International Women’s Day is a Scam

If you work for a public agency, large corporation, or a progressive small or medium-sized organization, you’ll know that International Women’s Day is coming up. In anticipation of this, I’ve seen a lot of internal communications on diversity and inclusion in my own organization.

This includes a story on a book by Claire Shipman and Katty Kay that we’re encouraged to read, titled The Confidence Code. The book explores whether confidence is a product of nature or nurture; whether people are genetically predisposed to self-confidence.

What they’re talking about, of course, is why many women struggle to accept themselves, express their views, and promote themselves. Full disclosure: I haven’t read the book. From the synopsis, however, one can gather that the book concludes that some individuals might be genetically predisposed to self-confidence, but it can be learned. I think this is just common sense. Brains are incredibly elastic, with quite a bit of individual variation. We inherit traits from both males and females in our lineage.

However we got here, women who struggle to accept and assert themselves must make a choice at some point if they’re to break the cycle of self-doubt. We have to decide that we’re worth it, that not only do we have something to offer others, but more importantly, we have something to offer ourselves. We have innate value. Men can continue to be arrogant and dismissive, but we can be sure that unless we push back, they’ll take advantage of our acquiescence. So whatever else happens, it’s critical that women encourage each other to stand up.

As well meaning as it might be, though, self-help discourse usually fails women and girls. When Shipman is asked, “What did you find is one of the biggest things women do that undermines their self-worth or self-esteem?”, she responds:

We don’t let go. And that undermines how others see us. I remember doing an interview and after it was over, thinking that I had asked a stupid question. Later that evening, that thought was still swirling around in my head. We can let a doubt go round and round in our heads til it can literally drive us crazy. It can be debilitating and is an enemy of self-confidence.

We don’t let go?! This plays right into the hands of every man who’s ever accused a woman of nagging or overthinking. Before we can explain why women have developed this pattern, we need to identify it accurately. It’s no accident that so many women beat themselves up about insignificant mistakes and never feel like they’re good enough. It’s not natural for women to hate themselves. We’ve been taught to feel this way about ourselves and other women by extension. It’s called internalized misogyny. We’re represented as headless bodies and objects of male conquest and control, and treated like ancillary beings, barely human. We’re treated like shit because we’re women. Is this really a revelation?

Millennia of male domination have entrenched this system, and men continue to uphold and benefit from it. Does Shipmen think we hate ourselves just because? Or we’re masochists? That we’re foolish? Weak? That sometimes we’re given the wrong cues for no apparent reason?

There’s no mystery here. This world makes no secret of the fact that women are hated. It’s no wonder that women implicitly understand that they’re screaming into the void. They know that they can embrace a few masculine personality traits and that might win them respect and advance their careers. But it could just as easily be construed as a threat, and they’ve been punished for violating the strictures of femininity before. Why should they trust that it’s safe to be themselves now? What’s changed?

It all starts the moment we’re born and is reinforced consistently throughout our lives in every social space, from every angle, until it’s so ingrained that women believe we’re somehow born this way and men don’t need to change.

In the article, Shipman acknowledges that some messages aimed at girls are part of the problem but then goes on to say:

Teaching a child to accept and even embrace struggle, rather than shy away from it, is a crucial step along the path toward instilling confidence. You are showing your child that it’s possible to make progress without being perfect.

This is where she loses me. Girls don’t need to be taught to nobly embrace struggle. They already know how to do that, and they do it well. Too well, in fact. The problem is that females face the struggles they do because they’re female, and that boys and men treat them the way they do because they know they can. Girls are amazing. It’s boys who need to be taught how to deal with conflict, not to lash out at others, respond with violence, or become numb to the pain of others – girls especially.

The key lies in Shipman’s gender-neutral language: “teaching a child”, “showing a child”. Teaching which children what? We need to get right down to the root of the problem. Unfortunately, the only women who are embraced as experts and deemed worthy feminists have a tenuous grip on the issue. They don’t threaten the system, which is why they’re given a platform.

Meanwhile, everyone goes on pretending that things are getting better, that if only girls and women would somehow realize they can liberate themselves, everything would be fine. But the first step to liberation is understanding.

With each passing IWD, I see society crawling toward this radical awareness and I wonder how we’ll ever get there at this rate. The greatest obstacle to progress is the illusion of progress.

 

 

 

 

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Feminism and partisanship: does the Left own feminism?

