Posts Tagged ‘sexual equality’

One of the ways that gender is unique, as an axis of oppression, is that it is one of the few forms that totally sucks for everyone.



This post is worth examining, as another reminder that both women’s rights and men’s rights need to be available for sensible and compassionate consideration, if we’re going to make any progress toward getting anything done for anybody.

Women tend to unfairly face a number of problems, threats, and difficulties which correlate to their gender. Insofar as feminism comprises an effort to remove such injustice, feminism is a worthwhile and important approach for anyone who cares about people.

Men tend to unfairly face a number of problems, threats, and difficulties which correlate to their gender. Insofar as masculism comprises an effort to remove such injustice, masculism is a worthwhile and important approach for anyone who cares about people.

Transgendered folk often get forgotten or neglected in this whole discussion, despite often facing a mélange of the above problems and a bunch of their own.

These things remain true, and should not be forgotten, while deciding on where your priorities lie and where to place your emphasis.

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Right, I’m finally not too lazy to write about this interesting new collaborative blog I’ve been enjoying.

The phrase “What about teh menz?” has an odd place in gender-related and feminist discussions. It refers to the way that, in the middle of a feminist conversation about something presumed to be a feminist matter, the plight of men will sometimes be injected into the discussion, often unwelcomely.

When women are talking about rape, for instance, it’s possibly for a man to unhelpfully steamroller in and complain that everyone’s ignoring how men can be raped too, you know. If someone new to the debate starts acting as if this omission is the gravest injustice of the whole topic, as I’ve seen happen, this can be frustrating for women trying to discuss a serious matter without being told that they’re the insensitive ones.

When Giles Coren tried to discuss the ways society can be unfair on men, the mocking cries of “What about teh menz?!” were flying thick and fast, as people of both genders characterised his views as a needy whine with no relevance to the important sexual discrimination going on in the world (i.e. that against women).

The thing is, though. There are male victims of rape and sexual assault out there. And there are gender-biased assumptions that do men no favours. There is some serious injustice against men which deserves to be addressed.

But it seems to have been historically extremely difficult to support one side of the debate without, inadvertently or deliberately, disparaging the other. There has been a tendency for men to bring up male victimhood in a way that shuts down or hijacks women’s conversations: sometimes “What about teh menz?” really can be an unwelcome whine.

At the same time, the stereotypical idea that men’s rights don’t need to be defended is one that a lot of feminists seem happy to propagate, and there’s a great deal of unfair antipathy to the very idea that there might be biases against men which should be fought.

But there’s no reason these two schools of thought should be antithetical. If we can avoid being outright dismissive of either, we might be able to actually make some worthwhile progress toward proper gender equality.

Which is why it’s good to see a blog asking: No, Seriously, What About Teh Menz?

Anyone who’s been paying attention will be familiar with my rambling cogitations about feminism, and whether it’s worth pursuing, or worth adapting, or just too nebulous and variable to really mean anything. I’d all but abandoned use of the word, as being too laden with baggage, but the FAQs on this blog offered an interesting clarification. Here’s a snippet:

Where feminism seeks to improve gender equality with a focus on issues affecting women, masculism seeks to improve gender equality with a focus on issues affecting men. Taken together, these two (complementary!) movements form “gender egalitarianism.”

There are ways in which women are unjustly worse off than men in our society; this deserves to be addressed by anyone who values fairness. There are ways in which men are unjustly worse off than women in our society; ditto. Highlighting the importance of one cause doesn’t need to downplay that of the other. And whether the specific thing you’re talking about seems more like a feminist or masculist issue, you should probably be thinking about it in the context of making things better for everyone.

If I’m going to be a feminist, I’m damn sure going to be a masculist too.

Actually, maybe being a humanist will cover both bases just fine.

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Johann Hari wrote a piece recently for the Independent, in which he argued for the importance of a compassionate and proactive approach to addressing the problem of homophobic bullying in schools. It’s been widely lauded and quoted and recommended across the interwebs, and I lost count of how many people in my Twitter feed posted a link, urging everyone to read it.

It comes partly in response to a number of predictably unkind and insensitive articles in the Daily Mail, particularly one by Melanie Phillips which blathered about the horrors of the “Gay Agenda” making its way into school classrooms. A lot of gay young people still have it tough from religious or similarly motivated prejudice, and there’s a need for an active stand against the kind of bullying that drives some to suicide, and profoundly affects the lives of countless others.

