The penis: mightier than the sword

Category: Non-Fiction

Short Shrift – A Rant

Picture the scene: 5 a.m., 3000-odd words completed, still vividly experiencing the memories I have been transcribing and somewhat relieved that I can now start the process of forgetting.

Not fiction, though. Instead of writing about people having fun and fucking each other silly, I was documenting what happens when silly people fuck each other over. In other words, I was lodging an official complaint about conditions at my place of work. Telling anyone who’d listen how my voice was ignored; how I was insulted, forced to work beyond my capabilities, made to choose between my health and my job. Telling how I was discriminated against because of my gender. Telling how there is a culture of mistreating and taking advantage of male employees by both male and female managers.

I saved (three times, just to be sure!), logged off and turned out the light. As I lay back in bed to grab a few hours’ sleep, I checked Twitter one last time…

“Women are stronger than men in all the ways that matter.”

Are you kidding me? Seriously?

Is this what passes for inspirational “girl power” feminism these days?

Women are strong, yes. I have no problem with that idea. They can be as strong as men, or stronger, in any number of ways. It’s not a rule, of course; just an observation of their capabilities. And by extension, of our own. But “are stronger than men” makes me sigh, and despair once again for the unhelpful nature of generalisations.

My “generalisations” argument generally goes like this:

THEM: X are Y!
ME: That isn’t actually true.
THEM: So you think X are NOT Y? Crazy!
ME: No, I think you can’t make sweeping generalisa. . .
THEM: I’ve seen them myself! Xs being Y! You can’t deny it.
ME: But some X aren’t . . .

Et c., et c., and so on, and so forth. It’s a pretty fair bet that if I come up against a strong opinion from either end of the political or social spectrum I’ll end up arguing against it on the grounds that such simplistic dogma is pretty much always wrong. It has to be. Life, the world, people, are too complex and complicated to pin down so totally. There are always exceptions, and those can tell you more about the issues you’re really facing than all the clear-cut textbook examples you care to name. So I hate generalisations.

But it was that last part that really made me fume, and still does; “in all the ways that matter.”

Any chance the author had to qualify that first statement helpfully, to reflect the complex realities of the situation and make a meaningful statement about the qualities men and women possess and aspire to, was wasted on hate.

That line is a powerful one-two punch. It’s beautifully written, short and very snappy. Easy to remember and easy to quote, with just a slight sneer overlaying what sounds like a broadly positive statement. But it’s hateful and subversive. It begins by asserting female superiority, not equality or objective power; only comparisons with men matter to this writer. The sting in the tail is the concession that men might, in some fields, be stronger than women. How does the author deal with this? By dismissing an entire gender out of hand. If a man is better able to do something than a woman, that thing implicitly has no value. Men’s strengths are worthless and pointless.

I’ve experienced this attitude in real life for too long now to let people get away with blithely passing on messages reinforcing this kind of harmful stereotype.

Men have value as people, and their various strengths have worth.

So do women, and their strengths.

Can we please stop trying to give ourselves a little lift by pushing others down?

Carte Blanche – A Rant

I have started to get sick and tired of privilege.

Not the experience of it, naturally, because as many of you have inferred, I am indeed privileged as fuck.

I like not having to struggle against most kinds of prejudice every day, and I like the things about me that make that possible – as a male, white, hetero, cis, able, relatively financially secure, educated person I pretty much come at the top of the tree locally, as far as privilege is concerned. That’s not to say that for me life’s a walk in the park, but there are parks available for walking in, should I wish. I know, OK? I know that makes me exceedingly fortunate, and I also know that many people – most people – do not fit into one or more of those categories, and so come up against a society that is largely biased against them, one way or another. Or several. I understand that this is a real thing, and a real problem, and does affect people. Let’s just get that clear.

One of the most damaging things about privilege is that privileged people so often fail to notice how lucky they are; that they live in a world the less privileged cannot know and vice versa – what is considered normal by them is unimagined luxury to someone with a less privileged life; to have bias and prejudice vanish so thoroughly they’re not merely no longer daily problems, but are no longer real. The entire concept of prejudice becomes meaningless, if you live with the right kind of privilege: and if you’re privileged with regard to socially-biased systems where’s the incentive to change them? Everything’s working just fine, isn’t it?

