A Voice for Me?

contrarian-investingI just posted this to the forum of A Voice for Men. I’ve been participating there for about a month or so to try and get a hook on and monitor the other side of the ongoing gender debate. With recent events it’s just become too toxic and the final straw was me setting off a feminist journalist who I regard as one of the good ones with the potential of coming to mutual understanding.

People are always going to doubt my sincerity and read anything I do – in games, blogging or otherwise – in the worst possible light, but it’s not going to do me any favours to be associated with that site and I don’t want to be associated with it any more, especially if it makes discussion and respect impossible.

I need to find a space that suits me and a place where these kinds of things can be discussed more civilly with fewer preconceptions. I don’t know what form that’ll take yet, maybe a separate blog for men’s issues where I can invite people to participate in and to engage in discussion with and on in a different style. Suggestions are welcome.

At the moment no matter how sincere I am in my attempts to understand where people are coming from, it just leads to hatred and nastiness and there’s little or no reciprocity. This has necessitated me blocking a whole lot of people and creating a list of them so I can keep abreast of the latest dramas.

I’m not about to apologise for who I am, because who I am is not as I am painted by some. I am passionately interested in human rights as a whole, men’s issues in particular and other issues like creeping private censorship etc. Other than continuing to be sincere in my criticisms, arguments and attempts to understand, and to argue and fight in a more low-key and tone-controlled way, I don’t know how else to proceed.

Post follows:

***

When I came here I was clear that I didn’t regard myself as an MHRA, but just as an egalitarian humanist who took an interest in men’s issues.

While AVFM remains a good source of information and a clearing house of good data and well reasoned arguments – on the surface – many of the articles and much of the polemicism is aggravating and deliberately insulting and confrontational. I’m given to understand this is Mr Elam’s intent, as a means of garnering publicity through controversy but while this can sometimes work I feel that – in the current environment especially – it is counterproductive.

So counterproductive, in fact, that when I raised the current issue with the conference threats a feminist journalist I regard as one of the better ones didn’t feel able to condemn it, due to the harassment and rhetoric they’d received via this site. While I don’t think that remotely compares with threats of violence it does underline the problem.

I regard reason and stoicism as being cornerstone male traits and they have even been described that way – negatively – in feminist works. In my opinion it’s necessary to at least try to hold the moral high ground, to be consistent and to not engage in the kind of vicious behaviour and insult slinging men often endure from the radical feminist fringe.

As such I think I need to withdraw even my limited support and participation here – such as it is – and to find my own way to proceed without the negative associations and the toxicity that comes with aspects of this forum, the style many articles are presented in and association with PuA and MGTOW communities. While I think you’re wrong to continue as you are, I respect your right to do so. I just need to find a more measured approach that works for me.

I’m not sure what that’ll be yet.

My conversation (names etc redacted) is attached below.

@Femini Any comment on these conference threats? [REDACTED]

@OurHero I’m not surprised that a site as violent and prejudiced as AVFM has received threats of violence in return, no.

@Femini Could you point me at some of the violence at AVFM? I’ll disassociate myself more if it’s true. Would you condemn this at least?

@OurHero how about the Occidental College rape bombing?
@OurHero I’ll condemn it when Men’s Rights activists come out to condemn centuries of gendered violence and months of specific harassment.

@Femini ‘Dear Muslima…’

@OurHero and I feel like your asking me to condemn this says a lot about your priorities.
@OurHero this is just one of the disgusting things they’ve written about me- [REDACTED]
@OurHero here’s another [REDACTED] complete with professional threats, ‘fuck you you lying cunt’, etc.
@OurHero I have no idea who’s threatening AVFM. I wouldn’t pursue that course of action myself. But I don’t blame people for being angry.

@Femini I am biased. I have bad past experience with the fallout from moral panics and see it again, in this.
@Femini I’ll double check in a bit (in the middle of gardening) but I didn’t see any threats of violence there yet. In the comments?
@Femini Thanks for taking the time to give the refs anyway, I’ll check them out thoroughly in a bit.

@OurHero right. So it’s all fine because they’re not threatening to come to my house and hurt me. Got it.
@OurHero my patience with this is not infinite.

@Femini Being nasty is nasty, and I wish they wouldn’t, but it’s not violence or bomb threats. When you said violence I thought, violence.

@OurHero you seem to think what AVFM say about me is excusable. If so, we have nothing more to say to each other.
@OurHero right. Your position is clear. Given that you’ve also attacked friends of mine in your post about my [REDACTED], and deliberately
@OurHero >disbelieved harassment received by me, [REDACTED] and [REDACTED], I give up. I’m not going to engage with you for a while- it’s not good
@OurHero for my mental health.

@Femini And vice versa, though I was making an effort to start over. The criticisms were not intended to be attacks.
@Femini Understand the mental health thing though. Be well and get better soon. x

@OurHero ‘we were making progress’ could you be any more patronising? You have taught me nothing apart from how stubborn
@OurHero the self-pity of some corners of the MRA community can be. Don’t @ me or subtweet me again please.

@Femini I can’t leave that unanswered. ‘We’ as in both of us, as in I thought we were burying the hatchet and understanding a bit more.
@Femini I disagree with their polemical style, but that’s not unique to them and it’s not violence. Again, be well. Try again soon I hope.

Phat Pipes: Critique of Cybersexism by @PennyRed

41xcA9y7fVL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU02_Introduction

Myself and Laurie Penny share a fairly conterminous experience of the internet, but a very different viewpoint. Here I try to address the main thrusts of the book and to give my alternative experiences.

This is For Everyone

My life with the internet starts a little earlier than Laurie Penny’s. I started up visiting BBS boards and playing Avalon over dial-up with a modem about the size of five, stacked, iPads. Via those early BBS systems it was sometimes possible to get email and to access ‘the internet’ though we never really understood what that meant until the real thing became available to everyone.

This was back when phone calls cost a lot more money, there was no broadband and using the modem would tie up the line. It was a far cry from the Neuromancer fantasies that beckoned the early pioneers (I was a NetGoth) but in the MUD virtual realities and the thrill of text-talking to strangers (this was even before mobile texting took off) there were flickerings of what was to come.

I’d used to escape into books, films and role-playing games. Those were my VR and the internet came in as an extension of that. Adopting different ‘fictionsuits’, avatars and handles came easily to us in a way that the current generation of ‘let it all hang out’ social media junkies can’t really understand. The avatar/alias culture only really still thrives amongst us oldies, roleplaying, trans and troll communities. The loss of the old guard in the Google NymWars pretty much put paid to that old culture and represents the victory of FaceBookism where your offline and online identities become the same.

Like Laurie, we swallowed the idea that the internet was a freeing medium. An opportunity to mix and meet and share information. To form communities that weren’t linked by petty geography and for a while it was glorious. You would get to know people via their mind and their writing, not the superficial realities of ‘meatspace’ and it didn’t matter. It was a consequence free, free-mingling ‘wild west’ utopia with a natural gatekeeper in the form of the technological capability needed to get online.

‘No girls on the internet’ was almost true back in the day and thus the origin of many internet proverbs, besides that one. ‘Tits or GTFO’ for example was a demand for proof. Why was this? Nerd culture – early adopters – was, and remains, stubbornly male. Tech culture even more so. Computers weren’t as ubiquitous as they are now and consoles didn’t hook up to the internet. Schools weren’t linked up either and so by a process of simple demographics access was limited to the relatively well off, technically minded and nerdy.

For many, men, women and all points in between this was rather freeing. You couldn’t genuinely know what or who anyone was and that meant people were largely treated the same, based on the ‘content of their character’ rather than the ‘configuration of their meat sack’. Not that this meant people weren’t still arseholes, but it gave cover to early adopters, especially women, that some benefited from.

I have the same, or more, degree of experience of the internet as Ms Penny has, yet my conclusions – despite coming from the same root – are very different.

ngYfSh2_No Girls on the Internet

Ms Penny suggests that the idea that the internet was for everyone was somehow untrue. That it was really for boys. This statement is both true and untrue. The internet was – and is – for everyone but by the nature of its genesis and the groups that were interested in it it became a male dominated space by simple virtue of emergence. The majority of users were men and so the spaces that developed – usenet, email lists and so forth – were ‘male’ spaces.

This was not a deliberate or exclusionary measure by any means and in the early days the few women you did encounter were generally given kudos for getting online. They’d proved their worth and their chops simply by the fact that they had managed to get online and access a community. As internet access broadened this began to change, both in terms of people able to prove yourself and in the need to even do so in the first place.

Where Laurie presumes – given her background – that this is down to misogyny or hatred of women, or a desire to exclude them, I have a different hypothesis which we’ll call This is What Equality Looks Like, TWELL for sake of typing ease.

One of Germaine Greer’s best known phrases is: “Women have very little idea of how much men hate them.”

Which is catchy, but a little uncharitable, especially if you’ve ever had the misfortune to overhear women on a night out complaining about their husbands and boyfriends with equal, if not more, viciousness than men do about their wives and girlfriends.

However, I think Germaine’s commentary is germane to TWELL, with a subtle twist.

“Women have very little idea of how horrible men are to each other.”

The presence of a woman in a social context tends to lead men to be considerate, toned down and to consider her feelings and upset. Language is often softened, opinions remain unexpressed and people make more of an effort to be pleasant – until they know where the boundaries are.

Why? Well, we can argue about natural proclivites and culture, but upsetting people in person is generally frowned upon and men and women are solicitous of each other more (generally speaking) in a meatspace environment.

Online the context is different, consequence free and gender truly doesn’t matter. Men – and women – no longer moderate their behaviour in the same way that they do in person. This doesn’t seem to have been much of a shock for men (again we can have arguments about culture, upbringing and nature here) but it does seem to have been a shock for women.

Stripped of the usual societal cushioning women are often afforded, the female of the species seems to have recoiled in horror from the kind of nasty – if not always serious – behaviour that men and boys have been putting up with since the first days of kindergarten.

TWELL is not intended as a flip response, but to underline that the difference here is in reaction, not content.

I think my first social online experiences were with Usenet and email lists, but like Laurie I migrated to Livejournal and some other abortive social networks in the following years. I primarily used Livejournal for RPG material and blogging about the LARP group I was a part of. It was a vital communication tool back then for both purposes and much more connected and hooked up than having your own website was. This was also my first real introduction to ‘internet drama’ and this was a direct consequence of more ‘normal’ people using it. This was the first clue that the defences were down and the barbarians were at the gate.

It wasn’t the ‘internet people’ that were the problem. It was the normal people.

If I describe Livejournal as being the prototype for the excesses of Social Justice Tumblr, many of you reading will shudder in horror and know what I mean. Let’s just say that in former insular, echo chamber cliques it began the radicalisation of internet activism that would reach its – hopeful – peak of awfulness this year with Suey Park and #CancelColbert, with it’s spectacular, po-faced, failure to understand satire.

