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Archive for April, 2013

**03/05/13 UPDATE BELOW**

I started Heteronormative Patriarchy for Men less than a year ago, and among the many nice messages and comments I’ve received have been several offers to host this blog on bigger and well-known sites. I’ve considered every invitation, and politely declined every invitation. Every offer has been flattering, but didn’t feel quite right at the time, for one reason or another.

Then a few weeks ago I was tentatively sounded out by a member of the Freethought Blogs stable. Automatic pilot kicked in and I began typing “well that’s a really kind offer but…” then realised I didn’t have any significant buts to hand.

Why was this invitation different? Well, oddly perhaps, it was firstly because FTB is not really a gender site. If you don’t know it, the site originates in the all-but unfathomable depths of the North American skeptics movement. You see, a long time ago there were atheists, rationalists and secularists and then they all got into an elevator together and someone did something and someone said “don’t do that” and everyone got cross and then someone said everyone was cross for no reason and that made everyone else crosser and VAGINA! and BULLIES! and DAWKINS! and ATHEISM PLUS! and fuck it, I really, really don’t care. What I do know is that somehow, out of all that, Freethought Blogs sprang into life.

I don’t care about the history, but I do care about the quality of the site. I like it. It’s clean and simple design-wise, The standard of the writing is excellent, and there are some astoundingly clever and rightly-acclaimed authors and academics sharing the space. It would be a genuine honour to be in their company. There is a broad shared philosophy of scepticism, atheism, secularism and social justice, all of which I’m comfortable with, although I don’t often blog on the first three. I have some profound disagreements with many of the bloggers and commenters there which could prove, well, interesting to explore, but I also hope I have enough common ground with all of them to do so in a constructive way.

Before you ask, yes, the site carries advertising and I will get a few quid (or dollars or drachma or sodding Bitcoins or something, I haven’t asked). I don’t do this blog for money, and I’m pretty confident I won’t start blogging “Your Top Ten Movie Blowjobs” lists seven times a week for the hits. The blog will remain unchanged, except for a few comically inappropriate Google ads popping up here and there. Advertising does make me feel grubby, I’ll admit, but I’m a journalist and know that pretty much every penny I earn comes from advertising somewhere down the line. It would be hypocritical to be purist now.

There is no editorial oversight at FTB. Nobody will approve or spike anything I want to write. I will have sole control of moderation policy (and indeed moderation) just as I do here.  The same goes for all other blogs, which means I will share no responsibility if another blogger writes something grotesque, that is their business, not mine.

Above all, I decided to do this because I’m not sure where else this blog would really belong. It couldn’t live on a feminist site or a men’s rights site. I do not want to sign up to a shared mission statement or ideological aim. That would completely undermine what I try to do here, which is to consider gender issues without dogmatic or ideological constraint, to call the stories as I see them, and speak my mind because it is what I want to say, not because it is what someone wants to hear. What I’ve tried to create here is my own free thought blog. It may have found its home.

So, I think my mind is made up. But with the agreement of the people at FTB, I’m posting this before committing. If you, dear HetPat regulars of all flavours, can raise any convincing arguments why I shouldn’t move, well it is not too late. I’ll give it about 48 hours before the point of no return. And again, I really don’t want to hear about the thing so-and-so said to whasserface  on October 13th 2009 that was  OUTRAGEOUS MISOGYNISTIC SOCIOPATHIC MISANDRY REASONS. But if anyone has convincing evidence that FTB is a front organisation for the Masonic Illuminati or something like that, I’d love to see it. That shit is always funny.

Seriously, your thoughts? Would you mind? Would you still visit, read and comment? Do you, as I suspect, really not give a shit either way and you only found this blog because you Googled “Top Ten Movie Blowjobs”? Please let me know, below or by email privately and in confidence if you’d prefer. Thanks.

 

UPDATE 3/5/13

Thank you all for the comments and messages in response to this. Thank you for the messages of support and encouragement, thank you for the many queries and concerns you have raised, all of which I have considered. Thanks too for the many who said you’ll stick with this blog whether I stay or go. I’ve been genuinely touched by learning that so many of you actually care enough to have an opinion. I honestly didn’t expect so many carefully considered opinions.

