Category Archives: Feminism

Pro-feminist rantings from an able-bodied, mostly neuro-typical white male in the “first world”. I try.

Sense and Sensitivity

Some of you may have heard about Seth MacFarlane’s “performance” at the Oscars recently.

It seems to me that our society is overly impressed with irreverence as some kind of gateway to comedic genius. It doesn’t take genius or even courage to poke fun at the already disenfranchised and downtrodden. If you take a look at humour through a historical lens, you will find that that the vast majority of it is directed at whoever is thought to be inferior within its cultural context, justifying and reinforcing already held attitudes. Look at every major war and all the “humour” that was enlisted to dehumanizing the enemy, some of it produced by the government itself, I believe.

Not all such humour is so consciously or intentionally employed, but it has the same effect in the end. Hearing a sexist joke doesn’t “make” anyone go out and rape anyone, but it sure renders it a little less shocking when we hear about it. What are the comments directed at Salma Hayek but another regurgitated notion of the helplessly virulent man in the wake of feminine wiles? Does it not also makes it just a little more palatable to see so many more men than women winning Oscars or filling CEO chairs. “They’re more for looking at anyways”, right?

Seth isn’t ridiculing the sexist mindset, he’s celebrating it. He is not the socio-political satirist, at least not when it comes to his sexism. When it comes to sexism, he’s the “HUR HUR, I saw your boobs and laugh at your dehumanization without challenging”. It’s not the LOLS, it’s the LULZ. We know their place, and if everyone’s laughing, so how bad can it be?

I want to resurrect some thoughtful point from a post made in response to the Tosh nonsense a few months back. They relate very well to the present discussion.

“If you’re going to make jokes about potentially offensive topics, there’s an easy way and a hard way. The easy way is to just shout out offensive things in the name of free speech and “pushing people out of their comfort zones.” The hard way is to provide an unflinching, in-depth analysis of the way that people deal with these painful topics, to really explore them, in order to make some kind of profound point about them (and be funny).

Most people who make rape jokes (or gay jokes, or racist jokes, or whatever) aren’t smart enough to have anything worthwhile to add to the conversation. They’re hacks. It’s like a little kid shouting “poop!” in the grocery store and then grinning. Truly edgy writing pushes people out of their comfort zones, sure. But it pushes them toward something, some deeper truth or observation about humanity.”

I tend to disagree with the idea that humour makes a message harmless. In fact it’s often quite the opposite, at least with certain kinds of humour that contain a social message and have a target. We’re not talking about rape jokes specifically here, but reducing women to LOL-sex-objects is something that makes it easier by normalizing it and making it just a little less unpalatable.

Sometimes humour is just humour. Sometimes humour is the viral sheath that sneaks that little kernel of social belief past your conscious defenses. Once there, it wraps itself in a protective layer of “it’s just a joke” until you decide to pass it along.

There is a popular fantasy held by the most privileged aspects of society that they are some kind of embattled minority, put upon by “PC” kryptonite wielding mobs. This kind of “humour” is just the extension of that misguided perception, and acts as a further defense against detection and analysis of  it’s meaning.

A few cases of shaky-kneed corporate HR departments with a heavy hand and bad aim who don’t really understand the issues, and they’ll ride that gripe until the wheels fall off, but if you’ve got centuries of marginalization, subjugation, rape and murder, you’re just trying to make everyone feel guilty and probably feeling sorry for yourself. Oh, and the worst thing of all… you have no sense of humour! This is somehow apparently worse than being an asshole.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. Speaking your mind against disapproval is only a virtue if you have something thoughtful, intelligent, edifying or at the very least, truthful to say. Without fulfilling that condition you’re just making a lot hot air, and basically just wanking.

In Seth’s case it’s not even against the grain. The fact is that he is really just catering to the masses. People with this particular mindset act like they are the embattled minority they want to think they are. Many of them really know it too when you get down to it, revealed when they get frustrated and haul out their handy dandy ad populum arguments.

So, who’s actually being “over-sensitive”?

I’ll give you one guess.

I’m Privileged and I Know it (Work it Out)!

I came across a very interesting article today that I wanted to make some commentary on.

This was a very well written article, and he does a brilliant job of describing the main concept of privilege distress. I believe it is very true that winning people is very important.

It should be fairly obvious to someone who understands women’s issues, for example, that winning people over to feminist understanding will have a much more transformative impact than passing a limited bill in some isolated jurisdiction.

