Saturday 30 July 2011

Patriarchy shmatriarchy

I hear a lot about patriarchal oppression within feminist circles, and in my opinion, I think it's largely a load of hooey.

This is not to say that I don't believe that patriarchy has been around for the vast majority of our species' time on this planet--of course it has. And this is not to say that I believe women haven't suffered from oppression throughout the course of history, or that strict enforcement of gender roles isn't harmful to individuals.

But the feminist interpretation of patriarchy as a system of oppression of seems to be kind of wilfully detached from the reality of human history. It seems like a concerted effort to marry the idea of patriarchy with the concept of oligarchy into a single two-headed, double-penised beast known as Patriarchy Theory. This marriage of two completely disparate sociological concepts is, to feminists, a self-evident truth, simply because the majority of the agents of the oligarchy are, and always have been, male.

Oligarchy IS indeed a system of oppression, where the majority of real power and influence is held by a small network of individuals and families, who depend on the subservience of everybody else. While it may not always include barbed wire, machine guns and a police state, it is designed in such a way as to suck resources from the masses and funnel them, and the power they afford, to the members of the elite.

Because those elites have such power, they are able to influence legislative policy in such a way as to maintain and increase their power. And yes, the US is an oligarchy--it may be a democracy, where individuals are able to cross lines of class between modern serfdom and the top tier, but the 500 richest individuals in the US hold as much wealth as the bottom 150 000 000 combined. That, my friends, is oligarchy.

Oligarchical power structures, by their nature, tend to be self-perpetuating. As the saying goes, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, usually until someone says something about peasants and cake, something snaps among the masses, and the pitchforks come out. Given how well off even the least wealthy members of western civilization are (children aren't dropping like flies for lack of a loaf of bread), that isn't likely to happen anytime soon. Oligarchy is the root of classism, and classism is the root of much of racism, and yes, sexism as well.

Patriarchy, however, is not an inherently oppressive idea. It is simply a way that the base-unit of society--the family--was organized. And it's been the way that societies, large and small, have been organized pretty much since the dawn of time, and for good reason. Families were led by a male head of household, major decisions lay under the aegis of those family leaders, and lines of descent passed through males. That is, quite simply, all patriarchy is. And up until very recently on the continuum of human history, it was the most beneficial system for both men and women. And contrary to what feminists would have you believe, in the west patriarchy is mostly a dead system.

Feminists often point to capital P Patriarchy as the culprit behind all sexism, all oppression of women (though they're finally admitting that "patriarchy harms men too", which is something of a victory for common sense, however small), and the "Othering" of women by men. The way they approach the stark reality of most of human history is from the standpoint that men somehow consciously or willfully constructed and directed femininity for their own benefit, and that women just kind of had to go along with it because they were physically weaker. They presume that masculinity developed under the influence of men alone in such a way that it became attached to characteristics of agency, like strength, action, and virility. 

They believe men imposed this system on women, essentially Othering women as a class, and turning even the simple partnership of marriage into a contract of servitude and oppression of women for the benefit of men. What they fail to realize is that patriarchy imposed other characteristics on men than those of agency--disposability, utility, self-sacrifice and resource acquisition--and for the vast majority of our evolutionary past, women were the main beneficiaries and enforcers of these patriarchal gender norms.

Look at it this way. You have a rich man. This is his primary characteristic open for discussion, and he has all kinds of agency--he has flipping great wodges of money to purchase whatever he requires, servants to do his purchasing for him, to cook his meals, clean his house, maintain his vehicles, drive him around, and because he's wealthy he has friends and hangers on who "bask in his glow". Until his money is gone. And then he becomes C. Montgomery Burns on an episode of the Simpsons, unable to even dial a phone, standing in the supermarket for 15 minutes wondering if there's a difference between ketchup and catsup. He can't fix a doorknob. He can't microwave a Mr. Noodles. He can't even find his own clothes. He had agency, but it was dependent on his wealth.

This is a very tempting way to live a life. It really is. If you didn't HAVE to ever clean your own gutters or change the oil in the car or go out and risk your life killing and gutting an animal or defending your village from the assholes down the valley, why would you?

Men were, in many ways, all through human history, a servant class, not a class of oppressors. This is because even in the earliest stages of human evolution, we had an instinctive understanding of the ultimate equation. 10 women + 1 man = 10 babies, and that switching the numbers around pretty much meant the end of the whole shebang for us.

Dangerous work was the work of men, and it still is. Physically taxing work was the work of men, and it still is. Going out into the big bad dangerous world to get resources while women stayed safe was the work of men, and it still is. Those among our ancestors who were born without some pattern of these gender roles in their brains would have ultimately been unsuccessful wrt passing on their genes. The woman who decided to go hunt mastodon rather than staying home in the cave was much more likely to end up dying young.

