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Posts Tagged ‘gender’

Okay, so, if you’re going to mock Men’s Rights Activists with contempt and create Facebook pages devoted to taking the piss out of their ideas, you really have to try not to be the caricature they hate you for being.

I mean, you shouldn’t have to try very hard. But at least check once in a while. Those loons on the other side of the debate stop being so laughably wrong if you start turning into their ridiculous straw man.

Case in point: two people were recently arrested by police officers and ended up in court in front of a judge on a charge of “manspreading“. Which is that thing where a guy on a train sits with his legs unnecessarily wide apart taking up too much room. Arrested. Taken to court.

I don’t really want to bring this case up by talking about men’s rights and feminism. The abuse of authority by state agents grossly overreaching beyond any reasonable interpretation of criminal action is a far more relevant and important angle than the gendered aspect, and it was originally reported in the context of some unsettling data about numbers-driven policing. I should be putting on my anarchist hat for this one and leaving my feminist headwear on the rack.

But it was the feminist blogosphere that drew it to my attention in the first place, and the context of the way it’s been reported there doesn’t seem to go any further than “lol, men”. And this drives me crazy, not because I’m worried about being a member of the most oppressed demographic suffering at the hands of those evil feminists, but because that’s the standard dumb MRA narrative and you’re playing right into it.

The Internet provides a surfeit of wankers who claim misandry at any opportunity, no matter how ridiculous, and who absolutely do not need to be handed any more ammunition. “Feminists want me to be locked up just for sitting down in a way they don’t like” is exactly the kind of ludicrous, persecution-complex nonsense they’d have been saying months ago. And now there are sizeable feminist groups online who seem willing to abandon every other principle for the chance to score a point against those terrible MRAs – but are actually doing unprecedented work to vindicate their victimised worldview.

This isn’t about me shifting from one side toward the other in some notional “feminism vs. MRA” battle. The Men’s Rights Movement has very little to do with men’s rights and is far more interested in misogyny and disparaging feminism at any opportunity. And the people I know who’ve been most effective in actually supporting men’s rights have been strongly-identified feminists, for whom understanding and combating the way men are systematically harmed and demeaned by sexist assumptions and prejudice is an integral part of that philosophy.

But that just makes it all the more important that feminists take stories like “arrested for manspreading” seriously as an issue of government intrusion, and don’t laughingly support the same kind of coercive state power they’ve objected to before, now that they’re finally not the ones getting screwed over for once.

Otherwise what happens is: MRAs see women cheering while men are arrested for a seemingly trivial offense; they post their own pictures of women similarly guilty of taking up unnecessary space; they get mocked and accused of being creepy for taking pictures of women on public transport; they note the disparity in the way the genders are treated and conclude yet another case of sexism against men; the “evil man-hating feminists” narrative is reinforced; and this time they haven’t even had to distort reality to do it.

I’m a feminist because we’re supposed to be better than this.


Two posts in a row about standing up for people I disagree with, because ideological consistency is more important than maintaining tribal bounds. Maybe tomorrow I’ll go for the hat-trick and write about my soft spot for Peter Hitchens.

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Wait, immediately? Shit, dinner’s in like six minutes. Pick up the pace, everyone! We need answers, NOW!

1. Are Male feminists just trying to get laid? — Probably.
No! We are a complex and varied demographic with diverse motivations and goals! Shit, is that too long? Is a yes/no answer going to suffice for each of these, given the urgency and time constraints? There’s already an answer by the question, has someone else covered this one? Or should I just write mine in beneath it? Dammit, stop overthinking, we’re against the clock here.

