Women’s Rights Part 1: On Reproductive Freedom

I find myself more and more often repeating this sentence in debates with feminists: American women have more rights than men. To most people this is a shocking and unreasonable statement at first, due to how directly it contradicts conventional doctrine, but I think anyone reading this would have a hard time coming up with a legal right that American men and boys have in 2016 that women and girls do not (if you can come up with one, I’d love to hear it).

Now consider, for example, that baby girls have the right to bodily integrity, and are not permitted to be circumcised at birth. Or that women are not required to sign the draft registry at 18. Or that women and girls have access to shelters, hotlines, and other state-funded and prescribed services specifically geared toward them when they are victims of partner violence. I could write an essay on each of these, and I eventually will. This is the first in a series of essays that address cases of female legal privilege, rights that women and girls have in the first world that men and boys do not.

As if my ideas aren’t controversial enough, today I’m going to talk a little about abortion. More specifically, about reproductive rights.

This debate has been ongoing and ugly. Its emotionally charged nature has led it to become one of the more polarized topics of discussion our nation has seen. As a result, both sides have been reduced to absurdist straw men. Liberals who believe in bodily autonomy have been painted as baby killers who have no respect for human life. Conservatives who believe a fetus is a person have been described as flagrant misogynists who are pretending to care about protecting the unborn so that they can wage a war on women out of pure spite. This is a debacle that I’d like to think we’ll all be embarrassed by in a decade or two.

Personally, I fall squarely in the pro-choice camp. I think bodily autonomy is one of the most important human rights, and the freedom to choose to or not to be a parent is definitely up there too. Becoming a parent should always be a choice, one that is well thought out, decided out of a genuine interest in child-rearing, and never forced upon anyone by circumstance. I side with the (reasonable) feminists in that a woman’s right to contraception and abortion, women’s reproductive freedoms, should be secured, maintained, and expanded.

But here’s the side of the coin that almost never gets discussed: What about men’s? Even with the difficulties women face in this arena, we have far more reproductive freedom than men do.

First off, we have access to the overwhelming majority of contraceptive options, from pills and patches to shots, to IUDs and Nuvarings, to emergency contraception, and that’s just a brief summary. We can discuss if or to what extent these should be provided to us at low or no cost by insurance companies or the state, but the fact is that we have them. They were developed for our use and we are free to use them.

Should any of these myriad options fail us and we do become pregnant, we still have an array of options. We can choose to terminate the pregnancy (albeit with some difficulty, depending on things like location and wealth). We can carry the pregnancy to term and give the baby up for adoption. Or we can surrender the baby to a police station, hospital, or other safe haven, no questions asked (in most states, this is immediately considered legal parental surrender, and the infant is adopted as a ward of the state, at no legal risk to the mother), and we can do this or any of the above without so much as asking the father.

Alternatively, we can choose to become pregnant, have the baby, and raise it, needing no one’s permission to do so.

While it’s reasonable and admirable to fight to maintain these rights and make them more accessible to all women, in the most basic sense, we have the right to every imaginable resource in the process of deciding if we are parents or not.

Men aren’t so lucky.

In terms of contraceptive choices, men have condoms, and that’s about it. No pills, no shots, no patches, no implantable devices.  Granted, condoms are nice because you can see them, and most of us can feel whether or not one is in place. It’s obvious if a condom isn’t being used, is being used incorrectly, or fails. You don’t need to say that you trust someone to use a condom. It will be immediately apparent if they are not. This is not the case with women’s contraception. A man must trust that the woman he’s sleeping with is being honest about her contraceptive choices and is using them correctly. (This is not an accusation of deceit toward women as a group, by the way. Some women deceive their partners, just as some men do, but there are also women who are uninformed about the use of their chosen contraception. For example, not all women know that some forms of birth control are less effective while taking certain antibiotics.)

Legally, a man has no say in whether or not his female partner becomes pregnant, or what measures she may take to ensure or prevent pregnancy. She isn’t legally obligated to to adhere to his wishes, or even to disclose this information to him.  Should a condom break, birth control fail, or a female partner has been dishonest or poorly informed concerning her contraception use, sexual intercourse is treated as consent to fatherhood, even though it is not consent to motherhood. Obviously, he does not have the right to demand that she not become pregnant or have an abortion (which is admittedly reasonable – it is her body that is in question), but the only way for him to ensure he doesn’t have a child, with all its entailed responsibilities, is to be abstinent. She gets the final say on all baby-related decisions, and regardless of his opinion on the matter, he foots the bill.

A non-custodial father is responsible for child support regardless of his consent for the child to exist, regardless of his awareness of the child’s existence at birth. According to one Chicago judge, he can even be held responsible for the support of a child conceived with sperm he didn’t use for vaginal intercourse. The woman in this news report used sperm from oral sex to impregnate herself against her partner’s will, and the court has ordered him to pay $800 a month in support of that child. Even more outrageous, this expectation can apply even when the woman became pregnant by sexually assaulting the father, even when the father was a minor at the time of the conception. Sex with a woman, any sex, even non-consensual sex, is legally taken as consent to fatherhood.

I want you to take a moment to picture what the evening news report would look like if a judge had ruled that a female statutory rape victim must pay her rapist child support so that he can raise her child.

As a man, you can find out that you’re a parent, which you had no interest in becoming, even if the mother deceived or raped you, you owe hundreds or thousands of dollars, and whether or not you have that money, it’s a felony offense to fail to pay it. There are very few ways in which an American citizen can be imprisoned for poverty, but according to a 2009 South Carolina survey, one in eight inmates was incarcerated for failure to pay child support. That’s over 1200 people in the state of South Carolina alone, just in 2009, who were imprisoned for the heinous crime of having sex while poor.

A friend of mine (who has given me permission to tell this story) has been arrested on such charges. I’ll call him Mike. The child in question had been the result of an unplanned pregnancy, conceived long after he and the mother had discussed that Mike wanted no part in fatherhood, but she decided that she wanted to keep the baby. When the child was born, the mother, who did not live with Mike, agreed to take care of the infant herself, needing no help practically or financially, until she discovered that in order to access services like Medicaid, she needed to make an attempt to collect child support from the non-custodial father. She filed the claim and an amount was set. He was far too poor to make the payments by any reasonable standard, working a minimum wage job and barely making ends meet before child support came into the picture, but that didn’t stop the state trooper, who pulled him over for a dead tail light, from arresting him and carting him off to the county jail, where he was stripped, searched, and thrown into a cell for two days, most of that time having no idea why he’d been arrested in the first place. Mike has emphasized to me over and over what an unpleasant, confusing, and dehumanizing process it was.

The day of the hearing, the judge was disinterested in Mike’s insistence that he barely made enough to support himself alone, and did not have the money they were asking for, or else he’d gladly pay what was owed. The judge was accustomed to and tired of such pleas.  Mike was told firmly that he’ll pay, or he’ll go to prison. After being released, he wound up dramatically cutting his own living expenses in order to avoid another arrest. This required moving from his apartment to a camper on a friend’s property and eating so little that at one point he was close to starvation. All for the care of a child he hadn’t planned, hadn’t asked for, and to whom it had once been agreed that he would not be responsible.