And as has been demonstrated through genetic research, individual women were much more successful throughout the whole of human history at passing on their genes. 80% of the females who have ever lived had children. Only 40% of the males who have ever lived have done the same.

Because all those small innate gender differences feminists view as insignificant now, were generated and reinforced by one HUGE difference, and that is that females, not males, are the limiting factor in the perpetuation of any species. A human settlement survived through the toil and sacrifice (often of the lives) of its men, and through the safety of its women and children. This is simply the way things had to be throughout the majority of human evolution, and when they weren't, natural selection selected those individuals out of the species.

It's so easy to sit back in the comfort of our cushy lives right now and think that going outside the house to work is fulfilling, action-packed, exciting, kick-ass and an avenue to agency. But for the vast majority of our evolution, leaving home base meant taking your life in your hands--it was dangerous, physically taxing, and often ended in death. I lived in a wilderness area for 18 years. I know whereof I speak. We used to bring the dog on walks in the woods so we'd have something to throw at the cougars while the rest of us ran away.

Masculinity and femininity have indeed been bred into us, to varying degrees depending on the individual. Women developed a type of agency all through evolution. They had more reproductive agency than men have ever had (some social scientists estimate that double-digit percentages of men are raising children not their own, without their knowledge). And they had a kind of secondary agency, through the direction and manipulation of men. While a man used a scythe to get grain, the tool a woman used to get grain was...well, a man. While a man used a spear to defend his home from invaders, the weapon a woman used was--yup, you guessed it--a man.

I would guess that the average man has always had much less agency, even now, than most people believe. Is it agency if you HAVE to do it to survive? Is it agency if you're doing it at the behest of another person--whether that person is partner or child? And while feminists are busy deconstructing those aspects of masculine and feminine gender norms that have been restrictive and costly for women, women, on the whole, still seem perfectly fine enforcing male gender characteristics that are of benefit to them--utility, self-sacrifice, disposability and resource acquisition--and feminists don't seem that interested in changing this. In the advancement of women's interests, they've dismantled most of the benefits men enjoyed under patriarchy, while leaving the costs and responsibilities untouched. 

Feminists are infamous for looking at the past through the lens of the present. To take what the domestic and public spheres look like NOW, and apply that to their vision of history. But the nature of work outside the home was a very different beast throughout most of history than it is now. Feminists don't ask themselves what it might have been like to hew coal out of a tunnel by hand for 12 hours a day, or to cut hay by hand for 16 hours in the August heat before mosquito repellent or sunscreen were invented, or to split an entire winter's worth of firewood in the month before the snow fell. The majority of men's work in our past was as different from public sphere work today as a cauldron and a laundry mangle is from a digital, front-load washing machine. And because most of the few dirty, dangerous, physical jobs left out there are still the domain of men (and one which feminists are perfectly happy leaving that way), feminists have no yardstick by which to measure what being a man might have been like in the past, or that women were privileged to not have to put their hands to men's work.

On the microscale of society, men and women could be said to have oppressed each other--the whole concept of marriage could be considered a two-way street of oppression (if one were a "glass is half empty" kind of person, I guess) where both parties benefitted from their oppression of the other. A kind of cost/benefit arrangement where, human nature being what it was, could certainly lead to one party contributing more than the other and benefitting less. Sometimes that was the woman, but I'd have to say that it was probably just as often the man. But while marriage used to be a cost/benefit arrangement for both parties, women now reap disproportionate benefit while men pay disproportionate costs. And while women now work outside the domestic sphere, the 93% workplace death gap demonstrates that even feminists are just fine with men continuing to embody utility and disposability for the benefit of women and society. 

The application of the concept of Othering to gender norms is...a wilful blindness to the reality of human evolution. Othering is the offspring of colonialism, and last I checked, women had never had their own society where they were going along minding their own business, and a bunch of men invaded and took over. This simply isn't how it happened. Symbiotic gender roles evolved through an interaction between the importance of women as the limiting factor in reproduction, the extremely dangerous world we inhabited for the majority of our evolutionary past, and genetic paths of least resistance. Given the nature of what our world was like, patriarchy was simply the most functional, successful way humans stumbled on to deal with the world as it was, no more diabolical or purposeful than the way ant colonies or wolf packs organize themselves. Like democracy, it's the worst possible system, except for all the others. And when you consider the nature of the labor, sacrifice and demands placed on men in the past, I would guess that most women saw male authority as a fair trade for what they got out of the deal.

