KIA: I think Plato was just committed to higher ideals.

KM: Or maybe Plato was wrestling with his own daimons, and he could only express them through a drunken Alcibiades.

KIA: That makes no sense.

KM: Did you see what I did there?

KIA: What?

KM: Wrestling with his daimons? ‘Cause he was a wrestler? ‘Cause Alcibiades wrestled Socrates naked? ‘Cause daimons are spirits that impart wisdom and not demons?

KIA: Oh, yeah, I get it. Who do you think you are, anyway, Mark Henderson?

KM: If only Plato had made more puns instead of wrestling naked boys.

KIA: Like Socrates, Plato was a man of wisdom and honour, not a profligate!

KM: Sure. That’s why he shows the struggle only to have love of reason to win in the end. The lust of Alcibiades is defeated in the ultimate wrestling match.

KIA: Maybe he wasn’t interested in teenagers.

KM: Wasn’t Xanthippe a teenager at the time? You know, when Socrates married her.

KIA: No one knows for sure how old she was [typically claimed to be an older wife, the exception to the rule of girls marrying as teens].

KM: Socrates was 55 when his oldest son was born.

KIA: Xanthippe may have married late. It’s possible she was in her 20s.

KM: Seems likely, right?

KIA: Of course it does.

KM: It really doesn’t. Most girls married in their teens. Socrates died at 70, and his friends were worried about his sons being fatherless, because they were still young.

KIA: Of course they were concerned.

KM: Sure. Perfectly normal.

KIA: It is.

  1. Yes, if you’re an old man who married a child.

KIA: Poor guy. Xanthippe was a total shrew.

KM: According to Socrates.

KIA: According to everyone around him. She was angry all the time.

KM: Everyone around him only knew about her through him. Maybe she was angry because she was forced to marry a middle-aged man while she was still a child.

KIA: But Socrates was well-respected.

KM: By Plato and who else?

KIA: All of Athens.

KM: That’s why they killed him?

KIA: He was a pillar of the community.

KM: What did he contribute to the community?

KIA: Knowledge.

KM: What did he contribute to Xanthippe?

KIA: He took care of her.

KM: With her own money. She came from a wealthy family. Socrates wasn’t working and bragged that he never asked for payment.

KIA: Socrates was a stonemason and a soldier.

KM: He did all that before Xanthippe met him. Most of it before she was born.

KIA: He wasn’t just a layabout.

KM: In the Apology, he said his search for truth had reduced him to poverty because, you know, he wasn’t working.

KIA: That was at the end of his life.

KM: Right, exactly when he was married to Xanthippe. He wasn’t doing any paid work, and she lived off her family’s wealth.

KIA: Well, there’s a lot more I could tell you about Socrates, but I have some appointments I need to prepare for.

KM: Oh, sure. I look forward to hearing from you. Maybe you can deliver the next lecture on Socrates and Plato.

KIA: Maybe I can.

low angle photograph of the parthenon during daytime
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Someone Identified the Masculine Voice (#poem)

person holding black pump shotgun
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The male poet overcompensates
With poems of unbridled bravado,
Giving unwanted details of
Disemboweling a deer with
Bare handed desperation.

He counts his sexual conquests
With disquiet and undue clarity,
Each sweaty fumble declared
Victory over inadequacy and
Untold performance anxiety.

Somebody once called him queer
And set him on a course of
Toxic masculinity, but the
Voice that haunted him most—
That he couldn’t escape—was poetry.

R Horton

A Bifurcated Analysis of Overly Indulgent Self-Reference and Metacriticism (#poem)

close up colors female flower
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I don’t like all your self-referential poems and
Confessional narratives where you just go on and
On and on with your boring anxieties and
Insights into a meaningless existence.
I mean, just like the time you said

She floated on an azure sky and
Had lips that made the rain seem dry.
It started as a conventional statement of
A poet who likes women with moist lips,
But then you had to go and address the
Reader directly before declaring how
Much you liked her hair that seemed to
Have been spun from mists of gold or
Some such shit.

