Malestrom: Ten reasons why (some) men are so angry

Another week, more putrid pongs wafting from the trenches of the online gender wars. I started the week doing a little BBC breakfast TV thing alongside Laura Bates of the Everyday Sexism project. Laura explained why she started the project and described its success and impact over the past year; I explained why I fully support what they do and that I’d like men to acknowledge the problems and be part of the solutions. It was all very friendly, and neither of us disagreed on a word from the other.  A few hours later Laura tweeted. “Wonder if [Ally Fogg] who I spoke with on BBC this morning has had as many “stupid bitch” comments/emails as I have since….”  The answer, of course, was no. I had received precisely none. Not so much as a token “dick.”

On Tuesday I read Lindy West’s Jezebel piece which recounted the stomach-churning responses she’d received after arguing against rape jokes as a lazy vein of comedy.  Then yesterday Rebecca Watson shared the latest volleys from a two-year barrage of hate and abuse. Now it is Thursday morning. If I were to look, I do not doubt I would find another example of it starting all over with someone else. Meanwhile, across the internet, pretty much every feminist article or blog on a high-profile platform, irrespective of its truth or merit, will attract either a smattering or a deluge of abuse, mockery, fury and hate. The broad realm of the manosphere will publish yet more screeds about the iniquity of women and the evil of feminism.

Among the more common search terms that brings people to my blog are phrases like “angry men” “why men are angry” or sometimes the almost plaintive “why are men so angry?” I believe it is an important question, and one to which my thoughts keep returning. This week has prompted me to begin a series of posts that I have been considering for some time. There is no doubt that many men are angry, and specifically they are angry with feminism and/or women. But why?

Let me be clear that I realise there are many expressions of hate and anger in the world, and especially online. Many women are angry with men or other women (including feminists), many men are angry with other men, many people are angry with politics, religion, the economic system or whatever. The extent and causes of those angers are perfectly legitimate topics, but they are not what I am interested in at the moment.  This series will be about men’s anger with feminism and I make no apologies for that.

There is no single answer to the question above. In trying to make sense of the broad tide, I’ve so far narrowed it down to ten discrete strands of male anger, and I plan to discuss each of them in a separate post. Of course any one man may be angry for several (even all) of the reasons listed, and they will often interact, but I would argue that one could be angry for any one of those reasons without sharing any of the others. I also make no distinctions (yet) between legitimate and illegitimate anger, whether or not complaints are reasonable and justified, and whether they should be dismissed, challenged or attended to. That will come in due course.

For now, I’d be really interested to know from readers whether you think this list is comprehensive? Are there other possible reasons for anger that I’ve missed? Which do you think are the most significant? Are any of the reasons I suggest completely spurious? (In other words, would you deny that anyone, anywhere falls into such a category?) Should any be merged together (ie, do they describe exactly the same thing?)

If you’ve ever been angry with feminists, which categories would you recognise yourself in? If you’ve been on the receiving end of male anger, where do you mostly attribute it? Depending upon your comments and feedback, I may revise the schedule or add to the list as appropriate. To get the conversation started, here are my ten suggestions for possible reasons why some men are so angry. Please help me think them through.

 

  1. Compassion and concern? – From fathers’ rights to men as victims of violence and abuse; from educational underachievement to economic redundancy to judicial policies to men’s physical and mental health, there are many real causes for anger about male gender-specific issues. The real question, perhaps, is not whether men should be angry, but who we should be angry with.
  2. The feminist stranglehold? It is often argued that by controlling the reins of gender issues, feminism actively works against the gender-specific interests of men and prevents issues like those outlined above being adequately addressed.   Is this true or fair?
  3. Backlash – political and social conservatism?Some people are conservative and reactionary. They think society was better as it was than as it is, and are resistant to further social change. That applies to gender roles more than anything. Is hostility to feminism because it represents a challenge to the existing social and political order, and specifically to male privilege?
  4. Misogyny? There is no escaping the fact that some men simply hate women or hold them in contempt.  Is anti-feminism always misogyny, as Dworkin argued? How truly endemic is misogyny online and in society?
  5. Bitterness? There’s a cruel stereotype of the antifeminist keyboard warrior as a bitter geek, unlucky in love, sitting in his underwear in his mum’s basement complaining about the friend zone.  Is it fair? Is it relevant?
  6. Men as success objects? – Many complaints from men address issues like hypergamy. There is a palpable resentment at being expected to be the higher earner, provider etc in an era of female economic independence. Are complaints about men as “success objects” justified?  
  7. Someone on the internet is wrong? – Anyone who expresses an opinion must be prepared to be told “I think you are wrong” by others. It may be on a point of verifiable fact, or it may be a rational argument, but if we accept the possibility that feminists can sometimes be wrong about things, we must accept the corollary of disagreement and argument, which may often breed anger.   
  8. Imps and trolls? Some people like to make mischief. Some people like to be rude, threatening or downright cruel. How much online abuse is truly heartfelt and how much is disingenuous trolling, and ultimately does it matter, given the impacts on the victim?
  9. Bruised egos and male identity pride? Human beings take pride in their collective identities. For some it is nationalism or sports tribalism, religion or race, for many it is gender. Is feminism taken as a personal attack that makes men bristle?
  10. You’re not the boss of me now? People don’t like being told what to do, and since much feminism is perceived to be focussed on personal behaviour (do this, don’t do that) there is a kneejerk hostility. Could it be true that men particularly don’t like being told what to do by women?

Blue touch paper lit, standing well back, over to you for now.

A quick interjection / open thread

Well this has been fun. It is hard to believe but I’ve only been here at FTB for a month and a day.

A quick update on the league tables

Posts = 14
Pageviews = 43,709
Comments = 1,381
Deleted comments (ex. spam) = 0
Banned users = 0
Stiff talkings to = a couple
Angry emails from a Member of Parliament = 2
Moments of intellectual stimulation = numerous
Moments of abject existential despair = sporadic
Moments of wry amusement = multiple
Violent hate mail = sparse.

