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Jan 10 2014

Where’s the power? Some thoughts on Emer O’Toole’s feminist flowchart

I turned my back on the Guardian’s Comment is Free page for about five minutes on Thursday afternoon, and when I turned back around there was a piece by Emer O’Toole on men and feminism that had already reaped around 1300 comments.

I clicked, expecting some provocative outrage above the line and a savage feeding-frenzy below. It wasn’t really the case. The comments, by the standard of CIF feminism, included an unusually high proportion of interesting and astute points and constructive exchanges. The article itself centred on a flowchart designed to test whether or not a man (although I see no reason why it should be restricted to men) can be classified as a feminist or not.

Copyright  Emer O'Toole / The Guardian

Copyright Emer O’Toole / The Guardian

Although she’s too polite to say so, the post is really a demolition of the facile yet almost ubiquitous trope that goes “Do you believe men and women should be equal? Congratulations, you’re a feminist.” A lot of the controversy and dispute in the comments spiralled around a couple of points that I have made myself in the past and broadly agree with. The first is that feminism is (and should be) a woman’s movement, led by women, for women and with women’s rights, welfare and issues at its heart. Feminism is not a broader movement for social justice and equality of all sorts (including issues which primarily affects men). That’s not to say feminism cannot or should not sit alongside other social justice movements (including those which do focus on men) – simply that it is not feminism’s job.

The second point of agreement is that whether or not someone should be described as a feminist is not necessarily that big a deal.

You don’t have to be a feminist. There are plenty of ways to be awesome without working towards equal rights for women. For example, if you answered “Who do you think is more disadvantaged by gender inequality?” with “Women, but I’m still more interested in talking about men,” that’s fine.

Leaving aside the use of the phrase “be awesome” (cringe), and the fact that Emer goes on to pick out the Good Men Project as an example of said awesomeness (GMP and I have history) – I think this is pretty much spot on. There is no obligation to be feminist, and not being so doesn’t necessarily make you personally or politically bad.

It would be an interesting experiment to stop 100 random women in the street and take them through the flowchart. My guess is it would go a long way to answering the question which so often vexes mainstream liberal feminism, as to why a large majority of women choose not to identify as feminists.

That said, I do have a few issues with the analysis here. The first is the point of identification. This kind of reified, mechanistic approach removes any real personal choice from the question of whether or not someone is a feminist. It becomes a matter of pathological diagnosis instead (like “congratulations! You have syphilis!”) To me this misses one of the most important elements to the equation. I know several people who have made a conscious and conscientious decision to opt out of the label ‘feminism’ out of frustration, disgust or despair at the way the feminist mainstream deals with issues of concern to them – for example, white privilege and racism; sex worker rights or male victims of domestic and sexual abuse. It seems egregious to assume the authority to impose the label on people who may not wish to accept it, and arrogant to assume that everyone would want to be so defined.

My other theoretical issue with the post is that it positions feminism purely around matters of equality. As one persistent commenter rightly pointed out repeatedly below the line, the assumptions underpinning the question would be rejected out of hand by bell hooks, for starters, who would surely react by asking “equal with which men?”

Emer insists that to quibble over definitions of equality is enough to send you straight to the ‘Not a feminist’ box. Really? Meanwhile, I can’t help thinking of the kind of religious traditionalist who says things like “I believe Our Lord made men and women equal, which is why he decided that men should have the important job of going outside and earning money while women should have the equally important job of staying home, raising her family and keeping herself and her home all clean and purdey.” Is that a feminist belief?

As most feminists identified decades ago, the central issue is not about simple equality, but about personal, political and economic power and their distribution at the micro and macro levels. That is precisely why feminism began talking less about equal rights for women, and more about patriarchy. They are not the same issues.

I suppose we could start the flowchart with the question “Do you wish to challenge social, cultural and political structures which curtail and prescribe gender roles which systematically entrench disproportionate power relations between men and women within the context of a hegemonic capitalist system that is sustained by interlinked networks of oppression?” but I accept you would struggle to squeeze it into a little box on a flowchart.

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  1. 1
    Sammy

    I laid into this article heavily when I saw a friend post in on their Facebook, because I think it’s a good example of the conceited views of some of the more popular branches of feminism today.

    The thing that really got to me was not the series of anecdotes, so much (it IS irritating when someone says “But what about THIS issue?” when you’re making a point about something else, regardless of hows serious either issue is), but the next bit – where she deigned to define feminism on her terms.

    “Feminism means a hundred different things, depending on who is using the term, in what context, on what day. Feminism is a broad church, encompassing everyone from people who think all men are inherently misogynistic or worse, to people who just kinda think gender matters to much in all sorts of context, from jobs to raising children to cooking steak. Nevertheless, I’m going to pretend a) that feminsim means one thing, b) that all ‘good’ feminists agree on what that thing is, and c) that any critique of any aspect of any feminist’s rhetoric by men is inherently worthless.”

    I don’t think she speaks for all feminists – nor all women, for that matter. I think many aspects of contemporary feminism are total tripe. I think telling me my opinion doesn’t matter because I’m a man is bullshit, because a) I care about the women in my life, b) patriarchy harms men as well as women (and let’s not embark on a ridiculous ‘who is harmed most’ pseudo-intellectual slanging match, and c) the historical irony of you telling people who can and cannot comment on a particular issue is I MEAN C’MON.

    Here’s a principle: don’t tell anyone what they should and shouldn’t have opinions are; try to listen to as many people as possible, however wrong you think they are, with a grin on your face. Easy for me to say, right, because I’m a man? C’mon. If you think my argument is wrong, argue with my argument, not with the pale wormy thing I have dangling between my thighs. Historical and current inequalities don’t make discounting my opinion any less tacky.

    (This is part of a wider discomfort with intersectionality and what, precisely, the net effect of it is, which I’ve written about here: https://medium.com/better-humans/ed8568720d11)

  2. 2
    Lucy

    “If you think my argument is wrong, argue with my argument”

    Your argument may not be wrong, there are many ways to skin a cat and yours may be one of them.
    Your argument is less important because women don’t want to skin the cat your way.

  3. 3
    Ally Fogg

    “Feminism means a hundred different things, depending on who is using the term, in what context, on what day. Feminism is a broad church, encompassing everyone from people who think all men are inherently misogynistic or worse, to people who just kinda think gender matters to much in all sorts of context, from jobs to raising children to cooking steak. Nevertheless, I’m going to pretend a) that feminsim means one thing, b) that all ‘good’ feminists agree on what that thing is, and c) that any critique of any aspect of any feminist’s rhetoric by men is inherently worthless.”

    Haha, that’s not entirely unfair, I reckon. I think there are big problems with a) and b) there..

    I think you’re maybe stretching it a little on c) though. I didn’t take her to mean “any critique by men is inherently worthless’ so much as ‘any critique by men is not necessarily the end of the world.’

    In other words, I think feminists are more than within their rights to ignore male critique (including mine, of course) – if they find something interesting and useful then great, but I really don’t think feminists should be overly bothered about whether or not men like what they say and do.

  4. 4
    muntybunty

    Reading the comments below the article, what dismays me most is the perception that feminism only works with a buy-in from men that many of the commentators seem to have. While they profess that they consider women equal to men and think that feminst aims have been achieved, they see no contradiction in believing that it’s really, ultimately for men to decide how women shall live, so we really shouldn’t anger them and force them to put us on the naughty step.

    Anyway, that’s what I didn’t bother saying below the line.

  5. 5
    Thil

    I would define a society with gender equality as a society where an individual would theoretically be able to have and achieve all the same things as an individual of the opposite sex born in the same circumstances and with the same innate intelligence

    I would have thought a thought there should be a bit in the flowchart where it asks you if you care to do much of anything about women’s problems. There’s a lot of things I think should be different but I do nothing much to fix them

  6. 6
    Thil

    @Ally Fogg

    do you think transmen (as in people who were born female but believe themselves to have a men’s mind) should self indentify as feminists?

  7. 7
    Thil

    @Lucy @2

    can you give me an example of what you mean?

  8. 8
    lelapaletute

    @Muntybunty

    Reading the comments below the article, what dismays me most is the perception that feminism only works with a buy-in from men that many of the commentators seem to have.

    The problem is, up to a point that’s kind of true.

    Not that men are the final arbiters and women’s activism has never achieved any concessions from men that they weren’t happy to give anyway – this is manifestly untrue, and it annoys me when people say that Sufragettes didn’t achieve anything because ultimately it was MEN who GAVE them the vote etc etc. This is clearly balls. But the long term goal of feminism – a truly gender-egalitarian society – only really functions with commitment and buy-in from the majority, and to be a real majority we’re going to need to bring the men along with us (unless you believe in seperatism).