Some people, though, think Johann Hari is a cock, and that this article is just another example of his “usual sanctimonious, victim-based, ‘gay is good’ ‘children are gay’ (except when they are catholic) emotive crap“.

Yes, I’m quoting verbatim there. The argument is fleshed out somewhat by Quiet Riot Girl at the Graunwatch blog.

The Graunwatch post raises a number of interesting and pertinent questions, which open up the discussion into a greater depth in a number of interesting ways, which I couldn’t have achieved on my own simply by reading Johann’s piece.

It also makes me flap my arms like a lunatic as I fail to articulate my frustration and resort to attempting to exorcise it physically.

There’s a few reasons for that, which I’ll get onto soon. But let’s start with the useful points in contention with Johann’s article first.

The title of QRG’s own blog post – Think of the (gay) children! – highlights a couple of such issues. Efforts to broaden tolerance and compassion for young people identifying with alternate sexualities may end up reinforcing an “us and them” categorisation, making it easier to maintain a notion of normal kids over here, gay kids over there. I don’t know how strong that danger really is, or whether it does much to offset our desire to stand up against homophobic bullying in general, but it’s worth considering.

Another potential pitfall is the idea that gay kids are the only ones who suffer serious discrimination or bullying. If anybody feels like their problems are being sidelined because they’re not one of the “gay kids”, and nobody’s ever told them that their problems matter too, that’s a serious problem we need to watch out for.

And while I don’t for a moment believe that Johann would consider the problems faced by bisexual, transgendered, or otherwise different-but-not-just-“gay” people to be trivial, the emphasis in his article is primarily on the gay/straight distinction (and mostly addresses male rather than female homosexuality at that).

It’s not completely outrageous that he’s focused on gay males as probably the most prominent demographic in question, but as QRG points out in the comments, LGBTQ is a perfectly good term which includes a number of other people who also deserve to be considered in the discussion.

There’s also the thorny issue of when a noble effort to redress injustices against a minority out-group becomes offensively patronising. I’ve touched on this before as regards feminism, and I still don’t know where the balance lies, but it’s certainly another interesting discussion to be had.

Personally, I’ve witnessed many more LGBTQ folk feeling reassured and uplifted than condescended and dismissed by Johann’s writing, and other articles of this sort. Unsubstantiated anecdotal evidence For The Meh.

So, there’s that. Some important points raised, and no doubt there are others as well which I haven’t covered here.

But I still get so wound up by the way QRG makes them.

And there’s one thing in particular that bothers me most.

It’s not the way her analysis sometimes seems to be trying really hard to find offense wherever she can (although it does). For example, she’s incensed by his characterisation of “gay children”:

Do children really identify themselves as gay? It paints a picture of a seven year old, living in a loft appartment in Manchester, sipping on a martini and checking out if he has any messages on his Gaydar.

I don’t think it does. I think it paints a picture of an adolescent, starting to develop unfamiliar sexual feelings, without any well formed sense of sexuality or sexual identity, unsure what they’re feeling or whether it’s okay to be feeling it, identifying what’s going on as same-sex attraction, but with levels of uncertainty and guilt that aren’t helped by the kind of casual and abusive epithets being tossed around in the playground and elsewhere.

Especially since, y’know, that’s exactly what Johann’s explicitly describing in the rest of the article.

To pick so dismissively on this almost entirely innocuous phrase, chosen for the sake of brevity, seems disingenuous.

Johann also references in his article the various primitive arguments against homosexuality that are still boringly popular, and points out that homosexuality is a natural phenomenon that’s never going to be successfully repressed.

In every human society that has ever existed, and ever will, some 3 to 10 percent of the population has wanted to have sex with their own gender. This is a fixed and unchangeable reality.

QRG seems to almost wilfully misunderstand his point here, attacking him as if he were claiming that the sexual identity of any “gay person” is itself “fixed and immutable”. This can’t possibly be something he thinks, and it doesn’t seem implicit in his words. The only fact that can’t be avoided is that a variety of sexual identities exist, no matter what some religious and backwardly puritanical folk would like to think can be achieved through denial.

None of this is what really gets to me, though.

I’m mostly brought down by the way she’s just being so mean.