Patriarchy was, essentially, a collective, evolutionary human survival strategy. Arranging society that way created stability in a turbulent world--a world where a single loaf of bread could mean survival or starvation--and allowed us all our best chance to pass on our genes. And for most of history, people were too busy just surviving to tinker with such a successful system. This, I believe, is why gender roles are typically so much more strictly enforced in places where life is hard, cheap and soon over. Those roles offer both women and men living under extremely severe conditions the best chance of surviving long enough to create another generation. In other parts of the world, our lives are safe and relatively easy, and everything is much more relaxed.

That most oligarchical oppressors have been men rather than women is a result not of men being oppressors, but rather the result of men's gender roles, which are themselves a result of the path of least resistance in the way societies tend to organize themselves due to our biology and the fact that, up until very recently, almost no one had any time, energy, wherewithal or luxury to challenge their roles. The oligarchy does, indeed, have an interest in maintaining the status quo for as long as the status quo benefits the oligarchy. For the majority of human history, oligarchies depended on patriarchy to maintain stability and generation of resources, but any feminist who believes the world would be a kinder, gentler place under female rule would be advised to read a little about Elizabeth Bathory. Oppressors gonna oppress, no matter their gender.

If we're going to build a better society for everyone, we're going to have to let go of the idea of Men as the main oppressive force in Women's lives. It simply isn't how it was, and it isn't how it is, either. Am I arguing for a return to patriarchy? Absolutely not. I'm a bisexual, slightly genderqueer, divorced mother of three who writes dirty books for a living. I'm not interested in having my gender enforced, thanks. I have agency (inasmuch as my children allow it :P), and I'm not prepared to hand it over to anyone, even if it means I'd have an easier life. We as a society no longer have the business of bare survival as the dominant force in our lives. In the distancing of humans from the task of basic human survival, we are freer to explore our humanity, and consider the happiness of individuals as more important than just getting by. 

BUT. And this is a big but. I understand the reality of the natural world, and how different that is from what my life is like in a house, with heat, electricity, hot and cold running water, cars, frozen pizzas, toaster ovens, plastic, easy work, an overdraft and streets that are safe to walk on. I realize that in nature, life is hard, cheap and soon over, and that very, very few animals ever die of old age. And were we living in a post-apocalyptic dystopia where life outside of walls was as dangerous and brutal as most of raw nature is, and where hay would have to be cut by hand without mosquito repellent or sunscreen? I think I'd absolutely be okay with letting the men have their "agency". Being stuck at home ain't that bad if it means the gruelling, dirty work of survival belongs to someone else, and you get to stay alive.

Something to think about.

Why the Question of Circumcision Has No Place in the Voting Booth

It's called the tyranny of the majority. And when it comes to the rights of a disenfranchised class of people, the majority cannot be trusted to do the right thing.

When someone's basic human right to the healthy, functional body they were born with is being trampled, the ballot box is not the place to decide whether that person's rights matter.

The place to decide this matter is the same place where the ban on female genital mutilation was decided. If legislators do not have the courage to do what is right and what is constitutionally sound in the case of infant male circumcision, without the support of the majority of voters, then maybe it's time to sharpen the pitchforks.

This is indeed a question of religious freedom--the freedom of an infant to not have an irreversible religious ritual performed on him before he's even old enough to see in color, let alone choose to make a covenant with any god, whether Judaic or Islamic. Any argument in favor of circumcision on religious grounds is an argument against religious freedom, and in favor of being able to force a non-consenting, helpless human being to endure permanent, life altering and occasionally dangerous consequences simply by being born into a family which practices a certain religion.

If you need convincing, ask yourself whether we, as a society, would allow someone to force a man who was mentally incompetent to make a covenant with a god not of his conscious choosing--a god he was unaware of--by having part of his dick cut off. Would we? Really?

To be anti-circumcision is not the same thing as being anti-Semitic or anti-Islamic. It is simply to be in favor of all people's right to choose the religion they wish to practice. By circumcising an 8 day old infant, Jewish parents are denying their sons this choice--to make a covenant with god of their own free will. Of what value is our dedication to freedom of religion if we deny that very freedom to our society's most helpless members? Of what value is any covenant with any god, if that covenant is forcibly enacted upon a baby strapped to a table?

It has been largely accepted in progressive circles that a woman's body is her own, and therefore it is her right to choose abortion if that choice is right for her. Yet this choice--to do with one's body what is right for a person--is denied baby boys every single day all over the world, even here in the "progressive" west. It is denied in the name of religion. It is denied in the name of "preventive medicine". It is denied in  the name of "customary practice". It is denied in the name of a lot of things that shouldn't hold a fucking candle to a human being's right to decide for himself what potentially life-threatening, irreversible, painful and unnecessary surgery ought to be performed on him.

