Archives For Gender

Walking Like A Man

Andrew Sullivan —  Jan 12 2015 @ 5:19pm

Or at least the dickish ones:

Jessica Roy covers an experiment carried out by Beth Breslaw:

She spent most of November and all of December colliding with dozens of men, on sidewalks and in train stations and outside of cafés. On one particularly eventful instance in early January, every single man who came across her path on the stretch of narrow East Village sidewalk between the N train and her sister’s apartment smacked right into her, she says. It was like that for the whole experiment, wave after wave of men knocking into her with an elbow or a shoulder or a full-on body-check.

“I can remember every single man who moved out of the way, because there were so few,” Breslaw told me. And though she refused to reposition herself for anyone — including women — Breslaw found that while she did end up running into some females, most cleared a path for her.

Update from a reader:

I’m afraid I have to call bullshit on Breslaw’s experiment of “walking like a man” to see what happens.

She should have said “walking like a jerk” because that’s what she did. My scholarship involves urban spaces and how people share them, and the behavior she describes – refusing to give way at all, just barging ahead – is not exclusive to men, nor is it the correct way to behave in general. Sharing crowded spaces means zillions of quick decisions, including last-second mutual giving-way/pivoting/angling to keep moving among many other people.

My own practice – as a 6’/230 pound pedestrian – is to always share the space, except with one sort of pedestrian: those who aren’t giving way to me in turn. For these jerks, I just stop cold, and get walked into all the time, by men and women, young and old. It’s more prevalent when people are walking two, three, or four abreast on narrow sidewalks, having their conversations and acting like they own all the space, but solo pedestrians of both genders (though, admittedly, more often men) act as though their preferred trajectory was somehow their private property. It isn’t. It’s a shared public space, and we all gotta play nice if we’re going to get along.

Had Breslaw walked towards me in the way Roy’s story describes, I would not have given way (I also would not have walked into her: I’d’ve stopped in my tracks). Had she turned ever-so-slightly, I’d’ve done the same, and we’d’ve passed politely enough.

It’s literally a two-way sidewalk out there. Can’t we all get along?

P.S. My favorite collision ever: a teenaged skateboarder who just ran right into me. Laying on the ground, he said his dad was a lawyer and he was going to sue me.  Even his buddies laughed: if you want to be tough enough to own the sidewalk, you need to be tough enough to take a fall and not go to Daddy for legal assistance.

Masculine Energy

Phoebe Maltz Bovy —  Dec 19 2014 @ 9:41am
by Phoebe Maltz Bovy

I can’t stop thinking about Vanessa Vitiello Urquhart’s essay identifying with macho or misogynistic male authors and protagonists:

I’d always understood I was a she, and I never wanted to be otherwise. And yet somehow I was convinced that the disparaging things my male heroes said about women didn’t apply to me, not because they were untrue about females generally, but because I must not be the sort of female they were talking about. Being a strange kid helped—I had the overdeveloped intellect and underdeveloped social skills that precocious children of all genders seem to share. Since I was comfortable with being different, the masculine aspects of my personality were one more oddity among many. These oddities allowed me to nod comfortably along with sections of a novel where the author paused a moment to explain that women were like such-and-so, and then got back to the important parts, which had men in them. …

It took high school and part of college before I began to grow out of this mentality, but eventually I appreciated that the basic difference between me and other women wasn’t that they were dumber and more frivolous than I was. Dating other women helped—unlike straight men, lesbians aren’t allowed to get away with the assumption that they’re superior beings compared with the objects of their affections.

It also dawned on me, albeit slowly, that the rest of the world largely saw me as a woman like any other. I mourned this, wishing for the first time that I’d been born a boy so my combative conversational style and my impulse to dominate and destroy all comers could be met with approval, rather than dismay, from peers, teachers, and family members. But, I also recognized that the same disapproval and dismay was squelching the self-expression of women generally, not just butch lesbians.

While the headline reads, “A Lesbian Dilemma,” as Urquhart herself notes, there’s nothing specifically lesbian about the feelings she describes. Identifying with the man and not the woman in a story is, I suspect, a common female experience. That’s because – as comes up somewhere in the comments to the piece – male characters in fiction are just characters, whereas female ones are woman characters. Indeed, the sense that one is somehow different from all those silly females is its own meme: “other girls.” And one that’s readily obscured by contemporary discussions of gender identity. While there are certainly unique experiences of masculine identification among transmen, butch lesbians, and other gender-non-conforming biologically-female individuals, there’s also plenty feeling-the-guy among feminine-seeming straight women and girls. Remember Simone de Beauvoir’s famous line, “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman”? That’s what she was getting at.

And that sense of oneself as an agent in one’s own life isn’t merely something that can be experienced by a straight woman or girl. It can extend to a female experience of heterosexuality. I think back to my own experiences as a girl who knew from a fairly young age she liked boys. I remember experiencing my crushes the way I was told – from books, movies, society – that a boy who liked girls should be experiencing this. I’d think, gosh, he’s gorgeous. I wasn’t particularly interested in being thought gorgeous myself. I saw how being thought attractive would be useful for a crush to be reciprocated, of course, but it was never the main hope. The gaze that interested me was that of the protagonist. Was my gaze, then, a male gaze, or just a human one? Whatever the case, I had to learn not to pursue. Which can be a tough thing to unlearn later in life, in other arenas.