So all in all, a pretty good start I think. Thank you sincerely to everyone for your visits and comments. I have left you to get on with many of the debates among yourselves, as I do have other things to be done in life, but I assure you I have read every single one of your comments and appreciated them all.

One thing I have come round to agreeing with (some) readers on – the nesting of comments (one deep) isn’t really working for me, so I guess probably not for you either. It’s just too annoying having to find the “reply” button, and harder to keep up with new comments without missing some.

So, sometime tomorrow I should be posting a new blog, the first of what I hope will be a series of interest to many of you. And just before I post it I shall turn nesting off altogether. I realise it will make some of your conversations on previous blogs go a bit haywire, but I think posterity shall cope.

I also intend to stop reposting old HetPat blogs and transfer the entire archive over here pretty soon. There are just one or two more reposts to come, I think.

In the meantime, do you have any other general thoughts? Opinions? Requests for future topics? Requests for widgets? Anything I can do to make your time here easier or more stimulating?

Or just chill and hang out. it’s good to be here.

 

 

Oh ye cannae shove yer Gramsci off a bus

SERIES: FROM THE HETPAT ARCHIVES

NOTE: apologies for another repost – have spent a few days taking some deprived inner city kids* out into the Peak District to experience nature. Came back to find the blogs abuzz with Louise Mensch’s grumbles about intersectionality and privilege, so it seemed appropriate to give this one another airing. See also Laurie Penny’s response to LM.

(*my own) 

First published April 18th 2013

 

I’ve been thinking a lot about Antonio Gramsci lately. Hey, a guy’s got to have a hobby. If it makes you feel better, I’ve also been thinking about Britain’s Got Talent, where to find the last gold bricks on the Lego Harry Potter game and Beyonce’s nipple tassles, but will perhaps return to those another day.

In his Prison Notebooks, Gramsci analysed the history of the Risorgimento, the resurgence of the 19th Century which resulted in Italian unification under a capitalist model then, just a few decades later, the ascent of the very Fascists who had imprisoned him.  He noted that there was a strata of society he called organic intellectuals who performed a different function to the intelligentsia of academics and theorists. His example was the victorious faction within the Risorgimento called the Moderate Party, who served capitalism through a period of crisis and transition, by acting as its agents and deputies in organising the dominant hegemony – the prevailing cultural values that protect the economic status quo by shaping popular perceptions of what is “normal”, “inevitable” or “common sense” (the status quo) and what isn’t (any meaningful challenge to the status quo.)

These organic intellectuals were what we would now call progressives or liberals, speaking the rhetoric of concern and reform. They would wrongly think of themselves as being just like ordinary people. the representatives of the masses, even the voice of the masses, and this was crucial to their role. Genuinely believing they were doing the right thing, they would stifle and quash less privileged voices, preventing the emergence of alternative intellectual input from the ‘people-nation.’ (Gramsci famously believed that everyone is or can be an intellectual, whether one knows it or not.)

Organic intellectuals were genuinely well-intentioned, considering it an act of worthy charity to speak on behalf of the less eloquent and less privileged. They were not only intellectuals, they were political organisers, but drawn from a very narrow social demographic. They would be company bosses, rich farmers or entrepreneurs – “a real organic vanguard of the upper classes to which economically they belonged.”  Their influence was not directly upon the working classes, but upon their liberal admirers in the bourgeoisie, including teachers, writers and creators of popular culture who distribute the messages to the masses in turn.

Why the sudden interest in mid-period Marxist political theory Ally, I hear you ask? Well, back in the late 1920s, Gramsci could not have imagined a purer example of the organic intellectual class than the modern commentariat. In the early, optimistic days of the internet, I naively imagined that unfettered access to new media platforms would threaten the foundations of the organic intellectual. The new world of blogs and social media would shatter the portcullis keeping the hordes from the castle gates, new ideas, new voices would come flooding through. I underestimated the ingenuity of hegemony.  Rather than levelling the playing field between the elites and the masses, social media has simply provided whole new mechanisms for keeping the rabble in line.

This morning, Zoe Williams became the latest blue-chip liberal feminist to join the circling of wagons around the poor, oppressed national newspaper columnists and magazine editors. As you probably know, a powerful clique of intersectional feminists and trans activists have installed themselves as the playground bullies of Twitter, stealing the dinner money from delicate souls like Suzanne Moore, Helen Lewis and Caitlin Moran, who have nowhere to turn for support but their hundreds of thousands of followers, their national columns or their extensive circle of similarly prominent friends.

Apologies for the sarcasm, but the reality is that this is not a fair fight. Nor is it a debate about intersectionality, gender or privilege, because there has been very little engagement in those actual issues. What is happening is a concerted effort by the gatekeepers of feminist discourse to marginalise, pathologise and even intimidate into silence their own internal critics.

She who controls the past controls the future, as Orwell didn’t write, and for an example of how this works, see how the Moore-Burchill saga is now being written into history as having begun with Moore’s comments about Brazilian transsexuals, thus erasing her vicious and offensive tweets in response to being politely challenged. This entirely changes the story to one in which the columnist is the victim, rather than the instigator of the affair. Similarly, a passive-aggressive flounce from Twitter can generate waves of sympathy, notably from fellow /sister members of the elite Twitterati, who (understandably) sympathise with the experience of copping a timeline full of flak from angry detractors, and are quick to tweet about how sad it is that so-and-so has been bullied off Twitter to their vast followings.

This is not me taking sides. For what it is worth, I often disagree with the same groups of (mostly) young, angry intersectional feminists, and have had to devote days to fielding abuse, argument and insult when I’ve written something they don’t like. (I copped a sackful for my last blog, for starters.) It also looks to me like some of the anger is excessive and disproportionate or misguided at times. For example, I found the grief aimed at Helen Lewis over a recent New Statesman debate on feminism rather mystifying. That said, we’d be in a sorry state if there weren’t younger, more passionate voices hurling brickbats at the establishment in frustration at the world. If a few are ill-aimed, that is a small price to pay to avoid reactionary stasis.

