Friday, 29 December 2017

Crap Feminism

Ok - I confess - I am beginning to have problems with feminism. Not the pro women's rights and equality, anti-patriarchal, anti-male abuse type of feminism. I'm still totally on board with all that. It's more a kind of quasi-intellectual feminoid orthodoxy that's getting to me, and many women too. It's just too precious and inward looking and it makes women look weak. I suspect it's just a small minority but it's getting a lot of attention, at least among the people I follow online.
I had a rough exchange with someone on facebook (now unfriended) yesterday and today. It's not the first of its kind but it typifies the kind of thing I mean. Here is her last message, and my response

Her - there really is no excuse for personal attacks of the sort you did. I could have responded in public, but I am (trying to be) a grownup. you clearly have issues with women generally, and probably worse with older women. In our previous exchange, you asserted that you probably had just a bit more understanding of homophobia and what is offensive to gay people than would a 65-yr-old lesbian with 48 years of life experience plus activism plus academic cred in related studies. Basically, I have a phd in lesbianology, and while it's fine for you to ask questions or suggest alternative interpretations, ultimately it's much like the non-science person arguing with a scientist, the thing you always decry. You have argued with other women about mansplaining- and then you demonstrate it, over and over. You then made insulting remarks and very personal attacks when I was not available right away to respond to your never-ending flow of opinions (which in the music instance I did not particularly take issue with, but was not fascinated by). I am done with you. You are smart about plants; you are an idiot when it comes to yourself and other people.

Me - "you clearly have issues with women generally, and probably worse with older women"? Really? Have you seen how I talk to men? I talk to everyone the same. I have issues with people. I struggle with relating to people, as I've said so many times before.
I have been entirely for gay and women's rights and equality since I can remember, but you started telling me what it's like to be a straight man (something I know a bit about) and you got it wrong. You know all about being a lesbian no doubt but (like many feminists) you know nothing about men - you've made us into this big powerful demonic enemy when mostly we're really struggling, and if you don't understand your adversary your way of tackling them is likely not to work. Is that not worth knowing? When was the last time you spoke to a man who did not entirely agree with you? Not worth listening to are we - you can just dismiss it as 'mansplaining'
Secondly - I actually was "suggesting alternative interpretations" (I even said "but then, I'm not gay - what do I know?") I was completely polite and respectful but you told me that basically you couldn't be arsed to explain it to me (which is why I gave you short shrift this time). I'm always open to discussion and explanation. I'd jump at the chance to talk to someone who was interested in what I had to say but had a different view. I only 'assault' people when they really are just stubbornly sticking to their beliefs no matter what anyone says. And I have never insulted or gone in for personal attacks. You really are making stuff up now.
And "assault"? Seriously? All those people who have actually been assaulted might have something to say about that. My basic assumption is that everyone is equally capable of taking part in a debate. I do not buy into this idea that women (I assume you mean women) are these poor weak things who can't hold their own.
I don't know what else to say. You seem to be so caught up in your lesbianology bubble you just can't see out.

I may be an idiot where other people are concerned but at least I know it.

Now, I am often badly affected by people's criticisms of me and I tend to go in for a lot of soul-searching but sometimes there's a moment when your adversary says something so plainly stupid that you can just sit back and enjoy replying. For an academic of, presumably, some standing, she's made some stupid debating mistakes - unfounded assumptions, B+W thinking, jumping to conclusions, dismissing views based on things other than reason and evidence, etc etc etc and I'm pretty happy with what I wrote, but there are some bigger issues here that I think need looking at.

