Among those MRAs who are actually willing to acknowledge that women actually suffered oppression in the past, you sometimes find this argument: “Sure, things were bad for women back then – in the 1950s, or 1890, or whenever — but these days women don’t suffer from sexism. It’s men who are the real victims.”
This argument not only flies in the face of, you know, reality; it also reflects a naïve and simplistic understanding of how prejudice works, and why it persists. Misogyny, like other prejudices, is deeply rooted; it’s been around for literally thousands of years, and permeates culture and cultural/social/political institutions. The idea that a couple of decades of feminism have been enough to eradicate centuries-old attitudes and beliefs is, if you know anything at all about history or sociology or psychology, simply absurd.
How persistent is prejudice? A recent article in Slate looks at a historical study of anti-Semitism in Germany. As Ray Fisman notes in the Slate article, the study found that:
Communities that murdered their Jewish populations during the 14th-century Black Death pogroms were more likely to demonstrate a violent hatred of Jews nearly 600 years later. A culture of intolerance can be very persistent indeed.
Let’s just let that sink in for a second: Six. Hundred. Years. The noxious ideas of anti-Semites in the 14th century deeply affected what their great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandchildren believed (and did) when the Nazis rolled into town six centuries later. (I’m assuming an average 4 generations per century here; if that’s an incorrect assumption you may need to add or subtract a handful of “greats.”)
Here are more details, from the study’s abstract:
This paper uses data on anti-Semitism in Germany and finds continuity at the local level over more than half a millennium. When the Black Death hit Europe in 1348-50, killing between one third and one half of the population, its cause was unknown. Many contemporaries blamed the Jews. Cities all over Germany witnessed mass killings of their Jewish population. At the same time, numerous Jewish communities were spared. We use plague pogroms as an indicator for medieval anti-Semitism. Pogroms during the Black Death are a strong and robust predictor of violence against Jews in the 1920s, and of votes for the Nazi Party. In addition, cities that saw medieval anti-Semitic violence also had higher deportation rates for Jews after 1933, were more likely to see synagogues damaged or destroyed in the ‘Night of Broken Glass’ in 1938, and their inhabitants wrote more anti-Jewish letters to the editor of the Nazi newspaper Der Stürmer.
As Fisman notes,
Changing any aspect of culture—the norms, attitudes, and “unwritten rules” of a group—isn’t easy. Beliefs are passed down from parent to child—positions on everything from childbearing to religious beliefs to risk-taking are transmitted across generations.
EDITED TO ADD: And, on a lighter note, here’s what happens when a “white-men-are-the-real-victims” dude (who clearly has been reading about pick-up artistry) goes a-courtin’ on OkCupid.
EDITED AGAIN: Added more details from the study’s abstract.