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.

Thought of the day

For those who believe sexism is defined by power asymmetry, let me present two scenarios:

You’re going for a job. You have 10 years relevant experience and the appropriate education and degrees. The field is relatively gender neutral with approximately a 50-50 split between men and women. You are competing against one other candidate; your competition has the same experience and education as you. Would you prefer to be treated as a man or a woman?

I doubt very many people are going to opt to be treated as a woman in this scenario. It is clearly an advantage to be treated as a man, all else being equal. But now let me present the second scenario:

You’ve been accused of a serious crime. You’re innocent but there’s some evidence implicating you. (Maybe you were even dumb enough to actually talk to the police.) Since you refuse a plea deal, you’re going to trial. Would you prefer to be treated as a man or a woman?

This scenario perhaps works even better in family court matters, but it’s overwhelmingly clear in either case which is better: To be treated as a woman in court is a massive advantage. Clearly sexism is a two-way street, even if more traffic flows in one direction than the other.

Fun fact of the day

Racism and sexism derive from racist and sexist acts, thoughts, behaviors, and statements made on the basis of race and/or sex. They do not derive from social structures and institutions, though they may be prevalent in those areas.

Thought of the day

Acknowledging sexism towards men is not the same as dismissing or minimizing sexism towards women.

The rejection of science and confusion of morality amongst Evangelical Christians

Pew has put out a new survey in which it asks Evangelical Christians what they believe about life:

First, and probably of no surprise to anyone, is the result of the question regarding acceptance of the scientific theory of evolution. The survey posed the question:

Which statement comes closest to your own views?” – the options being:

1. Humans and other living things have evolved over time due to natural processes such as natural selection.
2. A supreme being guided the evolution of living things for the purpose of creating humans and other life in the form it exists today.
3. Humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time.

In other words the choices are evolution, intelligent design of the Michael Behe variety, and standard creationism. It is important to note that the Pew foundation used a wording for the evolution option that, unlike some previous surveys, doesn’t specifically exclude a role for God: for instance, someone who believes that God set up the laws of nature and that biological evolution is just one of the consequences of these laws should answer option A.

What proportion of evangelicals accept the scientific theory of evolution?

The answer is 3%

In addition to this confusion over the underlying foundation of all of biology, many Evangelical leaders don’t seem to be so sure of what their little cultural god is telling them:

“A majority (73%) of the leaders from the Global North consider alcohol consumption to be compatible with being a good evangelical Christian. By contrast, a similarly large majority of the leaders from the Global South (75%) say alcohol consumption is not compatible with being a good evangelical.”

And there really is no way to resolve the issue. The Bible, written and changed by men, is like any other piece of literature – all interpretations of it are subjective. These divides amongst Christians – even Christians of the same subgroup, no less – amply demonstrate that fact. Furthermore, even where something is straight-forward and hardly ambiguous, it is still interpreted by humans, under human constructs, and by the human brain. It can’t help but be subjective. And unlike, say, science, it doesn’t have any methods which can remedy these facts in a way that works.

What’s more, there appears to be a marked difference in views on how women should be treated.

“Among U.S. leaders, 44% agree women should stay at home, while 53% disagree. Leaders in Europe, however, reject the idea of women staying at home by a more than two-to-one margin, 69% to 28%.”

and

“European leaders (62%) and North American leaders (54%) are especially likely to reject the idea that a wife must always obey her husband. On the other hand, upwards of 60% of leaders from sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East-North Africa and the Asia-Pacific region agree that a wife must always obey her.

Even the “good” numbers (62% and 54% for the latter part) are awful.

I’m well aware that many fields today are dominated by men. That is often a legacy of past sexism as well as a problem of current, though undeniably reduced, sexism. It’s true of science, it’s true of atheism, it’s true of video games, and it’s true of so many other fields. But those areas don’t tend to attempt to perpetuate the worst of their legacies. That isn’t what we see with Evangelicals.

More liberal and/or more aware Christians have this habit of denying the nature of the fundamentalists within their religion. ‘Surely they aren’t as bad as everyone describes them, right?’ Wrong. This Pew survey pulls back the curtain and shows many of these people for what they are. And let’s not forget just how many people we’re talking about. Estimates of Evangelicals in the U.S. range from 25-30% of the population. That means, to put some of the results into real numbers, about 35 million people in the U.S. believe a woman should obey her husband. (And how many of those people ironically also describe themselves as libertarian, I wonder?) Only a few million of these people are willing to accept established and overwhelmingly evidenced science. And when we look at Evangelicals around the globe, they sometimes demonstrate a deep confusion over what their particular cultural god is telling them. (Yet how many claim that the Bible is objectively true or that they can objectively know something?) This all presents a very real challenge to the progress of the nation and the world at large. The delusions and confusions of faith-based thinking are holding back real knowledge and clarity of thinking, and that ought to make everyone nervous.

I declare I am right!

