Archives for posts with tag: privilege

A few years ago, I worked in a butcher shop. I learned the different cuts of meat, learned the value of a sharp knife, and ingested probably more than my fair share of raw meat juice by grabbing snacks after handling ground beef. Just a bit of extra iron; it’s fine. Anyway, while I was there, I accidentally stabbed myself in the face. I was tying up a roast, holding my knife point-up as I did so (don’t do this), and when the twine broke, my hand shot up, and the tip of the knife entered my forehead, just above my right eye. Another thing I learned at the butcher shop is that foreheads bleed quite profusely.

For a few weeks, I had a very noticeable red gash on my face, or alternatively, a conspicuous Band-Aid that didn’t quite give me the same tough-guy edge as Nelly’s. I spent these weeks contemplating what it would mean to have facial scarring.

Obviously it would not change anything about me. My personality had not been altered, my essential biology remained the same, even my apathy toward basic food safety when it comes to what I put in my mouth continued at its same charming rate. I had a scar, a mark on my skin. Nothing more.

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Elephant Man: A Social Construction

What I wondered about was how others might see me. If they were to stare, would they look away embarrassed if I caught them, or would they continue unashamed? Would they ask me how I got it, demanding I retell the same ridiculous story over and over, or would they uncomfortably skirt around it, pretending they don’t even notice? Would I be treated as an incompetent buffoon, someone worthy of pity and paternalistic “helping”? Laughed at?

How would I handle that? At what point would I start to question my self worth? How long would it take me to ignore the stares, absorbing them into my new normal, or would I always have to endure noticing them? Would I internalize their attitudes and begin to believe myself to be “scarred” rather than someone who just happens to have a scar? Would I act “scarred”? Would I start wearing hats and become less confident around women? Would I start associating any kind of rejection as an expansion of the way “unscarred” people would shun me?

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How long of being treated like a monster before you become a monster?

I am fortunate enough that the scar is hardly visible now. Just another scratch on a Jackson Pollock of pockmarks covered by the unkempt scruff and bangs of someone who is too lazy to regularly shave or get a proper haircut. The stares are gone and nothing was internalized. However, the scar, pockmarks, and eternal five o’clock shadow all reside on the same surface: white skin.

If people had the potential to treat me very differently based on an etching on my skin, what about the skin itself? When people say that something like race is a social construction, they don’t mean that blackness and whiteness don’t exist. I have a scar. It’s definitely real, and that’s definitely how I got it. Social constructions are attitudes people adopt based on traditions and shared values toward things that don’t mean anything in and of themselves. Something as superficial as a scar, for instance. They are “constructed” because they are built by social perception.

Does a bombardment of beauty standards define how people might look at a scarred face? How about movies where darker foes are vanquished by whiter heroes? Or a Eurocentric history that teaches a dichotomy between white civilization and coloured savages? What about timid news stories about violence committed by those with white skin compared to the more harrowing tales of violence committed by those with darker skin? Every act of racism perpetuates attitudes which further shapes the construction. By the virtue of something as arbitrary as my skin, I am automatically treated differently by society based on how it constructs the image of “whiteness”. How much of that have I internalized? How often do I act “white”? What parts of “whiteness” have been absorbed into my normal?

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At least I don’t give a shit about Pumpkin Spice.

Not everything that is a social construction is as controversial as race and gender (or beauty standards, for all my facially-scarred homies). Money is a social construction, for instance, as is the authority of a uniform. It is not necessarily a pejorative, but an appropriate description of how society functions. When the construction becomes particularly harmful is when we have to take a step back, collectively, and reexamine what is real, and what has value in and of itself.