    This has been the crisis in Western feminism – we have secured a raft of rights and legal recourse to defend them, and made enormous progress for women. But we STILL aren’t treated equally, nor do we experience our lives equally with men, because social conventions and attitudes have not kept up with the legal advances. You can legislate that a man can’t verbally harrass a woman in the street; but you can’t stop him from undressing her with his eyes and conceptualising her as a body, not a person. Only he can do that. You can make it illegal to rape someone while they are passed out drunk; but you can’t stop some people thinking that a woman who was thus violated had it coming to her for making herself vulnerable; only they can do that. It’s these thoughts and attitudes that seep into and poison our popular culture and our daily interactions, and what makes being a woman such a bloody grind at times.

    We DO need men to buy in to feminism; we need deep-seated prejudice to change, we need the cultural outlook to change. There is still work to be done to secure hard won legislative rights, and to make sure the results they deliver are adequate. But the real front line now in the west are ones of attitude and culture, which cannot be changed by legislative force alone. For that to change, feminism cannot go it alone – it needs men to change too, and to want that change.

  9. 9
    Koken

    ‘I know several people who have made a conscious and conscientious decision to opt out of the label ‘feminism’ … It seems egregious to assume the authority to impose the label on people who may not wish to accept it, and arrogant to assume that everyone would want to be so defined.’

    I can definitely see this the other way – if feminism simply refers to whoever identifies as a feminist, the term loses any wider usefulness in describing a position, a movement or whatever. I can call myself a table, but I’d be wrong, even if quite sincere. I realise that identifying oneself in terms of such value-laden labels is a bit more complicated than that, but I do think something that a lot of people want feminism to mean is lost if it is accepted to be entirely subjective. I certainly don’t accept that as a general principle we should only label people in terms they would themselves accept.

  10. 10
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    In other words, I think feminists are more than within their rights to ignore male critique (including mine, of course) – if they find something interesting and useful then great, but I really don’t think feminists should be overly bothered about whether or not men like what they say and do.

    Yeah, but by the end of the day we will only destroy rigid gender roles if we work together. Which doesn’t mean we cannot productively focus on different aspects, like men teaching other men about privilege and toxic masculinity and why catcalling is actually wrong and women focusing on reproductive rights more than GI Joe.

  11. 11
    Thil

    @lelapaletute@8

    “you can’t stop him from undressing her with his eyes and conceptualising her as a body, not a person”

    Men would do that to other men, children or animals if they were sexually attracted to them, as would many women. It’s not an issue of sexism.

    I also don’t think there’s anything wrong with it period all so long as you can keep your desire to fuck someone separate from your judgment of them as a person

  12. 12
    JT

    For that to change, feminism cannot go it alone – it needs men to change too, and to want that change.(lela)

    For many men, and frankly many women too, feminism has ceased to be the change they want to see. I think the term has outgrown its intention and has ventured into an area that wants and needs more inclusion. Time for a makeover starting with a name change. :)

  13. 13
    JT

    @Thil

    The funny part is how people go on and on about equality and fail to realize its not just one gender that thinks how bad they would like to fuck someone while they are staring. ;)

  14. 14
    muntybunty

    “For that to change, feminism cannot go it alone – it needs men to change too, and to want that change.”

    I don’t really agree that pandering to the view that, ultimately, it’s up to men and they have to be soft soaped into accepting women as equals helps though. I think if women were as serious about enforcing a certain view of gender relations as men are, the level of power women decline to use would be very clear. Just as anti-racists aren’t going to bend their calls for justice to the views of anti-racists (and doesn’t it look ridiculous when we say it) women should not simply accept that the views of men who cannot tolerate sharing social, cultural, economic and political space on an equal footing with women, is anything we really need to halt ourselves for.

  15. 15
    lelapaletute

    @ muntybunty

    I don’t really agree that pandering to the view that, ultimately, it’s up to men and they have to be soft soaped into accepting women as equals helps though.

    It’s not about pandering and soft-soaping, it’s about dialogue and real change. But fair enough, it’s a difficult ground, and a fine line between men engaging with feminism and men trying to redirect feminism’s energy into their own service. Also, some would see my ambition of a gender-egalitarian culture as utopian, and of secodary importance to a gender-egalitarian legislature, employment environment and economy. Personally I think the latter requires the former to actually be worth the paper it’s written on. But I amaware that I am far from universally supported in this view by my fellow feminists, male and female :P

    As for your anti-racism comparison, I’m afraid I feel it is pretty unhelpful – the two forms of prejudice are not really analogous in a straightforward way. Contrary to how John and Yoko had it, woman is not the n***** of the world. The dynamics of these two scourges (racism and sexism) are very different and (of course) intersectional.

    On t;other hand, we’re both facing in the right direction, so we probably shouldn’t waste each other’s time telling each other how to walk :P

  16. 16
    redpesto

    Fogg:

    There is no obligation to be feminist, and not being so doesn’t necessarily make you personally or politically bad.

    At which point lots of men and women go phew!.

    To be honest, it’s the ‘all or nothing at all’ logic of that flowchart that makes the whole idea of being an ‘ally’ seem less like ‘I agree with you’ and more like signing a pledge of eternal and uncritical fealty (the problem you identified with ‘male feminism’). If feminism truly is a ‘women’s movement’ then why would men sign up instead of agreeing and/or supporting where they feel to, while reserving the right to disagree for (ideally) valid reasons?

    Secondly, the binary logic of the flowchart seems at odds with the more complex arguments within ‘intersectional’ feminism – which recognises that ‘power’ is more a network than a simple hierarchy (one reason, perhaps, why white/middle class feminists have felt so challenged over race and/or class).

    Lastly, part of me thinks that O’Toole wrote the article as if to give men ‘permission’ not to be feminists. However, I also think it reads like she was trying to save face having written off those people who broadly agree and could form part of a broader movement but who can’t or won’t buy into the whole package (the ‘we can have the the revolution without you’ part of the article). Rather than identify any ‘common ground’ the response may end up being ‘Okay then, ‘bye’ because they can’t ‘pass’ all the questions in the flowchart.

  17. 17
    Gjenganger

    Feminism is not about equality, it is making things better for women. Equality is a deliberately misleading debating point. A more honest version of the flowchart would be this:

    - Do you care strongly about making things better for women?

    - If yes: Would it make a difference to your feelings if women are already doing as well as men?

    - If no: Should women consider the cost to other groups before they opt for some particular policy?

    - If no: Should the well-being of women be kept in perspective by comparing with the needs of other groups?

    - If no: Do you think improving things for women calls for urgent action?

    - If yes: Congratulations, you got here. Only now can you say that you are are a feminist.

    Since feminism is basically like a trade union for women, it is unsurprising that few men can pass the entry requirements. On the other hand, why would they want to?

  18. 18
    Thil

    “To be honest, it’s the ‘all or nothing at all’ logic of that flowchart that makes the whole idea of being an ‘ally’ seem less like ‘I agree with you’ and more like signing a pledge of eternal and uncritical fealty (the problem you identified with ‘male feminism’). If feminism truly is a ‘women’s movement’ then why would men sign up instead of agreeing and/or supporting where they feel to, while reserving the right to disagree for (ideally) valid reasons?

    Secondly, the binary logic of the flowchart seems at odds with the more complex arguments within ‘intersectional’ feminism – which recognises that ‘power’ is more a network than a simple hierarchy (one reason, perhaps, why white/middle class feminists have felt so challenged over race and/or class)”

    I don’t know how you’re getting all that from the flowchart? there’s nothing in it that implies men have to defer to women to be feminists. I don’t see how saying you have to think women should be equal equates to a denial of complex power networks?

  19. 19
    Gjenganger

    @Thil 18

    I don’t see how saying you have to think women should be equal equates to a denial of complex power networks?

    The clue is in the next box of the chart. If you think that women might alredy be equal you cannot be a feminist. The logical conclusion would be that a feminist is somebody who will fight to improve the lot of women whether they are doing better or worse than men. Hence my post 17.

  20. 20
    redpesto

    Thil:

    I don’t know how you’re getting all that from the flowchart?

    Three of the four questions have ‘yes/no’ answers. The one that doesn’t sets out that any answer other than ‘women’ leads to ‘Not a feminist’. One has to get all four ‘right’ – which presumably means prioritising women and women’s issues – in order to arrive at being a feminist.

    Secondly, it doesn’t really allow for complexity, as I think Ally explains here:

    To me this misses one of the most important elements to the equation. I know several people who have made a conscious and conscientious decision to opt out of the label ‘feminism’ out of frustration, disgust or despair at the way the feminist mainstream deals with issues of concern to them – for example, white privilege and racism; sex worker rights or male victims of domestic and sexual abuse.

