The Hand that Rocks the World: An Inquiry into Truth, Power and Gender. By David Shackleton. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: Take2Now, Inc., 2015. 346 pages. Canadian $20.www.take2now.com. Review by J. Steven Svoboda
David Shackleton, the creator of the venerable and long-running (now sadly defunct) Everyman: A Men’s Journal, published his long-planned master work about feminism and men and women five years ago. It is certainly a one-of-a-kind book. If for no other reason than that, though as I will lay out there are a plethora of justifications for spending your time on this fine work, I highly recommend it. (Fair disclosure: David and I used to be friends and I am thanked in his acknowledgements section.)
David does inadvertently limit his potential readership through his approach. Many troops in the men’s movement (and elsewhere) may find themselves tempted to roll their eyes at some of the more extended, idiosyncratic, introspective forays into personal growth and what makes us tick as human beings. I believe almost no one will agree with everything (or even most of) David’s musings in these areas. I was the largest contributor to David’s magazine apart from David himself and accordingly, I know him well (he actually travelled down from Ontario to California to attend my first wedding.) Even I was tempted a few times in the early going not to finish reading this book. Don’t make the mistake I nearly made; stick with it as the voyage will amply repay your effort many times over.
I’m going to do my poor man’s imitation of David Shackleton here and wax poetic and thoughtful a bit. Since 1996, I have published reviews of over 200 books about masculinity, gender and the men’s movement and have read at least 500 such books during that same period. Many of the books I reviewed were spectacular, courageous, and insightful. I would guess that not many of these books are even in print currently and it is highly unlikely that any of them had sales figures comparable to those of successful authors in other fields. The point being, why didn’t any of these books take off? Why hasn’t our movement gained mass acceptance? There are a lot of reasons and David, to his credit, takes a valiant shot at delving into them, including some that perhaps have never before been examined as David does.
If you hang in there, on pages 66-67, you will read a remarkable poem David wrote as a female equivalent to Rudyard Kipling’s famous 1910 poem “If.” (A couplet from the Kipling poem: “If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, / Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch…”) David’s poem is titled, “If for the Feminine.” The corresponding couplet in his poem is, “If you can give your body to your husband, / A sacred trust for him and him alone…”
It is right after the Kipling and Shackleton poems that The Hand that Rocks the World really hits its stride. We revisit the familiar story of the Titanic. David argues convincingly that the story of the 100% death rate of the upper class men while almost all the upper class women survived in itself refutes feminism! “John J. Aster, the richest man in the world, wealthy enough to buy ten Titanics, was impotent to command a single seat in a tiny lifeboat… Why did they do it? They did it for honor, because of their deep, abiding belief that good men protect women and children, even unto death. A belief shared by the majority of men in every civilized society, then and now.” Think about that last phrase for a moment, then and now! Incredible, is it not? “It is quite certain oppression never looked like this…. Has there ever been a time in history when oppressors died to save the oppressed? I mean, even one?” David Shackleton speaks truth to the new power, feminism. Much later in the book David provides another fact that in itself disproves feminism’s claims: “Oprah [Winfrey]’s success… She—black, female, and from a poor sharecropper family—rose to the very peak of the TV world on talent alone.”
Nor is the author done with this example. He goes further. How do such obviously false ideas persist? Well, for one thing, given our evolutionary histories, they feel right to us. Even though they are wrong. David then goes on to tell the sad story of how the memorial to the men of the Titanic who gave their lives so that women and children could live was moved from a prominent place of honor in Washington, D.C. to an obscure location. Nor does David stop there. He further tells the story of how the 58,000 men who died in the Vietnam War have one memorial in that same city, and feminism saw fit to demand (and receive) an equal memorial to the eight women who died in the same war, only one of them from enemy fire(!).