Later, the mother of Mike’s child admitted to him that she did not need the money to meet the child’s needs, and could have ended the requirement at any time after being approved for the health insurance. But she enjoys receiving several hundred dollars in the mail every month, and doesn’t want to stop the flow of free money. So every month Mike pays. He is fortunate enough to have a better paying job now, and is in no danger of starvation, though that doesn’t stop me, as his friend, from being angry with his ex for putting him through all this, and angrier with the system for allowing such exploitation.

Mike’s case may sound extreme, but there are millions of men across the country who struggle to pay court ordered payments on pain of imprisonment.  In fact, a majority of child support arrears are owed by the very poor, parents with an income of $10,000 or less, whose median dues are set at 83% of their income.  Imagine being charged more than three quarters of your income for the crime of fathering a child.

Is this shameful extortion really the best way to ensure that the children of separated parents are appropriately cared for? You can’t feed your child from prison, after all. And when you get out, it’s not so easy to find a job that will support both you and the non-custodial child. Less severe deterrents include confiscation of the delinquent father’s driver’s license, another measure that does nothing to assist him in collecting an income that would help him make his payments. These methods seem better designed to punish men for being poor than to provide funding for the care of a child.

Court ordered child support is a violation of men’s reproductive freedom. Just as women are permitted by law to surrender all parental rights and responsibilities even after a child is born, men should have this right as well: the right to choose parenthood, rather than being forced into it. Many MRAs refer to this concept as “financial abortion,” but I would compare it to the safe haven laws that women have access to. Men who wish to be in their children’s lives, as many fathers do, are free to financially support those children to the best of their ability, and men who have no interest in fatherhood should be free to waive all rights and responsibilities associated with a child that may have been conceived and born without their consent, just as a woman has the right to waive her parental rights and responsibilities.

As far as ensuring the well-being of the child after such responsibilities are waived, we already have many social programs for helping single mothers raise children they wish to keep, from Medicaid to WIC to housing and heating assistance to other grants, and I’d be happy to see these programs expanded, unified, and made gender neutral (since some custodial parents are fathers) to ensure that no child goes hungry. A child’s well-being should not depend on its parents’ willingness or ability to pay for its needs. Child support should be a social program, not a punishment for an unwilling father. This solution would be far more effective in ensuring that the child’s needs are met, without extorting the non-custodial parent into poverty and cyclical incarceration.

Now let’s take a look at the other side of reproductive rights: the right to parenthood. A woman needs nobody’s permission to be a mother. If she can become pregnant, she can be that baby’s caregiver, barring any extreme behaviours that any reasonable person would agree would make her an unfit mother (such as severe drug addiction or child abuse).

Men who are separated from their children’s mothers, on the other hand, are unlikely to see their children even as often as the mother does, even if he is paying child support. According to 2009 census data, only 18% of separated fathers are the custodial parent. More comprehensive data from 2007 showed that a mere 20% of fathers had equally shared custody.  More specifically, to counter the frequent feminist point that this disparity is because men simply do not sue for custody, in a five-year study of 2,100 Massachusetts fathers who sought custody, only 29% were awarded primary custody of their child.  Other similar studies have had different findings, but the fact remains that many custody courts favour mothers.  I have known many loving and devoted fathers who have been fighting ongoing legal battles for years just for the right to see their children at all.  Meanwhile, women’s rights organizations like NOW have unapologetic published stances in favour of a “primary caregiver presumption” for mothers, arguing that fathers who seek primary or equal custody of their children are merely abusers trying to get closer to potential victims.

Some feminists will argue that the expectation that a woman is more suited to parenthood than a man is an an unfair assumption of women, part of the female gender roles we should dismantle. I can’t say I disagree with this (being myself a woman without an ounce of maternal instinct to speak of), but this argument misses the point.  Yes, it is wrong to assume that a woman is especially fit for parenthood just because she’s a woman, but fortunately courts do not routinely award women child custody against their will.  They do, however, often reject men’s appeals for custody.

In short, despite the many salient and necessary conversations that are ongoing about women’s reproductive rights, men are left completely out of the discussion, even though their rights are far scanter.

A woman has the right to use a vast array of contraceptive options, become pregnant, terminate a pregnancy, give a baby up for adoption, surrender a baby to a safe haven, or give birth and raise the child, and all of these are her choice and hers alone. For a woman, sexual activity can be an expression of love, a source of physical pleasure, or an intentional step toward parenthood. She gets to choose. A man has the right to ask nicely, and cross his fingers and toes in the hope that his wishes will be considered.

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Filed under activism, feminism, men's rights, privilege, reproductive freedom, sexism, women's rights

A Brief Rant on Due Process

Over the course of the past few years there have been a great deal of sexual assault cases that were highlighted in the news and social media, from a veritable parade of celebrity accusations to the recent Stanford case.  In light of these cases, I’ve seen an awful lot of advocacy for changing policy to make conviction easier for those accused of sex crimes.  So I’d like to address that suggestion.

This is the Innocence Project, which aids in and documents the DNA exonerations of the falsely convicted. There are 342 false convictions you can read about, which have been documented and detailed on their website and can be filtered for various criteria, such as the type of crime, the reason for false conviction, the race of the defendant, and so on.

Of those 342 false convictions, 267 were from sexual assault cases, almost 80% of their cases. That’s 267 people who were locked away for years of their lives (many of them for decades) for sex crimes that they did not commit. 267 innocent people who were stripped of their jobs, esteem, freedom, and in many cases most of their lives.

And bear in mind, these 267 people are just the wrongfully convicted who have been exonerated by DNA evidence.  The most common cause of false conviction is a misidentification of the perpetrator by a witness, which has been shown in many studies to occur up to a quarter of the time when witnesses are asked to identify someone from a lineup.  Now consider that in order for an innocent convict to be exonerated due to DNA evidence, the true perpetrator’s DNA must have been present at the time of the crime and investigation, collected, and still be intact and accessible after the wrongful conviction in order to be compared with the DNA of the wrongful convict.  According to one survey of American prosecutors, only 41% had policies at their offices for the collection and preservation of DNA evidence.  Only 33% had policies for retaining that evidence after conviction.  Now consider that a majority of respondents reported that half or fewer of their cases made use of DNA evidence at all (including sexual assault, the most common type of case to use DNA).  The short list of exonerated convicts at the Innocence Project are the lucky few, undoubtedly the tip of the iceberg.  Imagine how many more aren’t so lucky, who are rotting away in jail for crimes they didn’t commit, praying for the long-shot that someone will find evidence to clear their names.

None of this is to say, by the way, that the complainants lied in all these cases. In fact, I’m not sure any of these people were put away due to explicit perjury (though knowingly false accusations do, of course, happen). Eyewitness misidentification (which constitutes about 70% of those 267 cases) is a very common but honest mistake. Nobody’s memory is perfect, especially after a traumatic event.  Other reasons for false conviction include wrongfully obtained confessions and errors in the forensic science. There are plenty of things that can go wrong in the court process. People are fallible. Mistakes are made.

