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Elliot Rodger and the Pandemic of Masculinity

3 Jun

I read Elliot Rodger’s manifesto yesterday. It was, without a doubt, the least surprising document I’ve ever read. It wasn’t hard to follow; it wasn’t bizarre; it wasn’t a collection of the meanderings of a mind that had lost touch with reality. Instead, it was boring, trite, obvious, and exactly what I expected it to be: a rant by a spoiled brat with an overweening sense of entitlement. To women, to sex, to wealth, to attention and adoration. Frankly, I suspected at times that it was written by a Marxist feminist satirizing privileged male entitlement in general and MRAs in particular.

Elliot Rodger wasn’t Holden Caulfield, he was a bratty little asshole who assumed he was somehow superior to everyone else and thus deserved rewards simply for existing. The rage that he felt wasn’t caused by the cruelty of others, but by his own unreasonable expectations, expectations shared by the majority of men. He may have been less equipped to deal with frustration than the average person, but his reaction to that frustration shouldn’t surprise anyone who has been paying attention to the directions the culture has been taking over the course of the last decade or so.

About that manifesto. I’d call it a memoir of a cult member rather than a manifesto, since it doesn’t contain an idea of any kind. Rodger spends 141 pages narcissistically recounting every detail of his privileged childhood, describing in excruciatingly boring detail each family trip to some “exotic” locale or other, each luxurious Japanese dinner, each wasteful birthday celebration, each time he and his family attended a media industry event as someone else’s plus-one. Save a few bits of ham-fisted foreshadowing, the story up until Rodger hits puberty reads like the autobiography of every kid I went to elementary school with in Southern California: upper middle class parents who have no interest in raising a child but plenty of money and help doing so raise a kid with a profound sense of both entitlement and abandonment. His family clearly had just enough money and social status to gain entry to the outer circles of extreme privilege, and to afford Rodger a glimpse of what could be his if only he were fabulously, disgustingly wealthy instead of just comfortable in the extreme.

In fact, the story Rodger tells of his life after puberty reads like a tale of the rude awakening to the fact that his parents were not that rich after all. He makes repeated reference to puberty as the mainspring of his disillusionment with life and humanity, as the catalyst to his confrontation with the cruel realities of the world, but he is clearly projecting a concept he has adopted from the Men’s Rights Movement and from the Pick-Up Artist (PUA) scene onto his own adolescent understanding of the world, while his recounting of his own memories illustrates a gradual realization that he was not, after all, a member of the Hollywood gentry.

Is it just me, or are there more cult-ish movements around these days than there were a few years ago? Rodger makes mention of his attempt to follow the advice contained in Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret, a book that encourages readers to think they are multi-millionaires to whom life’s rewards flow unremittingly and without effort, which will result in them actually becoming one-per-centers. Though Rodger ultimately dismisses The Secret when putting its methods into practice doesn’t result in his winning the lottery and thus becoming a pussy magnet, the fact that he tried it in the first place, coupled with his wholesale adoption of MRA and PUA theories of how the world works, indicates that he shared something in common with tens of millions of people: the willingness to believe that disappointments and frustrations can be explained by nebulous, ill-fitting, simplistic principles propounded by self-help mountebanks in the pursuit of book and seminar ticket sales.

The culture told Rodger that sex, money, and attention were his birthright. When the system failed to deliver, Rodger flailed around, seeking an explanation. At first, it seemed that he turned his frustration inward and assumed that he was lonely because he was somehow defective. At that point in the narrative, I almost felt sorry for him. We’ve all been bullied, we’ve all questioned our worth as human beings based on the way that others treat us, and we’ve all wondered if life would be better for us if we were somehow constitutionally different than we are. It’s gross. Some of us respond to that kind of fundamental uncertainty about our value by entering into a pattern of self-abuse, some of us begin to question the system of social values that leads to such misery, and some of us fall prey to explanations that place the blame for our unhappiness on the people who reject us. Some of us do all three. But disorder arises when someone like Rodger fails to differentiate between fantasy and reality and never grows out of the expectation that life will turn out like a Bud Light commercial. Or a porn video.

So, what did the culture tell Rodger he could expect from the world? As a privileged child, he was given everything he expressed a desire for, it would appear. Rodger, cared for by a series of nannies, also grew accustomed to being doted on by young women in his childhood years. He grew up on the edges of Hollywood’s elite, a world in which power and wealth command attention and favors from what must look to a child to be an unending parade of young, beautiful women. Once Rodger learned about sex (from porn, naturally), he reached the seemingly obvious conclusion that he was owed sex due to his superior social position.

The culture tells all men that they are owed access to women’s bodies and energy. Sitcoms feature attractive women married to and putting up with mountains of bullshit from blundering schlubs. Movies hammer the idea into boys’ minds that young, hot women, though they may resist at first, will eventually fall into the laps of lazy, misogynistic, overgrown infants like those played by Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill in Judd Apatow movies (yeah, assholes, that’s right: your movies promote misogyny and male entitlement). Porn tells young boys with no other knowledge of sex that women are filthy pigs who just love being gangbanged and ejaculated on by abusive, sneering monsters.

I don’t know why girls rejected Elliot Rodger when he entered adolescence, or whether they even did. There seemed to have been a window in junior high — before he started consuming porn — when that was not the case. He might have been a little awkward, he may have lacked social skills, but it appears that his obsessive sense of entitlement to what he believed other boys enjoyed (whether that was the case or not) took over, coloring all of his interactions and probably preempting any chance he had at relating to girls. He was consumed by the foolish belief that porn and bullshit adolescent male bragging were reality for everyone but him. Once that set in, his anger and desperation probably became palpable in social situations to the point that women — who learn from a young age how to spot signs of danger in male behavior — steered clear.

Without any real contact with women, for Rodger, they became cartoon characters, aliens, beasts, non-human. They were an enemy to be vanquished, a prize to be collected for the achievement of having been born male, the source of all of his frustrated expectations. He absorbed those messages wholesale from mass media culture. Rodger’s memoir reads like a catalog of his consumption of popular media, from Pokemon through World of Warcraft through Halo 2, from Star Wars to the Lord of the Rings trilogy to Game of Thrones, to internet pornography, to MRA discussion forums populated by legions of men railing against women for not fulfilling the fantasies instilled in them by that same media culture.