I’m not a huge fan of identity politics. My reasons are the common ones: they’re unnecessarily divisive, and they tend to ignore practicality. I’m not against the idea of identity politics; every identity has a right to celebrate themselves in an empowering fashion, but when that mental process is expanded to the grander scale of actual politics is when things fall apart. Luckily, I found a brilliant video that disagrees with me, and it puts forward the best case for identity politics I’ve ever seen:

Here’s a summary for those who opt out of watching this almost 12 minute video:

Identity politics is based on arbitrary distinctions between two groups, and those distinctions don’t necessarily even need to be defined all that well. Politics on the whole, as defined by Carl Schmitt, is the distribution of power along those hazy boundaries. Consider the One-Drop rule that governed the ‘blackness’ of individuals during the 20th century: insane nonsense, but still firmly embedded in the cultural psyche and accepted by the whole as a means of dividing power. To quote, “True political conflict isn’t about facts – it’s about the fight against other identities, however arbitrarily we might point them out.”

Politics therefore isn’t about policies, government programs, or their austere lack, but about “who is allowed to have power over themselves, and who is not.” The arguments over any other issue is what Olly, the presenter, calls, “management disagreements.” Those who focus on these management disagreements as the basis for their political identity are less zealous than those who adhere to Politics as defined by Schmitt. The zealotry behind a dogmatic identity can literally kill while milquetoast liberalism could never achieve such an extreme. Because of this, a government that runs on the ideologically weaker managerial proceduralism platform will be dangerously vulnerable against any group fueled by identity-based fanaticism that is big enough to threaten it. This means that anyone who doesn’t take into account power and identity when they are discussing politics will be doomed to lose every time.

Olly then goes on to say that when one considers the identity politics of the Left and compares it to those on the Right, there is a crucial distinction to make because they are not mirror images of one another. In this Us vs. Them mentality, the opposition to the Left is less rigid than the opposition to the Right. For example, when the Left defines itself as against the rich, a rich person could simply redistribute their wealth and they would be accepted by the Left, whereas gay people, transgendered people, Muslims, etc. who are the dichotomous Other to the Right, cannot change who they are because their identity is not a choice. He concludes by saying that the centrists who focus on liberal democracy and forget, or purposefully ignore, the role that power and identity inherently play within politics are essentially condoning the violence that those two factors play in every day lives.

Like I said: good stuff. I myself have written about the perilous implications of a possibly universal Us vs. Them mentality, and given that that would encompass politics as well, then Schmitt’s Identity Politics are truly the only type that need to be addressed. However, if that’s the case, then Olly’s argument fails on one critical point. Consider Vladimir Lenin. Or Mao Zedong. Or Pol Pot. These were identity politicians on the Left who engineered a violent, inflexible attack against their identity-based opposites: the bourgeoisie. There was no talk about allowing the rich into the loving warmth of their Leftist ideology. There were massacres. The same could be said for Malcolm X who did not want white people to end their racist ways, he simply wanted them gone in a black-people-only utopia. The Left can be just as ideologically vicious as the Right when they are inflamed by their identity-based righteousness. If politics is only Identity Politics, and both sides at their extremes work only to eliminate their opposites, then ultimately we’re just fucked.

In a glimmer of hope, let’s consider this excellent Al Jazeera article that has a similar theme to Olly’s lovely video. It mentions a similar distinction between the populism on the Right and the populism on the Left, but uses an example of Bernie Sanders demonstrating left-wing populism by wishing to break up the big banks as the contrast to the Right’s anti-pluralism. Olly hints at this as well when he says that the rich and powerful can give up their oppressive ways to become a friend of the Left. It is not the identity that is at issue in these examples, but the practices of those who possess that identity. In order for Schmitt’s Politics to have a happy ending, the Other needs the capacity to change.

It could be argued that this is simple: give up racism, or sexism, or homophobia, and people will be welcomed into that loving embrace of the Left I was fantasizing about earlier, but unfortunately this is too simplistic. Consider the arguments of Anne Bishop, who declares that everyone possessing oppressor traits (straight, white, male, able-bodied, etc.) will always be oppressors because regardless of their deeds, they will always benefit from the privileges that those identity markers bestow upon them. In addition, they will have grown up under conditions that reinforce their superiority, and undermining that conditioning is an infinite process that can never successfully be accomplished. Bishop claims that the person who believes that they have finally rid themselves of their oppressor qualities becomes more oppressive for holding these impossible beliefs. What Bishop is essentially saying is that the dichotomous Other of the Left cannot shed their incompatible identity any more than the Other of the Right. Are we just fucked then?

