Geoff Dench, Belinda Brown’s husband, died at the end of June after several years of courageously coping with progressive supranuclear palsy, a cruel and debilitating disease. He started out as a social anthropologist, going on to become head of the School of Sociology and Social Policy at Middlesex University and later a Professor there.
The positions he occupied are far less important than his remarkable writing and his original thoughts on the nature of feminism and its destructive influence on public policy. He was a man before his time: his insights came before society was ready to receive or appreciate them. Today, belatedly, the importance of his work is becoming apparent. Where he led, the likes of Jordan Peterson follow. For this, Geoff deserves far more recognition.
I met Geoff and Belinda in 2010 at a Centre for Policy Studies seminar series on the family that Jill Kirby, the centre’s director, had invited him to give. I knew little of his background before then. Though I was preoccupied with feminism’s downgrading of mothering and motherhood, I had not then come across his seminal work (and paradigm-changing analysis) Transforming Men, written twelve years previously.
As much as an argument for the family and maintaining the man’s role, Transforming Men challenged head-on the feminist model of gender relations and nailed its flaws. Talk about speaking truth to power! With no hesitation and no qualification he exposed the feminist ‘understanding’ of patriarchy for the myth it was – ‘a theatrical illusion in which feminists assiduously present men as much more powerful than they really are as a means of controlling them’.
From this perspective, he revealed that patriarchy was closer to being an exploitation of men by women than the reverse. The man’s role in the family and in the public sphere was not a malign but a necessary phenomenon:
‘Patriarchy is a system that may well have been largely devised and promoted by primordial matriarchs in order to even out the burden on their children.’
As the writer of The Empathy Gap later put it, in the feminist myth lay ‘the origins of the instinct towards victimhood’. Their ‘patriarchal play-acting was itself a form of laying claim to victimhood . . . as the source of women’s moral leverage’.
The real failure of contemporary gender relations, Geoff argued, lay not with patriarchy but with feminist approaches to and theories about it.
‘Women have succeeded in mobilising state institutions to carry out or even take over some of the management of men which was previously pursued, discreetly, within the home.’
The feminised state had led to a collapse of the private and the public sphere and to the State’s destruction of the family and relations between the sexes. Geoff wrote:
‘The feminisation of the state launches a new offensive in the gender war. It is now an orthodoxy that one of the primary duties of the state is to protect women’s interests against men. Anna Coote and her colleagues (1990) write that fathers are no longer essential to the economic survival of family units. And Polly Toynbee (1989) can calmly incite women to forget about fatherhood and just look to the state for all the provisions needed to enable them to have careers and operate effectively without men. Quoting Toynbee: “What it (the state) can do is shape a society that makes a place for women and children as family units, self-sufficient and independent”.
‘It would not be overstating the case too much to suggest that it is the need of feminists for socialism which has kept the Left going for the last decade or longer. For as a theory of how society works it is surely discredited now. Economic systems which give so little prominence to individual incentives and responsibilities are not competitive. They are now surviving in the world . . . by dint of political correctness, which treats attempts to unravel the social accounting of welfare as tantamount to the rape of defenceless women. But looking the other way will not prevent the current welfare state system from collapsing as a result of its own contradictions. Feminists have built their new palace on sand.’
Optimistically, he added: ‘In a few years time, when it has all come down to earth with a bump, statist feminism may be remembered chiefly as an ideology which simply failed to understand how to manage men. The real fairy story will tun out to be its idea that women’s lot can be improved through movement towards explicit gender equality.’
Unfortunately, though discredited, feminist theory not only dominates public discourse but has become more aggressive: witness the #MeToo campaign. The explicit and substantive demand for equality of outcome is a stronger political drive than ever. It is justified by ever more claims of victimhood perpetrated by nasty men.
What Women Want, the book that resulted from Geoff’s CPS 2010 family seminars, stands testament to the speciousness, destructiveness and duplicity of this thinking.
The subject matter of these seminars was Geoff’s close analysis and comparison of British Social Attitudes data from 1998 to 2008. Government had continued to intensify their efforts to create a workforce in which men and women occupied identical positions, without ever bothering to find out what women actually want. Geoff decided painstakingly to examine up to 25 years of data.
Far from the ‘having it all’ myth propagated by fashionable women’s magazines, Dench’s data analysis revealed that for most women family remained more important than career, and that very real differences that still existed between male and female attitudes to work.
This was even more true of lone mothers. They, he argued, were the ultimate victims of feminist policies, leaving them without marriageable males and largely dependent on state charity.
Geoff was a seer. The collapse of interdependency and respect between the sexes, the concomitant growth of state dependency and power have pulled the rug from under family life, with terrible consequences for children.
If there is a backlash it is only just beginning. Peterson, Murray, Sam Harris et al all urgently need to be informed by Geoff’s work
Already unwell when we started The Conservative Woman four years ago, Geoff willingly gave his imprimatur to our mission for which I am both grateful and proud. In our first month, to help set us off on the right tracks, he wrote two posts based on his most recent analysis of BSA data of what women want.
The second, Geoff’s then most recent evidence that young women put their families before their careers, follows tomorrow.
Geoff was blessed with a compassion and humanity that so many sociologists lack. He did not just understand the nature of the family and the importance of the private sphere – he cared about it. While other academics looked askance at stay-at-home mothers or treated them as some sort of outlier relics of a less enlightened age, he always accorded them the respect that is their due.
He was in every respect a wonderful man. He is a terrible loss to Belinda and their daughter.
He was, and remains, the best endorsement The Conservative Woman could have had.