So the argument to maintain or strengthen due process is not an argument that people who report rape are lying. It’s an argument that the courts are fallible, that witnesses don’t have photographic memories, that sometimes the system fails us, and sometimes the presumption of innocence is all we have to stand between an innocent man and conviction.

And by the way, the data of this project flies in the face of the idea that we live in a culture that’s okay with rape of women, sweeps it under the rug, or isn’t upset enough about it. This is a list of people whose very existence defies the narrative that we don’t try hard enough to put men away for rape. We care so much about making sure rapists get their dues that we’re putting away, at the very least, hundreds of innocent people to that end.  And remember that those falsely accused make up almost 80% of our exonerated numbers.  Which is to say, by a landslide, we are finding more innocent people incarcerated for rape than for any other violent crime.  And now we as a society are entertaining the idea of continuing to erode the right of the accused to due process and the presumption of innocence.  So stop telling me the criminal justice system doesn’t have enough sympathy for (female) rape victims.

I get that there is an under-reporting problem.  I get that some people run into bureaucratic issues or are mistreated by the criminal justice system.  I get that sexual assault is a difficult crime to prove due to the nature of the evidence, and often that means the attacker goes free.  And these are all legitimate problems that merit serious attention and real solutions.  But we must work toward solutions that don’t come at the expense of the innocent.  Rape victims will not be served by non-rapists going to jail.  That doesn’t help anyone.  We need to find solutions that better shed light on the truth of cases, rather than those which merely lower the threshold for conviction.  The last time we lowered that threshold and started taking accusers at their word without affording the accused his due process, a lot of men of the same colour started hanging from trees.  “Listen and believe” just doesn’t cut it.

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Filed under criminal justice, men's rights, rape, sexual assault

On Expectations, Worth, and Suicide

Throughout human history, men have raised houses and barns, constructed bridges, built nations, structured democracies, mined resources, made tools, innovated solutions, improved technology, and created the world we live in with all its comforts and advancements. This is not to devalue women’s contributions, but historically men have contributed, in particular the majority of the above. They did this because it was their prescribed role. It was part of their duty as men.

Comedians joke that everything men have accomplished has been done with the goal of impressing women, but I think there is a grain of truth to this. Up until very recently, and to a large extent today, men’s task has been to provide for their wives (and any unmarried female family members) and keep them safe. They have built walls, dug ditches, toiled in mines, and gone to war, all to defend and put food in the mouths of the women whose well-being was entrusted to them, who were allowed to stay in the safety of their homes (in eras when the outside world was by no means safe) and toil there instead. The popular narrative depicts women throughout history as servants to men, but even if that’s true, through most ages and most places, men have also been slaves to women’s needs and wants, their value measured by their labour and ability to meet the needs of their wives, mothers, sisters, and children, often at great personal risk.

Today this expectation is reflected in the way we treat the poor and unemployed: women without jobs are not questioned, even when they have families, even in an era when a single income is rarely enough to support a household. They are stay-at-home moms with their own brand of credibility, or they receive empathy for the struggle of finding work in a rough economy. Men who are not employed are called deadbeats, accused of laziness or apathy, their worth, again, measured by what they can provide. Women who are unable to provide for their families have access to countless assistance programs: government housing, heating assistance, grants, WIC, and so on, many of which are specifically geared toward women. Our empathy for them and their needs has been codified into law. Though men sometimes have access to these services too, you don’t hear of many women who go to jail for their inability to pay for their children’s needs. Men’s expectation of being the bread winner is likewise codified into law. Failing to pay child support is a felony offense punishable by jail time, effectively punishing a man’s inability to materially support his family (even from a distance) with the revocation of his human rights. This is one of the few cases in our modern society in which poverty can result in imprisonment.

Indeed, a man’s value is measured by his material worth to his family, and by his worth to women. And this is apparent in the way men and women pursue dating and relationships. A man is expected to make the first move, in a way that is both charming and direct, but not too forward, or else he’ll be perceived as creepy or rude. If he is outwardly disappointed by rejection, he is accused by women of coercion or entitlement, and by other men considered pathetic. If the woman accepts his offer, he must plan the date, and it should be creative, clever, and show that he has been listening to the things that interest her. On the date, he should be funny and engaging. He must impress and entertain her, lest she direct her attention toward any of her other interested suitors. And goodness knows he’s to foot the bill. Women, conversely, are expected to show up.

Women complain that they get too much attention from men. Their love and approval is valued so highly that they are tired of being asked for it. Women are so used to being highly valued that they view it as an insult. Ugh, another man thinks I’m awesome. Gross.

Men, on the other hand, complain of rejection, of being undervalued and unappreciated. Men compete over women because the measure of a man is in his ability to appeal to women. Feminists will argue that this objectifies women by commoditizing them and their sexuality, but I interpret it differently. The way I see it, this practice overvalues women. It objectifies men, as beings who are only worthy of respect when they have a woman’s approval.

Add all this to the popular narrative that men oppress, harass, assault, sexually objectify, and have unilateral advantages over women, and you’ve got a recipe for confusion and depression. In many circles, men are perceived as harming women just by existing. In more moderate circles, men in sexual or romantic positions are feared as potential predators and demonized as scoundrels, their sexuality perceived as inherently disrespectful or crass. Thus the necessary methods they employ to pursue their prescribed source of validation, women’s love and respect, are decried as disrespectful impropriety, even when they aren’t. The same behaviour can be labeled as charming or as sexual harassment, depending on whether or not the man in question is sexually attractive to the woman doing the defining. He can be daring and romantic, bumbling and pathetic, or crude and presumptuous, again, depending on how he’s received, and all is subject to the judgment of onlooking men and women alike. Men are judged for not earning the attention of women, and they are judged for trying to earn it.

Men built the world we live in, put their bodies, mental health, and lives on the line, are expected to be the last out of a burning building or off a sinking ship, and base their very self-worth on their ability to appeal to, protect, provide for, and if necessary sacrifice for women. And yet feminism and popular culture have the nerve to not only ask them what they’ve done for women lately, but cast them as the villains of the story, the mustache-twirling Snidely Whiplashes who enjoy plotting against us and benefiting at our expense.

But men aren’t Snidely Whiplashes. They are socialized strongly and (many theories suggest) evolved psychologically to care about women. Caring what women want and feel is part of their prescribed purpose, a fundamental piece of the gender role puzzle that so many think is designed to step all over women. So you’ve got an entire well-meaning population (most of whom have done nothing wrong, let alone harass, assault, or oppress anyone) absorbing this message and feeling evil for existing, ashamed of their gender, ashamed of their sexuality, afraid they’ll never find love when seeking it is such a complicated mine field of fine lines to navigate, or convinced they are undeserving of love in the first place.

Many don’t remember the Scott Aaronson debacle, when a young professor at MIT was brave enough to articulate this problem (albeit through a more feminist lens), and was subsequently shamed by the online feminist community for the implicit misogyny of being driven to depression and self-harm by the catch-22 of being valued based on your worth to women when it’s difficult to pursue or obtain it without breaking the complicated rules of propriety. This catch-22 was so distressing to him, that in an effort to rid himself of an urge that he felt was inherently disrespectful and harmful to women, he pursued chemical sterilization. And for this self-loathing and compulsive need to be anything but a misogynist, he was shamed as one.