2. Do male feminists actually read anything about #Feminism or do they just let themselves be whipped into submission? #WomenAgainstFeminism
I can’t speak for everyone but I read a few feminist blogs and also a lot of the speculative fiction I read is written from an implicitly feminist stance, also I’m not really into whipping or submission myself but I reject the dichotomy of the question, the kinky stuff is totally cool if that’s what you’re into, I don’t know if it’s more common in male feminists than anyone else though, oh god I’m rambling QUICKFIRE MOVING ON

3. “do male feminists want to be taken seriously by (…) other men as players of some intellectual game?” http://t.co/UnPWO2GJrx @ecumystic
probably some of them if they’re appearing on Only Connect or something, the rest of us are just trying not to be assholes and stuff

4. Male feminists. Why? Get a pair man.
okay look you said you needed answers IMMEDIATELY so I’m trying to be brief and hurry through this so when you throw out questions this broad and vague it really doesn’t help either of us

5. Dear male feminists, I have a legitimate question: Why do you support feminism? Further, why enable the feminists that proclaim to hate men?
so that’s two questions masquerading as one but I’m pretty sure I don’t do the second thing anyway so I guess that doesn’t count, also the answer to the first one is basically what most of the feminist literature ever written has been devoted to answering so I can’t help feeling that to demand an immediate answer from me in this context displays something of a lack of sincere intellectual curiosity on your part

6. While we’re at it, do male feminists get to pay half rent? (No mischief intended, I am just curious).
no that was never an option available to me in any of my lease agreements back when I was living in rented flats in London, they might do it differently elsewhere, I’ve heard of rent control but never really understood what it is so maybe it’s to do with that?

7. How much pussy do male feminists get (none)
well there’s quite a few of us so collectively it’s definitely more than you

8. Why do male feminists seem to have more privilege than female feminists? #DownTheRabbitHole
um because with all the obvious allowances and provisos regarding intersectionality and suchlike male is generally the privileged position, that’s kinda the whole point of all of this

9. Do feminists pay for their date’s meal? Do male feminists make the girl pay? #idontgetit #justwondering
it’s really more about deconstructing gender-based roles and expectations and encouraging compassionate human interaction based on individuality and personal respect rather than just reversing prejudice so that it’s equally shitty in the opposite direction

10. @PennyRed @sarahljaffe @thesamhita Do male feminists get free drinks too?
I don’t really go out to bars or nightclubs much so this may be a promotional thing that happens somewhere but I wouldn’t know, sorry, pretty sure it doesn’t work in supermarkets though
also wtf this tweet’s from 2012, this can’t possibly still need an immediate response right this minute like I was led to believe, it’s almost like someone decided one day on a theme around which to base a clickbait Buzzfeed article and just grabbed whatever near-matches a quick Google search turned up without caring much about context or relevance

11. Jesus Christ, why are male feminists so un-feminist?
you’re either contradicting your own question or equivocating on the word “feminist” so you might want to rephrase for clarity, especially if you want Jesus to answer you, that guy’s pretty busy and has no time for unnecessary ambiguity in conversation

12. What are the male versions of feminists called? I can see them roaming the TL
pretty sure we’re just feminists, you make us sound like we can only be spotted while out on safari or something which speaking personally makes me sound way cooler than I deserve

13. how can any of you sleep with the knowledge there are “male feminists” tho
um I just have a comfy bed and a fairly well regulated body clock so I manage to get to sleep pretty easily I guess, that feels like a non-sequitur, like how is it possible for you to eat a sandwich while Portuguese is the official language of Brazil, see, I’ve no idea why I picked that, it has no relation to anything, so yeah

Okay, emergency over. I think I’ve got you covered, frantic male-feminist-based-question-askers. I think we can all be slightly ashamed and embarrassed about what we’ve accomplished here today. And that’s the important thing.

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Atheist horseman Sam Harris has denied being a sexist pig.

Having to defiantly declaim against a position you purport not to hold rarely ends well. In fact it’s usually a sign that things have started pretty badly and are only going to get worse (cf. 98% of all sentences ever composed which begin “I’m not racist, but”). And considering the umpteenth resurgence of interest, over the past week or so, in what a clusterfuck of prejudice and tribalism some corners of the atheist movement have turned into, you could be forgiven for expecting the worst.

But I don’t think this is anything like the train-wreck it might have been. I said on Twitter that I was around 85% in agreement with Harris in that post, and a day later I think that stands. He doesn’t seem to believe anything outrageous, and his stated position seems level-headed and pretty reasonable. I have a huge problem with the snide dismissiveness I’ve seen directed at people who disagree with this assessment and take greater issue with Harris’s words, but that hasn’t seemed to come from Harris himself. His cause is done no favours, though, by certain of his supporters, including the occasional “big name” of atheism who really should have learned to handle these pseudo-controversies more humanely and communicatively by now (naming no names, Professor).