It is more important to recognise when the anger and disagreement is coming from a place of good faith. It is perfectly reasonable to reject criticism, perfectly reasonable to block and ignore those who resort to personal abuse and insults, perfectly reasonable to argue back, and perfectly reasonable to quietly turn off Twitter for a break (indeed it is actively recommended.)  I don’t think it is reasonable to use one’s disproportionate profile and platforms to portray one’s critics as bullies or trolls, thereby absolving oneself of any obligation to engage with them.

Zoe Williams ends her article with something of a volte face, acknowledging the need for intersectional approaches and recognising reasons to challenge transphobia. But not before she has added to the celestial chorus of voices from above that have portrayed intersectional critics as a feral, irrational mob of bullies.

For all the talk of intersectionality, privilege, oppression and assorted other post-structural jargon, I can’t help feeling there are more established ways of understanding the dynamics at play. Organic intellectuals have a collective, mutual interest in maintaining their own stranglehold over culture, discourse and language, which sustains their position near the top of the status pyramid.  The collective outrage from much of the liberal-left over recent twitterstorms is, I think, not really about angry disagreement with the points being made and not really about personal abuse and insult. It mostly strikes me as a media elite showing collective affront at being challenged on their inalienable right to set the terms and limits of debate and discourse. What I find most discomfiting in all of this is the tendency of the commentariat to rush to each others’ defence on social media or in their national newspaper columns. If that is not the behaviour of a privileged elite closing ranks, it sure as hell looks like it.

Gramsci, smart old cookie that he was, anticipated all of this and even provided a solution for those who would presume to represent the downtrodden, the oppressed and the marginalised.

“If the relations between intellectuals and the people-nation, between leaders and led, is the result of an organic participation in which feelings and passion become understanding and thence knowledge… then and only then is the relation one of representation.”

Twitter, Facebook, online commenting and blogs have offered us an unprecedented opportunities for organic participation, in which feelings and passion can become understanding. When one withdraws from engagement, when one marginalises and diminishes one’s critics, and when one loses faith in the honesty of critics on our own side, then one loses the right to represent those critics.

That’s a hell of a price to pay for a placid timeline.

 

Note: Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks are available as a free PDF. So too is Roger Simon’s excellent reader Gramsci’s Political Thought

Note on the title, for anyone not Scottish and of a certain age. I grew up listening tothis song, and have been waiting for an opportunity to use this joke for about 20 years)

 

 

Why I am not a feminist

SERIES: FROM THE HETPAT ARCHIVES

(First published 26/06/12)

I had a lengthy chat with a producer from BBC Woman’s Hour the other day, about a feature they ran this morning on some men’s reluctance to identify as feminists. I missed out on the chance of a free BBC croissant in the end. This may have been partly down to my inconsiderate refusal to live in London like normal people, but in truth I think I lost her when I started channelling Nina Power on the reconstruction of feminism as a neoliberal capitalist accessory and the interchangeability of emancipation and consumption in the dominant discourse. With hindsight I should have stuck to the question of whether little girls can pee standing up.

The conversation did however give me pause to think about a fairly key question. I’m often told I am a feminist by others, in roughly equal measure as a compliment and an insult. I take it in the intended spirit either way. If others think I am a feminist so be it, but it is not how I define myself.  By coincidence, this morning also saw the launch of a new blog edited by Joseph Stashko, entitled Meninism, exploring the place of men in the movement. I had the honour of the first piece on there, in which I argue that the feminist trope “the patriarchy hurts men too” is not the solution to male-specific gender issues. The tl;dr version would be this: Even if patriarchy does hurt men too, that’s for men to realise and address; we can’t leave it to women and feminism to solve it for us.

Feminism is and should be a movement of women, for women and led by women. While any man can offer a voice of agreement, it is not for us to define the issues and prescribe the solutions. And with whom should we agree? Feminism is an impossibly diverse ideology, riven with internal argument and debate. To be a full participant in the movement, one needs to be able to take sides in those disputes. That puts a man in the impossible position of either telling half the feminists that you’re wrong and I know better, or else smiling and saying “well you both make very good points” like a liberal vicar trying to intervene in a pub fight.

If I’m forced to define my own politics, it would be in broad terms as a believer in social justice and human rights. From that perspective, I would have no qualms about telling a feminist that I think she is wrong about an issue. To take one example, there are many feminists who argue that there should be no prosecutions of women who make false allegations of rape. In my opinion, this is a patently unjust position, not from the perspective of feminism, but from the perspective of justice. A man who is grievously and maliciously wronged by such an act deserves redress, and others who may be so wronged deserve the protection of a legal deterrent. I can make that point more strongly and effectively if it is not prefaced by three little words ‘As a feminist…’ Indeed, I think a man who argues any point with those words is likely to find himself hoisted by the goolies, and probably deservedly so.

By identifying as a feminist, I would have a lot to lose, and little to gain. My stance does not preclude supporting feminists where I support their aims. For example, I actively supported the Slutwalk movement last year, not because I am a feminist, but because I agreed with the fundamental aims; I applauded their inclusive approach to men and trans people; and I admired the fusion of assertive female sexuality with demands for bodily autonomy and personal safety. I don’t need to define as a feminist to say that. On the contrary I’d like to think my words carry slightly more weight precisely because I do not.

Over the years I’ve been called feminist, pro-feminist and a ‘mangina’, I’ve been called anti-feminist and misogynist, and sometimes those allegations have all come in response to the same piece. Once there was a time when I cared about how my views were labelled by others, these days I mostly just eye them with curiosity. I’ll try to call the issues as I see them, and you can call me what you like. Deal?


Addendum 28/05/13

Another thing that has happened a couple of times recently is being called either a “good ally” or a “bad ally” by feminists. There was a long period of my life when I would have actively described myself as a feminist ally. I now prefer not to.

The reasons why are much as above, but perhaps slightly more to do with personal psychology. Being pegged as a good or bad ally feels very like having cookies offered or snatched away, as if my ideological purity is being subtly policed.

