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On Not Holding Our Models Sacred: Some Feminist Theories And Their Flaws

Social science relies on models. (No, not that kind.) If you’re familiar with social science, you might be used to referring to them as “theories.”

A theory or model in social science is like a theory or model in any other science. It is developed based on evidence and used to explain various phenomena. A model that is not developed based on evidence (but rather introspection or assumption) is probably not very useful, and neither is a model that can’t explain much. (See: psychoanalytic theory.)

In a great post on models that you should read all of before going any further, Crommunist says:

The key to models is this: all models are wrong. All of them. Every last one. However, some models, carefully designed, can help us test hypotheses about the world without having to somehow re-create a process in real life and then observe it directly. But the models are still wrong. They are, as a necessary consequence of their utility, reductive. They omit some data, they make assumptions, they do not explain every single observation, and they force some observations into states that they might not actually belong in the real world.

And so we constantly look to improve models. We strive to use the appropriate model to answer the appropriate question: the nuclear model is perfectly useful for answering questions about electron bonding and valence, but it’s less useful when we want to talk about the behaviour and movement of electrons. Newtonian mechanics is great if you want to predict what a baseball will do, but terrible if you want to predict what a quark will do. In the case where an old model fails to properly predict reality, we develop a more sophisticated model.

It is important to critique the models we use because that’s how we make them better. It’s also important to distinguish between criticism and denialism. People who support and promote models that are often unfairly attacked by denialists who have a vested interest in suppressing those models may start to mistake useful criticism for yet more denialism. Critics should be aware of this and endeavor to avoid using denialist talking points, accidentally or otherwise. (For instance, this is probably not the best time to use snark as a rhetorical device.)

Supporters, meanwhile, can do their part by welcoming smart, useful criticism and by continually seeking to improve their own views and arguments. In fact, sometimes the best critics are supporters who care deeply about making their models better.

So what I’ve decided to do here is to look at three models commonly used in social justice and point out some of their weak spots. I probably won’t get much into actually improving the models or else this post is going to be book-length, but I might do that in the future. I think there’s a dearth of good criticism of social justice concepts from people who actually understand those concepts and are willing to engage with them in good faith and support the idea of social justice in general, so hopefully I’ll be able to do something the MRAs and biological essentialists will never be able to do.

Some caveats:
1. This post contains a lot of intellectualizing and a little bit of devil’s advocate as they apply to a few social justice ideas. If you don’t like these things, please don’t read this post, but please don’t argue with my decision to write it, either.
2. I’m pointing out a few weak spots in a few models. I am not–not–saying that I think these models are completely flawed and should be thrown out. I think privilege exists. I think rape culture exists. I think gender is largely a social construct. 
3. While you’re welcome to discuss strengths of these models in the comments section, please don’t try to do so as an argument against anything I’m saying. If I point out a way in which a model is flawed and you point out a way in which that model works, you’re not proving me wrong (and I’m not proving you wrong, either). If you disagree with my analysis of the flaws themselves, that’s a different thing.

The three models I’ll be looking at are gender as performance, rape culture, and privilege.

I. Gender as performance

The idea that we “perform” gender originates with the feminist theorist Judith Butler, who wrote a rather dense book about it called Gender Trouble that I confess I haven’t read. But most people who use that term probably haven’t read it. It’s a sticky idea.

Gender-as-performance works very well to explain why many people who do not identify particularly strongly (or at all) with masculinity and femininity feel compelled to act in masculine or feminine ways. It also helps explain why someone’s femininity doesn’t necessarily correlate with their sense of being a woman, or their masculinity with their sense of being a man.

However, for the people for whom their assigned gender role feels fitting and appropriate, gender-as-performance doesn’t really explain much. Here someone might argue something like, “Well, deep down, they don’t really feel that masculinity (femininity) is natural for them, they’re just doing it because that’s what’s expected of them as a man (woman). But I don’t know how I feel about making such assumptions about what’s in people’s heads.

Butler’s model is also weak when it comes to explaining the experiences of trans people, particularly trans women. In her book Excluded, Julia Serano discusses this:

The assumption that my gender is artificial or a performance is regularly cited by those who wish to undermine or dismiss my female identity. I refuse to let anyone get away with the cissexist presumption that my gender must be a ‘performance’ simply because I am a transsexual. And I similarly refuse to let anyone get away with the masculine-centric presumption that my gender must be a ‘performance’ simply because I am feminine.

I also find the notion of femininity as a performance to be somewhat disingenuous and oversimplistic. I mean, I can ‘perform’ femininity. I can put on makeup, skirts, and heels. I can talk with my hands or twirl my hair if I want. But performance doesn’t explain why certain behaviors and ways of being come to me more naturally than others. The idea that femininity is just a construct or merely a performance is incompatible with the countless young feminine boys who are not self-conscious about their gender expressions, who become confused as to why their parents become outraged at their behavior, or why the other children relentlessly tease them for being who they are. Many such children find their gender expression to be irrepressible, and they remain outwardly feminine throughout their lives despite all of the stigmatization and male socialization to the contrary. Other femininely-oriented male children learn to hide their feminine gender expression in order to survive, but at a great cost.

I was one of the latter children. I know that for many cis queer women, femininity is something that others foist upon them, an unwanted burden, an expectation that they are unable or unwilling to meet. THis is perhaps why so many cis lesbian feminists have gone to such great lengths to argue that femininity is artificial, a mere artifact of patriarchy. But for me, femininity was like ether or air–it was always there, just waiting for the chance to leak out of me. When I think about gender expression being a ‘performance,’ I think about myself as a kid, watching my S’s when I spoke to make sure they didn’t linger. ‘Performance’ was me fighting back the urge to be more animated with my hands when I talked, or learning never to use words like ‘adorable’ or ‘cute’ nonsarcastically. ‘Performance’ was going to the barber to get my hair cut short like my parents wanted it, when what I really wanted was to let my hair grow long. Like I said, for me, masculinity always felt artificial, while femininity felt natural.

Not all trans women identify with femininity, but Serano shows that the idea of gender as a performance does not resonate with her experience of wanting desperately to be able to express herself in a feminine way, even as a young child. In fact, if all gender is merely performance, the existence of trans identities makes no sense. Being socialized as a boy should make you a masculine man. Being socialized as a woman should make you a feminine woman. End of story.

(I wouldn’t be surprised if the inconvenience of trans identities for certain second-wave feminist theories helps explain, in part, the vitriol and exclusion that trans people have historically faced from radical feminists.)

Of course, it’s possible that, as a trans woman, Serano was born with a sense of herself as a woman, but not with a sense of herself as feminine. The latter might have been part of the meaning that Serano attached to being a woman, given the prevalence of messages in the surrounding environment about what being a woman means. While we usually think of gender roles as something children learn through socialization, they also pick up plenty of not-so-subtle clues about how people of the other gender ought to act. In this way, gender-as-performance might still make sense, in that Serano learned to perform femininity because she thought of herself as a girl rather than the boy that others saw her as.

But that seems pretty spurious. I’d have to see the evidence that children at that age even know what it means to think of themselves “as a woman” or “as a man.”

Further evidence against the model of gender as performance is that inborn psychological gender differences do seem to exist. They aren’t nearly as significant or pronounced as the media and some evolutionary psychologists paint them to be, but they exist. Some studies have shown differences in perception between male and female infants at ages as young as four months. While most psychological gender differences seem to be created as a result of socialization and all the processes associated with it, it seems very unlikely that in just four months, male infants could have learned, through differential socialization, to become better than female infants at mentally rotating three-dimensional objects. Although I suppose it’s possible.

If psychological gender differences that are caused by biology exist, then there may be a small biological component to gender roles, as well.

Butler’s model of gender-as-performance implies a false dichotomy between things that are both natural and genuine and things that are both constructed and performative (or fake). Even if gender is completely a social construction, that does not mean that its expression is always a performance. True, some people must perform gender, as Julia Serano had to as a girl who was expected to behave like a boy. But for many (if not most) people, their gender role does not feel, and never has felt, like a role they have to perform as an actor would in a play. Gender could be a social construction that still feels real to people, because in constructing it, they make it real. The fact that gender feels so natural to most people does not have to mean that it is all biological, and the fact that it is socially constructed (to whatever extent) does not have to mean it is a mere performance.

In her book, Julia Serano rejects both gender determinism (the idea that gender is determined completely by biology) and gender artifactualism (the idea that gender is completely a social construct) and argues in favor of what she calls a holistic model of gender and sexuality, which is based on solid scientific evidence and accepts a role for all sorts of factors in the development of gender: biology (including genetics and other biological factors), socialization, environment, and so on. Her new model is an improvement over the simplistic models promoted by both the most myopic biologists and the most myopic gender theorists.

II. Rape culture

(For reference, here’s a great introduction to rape culture.)

If the central premise on which the model of rape culture rests–that our society trivializes, accepts, condones, encourages, or even at times celebrates rape–were completely true in all cases, you might not expect rape to actually be illegal. And even if it were, you might not expect for there to be any stigma associated with being a rapist. But there is. The problem is that it takes a lot to be considered a rapist. Often, not even undeniable evidence of rape will do it, because we keep shifting the goalposts of what rape is.

But if you do find your way into the rapist category, you might actually face consequences. And, while that infamous study suggesting that atheists are even less trusted than rapists was flawed, there’s a reason the “even less than rapists” part was so significant to so many people.

The prevalence of rape jokes is sometimes taken as evidence of the existence of a rape culture. I’m not sure where I fall on this. Some rape jokes, like the one Daniel Tosh famously made, seem very rape culture-y to me, because the joke is a woman being raped as punishment for not being quiet and feminine enough. Same goes for every time someone threatens to rape someone for having an opinion they disagree with on the internet, and same goes for every time someone makes a joke about prison rape, because again, that joke hinges on the unspoken belief that there are people who “deserve” rape.

Other rape jokes, however, resemble typical jokes about awful things like death or cancer. We (arguably) do not have a culture that trivializes or even promotes death or cancer, and yet we joke about them.

It’s the response that people get when they criticize rape jokes, though, that makes the strongest case. I find it hard to imagine someone saying, “Actually, my grandpa has cancer, so please don’t make those jokes around me,” and receiving anything other than an apology. Yet when women speak up against rape jokes, they are often ignored, ridiculed, or literally threatened with rape. (Because nothing makes the point “I am not a creepy rape apologist” better than threatening your interlocutor with rape.)

Because whether or not rape culture as a model explains the existence and popularity of rape jokes, it explains the fury with which many men respond tot he reminder that rape is a real horror that affects real humans.

Rape culture as a model is also not very useful for explaining the fact that consent and self-determination are devalued in many other contexts that have nothing to do with sex. Children are expected to hug relatives whether they want to or not. Pregnant women are subject to constant belly-touching by random strangers, so much so that laws have been passed against it. People of color have their hair touched without their consent all the time. People who don’t want to drink or go out or try a new food or play a game are often pressured into doing so by their friends. The idea of getting consent before hugging someone is often laughed at.

You could try to intersect this with the privilege model and claim that people who lack privilege in particular ways are more likely to have more powerful people try to override their right to autonomy, but then sex seems like just a subset of that general rule, as opposed to a special case called “rape culture.”

Some people extend “rape culture” to include all situations in which people’s consent is overridden, including non-sexual touching and various social situations. But parents inevitably (and understandably) bristle at being told that when they wheedle their child into giving Grandpa a hug, they are somehow promoting rape. While there are parallels between that and overriding people’s sexual consent, I don’t think those parallels are strong enough to justify claiming that a parent who wheedles their child into giving Grandpa a hug is promoting the very same rape culture that gets promoted every time a victim of sexual assault is asked what they were wearing at the time, or when a man expects sex from a woman because she smiled at him or because he bought her a drink.

Maybe a more useful way to conceptualize all of these patterns together isn’t by calling them all “rape culture,” but by referring to them as evidence that we lack a consent culture. That is, we have a culture that devalues consent in most (if not all) situations. (Here I make a mental note to write about this more later. [Edit: Actually, I sort of already have?])

III. Privilege

(For reference, here’s a great introduction to privilege.)

One problem with the concept of privilege is that it’s not always very useful at the individual level. For instance, say you’re talking about the way that women are taught to second-guess themselves while men are taught to be confident. This is true in a general, collective sense, but you can’t point at a specific man and say, “This man was taught to be confident.” Maybe he was, but maybe he was abused or bullied as a child and therefore learned not to be confident. Maybe he has a mental illness that precludes confidence. Maybe he’s a trans man who was socialized as a woman (and, in fact, whose very stratus as a man is constantly being contested). Maybe he simply missed out on this aspect of normative male socialization.

