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April 26, 2007

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Nato

"I don't really think there is a coherent feminist program at all"

This is true, but perhaps not in the way that Nathan intends. That is to say, it's a fractured, squabbling diaspora rather than a single ideology. I take liberties when describing something as "feminist" because I'm to some extent choosing only those feminists I want in my corner and the rest I either mostly ignore (Naomi Wolf and other programless victimologists) or actively excoriate (ecofeminists). I might go so far as to say that most academic feminism is pretty bankrupt and irrelevant - Faludi is an investigative journalist, not a prof.

But the broad mass of progressive intellectuals take a more reasonable view of the issues. In fact, I see Summers' hypothesis floated fairly often without a lot of faces turning red. It's tendentious, but I pick and choose the feminism I think is defensible and helpful because otherwise I'd be saying nothing at all.

P.S. I don't support everything NOW does either, though I support the majority of it.

Nato

In the interest of telling stories:

When I was eight or so years old, I was a fairly typical little boy. I thought girls insipid and alien, I was repulsed by the androgyny of Twisted Sister et al (and still find them highly ridiculous, but that's another story) and I viewed the boyfriend/girlfriend play-acting carried on by a few of my friends with some of the aniel-girls in the same sense as something done on a dare. Around this time, however, my mother pointed out to me that girls frequently saw boys in the same light and that if we didn't insist on seeing things this way there wasn't any reason we couldn't just be regular friends. Also during this time I think I was losing my resentment toward a girl in my class who had committed no other crime than to be really good at sports. Almost another decade would pass before I came to make friends as easily with women as with men, but almost immediately my "ugh, girls!" reaction began to fade away. When I went through puberty, I was able to filter my libido through the "we're all just people" realization that made it easy to avoid objectification. "Would I ask this of a friend?" I thought, not the "what would my friends think?" reasoning I encountered so often.

During this time I was also becoming a feminist of a fairly haphazard manner. It was a homebrew feminism constructed in snippets and drabs of interpolated "theory" and historical feminism, uninformed by actual women, with whom I felt it inappropriate to discuss sex. Further, despite having become an atheist I still tended to uncritically accept most of the values ambient in the conservative Christian milieu. I unreservedly wrote my name on a sheet at school vowing to remain chaste until marriage, considered all drugs bad and all drug-use weak. Girls who slept with boys were sluts and if they dressed alluringly they were slutty. Being gay was wrong, weird and weak.

I don't remember how much of this was still true for me by the time I acquired my sister when I was 14, but I know basically none of it survived getting to know her in the next three years except those portions living on in my weird, confused feminism*. The anti-feminism I witnessed in my high school years was so egregious that there's no danger any of the "Free Thinker" regulars would have any sympathy for it, and the grossness of it generally inspired action(or at least fantasies of action), not deep thought. It also, I will admit, radicalized me in a sort of haphazard "men are bad" kind of way.

It wasn't until college when I found myself having to reexamine my presumptions during never-ending arguments with my soon-to-be closest friend Suzy (who is fairly fond of men, as it happens). Early on we argued about economics, physics and the beginnings of cognitive philosophy where the conclusions of the arguments generally agreed with my starting position but in the interim having found that the quality of my initial positions had more to do with having luckily chosen good authorities than really having thought anything through completely. I was right by accident.

Later our arguments began to concern more social issues. She would ask me why I had the preferences I did and how I saw the ethics of various situations, then cross-examine my answer. In these, I generally discovered my positions to be bankrupt and indefensible. Unless I undergo religious conversion, I can't imagine ever again abandoning so many long-held beliefs in such a short time. Suzy is now, of course, a lawyer.

With my feminism in shambles, I started to pick up the pieces while spending a lot of time with a medievalist who - like me - abhorred postmodern Theory and fatuous "pomoidiots". Cautioned by my somewhat ignominious history avec the future lawyer, comparing against a far wider personal experience of women, and with the benefit of a top-flight English major's wider perspective on the feminist landscape, I pieced together my present feminism which, of course, I believe to be about right.

Since then more and more of my thoughts about feminism have actually had more to do with (what I believe to be) the ways in which harsh, macho idea of masculinity has set up a great deal of men for failure. Meanwhile, I've also attempted to remove from myself some of the more pernicious pseudo-feminist baggage from my radicalizing earlier years that had become enshrined in counterproductive or unjustified personal aversions. On this more visceral level I would not say I'm where I think I should be, but it's not always easy to bring theory and impulse into congruence.