    Lastly, wouldn’t it seem a touch presumptuous for men not to defer to women when it comes to feminism? Here’s Ally explaining the problem with male feminism:

    One can entirely understand the fury with which feminists greet patronising advice from men about how to do feminism properly. Feminism is a movement that is, to a large extent, about challenging societal norms that give men more powerful roles and influential voices. Many male feminists such as the three Michaels – Kimmel, Kaufman and Flood – sidestep this by writing primarily about what men should do among ourselves. However as Schwyzer correctly identified, this can only ever be within the limits set by feminist women. The ultimate goal of all feminists, male or female, is and rightly should be the welfare and social and political emancipation of women. If men are concerned about the problems men face, not just the problems men cause, then the pews of the feminist cathedral are rarely the most comfortable place to sit.

    Unless of course, the Onion story ‘Man finally put in charge of struggling feminist movement’ was actually good advice (see also the way that the credibility of Femen plummeted when it turned out that a man had set it up).

  21. 21
    bugmaster

    @Gjenganger #17:

    Well said.

  22. 22
    AndrewV69, Visiting MRA, Purveyor of Piffle & Woo

    @Ally

    I know several people who have made a conscious and conscientious decision to opt out of the label ‘feminism’ out of frustration, disgust or despair at the way the feminist mainstream deals with issues of concern to them

    As it happens, so do I and so did I.

    In any event, I both agreed and disagreed with around 50% of what you wrote. This is probably why I keep coming back here.

  23. 23
    Lucy

    This

    “can you give me an example of what you mean?”

    Yes. We’re not talking of binary situations here where there is one right argument and one wrong argument, there are millions of facets to every argument and most of them could be right in their own way from their own perspective.

    Take for example a group of architects designing a new city. The architects might want to design it one way, it might be a very good way, it might be economically,socially and ecologically sound, but it might not be the way another group of architects would design it. Feminists might argue they city development should take more account of female priorities and perspectives, e.g. For argument’s sake for the housing to be smaller and more to our own scale with shared areas rather than tall and thrusting and gleaming. Neither is right or wrong, it’s a matter of priorities and who gets to make decisions.

  24. 24
    Lucy

    Thil

    “I would define a society with gender equality as a society where an individual would theoretically be able to have and achieve all the same things as an individual of the opposite sex born in the same circumstances and with the same innate intelligence”

    As long as the template for “achieving the same things” hasn’t been designed by men.

    At the moment, women can only strive to merge with a cultural and economic system that reflects male priorities. Feminists want to change, fundamentally, the cultural and economic systems themselves. Before they do that feminists first want to allow women to develop the ability and confidence to discover how they would change them if given a free hand,

    Feminists essentially believe that women have been a colonised people since their inception. And like any other colonised people, their culture, language, personalities, bodies (through sex selection) have been irrevocably damaged and distorted. That has to be repaired. And given that it’s taken about 40,000 years to get to this point, and there is no time when it wasn’t like this, it’s not an overnight job to undo it.

  25. 25
    Lucy

    Thil

    “The funny part is how people go on and on about equality and fail to realize its not just one gender that thinks how bad they would like to fuck someone while they are staring. ”

    But it’s one gender that actually does it.

  26. 26
    Lucy

    “I know several people who have made a conscious and conscientious decision to opt out of the label ‘feminism’ out of frustration, disgust or despair at the way the feminist mainstream deals with issues of concern to them”

    I know several people who have made the conscious decision to do all kinds of shit: convert, leave, eat nothing but cabbage soup.

    You think feminism should react to every person who makes a conscious decision?

    Once again, women are being expected to compromise their values and knowledge for the sake of harmony. God save us from the rebranders.

  27. 27
    John-Henry Beck

    @ Gjenganger 19

    I think you are reading too much in to the flowchart’s question. You seem to be assuming it would apply in to the future in perpetuity regardless of how circumstances change. I think it’s fairly clear that the author of the chart is simply going with the view that women are clearly disadvantaged at this point, and so you can’t consider yourself a feminist if you have the view that women are currently equal. Since I don’t think an argument could be made that fits within feminist thought and views that women are currently equal (or any other rational viewpoint as far as I can see), it seems a reasonable position.

  28. 28
    Lucy

    Muntybunty

    “Reading the comments below the article, what dismays me most is the perception that feminism only works with a buy-in from men that many of the commentators seem to have. While they profess that they consider women equal to men and think that feminst aims have been achieved, they see no contradiction in believing that it’s really, ultimately for men to decide how women shall live, so we really shouldn’t anger them and force them to put us on the naughty step.”

    Naughty step? You’re guilty of the thing you say you dislike, trying to get buy-in by trivialising things and making them seem more appealing and cute and less threatening.
    Naughty step isn’t the appropriate reaction to comprehensive and systematic oppression and violence over continents and millennia.

    But I agree with your central point, men should support female equality by all means, of course they should, it’s a basic requirement. But they need to learn not to take that as an invitation to weigh in and take over, undermining that enterprise before it’s even got going. Anytime they hear themselves saying “feminists are”, “feminists should”, “women ought to”, “what this needs is”, “my opinion matters just as much” they need to stop and take a step back.

  29. 29
    johngreg

    Lucy said:

    Feminists essentially believe that women have been a colonised people since their inception. And like any other colonised people, their culture, language, personalities, bodies (through sex selection) have been irrevocably damaged and distorted. That has to be repaired. And given that it’s taken about 40,000 years to get to this point….

    Umm, you’re a POE, right? Right?

    Colonised since inception? Women were incepted? They began? WTF? Adam and Eve?

    Bodies etc., colonised through sex selection? Sex selection colonises and damages and distorts? WTFWTF??? Original sin?

    /scratches noggin’ in honest bewilderment … I don’t think I’ve taken any drugs

  30. 30
    Lucy

    Johngreg

    What’s a POE?

    “Colonised since inception? Women were incepted? They began? WTF? Adam and Eve?”

    Inception, beginning. Since there were women, there were men and men dominated women.

    —-
    “Bodies etc., colonised through sex selection? Sex selection colonises and damages and distorts?”
    Female partners were sex selected by men for being smaller, softer, physically weaker, more docile, less intelligent, more compliant than them. Very tall (taller than men), physically strong, highly intelligent, dominant women struggle to find sexual partners and thus to reproduce their characteristics. Over millennia this has a distorting effect,

    “WTFWTF??? Original sin?”

    Calm down. No, you’ve got the wrong end of the stick. Just try breathing, taking a step back, thinking and then asking, rather than jumping to conclusions, blustering and attacking. Life will be easier that way. Original sin has precisely nothing to do with sex selection and biological and institional biases.

  31. 31
    Lucy

    Gjenganger

    “Feminism is not about equality, it is making things better for women. Equality is a deliberately misleading debating point.”

    Feminism is about equality. But not about making women equal to men. Making men equal to women, and women equal to their potential.

  32. 32
    Lucy

    MuntyBunty

    “I don’t really agree that pandering to the view that, ultimately, it’s up to men and they have to be soft soaped into accepting women as equals helps though. I think if women were as serious about enforcing a certain view of gender relations as men are, the level of power women decline to use would be very clear. Just as anti-racists aren’t going to bend their calls for justice to the views of anti-racists (and doesn’t it look ridiculous when we say it) women should not simply accept that the views of men who cannot tolerate sharing social, cultural, economic and political space on an equal footing with women, is anything we really need to halt ourselves for.”

    Feminism is the only socially revolutionary movement that is expected to achieve its aims without upsetting the people its revolting against. And people seem constantly surprised that those people do get upset and resist it. No revolution, not even the pacifist Ghandi’s was peaceful – millions died to achieve Indian independence. MAnd feminism can’t be either, because people in power do not let go willingly. Accusing feminists of being overly confrontational based in their behaviour so far (as men and men-pleasing women are prone to do), is utterly ludicrous and disproportionate, they seem to have lost all sense of what confrontation really looks like. Back to the old sexist double-standards.

  33. 33
    johngreg

    There never was a beginning; an inception. Or are you somehow privvy to special information that no one else yet has that enables to you draw a specific line between, oh, I don’t know, apes and humans?

    Lucy said:

    Female partners were sex selected by men for being smaller, softer, physically weaker, more docile, less intelligent, more compliant than them. Very tall (taller than men), physically strong, highly intelligent, dominant women struggle to find sexual partners and thus to reproduce their characteristics. Over millennia this has a distorting effect.

    So, if we reverse-engineer, so to speak, what you have said, then in effect you are saying that before men decided to be sexually aroused by “smaller, softer, physically weaker, more docile, less intelligent, more compliant” women, women were, presumably, not “smaller, softer, physically weaker, more docile, less intelligent, more compliant” — a singular, unique world of mammalian Amazons perchance? — and therefore, implicitly, the Evil Patriarchy has been at work for some 40,000+ years? I mean that’s what you are implying. Surely you don’t seriously mean that, do you?

    Original sin has precisely nothing to do with sex selection and biological and institional biases.