Feminism identifies patriarchy as the root of social inequality; though oppression also exists along ethnic, religious, national and cultural axes which overlap to create multiple layers of marginalization and discrimination, all societies (with a mere handful of exceptions) are built on a system of male domination of females. Though the term ‘radical’ is widely interpreted to mean ‘extreme’ particularly in the realm of politics, the etymology of the word is far less loaded while illuminating a crucial point:

late 14c., in a medieval philosophical sense, from Late Latin radicalis “of or having roots,” from Latin radix (genitive radicis) “root” (from PIE root *wrād- “branch, root”). Meaning “going to the origin, essential” is from 1650s. Radical sign in mathematics is from 1680s.

Radical feminism therefore seeks to address the root of patriarchy – why it exists and how it functions. The goal of any system of oppression is the accumulation and control of resources: one group wants something another has; usually land, natural resources, and labour. What resource do women have that men want? Labour, certainly, but more fundamentally it’s the ability to reproduce the species. Men need women in order to have offspring who can carry on their legacy, take care of them when they’re elderly or ill, and bring honour to the family name – their name, of course.

The historical accumulation and maintenance of power and capital by men is a massive barrier that women as a class are still struggling to overcome. Women are aware that men are generally physically stronger than them. The prevalence of male violence against women presents enough of a threat to deter women from ending relationships with men, standing up to them, and choosing to prioritize their own lives and the lives women more generally.

But brute force alone isn’t enough. No system of oppression is complete without social engineering. Those without power must not only be convinced that they can’t win if they fight back; they must be convinced that fighting back is unacceptable or unthinkable. Enter the system of gender, or gender roles, as it’s more commonly known. Gender consists of sex role stereotypes that decree what each sex is supposed to do in relation to each other, i.e. masculinity and femininity. Masculinity is the social institution that gives males permission to be domineering, self-centred, and sociopathic. Femininity, on the other hand, grooms, coerces, and punishes women and girls into centring the feelings and demands of boys and men, arranging their appearance in relation to the male gaze and porn culture, and compromising their own self-interest and well-being in order to meet the expectation that they be managers and carers for all.

Gender permeates all cultures, all economic classes, all households. Whether one’s parents are liberal or conservative, religious or atheist, single-parent or traditional, gender roles are imposed both explicitly and subtly through limitless sources. Children grow up understanding what’s expected based on biological sex as reinforced by interactions with students and teachers, nannies, neighbours, politicians, business leaders, religious leaders, TV commercials, movies, toys, clothing, music, family friends, relatives, etc. No one escapes sexist brainwashing no matter how progressive one’s immediate family might be in theory or practice, and men benefit from sexism no matter how progressive they appear or try to be. Regardless of men’s individual upbringing or intentions, they have a vested interest in patriarchy and they don’t have to make any effort to wield that power. They’re born with it just as females are born into a role designed to force women to accommodate that power.

Is it any wonder that feminist spaces (places where women can gather freely without interference from men) is the only true safe haven for women? Feminism isn’t for white women, or educated women, or English-speaking women, or rich women, or conventionally attractive women, or heterosexual women. Nor is it for liberal or left-wing women alone. Feminism is for all women, even those who don’t identify as feminists, and even those whose political views we find repugnant.

Recently, three UK feminists traveled to Washington, D.C. to speak to politicians of all stripes about the importance of maintaining sex-based protections under Title IX as trans activists push to replace the protected category of sex with gender identity. These women are Posie Parker (AKA Kellie-Jay Keen-Minshull), Venice Allan (AKA Dr RadFem), and Julia Long. An uproar has ensued because Posie and Julia confronted two individuals, one of whom is Sarah McBride, a male who identifies as a woman and is the National Press Secretary for the Human Rights Campaign. McBride is lobbying the U.S. government to eliminate sex-based protections. Natasha Chart explains the context for the campaign:

McBride was there that morning to argue that girls in school have no right to bodily privacy when changing for gym class or when first managing menstruation in what should be girls-only bathrooms. McBride was there to argue for an end to girls’ sports, because they want boys to be able to join the girls’ sports teams. McBride was there to overturn decades of women’s rights advocacy, at the head of a movement that has brutally silenced women who dissent.

