Southern Poverty Law Center, mission creep, men’s rights, feminism…

Most of my posts only take me a few moments to mentally organize. Of course I will update and edit and do all the things consistent with quality writing, but I usually have a pretty good idea of how I want to lay things out before I even start. This is not one of those posts. If everything that follows here comes across as a bit of a hodge-podge, I guess you’ll know why.

First thing is first: The Southern Poverty Law Center has put together a list of a number of websites which are devoted to men’s rights. See here. Most of the sites, if not all of them, are pretty impossible to defend in their entirety. Some of them do express popular views at times, but they also express views which should be offensive to any intelligent person. Others seem to be devoted to nothing more than hating women. For example, on the site Boycott American Women is this:

This site’s mission statement describes American women as “generally immature, selfish, extremely arrogant and self-centered, mentally unstable, irresponsible and highly unchaste. The behavior of most American women is utterly disgusting.”

That is more ridiculous than the time PZ called the majority of young men “superficial” and “cartoonish”. Broad generalizations like those of Boycott and PZ are just stupid. No reasonable person can really defend any of that garbage; it’s all emotionally based bitterness.

All that said, I agree with Marc Randazza when he says the SPLC has some mission creep going on here. I realize a major point of the organization is to shine a light on hate groups, but that doesn’t really seem to be the goal here. It usually focuses on groups that, ya know, matter. All it’s doing here is targeting some minor websites and bloggers that appeal to a dickish Internet crowd. If that’s where they want to focus their efforts, then I don’t see why they aren’t combing YouTube comments.

While I would like to leave the implication that I became aware of the SPLC’s blacklist of websites through Mr. Randazza, I have to admit I actually came across it on PZ’s site first. I stopped reading Pharyngula quite some time ago, but I recently told Nate that I bet PZ would have the most recent xkcd cartoon up within a day. I was right. So in checking for his post about the cartoon, I also saw his post on the SPLC; I decided to check out the comments. Once again, my mental layout for where I want to go is all hodge-podgey, so I will start with this post from user omnicrom:

The really irritating thing for me is that the MRA [Men’s Rights Activists] have to an extent made “Feminism” a dirty word. And it really shouldn’t be. Feminism except in ugly extreme cases way in the outliers is about making Men and Women equal. So the really disgusting thing about the MRA is that they aren’t really reacting to Misandry (and REAL misandry should be called out), they’re trying to keep Women less than Men. No matter what they say the MRA movement is rotten to its very core, and its poison makes people raise eyebrows when I as a man say that I’m a feminist.

First of all, I think the majority of the problems with feminism come from feminists themselves. omnicrom is right when he says feminism is about making men and women equal, but feminists often miss that point, playing a shell game. Take my run-in with Suzanne Franks, aka Thus Spake Zuska. I disagreed that a picture of two fat women next to an article about fat women and healthcare was sexist. For that disagreement I was immediately labeled a number of derogatory things; because I did not buy into the majority view of a particular group of feminists wholesale, I was seen as being sexist. In other words, feminists give feminism a bad name when they play shell games.

Second, polemics beget polemics. Some of the extreme views of some feminists (such as Franks and PZ) invite polarization. When we have people running around attacking men in generalities and calling people sexist for the least of reasons, we should expect to see some extreme reactions in at least some people. Let’s take one of the issues mentioned by a few of the blacklisted websites: rape accusations. The men’s rights sites point out that men are considered guilty by default when they get accused of rape. (Some go further and stupidly accuse women of commonly using the cry of rape to falsely attack men.) The feminist reaction is to declare, at the least, sexism. At the most, a pro-rape mentality is claimed. Neither side is being fair. It is obviously dangerous to go so far as to presume a woman is lying when says she has been raped. Yet, on the other hand, some people do lie about that sort of thing. Take the Duke Lacrosse scandal. I bet there are at least a few people who read that now and think, “Oh, that’s the case where those Duke players raped that stripper.” The reality, though, is that she lied, the lead prosecutor was disbarred and sent to jail, and the players are still seeking damages. There is room for admitting that this sort of thing happens without also saying that women are conniving liars who are out to get men.