I appreciate compliments and I appreciate thoughtful criticism. I also appreciate cookies, big chocolatey ones, feel free to send some of those my way.  But lest there be any doubt, my name is Ally (the standard Scots diminutive of Alistair.)

It rhymes with shally, not shall I?

What could really be done to reduce rape

If the prime aim of the interviews and comments provided by Nick Ross this weekend was to publicise his new book, it is safe to say mission accomplished.

Ross is the veteran presenter of BBC’s Crimewatch series, and now the author of a new book simply called ‘Crime.’ His comments on rape prevention were highlighted by the Mail on Sunday which, he insists, grossly misrepresented and hyped his views. It seems to me that selling serialisation and interview rights to the Mail and then complaining about being misrepresented is a bit like inviting a viper up your trouser leg then complaining about being bitten. Predictably, his comments have invoked a storm of criticism and controversy.

Plenty of other commentators have already pointed out why comparing sexual integrity to theft of valuables is misguided, unhelpful and offensive. Others have talked about victim-blaming and the myths that significant numbers of rapes can be avoided by women adapting their social and sexual habits, clothing or other behaviours. I fully endorse those critiques.

But to Ross’s credit, he makes at least one important and under-appreciated point. He is quite right to observe that many victims of rape do not think of what happened to them as rape. This is something well known to researchers and academics, and is the main reason why crime surveys (such as BCS/CSEW) do not ask respondents ‘have you been raped?’ but something like ‘have you been forced to have sex when you did not want to?’ The latter question reaps vastly higher positive responses than the former. Whether this is accounted for by ignorance of the letter of the law, psychological defence mechanisms or the fuzzy boundaries between coercion and compulsion is hard to say.

What Ross misses is that the exact same applies to rapists. One conclusion that can be drawn from the work of David Lisak and others who have replicated his work is that when men are asked whether they have forced someone to have sex or other sexual contact against their will, disturbingly high numbers will say yes (between about 5% and 15% in different samples). When asked explicitly whether they have raped or assaulted someone, far fewer will admit it.

It may be that many rape victims do not describe the experience as rape because they simply do not understand what constitutes rape in law. It may also be a cognitive defence mechanism – that it is easier to cope with and heal from the trauma of the attack if one doesn’t consider it as a rape. I would suggest the exact same thing applies to rapists.

One of the important insights contained in Nicholas Groth’s classic typology of sexual offenders is that power rapists – the most common variety – often delude themselves into believing the victim wants what is happening to (usually) her and will come to enjoy it at the time or afterwards. Power rapists may want to buy the victim a drink or a gift after the attack or make conciliatory approaches (sometimes in the form of a half-hearted apology) the next day. In other words, such attackers do not want to think of themselves as rapists.

Last July a thread on Reddit invited users to confess if they had ever raped someone. The results were startling and controversial. One striking feature of the contributions was that many of those who admitted attacks described themselves as having been racked by indecision, doubt and uncertainty.

What this tells us, I think, is that rapists often do not think of themselves as rapists. Just like Nick Ross, and perhaps like many victims, they imagine a rapist to be the man in the bushes with a ski mask, not someone like them, not a (seemingly) ordinary guy who has a few drinks too many and refuses to take no for an answer.

It is vital that everyone understands that, in most respects, rapists are just like any other guy. It is equally important to understand that raping is not normal behaviour. By the best estimates, at least 90% of men will never rape anyone. Other men in the same situation would not do the same thing, because other men are not rapists. People who force sex upon others are statistical, psychological and moral aberrations.

This is why I, as a man, fully support feminist efforts to replace rape avoidance campaigns with genuine rape prevention campaigns. That means reducing the desire, the willingness, the motivation to commit rape in the first place. There are very good reasons to believe campaigns with slogans like “don’t be that guy” as opposed to “don’t be that girl” could be highly effective in reducing rape and sexual assault, because there are very good reasons to believe that many sexual offenders really don’t want to be “that guy.” They don’t want to think of themselves as abusers, don’t want to think of themselves as rapists. They are actively looking for loopholes which allow them to think that it wasn’t entirely their fault, the victim takes a share of responsibility, or that anyone would do the same in the circumstances. This is why even well-intended advice to women on their supposed responsibility to avoid being raped can actively contribute to the problem.

More importantly, I think, sex education (both at school and in the broader cultural conversation) needs vastly stronger emphases on the meaning, nature and importance of enthusiastic consent. This would also help to address the issue of forced penetration assaults by women on men, particularly within relationships, which is being increasingly recognised as a real and serious issue.

Slut-shaming, which attempts to stifle women’s expressions of their sexual desires and encourages them to play coy or hard-to-get, needs to be banished once and for all. There is perhaps no more dangerous cultural meme than the idea that “no means maybe and maybe means yes.”   

Realistically, there will always be sociopaths, sadists, damaged and damaging individuals for whom no amount of education or awareness will help. There will always be rape, just as there will always be assaults and murders. However changing appreciation of consent, improved awareness and a change in culture has already produced significant reductions in the incidence of rape. Those who said, 40 years ago, that rape was a fact of human nature and nothing could be done to change that, have been proven utterly wrong. I see no reason to believe that we couldn’t improve things much further still.

In defence of freedom of speech

SERIES: FROM THE HETPAT ARCHIVES

First published June 18th 2012

 

I am not the most dedicated gamer of my generation. I never owned a Pong machine or a Gameboy, a ZX Spectrum or a SNES. I’ve never played Grand Theft Auto, Tomb Raider or Final Fantasy. My only engagement with an XBox is the occasional attempt to prise my 10 year old son away from Minecraft, an experience roughly akin to dragging a hippie raver out of a K-hole. The closest I’ve come to pixellated sexual violence against women has been blasting a red shell up Princess Peach’s exhaust pipe on MarioKart.