It is just the typical male objectification of
Women, and I, for one, am tired of it,
And I’m sure the readers, if you have
Any, agree with me.

And I must here apologize to the reader
For the overall incoherence of this
Of this rant, or whatever it is.

Nobody needs poetry, anyway,
And if you are trying to process your grief, shame, or
Rage, just get out in front of it.
Lay off the self-indulgent,
Pseudo-intellectual clap trap and confront
Your own failings
Directly.

Then, you can leave your damp-lipped damsel
Alone on the beach to do whatever she wishes with
Her own alabaster thighs as you turn away
Your gaze.

I, personally, have no patience for
Anxious but idealised objectification of
Beauty. I would rather turn my attention
To the dry-lipped strength of a messy-haired
Physically strong woman who pulled me
Up, sometimes literally, when I felt I had no
Reason to lift myself.

But that is only some kind of self-interested
Infatuation, too. Idealising a person based on
My own needs.

I guess it is no wonder why so many
Male poets just describe women as flowers.

Learn to Take a Joke, Young Man

people at theater
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Lately I’ve been hearing people talking about how the young people need to learn to take a joke, because, one supposes, people back in the day were never offended by anything. Of course, people back in the day were offended by quite a lot of things, and we older folks know that, because we can remember just how offended our contemporaries have always been, so it isn’t immediately obvious what these old geezers are on about.

I mean, come on, Lenny Bruce was arrested for being obscene. The Smothers Brothers were fired for being political. Comedians have been offending people for as long as comedy has been around. Except, I think I know what they’re on about. What they mean is that they used to get away with saying things they are no longer allowed to say, and they don’t like being told to stay in their lane. They used to make jokes about women, racial minorities, and LGBTQ folks without fear of any sort of reprisal.

From their explanation, you would think this is because women, racial minorities, and queers used to just laugh along with them. I don’t think that’s true, and I don’t see how anyone can possibly think that’s true. Imagine a gay kid laughing at a dad joking about killing his kids to prevent them from growing up gay. I don’t think that ever happened.

Rather, I think what happened is that these marginalized groups did not feel empowered to speak up for themselves, but now they do, and I for one think that’s a good thing. I think it is really good that gay people (and anyone who thinks gay people deserve respect) say they are offended when someone jokes about killing them. I think it is good that trans people say a man in a dress isn’t obviously the funniest damn thing in the world. I think it is good that women feel empowered enough to say they don’t think jokes about rape are part of a good time.

Comedians have every right to make any joke they want, and the audience has every right to tell them they are assholes for making them.

On Bodily Autonomy and Geriatric Femininity (#poem #NaPoWriMo)

grayscale photography of man carrying baby
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They never ask, the old ladies.
They just hug, pinch, kiss and
Cuddle at will. Babies are theirs,
You know, and they do love them
So much. I guess it isn’t their fault,
No one ever told them they aren’t
Free to touch at will. I once told
A woman to get her hands out of
My hair, and she said no man
Had ever asked her to stop
Touching him before. As an old
Lady, I’m sure she became another
Of the baby grabbers, the snogglers,
The unwanted snugglers, making
Babies turn away and stretch
For Daddy’s protection and loving
Embrace. And the Daddies will say,

“Don’t touch the babies. They are not
Yours to soil with dry lipstick and crepe
Paper skin. You may have thought your
Hands were never unwelcome, but
My babies know the master of their fate.”

 

Exit Strategy (#poem)

“… come out of the wardrobe, cross the line of the rainbow and be who you want to be!” Dona Onete

After encouraging him to explore his “other side,”

She said, “If you leave me, I will tell about this,

And you will never see your children again.”keeping promises.jpg

And so it began—a desperate life locked

In a wardrobe guarded by a severe overseer.

Each tentative act of self-expression

Quashed in a confused melee of frustration.