I have no interest here in delving into exactly how much of gender is socially constructed and how much comes down to biology. But I have some interest in mentioning a recurring theme on “The Millionaire Matchmaker,” a reality show about a high-powered businesswoman who sets up rich men with trophy wives. On the occasions when the client being set up is a (straight) woman, the entire project of the show will be to rid the “millionairess” of her “masculine energy,” which is off-putting to men, or at least to the hyper-masculine men that (surely) a woman would prefer. Now, these are not masculine-of-center women by any means. One, I believe, ran a hair salon, another a clothing company. They’ve got long hair, heaps of makeup – the Bravo usual. “Masculine energy,” in this context, means the will to run a company, to be a boss, to get things done.

It could well be that fewer women than men have the “energy” in question. But it seems unavoidably true that many women have experience learning to tone theirs down.

The in-tray has seen another big wave of reader responses since our most recent post, but we’re trying to balance the need for your input with the need to keep the debate productive and relatively concise. One reader who wants to keep it going:

I dissent from the dissenters. Keep talking about it. Keep questioning the excesses of the feminist hard line. I understand that they don’t want to confront their own worst elements because, like any political movement, talking about your internal messaging problems is guaranteed to annihilate your external message. So I know why they don’t want to talk about it, and I surely know that the mainstream brand of feminism is Emma Watson’s elegant, inclusive variety.

A refrain I hear often from the feminist side is that men have to learn to stop talking and listen. And when I point out that that sounds suspiciously like “shut up”, I then get a 30-minute explanation as to why it’s not hypocritical to tell men to remain silent when you’re angry that women have been kept silent for so long. You are listening, Andrew. Don’t let them tell you otherwise.

Many more readers sound off:

I do think that sometimes your maleness and gayness come together to make you a little tone deaf on feminist issues, but this pushback must just reinforce every bad stereotype you have.

Getting the Oxford debate cancelled is one giant case of ad hominem; your views have no merit because of who you are. The irony is so rich it’s cloying. But the last dissent finally clarified what’s wrong in this discussion. Your critic (male, of course) states, “every feminist contradiction you’ve covered in this thread has been debated within feminism since its beginning” (obviously, demonstrably false), and then whines: “It’s not feminism’s burden to educate.”

Seriously, dude, grow the fuck up. Of course it’s feminism’s job to educate; you just don’t want to do the work. The fact that you have suffered and/or do suffer injustice does not mean you’re not a massively over-entitled asshole. If the top level of the oppressor pyramid is a straight white wealthy intelligent educated first-world man, then almost everyone in this discussion on the first five levels of a fifty level pyramid, pointing furiously up at the top level and ignoring everyone below. They have all the entitled laziness of the top levels, but spend so much time looking up they actually feel (and act like) they’re at the bottom (like the guy who thought $450,000 a year made him poor).

This vocal minority of feminists are not wrong to name and fight the injustices. But they are childish to expect it to come easy, and only this entitled immaturity explains their gall in lecturing you, of all people, on the “burden to educate” – as though you did not spend decades educating and re-educating every new person who came to the table with a sudden insight on marriage equality.

Another continues along those lines:

The fact that this thread has revealed such a wide degree of opinions and experiences demonstrates the necessity of this education. There is a huge swath of people in this country, many of whom are intelligent and well educated, who have reservations towards or disagreements with positions in modern feminism. Even if you are certain that you are right, you don’t get to just snap your fingers and win the argument. Ignoring those who disagree with you isn’t going to help anything. Attempting to censor your detractors is only going to make things worse.

If there really are arguments that are strong enough to settle these debates within academic circles, then why is it treated as such a difficult task to show these arguments to those who haven’t seen them? Why are you “disheartened” when someone whose opinion and understanding you otherwise trust disagrees with you? Why don’t you just explain why this stuff is so damn clear to you?

On that note, a female reader wishes we hadn’t run this email from another woman:

I appreciate that you air comments from a variety of opinions and much prefer this format to a comments section, but that one could have stayed in the in-tray.  Actually, no, I think it’s illustrative in that it presents the hideous stereotypes and gross exaggerations often employed by equality foes.  This view that “feminists don’t care about equality for women … they want domination for women” hurts the cause of equality for all as much as the institutional patriarchy we defend ourselves against.

I’ve been kicked out of feminist forums for being reasonable and having the audacity to suggest that, perhaps, not all men are potential rapists and murders, so I know very well how they “eat their own.”  But that vast majority of people who call themselves feminists, publicly or privately, actually are on the side of equality, do not hate men, and are not seeking gender domination.  I’m sure you know this.  I’m not convinced that your reader does, but I think by posting it you give credence to the idea that probably had some of your readers nodding along.