Here, again, is where my experience begins to diverge from that of Ms Penny. She describes an online world of routine misogyny and hatred as being exclusionary, while I – for my sins – experienced no less amount of hate, challenge, vitriol and bile, just not what one might characterise as ‘misogyny’.

I am not convinced misogyny is even the right word. Misogyny is an irrational hatred of women and disagreeing with, arguing with or trolling women doesn’t seem – to me – to fit the bill. We both seem to have been subjected to hatred, and I’ve seen much of the disgraceful and horrible abuse Ms Penny gets, but I see little difference in the scale or nastiness of that hatred between us. Just our reactions. So it goes for all these pseudo-controveries throughout the last ten years or so of the internet. What is striking to me as an internet hate veteran, every time, is the difference in reaction.

Tits_or_gtfoPictures or it Didn’t Happen

The selfie culture isn’t something I really understand and I get the sense that despite more experimentation than me in this arena, Laurie and I share a degree of incomprehension about the total lack of privacy embraced by Generation Y. I occasionally participate in things like #NoPantsFriday and have succumbed to using my actual image as an avatar but to do either, to have ‘pictures of me on the internet’ still feels rather uncomfortable and somewhat silly.

This is old fashioned of me, I know.

At the same time I don’t think anyone should be shamed by photos, or indeed old posts and blogs that people like to drag out. People mature and change, their views alter or become more nuanced, they do silly things. Whether it’s Laurie’s boobs, my cock or some lightweight covered in vomit on his eighteenth birthday with a knob drawn on his forehead we should be able to laugh it off as indiscretion, accept that everyone does it and move on.

The trouble is, we don’t live in a world that has adapted to this yet. The people in power are forty and over. The generation below that, including people like me and Laurie are still somewhat uncomfortable with letting it all hang out, even with libertine political views and even the Millenials aren’t all sold on the idea of living a scandal free public life. One need only look at the difference between Belle Knox’s resilience and Alyssa Funke’s suicide to see that even the younger adult generation is struggling to adapt to the Mutual Surveillence Society we find ourselves in.

While I’m sure there’s some truth to what Laurie says about the minority of men online who harass women doing so out of hatred, I don’t think it is as true as is stated. Time and again I see reports of harassment of women online and go looking into it only to find many more bad-taste jokes and incidences of trolling than I do genuine abuse.

A case in point being Caroline Criado-Perez whose high profile campaign to replace Darwin with Jane Austen on British bank notes gave her a position of public awareness which, inevitably, drew the trolls. She received a lot of – apparent – hatred, a lot of trolling and, also, a great deal of genuine criticism and advice. To which she reacted – universally – poorly.

It’s important here to both define what a troll is and to introduce a new concept in trolling which has only recently emerged.

As originally used on Usenet, and perhaps etymologically connected to ‘trawl’ was to make the kind of comment or post that many, many people would react to and post on. One that would provoke arguments and chaos. You could almost ‘score points’ by how many replies it got or how many extra threads it spawned. The more controversial or ridiculous the statement, the ‘better’ it usually was as a troll. Hardy perennials of the art were posting religious nonsense in an atheist forum, Satanist nonsense in a religious forum, or mentioning abortion anywhere.

To an extent much has remained the same. Trolling is still about scoring a reaction. It is now a little more nasty though. It is about upsetting people, provoking a ‘rage quit’, or creating an enormous fuss – the bigger the better. This is why the advice on trolls has always been ‘don’t feed the troll’ and why it remains the best advice. Reporting, complaining, let alone writing huge media articles on the topic is the very opposite of this advice and will only excite the troll.

In an unguarded moment I compared this to ‘grinding your rapist’ and while the analogy is crude, its force serves to convey the point. By paying attention to the troll, by getting upset, you are giving them exactly what they want. So why would anyone even dream of doing it?

In the case of Criado-Perez we need to consider a new concept. That of the synergistic or symbiotic troll. Why would someone give a troll what they want in terms of media exposure, public melt-downs and notoriety? Perhaps because doing so also gives the victim something they want. If your ideology is centred around the idea that the world is male oriented and horrible to women then playing up to trolling, taking it seriously and presenting it as a genuine problem and an example of cultural misogyny both reinforces your belief and helps contribute to a moral panic in which ‘something must be done’.

I don’t know if Criado-Perez and others are doing it deliberately, but the consequences stemming from it certainly seem to be deliberate and, strangely for feminist concerns, seem to run concurrent to conservative politics and legislation.

The vast majority of abuse online seems, to me, to be insincere trolling. Though there are exceptions using this to claim an overall culture of misogyny and woman hating – when it happens to everyone regardless of gender – seems disingenuous at best. Studies presented by Ditch the Label and Know the Net have both suggested that men receive equal abuse to that of women online, perhaps more, and that 19 year old men are the peak target of online abuse and bullying.

We need to grasp that trolling is an internet problem, not a gendered problem and that it’s a hard one to tackle while preserving a free internet.

Where myself and Laurie perhaps agree is in that the culture of shame and sin needs to change. There should be no more Alyssa Funke’s and while part of that must come in attempts to change the broader culture it is still worth reminding people to be cautious and teaching them internet survival skills and that there’s support available if they do get ‘outed’. Lest we get swept up too much in thinking this is a uniquely female problem though, we should remember that boys have been similarly shamed, particularly those of alternative sexuality and that under stress it is men who are far more likely to complete a suicide attempt. Girls are also pressuring boys for pictures, the stereotype that it is only boys or the sad reality of the unsolicited cock pic should not get in the way of us remembering that all are vulnerable.

Laurie loses me again when she gets into discussion about women being used to surveillance of their behaviour. Certainly, as man and boy I feel and felt the pressure of being watched for behaviour very keenly. Where it is more, but not exclusively, authoritarian when imposed on girls it does still exist for boys where it is more, but not exclusively, mutual.

Girls might be mean, but boys are cruel and one’s adolescence is one long attempt to fit in, to never give a hint that you’re not a regular heterosexual, rough and tumble, football loving lad. Boys also succumb to the system, constrained and held, especially in education where many end up drugged so that they’re compliant and less boisterous. There’s also huge pressure to demonstrate one’s sexuality by losing ones virginity. Something which I think we’ve all been reminded recently can cause a psychotic break and a lack of feeling of self worth.

As such it is, again, disingenuous I think, to compare our increasing surveillance society with feminist interpretations of social pressure and culture. Men have felt it in a similar but different way. Outrage at CCTV, NSA surveillance etc comes from a concern over privacy, rather than public reaction, and political ramifications. If surveillance were more of a concern for women, one wouldn’t expect to see higher approval of CCTV and other surveillence measures by women than men.

Business surveillance, presenting the right image and ‘behaving oneself’ outside of work is not a uniquely feminine issue either. This also happens with men and it’s also completely unfair. An unguarded comment over a beer down the pub would not, in the past, have been picked up and formed grounds for dismissal. The internet is both instant – like a conversation – and eternal – like a book. As a result every little indiscretion is available in eternity, even if intended to be private and so we’re forced to endure any number of pointless or insincere apologies and to see people get fired as PR stunts to appease the howling mob.

aldpost1It’s for Your Own Good

In talking about online sex I think we must return back to the beginning of Ms Penny’s book and the idea that we can be anyone or anything online. Sex drives technology and always has but this is especially true of the internet. The moment there were chatrooms and email people were trading erotic stories and engaging in cybersex. ‘Tits or GTFO’ and ‘There’s no girls on the internet’ were, in part, calls to prove one’s gender status as a prelude to cybersex. So strong is the male prohibition against homosexuality that even in an entirely fantasised encounter it is desirable that ones partner at least be of the opposite sex. Meanwhile, other people WERE playing opposite gender roles, genderbending and even pretending to be things other than human.

All sex takes place, ultimately, in the mind.

To see Laurie’s view on pornography, which I hope is still in flux, is somewhat depressing. Someone who is intimately familiar with artists, comic book creators and writers of fiction would – I would have hoped – have had a better understanding of the divide between reality and fantasy. While she, at least, is not blaming pornography for misogyny, she is blaming misogyny for pornography. It is true that a great deal of pornography is rough, violent or ‘degrading’ but given that some 40% of women admit to enjoying rape fantasies (note – fantasies, not actual rape) is it really any surprise? It’s also notable that female use of pornography is slowly approaching parity with that of men and that best-selling book 50 Shades of Grey is an enormously problematic bundle of abuse masquerading as BDSM that has set that entire community’s teeth on edge. It has sold primarily to women.

One can blame this on internalised misogyny or some such I am sure, but again this seems to be disingenuous and kink-shaming, as well as ignoring that divide between reality and fantasy. What turns one on, one might not necessarily want in real life. Increasingly, also, one must recognise that pornography is consensual and a great deal is being produced by amateurs as piracy renders conventional production non-viable.

We do have a problem when it comes to pornography and censorship. As Laurie rightly points out, concern over pornography has been co-opted by governments seeking to control the internet as a whole (mingled with ‘blasphemy’ concerns in some other countries and political concerns in others). This is where we find strange bedfellows like mainstream feminism in bed with the UK’s coalition government and in favour of criminalisation of ‘extreme’ porn and the imposition of a compulsory filter.

Like trolling, this isn’t an especially soluble problem. If we want a free internet with all the benefits it brings, we have to maintain anonymity and relatively unconstrained content.

Sex and romance and everything else can, indeed, be online. I met my wife online as have many other people I know. We know, from leaked logs intended to embarrass people that a hell of a lot of human beings are typing obscenities to each other, writing explicit love letters and masturbating wildly to each other’s pictures. Sex is ultimately in the mind and so is love. It’s possible to fall for someone a world away, whom you have never met and as borders tighten that’s going to lead to a lot more tragedy.

odd_skirt_viralA Woman’s Opinion is the Short Skirt of the Internet

Yes, Ms Penny and many other opinionated people on the internet get hate messages, such as she has related in her book and online. Yes, many of these are graphic, sexual and/or violent. You know who else gets hate, threats and horrible messages online?

Everyone.

This is something I have a great deal of experience of and while my experience, like Larie’s, is anecdotal I’ll refer you to the reference I made earlier that men suffer equal or greater abuse and cyberbullying.

Personally I have been threatened with beheading, that my wife would be raped, I have petitions organised to try and prevent me being able to work – I have been cost work. I have been called every kind of bigot under the sun without justification.

There’s some differences though. I haven’t taken it as seriously. I have not presented it as a problem for my entire gender. The people attacking me have included trolls, but also ‘true believers’ who weren’t hiding behind anonymity. People who consider themselves to be ‘social justice’ activists and aren’t at all ashamed of what they say and do. It’s also true that far less of these threats have been sexual, though many of them have been violent.

The concern with the abuse of women online and the great seriousness with which it is taken is erasing the online harassment and bullying of men. Men are also erasing it by not taking it as seriously as women do (though this may be a healthier approach, all things considered). Men are also erasing their own negative experiences by brushing them off or not talking about them, ceding the public debate to concern over the abuse of women in the public sphere, which has only allowed this toxic and incorrect concept of a misogynistic online reality to emerge when it is truly a universal problem.

