men are pretty apologetic about it and awkwardly trying to dismantle it where they can.
Really? I see a little of that. But I also see almost half of people in the USA willing to vote for a party dedicated to the opposite. I see conventions and conferences where they think it's ok to put together panels made up entirely of men (or occasionally with token women), and where lots of people still don't see that there's a harrassment problem, let alone that they should do anything about it.
I still see huge amounts of institutional sexism around me - and I live in the UK, which is better than many - and I see a lot of men who don't see it, and aren't interested in doing anything about it.
The idea that men are, by and large, working to dismantle patriarchy, seems silly.
I've edited that part out because I realized that if I left it in every comment would be about that and nothing about the gist of the piece. But I still sort of agree with it.
Insofar as people can agree and notice that a certain thing is patriarchalist, they seem pretty good about apologizing and getting rid of it.
The problem is when a result looks maybe potentially patriarchalist but no one really knows what to do with it. Let's take your example of a conference (for the sake of argument a chemistry conference) where most of the speakers are men.
Is this because society socializes women to dislike chemistry? Is this because women naturally/biologically don't like chemistry? Is this because women love chemistry but men won't accept them to college chemistry programs? Is it because women get accepted to college chemistry programs but don't do well enough in them to be become the sort of prestigious professors who get invited to speak at conferences? Or is it because the conference organizers were sexist and avoided inviting the prestigious women professors who totally existed and wanted to come?
Instituting a rule saying "50% of speakers at this chemistry conference must be women!" or other similar well-intentioned solutions only make sense in the context of the last of those. Otherwise you'll just end up desperately looking for some token women somewhere to make up the numbers.
So when I see conferences with panels almost entirely of men, I don't think "Man, the people who organized this conference must be really pro-patriarchy" or even "Someone, somewhere in this system, must support the patriarchy and be actively opposed to attempts to dismantle it." I think "There's a problem here but no one agrees on what it is and how to fix it and it's not even generally agreed it's fixable."
If there were ever something where everyone agreed it was due to patriarchy, and where everyone agreed on exactly where the patriarchy was and how it could be fixed and that the cost of fixing it wasn't outrageous, I think it would get fixed pretty quickly. I know that's probably not much consolation to women, but there doesn't seem to be a good solution other than the awkward things we're trying now.
Edited at 2012-09-16 10:54 am (UTC)
Here's the thing about feminism, of the modern social justice variety you'll see on feminist blogs. I'm going to use Melissa McEwan's Shakesville as representative, since I think she's one of the most eloquent defenders of the idea and since I was a regular at the blog for a while.
Feminism -- and social justice generally -- is a *cause.*
I don't think I'm misrepresenting them here. Melissa talks about being "all in.". If you silently accept your privilege and have nice jobs and lots of dates and never think more about it, you are complicit in an immoral system. She talks about emptying the sea with teaspoons -- day by day, fighting an enormous injustice.
That kind of language is how you talk about a calling. Something that's just so obviously more important than your private comfort that it has to be done. And thinking about feminism as a cause, as a terminal value, can explain why feminists can be so unsympathetic to those who say "But this will have negative repercussions to me." Or why they're often so disinclined to allow open debate if "open" might include sexist (or racist, etc) opinions. From their perpective, "Tough! Can't you see there's a war on? I'm trying to get rid of rape culture -- and you're bitching about getting a date?"
Terminal values are important but dangerous; by definition you have to sacrifice other things to them. If you're going to be a feminist, you have to sacrifice other things in pursuit of feminism.
Social justice isn't my cause. I'm not all in. There's something about that philosophy that says you owe and owe and owe, all your life, to the dispossessed of the world -- almost a religious debt. And, for one reason or another, I never found myself driven to take on that purpose. I want to be able to go home, mind my own business, and have as happy a life as circumstances will allow. And my own sense of calling or obligation, which has to do with truth, won't let me go along with the kind of intellectual conformity that seems to be part of modern movement feminism. I can acknowledge when feminists are right, but that's not what they think a "feminist" is -- a feminist is someone who's "all in," who's going to put the cause first, and so that's not me.
Edited at 2012-09-16 12:54 pm (UTC)
One also notes, what's the point of the cause if its purpose is not to allow people to live out their lives in peace and quietness. Many people with a cause, if they succeed with their stated aim, go on to find a new cause, because they are not really interested in the aim of the cause, just having a cause.
Of course, if one is really out of sorts, that people often seem to think they have built of a moral charge by supporting a cause. Which means they get to omit other good things that they would have done without it. . . it's even been reproduced in the lab.
This analogy beautifully explains something that I've observed but haven't been able to explain.
Exceptionally well-written and argued. I think this post belongs on LW as a meta observation of identity politics, although you should probably take out the more specific point about feminism and keep it meta.
Edited at 2012-09-16 03:51 pm (UTC)
2012-09-16 03:58 pm (UTC)
The business about "conceptual superweapons" definitely belongs on LW.
I've been reading this series with great interest. Thank you for providing a ton of food for thought and elegantly articulating my vague discomfort with the pillory of the awkward.
Weapons run out of ammunition. If, say, the Jews get angry at the Christians every time any Christian is at all mean to any Jew, their audience may tire of listening to them, and not take them seriously when the next Hitler really appears. They'll have spent all their shots on the imaginary wolves and have none left to vaporize the real wolf.
Not to mention any time anything accurate is said. . . .
Indeed, that rouses suspicions of its own.