Okay, so that sounds childish. And I’ll acknowledge that I’ve taken a very curt tone with some antagonists on this blog myself in the past, to say the least. Pointed and deliberate viciousness is not entirely anathema to me.

But, look. Johann was motivated to write his article by compassion, love, and a desire to help his fellow human beings who he perceives as suffering unfairly. He is trying hard to do good, and many people are responding with genuine outpourings of warmth and support.

I don’t have the cynicism to see ego behind his writing. Whether you want to call it mawkish or stylistically abhorrent is up to you, and I’m open to claims that his lack of nuance has meant that important factors like those listed above go ignored.

But the idea that there’s some sort of conspiracy to maintain the perception of gay people as victims is a bizarre and unkind misunderstanding, of what is at worst a misguided attempt to help. He’s making a commendable effort to do some good for the world, as best he can, the way his best judgement deems most appropriate.

And nobody about whom that can be said deserves to be called a cock and spat on.

I’m yet to see any serious disagreement with any of Johann’s main points that hasn’t simply been cruel. There are homophobic bigots of one sort or another on one side, who can reasonably be ignored – and on the other, people who ought to be with him in supporting a humanistic approach, but seem to prefer to yell at him for somehow doing tolerance “wrong”.

Which to my mind makes this some seriously ineffective outreach, if the useful and important criticism is so difficult to reach through all the sneering and venom and malice.

Well. There it is. I’ve basically written another fucking blog post about “tone”. Look what you made me do.

Edit 3/2/11: Wow, a thousand views before breakfast. That’ll move the chains.

Anyway, having been noticed by both opposing parties on Twitter, this post’s getting a bit more attention than I’m used to. The comments are getting interesting too, so be sure to keep scrolling.

Also, I should add that this was all finished rather hastily last night, and may well be lacking in much of the nuance I was attempting to support. Do call me out on anything where you think my own tone is misjudged.

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This blog, above all else, is committed to the truth.

And, in that spirit of providing you with honest and accurate commentary, I’m not even going to look up the names of those two football people who got told off or fired or something for being sexist dicks.

If I started doing research like that, it might provide you with the misleading impression that I give enough of a shit about their names to look them up, or even to remember them after hearing everyone yammer on about them all day. So fuck research.

Whoever they were, they got caught saying some pretty demeaning things about women, and as such they have been widely castigated. I think at least one of them’s been fired. Seems jolly sensible. Sexism is bad. Can’t be having that.

Of course, there’s been a bit of a response from the other direction, too. The first hint of it that I noticed was when Michael Marshall tweeted:

RE Gray and Keys – are we also calling for the sacking of women broadcasters who’ve said ‘men are pigs’ or ‘men think with their penis’?

Later adding:

Just to reiterate, I don’t side with Gray. I’m just interested that we treat sexism by men more seriously than sexism by women, & wonder why

Some people took this idea further. In particular, Giles Coren wrote a piece for the Daily Mail, noting the common disparity in how certain topics are treated depending on the gender of the people involved.

Only last week, for example, Jo Brand, the newly crowned Best Female TV Comic at the British Comedy Awards, was on Have I Got News For You and replied to the question “What’s your favourite kind of man, Jo?” by saying: “A dead one.” Oh, how the audience fell about. And the other contestants, all male, chortled away too.

I’m not saying it wasn’t funny. I’m just saying we live in a world where the thorough-going awfulness, uselessness and superfluity of the male sex is such a given, that a frontline television comic can get big laughs by saying she’d prefer it if we were all dead.

Anton Vowl thought Giles’s whole effort worthy of relentless parody, but I’m more willing to concede that the guy has a substantial point.

I mean… why is it okay to make those jokes about one gender but not the other? Remove the question from the context of any sanctimonious whining about how tough men have it these days, and just consider it on its own merit. The above joke is funny, but laughing at dead women is much more likely to be uncomfortable and unacceptable. What’s the reasoning behind it?

You can answer this in part by bringing up the general power balance present in the world. Women are struggling to gain full acceptance in many ways; men generally don’t expect to be discriminated against beyond the level of vacuous joking. Women being actually murdered by men is a more prevalent societal problem, and so joking about it is less acceptable.