Anyone expressing an opinion on anything in the online sphere can expect to get abuse for it.

Where there is a difference is in the nature of the abuse.

As a woman Laurie is more likely to get abuse of a sexual nature while I am more likely to get violent abuse or to have my sexuality questioned.

Why is this?

I humbly submit that the reason women get targeted with this kind of abuse, especially women, is because it is a fairly reliable bet that they will be upset by it or rise to it, while threats of violence or aspersions about my sex partner preference are more likely to get a rise out of me, because I’m male.

Trolls will go after whatever they think will get you going. Those who troll religious forums will ‘blaspheme’ or try to outrage their morals, trolls who troll computer forums might get into PC Vs Apple, trolls who target homosexuals will use homosexual slurs. Your status as a woman is only important in that it highlights some obvious ways to cause upset.

Trolls rarely, if ever, mean what they say.

Terminology Ms Penny uses starts to lose me at this point. Misogyny is being used in a way other than I understand the term (pathological hatred of women), ‘gender violence online’ strikes me as an oxymoron, since violence can’t be done to you online. Structural sexism is over with equality laws, leaving only individuals and their increasingly outdated views.

She characterises these things as a ‘backlash against misogyny’ yet many of the complaints seem as petty as those found on sexismbusters while others seem valid but outside the framing of a misogynistic society. This backlash via things like Everyday Sexism or – more recently – the #YesAllWomen tag do not appear as a backlash, but rather a lashing out at all men, an outpouring of misandry against crimes that are unrecognisable and for which the overwhelming majority of men are not responsible.

#YesAllWomen is differentiated from trolling by sincerity. The sheer hatred found on #YesAllWomen (and #KillAllMan) hits home precisely because it is sincere as much as it seems invalid, stemming from a victim mentality and a paranoia of men which simply does not seem justified. It seems like a whole generation of women is growing up unjustifiably terrified of, and hateful towards, all men.

I had to stop following the tag as it began to trigger my depression, but I doubt things have improved in the interim.

Penny goes on here to talk about Anita Sarkeesian, a common mistake of late which I had hoped Laurie would not fall into. Sarkeesian has been exposed as a fraud with links to shifty practices like pyramid schemes and handwriting analysis, she has failed to produce the material she said she would and seems to have essentially soaked up the money and called it a day.

Sarkeesian attacked gaming, as has so often been done, by trying to bleed fantasy and reality together. Studies in the 80s on RPG players demonstrated that gamers have no problem differentiating between the two and there’s little reason to think things are any different when it comes to computer games. Nor has Sarkeesian’s treatment been any different to any that of other shallow, narcissitic critics of gaming. Jack Thompson was widely ridiculed for his attempts to link games with violent acts and, like Sarkeesian, had games made about him where he could be mutilated and otherwise disposed of.

The difference then? Sarkeesian’s a woman who has been subjected to exactly the same treatment as a man. TWELL.

Perez is covered next, but I believe I’ve addressed that instance above, a case of symbiotic trolling.

Ms Penny rightly bemoans governmental censorship but fails to grasp the implications of private censorship and social censure. For the internet to be free we need to accept that people are going to say and do things, hold opinions, have fantasies that we personally do not like. If you cede the moral high ground and accept censorship and the erosion of anonymity you not only remove the trolls but you also remove the capacity for political dissidents to communicate safely, for protests to organise, for people in violent relationships to seek help and so it goes on.

At the time of writing more and more worrying instances of private censorship are coming to light. Blacklisting of erotica on Amazon – vital to self-published authors, Paypal and other online money transfer groups holding or confiscating money belonging to perfectly legal adult performers. Credit card processors doing the same. The internet, increasingly, is at the mercy of a very few choke points, especially if what you’re doing involves money and people are too quick to tightly define censorship as a governmental activity in order to excuse this.

The concerns of feminist groups over ‘cybersexism’ and pornography are empowering and making politically acceptable the kind of broad brush censorship that Laurie herself bemoans.

There is no hypocrisy here. Trolling and abuse can’t make you stay offline, the choice is yours. Censorship and restriction via private and governmental action, however, can. When protests alter EULAs or policies they harm everyone. When you censor a nipple, you block pictures of breast feeding.

On the internet we have an option we do not have in real life. We can erase abusers from our existence by using ‘block’ or ‘ignore’. Again, don’t feed the trolls is the best advice. The abusive messages you get? Well, TWELL.

Laurie repeats Ally Fogg’s analogy of a woman on a soap box in a public square being shouted down by 5,000 angry people yelling abuse, but this analogy doesn’t only break down under close examination, as all analogies do, but right at the start.

Online your soapbox speech cannot be interrupted or drowned out. Everyone can hear you. The abuse can be ignored. They can’t force you, shove you, drown you out, you can ignore them but they retain their right to object and their ability to do so. In real life you can end up with stifling activities to ‘no platform’ people, but on the internet – even with DDOS attacks – this never sticks for long. You can’t end a recorded talk by pulling a fire alarm or chanting, you can’t turn the water cannons on a forum, you can’t tear-gas a chatroom.

Freedom of speech absolutely does include the right to criticise, call out and oppose others. You can’t silence anyone and the abuse is ultimately petty, pointless and harmless if you block and ignore it – especially in the case of trolls. Comparing the online situation to almost any real life situation is invalid from the get go.

Anyone can speak online. EVEN straight white males, though you’d be forgiven for thinking they were the exception sometimes.

Dts_news_bill_gates_wikipediaAnd the Geek Shall Inherit the Earth

This section of the book is, perhaps, the most important and the one where some understanding from, rather than towards, the online feminist is required. Laurie believes geeks are sexy, and I agree wholeheartedly and without reservation.

The nerdy boyfriend mentioned in this section could easily be me (without the jedi robe, but with the comics and the glow in the dark dice) and while I’d put it differently ‘Some people are just butthurt that girls get to come into our special club’ is a valid and meaningful observation.

The universal, rooted, geek experience of my and Laurie’s misspent youth no longer really exists for the current generation, where everyone plays computer games, where there are cosplay shows on TV and where the ‘tribe’ is large enough to look out for itself. Geeks today genuinely do have it easy and I’m envious of them and I hope they never have to go through the same hellish childhood experiences me and Ms Penny seem to have shared.

There were no nerd girls at my rural school and the small number of geeks that there were, were universally looked down on. There were a couple of goth/metal girls with a bit of crossover with the nerd squad, but they held themselves apart, even from us. There were nerdy girls elsewhere of course, there always have been, but they’ve been fewer and further between. Nerd culture used to be utterly dominated by men – completely unintentionally – and it still is, even though there’s been a seismic shift since then.

‘Geek misogyny’ is a term I am extremely hostile to. Geek culture is extremely vulnerable to political interference precisely because it is so accepting and so willing to please and accomodate anyone who wants to join in, up to a point. The problems with female ‘intrusion’ into geek spaces is twofold.

  1. Girl-related ‘PTSD’.
  2. Geek loyalty/fandom.

The older generations of geeks suffered immensely at the hands of dominant school/college/uni cultures. Especially – being predominantly male – at the hands of women. Endless rejections, total lack of romantic success, being outcast. Rightly or wrongly they associate that pain with women as a whole and want to be sure they’re safe and aren’t going to be ridiculed and treated like shit again. Hence the hazing.

Is this OK or rational? No. It is, however, understandable and deserving of empathy.

An analogy in the feminist sphere might be the argument over whether transwomen should be allowed access to feminist spaces and what sort of gate-keeping might be required.

When it comes to geek loyalty, geeks are fiercely loyal to their passions, whatever they might be. In previous years accommodating geek girls was less of a ‘problem’ because they seemed to be into what was on offer, passionate about the same things. Now barely a day goes by without some controversy related to a nerdy TV show, game, comic or similar and people wanting to change everything.

To a nerd this can be hugely confusing. Why would you even get into a hobby if you hate everything about it and want to change it all?

There’s also the fact that nerd culture has been under constant attack by fear-mongers and moral panics since forever. From Seduction of the Innocent to Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons to the Heavy Metal trials and Jack Thompson, there’s a context to the attacks on hobbies, a history. In this narrative the attacks from the Anita Sarkeesians of this world are just the latest in a long line of hateful attacks on hobbies and to be resisted with the same scorn and strength as before.

This whole argument would be completely avoidable if those who want to see something different and changed set about doing it themselves rather than trying to force people to alter what they love. That’s where the resistance comes in.

Understanding that many of these places have been ‘male safe spaces’ is important to understanding why the intrusion is unwelcome in many quarters. Just as women need their spaces men need theirs, but men will be condemned for creating those spaces while women will be celebrated. It’s a contradiction predicated upon the idea that somehow only men can be exclusionary and only male presence can be unwelcome. This is why mens clubs are being forced to open their doors to women while women are permitted to close men out of their gyms and other places, to ‘protect’ them.

Why are there less women working in information technology despite massive efforts to get women into STEM fields? That’s a puzzler given the investment in promotion and the fact that women are, generally, doing better in education than men and have been for some time. Ms Penny seems keen to pin the blame upon sexism but some of the problems she states are economic and practical, relating to the control factors that have virtually eliminated the pay gap myth of late. The demands of the job are the demands of the job and if that is less suitable for a woman who wants a child and/or wants to be the primary caregiver to that child then this isn’t sexism so much as biology and choices. Again, the best way to prove them wrong is to do it yourself, just as it is with comics etc and women like Cindy Gallop or Nica Noelle show how that might turn into success. ‘More things!’ more than ‘Change things!’

Paradoxically, greater gender equality might well be the reason less women are going in for these fields. Norway is one of the most gender equal countries on Earth yet as its equality has increased, so ‘gendered’ work has become more gendered, not less. It seems that when ‘women’s work’ is as valued as men’s women choose those lines of work even more.

I am glad Laurie seems to accept and understand the ‘origin story’ of the pained male geek and shows some empathy, but we need more, not less, of that and to stop talking past each other. ‘Fake geek girls’ need to understand why they are placed under suspicion and geek men need to understand why that suspicion is hurtful – and they will if it’s explained sensitively and related to their own experience, rather than as a way to further judge and bully them.

Ms Penny quotes David Wong on Crackd talking about how so much of what men do is for the sake of women, or impressing women. In particular:

“You’re all we think about and that gives you power over us. And we resent you for it.”

He’s speaking generally, on a societal level and he’s not wrong. At all. This breaks down at the individual level but female hypergamy is a great deal of what drives status and power seeking in men. It’s the biology stupid.

Criticising the tolerance that geek circles have for people of many different stripes has long struck me as… silly. Geek circles were places that were open to anyone regardless of race, gender, politics, creed etc and tolerated and accepted people with behavioural and socialisation issues. In gaming circles I’ve seen tabletop RPGs help people on the autism spectrum come out of their shell and that acceptance and patience was a definite virtue there.