I myself have spoken to countless other men who have found themselves suffering guilt, shame, depression, or self-loathing just like Aaronson. I have consoled men who felt guilty for asking women out, or for requesting sex from their significant others, men who were convinced that their sexuality was inherently harmful, heterosexual men suffering the same societally inflicted moralistic self-loathing as homosexuals unfortunate enough to grow up in fundamentalist Christian communities. I have spoken to men who were convinced that they were unlovable and worthless human beings because of a lack of luck or skill with romance, men who had resigned themselves to loneliness and blamed themselves. I’ve even spoken to a man in his last days of suicidal depression, citing this problem as the cause of his distress. He was disillusioned with the entire construct of love and dating, and yet still felt that something was horribly wrong with him for being unable to meet its impossible standards. I believe it to be no coincidence that men are four of every five suicides.

And yet when men try to address these concerns and others like them, they are shamed like Aaronson, or worse. Men who seek answers and solutions to this quagmire are called misogynists and rape apologists. They are ironically accused of entitlement and of viewing women as objects, for the crime of not wanting their worth to be measured in women’s approval. Men who convene to formally discuss this are slandered in the press and sent death threats in private. They feel the need to pay for extensive security for their safety. They are protested by women who shout over their talks and bang on pots and pans. They have fire alarms pulled on their events.

Do women want so badly for men to stop killing themselves? Perhaps we just can’t stand the idea of men realizing they don’t have to live their lives for us.

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Filed under antifeminism, gender roles, men's health, men's rights, sexism, suicide

Underestimating Feminism Part 2: A Conflict of Interests

Dear Feminists*,

Last time I outlined all the many ways in which your movement has been wildly successful, but I have a concern to express to you. In the face of all your social and political influence, when you’ve got representatives in every meaningful source of power, when it’s not considered socially acceptable or politically correct to disagree with you, when you’ve got speakers who can charge tens of thousands just to talk about feminism, why are you so very reticent to declare your mission accomplished, or to even acknowledge your success? Why do you try so hard to paint our society as hostile toward women by scouring human behaviour for anything you could possibly interpret as subtle misogyny, when women’s equality and success is one of the most widespread and agreeable values, and we have at least every legal right that men have and more than a few glaring advantages?  Why do so many of you staunchly refuse to acknowledge that men have issues of their own that need addressing?

Let’s go back to that billion dollar industry I brought up in my previous article. You’ve built quite the money maker on your massively popular ideology. What would happen to all those organizations, media outlets, bloggers, academic programs, and businesses if, say, we acknowledged that violence against women was somewhat uncommon and falling in frequency, and women stopped being afraid to walk the streets? If it became apparent that just about every social issue we consider a women’s issue is actually an everybody issue that affects both sexes equally? If we stopped to notice that women have many advantages even over men? Would people keep buying t-shirts and donating to your organizations if we declared that women have equality? What about the power you have to influence policy? Would you continue to control the climate of college campuses, and would governments keep passing laws in your favour, if we as a society acknowledged how well women are really doing, or took a sincere look at the concrete inequalities men, whom you’ve cast as the all-powerful, unilaterally privileged villain of your story, are suffering?

Just as I would never trust a security company to give me credible information on the prevalence of robbery, I suspect feminism has developed a similar conflict of interests. You aren’t a grassroots advocacy movement anymore. You’re raking in billions, profiting enormously off the belief that women are oppressed. It’s no wonder you skew the hell out of your studies and define things like harassment, sexual assault, and misogyny in dubiously broad terms, so that you can claim they are exponentially more prevalent than they really are. It’s no wonder your academics will try to bully and blacklist anyone who wants to publish evidence that intimate partner violence is perpetrated at least as much by women as by men. It’s no wonder you desperately try to slander and silence (including petty shenanigans like this, and also terrifying legal action like this) anyone who disagrees with you or attempts to address the very real issues that affect men, even though addressing men’s and women’s issues shouldn’t be mutually exclusive or reliant upon any one ideological worldview. The truth of these matters directly contradicts the narrative you’ve been proclaiming all this time, and if it were accepted and believed by the public, it would ruin you. It’s no wonder you ascribe secret misogynistic motives to everything from the way we speak to the design of popular games to the way men sit on the train. You NEED there to be an epidemic of misogyny in order to survive as an ideology, and in order to survive as an industry.

So let me ask you something, feminists. I’m no fool. I know that a security company stands to gain nothing from a reduction in robbery, and even less from a public that is not afraid of robbery. So now that you’re a booming cash cow on top of just a women’s movement, how can I trust you to keep me informed and represent my interests as a woman?

 

 

*Here I mean more to address the feminists that run the movement, not the “true scotsmen” who have little to no hand in its ideology, politics, or academia.  This is a question that I think anyone would benefit from considering, but I do not think the civilian feminists on the ground level are trying to profit from feminism monetarily or politically.

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Filed under antifeminism, equality, feminism, men's rights, women's rights

Feminists Chronically Underestimate Feminism

Dear feminists,

It’s true.  You so often underestimate your own success and progress. You talk about women as if we are ever more oppressed even in the first world, frequently ignoring the great strides you’ve made to bring us to legal, social, and economic equality. Women can vote, work in any field we want, have reproductive choices, and run for office, largely because of your movement. Anyone who so much as implies a threat to women’s rights or general well-being is met with the mob of public opinion sharpening their pitchforks and lighting their torches. If that person is a politician, such a move is often political suicide. (Remember Todd Akin? Right, neither does anyone else.) Women are respected by the general public, to the extent that almost anyone looking to earn some public brownie points says nice things about us, knowing that it will be universally agreeable. People care about our well-being and our position in society, on a level that could even be called compulsive. Even if you want to argue that women still face sexism and related inequality, you’d be blind not to acknowledge that we’ve made some serious progress in both our rights and general esteem, especially considering that 100 years ago we couldn’t even vote.

And you underestimate your pull and popularity as a movement and ideology. Many of you view yourselves as the ideological underdog, often asserting that feminism is a “dirty word,” but it is your movement which guides academia, culture, and policy. You are responsible for changes, good and bad, that affect everyone. You have heavy influence on college campuses, you are at the head of the national sociopolitical discussion of rights and privileges, and you are an issue that matters to every politician claiming to seek social progress (and many of the ones who don’t). Identifying outside of feminism or speaking against it as an ideology or movement, even as a regular citizen, is enough to lose one credibility and respect in most places.  I ought to know.

To give you an idea of your influence, out of about 2,500 4-year institutions in the United States, there are roughly 700 women’s studies programs. There are a handful of men’s, most of which are a branch of feminist theory specifically dealing with maleness. The former are arguably inseparable from modern university politics, and have have influenced national politics and policy for decades. The Duluth Model is one good example, which is the standard for how we treat sexual and domestic violence from social work and law enforcement, to hotline and shelter operations, right down to the way we define the crimes, to say nothing of ubiquitous sexual harassment policies in universities and the workplace. All that is informed by feminist academia.