There is a lot about feminism that I like. Before I found myself engaged in the topic, there were a lot of things I did not realize that I do now. I’m happy and grateful for that. However, I find myself highly disenchanted by certain actions and tactics of its adherents. Take the SPLC’s blacklist. It’s a collection of a few minor websites that express a lot of extreme views, but look at how it is being used. People who favor men’s rights are being lumped in with a bunch of assholes – it’s dishonest. I don’t want to sit here and pretend like men have a hard time of it comparatively; I’m not about to claim men are an oppressed group and we need to make sure we do everything we can as a society to promote men. I’m not going to say any of that because, believe it or not, I get it. I get that men, generally speaking, have it easier than women. That said, for those who favor government assistance directed at struggling women, isn’t it also reasonable to favor assistance that is directed towards struggling men? For instance, young men were hit especially hard by the recession. Would it be sexist to do something to help the men who lost their jobs in, say, construction? I don’t think so, but it’s almost impossible to argue that to some feminists because they’ll immediately resort to the “MRA” (Men’s Rights Activist) label, shutting down discussion and lumping reasonable men in with the cherry-picked bullshit the SPLC has put together.

I want to wrap this up in a succinct way, so here it goes: The problem with the Southern Poverty Law Center’s blacklist and a number of feminists is that they use polemics to shut down discussion. That is, they attempt to connect anyone who disagrees with particular claims of feminism with people who make outlandish claims about women. The effect is that no one wants to be associated with the dregs of society, so people tend to stay away from even reasonable positions if those positions overlap with the views of said dregs. To compound the issue, some of the outlandish claims are a product of the polemic-promotion seen all too often in feminism. All this adds up to undermine the goals of feminists and create unnecessary division.

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What a shame – Pharyngula on strike

This is too bad. PZ Myers is on a blogging strike over internal (and to an extent, external) issues going on at Scienceblogs.com. From what I’ve read, people are upset they aren’t being consulted first on a number of issues, not to mention the concerns PZ lists. This has resulted in something crazy like 20 of the 80+ bloggers shutting their doors and moving on. (I can’t say I’m sad to see that Suzanne Franks is leaving; Scienceblogs needs people more honest than that.)

The most unfortunate aspect of this is that PZ pulls in a boatload of hits – 190,000 yesterday alone (though this was somewhat of a spike). He’s a huge resource for science lovers and atheists. Aside from bringing a lot of knowledge and extremely strong argumentation skills to the table, he gets all the good links. This give a lot of cues to other bloggers (myself included), both in direct content as well as auxiliary leads.

I hope this is resolved quickly and for the better.

Society and the individual

I’ve pissed off feminists in my day. The reasons they give are going to revolve around me not understanding this or that, not automatically agreeing with them in the details, etc. (‘You don’t agree with me on this issue! Sexist!’ … ‘Why?’ … ‘Because!’) Basically, nothing specific.

But the problem isn’t some deep misogyny on my part. (Disagreement about what a picture of fat people means does not somehow magically equal hating women.) The problem, instead, is one of philosophical structure.

Feminism, as I’ve argued in the past, is a philosophy of consequence. It largely ignores intention, instead focusing upon the result of an action. It’s about as advanced as libertarianism. Of course, both philosophies have value, but when they’re promoted at the expense of everything else, they’re mere ideologies which inevitably lead to absurd conclusions. The same is true of all ethical and moral systems, including the ever-so-popular utilitarianism and egalitarianism (both of which I tend towards).

I got thinking about this because of a post by PZ on the lack of women in atheist and skeptic groups.

So I’m going to try something a little different. Instead of telling you my opinion, I’m going to forgo the essential principle of blogging (which is “Me! Me!”) and just ask people, especially women, to leave links to their godless/skeptical feminist blog or make suggestions or gripe or tell me what these stupid male-dominated conventions have to do to correct the imbalance…I shall be a passive receptacle for your ideas.

I do have to make one suggestion (the testosterone compels me) for something I’d really like to see happen…

Don’t mind his suggestion here (but at his site, he says a female-run conference on atheism/skepticism would be good). Take a look at the emphasis I’ve added. He says he is compelled, inherently, by the fact of being male. This is in line with a good bit of feminism, including the caricatures that haunt the Internet, but it’s a load of bull.