Posie posted a video of the interaction with McBride which was instantly denounced by LGBTQ+ organizations and websites like Gay Star News and PinkNews as a shocking incident of harassment and transphobia. Let’s see if their interpretation is fair and accurate:

First off, what right do men have to equivocate on the rights of women to be recognized as a class of people with unique challenges and needs? What right does any group have to tell children that they’re born wrong and to lead them toward permanent, dangerous medical procedures as they struggle to negotiate gender roles? It’s not surprising that organizations supportive of gender ideology would characterize this encounter in an unfavourable light. But what’s kept me awake this past week has been the way in which prominent feminists have torn into Posie and Julia, accusing them of launching an embarassing ambush, causing harm, and declaring these feminists a liability. These criticisms aren’t coming from liberal feminists. They’re coming from feminists who have vocally opposed the genderbread nonsense and have had the courage to say that actually, women are adult human females and nothing else.

What I see in this video are two men who hate women being paid good money to reverse feminists’ achievements in the name of human rights and progressive politics. I see two women seizing an opportunity and asking these men to be accountable. They didn’t call anyone names. They didn’t curse. They didn’t yell. And if you notice, the first thing McBride does when the women walk in is turn his head away from them and ignore them. Yet he’s being cajoled as a victim. Something doesn’t feel right about this. I realize that Posie has made controversial statements in the past but that doesn’t mean everything she does is wrong. This looks to me like an attempt by popular feminists who oppose gender self-declaration to purge feminists they view as problematic as they gain acknowledgement in mainstream politics.

I wonder whether the real controversy here is the fact that Women’s Liberation Front (WoLF) organized the campaign and they’ve partnered with conservative organizations to oppose gender self-declaration. Another feminist coalition, Hands Across The Aisle, is also not above working with people from the Right to defend the boundaries of women and girls, and to recognize biological sex as legally, socially and materially significant to women’s lives. That includes women from conservative families and communities. Likewise, children from all walks of life have a right to be protected regardless of where the adults around them fall on the political spectrum. Progressives like to think that conservatives are brutes who don’t care about women, and most of them don’t, but neither do progressives. So liberals support abortion rights. That’s easy. Men on the Left support abortion because they benefit from it; it means they may not have to take responsibility if they get a woman pregnant.

Liberals support the sex trade, pornography and surrogacy – all industries that exploit women. It was a conservative government under Stephen Harper in Canada that implemented the Nordic Model, as some liberal countries have also done. The Left, usually consisting of the Greens, NDP and Labour, has been the home of misogynists who wish to abolish the word ‘woman’ and replace it with ‘womxn’ (they don’t seem to mind the word ‘men’, interestingly). It’s liberals who are responsible for giving awards and positions to men who identify as women instead of actual women. It’s liberals who congratulate men for competing in women’s sports and stealing their medals. It’s liberals who turn a blind eye to arranged marriages, child marriage, female genital mutilation, honour killings, and acid attacks. It’s liberals who’ve embraced the words ‘TERF’ and ‘cis’. It’s liberals who argue that feminine beauty practices are a matter of personal choice and are empowering.

Feminists who criticize other women for working with conservatives don’t seem to realize that there’s no such thing as a a pure ally. No matter where you turn, the organization you’re working with – unless it’s a radical feminist group – will support you in some ways while undermining you in others. Hasn’t that always been the case? Even parties that purport to centre women purge feminists who dare say that men can’t be women and that women are oppressed because of our biological sex. I understand why it’s controversial to speak at an event hosted by a group like the Heritage Foundation and I’ll never question a woman who doesn’t feel comfortable doing so. I get it. But even in this hostile climate, I think it says a lot that an organization that opposes gay rights invited radical feminists to share their views, whereas the Left tries to shut radical feminists down every chance they get.

How do we advocate for women if we can’t say what a woman is? How do we support lesbians if we’re not allowed to define sexual orientation according to biological sex? Leftists who shun women for working with others on some issues are hypocrites who’ve hated women all along anyway. If they cared, they would have listened in the first place and not forced feminists to go looking elsewhere for support.

Why men keep getting away with being pervs and pedos: a case study of Marc Emery

Men can do the most outrageous, disgusting things and loads of people – mostly men but also women – will inevitably come to their defense even when the facts are damning. This can only happen in a culture that supports and worships male power, and devalues females. These two biases are self-reinforcing and serve to ensure that whatever men do, they’ll escape punishment and whatever women do, we’ll continue to be exploited, disbelieved and harmed. Sure, men are being called out, but rarely do they actually get the justice they deserve. The actions of celebrity men are highly visible, but how many average men have done terrible things and gotten away with it? Just from my experiences alone, I can list dozens.