He lived an inauthentic life of duplicity under duress,

With progeny held for ransom in

An unending act of passive aggression.

He lives behind a mask—

A promise keeper and provider—

As a pillar of the community,

A propagator of traditional value.

A leader is born in shame,

As he passes judgment on

His fellow sinners and wanderers,

He builds influence and takes on followers

Until his identity cracks,

And the anti-depressants fail

Along with his attempted suicide.

From hospital, he reads the headlines.

Everyone knows his name.

His warden and manipulator is now moot,

So he lifts himself off the pillow

And squares his shoulders

Before facing the inevitable question:

“If you were so miserable,

Why didn’t you leave?”

In the Wardrobe (#poem)

Before relatives came,

They set to

“Straightening” up the house.

All the toys, pulleys, harnesses,

Leather and latex launched

Hastily into the wardrobe.

The professor and the lawyer,

Do a dance of femininity,

And lady-up for the family.

The one more familiar with lipstick,

Does makeup duties for the two of them,

But there’s no way this legal powerhouse

Will ever look comfortable in a dress.

It’s better to stick with khakis

And a nice pullover.

 

No one is obtuse enough

To fall for this rapid ruse,

But maybe this family

Is just polite enough

To keep a dawning recognition

Silent for one more year,

Putting off the magnanimity

Of acceptance a bit longer,

With the understanding

That there is always more time.

There will always be another

Chance to say,

“I know who you are,

And I love you.”

#PleaseHearWhatImNotSaying Poetry Anthology and Me

I am thrilled to have two poems in the new anthology, “Please Hear What I’m Not Saying,” edited by poet Isabelle Kenyon. The profits of the anthology will benefit the UK charity, MIND, which promotes mental health services and support while also working to reduce the stigma around mental illness. If I’m completely honest, I’m most excited to have my poems in the anthology because it is the first time any of my poems will appear in print anywhere, so I’m grateful to Isabelle for that.

Secondly, though, mental illness is a subject with deep meaning for me personally, whichhear what I'm not saying is why I decided to submit to the anthology in the first place. It is my personal belief that 100 percent of people experience mental illness at one time or another, but a fairly high percentage of us struggle for longer periods or with deeper pain. Over the course of my life (57 years as I write), I’ve had many happy times, but I have also been diagnosed with major depression, general anxiety disorder, insomnia, high blood pressure, migraine headaches, and the all-inclusive diagnosis of “stress.” In addition, I’ve pretty much diagnosed myself with Avoidant Personality Disorder just because I relate to every item on the list of diagnostic criteria.

If you look up statistics, you find that more women report depression, but more men die from suicide. You can make up your own mind about why this is the case, but I can tell you that over the years I have been told that my depression was a “luxury” and that it made me seem weak, pathetic, and selfish. If other men get the same message, it isn’t too surprising that fewer men report being depressed. When they do report mental illness, fewer services are aimed at them. Even when services are available to both men and women, the décor of offices and language of materials often has a stereotypically feminine feel that makes men feel unwelcome.

All of this makes me especially sensitive to the high-price of masculinity. We hear quite a bit about toxic masculinity, but toxic masculinity is a by-product of what philosopher Tom Digby calls sacrificial masculinity. Men are taught from the crib to ignore their own physical and mental health. In the past, men ignored their health in order to be better protectors and providers. Increasingly, emotionless brawn is less needed and less valued in society, so men are left with poor mental health with no obvious purpose, which only exacerbates the problem.

For a time, I facilitated men’s bereavement groups, and all the men said some version of the following: “I’ve been told how I’m not supposed to grieve (crying and emotional breakdown), but no one tells me how I am supposed to grieve.” Almost every man in every group I facilitated broke down in tears, and almost every one apologised for it. For this reason, I think if we can fight like men, we must learn to cry like men. Although I haven’t been successful at getting others to use it, I occasionally post information on men’s mental health with the hashtag #CryLikeAMan.