As you’ve probably guessed, nobody has found the smoking gun linking FTB to Joseph Kony or the Russian Mafia, so I’ve now got back to FTB and confirmed I would like to accept their invitation, and will be moving shortly.

A few words to those who are less than happy about the move.

I’d like to reiterate that I will have total control of moderation, including bannings etc. Even if you have been banned from every other blog on FTB, you are free to comment on mine, on the exact same basis as before.

Spammers aside, in 11 months here, I have yet to ban a single commenter. Every single one of you who has commented here, whatever political, ideological or personal disagreements we may have had, has been welcomed here, and I am genuinely grateful for your contributions.  You will continue to be welcomed at the new address. You will be able to bookmark my blog directly and completely ignore the rest of FTB, if that is what you want to do.

To those who worry that this blog will get sucked into the politicking and feuds of the skeptic/ Atheism+ scene, well, I share your concerns. I have talked it over with several people, and I’m confident enough that we can stay out of that. If it transpires I am wrong, and I really feel it is not working, I’m not cemented in. If the worst comes to the worst I’ll move on or move back.

For whoever wanted threading… it turns out I can turn threading on or off. (To Comment is Free regulars, I feel your pain.) I’ve yet to decide!

I’ll make my first post over there something of a housewarming party. You’re all guests of honour.

And finally, it will take a lot of considered research to establish the Top 10 Movie Blowjobs, but I’m pretty confident that Number 1 is enjoyed by Sid Vicious in the animated section of The Great Rock’N’Roll swindle.

Thanks again, and see you on the other side!

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I usually put bit of considered thought and time into these blogposts (believe it or not) but today I need to say something quickly, and something so stupefyingly obvious and easy that it doesn’t require much preparation.  I want to say this quickly because thanks to the Metro and the BBC, I sense a swelling wave of comments and blogs across the internet saying “OMGZ, in Britain you can be convicted of rape even if you have consent!”   So let’s get this out there quickly just on the vague chance it might make someone think twice.

First, the facts. The High Court has ruled in a case where a woman consented to limited sexual contact. To be explicit, she agreed to sex on the specific condition that her partner didn’t ejaculate inside her. The court heard that shortly after penetration – and without giving the woman any chance to object – the man had said he would be “coming inside her” and added “I’ll do it if I want”. The CPS prosecutors had decided not to charge him as it would be “impossible to prove” that the man’s decision was not “spontaneous” and “made at the point of ejaculation”. The woman challenged this ruling and won. The ruling says:

“She believed that he intended and agreed to withdraw before ejaculation. (He) knew and understood that this was the only basis on which she was prepared to have sexual intercourse with him. In short, there is evidence that he deliberately ignored the basis of her consent to penetration as a manifestation of his control over her.”

(Please note, this is not a criminal trial, we have not heard the man’s defence as yet. These are allegations, not accepted facts.)

The headlines in the Metro: Sex with consent ‘can still be rape’  and BBC Sex consent could still lead to rape charge, judges say are dangerously misleading and potentially highly damaging to public understanding of consent and rape. So for the benefit of anyone who struggles with these concepts, let me offer a full and extensive list of reasonable working definitions of consent.

1. If you do something to someone’s intimate bits (or with your intimate bits) which you know s/he has not consented to or is unable to consent to at that moment, you are committing an act of sexual assault or rape.

There. That’s it. In practice this means that if s/he says “I’ll do this but I won’t do that” it means you have consent to do this but not do that. If s/he says “I’ll put this here but I’m not having it there” then you have consent to put it here but not put it there. If s/he says “I’ll do this but only if you wear that” then you have consent to do this, if and only if you are wearing that. (I’m mostly thinking of condoms here, but I guess the same principle applies to the pirate outfit. Whatever pushes your boat, you’re still the skipper.) If you ignore this very simple principle, and proceed with an act which your partner has not consented to, you are committing an act of sexual assault or rape.  Oh, and if you do ever find yourself uttering words along the lines of “I’ll do it if I want” then – BIG FUCKING CLUE – you’re a rapist.

That’s what I say. That’s what the law says and it’s what any reasonably functioning moral compass says too.