Accepting people with opposing or ‘nasty’ views also serves a valuable purpose, it exposes them (and you) to alternative points of view and in a world plagued by polemical ‘news’ and the fracturing of people into insular echo-chamber social groups that normalise extreme points of view, this mixing is even more important.

A call to ‘clean house’ is potentially very dangerous in that it will both further isolate people with dangerous points of view and remove their exposure to contrary arguments.

The shaming going on at conventions via ‘free bars of soap’, the infamous Magic Tournament buttcrack shots and more recently Posthuman Studios banning ‘MRAs’ from being fans of their games is not a good development.

Dismissing neuroscience, genetic, behavioural and psychological differences between the sexes (as overall demographics) out of hand seems, to me, to be on dangerous ground. The politicisation of the field means we may be unable to find out the true scale of gender differences until some point in the far future but that doesn’t mean that they do not exist. Indeed humans would be virtually unique if our sexes were truly that identical. That’s not to say that one gender is superior to the other, but rather that our behavioural cues and adaptations might well be as variant as our upper body strength or body fat distribution.

Science should never be discarded on political grounds. It’s as unsafe as climate change denial or creationism. If evolutionary psychology and sexual dimorphism is to be debunked, let it be with good science, not with bad ideology.

Watch_Dogs_box_artThe New Cyborgs

Ms Penny sketches out a conversation she had with some Pirate Party members in Iceland about feminism and gender politics. It sounds like a good discussion, though with a slightly ‘matronising’ aspect (What they ‘think’ patriarchy means etc) but the meat of it comes when one of the men there questions the validity of claimed experience of gendered violence.

The discussion – as described – has many of the same pitfalls and problems that I’ve had in trying to get to grips with the feminist paradigmal lens. While I accept that I don’t necessarily have all the information and am constantly seeking that information (geek impulse to ‘fix things’) it seems virtually impossible and there’s almost no reciprocal effort from the other ‘side’. The parochial and insular language used by feminism doesn’t help things, nor does the presumption of ignorance that one is constantly labelled with. It seems inconceivable to many that one might examine the information and come to a different conclusion.

Many of the concepts and ideas in feminism – and more broadly in social justice – have the air of dogma. Patriarchy seems patently absurd to claim in the west in anything approaching its broadly understood definitions. ‘Misogyny’ seems to have a very different meaning in feminist circles. ‘Privilege’ is no use whatsoever in the discussion of anything and another abuse of terminology and so it goes on through ‘rape culture’ and all the rest.

The existence of cybervigilantism that Ms Penny underlines here, the likes of Anonymous etc, sharply underlines the points that I have made earlier about the insincerity of trolls. You can bet that those who hunt down animal abusers, child pornographers or those that have bullied the likes of Amanda Todd into suicide also contain amongst their number trolls and the kinds of people that spam Goatse into people’s Twitter timelines. Is that a contradiction? No. They know that one is sincere and the other not and they’re outraged by genuine arseholes, just as they always have been.

Conclusion

While a good summary of ‘where we are now’ the work betrays Ms Penny’s presuppositions about society and the world, or rather feminism’s presuppositions. The interpretation is, therefore, slanted and really only half the story. Well, perhaps 65% of the story as there’s some empathy and understanding here and there of the male experience of cyberspace.

So what’s the answer to the genuine and universal problems underlying all this? I’m not sure, but I have a few ideas.

  • Feminism needs to butt out: Trolling is not a gendered issue, abuse is not a gendered issue, it is just that the male suffering is comparitively invisible. Coming into spaces and trying to destroy or overturn them will only be read as abuse and authoritarianism itself and resisted. The unique history of the internet and the nerdosphere needs to be understood – along with TWELL.
  • Equitable Whining: Either women need to ‘man up’ or men need to ‘girl down’. Taking the problems less seriously seems to be a viable coping/survivial strategy but, as things stand, men’s issues are not known or understood and when they are raised are treated like a laughing stock.
  • Empathy: As a result of the above strands, both ‘sides’ need to make an effort to listen to each other. EG: When women engage in #YesAllWoman they need to listen as to why men reject and object and understand it, not just reject it, especially not as ‘not all men’.
  • Internet Skills: We need to teach people to cope with the internet, from selfies to permanence of commentary to identifying and ignoring trolls and abuse.
  • Cultural Change: Some of us are living in the 21st century and some in the 19th. Shaming culture and holding people accountable for flip comments needs to end. Society needs to be more forgiving and to come to understand the dangers of mutual surveillance.

 

Patriarchy & The Second Sex

Second_Sex-20100831At prompting from a feminist pundit of my acquaintance, who I actually like most of the time, I sat down to read The Second Sex. I was told it would support their protestations of ‘patriarchy’, an idea I don’t subscribe to – at least in the modern west – a fact which flabbergasted them. Which isn’t to say patriarchy doesn’t exist or hasn’t existed, one need only look to the Middle East to see it is very much still kicking, just that we’re in a post-patriarchal society here and that it was never that simple or one-sided anyway.

The Second Sex, by Simone de Beavoir is considered a foundational Second Wave feminist tome. The Second Wave of feminism marks the beginning of the transition between the equity feminism of the first wave (concerned entirely with legal equality such as suffrage) and into gender equality – moving beyond the societal and legal sphere into other areas.

It’s the move from equal rights for women to rights for women – a subtle but important distinction.

I read it, a lengthy analysis and commentary follows.

TL;DR: It did nothing to demonstrate the existence of a modern, western patriarchy to me and is of interest only as an historical document, though the 1950s writing means a lot of the science is just plain wrong and it’s almost as hard to read as Shakespeare until you can mentally shift gears. It’s essentially a polemic, a very long and partisan anecdote.

Facts & Myths

The Second Sex operates through an existing, feminist lens. It wears its presuppositions on its sleeve and never really challenges them. They are simply taken as true. This biases the whole piece and without a male perspective on the same issues it exists in unchallenged isolation. Many of these concepts and ideas I do not think would stand up, were a man asked his opinion on them.

By way of example, Beauvoir confidently asserts that a man ‘never thinks of himself as a man’ and that related to this is the use of the masculine pronoun as the default, indicating normalcy and the othering of the female. Ask any man and, unless he’s being economical with the truth, he will tell you that he is often preoccupied with his masculinity.

Masculinity is as much of a performance as femininity, it must be asserted, protected and expressed in order to retain respect of ones peers and to advertise your sexuality. Stepping outside those norms is punishable – unless you have a firm foundation or inalienable maleness – by withdrawal of female interest and scathing male contempt.

As to the masculine pronoun, I don’t know the history when it comes to French, but I can speak to English. ‘Man’ used to mean human and sex was differentiated by prefix. ‘Wer’ for man, ‘Wyf’ for woman. So you would have ‘Werman’ and ‘Wyfman’. Over time the male pronoun withered away and we were left with the etymologically gender neutral ‘man’ while women retained a privileged position of having an identifier. We can only know the subject is a man through individual description or context, he can know the subject is female immediately.

Beauvoir makes some unflattering comparisons with racism and, later in the book, her views on lesbians and racial matters seem similarly problematic to modern eyes. This presents us with something of a problem. If we accept that her views on race and sex (‘Arab troglodytes’ and ‘masculine women’) are the product of her time and context, then we must do the same for her historical references to gender roles. In all three cases, race, sexuality and gender, we’ve moved on and so her work is only really of interest in an historical context.

Beauvoir also attaches the gender struggles to the left/right divide, associating feminist progress with the left and traditional, anti-woman views with the right. Needless to say I reject this, at least as relates to NuFem. My objections to modern feminism stem from a left-anarchist viewpoint, not the right wing. Equally a lot of NuFem seems authoritarian, censorious and concerned with creating and supporting new hierarchical and privileged powers, goals which are the antithesis of both socialism and liberalism.

Needless to say socialist egalitarianism did play a huge roll in securing equal rights but somewhere along the line something changed. It is true to say that many of those against feminism are also on the right and coming at it from a right wing perspective but the commonality between their objections and mine is in the region of personal autonomy and freedom, it’s just they’re libertarian rather than anarchistic.

It is also, I think, a valid criticism of feminism to associate it with the state (which can be left or right). A great deal is made of these right wing anti-feminists of the fact that the state props women up, disproportionately to the manner in which it does men. Men contribute more, women take more. This isn’t entirely a valid criticism since, being child bearers, women have greater recourse to public funds, public medicine etc but with women as a privileged class supported by and having their needs enforced by the state there is some truth in it.

We must not, however, be any less mistrustful of feminists’ arguments: very often their attempt to polemicize robs them of all value. If the “question of women” is so trivial, it is because masculine arrogance turned it into a “quarrel”; when people quarrel, they no longer reason well. What people have endlessly sought to prove is that woman is superior, inferior, or equal to man: created after Adam, she is obviously a secondary being, some say; on the contrary, say others, Adam was only a rough draft, and God perfected the human being when he created Eve; her brain is smaller, but relatively bigger; Christ was made man, but perhaps out of humility. Every argument has its opposite, and both are often misleading. To see clearly, one needs to get out of these ruts; these vague notions of superiority, inferiority, and equality that have distorted all discussions must be discarded in order to start anew.

A somewhat ironic quote given the content of the book, but a notion that I think has a great deal of value to it. This is no longer a discussion. Feminism has become a – pardon the expression – shrill dogma to be screamed at people, not a topic for discussion or questioning. That a book such as this, one long polemic itself, calls out the issue is amusing, but also a warning.

Nothing must be assumed. Everything must be questioned, supported and examined.

Nullius in verba.

Another example of Beauvoir’s presupposition is in apparently thinking that the issue of biological and behavioural differences between the sexes is settled, though she seems to contradict herself elsewhere. A great deal of time is spent speaking, pointlessly, about very different species and their myriad of gender expressions and reproductive strategies – none of which are really relevant to humans.

If we want to examine animals to understand humans – and there are issues in trying to examine ourselves, despite the best efforts of Desmond Morris – we would need to look to the other apes. From chimpanzees in particular, our closest genetic cousins, we can perhaps see some of the behaviours and roles that shaped our own far prehistory.

There are differences between the sexes, genetically (and hence biologically) which are also likely to manifest in behavioural differences as well as physical differences. We’re a pretty dimorphic species, especially when it comes to sexual characteristics but we also note differences in the brain. In raw terms women have more white matter and men more grey matter, but we see much more autism spectrum in boys too as opposed to girls (1.8% vs 0.2%) and much more borderline personality disorder in girls than boys (80% vs 20% of diagnosed cases).

The differences in physical capacity are obvious and undeniable, but people will try to deny them by pointing out that ability is distributed on a bell curve. This is true, but it is not only at the extremes that we see the difference. The average man is stronger than the average woman. The average woman has greater endurance than the average man.