And speaking of academia, as much as we hear about sexism in hiring that keeps women out of male-dominated fields like science, things are changing rapidly. According to a Pew Research survey from 2013, only 10% of working women reported a negative effect on their career due to workplace discrimination. What’s more, a PNAS study from last year demonstrates an advantage for women in STEM fields, who are preferred 2-1 over men for tenure-track faculty positions. Many feminists argue that this new disparity is more due to PR needs and political pressure than a true transcendence of older attitudes toward women, but even if that’s true, consider what that says for the power and success of the feminist movement: It has become a strong enough social and political force that employers are concerned about disappointing its representatives or angering its adherents.

On the PR front, we have International Women’s Day to celebrate women’s contributions throughout history, and there is a Woman of the Year award for our contributions today. There are men’s equivalents, but they are nowhere near as publicized (I’d hazard a guess that most people don’t know there is an International Men’s Day – The Young Turks don’t).

On the legal front, since the 1960’s we’ve had the Equal Pay Act, Roe v. Wade, Title IX, affirmative action, and VAWA, all of which are or have been specifically implemented for women’s benefit and/or protection.  Some of these laws have even needed to be updated or reexamined in an effort to prevent discrimination toward men.

In organizations, there’s AAUW, NOW, Planned Parenthood, and countless others. Here is a list of 20 of the more prominent organizations that further women’s causes. Here is a magazine article highlighting the best 154 of them. The fact that these organizations exist at all is a testament to the success of both women and the feminist ideology, never mind their sheer numbers and the influence they have.

On the individual level, the label of feminism may not be as popular as the virtues it advertises, but the vast majority of people support equality for women. In fact, the women’s movement is so popular that it is becoming a selling point, a brand in its own right. You aren’t just appealing or popular. You’re booming. Feminism is a billion dollar industry, raking in untold funds for its array of academic and political organizations, advocacy groups and NGOs, service providers, businesses, media outlets, and public speakers. There are feminist blogs, news sites, literature, game developers, children’s toys, ads, t-shirts, podcasts, coffee mugs, conferences and conventions, and all of them sell like hotcakes. Anita Sarkeesian rakes in $20,000 every time she gives a talk. Any reputable university has a women’s studies program and campus women’s groups (while widely disapproving of men’s). Every academic, social, or political organization must include feminism in its mission statement, hire on feminist academics and advisers in order to declare itself progressive or conscientious, because that is what the people consider progressive and conscientious. Every field of study or work has a feminist interpretation. There is feminist environmentalism, feminist geology, feminist economics, and feminist history (the common use of words like “herstory” should tell us enough about feminism’s popularity and ubiquity). None of this would be the case if your cause weren’t one that mattered to the people, if your ideas weren’t popular, if gender equality and the success and thriving of women weren’t an agreeable collective goal, if the western world were the medieval cesspool of misogyny that you paint it as. I think it’s time to acknowledge that women are winning.  Girls, we run the world.

If none of this is convincing, I want to remind you that this is the progress we’ve made since the suffrage movement a mere century ago. For comparison, let’s consider another group that’s been struggling for equality. I’ve already written extensively on the parallels between issues of racial and gender equality, but I’ll do a small recap and add a few other points. Slavery was abolished in 1865 and the 15th Amendment (prohibiting the denial of voting rights based on race) was ratified in 1870. Women got their suffrage in 1920. So black Americans have what one might call a 50-year head start on us historically, but let’s look at where women are compared to African Americans today. We’ll start with the pay gap. The gender pay gap as of 2009 (the latest I can find comparable data on both subjects) is 77% (though in cities, women out-earn men by an average of 8% before they start to have children). As of 2009, women made about 77 cents to men’s dollar. And black people made 61 cents to white people’s dollar. That is slightly better than half of what white people make, twice as big as the disparity women experience, and you could make far less of a case for personal choice being responsible for this than you could for the gender gap. Also, bear in mind that the Equal Pay Act and the Civil Rights Act (addressing workplace discrimination against women and non-whites, respectively) were passed within a year of each other.

Furthermore, women today make up 20-30 percent of the homeless (a minority), and black people make up 37% (almost triple their representation in the American population). Female students are 7% more likely than male students to graduate high school. Black students are 18% less likely than white students. About 60% of postsecondary degrees are earned by women, and around 11% by black people. So consider that women have four times as many scholarships as men, as well as 50% more than black people.

Even more seriously, women constitute less than 5% of arrest related deaths, and black people are about a third (with similar disparities in other police treatment and mistreatment). Women receive 63% lesser sentences when convicted of a crime, black people receive 23% harsher ones. I could go on (or you could just read my other article), but you get the idea. Women are actually ahead in a great deal of areas that matter, from treatment under the law to education, and education is a big deal. Just imagine what the world is going to look like in 20 years, when a majority of the educated workforce has been female for a while.

For only having achieved suffrage less than a century ago, the advancement of women’s equality has been absolutely stunning, culminating in some highly notable advantages to boot. You’d be crazy not to acknowledge how much progress you’ve made, how seriously you’re taken, and how much power you have over the discourse and policy of our nation and the developed world. You shouldn’t be doomsaying, declaring the west an irreparable patriarchy, or crying that you’re oppressed. You should be patting yourselves on the back and celebrating how amazingly far you’ve come. I know better than to think I can convince you that your mission is accomplished, but I’ll be damned if we aren’t at least almost there.

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Filed under equality, feminism, women's rights

On Feminism, Equality, and Scotsmen

I’ve encountered this meme several times recently in my daily internet adventures, so I thought I’d offer my two cents on it and the surrounding philosophy.

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The idea is that feminism is for everyone, men’s and women’s issues, and any other gender issues that people might want to address. Basically the author is arguing that wanting gender equality that benefits all genders is what makes someone a feminist. I see a lot of arguments like this floating around, and some of you may be surprised to learn that I actually respect the hell out of this type of feminist. I am thrilled that these are the views these folks support (or at least claim to support), and I applaud any effort on the part of any equality movement to actually advocate for equality. In this world of loud and scary radical voices, it’s easy to believe these folks are a dying breed. Though I do feel the need to step in and make a few points. This argument falls pretty neatly in line with the oft-made argument “Feminism means equality,” usually associated with a dictionary definition describing feminism as a gender equality movement.

And to throw my hat in the pedantic ring of definitional debate, here’s the thing: Feminism doesn’t mean equality. Etymologically and in practice, the political and academic movement of feminism is and has always been a women’s interest movement, full stop. It’s right there in the word, and it has historically been reflected in just about every position and accomplishment of political and ideological feminism, from the Declaration of Sentiments’ hyperbolic and inflammatory list of grievances against men, the suffrage movement that came out of it, the second wave which was responsible for women’s reproductive rights and equality in the workplace (as well as things like the Duluth model and Valerie Solanas), and today’s feminism that almost exclusively addresses women’s issues from the arguably necessary to the ridiculous and reactionary. (And as an aside, egalitarianism means equality, and in my experience, people who identify as egalitarian tend to have more views akin to the meme above… wink, nudge.)

