Thought of the day

If you’ve ever wondered if feminism is for you, ask yourself one simple question: Can a woman ever be sexist towards a man? If your answer is yes, then feminism is not for you.

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Definitions

The feminist definition of sexism is ‘discrimination based upon sex + power’. In other words, the more powerful of the sexes is the only one which can be ever be sexist. Just the same, this definition is appropriated for racism: a power asymmetry is key in determining what is and is not racist. This means that in looking at the US as a whole, only white people can be racist. But this opens up some questions about more specific interactions.

Let’s say we’re in the US southwest. Most of the residents are Hispanic. The city council is Hispanic. The mayor is Hispanic. Most businesses are Hispanic-owned. In this area, the local power is undeniably in favor of Hispanic people. Does that mean a white/black/Asian person cannot be racist here? If not, and if they can be racist a few miles away, what happens in the gray areas? That is, if they can’t be racist in neighborhood A because they aren’t part of the powerful group, but they can be racist in neighborhood C where they are part of the powerful group, what happens in the middle in neighborhood B? Do we defer to national socioeconomics?

And what of minority interactions? If, say, Asian people have greater power as a group than, say, black people, can black people not be racist towards Asian people?

This all seems like a major problem to me. An anonymous statement simply written on a piece of paper apparently may or may not be racist. We can’t know until we’ve found out the skin color and power dynamics of where we are. And then that same statement said by someone of a different skin color suddenly becomes non-racist. I guess I don’t entirely get it. There’s certainly context in statements, but saying “This racial group is less intelligent than that racial group” strikes me as racist no matter who says it.

It seems as though it would be easier to just say sexism is discrimination on the basis of sex, racism is discrimination on the basis of race, and mindsets which force us to view people not as people but as segregated groups defined by their outward characteristics are fundamentally toxic and simply a reverse of the problem, not a fix.

My flirtation with “Men’s Rights”

Right away, “men’s rights” sounds like a ridiculous notion. We think of it in comparison to women’s rights and the women’s rights movement, something absolutely necessary in the history of the United States, and still necessary today. We’ve needed women’s rights, from the early part of the century and before when women couldn’t vote, through the middle of the century when women were paid little and sexual harassment was accepted. There’s been a certain disadvantage to being a woman in society; the flip side is that there’s been a certain advantage to being a man. Only the most extreme of individuals will say these facts are firm 100% of the time – of course women have advantages in some areas, and of course men have disadvantages in some areas – but it is clear that life as a man is, on average, easier than life as a woman.

I agree with what I’ve said. That isn’t all simply a recounting of a narrative or a statement of a worldview I’m preparing to attack. I affirm that it is an advantage, on average, to be a man. Indeed, even with my gender and sex identity wiped from my memory, if I could be reincarnated and given the choice to be a man or a woman, I don’t imagine a scenario where I would choose to be a woman. That isn’t to say there is anything wrong with being a woman, though. It’s simply to affirm the advantage that comes with being a man. (Just the same, if I had a choice between being, say, 5 feet or 6 feet, I would always choose 6 feet. That doesn’t mean 5 foot tall people are bad.)

So, again, I affirm men, on average, have an advantage in life over women.

Sadly, the reason I have had to affirm my belief about the male advantage in society is that I’m also going to say something which will automatically cause a certain part of society to ignore absolutely everything I have to say on anything ever again: I sympathize with men’s rights activists (MRA’s).

Of course, I have to qualify this like crazy because the men’s rights movement (MRM) is so often vilified. For example, the Southern Poverty Law Center went idiot hunting last year. What they found was a handful of barely popular fringe websites that were antagonistic towards women, spewing a lot of misogyny and sexism. Coupled with these sites were two of the more popular outlets for men’s rights: A Voice for Men and r/mensrights, a subreddit on the popular site reddit.com. I would lump probably 80% of what A Voice for Men posts with the idiots. The r/mensrights subreddit, however, is a different story.