The author argues, persuasively in my view, that men’s fear of shaming by women can be placed on the same level as women’s fear of violence by men, and that the two fears play comparable roles in chilling the respective sexes from speaking out as they might otherwise do. David outlines the great strides taken toward helping alcoholics (and later addicts of other sorts) through Alcoholics Anonymous, which effectively reframed alcoholics and stopped blaming them as “drunks.” As David points out, “We are in the strange situation today in which men’s power has been well-articulated by the women’s movement, while women’s equivalent and balancing power remains unrecognized.” The author hopes for a similar movement to help our society wean itself from our addiction to woman-as-victim and to reframe our views of men and women so we can work together to heal our society and ourselves. David does not think we are close to being ready to all sing Kumbaya together and saunter off into the sunset in harmony, but he is helping show us how we might blaze such a path.
David has created an interesting “codependent matrix” that succinctly outlines a view of gender politics deftly integrating, as feminists so like to say, “the personal and the political.” I believe most readers will be very intrigued by this fascinating and detailed theory; whether we all agree in full is more or less irrelevant in my view as a very rich discussion will hopefully ensue as a result. For my money, David really gets to the heart of things two pages later, on page 97, when he succinctly writes, “Ironically, the existence of feminism itself is perhaps the best evidence against its claims.”
David talks about that pesky issue that so often is kept under wraps, power, and opines that men and women have it in more or less equal and complementary ways. He makes the fascinating point that feminists have located their problem in the outside world, claiming paradoxically that women have power and that women need protection, but the explanation of the seeming paradox is that the issue needs to be addressed from within. “The rhetoric is about equality, but the feeling is more like Victorian moral chasteness, which is why they will never feel equal, no matter how much legislation and policy addresses their issues.” [italics in original]
David’s discussion of stages 1-4, which are the four corners of his codependent matrix, will not keep most of his readers in full agreement and alignment with him. That’s fine. Thought and dialog is being provoked and that’s what’s most important. The author continues to a deft conclusion tying in current events to our evolutionary heritage: “[F]eminism has been able to create a moral polarization around gender  because evolution gave women moral power over men in order to balance men’s physical power over women. So now this moral polarization—bluntly, men bad/women good—runs entirely through the structure of feminism, beneath the cover story that it is about gender equality.”
The author has in store for his more hardline readers a perhaps unexpected surprise. David convincingly argues something few dare to speak, that feminism qualifies as unalloyed evil, comparable to Nazism and lynching of blacks. Regarding lynching: “[T]hese people saw themselves as good, law-abiding, civilized, churchgoing folks. They took their children to the lynchings, they sent photographs of the event to friends and family, some of them even collected body parts as souvenirs!… This was a whole society gone off the rails into evil behavior, but in just one area and with respect to just one issue.” And so it is with us today with feminism.
David will not let us forget, as if we even could, the evil we are confronting. Redefining rape to conceal the fact that men outside of prison are raped at about the same frequency that women are raped. Canadian women’s groups, ostensibly devoted to “equality,” refusing to even discuss a post-divorce shared custody presumption. This evil has led to women having rights without responsibilities, and men, of course, having responsibilities without rights. Accordingly, “We are currently headed, unconsciously but steadily, for a world in which women are children and men are slaves.” David analogizes modern feminist events to Nazi rallies.
The author’s last core argument is that to be effective, we must stop expecting things to be different from how they are. We must lose our well-justified outrage and follow the humble examples of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi. Our righteous indignation will never convince women (nor feminist men) of something that is now frankly against women’s own interest, to relinquish the unfair advantages given to them by feminism and embrace true gender equity. Winning this battle will require many heroes whose names we likely will never know.
Here are David’s parting words of wisdom and good wishes: “When I think of all the beauty of love between men and women, of the sacrifices, how men have died to protect women and children, the idea that feminism is built on—that men have oppressed women, that they make war on women—seems too ridiculous to imagine that it could be taken seriously. It is quite insane. It genuinely is insane, but it is a collective insanity, and it has almost all of us in its grip, in a way that is insulated from reality and almost impervious to reason.” And finally, David leaves us with an inspirational truth: “The truth about gender is both simple and beautiful. Women and men are equal in power and in powerlessness, and always have been. The advantages and disadvantages balance out for both genders.”