Journalist Deidre Olsen recently published a shocking (not so shocking) thread on Twitter about the creepy advances that ‘Prince of Pot’ Canadian activist Marc Emery allegedly made to her when she was just 17. Further along the thread, she provides details and shares the stories of other women.

 

Emery has admitted to being a pervert but insists no one has ever complained to the authorities about him. That’s a solid defense because we all know most sexual assaults are reported. Right?? Well, Marc, maybe no one spoke up before but they sure as hell are now. He went on to say:

I’ve never had sex with anyone under 19 ever, so this idea that I’m grooming young women is not true

Emery may be a greasy sleazebag, but I’m sure he’s smart enough to know this doesn’t wash. Do all instances of sexual abuse involve actual intercourse? Of course they don’t. It remains to be seen what will come of the recent allegations but things don’t look good. Despite this, many are rushing to his defense. Just check out the incomprehensibly asinine comments of support posted under Emery’s statement on his Facebook page. Apart from the current allegations and those that have apparently been floating around for a long time (Jian Ghomeshi comes to mind), there’s plenty of evidence that makes it clear what kind of man Emery is: an egotistical chauvinist who enjoys debasing women and encourages other men to dominate and abuse them too. Like Roosh V and James Sears, Emery likes to bond with other men by humiliating women. Shall we review the evidence?

Yeah, dude. We could have told you famous men have always preyed on vulnerable women and girls. That’s because we live in patriarchy, not because it’s okay.

 

…But he’s not a pedophile, you see, because they’re probably of legal age. Nothing wrong about a middle-aged man getting turned on by girls, taking their picture while their backs are turned, and posting it on social media so other pigs can objectify them too. Please proceed to the next exhibit with caution. Emery is one sick fuck…

 

So do I believe that this violent vacuum of humanity tried to groom a 17 year-old girl on the internet, and has probably done and said a lot of other disgusting things to women and girls over the years? Yeah, I do.

Sexual harassment is so over

I logged into my Meetup account today because apparently someone sent me a message. I didn’t recognize the name. It was from a man named Ben who is also a member of a nature group. I’ve never attended an event.

Ben thought it was imperative to tell me he thinks I’m looking good. He’s grey-haired, looks like he’s maybe in his 50s and is seated beside a woman who’s wearing a wedding ring and seems close to him. Maybe she’s his sister?

FYI – I look like I’m about 25.

I joined the group because I want to see trees. Not dicks. If I wanted to be looking at dicks instead of getting some wonderful fresh air, I’d be looking at dicks. It’s not all about dicks.

Women are people. Not objects of conquest, robots, blank slates, holes, brainless zombies standing around waiting to be interrupted by a perpetual teenager. When I’m waiting for the bus on a given day, I’m thinking about the errand I have to run after work, what to make for dinner,  or that weird dream I had last night. All of those things are exponentially more important than what Mr. Macho Mouthbreather has on his mind. Nothing says “you’re my property” like assuming your intimate thoughts are important enough to spew to a woman you don’t know.

Of course, it’s about power – not attraction. Sometimes men feel the need to tell a woman that they don’t want to rape them. Like that’s supposed to make them sad.

Almost every day, another allegation surfaces of a powerful man who made a woman feel like garbage because he could. Far too often, a woman is assaulted by a strange man or (more likely) assaulted or killed by a male partner. We’ve gone too far now in mainstream culture to pretend that this is acceptable.

There are some issues that divide feminists. This isn’t one of them. There are two sides in this debate and they’re clear: either you’re committed to challenging male entitlement or you don’t value the lives of women. Call it what you want. Even if you’re watering it down as “sexual harassment” instead of male violence, it’s front and centre in the media now and there are just too many fed up women to let this go.

At around the same time I joined the nature group, I also joined a women’s hiking group. Everyone has been friendly and respectful. Some women met each other on hikes and are now dating. I’ve been an active member for months and have never gotten a creepy message.

To me, women’s spaces aren’t about avoiding men. They’re about connecting with people I feel safe around and realizing how much power women have when we get together.

Mainstream discourse around consent is leaving women and girls vulnerable

More men are agreeing that there’s a need for consent education and have shared success stories about how it’s improved their own understanding of male-female interactions and relationships. Which is good. It’s a start. But it’s not the solution, as mainstream discussion would have us believe, to male sexual violence against women and girls.

