Archives for category: Gender and Sexuality

Those who position themselves against anti-trans bigotry will often refer to the violence and discrimination toward trans-women as misogyny. It makes sense: trans-women are women, and the label we have assigned to describe the violence and discrimination perpetuated against women is misogyny. The science is sound. This hypothesis that hate against trans-woman is equivalent to traditional misogyny thus fits snugly into the already established movement of female solidarity striking against longstanding and predictable brutality, cis-women boldly holding hands with trans-women.

Except the language used against trans-women by anti-trans bigots does not align in the slightest with typical misogynistic tropes. According to misogyny, women are meek and dainty, hyper-emotional, catty, prone to irrationality, unfit for laborious or technical vocations, and naturally submissive. No one seems to be telling trans-women to get back in the kitchen, is what I’m saying. If an ideology looks nothing like misogyny, is it really appropriate to be using that term? Now, I’m not so opposed to the evolution of language that I would literally die if society adopts a new lens with which to view the tropes of misogyny, but I don’t think that’s what’s happening here. For one, misogyny in the usages that I’ve provided is still alive and well in its application toward cis-women. And two, the language used to demonize trans-women is almost always centred on their sexual predation, a trope typically used to vilify men. While this may puzzle some, given that trans-women are women, it may help us to remember that those who hold anti-trans ideas tend to see trans-women as the gender they were assigned at birth; namely, as men.

I mean, maybe I’m wrong, but to me this doesn’t look like someone portraying a trans-woman as a woman

Consider Schrodinger’s Rapist, the proposition that any unknown man approaching a woman walking down the street both is and is not a rapist until he proves himself otherwise. This has been debunked as common racism when applied to black men, but if we remove the racial modifier to leave him only as a non-descript male, the assertion still applies a prejudicial view against a particular group of people. This same fear is being applied to trans-women. Let’s look at the clarifying example provided by my link from earlier in this paragraph:

In this Russian roulette scenario, you, Reader Who Would Never Rape Anyone, are an empty bullet chamber. But not all of the chambers are empty, and on a given turn, the people playing the game have no idea whether the chamber that’s lined up to fire is you or one with a bullet in it. Until the gun is fired, Schrodinger’s Bullet. This is analogous to the type of situation Schrodinger’s Rapist is describing.

You see, men, or in this case trans-women, are like a gun. While most men and trans-women may be empty chambers, to play Russian Roulette would be pointlessly deadly. This is why we need to ban trans-women from “women only” spaces: because any penis is a murderous weapon, and appropriate caution must be used whenever a cock is in play. We’re simply being prudent because men aren’t human beings, they are instruments of death! This is the position put forward by someone advocating why Schrodinger’s Rapist isn’t misandrist, keep in mind. Perhaps there will be the argument that trans-women, being women, are excluded from the generalization, forgetting that again, anti-trans bigots don’t see it that way. In fact, this amplifies the misandry because these “biological men” are seeking access to feminine spaces; their desire sustains the predatory conviction and “proves” the generalization: that men will stoop to any level in order to get their rape on, even if it means “pretending” to be a woman.

They’re onto us!!

While this radical feminism may be trans-exclusionary, it still utilizes the same fear-based prejudices. In fact, to be critical of women protecting the sacred spaces of other women from the murder penis is actually the real anti-feminist misogyny, equivalent to that of Andrew Tate, according to an opinion piece in the mainstream newspaper, The Guardian. This air of progressivism gives a woke legitimacy to what would otherwise be a simple policing of gender roles, allowing an unholy alliances between progressive feminists on the left and the religious right.

Bigotry against trans-women also plays into the misandry from the right that clutches its pearls in fear of the deviancy of male sexuality which, as discussed, is already in dubious repute. In this instance, it’s less about the predation of masculine heterosexuality, and more the dirty licentiousness of the queers. When a man strays from his role assigned by God or whatever, sin begins to unfold. This safeguarding of the proper way to be a man is strict: from not being able to wear a dress despite the commonplace nature of women in pants, to needing to tan your balls in order to have the appropriate amount of testosterone lest your masculinity slip. This policing of masculinity is an easy accomplice to the policing of men, and trans-women bear the brunt of both, their deviancy on full display.

In their defense, that is macho as fuck.

So, is it purely misandry that drives anti-trans bigotry? Of course not. Bigotry exists against trans people regardless of their assigned gender at birth, and for some, misandry barely enters into it. It is worth noting that morality is essentially driven by certain types of emotions, so anger drives our desire for justice, indignation our need for fairness, and so on. In this instance, disgust creates our moral desire for purity. Given this motivation, a lot of anti-trans bigotry comes from people just thinking that being transgender is gross, and the bigoted stories of misandry and gender policing are post-hoc justifications to provide some kind of rationale as to why those feelings of disgust ought to be taken seriously on a societal scale.