When it comes to capabilities that aren’t raw and physical things get muddier. IQ experiments and others for interpersonal skills and so forth are too controversial for many to pursue, though it seems likely that our capacities in intelligence at least are equal, but different. Neuroplasticity is the latest way to try and discredit biological truths when it comes to the brain and nervous system, but it cannot account for the changes since birth.

Behavioural differences are even harder to prove and even more controversial with few even daring to try.

While it is true that bad science has been twisted to support gender stereotypes in the past, just as it has race, the best way to refute these issues is with more, better and well evidenced science. The hostility to concepts such as evolutionary psychology are not based on good scientific objections, but on there being a desire for science not to find innate behavioural differences. That’s just as bad as abusing science trying to prove that there are.

Ideology should never be allowed to interfere with science, and yet we’ve recently seen ‘feminist biology’ emerge rooted in ideological objections to how biology has been presumed to study in the past. If you want historical lessons on how bad an idea this is, check out Lysenkoism.

There are certain biological truths implicit in our genders. Beauvoir both recognises and rejects this throughout the work, which makes it more than a little confusing as to what her stance actually is.

It is a currently inescapable truth that women carry babies. This has certain knock on social and physical effects which Beauvoir covers adequately and which I don’t feel need re-stating. The part she misses is that female vulnerability and status as child-bearers goes hand in hand with male disposability. A man is expected to sacrifice himself to protect women and there are sound evolutionary reasons as to why this would be so. From a certain perspective that also puts women in the privileged position of being the ones who are sacrificed for and while the ‘savannah ape’ we like to imagine might have done that by providing a cave bear with lunch, in other times the sacrifice has been made in terms of labour, resources and even legal punishment.

There are big sections on Freudian psychology and on Historical Materialism, both of which are largely out of favour and considered wrong or at least outdated, so there’s not a lot of meat here for the modern reader unless – again – they’re interested in the history of feminism and the socio-economic and political context in which it existed in the 1940s and 1950s.

An economic examination, supply, demand and labour, may still be useful however and it is certainly a favourite amongst the libertarian objectors I know. Men have the demand for sex and children, women have the supply. Historically men have traded labour not exactly in exchange for these things, but to prove his worth and his capacity to care for the woman. In Marxist terms you could consider men then – at least historically – to be the proletariat and women to be a sort of ‘gender bourgeoisie’ living off the labour of others. This is, of course, simplistic and the division of labour was and is not exactly down gender lines but we can see vestiges of this in the expectations of gifts, paying for dinner etc and the way in which the home-making partner (still predominantly women) controls the joint finances.

Historically, as Beauvoir admits, male dominance was down to raw physicality. Males were the better hunters, the better fighters and eventually the better manual workers and farmers, simply because of greater muscle strength and size. Systems emergent from that favoured men in certain ways and women in others. Rather than a patriarchy per se you might describe such emergent organisation as paternalistic. Back then this might have held some water but in the modern technological age such excuses do not stand up to scrutiny as raw power is no longer related to societal or economic power. This paternalism, incidentally, is often the excuse offered within Sharia Islam for its treatment of women – protecting and treasuring them.

“Later, more value was attached to children. But in any case, to give birth and to breast-feed are not activities but natural functions; they do not involve a project, which is why the woman finds no motive there to claim a higher meaning for her existence; she passively submits to her biological destiny.”

I do not know that this remains true in a post-industrial and post-pill world. The great liberators of women have been advances in medicine, industrialisation and contraception. Birth is no longer as dangerous, work is available (almost) despite physicality and reproduction is now under our control. As such it is a choice, not a destiny and to give birth and care for a child are, now, chosen activities.

“Little by little, man mediated his experience, and in his representations, as in his practical existence, the male principle triumphed. Spirit prevailed over Life, transcendence over immanence, technology over magic, and reason over superstition.” – It is these victories that have enabled female emancipation.

This theme occurred earlier in the work as well, the association of these qualities with ‘maleness’. I’m not sure I agree with the first two, in my experience women are more spiritual, on average, in both meanings presented here. Technology over magic and reason over superstition I have had described to me as ‘bad’ and even ‘phallocentric’ by a certain type of feminist and yet I find that confusing. Reason and technology are available to anyone and how can understanding reality and applying that understanding be bad? If these are male qualities yet they have enabled female emancipation, then where precisely is the problem?

Why is man being described as an oppressor in these instances if his actions and victories have liberated women? Oppressor/protector depends on your paradigmal lens and – funnily enough – reason is the only way to try and see without that distortion. It is the same with supposed male privilege which, from a different point of view, can be seen not as privilege but as duty, imposition, or connected with those things.

“It is natural for them to give woman a subordinate situation; one might imagine, however, that they would consider her with the same benevolence as children and animals. But no. Afraid of woman, legislators organize her oppression.”

When this was the case, no argument. However, in this day and age legislation has defined us equally and given women more rights, privileges and concerns than men in many arenas. Are we, then, to consider men as an oppressed class? If we admit that oppression must be enacted through governmental force than how can women – any longer – be oppressed?

Women did used to be paid lower wages and it’s interesting to compare this, and the reaction, to modern concerns about immigration – especially coming on the back of UKIP doing well in the local elections. When women entered the workforce in larger numbers, they already had access to money – their husband’s – so the wages were not so important to them. They were willing, for a long time, to work for less than the going rate. This had a depressing effect on wages for men as well and, to their mind, threatened their jobs. Exactly the same complaints we see today about migrant workers, fear dressed up as racism just as fear was once dressed up as sexism.

Beauvoir often makes assertions about mens’ motivations and thoughts in a way that doesn’t seem, to me, to be justified and rather seems like speculation or dubious psychoanalysis. She ascribes huge meaning to silly things like boys being able to pee standing up, for example, a supposed empowerment that men have that made me laugh out loud but which was treated with great seriousness.

Another example is in thinking that in showing off his wife or girlfriend, revelling in and being validated by her affection, he is making a dominance display. She thinks a man ‘claims’ or ‘wins’ or ‘takes’ a woman rather than persuading, convincing and wooing and doesn’t recognise that it is her choice of him that gives him validation.

“Clearly man wants woman’s enslavement when fantasizing himself as a benefactor, liberator, or redeemer; if Sleeping Beauty is to be awakened, she must be sleeping; to have a captive princess, there must be ogres and dragons. And the greater man’s taste for difficult undertakings, the greater his pleasure in granting woman independence. Conquering is more fascinating than rescuing or giving. The average Western male’s ideal is a woman who freely submits to his domination, who does not accept his ideas without some discussion, but who yields to his reasoning, who intelligently resists but yields in the end.”

Why not yearn to be a hero? If you are liberating, helping or redeeming you are acting as an aid and supporter, trying to prove your worth. It’s not about the woman’s helplessness but her power as the gatekeeper to affection and self worth. The hero proves himself through his deeds in a manner more semantically rich, but no less demonstrative or deep than stags locking horns in front of a doe.

She says it herself, a man might want someone who submits – freely. Who accepts his arguments – because they’re sound. These, also, are about proving himself worthy.

I’ve never had much time for literary analysis, but the book contains a lot of it. It’s subjective analysis and I don’t especially want to spend time on it. I see it as being almost as pointless as the in depth analysis of pop culture today. The curtains were fucking blue.

Lived Experience

Oh, how I hate that phrase, along with ‘the personal is political’. I much prefer ‘the plural of anecdote is not data’ which, while considered rude, is really all you need to say when someone presents a story about their subjective personal experience as inalienable fact.

This renders much of this second half of the book irrelevant, as it is entirely subjective and personal though, again, it may be of some historical interest.

“Women of today are overthrowing the myth of femininity; they are beginning to affirm their independence concretely; but their success in living their human condition completely does not come easily. As they are brought up by women, in the heart of a feminine world, their normal destiny is marriage, which still subordinates them to man from a practical point of view; virile prestige is far from being eradicated: it still stands on solid economic and social bases.”

If the bases are solid then this is not prejudice or sexism but an emergent quality of social and economic interaction. Femininity, femaleness, does not seem to me to be a myth any more or less than maleness is. Our definitions and gender-suits (see fiction suit concept from Grant Morrison) may be too tight and too restrictive but I don’t think we can entirely eliminate innate, widespread qualities from our analysis.

Lest we forget, marriage is also the destiny of man.

Beauvoir also talks about the different experiences of childhood with girls being coddled for longer and boys being forced at a younger age to learn self reliance and stoicism. She presents this as an argument for patriarchy while I would hold it as an argument against. If this harms boys, as seems to be the argument, then it can hardly be patriarchal. Furthermore there are positives to having complimentary gender roles and a little stoicism can be a good thing, just as more developed empathy.

Menstruation is presented as traumatic, and doubtless it is, but boys suffer their own humiliations that stem from bodily changes from voices squeaking mid sentence to penis growth, mystery erections, wet dreams and learning to control and ignore a powerful sex drive. Puberty is not easy for either gender in any way.

“True, puberty transforms the girl’s body. It is more fragile than before; female organs are vulnerable, their functioning delicate; strange and uncomfortable, breasts are a burden; they remind her of their presence during strenuous exercise, they quiver, they ache. From here on, woman’s muscle force, endurance, and suppleness are inferior to man’s. Hormonal imbalances create nervous and vasomotor instability. Menstrual periods are painful: headaches, stiffness, and abdominal cramps make normal activities painful and even impossible; added to these discomforts are psychic problems; nervous and irritable, the woman frequently undergoes a state of semi-alienation each month; central control of the nervous and sympathetic systems is no longer assured; circulation problems and some autointoxications turn the body into a screen between the woman and the world, a burning fog that weighs on her, stifling her and separating her: experienced through this suffering and passive flesh, the entire universe is a burden too heavy to bear. Oppressed and submerged, she becomes a stranger to herself because she is a stranger to the rest of the world. Syntheses disintegrate, instants are no longer connected, others are recognized but only abstractly; and if reasoning and logic do remain intact, as in melancholic delirium, they are subordinated to passions that surge out of organic disorder.”

This is a boggling thing to read in a feminist book since these are the kinds of justifications misogynists give as to why women are ‘inferior’. Male hormones are no picnic either and they are unrelenting in their assault, constantly requiring control and will. This whole passage seems counterproductive if the aim is for equality and it presents the experience in a way that denigrates and belittles women in far stronger terms than I would ever care to do.

“The woman is penetrated and impregnated through the vagina; it becomes an erotic center uniquely through the intervention of the male, and this always constitutes a kind of rape.”

I wonder, perhaps, if this is the genesis of the ‘all sex is rape’ meme. It seems obvious, to me, that in context this is a metaphor – one reused later in the book – but some seem to have taken it to heart. In context the word ‘rape’ here seems to mean in the sense of plunder and despoil, trying to describe the first act of sex as traumatic rather than as literal rape. Somewhat ironic given the use of this meaning in computer games and online discourse, meeting with stern feminist disapproval.

