Thursday, June 5, 2014

Let's talk about privilege.

Like "patriarchy," "privilege" is another one of those "gotcha" words that, when challenged, result in accusations of ignorance, willful or otherwise, and demands that one "educate yourself." So let me start out by saying, privilege is definitely a thing. "Privilege," in the sociological sense, means a benefit or advantage that you have just by belonging to a [dominant] social identity group. It should be noted that privilege is possessed innately; it doesn't matter whether you want it, you acknowledge it, you intentionally use it, or what you think of it. It's just the way things are.

Examples of straight and cis privilege are fairly common, along with examples of white privilege, Christian privilege, economic privilege, and several others. But the group I hear most often run down for their privilege is men.

Is "male privilege" a thing? Sure. But unlike the other groups, the alleged "dominant group" here is not an overwhelming majority, overbearing a smaller population through sheer numbers, nor a conquesting minority, dominating with superior technology. I covered in a previous post the lack of logic behind suggesting that women are an systemically-oppressed minority. Feminism 101 would have you believe that there is no such thing as "female privilege," that areas where women benefit from The Patriarchy are more aptly called "benevolent sexism." This may work for examples like women and children being loaded into lifeboats first. But there's at least one clear example of female privilege where the "benevolent sexism" concept just doesn't wash, and that's paternity.

We women know who are children are. Barring an mix-up at the hospital, the baby we pop out of our bodies is ours, for better or worse. Men? Men have no idea. Men have to have faith and trust-- and with fidelity rates what they are these days, that's trust and faith bordering on naivete. But, luckily for men, these days they don't have to rely on blind trust-- science is on their side! For the first time in history, men can now easily, accurately, and cheaply know if they in fact fathered the child purported to be theirs. And a median 3.7% of children, around the world, are, in fact, subject to "paternal discrepancy."

So how have some women reacted? 

Many men have, of course, ended up raising children who were not genetically their own, but really, does it matter? You can feel quite as much tenderness for a child you mistakenly think to be yours as for one who is. [Source]
Spoken like someone who will never have to experience unknowingly raising a child who is not genetically her own.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Elliot Rodger and the specter of Shrodinger's Rapist

A little background: a few years ago, "Skepchick" blogger Rebecca Watson became involved in what Wikipedia calls the "elevator incident" and the web quickly dubbed "Elevatorgate." Much of the ensuing ferocious debate dealt with the supposed male privilege involved in not being afraid of random people--specifically men-- sharing an elevator, speaking to you in an elevator, or inviting you to their hotel room for coffee in an elevator. I even saw one woman opine (in a comment on that was quickly deleted) that men of color and/or of a certain stature/build (read: tall, muscular men) should actually defer to women waiting for an elevator and, out of respect for her unspoken concern about being confined in a small space for a few seconds with a larger man (especially men of color), should wait for the next elevator.

A term previously coined-- Schrodinger's rapist-- was quickly brought into wide use. The idea being, like Schrodinger's cat being in a state of unknowable life or death until one opens to box, every man is potentially a rapist, and women are behaving perfectly reasonably and justifiably-- not being sexist-- by treating them as the potential rapists they are. That behaviors such as avoiding sharing an elevator with a man, crossing the street to avoid passing a man on the sidewalk, etc. are not just reasonable and justified, but practically necessary in this dangerous world.

It's fear-mongering, ladies and gentlemen, nothing more. It's a few people who do know better and a few people who should know better blowing up a few statistics to make it sound like rapists are hiding behind every bush. Even if we accept that rape is something that is overwhelming perpetrated by men on women (it's not, more on that below), it's a classic fallacy to assume that just because all (or most) rapists are men, all (or most) men are rapists.

Here's a thought exercise-- what if we applied this logic to Muslims: because the majority of airplane-related terrorism is perpetrated by Muslims, all Muslims are potential terrorists? Or people of color: the majority of gang-related violence is perpetrated by Latinos or African-Americans, so all Latinos and African-Americans are potential gang-bangers? All murders of abortion doctors have been committed by Christians, so all Christians are potential murderers?

People who espouse the above ideas are called bigots, racists, and repudiated. They are not taken seriously, except by a small fringe minority that already agrees with them. But for some reason, when this logic is applied to men, anyone who objects risks being labeled a misogynist and a defender of rape culture.

Of course, in reality, men and women have about equal numbers of rape victims, and male rapists outnumber female ones only slightly (40/60). So the premise is faulty from the beginning-- women actually have no special reason to fear rape. Except, of course, that we've been told our whole lives that women need to be careful because it's a dangerous world out there for us-- while men are not warned at all. Even though a man statistically runs a far higher risk of being the victim of violence-- assault or homicide-- than a woman.