So I don’t have much in the way of informed opinions about misogyny in video games, I’ll leave that to others. Nonetheless I couldn’t help but be sucked in by the debate surrounding Kickstarter Anita Sarkeesian, as good an illustration as we’ll ever need of the vitriol of the new gender wars. An intense storm of hatred was roused by her modest idea to crowd-fund research into sexism in the games industry. The many thousands of hostile comments posted on Sarkeesian’s YouTube video were of course heavily gendered and sexualised, but so too was some of the retaliation – notably Charlie Brooker’s description of the mob as “idiotic pebbledicks” who are terrified of women.

If one of the worst offences committed by sexists and anti-feminists online is to reduce women and their opinions to their genitalia and sexual worth, I’m not sure how the cause is helped by turning the precise same missiles around and hurling them back in the other direction – however deserving of mockery and disgust the targets might be.  Without doubt, the hate-fest directed at Sarkeesian was repellent and indefensible. It was a display of the madness of crowds which would have come as no surprise to Mackay or Le Bon (Gustave, that is, not Simon.) There were a few sane voices raised in defence of the gaming culture, and a few reasonable points made about creative freedom and the demands of the free market. But such comments were few and far between, and lost in a swamp of ugly abuse.

In all the online articles and commentary that appeared, a point recurred that this phenomenon is an inevitable price of freedom. If we grant free expression, we also grant freedom to abuse, insult and offend. It’s a seductive argument, with a lot of merit. Offence is indeed in the eye of the beholder, and there has never been an opinion of value which didn’t cause offence to someone. But just as my right to swing my fist ends where it meets your right to not be punched in the face, so my right to freedom of speech does not extend to the point where it silences others.

Let there be no doubt, the hate campaign waged against Anita Sarkeesian was a concerted attempt to silence her voice, using intimidation and psychological warfare. The misogyny expressed may have been rooted deep in the personalities of her antagonists, but in most cases I doubt it. Instead I suspect it was instrumental, using vocabulary consciously chosen to wound as deeply as possible, and aimed at the (assumed) weak points of a woman and a feminist.

The use of hate speech, threats and bullying to terrify and intimidate people into silence or away from certain topics is a far bigger threat to free speech than any legal sanction.

Imagine this is not the internet but a public square. One woman stands on a soapbox and expresses an idea. She is instantly surrounded by an army of 5,000 angry people yelling the worst kind of abuse at her in an attempt to shut her up. Yes, there’s a free speech issue there. But possibly not the one you think.

This boot can sometimes be on the other foot. While there is no direct symmetry, we have seen the same principle at play in the concerted attempts of some feminists (mostly, but not entirely historic) to stifle debate about male victims and female perpetrators of domestic violence, with activists, writers and academics being branded misogynists and abusers for even raising the issues. Anyone who dares to raise a sceptical voice in many feminist blog spaces can expect more aggression and abuse than reasoned debate. The urge to silence opponents is probably a human one, and for that reason it is all the more important we are conscious of it in ourselves and wary of it in others.

Those who participate in online hate campaigns are not the champions of freedom of speech, but its worst enemies. If they consider themselves libertarians, they are a disgrace to the label. It is not easy to see the solution. Censorship is never the answer, far too many babies go out with the filthy bathwater. Nor do I want to see our prisons filled with hot-headed flamers and trolls.

All we can do is be wise to the nature of these online flame wars, and be prepared to challenge abusive, insulting, silencing behaviour wherever it emerges; be prepared to confront bullies and mob mentality wherever they arise.

We can do that by questioning what they pack in their politics, not what they pack in their pants.

Terror and the Unknown Soldier

“In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation. ”
– Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle

In the afternoon light of a busy London street, two young men smash their car directly into the fragile flesh of a third; jump out, and hack his broken body into pieces.  Hands red with blood and heavy with weapons, they linger over their victim, awaiting reaction.

Women of unimaginable courage impose themselves between killers and killed, preventing further desecration of a lifeless corpse, which lies in a T-shirt proclaiming “Help For Heroes.”

All around camera phones are held in shaking hands, freezing the scene as jpeg, liquidising it as mpeg. Exclusive interviews granted to random lenses, a garbled manifesto of anger, hate, despair and confusion.

A cub-scout leader engages the assassins with Akela’s calm authority, trying to persuade them to lay down the blades and the gun, avert further violence. “My mum is a mutherfuckin badass.”

Sirens, helicopter, state-sanctioned bullets, more blood.

“Mate ive seen alot of shit im my time but that has to rank sumwhere in the top 3. I couldnt believe my eyes. That was some movie shit”  

A million tweets and updates hail down with ostentatious bravado.

Around 6pm a source close to government issues the official kite-mark of a capital T. This was not an act of criminality and hate, not a moment of horror but an act of Terror. Gloves off.

Fascists gather to gleefully parade their anger and display their drunken might. Black and brown neighbours shelter at home, fearful of violent reprisals from those who declare their opposition to Terror with a strictly capital T. Brave defenders of decent Christian values mask themselves behind matching EDL-branded balaclavas and hurl bricks at the police.

Hot from the presses, the papers prepare to grace the breakfast tables of the nation. From the front page of the world’s leading liberal voice stares the eyes of a killer, black-clad, black-skinned, red-handed, his words afforded banner status: “You people will never be safe.” An act of terror with a strictly lower-case t.

Meanwhile a young man about whom we know nearly nothing lies dead, unseen, unnamed, all but forgotten; no different to the countless bodies from either side littering the landscapes of Afghanistan and Iraq. But unlike them, he is a casualty not of war, not of hate, not of anger, not of madness, not of religion, not of politics. He is a casualty of spectacle.

 

UPDATE

About 12 hours after I posted this blog, the victim of the Woolwich attack was named as Drummer Lee Rigby, from Crumpsall, Manchester, aged 25, and father to a two year old son named Jack.

RIP.

 

Intersectionality? It’s been a privilege

SERIES: FROM THE HETPAT ARCHIVES

[Note:  Have done a slight edit on this one to clarify a couple of points and incorporate some useful feedback] 

First published October 25th 2012

It’s fair to say that I’ve found the reviews, critiques and comment pieces inspired by Hanna Rosin’s End of Men rather more thought provoking and educational than the book itself.