We deny parents the "right" to inject botox into children. We deny them the "right" to give breast implants to pre-pubescent girls. We deny them the "right" to carve away pieces of their daughters in the name of custom and tradition. We do this to protect those who are unable to protect themselves, from decisions made by their parents without any consideration of the personhood of their own children. We do this even though it makes individuals and interest groups angry, because it is the right thing to do.

And yet we allow parents, religious or not, to carve away pieces of their sons. To make an involuntary covenant with god. To make bathing them easier. To "protect" them from rare medical conditions, or from a sexually transmitted disease that is both uncommon and easily preventable.

I can only think of one thing that makes infant male genital mutilation acceptable--so acceptable that it's been widely practiced by us western "progressives" for a hundred years, and has been blocked from the voting booth by its defenders--when female genital mutilation has been outlawed in the US since 1996, not even a decade after we, as a society, were made appallingly aware of the practice.

And that's that we're willing to protect our daughters from these atrocities, and yet we're all too happy to subject our sons to them. How disgustingly sexist is that?

Friday 22 July 2011

No Seriously, What About teh Man-Hatrz?

Okay, I just read something kind of encouraging on No, Seriously, What About Teh Menz?

I mean, I do indeed believe it's time that the Sisterhood aimed some of its missiles at a few of the loonies who march(ed) in its ranks. It's long past time someone called out Mary Daly's misandry, transphobia and racism, her delusions of female supremacy and superiority, and her paranoid equation of Man = Oppressor.

But I'm sorry, ladies. It's too little, too late. I don't understand how you can't see this. You can't revoke anyone else's Feminism Card, and you certainly can't revoke it after their death. This is because, as I've been told time and again by feminists, Feminism is not a club with rules of membership, it's not a political party, it's not an ideological monolith with a rigid set of beliefs and ideals that are required of every member. Every single self-identifying feminist has a right to define "what feminism means to them". This is something I hear ALL THE TIME from, you guessed it, self-identified feminists.

Mary Daly was a feminist. She was a feminist because she said so. That is literally ALL it takes to be a feminist. And what's more, she had every right to label herself a feminist. And you, Doctormindbeam, have no right to take that label away from her. Neither by consensus, nor by fiat.

I mean, sure, it's a step in the right direction to try to distance a movement whose members--some of them, anyway--are in favor of gender equality, from those who are bigoted, hate-filled, intellectually dishonest and batshit fucking insane. But it's as ineffectual as the constant refrain I hear from other self-identified feminists that "not all feminists are like that!" or "no true feminist would advocate for such a thing."

The only thing that makes a feminist a feminist is an interest in women's issues and the self-applied label of feminist. A person advocating mass chemical castration of males for the protection of women is a feminist if he/she decides that's what to call him/herself. This is the way it works.

I mean, it's really nice of you gals to think about cleaning house, but, frankly, the place has turned into an episode of hoarders over the last several decades. What started out as a gorgeous mansion built on a foundation of equality, fairness and humanity, now looks more like Monster House. No matter how hard all of you work, and how many cans of Febreze you use, the place is still going to be filled with the lingering stench of the rotting corpses of dozens of bigoted, man-hating, self-labeled feminists and their cats. Mary Daly should have been evicted the first night everyone sat around the dinner table and heard her spouting her bullshit, not 40 years after she first started leaving her shit lying around and cluttering up the place with effigies of dead men. Certainly not a year after her body went cold.

Sometimes shit gets left to fall apart for so long, that the job of clean-up and repair is either impossible or not worth the investment. Sometimes the place has been left in disrepair for so long, the floorboards are rotted, the foundation is sinking, and there's nothing for it but to condemn the place and move.

And seriously, it's not as if you don't have your share of undesirable squatters sharing the house with you even now, stinking up the place with their more modern style of bigotry and misandry.

Some things feminists have been up to of late:

  • Arguing to keep the gender-profiling and discrimination against male DV victims in VAWA unchanged.
  • Lobbying--and succeeding--in mandating lighter sentences for female criminals in the UK.
  • Lobbying for a shut-down of women's prisons in the UK.
  • Asserting that Women as a group feel--and should feel--threatened by Men as a group.
  • Arguing that despite women comprising 60% of university enrolment, that it's both "too soon" to do away with women-only scholarships, and sexist to consider men-only scholarships.
  • Opposing the changing of retirement age for women in the UK to bring it in line with retirement age for men.
  • Lobbying to lower the amount of child support arrearage that will result in jail time.
  • Opposing a presumption of shared parenting after divorce, using language that demonizes men as abusers and portrays women as victims.
  • Defending the practice of routine infant male genital mutilation, citing that it is NOTHING like female genital mutilation.
  • Freaking right the fuck out because milk producers implied in their ads that men are the primary victims of PMS, because they have to live with PMSing women, while cheering Hillary Clinton's assertion that the wives, daughters and mothers of men who are dead, are the primary victims of war

These people can't be evicted, ladies. There's no feminist landlord to evict them, no condo association, no property management company, because feminism doesn't work like that. They get to live in Feminist House with you for as long as they choose to call themselves feminists.