    Yes, I know that. That was directed at your happily wholly evidence-free claim that this anti-feminist sex selection has been going on for 40,000+ years.

  34. 34
    mildlymagnificent

    Female partners were sex selected by men for being smaller, softer, physically weaker, more docile, less intelligent, more compliant than them. Very tall (taller than men), physically strong, highly intelligent, dominant women struggle to find sexual partners and thus to reproduce their characteristics. Over millennia this has a distorting effect,

    Oh dear. Shock, horror! The world will end, cats will live with dogs. A feminist is about to disagree with a feminist – this has never happened in the history of ever.

    When men are looking for a partner for a hard agricultural life, they often choose the strongest woman they can find. In nasty societies this means that women were literally used as beasts of burden by men who were too poor to afford a donkey or other animal for the purpose. In better societies, a brave wife and husband could stand as equals side by side and fight off marauders looking to take their farm animals or other possessions. A strong arm and a willingness to fight were a great advantage to both partners. And surely one of the best-known statistics often cited by feminists is that still, in “modern” times, most agricultural work in the world is done by women. Not a job for weaklings.

    And if we go back further to hunter-gatherer groups, just as women might prefer partners with demonstrated hunting skills and not bother about his appearance at all, so men look for a woman’s ability to contribute to feeding their potential family rather than to cosmetic qualities or passive personality. Looks or a ‘compliant’ nature or physical weakness are either irrelevant or actually negative issues in the choice of a wife in such groups.

    It’s absolutely true that many such societies were not wonderful for women, but it wasn’t for the same kinds of gentle, ladylike, physically weak, passive, compliant presentation reasons as people have been advancing for the most recent decades/ centuries in Western societies. (A lot of those demands are really class-based. Women should aspire to the leisurely life of the indulged daughter / pampered wife of the upper middle class – whether to kid themselves about their own status or to bolster their father’s or husband’s view of himself makes little difference. It’s always been restrictive for the women of that class anyway and it’s a double burden for those who are trying to keep up appearances.)

    For this argument, I always like to reread Sojourner Truth. http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/sojtruth-woman.asp
    For a different view of women in relationships and families, I like The Subversive Family by Ferdinand Mount.

  35. 35
    Ally Fogg

    I should also point out that genetic traits in both men and women are taken from both the mother and the father. It is not true that female characteristics are passed down through the female line and male characteristics through the male line.

    So any selective breeding of the type described, a big strapping male with a puny little female would be as likely to produce a big strapping daughter and a puny little son as vice versa.

    Anyway, changing the subject, but still on Lucy…

    I know several people who have made the conscious decision to do all kinds of shit: convert, leave, eat nothing but cabbage soup.

    You think feminism should react to every person who makes a conscious decision?

    No, absolutely not, you are misunderstanding me. I don’t think feminism should do anything in response to those people, other than respect their decision to decide they are not feminists.

    A better analogy would be if you were to say “I know several Jewish people who enjoy cabbage soup. If they want to decide that everyone who enjoys cabbage soup is Jewish, who are you to tell them they cannot?”

  36. 36
    redpesto

    Lucy @24:

    Feminists essentially believe that women have been a colonised people since their inception. And like any other colonised people, their culture, language, personalities, bodies (through sex selection) have been irrevocably damaged and distorted. That has to be repaired. And given that it’s taken about 40,000 years to get to this point, and there is no time when it wasn’t like this, it’s not an overnight job to undo it.

    We’ll gloss over the claim that ‘Feminists essentially believe’ from someone who complains about men generalising that ‘feminists are…’ for now (especially as ‘colonisation’ was a reality for black women and men and not just a clever-sounding metaphor).

    The odd thing about the above quote is the idea that there is a set of essential ‘female’ attributes and qualities (not specified), along with a distinct ‘female’ language, all of which are apparently genetically based [Biological determinism klaxon!]. These have apparently been systematically ‘bred’ out of women since pre-history, without any of those heritable traits showing up in any boys the women gave birth to, let alone any girls inheriting any ‘male’ attributes from their father’s DNA. And since it’s apparently taken ’40,000 years to get to this point’ somehow feminism is going to rectify this in a few decades (rather than in another 40,000 years of sex selection, presumably this time of men). I’d love to know which books on anthropology and genetics Lucy’s been reading to arrive at this argument.

  37. 37
    Thil

    @Lucy@25

    That was JT your quoting, not me

    @Lucy@24

    What are you defining as “male priorities”? I don’t see why gender should drastically effect your ambitions in life. If such priorities are wrong they’re wrong in general, not just for the women

    “Feminists essentially believe that women have been a colonised people since their inception. And like any other colonised people, their culture, language, personalities, bodies (through sex selection) have been irrevocably damaged and distorted”

    Firstly A people who’ve been opposed since forever couldn’t possibly have an independent culture to be distorted by said oppression. Secondly I don’t care about preserving culture, I care about individuals

    @Lucy@23

    The way I see there are three possible responses to every dichotomy, one of them has to be objectively correct. They are too pick one of the two choices or to point out that that it’s a false dichotomy

    @redpesto@20

    “Three of the four questions have ‘yes/no’ answers. The one that doesn’t sets out that any answer other than ‘women’ leads to ‘Not a feminist’. One has to get all four ‘right’ – which presumably means prioritising women and women’s issues – in order to arrive at being a feminist”

    I don’t see how you can have a meaningful definition of “feminist” that doesn’t include “prioritising women and women’s issues”. What point of mine exactly are you responding to here?

    “To me this misses one of the most important elements to the equation. I know several people who have made a conscious and conscientious decision to opt out of the label ‘feminism’ out of frustration, disgust or despair at the way the feminist mainstream deals with issues of concern to them – for example, white privilege and racism; sex worker rights or male victims of domestic and sexual abuse”

    I don’t see how this quote supports your claim that the flowchart denies complexity. People refusing to identify as feminists because they don’t want to be associated with some other people who identify as feminists seems like a fairly simple issue to understand

    “Lastly, wouldn’t it seem a touch presumptuous for men not to defer to women when it comes to feminism? Here’s Ally explaining why”

    I’ve read all that before and I disagree with him. If you view outsider advice as patronising you should grow up.

  38. 38
    redpesto

    Thi @37:

    - I was responding to your argument about what I interpreted from the flowchart

    - The flowchart suggests that if you do believe that women are disadvantaged but you want to talk about men (e.g. so you can make a difference that has benefits for men as well as women), then you are ‘not a feminist. The ‘feminism is for everybody’ argument seems not to apply: anyone who wants to talk about gender issues (men as well as women, though not necessarily equally) looks like being ‘not a feminist’, but that’s an ‘ism’ with a different name, perhaps. This quote explains (for me at least) that some people don’t identify as feminists because their experience doesn’t ‘fit’ (or isn’t allowed to ‘fit’: see the ‘sex wars’ or the debates about transgender women), not because of the people who do identify as feminists.

    – Personally, I don’t think ‘outsider advice’ is necessarily patronising. But I’ve come across enough examples within debates about gender politics and feminism where people think it is.

  39. 39
    David S

    The interesting thing about Emer’s flowchart, at least to me, is the way that it crosses the is/ought boundary. In order to count as a feminist you not only have to believe that something ought to be true, namely that men and women ought to be equal, you also have to believe that something is true, namely that they are not, in fact, equal.

    This is intriguing because, even if we believe that women and men are not equal, we can imagine a counterfactual world in which they are. In this counterfactual world it would be simply impossible for anyone to be a feminist, even if they passionately believed in all of the things that most feminists believe in. This seems very odd. It would surely be possible to believe, for example, that women should have access to abortion, freedom from sexual harassment, equal professional opportunities, and so on, even if we had achieved a situation in which they did have those things. Would those beliefs somehow have ceased to be feminist beliefs, and would those who held them have ceased to be feminists?

  40. 40
    Schala

    Feminists essentially believe that women have been a colonised people since their inception. And like any other colonised people, their culture, language, personalities, bodies (through sex selection) have been irrevocably damaged and distorted. That has to be repaired. And given that it’s taken about 40,000 years to get to this point, and there is no time when it wasn’t like this, it’s not an overnight job to undo it.

    Wow, a lot of conspirationist blood in you.

    I think society has been arranged in such a way that the poor work like slaves for bare-subsistance for industries they probably don’t benefit much from, in order for rich executives, rich stock holders, etc to make billions in profit, and live like kings, and that this oligarchy perpetuates itself since money existed.

    This is at least more or less easy to demonstrate, capitalism makes not secret of its objective, only of the resultant state (a few rich fucks having it all, middle-class thinking they’re ok, and most people having less than that and getting fucked over and told they’re taking advantage of the rich – and that’s in 1st world countries).