Make of that voyage of a moderately young feminist male what you will.

*Part of the problem was that I still didn't discuss sex, perhaps because I didn't feel a budding intellectual (or whatever it was that I imagined myself to be) should be interested in such things.

Thomas

Nathanael makes some good points. Some common stereotypes of the differences between men and women are definitely true in general. However, I see the feminist movement in a slightly different light that either of my two friends Nathan. People do not like to be stereotyped. Imagine if you will a woman that actually can do anything a man can do, and do it better, in fact. If we subscribe to a view that women should have a certain narrowly defined roll in society or that women in general are inferior in the ways that this particular woman is not, that woman is bound to feel disenfranchised and discriminated against. Should we characterize people by their gender, race, hair color, etc? Or should we judge people not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character? I certainly agree that people are not equal. Women and men are not equal. And women are not equal among women, men are not equal among men. I am not even the equal of any of my interlocutors in this forum. And that really is the main point of feminism. Women are not equal to their stereotype. A stereotype might represent an average, perhaps, but it does not represent any particular woman. To stereotype is necessary in many instances, but we take stereotypes for granted much of the time in society, and the feminist movement is about destroying those stereotypes, for better or worse. That is what feminism means to me.

Nato

Well, I suppose I could sign on with Tom's view of feminism, with the codicil that destroying stereotypes without destroying useful information requires a lot of thought. It's great to say that black people aren't any more prone to violent crime than white people, but then you still have to deal with the statistical ways in which this is not true. It seems extremely unlikely to me that there's anything about the genetic makeup of black people that makes them more prone to violence, but social, economic and historical factors mean that statistically speaking, black people are more "prone" to violent crime. Even if everyone keeps the first and second point separated in their minds - and I suppose we as a society have gotten a great deal better at that - some kinds of operation on the second information can tend to perpetuate the same conditions: if my father is constantly thinking about the racial demographics of violence in an uncomplicated way, is he going to not hire the black manager because, you know, statistically speaking, black people are more likely to be violent or whatever? By all means smash the stereotype, but it's not that easy to separate unnecessary stereotypes that pigeonhole people and perpetuate themselves and those cousins of stereotypes meaningful statistics, which can have real information that society has to use in some way.

Nathan Smith

And this is all the more difficult in the case of gender "stereotypes," since the systematic difference surely *do* have a genetic basis.

Nato

The fact that gender comes with genetic differences complicates the anti-stereotyping task, since it means there's something real on which to hang pronouncements of essential eternal truth. "Women mature faster than men" has an obvious genetic basis, but if accepted as an uncomplicated truth, society might, for example, feel justified in giving females their legal majority before men. This isn't, of course, an appropriate response to the ways in which "women mature faster than men" is obviously true*.

But there's another, arguably more important matter complicating the "smash the stereotype" goal in men and women: gender identification. I remember my cousin once removed, then four, explaining to me that she was in fact a girl, even though her hair wasn't very long. This entirely unprompted and oddly emphatic advisement was perhaps the most concrete example I've seen of the strong need children have to establish their gender through stereotyping. I'm not of the opinion that this is a bad thing in and of itself, but it's clearly going to generate not only behavior markedly different from male conspecifics in early childhood but probably enduring statistical divergence between males and females in later life. If the choices we offer our children on how to be (fe)male are narrower, it increases the potential for conflicts between a youth's traits and their gender identification. If the traits aren't particularly marked, presumably the gender identification process will obliterate, weaken, or temporarily obscure them, and if they're strong, then a child might actually be distressed in some sense. It's probably politically incorrect to hypothesize that some people who feel themselves to be in the wrong body got to that point because too many of their strong traits fit the "other" gender stereotype rather than that for the body in which they were born. But I'm going to do it anyway, having no real idea how likely that is to be true to any meaningful extent.

Is it desirable (or even possible) to throw open the gender identification gates entirely? I don't have an answer on that, but I certainly don't think it would confuse children or make gender identification too difficult if they were open a lot wider than they are in many, if not most households. It would probably also moderate to a significant extent the statistical differences between the sexes without at all erasing them(which doesn't seem desirable anyway).