Another wonders where to draw the line:

I generally agree with your overall take on this subject, but like everything else there needs to be room for nuance. Here is one example: At my law school, a first-year criminal law exam included a very detailed description of rape. A huge controversy arose. Now you might easily think this is more evidence of overly “delicate sensibilities,” but you should consider that at least some women, maybe a significant number, taking that exam would have to fight through their personal experiences with rape and somehow remain as analytically focussed and dispassionate as the men taking that exam. First-year law exams essentially determine your law school success, and one blown question will be difficult to overcome. So basically, by including that rape question, the professor handed a huge advantage to the male students in his class. Should we fault the female students who were enraged by this?

Update from a reader:

Why should we not do this for kidnapping, or traumatic car accidents, or … ? Are these women never going to deal with rape in their law practice? Is there a tipping point where a trauma that potentially affects {n}% of students should not be asked?  I am (perhaps overly) analytical. I’m not saying the precaution is unnecessary, but how are we making these decisions? What is the framework? That is the part that bothers me.

Another expands the debate to include race:

One reader argued that what is being given as an argument is: “I know you think what you’re doing is OK, but it’s not for some unspecified reason that you can’t understand because you are not the correct gender/race/religion. Because of this, you should refrain from expressing an opinion and solicit feedback from those who do possess the relevant identity.”

Sometimes that is the argument being made, and it is self-evidently a flawed argument. And I agree that “call-out culture” is a problem, with so much emphasis put on denouncing and writing people off as bigots. And obviously, as I’m a man commenting on feminist issues, I don’t think that men are incapable of understanding issues of sexism. But there is a more nuanced version of that argument that is much more persuasive, that your reader is ignoring.

Let’s take Ta-Nehisi Coates as an example where you to defer to someone else’s life experience because of your self-admitted ignorance. I don’t think this means, or that you intend to say, that you defer completely to TNC on all questions of racism or race relations. But a lot of questions relating to racism can’t be quantified. A lot of questions relating to racism have to do with subjective experiences. A lot of questions relating to racism are researched using surveys where canny respondents can and often will perceive the “correct” answer. We can’t just ask White people whether they’re racist and expect an honest answer. Sometimes there isn’t an objective answer in the data. And I think there’s enough evidence that White people have glaring holes in their perception of racism that we shouldn’t dismiss the experience of Black people because it doesn’t match with our own. And we can see from well-crafted studies that the perception of Black people is often validated by the results.

For example, I’ve often encountered White people who are skeptical that job discrimination is still a real factor affecting Black people. Often they think that because of affirmative action, the discrimination actually goes in the other direction. Yet studies have found that if you send identical resumes with White names and Black names, the White resumes will get substantially more responses. The statistics lead to the undeniable conclusion that despite what White people perceive, that discrimination is still there. But because this discrimination may be subconscious or is at least conducted in such a way that makes it hard to prove in any individual case, White people often just don’t see it and don’t think it’s there.

This perspective does not mean that White people have nothing to contribute, and they cannot debate racial issues. But it does mean that we have reasons to think that White people’s perception can be flawed.

You are willing to acknowledge these limitations and defer to writers like TNC rather than relying just on your perceptions. But you seem to be much less willing to do this with issues relating to women, despite much sexism operating in the same veiled manner as racism and involving situations with subjective interpretation.

And there’s also good reason to suspect that men often don’t perceive issues relating to sexism accurately. For example, I know from my studies in linguistics that the perception that women talk much more than men is not really true if you look at it quantitatively. The perception simply doesn’t match the data. There were even experiments where, when teachers were forced to actually give equal time to boys and girls, their impression was that the girls were talking more than the boys.

So, when issues of representation of women are derisively dismissed as calling for quotas in order to achieve gender justice, your impression that women are actually represented fairly as journalists and composers not only overrides whatever feminist activists are saying about the issue, but dismisses their analysis as illiberal, censorious fanaticism. That they looked at the numbers, to you, suggests quotas, and the issue of whether there’s actually any sexism causing those disparities wasn’t even considered. The way you think women should interpret objectification of women say, in video games, carries more weight than how women feel about it. But maybe you should be a little bit more circumspect about your ability to perceive these issues fairly.

Another reader questions how useful the word “feminist” is:

The main problem with the label of “feminist” is that it has come to mean something different from its literal definition.  Here’s another phrase to consider: “family values.”  Those words are quite noble if you look them up in the dictionary, but in reality many people suspect the term as a proxy for anti-gay Christianist sentiment.  For this reason, while I value my family and families in general,  I will never, ever say that I support “family values,” nor will any of my friends.

Sadly, the word “feminist” has been similarly corrupted by a very vocal minority who are defined by their damage and penchant for quick disapproval, and they are far more interested in punishing the world than changing it for the better.  It’s unfair, but the word cannot be rehabilitated. I would urge “dictionary feminists” to use the momentum of their hostile sisters against them, and simply pick a new label (“Equalists?”) and reject the old one.  Otherwise, they are going to bang their heads against a negative cultural image that is continually fueled by extremists who simply have no interest in reaching a consensus.