Firstly, that first point "you clearly have issues with women generally, and probably worse with older women." This is a common assumption in this kind of feminoid diatribe - that when there is any kind of conflict between a man and a woman, it is clearly because the man is a misogynist. What she failed to do was ask 'Does this only happen between this man and women?' If a person makes a categorical point like that it's essential to look for counter examples - does he do it to men too? Do women do it to men? Had she asked I could have given her plenty of examples, but she didn't. She didn't ask any questions at all. She just assumed she knew exactly what I was on about.
As I went on to say I'd be the first to admit that I find interactions with people problematic and I find it hard to judge how people see me. I explicitly avoid any kind of name-calling or other dismissive or confrontational language but I think some find my overall way of expressing myself patronising. I try to be articulate and rational and I almost never feel angry. Generally I feel calm and intensely thoughtful, in the same way I imagine people feel when playing chess (except in debates there are real issues at stake - not just little bits of wood) but I am tenacious and I don't hold back. If I have a good point to make I make it. I make it as respectfully and compassionately as I can but I don't not make it because I might upset someone. They chose to join in the debate. They don't have to be there. We're all adults.

The second point is about feminists telling us what we're like. Feminists have often objected to men telling them what women are like (though we're all human so it's not impossible to relate, and an outside perspective can be useful) and yet feminism is based on an image of what men are like. In many ways feminism is about men, and in particular what men do to women, think about women, say about women etc, and in general it seems to me that if you want to change things you really need to know as much as possible about what you're up against. Feminism has been very good at describing and theorising about male aggression toward women and the way patriarchy has distorted society to make women second class citizens. Feminism knows a lot about abusers and men in power, but the rest of us? Not so much. We're kind of a blur. Maybe there are some decent blokes out there? or maybe we're all the same when it comes down to it. This is where Male Privilege comes in handy because no matter how good your feminist credentials, no matter how un-masculine you may be, no matter how desperate and humiliated and rejected by the system you may be, oh no, you still have Male Privilege, so really, we are all alike.
And the idea of actually asking men what they're like? What would be the point? We're men - what do we know? And anyway we can't be trusted. Sadly the result is an image of men that owes more to action movies, smutty seaside postcards and Donald Trump than it does to any actual men. It's a caricature, and it's as useful for campaigning purposes as a cartoon of Germans as goosestepping automata. They're just not like that.

This is where we wheel on the spectre of #notallmen. Some feminists get very worked up about this. I believe they see it as just men attempting to avoid taking responsibility for sexual abuse and patriarchy, but the fact is, most of us aren't responsible for it. We're born into patriarchy and some of us make use of that but for most of us it's just there. We can avoid the worst excesses of it but it's the way the world is. We can't not do patriarchy any more than most ordinary people can not do capitalism. For some of us who are not 'typical blokes' it doesn't serve us very well at all and some of us don't want to have any part in it because it's abusive and unjust and frankly obscene. Likewise violence - violent crime is overwhelmingly a male vice but most of us don't want to have anything to do with it, in the same way that terrorism at this time in history is mostly a Muslim thing but that doesn't mean that Muslims generally support it or feel like they benefit from it. Quite the opposite.

But I suspect some women do want all men to be responsible. Partly I think this is a simple campaigning stance - it makes for snappier slogans and soundbites. It's easier if you can just say "Men oppress women" and "Men silence women". "Of course" they add, "we don't mean all men" but that's not how the language works. If I say "Giraffes have long necks" it's obvious I mean "all giraffes", not "some giraffes" or "most giraffes". It's especially obvious if I say something like "Women stay at home and look after the babies". Any self-respecting feminist would just have to put a 'some' in there. And really how hard is it to say "some men", or "a minority of men", "men in power" or even "abusers"? But these women don't want to do that, and I suspect it's because really, they do want it to be men in general. It's easier to be fully committed to a cause if you have no complicated feelings of compassion or being able to relate to the enemy. It feels better to have that simple clarity and certainty about who the enemy is. There's a lot of bitterness and cynicism there and bitter people typically like to make blanket statements about life in general and how shit it is. Sure they know some nice blokes, but it's like the racist who concedes that some of his best friends are black. Ok, I get it that some people have been very badly abused and I can't imagine how that feels, but really - if you don't feel able to get your own back against the people who actually did the damage, it's kind of cowardly to just take it out on the people who happen to be around and who are probably on your side.

