The Divine Frenzy of Feminism

If the spirit of the classical Greek playwright Euripides could be summoned from the grave and observe our feminist age, he would not be surprised. In The Bacchae (premiered circa 405 B.C.), he told the story of Pentheus, the unfortunate ruler of Thebes, who resisted the ritual incursion of Dionysus, the androgynous god of wine, ecstasy, passionate delirium, and the oracular Mysteries.

In the play, Dionysus returns to Thebes, the city of his birth, accompanied by a retinue of bacchants, or drunken revellers. Finding himself mocked, he infects the women of the royal household with an access of divine frenzy, whereupon they flee into the forest to perform paroxysms of fevered worship. Pentheus wishes to preserve the functioning of the state and recognizes that the upsurge of visionary dementia and phobic irrationality exemplified by the maenads or “raving ones” -- the RadFem hordes of the day -- would lead to the disruption of the political order and the destabilization of civil society.

Pentheus intends to put an end to the insanity but, influenced by Dionysus, falls prey to curiosity and is persuaded to disguise himself in women’s clothing, enter the forest and witness the maenadic revels from a perch in a tall fir tree. He is spotted by the tribe of hysterics, brought to the ground and ripped to shreds, the mordancy of the scene enhanced by the fact that it is his own mother, Agave, who tears off his head and carries the trophy back to Thebes.

Of course, the play is far more complex than this short synopsis would indicate. Euripides treats the perennial conflict between the Olympian gods and the maternal Furies, between man and woman, between social order and individual enthusiasm, between Apollo, the god of reason and light, and Dionysus representing the darker forces of emotion and rapture -- or as we would say today, of libido.

This theme was famously addressed by Euripides’ great predecessor Aeschylus in the Oresteian Trilogy, where the female goddesses the Eumenides (or Furies) are pitted against the male Olympians. Both forces, Aeschylus felt, the visceral and the rational, were necessary to the proper conduct of the state and in the life of the individual, but must be contained in a condition of approximate balance to avoid a descent into anarchy. The message of The Bacchae, however, is ambiguous insofar as the conclusion of the play suggests the desired victory of the Dionysian infatuation, yet the disintegration of public order and Apollonian statecraft would have been obvious to Euripides’ audience. We recall that Plato’s Republic, in which music, art, and trance-like phenomena were to be the prohibited by law, appeared circa 380 B.C., only 25 years after the initial performance of The Bacchae. Both sides of the dynamic had their dedicated votaries.

Perhaps it was ever thus as one or another of these indispensable forces inevitably comes to predominate. Indeed, the Greek tragedians seemed to understand that the battle between male structure and female sentiment was an eternal fact of human life. For Aeschylus, to privilege one over the other ends in disaster -- “Either way, ruin,” as Agamemnon laments in the first play of the Trilogy, a phrase adopted by the philosopher G.W.F. Hegel in his Lectures on Aesthetics as a capsule definition of tragedy. For Euripides, the labile spirit of the feminine must be released into the world, whatever the cost. Yet, despite the priority given to Dionysus and his “agenda,” there are, as it were, strong premonitory elements in The Bacchae that apply to our contemporary dilemma in which carceral feminism has come to cultural prominence.

In the current historical moment, the trance afflicting our radical feminists is not imposed from without, as in the play, but is self-induced, leading to a nationwide vendetta against so-called “toxic masculinity.” The belief that the “patriarchy” is responsible for all of society’s ills has produced destructive consequences: the ubiquitous allegations targeting men for sexual misconduct on the flimsiest of pretexts, the reduction of normative sexuality to the status of an aberration or a crime, the shunting of jurisprudence away from the English Common Law principle of “burden of proof” toward the dodgy concept of “preponderance of evidence” (i.e., whatever the adjudicator feels is likely or credible, almost always in favor of the female plaintiff), the campaign to Ritalin young male students into a state of narcolepsy, the precipitous decline of male university graduates, and the accelerating collapse of the institution of marriage. Contemporary feminists are Euripidean maenads in modern form, metaphorically and, in social effect, tearing men limb from limb in a fury of pathogenic derangement.

What is also interesting is that Pentheus allows himself to be persuaded to wear female attire in order to carry out his reconnaissance unobserved. Mutatis mutandis, a version of his regrettable decision is currently flourishing among us as men come increasingly to side with the feminist prepossession -- judges, teachers, political leaders, university administrators, intellectuals, talking heads supporting the feminist dogma that women are society’s innocent victims and men violent oppressors and ruthless demagogues who must be denounced, punished, brought low like Pentheus from his tree, and ultimately feminized.

Men now find themselves in a binary Penthean condition: on the one hand, the profusion of beta males sporting their inner maenadic vestments -- aka manginas and “white knights,” emanations of the god whose epithets include Dionysos Dimorphos (dual-formed), gunnis (womanish man), and pseudanor (counterfeit man); and on the other, men who wish to remain men being culturally dismembered and socially castrated. The balance between the sexes, both biological and cultural, is now communally distorted beyond recognition as Dionysus celebrates his triumph over Apollo and the Furies swarm Mount Olympus.

"It is precisely Dionysus’ identification with the feminine,” writes classical scholar Froma Zeitlin in Sexuality and Gender in the Classical World, that allows the god to introduce “confusions, conflicts, tensions and ambiguities” into the hierarchical masculine world, thus disrupting “the normal social categories” and impairing male confidence and authority to the detriment of the whole. This is where we have arrived in our era of Dionysian madness.

As Agave laments at the end of The Bacchae, “It was Dionysus who proved our ruin; now I see it all.” In demanding obeisance to temperamental fury at the expense of the principle of order, feminists and their allies have unleashed a storm of discontent, resentment, misrule, and social turmoil whose consequences will be catastrophic. Without the reassertion of proud and inherent masculinity to restore the equilibrium between the sexes, the road to political suicide and cultural decay is wide open and we will all, women as well as men, suffer for it.

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