Another tells the story of how he came around to the idea of “privilege”:

I was raised in an ultraconservative, fundamentalist Christian household, where homophobia and sexism were the norm. It should surprise no one that I entered adulthood with some nasty, bigoted views.

Contact with the real world – meeting gay people that were “virtually normal” and realizing that women were obviously every bit as human as me – inevitably challenged my worldview, but also it put me in conflict with myself.  I started to soften my stance on issues such as gay marriage or women’s rights, adding qualifiers and exceptions to my language whenever the topics arose with friends, classmates or colleagues.  Yet, in the course of these discussions, I was still so often insulted, attacked or condemned for my beliefs that I had no reason to think that feminists and “liberals” considered me anything but brutish, stupid and evil.  So I never felt any impetus to consider their positions – you don’t stop in the middle of a fistfight to consider your enemy’s feelings and perspectives, and debate the relative merits of whether you should have your nose broken.

My change of heart came when I made friends with a bisexual woman who, at the time, sat on the board of the local feminist community center.  She and I had many conversations over many hours and evenings about feminism, sexuality, identity politics … you name it, and we jawed about it.  Rather than judging me, shaming me or telling me that my views were out of bounds or that debating certain topics was off-limits, she created a “safe space,” so to speak, and listened, attending to both my thoughts and feelings, and asking smart, vexing questions at opportune moments. It didn’t take long for me to start hearing the words coming out of my own mouth, and to realize how I had been so carelessly and unconsciously destructive with them in the past.

I’ll never forget the day she dropped this bomb: Knowing that Hemingway was my literary hero, she paraphrased him: “You have to pay some way for everything that’s good.” It became bleedingly obvious to me just then. There are so many human beings fighting for the basic privileges that I get for free, just for being white, straight and male.  With great power comes great responsibility: If I don’t accord everyone the same dignity, agency and freedom that I have, I cheapen myself.  You pay the price of privilege by recognizing that the privilege is good, it’s worth something, and that if you deserve it, everyone deserves it.

If she had blithely dismissed me as a bigot (which I was) and shut down the debate over some ignorant thing I said (there were many) I may have never come around.  Thank God that she realized you can’t teach someone empathy, understanding and mercy with hatred, hard-heartedness and vengeance.  You teach people how to be loving and understanding by being loving and understanding.  It makes me think of the recent post “Jesus Amidst the Ruins“; she didn’t attack me or attempt to silence me or give up on me because my beliefs were unacceptable in polite public discourse.  She just washed my feet.

The impulse to silence those that disagree with you may be all too human, but it has no place in a free society. It is the tool of the ideologue, the dictator and the assassin. Those of us that are able to participate in debates like #gamergate or illiberalism in the art world – or any public debate – need to check our privilege. You have to pay some way for everything that’s good, and the price of free speech is recognizing that it is good, that it is worth something, and that if we deserve it, everyone deserves it.

My “Scorn Of Feminism” Ctd

Andrew Sullivan —  Nov 24 2014 @ 1:02pm

The in-tray keeps getting flooded with feedback on this subject:

Here is my take, as a long-time reader, on the reason so many of my fellow Dishheads have written in to express disappointment with the coverage of feminist issues on the Dish. I read articles such as the recent expose of the culture of silence and tacit acceptance of rape at UVA in Rolling Stone and am outraged but also moved and emboldened by the recent attention that sexual violence has gotten in the media.

Then I go to the Dish, my daily source for news and analysis, and read that the real pressing issue is the “demand that men be gentlemen, rather than something other than men,” as presumably you believe feminists do.

I can’t help but feel that you have your priorities way off. We’re living through a major shift in the way our culture deals with gender, rape, and sexuality, in large part led by a new generation of feminists (men and women), and the impression one gets from the Dish on this is a sense of annoyance and a worry that masculinity as a whole is being unfairly indicted. This strikes me as an analysis not worth my time to read – something I rarely feel about the blog, even (or especially) when I disagree.

Thanks so much for your work. I hope to see more coverage of issues that actually matter when it comes to gender politics today, such as the sea change in how we address rape as a culture.

Another critic:

Andrew, your stances in the Gender Wars threads are disheartening. As passionately as you’ve argued your causes, surely you must know there is not “always a debate to be had,” and that sometimes debates get good answers on questions that are essentially settled. The endless “debate to be had” is one thing that frustrates feminism and its good cause, because it constantly has to solve the same problems over and over for every new person who comes to the table. Frankly, every feminist contradiction you’ve covered in this thread has been debated within feminism since its beginning. It’s not feminism’s burden to educate.

If I may share an anecdote: in my very first job at an entertainment news TV show, I was endlessly harassed. By men. I’m a cis-gendered straight white male.

My ass was grabbed, my nipples were tweaked, and “playful” advances were a constant. It helped me see that sexual harassment really is a problem with men, of any orientation, and gave me some meaningful context for when feminist women describe an inescapable environment of harassment. It’s real. I believe them. If “feminist bullies” always seem to “make everything about gender,” it’s probably because the world treats their gender as everything about them.