Since identity is inescapable from either side, then we must look elsewhere for solutions. The key lies in the example I used from the Al Jazeera article where Sanders wants to break up the big banks. Breaking up the big banks has absolutely nothing to do with identity. In fact, it is closer to what Olly might call a management proposal. This management proposal, however, is the mechanism for change that would allow the rich to absolve themselves of their oppressive identity to something more acceptable to the Left. Or consider the Black Lives Matter campaign demanding an end to the shooting of black men by police. This is Schmittian Politics because so long as police are trained to use deadly force, and crimes are still committed by black people, even if racism is taken out of the equation, this will always produce the use of deadly force against black people. It is an impossible demand for change. Further evidence is the call to defund the NYPD and expel the police department from Pride Parades; clear indications of inflexible dogmatism. This isn’t allowing capacity for change, it’s demanding the elimination of police from within the Leftist fold: an explicit Us vs. Them mentality. Instead of an overarching ban on police, or calls to defund and therefore ultimately abolish the institution of policing, why not look at mechanisms for change? In the UK (save Northern Ireland), cops do not carry firearms, and if this system were imported into the United States, it would certainly eliminate the police killings of black men. While I am by no means saying this is the panacea for the shootings of black men by police, and other, better solutions are certainly available, it is one example of a mechanism for change that does not call for vindictive polarization.

If we are to accept the implications of Schmittian Politics, then the passionate zeal that drives us must be directed against the management disagreements that Olly insists are not involved in that type of Politics at all. Creating a Them out of an identity marker, no matter which direction it is coming from, will only ever be destructive. My initial critique was right: we must avoid divisiveness and focus on practical, real-world solutions. Identity must be dismissed in favour of these mechanisms for change, as they are the only way to bridge the friend and enemy divide. I mean sure, maybe that is an impossible request, and we are hardwired to pursue an Other based on arbitrary identity markers. If that’s the case, then, as I’ve been saying, we’d just be fucked.

My first criticism of feminism is that it has become too broad, forcing me to add an adjective into my title and to use it continuously throughout the remainder of my post. It has become too broad in that within the ideology contradictory messages are being espoused. For example, there are arguments within feminism both for and against prostitution. Another example: Emma Watson, the UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, can champion feminist solidarity by saying that women from Kenyan plantations to divas in Hollywood all share common ground. Watson can then, within another feminist mindset, be criticized for not acknowledging the intersecting influence of race and class on the women for whom she claims universal truths. Feminism has exploded into sectarianism, and with no ideological canon, it has boiled down to individual interpretation which really makes it difficult to say anything substantial about it as a whole. So when I say popular feminism, I don’t mean any of the established waves of feminism, radical feminism, or academic feminism, I mean the shit that shows up on my Facebook newsfeed, and it is this that I will be examining.

To be clear, I’m not one of those “humanists” people. I mean, I am in that I believe in the secular value of human life, but I do consider myself a feminist because there is an obvious disparity between men and women that puts women in an inferior role. However, I don’t believe any ideology to be infallible, so to condemn me solely for the act of critically analyzing a progressive movement would only be dogmatic zealotry. My points may be contentious, but they still need to be heard with an open mind first.

One of my concerns is how victimhood has become a celebrated mark of identity. The #YesAllWomen campaign was a means for women to go online and exclaim their grievances as universal. There are certainly grievances to be had, such as sexual harassment at the workplace and catcalling on the streets, but enforcing universality (and All Women implies universality) means that every woman is a victim. It is said that 1 in 6 women in America will suffer a rape or an attempted rape in their lifetime, and while that it is a maddeningly high percentage, it is not ‘all women’. But fear begotten by universal victimhood creates Schrodinger’s Rapists, where a man who approaches a woman on a cold, dark street is both a rapist and not a rapist until her perception proves either way.