Privilege may also fail as a model when you try to use it to explain why some people understand certain things and others don’t. For instance, a feminist might claim that a man doesn’t understand why telling a woman not to wear revealing clothes as a rape-prevention tactic is wrong, and that he doesn’t understand it because he has male privilege that prevents him from ever having to deal with this firsthand. But many women also give the same slut-shaming “advice.” I’ve heard many women, including ones I know very well, say that a woman who goes out dressed “like a slut” is “asking for it.” But they also lack male privilege. What then?

Well, then many people use the term “internalization,” which basically means that you’ve accepted the messages our society sends about the group you belong to and assimilated these messages into your own beliefs. This explains why many women believe that women should stay at home and raise children, that “slutty” women “deserve” bad things, that women are less logical or capable of certain things than men, and so on.

But in that case, privilege isn’t doing very well as a model for explaining why many people believe these things about women. The women who believe these things may lack the same privileges as the women who do not believe these things.

(The internalization theory also works particularly awfully when used as a debate tactic. If you’ve ever witnessed a progressive man accusing a non-feminist woman of having “internalized” misogyny, or a white person accusing a person of color of having “internalized” racism, and cringed, you know what I’m talking about.)

Privilege as a model is also less useful in discussions of gender than discussions of other axes of marginalization. Namely, there are very real disadvantages to being male. There are. You’re more likely to be a victim of violence, more likely to end up in prison, more likely to be profiled by the police (especially as this intersects with race and class status), more likely to have the burden of supporting an entire family (at least in certain demographics; this, again, intersects with race and class), less able to show your emotions, more susceptible to certain mental illnesses, more likely to commit suicide (though not to attempt), less able to come out as a rape survivor, more subject to gender role policing, and so on and so forth.

I don’t know if this is sufficient to argue for a so-called “female privilege” (especially since most proponents of the existence of female privilege insist that one of those privileges is being able to get laid more easily), but I do know that there are disadvantages men face because they are men, while there aren’t really any disadvantages that white people face because they are white or that straight people face because they are straight. (Most people who argue that there are seem to think that it puts them at a disadvantage when other people gain access to the rights and resources that they have had for centuries.) The disadvantages that men face also seem to stem from the same screwed-up system of gender roles that harms women as opposed to any supposed “power” that women have over men, or unearned advantages that they receive at men’s expense. (This is why MRAs are so misguided when they point out ways in which men actually are disadvantaged and blame it on women or, more bizarrely, the small minority of women who are feminists.)

Male privilege is also not sufficient to explain the fact that men’s gender roles are policed so much more stringently than women’s. While a (female) tomboy may face some disapproval, she probably won’t face nearly as much as a boy who wears dresses (or even “acts” feminine in some way). But people of all genders who choose not to present as either masculine or feminine face opprobrium, too. Maybe the way to explain this is three intersecting privileges: the privilege of being perceived as a man, the privilege of behaving in a masculine way, and the privilege of having your gender “line up” with the sex you were assigned at birth. But that starts to get very complicated.

Another problem: once you start conceptualizing privilege as a quantity that can be had or not had, people inevitably start quibbling over who has more of it–the much-maligned “oppression olympics.” Not having privilege comes an optimal state, and having privilege becomes bad in and of itself (as opposed to bad if it causes you to be ignorant or hurtful). An an essay on how the privilege concept may prevent collective thought and action, Andrea Smith writes:

In my experience working with a multitude of anti-racist organizing projects over the years, I frequently found myself participating in various workshops in which participants were asked to reflect on their gender/race/sexuality/class/etc. privilege.  These workshops had a bit of a self-help orientation to them: “I am so and so, and I have x privilege.”  It was never quite clear what the point of these confessions were.  It was not as if other participants did not know the confessor in question had her/his proclaimed privilege.   It did not appear that these individual confessions actually led to any political projects to dismantle the structures of domination that enabled their privilege.  Rather, the confessions became the political project themselves.    The benefits of these confessions seemed to be ephemeral.  For the instant the confession took place, those who do not have that privilege in daily life would have a temporary position of power as the hearer of the confession who could grant absolution and forgiveness.  The sayer of the confession could then be granted temporary forgiveness for her/his abuses of power and relief from white/male/heterosexual/etc guilt.   Because of the perceived benefits of this ritual, there was generally little critique of the fact that in the end, it primarily served to reinstantiate the structures of domination it was supposed to resist.  One of the reasons there was little critique of this practice is that it bestowed cultural capital to those who seemed to be the “most oppressed.”  Those who had little privilege did not have to confess and were in the position to be the judge of those who did have privilege.  Consequently, people aspired to be oppressed.  Inevitably, those with more privilege would develop new heretofore unknown forms of oppression from which they suffered.  “I may be white, but my best friend was a person of color, which caused me to be oppressed when we played together.”  Consequently, the goal became not to actually end oppression but to be as oppressed as possible.  These rituals often substituted confession for political movement-building.  And despite the cultural capital that was, at least temporarily, bestowed to those who seemed to be the most oppressed, these rituals ultimately reinstantiated the white majority subject as the subject capable of self-reflexivity and the colonized/racialized subject as the occasion for self-reflexivity.

This way of thinking about privilege creates contexts in which it’s okay for someone without a certain privilege to say a certain thing, but not okay for someone with that privilege to say that thing. Of course, I’m being simplistic; often people without certain privileges are still rightly criticized for saying inaccurate or harmful things. But I’ve definitely come across situations where people have outright said, “If he/she/they weren’t a ______, it would’ve been okay.”

Sometimes this makes sense. For instance, it makes sense that members of marginalized groups can reclaim slurs and use them in a celebratory way while still reading those slurs as insults when used by people outside of the group, because you cannot reclaim a slur on someone’s behalf. And in many cases, our priors suggest that the same argument can read very differently when coming from different people. But this is just a heuristic, a cognitive shortcut that works in many cases but not always. At its worst, it can keep harmful people trusted by those they are harming, or it can cause good-faith critics to be ostracized when their criticism might have been useful.

For instance, when I imagine this blog post being written by a man, I imagine it being read much less charitably than it’s (hopefully) being read having been written by a woman. I’m not sure that I wouldn’t succumb to that bias myself, because I’ve read so few good criticisms of feminist theories written by men. (Which is not to say that men are categorically incapable of producing good criticism of feminism, just that the majority of it tends toward your typical anti-feminist talking points.)

But maybe this is just more evidence that more of us insiders should become critics, like Julia Serano, a feminist, did in Excluded, and like every progressive atheist does when they criticize some of the reactionary threads in this movement.

Almost everyone lacks privilege in some ways (not just the silly and illegitimate ways Andrea Smith mentions in her essay), so it might not be particularly useful to speak of “having” or “not having” privilege in general. It might only make sense to speak very specifically: “You have the privilege of being perceived as white, so cops don’t profile you.” Or “You have the privilege of having been born into a family with lots of money.” (I discuss this more here.)

Absent from my critique of the concept of privilege is the fact that it pisses people off. It’s this criticism I see most often, sometimes from people who actually concede that such a thing undeniably exists, but we shouldn’t talk about it because it’s divisive/makes people feel bad/turns people off of social justice/distracts from the larger issues.

The word privilege offends because the idea of privilege offends. You could call it whatever you want and it would still offend, because people desperately want to believe (despite what your mom told you when you whined that “it’s not faaaair”) that this world is just and that we’ve earned everything good that’s in our lives. Nobody who has not yet abandoned the just world hypothesis will react well when confronted with the concept of privilege. While I wouldn’t call this a feature, I wouldn’t call it a bug, either. Just something we have to be aware of and work around.

I’ve also heard the argument that privilege is a poor choice of name for privilege because in its original meaning, it has a negative connotation. It’s associated with having nice things you didn’t have to work for, like trust funds or inherited manors in the countryside. The negative connotation of the original word comes from the fact that people “of privilege” in this sense often feel entitled to what they have and are ignorant of the struggles faced by those who do not share those privileges.

But, negative as that connotation may be, it is not entirely inapplicable to the social justice context.

Inevitably, debates like these dissolve into arguments about whether or not a given concept’s name conveys its meaning accurately and effectively. I am sympathetic to these arguments at the same time as I find them not especially useful.

Of course I wish that every term we used when talking about psychology or sociology or politics sounded exactly like the concept it describes. If I could wave a magic wand and rename a bunch of these terms, I would. I’d probably even rename “privilege” and “feminism” (though I don’t know to what). But guess what? Plenty of smart people would still disagree with what I chose, and the people who chose the original terms were smart and knowledgeable, too.

Besides, I don’t actually know how to make thousands of scholars, activists, and ordinary folks all over the world stop using words they’ve used for years and use new ones instead. Even if I did, I don’t think that would be the most productive use of my time.

A better use of our time is probably cultivating in people the sense of free-spirited curiosity that will encourage them to look up terms they don’t understand rather than assuming, as many people do, that feminists use those terms specifically in order to blame, guilt trip, or hurt them.

It may feel sometimes that recognizing and acknowledging a model’s weaknesses will make it seem weaker to ideological opponents, but I’d argue that we seem more consistent and intellectually honest if we do so. Yes, privilege may not explain why men are disadvantaged in ways no other dominant group is. Rape culture may not really explain why so many people don’t give a damn about consent whether the situation involves anything sexual or not or not. Gender performativity seems to shrug its shoulders where the experiences of trans people are concerned.