When I talk about the problem of rape, I sometimes speak of the inherent value of what many perceive to be "victim-blaming".  That is, if there were decisions a woman made that led to her being easily victimized, it is not only appropriate to examine them, it's beneficial (arguably necessary) to the recovery process. And I've argued that expecting society to protect women while refusing to expect women to take some responsibility for their own safety, is a disempowerment of women. It is taking power from them as individuals, stripping them of agency. It is telling them they are objects that shit just happens to, rather than participants in their lives, and that this is the way the world should work.

I believe the way I do because if there's no other lesson life has taught me, it's that we cannot control the actions, behavior, thoughts, motivations, goals and emotions of other people--we can only control our own. And because of the nature of feminism as a self-applied, self-defined label, no individual feminist has any control over what other feminists will do in the name of feminism. You can't kick anyone else out of the club. The only membership you can revoke is your own.

I mean, how much time and energy are you people going to waste trying to sweep up after these people? How much time and energy are you willing to put into arguing amongst yourselves, trying to throw people out who won't go, tidying up their trash, running damage control, and picking their empties up from the yard so the neighbors won't think you're all a bunch of irresponsible jerks? Isn't there something more useful you could be doing?

And why the hell are you so attached to the word, anyway? Words mean things, people. And while the connotations and even denotations of words evolve over time, right now, in common parlance, feminism doesn't mean what you think it means. It has come to mean something else to a growing number of people who aren't feminists, even if they believe in equality.

By your stubborn and single-minded attachment to the label "feminism", you do more harm than you can possibly know. By refusing to abandon the house, you give every man-hating kook who lives there more legitimacy than they deserve.

Let me put it this way. Here's the Senate Judiciary Committee, listening to testimony regarding whether to change VAWA or leave its bigoted, anti-male legislation as it is. Many people are testifying as "experts" on domestic violence, and many of these people are in favor of leaving VAWA unchanged. Many of them are feminists. And they're saying, "Women must be protected. As a feminist, I implore you to keep VAWA as it is."

Then the head of the Committee looks out his metaphorical window and sees millions upon millions of other feminists crowded under a banner that says "WE ARE FEMINISTS". Unbeknownst to him, they are debating and arguing and nitpicking each other, and some of them may even be strenuously trying to convince the others that VAWA is wrongheaded and must be changed. But all he sees are millions of feminists, and some people in front of him who claim to be speaking as feminists, and all those millions of feminists on the street outside his window add weight to every single word those few feminists have said before the Committee. Even if he knows not every feminist is in agreement on every issue, their association with THESE feminists, in front of him today, add to the credibility of what they've said.

By calling yourselves the same thing that these misandric, sexist, intellectually dishonest assholes call themselves, you are giving a perception of unity of purpose with them, whether you like it or not. Every single self-identified feminist provided the ballast that a few feminist-identified nutbars needed to ram their mandatory lower sentencing for women through in the UK.

I hold a lot of beliefs that could be said to be feminist beliefs. I've written articles on women's issues that were lauded by feminists. But I see a lot of harm done in the name of feminism, too. I choose not to call myself feminist, because I don't want my presence under the banner to add any weight to the efforts of those who would do harm in feminism's name. If I call myself feminist, I throw my vote in with the defenders of VAWA, whether I want to or not.

I won't do that. Why are you?

Thursday 21 July 2011

How Feminism Hates Women

Part Three: Politics

Much is made of the fact that women are underrepresented in the upper echelons of politics and business. There are discussions of glass ceilings in the business world, and systemic societal sexism, all conspiring--either purposefully or incidentally--to keep women from these spheres of power and influence.

I once sarcastically posed the question, "I mean, what woman wouldn't want to work in a logging camp, living in a barracks in the middle of nowhere away from your family two weeks out of every three, toiling from sun-up to sundown in inclement weather, facing a daily risk of injury or death orders of magnitude higher than most other jobs? Sign me up!"

Considering the nature of the job and the sacrifices one must make with respect to personal and family life, no one questions the underrepresentation of women in these kinds of positions.

And while political office is very different than cutting down trees for a living, much of the reason women are not flocking to politics in the west is largely due to these same calculations of effort, reward, sacrifice and risk. Being elected to congress may be a more influential, prestigious and financially rewarding position than working in a logging camp, and one that is probably less likely to get you maimed or killed on the job, however, the sacrifices necessary for either job are much the same. Both positions require a great deal of putting work before family, and may mean not being in the same room with your children for weeks at a time.