    Poe is used to describe someone who is so out there, so radical, so extremist, that they could also be a parody of a radical or an extremist and you wouldn’t notice a single difference. Ergo, you could be a fake conspirationist or a real one, if your claim is really out there, no one could really tell.

    TERFs often qualify, since they view maleness as horrible in itself, and trans women as male infiltrators.

    But seriously, your claim is bullshit, regardless if you truly believe it in good faith, or troll. Sex selection works with selecting men, not women. Most women reproduce, most men historically don’t. So its traits in men that are selected for or against. And apparently, being cutthroat, heartless, and able to cut the empathy channel whenever, are qualities that have been selected for, even though they only appear in certain really successful leaders and entrepreneurs, or sociopaths.

    It’s extremely rewarded, but most people have empathy, so they can’t just step on other people’s toes, fire people or ruthlessly go “mine mine mine” with every opportunity they get. The sense of entitlement is rewarded. People who push boundaries and don’t ask and just take, are often considered daring, and thus desirable. Apparently the worst trait a man can have is be a coward or afraid, indecisive or with an excess of empathy. They’re selected against, and many probably end up celibate for life. They consider their potential romantic partner’s feelings so much, they don’t dare inflict their own presence on them, in case it might be unwelcomed (and some feminists have told them it’s likely to be unwelcomed unless she tells you it’s welcomed beforehand, reinforcing their indecision).

  41. 41
    Ally Fogg

    DavidS (39)

    I’m not sure about this. I can easily imagine a hypothetical world in which those things are simply no longer an issue, in the same way as nobody defines themselves in opposition to witch burnings, and nobody now has to define themselves as pro-or anti-slavery.

    I think one of the interesting philosophical points about feminism is that its ultimate objective should really be its own redundancy – it will have succeeded when nobody feels the need to identify as a feminist. In that sense I’m always intrigued by debates about whether or not it is a bad thing that most women don’t identify as feminists. It could just as easily be a marker of success as of failure.

  42. 42
    David S

    AllyF(41)

    nobody defines themselves in opposition to witch burnings, and nobody now has to define themselves as pro-or anti-slavery.

    Well I’m opposed to slavery, and to witch burning, and I don’t think that is irrelevant in the modern world, because those things still happen. Even if they didn’t happen it would still be worth defining yourself as being in opposition to them. You could only cease to have a position on them if you thought that they simply could not happen any more.

    That’s a bit by the by though. I wasn’t actually trying to say that Emer’s flow chart was wrong, simply that it was interesting that it mixed factual statements with moral ones. My own view is that feminism doesn’t really have a precise definition. It is one of those words that are defined by a set of family resemblances. So you count person B as a feminist because they share some of the beliefs of person A, who is a feminist, and then you count person C as a feminist because they share some of the beliefs of person B, and so on.

    That does have the disadvantage that when you get to person Z, you might find that you are counting them as a feminist despite the fact that they have no beliefs at all in common with person A, but I don’t think it matters that much. Words only need precise definitions if they are used in legal or technical contexts. So if feminists were taxed at a different rate than the rest of the population, or if they had special feminist parking spaces, then perhaps you would actually need a flow chart that you could work through, but as that’s not the case, you don’t.

  43. 43
    Lucy

    Ally Fogg

    “I should also point out that genetic traits in both men and women are taken from both the mother and the father. It is not true that female characteristics are passed down through the female line and male characteristics through the male line.”

    Firstly, not all genetic traits can be passed equally from mother and father. You can’t pass secondary sexual characteristics to your offspring of the opposite gender. You can’t for instance pass larger breasts or wider hips to your son except as a recessive genetic trait.
    Secondly, undesirable genetic traits can be weeded out after birth via infanticide.
    Thirdly, women modify their bodies in order to play down underisable traits such as intelligence and strength.

    —-
    “No, absolutely not, you are misunderstanding me. I don’t think feminism should do anything in response to those people, other than respect their decision to decide they are not feminists.
    A better analogy would be if you were to say “I know several Jewish people who enjoy cabbage soup. If they want to decide that everyone who enjoys cabbage soup is Jewish, who are you to tell them they cannot?”

    I would say a better analogy would be “I know several Jewish people who enjoy eating pork and shellfish. Who am I to tell them they cannot?”

  44. 44
    Lucy

    Regarding thirdly above, I mean that biological changes can occur after birth as well as before it. If a girl child is deprived of physical and/or intellectual stimulation, or her mother is, this will affect her biologically and permanently.

  45. 45
    Lucy

    Redpesto

    “I’d love to know which books on anthropology and genetics Lucy’s been reading to arrive at this argument.”

    Well then it would have made more sense to ask me rather than all your chums on the board wouldn’t it?

    You were afterall originally addressing your comment to me; did you forget by the time you got to the end of it?

  46. 46
    Lucy

    Thil

    “What are you defining as “male priorities”?”

    I’m not defining them, I’m saying they exist.

    “I don’t see why gender should drastically effect your ambitions in life. If such priorities are wrong they’re wrong in general, not just for the women”

    Well sure if by “priorities are wrong” you mean biased towards only one gender’s tastes and requirements.

    But if by that you mean, men and women have the same priorities and perspectives and designing behaviour in isolation from one another, then no they don’t. Sticking to the architecture theme, put a group of men in a room and ask them to design a tower out of Lego and put a group of women in a room and ask them to design a tower out of Lego, you consistently get two consistently different towers. There have been studies. Not that we need them you just need to look at what men build and create and see how well women fit into it.

  47. 47
    Lucy

    Schala

    “Wow, a lot of conspirationist blood in you.”

    A civil conspiracy or collusion is an agreement between two or more parties to deprive a third party of legal rights or deceive a third party to obtain an illegal objective.
    In a political sense, conspiracy refers to a group of persons united in the goal of usurping or overthrowing an established political power. Typically, the final goal is to gain power through a revolutionary coup d’état or through assassination.

    So, yep, you got that right.

  48. 48
    Lucy

    Redpesto

    “We’ll gloss over the claim that ‘Feminists essentially believe’ from someone who complains about men generalising that ‘feminists are…’ for now (especially as ‘colonisation’ was a reality for black women and men and not just a clever-sounding metaphor).”

    No, don’t gloss over it. Feminists do essentially believe that women are a colonised people, or display the same characteristics of one. And there is no contradiction between defining an aspect of feminist thought and objecting to random men making up random definitions.

  49. 49
    Lucy

    43. Contin.

    And fourthly. You are assuming that male genetic intelligence/strength are the same as female genetic intelligence/strength and that intelligence or strength characteristics passed from father to daughter would be the same and as useful to her as the ones passed from mother to daughter. This may not be the case; recent studies on male and female brain differences suggest that this isn’t the case because they each have different traits. So if intelligent and physically strong women are weeded out of the reproductive pool, their important characteristics are being lost to future generations.

  50. 50
    sheaf

    Lucy

    You are assuming that male genetic intelligence/strength are the same as female genetic intelligence/strength and that intelligence or strength characteristics passed from father to daughter would be the same and as useful to her as the ones passed from mother to daughter. This may not be the case; recent studies on male and female brain differences suggest that this isn’t the case because they each have different traits. So if intelligent and physically strong women are weeded out of the reproductive pool, their important characteristics are being lost to future generations.

    Given that intelligence between females and males is roughly comparable, would you not say it is unlikely that intelligent women were systematically weeded out?

    I think the dimorphism we witness is primarily due to sexual competition in males, not weeding out of weak females. This is in accordance to the fact that many other primates are also dimorphic species, where males engage in violent combat for sexual opportunities, just like male humans do.

  51. 51
    sheaf

    Ally:

    I should also point out that genetic traits in both men and women are taken from both the mother and the father. It is not true that female characteristics are passed down through the female line and male characteristics through the male line.

    So any selective breeding of the type described, a big strapping male with a puny little female would be as likely to produce a big strapping daughter and a puny little son as vice versa

    It is true that the genes will be both in daughter and father. That does not mean tha gene expression (which are actiated during development and when ad how much) for these genes is the same in both genders. Ever wondered why you have a penis and your mother does not?

    It is also a common misconception that these genes lie o the y chromosome. The y chromosome acts as a gender signifier. Having it means that other genes are expressed from other chromosomes as well. A more extreme example is in ants. Ants in a common hive are genetically even more similar than human sisters, and all females. Nevertheless there are different morphs of them (ever heard of Queens, workers and warriors?)

  52. 52
    bugmaster

    @Lucy:

    You keep talking about “male priorities” vs. “female priorities”. Can you explain what you mean by that, and perhaps list some priorities by way of illustration ?

    As far as I can tell, so far you have already listed at least two priorities, but it would be good to have more:

    1). Men prefer tall, expansive buildings. Women prefer smaller, shorter buildings. Do you have any evidence that this is, in fact, true ?
    2). Men prefer to have sex with women. Women, presumably, do not reciprocate (though I’m not sure if this is what you meant, so please elaborate).