Since becoming a reddit addict earlier this year, I’ve taken to subscribing to a lot of different subreddits. (Think of reddit has a message board and subreddits as forums. It’s not quite like that, but the idea is basically the same.) I like to make it a point to occasionally subscribe to subreddits that don’t reflect my views. I figure I’ll either learn something or find something funny. The latter reason is why I initially subscribed to r/Christianity and r/mensrights. I soon unsubscribed to r/Christianity because it was so boring, but I stuck around r/mensrights. Men have a big advantage in life, so it was sure to be hilarious, right?

Not really.

As it turns out, there are a lot of important issues raised in r/mensrights that had never crossed my radar. For instance, it never crossed my mind to consider how much of a discount women get on their prison sentences versus men for the same crime. (It’s something like 60% overall, and only a few crimes net women harsher sentences than men.) As anyone who reads FTSOS knows, I’m no fan of the U.S. criminal justice system. I think it’s utter garbage, an institution set up to keep people locked up for petty crimes while private prisons (which should make everyone say “What in the fuck?”) make loads of money. So my reaction to women’s decreased sentences isn’t that they should be raised to those given to men, but I think it’s obvious men and women should be treated equally under the law.

And there are other issues. Go find any article about a male teacher accused of one form or another of sexual assault on a female student. The headline will never say he “had sex with” her. No, it will rightly say he assaulted/raped her. But read an article where the teacher is female and the student is male, and well, she had sex with him. He’s a guy. He must have wanted it, right?

Now, recall when I said I couldn’t imagine choosing to be a woman anymore than I would choose to be 5 feet tall. I’m assuming a clean slate, an equal chance to have my life turn out great as I have for it to turn out awful. But change the details and ask me if I’d rather be a man or a woman standing in divorce/family/criminal court? The answer is obvious: a woman all the way. Even beyond the criminal ‘justice’ system, it is never an advantage to be a man. Women are almost always given custody of children by default. Divorce settlements decidedly favor women (even when the woman is capable of making her own living based upon the skills she has obtained during marriage).

But now I have to get back to the qualifying, less I be accused of embracing everything to do with men’s rights. I greatly dislike when people in r/mensrights use intentionally sexist terms like “bitch”, “harpie”, “shriek”, and so forth. I’m all about using language freely and openly, but it’s obvious the intention by some of the people in that subreddit is to demean women. Fuck that bullshit. And fuck the commenters who genuinely do seem to hold a grudge against all women. I don’t support that.

So, let me be clear: I have a sympathy towards the men’s rights movement insofar as it points out issues where men are treated unfairly and do have a disadvantage. I think it’s wrong that our various courts are obviously (and insanely) biased against men. I think it’s wrong that the sexual assault of young boys is treated as something those boys wanted, provided to perpetrator was a woman. (Notice the lack of headlines declaring “Priest accused of having sex with altar boy.”) I’m very much a utilitarian, but I also very much see the value in egalitarianism. This isn’t always expressed by MRA’s, but it is the underlying theme I’ve seen. That is where my sympathy lies. (The utter lack of egalitarianism in 3rd wave feminism disgusts me.)

But let me be extra clear: My sympathy towards men’s rights does not mean one can possibly conclude my favor or disfavor regarding any given issue. I may think it’s wrong that a man walking with his son in the English countryside was assumed to be a pedophile (the same would not happen to a mother), but that doesn’t mean I have a significant issue with the massive funding disparity between breast cancer research and prostate cancer research – a look into the data shows that it makes sense for the most part. (I do, however, have an issue with the lack of funding lung cancer research receives as compared with breast cancer research.)