Several feminist bloggers have made the argument that writing Rodger off as mentally ill takes the focus off of systemic misogyny and allows a worldwide epidemic of woman-hating and gynophobic violence to go unexamined. They aren’t wrong. But Rodger was mentally ill. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness:

A mental illness is a medical condition that disrupts a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning.

By that definition, Rodger was certainly mentally ill, and so are most men. What set Rodger apart was his willingness to participate directly in violence against women as women in order to punish them for refusing to provide him with the sex he felt entitled to, rather than simply doing so by proxy via the consumption of violent and degrading porn and other products of a capitalo-misogynistic society. The existence of masculinity requires that men be unable to relate to women, as masculinity and femininity are the institutions upon which male supremacy rests. A man who is capable of relating to women — who does not suffer from the mental illness known as masculinity — is incapable of abusing them, either in person or by proxy.

More like a-DICK-tion. Get it?!

3 Oct

Two contradictory pieces on the subject of porn and sex addiction emerged recently, both of which — naturally — virtually ignore the role of gender in the rise of the various social and cultural phenomena people have chosen to lump under the rubric of “sex addiction,” as well as the variety of and wide variations between the behaviors that fall under that ill-conceived label. The first, a salacious Newsweek cover story that warns of a growing epidemic of “sex addiction” brought about by the internet’s facilitation of porn use and casual meet-ups, spawned the second, a Salon piece critical of the concept of sex addiction in which Tracy Clark-Flory interviews Liberal Dude author David Ley, whose new book The Myth of Sex Addiction is due out soon. A cursory reference in the Newsweek article to “greater stigma” for women who engage in risky sexual behavior notwithstanding, neither piece even skirts the obvious questions anyone who isn’t personally invested in the perpetuation of patriarchy should ask (I know there are at least seven people who aren’t personally invested in the perpetuation of patriarchy).

While both articles mention the fact that behaviors as different as compulsive porn use, emotionally and physically risky sexual behavior, and the serial pursuit of unhealthy romantic attachments — to which has been applied the unfortunate label “love addiction” — have been grouped under the umbrella term “sex addiction,” neither pays much attention to why that might be so, and neither has anything to say about the ways in which that ham-fisted grouping shapes the “treatment” that this motley assortment of “sex addicts” receives.

Given that gender is a foundational social organizing principle and that assumptions about gender color nearly every interaction a human being engages in, ignoring the role of gender (as well, of course, as class and race) in discussions of sex addiction (and pretty much anything else) places huge barricades in the way of understanding what the hell is even going on, much less what to do about it. Addiction – whether it be to bourbon, benzos, or getting busy in a Burger King bathroom – means very different things for men and for women. Gender roles come with prepackaged social expectations, and the processes by which women and men become addicted to various substances or behaviors and by which they come to consider themselves addicts differ, as do the gendered social consequences that attach to addictive behavior.

Let’s assume for a second that sex addiction — as defined as compulsively engaging in in-person sexual encounters — exists (which I will get to later). If we want to treat it, shouldn’t we at least try to determine its real causes? Those who believe in the existence of sex addiction identify an insatiable need for validation in the form of sexual attention as its root for both women and men, but socially inculcated gendered behavior results in that need manifesting in very different ways, with different consequences for both the addict and her or his partners. Women, when seeking affirmation or attention, tend to self-objectify and to seek out interactions with the kinds of men who value sexual availability over all other characteristics. You know, opportunistic assholes. It’s not difficult for a woman to find a dude willing to use her for sex, nor is it rare for a woman to run across a date rapist or a man who can’t wait to take out his misogyny on her body. Being a female sex addict in the era of porn saturation is thus physically and psychologically dangerous business for the addict herself. From the Newsweek article:

For Valerie, sex was a form of self-medication: to obliterate the anxiety, despair, and crippling fear of emotional intimacy that had haunted her since being abandoned as a child. “In order to soothe the loneliness and the fear of being unwanted, I was looking for love in all the wrong places,” she recalls.

Women — despite the fact that their stories often lead pieces about sex addiction (how odd) — rarely show up at therapists’ offices or Sex Addicts Anonymous meetings claiming to be sex addicts. The Newsweek piece attempts to explain away the paucity of female sex addicts:

If discussion of sex addiction can seem like an exclusive domain of men, that’s because, according to sex therapists, the overwhelming majority of self-identifying addicts—about 90 percent—are male. Women are more often categorized as “love addicts,” with a compulsive tendency to fall into dependent relationships and form unrealistic bonds with partners. That’s partly because women are more apt than men to be stigmatized by association with sex addiction, says Anna Valenti-Anderson, a sex-addiction therapist in Phoenix. “We live in a society where there’s still a lot more internalized shame for women and there’s a lot more for them to lose,” Valenti-Anderson says. “People will say, ‘She’s a bad mom’ for doing these sexual things. As opposed to, ‘She’s sick and has a disorder.’ But very slowly, women are starting to be more willing to come into treatment.”

Despite the plain differences between male and female “sex addicts,” the therapy community insists on equating the kind of behavior Valerie describes with male sex addicts’ exploitative sexual behaviors:

“The addiction will take you to a place where you’re walking the streets at night, so keyed up, thinking, ‘Maybe I’ll just see if there’s anybody out there,’” he says. “Like looking for prey, kind of…”

Addiction leads male sex addicts, it would appear, to obsessively seek female sex addicts. When they fail to materialize, most turn to prostitutes or to porn. While one could make the argument that renting women comes with the risks of sexually transmitted infections (though it’s usually male customers who insist on sex without condoms), there is a clear and gendered imbalance in the consequences for sex addiction. While male sex addicts might lose a romantic partner or two over their philandering, they don’t face the same level of social opprobrium women do for engaging similar behavior, nor do their risky sexual behaviors come with the threat of rape or murder as women’s do. In addition to avoiding the bulk of the consequences that their female counterparts confront, male sex addicts can be a detriment to many others beyond the romantic partners that they serially cheat on, because they often help create the demand in the porn and prostitution industries that allows for their continued existence and continued exploitation of women and children.