However, men in Canada are more likely to be attacked by strangers in a public space than women. If a woman is at a party and is planning to walk home, statistically she is safer on the walk home than she is either at the party or at home. This is a horrifying reality to be sure because of what it implies about the home and the party, but popular feminism prefers to focus on the easier sell of the dangerous stranger. Schrodinger’s Rapists end up being red herrings.

Victimhood is a social construction from long ago, and as women were seen to be the weaker sex, the notion of victimhood had been feminized long before popular feminists had gotten to it. However, there has been little effort to cast off the title, and this has damaged the popular feminist dialogue. For instance, it has denied men the possibility of being victims.

Now, I don’t mean “men get raped too!” or “men suffer domestic violence too!” because those areas are so highly dominated by female victims that forcing the conversation to acknowledge the token men who suffer the same treatment is usually only ever an attempt to hijack the discourse. I do mean that in a study of 215, 273 homicides in the United States from 1976 to 1987, 77% of the victims were male. Canadian data from 2008 shows similar results of 74% of homicide victims being men. From the same data, men are three times more likely than women to suffer aggravated assault and about twice as likely to suffer an assault with a deadly weapon. This is not hijacking the discourse because I believe the cause of male victimhood is the same for female victimhood: toxic masculinity. However, saying “all women are victims” eliminates the full scope of the problem by denying men their potential to be victims, and precludes women escaping the role.

Further problems with popular feminists embracing the victimhood identity is that for every prey there must be a predator. Eric Hoffer’s view on mass movements suggests that mass movements cannot exist without an antagonist, and the predator and prey mentality forces a binary that puts women on the one side as victim, and men on the other as perpetrator. This leads to problems. I once witnessed a woman post on Facebook about how she was all for gender-neutral bathrooms, but was unsure about men using it as she wouldn’t feel safe sharing a bathroom with a cis-man. The following discussion centred around the logistics of how to solve this dilemma while still maintaining the illusion of inclusiveness, as no one seemed to disagree that cis-men are unsafe while they pee. The “Teach Men Not To Rape” slogan implicitly states that men would normally rape if not taught otherwise. Male sexuality often comes under fire, like this male fraternity putting up a banner suggesting a drop-off for freshmen daughters and moms too being condemned as an example of the pervasive rape culture in American universities. While overtly sexual and crass, the banner nowhere implies that consent would not be respected by the men at the fraternity, but it still was considered predatory. One last example: it’s usually agreed upon that crossing the street to avoid a black man is racist, but doing it because of his gender rather than his race is simply being prudent because of the nature of quantum rapists. Many MRAs cite misandry to explain these behaviours, but that’s stupid. It’s not a hatred of men. If anything, it would be androphobia because it is fear dictating these actions, not hate.

An ideology based on fear is troubling for many reasons. Primarily, it excludes the voices of those that it is afraid of. Men who make advances toward women are criticized for only backing down once the woman has told him she has a boyfriend. The popular feminist theory is that the male will only acknowledge a woman as the property of another man. However, it is far more likely that the “boyfriend” excuse externalizes the suitor’s rejection, allowing him to maintain his masculine identity which demands sexual prowess and charm. A simple ‘no’ is interpreted as an internal failure; a failure as a man. You wanna know why I think this? Because I have experienced rejection and that’s what it feels like. By explaining male behaviour without including male voices, popular feminists create damaging theories based on assumptions and falsities. Another example is what is colloquially known as man-spreading while on a bus, where men are seated with their legs open, taking up more space. The popular feminist theory is that the men feel entitled to all the space around them. Is it not possible that men have something extremely sensitive protruding between their legs that they don’t want to have to adjust publicly in order to close their legs? Similarly, men who do not get out of the way on sidewalks are accused of the same thing for the same reason. These are based solely on female-driven anecdotes, yet they are considered gospel. I mean, what about women who take the outside seat on the bus and put their purse on the inside one? I don’t have an answer, I just wanted to give a counterexample. If a problem is sought, it is likely to be found, but the bias of the seeker will be the sole influence of its origin. The reason I accept toxic masculinity as the root cause of male violence is because male voices have confirmed it. By eliminating the dialogue, behavioural theories are simply made up and treated as reality.