There are a lot of bad arguments that come from Suzanne Franks and friends. These are caricature feminists who seem to almost revel in the notion of ignoring every philosophy that isn’t feminism. They see to despise the notion that intention matters (a la Kant et al). One user even said this.

Before you bring up Kant on a feminist blog, you need to read and contemplate Jane Flax’s chapter on Kant and Enlightenment thinking in “Disputed Subjects.”

The point I was raising with Kant (and others, but Kant is the most influential) is that intention matters. Feminism is largely a philosophy of consequence, but unlike, say, utilitarianism or humanism, it does not deal well with philosophies which place an emphasis on will (or, specific to Kant, Good Will).

I am unable to locate the article cited by that user, Comrade Svilova, but this piece by Ruth Dawson summarizes Flax by saying,

Jane Flax…argues that Enlightenment depends on the unspoken occlusion of women…

Again, we see an argument premised in consequence. The issues raised by Flax have little to do with the value of intention; she cares about the context of the writings and what they meant for women at that time. This line of argument is irrelevant because no one today is arguing from an 18th century perspective. The invocation of Kant (and more specifically, will/intention) has nothing to do with how past philosophers and others may have implemented particular ideas. Instead, the focus is on how we can and ought to apply these ideas in the cultural context of today. Take this article on the founding fathers and rights. While same-sex marriage was not directly discussed, I specifically had it in mind while writing the piece. The ideas of those men resonate today because they espouse a strive towards equality that many people want. That doesn’t mean any of those men would have favored same-sex marriage. The point is the ideas, not the people who wrote them.

And there are more times where some of the more prolific feminist sites will ignore intention, going so far as to set up blatant and offensive strawmen.

FAQ: What’s wrong with suggesting that women take precautions to prevent being raped?

Short answer: Because it puts the onus on women not to get themselves raped, rather than on men not to do the raping; in short, it blames the victim.

What I think this is trying to articulate is that it is wrong for people to say “She had it coming”. The article does not actually address prevention, as seen here.

Left to my own devices, I never would have been raped. The rapist was really the key component to the whole thing. I was sober; hardly scantily clad (another phrase appearing once in the article), I was wearing sweatpants and an oversized t-shirt; I was at home; my sexual history was, literally, nonexistent—I was a virgin; I struggled; I said no. There have been times since when I have been walking home, alone, after a few drinks, wearing something that might have shown a bit of leg or cleavage, and I wasn’t raped. The difference was not in what I was doing. The difference was the presence of a rapist.

This points out that the author did not have it coming and that rape is not dependent upon how a woman dresses. (While rape is generally about power, it shouldn’t be ignored that many rapists do not arbitrarily choose their victims, often instead opting for particular characteristics or traits – and that is still the fault of the rapist.) This point is not about prevention.

What is being implied here is that there are actually a significant number of people who really do think it is a woman’s fault for getting raped. Instead, the only close argument that actually gets made is that it is a good idea for women to not walk alone at night in dangerous places or that women should carry rape whistles and/or cell phones. This is not a philosophical claim that has implications of blaming anyone for anything. It’s practical advice that acknowledges there is danger out there. This would be like someone saying, “Hey, you should do X, Y, and Z if you come across a bear while hiking”, only to get the response, “What, are you saying it’s my fault if I don’t do those things?”. No, the bear is still the root of the problem and we ought to do what we can to control the population, but you shouldn’t start trekking the Appalachian Trail without knowing the dangers.

The warnings women get are misleading. They leave out the acts of the rapist himself. They focus on the situation. They also may focus on the “kind of man” the potential rapist is. If he’s a friend of a friend, or your uncle, he’s “safe.” It’s the stranger who’s the threat.

Who is disagreeing with this conclusion? Yes, non-strangers are threats, but so are strangers. Control the bear population. That doesn’t mean you should walk into a dark alley because you aren’t the one to blame.

On another FAQ, the question “What’s wrong with saying that things happen to men, too?” is asked.

Nothing in and of itself. The problem occurs when conversations about women can’t happen on unmoderated blogs without someone showing up and saying, “but [x] happens to men, too!” (also known as a “Patriarchy Hurts Men, Too” or PHMT argument, or a “What About The Mens?” or WATM argument). When this happens, it becomes disruptive of the discussion that’s trying to happen, and has the effect (intended or otherwise) of silencing women’s voices on important issues such as rape and reproductive rights.

This undoubtedly happens. In fact, it happens over and over within scientific discussions that get derailed by creationists. The difference, however, is that “derailed” means that the original topic had nothing to do with creationism. On Suzanne Franks’ blog, she specifically ‘addresses’ those who dissent. (Here, here, and here.) Once that happens, the doors are open – especially if she is pointing to specific individuals. It is fundamentally unfair to say, “Here’s why you’re wrong about X…but you can’t respond because I don’t want a discussion. I just want to tell you things.” (It also seems to fit the piss-poor definition of “mansplaining”.)