But let’s be reasonable. I don’t mind if you have egalitarian views but call yourself a feminist. I’m not that pedantic. Words and labels just don’t matter that much. It’s what you do and what you advocate that matters. But I hear a lot of “no true Scotsman” silliness from both sides, feminists claiming that certain feminists are not real feminists or not influential, and anti-feminists similarly defining feminism by those adherents who have the most offensive views.

Realistically, this is something that’s bound to happen when a movement gets as big and influential as feminism has. It’s going to have a variety of interpretations and branches, and I think it’s time for us all to acknowledge that there are a LOT of types of self-identified feminists, from people like Anita Sarkeesian to Gloria Steinem to the tumblr SJW types to the egalitarians who agree with the above meme and even some folks whose views are more anti-feminist than strictly feminist (I have been told by many that my views actually make me a feminist, and this doesn’t bother me in the least).  Each of these have very different philosophies when it comes to gender issues.

Just like Christianity or any other religion, once there are enough adherents, the ideology is going to start to branch off into subgroups that differ widely. So which is the true Scotsman: Baptism, Catholicism, or Methodism? The fact is, they are all Christian, but it seems perfectly fair and reasonable that the most prominent aspects of Christianity, the tenets that influence culture and policy, the beliefs that infiltrate our politics and threaten our rights, are the ones that are most of interest and concern to those of us who are not Christian. To us non-Christians, those are the defining aspects of Christianity, or at least, of the Christianity that affects us, even though we all know there are Christians who do not oppose marriage equality, fight against reproductive rights, or engage in xenophobic defamation of Arabs and Muslims. I don’t have to deny the existence of moderate, reasonable Christians to acknowledge that the more extreme Christianity that threatens to affect my life is present and harmful, and I would be foolish to write them off as “not real Christians.” Whether or not a given Christian agrees with them, they are real Christians insofar as they use Christian dogma and beliefs to promote policies supported by biblical scripture.

Similarly, you can choose to define feminism however you please, and if the dictionary definition suits you and describes your actual advocacy, well fine, but you’d have to be willfully ignorant not to acknowledge that the egalitarian interpretation of feminism is not the feminism represented in policy, academia, and pervasive cultural movements. The representative, power holding members of the movement (and they are definitely members of the movement), the ones who use feminist theory to influence the lives of others, those feminists are not equity-minded people. Or if they are, they have a very different definition of equity than those of us outside their ideology.

So let’s talk about definitions. Let’s talk about what I mean when I say I am not a feminist and I oppose feminism.

I don’t consider myself a feminist, as defined by the popular and predominant representation of the movement, because I believe in equality.

Let me explain. Because I believe in equality, I am not interested in political feminism’s initiatives to implement affirmative action and scholarship and incentive programs that give women an even greater advantage over men in education and hiring, especially when boys have higher dropout rates in high school than girls, go on to earn 40% of all postsecondary degrees, earn an average of 8% less than women in most cities, experience a slightly higher rate of unemployment than women, and make up the majority of the homeless, and I do not ask to be paid as much as a man who works different hours in a different field (often exposing himself to harsher conditions and a much higher risk of workplace injury and death). I want to be educated, hired, and paid based on the merit of my skills, not handed things for the fortune of having a vagina, just because the vagina-havers in the past had a rough time of it. Even if you believe the series of misconceptions and oversimplifications used to assert that women are disadvantaged in these ways, the last thing we need is to be discredited and demeaned by these blunt tools that only tip the scales in the opposite direction and lead to the opposite inequality of the one we previously fought (opposite inequalities on which feminism as a whole is profoundly silent). Turning the tables is not equality, and I want to be treated as an equal. I don’t want special programs or privileges.

Because I believe in equality, I care about all victims of domestic and sexual abuse, not just women, and I oppose feminist academia’s targeted, systemic, and documented effort to conceal and ignore the half of these crimes that are perpetrated by women or suffered by men, such as the terrifying influence of feminist Mary Koss of the CDC who has insisted upon defining rape in such a way to exclude female assault on males, thus contributing to the concealment of the truth that intimate partner violence is a gender neutral phenomenon and perpetuating the long debunked Duluth Model narrative of violence that continues to be the gender-role-entrenched basis for legal and social treatment of intimate partner violence that is directly and unequivocally harmful to countless male victims and victims of female perpetrators.  Koss’s  reasoning for this definition of rape (repeated in various incarnations throughout more than one of her papers, and reflecting a common social perception of gender and violence) is laced with the strong implication that men always want it, aren’t really harmed by consent violation, and other flagrantly offensive victim blaming. This is most definitely not equality.

Because I believe in equality, I oppose feminist-implemented gendered policies that address such crimes disproportionately (such as predominant aggressor policies that almost always target men after domestic violence calls, and affirmative consent laws that treat men as default rapists and women as helpless non-agents), the erosion of due process for accused men through feminist initiatives, as well as the many criminal justice biases that men face but feminist organizations do nothing to address (the least of which is not the 63% higher rate of sentencing for the same crimes), to say nothing of NOW’s adamant published stance against gender equality in child custody law.

Because I disagree with the demeaning of women’s agency, strength, and capability, I directly oppose the bulk of the tenets of popular feminism, and as someone who debates these things regularly in a variety of places, I can assure you that the following are very popular tenets. I oppose the idea that women are so emotionally or psychologically fragile that they need to be protected from everything from beauty standards and gendered expectations to dick pics and being catcalled. When someone finds me attractive, I do not need to reach for my smelling salts like a Victorian lady whose honor must be defended, nor do I think it reasonable to claim entitlement to protection from the completely harmless comments of passing strangers online or in person, video games that depict women as especially curvy, or being sent a photograph of genitalia, a claim that only serves to depict women as pathetically weak and vulnerable.  

I believe that women have agency, and as such, like any other human, we can never be truly compelled to act outside our will by forces as impotent as social expectation.  In short, if you don’t want to shave your legs, be a mom, wear makeup, or pursue stereotypically female interests, the solution is simple: do what you like, and laugh at anyone who has a problem with it.  If you aren’t attracted to someone who is expressing overt interest in you, tell them and move on with your life, rather than making silent and uncomfortable assumptions that he means to demean, embarrass, or rape you.  If you don’t want to look at somebody’s dick pic, delete it and go do something else.  None of these things need to affect you.  This is what empowerment looks like.  Popular feminism, the feminism I stand against, tells women to be upset and feel harmed by these things.  It wants women to believe they are victims.  Victims are objects, acted upon, without agency.  Identifying as a victim is antithetical to empowerment.  Trying to force an identity of victimhood on someone is objectification of the highest order, and identifying oneself as a victim is self-objectification.  Thus, “real” feminists should be bothered by this narrative, no matter what organization or movement it comes from.

I oppose the idea that we must beg men and society to support, aid, and defend us from all the innocuous trivia of daily life. I believe women are strong and capable and do not need anyone’s help to thrive. I oppose all these efforts to “level the playing field” because it sends the unmistakable message to perfectly capable women and girls that they are fragile, helpless, and they’ll never be able to make it on their own merits, rather than telling us the truth: that we can and do achieve everything men do when we decide that we want to.