Forgive me if I’m more horrified than encouraged by the fact that men are just starting to have awareness of the issue now, and only because the problem has been dragged kicking and screaming into the daylight. How wonderful it must be to never have to think about a problem unless it affects you directly or someone forces you to pay attention. I have to wonder: these men who finally get it now and are so appreciative of women for enlightening them after repeating themselves over and over and over again – were they going around raping women before? Are we to understand that they were so ill-equipped to understand when they shouldn’t lay hands on someone that they needed guidance? Or is it that they were too callous to accept that responsibility for themselves and were waiting for women (those mystical nurturing creatures) to save them from a life of depravity? Or perhaps women have simply been so beaten down that their pain and indignation is too great to ignore.

Are we seriously supposed to give men the benefit of the doubt? Like, they didn’t have the capacity until right now to distinguish between right and wrong? Poor pets, they were victims, you see, unable to recognize when they were gratifying themselves at the expense of women and girls and exploiting their position. Patriarchal culture simultaneously makes gods of men while infantilizing them for the purpose of rationalizing their violence. We need to give them far more credit. Abusive men don’t lack agency; they’ve always been in a position to know what they’re doing and the fact that they need to be told that they don’t have a right to harm us is indicative of a much deeper problem.

When people supposedly start ‘caring’ because you’ve asked them to, that means they didn’t care before and they still don’t care now. People who truly value the dignity of others don’t have to be convinced to show it. All we’re doing is giving men a new script around which to model their language and behaviour in public. The appropriate time to begin cultivating self-awareness and empathy is in childhood, when human beings are forming their most basic ideas about themselves and their relationship to the world around them. Instead, we’re rearing boys into masculinity and teaching them that females are inferior.

Men haven’t been violating the boundaries and bodily integrity of women and girls because society wasn’t telling them that they needed to get permission first. They do so because they implicitly believe they’re entitled to take what they want and do as they wish, particularly where females are concerned because they view us as objects rather than human beings of equal value.

Even when a woman says she doesn’t want to have sex, rapists insist she does. They privilege their own thoughts and desires above hers. What is she, after all, but an inert vessel with no purpose or will of its own? This is what it means to be objectified. The porn men and boys consume is littered with degrading, dehumanizing language and acts, many of which identify that a specific place in the social hierarchy is reserved for racialized women. The problem isn’t a lack of consent; it’s a desire to possess and defile that which is beneath you. Sexual assault is about domination and power. Men who do these things are sadists: violation is the point. They don’t want us to consent. They want to break us.

When we talk about consent, what we’re really talking about is male violence against women and girls. Females as a group don’t need to be reminded not to violate the boundaries of their male peers who are generally physically stronger than them and dominate the social order. Most importantly, telling women and girls that they’ll be protected from sexual assault if men are simply better educated places them in danger because it ignores the fact that a core group of men hate women so much, they’ll hurt us anyway. Meanwhile, a critical mass of men who don’t themselves physically attack women aid them by downplaying and decontextualizing misogyny, letting rape jokes pass, or allowing sexist comments and behaviour to continue unchallenged.

Overt or violent misogynists lower the bar, making men who are chauvinists in their own right, but better at hiding it, look like decent men. They exploit this situation by demanding accolades from women, enjoying the space they can take up as women and girls curtail their behaviour to avoid the threat of male violence, and gaslighting women who dare to call them out. For every man who’s willing to take responsibility, there are more who either vocally protest any suggestion that they’re part of a social class that terrorizes women, or they disguise their resentment and disdain for women behind a mask of anti-feminism and libertarian free speech rhetoric.

If we want to address the root of the problem, we also have to recognize that consent can hardly be described as entirely self-determined and intact in a culture that grooms girls into submissive heterosexual relationships. It’s inaccurate, naive, and ultimately oppressive to say that girls are free to make their own choices when those choices are constrained by an intense pressure to behave within the strictures of femininity so that they’re deemed attractive to boys and acceptable to society at large. Girls need to know unequivocally that they have a right not only to consent, but to refuse.

And finally, when we talk about male violence and misogyny, that conversation should be devoted to supporting and healing women and girls, and ultimately abolishing gender. Not celebrating men, thanking them for not raping us, or spending a fraction of a second worrying about how the topic makes them feel. Are there good men? Honestly, it’s just not a feminist obligation to prove that men aren’t sexist. Given how pervasive sexism is spanning from mild/subtle misogyny to the extreme of violence, it’s implausible that all men don’t contribute to it in some form. I truly marvel at the arrogance of men who fancy themselves special enough to have avoided soaking up masculinity and misogyny. It doesn’t take much creativity to imagine what a man who’s internalized the idea that he’s superior might think of women.