Moreover, both positions come with enormous risk--not as many trees fall on political candidates as on loggers, but the weight of media scrutiny into one's life, and the ever-present understanding that all your efforts could well be for naught come election day...these are considerations everyone makes before entering the political sphere. For women more often than for men, the risk and sacrifice of running for office is simply too high. And women cannot get elected to public office if they do not run for public office.

Because political office is an elected position, the number of women elected is based almost entirely on freedom of choice. First, on an individual woman's decision to run for office, and second, on the electorate's collective decision to elect her. In both cases, women have a great deal of power. Practically any woman can throw her hat in the ring, and women comprise the majority of voters in virtually every election since who knows when.

However, much is often made of the fact that when women DO run, they are less likely to be elected. It is often observed that both women and men do not trust women in positions of leadership and power.

I'd actually be quite interested in seeing some data on a woman's likelihood of being elected when she does choose to run. That is, if women make up 13% of congresspeople, and also make up 13% of the candidates running for congress, can any real argument be made that gender discrimination--either institutionalized or in the minds of voters--is at work?

But let's approach the issue of both men and women holding sexist assumptions with respect to women in politics as if it's a fact. The first question we must ask is why do these assumptions exist?

I've often been told that perception is reality. We must perceive our leaders as strong, capable and responsible. And while patriarchal assumptions of Women as having none of these qualities may still linger in many of us, what is being done to counter these assumptions, and what is being done to reinforce them? Is feminism helping Women in this respect, or is it hurting them?

Feminism takes great pains to tell us all that Women are strong, capable, responsible, accountable, intelligent, ambitious, and worthy of authority, leadership and trust.

But perception is reality, isn't it? And what else does feminism tell society?

Feminism tells us that Women are disadvantaged, need help and protection, can't make it on their own merits but need artificial measures put in place if they are to succeed.

These two agendas work at cross-purposes in the hearts and minds of the public. If there is a lingering sexist societal "why" behind the underrespresentation of women in politics, it absolutely does have something to do with most of feminism's focus on Women as disadvantaged members of society who are in need of protection and supports if they are even to survive their own lives.

Let's look at VAWA first, because VAWA is in the news right now, and as recently as a week ago, people with intellectual authority as feminists spoke in favor of keeping it exactly as it is. The gender-profiling in VAWA works against women in two ways.

First, it gives everyone the impression that Women are weaker and more submissive and timid than Men, and that Women are prone to making poor decisions--like staying with an abuser--unless there are supports and assistance and measures in place to not only make it easier for her to leave an abuser, but to even convince her that leaving is a good idea.

Add in Women-only scholarships, ministries and congressional committees on the status of Women, social safety nets aimed solely at Women, and the constant focus on the oppression (both macro and microscale) of Women makes it seem like women as a group aren't capable of even functioning in our society without help. And just as our experience with the men we know can run counter to our perceptions of Men as a group or an abstract social entity, our personal experience with strong, intelligent, responsible, capable women does not always inform our perceptions of Women as a group.

If I bought into feminist ideas of oppression of Women, I wouldn't trust women in positions of power, either. Someone who is too weak or foolish to leave an abusive husband, someone who focusses constantly on their disadvantage and how they are kept down, someone who whines about oppression of women in North America (especially when oppression of women is not the norm for the middle class women who talk about it the most), is not someone I would trust to be a strong, capable, rational leader.

Second, VAWA's exclusion of men from its protections and benefits only reinforces the idea that Men (as a group) would be better for the job of running a government than Women (as a group). Because in reality, men are just as likely to be abused as women, just as likely to stay in abusive relationships, are just as in need of help, and just as foolish in their decisions. But we don't see them that way, do we? Not as a group, or an abstract social entity. We see them as capable of taking care of themselves, of succeeding (or failing) on their own merits, and of being responsible for their own decisions no matter how bad those decisions are. 

VAWA, and much of feminist thought and activism, also demonizes male dominance. But by demonizing it, they only emphasize it. If Men are the oppressors in our society, well, oppressors are strong. The oppressed are weak. Weakness is not an attractive characteristic in a leader, is it?

Men are seen as strong and capable because they must be in our society. The objective Truth is a little different from our perception, though. Men are indeed oppressed and disadvantaged in many ways, and need help and support in many ways, but we don't see it because no one--especially feminists--is willing to acknowledge it. In this regard, because not only are Men forced to succeed without artificial help or support, but even the weakest, most unsuccessful of men are simply seen as not needing anything from the rest of us, well, we have an impression that Men are strong, capable, have merit, and would be good leaders.

The same gendered perceptions of Men and Women that inform the entirety of VAWA are what tell us all as a society that Men are capable leaders and Women are not.