“Nothing forbids the male to act the master, to take inferior creatures: ancillary loves have always been tolerated, whereas the bourgeois woman who gives herself to a chauffeur or a gardener is socially degraded.”

I don’t know that this is true any more, at least not to the extent in that time. If anything it feels more that condemnation of straying men has increased and women’s ability to play the field has increased. NuFem is a force I see as archly conservative and censorious and anti (male) sex. A great deal of slut-shaming seems to come from some quarters of NuFem especially with relation to pornography and sex work (though I recognise that this is not universal). Even men who don’t cheat, men who use pornography for example, are subject to shaming which becomes more ridiculous as adult content becomes ever more ubiquitous and common a field of experience.

“Man commits a grave error when he attempts to impose his own rhythm on his partner and when he is determined to give her an orgasm: often he only manages to destroy the form of pleasure she was experiencing in her own way.”

That men care about their partner’s pleasure is surely a victory for feminism? The pressure on men to perform is now immense. If he can’t make his partner multiple orgasm he has failed as a lover and I am not entirely sure the women I know would agree that striving to make them cum is a bad thing.

“Marriage has always been presented in radically different ways for men and for women. The two sexes are necessary for each other, but this necessity has never fostered reciprocity; women have never constituted a caste establishing exchanges and contracts on an equal footing with men. Man is a socially autonomous and complete individual; he is regarded above all as a producer, and his existence is justified by the work he provides for the group; we have already seen the reasons why the reproductive and domestic role to which woman is confined has not guaranteed her an equal dignity.”

There is a failure here to see that this role is also an imposition upon the man and demanding a sacrifice from him. His productive capacity traditionally went to looking after his wife and family. His worth was only what he could provide. Her worth was more intrinsic, a woman valued simply by being a woman and she would live on the sweat of his brow. House work was, of course, work but compared to – say – coal mining or fishing, not the deadliest of occupations. None of this remains true and men and woman are no longer equal partners going into these marriages.

Women no longer need men. At least not directly.

Maybe that’s part of the problem. Men still need women, or at least want them.

Conclusion

While an interesting – if difficult – read, this book has not served to convince me of the existence of a modern, western patriarchy. Some of the points made in the book were surprising but it is really only of historical interest. It makes no real case for itself, no real argument, rather it is a series of anecdotes cobbled together into a polemic.

Much of it is outdated, it lacks ‘peer review’ from a male standpoint, it makes a lot of bald assumptions and rests on too many presuppositions. Despite all these flaws it is somehow regarded as a very important piece on feminist philosophy and the advent of second wave feminism. That such a foundational document is nothing more than anecdote, speculation and cod psychology I find deeply concerning.

Sorry, it didn’t have the desired effect.

The Dude Has Nowhere to Abide

quisunivForgive the title, I’m not even a fan of The Big Lebowski but the wife loves it and so I was forced to watch it last night.

Also forgive the content, because I’m going to break with tradition and talk about my ‘feels’ and my ‘lived experience’ rather than using facts, data, studies, logic, reason and evidence as I normally would. You’re welcome to disagree, but this post isn’t about arguing.

I have been trying, for some time now, to get a handle on the ‘social justice’ movements and, in particular NuFem (as I have taken to calling modern, internet and NGO feminism as a whole).

Obviously I’ve been coming at it from a position of skepticism, empiricism and all the rest, as I usually do (along with sarcasm and humour). Here’s what I’ve encountered:

  • Nobody is willing to explain or defend their point of view on these subjects. They will tell you to educate yourself and still presume you’re ignorant even after you have – if you still disagree.
  • The debate is too hostile to engage in, in any meaningful way. This is not only because of the sheer intensity of trolling on all sides, but also because any disagreement is characterised as hatred.
  • The entire analysis is dominated by a female point of view and feminist perspective – to the detriment of men’s issues and problems.

I’m an egalitarian, a humanist, anti-racist, anti-homophobia, anti-transphobia (despite being a biological realist) and yet because I am skeptical of and lampoon many of the extreme ‘social justice’ points of view (and place free expression above offense) I have somehow accrued a bizarre reputation as some sort of misogynistic, rape apologist, homophobic… well, you get the idea. Frankly you might as well point in my direction and scream ‘blasphemer’, it would get the same effect.

It would be very easy, in the face of what I see as sexist, bigoted hatred, to genuinely become a misogynist. #KillAllMen and #YesAllWomen, in the wake of Isla Vista, are just the latest incarnations of socially acceptable misandry, fearmongering and moral panic to come along. There’s a dominant narrative of patriarchy and male dominance, complicity and guilt that – at least within the west – simply doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Yet we’re not allowed to discuss, debunk or critique these ideas without being subjected to a degree of public scourging that would make Tomas de Torquemada blanch at the gills.

So what’s someone like me to do? As an egalitarian I want to participate in increasing fairness in the world but NuFem doesn’t appear to be concerned with fairness so much as promoting women and denigrating men. For each reasonable and more egalitarian feminist online there seem to be a dozen ranting, misandrist bigots. Were the genders reversed they would have no social currency, but as things stand that’s not the case.

Are there any truly egalitarian movements out there? What about those that are willing to at least acknowledge men’s issues?

If you go looking, two of the biggest men’s issues sites out there are:

Inglourious-BasterdsMany of the people publicly associated with A Voice For Men I’ve had positive experiences with. Studio Brule has done a great job documenting the attempts to host men and boys events (especially in Canada) and the vitriolic and hateful response these have gotten from NuFem. Karen Straughan does good work, Typhon Blue makes excellent videos highlighting men’s topics. The whole ‘Honey Badger Radio’ crew in general are good at what they do.

More recently, rather than observe A Voice for Men at a distance I decided to join the forum and, while making clear I wasn’t joining the movement, to offer my views on a few things, observe and feel the place out.

Overall the experience was not pleasant. While I think AVFM serves a good purpose the forum showed me that there’s a definite right wing/libertarian bias, that it can be a haven for arch-traditionalist ‘get back to the kitchen’ types and that some trolls are using it as a haven. In other words, it’s not for me and it’s not what I was looking for.

I was greeted with paranoia and thinly veiled hatred when I joined. Accused of being a feminist plant or spy and other ugliness. The mirror image of the NuFem I’m also rejecting. It is, important, though to state that I saw nothing indicating that they are a hate group. Any talk of violence is ruthlessly bumped off the site and while there’s a lot of frustration it’s a) understandable and b) no worse (usually a lot less so) than what you’ll see in NuFem circles on Twitter or Tumblr.

Part of their problem is a deliberate policy by Elam of courting controversy in order to garner publicity. This is in many ways aping the tactics of NuFem in whipping up public outcry about things, but much more negative and – in my humble opinion – a tactic that has outlived its usefulness.

So then, what about The Good Men Project?

The Good Men Project is primarily a site of male feminists. If AVFM is the ‘Inglourious Basterds’ of the gender wars, then The Good Men Project is the Vidkun Quisling. While there’s some good articles the site represents total capitulation to feminist claims and accusations towards men, without enough energy, determination or commitment to really challenge them. It’s simply too timid.

So what’s a chap to do? NuFem is too committed to hating and blaming men to reform and has enormous political sway. Dissent is treated as blasphemy and ‘it’s not my job to educate you’ is a mantra. Empty concepts like ‘patriarchy’ and ‘privilege’ replace robust debate or the demand for evidence and nobody listens.

The MHRM while laudable and useful as a resource is simply too toxic, due in no small part to a deliberate policy of courting controversy, while the male feminist section of the manosphere fails to really stand up for men.

Censorship is running rampant, the public conversation is toxic, the situation for men and boys is getting worse and worse and there’s nowhere for someone like me to offer their critique or say their piece without being either monstered or associating with arseholes. Even when views are expressed independently they end up being associated with the worst dregs, reframed and mischaracterised.

The reason this shit gets to me in a way trolling doesn’t is twofold:

  1. The accusations are 180 degrees of who I am.
  2. The people hurling them genuinely believe them. It’s not just to get a rise.

the-dudeI don’t know how to solve it. I want to be part of a solution but I don’t want to constantly be battered with irresponsible accusations and I don’t want to have to weather the vitriolic hatred of men evidenced in the recent hashtag wars. Ignoring it and leaving it alone doesn’t feel like an option, but it’s what my friends seem to want me to do – for the sake of my sanity.

There’s nowhere for me or the men like me who should be allies to anyone genuinely seeking equality. The ones being hurt and alienated by having to constantly point out that – indeed – it’s not all men. The ones who can’t even say ‘I’m not so sure about that…’ without being called a misogynist, a word that’s losing its currency through overuse.

I feel lost, frustrated, misunderstood, threatened and ‘oppressed’ and there’s no cure for it or even any way to address it without getting more of the same.

I’ve been brought up by the inestimable Laurie Penny on the misandry in the #YesAllWomen. I’m willing to put a lot of #YesAllWomen down to miscommunication, but I don’t think a lot of women understand why the reaction is so defensive and that regarding it as derailing just deepens the insult. This miscommunication goes in both directions but I want to try and explain the reason what’s said is being received as misandry, whatever the intention.

It’s…

Probably not your intention, but when you talk about ‘male violence’ it is received in the way ‘welfare queen’ would be. You are implicitly accusing all men of violence and of violence being a defining male quality.

It’s…

Probably not your intention, but when you talk about the need for ‘pink knuckledusters’ and pepper spray you are making the implicit presumption that you will inevitably be attacked at some point and that violence is the correct and useful reponse. This reads similarly to the justifications for concealed carry and ‘home defence’ and even ‘stand your ground’ where we saw the tragically deadly end result of whipping up fear and justifying violence. I doubt many of you are pro gun, I’m certainly not, but the language is markedly similar.

It’s…

Probably not your intention, but when you talk about ‘patriarchy’ you’re implying that society is run by and for the benefit of men. This simply isn’t true. Men suffer at every level of society and lack many of the insulating structures that are in place for women. To think that the relative prevalence of men in positions of power is indicative of male benefit in society as a whole is insulting, presumptive and dismissive of male experience. ‘Patiarchy hurts men too’ is a self-refuting statement. Patriarchies do exist of course, but not in the modern west.

It’s…

Probably not your intention, but when you talk about violence against women or domestic violence in terms of women only, you are erasing a huge amount of male suffering. Up to half of domestic violence victims are male. Men are victims of random street violence one-and-a-half to two times as often as women. Bringing this up is not derailing, it is trying to raise awareness that this is a relationship problem and something that we all face and need to fight together.

It’s…

Probably not your intention, but when you complain about online abuse and represent it as a women’s issue you’re erasing the suffering of men who suffer as much, if not more, online abuse which seems to contribute to disproportionate instanes of male suicide. Bringing this up is not derailing, it is trying to raise awareness that this is an internet problem and something that we all face and need to fight together.