One point on which I’m not wholeheartedly in support of Harris is his closing jabs against “a well-known feminist-atheist blogger” with whom he’s had some recent private correspondence over this matter. Now, it’s possible that he’s not talking about Greta Christina, but given her own public comments about engaging with him, it seems a reasonable bet. As I type this, she’s not had time to respond to Harris’s post in full, but has tweeted a link to this old post of hers as a relevant collection of thoughts in the meantime.

The piece is about the (apparently) common social justice slogan, “Intention is not magic”. This refers to the idea that, if you’ve caused somebody harm or offense, the simple fact that you didn’t intend to do so doesn’t magically absolve you from responsibility for the harm you did, in fact, cause. “It wasn’t deliberate” is only a partial excuse, and that’s as true for, say, using a term you weren’t aware was a slur against a minority, or naively parroting a false and derogatory stereotype, as it is for accidentally crushing someone’s toe.

It’s an important point, worth remembering when people try to excuse blatant sexism and racism as harmless banter. All too often, people get haughty and defensive when it’s pointed out that they’ve caused offense, and attempt to hide behind the magic of their intent.

But intent’s not the only thing that isn’t magic. And, in this case, something else seems worth remembering:

Your immediate gut reaction to someone else’s words isn’t magic either. And nor is the unfavourable interpretation you instinctively place upon them when you take offense.

Both these “not magic” rules have to be applied discriminately. Some things are viscerally appalling at first glance for very good reasons; obviously complaints of offense are often legitimate and should be taken seriously. But it’s not out of the question that someone saying “I don’t think I have anything to apologise for” is basically in the right. (Many atheists will have experienced religious folk being outraged and “offended” that they dare to assert their own lack of belief; even if my saying “God doesn’t exist” upsets you, I don’t think I owe you an apology.)

And as much as the sincere apology format that Greta suggests probably should be a much bigger part of general discourse than it currently is, it’s not automatically the only acceptable response to an accusation of harm or offense being caused. We’re not magically obliged to bow and scrape our way through an “I didn’t mean to, I’ll try and do better next time” every time someone else reckons we were out of line. And, in this case, I’m not at all convinced that Sam Harris is the prejudiced, hate-filled, unrepentant monster some folk really are making him out to be.

The world in general could surely use a good deal more honest contrition, of the kind that really listens to our interlocutor’s concerns, and doesn’t mentally put them into a box as “someone on the other side of the argument and who I will therefore always be in dispute with”. Even if this isn’t a case where that’s the best way to fix things, you won’t have to go far to find another where it will.

Try not to let these disagreements divide the way you see the world into teams, though. I’m not on Team Anyone here. I spent a while being wary and uncomfortable with a couple of good atheist bloggers because they were coming down on the wrong “side” of a Rebecca Watson-centric debate (I forget which one), and that was a ridiculous way to behave. Greta’s still cool, and you should read her book.

Dawkins is kinda just turning into a dick, though.

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So, this, absolutely and in its entirety.

(image from the Women’s Rights News Facebook page)

But people object to this. It wouldn’t need saying if there wasn’t a widely prevalent train of thought which takes “boys will be boys” to the level of smiling endearingly and seeing no problem with these behaviours before children have reached a certain level of numerical maturity.

And I think a partial explanation is that, if you’re not bothering to think about it much (and let’s face it, thinking is hard), you might assume that the only alternative being proposed to complete indulgence is wrathful tyranny. That the only way to instil in your child the notion that hitting or insulting other people isn’t okay even though you’re six must necessarily involve shouting or spanking or some other form of vicious authoritarianism.

Which seems tragically unimaginative. People seem to concoct the least reasonable opposition imaginable to their own established view on something, dismiss it on its face, and conclude that their own stance must be unassailable. (See also: “Russell Brand’s ideas are a bit vague and ‘revolution’ is a scary word, so let’s keep trying this representative democracy thing which I’m sure will starting working in everyone’s best interests any decade now. I agree with Nick!”)