So here’s the big conclusion. The MRM raises some valid points that I think deserve far more attention than they currently get. Moreover, I am on board with the egalitarian approach of the movement (an approach, incidentally, which characterizes much of 1st and 2nd wave feminism). I also agree with the idea held by many MRA’s that sexism is not defined by a power asymmetry, but by discrimination on the basis of sex. Aside from being the dictionary definition of sexism, I reject the idea that a given group being in power translates to the individual members of that group automatically having greater power. That is, Congress being composed of mostly white men does not mean that every white man has more power than everyone else. Thus, sexism can and does occur independently of a group’s collective power. But does that mean I embrace everything espoused by anyone claiming the label of “MRA”? Of course not. I’m not a frequent poster on reddit, but most of what I’ve posted in r/mensrights has been dissent. The movement doesn’t have a cohesive philosophy, so it has some serious holes. (Feminism also doesn’t have a cohesive philosophy – forget about claiming it is a philosophy – but as a political movement (and that’s exactly what it is), it is far more coherent than the MRM.) But just as feminist writers opened my eyes to sexism I once did not see, the MRM has made me aware of unfair treatment of one of the sexes.

Thought of the day

I have a number of issues with feminism. The biggest is that the movement is overwhelmingly pro-censorship, and that tells me there aren’t enough good arguments in its favor. However, I have another significant issue: It seeks to promote female equality when positive or beneficial things are involved with said equality, but it falls loudly silent when equality is not to the benefit of women. Specifically, I have in mind the military. After falling behind many nation’s that allowed women in combat roles, the U.S. recently caught up (or is at least in the processing of implementing its new policies on the matter). That’s fantastic and it’s how it should be. But this benefits women. Female soldiers who wish to have the opportunity to fight for their country and/or who wish to be considered for promotions where combat experience is needed now have that opportunity. Yes, this puts them in harm’s way and that is something to be admired on a certain level, but it’s a choice. More than that, it’s a desired choice. That’s why women fought for this sort of policy, and it’s why feminists are generally supportive of it. But I ask…what of the draft? Why don’t we have a movement, either spear-headed or at least supported by feminists, that would require women to sign up for the draft at 18? As I recall, I forfeited my alleged “right” to vote or some such nonsense if I didn’t fill out some card the military wanted. (I did fill it out.) Why shouldn’t women have the same requirement of them? I thought this was all about equality.

I don’t expect to hear much about this from feminists any time soon.

This cartoon is stupid

This cartoon comes from the hurter-of-women known as PZ Myers:

Harassment

Quick back story: Someone emailed PZ and told him a big name in the atheist community sexually assaulted her. Without evidence, he named that guy. Then a bunch of other people named everyone under the Sun. Forget that these people either never went to the police or, for those that did, their reports were looked into and closed with no charges whatsoever. No, that isn’t important. What’s important is that someone has made a significant claim and that evidence is only important in philosophical and scientific claims. When it comes to Internet feminism, it’s irrelevant.

The reason the above cartoon is just so fucking stupid is that it ignores why people get these type of responses: Blogs are not the place to make criminal complaints. A person can’t expect to be taken seriously on sexual harassment when the claim is going through such a hugely wrong channel – a channel so huge that it is only reasonable to conclude that at least part of the goal is public shame of the accused, whether the claim is true or not.

I’m not particularly interested in the PZ Myers-style feminist attempt to destroy the fledgling atheist community we have, so I don’t think I’ll be addressing this issue again. I do, however, hope that the people who have made these accusations without first going through the proper channels are sued into oblivion for defamation.

Bravo, Ronald Lindsay

In my last post I spoke of the feminist mantra of “Shut up and listen!” Specifically, I was alluding to a speech by Ronald Lindsay as given at a conference titled Women in Secularism. Here is the meat of what he said:

But it’s the second misapplication of the concept of privilege that troubles me most. I’m talking about the situation where the concept of privilege is used to try to silence others, as a justification for saying, “shut up and listen.” Shut up, because you’re a man and you cannot possibly know what it’s like to experience x, y, and z, and anything you say is bound to be mistaken in some way, but, of course, you’re too blinded by your privilege even to realize that.

This approach doesn’t work. It certainly doesn’t work for me. It’s the approach that the dogmatist who wants to silence critics has always taken because it beats having to engage someone in a reasoned argument. It’s the approach that’s been taken by many religions. It’s the approach taken by ideologies such as Marxism. You pull your dogma off the shelf, take out the relevant category or classification, fit it snugly over the person you want to categorize, dismiss, and silence and … poof, you’re done. End of discussion. You’re a heretic spreading the lies of Satan, and anything you say is wrong. You’re a member of the bourgeoisie, defending your ownership of the means of production, and everything you say is just a lie to justify your power. You’re a man; you have nothing to contribute to a discussion of how to achieve equality for women.