I've suffered from chronic anxiety my whole life, so maybe that gives me an edge of discernment? I've been dealing with irrational fears for as long as I can remember, so I've had a lot of practice at sorting reasonable fears and precautions from unreasonable ones. The sensible from the crazy. And the Schrodinger's rapist lady I linked to up there? She's a little on the crazy side. By definition, behavior becomes pathological when it starts to interfere with your everyday life. If she is feeling limited in what she can do or where she can go or with whom she can associate, she should probably consider therapy.

Anyway, fast forward to this past week, and the #yesallwomen movement. I've already covered at least some of my feelings about #yesallwomen and the rejection of #yesallpeople as somehow anti-woman or an attempt to silence women.

Slate's blogger Phil Plait, last Tuesday, posted this piece chastising the men who criticized #yesallwomen-- or worse, tried to "derail" it with #yesallpeople and the like. His message to the every-guy out there? The normal guys who don't threaten women who turn them down, who have never raped anyone, who are horrified at violence against anyone? The ones who are equal parts guilty and defensive and puzzled by all this blame being pushed at them by feminists (if they're aware of it at all)? Sit down, shut up, and accept your blame. Nobody is to blame but the rapist, when remarks are made about a woman's clothing, her drinking, her flirtations, her various decisions of the night-- but when it comes to men, all men are somehow complicit just by making the audacious claim that they, too, might understand what it's like to be attacked, or harassed, or even raped.

He says at one point:
Fourth—and this is important, so listen carefully—when a woman is walking down the street, or on a blind date, or, yes, in an elevator alone, she doesn’t know which group you’re in. You might be the potential best guy ever in the history of history, but there’s no way for her to know that. A fraction of men out there are most definitely not in that group. Which are you? Inside your head you know, but outside your head it’s impossible to. 
This is the reality women deal with all the time.
This is only "the reality that women deal with"-- a reality of fear and uncertainty, not a reality of an actual risk of being raped or attacked-- because it's a reality of their own making, born out of a fear-mongering media and an ideology that requires a male oppressor in order to work. If any of the various feminist bloggers and thinkers who are so vehemently against hearing anything a man has to say about this, other than "I'm so, so sorry for my gender," took five seconds to listen to these men, instead of just dismissing their words as "mansplaining," they might see that rape and harassment and just general human shittiness isn't a female experience, it's a human one.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

#YESallpeople #nonotthiswoman

I am, once again, baffled. Angrily baffled. Frustratingly baffled.

I don't get it. I'm admitting it, this one time: I DON'T GET IT.

I've been around in my life. No, really. I've been to drug-laced parties. I drank before I was twenty-one. Once, in my early twenties, driving alone at night, I picked up two male hitchhikers, and we drove around for a while and just talked. I've been to clubs and bars. I spent the better part of a year using the Los Angeles public transit on a daily basis. I've been on the brink of having sex with a man (I mean, right there) and changed my mind. I've been politely propositioned by older random men and swinger acquaintances alike, and declined. I can check off most of the list of "stupid, risky things women aren't supposed to do"-- and not only have I never been raped or sexually assaulted, I don't feel like I've ever come close. I've never been threatened with violence from a man for being a woman.  I've never been groped or harassed or gotten more than what I feel is reasonable attention-- a quiet proposition, a statement of interest, a once-over and compliment-- that didn't just lose interest when met with a polite but firm "no."

That's not to say that the experiences of women who have experienced harassment or violence aren't valid. But inherent to the idea of #yesallwomen are two premises: first, that all women share this pervasive fear of men, based on these universally shared experiences of ill-treatment by men; and second, that violence and harassment experienced by women is somehow fundamentally different-- and worse-- from the violence and harassment that men experience.

But that's not surprising. No, what's making me angry is this blog post from Courtney Enlow, "#YesAll Women, #YesAllPeople and the Dangers of Misunderstanding Feminism." What makes me want to cry and rage and scream is her stubborn, self-defeating opposition to empathy. Elliot Rodgers killed men, too. More men than women. Men are harassed, men are abused, men are raped, men are objectified. As she herself points out, "someone sharing their unique, specific experiences does not diminish anyone else's." Instead of spitting on the shared experience with men, why not take the opportunity to empathize and work together to reduce all the violence? Why the need to insist that your "unique and specific experience" isn't actually unique and specific to you, but is common to people with vaginas-- but arbitrarily exclude people with penises?

She ends by pleading:

I want to be loud. I don’t want to accommodate. I want to be heard. We want to be heard. Please. Someone please listen.
Why is it so important for you to be heard as a woman? If the essential part of your message is "I was hurt and I want someone, anyone, to know it," why does it matter whether that other person over there who was also hurt is a man or a woman?

Like I said, I don't get it.