I despise the feminist-driven skewing of facts and statistics, dissemination of egregious misinformation, and outright fear mongering that keeps otherwise rational women afraid of men and afraid to walk the streets. Organizations like the CDC go out of their way to tailor their publications to that feminist brainchild the Duluth model by defining things like sexual violence in a way that includes the often trivial experiences of most women but excludes most experiences that affect men, thus producing highly questionable and intentionally sensational statistics that cause women to believe they are in constant danger, creating an atmosphere of paranoia and distrust that is the opposite of empowerment of women and very much contrary to any pursuit of gender equality. If rape culture is defined as a society in which the knowledge of violence against women keeps all women subjugated by fear, this practice of spreading sensational misinformation in order to grab attention and bolster an ideological worldview IS rape culture.  This practice should not be a feminist practice. It should enrage feminists, and I sincerely hope that for many it does.

Because I believe in equality, I believe that men should be able to convene to discuss issues that affect them — things like circumcision, suicide rates, workplace injury, homelessness, the education gap, and sexist biases in criminal and family law — just as women are freely able to convene to discuss women’s issues.  I am appalled that such male groups at universities are often prohibited from doing so (under the assumption that they will somehow make women unsafe) by feminist administrations citing feminist theory and philosophy. And talks about men’s issues are often disrupted by feminist protesters who harass attendees, drown out speakers with shouts or noise making devices, or pull fire alarms. Many men’s organizations must pay hefty security fees due to the threats of violence they receive when they plan events, all the while being called misogynists and rape apologists just for wanting to openly discuss issues that affect them, as women are freely able and encouraged to do about our own issues. Is it any wonder men scoff when they’re told feminism is for them too?

Because I believe in equality and sex positivity, I oppose the feminist perpetuated double standard that while a woman overtly expressing her sexuality is empowered and laudable, a man doing the same is engaging in harassment or reinforcing rape culture. I oppose feminist initiatives, rooted in feminist academia and theory, to decry men who express sexual attraction, linking it baselessly to risk factors for violence and other harms, as if the average rapist attacked strangers on the street whom they called sexy, rather than acquaintances in familiar places.  I oppose the use of the term “sexual objectification,” which does nothing but pathologize and demonize male sexuality (and female sexuality, on the rare occasion that the term is leveled at a woman), and the re-definition of delivering sexual compliments as “street harassment,” which criminalizes sexuality. This is not equality, it’s slut shaming for men, and I’ll repeat that any claim that women need protecting from the scourge of men finding them sexually attractive is a claim that women are weak, helpless non-agents, who are incapable of so much as politely rejecting advances that don’t interest us, as we would expect men to do without complaint.

Because I am tired of the stereotype that women are hysterical and illogical, I am tired of feminism’s string of ever more ridiculous grievances, from Shirtgate to manspreading to mansplaining to miroaggressions to any argument supporting the belief that any aspect of our culture condones violence against women, this neurotic McCarthian witch hunt by which today’s feminist powers attribute malice and misogyny to completely innocuous behaviors in their desperate attempt to justify their continued discursive dominance. I oppose its infiltration of academia through campus policies to censor ideas and stifle discussion out of a misguided desire to protect students and others from ideas that are unfamiliar or with which they disagree (again, the absurd notion that ideas can make one unsafe). I oppose this infantilization of women and students that feminism once also claimed to oppose.

Because I agree that women should be taken seriously, I’d really like this brand of feminists to stop inventing and griping about these silly made-up first world problems, because it is undoubtedly making the problem worse by representing women as the sort of people that should not be taken seriously, that can not be trusted with power or responsibility because they lack the basic judgment to differentiate something that is harmful from something that is demonstrably not.

You can argue that you agree with a lot of that, that some of these positions make me a feminist (and indeed, many people do), or that feminism secretly cares about some or all of these problems, or that feminism’s definition and ideology aren’t restricted to those particular interpretations, but that merely means that your definition of feminism is not the same as the feminism represented in politics, policy, academia, media, or predominant advocacy. So when I say I oppose feminism, I mean that I oppose the feminist-initiated and feminist-perpetuated biases, policies, and other harms that infantilize women and demonize men. I oppose misandrist and misogynistic feminism. I oppose oppositional feminism that casts men as the adversary and women as the victim. I oppose the erosion of equality under the guise of efforts to seek equality. I oppose the game by which we all define a group only by the actions and factions we like to pay attention to and sweep everything else under the rug. The feminism I described above isn’t a loud minority of radicals who don’t matter. It is the power holding group that makes changes that affect us all (for the worse), and it needs to be redirected or stopped.

So to all the reasonable, egalitarian feminists out there who say that the feminism I talk about isn’t real feminism, or who argue that my views make me a feminist, I think it’s time to start letting your voices be heard, to try to speak louder than the radicals. It’s time to stop pretending the powerhouse of radical feminism doesn’t exist or doesn’t matter, like the racist grandparents we ignore at Thanksgiving. It’s time to join the forces of reason and fight against the power of inequality that is dominating the gender equality sphere. Just like atheists can co-exist with theists who don’t oppose marriage equality and reproductive rights, we anti-feminists and men’s rights folks can get over the fact that you believe women are disadvantaged or oppressed as long as you don’t use that belief to demean women’s agency and erode the rights of men. In short, reasonable feminists, you don’t have to agree with us on everything, but we could really use your help to make feminism something closer to what you define it as: a movement for gender equality that is willing to address everyone’s issues and everyone’s needs, one that empowers women rather than demeaning them, and one that embraces men rather than demonizing them.

Stop trying to tell us what a true Scotsman does and doesn’t do and try working with us. Come join the dark side. We have cookies.

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Filed under antifeminism, feminism, men's rights, sexism

Silly Anti-feminists, Tumblr is for Kids

At the risk of alienating some of my more opinionated anti-feminist readers, I’m about to do something that most of you probably didn’t see coming: I’m going to defend Tumblr.

Especially in the anti-feminist parts of the online world, I see an awful lot of posts about Tumblr, Tumblr feminism, Tumblr social justice warriors, and other silliness, usually with captions like “This is what feminists actually believe.” This usually comes along with general sentiments mocking the site and its bizarre notions about sexuality, equality, and personal identity, and blaming it for the degradation of sanity and toughness we see in modern cultural trends, but I just don’t think that’s fair. There’s a reason I never bring up Tumblr’s particular brand of feminism or social justice when I talk about egalitarian and men’s issues, and that reason is simple: Tumblr is a children’s website (or, at least, the parts of it that these types of arguments highlight).

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Take this paradigmatic example of a post on one of their forums (taken from some rant on Facebook about how far down the rabbit hole feminism and related movements have gone). Yes, this looks downright out of touch with reality, when you look at it from the assumption that internet users are adults, but that’s just not true of Tumblr (google their demographics if you doubt me). Most of the users that produce content like this are children and adolescents, and let me tell you something.

This is really common behaviour for children and adolescents, and it’s nothing new. The only difference is that now we are teaching 3-year-olds how to use technology, so new generations are working their way into internet forums much earlier than we did (so now, their embarrassing childhood silliness is codified into public internet permanence to embarrass them later).