But let’s be serious. Is every character flaw going to become a disease that one can only escape from via rehab? If men are wandering around, glassy-eyed and thoughtless, in search of women they can joylessly fuck, is the problem really that these men are addicts, or is it simply that they’ve bought into the idea that life should be like Entourage and thus lost the plot? If there are women frantically seeking attention from soulless, predatory men who don’t value them for anything other than their breasts and orifices, are they diseased, or are they just manifesting the central lesson our warped social and cultural system has to teach women and girls: that they are valuable only to the extent that men find them sexually useful?

Note that every single person interviewed in the Newsweek article has a stake in the addiction recovery industry. The Salon interview — though it is guilty of get-with-it-ism as it presents porn addiction and sexual dishonesty as unproblematic save for their effect on the flowery sensibilities of puritanical weenies — at least takes note of the fact that those in the therapy industry have a personal financial stake in the mainstream acceptance of the addiction model.

I have an idea. Farting in public is rude and often costs people the respect of others, but there are people out there who just can’t help themselves and get a dopamine rush out of doing it. I’m setting up an in-patient farting-in-public recovery center in LA, complete with massage, fitness center, yoga classes, and personal nutritionists for each of our clients who will help them create meal plans that will minimize flatulence and hence help our patients avoid a key trigger for addictive behavior. We’ll take major insurance plans, of course.

That may seem absurd, but it looks like it’s where we’re headed. A pattern is emerging in late capitalism: leaders of a given industry will seek ways to create physical and emotional dependencies on their products among the public in order to ensure their own continued profits, those dependencies will eventually threaten the consumer’s emotional or physical wellbeing, and then a new branch of the therapeutic industry will materialize to make a profit off of helping consumers shake off their dependencies, thus replacing a dependency on the products of the sex, alcohol, drug, or processed food industries with a dependency on the recovery industry. As long as somebody’s making money, everything’s cool.

And the recovery scene is addictive. Where else but a twelve-step meeting can one narcissistically recount booze/sex/drug party stories in front of an audience that swoons over the most depraved details? And where else can one find a community of people who will repeatedly excuse any failure to abstain from damaging behavior as a disease that simply cannot be helped? Not only do twelve-step programs and therapists offer a convenient way out of trouble for those whose behavior has resulted in negative consequences, but they also provide excuses for continued poor behavior with the language of “illness” and “powerlessness.” That’s right: the addiction model tells us that the guy who jacks off to bestiality porn all day long and/or cheats on his wife with prostitutes a few times a week is powerless to control his own behavior. He’s sick, he needs help, he knows not what he does. The poor guy. What can his wife do to help him recover?

Sex is not heroin. Sex is not alcohol. The sex addiction model being put forth by the recovery industry is:

valley-girl science”… They will tell you, and [the Newsweek] article is a good example of it, that sex addiction is like an eating disorder, it’s like a heroin addiction. The reality is this is an incredibly weak form of argument, because it’s so subjective; and when they tell you that sex addiction is like an eating disorder, they don’t tell you all the things that are different about it. They live by anecdotes, because they don’t have good science.

Lumping porn use and compulsive promiscuity under one umbrella term doesn’t do us any analytical favors. Jacking off to porn all day long is not the same thing as compulsively engaging in casual sexual encounters, and they need to be approached as distinct phenomena. Further, treating sex addiction as if it were similar to alcoholism, etc. creates the assumption that the entirety of the problem is chemical or biological rather than behavioral. Yes, studies show that porn use can cause structural changes in the brain and can warp sexual responses to the point that the prospect of in-person sex with a real female human being fails to turn porn addicts on.  But no adult man (the topic of porn’s effects on children’s developing sexuality will have to wait until another day) wakes up one day unable to get a boner without porn out of the blue. It’s a process that occurs over time, and it’s a process that anyone with enough internet access to jack off thirty times a day has to be aware of, since it’s the hottest news story since the PS4 dropped. Even teenage boys are aware of that potentiality.

Sexual compulsions, even if they have progressed to such a point, are at base behavioral problems that can be corrected if there is any impetus to do so, even if correcting them isn’t a mega-fun fuckfest and requires that men exercise some self-control and empathy for the sake of others. Men possess free will. Let’s not get carried away with all this “addiction” business and turn them into hapless victims, thereby granting them impunity from the social consequences of their choices. Remember, they’re listening; Ariel Castro just attempted to use sex and porn addiction as an excuse for rape, kidnapping, and murder.

Does this guy sound like someone who deserves pity?

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The conflation of sex addiction with problems such as alcoholism reaches the realm of comic absurdity when it comes to treatment. AA has a marginal success rate. When it does succeed, it isn’t because the members “work the steps” and fervently adhere to Bill W.’s gospel, it’s because the AA scene (depending on the city in which one attends meetings) offers mid-range alcoholics the one tool that can help them avoid drinking: people to hang out with who don’t drink. Beyond that, it’s nebulous, fruity, quasi-religious self-help folderol that probably puts more people off than it helps. Since most twelve-step meetings for sex addicts call themselves Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous in the hopes of serving both men and women, they undercut the only useful aspect of AA/NA by creating a community that makes it even more difficult for people to abstain from whatever behavior brought them to the meetings in the first place. A room full of male “sex addicts” and female “love addicts” talking about sex is a recipe for unadulterated (hehe) failure, am I right?