One of the first pieces to come out was in The Atlantic, where Chloe Angyal drew comparisons between Rosin’s argument and the lives portrayed in the much-hyped HBO series Girls.

“the anecdotal data, the experiential accounts of what it’s like to be a young American woman in this particular cultural moment where women are on top and men are “ending,” suggests that even if the statistics say that they’re winning, young women feel like losers. This year’s critically acclaimed new HBO series Girls, created by and starring Lena Dunham, takes that experience of floundering and lays it out for all to see. Dunham’s Hannah and her friends, despite their privilege, don’t feel like they’re running the world.”

I must confess this made me smile. It inadvertently (I presume) illuminates the irony at the very heart of the notion of privilege. One’s own privilege is, according to the classic metaphor, an invisible knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools and blank checks – invisible not to others but to ourselves. Privilege doesn’t feel like privilege, it just feels like a natural state of being, the norm.

I’ve already explained my reasons for rejecting the theory of the End of Men, and I don’t for a moment believe that women are now the dominant or privileged gender. But it is worth pointing out that if they were, according to feminism or critical theory, this is exactly how it should feel. The girls in Girlsdon’t feel like they’re running the world but, get this, nor do the vast majority of men. I believe much of the anger directed towards feminism from the angry dudes of the internet boils down to the disconnect between a narrative that tells men they are privileged, and the lives being lived by those guys, which feels largely powerless. They don’t feel privileged, they feel like losers, they’re floundering, they don’t feel like they’re running the world. Hey ho.

In the weeks since Rosin’s book was released, a quite almighty stramash has erupted within feminist circles. You can’t have missed it, and I won’t reiterate the arguments here, but it began with Caitlin Moran and her statement that she ‘couldn’t give a shit’ about the all-white line-up of the cast of Girls. It has since spiralled into an angry, sprawling debate that orbits around issues of privilege and intersectionality.

Of the near-endless articles and blogs thrown up by the debate, the one I liked best was by Stavvers. She offers an analogy for the concept of intersectionality that is as good as anything I’ve read on the topic by a feminist.

“one can think about a four-way junction (or, as the Americans call it, an intersection). One road is not being male. Another road is not being white. Another road is not being able-bodied. The last road is not being cis. Now, if you stand in the middle of any one of these roads, you’re going to be dodging traffic. But if you stand right in the middle of the junction, you have cars coming at you from four ways, and you’re going to have to do a fuckload more dodging than you would have if you were just in one road.

I don’t know if that’s why it’s called intersectionality, but if not, it should be.”

I love the vividness of this analogy, but it doesn’t quite fit with how I understand society. I’d like to offer a slight twist that perhaps illustrates a key difference between my gender politics and those of many feminists.

Stavvers describes her roads in negative terms (not being male, not being white etc) whereas the analogy works better for me if we think in terms of who we are, rather than who we are not. That is all I know.

When people compile privilege checklists they often include many negatives – bad things that don’t happen to you because of who you are. I reject this. Not being harassed on the street is not a privilege enjoyed by anyone but is a fundamental right that should be enjoyed by everyone. Occasionally there are actual independent advantages to being white, straight, male etc, but they are rare. However there is a real privilege is not even having to be aware of the nature of the traffic on someone else’s road.

I’m a white, straight , cisgendered, middle-class, able-bodied male. I cannot accurately know what it feels like to be anything else, but I know perfectly well how all those things do or do not impact upon my life.  I’d prefer to think of Stavvers’s traffic as all the various pieces of shit, large and small, that life throws our way simply for being who we are. If you’re a black, lesbian, disabled woman, yes, that shit is coming hurtling at you from all sides and however hard you try to avoid it, some of that shit is going to mess you up.

Some of the traffic is driven by individual actions of racists, misogynists or individuals who otherwise oppress others but most of it is institutional and necessary to the socioeconomic system.

I know what it is like to be a pedestrian on the highway marked ‘White.’ It’s a breeze. The amount of shit-traffic heading my way down that road is all but zero. I could lay out a sleeping bag across the white lines in October, set my alarm clock for Spring and lie down to hibernate, safe in the knowledge that not one single car, truck or bus will squish my toes. Being white is a piece of piss. The same goes for the road marked “straight.” The same goes for being middle-class, able-bodied and cisgendered. All those things are just big old lonesome highways without so much as a trundling tractor to disturb the bliss. I should know, I’ve been walking those roads for 45 years.

Crucially, however, this isn’t exactly how it feels to be male. Not to me, and not to many other men either. Standing in the middle of the road marked ‘Male’, I have to dodge loads of traffic. Whizzing by on one side are the gender expectations, the demands to be a stoical, self-sacrificial breadwinner and provider, a sexual conqueror, all that old, stubborn heteronormative and patriarchal bollocks. Whooshing past on the other are the prejudices and assumptions about male aggression or violence, laziness, criminality, domestic and parental incompetence and all the rest. All around are the institutional shit-trucks sent by legal structures, education policies, health services, military traditions and more. Is the road marked ‘male’ busier and more difficult to traverse than the road marked ‘female’? No, I don’t believe it is, but it doesn’t need to be, this is not a competition.  If you’re a woman and/or a feminist and you’re reading this and sneering, thinking “that stuff doesn’t sound too difficult to me, what’s your problem?” then congratulations – you’ve just entered the precise, privileged mind-set of every angry anti-feminist MRA dude on the internet. Of course you don’t see it – it’s not your road.

Personally, all that male shit-traffic is pretty easy for me to dodge. I’m not at a busy junction. I don’t have to worry about being caught on the blindside by a juggernaut hurtling down the White Road or the Straight Road, so I’ve mostly found it pretty easy to sidestep all that shit on the Male Highway. But if you’re a boy from a poor background in a poor neighbourhood at a poor school, you’re likely to find one vehicle marked “you’re stupid” racing at you in one direction while another marked “you’re lazy” arrives from the other, and bang, the result is often academic underachievement and a NEET future. If you’re a working class black lad then you’ve got one shit-truck marked “you’re trouble” and another marked “you’re a criminal” and another marked “you’re violent” and bang, unless you’re lucky you are another stop and search statistic or another reluctant conscript into gang culture.