Fear is also alienating. Masculine insecurities are often mocked, and “male tears” has become the catchphrase of popular feminists who wish to disregard the lived experiences of men. Males hold a position of privilege, after all, so anything they suffer can only ever be a first world problem. Yet, men are three times more likely than women to commit suicide, quite probably because of the burden of masculinity which stigmatizes help and internalizes blame. This makes it a deadly serious issue, and trivializing it is monstrous. It’s like mocking a woman for buying beauty cream; she’s been conditioned to think her beauty is her most important feature, except it’s a man who has been conditioned to believe his manhood is his most important feature, and he’s more likely to kill himself (or others, really) if he doesn’t measure up to the social expectation.

The reaction to the #YesAllWomen campaign, #NotAllMen, was summarily criticized for distracting from the conversation surrounding every woman being a victim. However, #NotAllMen could very well have been the more important hashtag. By giving examples of positive male behaviours in contrast to the all-too-common negative ones, it could have brought healthy male role models into the limelight. This could have reduced the fear of men among women, and shown men that there is an alternative to the brash hypermasculinity that is touted as the norm in mass media imagery. A commonly agreed upon solution to violence against women is to integrate the perpetrators into the dialogue by saying that “a man raped a woman” rather than “a woman was raped.” If toxic masculinity is the perpetrator for violence against women, how is positive male role models distracting from the conversation instead of being the solution to it? Rather than saying, “it’s not about you” when #NotAllMen comes up, wouldn’t it be more pragmatic to encourage men to celebrate the healthy way they interact with women, and how they might influence that conduct in their peers?

I once saw an opinion piece on how good dads shouldn’t be celebrated. Dads possess just as much capacity for nurturing their children as moms, and giving a gold star for what amounts to normal behaviour is seen as the enforcement of the idea that it is a socially alien concept. It’s what men should have been doing all along, so why do they get the gold star for doing it now? Except that’s stupid. That’s like not celebrating females in the hard sciences because they’ve always had the capacity to participate in those fields. Predators in a fear-based ideology cannot be seen in a positive light, so their legitimate progressive advances are minimized.

This has been put together from the views of multiple people I’ve seen on Facebook and other social websites, and it is quite likely that a person who adheres to one part of what I’ve said does not adhere to a different part. Like I said in the introduction, feminism has become sectarian, so looking at what I’ve put and saying #NotAllFeminists is just as meaningless as me saying that every feminist believes everything I have just wrote. This is just based on things I have personally witnessed and disagreed with, and it formed a coherent enough thesis that I decided to write about it.

Post-script: Probably my most controversial topic in this post is the popular feminist embrace of victimization. I’ve had this conversation with someone before, and she argued that the lived experiences of women brought fear and victimization; that it wasn’t “embraced”. This is a fair criticism, but men face proportional violence (in different contexts to women, obviously), but aren’t afraid of walking home alone, which means that gender conditioning plays a factor in the fear we do or do not experience. She countered that maybe men *should* be afraid. I reject this. Fear based on individual lived experiences is justified, certainly, but incorporating it into a social ideology is dangerous. Telling women and girls that they are victims is entirely counter-productive to eliminating the gendered construction of victimization. The problem is they’ll internalize and believe it, as with all social constructions. This in turn leads to all the troubling things I outline here. If the #YesAllWomen campaign was about empowering women, say she lifted heavy at the gym or got an A on her math exam or she contributed a brilliant idea at a business meeting, then that would tell women and girls that all women are capable of achieving anything. But it didn’t: it sought solidarity in negativity rather than positivity, which can only feed fear and alienation rather than overcome it.