You can’t expect or convince people to care when they have every reason not to. Women are going to have to fight for our humanity, like we always have.

Open letter to the National Post: resistance to gender identity laws is about much more than political correctness

Recent articles (here and here) in the National Post have exposed a dispute surrounding gender identity taking place at U of T, one of many universities trying to navigate this polarizing issue. It’s critical that the public be informed that there’s more at stake than just transgender rights and freedom of expression.

Gender identity is indeed, as Jordan Peterson says, philosophically incoherent and scientifically unfounded. It’s also true that forcing others to participate in affirming one’s self-perception is a violation of individual autonomy. The more pressing concern, however, is not political correctness but rather that gender identity has created a dangerous landscape of competing rights that adversely impacts females. As such, dissension shouldn’t be monopolized by people who aren’t invested or interested in women’s rights.

According to NatPo writer Chris Selley, resistance to recognizing people’s chosen identity (the list is huge and continually expanding) comes down to a straightforward matter of being a jerk. But consider this: when gender identity replaces biological sex in law, distinct sex categories and therefore sex-based protections for females disappear because any male-bodied individual is considered a woman, or even female, strictly and solely on his verbal declaration. Many Canadians are supportive of transgender protections against discrimination in areas such as employment and housing (as am I) but aren’t aware of this implication. Toby’s Law, passed in Ontario, granted serial sex offender Christopher “Jessica” Hambrook entry into two women’s shelters on the basis of his transgender identity as a woman, where he assaulted at least four women. Despite the exploitation of these laws being well-documented, women and girls are left to question what rights they have (examples include the case of Student X in Minnesota and Colleen Francis in Washington), and we’re supposed to think this is a bad thing because some people don’t want to use preferred pronouns.

Imagine being a female forced to share public showers, change rooms, prisons, shelters, and other protected spaces with males because they claim to have an indescribable internal female feeling, that they can’t be questioned when they say they’re women because they identify with the stereotypes forced on females, or they don’t think they’re men because they don’t identify with masculine stereotypes. Imagine being told that you’re only a woman because you choose to identify as one, hence choosing to be a target of discrimination and violence, even though men who harm women and girls are unaware of and uninterested in how they see themselves and wish to be addressed. If you’re a sexual assault survivor, you’re expected to get over your trauma.

Postmodern queer theory and gender politics have arbitrarily decreed that a woman is anyone who identifies as a woman – end of discussion – and even thinking about asking a question is transphobic and bigoted. Now imagine that this circular logic forms the basis of gender identity laws in many countries, starting from the UN and trickling down, and you’ll be describing a reality few know exists. Women and girls are ordered to be silent, nurturing, and to surrender their boundaries. This is not acceptable. Not ever, not for any reason, even when it’s presented as a remedy for the problems faced by another group of people coping with their own unique challenges.

There are a number of common strawman arguments in circulation. I’ll address three to illustrate the lack of understanding around the issue:

  1. Opponents of gender identity laws are saying that transgender people are inherently predatory.
  2. Opponents think that women and girls will be safe if we don’t let transgender people use the facilities of their choice.
  3. Predators have always been able to get into female spaces, so what’s the difference?

The problem is that a law whose criterion for entry is self-declaration as opposed to biological sex effectively removes all barriers faced by predators who realize that all they have to do is say they identify as female/girl/woman. This loophole is publicized every time an incident is reported in the news. You’d have to be something of a recluse not to have heard about the controversy surrounding transgender bathroom laws.

Sex-segregated spaces were never understood as impenetrable bubbles that deliver absolute protection. They’ve always been intended to provide, as much as is practically possible, privacy and safety for females. It’s irrelevant whether particular individuals who don’t appear to be transgender can pose as transgender to make a political point; sincerity can’t be assessed if it’s unlawful to question one’s stated gender identity. In such a situation, literally any man can obtain unfettered access, whereas before he could be questioned and ejected if necessary. The fact that most perpetrators of male violence are known to their victims and there’s no way to guarantee safety in some circumstances are not valid reasons to expose women and girls to further risk. This should be obvious to anyone who values and respects females. Trying to convince them of what they should be comfortable with is a manifestation of rape culture. If you’re trying to negotiate someone’s boundaries, regardless of why they exist, you’ve already violated them.