Understanding intersectionality in those terms is very useful for me. It’s a great example of how we can apply feminist thinking to the male experience and male-specific problems. It doesn’t require one to sign up to either a feminist or an anti-feminist agenda and could fit comfortably with either. It gives me a sense of perspective on my own (fairly fortunate) place in society, why the world looks like it does to me, and crucially, why it might look entirely different to others who stand on a different intersection.

So it is useful in understanding where we are, but I think it is also useful in terms of where we would like to be. At a political level, we can ask what it is about our society that is sending so fucking much shit-traffic down some of the different roads – the disabled road, the  black road, the Muslim road, the women’s road and, yes, the men’s road too. We can not only ask how we can reorganise society so there is less shit on anyone’s road, we can also constantly ask ourselves whether our behaviour, our deeds or our words and language are sending a bit more unnecessary shit-traffic down someone else’s highway.

As my final word on Rosin’s The End of Men, I’d observe that the book does not describe an improving world. It describes a world where there is more shit-traffic than ever on women’s roads, and more shit-traffic than ever on men’s roads. When I write that the transformation of the workplace and domestic realm is not a victory for feminism but a victory for capitalism, this is precisely what I mean.  If we aspire to a better society, socially and economically, for men and women alike, then counting the vehicles on the various highways of shit might be a very good place to start.

Dear Diane – about this crisis…

Dear Diane Abbott

This week you took the opportunity presented by a speech at Demos to say some things I have been waiting to hear a British politician say for a long time, and for that I thank you. I’m particularly grateful for the attention you gave to the excellent work of the Men’s Health Forum, and their report which reminds us that men are more likely to take their own lives than women, have lower educational attainment at all levels of the education system, are more likely to be homeless, and are less likely to access NHS services.

I’m thankful too that you acknowledged the key role of fathers in family life and your support for father-friendly parenting classes, meaningful parental leave for men and more conversations between fathers and sons about manhood, all of which are thoroughly good things, at least in families where it is an option. I also agree with you, to a certain extent, that social and economic changes have left many young men, particularly from poor and working class backgrounds, unsure of their expected role. I have said much the same myself. The collapse of manufacturing industry and the restructuring of the family unit and family finances have left young men like Great Britain after the second world war: having lost an empire and not yet found a role.

All of these points were made and needed to be made. Unfortunately most of the media that covered your speech paid little or no attention to these important points. They focused on the other things you said. You know, the stuff about hypermasculine culture creating a generation of disaffected young men, fuelling heartlessness, homophobia, machismo and misogyny, as the Guardian put it. All the papers lapped up the line about “Jack Daniels and Viagra,” a real zinger.

I have no idea where the recipe for this particular cocktail originates. I’ve never heard of it before. Perhaps you are mixing up alienated young people with former members of Guns ‘N’ Roses, I don’t know. But as shadow minister for public health, I would expect you to have some idea of the official statistics and peer-reviewed research into the topics you discuss. Those data paint a picture of young people’s men’s lives which is utterly unrecognisable from the one you describe.

Earlier this year, the ONS published its annual report on juvenile crime. You should read it Diane, partly because it is fascinating and heartening, but mostly because, well, it’s your job. Here are just a few highlights.

Overall there were 137,335 proven offences by young people in 2011/12, down 22 per cent from 2010/11 and down 47 per cent since 2001/02. In the last year there has been a notable reduction in offences committed by young people, in particular; criminal damage (down 28%), public order (down 27%), theft and handling (down 23%) and violence against the person offences (down 22%).
There were 1,888 proven sexual offences associated with young people on the YOT caseload, this accounted for less than two percent of all offences.

In the data tables which accompanied that report, there is a section on proven offences by type, which compares to a decade earlier – 2001/2. Violence against the person: down 14%. Criminal damage: down 53%. Drugs offences: down 8%. The category ‘Other’ neatly captures most of the rarer types of behaviour that concern you: sexual offences; hate crimes and so on: they are down 47% since 01/02.

Most crime and anti-social behaviour, not to mention most problematic drink and drug use, is the work of young men below the age of 30, and always has been. When we look at trends in adult crime, it is for the most part young male adults we are discussing. And the trends with adult crime are the same. The trends with adult drug use are the same.

On less-easily measured topics, such as the homophobia you mention, official statistics are less helpful, although ever since ACPO started collecting data on hate crimes, just five years ago, the trend for every category except disability-related hate crime has been downward. You might also want to have a look at Mark McCormack’s work on homophobia in schools, which gives considerable reasons for optimism.

So too do the statistics on teenage conceptions, which are the best guide to sexual responsibility among young people. Such data suggest that young people are more sexually responsible than they were a few years ago, and vastly more so than either your generation or mine.

As a final point, your claim that gender-based violence such as sexual offences and domestic abuse invariably rise during recessions is simplistic and inaccurate. It has never been really true, and the most up to date statistics available show that such offences are continuing to decline, with no evidence that this devastating and prolonged recession is altering the trend.

One member of your audience from yesterday recorded her impressions of your speech in the Guardian. Like you, Laurie Penny makes some excellent and important points about men and masculinity, but she appears to have fallen for the sensational drama of your rhetoric. It was striking that in an article which pleaded for “us” to talk about the wellbeing of men and boys, and the nature of modern masculinity, she was diverted into defending first single-mothers and then feminists from unfair attacks. Like you, she appears to have fallen into the trap of thinking that the myriad social and economic issues confronting boys and young men today only really become a problem when they impact upon others – particularly upon women. Once again, to echo Glen Poole, a debate which should have been about how young men have problems has become a debate about how young men are problems.