Is it not at least worth investigating whether kids can be taught not to bully other kids, and encouraged to carry this lesson into adulthood, without implementing some ridiculous imagined Demon Headmaster scenario?

Is there any way it might be possible to steer children away from certain negative behaviours, without crushing their spirits and condemning them as monsters for their crimes?

It’s worrying how many parents who already have children seem to assume the answer must be no. What do you every time you and your kid disagree over whether they should have ice cream for dinner, or whether your new curtains would look better with a more interesting pattern snipped along the edges with scissors?

Do you yell at them until they’re browbeaten into capitulation? Is their every mistake corrected with a clap of unforgiving thunder?

Or have you managed to find some way to tread a happy medium between loving them and teaching them the rules that society expects them to live by?

And if it’s the second one, how hard can it be to extend that principle to times when they’re tempted to pull other kids’ hair?

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It’s just over a year since I last put my face on the internet to make noises with it. No promises it won’t be that long till I get around to it again. I’ve got a wedding to plan, I’m far too busy to be messing around with stuff like this. It is still quite fun, though. For me at least.

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Boobsession

(This may turn out to be something of a Roman railway.)

In performing a superficial pretense of research for this piece, I began asking Google what I imagine to be a common question. I got as far as typing why are men o, at which point it suggested that I might be wondering why men are obsessed with one of three things: breasts, football, and virginity. Right first time.

(By the way, the top Yahoo! Answer to the question is: “i’m more a leg and bum man… :D”. So… now you know.)

But this isn’t going to be a post about evolutionary psychology, or even about boobs and why they’re awesome. It’s about suggesting a different approach to fixing all of sexism. (Okay, just one teeny tiny bit of it.)

The point is, many women are clearly baffled by the attention that their front-upper-butts receive from a significant number of men. The appeal isn’t obvious to them, and that’s fine. I’ve tried and failed to get into things that girls seem to enjoy, like Project Runway or Star Wars. It’s not going to help anyone trying to explain what’s so awesome about them, it’s just a perfectly natural difference in tastes.

But the fact that men are mighty keen on boobs doesn’t, on its own, bother anyone. The problem comes when we act mighty keen on boobs.

Actually no, even that’s not a real source of any trouble. It really only becomes a problem – as, I guess, with any other obsession – when our passion spills over into our everyday, non-boob-related lives to the extent that everyone else is more than acutely aware of exactly how boobicentric our minds are.

The problem is when we really like boobs, and we act like we really like boobs, and we act like we don’t care how irrelevant you thought boobs were to this conversation before we mentioned our fondness for them, and we seem either unaware or unconcerned with the fact that things other than boobs might be high up on other people’s lists of priorities.

It’s just not practical to expect men to “get over” boobs anytime soon. They’re not going anywhere (unless I’ve been very wrong about God’s benevolent non-existence and actually he’s been setting us all up for a fall), and it’d be insincere to pretend they’re not awesome. If I meet you, and you have boobs, I will probably notice them. I may automatically evaluate them. That may sound unfair and judgmental, and it probably is, but I can’t switch it off. And part of me doesn’t want to, because hey, boobs.

The things I actually have control over – whether I’m notably staring at them, whether I’m needlessly making them relevant to a conversation, whether I’m acting in a needlessly boobaholic way – all that I’ve got a handle on. Those are goals we can realistically meet, and we should. But we’re not going to magically evict boobs from our brainspaces anytime boob soon.

(If I was less tired and had figured out where I was going with this sooner, I might have found some clever way to tie it into, like, Boobquake, or elevatorgate, or something with some relevance. But no, none of that. Boobs are their own reward.)

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An interesting moment of clarity from QRG [Edit: It’s actually a guest post] at Graunwatch:

You’ve got nothing to worry about, son. I’d suggest going out on a rampage with the boys, getting on the booze and smashing anything that moves. Then, when some bird falls for you, you can turn the tables and break her heart. Of course, the other option is to cut your ex’s face, and then no one will want her.