This idea that someone is compelled to do this or that may have a basis in sex, but philosophy is not the way to determine that. I want hard evidence. And, depending on just what is being discussed, there is plenty of evidence that men and women will tend towards certain behaviors because of their sex. Of course, that data often comes with the compounding factor of just what influence nurture has had, and the sociologists have a say there. But philosophy is not data. Logic can tell us nothing new; logic can only interpret the data we have.

What PZ does when he says it’s his maleness that makes him act one way or another is he devalues himself. (Hell, he even goes counter to all the feminist arguments that say the individual is responsible for rape/sexual abuse and ought not blame society – something with which I agree.) It’s a devaluing of the individual to place blame on some external source – especially without evidence. We may be able to blame an act of violence by a mentally ill person on his mental illness, but that principle does not extend to most people and most actions. It isn’t some external source that is to blame for individual actions among competent people 95% of the time. It’s the individual.

That said, there certainly is value to the arguments that say society is dominated by men and that that is an impediment to true equality between the sexes. Again, that doesn’t somehow magically mean a picture of two fat women is sexual objectification, but there are plenty of incidents where that domination is a serious problem, ones we gloss over on a daily basis. Watch just about any TV show. Women will be objectified and our culture allows it. That’s not a problem with the individual, but society. But it’s ridiculous, devaluing, and plainly wrong to claim that society is the whole problem.

The individual bears responsibility.

Franks, please

Suzanne Franks doesn’t even realize the principles behind her caricature ideology. That’s the only reason she would say something like this.

March is women’s history month, but don’t let that circumscribe your fun. You can get together with a posse of your like-minded women friends and mock mansplainers anytime. Now, I know many of you have just recently learned that there even existed a name you could attach to this annoying behavior plaguing your existence. Believe me, I know how important naming experience is – that’s why I have a whole category assigned to the topic. But your joy need not begin and end with just knowing that the craptastic manifestations you’ve been subjected to are (1) not your fault, (2) part of a larger system of patriarchy, and (3) mocked by many, many, many women all over the place.

Feminism is a philosophy of consequence. Intention is largely ignored and emphasis is placed upon the results. For example, non-sexually based images are considered sexist in (caricature) feminism due to that number (2) Franks mentioned – “a larger system of patriarchy”. Let that sink in for a moment. Okay, now review (1), which I made bold. If Franks was consistent at all, she would consider her explanations of where blame lies to be useless. That is, if consequence is what matters, then the fact that caricature feminists are presenting their ‘case’ in a way that seems to fix blame on men should be disconcerting to them. The very thing against which they rail – negative consequences that make people feel guilty, ashamed, bad, etc – is what Franks has promoted.

And there it is

Suzanne Franks has officially declared herself right by banning me from her blog. For someone as educated as she is, it’s surprising that she doesn’t realize it is unreasonable to say “Here’s why you’re wrong…hey! why are you responding?!?”

But then, she’s the sort of person who gets offended when others won’t play her Internet fantasy games by calling her “Zuska”.

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.

This is getting ridiculous

Suzanne Franks has a couple of posts where she tries to explain what a “mansplainer” is. Delightfully, she uses me as her prime example.

First, some clarification. Just what is mansplaining? I like this definition.

Mansplaining isn’t just the act of explaining while male, of course; many men manage to explain things every day without in the least insulting their listeners.

Mansplaining is when a dude tells you, a woman, how to do something you already know how to do, or how you are wrong about something you are actually right about, or miscellaneous and inaccurate “facts” about something you know a hell of a lot more about than he does.

Bonus points if he is explaining how you are wrong about something being sexist!

My favorite part is that it starts out with the faux attempt at equality by saying “mansplaining” isn’t just the act of explaining while male, but then quickly goes on to say “Mansplaining is when a dude tells you, a woman…you are wrong about something you are actually right about…” That precisely is what this ‘definition’ just purported to not be. The claim is that if a man dares hold a position and explain it – and to a woman! the audacity! – then he is being condescending. How is this not sexist? A man can obviously be right while a woman is wrong and he can explain why. Furthermore, he can be wrong while she is right and not be condescending based upon sex. That should be obvious to anyone who hasn’t taken the plunge off the crazy bridge. But I’m disagreeing and giving my reasons why, so I guess I must be mansplaining. What a convenient term, huh?