But, even given that such an imbalance exists, is that really the way you want to redress it? Declare that demeaning jokes and insults are acceptable only one-way, to bring the more powerful side down to the weaker’s level? It seems like this way we both lose.

There is a difference between sexist jokes against men and sexist jokes against women, but it’s not simply that one’s okay and the other isn’t.

Prejudice against men isn’t simply identical-but-in-the-opposite-direction to that against women. The motivations behind it are different.

Misandry is presumably, for the most part, a reaction to the perception of male dominance. This doesn’t justify it – there are far better ways to respond to gender imbalance than to demean men in an effort to drag them down to whatever level women feel they’ve been reduced to.

But it comes from a very different place, and is motivated by different emotions, from misogyny, and so it merits a different kind of response.

One joke is funny, and the other sinister, because of the different assumptions on which each one rests.

Gender-based prejudice against men is implicitly justified by the assumption that they’re big boys, they can handle it, and it’s not actually doing anyone any harm, because men are still dominant and in control and powerful.

And there’s no doubt that this assumption is harmful and wrong. Whatever might be said about the general role of men in society, or “the patriarchy”, many individual men can feel demeaned and unfairly belittled as a direct result of exactly such careless bandying about of sexist stereotypes.

This is just a fact. Many men, for instance, feel insecure about the size of their penis, because unfair mockery and ridicule based on this arbitrary quality is socially acceptable. It shouldn’t detract from the similar prejudicial suffering of women (which is also very real) to point out that this does happen to men, and it is unjust when it does.

Gender-based prejudice against women, on the other hand, is implicitly justified by an entirely different set of assumptions. The unspoken undercurrent seems to state that women just aren’t as relevant as men to this discussion. Birds don’t understand football. Chicks are emotionally unstable and don’t have any rational opinions worth listening to.

Which also sucks, and is entirely unfair and causes a great deal of unwarranted pain, and is something actively struggled against by many compassionate people, while still being ingrained at some level in general social discourse.

In short: sexism against men and women both exist, and are both bad, and both deserve to be addressed. But they stem from different sources, and they need to be considered in different ways. We don’t need to act like taking serious notice of one problem means the other one “doesn’t matter”.

Giles is right about a lot of this. Unfortunately, he ultimately falls into the same trap that he’s bemoaning.

Many women have reacted to the deeply ingrained societal bias against them by making cruel and biased jokes about men – which, as Giles points out, are unjust, and would be far more obviously so if the gender roles were reversed.

But when Giles responds in turn to this unfair bias, he does much the same thing again himself: proposing unfair stereotypes about women, which fail to recognise the huge variety of experience that an entire gender is subject to.

He’s entirely right to deride the insane idea that “If women ruled the world, there would be no wars.” There are women around the world who hold some executive power, after all, and I don’t think we’ve seen any evidence that they couldn’t be just as capable as men of fucking the whole place up if given half a chance. But how does Giles respond?

What nonsense. Women are far meaner, more brutal, aggressive, small-minded, jealous, petty and venal than any man.

If women ruled the world ­countries would be invaded because “she’s always been jealous of my feet” and because “she looks down on me for going out to work”.

Millions would die, torture would increase. If women ruled the world there would be carnage.

Not helping. It’s unfair when women go over the top describing how awful men are, so don’t make it worse by doing the same thing yourself. That was your whole point.

Have I done enough yet? I’ve lost the thread a bit. I’d be interested to see which aspect of this most people think I’ve got the most wrong.

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Someone I’m following on Twitter, @quietriot_girl, recently put out a call for any interested men to discuss feminism. I volunteered, and she sent the following list of questions, to which I’ve attached my answers here.

1. Do you consider yourself to be a feminist?

If so, why? If not, why not?


People have many different ideas of what feminism means, but all the formulations I’m most familiar with seem to describe philosophies that I consider important and worth following. One of my housemates at uni had a bumper sticker up in her room with a quote to the effect that “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people”. I can get behind that.

It’s not exactly a revolutionary observation that gender discrimination against women has been a pretty shitty and widespread thing throughout much of the history of civilisation, and we’re still not over it today. There are still ways in which unhelpful and unfair stereotypes and assumptions about women’s role in society linger on in the way people think and act, and I think it’s worth taking an active role in addressing this, beyond merely adopting the passive stance of “not being sexist”.