Acknowledging these flaws allows for better, more useful models–which will inevitably have flaws of their own. And we’ll critique them too, and start the cycle over again.

~~~

Edit: Awkwardly, I forgot to link to my relevant posts on strawmanning rape culture, parts one and two.

Comments

  1. says

    This is a good piece, and I’m gonna have to think about it & come back to it later. For right now, I want to bring up that Judith Butler’s work actual talks about gender performativity rather than gender performance.

    Part of the problem with Butler is that a) Gender Trouble very dense and b) she talks about performativity of gender and uses drag (where gender is performed in the sense you talk about) as one of the examples. So when she talks about the ways in which people “perform gender” she’s really talking about the fact that gender is a performative act, in the way that linguists talk about performatives–an utterance that performs an act (e.g. “I now pronounce you husband & wife”).

    I think when the model is looked at in that way, some of the flaws you mention disappear. But I’m gonna have to reread this later & see if I’m wrong.

    • says

      Yeah, I’m familiar slightly with performatives, and I’ll grant that the popular understanding of gender as performance may have strayed a bit from Butler’s original intentions. For instance, Julia Serano cites her in her critique, part of which I quoted in the post.

      Here’s a great critique of Butler that a friend shared with me: http://www.akad.se/Nussbaum.pdf

      I think it’s more accurate than many, and also points out how the density of Butler’s writing prevents most people from understanding it well.

  2. says

    This is really good stuff. It reminds me of the common left-wing framing of abortion being “safe, legal, and rare”… it creates a short term political benefit, followed by long-term harm to the cause once critics start digging a little deeper into the real flaws of the framing.

    There absolutely IS a cultural aspect to the way rape is treated. There’s all sorts of really issues with privilege. The upside to reducing it to a simple phrase is that it helps people who care get a grip on the bigger ideas behind individual events. The downside is that critics can ignore the complexity that insiders learn, and strawman the whole thing.

  3. says

    Joe: It’s not just an outsider/insider thing: Some people go around claiming things like men accused of rape suffer no social consequences or that Hugo Schwyzer shouldn’t being talking about feminism because he’s a man and male privilege. He really shouldn’t be talking about feminism, but the real reason is much more involved to explain, and some people seem to favor soundbites over good reasoning, which is probably the root issue behind a lot of the issues Miri talks about here.

    • terry the tiger says

      Well, he’s certainly not talking about feminism anymore, so I guess they got what they wanted.

  4. says

    I’ll endorse what Puck said, though I agree that the original theory and the popular understanding of it are not necessarily the same. The whole thing is complicated by the fact that all of human behavior is “performance” in the sense that it happens in a social environment that provides constant feedback. Much of it is performative as well. Thus, a more important weakness of the theory may be that it doesn’t really tell us that gender is special in that regard.

    I’ll also add that it is essentially impossible in the literature I’m familiar with to separate gender identity and understanding of gender roles in childhood development. Everything I’ve seen indicates that they emerge at the same time. Almost no one will police your gender like a three-year-old. The instruments we use to test gender identity are appallingly but necessarily dependent on gender roles. I’m not sure psychology has even begun to find the language to develop instruments to study the interaction between the two, much less use the existence of one to problematize our discussions of the other.

    Similarly, we have studies showing us gendered treatment of newborn infants, including in the kind of stimulation they receive. And human infants go through an unmatched amount of basic development in a social context. This makes it almost impossible to point to any observed sex or gender behavioral difference and say with any reasonable certainty that it’s inborn. We can use cross-cultural studies, including studies across time as our own culture changes, to be fairly certain that some observed differences are culturally determined. We can’t do much with the remaining differences but say, “Maybe. We really don’t know.” For something that people have such a deep interest in having answers about, this is an incredibly thorny research problem. So again I’m not sure that we can accurately say that the existence of these differences can problematize a theory based in social construction and communication of gender.

    In the end, I’m not far from what you’ve written here about gender performativity or performance. I differ, though, in that I’d say these are areas in which we can’t tell whether the theory has problems rather than that we can identify definite challenges to the theory based on studies of gender. It might all be fine, or we may someday be presented with an ethical way to test these questions and find out that sex is directly implicated in the development of some non-trivial aspects of gender. Right now? *shrug*

  5. Hunt says

    The word privilege offends because the idea of privilege offends. You could call it whatever you want and it would still offend, because people desperately want to believe (despite what your mom told you when you whined that “it’s not faaaair”) that this world is just and that we’ve earned everything good that’s in our lives. Nobody who has not yet abandoned the just world hypothesis will react well when confronted with the concept of privilege. While I wouldn’t call this a feature, I wouldn’t call it a bug, either. Just something we have to be aware of and work around.

    I think it could accurately be called a bug, since it conflates the accurate, collective, nature of privilege with the inaccurate, individual interpretation of privilege. It’s the same reason why some people are going to favor affirmative action and some are going to oppose it, and they’re each right in their own way, but the best discrimination between arguments turn on the group/individual axis. Affirmative action is not just, or at least the justice of it is highly questionable, at the individual level, but just at a group level. Like affirmative action, privilege is only ever correctly applied conceptually at a group level, not at an individual level, at least not in a knee-jerk fashion, based solely on “privileged status” and without detailed individual knowledge. (I agree with the similar points you made about it earlier in your post.) But “privilege” is applied in that manner all the time, so I don’t agree that it’s never used to “blame, guilt trip, or hurt.” “Hurt” is less common perhaps, but blame, guilt trip and silence, yes. This is essentially the same point Ron Lindsay made at the CFI conference prior to the conference goers attempts to run him out of the organization, ironically employing some of the same rhetoric he was attempting to underscore.

    • says

      But “privilege” is applied in that manner all the time, so I don’t agree that it’s never used to “blame, guilt trip, or hurt.”

      I actually never said that it’s never used that way; in fact, my entire point with the Andrea Smith/oppression olympics section is that sometimes it is, and that’s a weakness of it. The point I was making there was that some people treat any discussion of privilege, even the mere mention of the word, as an accusation. If I grant that some people do use privilege as a guilt trip, won’t you grant that some people see guilt trips where there are none?

      This is essentially the same point Ron Lindsay made at the CFI conference prior to the conference goers attempts to run him out of the organization, ironically employing some of the same rhetoric he was attempting to underscore.

      Lindsay made his point in a tonedeaf and ignorant way that suggested that he hadn’t really engaged with any of the good arguments being made about privilege. And plenty of people (such as myself) responded to him in a reasonable way that simply pointed out the weaknesses of his arguments. If that’s “silencing,” well, no debate is possible.

      Anyway, Hunt, I’ll quote you from the Slymepit:

      I suspect enlisting Ron Lindsay will lower the red haze of rage onto an otherwise calm debate. :popcorn:

      I agree that the ethos underpinning the SJW is that the broad concept of privilege can be focused to police the actions and thoughts of individuals.

      You express it perfectly…a calculation on my part. Let’s face it, Lindsay stands as the perfect example. Miri’s entire post just screams to have that subject resurrected, owing to the fact that what Lindsay said created a firestorm solely based on the fact that Lindsay was…well, Ron Lindsay, a privileged white male. To a large extent, it’s just a restatement of exactly what Miri herself has stated in that post; the messenger is often killed for being who he is. We’ll see…

      I actually started my reply to you before I read this and decided to finish it anyway as though I hadn’t read that. Hunt, please don’t play these games with me. If you’d like to discuss Lindsay, discuss Lindsay. But don’t bring him up as some sort of “test” to see what I’ll do.

      I’m here to have a good and hopefully productive discussion, not to be manipulated into proving some sort of point for you.

      And as I said, Lindsay did not provoke that response simply because he’s a white man. For some people, maybe that was part of it. For other people, it was more the poor arguing and lack of engagement with the actual issue.

      • Hunt says

        Aha, so you do read the Slymepit. Anyway, if I thought I was setting off a bomb, it seems to have fizzled. I write everything assuming that everyone will read it, so it’s not like I was sniggering behind your back. The fact is, or at least my impression is, that Lindsay really IS the perfect example of applying the collective label to the individual. In the blogs and forums that follow these dramas, his name seems to have achieved something of the arch-typical status of “privileged white male.” Since he’s got it all, the silver hair, the established middle-age status, the height, the maleness and of course the whiteness. He’s the perfect plug-in module to elicit the response he did simply by virtue of appearing the way he does.

    • says

      The problem with Lindsay wasn’t that he was wrong and privilege doesn’t get misused. It was that his speech came across as an accusation that the speakers at his conference were prone to that sort of thing and that he couldn’t understand why people were pissed.

  6. Great American Satan says

    Privilege as a model is also less useful in discussions of gender than discussions of other axes of marginalization. Namely, there are very real disadvantages to being male. There are. You’re more likely to be a victim of violence, more likely to end up in prison, more likely to be profiled by the police (especially as this intersects with race and class status), more likely to have the burden of supporting an entire family (at least in certain demographics; this, again, intersects with race and class), less able to show your emotions, more susceptible to certain mental illnesses, more likely to commit suicide (though not to attempt), less able to come out as a rape survivor, more subject to gender role policing, and so on and so forth.

    This entire paragraph strikes me as a mess. A few items may be givens, but most of them I find questionable on the face, or questionable in value. In order:
    More likely to be a victim of violence – questionable whether that is as harmful as emotional abuse.
    — I’d never trade the kicks and punches I’ve received for more social abuse.
    Prison – OK, a given, but that can’t be separated from men simply committing more severe crimes.
    Profiling – This is just completely untrue except as intersectional with race.
    — Black women catch more shit from police than I ever will.
    Emotional display – Depends on what you mean by emotion. Anger gets a pass from men all the time.
    — Maybe because of that, many of my emotions are immediately sublimated into anger. If I’m sad, I’m punchy.
    Certain mental illnesses – Yes, while AFABs will be more prone to different ones. How’s that balance out?
    Committing suicide – My feelings on this are complicated. I skip it.
    Can’t come out as survivor – Seems true, but no evidence given.
    More policing – CITATION NEEDED. Considering how omnipresent and overwhelming gender policing is in our culture – in every direction – I have no idea how you can measure this, let alone assert that one direction is more severe than the other. Sometimes it seems like every other word on a given half hour of television is gender policing, to speak nothing of the way we interact with each other. Tomboys seem to me like a superficial example.

    Maybe he’s a trans man who was socialized as a woman (and, in fact, whose very status as a man is constantly being contested)

    I am hearing a trans man take issue with this. Trans men do face some prejudice sometimes. In individual cases, it can be quite terrible. But in the culture at large, it seems like 99% of cissexism is just transmisogyny. It’s like trans men don’t even register in the mainstream’s minds and are swiftly forgotten, while trans women make everybody lose their shit. A good measure of the extent to which trans men have it better than trans women is the existence of “T-bros,” who seem to pride themselves on being as loathsome as the cast of Duck Dynasty when the camera shuts off. It’s like masculinity is associated with acting like hyper-privileged scum, so the more confidently masculine they feel, the worse they act. Obvy not all trans men are evil, but the bad ones are MRAs in popped collars.

    but I do know that there are disadvantages men face because they are men, while there aren’t really any disadvantages that white people face because they are white or that straight people face because they are straight.

    This excerpt seems like an admission that male privilege is the only one that suffers from the weaknesses you describe, while the title of the section said you were going to address privilege as a whole. Your strongest points are on male privilege, but those points are still highly iffy.

    In the Andrea Smith example, she asserts something without entertaining alternate possibilities. Namely, she says the exercise in question “serves no purpose except (straw man).” But I can immediately think of a reason to do that exercise – and preferably without the absolution side, but whatever. Why have privileged people think of the ways they have been advantaged? Because that awareness can extend beyond the room. They can hopefully catch themselves the next time they are about to take advantage, and use that experience to come correct. And that helps people a lot.

    But, negative as that connotation may be, it is not entirely inapplicable to the social justice context.

    This is the understatement of the century. The whole paragraph preceding that is directly analogous to the way in which my privileges function. I’m broke as hell and not doing well in many ways, but I’m not black, and the extent to which I’m queer is not noticeable to passers by, and that makes things easier for me every time I leave the house. I’m walking on sunshine while the rain gets through the holes in my shoes and they smell powerfully of mildew and I shouldn’t by a new pair with my last twenty bucks yet because I might get some for christmas…

    …It seems very unlikely that in just four months, male infants could have learned, through differential socialization, to become better than female infants at mentally rotating three-dimensional objects. Although I suppose it’s possible.

    To quote Stephanie,

    we have studies showing us gendered treatment of newborn infants, including in the kind of stimulation they receive. And human infants go through an unmatched amount of basic development in a social context. This makes it almost impossible to point to any observed sex or gender behavioral difference and say with any reasonable certainty that it’s inborn.

    So I suppose it’s possible too.

    Despite your stated intent, you ended up dropping some unsourced MRA talking points in your section on privilege. In spite of your efforts to be inclusive, you cited a genital essentialist (no typo) study on infant cognition. You’re very sharp (way more than I’ll ever be) and I almost never beef with your arguments, but I suppose this type of endeavor is bound to bring the pain.

    • Hunt says

      Prison – OK, a given, but that can’t be separated from men simply committing more severe crimes.