Not to argue against those changes, but I can even see how small changes can have an entrenching effect among the privileged masses if it gets a certain kind of publicity that leaves them believing that they are an embattled minority that is losing ground.

I get the concept and its importance.

In my own life, I have gone through such a transformation. I have traversed from a position unaware privilege, to not only becoming aware of much of my privilege, but actually being in a process of continually exploring and deconstructing it. None of this could have happened without the long and determined effort of my partner. It also couldn’t have happened without a certain willingness on my part to wrestle with my own privileged distress that arose when I was being challenged.

The thing is that I could never wish upon, and certainly not demand from anyone, what my partner had to go through. She has reminded me recently of some of the ways that I reacted and the things I said along the way; things that with most people would leave me frothing at the mouth were I in her shoes. I would have to not only have a certain emotional investment, but also a willingness to endure the pain and frustration of being misunderstood and misrepresented by the person having the privileged distress, as they inevitably resist. There are degrees of resistance, but it is always present. If there is privilege, there is resistance. It’s simply a fact.

What gets me about this article is that he doesn’t seem to explicitly state who his audience is. I’m left to believe that the marginalized themselves are at the very least being included if not singled out. The personal pain that I experience as described above is not even fully my own. It is merely the pain of being an advocate. I can walk away from it. I can choose to be silent when it becomes too much, yet that isolation and misunderstanding has still been strong enough at times to cause emotional breakdown.

How much worse must this be for marginalized people who are unable to hide from or avoid their marginalization? How can I, or this author, in any reasonable way impose upon them the burden of coddling the privileged under whom they experience their own oppression (regardless of supposedly benign, non-hating fee-fees). Personally, I just can’t do it.

As I’ve stated earlier, I have come from being very privileged while simultaneously unaware. As I have delved further and further into the mire, I found myself on a pendulum swing from trying to save the world to giving in to rage, first empathizing with, and then mimicking much of the vicious tear-down of privileged rhetoric with no empathy for its proponents. I still do not and probably never will begrudge the marginalized for doing so themselves. How could I? What would this be other than an over-privileged person telling under-privileged people.how best to advocate for themselves? They are reclaiming their right to speak and be angry which we; the privileged, have continuously denied them.

However I believe I am finding that, despite my desire to revel in and repeat the outrage of the marginalized as an expression of solidarity and empathy, this is not the most useful role that I can perform. This author has given expression to ideas that I have been formulating just in the last few months; the idea that my greatest role is to endure the stream of privileged ignorance and fight to maintain my empathy and acceptance for them as good people with bad ideas. To realize that not everyone can be won over, and that their choices are not my responsibility, but to at least not give up on the process altogether and take what is, for me, an easier road.

I can only hope that I am his intended target. Otherwise, I think he has missed it.

Unnatural Selection

This is just going to be a quickie as it’s all I have time for today.

I’ve been lately about how some of these supposedly inspiring success stories that float around are really examples of selection (as in systems of evolution) rather than accurate explanations of said success. I think this holds especially true for actors and other public figures who’s success in one degree or another depends on or at least benefits from popularity. Will Smith comes to mind. His opinions about himself are of the most boot-strappy I’ve ever heard. You heard him 2+2 = “whatever I want it to be”. “The Secret” must really give him a hard-on.

The fact that we hear certain people’s stories and not others is not necessarily due to the inherent survivability of the traits they promote. It may simply be because we unwittingly select and promote them PRECISELY BECAUSE we prefer the explanations that they offer us for their successes, even if they are ultimately inaccurate.

It’s a little bit like breeding many generations of horse, selecting exclusively for spotted coats and then saying that horses with spotted coats are better survivors because “Look! More of them have survived because of spotted coats!!” Indeed it is true, but only because we made it true.

It may be and often is true that for every person telling you that they pulled themselves up by their bootstraps with little or no help, there may be a million more with the same attitude, giving the same effort and having the same determination that end in desolation and obscurity rather than succeeding at something more attainable. This is not an affirmation that “success” (whatever that is), is the only thing that matters, or that an individual should not try their very best and be deeply determined.

The point is that we are sometimes inclined to promote very inaccurate and harmful ideas when there are more accurate and meaningful ones to be had.

 

Horny Balorney

I read an article at Cracked a few days ago with a few misgivings but basically gave it a pass. Then, earlier today I came across this article.

I still appreciate that David made some good point in his usual fun and accessible style. I’m not aiming to throw it out with the bathwater, but with this kind of subject the nuance can be everything so it won’t keep me from sharing in the critique. Besides, any sincere ally should be at least initially receptive. Having said that…

I’m a little embarrassed for being drawn in.