Oh, and men can have no positions on sexism, what constitutes sexism, why something is good or bad in regards to sexism, or how sexism can be a two-way street. If they do, they’re being sexist.

Franks then goes on to list three things that make me a mansplainer.

1. You MUST explain why everything I said is beside the point, and wrong, and silly.

2. You MUST explain why you are not a mansplainer, then re-explain things to the wimminz. Also, call them sexist.

3. You MUST explain that you mansplain because you assume that blogs are written by men, then re-explain things to the wimminz AGAIN.

All those come with links to comments I left on her blog. Go to her post to get to them.

In number one, she was wrong. I explained why, even as audacious as it is to explain things while being guilty of having a penis. (I mean, come on. She called a black woman white just for the sake of dragging racism into the whole thing and then she couldn’t admit her mistake; she’s a child – and not because she has a vagina.) Instead of addressing anything, all Franks offers is declarations. She isn’t interested in defending anything she thinks; she’s happy just having a relatively large audience who is receptive to her deep-end philosophy. This contrasts with the quality seen on most of ScienceBlogs.com since most bloggers there will tend to actually argue their points.

Number two is just a re-hash of the ‘definition’ from earlier. If a man explains something to a woman, it’s sexist. It’s a convenient cop-out.

As I (audaciously!) explained in previous posts, I never said my assumption (that the post was by a man) was good or bad. What’s more, I was also going on the fact that Franks looks like a man with long hair in her picture. I didn’t originally raise that point for the sake of not being so crude, but if she’s going to hammer on the point, then that’s what’s going to happen. What I did say, however, was that because I had assumed the post was by a man, I couldn’t possibly be “mansplaining”. That blows this whole dumb claim of condescending explanation based upon sex out of the water. Of course, instead of addressing that, Franks has decided to pretend I made a normative claim about my assumption. She looks like a man, I assumed she was a man, and I thought I was arguing against a man.

But then Franks goes on to make this condescending post about men. Her basis, yet again, is another man who dares disagree with her. This one, though, I think is more entertaining than her post on me because all she did was quote an entire post by the user Jon. The implication is that his post is so absurd that it needs no comment. Let’s take a look, shall we?

Here’s a thought experiment for you. Let’s say that I agree with the premise that there’s a particular kind of male behavior that is condescending to females.

Now, let’s say that while I agree that this behavior exists and has certain identifiable qualities, more conceptual clarity is needed, in that there needs to be some sort of boundary around this behavior.

For the sake of argument, let’s also assume the following:

(1) that not everyone has a clear idea of where this boundary is and some of their examples may not fit the initial definition.

(2) the possibility of error, i.e., that some of you are potentially incorrect in identifying certain behaviors as mansplaining when they’re better described as some other behavior (may or may not be related).

(3) a male is actually able to participate in this discussion and disagree without being a mansplainer and the same goes for a female without being a FemaleMansplainer

Okay, if you agree with that I’ve written, I want to you imagine your perfect interlocutor, presumably someone that’s well-informed about the issues and the arguments. Imagine that this interlocutor nonetheless disagrees with some or all of your arguments. What criticisms would they offer?

What constitutes the best possible argument against this idea of the Mainsplainer? Can you play devil’s advocate and come up with arguments? What would they be?

Whoa, whoa, whoa! This is absurd! Jon is going off on all this fruitful discussion and other mansplaining bullshit! How could he.

I suppose the joke really has been on me. I have a pretty severe case of SIWOTI, so I pretty freely fall into these sort of useless ‘discussions’ on the Internet (and by “discussions”, I mean I was discussing something; Franks’ and co were making declarations, likely out of the emptiness of their deep-end philosophy). It should have been clear with what sort of person I was dealing: Franks and friends aren’t interested in furthering any causes of women. No, these people are more interested in being caricatures of feminists. They are the fodder of bad sitcoms. They are part of the reason people like Sarah Palin is a big deal. They are little more than Poe’s Law applied to deep-end feminists. These people do feminism a disservice when they declare everything to be sexism – especially when they feel it so crucial to employ sexism to make their points.

But there I go, mansplaining and all again. How dare I disagree with feminists on the Internet. The only reason can be that I think I’m inherently better.