Now let's look at the Skepchick elevator debacle, and how this informs public perceptions of Men and Women. Here we have a million people talking constantly about the oppression of Women in a society where that oppression simply isn't a concrete reality for most white, middle class women today.

Hell, if even an intelligent, white, successful, fairly privileged woman can't stand to be hit on (maybe) in an elevator without it turning into a huge internet kerfuffle over how being in an elevator with a man is scary enough even when he doesn't the hell is she going to survive a televised political debate? She felt threatened, a feeling which she is entitled to, but that feeling was not only informed by her perceptions of Men as aggressive and dominant and dangerous, but by her own perceptions of Women (and herself) as defenceless, small, powerless, in need of protection and incapable of even keeping themselves safe. Hundreds of people--mostly feminists--chimed in that it was entirely appropriate for her to feel this way. That is, hundreds of people chimed in to agree that Women are defenceless, small, powerless, in need of protection and incapable of even keeping themselves safe.

Contrast this to our perceptions and expectations of Men. Men, even though they are twice as likely to be victims of violent assaults, are not perceived in this way. A man in Rebecca Watson's position in an elevator may have felt the same level of threat, but he'd be expected to just deal with it. Why? Because Men are strong, capable, and responsible for taking care of themselves, even if an individual man might feel the same level of fear and be facing the same amount of objective physical risk in a given situation.

The fact that this ridiculously small incident caused the uproar it did, with everyone now talking about how scared Women are as a class, how in need of extra consideration and protection they are...all this did was reinforce that Women do not have the necessary mettle to be out and about at 4 AM, let alone be leaders.

And then Richard Dawkins essentially told her to pull up her big girl panties. And the shit hit the fan.

Rather than be able to accept that some people disagree with her and believe she's making a huge deal over nothing much, she called for a boycott of his books. Someone disagreed with her and had the temerity to say so, and in response, she rounded up as many bullies as she could in a determined effort to ruin his career. She could not win her debate with him on her own persuasiveness and the merits of her argument, so she called in the marines and took him down. And hundreds of people--most of them feminists--agreed with her position.

How on earth can someone like Rebecca Watson she be trusted in a position of real power? What little power and intellectual authority she had as a speaker within the Atheist community...she arguably abused this power to punish someone for exercising his right to free speech. He disagreed with her, therefore his career should be destroyed. What would she have done if she had the authority of office and government resources to do her bullying for her?

And that hundreds of feminists agreed with and supported the boycott--"If you can't persuade him, destroy him!"--only reinforces whatever lingering patriarchal perceptions we have in society of Women as irrational, prone to emotion, vindictive when scorned, and eager to get others to fight their battles for them...and none of these qualities make for a good leader, either, do they? And yet these are exactly the qualities many feminists--both male and female--supported and reinforced as reasonable and applicable to Women when they threw their weight behind Rebecca Watson and her boycott.

So while feminism makes a great effort to tell us that Women are strong, capable, responsible, accountable, intelligent, ambitious, and worthy of authority, leadership and trust, much of what feminism does in its efforts to help and protect women tells us exactly the opposite. 

And while many people will indeed believe what they are told, most of us form our view of the world and how it works through integrating a multitude of messages that come at us from all directions. And in many cases, through its advocacy and activism, feminism itself has done nothing so well as to convince us that our old-world patriarchal assumptions are correct, and that Women are not fit to be leaders.

Tuesday 19 July 2011

The man with no name

Okay, so we've all seen this woman's face by now:

She's the lovely specimen who drugged her soon-to-be ex husband, tied him to a bed, waited for him to wake, cut his penis off with a kitchen knife. She then put it down the garbage disposal in order, one presumes, to eliminate any possibility of reattaching it.


When police arrived, she merely told them, "He deserved it." So what was his offense, that merited the amputation and destruction of his penis? Apparently, he filed for divorce.


And now, as he lies (possibly) recovering from near-death from shock and blood loss, he has become the punchline of a joke that began with Lorena and John Wayne Bobbit. Filed for divorce? "That'll teach him," quips an audience member during a recent episode of CBS's The Talk. Followed by host Sharon Osborne's assertion that, though she's unaware of all the details leading up to the attack, "it's quite fabulous."


Now quick, all of you. Can anyone here tell me, off the top of your head, what Catherine Kieu's husband's name is? Don't know it? Huh. I must confess, I don't know it, either. And while this may indeed be simply because his name has been withheld (would YOU want to go through the rest of your life aware that everyone knows you have no penis?), watching this video by Angry Harry (who is actually a very calm and rational dude, as well as brilliant), I'm coming to realize that we as a society are perfectly content knowing nothing meaningful about this man.

In a very insidious way, he does not exist to us. He is neither human nor real, and because he is neither human nor real, his suffering means nothing to us. We feel less empathy for him, an actual person, than we feel for Holden Caulfield of Catcher in the Rye. We feel less empathy for him than for Optimus Prime, for fuck sake.