David Ley argues in the Salon piece that part of the problem with the addiction model is that it leads people to measure sexual behavior against that of an idealized (and probably non-existent) monogamous, married, heterosexual couple. Anything that does not fit within those parameters is deemed pathological and “treatment” is recommended. That’s only part of the problem. Ley assumes an atomized individual subject without social relationships or responsibilities, and completely elides any discussion of the role of popular culture, male supremacy, or the sex industry in fomenting destructive behavior. The solution to the “sex addiction epidemic” is not to normalize sexual exploitation and sexual dishonesty in the name of smashing prudery, it’s to recognize what actually motivates compulsive sexual behavior and the anxiety that results from it. We have to decide what’s pathological based not on whether it offends Pat Robertson, but on whether it hurts anyone, and we have to deal with pathology by seeking its root. The solution to empty, hyperactive, and exploitative sexuality is political consciousness, not “treatment” or the fuck-first-don’t-ask-questions-later plan. Unfortunately, “treatment” enables men to continue to exercise their right to use and abuse women, while political consciousness comes with social, political, and emotional costs for them.

Why I Hate Men Part 3: There Seems to Be A Pattern Here

17 Sep

I’ve been away for awhile, and I’m a little surprised at what has been going on in my absence. People are still using porn? Seriously? Get with the program, dorks. And what’s up with all this pro-rape nonsense? Men are reacting to the proliferation of feminist discourse in popular culture by proving feminists right? Good job, idiots. Am I to understand that men’s failure to come to grips with reality and their verbally and physically violent reactions to women’s assertions of their own humanity mean that men are unfit for membership in civilized society? Surely we don’t want to go there.

As valuable as I find the recent spate of female-supremacist tracts making their way around my circle of political acquaintances (an example can be found here) in shifting the discursive framework away from the baseline assumption of male superiority, I’m not ready to release my grip on the hope that my dearly-held theory is correct: gender isn’t real, there’s no such thing as “female” or “male” behavior, social conditioning rather than biology dictates the structure of social hierarchies and ensures the perpetuation of male supremacy. But lately it’s REAL hard to avoid coming to the conclusion that there is just something wrong  with men.

You see, though I’ve been absent from the ol’ blogosphere, I haven’t managed to avoid learning of the more egregious instances of recent local and international male behavior.

In the space of the past week or so, a 40-year-old man in Yemen married an eight-year-old child against her will and then raped her to death on their “wedding night;” a man in India raped a four-year-old on a bus; as many as FIFTY men in Lahore, Pakistan raped a five-year-old girl and left her in the hospital for going on six days now; and a UN study emerged that claims that one in four men in the Asia-Pacific region admits to having raped a woman or child (and lord knows how many of them have done so but would not admit to it). Forty percent of those who admit having raped claim to have done so because they “wanted to punish the victim.” Half expressed no remorse. I could go on.

But lest we fall into the trap of exoticizing sexual abuse — i.e. allowing the men in our midst to deflect attention from their own behavior by invoking the caricatured image of the depraved “Oriental” savage who sexually enslaves his women as a foil to the purported relatively gentlemanly deportment of the Western male* — let us have a look at what men have been up to closer to home. A man in Raleigh, North Carolina raped a twelve-year-old girl the other day. A New Jersey man raped a ten-year-old girl several times over the course of the last few months, threatening to murder her family if she told anyone what he had done to her. A new report indicates that the number of women in the US Navy who have been raped by men in the US Navy has increased by 50 percent in the past year. At least ten boys cheered as one of their friends recently raped a woman in Wilmington, Delaware and injured another woman with a knife. I could go on.

In recent weeks, a teacher in Laredo was busted for spreading child pornography, an Air Force master sergeant in Maryland was arrested for sexually assaulting a seven-year-old girl and a six-month-old BABY in the making of child porn, a school photographer in Florida (Florida — of course) was charged with raping a fifteen-year-old “escort” and distributing child pornography, a Virginia elementary school art teacher was arrested for possessing and distributing child pornography. I could go on.

George Zimmerman, high on impunity (which he apparently still enjoys), recently threatened his wife and her father, claiming to have a weapon. Shellie Zimmerman, after the incident, stated through her lawyer that she would like to “end her marriage with a whimper and not a bang,” likely a reference to the fact that domestic homicide (read: the murder of women by men in their own homes) can be predicted based on the kinds of behavior Zimmerman has habitually exhibited. In Connecticut alone, at least six men have killed their wives or girlfriends since the beginning of this year, the most recent being Gregory Pawloski, a man who had spent ten years terrorizing his wife before he eventually shot her. A man in San Jose, California stabbed his female partner to death last weekend. A man in Granite Hills, Minnesota shot his girlfriend to death a few days before that. I could go on.

Speaking of guns, has anyone other than me nearly lost count of the mass murders that men have committed in recent memory? In case you were wondering, the average in the US has been one mass murder for every two weeks since 2006, and men have committed mass murders claiming the lives of four or more victims TWENTY TIMES since the beginning of this year. A man shot and killed at least thirteen people just yesterday morning, for fuck’s sake. I could go on.

I’m not digging very deep here. These are cases that made the news within the last few weeks. A few other things made the news recently. “Bestiality brothels” are all the rage these days in Germany (Germany — of course), where raping animals is now being described as a “lifestyle choice” by the men who frequent them. There is — I swear to god — an organization in Germany called ZETA that plans to protect men’s “right” to rape animals should the Bundesrepublik choose to outlaw doing so.  In related news, a man in Shropshire, Great Britain made a video of himself having sex with a horse and two dogs. The night before his court hearing on bestiality charges, he was looking for work online as a stablehand. An elderly man in Australia recently shoved a fork handle four inches into his urethra for “autoerotic” purposes. I could go on.

What in the hell is the matter with these people? I mean, really.

Clearly, we have a problem. MRAs and male supremacy apologists seem fond of the pseudo-sciences of evolutionary biology and evolutionary psychology as explanations for sociopathic male behavior. I’ll admit that it’s tempting to simply acquiesce and grant that they’re correct: men are simply constitutionally unsuited to civilized society.  Few men are prepared to eschew aggression in the face of challenges to their sense of entitlement. Few are capable of allowing anything to stand in the way of their sexual urges, no matter what the consequences (usually to others, naturally). Few seem willing to take anyone’s humanity other than their own into account. The number who are capable of recognizing — let alone remedying — the existence of male privilege and its daily social manifestations is downright infinitesimal. Could it be possible that men are just fucked?

