Philosophy Dudebros & Grassroots Don’t Mix

A post by Jamie

Hi-dee-ho, there, FreeThoughtBorg. I know a lot of you are eager to-be activists and even more of you have a lot of philosophy under your belt buckles. But you may not know yet that being Philosophy Dudebro in a grassroots action is terribad form. And if you don’t yet know this, you need to know this. Thus, I am writing to address you today with why that is, using my experiences over the past year in pro-choice activism to provide a context. For anyone who can’t guess from the choice in terminology alone, a Philosophy Dudebro is any guy who walks up to either a demonstration being attended by a grassroots counter-protest (think pro-life and pro-choice in the same space) or a grassroots demonstration on its own (think isolated pro-choice demo) with the expectation of unlimited time, energy, and attention for playing around with thought experiments and endless debate (see also: not protesting; pointless exercise; mental masturbation). Both pro-lifers and men who consider themselves pro-choice (but who haven’t checked their male privilege at any time in the past decade) do the Philosophy Dudebro thing, and it’s equally antagonizing no matter where on the issue your politics align. Some so-called “pro-choice” Philosophy Dudebros can’t even stop themselves from their pointless exercise when they finally stop engaging the pro-lifers.

Trigger warning: This post makes brief mention of graphic depictions of genocide, ethnic cleansing, mass murder, and abortion—one of these things is not like the others—in the context of these histories being blatantly misappropriated by “pro-life” campaigns to “unmask the genocide” and “end the killing”. It’s disgusting. It’s beyond words. In fact, it’s just plain obscene. This is why I treat the entire pro-life movement as a hate movement of Westboro Baptist Church calibre.

Tone Police warning: I’m using a fair amount of profanity in this post because I am aggressively challenging the blood-boiling sexism embedded in this issue. This choice is deliberate but well-controlled and not at all impulsive. I am not going to play nice with people who critique the tone of my delivery, so just don’t bother.

[Read more...]

Required Reading: Deconstructing ‘Masculinity’

One of the important roles for male feminists is to use our male privilege as a means of cutting through some of the most cynical dismissals of feminist positions. When anti-feminists can’t say “well she’s just saying that because women are trying to oppress men”, they have to find more convoluted (and increasingly less probable) explanations for their reflexive dismissal. By providing obvious counter-examples to the meme that feminists are just women who hate men, male feminists have the opportunity to ‘signal boost’ the messages from other feminists.

But a role that I think is increasingly relevant (or, at least one that I am becoming more aware of) is that of providing male critiques of the way in which masculinity myths fail to serve men. There are no shortage of harmful myths about how women ‘should’ be, and we should be combatting them vigorously – they often place women in situations that are disempowering and often dangerous. At the same time, there is room in feminist discourse to turn the analytical tools of gender critique on all constructs of gender. Today I want to walk through two examples of doing just that: [Read more...]

New required reading: Why Don’t Women Speak Out About Sexual Harassment? Here’s why

I realize that talking about sexual harassment is sooo ‘last year’, but there still remains a sizeable contingent of the atheist (and non-atheist) community that thinks that reports of sexual harassment at conventions is overblown, and does not merit a response or even a robust discussion. The prevailing thought repeatedly comes back to “just report it”, with the corresponding assertion that since we are not awash in reports of harassment, harassment doesn’t exist. Absence of evidence (of that specific kind) is evidence of absence, so anyone who complains about it should just STFU.

To put it another way,

The world is fundamentally fair when it comes to reporting sexual harassment. Harassment claims are handled with appropriate gravity, and claims can be properly adjudicated according to the abundance of evidence that exists when harassment takes place. True claims are not (or very rarely) dismissed or explained away by blaming the victim. The absence of verified claims is therefore a valid indicator of the lack of real harassment. Those who speak about harassment in the absence of verifiable evidence are therefore lying in order to destroy the movement.

It does not occur to people that, because victims of harassment very rarely have video/tape recording of every interaction they’ve ever had with another person, and because harassers rarely target people when there are witnesses around, “true” harassment claims are very difficult to separate from “false” ones. As a result, the level of evidence they demand* is either by definition impossible to produce, or only possible in the most egregious of circumstances. An approach is needed that allows victims of harassment to feel comfortable that filing a report will have a meaningful result, rather than triggering an avalanche of suspicion and victim blaming.

The “just report it” response breaks down even further when issues of power and authority are involved, as we have seen recently.

But maybe mine is not the word you want to take for it: [Read more...]

Atheism is a social justice issue – contraception edition

This is part of a series of articles intended to illustrate the usefulness of treating atheism as a social justice issue, rather than trying to wall atheist discourse off from social justice discussions. Read the introductory post here.