2. Look at this list of speakers for a forthcoming Feminism In London conference.


As you can see there are no men speakers scheduled. Would this put you off attending such an event? If not, please elaborate.

Well, I’m just an antisocial person, so this wouldn’t really be my scene anyway. Putting that aside, I suppose that seeing a long list like this of all women speakers might make me doubt how welcome I’d be, as a man. Which is okay; I wouldn’t begrudge the organisers of this event if they wanted an exclusively female attendance.

If this was representative of a more general trend, this may be a cause for concern, as I think that men have an important part to play in the feminist movement, and blocking us out entirely from open discussion and involvement can only be counter-productive. However, it does fall to me to be careful how I phrase such objections, so that I don’t come across as just angrily trying to barge into a discussion these womyn-folk are having to make sure I’m heard because I’m a MAN, dammit.

All the feminist activism I’ve experienced has tended to be very positive, inclusive, generally in line with my own values, and has never made me feel like I’d be an unwelcome part of it. I don’t personally feel like the voice of male feminism is being systematically ignored or shut down, so I don’t worry too much about the under-representation of men at certain events. It may speak to a broader problem within certain organisations, but I don’t feel equipped to judge that.

Also, let’s not forget that the reason for interest or concern in men’s role in feminism is not because of a general problem of societal oppression of men, or the hardships men traditionally face as a result of gender discrimination. It’s because getting men on board with the cause can help advance feminism. I do think that feminism would suffer if it lacked any kind of outreach to get men involved, but this wouldn’t be that grave an injustice against men themselves.

Also also, my friend Jessica deserves a shout-out for being a voice of positive, inclusive feminism in the context of Christianity. Again, I don’t know if she’s just radically out of sync with the usual tone of “mainstream feminism”, or if mainstream feminism has some more inclusive corners than you’re giving it credit for.

There were also two follow-up parts to question 2…

Are there any issues you would like to see discussed at feminist events that are not represented here? What are they?

Are there any specific people (of any gender identity) that you would be interested to hear speak at a feminist event?

…but I feel less qualified to comment here. I’m not that immersed in the feminist movement that I feel like I really know what they’re discussing most of the time, and I’m unlikely to find out by attending any “feminist events” because, hi, still quite antisocial.

The one thing I suppose I’d want to suggest be talked about more is the concept of practical, evidence-based activism – establishing what works and what doesn’t, what tactics will get people on our side and what will put them off, when it comes to trying to make a wider audience understand what feminism is trying to do and why it’s important. If our aims are no more specific than to “stand up for” certain ideas, or to “fight” for “equality” without ever nailing down what those words mean, then we’ll just end up talking at cross purposes and confusing things.

3. Do you have any other comments on how you perceive feminism to be at the moment? Especially from the perspective of being a man?

Well, I know that its failure to be sufficiently inclusive to men is one of the things you’ve criticised the mainstream feminist movement for, but my own experience of feminism hasn’t found it at all off-putting or unwelcoming. This may simply imply that it hasn’t been primarily “mainstream” feminism that I’ve been interacting with, which could well be the case.

The skeptical movement is my main thing, the big cause and community that’s hooked me for the past few years, and my burgeoning interests in equality and politics and journalism and so forth have all kinda spun off from that. Feminism and racial equality are both non-trivial parts of the skeptical movement, and I think this is largely why I’ve taken as much notice of them as I have.

A big part of the feminist message for me comes from people I already respect and admire as skeptics in their own right, perhaps most notably the Skepchicks. The purpose of that blog is to provide a more female-oriented wing of the skeptical movement, but they know that they’re working as part of a male-dominated community, so they’ve made sure things don’t start to feel exclusive in that regard.

Maybe that says something useful about a broader feminist approach that could be more widely adopted: rather than “feminism” simply existing as a stand-alone movement on its own, a better way forward would involve pre-existing groups or communities of people with shared interests, who currently happen to be predominantly male, taking on the task of feminist outreach themselves.

4. Where do you live?

London, UK.

5. What is your ethnic origin?

I’m as White British as they come.

So, that’s the game, folks. If you’ve got anything to add to this perspective, let me know, and I’m sure Elly would also like to hear.

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The Daily Mail remains an irony-free zone.

In this article, we’re given a lesson on feminism by a woman who stands up for Mary Whitehouse and her idea of moral values.