The anthology will be available from 8 February 2018.

 

April is the Cruelest Month: Help Prevent Suicides

I’m a depressive. It has been some time since suicidal ideation, depersonalisation, and derealisation enveloped my pshche and smothered me in a warm fog. Still, being a depressive is like being an alcoholic. It never really goes away. “My name is Randall, and I’m . . . .”

When my depression comes, it usually greets me in early spring along with the new blooms of fresh gardens and reinvigorated old trees. I have no idea why spring is such a difficult time for those of us who struggle with depression, but I do know I am not alone. When most non-depressives think of depression and seasonal sadness, they think of winter when the skies are dark and the holidays strain the resilience of family ties and over-burdened budgets. But it is spring that brings the spike in suicides.

I don’t think anyone can say for sure why suicides peak in the spring. Some say it is due to allergic responses to pollen. Some say people tend to take action in the spring after a relatively dormant winter. You can click hereIMG_3180 for a brief overview of theories.

Whatever the reason, please be aware of the increased risk of suicide as spring rolls on. Many of the warning signs are straightforward: talking about suicide, buying weapons or poison, becoming withdrawn, expressing feeling of hopelessness, or mood swings. A less obvious symptom, though, is an increase in energy and mood after a period of depression. Sometimes people may feel happier or energised after deciding on what they see as their only way out. You can click here for a list of suicide warning signs.

Women report suicidal thoughts more often than men, but the majority of completed suicides are men. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take women seriously if they are having suicidal thoughts, of course, but it may be that men are less likely to seek help or admit to feelings of weakness, so it would behoove us all to make support available to men and to help men feel more comfortable seeking help.

Finally, some people may threaten suicide in a bid to get attention, or they may be judged that way, anyway. I can only say that if someone will go to those lengths to get attention, they desperately need attention. Please try to give them some. Attention in the form of care is a human need as real as the need for water or air.

The Science and Sexism of Man-Flu

I don’t remember when I first heard the expression “man-flu,” but it has been around a few years now. Generally, it expresses the view of many women that men whine and complain when felled by the flu, but women soldier on undaunted by a little thing like a flu virus. Even women who consider themselves feminists will trot out man-flu as evidence that women are stronger and more resilient than men.

After this went on for some time, men rejoiced when a study published in the American Journal of Physiology claimed that women’s stores of estrogen spared them the worst effects of flu and helped them fight off the virus. Men could stop apologizing for theirIMG_0398 suffering and just continue whining and demanding attention, because the man-flu was real after all.

But, of course, some researchers pushed back. An article in STAT in March 2017 boldly asserted that the scientific evidence for man-flu was overblown. If women have stronger immune responses, it said, they will have more severe symptoms, as it is the immune system that causes sneezing, coughing and other flu symptoms. More telling, though, is the final statement in the article. The article quoted immunologist Laura Haynes of the University of Connecticut, who said, “Maybe men just get whinier.”

“Whiny” is a rough scientific category to pin down, but in this case I guess “whiny” means a man expressing pain out of proportion to his suffering. For any study to determine whether men suffer from flu more than women, it would have to quantify and measure the subjective experiences of men from across the globe. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but I am saying it has not been done.

Given the fact that we can’t actually know who suffers more from the flu and the fact that we actually don’t know who complains about it more (anecdotal evidence from women who just happen to live with men lacks a bit of rigor, I think you will agree), I propose to blame another culprit: patriarchy.

It just might be true that men seem to complain more because they are expected to never complain at all. Men are expected to be stoic and unaffected by pain and suffering. This may be at least one reason women take 50 percent more sick days than men. When men show any crack in their invulnerability, they are mocked by other men, by women, and even by feminists.

So, the term “man-flu” may just be another way of saying someone failed the test of the patriarchy to fulfill the demands of sacrificial masculinity. If you support gender equality, phrases such as “man-flu” and “man-up” can only hurt your cause.