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on the radar: Q&A: Misogyny by Jack Holland


Q&A: Misogyny by Jack Holland

In May 2004, not long before his newest book was to be published by Viking Penguin, acclaimed Irish writer Jack Holland died of cancer. He had considered his controversial tome, Misogyny -- a deceptively short but expansive history of "the world's oldest prejudice" -- his greatest accomplishment to date, and had received a $100,000 advance for the project. So it shocked Holland's grief-addled family when, after declaring the manuscript unpublishable, Viking canceled Holland's contract and demanded back half of the advance.

Luckily for feminists everywhere, Holland's daughter, Jenny, and wife, Mary Hudson, refused to take "no" for an answer. They were adamant that Misogyny - which Jack wrote to trace the roots of a world that "devalued, denigrated and despised" women - make it to the masses. Finally, it has: in August 2006, Misogyny was released by Carroll and Graf. Ms. spoke with Holland and Hudson about why a male author chose to tackle women-hating - and why most publishers wouldn't touch it.

Ms. magazine: How did Misogyny come about?

[Daughter] Jenny Holland: Jack had been ruminating about it for a long time. It was the culmination of his life's work in journalism, years of personal observations and historical thirst, and his desire to take on a big, challenging project.

[Wife] Mary Hudson: He was raised by his grandmother in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in a working-class family. He would go to a Catholic church and see statues of the Virgin Mary [up on a pedestal in beautiful robes]. Her image was so strikingly different from how women were treated outside the church. A man beating a dog on the street would be stopped, but a man seen beating his wife would be left to continue; it was considered 'his prerogative.' This struck him from a very early age.

Why was this book so significant to Jack, and to you, after he died?

Jenny: It brought together two of his favorite things in the world: history and women. He loved women. Jack envisioned the book as a tool in advancing understanding between men and women. He'd been, as a journalist, primarily covering Northern Ireland, so he was very familiar with deep-rooted, vicious conflicts... It was a natural progression for him to take those gifts of observation to an even more personal level with bigger implications. This book [is] about women in Ireland, in Papua New Guinea, in Afghanistan, in the United States... It ties together so many different threads. It [helps us remember] that there is no one bad guy, or person, or religion, or philosophy.

Mary: Jack had a gift for rendering complex ideas to a wider public. He thought women had gotten a raw deal, and most of his friends were women. As he was dying in the hospital, an orderly asked him 'What's your secret, man?' because his room was always full of women. He saw misogyny as a human rights issue.

Jenny: That's the major point -- it's not about women's rights, but human rights. It's not about men's struggle with women. It's about men and women struggling together.... Jack was very careful to make it clear that not all men are misogynists.

On JackHolland.net, you mention that his approach to writing Misogyny was unorthodox.

Jenny: Yes, because he wasn't a PhD lecturer in women's studies, or a chair of History at such-and-such university.

Mary: He was an amateur historian.

Jenny: Not really an amateur... He earned his living as a chronicler. But people are always surprised when they find out he wrote a history of misogyny. There's not a single person who hasn't been like, 'What?'

Mary: Most publishers rejected the manuscript because it was written by a man. Jack thought misogyny was invented by men, so why shouldn't [a man] write about it?

Tell me about your fight to get the book published.

Mary: On March 9th, 2004, Jack wrote in his diary, 'They are very impressed with the book - phew.' Then the week after he died, Viking abandoned it. I was absolutely shocked; I thought they would go to bat for us. They told us we had to hire our own lawyers. I had to give back half of the advance. Jack would have been devastated. He thought the book was so important -- more important than he was. I know Jack had minor disagreements [with his editor at Viking], but he followed their agreement to the letter. He sent in every chapter when it was due. They wrangled over a few minor concerns, but when he died, Viking used those concerns as 'major editorial issues.'

Jenny: They never told us why they didn't want to publish it. The editor never called or communicated with us. We begged her to call us while Jack was dying.

How has the book been doing?

Mary: We have to work on getting it out there, but it comes at an opportune time...

Jenny: I keep coming across articles that are so casually misogynistic. It's so deeply-rooted in society, so carelessly profligated... Like that Forbes magazine piece about how men shouldn't marry career women. If you took out the word 'woman' and put in a word for another race, there would be uproar! But we accept it because [it targets] women.

Mary: Why do we let women's rights be trashed? Half of humanity is involved here. When you crush and oppress half of humanity, you harm your own society.

is a writer and editor in San Francisco. Her work has appeared in Salon, the Village Voice, Bitch, AlterNet and other publications.