      Sure it can be, perhaps not on the scale of total numbers. Yes, men commit far more violent crime. They also receive much longer sentences for the same crimes as women. They’re also convicted for the same crimes at a much higher rate.

      Profiling – This is just completely untrue except as intersectional with race.
      — Black women catch more shit from police than I ever will.

      Wow, this is like getting an SAT analogy question wrong on purpose. Unless you’re a black man, what’s your point?

      • Great American Satan says

        On the SAT thing – How is that wrong? On the issue of profiling, white men arguably have it better than anyone in the world, meaning it’s a weak argument to say that contradicts the idea I have privilege there. There are some situations in which a cop, when faced with a white man an white woman, will assume the man did wrong first. Probably just as many cases, the cop will harass the woman because she’s less intimidating.
        I don’t know that what I just said is true, but I do know race is so much more important in profiling that it doesn’t work very well as a way to poke holes in gender privilege.

        On Prison – Maybe by numbers that’s true (again, just like the arguments I’ve made, so far it’s an evidence-free conversation), but how could it not be when the numbers of who commits extreme crimes falls so far in our direction? And why are we doing that? Is it because of male privilege, that we feel empowered to take from others?

        — I don’t have time for this now. *out*

        • Hunt says

          It’s wrong because even if you’re considering intersectionality, you’re changing two variables to get a result you want. You’re white male and you’re comparing your status to black female, but if you want to derive any logical conclusion, you need to change only one variable while holding the others constant. So if you’re interested in variation in profiling by gender, the group you would compare yourself against is white females. I would argue that you are almost certainly profiled more than white females, though you seem to disagree.

          About prisons, well, one hypothesis, the biologically determinate one, is simply that men are just more violent than women, because testosterone. They receive longer prison sentences because, covertly, behind the scenes (wink wink) police, judges, prosecutors, etc. “know” that it takes more punishment, more frequently, to control them. The threshold that allows men to pass from society to prison is made smaller by the implicit belief that it is necessary. I don’t necessarily endorse this view, in fact I don’t endorse it, though I’m no expert. I do think it probably plays a role in the mind of the justice system, rightly or wrongly.

  7. J. J. Ramsey says

    it seems very unlikely that in just four months, male infants could have learned, through differential socialization, to become better than female infants at mentally rotating three-dimensional objects.

    On the other hand, it’s very much possible for researchers to impose their own expectations on their interpretation of data, which in this case is the length of time each infant in the study was perceived as looking at a stimulus. Another potential issue is that it’s not clear whether steps were taken to make sure that the observers could not identify the genders of the infants, e.g., by dressing all infants in gender-neutral clothing. IIRC, Cordelia Fine pointed out in Delusions of Gender a study where the infants’ genders had been obscured obtained different results from similar studies where they were not.

    • smrnda says

      I recall this came up with a study by Simon Baron-Cohen where supposedly, very young infants looked at different things depending on whether they were male or female. Well, turns out that infants at young ages don’t have the best head control, vision, and there was a problem that his results weren’t replicated. (Probably should look that one up, but on a slow connection at present.

      I have worked a bit with children and I tend to find that confirmation bias definitely affects how adults perceive whether or not kids perform according to gender stereotype. There’s also the issue that kids don’t necessarily play or behave in ways that can easily be said to be typically male or female, and when adults try to categorize these things they’re often imposing their own views and biases, including perhaps looking at certain details rather than others.

      • J. J. Ramsey says

        After looking more closely at the relevant parts of Fine’s book (pp. 112-115), we may be talking about the same studies. Fine discusses a study by Connellan and Baron-Cohen where babies were offered Connellan’s face or a mobile to look at, and then noted another study on newborn eye gaze where precautions to hide the baby’s gender were taken. Looking back, I don’t think that latter study was a direct attempt to replicate Connellan’s results, but unlike Connellan’s study, it found no gender differences in eye gaze.

  8. Carlos Cabanita says

    Intersectionality, I think, offers the possibility of substituting the defunct Marxism as a general revolutionary theory. It is far more open to scientific questioning, it is easy to use by the oppressed and difficult or counterproductive if used by the oppressors. It has no prophetic component, I mean, it does not stipulate the historical outcomes. No singing tomorrows, or no prescription about the song they will sing.
    So, I think it can be used far more widely than as a theory of feminism or anti-racism.
    But if you think about privilege in the field of a social revolutionary general theory, you have to face class privilege as the strongest one.
    (I know the Marxist concept of class failed and today there is no rigorous concept for it; by class privilege I mean social unequality and unequal and unjust access to wealth and resources).
    The failure of certain activists to see the importance of class privilege is not innocent. It reflects their own social privilege. For example, people of color, on the contrary, as feminist ou anti-racist activists and thinkers, never fail to see the importance of this elephant in the room.
    I am by no means trying to diminish the importance of the feminist or anti-racist fight. I see intersectionality as a possible general theory of the fight of the oppressed. For that it must integrate an analysis of the other axes of oppression.

  9. Lynn. Beisner says

    Thank you for this. I do not have the theoretical background in this field, so this is really useful. I know that feminist doctrine sometime s doesn’t match what I know from my disciplines. For example, I was alarmed when I found out that the public relations policy of many feminists is based on the broken window theory which makes sense on paper but has been resoundingly debunked. And I am very concerned at how thoroughly trashed someone gets for questioning the intersection of religion and gender oppression. As one thinker to another, I hope that you have invested in asbestos underwear.

  10. R Johnston says

    This post contains a lot of intellectualizing and a little bit of devil’s advocate as they apply to a few social justice ideas If you don’t like these things, please don’t read this post, . but please don’t argue with my decision to write it, either.

    . . . .

    It may feel sometimes that recognizing and acknowledging a model’s weaknesses will make it seem weaker to ideological opponents, but I’d argue that we seem more consistent and intellectually honest if we do so. Yes, privilege may not explain why men are disadvantaged in ways no other dominant group is. Rape culture may not really explain why so many people don’t give a damn about consent whether the situation involves anything sexual or not or not. Gender performativity seems to shrug its shoulders where the experiences of trans people are concerned.

    Acknowledging these flaws allows for better, more useful models–which will inevitably have flaws of their own. And we’ll critique them too, and start the cycle over again.

    I am not generally a fan of devil’s advocacy, but this it the right context for it. Devil’s advocacy is, at its heart, a reminder to people that their models are always imperfect. It amounts to pointing out how people’s assumptions can be mistaken or incomplete. It can be quite grating when used by people who don’t openly acknowledge the imperfectability of models or who don’t think in terms of models, and, personally, it becomes very annoying when continued after the point where I say something along the lines of “yes, I might be wrong. Tell me something I don’t know. Show me I’m wrong.” Devil’s advocacy at its best is used as a tool for pointing out potential weaknesses of a model alongside an effort to actually show specific errors, and I think you’ve done that here.

    Regarding gender as performance, I think it’s important to not let arguments about models of gender construction and gender identity be a distraction from issues surrounding gender identity–not that that’s happening here. You see this more with issues regarding homosexuality, but it is too easy to become trapped in arguments resting on the naturalistic fallacy. The relative extents to which gender is fluid or rigid; whether it is consciously performed, socially constructed and unconsciously integrated into behavior; or biologically determined have little to do with whether gender policing is a good thing (it isn’t, regardless) or whether people whose anatomy is discordant with their identity should be able to seek treatment to resolve that discord (they should).

    • says

      The relative extents to which gender is fluid or rigid; whether it is consciously performed, socially constructed and unconsciously integrated into behavior; or biologically determined have little to do with whether gender policing is a good thing (it isn’t, regardless) or whether people whose anatomy is discordant with their identity should be able to seek treatment to resolve that discord (they should).

      Exactly. I’m mildly curious about the causes of things and whether/to what extent they’re biological or social or whatever, but I’m much more concerned about people being treated fairly and kindly.

  11. johngreg says

    Miri, your post is a very long, and interesting, one, and I do not feel that I can comment on the whole thing in the necessarily limited space of a blog comment, so I will just focus on what I feel is the most problematic aspect: so-called rape culture.

    Because you said “For reference, here’s a great introduction to rape culture”, I felt it appropriate to explicate, so to speak, McEwan’s supposed comprehensive definition/explanation of rape culture. Doing so will reflect on your own comments about rape culture — an accurate, realistic definition of rape culture helps to clarify any and all discussion of same.

    So, here goes. I do not think that a blog comment thread is the appropriate or most constructive/useful place for a comprehensive rebuttal, so for brevity’s sake I have used only the first eight paragraphs from McEwan’s list (the rest of the list does allow for similar clarifications), and I have truncated each of her paragraphs (http://www.shakesville.com/2009/10/rape-culture-101.html).

    Rape culture is encouraging male sexual aggression….

    No. That is encouraging male agression, which is prevalent, to varying degrees, in many, but not all, human cultures, sub-cultures, and societies. It is also viewed as highly toxic and dysfunctional by an increasingly large cohort of both men and women.

    Rape culture is treating straight sexuality as the norm….

    No, because so-called straight culture is the norm: it is typical. All other sexualities, to use your word, are accurately labelled deviant. That is not to use a condemnatory definition of deviant: using the word “norm” or the word “deviant” or “deviation” is not, in this instance, a judgement call. It is to use the simple yet accurate definition of deviant, meaning, to deviate from the norm; from that which is typical — for specificity, the judgement call can easily be removed from that definition.

    Rape culture is rape being used as a weapon, a tool of war and genocide and oppression….

    No, that is rape used as a tool of war, as part of the overarching campaign of destroying, in any and all ways possible, the enemy. It is war culture, not rape culture.

    Rape culture is 1 in 33 men being sexually assaulted in their lifetimes….

    No, aside from the questionable figures, that is men being sexually assaulted. If society at large condoned and encouraged such behaviour on a common, regular, daily (and tacitly legal) basis and made it the overarching norm rather than the exception, which it most certainly does not, then it could be called rape culture.

    Rape culture is 1 in 6 women being sexually assaulted in their lifetimes….

    No, aside from the questionable accuracy of such figures, that is women being sexually assaulted. If society at large condoned and encouraged such behaviour on a common, regular, daily (and tacitly legal) basis and made it the overarching norm rather than the exception, which it most certainly does not, then it could be called rape culture.

    Rape culture is victim-blaming. Rape culture is a judge blaming a child for her own rape….

    No, that is victim blaming, which may be toxic but does not reflect overarching social or cultural norms anymore. It is also one judge, not all judges, not even a majority of judges. If society at large condoned and encouraged such behaviour on a common, regular, daily (and tacitly legal) basis and made it the overarching norm rather than the exception, which it most certainly does not, then it could be called rape culture.

    Rape culture is judges banning the use of the word rape in the courtroom….

    No, that is only some judges doing so. To be rape culture would require all, or a substantive majority of judges to so behave to the degree that it became a part of law. If society at large condoned and encouraged such behaviour on a common, regular, daily (and tacitly legal) basis and made it the overarching norm rather than the exception, which it most certainly does not, then it could be called rape culture.

    Rape culture is boys under 10 years old knowing how to rape.

    No, that is a wild deviation from the norm. If society at large condoned and encouraged such behaviour on a common, regular, daily (and tacitly legal) basis and made it the overarching norm rather than the exception, which it most certainly does not, then it could be called rape culture.

    The biggest problem with the majority of McEwan’s claims is that they misconstrue single or rare occurrences as common norms: in other words, inaccurate and dishonest reportage on McEwan’s part.

    To fully, or even largely, accept McEwan’s definition of rape culture demands rejigging of a vast array of words, common cultural practives, single incidents as general, and so on. And, in all seriousness, using McEwan to provide an explanation of rape culture is rather like using Dave Mabus to explain atheism: rationality, honesty, and reality do not join the party. Also, as most of the rational world knows, McEwan is several crackers short of a full communion.

  12. Bob says

    “This is why MRAs are so misguided when they point out ways in which men actually are disadvantaged and blame it on women or, more bizarrely, the small minority of women who are feminists.”

    Didn’t a feminist develop the Duluth model, thanks to which a man cannot call the police if his wife batters him, because HE would automatically be arrested?

    Didn’t a feminist posit the Tender Years doctrine, based on which custody is awarded by default to mothers unless they’re extremely unstable or drug addicted?

    I’m not saying that feminists as a WHOLE are responsible for these, but when anyone raises these issues in a feminist discussion, the response seems to be “oh those are the patriarchy backfiring on men, and feminism fights the patriarchy so feminism will solve those problems”, followed by feminism not doing anything to solve those problems. If you try to solve those problems within feminism you get shat on for derailing, and if you try to solve the problems outside feminism you get branded an MRA.

  13. jason x9 says

    I’d say Ally Fogg is a man who is sometimes constructively critical of feminism, and he hasn’t been run out on a rail. Of course, there are a few mitigating factors in his case- for one, he is very clear that he does not identify as a feminist, and so the inevitable tension is defused a little bit. Also, he’s very informed on the issues and so can avoid tired talking points that have been refuted ad nauseum. I do agree that it would be very difficult for a self-described “male feminist” to write something like this.

    Anyway, nice post!

  14. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    So, I can’t do everything I want right now, family in the house, but I wanted to say that I think that you, like many, misinterpret “rape culture”.