But recently I have seen examples of (usually) feminists who throw the term around at the first sign of debate, using it to silence critics and to give them carte blanche to engage in precisely the type of behaviour they publicly object to in others. Throw that word around and suddenly anything is fair game – anyone who disagrees is branded an enemy, a privileged bigot.

So, I thought I’d dig around and see if I could clear up a few of the knee-jerk responses that I’ve had come my way.

First – Just because someone happens to exhibit signs of privilege does NOT mean they are oppressing you, actively or passively. They may or may not have personally benefited from that privilege; you can’t tell. They may or may not be working to change those systems; again, you can’t tell. So kindly keep assumptions like that for when you know the individual better. And not everything that looks like privilege actually is. Not all effects have the same cause.

Secondly – Stop with the stereotypes. Seriously. It pisses you off, surely, when people say “women do this” or “black people do that”, “gay guys are always so…” so can you cut out the privilege-bashing? Please? All white people are not the same. All hetero people are not the same. All men are not the same. No, not even if they share privilege. Why do you think any such statement is useful to anyone? If you’re using a “type” to stand for a particular set of behaviours, why not just say them? Because I guarantee you won’t make any friends among those people you unintentionally accuse of whatever -ism you’re targeting. You might even lose a few.

Thirdly – Privilege is contextual. Yep, it may come as a shock to all you absolutists, but since privilege is an interaction between a person’s self and the social environment, it depends entirely on that environment. Entirely. No skin colour, no gender, no sexuality is inherently more privileged than another; not until you place that person into a social context. (Which, when you think about it, is kind of awesome, and what the whole thing’s about…) Making assumptions about how a person’s perceived privilege might have affected their behaviour ignores their actual life experience. You don’t know them, so don’t assume and don’t generalize. All X people are not the same.

Fourthly – (and this is related) Privilege is not simply additive, but multiplex. Intersectional, if you will. Yes, if a person is truly privileged in a certain area then they may have the kind of narrow insensitivity you are concerned about in that field alone, but – I’ll repeat –  making assumptions about how a person’s perceived privilege might have affected their behaviour ignores any unseen examples of under-privileged aspects of their life. To say that a white man will always inherently be used to respect and deference, say, might not be accurate if he had experienced persecution due his sexuality, for example. [EDIT – I really want to stress that even those things that don’t normally get counted as privilege can have an undermining effect here.]

Fifthly – there is a worrying tendency when discussing privilege to cling onto “victim” status, seemingly so as not to lose the ability to attack others on grounds of the privilege you claim still not to possess. . . . which makes my brain hurt, but I have seen incredible contortions of logic designed specifically to de-value any progress made towards equality. This even extends to inventing examples of “oppression” that nobody else can see, just to prove how oppressed you are and how insensitive is the society you inhabit. Such victimhood is sickening to see, and leaves the observer with the impression that not only will nothing they do ever be enough to satisfy you, but that there is no point even trying to give you what you ask for but appear not to want.

Lastly, and most relevantly, comes education. Do you believe that by campaigning and writing, blogging, engaging with all kinds of people, you can make them more aware of their own privilege, and its effects, and ultimately less likely to take advantage of it at the expense of others?

It’s a serious question, so please think carefully – Can you educate privileged people or not?

I would imagine most of you hope and believe the answer to be yes. So, when you point out a person’s privilege, and go on to assume certain behaviours or attitudes on their part, you are also assuming they are both ignorant and uneducated with regard to their privilege. That is your assumption. Remember that they will never be able to change their experiential privilege (their formative experiences), and it is immensely difficult to change one’s circumstantial privilege (how their identity interacts with their current social environment) – those things are as fixed as skin colour or sexuality – so the only possibility left for them is education and awareness. Deny them that, and you are condemning them to a stereotype of privilege as surely as people condemn “niggers”, “fags”, “trannies”, and “bitches”, with no hope of redemption.

So, have I got this wrong? I’m sure I’ll get told, loudly, but so far the arguments against this problem have degenerated into hypocrisy, double standards and “justified” revenge for oppressive history; and I don’t think any of those is actually a good enough reason to perpetuate this kind of hatred here and now. To recap, I believe that –

  • Privilege is real
  • Privilege is individual
  • Privilege is dependent on current social context
  • Privilege is dependent on past experience
  • Privilege is multiplex, and varies in how it is expressed
  • Privilege is able to be acquired through changing social context
  • Privilege is able to be lost through changing social context
  • Privilege can be overcome

So there’s no excuse for using it as a weapon of silence or dismissal. It’s a point of education, a possible blind spot in someone’s world view, but not the bomb you can use to nuke any discussions not going your way.