I believe I was, mainly because he threw in the following points:

“Maybe it’s just a matter of having 10 times as much testosterone in their system, or maybe society has trained us to be like this, or maybe we’re all spoiled children.” (I tend to go with the “training” and “spoiled children arguments”)

“Whatever — nailing down the cause isn’t the point.”

…and then kinda sorta explaining that it’s our responsibility regardless, while still (I have to admit) catered to the “hey bro, *wink* *nudge*” mentality. Nailing it down may not be the point in considering our responsibility to do something about it, but it is important that we follow through with trying to figure it. We need test our hypotheses informed with social awareness and then applied against rationality.

An enticing narrative.

I found the arguement convincing on the surface because I have A.D.D. and a relatively high sex drive and am easily distracted. This combined with the constant media and social programming that make it not only EASY to look past the humanity of women when confronted with sexualized appearances, but indeed very difficult NOT to. It makes this kind of narrative very enticing.

Contrary to common understanding, a person’s gut reactions do not automatically follow one’s ideology. It can take much longer to reprogram our “lizard brain”. For myself, it’s not that I have trouble controlling overt behaviour, but more the subtle ways of how I think and feel and connect to my own sexuality which inevitably must have at least some effect on my personal interactions. There is a great human tendency to protect our egos by rationalizing these reactions at the expense of our ideology, rather than the other way around.

The politics of desire.

I think the author of this critique is pretty bang-on! It’s easy to look at our own struggles and subconsciously (or even consciously) presume that women don’t also have physical desires as strong or even stronger than our own. We wouldn’t necessarily hear about it as much since hetero women aren’t bombarded 100’s of times a day with sexualized depictions of men (and lesbian women are listened to even less than hetero women), indeed women’s sexuality has hardly been allowed much room to explore such things.

Essentially, off-the-mark.

Not to mention this idea that hetero-male sexuality is behind every “great” thing ever accomplished or created. It’s insulting to more than just hetero women. I wonder what trans and gender queer people would have to say about this. I dare say it’s even insulting to men! Is there no altruism? Is there no desire to create for the sake of and the enjoyment of simply creating. Are there no gay or asexual men who accomplish amazing things? It’s insulting, because it’s inaccurate.

Yes of course there is an aspect of male culture that does have us doing impressive or even absurd things (or both) in service of our ego, our desire to dominate, and our desire to mate (which often have a great deal of overlap). Yet, I don’t think hat essentialism is the whole or even majority part of the answer. There is a whole world of possibility outside of this framework.

In fact, I believe that our future lies there…

Gender Fender Bender

Would you know it? International Women’s Day comes around and as always, the sexism crawls out of the woodwork. I got into a debate on my brother’s facebook wall and decided to share the more constructive part of it here:

Working in tech support, I hear a lot of callers talk about the abilities of people. I often hear women (of all ages, but especially ones under 40) say “Um, ok, I’m a woman; I don’t know what that means.” or “I can’t do this; I’m a woman.”, and female tech support representatives often get asked by other women if they could speak to a real/male tech support representative; the number of men who make the same request of them is significantly lower.

If this has taught me anything, it’s that efforts in promoting gender equality need to focus a lot more on empowering other women, rather than guilting and persuading men to change pay and hiring policies.

That being said, the vast majority of tech support representatives are male, and the vast majority of billing and sales representatives are female. The people in sales and billing positions do get a somewhat lower pay. It’s not due to their gender; it’s due to the fact that they get commission for every sale that often pushes their average hourly income well past that of tech support representatives. The hiring is done simply through an analysis of personality and who applies. The simple matter is that there are less females applying for tech support positions, and less males applying for billing and sales positions. The same happens in many other places, depending on what industry it is. Few women are the CEOs of extremely successful engineering companies because there are less female engineers because there are less females in engineering programmes in universities, and their admission to the programme has nothing to do with gender.

In summary, I find that a huge amount of the “evidence” showing differences in pay between sexes is a gross distortion of statistics, entirely ignoring any information that is a non-sexist explanation for the difference. I’m not saying that there isn’t a difference in pay between men and women for their positions; I’m saying that people need to take a better look at the data to see where the difference comes from, and why it’s totally reasonable and not sexist at all.