    To say we have a hip-hop culture in the US is not to say that all culture is hip-hop culture, nor is it to say that this would be falsified if Bill O’Reilly thought it was awesome that Johnny Cash got invited to the White House but threw a hissy fit over Common getting invited.

    Even to say that we live in the midst of Hip-Hop culture is not falsified because we walk past a CD store that specializes in orchestral & chamber music currently selling tix to a great Dvorak performance.

    We have a Hip-Hop culture. We have an anti-Hip-Hop culture.

    We have a rape culture. We have an anti-rape culture.

  15. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    @Bob:

    If you try to solve those problems within feminism you get shat on for derailing, and if you try to solve the problems outside feminism you get branded an MRA.

    Bullshit.

    If you start your own feminist blog and try to solve these problems, you don’t face crap for derailing. If you face crap at all, it can’t possibly be for derailing since it’s your own blog.

    If you come onto someone else’s blog during a discussion of X and try to deal with these problems when they don’t compose X, you get crap for derailing as you are, in fact, derailing.

    If you try to solve these problems without* feminism, why do you care if people think you’re an MRA?

    You can’t solve such a gender-fraught problem without employing or rejecting feminism. So, make your choice, and then engage with the topic. It’s that easy -the process is quite straightforward- and it’s that difficult -there are 100’s of thousands of pages of text written about this, and any of it might be applicable to what you’re doing at any moment. I advise humility – especially the recognition that you may very well not be proposing an original thought.

    *specifically chosen for multiple appropriate senses

  16. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    @johngreg:

    Rape culture is treating straight sexuality as the norm….

    No, because so-called straight culture is the norm: it is typical. All other sexualities, to use your word, are accurately labelled deviant. That is not to use a condemnatory definition of deviant: using the word “norm” or the word “deviant” or “deviation” is not, in this instance, a judgement call. It is to use the simple yet accurate definition of deviant, meaning, to deviate from the norm; from that which is typical — for specificity, the judgement call can easily be removed from that definition.

    Y’know, I’ve been saying for years that calling a TV set a TV “set” is entirely wrong. You see, there’s a definition of set = “A permanent firming or hardening of a substance, as by cooling” that clearly implies that if you watch a TV and it gets warm, then when the TV cools the last picture you saw in it will be fixed on the screen forever. This does not happen. Ergo, all the people who use the phrase “TV set” are idiots.

    I’m so glad to see a fellow traveler. Clearly, just because a definition of “norm” exists that is particular to the given field of study and germane to the relevant topic and obviously applicable to this situation that, if actually applied, would make the original author actually correct is no reason to actually read the quote as if it was employing a definition where norm = “(Sociology) Sociol an established standard of behaviour shared by members of a social group to which each member is expected to conform”

    What we should really do is pick another definition for this multiply-defined word and write as if the person intended that definition but is totally ignorant about basic facts of the world, like how heterosexuality is actually quite a commonly exhibited behavior and/or orientation. Then it’s clear that the original author is an idiot and that you are clearly superior in your ability to analyze topics than someone who has written extensively on the topic.

    While you’ve clearly done quite well for yourself, perhaps I am very disappointed that **obviously** you’re an idiot for thinking the word norm applies here, where no specific numbers or even numeric variables are in play, since norm = “the product of a complex number and its conjugate, equal to the sum of the squares of its real and imaginary components, or the positive square root of this sum.”

    Nice try, idiot.

  17. johngreg says

    Crip Dyke … said:

    So, I can’t do everything I want right now, family in the house, but I wanted to say that I think that you, like many, misinterpret “rape culture”.

    I think that comment may be directed at me. If that is the case, let me say this: I feel that some sub-cultural groups within the US, and possibly other Western countries/societies, may hold rape-culture-like ideologies, and may even in fact be more-or-less predicated on or based upon some form of rape culture.

    To say that the US, or any other Western country/society in toto is a rape culture, is, in my opinion, completely outrageous and wrong-headed.

    And, it seems to me, that in most discussions about rape culture, feminists appear to mean that all US culture (and presumably many/most Western societies) is predicated on or based upon a general, society-wide rape culture. If I am misinterpreting or misunderstanding that, and such is not the case, I do think some specificity would do no-one any harm.

  18. johngreg says

    Um, Crip Dyke, I am not disputing the meaning of the word norm, I am disputing that such use indicates a rape culture.

    You seem to have missed that.

  19. rpjohnston says

    Maybe a more useful way to conceptualize all of these patterns together isn’t by calling them all “rape culture,” but by referring to them as evidence that we lack a consent culture. That is, we have a culture that devalues consent in most (if not all) situations. (Here I make a mental note to write about this more later.

    This is how humans usually function. If you were speaking to me, would you look me in the eye? Would you ASK ME PERMISSION to look me in the eye? I very much doubt you would. But that makes me extremely uncomfortable; I can rarely force myself to look straight at someone for more than a few seconds, and I get very stressed if I can’t find SOMETHING else to glance at in between. Same for hugging, or any other physical contact; I’m almost acrobatic in my ability to pass people in a busy store without a single touch. Both are likely symptoms of my autism.

    Yet looking people in the eye when speaking, and contextual hugging, are both intrinsic human behaviors. So much communication is accomplished through behavior, gestures, tone of voice, expressions, contexts, innuendo…and I’m terrible at processing it and even worse at attempting it myself. When I try, I stutter and forget what I’m saying, and then I can’t even form the literal words to express myself. Simply remembering to look at someone’s eyes while speaking coherently for a few seconds is exhausting.

    In my ideal world, ALL of this extraneous behavior would go away and ALL communication would be done solely through literal words and ALL interaction beyond that would happen only after unambiguous interrogatives.

    But that is not how human behavior works. I cannot demand that everybody operate according to an autistic model. If appropriate I can express my disability in the hope for understanding, but I cannot demand you ask permission to look me in the eye. If I don’t hug Grandpa I come across as cold and uncaring, even if it’s because it almost makes me panic and saying “I’m so happy to see you” sounds like it should be equivalent. I cannot expect other people to know my mind. Humans are so much more complex than that, and it is up to me to deal with human behavior as best I can, not demand that the species change to accommodate me.

    I am not equating this with rape. There are many, MANY situations in which explicit consent is absolutely critical. But humanity itself does “devalue consent” in so many other situations. You cannot fight it. It’s important to emphasize consent and clear communication – and ESPECIALLY RESPECT for those communicated desires – but you cannot hope to make everyone in the world autistic, you cannot hope to reduce every interaction to a quasi-contractual verbal agreement. Lack of an encompassing “consent culture” is how human socialization works.

    Forgetting that, and reducing everything to machine-like literalism and explicit permission for every single action…is not conducive to being taken seriously as an equal person in this species.

    • says

      I reject your claim that I want to “make everyone in the world autistic” and I likewise reject your claim that I “cannot fight it [rape culture or whatever one calls it].”

      Also, when I say that people devalue consent in most situations, that’s not the same as saying that I believe that every single human interaction, including saying “hi,” needs to be explicitly verbally consented to (not even to mention that even when it comes to sexual intercourse, nonverbal consent is a thing). You are strawmanning.

      • rpjohnston says

        I’m not sure where you were going with “people devalue consent in most situations”, then. It sounded to me like you were attaching judgment to it rather than being simply a statement of fact.

        “Hi” is a verbal communication. I never said that verbal communication needed explicit consent (how, then, would you get explicit consent?)

        While I do read your blog some, along with most other blogs on FtB (and almost everything on Pharyngula), I don’t know every single writer’s exact thoughts. I am, essentially, responding to a theme in your writing that correlates with what I’ve read from other feminist writers about consent.

        I read the post that you linked to at the end of that. And it burns me up. Since it’s linked, I’m going to take it as appropriate to quote it here.

        [quoting from elsewhere] If someone doesn’t want to go to a party, try a new food, get up and dance, make small talk at the lunchtable–that’s their right. Stop the “aww c’mon” and “just this once” and the games where you playfully force someone to play along. Accept that no means no–all the time.

        I have a friend. I’ve known her since highschool, we were in special ed classes together. In fact, I was one of the few friends she had – she was extremely introverted, shy, and tended to be “princessy” – you had to walk on eggshells around her, careful not to bring up subjects that she didn’t like (like sex) at all; she had her own interests, and would interact only in regards to those, and would not try to take an interest in anyone else or their interests. As long as it was all about her and what she was familiar with she was a wonderful, funny individual, but she would not attempt to leave her shell. She had boyfriends – when she could be interacted with, people loved her; lots of people tried to at least be her friend, she had a natural charm – but none of them lasted.

        A few years ago, she stopped coming to hangouts, or out in public at all. She just disappeared from everyone’s lives. My friends and I finally went by her house a few months ago, and I found out that she’d been very depressed. Most of her time was spent in her room, on her computer, on tumblr, complaining about how shitty she felt.

        I’ve since realized that she never actually saw me as a friend; in spite of that I still care for her. I’ve been trying to get her to come to hangouts with the old friends since then. She was reluctant at first, saying that she didn’t feel like she had anything in common with us anymore, but I’ve managed to get her out a couple of times and she seemed like she was having fun having actual, physical, real life friends for the first time in years.

        Am I an asshole for doing that, then? I was worried, I AM worried, that she’s going to try to kill herself; she admits to having thoughts and I suspect she may have attempted. Should I just shrug and say “Hey, if you want to stew alone in your parents house until you hang yourself, suit yourself”? That’s what I did for 3 FUCKING years, as I figured, hey, if she doesn’t want to see us anymore that’s her problem. I don’t believe that I am an asshole for pressuring her to come out. I believe I would be an asshole for abandoning her. Even if she never returned even platonic feelings for me.

        —-

        I have a friend almost my age. She doesn’t drive (she’s always had me on demand for chauffeuring, and recently another friend – at our gas expense, of course). She’s worked maybe a few months in her life, seasonal jobs. She’s been unemployed for years, sending a couple applications a month tops and never following up. She lives with her parents, and gets money from them, which she uses to surround herself with manga and video games and otaku paraphernalia, and spends most of her day on myriad anime-related Facebook groups. She’s had some boyfriends, and I’m certain that they broke up with her when they realized the relationships were just friendships that would never get anywhere.

        In other words, she doesn’t DO anything. She sits in one single corner of the world, never making even the slightest attempt to move until her parents pressure her into a grudging half-hearted action. Someday her parents are going to kick her out, and then what?

        Yes, it’s “her right” to sit in that comfortable little corner vowing to never try anything until she’s “comfortable” with it, as if that’s suddenly going to drop out of the sky with no action on her part. There’s nothing that I can or have the right to do to get her to be more adventurous. But just as with my other friend, I still care about her, and I do pressure her to try things – because I don’t want to see her explode when The World finally hits her in the face.

        I had a friend who once came up to me at lunch and told me to prove I wasn’t gay by groping her (she didn’t say it perjoratively and i was openly bi). I balked for a minute while she pressured me; I had always thought that groping was wrong, and I certainly hadn’t gone through the form of asking for permission to touch her and being granted. I didn’t know how to fit it into my model. I eventually timidly poked her a bit, and she declared me gay because I couldn’t grope properly. That was years ago, and it’s only recently that I’ve fully understood the incident. My inability to go “ZOMG BOOBIES” was strange. My behavior was not was expected.

        That, obviously, is not how people normally act. She had a reputation for being eccentric; among other times she took her bra off under her shirt and flung it from of a bunch of guys. Toward me, among other things, she headlocked me against her chest (I broke free because the awkward angle hurt my hip); chased me down a hallway, tackled me and stayed on top for about 10 seconds (It was hard to breathe, I’m a pretty small guy); and took me outside, tossed me to the ground, and straddled me to show another friend (the second one, in fact) how to slap someone properly. The last time I saw her, she made me walk her to her car by stealing my glasses and sticking them down her cleavage. I responded awkwardly to her attempts at conversation on the walk, and at one time asked if she could give my glasses back. She said no. I asked if I could reach into her cleavage to get them back. She said no. I coyly said that maybe I’d do it anyway. She said I wouldn’t have the balls. She was right. When we got to her car, she pulled my glasses out (bending them in the process), tossed them at me (nearly making me drop them) and drove away. She barely talked to me after that.

        I can certainly leave people alone. I can certainly say “I’ve got my life” and focus on just that. And believe me it’s damn tempting, as much shit as I’ve gotten from people, including my “friends”. Most of them forgot I even existed after they graduated because I kept to myself so much, and never did anything that had a possibility of being “uncouth”, or that I didn’t receive permission for. I took the passive approach to everyone, and seen the shock when I suddenly did things like a “person”, like asking women out. I’ve seen them suddenly having to come to grips that the person they called “minion” and “best friend”, “like a brother” and “buttmonkey” is now trying to be a person, and seen them react as if their favorite reading-lamp was suddenly talking to them. They had no emotional attachment to me as a person; I was not even a person in their radar.

        Far beyond the consequences to me, though, are the consequences to other people. Tell me then. You say:

        Here’s the thing. Assuming the object of your coercion is old enough to think for themselves (I’ll get to the subject of young children later), only they know what’s best for them. You don’t. Maybe they’re working up the courage to do what you’re trying to get them to do and just need more time, or maybe they don’t want to do it at all. Regardless, it’s not for you to decide. Once someone says no, accept that that’s their answer.

        If you had friends like the first two I described, would you shrug and leave them alone? Would you let your friend stew alone until she killed herself? Would you shrug and let a friend miss out on all the world has to offer during the best years of her life, and set herself up for disaster?