To what this point really boils is that if someone does not want a particular point of view expressed in a particular place, then that person needs to start banning people. Franks has threatened to do that to me (despite the attention she is giving to specific people on specific topics – it isn’t logically tenable to claim to not want to discuss particular issues in particular ways only to then create posts which specifically do that), and that’s fine. I expect she’ll do it in short enough order and that’s her discretion, as logically inconsistent as it may be. (On the other hand, I consistently edited Comrade Physioprof’s posts because I was attempting to discuss a particular issue whereas he was spamming and trolling. Had my post been a trolling post or spam, then it might make sense for me to allow that guy’s garbage.)

What really bites my goiter about these caricatures and the more well-articulated Fem 101 site is that actual arguments are few and far between. More often there are declarations. Ask why something is so and the result is either a “You don’t get it” sort of response or a referral to a website which is more verbose in how it declares “You don’t get it”. This sort of stuff is okay for high school and lower-level undergrad philosophy courses because it does back up certain claims with further, deeper premises, but that’s where it stops. ‘Arguments’ like these don’t make it into philosophy anthologies, however, because they fail to reach more fundamental issues. How does feminism answer the importance of intention? How does it address the arguments of libertarianism? Utilitarianism? It is not a philosophy of fundamentals but rather one of contextual consequence; it therefore must either rely on or refute the philosophies which penetrate more deeply, more universally (i.e., it could attempt to rely on utilitarianism by arguing that equality maximizes pleasure, or it could refute libertarianism by arguing that too much liberty leads to inequality and inequality undermines liberty).

What I think most reasonable people want is not to be told “You don’t get it, so go to this site”, but rather “These arguments are premised on these more fundamental ideas.” If feminist sites and supporters actually addressed substantial philosophical values (where appropriate, such as in the examples I have given), then progress could be more reasonably and effectively made for all involved.

Suzanne Franks gets something right

For those who weren’t here for Femi-crazy Invasion 2010 here at FTSOS, Suzanne Franks is one of those caricatures of feminists that really has no place in rational discussion. Hell, she demands people refer to her as “Zuska”, and should one refuse to delve into her weird Internet fantasy game, she’s liable to start throwing down some bans (or call you sexist: whatever works at the moment to get her whiny way).

She’s a forgettable character in the blogosphere, but I am still getting hits from her post all about me; I admit I clicked around a little recently. And one of the things I clicked was this post. It’s all about this image.

For Franks, there is no distinction between this image and the one in her post about CNN. She believes that virtually all images of the female body are sexist. The basis seems to be that since men tend to dominate and run things, pictures of women are only meant for the sake of objectification (except maybe face shots). In reality, this is just a ridiculous tool Franks and her friends use so they can whine that everything is sexist. And there’s no practical way that sexism can ever go away under this mis-definition. In essence, Franks should be pointing out nearly every picture of a woman under her caricature philosophy. The fact that she focuses on particular images belies what she probably actually recognizes – not all images are sexist.

In the image in question here, yes, it is actually sexist. Lindsey Vonn’s body is specifically being viewed at the expense of her other talents. One sports writer disagrees and it’s here that Franks takes out her frustrations and anger.

Silly ladeez! Chris Chase mansplains why you are WRONG!!!! (Though I note, alas, poor Chris is unable to actually directly link to the womentalksports.com post he is mansplaining.)

Because the ladybranes are tiny, I am here to help. I am going to translate Chris’s mansplaining post into a more direct communication that really gets the message across, so that even the teeniest tiniest ladybraned ladeez out there will understand what is meant. Chase’s original text is in boldface. Here we go!

She goes on and on from there, inserting some imaginary conversation she’s having in her head. This is where Franks is generally wrong. All she’s showing anyone (except her faithful in-group commenters) is that there are certain things that might please her if any reasonable man actually said them. She seems to have this sort of desire to hear a man say “but Vonn’s cover is awesome because, while she is posed in a classic come-hither-and-fuck-me-hard-you-know-you-wanna stance…” just so she can validate her philosophy in her head. If a man actually says it, then I’m right! Until then, I’ll just pretend really, really hard that men actually think this way.

One final, bit of a non-sequitur point on the term “mansplaining”. In the past Franks has tried to define the term, claiming that it isn’t just the act of explaining while male. Instead, it’s giving a condescending explanation to someone who does not need one. This is a lie because within that definition is the qualifier that it’s really a man explaining something to a woman, but that can be ignored for a moment because Franks and friends also point out that women can be guilty of “mansplaining”. Of course, they’d never be able to give any examples, but I can take this at face value. Let’s say, sure, anyone can mansplain. But then wherein lies the intrinsic masculinity? If anyone can do it, then there are two options. Either there is nothing inherently masculine about condescending explanation or Franks and friends are grouping the majority of men together as if there is something inherently wrong with how men behave. This is itself sexist since it is discriminating against one sex based upon an unfounded stereotype. (And here I use “sexist” correctly, i.e., discrimination based upon sex, not the doltish ‘it’s just discrimination of women’ definition caricature feminists have to offer.)