Love the Dish, but the conservative mean streak to irrationally hate old canards (The Clintons! Those Damned Feminists! Cigarette Police!) still runs strong in you, and it’s a shame. Feminism’s core values and goals are so much in line with yours.

Another reader quotes a previous one:

You are not a woman, you will never understand what it is like to grow up as a female, work as a female, experience life culturally, interpersonally, electronically as a female. Perhaps it is time you learn to defer a bit on those topics to those that do.

Oh give me a freaking break. Well guess what? I’m a woman (born that way!). I’m damned successful at my job, I’m the breadwinner of my family of four (by a wide margin) and I’ve worked in a male dominated field for 15+ years. I “understand” what it’s like. You want to know how I got where I am? Not by crying about how victimized I’ve always been or blaming men for getting in my way or by buying into the myth that every man just wants to either sleep with me or ignore me. I got to where I am by actually buying the argument that men and women are equal and then comported myself accordingly. I don’t get walked on at work. I don’t get talked down to or ignored or sexually harassed. I demand respect and I get it, from men and women.

Feminists don’t care about equality for women. They want domination for women. Feminists don’t want to have an open and honest discussion about how men and women really ARE different and they can’t always be the same – they want to lambast people for daring to say that testosterone matters. They don’t want girls to have choices about what to be when they grow up; they want to make sure that girls never want to be the things that feminists don’t approve of. They don’t want men to have opinions that haven’t been vetted by a feminist and they sure don’t have a sense of humor about ANYTHING. Feminists make a conscious choice to take everything as an insult and to find the man’s fault in every situation. Why on earth any reasonable person would want to be labeled a feminist is beyond me.

There are legitimate problems for women in our society, violence against women being the top of that list. But the solutions are not going to come from feminists telling every man that he is at heart a rapist or telling every woman that they cannot trust a man. The sooner they get beyond spewing bile at 50 percent of the human race the sooner they might actually make some helpful contributions to the problems.

Another female reader:

While I may agree in principle that the politically correct/language police in our society has gotten out of hand on many fronts, I think you are missing the point behind many complaints. While the language used by many is very absolute and unforgiving, it is simply true that there’s a long way to go until men and women are treated equally by society. Rather than focusing on the unfairness of the language police and lamenting about how rigid feminists are in their definitions, or how they “eat their own,” I think it would move the conversation forward to focus on those who are trying to redefine the word and the movement to include everyone. I’ll point to two things that happened this summer while you were on vacation.

First, the discussion about feminism on your blog that was started by your guest blogger, Elizabeth Nolan Brown. She wrote a post called “This is why men need feminism,” where she pointed to a response that Joseph Gordon Levitt stated when asked about calling himself a feminist. I think his response is perfect, and Elizabeth’s response to it equally perfect. He first states that his idea of the word means that you don’t let gender define who you are. He then follows by acknowledging the long history of abuse of women in societies throughout history. Elizabeth wrapped up the post by stating:

What’s great about Gordon-Levitt’s definition is that it shows why feminism is directly relevant to men’s lives as well as women’s. We’re all in this mess of gender expectations together. Feminism isn’t just about raising women up but helping us all – men, women, cis, trans, whatever – get to a place where we’re a bit more free.

This is important because gender equality is not just a fight for women, but for anyone interested in a freer, more equal society.

But the anger and absolutist attitude held by some in the feminist movement wasn’t formed out of thin air, but in response to thousands of years of oppression. While women’s liberation has made important strides in the past 100+ years, it in no way has eliminated the structural and institutional imbalances in society that perpetuate that inequality. I’d like to argue that the problem of gender inequality has been enshrined in our institutions similar to the institutionalized racism many refuse to recognize.  These structural imbalances place women at an automatic disadvantage, even though our society has attempted fixes here and there. It’s important to acknowledge that, even if you disagree with the tactics and language of the feminist movement in its current form, which I know you do.

You point to the balance of security of women from assault and rape against due process of those accused. Yes, there’s a portion of those accused falsely. There’s so many more who have been raped who have not received due process under the law due to the structural imbalances I point to, whether it be a policeman who didn’t believe her story, or the prosecutor more concerned with their track record than prosecuting a crime, or the college that protects the boy while leaving the girl vulnerable to attack and exposure, or the high school sports team that won’t bench their players after gang-rape accusations. You fail to recognize that the recent, and seemingly extreme, action on college campuses is perhaps a response to 30+ years of incremental steps that have not curbed the problem of rape anywhere in our society.

If you want to argue that we should be worrying about this small percentage affected by this problem, tell me how we do that without displacing the thousands of women who have had no ally in prosecuting the crime against them, i.e. the massive storage warehouses throughout the country that are holding backlogged and untested rape kits? To me, worrying about the smaller percentage of those falsely accused displaces the massive amount of women who have been violated twice, first by her rapist, followed by the societal institutions that should be protecting her.