        What if you were one of them? Would you want your friends to abandon you?

        I’ve spent so much of my life not understanding how people work. I’ve spent so much of my life keeping my distance from people. I’ve spent so much of my life as a logic machine, figuring that if people wanted me they would come request things of me and if I wanted things I could request from them, and this was the best mode. It is not. There is so much more to humanity than that. People are intertwined so much deeper. I still don’t understand it, to be honest. I’m on the surface, peering down in astonishment that there’s a lake, with no ability to pierce the murky depths. I doubt anyone can actually see the bottom clearly, if there is a bottom.

        Metaphors aside, my argument boils down to this: There is so, SO much more to sociality than top-level intellectualism. I’ve had times when somebody laughingly said “stop that!” and I immediately stopped and apologized, to be met with an incredulous stare, “fine, then”, and the cold shoulder the rest of the evening. I’ve had times when what is normally met with a dull “no” or shoo-away elicits giggles and no attempts to stop when I’m drunk enough to have the balls to actually do it. (Like poking in the boob instead of the arm when pokes are going around.) Normal – good – sociality cannot be reduced to hands-off individualism. One has to understand and interact with people on much deeper levels.

  20. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    @johngreg:
    #18:
    No, that one wasn’t aimed at you, it was aimed at Miri who seems to believe that laws against rape are reasonably construed as evidence against rape culture.

    But that would only be true if having a jazz culture int eh US meant that no radio station would play any songs written entirely in 4/4.

    To say that the US, or any other Western country/society in toto is a rape culture, is, in my opinion, completely outrageous and wrong-headed.

    Which was the point of my comment and which is also why no one ever explicitly say that. They just “wrestle” with counter-examples as if that had anything to do with the point.

    #19:

    I am not disputing the meaning of the word norm, I am disputing that such use indicates a rape culture.

    except you clearly are. If norm has its sociological definition, then heterosexuality isn’t a “norm” simply because it is typical. You say:

    No, because so-called straight culture is the norm: it is typical.

    Why the “it is typical” addition if not to clarify that you are using a particular definition of the word to the exclusion of other definitions?

    Obviously if heterosexuality is the [sexual] norm, that means something very different than that heterosexuality is very, very common AND that difference has implications for whether or not a having a “norm” can be construed as evidence of rape culture.

    The mere fact of frequency of heterosexuality? Not evidence of rape culture.

    The mere fact that heterosexuality is a behavioral standard to which society demands individuals conform? Evidence of rape culture.

    So your disagreement with the original author is entirely dependent on denying the original author the use of the relevant definition and replacing the meaning of the word with a different – perfectly valid, but not appropriate to the context – definition. And, btw, it makes the original author seem like an idiot. You really think the OA didn’t know that heterosexuality is the median sexual orientation? You really think that?

    If you do, I would wager you understood the OA even less than I believed. If you don’t, then you act as if she is unaware of that fact, despite knowing otherwise, in order to make a point that makes the original author both wrong and apparently stupid.

    That’s pretty disingenuous, don’t you think?

    I welcome any information that would inform a reinterpretation of your statement, but since it’s obvious one definition makes the OA an idiot and one definition makes the OA correct and not an idiot, and since it’s obvious that you emphasized a particular definition rather than simply blithely assuming everyone had the same definition of “norm” in mind, my operating theory is that you very much contested the definition of this use of “norm” and did so deliberately to make the OA seem an idiot in the process and did so employing deception along the way.

    Please. I love to think generously of my fellow human beings and esp. of my fellow FtB commenters. Explain how I’m all wet.

  21. Ripple says

    Thanks for this article.

    Because whether or not rape culture as a model explains the existence and popularity of rape jokes, it explains the fury with which many men respond tot he reminder that rape is a real horror that affects real humans.

    I think there are various reasons that some men don’t respond well to the term “rape culture.”

    The “rape culture” model of sexual violence seems to predominantly focus on women as victims and on men as perpetrators, with less focus on male survivors and female perpetrators. The McEwan article you link to is a good example of this model of rape. However, this model is not accepted by everyone, for both flawed reasons and valid reasons.

    While sexual violence towards men, and female perpetration, are somewhat less common than sexual violence towards men, and male perpetration, the gap isn’t as large as many people think.

    For example, McEwan claims that 1 in 33 men are sexually assaulted, but that number is certainly outdated or based on flawed methodology. This review suggests that 1 in 6 men experience childhood sexual abuse (with 40% female perpetrators), and it gives a good summary of the flaws and controversies in past sexual abuse research: http://www.jimhopper.com/male-ab/ . Unfortunately, the female-centric discourse of “rape culture” may lead McEwan and other feminists to accept a low estimate of male victimization at face value, rather than doing further research into the prevalence of sexual violence towards men (more cites upon request).

    Once we acknowledge that a large minority of men also experiences sexual violence, then many parts of the “rape culture” model of rape become suspect. For example, McEwan claims “Rape culture is most men being so far removed from the threat of rape that invoking property theft is evidently the closest thing many of them can imagine to being forcibly subjected to a sexual assault.” Yet men are not removed from the threat of rape. If some men can’t relate to the threat of sexual violence, that’s being they are ignorant of the risks they face, not because they are safe.

    In discussions of sexual violence, it’s common to see feminists talk to men as if men couldn’t possibly relate to consent violations, and have no experience with sexual violence. If you are a man who has experienced sexual violence, then this attitude can really sting.

    Once we acknowledge the existence of female perpetrators, then maxims such as “men can stop rape” sound ridiculous. Some rapists are female (and not just a tiny minority). “Men can stop rape” is only true if it means “men can stop male-on-female rape,” which excludes survivors of female perpetration.

    Another common attitude I’ve seen in discussion about sexual violence is to talk to men in the second-person: telling a male audience not to rape, or to not violate consent. It’s much less common to see anti-rape articles addressed towards women, even though many women also hold rape myths about men’s consent (ex: “erection = consent”). The “default” survivor is generally gendered female, and the “default” perpetrator is generally gendered male.

    Strangely, the existence of widely prevalent sexual violence towards men, and rape myths about men’s consent, is actually evidence in favor of the feminist concept of rape culture… though feminists rarely invoke that evidence in great detail. While I share your objections to the term “rape culture,” I sometimes find myself wanting to use it to address sexual violence and consent violations towards men… but I don’t, because the term has baggage that minimizes the existence of male survivors and female perpetrators.

    Lack of “consent culture” is a better term than “rape culture” because it’s both more accurate and more inclusive.

  22. johngreg says

    Is “… an established standard of behaviour shared by members of a social group to which each member is expected to conform”, the sociological definition you are referring to? If Yes, then I do not see a fundamentally important or critical working difference between that definition, and the one I used, in regards to how we are both actually using the word norm. Perhaps you could clarify for me? Also, as I do below, I would dispute that all of any Western society demands such behaviour from all of its members.

    Crip Dyke said:

    Obviously if heterosexuality is the [sexual] norm, that means something very different than that heterosexuality is very, very common AND that difference has implications for whether or not a having a “norm” can be construed as evidence of rape culture.

    I’m sorry, but as I said above, I do not see a fundamentally important or critical working difference between the definitions in regards to how we are both using the word norm. Also, I still do not see how either defintion could in any way be construed as evidence of a rape culture. No, I don’t get it. Again, perhaps you could clarify or expand on how that indicates or presents as evidence for a rape culture?

    The mere fact that heterosexuality is a behavioral standard to which society demands individuals conform? Evidence of rape culture.

    Well, we are going to have to disagree on that. For several reasons, not least because no Western society in toto demands such behaviour from all of its members. There are very large pockets, sub-cultural groups if you will, within all Western societies that fully accept and condone non-hetero forms of sexuality. I would agree that such groups almost certainly do not represent a large majority, but they certainly exist.

    And, again, even if all of any Western society did so demand from all of its members, I still am wholly unable to see how that is in any way evidence of a rape culture. Saying so seems to me to indicate that heterosexuality is rape, full stop. You’re not implying that, are you?

    You really think the OA didn’t know that heterosexuality is the median sexual orientation? You really think that?

    If, by original author, you mean McEwan, then Yes, I think it is a distinct possibility, and yes, for the record, I do think McEwan is both wrong and egregiously stupid … well, perhaps not stupid, but so livid with anger, hate, and rabid ideological fanaticism that she couldn’t see a blue sky on a clear day in the mountains.

    • Jacob Schmidt says

      I’m sorry, but as I said above, I do not see a fundamentally important or critical working difference between the definitions in regards to how we are both using the word norm.

      One is prescriptive while the other is descriptive.

      • johngreg says

        Jacob Schmidt said:

        One is prescriptive while the other is descriptive.

        That’s not very helpful. Both words, prescriptive and descriptive, have myriad definitions (with some crossover), and you are by no means clear on which definitions you intend for either of those words. Could you be more specific?

        Furthermore, Crip seems to be narrowing the definition to a specific and expert, so to speak, field of Sociology (which, so far as I can determine, neither Miri nor McEwan intend), and you seem, if I do a back-trace, to be narrowing the field to linguistics. There is no consistency here. And, yes, I am confused.

      • Jacob Schmidt says

        Both words, prescriptive and descriptive, have myriad definitions (with some crossover), and you are by no means clear on which definitions you intend for either of those words. Could you be more specific?

        Prescriptive: “of or relating to the imposition or enforcement of a rule or method.

        Descriptive: “describing or classifying without expressing feelings or judging.

        The latter is what I presume you’ve intended.

        Furthermore, Crip seems to be narrowing the definition to a specific and expert, so to speak, field of Sociology (which, so far as I can determine, neither Miri nor McEwan intend), and you seem, if I do a back-trace, to be narrowing the field to linguistics.

        No. Both terms have their uses in linguistics, but that is not how I intend to use the terms. In sociology, “normalization” is the enforcement of some social standard. Heterosexuality is the norm in that people are punished for deviating (such as the harassment and bullying LGBT people are often forced to endure). In other words, “norms” are prescriptive. Merely being typical is not enough to fit the criteria; they must imposed.

        • johngreg says

          Schmidt said:

          The latter is what I presume you’ve intended.

          Yes, that was my intent.

          In sociology, “normalization” is the enforcement of some social standard. Heterosexuality is the norm in that people are punished for deviating (such as the harassment and bullying LGBT people are often forced to endure). In other words, “norms” are prescriptive. Merely being typical is not enough to fit the criteria; they must imposed.

          Yes, in some sub-cultures, some people are punished for so-called deviant sexuality. In other sub-cultures, for example, Natalie Reed’s sub-cultural community, some people are punished for heterosexuality, or as she labels it, cis scum, as in “Die, cis scum”.

          So far as I know, all cultural communities, large and small, participate to some degree in standard us/them othering/sorting behaviour. It would seem that such behaviour is a general human norm. I think what is being argued here is, or perhaps should be clarified to be more about degree and frequency, perhaps, rather than existence — if you see what I mean.

          Despite all that I’ve read about it, I still disagree that any Western society, writ large, represents or functions as a rape culture, generally speaking. As I stated earlier, yes, some sub-cultures indeed do so, but the overarching expression of the degree to which such behaviour exists strikes me very much as wild exaggeration and paranoia mixed with a lot of irrational anger and ideological fanaticism feeding upon itself.

          • Jacob Schmidt says

            In other sub-cultures, for example, Natalie Reed’s sub-cultural community, some people are punished for heterosexuality, or as she labels it, cis scum, as in “Die, cis scum”.

            “Punished”? I’ve never felt “punished” by any sort of trans group, including those that participate in the “die cis scum” phenomenon. Largely because they’re just words; words that aren’t acted upon. The inverse certainly isn’t true. Hostile words towards LGBT are acted upon, with enough frequency to drive some LGBT teens to suicide. You seem to be falsely equivocating.

            So far as I know, all cultural communities, large and small, participate to some degree in standard us/them othering/sorting behaviour. It would seem that such behaviour is a general human norm. I think what is being argued here is, or perhaps should be clarified to be more about degree and frequency, perhaps, rather than existence — if you see what I mean.

            I certainly agree that all cultures engage in some form of normalization. I don’t think addressing the matter in terms of frequencies or degrees is particularly helpful. It might be useful for prioritizing, but I think it would be best if we attacked all forms of normalization, big and small.

            As I stated earlier, yes, some sub-cultures indeed do so, but the overarching expression of the degree to which such behaviour exists strikes me very much as wild exaggeration and paranoia mixed with a lot of irrational anger and ideological fanaticism feeding upon itself.

            This is bewilderingly obtuse. Whether or not it’s a several sub cultures or the over-arching culture (for the record, I lean towards the latter, though I think over time we’ll move to the former), the fact remains that a rape victim can be inundated with death threats, rape threats, various other forms of harassment, and outright denial of their experience. Rape victims can be harassed to suicide. Many victims report poor to downright horrible treatment in response to their trauma, and there doesn’t seem to be any particular pattern in who responds that way; it comes from friends, family and strangers alike. I don’t care if it’s just the actions of a several cultures. I don’t care if it is only a 10th as common as the “ideological fanatics” suggest: one 1000th as common wouldn’t be rare enough. That shit needs to stop.

          • Jacob Schmidt says

            Has the confusion regarding the term “norm” been cleared up (i.e. imposed ideal vs. typical)? That was my original reason for posting.