It’s…

Probably not your intention, but when you present genital mutiliation as a uniquely female issue you are erasing the needless violation of bodily autonomy that one third of all men in the world face. Bringing this up is not derailing, it is trying to raise awareness that this is a human problem and something that we all face and need to fight together.

Perpetuating the perception of women as victims (objects) and men as oppressors (actors) erases harm to men and by women. It buys into an existing and invalid narrative that harms everyone.

This needs to become a genuine, honest dialogue without dogma, without any pre-existing assumptions, without taking any concept for granted on either side, but that’s not going to happen. What might be possible would be a plain-English sort of ‘Charles Simonyi Chair in the Public Understanding of Science’ for feminism, using plain English rather than parochial, impenetrable language that only serves to alienate.

The two-minutes hate of ‘hashtag activism’ is only alienating huge numbers of people and while that’s a ‘tone argument’, tone is important – IF your goal is to actually win anyone over.

Back on the Rails

train_derailI’m in a lot of arguments lately, but they’re mostly around the same sorts of issues. The clashes between ‘political correctness’ and various freedoms of expression, information and so on. I’ve also become increasingly concerned with men’s issues and the dangers inherent in various forms of feminist ideology. This has not changed my commitment to egalitarianism or humanism, but rather stems from it – combined with my skepticism.

When I find something iffy or questionable, I want to understand why people believe it or whether the information is correct. I want to examine it objectively and with distance. If that comes across as unsympathetic then I’m sorry, but I can both empathise with and understand someone’s feelings while also putting them into context.

I believe that it is wrong-headed for activism to rely on bad information or to be pursued on a dogmatic basis. If progress is to truly be made in any sphere it must start with good information. If you lie or exaggerate in order to push a particular agenda – even if that agenda is valid – being exposed undermines that agenda and calls even the good information into question. There can be other unforeseen effects as well.

What it boils down to is that I’m not an idiot. I don’t ‘do’ faith. My mind is always open to being convinced and persuaded but it’s always going to take evidence. The decisions and positions I have come to, I have come to as a result of investigation and evidence. Very few people are willing to even discuss and, instead, resort to bullying, abuse and mudslinging – which is unlikely to change my mind.

Trust me to examine the evidence and to pursue truth, justice and fairness as I always have.

I’m trying to navigate a path here of truth and equality between two very rabid extremes and it is not easy.

Gender Ideology Over Reality?

delusions_of_gender_the_bad_science_of_brain_sexismThis story came across my feed and I found it fascinating, not so much because of its content per se, but rather for the chain of thoughts it set off in my head.

Put briefly, the story runs as follows. A school district in Florida streamed some classes based on gender segregation, rather than ability and tailored girls’ classes to girls and boys’ classes to boys. This prompted the ACLU to get involved filing an objection that this violated anti sexism legislation and that it was based on junk science about gender differences (contentious topic).

I’ll offer no particular comment on that, save to say that while gender-separated schooling is often praised for higher standards, this may well be because it tends to only occur in private institutions. I would also say that I think schools provide an excellent opportunity to socialise and to learn to deal with the opposite gender that segregation can rob kids of.

Still, the question that was missing was whether or not standards had improved, in other words, whether the different teaching approaches had made a difference to grades and attainment while they had been running. The actual impact of the experiment appears nowhere in the news stories or summaries and doesn’t appear to be a question worthy of consideration.

If standards had improved, wouldn’t this be worth examining? Same if they had declined?

Men and women, boys and girls are different, though the extent of that difference is a contentious subject, especially when it comes to behaviour. Might it be possible that different approaches might work better for different genders? Well, we’re not going to find out from this.

This isn’t the only example though, we can look to another case, and this might not be the kind of instance you might think.

Before December 31st 2012 women used to get cheaper car insurance. Why did they get cheaper car insurance? Well, that’s a complicated matter but insurance companies rely on reliable calculations and as far as they were concerned women were – on average – safer drivers. This was based on hard data, collected by companies whose livelihood depended on accuracy.

However, in a rare case of total gender parity, the EU decided that this was unfair and that discrimination on the basis of gender – even factually based – wasn’t allowed. You might think as an egalitarian I would be happy about this – as a rare case of men being treated as equals. That’s not the case though. If men are higher risk drivers, it’s only fair that men should pay more for car insurance, just as it would be fair that women would pay more for private health insurance.

In theory, spreading the risk should bring down the prices for the high risk group, since the low risk group takes up the slack. Of course, this being private companies, this didn’t really happen, it was an opportunity to gouge.

Taking equality to mean being identical then, in this practical case, didn’t result in a positive for anyone except the companies. Men’s insurance barely went down (10% at best), if at all and women’s insurance leapt up by as much as 25%. Nobody won.

Sometimes we’re just going to have to accept that there are differences, whether they’re innate or whether they’re (temporarily) cultural and to ensure everything’s fair and appropriate. That’s going to necessitate studies into our differences but we need to strip these studies of their ideological taint and not attack them – or even interest in them – on an ideological basis in order to find out what’s true.

Shortly after hell freezes over…

No Gods, No Masters (Or Mistresses)

A Left-Anarchist Critique of Modern Feminism

Marina Ginestà of the Juventudes Comunistas, aged 17, overlooking anarchist Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War - 21 July 1937I’ve become increasing more critical of modern feminism and more sensitised to the problems faced by men over the last three years or so. Prior to that time I would have called myself a feminist and progressive and, while my values haven’t changed, I no longer call myself either. As a result I am intimately familiar with how powerful cognitive bias and apophenia can be. Prior to my ‘revelatory’ experience I would have brushed off, ignored or not even noticed the million little ways in which men are mistreated, dismissed and misrepresented. Now I see it, though much of it is still – in my opinion – down to hypersensitivity, on both sides.

I have been following many of the ‘social justice’ issues that have been churning to the surface on social media since that period and trying to understand and debate the points with the people who consider themselves activists. There’s very little willingness to engage in debate or even talk about the issues. The preconceptions of these movements – most especially feminism – are treated as though they were holy scripture and to even question them is to be kafkatrapped into a position where every argument against the proposition is taken as evidence that it is true.

Having observed these culture clashes from some distance, most especially in Canada, I started to take more of an interest in the increasingly active Men’s Human Rights Movements, recently joining their site ‘A Voice for Men’ as an observer and interested party. Having watched pundits from the Men’s Rights Movement argue eloquently and factually for some time – the likes of Girl Writes What, Warren Farrell and Janice Fiamengo – I have had high hopes that here might be a counter-voice from which a genuinely egalitarian and humanist movement might emerge.

While there are hints of this within the movement, there are unfortunately also many of the same problems that one witnesses in feminism. A great deal is driven by – understandable – bitterness. Amongst those who genuinely believe in equality there are also a number of loud and vocal kooks. Just as it is easy, but wrong, to dismiss feminism via the form of radical, man-hating, malthusian it’s a cheap shot to dismiss those who are concerned about men and boys via the crazier, gold-hoarding, libertarian, ‘Jesus said women are to serve men’ types.

Unfortunately, in both instances, it does seem like the crazies are running the asylum. In the case of the MHRM that leads to a lot of grumbling and demonisation of ‘libtards’ while in feminism it leads to a lot of grumbling and demonisation of ‘wingnuts’. All the while, here I am, a left-anarchist concerned about the societal harm being done to men and boys and the overreach of feminism.

I believe it is more than possible to criticise modern feminism from a left-anarchist position and that doing so might be more productive to discussion than other approaches, as well as disarming the instant dismissal that comes with the undue associations with the crazier end of America’s right wing.

Defining Terms

When I speak of ‘left’ I’m speaking of the traditional concerns of democratic socialism. When I’m talking about anarchism, I mean it with reference to the political ideology, not ‘chaos’. When I speak of feminism I suppose I’m talking about the public feminism that’s driving the discourse. What Christina Hoff Sommers calls ‘Gender feminism’ and what I’ve also heard referred to as ‘NGO Feminism’, combined with the hashtag, Tumblr and university feminism that I call NuFem.

Turning to Scruton as a definitional source then, what we have (paraphrased) is:

Socialism:

  1. The premise of equality, stated in terms of equal opportunity, egalitarianism and that people have equal rights.
  2. The position of the state as administrator, and limited to that role. Acting as guarantor of rights and benefits and enforcing law.
  3. Eliminating or preventing the creation of systems of control. Typically this would be through wealth redistribution, dismantling hereditary power, special groups with special privileges etc.

Note that egalitarianism does not mean homogeneity. That is, Socialism does not advocate that all people are the same, but they should have as close to equal a chance in life as possible. Equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome, as it is sometimes phrased. In practical terms examples of this might include heavy investment in public education and medicine.

Anarchism

The belief that it is preferable to minimise or abolish government and for people to self govern. That people are essentially good and that systems of mutual aid can be emergent. That the state is exploitative or vulnerable to being exploited. That human beings are naturally cooperative but that this instinct is frustrated by coercion. That reforms ‘from above’ bear the imprint of the authority that initiates them. That social change must be wrought by revolutionary action.

Note that not all anarchists share all of the beliefs listed above and that many, myself included, believe that a true anarchist society is not possible without mastering the means of production or moving into a post-scarcity world.

Feminism

Since we’re not talking about equity feminism here, I think we can safely leave that out. Equity feminism would be the advocacy of equality between men and women and, in law that is virtually universal across western civilisation, though the same cannot necessarily be said of men.

When I am talking of gender feminism then, I mean (Scruton):

Feminism is the advocacy of the rights of women and of their social, political and economic equality with men. Originally a movement among the half-emancipated women of the educated classes it has become part of a wider women’s movement which is often activist and which somes bases its stance on the belief that society, as presently known in the west, enshrines a persistent sexism and moreover constantly frustrates the right of a woman to be a person and to control her own destiny

Refined by Christine Hoff Sommers definition of Gender Feminism which could be stated as:

In contrast to equity feminism, Sommers coined the term “Gender feminism” to describe what she contends is a gynocentric and misandric branch of feminism. Gender feminists typically criticize contemporary gender roles and aim to eliminate them altogether. Sommers argues that gender feminism characterizes most of the body of modern feminist theory, and is the prevailing ideology in academia. She argues that while the feminists she designates as gender feminists advocate preferential treatment and portray “all women as victims”, equity feminism provides a viable alternative form of feminism to those who object to elements of gender feminist ideology.

The Oxford English Dictionary would define feminism as:

The advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of the equality of the sexes.

It’s important to dissect this a little as it is unclear – save from Hoff Sommers definition – where the objection might lie. This can perhaps most easily be explained by adding emphasis to the OED definition:

The advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of the equality of the sexes.

The difference between the advocacy of rights and striving for equality is that advocacy of rights, a women’s movement, an activist group for women can argue for more than equal rights and for preferential treatment. This is no different to any other advocacy group and needn’t be sinister. Cancer charities will agitate for more money from government to support their research, Jewish groups will try to secure funding for Israel and – more sinister perhaps – companies will agitate for tax breaks and looser restrictions. That’s where it gets a bit muddy.