There was no question about the need for sex segregation before gender identity was popularized. Until recently, no one was equating it with white supremacist laws in the American south. So why now? Sex segregation isn’t an expression of social hierarchy; it reflects a need and a right for females to participate fully in public life. Shaming people for not wanting to expose themselves or be exposed to the opposite sex against their will is an affront to human dignity, irrespective of whether some people think it’s bizarre or wrong, or feel comfortable doing so themselves.

There are many other ways in which gender identity negatively impacts women and girls. For the feminists critiquing this ideology, resistance isn’t a matter of poor judgement, character flaws or a desire to say offensive things without being accountable. These issues warrant rigorous analysis and discussion in the media and by the Canadian government as they consider the ramifications of Bill C-16.

Male violence and the problem with masculinity

Increasingly, people are talking about reforming masculinity in an effort to share this world with more kind, caring, balanced males who are better capable of managing their emotions and responding civilly to difficult situations. Implicit in this is the recognition that male violence is real and that it’s at least partly socially constructed through the negative aspects of masculinity. But you wouldn’t get this idea from reading the daily news. The media still portrays instances of male violence as the sole cause of some other factor – passion, heartbreak or mental illness. It’s still not socially acceptable to name male violence and male violence against women and girls is rarely described as the hate crime that it is. Women who simply point out the phenomenon – without threatening any violence themselves – are quickly punished.

 

 

Even when we do discuss the blatant reality that almost all violence is committed by males, however, a few notable things typically happen:

  1. The source of male violence is not adequately explored
  2. Masculinity is usually only critiqued in terms of extreme expressions e.g. violence
  3. The proposed solution is to reform masculinity, thus effectively maintaining it

In this article, I’m going to explore male violence and its root in masculinity, and then I’m going to take it a step further. If masculinity as we know it is toxic, what about it is toxic exactly, how do we change it, and ultimately, why would we want to maintain it at all?

Why does male violence happen?

Naming the problem of male violence is one thing. Understanding why it happens is another. Growing up as children, we’re often told, “boys will be boys”. What would otherwise be interpreted as abusive and inappropriate when a boy harasses a girl is passed off as a simple crush. Time and again we see that girls must be ladylike while boys are allowed to exhibit all kinds of obnoxiousness. They can’t help it, apparently. They’re wired that way.

If males are programmed to destroy, wreak havoc, harm, rape and kill, what’s the rationale for having laws against these actions if we believe men aren’t responsible for their actions? What would be the point of telling boys to be considerate and respectful? Either they’re slaves to biology or they’re not. If we believe that they have an innate propensity for violence and selfishness, then we need to start having a very different conversation about what to do about the male sex. If they’re not, then we need to stop making excuses for unacceptable behaviour and critically examine why women don’t seem to be interested in doing these things while men do. And why despite that, do we talk about these two groups the way we do?

 

 

Is some degree of male violence influenced by biological factors? What would this mean? Is it true that testosterone really does predetermine aggression and violence and that males are born with a gene that makes it harder for them to respond calmly to stressful situations? If that’s the case, then we’re left to conclude once again that violence is inevitable and that men – but more so women and children – must accept that they’re the unfortunate sacrifices of male biology.

Biological determinism raises other unsettling questions: if male biology is so flawed, so prone to irrational, violent behaviour, why are men allowed to occupy positions of power? Why are they allowed to be police officers? Teachers? Spiritual leaders? Politicians? Judges? Doctors? Fathers? If we believe that men can be trusted with these roles, then we can’t logically claim that male violence is a defect of male biology. And if male violence is inevitable, then we’re certainly not doing much to mitigate it.

It’s impossible to observe male behaviour in a non-socialized environment, so there’s no way we can cleanly parse out dispositions as either biologically or socially-driven. But we do know that our current social environment ascribes particular roles and attributes to males which are labeled masculine. If males aren’t all born with the same personality template, is it so far fetched to attribute behavioural patterns to social programming? Could it be that the persistence of male entitlement that boys and men display towards females is learned and excused?