Second, I’d like to point to a UN speech given by Emma Watson this summer in launching her initiative “HeForShe.” Her speech discusses gender stereotypes that both girls and boys suffer from. It’s her task to get as many as possible to recognize that these stereotypes of BOTH boys and girls inhibit society from moving forward towards greater gender equality. It’s a great speech, and it also asks all people to buy in to the feminist idea that no matter who you are, you deserve equal treatment under the law and in society. It asks all of us to fight towards this goal, not just one half.

Here is a link to the full speech for you to read, but one of my favorite sections is the following:

I was appointed as Goodwill Ambassador for UN Women six months ago. And, the more I spoke about feminism, the more I realized that fighting for women’s rights has too often become synonymous with man-hating. If there is one thing I know for certain, it is that this has to stop. For the record, feminism by definition is the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It is the theory of political, economic and social equality of the sexes. I started questioning gender-based assumptions a long time ago. When I was 8, I was confused for being called bossy because I wanted to direct the plays that we would put on for our parents, but the boys were not. When at 14, I started to be sexualized by certain elements of the media. When at 15, my girlfriends started dropping out of sports teams because they didn’t want to appear muscly. When at 18, my male friends were unable to express their feelings.

What I appreciate about this part of her speech is that it highlights that gender discrimination flows both ways.  It’s not just a problem for girls, it’s a problem for everyone.

My main point is that rather than harping on the “feminist left” and their rigid ideology, why don’t you focus the attention of this blog towards those who are trying to move this conversation forward in a new and meaningful way? It’s simply true that we have a long way to go on this front and we all can participate in moving gender equality forward, or we can sit on the sidelines and bitch about the tactics and language. Your choice.

More criticism from a reader, who sends along the above video:

At the end of that reader dissent you linked to, you pulled a paragraph from the post she was addressing and used it to defend yourself, as though the reader hadn’t acknowledged that you’d condemned misogyny. I don’t want to nitpick, but to say this dissent was totally unqualified isn’t quite accurate – you still had the last word.

And that post speaks the problem I’ve had (as a straight white male) reading a lot of your posts about #Gamergate, masculinity, and feminism the last few weeks – you repeatedly start with a paragraph or two saying something along the lines of, “Of course harassment and violent threats against women are wrong…”, but then spend the rest of the post explaining how you have sympathy for people that have been picked on or those who may feel their masculinity is under attack and how feminists have gone too far and are unfairly targeting certain individuals. You put an awful lot of energy into defending men and gamers from the “femi-left,” so I think it’s understandable why some readers think you just don’t get it when it comes to feminism and women’s issues and have suggested you defer on some of these issues just as you have with race.

I think they have a point. Is it too much to ask that you occasionally write a post that says nothing more than, “Catcalling is primitive behavior that objectifies and degrades women and it should be condemned,” and then leave it at that?  Instead, you continue with a nuanced view of this behavior and end with something like this:

And so I think we just have to live with a certain amount of straight-very-male homophobia and sexism, and leave it be. Young men want to live out fantasies of rescuing big-boobed women while being encased in a steroidal muscle culture (precisely because, for so many, it is utterly beyond their actual day-to-day lives). And my inclination is simply: give them a break.

I’m sure you can see why a lot of women (and men) might find this sort of language dismissive, but in a weird way I think the problem is just the order in which you reveal your thoughts/opinions. I expect many of these posts have given readers the impression your loyalties lie first and foremost with men (or gamers) who believe their masculinity or identity is under attack. I’d bet that you wouldn’t have received so many angry responses if you began these posts acknowledging your sympathies with male culture (or whatever) first and then aggressively condemned the tactics used to silence and/or demean women. Because at the end of the day, the point that you end on is really all that matters.

And come on, Andrew, you are a feminist, right?

Lastly, a female reader looks back at my views on Hobby Lobby (full Dish coverage here):

I love reading the Dish and became a subscriber as soon as you offered your readers a way to support your work. As so often happens with the familiar people in our lives, I feel as if I can predict your response to issues centering on women’s experience, whether it is your response to Hobby Lobby or #Gamergate. I wouldn’t write if I didn’t think there were potential for you to treat women’s issues with the same nuanced, well-argued, and fundamental empathy that you bring to so many other subjects.

I am disappointed that your posts employ so much dismissive, glib, or minimizing language when you address events in the culture that center on women and women’s issues.  These issues may have passed you by, both as a virtue of your gender and your sexual orientation, but that is a profoundly limiting lens and one that I do not see at play in your otherwise aggressive, curious, and serious coverage of issues that are not part of your autobiography.

As a woman living in the Deep South, many of the issues about women’s rights and status are not theoretical.  The stakes are quite real for women’s autonomy over their bodies and women’s equality in professional and civic life.  I would like you to consider the demoralizing effect you send your readers about women’s issues when you repeatedly use this language to introduce these subjects:

“The obvious damning answer is that I am a man and no one has taken anything away from me – indeed the all-male majority who upheld Hobby Lobby’s religious rights specifically barred any procedure other than female contraception. If they did that for prescriptions for Truvada, for example, I might react differently.”

“And so I think we just have to live with a certain amount of straight-very-male homophobia and sexism, and leave it be.”