Anti-trans bigotry does not need misandry, but you have to wonder why you never hear stories about trans-men invading the men’s room, or trans-men in sports. The social unimportance of female sexuality and the pushback of mainstream feminism against overt policing of women’s gender roles creates a seeming apathy toward trans-men in this desert of coverage, yet somehow hating trans-women generates clicks – and it’s not being driven by misogyny! I do not believe that anti-trans bigotry would disappear if misandry was eliminated from our social discourse, but I do believe the bigots would have one fewer excuse if cis-men were allowed to wear a summer frock on a warm, breezy day without judgement or consequence, of if their heterosexual desire for women was not pathologized as intrinsically violent.

Youtube’s algorithm recommended me a clip from the television show Mr. Inbetween. Given that my life is an empty husk papered over by the addictive black hole of video social media, I watched it. In the clip, there is the character Ray sitting in what I assume is a court-mandated anger management class – I haven’t seen the show, I am making this assumption based on the context given in the clip. Ray is nonchalant about his violence, and sees himself justified in it as the people whom he is violent toward “have it coming.” He describes beating the shit out of two young men who swore at his daughter after knocking her ice cream off the cone, an almost cartoonish stereotype. Yet Ray is the hero of his own story; he is providing the just desserts that society no longer feels comfortable distributing. The group facilitator, whom I take to be the personification of society in this clip, doesn’t care to have looked into the full story of Ray’s assault, and can only pipe up strawman assumptions that everyone would agree are morally impermissible. Ray gently corrects him, and in the end, the facilitator – somewhat sardonically – thanks Ray on behalf of society for his service in ensuring consequences for the assholes among us. We are left with the impression that Ray is in the right to have used violence to resolve his conflict, and while society may not believe he is right, it is left without an argument against it. That impression is reinforced by the ubiquity of agreement with Ray in the Youtube comment section.

I’m not going to lie, I would probably enjoy the show if I watched it. It’s rated 8.6 on IMDB!

As hopefully everyone reading this knows, stories aren’t reflections of reality, but manifestations of the perception of reality of the people who produce them. There is ideology behind every piece of media, not just the endless emesis of woke remakes. The ideology behind this scene is actually pretty straightforward: might makes right. It might be argued that the show is trying to portray an absolutist sense of “right” that needs “might” to defend it against the decaying moral fabric of society brought on by decadence and degeneracy, but it’s… not. I mean, it is in the sense that it’s trying to put forward that position, but it’s not because the core of that argument is still that might makes right.

Ray’s position is that the two young men have touched a hot stove and will now think twice before doing so again, but that’s a false analogy. Ray’s argument that it’s wrong to swear at little girls isn’t an immutable objective fact like the searing heat coming off a lit stove, it’s a proposition only backed up by his physical dominance. All it takes for his argument to flounder is those two men jumping him in an alley with baseball bats, and all of a sudden it’s okay to swear at little girls again. He’s not “right”; he won a fight. He becomes wrong again immediately after a successful retaliation. The argument is only valid so long as he possesses the capacity for violence necessary to defend it. The lesson learned isn’t likely going to be that it’s wrong to swear at little girls; that is not the inherent consequence to losing a fight. The lesson could easily be that additional violence is necessary to retain ideological dominance.

An excellent point, sir! Now for my rebuttal.

This façade of justified violence to prevent social decay is endemic beyond the ideology of an individual bluffing his way through an anger management class. It is the ideology of Tough On Crime: criminals are the perfectly unreasonable; they are diametrically opposed to rational argument, and therefore can only be confronted and cowed by violence. It’s the only language they understand, dontcha know! When people demand Tough On Crime policies, they are demanding the irrefutable argument of violent state power. The reality is that it’s actually the abandonment of rationality because as discussed above, this approach is only a simplistic manifestation of might making right. It only appears more defensible because the government has a monopoly on violence – you can’t jump the State in a back alley if you disagree with your arrest.

This is only justifiable if we agree that people who commit crimes aren’t actually human in the Aristotelian sense. It necessarily demands the inherently flawed black and white thinking cognitive-behavioural therapists call a “cognitive distortion.” We must “show strength” against Russia because Putin is an unthinking monster and diplomacy is a waste of time! But in following this line of thought, we have to abandon our own rationality in order to justify it. We abandon our own humanity in order to pursue only the shakiest form of ideological dominance. Is then Putin not justified in his aggression against the West because we have ourselves become the unreasonable? How this self-perpetuating cycle of unexamined brutality has lasted throughout history is tragically obvious. The moral righteousness of imperialism always seems to have been determined by who has more guns.

It’s also how we determine which culture is more civilized!