Diane, I welcome your speech and Laurie’s article. We do need to talk about these topics, and some of the problems facing many young men are real and critically important. But I make one simple request of you. Please consider that one of the most damaging and corrosive social problems facing young men today is the widespread, irrational fear they face in the media and in society. Newspapers and politicians unfairly and inaccurately portray modern young men and boys as violent, abusive, feral and destructive. These stereotypes are in themselves enormously damaging, especially when it comes to a working class lad – and above all a black working class lad – finding employment and fulfilling his educational potential. These things can so easily become self-fulfilling prophecies.  If you really want to help solve the problems facing young men, I would beg that your first step should be to cease adding to the problems facing young men today.

Best wishes,

Ally

x

 

UPDATE:

Excellent blog, which could be seen as a companion piece to this one, picking apart more of the claims underpinning the supposed Crisis of Masculinity at Decline of the Logos

We don’t call this sexism, we call it, err…

SERIES: FROM THE HETPAT ARCHIVES

[Note: I was unsure which archive piece to reanimate next. This piece closely echoes some of the discussions in the comments under the two pieces on misandry, so I figured it made sense to bring it out now and we can officially declare this Misandry Week on Heteronormative Patriarchy for Men and get it all over with at once. I assure new readers, I really do talk about a lot of other things too, honestly, and we will move onto those shortly. In the meantime…]

First published July 25th 2012

 

We live in a viciously gendered world. Roles for both men and women are socialised into us from the day we are born and heavily reinforced from all quarters until the day we die. Men are raised to perform certain roles, just as women are. The masculine gender identity is built upon the  repression of many, perhaps most, emotions. We have self-preservation instincts trained out of us, with narratives around courage, heroism and self-sacrifice. Violence is integral – we are taught to tolerate and expect it from others and to inflict it upon others in response to attack, challenge or insult. And then we wonder why some boys grow to be violent men.

The result is a model of adult masculinity which must be directly implicated in mental and physical ill-health, suicide and criminality. It is exploited, and indeed encouraged, by systems of governance which turn boys and men into cannon-fodder. It largely explains why men make up 92% of workplace deaths and about 95% of prison places. It’s why male babies in England and Wales are 27% more likely to be murdered than girls before the age of one, 40% more likely before the age of 5 and 45% more likely to be murdered before the age of 16. It is partly why more males than females die among every age cohort, of pretty much every cause. It’s also why men are seen to be, and often feel emasculated by caring and parenting roles or working with children. It’s why male domestic violence victimisation is commonly mocked and usually unreported, like male rape and other sexual abuse.

It is often assumed that aggression, risk taking and violence are inherent to maleness, a product of testosterone or neurology. This seems unlikely. If it were true, why would boys need to have all of these traits literally beaten into us by parents, teachers and (above all) our peers? Why would we need such extensive social shaming and so many conformity triggers to make them stick? Perhaps there is a nugget of truth to some generalised assumptions about gender differences, but even if so, they are magnified many fold by social intervention.

And none of it, literally none of it, is a privilege. One salutory exercise, I think, is to pick up a war book like All Quiet on the Western Front or The Naked and the Dead or Michael Herr’s Dispatches, and read it through the lens of gender politics. What do we see? Young men, often still in their teens, dragged by legal and social obligation into visions of hell from Goya’s nightmares. They weren’t selected by suitability for the role by personality or physicality, they were sent to be killed, tortured, maimed and traumatised, and indeed to kill, torture, maim and traumatise others, on one characteristic alone: their gender.

I did recently pick up Norman Mailer’s book again and skimmed a few random chapters. When I first read it more than 20 years ago, I was shocked by the shameless misogyny. Only now could I recognise that the characters’ attitudes to women (and I suspect Mailer’s too) were forged in a furnace of dehumanisation and brutalisation. It must be hard to feel compassion for your wife at home or the prostitute on the corner when you’ve spent the day slaughtering other men. Mailer would later write that “Masculinity is not something given to you, but something you gain. And you gain it by winning small battles with honour.” Such as the honour, perhaps, of desperately trying to shove your best mate’s intestines back in through the gaping hole in his stomach.

Lest you think these atrocities now live only in history books and novels, bear in mind that there is still male-only compulsory military conscription in about 80 countries, or more than one third of the nations on Earth. Somewhere between 500,000 and a million conscripts are believed to have died in the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s. Had they survived, most would be younger than I am. This is not history. This is now.

Of course civilians, often women, die in huge numbers in modern warfare, in no less horrific circumstances. But they are not chosen to die because of their gender. And we should need no reminders of mass rape campaigns and other colossal war crimes against women and girls that so often accompany conflicts. The difference is that these are (rightly) identified as gender crimes and major international bodies are dedicated to campaigning against them, combating them and prosecuting the perpetrators. It is not uncommon for an army to conquer a territory, separate the women and girls to be raped, and the men and boys to be murdered. But only one of those is usually considered a gender crime.

The standard liberal feminist or egalitarian stance here is that it is patriarchy that genders war. Sexism decrees that women are too weak, too delicate for the battlefield so it must be left to the bigger, stronger, braver men. The solution, they argue, is for equal combat roles, equal conscription, equal numbers of women and men doing the killing and dying. I find that obscene. In what moral universe is it a better to have as many women slaughtered on the front line as men? As a culture we have always tended towards casual indifference to the deaths of ordinary men, and been comparatively sensitive to the loss of ‘innocent’ women and children. It’s the first value that needs changing, not the second.

Another feminist response is to say that, horrific though it may be, this is not sexism. Sexism is the systematic oppression of one gender by another. I don’t agree with that definition, but never mind. So this is not the oppression of one gender by another, it is the oppression of one gender by the values of the ruling class. What do we call that then?

I do not pretend I have a magic wand to hand. We are talking thousands of years of cultural habits that need to be challenged here, and quite literally all the powerful vested interests in the world. But then we said the same about feminism once. What I do know is that before you can solve any problem you have to recognise that it exists and identify it for what it is.

If you don’t want to call this sexism, then fine, call it what you like. By any other name, it smells just as foul.

——————–

CREDIT WHERE DUE: Much of the inspiration and booklearnin’ for this post, though not the conclusion, came from David Benatar’s recent book The Second Sexism, which I wrote about here.