My frustration as a reader is intensified when I see you tackle similar issues of straight-male homophobia and sexism when the instigating event does not center on women. You really bring it in the Alec Baldwin thread, for example. I do not ask for emotional identification, but for a professional, intellectual recognition that maybe Hobby Lobby is alarming for many and that perhaps women in tech or gamer culture do not deserve to be patted on the head and told “leave it be.”

I do not agree with a number of your positions, but, man, you are a great writer and thinker who pushes me and surprises me. To quote you: Know hope.

A Woman’s Place In The House

Andrew Sullivan —  Nov 21 2014 @ 8:00pm

Marcotte spotlights the gender breakdown in Congress:

As reported by both Nia-Malika Henderson of the Washington Post and Rachel Maddow this week, Republicans announced the chairmanships for next year’s House committees. Twenty out of 21 of the spots are going to men. The only woman is Rep. Candice Miller, who will be heading the Committee on House Administration.

Compare this with the list of chairmanships for the Democratic-controlled Senate in 2013, where women chaired six out of 20 committees, including really big ones like the Senate Budget Committee.

The Democrats also fail as spectacularly as the Republicans on the racial diversity front, but the fact remains that they are the more female-friendly party not just in electoral representation but also when it comes to putting women in leadership positions in Congress.

It’s true, as my colleague Jessica Grose has argued, that it’s overly simplistic to assume that women are “a uniform voting block with uniform ideas about what is best for them.” There are plenty of female Republicans, both voters and politicians, who don’t feel like this election was “bad for women.” However, it’s also true that numbers like this matter. Democrats have more women in leadership in part because they just have more women altogether, as our chart showing the growth of female representation in Congress demonstrated. But also because the party puts women in positions of power, a move, whether meant consciously or not, that likely encourages more women to run for office as Democrats.

Perhaps not coincidentally this week, in the wake of gamergate, The New Republic, as part of its 100th anniversary, has republished my June 2000 essay, “Male Culture Should Be More Than Beer, Sex, and Cars”. After bemoaning the often sexist tropes promoted in glossy men’s magazines, I argue:

The notion of the “gentleman,” or indeed any notion of masculinity attached to gentility, has almost vanished from the cultural air. What happened, one wonders, and why?

I guess you could start by observing that many areas of life that were once “gentlemanly” have teasesimply been opened to women and thus effectively demasculinized. A college education, for one thing, along with all the journals, books, and conversations that go along with it, is now thoroughlyand rightlyintegrated. Education is no longer a function of becoming a man but a function of becoming a nongendered citizen. There are whole swaths of public lifebusiness, politics, sports, and so forththat once inculcated a form of refined masculinity but are now unsexed. Even military schools and seminaries, once the ultimate male bastions, have thrown open their doors to women.

I’m not going to quibble with this. Why should I? Greater opportunity for women is probably the most significant gain for human freedom in the last century. But with this gain has come a somewhat unexpected problem: How do we restore a sense of masculinity that is vaguely civilized? Take their exclusive vocations away, remove their institutions, de-gender their clubs and schools and workplaces, and you leave men with more than a little cultural bewilderment. The only things left that are predominantly malesex with women, beer, gadgets, sex with women, cars, beer, and more gadgets, to judge from men’s magazinestend to be, shall we say, lacking in elevation.

A certain type of feminism is, I think, part of the problem.

By denying any deep biological or psychological difference between the sexes, some influential feminists refuse to countenance any special treatment for men and boys. They see even the ethic of the gentleman as sexist and regard the excrescences of the current male pop culture as a function of willful hostility to women rather than the clumsy attempt to find somethinganythingthat men still have in common. So, while women are allowed an autonomous culture and seem to have little problem making it civilized, men are left to their own devices, with increasingly worrying results.

Take a look at education. American boys are now far behind girls in high school. As [Christina Hoff] Sommers points out in her book [The War Against Boys], the Department of Education reports that “the gap in reading proficiency between males and females is roughly equivalent to about one and a half years of schooling.” The gender gap in American colleges is now ten percentage points55 percent of students are women and 45 percent are menand growing fast. Yet any attempts to address this problem with single-sex classes or schools for boys, for example, meet with ferocious opposition and more often than not get struck down in the courts. The more extreme examples of this ideology come in the ludicrous attempts to police gender stereotypes as early as kindergarten, even when those “stereotypes” conform to the way little boys and little girls have naturally interacted, or not interacted, for millennia.

You can understand how we got here, of course. For far too long, girls and women were second-class citizens, marginalized, frustrated, punished, and denied the possibility of advancement. But a visit to any American college campus today will show how far we have come from those pernicious days. Instead, we are arguably at the beginning of a different crisisa crisis of the American male. Until we find a way for men to chart a course that is not dependent on the subjugation of women and yet is unmistakably their own, that crisis will continue.

And the beat goes on …

Alyssa Rosenberg, addressing a recent post of mine, sharpens a point in our current debate:

How much does masculine culture depend on women and femininity as a reference point? To what extent does asserting what it means to be a man necessitate pointing out and denigrating what men are not and what masculinity is not supposed to be?