Violence as an epistemology is a failure of civilization. Asserting its value as a first resort, as in Hawkish ideology or Tough On Crime rhetoric, is like beating the shit out of a waiter because your order was wrong. Even violence as a last resort is somewhat dubious in its discursive value. It’s anti-democratic in the sense that collective will and wisdom are secondary to the ideology of those directing the thugs with the batons. If you can’t convince or compromise, physically dominate.

The “why” behind someone’s actions matters. Even if the young men never verbally abused a child again, doing so out of fear of violence is the stupidest possible reason in the world. The rationale behind our actions, and the rationale behind our change, matters. When Ricky Gervais tweets about the absurdity of God’s threat of eternal punishment being the only inhibitor to social devastation, he’s making this same point. We have ways of measuring what is socially beneficial and destructive now, and it turns out that corporal punishment is quite categorically on the destructive side! Punishment does not deter crime; accountability does. It is measurably better to treat children with communal love and kindness because we know of its positive benefits to both the child and society – we’re far more likely to be accountable to that maxim if we are convinced of its merit.

Weirdly, there are some rather mainstream circles that decry that we’re not being violent enough in our noble pursuit of truth, with some even thinking it is the bedrock of discourse. Without the threat of violence, how will we even know how to behave rationally!? I guess fear drives rational thought better than a logical argument. Of course this is all nonsense, but the lamenting over the “pussification” of men and its impact on society at large has infected much of the right-wing discourse. Mr. Inbetween, at least in that one scene, is overt right-wing propaganda for exactly this. The facilitator, wanting to talk about feelings, fails to undermine the sanctity of violence as an epistemology. It is a celebration of posturing over reason. The strong construct castles of reality and defend them jealously and without thought, and this is encouraged. If someone says that maybe talking about your feelings is a good thing, punch them. Our castle walls must remain strong.

All in all

This is a crisis of masculinity. Society does not see violence as a particularly feminine trope, so its cultural obsolescence is only a threat to the men who don’t have anything else going for them. No one expects women to defend their ideas with violence; the sophists of violence don’t particularly expect women to have ideas worth defending at all. There’s a reason it’s called social pussification: the sacrosanct epistemology of masculine violence has been defiled by feminine influence. Personally, I’m offended, nay, triggered! that my gender has been inextricably associated with the laziest form of argument. The criticisms against feminists for their hysterical misandry pale in comparison to the notion that men need to stoop to the discursive style of chimpanzees in order to be considered men. Talk about an own-goal.

We don’t commit crimes or break social mores when we don’t have reasons to. When we understand those reasons, we’ll probably be a lot bettered prepared to actually address them. If we think we can fix complex social issues by beating up all the assholes, we ourselves have, by definition, become an asshole. If you can’t come up with a convincing argument as to why verbally abusing a child is wrong, then maybe you shouldn’t be chiming in at all.

Thematically, the Hulk is an overwhelmingly masculine character. He’s the personification of the masculine urge to break your hand punching a hole in the wall because you don’t know how to otherwise process an insecurity. When a domestic abuser says that they “lost control” leading up to their violent outburst, they are channeling the Hulk. Any strong emotion pushes Bruce Banner into a destructive rage, a literal manifestation of the toxic pressures on men to limit their “weaker” emotions and only project strength. These are all quite blatant masculine tropes. Now, obviously the Hulk is “one of the good ones”, so his horrifying superpower is always ultimately directed at the villain. He becomes Lt. Col. Dave Grossman’s sheepdog, utilizing the viciousness of the wolves against them, all in the name of protecting the sheep. We all know mindless brutality is bad, but when it’s channeled in opposition to evil, then it becomes good! Don’t you feel safer knowing that the dude punching holes in the wall is the same dude with a gun protecting all of us from faceless terrorists?

I’m so sorry baby, but you know what happens when you make me angry!

Despite its palpable presence in the character, an exploration of gender within Hulk media has not yet developed. Maybe it has in the comics, and I would appreciate anyone sharing that with me if it has, but at least in the media I’ve consumed, I haven’t come across it. Despite the reticence to explore gender with the Hulk, however, Marvel and Disney+ decided to take it for a spin by adding a pronoun with She-Hulk: Attorney at Law.

With the Hulk being so obviously masculine, it was always going to be a struggle using Hulk-ism to analyze gender through a female lens. The writers at She-Hulk seemed like they were trying to take radical feminism into the corporate mainstream, but ended up espousing the backwards ideology of Caitlyn Jenner: the hardest part of being a woman is figuring out what to wear. The show makes multiple references to some of the struggles of women, but these only exist for the main characters to role their eyes, and are never really confronted. Toxicity presents itself passively as an immutable constant from which to derive superpowers, not as a social ill to be addressed. The show tells us (literally verbatim) that it exists on the fringes of the reluctant superhero trope, that She-Hulk isn’t there to mindlessly smash a villain in an epic CGI battle (perhaps because rage is associated with a different pronoun). Unfortunately, that leaves us with not-so-scintillating conflicts like: needing a new outfit, dating in your 30s, and being a reluctant bridesmaid – tropes reminiscent of those romantic comedies about women trying to have it all, but then realizing they still need a man to feel complete.