Also, I must add that I AM AWARE that there are SOME businesses (especially smaller and private ones) that DO explicitly pay women less for the exact same job, but these are far from a majority, and they’re not even the kinds of jobs that are mentioned in this propaganda.

I get what you’re saying. But the general idea that those who are trying to tackle these issues are simply “guilting and persuading men” is in itself an oversimplification and misunderstanding. Certain men will be called out for certain words and behaviour, but from everything I’ve seen the overall ideology in feminism is much broader and more nuanced than that. In fact I dare say most of the vitriol against men is not that the focus is to target men as sole culprits, but because we men (and some women) are so violent in their dismissal whenever the topic is brought up. We as men feel we’re being attacked and try to disarm and shut down the entire issue with “it’s not just my fault” defensive rhetoric. It comes complete with misunderstanding and misrepresentation of the issue(s), ad hominem attack, strawperson and anecdotal argument, and straight up bullying. We may feel we are simply defending ourselves, but in fact we are perpetuating the very oppression that is being called out by throwing the baby out with the bathwater. This doesn’t mean we should roll over and do everything we’re told and accept every assertion fired our way. I want to address this, but I need to lay some groundwork first…

It is no surprise to any serious or well versed feminist that women can be and are often complicit with gender norms and even inequality, nor that empowerment of women is a necessary goal. People follow norms. There is little more basic or fundamental about people (in this kind of society model at least). As a feminist and generally socially aware person I get that to pick out one person or group as a culprit for some pervasive social problem is the height of ignorance whether it’s feminists, men, MRAs, minorities, “the 1%”, you name it. Society in any sense is a massively complicated web of thoughts, words, and actions where everyone plays a part. One of the greatest misconceptions of our time is that we are the masters of our own minds. There is a belief that if we act in accordance to some societal norm, that we are ideologically complicit with it (women choose subjugation). The flip side is that by having a certain ideology (I support equality) that our actions and especially the effects of our actions necessarily follow our intentions. These are both largely false to varying degrees. The less we are aware of our cognitive biases, our emotional reactivity etc, etc, the less congruent our ideas and actions can and will be.

So the first thing is to realize that just by listening and postponing our reaction to what we hear isn’t weakness, but merely the process of bypassing our cognitive biases and presumptions in order to process the actual information. It’s also perfectly reasonable to listen to the whole thing and be undecided. This is infinitely better than dismissing it. You may be listening to someone who is very passionate, or even angry. They may even be well justified in that anger. Hell, they may even be upset that you are not coming around immediately. It doesn’t mean that they are any more “hysterical” (look up the origin of that word if you want to learn something of our gendered history) than you are. Nor does it mean that such expectation on their part is above reproach or that they are beyond criticism. And, it certainly does not mean that their understanding of the reality of gender in our culture is flawed. It means that they’re human.

But the fact is that if you want to be intellectually honest with yourself, you need to suspend disbelief and try harder for the sake of truth and greater good, if not for the specific individuals you are hearing. Most forms of oppression in history are not simply perpetuated by evil people twisting their mustaches and thinking about how they want to screw over those people they hate. It’s mainly perpetuated by generally good people born into a culture that supports not just harmful, oppressive ideas, but general misconception, and ignorance. Consider the plight of black people in America. Polls taken in the 60s at arguably the height of racial violence showed that the average American had no idea why blacks were so damn upset. You saw the same rhetoric about measures for equality “going too far”. I’m not trying to equate the present state of gender inequality in North America (though it does relate more closely in other parts of the world) with present or historical oppression of blacks in America (which is not over BTW), but merely the similar societal mechanics that support them. We are all cogs in the wheel of this mechanism.

If you allow your focus to be limited to evasion of blame, and your scope limited to policies and rules, then there are enormous swaths of issues and people being swept under the rug. As an example slightly exaggerated to make a point: if you had an entire racial group that for reasons of systemic historical abuse, currently has a failure of imagination to perceive themselves as being able to do anything more than janitor work, do we say “that’s fine” because we are no longer “forcing” people into submission with policies and rules and because we’re not racist so it’s not our fault? This is essentially what is happening with a lot of gender issues.

Commensuration

A friend of mine recently posted a link to Schrödinger’s Rapist on Facebook appealing to men to read and pass along.

*pause*

Can you guess the result? Actually there were a few decent comments, but predictably it was largely a “I’m not aware of my privilege”-apalooza. And also not surprisingly, the topic drifted towards privilege and then to equal opportunity.

It’s been my perception that privileged people only pay attention when things start to affect them, and as long as they operate this way it will always feel like they’re being “underprivileged” when you start to correct the problem.