As I intimated in the panel discussion of masculinity we had last weekend, the fight over women’s access to contraception was a particularly illustrative example of the existence of gender oppression at the expense of women. No moment was more visually perfect than what occurred in a panel about the right of religious organizations to deny insurance coverage of contraception to their employees. This image is forever burned into the feminist discourse:

Five men sit on a Congressional panel about contraception

“The uter-what? That’s where the irrational emotions and original sin come from, right?”

But that image, hilarious though it may be, typifies a reality for women in America that is anything but funny: [Read more...]

New Required Reading: How a Wound Heals

Did you watch the Oscars? I didn’t. I don’t have cable, and to be honest even when I did the Oscars seemed like a complete waste of time. Other people like them though, so my Twitter feed was absolutely SLAMMED with #Oscars tweets, which is how I learned that satirical news-site The Onion decided it would be hilarious to call 9 year-old actor Quvenzhané Wallis a “cunt”. Yeah. Funny, right?

Now, The Onion executive went on to apologize for the tweet (to the collective outrage of a chorus of dudebros who think that publicly and misogynistically dehumanizing a 9 year-old is a ‘zero bad’ kind of situation), but the damage was done. The attempt, as far as I can tell, was to satirize the flood of people whose only joy in life seems to be publicly hating on Hollywood actresses, no matter how innocent of any wrongdoing they may be. The problem is that… well, it’s not really my place to explain it. Here’s the absolute best discussion that I’ve seen anywhere: [Read more...]

Special Feature: Real Men Don’t Talk About Misogyny

This past weekend I convened an all-star panel to discuss a topic whose time has definitely come: masculinity and misogyny. Our discourse within the atheist community has hit a sticking point (for many) in the form of the role that feminism plays in understanding not only our own internal community dynamics, but the world around us in general. This ‘internal’ debate is happening alongside a similar discussion happening in our society at large, where the role that women play in our democracy and our day-to-day lives is under particular scrutiny.

The issue before the panel was the statement “Real men don’t talk about misogyny” – not a direct quotation, but certainly a paraphrase of a general dismissive attitude of feminism as something that only women can and should talk about or participate in. The discussion centred around 5 general questions:

  • What is a “real man”?
  • How can we define “misogyny”? How does misogyny manifest itself in online discussion?
  • What role does religion play in gender roles?
  • Is misogyny similar to or different from other forms of bigotry (racism, homophobia, transphobia, etc.)? How?
  • Do parents have a role to play in the discussion?
  • What do/can/should men contribute to discussions of misogyny?

The discussion (which clocks in at just under 90 minutes), a description of the panelists, and some of my own thoughts are after the fold.

[Read more...]

Reflecting on the Yee Clun case

There are a couple of things from yesterday morning’s post that I think bear further examination and reflection.

One of the good ones

Yee Clun was lucky, in a sense, that he was able to muster support from well-regarded white Reginans. What Backhouse found extraordinary is that, with only a couple of notable exceptions, the bulk of Yee’s defenders protested that he was clearly not the kind of person who the law was supposed to discriminate against. He was one of the good ‘Chinamen’, who would never drug and subsequently rape a white woman in his employ.

Members of minority communities know this kind of ‘defence’ quite well. Many ostensible allies confide to their friends of colour that they (the friend) is different. Unless the desire for flattery overpowers the frontal lobe of the friend’s brain, this ‘difference’ suggests quite clearly that the so-called ally thinks that the stereotype is true, just not universally so. I am not in a position to judge other people and their reaction to such a statement, but I don’t consider a person who thinks that I am intelligent and worthwhile despite my blackness to be much preferable to someone who hates me because of it.

The other thing worth noting is that such defences do not matter. It doesn’t matter how ‘exceptional’ you are, people who judge people based on their race are going to judge you on the same basis, no matter how exceptional you try to be. They might claim to make exceptions for you, but as soon as you do something that makes you lose their favour (or in Yee’s case, when you’re up against someone whose favour you’ve never had), you will immediately be lumped in with the hated group. “One of the good ones” is code for “you’ll be the last one we come for”. [Read more...]

Black History Month: Yee Clun and the White Women’s Labour Law

This year for Black History Month I will be examining Colour-Coded: A Legal History of Racism in Canada, 1900-1950 by Constance Backhouse. Please read the preamble post if you haven’t already. Part 1 of this series is herePart 2 is here, and a follow-up can be found here. Part 3 can be read here.