This blog is really just an excuse to play around in photoshop

In addition to failing at feminism, it also fails at portraying masculinity. Each new episode seems to have a new skeezy dude, and even “some of the good ones” turn out to be manipulative by the end. These aren’t traditional villains that want to take over the world, but guys who mansplain, that are lecherous to the point of absurdity, men who are unable to commit, predatory strangers, etc. She-Hulk is not the first piece of media to have poorly developed, one-dimensional characters, but it’s the equivalent of having a menstruating woman president firing off nuclear missiles because of her PMS. It doesn’t matter how many positive representations exist alongside of it, it’s still a pointed insult. Just because there is some reality depicted by the skeezy male behaviour doesn’t mean an extreme caricature is the appropriate method of representation. And thanks to the show’s shallow feminism, these caricatures are not seen in any systemic context, so the conflict becomes with the men themselves, with men and male behaviours, rather than with the patriarchy that spawned them.

The weird thing is, the show writers knew it was going to be bad. The main “villain” of the show is a gaggle of internet trolls talking shit about She-Hulk and her gender, a meta attempt to preempt its own criticism. Rather than trying to write a better show, they absolve themselves by pointing to bad faith actors and saying that if you think we’re failing at feminism, you’re just like them. She-Hulk takes an adversarial tone not just within its feminism against its male characters, but against its viewers as well. They wrote the show as a lecture to berate the people watching it without making it good enough that this meta-antagonism would be tolerable.

But it’s okay when Jen herself points out that She-Hulk is derivative from the Hulk – pick your commentary, writers!

Television shows have the ability to discuss gender, even toxic masculinity, without provoking massive online hate. Consider Ted Lasso and the fall of Nate the Great in season two. Season one has Nate learn that strength comes paired with dominance as he is bullied and belittled by the male players, and is rescued by the strength and dominance of another man. In season two, as he becomes more and more recognized, he seeks that dominance in a confused attempt to impress both Ted and his father. His attempts at dominance are not rejected by his well-meaning friends, but are accepted in a way that infuriates him further. He wants to be the big tough guy who succeeds in crushing his enemies because that’s how he learned to be a man from season one – acceptance is not a part of the masculinity he learned. Nate betrays his friends by joining another team, and we at home are heartbroken because we can’t help but see the problems in his behaviour – they have been spelled out so beautifully within the show itself. Toxic masculinity is explored in an illustrative systemic context, is shown why it is toxic, and why it might be appealing to someone engulfed within it. All without backlash from internet trolls.

I mean, nobody liked it because we felt betrayed alongside the rest of the team, but that’s good writing for you.

How could She-Hulk have been better at exploring gender? There are a few ways. It could have picked a toxic masculine trope and committed to it, perhaps with a single villain who gets a chance at character development like with Ted Lasso. But with Hulk-ism so associated with anger, I think the show should have dedicated itself to what anger looks like for women.

When She-Hulk finally loses it, she punches a television and holds a guy up by his shirt. This is enough to cause everyone in the world to freak out and put her in monster jail. In a show that relies so heavily on shallow themes, I was surprised when they didn’t compare this incredibly mild outburst to what literally every male superhero has ever done without any social consequences. In theory, the show could have led with that, and then taken the time to explore why female anger is tamped out in a society that expects them to be meek and demure. This would have been a better show, though I still would likely have had some criticism that a feminism that aims to show that women can be uncontrollable rage monsters too isn’t really the greatest message either.

I don’t remember this part in The Second Sex

I think its best bet would have been to explore anger in a way that didn’t relate itself to rage. As the show highlights, women have much to be angry about, but rampant destruction isn’t the solution to address it. Oddly enough, the show itself is a perfect metaphor for this as it attempts to bludgeon its viewers into its ideology and receives zero converts. She-Hulk was never a rage monster, and there can be value in that. A woman’s anger can manifest itself in something as simple as refusing to change seats on a bus. Jen Walters tells her cousin that women are much better at regulating their emotions because they endure more social trauma, which is false because this ultimately leads to higher rates of depression in women (the opposite of well-regulated emotion) than in men. In reality, anger is a much healthier reaction to injustice than the passive acquiescence depicted in the show. Anger is actually the solution to the problem; it is not to be repressed nor dismissed. She-Hulk could have embraced this constructive use of anger if it really wanted to depict a feminism worthy of its pronoun.

But it didn’t, and I expect Disney to produce a refined piece of critical feminism around the same time they make a show about intimate partner violence and the relationship between Bruce Banner and Betty Ross.