Very little of this should or could be translated into any sort of institutional policy; Nathan is right to say that the major policy battles are won for women. I do not think (for example) that what discrimination against women qua women remains in the workplace is in any way appropriate for legislative targeting even if such a thing were possible. I totally believe that too much money is to be made by hiring undervalued workers for most discrimination** to persist indefinitely. That said, it takes work to identify undervalued workers and there's a risk to hiring them, so fighting stereotypes is an economic good - one that I think has helped the western world continue to outpace much of the rest of the world which continues to waste so much human capital. There's also the advantage of reducing resentment or cynicism amongst sub-populations that are generally far more aware than the traditionally dominant demographic when they're being slighted. I'm sure some of the "Driving While Black" phenomenon is projection, but my anecdotal experience makes it so common that I can't imagine young black men not feeling a little persecuted by the constant suspicion. Does that mean we should try to legislate the racial proportions of traffic stops? No, but there's clearly reasons to be socially vigilant about it.

I'm aware of the many problems of identity politics, governmental intervention and all that malarkey, but I still think there's lots of important work to do in fighting discrimination.

*One might want to disqualify the quoted statement on the grounds that it's only statisticaly true, but age of majority is already a heuristic based on (inter alia) the statistical mean of when young humans are considered mature enough to be adults. In policy questions we can sometimes do no better.

**I will make an exception for historical racial discrimination, in which the racism of the majority enforced itself on any who might dissent; one couldn't make money hiring the undervalued because one would be boycotted, attacked, etc. Even historical affirmative action seems defensible in a lot of ways, though it goes against principle in a way that, as usual, forecasted the unintended consequences that eventuated.

Thomas

Not that I disagree with you, or anything, but all of that is kind of beside the point I was trying to make. What separates the men's golf tour from the women's? Well, gender historically. But in the golf world of today, there are women competing on the men's tour. Why is that? Simply because they can qualify for it. The standards to play on the men's tour are gender neutral, and that's how it should be. Imagine a woman trying to make it as a Navy SEAL; there was actually a movie made about it. If a woman can meet all of the high standards required to be a Navy SEAL, then why shouldn't we let her? When I argue with people online, should I tailor my argument based on the assumed gender of the people I'm communicating with? Of course not, that would be silly! Even if I tried to do that, I couldn't really be sure if I was arguing with a man or a woman. The point I'm trying to make is that gender considerations should be irrelevant for most things. Obviously gender matters for family, courting, ritual, sex, self-identification, etc. But things that require someone to meet a certain standard shouldn't be gender specific (unless it's something to do with physical appearance). Women should be given the opportunities to compete for the things that men compete for, even if the vast majority of women are biologically unsuited or inferior in some way.

The battle is mostly won for women in this culture, but it sure isn't for the vast majority of women in the world.

Nato

With what are you not disagreeing, Tom?

Nato

"Women should be given the opportunities to compete for the things that men compete for, even if the vast majority of women are biologically unsuited or inferior in some way."

By the way, thanks for this, since the "most women aren't able to X" justification for disallowing something entirely drives me nuts. Men shorter than 175cm have a hard time making it into the NBL, but it would be silly for the NBL to have a minimum hight requirement.

Nato

I suppose I meant NBA, not NBL. As you might guess, I don't keep up with sports much.

Val Larsen

Thomas (and Nato). I am guessing that you would not permit men to try out for and play in the WNBA or LPGA. What principle do you use to derive a rule that permits the gender requirement to be erased only in one direction? One argument I can think of would be that salaries/payouts are higher in the NBA/PGA than in their corresponding female equivalents, so there might be a kind of inequity in freezing women out on gender grounds alone. But I think there are cases where women earn more. It is certainly true in modeling, though that doesn't have the competitive purity of sport. I think top women tennis players tend to earn more, but that may be an extension of the modeling premium. Certainly, women would not favor erasing the gender barrier if the gate swung both ways, so if you are going to adopt this position, you need some principled basis for making this a one-way door.

Nato

Though I didn't intend to say that women should be allowed into the NBA - I was just using height as analogous to gender - it's a good question in its own right. I think it would be considered unsporting to have someone from a more competitive league or whathaveyou playing in a less competitive one. If a welterweight wants to fight a heavyweight, no one stands in the way of such a plucky fellow (or lass), but we don't let a heavyweight just push into a welterweight bout.

That said, there a serious asymmetries in membership rules for various organizations out there, and that's not really cool. It's true that men's organizations have generally been the ones with power from which exclusion could cause real damage, but that doesn't excuse women's organizations from the same openness.