    So, in addition to clarifying the above, and listing more priorities, can you explain what method you use to determine which priorities are “male” and which are “female” ? For example, I personally prefer lemon bars to chocolate cupcakes; is this preference male, female, or neutral, and how do you know this ?

  53. 53
    sheaf

    bugmaster,

    These question can presumably settled empirically. Though determining group average is probably often useless othaer than in targeting advertising, and the thing abut sex seems to be often reciprocal.

  54. 54
    johngreg

    Gee, Lucy, I thought it was just little green turtles all the way down.

    Now I’m all a-flummoxed.

    /lost in the house of blue lights

  55. 55
    Gjenganger

    @John-Henry Beck 27

    I think it’s fairly clear that the author of the chart is simply going with the view that women are clearly disadvantaged at this point, and so you can’t consider yourself a feminist if you have the view that women are currently equal.

    Good point. The flowchart itself does not justify my conclusion. But I do think that if feminism was truly about equality it would be more open to male participation, and to discussions on who were disadvantaged and by how much. This may change at some future date? Sure, but how many groups do you know, from trade unions through bankers to politicians, who spontaneously decide that their perks and salaries should not increase further because they have already achieved all they can resonably claim?

    Going beyond the chart, we keep hearing two different things about feminism:
    1) It is the pure, unbiased study of (and fight against) inequality as such, and therefore any decent person has a duty to support thier struggle and their conclusions.
    2) Feminism is a women’s movement. Therefore women should own, it, women should do the thinking and prioritising and deciding, and men should kindly keep their patronising, well … noses, to themselves and let the women get on with it.
    Neither point is unreaosnable, but you cannot have both, It is understandable enough that feminists (in bulk) want both the unassailable moral authority of 1) and the freedomn from interference of 2), but that is wanting to have your cake and eat it.

  56. 56
    Gjenganger

    @Lucy 31

    Feminism is about equality. But not about making women equal to men. Making men equal to women, and women equal to their potential.

    Equality, in the normal Engish sense of the word, is symmetric. If men are equal to women, women are equal to men. What you are saying (correct me if I got it wrong) is that we should have a world designed by women for women, and men should then adapt to the women’s world. Presumably you would argue that the current world is designed by men for men. It is notable that you say nothing about men being equal to their full potential. There is nothing particularly wrong with that – except that I, of course, would fight for a world where men were equal to thier ful potential and the women could do the adapting, or at least for some kind of compromise.

    But if you think, as I do, that men and women are in some ways fundamentally different, then men would be at a disadvantage in a world designed for women, which makes talk about equality a bit hollow. Even if the sexes were identical it would hardly be equal that only one of the groups should be allowed to have their current culture carry on into the future. Would it not be clearer and more honest to state your goals without hiding behind the word ‘equaliity’?

  57. 57
    redpesto

    Lucy @45:

    Well then it would have made more sense to ask me rather than all your chums on the board wouldn’t it?

    I used your username out of formality, rather than because I was asking the rest of the thread (who aren’t my ‘chums’ because they don’t know me and vice versa). It’s an interesting question in the light of your comments and responses for far, for example this to Ally @43:

    Firstly, not all genetic traits can be passed equally from mother and father. You can’t pass secondary sexual characteristics to your offspring of the opposite gender.

    Firstly, this still means that the boy could inherit more from the mother and the girl more from the father. Second, your position wasn’t just about physical secondary sexual characteristics, it was about ‘culture, language, personalities’, as if there was at some point a separate ‘female’ culture and language (not specified) and a distinct ‘female’ personality (or personality type; also not specified). Given that infants have no ‘language’ at birth it’s hard to see, for example, how a child can ‘modify’ its body to speak either a ‘male’ or ‘female’ language or be killed at birth for the ‘wrong’ genetic trait when it comes to language (especially as acquiring language is social/cultural rather than genetic).

    Furthermore, there is also the long-standing feminist suspicion of arguments based on essentialist ideas of what is ‘male’ and ‘female’ rooted in science (ideas of ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’ are cultural rather than genetic). I’m unconvinced that the patriarchal/sexist claim that ‘women aren’t as clever as men because “science”‘ is best answered with ‘well, the patriarchy systematically bred them that way over 40,000 years’, but maybe the more common feminist explanations rooted in the social and political practices of sexism and discrimination make more sense to me (and they’re easier to challenge and change).

    Still, if you’d like me to ask you directly, I might as well ask: what books on anthropology and genetics have you been reading to arrive your position?

  58. 58
    Adiabat

    I leave it up to feminists to decide amongst themselves what feminism “really is”. Personally I don’t think it’s going to be sorted out any time soon.

    Rather than get into these debates I prefer to just look at prominant and influential groups and individuals who identify as feminist. I look at the things they say and the things they do (and give more weight to what they do over what they say).

    Therefore when I see the foremost feminist organisation in the UK (and NOW in the US) oppose shared custody for rather spurious, even bigoted, reasons I see feminism as something that needs to be opposed and the political influence it wields diminished. Likewise with issues such as DV provision, recognition of all kinds of rape victims and so on.

    Sure there are good feminists, but until I start to see them have as much influence and prominance as the harmful ones I don’t see much point in taking them into consideration when forming an opinion of the movement.

  59. 59
    Copyleft

    Ally is quite right. Believing in equality does NOT make you a feminist, and it’s laughably dishonest when (some) feminists try to claim ownership of egalitarianism. “If you support equality, congrats you’re a feminist” is utter crap. Granted that MANY feminists support equality, but that still doesn’t define the beginning and end of what feminism is.

    And I’d think honest feminists would appreciate clarifying the distinction rather than trying to obscure it.

  60. 60
    bugmaster

    @Copyleft #59:

    From what I’ve seen, on this forum and elsewhere, the attitudes of people who identify as “feminist” comprise a wide gamut. On the one side, you’ve got outright female supremacists (like the radfems and Lucy); on the other side, you have people who are basically humanists, but who believe that the problems women face should take priority over others.

    As long as women are in a disadvantaged position in our society, most of the goals of all of these feminists will align; thus, for now, it kind of makes sense to talk of “feminism” as a somewhat unified movement. But as women’s conditions improve, I expect more and more of the moderates to break away from the supremacists — as some are doing already.

  61. 61
    Schala

    As long as women are in a disadvantaged position in our society

    This premise has never been empirically examined by feminism. It’s assumed as true because it aligns with bias which is ironically patriarchal. Basically, women are considered lacking agency, thus more victims or circumstances, men having more agency, thus agents of their own problems – systemically so. This is largely responsible for why people are more sympathetic to female victims of anything.

  62. 62
    bugmaster

    @Schala #61:

    I’m sure there’s some truth to what you say; some feminists — often those who are closer to the female supremacy end of the spectrum, ironically — do indeed perpetuate the notion that women have no agency, and are basically victims in all things. However, I don’t believe that all, or even most, of the feminist talking points are entirely fictional.

    For example, AFAICT it is still rather more difficult for women to achieve positions of power (e.g. corporate leadership, political offices, etc.) than it is for men. The process of gaining power is as much (if not more ) about who you know as what you know; and most of the people at the top still happen to be old-fashioned men.

    Women are making inroads into STEM fields such as science and engineering, but they still comprise a small minority in these fields. This could be due to the social pressure women face from their predominantly male colleagues; or it may be due to the lack of interest, since girls are still discouraged from careers in STEM fields at an early age (by contrast with boys). Either way, this situation is unfortunate, especially since STEM jobs usually pay relatively well (outside of academia, obviously).

    Of course, any woman who wants to be a CEO, a Senator, or an engineer could theoretically become one; but she’d have to work harder than a man who wishes to do the same. The extremist feminists would probably say that the only solution is to somehow punish men for this; obviously I disagree that this is the only solution that could possibly work, but that’s not the same thing as saying that the problem does not exist.

  63. 63
    Schala

    For example, AFAICT it is still rather more difficult for women to achieve positions of power (e.g. corporate leadership, political offices, etc.) than it is for men. The process of gaining power is as much (if not more ) about who you know as what you know; and most of the people at the top still happen to be old-fashioned men.

    Funny you mention that. This is also caused by assuming women have less agency than men.

    An agent can accomplish things, or destroy things. They have the potential to do good, or evil. And the potential to achieve great things…or become a great problem themselves.

    If women are not considered able to do this on the same level as men, they’re considered ineffective (or less effective) in bringing change. And a boss/leader/mayor etc who can’t bring change, is just a figurehead.

    Most problems feminists and MRAs have with society, stem from viewing men as powerful agents of change, and contrasting it heavily with viewing women as powerless patients being acted upon.