Maybe I’m less of a misandrist than the average MRA, because I’m still not ready to give up on the possibility that men can behave like decent human beings. Men aren’t biologically destined to become rapists, they’re not hardwired to be destructive perverts, they don’t have to derive their lifeforce from the suffering of women, children, and other men. Men aren’t all ineluctably doomed to witlessly wander the Earth, oblivious to the effects of their behavior on others’ lives and on the planet. When they do so, it’s a choice. It’s a choice that appears predetermined, but it’s a choice.

The choice men face in their everyday lives is whether to participate in the cult of masculinity in the face of evidence that to do so is destructive. Each of the examples above of sociopathic male behavior began in a moment in which a man had to choose between sating his own (however warped) desires and behaving like a civilized member of society. In all but one case (ol’ fork-dick), the key personality trait these men seem to be missing is empathy. It’s quite likely that empathy inheres in all human beings and is beaten out of little boys (while society encourages women to exercise empathy to the ouster of consideration of their own needs). These men were probably all aware that to fulfill their own desires would cause negative consequences for the people they used, damaged, or killed in the process, but that awareness was not enough to limit their behavior because it was purely abstract, unattached to a feeling that could approach the intensity of the emotions or desires that catalyzed their actions. In other words, they lack a well-developed sense of empathy.

Abandoning ingrained behaviors and the social benefits that derive from them makes life difficult for men in the current milieu, but it’s probably a lot easier than confronting the fallout of the continued effects of masculinity on the world will be. The question remains, however, whether it will be possible — before it’s simply too late — to force men to not only realize that aggressive masculinity is the root of war, environmental degradation, and the destruction of women’s and children’s lives and bodies the world over, but to also take on the task of reclaiming a sense of empathy and exercising it.

(I should really change the name of the series to “Why I Hate Masculinity,” but MRAs really seem to like the current title.)

* See Philippa Levine, Gender and Empire.

The third (and probably last) trans post of my life

16 Jan

I’m going to restate my position on all of this as simply as I can:

  • Radical feminist theory is founded in part on a separation of sex and gender, with “sex” referring to that which identifies the the material body as female or male and “gender” referring to the social roles enforced on the sexed body. A male supremacist society constructs gender roles out of thin air and horseshit in order to enforce social behavior on women and men that turns women into negative foils for sets of purported male attributes that amount chiefly to the valorization of that which allows men to dominate women (physical strength, violence, “bravery,” lack of discernible emotion, etc.).
  • Gender roles feel constrictive to almost everyone to some degree, and especially to the women who sense that the expectation of “femininity” is actually an expectation that they sublimate all of their own desires and interests so that men may more freely express their desires and interests (most of which are detrimental to women’s existence). Feminism, in general, aims to eliminate gender roles as the social foundation upon which male supremacy is constructed. The ultimate goal is thus to overthrow male supremacy and create a social environment in which behaviors and feelings don’t come in pre-packaged sets and are completely divorced from body parts that they are only nonsensically attached to now.
  • That there are people who feel so uncomfortable with the difference between their sexed bodies and their socialized conception of themselves that they would choose to risk deformity, death, and disability is to be deplored. Women have been conditioned to harm their own bodies in service of a social gender role grounded in misogyny and male supremacy. Radical feminism seeks an end to this practice. Women seeking surgery in order that their bodies will appear like male bodies, or men who undergo surgery in order that their bodies will present as female bodies, face huge psychological and physical risks and social ostracization. Adamantine gender roles are the source of the demand for these medical procedures and the dangers that attend them. Radical feminism also seeks an end to this practice.
  • The existence of transgenderism appears to strengthen the already sturdy bond between gender roles and sexed bodies when an individual comes to believe that their body must — but does not — match their thoughts and feelings and seeks to alter their body to resolve that conflict. However, the existence of sexual reassignment surgery and hormone therapy alerts the public to the disturbing and destructive power of gender role expectations, which might result in a gradual reassessment of the way we think about gender. On balance, it is difficult to determine whether transgenderism does more to strengthen or to undermine gender roles, but to expect an individual human being to suffer for the entirety of their life in order to fight for a political goal they may not even share is not appropriate.
  • Banning reassignment surgery is also not an option. Engaging the state in enforcing what should be a cultural prerogative will only lead to harm when people seek incompetent help outside of a medical establishment that can barely be considered competent itself. The male-dominated and capitalistic medical industry seeks constantly to arrogate to itself greater and greater authority to dictate our understanding of our bodies to us, and to decide for us what constitutes an appropriate application of medical technology (hence the plastic surgery and pharmaceutical industries). An outside entity must limit the power of the scientific and medical establishment and urge the reassessment of how to approach the phenomenon of human health. That outside entity should not be the state, but rather a movement of people who have reached a political and social consensus on how to approach the human body and mind more effectively, humanely, and holistically. This movement should obviously operate in tandem with a general shift in thinking about sex and gender informed by radical feminist politics.
  • Gender roles have served as justification for the rape, murder, and silencing of women since men figured out how to enforce them. They have also been used as justification for extreme physical and psychological violence toward men who do not conform to male gender roles (homosexual men; men who dress, present, or live as women; etc.). Both cases are expressions of misogyny. Men absolutely loathe and fear trans people. Transmen are seen as intruders, but transwomen are seen as traitors. Men cannot understand why someone born male would choose to take on what they see as a subordinate position in society. It threatens their sense of order in a fundamental way.
  • There is a difference between men who were born male, live as men, and reap the benefits of male privilege every time they come into contact with another human being and people born male who, while they may have absorbed enough social conditioning to exhibit a male sense of entitlement, have also experienced oppression at the hands of men who are recognizable as men (i.e., as no threat to gender hierarchy). It is not the same  kind of oppression women face, but it is nonetheless oppression and can include forms of violence just as severe as those women face. And it comes from the exact same feature of the average male psyche: virulent misogyny. That means transwomen need to be approached differently than men, and that transmen need to be approached differently than men or transwomen (though it does not mean that radical feminists ought to not analyze and critique trans theory) if the discussion of transgenderism and trans politics is to have clarity.
  • Radical feminists, while they do at times seek to make use of state power to reach limited goals, generally do not see the state as a vehicle for the good of women. The state’s existence is inextricably bound up with its ability to use violence and coercion. The state can thus be used as a tool, but it usually lags quite far behind the public and requires strenuous prodding by social movements to do anything right. That means that radical feminist ideas need to be impressed into the minds of the largest number of people possible in order to create a social movement. In the event that enough people absorb what radical feminism has to say, we will either find ourselves in a future in which the state will no longer exist, or in which the state can be used as a tool to bring us closer to wholesale liberation (the former obviously being preferable). In either case, there is work to do, and a shitload of it. No one wants to spend time explaining to men why they should behave like human beings, but I’m not ready to throw in the towel because separatism is only a viable option for a very small number of women, of which I am not one. That means I have to spend my life repeating myself in the hopes that a few small improvements will be made in the lives of some women before I die and that men will stop killing, raping, and dehumanizing us a few centuries after I die. I’m cool with that because it’s right. The only thing left is to determine how best to convince other people that it’s right.
  • In the face of a constant barrage of misogyny, and in an environment in which women who speak out in defense of women are besieged from all sides, anger and the desire for some form of camaraderie with the few women who have seen through the bullshit is to be expected. I am nearly constantly furious and quite often have an extreme sense of isolation in my political views. Still, when that camaraderie takes place on public blogs and contains words that men use to subjugate transgendered people, it presents a problem for radical feminism if the aim is to inject radical feminist ideas into public consciousness. Anger is one thing, slurs are another. Slurs shut the reader’s mind off. What cannot be allowed is for the public face of radical feminist theory to appear reactionary, and right now it does. When trans activists bully radical feminists and attempt to force their way into women-only spaces, women should be angry and should speak up — and should express anger when they do speak up — but should do so responsibly and intelligently, so that the radical feminist perspective won’t be written off.  Analyzing competing gender theories is not as simple as telling people how stupid and offensive a Burger King ad is. It’s complex, touchy, and very difficult to sort out and should be approached carefully.