If cheerleaders suddenly vanished from the sidelines of NFL games, would those contests suddenly be less fun? In action movies, do you find the hero’s bona fides less credible if a woman contributes to his successes, or if she rescues him? If you are playing video games, how much of your enjoyment has to do with opportunities to treat women in-game in ways that are not available to you in real life?

It occurs to me that I am somewhat (ahem) deficient in personal experience to address this point, which is why I encourage straight male readers to respond. And even when I have been immersed in masculine culture – such as a rowdy, rugby-loving, all-male high school – I wasn’t very attuned to how heterosexual attraction and views of women contributed to the atmosphere. I couldn’t bond with other adolescent boys over their difficulties with and longing for the opposite sex. I had no real struggle to date women, no frustrations or anxieties about the opposite sex, and so was oddly neutral – to the extent of having a real blind spot – in this eternal hetero-dilemma.

But I don’t want to duck Alyssa’s point, so let me think of it another way: to what extent can hetero male culture retain its quintessential maleness while losing its homophobia?

One way is to hope and pray that every cool straight dude ends up like Chris Kluwe and totally gets that it’s not kosher – and actually immature – to demean or demonize those men who do not fit into the classic male macho archetype. Another is to reassure straight men that gay men do not want to change the core part of male culture, but merely want to be accepted as fully part of it.

I think we’re making a lot of progress on both fronts. From the mainstreaming of gay culture to the emergence of openly gay men in highly masculinized cultures – think Tim Cook in nerdland or Michael Sam in sports – the sharper edges of homophobia have been rounded a bit. But that is partly because of a strategy of engagement rather than confrontation. My own inclination from the 1980s on – and it was not shared very enthusiastically by many on the gay left – was to emphasize what gay men and straight men have in common: a need for emotional commitment and stability as well as to get our rocks off from time to time; the desire and will to serve one’s country in the military; the commonalities of sports and drinking and the gym and dirty jokes. And part of our success, I think, is that we absolutely constructed this as a non-zero-sum project. I think a feminism that started with a love and appreciation for classic male culture – and then sought to persuade men that it doesn’t have to be sexist toward women – would be more productive than treating all men as inherently suspect or privileged, and attempting to police their culture from the outside.

But – and here’s the thing – I don’t think we’ll ever live in a world where homophobia is absent among many men, especially younger ones. Our primate nature – exacerbated by cresting levels of testosterone in the teen and early adult years – will always trend toward loyalty to in-groups and disdain of out-groups. We can mitigate this, but it’s utopian to think we can abolish it. So, yeah, I can live with the word “fag” as something that will always be a part of hetero-male culture. I can live with religious groups demonizing me. I can ignore the insults and smears – on the street or online. It’s just part of the price for living in a free society.

Equally, the young testosteroned male’s desire for and incomprehension of the opposite gender can be mitigated, it seems to me, but not abolished. And in the case of male attitudes toward women, of course, the “other” is also the object of often-crippling and overwhelming sexual desire. These are powerful – often internally conflicting – forces and they will not easily be constrained by abstract rules or “social justice warriors”.

And so I think we just have to live with a certain amount of straight-very-male homophobia and sexism, and leave it be. Young men want to live out fantasies of rescuing big-boobed women while being encased in a steroidal muscle culture (precisely because, for so many, it is utterly beyond their actual day-to-day lives). And my inclination is simply: give them a break. Sure, offer alternatives – but the most appealing ones should work with the grain of masculinity rather than against it. Keep the cheer-leaders – but add some dudes to the mix. Don’t insist that straight men have to change their way of life; suggest ways in which it can become more inclusive of others within its own rules and ethos. Do not pathologize some deep parts of human nature – because you are pathologizing human beings simply for being who they are, which means that the level of coercion to change them for the better can be dangerously high. I don’t think Alyssa and I are that far apart on this.

What I think is counterproductive is precisely an agenda that refuses to see real, biological differences, physical and mental, between men and women, whose first item on the agenda is to get men to “check their privilege”, and who want to police speech and urgently stamp out sexism and homophobia. This will often compound the problem, create a zero-sum environment, and in a world where Twitter gives everyone a completely unaccountable megaphone, generate levels of public toxicity we can all live without.

My position on this is therefore, essentially, conservative-libertarian. It sees human nature as something to be enjoyed and not always reformed, or fully reformable. It revels in the differences between groups of people, rather than being terrified by them. It does not traffic in either the delusion that we can never make our society in general less bigoted or prejudiced or hateful (we can and we have) or the delusion that such emotions will ever be abolished or eradicated. It seeks coexistence of various, often contradictory, subcultures, rather than the imperative of “social justice.” And it tends to prefer anarchic and sometimes ugly freedom to well-intentioned and admirable attempts at social control.

There is a happy medium here. But it appears that our ideological polarization is making it increasingly impossible to sustain, even as we have an amazing example – our progress on gay rights – that shows just how fruitful it can be.