    This is why men are suspected, arrested, convicted, sentenced more sternly than women. And why the prison rate is 95/5 in ratio. This is why there’s less women leaders, and why men are pressured to achieve (to the point of being disposable if they don’t), while women are not (considered not their fault if they don’t achieve).

    This is why what people ask when a woman beats a man up is “What did he do to make her hit him”. Recasting him as agent of his own undoing, unable to see him as a victim of such a non-agent.

    Feminism sometimes fights this, sometimes embraces it wholly. Take Back The Night marches embrace it. Citing fear of going outside embraces it. Schrodinger’s rapist? Embraces it. Trying to make “you go girl” women worthy of being celebrated as examples in tech, video games etc, who act no different than men (don’t demand their feelings to be taken into account as women, beyond what men demand). Rejects it.

  64. 64
    Schala

    I’d add that arguments that “the man is bigger” and “it’s not the same when she hits him”, and “men don’t have the same issues when being battered by their partners (ie they can flee, more money, not afraid)” all embrace and reinforce the women-as-non-agent men-as-agent notion.

    Would it surprise people if the battered man truly was, in fact, afraid of his female partner, but was so conditioned to “man up and take it” that he just swallowed it? But his not saying anything is still seen as him not feeling anything.

    But on the other end, you have women, in situations where they should have full agency, making for “yes means yes” campaigns, in case they’re unable to voice their no due to sometimes entirely imagined threats from their sex partner. For example, a woman imagining her declining sex would be badly received, resulting in her being beaten up or worst, although it never happened with this man, just because it ‘might’.

  65. 65
    Gjenganger

    However, I don’t believe that all, or even most, of the feminist talking points are entirely fictional

    They are clearly not entirely fictional. But how much is reality and how much is convenient fiction is not all that clear now – unlike a hundred years ago.

    AFAICT it is still rather more difficult for women to achieve positions of power (e.g. corporate leadership, political offices, etc.

    You would really need some evidence to say how far that is true. Achieving a position of power is hard for anyone – you need talent, singleminded drive, and lots of hard work on anything from your chosen subject matter to networking. Most men are unable to do it. So are most women. So, if a woman fails to reach the power elite, is that because she got nobbled by discrimination? Or is it because she lacked the talent,was not interested in the right things, or did not coose to to pay the price and put in the hard work?

    If women are not interested in STEM subjects, is it reasonable to blame the lack of encouragement from their surroundings? Or might it be that women, statistically, find these topics less appealing? Women get better education overall these days, and dominate university courses in just about any subject aside from STEM. Does that mean that men are victims of discrimination and lack of encouragement, or are men, unlike women, responsible for their own choices?

  66. 66
    Gjenganger

    Arrgh.
    My post 65 was in answer to Bugmaster, 62.

  67. 67
    bugmaster

    @Schala #63,64 and @Gjenganger #65:

    I don’t disagree with most of what both of you said; however, I think the points you make are orthogonal to mine, so let me use an analogy to illustrate.

    In real life, I happen to be short, fat, and generally physically unfit. If you staged a sprinting competition, my time would consistently fall below average, and far, far below Olympic-grade runners. This does not mean that I am entirely a victim of circumstance, or that I have no agency at all and that the Olympians are oppressing me, or anything of the sort. If I really put my mind into it, I could get into better shape, and bring my time closer to the average; yet I doubt I would ever reach or exceed it based on my efforts alone. I would certainly never beat Usain Bolt; my genetics just aren’t as good.

    However, imagine that there was some sort of a safe and ubiquitous treatment for people like me — perhaps some sort of genetic engineering, cyborg enhancement, or some other science fictional remedy. If every child underwent this treatment at birth… then I would still be fat and slow, until I really applied myself to training. But if I did, my chances of reaching or exceeding the average would be greatly improved.

    As far as I understand, this is exactly how systemic discrimination works. If you happen to be a woman, then you will face certain pressures from birth all the way throughout your life; and these pressures reduce — though not eliminate ! — your chances of meeting or exceeding the average. Seeing as changing one’s sex is neither easy nor, in most cases, at all possible, the only way to remedy to situation is to work on the problem from the other side: by reducing the social pressures. We can’t do this for runners, since the limits are imposed by the laws of physics; but we can do it to reduce social pressures, since they are exerted by other humans, who can be convinced (or, if you happen to be an extremist, coerced).

    The thing is, though, that (as Gjenganger correctly points out), even if systemic discrimination is completely eliminated, most women still wouldn’t become successful CEOs or brilliant scientists. Neither will most men. And that’s perfectly fine.

  68. 68
    bugmaster

    @Gjenganger #65:

    To address your post more directly:

    Women get better education overall these days, and dominate university courses in just about any subject aside from STEM. Does that mean that men are victims of discrimination and lack of encouragement, or are men, unlike women, responsible for their own choices?

    Everyone is responsible for their own choices (with the possible exception of mentally ill or brainwashed people). However, the decision mechanisms that people develop in order to make those choices do not exist in a vacuum; they are largely (though, probably, not entirely) a product of each person’s upbringing.

    So, to use a crude example, if you tell a person from birth, “you will never become a scientist so you’d better not even try”, that person will be dramatically less likely — though not entirely unlikely ! — to make the choice to become a scientist. This does not mean that this person has no agency; and in fact, we should respect the choices that person makes (with the usual caveat that they’re not harmful to anyone else). However, IMO humanity would be better served if the search space of the choices such a person could make were increased.

  69. 69
    Gjenganger

    @Bugmaster 68

    The decision mechanisms that people develop in order to make those choices do not exist in a vacuum; they are largely (though, probably, not entirely) a product of each person’s upbringing.

    humanity would be better served if the search space of the choices such a person could make were increased.

    True enough, that. But I think you run against some inherent limits here. Peoples behaviour is influenced by the culture they grow up with. In fact I would argue that the person you become is largely influenced by the culture you grow up with, that is how human beings work. That is part of the reason that children of academics, actors, athletes, are disproportionately likely to follow in their parents’ footsteps. It is not just help and contacts, but the basic attitudes and interests that are transmitted. Men and women are brought up with different cultures (up to a point, of course), with the effect that interests and attitudes are different in various ways. Personally I think that those cultures are not completely arbitrary, but also reflect differences in biology, from hormone levels and development speed, to the fact that only women get pregnant. Certainly they reflect a division of labour.

    Anyway, by the time you have grown up with some kind of culture, that will have pushed you towards some things and, unavoidably, away from others. Culture is not an arbitrary limit on your possibilities, it is a necessary part of your make-up. So the question is not whether some people should be kept back in their desire to do science, it is whether the cultural roles we have should be designed to maximise the likelihood for everybody to become scientists and CEOs (and presumably ‘hold their manhood cheap’ if they fail), or if there might be a benefit in having roles that pushed towards more nurturing and sharing attitudes as well. We could certainly socialise everybody to be hypercompetitive would-be managers, or cuddly homebuilders, regardless of sex. It would be equal, sure, but would it be better for either the individuals or for society?

  70. 70
    Adiabat

    Bugmaster (67): To me the “systemic discrimination” you describe is just another trivial, and rather obvious, observation that ‘upbringing has an effect on who we become’ twisted to make women into victims (Not that I’m not saying you’re responsible for this – rather the “academic” subject that has been propagating this interpretation). This is reinforced by you mentioning ‘removing social pressures’. The very terms you are using seems bent around implying that a very normal process called “upbringing” is a malign imposition imposed on people by society.

    Someone doesn’t become a CEO or study STEM because they are “more free” of social pressures. Instead they simply have different social pressures that increases their chances of doing those things while reducing their chances of becoming artists or valuing time with their family. These include things like “Being brought up to value income or status over work-life balance increases your chances of becoming a CEO” and “Being brought up to claim credit for other people’s work increases your chances of being a CEO”. Viewed in this way which pressures you want to encourage and discourage to achieve a particular goal becomes less a matter of “reducing discrimination” and more a matter of personal judgment and values, and the political aims that you are wanting to achieve.

    If you remove the loaded terms you are using and stick with ‘upbringing has an effect on who we become’ along with a call to look at the various factors involved in upbringing, along with the effects they have on individuals and perhaps a look at ones we can change to produce desired effects then I’ll be on board with what you are saying.

  71. 71
    redpesto

    Adiabat:

    If you remove the loaded terms you are using and stick with ‘upbringing has an effect on who we become’ along with a call to look at the various factors involved in upbringing, along with the effects they have on individuals and perhaps a look at ones we can change to produce desired effects then I’ll be on board with what you are saying

    At the moment the strategy seems to boil down to: don’t play with Barbie, treating anything pink as if it were kryptonite, and getting girls to play with Lego (as long as it’s not pink). In short a massive hot-housing-cum-awareness-raising programme to get girls to do ‘non-girly’ things whether at home or in school, so they will then study STEM subjects at university – instead of, say, English – and produce an equality of outcome in every single aspect of society (apart from the ones over-represented by women: flowchart says focusing on boys’ choices isn’t feminist…or relevant).