In which Nine Deuce uses the word “trans” a second time

12 Jan

The cognitive dissonance that plagues the thinking radical feminist when ruminating over trans people matters and needs to be confronted, discussed, and theorized about, but it needs to be done in such a way that some good might come of it. Radical feminism, at a bare minimum, is characterized by the rejection of essentialism, of the idea that reproductive organs and secondary sex characteristics come packaged with sets of social behaviors termed “feminine” and “masculine.” Gender role performances are simply a load of bullshit posturing forced on us by a male supremacist society that requires symbols of difference, no matter how fictitious, in order to continue to operate unchallenged. When we argue that plastic surgery exists to aid those who seek to more closely adhere to a gender role concocted by the partnership between capitalism and patriarchy, it’s easy to assume that the same impulse is at work when someone claims to identify with one gender role or the other and pursues sex reassignment surgery. It’s a very simple logical progression; having parts of one’s body surgically removed or having foreign objects inserted into one’s body as a result of a warped obsession with gender conformity illustrates the deleterious effects of socially enforced gender roles on the human body and mind in the case of the “beauty” industry, so the same must hold true for sex reassignment surgery.

The thing is, none of the radical feminists I know are trans, nor am I. I have no way of knowing whether my battle with what society wants out of me as someone born with a vagina resembles in any way the conflicts that occur in the mind of someone with male genitalia who feels a desperate need to undergo reassignment surgery. I’m guessing, however, that it doesn’t, and I’m thus not going to tell trans people how their minds work, nor am I going to make the outrageous and dehumanizing claim that they must be mentally ill. (Let us please not forget the history of the use of psychiatric authority as a justification for the marginalization, institutionalization, sterilization, rape, and murder of women.)

An even more difficult aspect of this issue is the relationship of male privilege and what society teaches male children about women and what it means to be female. Some radical feminists are offended at what they have perceived as a caricature of womanhood, or a reduction of the experience of being female to whatever a misogynistic society tells us womanhood is about (e.g., boots, bitchiness, and boobs). If all transwomen all the time interpreted and expressed femininity by channeling Bugs Bunny’s take on womanhood and ran around exclaiming that all one needs to be a woman is a facsimile vagina, a sense of fashion, and the ability to gossip, that would be the end of it. But that isn’t the case, and reality requires that we approach this discussion a little more thoughtfully and adhere to our own professed ethics and logical proclivities.

Straw Transwoman

Transwomen, it is argued, cannot ever understand what it means to be female in a male supremacist world in the exact same sense that women who were born female do. That is almost certainly the case, but who cares? Is anyone even claiming that they can? It would appear to be the opposite, in the cases in which transwomen enter into discussions with female-at-birth women and urge that their unique concerns as transwomen be taken into consideration. That leads to another problem. Some trans-critical radical feminists argue that transwomen display that most unseemly of male characteristics, the sense of entitlement to absorb all available discursive space and the totality of the available focus. Seeing as women have so few opportunities to discuss our own issues without men’s obnoxious intrusions, and seeing as there seems to be no space men do not feel entitled to intrude upon, I see the point. The problem lies, however, in whether we want to lump transwomen in with men. I don’t feel comfortable doing so. For one thing, the fact that many transwomen did not adhere to male gender norms even as children likely drastically altered the experience of male gender conditioning, and probably also sharply decreased the ability to relate to other boys and men as allies in the preservation of male privilege. Men perpetuate male privilege by “having each others’ backs” and bro-ing down in their shared misogyny and homophobia/transphobia (being unthoughtful dudes, they can’t distinguish between one kind of person they call “faggots” and another). How many little boys do you know who wouldn’t shun a little boy who displayed characteristics they’ve been taught to disdain since birth? And how many little boys who are shunned by other boys feel invested in upholding a male privilege that they feel fundamentally excluded from? Maybe some transwomen lived as boys long enough to absorb the idea that they are entitled to talk over women and that their concerns come first, simply because parents and society treat children with penises in such a way that they come to expect that. Or maybe the individual transwomen some of the radical feminist community has problems with are just self-absorbed, abusive assholes. In either case, we aren’t dealing with men. We are dealing with transwomen, and it is important when discussing something as complicated as conflicting gender theories to be very specific and delineate exactly what it is we’re talking about.