Why is this? Because he's a man, and we are trained as a society to see "men" as something less than whole people? More and more, we view men through their usefulness to society (firefighter, soldier, crew member, miner), their wrongdoings (rapist, murderer, thief, robber), or through their relationships with women (father, brother, son, husband).

In the first case, we have no empathy for them because, as Angry Harry said so eloquently, they've been reduced from human beings to "human doings". In the second case, we view them through the lens of their victims, making it all to easy to distance ourselves from their humanity. And in the third, we view them through the lens of the women in their lives. Our empathy is for her, even if she doesn't deserve it. No matter how despicable her crime was, no matter how inexcusable, no matter how unwarranted, no matter how evil, her suffering is somehow more worthy of sympathy to us than his.

She deserves our understanding, our support, our pity. And what does her victim deserve? Who cares? It's not like he even has a name. He only exists to us through his role as "husband of the penis mutilator". His suffering is so abstract to us as a society, we can even feel comfortable laughing about it.

Somehow, I don't think the man's friends and family are giggling over this. I really don't.

In a recent discussion about why I believe in the causes of MRAs, I said these words:

As a mother, I'd throw myself in front of a bullet for either of my sons, because their lives matter to me. But more importantly their lives matter to them.
And I think this is something that is utterly forgotten in the quest for ever more rights/privileges for women. That men are human beings unto themselves. If they're alive, they're not only someone's father/son/husband/wallet. If they're dead, they deserve a portion of the tears shed, not just the women who will have to live without them. They have value in and of themselves, not just a value that can be measured as a function of their usefulness or importance to women or society.

We've all heard the expression of common, progressive wisdom in that a society can be measured by how it treats its women.

And how it treats its men? If this was the yardstick we were forced to measure our society by, if it was one that even entered into the public consciousness, I'm pretty sure we'd be failing.

Saturday 2 July 2011

Well, that's that...

So she has a name. It's Nafissatou Diallo. A pretty woman, with a pretty smile.

A pretty woman who lied about being gang-raped to bolster her case for asylum in the US. A pretty woman who lied about her income and its sources, hiding the fact that tens of thousands of dollars of (probably ill-gotten) money had been deposited in her bank account. A pretty woman who lied to the government about how many children she had, to up her tax benefits. A pretty woman who has now--after the case blew up--been characterized as a hotel "working girl" who provided special "turn-down" services to male guests for big tips. A pretty woman who's been accused of running a pyramid scheme, scamming her fellow Guineans out of money.

A pretty woman who lied about her activities immediately following the alleged attack by Dominique Strauss-Kahn, but whose amended account still cannot be confirmed by hotel card-key data. A woman who phoned an incarcerated man within hours of the alleged assault to discuss how best to benefit from it, telling him, "Don't worry, this guy has a lot of money. I know what I'm doing."

Was she raped? I honestly don't know. Maybe she was. And if so, it sucks that she's never going to get justice.

But one thing I do know--if DSK's name had been kept from the press, if every news outlet hadn't splashed his name all over the place and speculated mostly upon his guilt rather than his right to due process, if every politician and powerful, wealthy man across the globe wasn't watching the case like a hawk, if prosecutors didn't have to eat crow over their crappy complainant after putting DSK through the indignity of a publicized perp-walk and forcing him to pay millions for bail and hundreds of thousands for his own house arrest measures...if this was a quiet sexual assault case without eight-hundred spotlights shining on it because of the accused's notariety, Nafissatou Diallo's chances of getting justice, if indeed she was assaulted, would have been a hell of a lot better.

With all the attention the case was getting, no prosecutor in his right mind would move forward with it once their complainant was outed as a pathological liar for personal gain. Who wants to fight that battle in front of the global media?

If she was raped, rape shield protection for the accused would have done nothing but help her chances of seeing her rapist punished through the criminal justice system.

So why aren't we extending that protection in all cases of rape and sexual assault? Because feminists want those names and faces plastered all over the media, so the "rapists until proven innocent" will be suitably punished even if they're acquitted on a technicality, and to hell with the innocent who get punished along with them.

Right now, a woman can ruin a man with a single accusation even if the case is abandoned long before trial, and if she does it out of malice, it's very very rare that we ever learn her name. She will almost never face any real penalty for doing so. And the innocent? Fuck 'em, I guess.

Unilateral rape shield anonymity has turned sexual assault crime into a modern version of the Salem witch trials, one that makes Lord of the Flies look civilized by comparison. If we must keep rape shield laws in place, there is no better time than now to push for those laws to extend to protecting the anonymity of the accused in rape and sexual assault cases.