A man who expects his wife to cook for him and clean up after him shares an attitude of entitlement with a man who sexually assaults a woman as she’s jogging in a public park. Though such conduct may be expressed at different intensities and in different ways, it bears the hallmark of masculinity and coexists on the same spectrum: enough men feel they have the right to violate women’s boundaries that it creates a climate of fear among women and girls. It’s why females have separate spaces set aside for them for intimate purposes outside of the home, they’re wary of being in isolated or dark places alone, have their own crisis shelters, and make so many unconscious decisions every day in order to avoid male violence.

We’re supposed to accept this as normal? Even if brain scans showed a significant difference between the brains of females and males – and they don’t – that still wouldn’t explain the difference. In the feminist theory of gender (gender being masculinity and femininity), we have an explanatory model that demonstrates a clear link between male socialization and violence.

Some people will say that men who are violent and abusive toward women are outliers; they conjure the image a monster, a rogue archetype. When men do these things to women but don’t fit this profile, the media and courts feign ignorance about whether the guy can possibly have done it on purpose. Contrary to popular discourse, these activities aren’t being spearheaded by exceptionally idiotic, socially maladjusted men.

Many people who admit there’s a problem do this funny thing that makes you wonder if they really mean it when they say they care about women. They revert to biological determinism when particular aspects of male behaviour are inconveniently questioned – especially when it’s of a sexual nature. Male batterers and mass shooters are exhibiting some sort of extreme masculinity, something gone terribly wrong or taken too far, whereas men who engage in all manner of predatory and exploitative activities are just guys being guys. Some people will go so far as to say that men need a release valve; if you don’t allow them to get their aggression out or indulge in their sexual fantasies – no matter how depraved or harmful – they’ll become so frustrated they’ll have no choice but to take it out on those who are vulnerable or just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. We hear the tired old arguments that men are just naturally more visual and have greater sexual interest. Few people question whether this is actually true. The moment you evoke biology as a reason for a man’s choices, male violence and privilege are protected and reinforced.

Is it enough to just tweak masculinity?

Change is not necessarily improvement and not everyone who says they want to change masculinity for the better means the same thing. Pro-rape men’s rights activist Roosh V has coined the term neomasculinity in the hopes of ‘rescuing’ masculinity and ‘restoring’ men to their rightful place. His vision is a gendered version of Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” rhetoric: just the title of his Return of Kings website makes it clear who he thinks should rule in this new masculine landscape.

What about calls to reform ‘toxic masculinity’, then? Tom Hardy, for example, urges men to “be masculine, not macho”. In this article, The Red Bulletin anoints Hardy as a Real Man, which insofar as the piece is concerned appears to just mean being a good person while having a penis. Hardy says that men can and should be caring, considerate, patient, and respectful. This is encouraging. Here’s a male celebrity who’s a great actor and role model for young men saying that masculinity as it’s been practiced for a very long time isn’t so great after all. Maybe this does represent a shift in societal attitudes about gender. And why wouldn’t we want to encourage males to be more of these things we’ve traditionally associated with femininity?

Why do we need gender anyway?

The concepts of masculinity and femininity aren’t accidental or neutral. They define appropriate behaviour for males and females which orders them into a hierarchy, such that whatever characteristics make men dominant are deemed masculine and therefore encouraged in males, and whatever characteristics make females submissive are deemed feminine and therefore encouraged in females. To ensure this social hierarchy is well understood by all, supposedly masculine characteristics are valued as superior to supposedly feminine characteristics. Many people recognize the existence of sex-based inequality but are unable to explain its origin or dynamics. The sexual and reproductive exploitation of female bodies is enabled and sanctioned through this social engineering – an entrenched and seemingly natural and inevitable ideology of misogyny.

The problem isn’t that traits are bad in and of themselves. Aggression or violence might be required in survival situations or where personal safety is threatened, for example. But why aren’t particular behaviours expected from people on the basis of need or context rather than because they’re assumed to be inherent or natural to, or appropriate for, males or females only? Why would we associate the traits ‘caring, considerate, patient, and respectful’ with either masculinity or femininity if we want both sexes to exhibit them? If we believe everyone should do the things that good people do, then there’s no need for the categories of masculine and feminine where mannerisms are concerned.

It only makes sense to speak of masculinity and femininity in terms of the biological attributes specific to male and female sexed bodies, for instance, as they relate to the different healthcare needs of males and females. No matter what biological differences exist between the sexes, sex should not determine how people are expected to think, feel and act, and the only way to challenge these expectations is by doing away with gender – the social categories of masculinity and femininity – altogether.