  72. 72
    bugmaster

    @Gjenganger #69, @Adiabat #70, @redpesto #71:

    I think you are taking my point too far. I don’t want everyone to be the same; I want everyone to have as many choices as possible. Inevitably, some people will choose to become “hypercompetitive would-be managers”, while others would become “cuddly homebuilders”. If our choices are rooted in biology to the extent Gjenganger suggests, then more women than men would choose to become “cuddly homebuilders”, and that’s fine. However, if a woman happens to be an outlier and decides to be a jet pilot or something, that should be fine, too.

    The problem with saying “oh, it’s just culture and upbringing” and leaving it at there, is that some cultures are demonstrably better than others. For example, in certain Islamic cultures, women are brought up to wear the burqa, stay at home 24/7, and basically be slaves to their husbands. I believe that these cultures are worse than ours. No, I’m not going to stop anyone from wearing anything that she wants to wear or stay where she wants to stay; but I believe that a world where fewer women were brought up to think of themselves as servants would be a better one. I could be wrong about this, of course; this is an empirical claim that can be tested.

    To clarify, I’m not saying that our current culture is terrible; I’m just saying that it could be better.

    At the moment the strategy seems to boil down to: don’t play with Barbie, treating anything pink as if it were kryptonite, and getting girls to play with Lego (as long as it’s not pink).

    Right, I do agree that it’s a… how to put it delicately… short-sighted strategy.

    …flowchart says focusing on boys’ choices isn’t feminist…or relevant

    Of course, I personally would apply everything I’d said about women to men, as well; men are in a slightly better position now, but it could always be better. However, to a certain extent, I can respect the view of the feminists who made that flowchart; or, at least, I can respect their honesty. They’re saying, “we care strictly about women, we don’t care about men, that’s not in our mission statement”. It’s better than paying lip service to “equality” as some of their fellows are doing.

  73. 73
    Gjenganger

    @Bugmaster 72
    We agree about much – and it is always hard to see how far people are pushing an argument you are disagreeing with in the first place.

    So, I too respect the views, and the honesty of the women who make the flowchart. I do not see any right (or reason) for men to be feminists. I just think that feminists should be even more honest and say explicitly: “We are not fighting for equality, we are fighting for women – though we do think that women are clearly disadvantaged nowadays.”

    You are also right that ‘it is just culture’ is not an answer. Some cultures are definitely better than others (though we have to admit that this is a subjective judgement which ones). The thing is that as long as there are gender roles, people will be guided towards certain choices that will suit some better than others. Equality of outcome requires identical gender roles, so if you want one you are implcitly demanding the other. As long as jobs are seen as gendered, being e.g. a jet pilot will be more difficult and less appealing for women- the cost is real even without explicit discrimination. If we refuse to pay this cost, making everybody the same has to become the ideal, or even the goal. If we accept that some jobs are filled mostly by men and seen as male, we have to accept that some choices become harder for women.

  74. 74
    redpesto

    @Bugmasdter #72:

    I think you are taking my point too far. I don’t want everyone to be the same; I want everyone to have as many choices as possible.

    I didn’t think you are asking people to be the same; I was pointing to the argument (fallacy?) that because the population is roughly 50/50 female/male, then everything else somehow ought to turn out the same way. Anti-discrimination law enshrines ‘equality of opportunity’ to enable as wide a choice as possible, while feminist campaigns seek to support and build on that. The fact that there are so many gender imbalances in a wide range of professions (midwifery v firefighters) is assumed to be ‘wrong’, but this often seems to apply only to professions where the women are in the minority and that ‘equality of outcome’ (i.e. a 50/50 balance) ‘must’ be he answer. On one level, this does leave plenty of room for overpaid female CEOs and female cleaners on crap pay, but that’s a separate debate.

    For example, in certain Islamic cultures, women are brought up to wear the burqa, stay at home 24/7, and basically be slaves to their husbands.

    Or they can go to university and get a PhD in astrophysics – as long as they wear the burqa. And for some women, they might choose to wear a burqa and get that PhD. A world where fewer women are brought up to think of themselves as servants is a good one, but that’s not just applicable to non-Western/Christian countries where clothing acts as an apparent easy visual shorthand for ‘oppression’ (I’ll see your burqua and raise you a 1950s housewife in a pinny).

  75. 75
    redpesto

    @Gjenganger #72

    Oddly enough, the Guardian Women’s Page ran a feature on female pilots a couple of days back.

    Why do they think so few women go into flying? “A lot of the time it’s a matter of younger girls not being made aware that it’s a career option open to them,” says Aoife. “It’s not the kind of thing people talk about in schools. You get young boys who say they want to be a pilot or an astronaut, whereas girls are not encouraged that way. And if they’re not told from a young age that it’s a possibility then they don’t keep hold of that idea.”

    So it’s not about ‘a jet pilot will be more difficult and less appealing for women’ any more than being a midwife is more difficult and less appealing for men because they have a penis, especially as I suspect midwifery is not a much-discussed career option for boys in schools.

  76. 76
    Gjenganger

    @redpesto 75.
    I read that feature, yes. And with due respect, I think that potential female jet pilots or male midwives do find these careers ‘more difficult and less appealing’. It is not a matter of lack of information (and of course having a penis does not help you while flying). But you do not easily see yourself as doing this career if everybody in it has the wrong gender, you do not consider it, and you have to get over a certain amount of incredulity and being seen as / seeing yourself as out of place. Being an exception, all the time is a little tiring. These things may not be insurmountable if that is the ony thing you dream of, but it would gently push most average schoolleavers towards a different career. Personally I think this is both unavoidable and acceptable, but there is no point in denying that gender expectations do move people’s areer choices.

  77. 77
    Danny Gibbs

    Leaving aside the use of the phrase “be awesome” (cringe), and the fact that Emer goes on to pick out the Good Men Project as an example of said awesomeness (GMP and I have history) – I think this is pretty much spot on. There is no obligation to be feminist, and not being so doesn’t necessarily make you personally or politically bad.
    With all due respect I’ll believe there is no obligation to be a feminist when its actually possible to talk about helping men without someone guerilla tagging something to the effect of, “Feminism does that.” “Congrats you’re a feminist.” or “You should look into feminism”. If there was no obligation then why constantly plug it? Oddly enough the Good Men Project’s facebook page has a bit of a problem with this.

    It seems egregious to assume the authority to impose the label on people who may not wish to accept it, and arrogant to assume that everyone would want to be so defined.
    That’s the key that SO many feminists miss. For some reason they either don’t realize or don’t care just how patronizing it is when they just going around declaring someone feminist without taking into account that person’s own views an feelings on the word.

    When you come across a conversation that focuses on helping men and all you can think to do is throw a bellhooks quote and say, “You need feminism”. It doesn’t send the message of “Wow they are really into helping men.” but rather the message that “Wow they don’t care about the issue they just want to plug their brand.” (Which I think is a great disservice to bellhooks.)

  78. 78
    Gjenganger

    @Lelapaletute 8
    Finally got time to read the thread properly.

    But the real front line now in the west are ones of attitude and culture, which cannot be changed by legislative force alone. For that to change, feminism cannot go it alone – it needs men to change too, and to want that change.

    With you on that. But if you want to achieve it, you need men to have their 50% input in deciding which changes are desirable. Which could be by letting both genders into the feminism box or, probably better, by accepting that feminism is only for half the population and looking for an interlocutor to represent the other half.

  79. 79
    Gjenganger

    @Lucy 32

    Feminism is the only socially revolutionary movement that is expected to achieve its aims without upsetting the people its revolting against. And people seem constantly surprised that those people do get upset and resist it

    Actually no. Feminism is the only socially revolutionary movement that is claiming that it a value neutral discipline that all people from all groups can and ought to support. Not in your mouth – rather refreshing actually – but your views are the exception rather than the rule. Communism aimed for the dictatorship of the proletariat, not ‘social harmony’. The ANC aimed for black rule, not ‘racial harmony’. But feminism, to hear most debaters, is simply ‘the search for equality’. I’d say that you and I, both, agree that this is not so.

  80. 80
    Danny Gibbs

    @Gjenganger 78:

    With you on that. But if you want to achieve it, you need men to have their 50% input in deciding which changes are desirable. Which could be by letting both genders into the feminism box or, probably better, by accepting that feminism is only for half the population and looking for an interlocutor to represent the other half.
    Exactly. How can you expect a movement to make positive change for everyone by only taking input from a portion of everyone and the gender of the person speaking is seen as more important than what the person is actually saying?

  1. 81
    Links 23 – 10/1/14 | Alastair's Adversaria

    […] 47. Where’s the Power? Some Thoughts on Emer O’Toole’s Feminist Flowchart […]

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