          • johngreg says

            Schmidt said:

            … the fact remains that a rape victim can be inundated with death threats, rape threats, various other forms of harassment, and outright denial of their experience.

            Yes, that is often true. And many victims of many forms of abuse and assault are sometimes blamed, to some degree, for the actions of their abusers/attackers. However, don’t you think it is important to try and determine accurate statistics so as to be better prepared for making change?

            Many victims report poor to downright horrible treatment in response to their trauma, and there doesn’t seem to be any particular pattern in who responds that way; it comes from friends, family and strangers alike.

            Yes, that too is sometimes true, but I still argue that determining frequency is critical to understanding the degree and seriousness of this mistreatment. I am not trying to dismiss or diminish anything here. I just think it can be risky to work for change if stats are inaccurate and therefore the target of change is out of focus. In particular, how can effective change be successfully made if there is no accurate data as to showing or determining a particular pattern in who responds that way? How can we accurately know where to aim (so to speak)?

            I don’t care if it’s just the actions of a several cultures. I don’t care if it is only a 10th as common as the “ideological fanatics” suggest: one 1000th as common wouldn’t be rare enough.

            And this is where we disagree, in a sense. I do care, or at least would like to know what the actual norms of such mistreatment are. Accuracy, in my opinion, is never anything but good, or at least, effective.

            That shit needs to stop.

            Agreed.

            Has the confusion regarding the term “norm” been cleared up (i.e. imposed ideal vs. typical)?

            I think so.

            But I see no certain way, other than perhaps asking her, which of either sense (imposed ideal vs. typical) McEwan is intending, though the sense I get, from reading the applicable paragraph, is that she is leaning more in the direction of typical. But, as seems clear to me, that is only one individual’s interpretation, and as McEwan is not specific, I fail to see how anyone else could be certain that their interpretation is anything other than an individual interpretation. If you get my drift. Either by design, or by accident, the paragraph can be intrepreted, to some degree, to sway either way.

          • Jacob Schmidt says

            However, don’t you think it is important to try and determine accurate statistics so as to be better prepared for making change?

            Not particularly. Whether 10% of the population or 1% of the population are complicit, my reactions to it would be the same. I advocate ideals that directly oppose rape culture, and call out specific instances that I see. Accurate statistics are good to have, but I don’t think they would change my behaviour.

            In particular, how can effective change be successfully made if there is no accurate data as to showing or determining a particular pattern in who responds that way? How can we accurately know where to aim (so to speak)?

            Aim at everyone, especially children.

            I do care, or at least would like to know what the actual norms of such mistreatment are. Accuracy, in my opinion, is never anything but good, or at least, effective.

            My point isn’t that accurate statistic are useless, just that finding out that rape culture was less prevalent than I currently believe wouldn’t change my behaviour in any significant way. I would continue advocating for things like enthusiastic consent, I would continue fighting myths about rape, etc.

            All in all, I would rather tackle a problem harder than I need to than to assume, since I don’t have hard statistics, that I needn’t bother. And regardless of how prevalent the problem is, it does undeniably exist, and it would benefit the many people, up to and including rape victims, to encourage better a better culture. Rape culture might be less common than I think. It might be more common.* Either way, it exists and I want to see it gone.

            But I see no certain way, other than perhaps asking her, which of either sense (imposed ideal vs. typical) McEwan is intending, though the sense I get, from reading the applicable paragraph, is that she is leaning more in the direction of typical.

            McEwan goes on to write about the demonization of queer sexuality and the privileging of straight sexuality to bolster her point. I’m not sure how you think she’s merely describing the prevalence of straight sexuality.

            *Actually, a brief search for statistics brought me to this study, which claims that between 30% and 80% of kids think rape is acceptable, depending on the circumstances. Granted, this study is from 1991, and this might (hopefully) no longer be true, but its much greater than I would have guessed.

          • johngreg says

            Well, I guess we will just have to agree to disagree — I feel degree is critical. And, in regard to making sweeping social changes, I tend to prefer caution over the broad broom.

            Also, as I think is pretty clear, I do not agree that any Western cultures are rape cultures. Yes, I think that there might be small pockets, or sub-cultures within the larger context that display and act upon ideologies that might be called rape-culture. But I think they represent a small, somewhat insignificant (or perhaps a more accurate/specific word would be negligible) minority. As I think I said earlier, it is my opinion that the Social Justice Leaguers have highly exaggerated such phenomena; that the discussion of rape culture tends toward being a fallacious moral panic. I also feel that individuals like McEwan and Marcotte, to list just two, do the world of rational discourse and thought a fundamental and a major disservice.

            One more minor thing, as to McEwan, I was referring specifically to that one paragraph — yes, she expands on her theory of the demonization of queer sexuality, but for that specific paragraph, which is wholly relevant to our discussion here and her use of the word norm, I think my argument stands.

          • Jacob Schmidt says

            But I think they represent a small, somewhat insignificant (or perhaps a more accurate/specific word would be negligible) minority.

            All-right. Personally, I got sick of the way rape, sexual violence, and female agency was being framed, both in my day to day life and media. Jokes about getting women drunk to have sex with them were common. People telling me and others to ignore a women saying “no,” because women supposedly like being forced upon. People saying that men shouldn’t be held accountable for sexual assault, because there was supposedly no way he could know whether or not she wanted to be groped until he tried. People being angry at women daring to report sexual assault or harassment, saying that it was their fault for what they wore.

            People saying that men can’t really be raped, since all men want sex, so it has to be consensual. People saying that it couldn’t really be rape if he was bigger than the woman in question (because all rape is supposedly based on physical force, which is another myth I’d like to see vanish into oblivion).

            The list of fucked up things about rape and sexual assault I see others perpetuating (some that I’ve perpetuated myself) goes on. My experience is that many people believe and perpetuate such attitudes; many others have the same experience. It would be foolish to ignore that.

            One more minor thing, as to McEwan, I was referring specifically to that one paragraph — yes, she expands on her theory of the demonization of queer sexuality, but for that specific paragraph, which is wholly relevant to our discussion here and her use of the word norm, I think my argument stands.

            This is the paragraph in question: “Rape culture is treating straight sexuality as the norm. Rape culture is lumping queer sexuality into nonconsensual sexual practices like pedophilia and bestiality. Rape culture is privileging heterosexuality because ubiquitous imagery of two adults of the same-sex engaging in egalitarian partnerships without gender-based dominance and submission undermines (erroneous) biological rationales for the rape culture’s existence.

            Literally the next sentence of the paragraph. Again, I’m not sure how you think this paragraph is just about the prevalence of straight sexuality.

          • johngreg says

            Jacob said:

            All-right. Personally, I got sick of the way rape, sexual violence, and female agency was being framed, both in my day to day life and media. Jokes about getting women drunk to have sex with them were common.

            I do not disagree with that at all. Nonetheless, although I am not overly familiar with contemporary media (I grew heartily sick of all popular media representations of all human beings 15 years ago), so I can only respond with my experience of 15 years ago, and before, which, in my perspective, is that men and women have been equally, although differently, presented as stereotypical idiots: venal, stupid, simplistic, artfully hostile and manipulative, and so on. While I do not disagree that women have often been presented in media as you suggest, I must note that men do not appear much better. Yes, there are exceptions, but that counts for both sides of that debate.

            People telling me and others to ignore a women saying “no,” because women supposedly like being forced upon.

            Yes, that is foul but I do not believe that it is still a common case; it is also more complex than you imply … in my opinion.

            People saying that men shouldn’t be held accountable for sexual assault, because there was supposedly no way he could know whether or not she wanted to be groped until he tried.

            On the surface, that seems straight forward. However, I think the reality is far more complicated and complex. Many women (and men, but to a lesser degree) use sex as not only a weapon, but also as a deeply powerful manipulative tool of control and personal gain.

            People being angry at women daring to report sexual assault or harassment, saying that it was their fault for what they wore.

            Yes, of course, but that too is more complex than you are allowing for.

            People saying that men can’t really be raped, since all men want sex, so it has to be consensual.

            Yup.

            People saying that it couldn’t really be rape if he was bigger than the woman in question (because all rape is supposedly based on physical force, which is another myth I’d like to see vanish into oblivion).

            Yup.

            The list of fucked up things about rape and sexual assault I see others perpetuating (some that I’ve perpetuated myself) goes on. My experience is that many people believe and perpetuate such attitudes; many others have the same experience. It would be foolish to ignore that.

            Yup. But the Marcottes and McEwans and Watsons of the world are equally guilty of that charge … in my opinion. Seriously, I am not a misogynist, but I think that Marcotte, McEwan, and Watson are deeply toxic people who are seriously damaging not only feminism, but skepticism and atheism too. In my opinion.

            (By the by, my yups mean I agree with those comments.)

            “One more minor thing, as to McEwan, I was referring specifically to that one paragraph — yes, she expands on her theory of the demonization of queer sexuality, but for that specific paragraph, which is wholly relevant to our discussion here and her use of the word norm, I think my argument stands.” This is the paragraph in question: “Rape culture is treating straight sexuality as the norm. Rape culture is lumping queer sexuality into nonconsensual sexual practices like pedophilia and bestiality. Rape culture is privileging heterosexuality because ubiquitous imagery of two adults of the same-sex engaging in egalitarian partnerships without gender-based dominance and submission undermines (erroneous) biological rationales for the rape culture’s existence.” Literally the next sentence of the paragraph. Again, I’m not sure how you think this paragraph is just about the prevalence of straight sexuality.

            As I stated, in my opinion that paragraph is worded in such a way that either interpretation can be valid. And I cannot see, within that paragraph, any way to determine, with absolute certainty, which particular version of “norm” she intends.

  23. Ashley Yakeley says

    Regarding rape culture,

    I find it hard to imagine someone saying, “Actually, my grandpa has cancer, so please don’t make those jokes around me,” and receiving anything other than an apology.

    It’s the phrase “around me” that’s the problem. Is something posted on the internet “around” one? Does it matter how that place on the internet is signposted? Or the kind of readership it happens to have, despite its intent? On the one hand, I can sympathise with a blog or comic reader who is suprised by something unpleasant that they felt they didn’t sign up for. On the other hand, I can understand that someone publishing something might feel that it’s up to them to decide what kind of humour is and is not acceptable in the context of their own space.

    Yet when women speak up against rape jokes, they are often ignored, ridiculed, or literally threatened with rape.

    And what’s worse, contradicted

    I mean, if certain rape jokes really are acceptable in certain contexts, and someone else nevertheless complains, is it fair to defend that speech act? …in a polite and civil manner, of course? Or does that make one the jerk who keeps on with the cancer jokes? What if the complaint is prefaced “As a rape survivor,”?

    Regarding the other two concepts,

    Gender as performance: this seems silly to me because gender applies to beings that are obviously not performing. For example, newborn babies have gender. Most species of animal have gender. Even some species of tree have gender. Are they doing anything that could be called performance?

    Instead, I prefer gender as observation. The botanist observes the gender of the tree. The obstetrician observes the gender of the baby. People observe their own gender, and that of others. Different people can observe different genders of the same being.

    All of these observations are made by someone, and therefore, strictly speaking, none of them are objectively true. Not even one’s observation of oneself. As a matter of politeness and supportiveness, however, we enlightened liberal progessive types attend to someone’s self-professed gender as a social standard, regardless of our immediate physical impressions.

    Privilege: this concept is ethically backwards. Privilege is coded as a bad thing, whereas the opposite is true: lack of privilege is a bad thing. Privilege itself (with some exceptions perhaps) is a good thing. Next time you see one of those lists of example privileges illustrating some axis of oppression, run your eye down it and sort them into “things everyone should have” and “things no-one should have”. Clearly any privilege in the first category is not a problem: lack of it is a problem.

    For example, Peggy McIntosh tells me that as a white person, I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help, my race will not work against me. Is that a good thing that everyone should have, or a bad thing no-one should have? Privilege, we are told, is unearned. Is it then something no-one should have unless they “earn” it somehow?

    I believe the privilege concept is an example of what Nietzsche called ressentiment: an unhealthy reaction to powerlessness whereby one normalises the condition and constructs a moral system that castigates power. It makes people feel better about their powerlessness instead of helping them gain power.

    • Nepenthe says

      People observe their own gender, and that of others. Different people can observe different genders of the same being.

      Most civilized people do not observe the gender of others. They observe signals that a person sends regarding gender and make an assumption about the shape of the person’s genitals*. Unless you stick your hands down the trousers of everyone you meet before you use a pronoun to refer to them, you are observing others’ gender performance. and making an assumption about their sex.

      And trees do not have gender. Animals do not have gender, as far as I know. I can’t imagine a botanist** saying “this is a woman tree” or a zoologist looking up from a microscope and exclaiming “this species of rotifer has no men!”. It’s a bad idea to make statements like this in an environment where there are roving biologists.

      *And the trouser test only gives you limited information about a person’s sex.

      **Maybe a Victorian botanist. But this was a people who needed to cover up the legs of tables because that was too sexy.