Regina is the capital city of the province of Saskatchewan, with a present-day population of nearly 200,000 people, nearly 2% (or around 3300) of whom identify as having Chinese ancestry. As Saskatchewan contends with a resource-sector boom and an economic renaissance, it is highly likely that the prospect of decent wages and the opportunity to build a family will attract a larger number of immigrants, Chinese immigrants among them, to Regina’s… I was going to say ‘shores’ there.

Regina in 1921 had a much smaller Chinese population – ~250 individuals in an overall population of over 34,000 (0.7%). This was hardly mere happenstance – Canada at the time had extremely and overtly racist immigration and migration policies that specifically limited Chinese people (almost exclusively men, for purposes of manual labour) from entering Canada, and further limited their movement once they were here. Many of the Chinese men living in Regina had moved east from British Columbia, perhaps hoping to find respite from the even-more-racist laws governing where and how Chinese people were allowed to live and work*.

Unabashed anti-Chinese racism was no stranger to Regina, if the excerpts that Backhouse quotes from periodicals from the time are any evidence. Perhaps the most stark example of the prevailing attitude towards Chinese Reginans took the form of a law called An Act to Prevent the Employment of Female Labour in Certain Capacities or, more colloquially, the White Women’s Labour Law. From the text of the law: [Read more...]

New required reading: What a Victim-Blaming World Looks Like to a Victim

There is a spirited conversation going on in the comment threads of a recent post, wherein someone has decided to contribute the oh-so-underrepresented point that victims of assault should have taken better care to avoid the assault. It’s far from a novel point, it’s far from an accurate point, it’s far from a useful point; sadly, it’s not a far from popular point. It is therefore quite serendipitous that my lunch-time reading (which should have been lunchtime blogging) included this excellent piece by Erika Nicole Kendall (Trigger warning for descriptions of abuse and sexual assault):

People far more eloquent than myself have commented on the foolishness of telling victims (and potential victims) that they have some culpability in their ability to be victimized. I’d be a fool to re-mow that neatly manicured lawn.

However, I think we need to fully understand what the world looks like in a space where it is acceptable to tell people that they can protect themselves from being raped. It’s easy to talk about the immediate consequences of a society that thinks that women invite attack by “dressing like sluts” or by “drinking too much” (and yes, I am saying “women” on purpose, despite the story above) and how wrong-headed that thinking is, but what does the world look like when you are told to live in constant fear of being victimized?

You know what it looks like? It looks like young girls, suffering from the advances of grown men who should know and be encouraged to do better, who carry their books across their chest because their breasts attract too much attention. It looks like Mothers of young girls, buying their pre-teen and teenaged daughters giant sweaters to wear to try to hide their breasts, because they “know the boys will stare.” And, right now, as someone says, “Of course they will stare!” I have to wonder – do we even bother to tell our boys (and, hell, grown men, too) how wrong that is? That no, it is not simply “hormones” and “natural urges” to gawk at and objectify a young girl because she’s got a large rack?

[Read more...]

New required reading: Confessions of a former misogynist

There are times when I read things that people have written on the internet, and I say “that’s wrong”. There are other, slightly rarer times when I read something and say “that’s right, but I could have said it better”. There are still other occasions where I read something and my reaction is “that’s exactly how I would have said it”.

But then there are those rare and happy occasions where I read something and say “fuck, I wish I had written that”. This piece is one of those:

I remember when I first heard the word misogynist. I was talking to a friend about a girl who’d dumped me, and my feelings about feminists creating a society where nice men couldn’t get girlfriends, and he described me as “quite a misogynist”. I asked him what he meant, and he said “it’s simply hatred of women.” I instantly loved the term. I didn’t consider myself a sexist – I thought of Benny Hill as sexist – sexism was just silly but this was serious.

I very seriously thought women were irrational, mad, over-emotional and pseudo-intellectual creatures who would do anything, via new feminism, to crush weak men who suffered from depression, and I hated them. These days, I see a lot of people saying “I’m not a misogynist, but…”, because they don’t want to be called a misogynist, but not me. It was the term I’d been looking for, and I was proud to call myself a misogynist.

This was before the age of social media, but I know what I’d be doing if it was available at the time. I’d be following feminists and strong women on Twitter, combing their tweets for any kind of slip-up that I could use to ‘expose’ them. If I saw a blog or comment by a feminist that challenged my world view, my anger button would be pressed and, rather than responding rationally, I’d lash out with gendered insults, all while completely failing to empathise with them.

The post, which is a lengthy but incredibly worthwhile read, is the story of a man who made a journey very similar to my own (except he had the added bonus of having to contend with clinical depression) from unthinking misogyny and entitlement toward a more egalitarian and healthy relationship with not only women, but with his own anger. [Read more...]