While not sinister there can be a dark side to this. If the cancer charity gets more money, maybe it comes away from HIV/AIDS research. If the Israel lobby is successful, maybe there’s less overseas aid for other countries. If the company secures special privileges then the tax shortfall has to be made elsewhere and deregulation can mean anything from toxic spills to bank collapses.

In the case of feminist activism this can be reflected in the demand for special privileges for women that take away from men, distract and detract from men’s issues and promote women ahead of men in areas of society, legal representation, academia, media presentation and many other areas in life.

Objections

What then, could possibly be the objections from a socialist or anarchist perspective on the feminist movement? Keep in mind that we’re talking about today’s visible, feminist movement. The one I called NuFem, the combination of mainstream NGO feminism and the hashtag activists of Tumblr and Twitter.

Socialist Objections

Equality

Equality before the law is already the case in the UK. Women are not excluded from any political office or any job. Employment legislation means they cannot be discriminated against on the basis of their sex and that they have a right to equal pay for equal work (this being the case since 1970). There are a few lagging areas, such as the military, but they are now phasing in female soldiers to the front line.

Which all sounds good in theory – and is – but in practice things are not so equal. Fewer women go for positions in politics and business, through their own choice. This creates a tension between the fact of equality before the law and its unsatisfactory (to feminists) reflection in the public sphere. This has lead to unequal, preferential treatment on the basis of gender. The introduction of quotas has also been confirmed under EU law, at least for non-executive boards of listed companies (40% women). This despite positive discrimination and quotas falling foul of various countries equality legislation (ironically enough). However, the failure of large companies to employ ethnic minorities, the disabled or ‘sufficient’ women could form grounds for a suit and so informal quotas do occur.

This is not equality of opportunity, but equality of outcome. It is a case of people getting positions because of their sex, not because they are the best or most qualified person for the job and means other, more talented individuals will be excluded, purely because they are male.

That’s homogeneity, not equality.

In the case of the military, as with the US military, British female soldiers will only go to the front lines if they volunteer, while men can simply be ordered there. Women are also, at this time, immune to any potential military draft in both countries, though this is more of an issue in the US. That’s not equality either, that’s preferential treatment for women.

Inequalities are also present in law, against men, in cases of alimony, divorce, child custody and child support payments. This is not only bias but is enshrined in law, in many countries and though it was overturned in the UK, thankfully, but you wouldn’t necessarily know it.

Feminism’s failure to argue for equality in cases of feminine advantage and male disadvantage and its unwillingness to lead from the front by disestablishing those advantages means that it offends Socialism’s basic principle of equal rights and opportunities.

The Role of the State

Socialism limits the role of the state to one of administrator and the guarantor of legal rights and benefits. It is responsible – in socialism – for the enforcement of the law in a fair and unbiased manner.

Feminism seeks to use the state as an enforcement arm of its own ideology, not of fair application of the law. While it does seek to change the law through agitation and protest, this results in the state no longer being the guarantor of universal, legal rights and benefits but an ideological police enforcing a singular point of view.

NGO feminism has become incredibly powerful within the public sphere, incontestable not because of fact or science but because it is able to leverage the perceived victim status of women into action and any opposition, on any basis, can be smeared with ‘misogyny’ and ‘sexism’ ending careers and causing damage to political parties. This is, perhaps, exemplified by the manner in which Caroline Criado-Perez was able to use a feminist front to alter the banknotes, replacing one of the greatest scientists the world has ever known with an author of romances. This was accomplished both through perceived unfairness, and by parsing any and all objections as trolling, further using her empowered victim status to push it through.

In the more private sphere, the speed of the internet, most notably Twitter, has lead to many panicked and poorly thought out decisions by private individuals and companies when faced with the near-daily Twitter storms that boil up around perceived prejudice or discrimination – which may or may not exist. It almost doesn’t matter if there’s any substance behind it, the speed and the negative publicity swiftly spirals out of control, even when it’s something ridiculous like #CancelColbert.

Feminism also expects the state to support independent women, when they do not work and to pursue their former partners and fathers of their children in order to demand money, take it directly from their wages or put them in jail. It expects the state to provide ‘safe spaces’ without dissent, while also seeking to invade spaces in order to dissent (reference Warren Farrell or Janice Fiamengo’s attempts to speak on University campuses in Canada or protests and counter-protests around pornography in the UK). Ideological ideas about sex work are promoted by feminists to the detriment and against the testimony of women working in that arena and NGO feminism is in bed with the UK Conservative coalition government in order to enforce the criminalisation of forms of sexuality and the censorship of the internet.

The state is being co-opted on ideological grounds and failing to act as the guarantor of rights to over half its citizens. This is not socialist.

Systems of Control

Socialism seeks to eliminate or prevent the creation of systems of control. Wealth might be redistributed through taxation, education and social investment. When it comes to hereditary power a socialist organisation would seek to remove that hereditary right and when it comes to special groupings, socialism would seek to ensure that they were equal with others in the eyes of the state.

This is not the case with NuFem.

NuFem wants to create, indeed is creating, systems of control and special privilege in every sphere of life. From moralising censorship of the internet and of media that offends mainstream feminist sensibilities (No More Page 3, Lose the Lads Mags etc, etc, etc) to the total domination of Gender and Women’s Studies without alternative points of view being taught, even to the point of extracurricular talks being disrupted and undermined by faculty – without penalty. An attempt to take this to court failed, not because it lacked merit, but because of the prevailing attitude and fear of backlash over ‘misogyny’.

Kirsty Ward’s documentary ‘Blurred Lines’ about a supposed rise in misogynistic and sexist culture was biased and one-sided in a way that would never pass if the topic were political, this on the BBC whose charter demands fairness and this is sadly typical of reporting on these subjects, a stance that rarely gets criticised at all, again because of the toxic and damaging nature of the way that dissent – however calm and rational – is treated.

Conclusion

Feminism has set itself up as more than merely an agent for equitable treatment for women, but as a gatekeeper to academia and the public sphere. It is a de facto censor, a group privileged by the state and which uses the state to enforce its will. It brooks little to no dissent and makes no attempt to seek true equality. It is a group that leverages perceived but no longer factual inequalities into a new position of power through social and media manipulation and the sheer power of accusations of misogyny and sexism to destroy opposition.

These are marks of totalitarianism and minority rule. Not a free and fair society such as socialism would attempt to create.

Anarchist Objections

Anarchism posits naturally emergent relationships and systems in which people can self govern and will naturally aid one another. It provides room for the maximum in personal liberty which isn’t at the expense of others (at least in its leftist form, which is where it differs from libertarianism or anarcho-capitalism).

NuFem assumes that people are bad, without investigating intentions or meaning it presumes to know what people think and how they feel. This is reflected in dogmas such as ‘objectification’ and the immediate presumption that some behaviours reflect misogyny – the hatred of women – when that’s not necessarily true. Feminism is, thus, at total odds with one of the basic tenets of Anarchism. One might argue that it is social conditioning that makes these men act in such a way and shift the blame onto society, but given the current state of gender-relations education and media campaigns, this seems 180 degrees from reality and, to add insult to injury, is calling on the state to educate or indoctrinate with acceptable behaviour.

Top down imposition of a particular social order runs counter to anarchism on such a fundamental level that such social engineering and thought policing is – or should be – completely unacceptable to most who call themselves feminists. Indeed, conventional wisdom would have it that by using the established order and top-down, hierarchical systems such as the police and government, NuFem – at least NGO feminism – should be resisted.

Hashtag activism is a little more anarchistic in that it’s attempting to use disruptive technology to overcome traditional relationships and to apply bottom up, rather than top down pressure (in the short term). However, in so doing it descends into mob rule. It is not the quality or correctness of an argument that carries the day in many cases, but rather the sheer volume of outrage and the perceived worthiness of their victim status. This is revolutionary, but more in the sense of La Terreur than Sametová Revoluce. Some may be willing to accept that, but to me it seems to merely be setting up a new authority, just as illegitimate as – say – the ‘moral authority’ of the Church.

Ultimately the goal of Anarchism would be – in the broadest sense – the maximisation of freedom and the minimisation of state interference, restriction and control over the freedoms of others. The tendency of NuFem to try and control, censor and to use mere offence rather than actual harm as a basis to do so, as well as seeking to enforce a subjective paradigm through existing state force seems – to me – to rule it out as a truly anarchistic ideology.

The accomplishments in terms of legal and societal equality (though it has gone further) seem to have fulfilled the original goals of anarcha-feminism while the puritanical, anti-sex work, anti-sex and anti-pornography stance of NuFem also appears to contradict the free love goals of the likes of Goldman, Emile Armand or de Moura.

While anarcha-feminism has also opposed traditional family and gender roles, NuFem has failed to challenge them in the form they exist that leads to inequality for men and failed to address inequality as it affects men throughout society. A necessary compliment to doing the same for women.

Conclusion

Anarchism is ultimately about the maximisation of freedom but relies on the consent and cooperation of all involved. How it deals with those who transgress is what is most telling about any particular form on anarchism and any particular anarchist.

NuFem’s presumption of intent and focus on emotional rather than actual harm, along with its willingness to be prescriptive and to use force to censor free expression – one of the most fundamental of human rights – makes it incompatible with anarchism in any meaningful way.

Summary

Criticism and opposition to feminism is often perceived as being rooted in the right wing and associated with the far right. It is often seen as the purview of religious conservatives, social conservatives and those who see a woman’s place as being barefoot and pregnant, standing at the stove.

I believe in a robust discussion that includes everyone, whether I agree with their point of view or not. However the lack of strong leftist voices related to men’s issues is something that very much limits the potential for progress and allows it to be stereotyped with the gold-hoarding, Cliven Bundy type of person. This is, of course, not to say that this kind of person does not have the right to political participation and to free express, just that if that is all there is, it is counterproductive.

I see leftist and anarchistic views as encouraging and guaranteeing the best possible chances for everyone and to be devoted to the concept of equality before the law and equality of opportunity. It is for these very reasons that I oppose NuFem because it is my understanding, from direct experience and professed ideology and claims, that it is not about equality or even what is best for women. It is another prescriptive, controlling and domineering political position which is not based on sound evidence or a desire for genuine freedom or equality. In many instances it seems to be directly trying to impinge upon and prevent fairness and equality for men, particularly as relates to equality in the courts.

The pursuit of equality and fairness is one thing, but NuFem is overstepping those bounds into thought policing, show trials and mob rule as well as abusing its ‘moral’ position to force potentially very dangerous and regressive changes via government.

Genuine equality and human rights is no longer a gendered issue and feminism is not concerned with men’s issues. Either we need a parallel activism that advocates for men’s rights and against the excesses of feminism (and vice versa) or we need a new, syncretic movement for genuine equality that deals with the facts as they genuinely are and with the interplay between the differences, rights, responsibilities and freedoms of both genders and society in general.