This brings me finally to 'mansplaining' which is a general term for men holding forth on what they think, and how this is oppressive and an example of male aggression or oppression or supremacy or something. As an idea it's lazy and stupid on a couple of levels. In the first place I know plenty of women who go on and on about what they think and what other people should do. I've had plenty of unsolicited advice from women over the years, often patronising and opinionated on subjects they knew nothing about. But this is not me saying this is something specific about women. Both sexes do it. This is what is important to me about the notion of sexual equality. It doesn't mean women aspiring to the exalted status men have supposedly enjoyed all these millennia but instead acknowledging that we're all a bit crap sometimes. We can all do great things but we all fuck up sometimes too.
But mansplaining is more insidious than that because simply coining the word implies that what men do is somehow different to women going on a bit - it has some extra power or authority. When men talk about what they think it's reframed as telling everybody else what to think, rather than as expressing a personal opinion. It's assumed to be about self-importance ("He likes the sound of his own voice") rather than an attempt to explain something that he finds interesting or important. I can see this being a problem in a situation where a man has some actual power over women - in a work place where women are discriminated against for example, or in an abusive relationship, but on Facebook? What extra power do I have on Facebook? We're all there writing away, airing our views. We all have equal power to post and to comment at length or to go away and do something else. In what way am I expressing male privilege there unless the women in question give it to me - unless they in fact see me as more powerful?
I'm not sure what I'm supposed to do about that. For me writing an opinion piece is just about putting thoughts out there for debate. Nobody is under any obligation to listen, let alone take my opinions seriously. Should I mollify my arguments so women get the chance to take part? Should I be extra nice to them in a way I wouldn't be with the men? That seems a bit condescending. I know some of the women I've been friends with in the past would find it downright insulting. They would insist on being talked to exactly the way the men are. The implication that they weren't every bit as able to hold their own in a rational debate or even a slanging match would be anathema to them. Frankly I'd be much less able to hold my own if it came down to it. I'm much too sensitive. My basic assumption about women is that they're perfectly able to hold their own with men in any situation that doesn't involve physical strength, and possibly there too (there are a lot of very weedy men out there, and some very tough women). For better or worse, women can be every bit as evil as men psychologically, verbally and rationally. And men can be exactly as compassionate, sensitive and emotional.

My problem with any movement or campaign is almost never what they say but when they make it impossible for any outsider to question what they say. Religious people say that atheists can't know because they don't know god. Conspiracy theorists say that anyone who disputes their claims is either a sheep or is part of the conspiracy. New Age people say we can't challenge their views because everyone's view is equally true. Zionists silence anyone who criticises Israel by calling them anti semitic. And of course racists, anti semites and misogynists dismiss the opinions of black people. Jews and women because they are black, Jewish and female. And now we have some feminists saying that a man can't question how women see things because it comes from a man's point of view. Any challenge from a male pov is sexist and possibly misogynist. Even women who disagree with the these feminists (for example women who choose to work in the sex industry or give up a career  to look after the kids) may be labelled as being in the thrall of patriarchy and possibly suffering from 'false consciousness'. What this invariably results in is an unchallengeable orthodoxy that neatly avoids running the risk of being embarrassed by contradictory evidence or reasoning. Mainly it serves the interests of academics and professionals whose careers are based on expounding the orthodoxy but it also appeals to people who need that sense of certainty in order to feel strong, but it's a weak position to anyone outside looking in - one that can only lash out when criticised. Mansplaining, male privilege and the mess over #notallmen may have started out as valid feminist critiques of patriarchy but have simply become ways of silencing dissenting voices.

So I refuse to buy in to this petty, whingeing version of feminism I keep coming up against. It's demeaning and disempowering to women and bitter and cynical about men.

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