Please note, before the flood arrives, I quite appreciate that, in practice, attaining prosecutions for rape and sexual assault for incidents like this will often be all but impossible. I fully appreciate the fuzzy boundaries that often exist between seduction, persuasion and consent. I’m not saying the man in this particular case is guilty, his case has yet to be considered and he is innocent until proven otherwise.

I am saying that for all the tortuous debates around the legalities of rape and consent, the principles are really bloody simple. The High Court today has provided welcome confirmation that the principles are really bloody simple. The headlines today gave precisely the opposite impression, and that is hugely irresponsible and very worrying.

(Note to commenters. As usual, I’ll trust you to comment and discuss matters with civility and respect for those who may be personally affected by these issues. But I’ll warn you, I feel strongly about this shit and if you are planning on disagreeing to any great extent about the main points here, be prepared for the proverbial ton of bricks. Thanks)  

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I’ve been thinking a lot about Antonio Gramsci lately. Hey, a guy’s got to have a hobby. If it makes you feel better, I’ve also been thinking about Britain’s Got Talent, where to find the last gold bricks on the Lego Harry Potter game and Beyonce’s nipple tassles, but will perhaps return to those another day.

In his Prison Notebooks, Gramsci analysed the history of the Risorgimento, the resurgence of the 19th Century which resulted in Italian unification under a capitalist model then, just a few decades later, the ascent of the very Fascists who had imprisoned him.  He noted that there was a strata of society he called organic intellectuals who performed a different function to the intelligentsia of academics and theorists. His example was the victorious faction within the Risorgimento called the Moderate Party, who served capitalism through a period of crisis and transition, by acting as its agents and deputies in organising the dominant hegemony – the prevailing cultural values that protect the economic status quo by shaping popular perceptions of what is “normal”, “inevitable” or “common sense” (the status quo) and what isn’t (any meaningful challenge to the status quo.)

These organic intellectuals were what we would now call progressives or liberals, speaking the rhetoric of concern and reform. They would wrongly think of themselves as being just like ordinary people. the representatives of the masses, even the voice of the masses, and this was crucial to their role. Genuinely believing they were doing the right thing, they would stifle and quash less privileged voices, preventing the emergence of alternative intellectual input from the ‘people-nation.’ (Gramsci famously believed that everyone is or can be an intellectual, whether one knows it or not.)

Organic intellectuals were genuinely well-intentioned, considering it an act of worthy charity to speak on behalf of the less eloquent and less privileged. They were not only intellectuals, they were political organisers, but drawn from a very narrow social demographic. They would be company bosses, rich farmers or entrepreneurs – “a real organic vanguard of the upper classes to which economically they belonged.”  Their influence was not directly upon the working classes, but upon their liberal admirers in the bourgeoisie, including teachers, writers and creators of popular culture who distribute the messages to the masses in turn.

Why the sudden interest in mid-period Marxist political theory Ally, I hear you ask? Well, back in the late 1920s, Gramsci could not have imagined a purer example of the organic intellectual class than the modern commentariat. In the early, optimistic days of the internet, I naively imagined that unfettered access to new media platforms would threaten the foundations of the organic intellectual. The new world of blogs and social media would shatter the portcullis keeping the hordes from the castle gates, new ideas, new voices would come flooding through. I underestimated the ingenuity of hegemony.  Rather than levelling the playing field between the elites and the masses, social media has simply provided whole new mechanisms for keeping the rabble in line.

This morning, Zoe Williams became the latest blue-chip liberal feminist to join the circling of wagons around the poor, oppressed national newspaper columnists and magazine editors. As you probably know, a powerful clique of intersectional feminists and trans activists have installed themselves as the playground bullies of Twitter, stealing the dinner money from delicate souls like Suzanne Moore, Helen Lewis and Caitlin Moran, who have nowhere to turn for support but their hundreds of thousands of followers, their national columns or their extensive circle of similarly prominent friends.

Apologies for the sarcasm, but the reality is that this is not a fair fight. Nor is it a debate about intersectionality, gender or privilege, because there has been very little engagement in those actual issues. What is happening is a concerted effort by the gatekeepers of feminist discourse to marginalise, pathologise and even intimidate into silence their own internal critics.