Reply to Feminist Griote – A Rant

Original article at http://thefeministgriote.com/white-people-fatigue-syndrome/

I think this piece is a melodramatic overreaction to an innocuous incident, and works very hard to maintain you in the role of victim so as to elicit sympathy.

If you are constantly pointing out examples like this, it is no wonder your allies sometimes doubt whether racism impinges on your world at all. This is not racist. It is also no wonder that they do not see it as such, and I am not surprised that this makes them feel the need to constantly re-affirm their non-racist solidarity with you when you bring up subjects like this.

I have no idea what you mean by “having white women don coloured women costumes”, but the following quote is utterly disingenuous; to cite the lack of black models for decades as oppression, and then, when black models become more prevalent, to see their very presence as oppressive – this seems like a desperate attempt to cling on to victim status.

I do not believe that the photo shoot you show on the cover and talk about within the magazine is racist at all. It is an aesthetic and artistic choice designed to produce a particular effect. If the photographer had wanted to photograph a black model, or a white, or a blonde-haired, or a ginger-haired model, I am sure he would have done so. He chose those particular models, and dressed and painted BOTH their bodies to present a particular monochromatic effect. That you choose only to see the alteration to the darker figure speaks only about your preconceptions, not about the photographer’s intent.

Again, if none of your colleagues read the picture in this way, why would they jump to affirm your reading of it?

You complain that black women are seen as being always ready to curse somebody out. Perhaps this is just observation at work. You are doing a fine job of berating all of them, all of the attendees at this industry luncheon, and the entire editorial staff of a magazine here.

Rather than draw your conclusion about the reason none of your companions objected to that cover shot, I’d rather extend your own line of reasoning – if it had been homophobic, anti-immigrant, misogynistic, they would have stood up for the people representing those groups at the table. So IF it had been racist, perhaps they would have stood up for you, too. Doesn’t that make more sense? Isn’t that a little less paranoid?

Angry Women – A Rant

Yet again, as I seem to do so often, I bumped heads with someone online. This time, more than usual, they came across as irrational, judgemental, condescending, smug, dictatorial and generally unpleasant. Despite their profile stating their love of logic and reason, the actual dialogue we had descended pretty quickly into them telling me what I thought, accusing me of having a hidden agenda, mocking and refusing to engage with anything resembling a factual argument, and outright stating that facts and logic ought to defer to “common sense” arguments that pass without examination.

What is perhaps surprising is that this person was a woman – and one supposedly advocating women’s rights, which is a cause I feel very strongly about – however because I dared to question her interpretation of some issues she went on the attack, and branded me a faker, a saboteur and an embarrassment to myself and the women in my life.

So, yeah, obvious troll was obvious, move on, it’s the internet. Except that this person seemed to be involved with the @EverydaySexism project, and I am deeply concerned with the sheer hatred that she vented on their behalf. Apparently after having similar discussions online a handful of times, she has seen it all before, and is qualified to judge my motives, intentions and how I treat the people closest to me, and people in general, from a few messages under 140 characters. Wow. Superpowers, seriously. Should put those to better use.

From the moment I dared to disagree with her, my argument was invalid. Criticize her interpretations? Hater. Support her? Hater in disguise. Present her with facts? Dismiss them. Appeal for rationality? Laugh in my face. Everything she claimed to stand for evaporated with her glee at having found a suitable-looking target for her venom.

I tried, in the face of increasing frustration, to present the point I was trying to make, but she refused to read the detailed explanations she had insisted were the only way to properly debate this. She said she’d wait around to read them, then logged off. Claimed never to have seen them despite my reposting to her account.

So this is what feminism is reduced to? Childish gloating and playground tactics of who can shout loudest? I had been broadly supportive of @EverydaySexism, knowing that there are many chronic examples of sexist behaviour that pervade the social climate we live with, even though I had misgivings about some of the examples they chose to label as sexist. After this frankly infuriating and disgraceful exchange, I no longer associate with them, and would urge any serious feminists to do the same.

There are better ways to fight inequality than this insane hate-mongering, and I am choosing something more productive.