The argument goes that the existence of trans people strengthens the gender binary, but no one save the few trans activists who have attempted to force their way into female-only spaces truly considers transwomen to be women. The general public who consider themselves intellectuals because they read Time have even begun to evince an awareness, due in part to news stories regarding trans children, that there is a fundamental flaw in the gender binary. It is likely that, in a world without a binary gender hierarchy, gender roles would cease to serve a purpose and people would cease to feel the need to resort to dangerous medical procedures in order to feel at ease in the world, but we aren’t there yet. Even if everyone agreed at the stroke of midnight tonight to cease seeking out hormone therapy and reassignment surgery, trans people exist, and they exist in a no-woman’s-land between between the two ill-fitting gender roles male supremacist society has devised. We have to find ways to reconcile their existence with our mental frameworks and the physical world. Solutions need to be found to the problems that arise when people who do not fit the gender binary come up against it when standing in front of a public bathroom door sign, for example. “Fuck you, stay out” is not a solution. (Lobbying for single-user bathrooms — which make sense for several reasons not limited to trans people’s needs — is.)

The internet is probably the single most valuable recruiting tool history has handed us for ending the oppression of women, children, people of color, and the poor. If the sites people come across when looking for information on radical feminism revolve chiefly around esoteric denunciations infused with snotty, juvenile insults, how can we expect anyone to get on board with the cause? There are venues for the elaboration of theory and there are venues aimed at drawing in outsiders, but the proprietors of both have the responsibility to make themselves clear and accessible — rather than repulsive — to their audiences. That is not a request that women “play nice.” It is a request that feminists use the forums they have at their disposal responsibly.

The task at hand is not to define feminism in such a way that only eight people (of whom I am not one) qualify, it’s to figure out a way to create a world in which no one is beaten, raped, murdered, dehumanized, worked to death, devalued, or shat upon by men as a means for reinforcing male power. That will not be accomplished by using the master’s tools to try to tear down his house, i.e., using dehumanizing language that makes us sound like MRAs against oppressed people, even if some of them act like assholes. Transwomen are not in a position of power, they are not privileged over women except when women choose to efface themselves to give transwomen the stage, even if an individual transwoman feels entitled to talk over everyone. Is the claim that feminist blog discussions are a zero-sum environment in which transwomen’s issues are to be considered only to the ouster of women’s concerns? That’s ridiculous. The internet is a big place, and there is room for everyone who isn’t a complete dick to discuss their perspectives. If a site silences radical feminists (for illegitimate reasons), stop going to the site. There are places that won’t.

Transwomen who call themselves feminists are feminists, if we use the baseline belief that women are human beings as a basic definition of feminism. That some transwomen’s conception of  feminism reflects their own experiences rather than those of radical feminists who were born female is to be expected. It’s time to move away from the Second Wave/Third Wave dichotomy and move past the fragmentation of the feminist movement of recent decades. We can find ways to work with feminists who have varying priorities without descending into a radically relativistic individualism that isolates us all from each other, but we’ll have to attempt to figure out how rather than spend our time coming up with clever ways to delegitimize other feminists. Picking someone else’s position apart is far easier than building one of one’s own, but it’s a fairly dead-end pursuit. If the argument truly is that trans people demand more intellectual and political space than is their fair share, why are radical feminists creating entire blogs about them? How much effort needs to be expended on deconstructing trans politics? Does doing so really build radical feminist theory? Or change individual women’s lives for the better?

Note 1: I realize I only discussed transwomen here, which I did because I am responding to discussions in which transwomen are the chief subject. I tend to agree with the view that women transitioning to become men evince internalized misogyny, but that isn’t for this post, nor is it that shocking of an idea, given that everyone in the world is a misogynist.

Note 2: I will be moderating the fuck out of comments.

To be continued…

Get ready to shit your pants. I’m going to use the word “trans.”

10 Jan

I have resisted commenting on this whole thing for a long time, but I guess I have to do it. Still, I am going to post my thoughts in snippets, since this requires thoughtfulness, subtlety, and some other shit.

I’ve been absent for quite lengthy periods over the course of the last year, which I suppose means I’m not entitled to an opinion on what goes on in the feminist blogosphere, but which is also due in large part to the state of the feminist blogosphere in the last year or so. I’ll readily admit that I’ve never been a voracious blog reader, having barely enough time to read the comments on my own and force a post out of myself every few months in between working, studying, drinking, etc., but I do check in from time to time to find out what’s going on and to seek out new blogs. There are a lot of new blogs. A lot of excellent new blogs. However, I’m a little bewildered by a trend that I noticed emerging over a year ago that seems to have taken over the radical feminist blogging world.

I’ll take a deep breath, prepare myself to be deleted from tens of blogrolls, and say it: why the fuck is everyone so obsessed with “the trans issue”? And why is it that otherwise intelligent, thoughtful, compassionate radical feminists turn into complete assholes when discussing it? Any attempt to approach this issue has at this juncture been rendered nearly pointless by the vitriol and cliquishness that characterize the current state of the discussion of the relationship of transwomen to feminism and to womanhood as a meta category, and that is unfortunate.

Sure, a few asshole transwomen are to blame in part for this state of affairs, but so are a few radical feminists. Since when do people who care about oppression use dehumanizing tactics such as demeaning and belittling people who are trying to fight against their own oppression and trivializing that oppression? Since when is using a snotty, crass word like “twanz” to refer to a member of a group of oppressed human beings considered acceptable behavior for a radical feminist? Referring to transwomen as “men who cut their dicks off,” “twanz,” “she-males,” and whatever other terms are de rigueur among those who call themselves trans-critical radical feminists isn’t clever, it’s gross and embarrassing, and makes all of us look like assholes. I’m aware that there are several trans activists online who use terms just as bad (if not worse) to attack radical feminists, but if trans-critical radical feminists want to claim to be the bigger woman, they need to act like it.