In this case, it was an anecdote about not being eligible for certain scholarships due to the phallic appendage between his legs. His awareness of privilege apparently sprang into existence the first time someone else got something, seemingly due to their type of junk they sport.

His solution to the problem of inequality?

“You cannot equalize by giving differential rewards and benefits to ANY group over an other group for any reason. This sends the message that institutionalized differential treatment is something good. The only way that we will every get lasting equality is by treating everyone the same, at all times.”

Sweet Fluffy Jesus! This isn’t the third grade and we’re not dealing with who got the bigger lollipop! I’d almost be inclined to laugh at this, were it not so tragic. We’re talking about women’s livelihoods. Food, clothing, and money to support children, money to go to school. Women who without these changes have more difficulty getting jobs, making the same income, not just wages per hour, but money per year (mat leave, family leave). I wonder where all the men were with this warm sentiment when the whole issue of pay and employment equity first entered the public forum. Sitting comfortably and feeling very deserving I’d imagine. Pretending that sexism doesn’t exist is not un-sexist. Without some kind of fixes in place (cludgy though they may be at times), things don’t just fix themselves auto-magically.

Now, male privilege isn’t just about written laws and instituted policies that say “men should get this and women shouldn’t get that”. It’s also (and more pervasively) in the subjective decisions making. For example, let’s take a common argument: “With affirmative action, we can’t hire the  “most fit” person. Our ideas about who is “most fit”, are usually not drawn from rationality. Even with the most basic understanding of psychology we learn that human beings make snap decisions, first referring to their emotional core and gut feelings, and then rationalize their decisions afterward.

http://youarenotsosmart.com/2010/05/28/representative-heuristic/

This is where “gut feel” decisions are made that bypass or conscious, logical processes; where feelings of “she’ll just cause drama and complications” or “he’ll just fit in better with the crew” override the decision.

Check this out:
http://youarenotsosmart.com/2010/05/26/the-perils-of-introspection/

When left to make subjective decisions, our biases colour everything. When asked to explain we made the decisions we did, we think about the implications of the possible answers. We appeal to ideas of what we want to believe about ourselves and what kinds of reasons fit with the kind of good person we know we must be. Thus we don’t know what people are talking about when they cry “sexism!”

I’m going to share an anecdote. It’s not to being offered as proof, but it does give some context to the scenario. We do after all need stories to centre our empathy and add the human element:

http://www.copyblogger.com/james-chartrand-underpants/

If you need proof that equality exists, go find it yourself. Personally, I don’t find it hard to believe that this happens because the more I’ve delved into this, the more I’ve seen this kind of prejudice in my own thoughts and reactions, and that at my worst I was never entrenched in it as some apparently are, men AND women.

The right to vote and policy changes on paper (even those are far from being closed up, and in fact getting worse through some legal atrocities in the U.S.) only do so much when there are still gaping holes in the subjective processes of society, not to mention the limitations imposed by internalized messages of inferiority and women’s place in societal hierarchy from almost everywhere.

He told me that Rome wasn’t built in a day and that we should just be more patient, as though the changes thus far have been with anything less than huge effort. I agree to a point; that you can’t make people stop being sexist overnight. What he neglected to mention is that it also didn’t build itself. We can’t eat your wishful thinking for breakfast, my friend.

What gets me most of all is how people people like him love to take shots at the perhaps imperfect nature of equal opportunity policy, but then have no alternative. I have to admit that it’s a fallacy to say that if you can’t think of a better way, then this one is obviously the best. But I’m not saying that, and he’s not even trying to offer any alternatives. In fact, all he has to say is that  there is no real problem, so just make it equal on paper and *poof* it’s magically equal! Besides, there IS no real inequality at work anyway and never was…and look over there! See!? There are bigger problems in the world like starving kids in Africa or something so STFU! And you’re stupid, and you just like being angry! *rasp*

There are always bigger problems, but this isn’t a zero-sum game, dood.

Men, closing your eyes and wishing upon a star does not equality make. The world is unfair, and you benefit from it. That’s not the same as your life being easy. That’s not the same as saying you’re a bad person. That’s not the same as saying women hate you. But, it is what it is.

None of us stand alone. None of us are truly independent. We are interdependent. You can do anything you want, but the kind of world you want to live in starts with you. Your partners live in this world. Your mothers live in this world. Your daughters live in this world.

You live in this world. So, what are you going to do about it?