I wouldn’t be above some impromptu castration, either. Last December German Helmut Seifert cut the knackers off the 57-year-old “boyfriend” of his 17-year-old daughter with a kitchen knife. That’s the way to do it, sir: grasp the issue at its root. Don’t telephone the man and sound him out. Just saw off his nuts. Sure as eggs is eggs, he won’t do it again, will he? See. Direct action. It works (almost) every time.”

Both of these atrocious, inhumane sentiments are quoted from the Guardian, but in entirely different contexts.

The first is an extract from an advice column by Danny Dyer, which the Guardian were reporting on after its appearance in Zoo magazine gained widespread criticism. (I blogged about this two years ago, almost to the day. It’s interesting, incidentally, to note the way my style of public engagement has changed since then – perhaps most notably in my approach to calling people cunts and telling them to fuck off.)

The second is from a straight-forward and apparently wholly irony-free column written by arch-feminist Bidisha, for which she was presumably paid by the Guardian and which is presented by them without comment.

I think Graunwatch over-simplifies the situation by suggesting that the Guardian’s varied coverage of these two opinions is the only difference between them. It’s an important difference, but the distinctions which render the one opinion more acceptable than the other – in at least some sub-editors’ eyes – are also worth examining. The reasons for the distinction are more interesting and complicated than simply a lefty broadsheet being fashionably sexist against men.

The victims of the proposed punishments are, respectively, a young woman who was in a relationship which ended some months ago (at whose instigation remains ambiguous), and a middle-aged man who was “involved with” a teenage girl. (Whether or not the relationship was sexual is also unclear, and Bidisha doesn’t seem too concerned either way; it at least seems to have been consensual.)

The notion that this latter victim deserves, not just retribution, but sexually violent retribution in particular, is, firstly, profoundly repugnant; but it also aligns neatly with the “women as victims” narrative common to the left. I realise that’s a dangerous phrase to use without clarification: it’s certainly true that some crimes exist in which the a significant majority of victims are female, and a gender disparity like this should always be taken into account when considering how to deal with these sorts of crimes. But a generalisation that women are “victims” are men are “aggressors” as a matter of course simply doesn’t follow.

And yet, such a generalisation is the only thing which can really explain the glee with which some feminists imagine violently assaulting men, even before those men have provably done anything to any women that might merit it. The idea that there might be any complexity or nuance or humanity to the above tale of castration isn’t even considered. He was some old perv leching after a teenage girl. Just saw his nuts off. Job done.

Another important difference is that, as best I can make out, Bidisha’s comments were the more sincere. Dyer (or whoever wrote that column) was, I suspect, not genuinely suggesting that the letter-writer to whom he was responding should take the specific violent action described. He was making a joke – a bad, tasteless, unfair joke, a joke which insensitively targets women who’ve suffered violence, a joke without even humour as a redeeming quality – but a joke all the same. Bidisha appears to be genuinely in favour of the “medieval justice” she writes about. There’s no detectable hint that she’s affected an extremist position for the purposes of lampooning it, in the way that more gifted satirists tend to make just obvious enough without overplaying it. I can only take her at her indefensible word.

But the similarities between the two pieces are also striking. In particular, they both assume that there’s no need to treat some segment of the population with any particular humanity or dignity, and that’s why what they’re saying is basically fine. With Dyer, that demographic was women, and I think he was fairly criticised for being callous. I suspect “women” didn’t occupy quite the same mental space as “people” for him, and so being blasé about violence against them went unremarked upon in his thought process.

In Bidisha’s case, on the other hand, that demographic is men – but not for the same reasons. She’s not callous about men because they’re not quite people, but because men are fine. They can take it. They’re all homogeneously lumped together in one big privileged group, full of people who never have to worry about any gender issues, and so don’t merit any consideration in matters like this. They’re entirely distinct from women, who are in a separate group of beleaguered victims. Dismembering men with a knife might be an appropriate way to bring them down a peg or two.

It’s dangerous, dehumanising nonsense in either case. Let’s try to remember that getting “revenge” on an entire gender, either because you’ve identified them as the “other” and they need to be put in their place, or because some of them might seem to be abusing their privilege, makes no more sense than any other form of sexism or racism ever has.

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