Val Larsen

Presumably, no organization can sustain itself without delivering some benefits to its members. And in some cases, those benefits may be greater if the group has a higher degree of homogeneity. For example, people with professional expertise might want to exclude from their meetings people who lack background knowledge and who would, thus, gum up the works with "stupid" basic questions. While the distribution of most attributes will overlap, the mean value of attributes for the genders is often quite distinct. So organizing same-gender groups makes sense, to the extent that homogeneity delivers a benefit. But the greater the benefit, ipso facto, the greater the cost of being excluded. But if the barrier is breached, the price may be that we lose the benefits homogeneous social organization produces. So the problem remains. How does one balance equity and liberty, free association and social inclusion? It is hard to get these things right. Maybe what is needed is a statute of limitations. Where there is a recent history of exclusion with attendant losses to some identifiable group, perhaps barriers against that group should be eliminated by law or stigma. But over time, as the clearly identifiable consequences of prior discrimination diminish, the balance between the desireabilty of equity and liberty (efficiency) would shift and along with it, the burden of proof when challenging discriminatory free association. That may, in fact, be the reasoning implicit in decisions of the Supreme Court, which seems to have become less receptive to affirmative action as slavery and Jim Crow recede into the past.

Thomas

I believe in segregation based on meritocracy, not on irrelevant biological details. I don't believe in grouping children by age in school, for it punishes the intelligent and hard-working by holding them back. I don't believe in "separate but equal" facilities for blacks and whites. I don't believe in "boys only" clubs, or "girls only" clubs. Souls do not have gender, race, skin color, age, or any other trappings of biology. For something like sports where men are clearly superior to women, if I were to build a league structure from scratch, I would make a hierarchy of leagues based on nothing more than ability. If a woman could compete at the highest level, then more power to her. To prevent the clearly superior from competing and dominating in the inferior leagues, you could have certain other restrictions like "if you ever play in a more advanced league, you can never again play in a less advanced league". I don't see why gender has to enter the equation at all. Of course, this idea is highly impractical given our current society and culture, but I imagine Humanity will eventually head in that direction.

froclown

I don't really understand this desire to make us all the same. If women want better treatment, they should not try to be like men, they should not try to make men be like women either. This homogenization to the average, the mediocre, is the very problem with society these days.

Instead I think we should all try to be different, unique, every individual a being unto himself, and whose like unto myself, NO ONE! And as the apotheosis of his own category of being, in this way alone is each man, woman and child, a force to be reckoned with.

"Every man and every woman is a star" Each should seek to shine the brightest in it's own way, to follow it's own course in the cosmos, never to dim itself in the presence of another star, never to seek to be like unto any other being.

Shall woman seek to be like unto men, NO, nor shall she seek to be like unto other women. But to be something unique and thereby inconquerable in spirit before all things!

To thine own self be true!

Or "Do what thou WILT"

Nato

Who is it who wants us all to be the same, froclown?

froclown

There are many ways in which people all want to be the same. From fashion trends and slang terms to proselytizing religious and political dogmas.

Femmenism is a reaction of women against the feeling that the male gender role is treated as superior to the female, as such the female seeks to be like men in order to gain the status of the male role. Another approach, which is tried by those who are not strong enough to play a dominant role, is to attack the male gender role as "unfair" and thus seek to reduce the status of the male to that of the subordinate female role. This "master-slave dialectic" results in a mediocre system where everyone is trying to avoid their proper place. Women try to be men, men try to be women, in extreme cases you have transsexualism and self mutilation, due to the confusion of social role with the sex organs of the physical body.

People feel ashamed of themselves for who they are, they seek to be what they are not, they become weak in their denial of themselves. A house divided against itself can not stand.

I think that gender roles in general are best left befind, instead let the individual discover his own role, let him be proud of who he is, unique, not a man, not a woman, but himself and that is all. Let us cast aside all social roles, let us not seek to pigeon hole ourselves into social slots fabricated by others and let us not build such pigeon holes in our minds to place our brothers and sisters.

Why can we not be who we are, loud, proud, free and unique!

For example, what is marriage, it's something that denies the individuality that insists that an individual is only half a person, needs to be completed. It also locks an individual into a role, it casts one as a member of a religion of a community, it removes one's uniqueness utterly.

A wedding imposes a tradition, it makes people accept certain ideas about clothing as status symbols, the suit, the bridal dress and veil, the braids maids, the organ music, these are all symbols of the past forced onto our minds as a template.

To notion of linear rather than cyclic time, a life ruled by the clock, a feeling that the 24 hour day is true, and say metric time is abhorrent and false. Ideas about GOD, country, race, gender, virtues and vices.

These are imposed to make us all the same.

I say, I cast thee out devils. Do what thou WILT, Shall be the Whole of the LAW.


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