Don’t believe me? Let me give you some examples. At the risk of airing all my childhood ridiculousness for the internet to see, here are some (yes, SOME) of the things that I personally convinced myself when I was between the ages of 8 and 18:

  • I was from Mars, and my parents found me as a baby alien on their doorstep.

  • I had superpowers (this was a recurring theme in various incarnations throughout my childhood, and is unbelievably common of children).

  • Harry Potter books described a real secret world, and I would get a letter from Hogwarts. (Let’s be realistic: most Harry Potter fans at least hoped for that letter.)

  • I had some kind of psychic or magic connection to Harry Potter, and that’s why I get migraines.

  • I can become a character on a cartoon show and live as a cartoon superhero, and this is something that will probably happen.

  • I can perceive and talk to ghosts, have ghost friends and enemies, and sometimes even fight those ghost enemies.

Yes, I really believed these things growing up (much to the dismay and bafflement of my parents, who had never had a child before). And you know what? I had friends, lots of them, that believed them too. In fact, every one of these silly little narratives was part of a game I played with one or more friends. Some of them were people I met online through games, forums, or other digital communities. Some of them were people I knew in person, friends from school or other real-world communities. And I knew other people who insisted that they were mythical creatures, real-world incarnations of fictional characters, religious figures, and beings they themselves made up. I had a friend from Quizilla (anyone remember Quizilla?) who claimed she was part demon, part angel, part vampire, and the physical incarnation of an anime character. And that was 15 years ago, long before Tumblr was a thing.

And now that I’m a teacher, I’ve overheard many middle and high school students over the years engaging in play like this. Because children and adolescents are in desperate search of their identity. They’re building their personalities and self-stories. They’re breaking from the parts of them that are constructed by their environment and upbringing and forging individual humans as they develop, and a lot of this, just like everything else children do, comes with some egocentrism, a great deal of imagination, and a certain detachment from empirical reality. There’s nothing weird or scary about it. After all, we don’t panic when a little girl sits in a cardboard box and claims it’s a spaceship. We don’t tell her she’s mentally ill for thinking she’s an astronaut, and we don’t suggest she’s having a delusion that has a harmful effect on culture or policy. She’s just a child, and children play.

Now, the worry I often hear is that of the legitimizing effect of a gigantic global online community of people, using formalized language to describe things that perhaps shouldn’t be legitimized, but this just doesn’t worry me, and I’ll tell you why.

When I was a kid, we legitimized each other’s wild ideas in person, and it reinforced them just the same. In middle and high school (here’s more information to indict my mental health if I ever run for president), I had a group of friends who used to hang out in the basement and play with a Ouija board. Lots and lots of kids do this, but we built one hell of a complex world using this toy. We invented characters with relatively complex personalities, rules for how that world worked, and an elaborate mythology in which all this took place. We constructed a jargon to describe this world and mythology, too, just like Tumblr does. The only difference is, there were about half a dozen of us, rather than a few million. We pretended to communicate with these beings and even allow them to take control of us, and we totally believed that shit. Sometimes the characters did frightening or terrible things, and we believed that too. We would get legitimately scared or upset, invested in the characters and the effects we supposed that they had on our lives. We talked about it, we discussed and problem solved. We played out the solutions. And we did this stuff for years.

When I was a young adult, I looked back on this in fear and confusion and questioned the hell out of my mental health. But then I started studying education and developmental psychology. Perhaps my friends and I were a bit more imaginative than the average kid, but overall, this type of play is totally normal. I encountered it in others when I was that age, and I see it all the time now that I teach (like the young man who told me that the poltergeist that lives in his bedroom tried to push him out the window). It’s not an indictment of our culture, it isn’t scary, and by no means is it a product of Tumblr. In fact, not only is not scary and not harmful, but it’s actually an evolutionary mechanism by which we learn how to perceive, understand, and navigate the world. That’s what play is. Just as kittens play fight or pretend to hunt to learn to do these things for real, a human child plays through imaginary scenarios to learn to problem solve and develop other cognitive skills, and in the process, just like kittens, they look a little silly.

The tumblrite SJW stuff is no different, either. Who among us hasn’t had ridiculous, misinformed opinions that they grew out of when they started to experience and read about the actual world? Tumblr politics are no more or less than the ideas of young people who are just starting to try to understand the world from a sociopolitical perspective, and pointing to them to criticize actual adult politics is intellectually lazy and dishonest.

I’ll give you one more embarrassing story from my personal childhood. When I was maybe 8 or 9, I was really into Captain Planet. I’ve always cared about environmental issues, but as a tiny human, my understanding of the way such things worked was pretty limited. One day, my uncle came by to dig a big trench in our yard to install some kind of piping. In my limited understanding of the planet Earth, influenced by a children’s cartoon, I decided that this trench was a wound that harmed the planet, and since (unsurprisingly, I’m sure) I’ve always fancied myself something of an activist, I snuck out after the digging had been done and replaced as much of the dirt as I could before the piping could be laid. Yes, I actually did that, more than once after my uncle repeated the process, and my family was very upset with me when they found out what had been happening. Of course, it eventually turned into a big joke. Every once in a while, some members of my family will still tell this story. Because you know that I was a child when this happened, you might be laughing right now, too. Of course, it was a ridiculous act on my part, a hilarious misunderstanding of any reasonable environmentalist position. But you wouldn’t use this story as a representative argument to indict actual adult environmentalism. That would be dishonest and unfair, and this is why I never talk about Tumblr feminism.

But is this community of young people a dangerous thing to expose to that section of the adult population that could be described as dysfunctional products of the self-esteem movement, who may use it to validate their misguided narcissism? Maybe, but that’s more the fault of failing education and mental healthcare systems (and the movement that produced said individuals) than an online forum for children to play and discuss the construction of their identities. You and I grew out of our childhood games, and so will they, whether it’s attention seeking behaviour or they truly believe what they’re saying. After all, many of my friends who once believed they were superheroes, ghost hunters, or vampires have long since grown into successful, productive, healthy, and quite reasonable people (in fact, one of them grew up to be a prominent student leader at an ivy league university and went on to make even grander accomplishments that earned international recognition). An adult that never grows out of these behaviours is a separate issue entirely, and should be addressed from an educational or mental healthcare perspective.

Listen, I don’t like Tumblr either. So I have a simple solution. I don’t go there, for the same reason I don’t watch Disney Channel shows and I don’t play in the ball pit at McDonald’s: I’m an adult that isn’t interested in those things.

So, if you wouldn’t hate on Disney Channel or ball pits, don’t hate on Tumblr. It isn’t for you. If you don’t like it, use a different social media site, and stop using it as a straw man to attack adult politics. You’re literally picking on children just because they’re easy targets, in addition to committing some pretty egregious cherry picking that makes the anti-feminist community look like a bunch of buffoons. Kindly stop it. There are plenty of perfectly good arguments to be made against actual practiced and influential adult feminism. How about we focus on those?

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Filed under activism, antifeminism, education, personal, tumblr