She who controls the past controls the future, as Orwell didn’t write, and for an example of how this works, see how the Moore-Burchill saga is now being written into history as having begun with Moore’s comments about Brazilian transsexuals, thus erasing her vicious and offensive tweets in response to being politely challenged. This entirely changes the story to one in which the columnist is the victim, rather than the instigator of the affair. Similarly, a passive-aggressive flounce from Twitter can generate waves of sympathy, notably from fellow /sister members of the elite Twitterati, who (understandably) sympathise with the experience of copping a timeline full of flak from angry detractors, and are quick to tweet about how sad it is that so-and-so has been bullied off Twitter to their vast followings.

This is not me taking sides. For what it is worth, I often disagree with the same groups of (mostly) young, angry intersectional feminists, and have had to devote days to fielding abuse, argument and insult when I’ve written something they don’t like. (I copped a sackful for my last blog, for starters.) It also looks to me like some of the anger is excessive and disproportionate or misguided at times. For example, I found the grief aimed at Helen Lewis over a recent New Statesman debate on feminism rather mystifying. That said, we’d be in a sorry state if there weren’t younger, more passionate voices hurling brickbats at the establishment in frustration at the world. If a few are ill-aimed, that is a small price to pay to avoid reactionary stasis.

It is more important to recognise when the anger and disagreement is coming from a place of good faith. It is perfectly reasonable to reject criticism, perfectly reasonable to block and ignore those who resort to personal abuse and insults, perfectly reasonable to argue back, and perfectly reasonable to quietly turn off Twitter for a break (indeed it is actively recommended.)  I don’t think it is reasonable to use one’s disproportionate profile and platforms to portray one’s critics as bullies or trolls, thereby absolving oneself of any obligation to engage with them.

Zoe Williams ends her article with something of a volte face, acknowledging the need for intersectional approaches and recognising reasons to challenge transphobia. But not before she has added to the celestial chorus of voices from above that have portrayed intersectional critics as a feral, irrational mob of bullies.

For all the talk of intersectionality, privilege, oppression and assorted other post-structural jargon, I can’t help feeling there are more established ways of understanding the dynamics at play. Organic intellectuals have a collective, mutual interest in maintaining their own stranglehold over culture, discourse and language, which sustains their position near the top of the status pyramid.  The collective outrage from much of the liberal-left over recent twitterstorms is, I think, not really about angry disagreement with the points being made and not really about personal abuse and insult. It mostly strikes me as a media elite showing collective affront at being challenged on their inalienable right to set the terms and limits of debate and discourse. What I find most discomfiting in all of this is the tendency of the commentariat to rush to each others’ defence on social media or in their national newspaper columns. If that is not the behaviour of a privileged elite closing ranks, it sure as hell looks like it.

Gramsci, smart old cookie that he was, anticipated all of this and even provided a solution for those who would presume to represent the downtrodden, the oppressed and the marginalised.

“If the relations between intellectuals and the people-nation, between leaders and led, is the result of an organic participation in which feelings and passion become understanding and thence knowledge… then and only then is the relation one of representation.”

Twitter, Facebook, online commenting and blogs have offered us an unprecedented opportunities for organic participation, in which feelings and passion can become understanding. When one withdraws from engagement, when one marginalises and diminishes one’s critics, and when one loses faith in the honesty of critics on our own side, then one loses the right to represent those critics.

That’s a hell of a price to pay for a placid timeline.

 

Note: Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks are available as a free PDF. So too is Roger Simon’s excellent reader Gramsci’s Political Thought

Note on the title, for anyone not Scottish and of a certain age. I grew up listening to this song, and have been waiting for an opportunity to use this joke for about 20 years)

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As I have written many times before, I believe people who are concerned about women’s human rights and wellbeing and about men’s human rights and wellbeing should be natural allies. That’s pretty much the core of my philosophy on gender issues. I’ve made clear my disdain for men’s activists who lay blame for most of men’s problems at the door of feminism. I also despair of the logic which says any and all feminist activism is, by definition, misandrist.