For this Lindsay has seen backlash in the feminist community. Here’s one response:

At best it was terrible tone deafness which was then exacerbated by his position of power in the organization, his race and gender and socioeconomic status, and the fact that he was giving the opening address not a lecture.

I also agreed with Rebecca Watson that it was particularly bad for these apparent misunderstandings to be delivered by a wealthy white man who was part of the organization in charge of the Women in Secularism conference. In other words, it was a poorly expressed, poorly timed message delivered by exactly the wrong person for the message.

First, Lindsay did a great job expressing his message. I only quoted a small portion of his speech, but if one is to read the whole thing, it shouldn’t be difficult to grasp his message. It has clarity and it was poignant. Second, it is not only overtly sexist but overtly racist to dismiss a person’s message on the grounds of sex and race. Indeed, that’s practically the definition of sexism and racism. Third, his message wasn’t even wrong. I’ll get to why that is in a moment, but first here’s another response:

If Ron LIndsay was opening an NAACP conference, he’d be the guy who’s like, “Welcome! WHERE’S WHITE HISTORY MONTH?”

Criticizing a particular use of a concept and the tactics of a movement is far different from being oblivious to the historic reasons for something such as black history month. The situations aren’t even close to being analogous.

Now here’s why his message isn’t at all wrong. Lindsay was saying little more than, ‘Telling one side to shut up is not how adults go about having a discussion.’ I entirely agree with him. If the goals here are to increase understanding, get a message out there, and change minds, then shutting down 50% of the population is, frankly, stupid. Just imagine if Martin Luther King did that. Imagine if he told white people that they needed to excuse themselves from the discussion. First, the crowd that was hostile to him in the first place would only harden their position, and the crowd that was in the middle would have walked away. That is, if today’s strategy of caricature, Internet feminists was applied to the civil rights movement of the 50’s and 60’s, black people and other minorities wouldn’t even be close to where they are today.

(I raised MLK’s clear strategy in a discussion with a check-out-my-fem-cred male on Facebook. In doing so, I specifically had A Letter from a Birmingham Jail in mind. Amazingly, he cited the letter as though it were some divisive piece of trash that would have supported the ‘Shut up’ mantra of feminists today. The reality is that the letter goes on about engaging and negotiating with the opposition – a hallmark of MLK’s life – before encouraging moderate whites to stand up and speak, to be a part of the discussion.)

So, I say bravo to Ronald Lindsay. It took courage to address such a groupthink idea in front of a group that does nothing but support the groupthinkery.

What feminism told me this weekend

I was going to title this post ‘What feminism taught me’, but it doesn’t seem that feminists are much into teaching so much as they are into decreeing. Case-in-point, I had a Facebook discussion with someone who went to town defending the feminism mantra ‘Shut up and listen!’ My objection, first was that that isn’t how adults have a conversation. Shutting down the speech of one side in order to validate the speech of the other side is just asinine. But to make things worse, this was all in response to a white guy calling bullshit on the mantra. And why does it matter that he was white? It shouldn’t, but in the feminist world, being a white guy who disagrees with any aspect of third-wave feminism is ‘privileged’* and ignorant. Indeed, what feminism told me this weekend was that adults should treat each other like children, especially if one of those adults is white and male; a view becomes all the less worthwhile based upon the sex of the person saying it. (You’ll never believe it, but when I called out this blatant definition-of-the-very-concept-of-sexism sexism, there was little agreement to be had.)

I’m going to have more on this soon, complete with specific references. I just wanted to throw this out here now because I found it so incredibly irritating that a person would devote time to fighting against the degradation of views on the basis of sex when it comes to women yet engaged in that very same type of degradation when the speaker was male.

*The word ‘privilege’, of course, has become a code to indicate an outsider.