Mary Whitehouse, for anyone unfamiliar, was famous in the UK for running the “Clean Up TV” campaign, which sought to get anything remotely offensive removed from the airwaves. Her wrath extended to the sexism of Benny Hill, the violence of Tom and Jerry, and just about anything else that’s any fun at all.

Sandra Parsons in the Mail seems unsurprisingly blinkered to the notion of any kind of middle ground. Rihanna often looks sexy on TV shown during the daytime – therefore our nation’s youth are being tragically corrupted and the woman who thought gays could be “completely cured” by psychiatric therapy was right about everything.

And then there’s this bit of cluelessness:

Feminism means behaving as though you are equal to, not less than, a man, in every way: legally, professionally, financially, intellectually and sexually.

To do that you need independence and self-respect, neither of which is to be gained from sleeping around.

I’m not advocating prudery. But the belief that casual, meaningless sex empowers women is a dangerous delusion. It is a route not to self-fulfilment but to self-abasement.

Feminism means equality for women; now let me tell women about all the things they mustn’t do.

She’s already contradicted her own point about being “equal” a few paragraphs earlier, when she bemoans the terrible message given to young women by Sex And The City. Specifically, the message “that single girls could be just as promiscuous and predatory as men” (emphasis mine). Suddenly being equal is a terrible and dangerous thing.

It’s really not for you to say what women should or should not find empowering, Sandra. And Christ knows it’s not for me either, which is why, y’know, I generally don’t. If women and girls are getting the message that they’re not properly empowered unless they’re having a certain amount of sex, or conforming to some other sexual stereotype, I agree that that’s unhelpful and damaging. But calling it “self-abasement” for women to enjoy themselves in ways you’re not used to is far more degrading than any supposed “myths” about casual sex being liberating.

And in the next segment of the same page, Kylie Minogue is directly advised to date someone old and ugly, since her relationships with young and attractive people don’t seem to be working out. Is that empowering? I just don’t know any more.

Oh, dear God, I just looked at some of the comments below this article. I can’t tell if my brain is bleeding or if it’s just my eyes.

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The Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority declares that raping someone is 25% more okay if they’re drunk… or maybe they don’t. I’m left entirely unclear after reading this article exactly what the policy is, or how outraged to be. Apparently fourteen people in the past year have been “told they would get less money because of alcohol consumption”, even though CICA’s policy “was not to reduce awards to rape victims on the basis of alcohol consumption”. Is anyone else kinda lost? The whole area must be an absolute legal nightmare (not to mention many other kinds of nightmare), but surely we can work out something better than this.

Religious cult starves child to death. Making sure he said “amen” after meals was apparently more important to these people – including his mother – than actually letting him eat enough not to die. He was then stuffed into a suitcase, and left there for over a year. There’s not much that breaks me out of my flippantly sarcastic routine when breezing through the news, but this is just fucked up.

Lighter news from Sweden: sex toys are sexist. The fact that vibrators are being made for women is clearly discrimatory, and only serves to perpetuate the offensively gender-biased attitudes that have motivated centuries of oppression against men who just want some decent sex toys of our own, dammit. Even more ridiculous are some of the stories later in the article – only one of a lesbian couple is allowed to try to get pregnant, otherwise it gives them an unfair advantage over straight couples, only one of whom can get pregnant. Seriously, Sweden, get a fucking grip. When your legal decisions are reminiscent of Monty Python routines (“What’s the point in defending his right to have babies when he can’t have babies?!”), there’s a good chance You’re Doing It Wrong. Equality is fine; enforcing absolute uniformity is not quite in the same spirit. Sort it out before Neil Hannon changes his mind about living there.

Shocking medical study indicates that some “overweight” people are in fact quite healthy, while scrawny sods like me might not always be the perfect physical specimens we like to think. Wow. You mean there’s more to health than chunkability, and obesity is actually a complex issue with many contributing factors, which can’t accurately be generalised based on any one variable? Surely not. Next they’ll be telling us people over twelve stone can be physically attractive.

And in closing news, “evolutionary evangelist” claims that “science and religion go hand in hand”, thus failing hard at both. So much of what’s wrong with him is summed up in the phrase: “If evolution doesn’t wholly jazz someone religiously, they should continue to reject evolution.” No. Just no. Jazz != science. Go away now.

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