So all things considered, I should have been applauding Lindy West’s blog on Jezebel last week, where she basically made those precise same points. Truth is, I hated it. Partly that was down to the tone, which I found painfully patronising. In lecturing men on the male experience and the extent and nature of men’s problems, she provided a rare example of what we might call “womansplaining.” (Incidentally, a word to male readers – if you want to know why many women get so annoyed by us guys explaining to them what feminism is and should be, read the article, flip the genders and empathise.)

I’d add that in her “Part 4: A list of Men’s Rights issues that feminism is already working on”, she paints a rosy portrait of feminism which ducks most of the more credible complaints. To take just one example, she says:  “Feminists do not want women to escape prosecution on legitimate domestic violence charge” which, firstly, is not entirely true – there are a few feminists who argue that women accused of domestic abuse are almost invariably acting in self-defence. More significantly, it dodges the point that very many feminists have actively and furiously resisted attempts to highlight male victimisation and argue and lobby strongly against gender-neutral approaches to the problem.          

In amongst all that, one of her arguments in particular raised an issue that I’ve wanted to address for a while, and that is the meme “misandry isn’t a thing” (or in Lindy’s version, “misandry isn’t real.”) This is a common refrain within modern feminism, often used as a throwaway dismissal of a (perceived) male troll or heckler.  Here it is explained and used as a central basis to the argument, which gives us something to get our teeth into.

Dictionaries define misandry as hatred of men. A more detailed working definition might be something like ‘an extreme or irrational hatred, fear, demonization or contempt for men.’ Lindy West readily admits that there are some radical feminists or wounded women who really do hate men, and that our culture produces many derogatory and unfair portrayals of men, but insists that “misandry is not a genuine, systemic, oppressive force on par with misogyny.”

What feminists mean when they say ‘misandry isn’t a thing’ is that because our society systematically privileges men and disempowers women, misogyny serves a different cultural purpose, has different and more damaging impacts and grows from different roots to misandry. To a certain extent I agree with that, but saying misandry is not the mirror image of misogyny does not mean that misandry does not exist at all. I believe that arguing that misandry isn’t real is damaging to men, damaging to women and damaging to the struggle for social justice.

I would distinguish three common varieties of misandry which are most definitely real. The first is a personal prejudice, which may often arise from damaging or hurtful experiences at the hands of men, creating a negative stereotype heuristic. This may not be admirable, but it is often understandable. The second is an ideological misandry arising from certain strains of radical feminism, roughly caricatured as the ‘all men are rapists’ tendency. I think such ideas are wrong and harmful, but I’m also far from convinced that these people are anywhere close to being numerous or powerful enough to cause any real damage, except perhaps to feminism itself.

The third variety of misandry is the one that seriously concerns me, and it is worth looking in detail at what it is and what it does. Cultural misandry is a significant force in policing and constraining the roles of men, and indeed women in society. Our capitalist hegemonic culture (or patriarchy, if you prefer) considers it acceptable to routinely mock and denigrate men’s domestic and child-caring abilities because this acts strongly to discourage deviations from the gender status quo, from which vested interests profit. Our culture systematically devalues male deaths (in news reports specifying numbers of deaths of women and children, for instance) because economic interests require a degree of male disposability in the workplace and military interests may require the mass dispatch of young men to die on battlefields at a moment’s notice. When society mocks and reviles male victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse, the subtext is that that it is women’s place to be victimized and oppressed, not men’s.

When feminists say that misandry isn’t a thing, what I hear is that these issues are so minor, so marginal that they are insignificant. It is not just that they are unworthy of attention, they are not even worthy of a word to describe them. If Lindy West really wants more men to be allies to the feminist movement and wants us to believe that feminism really is on our side, then I struggle to see how this type of rhetoric is in any way helpful.

I’m not for a moment suggesting that feminism should suddenly drop its struggles for women’s equality, autonomy, safety and welfare in favour of challenging male-only military conscription or setting up hostels for male abuse victims, I don’t think that is or should be feminism’s job. Nor do I think that all allegations of misandry should be considered reasonable or accurate.  But I would suggest that if we want to end what Lindy calls the “endless, fruitless turd-pong” between men’s activists and feminists online, some rhetorical habits might need to change on both sides.

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