      • Ashley Yakeley says

        They observe signals that a person sends regarding gender and make an assumption about the shape of the person’s genitals.

        That is gender, at least for that particular observer. Another observer might interpret in a different way. Gender is merely an idea in the mind of the observer, who might reach that idea in many different ways.

        Even roving biologists cannot escape this. Their “sex” may sound all objective and definitive and scientific, but it’s merely a form of gender, another observation and interpretation of a being. Come to think of it, interpretation might be the more helpful term.

        • Nepenthe says

          So, a person’s gender is whatever an observer assumes about them? And there is no performance here because there is nothing a person can do to change how observers interpret their gender? I’m clearly missing something, because I can only assume that a literate person on a feminist blog has heard of drag and trans* people.

          What you are talking about is sex. For simpler organisms, male is the sex that produces small, motile gametes. Female is the sex that produces large, non-motile gametes. A rotifer produces one or the other or both or neither gamete. This is, in fact, objective and definitive. Any person who looks will come to the same conclusion about that rotifer, or that tree, or that frog.

          Humans are not like rotifers and trees and frogs, because we perform gender.

          Or you one of those pomo, nothing-is-really-real types? Because then I might as well just talk to my cat; at least there’s some hope there.

          • Ashley Yakeley says

            So, a person’s gender is whatever an observer assumes about them?

            No, a person’s gender is however an observer interprets it.

            And there is no performance here because there is nothing a person can do to change how observers interpret their gender?

            No, there are lots of things a person can do to change how observers interpret their gender. But people have gender even if they don’t do anything.

            I’m clearly missing something,

            Yes.

            What you are talking about is sex. For simpler organisms, male is the sex that produces small, motile gametes. Female is the sex that produces large, non-motile gametes.

            This concept of “gamete size sex” is merely one more kind of gender. And this doesn’t work very well for humans, because it means certain infertile individuals apparently have no “sex” at all if they don’t produce gametes. You can try chromosomes if you like, but then you end up with an extra “sex” for every chromosomal abnormality.

            Go on, though, see if you can give me a roving biologist’s definition of an individual human’s “sex”.

            Humans are not like rotifers and trees and frogs, because we perform gender.

            Newborn babies don’t, and yet they have gender.

            Or you one of those pomo, nothing-is-really-real types?

            Certainly gender is an interpretation, not a fact.

            Because then I might as well just talk to my cat; at least there’s some hope there.

            Certainly your cat will never contradict you.

          • Ashley Yakeley says

            Pretty much everyone sez babies are boys or girls, even though they’re not doing any kind of gendered performance yet.

          • Xtina Schelin says

            What I meant was not “who is saying this”, but rather, “who has the authority to determine this”. If people who aren’t me are responsible for determining my gender, then how can I be said to have a gender?

          • Ashley Yakeley says

            People who aren’t you get to decide whether you’re pretty or not, for example. Gender works similarly.

          • Ashley Yakeley says

            Right. And gender is the same: it’s gender in their opinion, but gender is nothing aside from that. Of course, people often have a strong internal sense of their gender, which may or may not be rooted in brain biology. But this manifests as a desire for gender: a desire to be interpreted or observed in a particular way, or else a desire to be of a particular body shape.

            You can think of gender in terms of external and internal identity: the former is how others see you, while the latter is how you feel yourself to be on the inside. Then internal gender identity is actually “gender desired”, while external gender identity is “gender achieved”. Nevertheless humans and other beings typically have gender even when we don’t endeavour or perform it.

    • queequack says

      Privilege is coded as a bad thing, whereas the opposite is true: lack of privilege is a bad thing.

      I think this is a bug though, not a feature. Honestly I’m not sure I agree that the word carries an especially negative connotation; I don’t think the association with “pampered rich kid” is all that strong. We use the word colloquially in a whole bunch of contexts, from parents telling children that they have “lost their TV privileges” to stuff like “it’s a privilege to meet you”, and etc. It’s a versatile word and I don’t think most people immediately associate it with the 1%, at least in the absence of any sort of prompting.

      I think, in the context of feminism or social justice or whatever, it’s more just a function of the whole community being built around identifying the unprivileged and trying to raise them up. It’s inevitable that “privilege” will take on something of a sour tinge in that sort of atmosphere, because it’s very easy to start looking at it (or the people who have it) as inimical to everything your community stands for. I’m not sure there’s really anything to be done about that, other than to try to police yourself, if it’s something that bothers you.

  24. BrainyOne says

    Yes, the models do need improvement if they are going to explain data better. The problem arises in the fact that the models were not constructed in the attempt to explain data, like scientific ones are. Rather, they were constructed out of counter-ideologies to the dominant ideologies in place (gender essentialism, patriarchy, etc.). But it is not necessary to construct a counter-ideology to deconstruct a dominant ideology; it is merely necessary to show the faults in the dominant ideology, including its own failure to adequately explain data.

    I have little patience for dogmatic counter-ideologies, for even when an admirable social goal is in view, this will lead to some ephemeral short-term gains at the expense of ever getting to the goal line, when its own problems are pointed out. The fact that these problems are often pointed out by those who would wish to retain something of the status quo (e.g. MRAs) does not change the fact that the problems are there. Pointing this out of course gets some very angry. When you even suggest that there might be something wrong with the models you get a similar reaction to a creationist’s reaction to modern geology and biology; that is, denying even very clear and well-established findings. Yet I am not attempting to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

    Gender as performance

    Gender is socialization (leading to gender is performance) is an ideology, a dogma.

    The idea that there are no differences at birth and that all gender differences arise later on due to environmental differences (obviously including socialization) is an unsupported ideological position. For instance, there are clear differences in brain structure, even at birth. Yet this is not an argument for gender essentialism or patriarchal gender roles. First, even if there are some differences at birth, many other differences do arise during development. Second, the differences are of a statistical nature, with overlapping bell curves; and for many of these differences the intra-sex variance is much bigger than the inter-sex variance.

    The other problem, ably characterized in the OP, is that for at least very many, socialized gender expectations are not always completely at odds with what any given individual would wish to do, even given the absence of those expectations. Yet this is not an argument that rigid, socialized gender roles are a good thing. Despite the fact that some (or even the majority) may not find them too constraining, there will also be plenty who are quite constrained by them.

    Rape culture

    The fundamental dogmas underlying rape culture are these. Rape is not about sex. It’s about power, possessed by men and exerted over women through the use of or the threat of violence and by other means. This power is seen as natural and right, and therefore the woman’s consent or lack of consent is irrelevant. All men participate in rape culture therefore by sharing in and exerting this power, and therefore “only men can stop rape”. (BTW there is an answer for the first question posed in the OP about existence of rape laws: according to this framework rape laws were not put in place primarily to protect women, but to punish men (often of other ethnicities or races) who were seen as “defiling” the women (property) of other men.)

    The problem of course here is that in real life the power dynamic is not nearly as simplistic as described. Some men have a lot of power, others little. Moreover however power may be structured in society as a whole, this does not always accurately describe individual relationships. Also there are more and more instances of male-on-male and female-on-male sexual assault being brought to light. Moreover, to say this power is seen as “natural and right” by all men is certainly a hasty generalization. Yet one can admit all this and still realize that female rape victims suffer victim-blaming, not being believed, etc., and that culture and law enforcement have a long way to go in treating them with the compassion and sympathy they deserve.

  25. Doug S. says

    “Privilege” as a concept tends to conflate two things:

    1) Not having to deal with crap that nobody should have to deal with
    2) Having unfair advantages over other people

    I wish there were commonly recognized terms that referred to one of these but not the other.

    (Incidentally, I’m having trouble logging in with Firefox…)

  26. Jacob Schmidt says

    RE: Male Privilege

    A point that Crommunist pushed me into considering was the idea that we are privileged by our culture under 2 conditions:

    1) That we are capable of upholding the normalized ideal

    2) That we are willing to uphold the normalized ideal

    I consider 1 more important than 2. I think that one who easily fits the ideal mould without particularly wanting to is better off than one who wants to fit the ideal but can’t, for whatever reason.

  27. says

    This is so late and I doubt that after this many comments you’re going to see this, but I wrote it so I thought I’d mention it anyway.

    There is absolutely no contradiction between saying “rape culture exists” and the fact that rape is illegal and rapists are hated. This is because the feminist definition of rape is very different from what our patriarchal society thinks of as rape.

    I’ll use the terms f-rape and p-rape to distinguish between the two.

    F-rape is defined as sexual contact with a person without their meaningful consent. F-rape is understood as a crime against someone’s body and mind.

    P-rape is defined as physically violent forced sexual penetration of a “good” young middle-class straight cis white woman by a lower class man, preferably of color, who is a complete stranger to her. P-rape is understood as a crime against both the woman who is now broken and worthless due to the rape, AND as a property crime against the man who is responsible for her, i.e. her father or husband who now has to deal with the damaged goods.

    Even in our society today, people who hate rapists only hate p-rapists, not f-rapists. When we say rape culture exists, we mean we still must fight to substitute the meaning of f-rape for p-rape when people use the word rape.

  28. says

    Internalisation as a theory works far better for internalised homophobia than internalised sexist oppression. A woman attracted to women dating a man because of social pressure and an internalised belief that same sex sex is sinful is Oppressed far more clearly than a woman who marries the man she is attracted to, and decides to be a stay-at-home Mum. The latter may have made that decision because she has internalised oppression, or because she has made a legitimate decision and freely assessed the costs and benefits to her, or even done what is in her (individual) nature.

  29. AnaMTR says

    One way of thinking about “male privilege” is the hegemonic masculinity accepted in US culture. Males are given the benefit of the doubt and have this privilege unless they prove themselves unworthy by performing a different style of masculinity, or even *gasp* femininity. Overall, in many aspects of life in the US there is a distinct male privilege while in fewer areas, there may be no group privileged over another or female privilege. Maybe privilege is too strong a word when it comes to gender – there is certainly cisgender privilege, but maybe only a male advantage as compared to straight and white privileges.

    If you haven’t yet read R. Connell’s work, I’d recommend Masculinities to have a different look at gender performativity and hegemonic masculinity underlying male privilege. Connell does, in my opinion, rely a bit heavily on psychoanalytic theories to explain gender, but the rest of it is good.

  30. says

    Related to Puck @2’s comment, I’m a little skeptical that the popular understanding of “gender as performance” is different from “gender is socially constructed”. My understanding of it only came from feminist blogs, not from reading Butler’s book, but I always thought “gender as performance” meant that society had (somewhat arbitrarily) coded certain actions as masculine and certain actions as feminine, and that your actions influenced how people perceived you, not that those actions were insincere or performed with the conscious motive of affecting people’s perceptions. The fact that I understood it that way actually made it so I misunderstood some of what you wrote the first time I read it, and I’m still not 100% sure I’m understanding it all correctly.

    This is the only interpretation of “gender as performance” that makes sense to me. For a while when I was a little girl, I loved pink and dresses and disliked henley-type shirts because I thought they looked like something a boy would wear. Similarly, I remember going to a talk by a transgender woman where she talked about an early memory of her mother ironing her father’s shirts and saying, ‘Someday you’ll wear shirts like these,’ and thinking to herself, ‘Why would I wear shirts like my dad?’ But, given the variation in what kind of clothing men and women have worn throughout history, and given the fight over whether pink would be the “girl color” and blue the “boy color” or vice versa, I’m pretty confident that there’s nothing innately more masculine/feminine about particular colors or types of clothing. So in this example, it’s clearly a social construct but clearly people’s desire to follow it is not insincere.

    Of course, it’s possible that, as a trans woman, Serano was born with a sense of herself as a woman, but not with a sense of herself as feminine. The latter might have been part of the meaning that Serano attached to being a woman, given the prevalence of messages in the surrounding environment about what being a woman means. While we usually think of gender roles as something children learn through socialization, they also pick up plenty of not-so-subtle clues about how people of the other gender ought to act. In this way, gender-as-performance might still make sense, in that Serano learned to perform femininity because she thought of herself as a girl rather than the boy that others saw her as.

    But that seems pretty spurious. I’d have to see the evidence that children at that age even know what it means to think of themselves “as a woman” or “as a man.”

    Depending on what you mean by this, I’m not sure if I agree or disagree. If the argument is that children don’t have a separate sense of thinking of themselves “as a woman” vs. “as feminine”, I’d say yes. I haven’t seen any evidence that children have a better understanding of “what it means” to think of themselves as feminine or masculine than as a girl or boy. As a preschool-aged girl, I certainly had a sense that I was a girl and wanted to associate myself with girl things and not associate with boy things. Why? Because I was a girl! This was primarily an internal desire and not something I remember being pushed towards by any adults I actually knew at the time; I’m pretty sure I started liking pink because I picked up that it was a “girl color”, not because any adults steered me towards pink. (A little later in childhood I remember that occasionally happening with adults I knew.)

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