Oh look, LJ ate my comment again, but it was probably for the best as it was very rambly.
I think your analogy about the cold war is quite good, but if you had time, I'd rewrite it so the main point was more central. And if at all possible, I'd avoid the nazi germany analogy, even though it's quite good because (a) people are going to argue about that instead of anything else and (b) I agree with what you're saying about "dangerous even if it's innocuous", but some of the examples you gave can easily be seen as not innocuous, which might be interpreted as the opposite of what you meant.
And I'd separate that from the second half, talking about the problems with feminism, because I think people ought to be able to understand the problem without the conceptual background.
I agree there's a problem with many strands of feminism becoming entrenched in a victim mentality. But I think people disagree a lot whether that can be safely equated with the whole of feminism. To many people who have been primarily exposed to it, the sort of soft-academic online social justice jargon-ful feminism is what feminism is. To many people, they've not even heard of that, and go chuntering on self-defining as feminists because they think men and women should have equal rights to careers. (Eg. me and my mother.) So even if you're right in identifying the problems, classifying them as reasons not to be feminist may communicate that accurately to only half of your audience?
Yeah, this. I identify as a feminist, and while I can understand that super-weapon feminists are pretty pervasive (especially online), I find it well outside the scope of my experience, and certainly it conflicts with my mandate.
Also, can someone explain what social justice feminism is? The term "social justice" seems to be used in a different context to what I'm familiar with.
2012-09-16 07:48 pm (UTC)
Ronald Regan advocated sharing missile shield technology with the entire world, rendering an entire class of superweapon redundant.
You're a remarkably knowledgeable individual. Can you think of any complex problems of social dynamics in modern history that have been flat-out solved? Or for which undeniably obvious solutions exist but haven't been implemented?
A defining characteristic of complex problems is resistance to unilateral solutions, but such solutions aren't inconceivable. The development and distribution of missile shield technology would, in a single (expensive and logistically nightmarish) stroke, eliminate the spectre of nuclear holocaust.
I'm curious because I wonder how various interest groups would respond if someone announced tomorrow that they could "solve" a popular point of social injustice, inexpensively and on a reasonable time scale.
"You're a remarkably knowledgeable individual. Can you think of any complex problems of social dynamics in modern history that have been flat-out solved? Or for which undeniably obvious solutions exist but haven't been implemented?"
Would you count the anti-Irish and anti-Italian racism that existed in the US during the 19th century? The associated American anti-Catholicism? Or were those just "solved" because we all found better people to be racist against and didn't have enough racism left over for the Irish? Anti-Semitism isn't completely dead, but it's dead enough that if a Russian Jew from 1900 came to the US today she'd say it was dead for all intents and purposes.
What about sectarian warfare between Catholics and Protestants, which was pretty much the problem of the 17th century? I can easily imagine an old-timey European believing that would never end until one or the other side was wiped out. But nowadays we have a bunch of Catholics and Protestants living side by side without even thinking about killing each other. Actually, "religious intolerance" in general is a pretty good candidate at least in the West; insofar as it continues to exist it's basically just a tiny shadow of its former self.
What about slavery (the omnipresent antebellum South version, not the furtive human trafficking of today)? Infanticide? Banditry? Child labor? Starvation, which at least in rich Western countries is pretty much a thing of the past?
2012-09-16 08:39 pm (UTC)
It's ambiguous because I'm not sure if they're really naive ("Oh, they would never use this superweapon unless they had a really really good reason, and certainly not on the nice people like me") or whether they are really selfless
My first guess would be that most of them are in long-lasting monogamous relationships, or have some other good reason for not participating in courtship. But I have not conducted a survey.
2012-09-16 09:03 pm (UTC)
It might just be a limited sample, but the men I know who are really into feminism are all handsome, charming and popular.
Thank you for having the courage to actually write something like this. I hope you are not destroyed by the feminist super-weapons as a result! :)
Thanks for writing this series; I hadn't thought about it like this.
I do want to point out that, despite examples of bad behavior by women towards men who seem to have been clueless rather than ill-intentioned, I don't think this is typical. There are plenty of women who, when pursued by a man in an unwanted but non-threatening fashion, say "No, thanks" and end it there. Unfortunately, those who use the superweapon are more noticeable.
While I'm really suspicious of analogies, because they are the perfect fertilizer for every fallacy of equivocation that anyone ever imagined - I do think you have a point.
There is collateral damage to what they're fighting. Some of that collateral damage could happen to people like the eighteen-year-old I was - and I don't think you could have convinced my eighteen-year-old self of much of what feminism says today.
Part of it is that people who are poorly socialized function poorly in society. There are some mechanisms in place that provide a way for the poorly-socialized still to interact successfully, and part of the problem here is that feminism has recognized that those mechanisms have built-in injustices, and are asking (or demanding) that we dismantle them. And yes, in some situations there are ways for the superweapon to be an auto-win, and to perform logical fallacies of its own - foremost among them, well-poisoning.
And here's the best, most ironic thing about all of this, if you're familiar with feminist literature (and you clearly are): a primary reason that I have no emotional difficulty with being openly feminist is that I am privileged compared to a young single male. I am older, in my forties, happily married. I am not in the unprivileged position of having to go out and play the dating game. For that reason I am able to discount your point of view, should I choose to do so.
But I'm intellectually honest enough not to use that privilege as an excuse. What you say gives me food for thought and I will, in fact, think. I hope to have more to say later - I have to go work now. :)