To be continued…

 

Coming Soon: Coca-Brola

15 Oct

The number of comments I’m required to delete that attempt to defend butthole bleaching tells me that I am not yet free to retire from blogging and bask in the glory of a post-male supremacist utopia, so I suppose I had better get back to it. It’s often hard to decide which squash to pluck from the cornucopia of examples of societal misogyny at my disposal, but I received a comment the other day from GraceMargaret regarding an ad campaign for Dr. Pepper Ten and was confronted not hours later with a dude brandishing a Dr. Pepper Ten, so this one fell into my lap, as it were.

Ad campaigns designed to sell products to men that had previously been marketed chiefly to women aren’t exactly novel at this point, but they seem to be getting more bizarre by the month. What were marketing departments thinking, targeting only women with admonitions to buy, buy, buy beauty and diet products? By associating diet drinks, diet pills, shower gel, and eye firming serums with womanity, the fuckability industries effectively precluded any chance they’d be able to sell any of their wares to people who’d rather die than be associated with women. The challenge overcoming the vagina stigma associated with these products poses to marketing, product development, and advertising departments has resulted in some fairly hilarious material. A recent trip to Target highlighted that for me when I wandered through the shower gel section and found shower pouffes in neon green, neon pink, cream, and aqua, then found the men’s shower gel section, where the pouffes were labeled “men’s shower buffs” and came in navy, maroon, black, and dark gray.  They were also four cents cheaper, which means Target had to — in addition to instructing the factory to create these additional “manly” colors — create a separate SKU for the “men’s shower buff” in order to differentiate it from the faggoty ol’ regular shower pouffe.

But that ain’t shit. Does anyone remember the Axe Detailer Shower Tool (thanks KendallMcK)?

Unilever created a men’s shower “tool” that looked exactly like a tire, then took the automotive theme even further by terming the item a “detailer” and putting out a commercial in which they refer to men’s balls and wiener as the “undercarriage.” Just ridiculous. Men will balk at no suggestion for how they might disassociate themselves with women, apparently, no matter how stupid it makes them look. Just look at the Slim Jim “Manbulance” campaign.

But we’re here to talk about soda. “We’ve been telling you that men drink Coke and women drink Diet Coke for decades, but forget that and start drinking it now, OK, bro?” is a pretty hard sell, but Coke figured, once they formulated a new zero-calorie Coke variant by mixing aspartame and Acesulfame K, that they could solve that problem by marketing the new formula to men as Coke Zero. The can is black and it purportedly tastes more like Coke. Add that to an ad campaign that appeals to the turgid male ego and sense of entitlement and you’ve got an officially non-gay diet soda:

The plan worked. Ask anyone who works in a restaurant who asks them for Coke Zero and opts to order regular Coke when the answer is no.

Though the Coke Zero marketing campaign indicated that it was a product designed for men — who, unlike women, deserve both zero calories and “real Coke taste” — women were never explicitly excluded from the right to quaff the new wonder beverage. Dr. Pepper, however, is letting women know that their new diet soda is for men only, and that women are welcome to fuck off and die before they’ll be invited to drink a DP10 with the boys. Dr. Pepper Ten has ten calories — from actual high fructose corn syrup — in addition to a machine-gun gray can, but the differences between Dr. Pepper Ten and Diet Dr. Pepper don’t end at minor formula adjustments and can design changes; the slogan for the new product is “Dr. Pepper Ten: It’s Not for Women.” Women can drink Diet Dr. Pepper, which “tastes more like regular Dr. Pepper” (than other drinks that weren’t Dr. Pepper or Diet Dr. Pepper before the advent of Dr. Pepper Ten, I’m assuming) or they can drink water or some other gay shit, but they are not welcome to DP10.

The ad mimics Predator, Sniper, Commando, Rambo, etc. and features a generic Action Asshole™ riding around in a Jeep, shooting a giant gun, and battling snakes and bad guys, all the while keeping his cool and nonchalantly informing the women in the audience that this is a movie for men, and Dr. Pepper Ten is soda for men. He then tosses an empty soda can from the vehicle — which triggers a net that catches the antagonists following his Jeep — and triumphantly points at the camera and declares, “catchphrase!” in an attempt to make idiots feel smart for realizing that action movie cliches are cliches in 2011, when everyone else figured it out sometime around 1993.

The question has been raised whether the TV spot is satirical, given the absurd tenor of the Coke Zero and Pepsi Max ads. I would be inclined to take that view if it weren’t for the fact that Dr. Pepper is trying to sell a product to half of all Americans, not fans of the good bits of  The Colbert Report and The Onion, or the fact that Dr. Pepper is planning a “mobile Man Cave” tour in the test market cities to promote DP10 (one of which I unfortunately live in), or the fact that this campaign looks exactly like every other example of dudevertising in recent memory (see the Burger King Seven-Incher, the Slim Jim Manbulance, every commercial ever aired on Spike or FX, etc.). Unclever, self-aware, faux snark deployed by people who don’t understand what they’re parodying or why it deserves derision does not satire make.

Men are going to start drinking Dr. Pepper Ten because men are stupid, but women, according to focus groups, are cool with the no-bitches-or-hoes marketing approach to the extent that they plan to drink the new product, incorrectly assuming that the new formula will come with slightly less cancer than Diet Dr. Pepper. That leads me to two depressing conclusions. First, so many women have absorbed the message that a woman who wears a size four or above is a fundamental failure as a human being that a multi-national corporation can safely assume that, even if they accompany it with a misogynistic marketing push that explicitly states that the product is not for women, women will buy any low-calorie product that appears on a shelf. Women will buy something that they think will help them avoid gaining weight even if it is being sold by an entity that expresses overt disdain for women, which means women have had their self-respect and dignity beaten out of them by the fuckability mandate. Second, men hate women and fear anything associated with womanliness to such an extreme extent that corporations can now sell products to men on the basis of nothing other than their not being for women. What men are buying here is not a diet soda, which was already available in the exact same flavor, but rather a diet soda with a “suck my dick” label. Societal misogyny and the absurdity of gender symbolism have infiltrated the diet soda market to the point that there are now formulas and can designs for men only. Think about that.

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