Friday, January 19, 2018

Andrew Sullivan On What A Woman Is

Andrew Sullivan wrote an ode to manhood about two decades ago.  I still remember it.

His new piece runs along similar lines: There's no patriarchy, biological sex differences explain more of the different fates of women and men in this society than left-feminists pretend to believe (though in secret they admit to such doubts), and the reason Trump won is not that his rival was a female.

Nope.  It was that his (female) rival (or left-feminists) dissed on half the humankind, the half which is male, by criminalizing their innate maleness.  That left the insulted men no other avenue but to vote for Trump and his obvious approval of all sorts of traditional forms of macho behavior.

 Just in case you are still unsure about how Hillary Clinton and left-feminists dis men, Andrew teaches us by doing a reversal on that.  By dissing women, that is:

A long time ago now, I came rather abruptly face-to-face with what being a man means.
 You get a real sense of what being a man is from an experience like that, as the rush of energy, strength, clarity, ambition, drive, impatience and, above all, horniness...

So what a woman is consists of lack of energy, weakness, lack of clarity, lack of ambition, lack of drive, patience and, above all, lack of horniness. I hope there's no lack of clarity about all that now.

The above quote, by the way, refers to the time in Sullivan's life when he was receiving treatment for HIV, and part of that treatment decreased his testosterone levels.  The testosterone injections and how he experienced them is what the writes about.

This means, my friends, that women are exactly the same as male people suffering from being HIV-positive and thus having their testosterone levels lowered:

The visceral experience opened my eyes to the sheer and immense natural difference between being a man and being a woman, and helped me understand better how nature is far more in control of us than we ever want to believe.

Wow.  Just wow.  Perhaps I should clarify my astonishment here by noting that Andrew Sullivan, in that earlier time in his life, had not suddenly changed into a biological female.  Women sometimes experience a few bizarre moments of clear-headedness, even ambition, though that latter is often quickly squashed by the cultures we live in.  Women even sometimes get horny.  But I'm sure that Andrew's experience of being female is more important to take into account than my decades-long experience of living as female.

The rest of this new ode to malehood tells us that biological sex differences are real and that they are the main reason why we have such unequal societies, not some bogeyman patriarchy*.  You wouldn't know about this, because left-feminists don't believe in any innate sex differences whatsoever, except when they do, of course.

And that's when we study other animals.  Andrew argues that even left-feminists are comfortable with the very clear sex roles in the general animal kingdom, but somehow assume that humans are the only animals who are born as blank slates.

Yup.  Humans clearly are not born as blank slates.  But humans aren't like, say,  lions, either, because even though male lions have harems (or female lions pick one toyboy), it's the female lions who bring home most of the bacon.  Neither are humans like peacocks or fish or moths.

If we had to pick some animals that would be a good comparison to humans then we might as well pick primates, right?  Our closest relatives.  But which primates?  The chimpanzees are different from the gorillas which are different from the orangutans which are different from the gibbons which are different from the bonobos.

It's always fun when someone like Sullivan decides to be the expert on what various schools of feminists believe, what they may or may not have been exposed to, what is clearly biological and what is not biological in human beings, and so on.

Gender essentialist conclusions have been part and parcel of the history of sex differences from the day that research field was created.  The conclusions have always come first, then whatever evidence exists at that time has been picked to support them.  Once it was the smaller brain of women, then it was the XY chromosome, then it was assumed sex differences in the use of brain halves, then testosterone, and on and on.

But even today's research findings are more complicated than the way Sullivan chooses to interpret them.  Genes and the environment interact, epigenetics may play a role, and, in any case, any measurements we do on individuals after birth are already affected by both their genetics and their life experiences.

This means that his argument about the absolutely clearly biological nature of male aggression in sex might equally well reflect something which is caused by any of, or by a mix of genetic and environmental and cultural factors.  I quote him:

I live in a sexual and romantic world without women, where no patriarchy could definitionally exist, a subculture with hookups and relationships and marriages and every conceivable form of sexual desire that straight men and women experience as well. And you know what you find? That men behave no differently in sexual matters when there are no women involved at all. In fact, remove women, and you see male sexuality unleashed more fully, as men would naturally express it, if they could get away with it. It’s full of handsiness and groping and objectification and lust and aggression and passion and the ruthless pursuit of yet another conquest. And yes, I mean conquest. That’s what testosterone does. It’s also full of love, tenderness, compassion, jealousy, respect, dignity, and a need for security and a home. It’s men’s revenge on men. The old joke applies: What does a lesbian bring on a second date? A U-Haul. What does a gay man bring on a second date? What second date?
As a matter of fact patriarchy, to the extent it exists, would not suddenly stop existing when all those in the room belong to one biological sex.  Ideas deeply embedded in our cultures don't have that kind of flexibility, because we are largely unaware of them. 

And note that the above quote describes a situation where there are no physical power differences between the participants, where nobody will end up with an undesired pregnancy and so on.  In other words, there are proximal biological reasons for why women might behave differently in sexual interactions, even if on some level their desires might present themselves in the form of a no-holds-barred orgy, such as the chimpanzee females seem to prefer.


So what is our Andrew really trying to say here?  That sexual molestation is baked into being a man?  That we should let boyz be boyz?  If so, where do we draw the line?  Should women be in the labor market?  How many molested girls and women would have been AOK in the case of Lawrence Nassar?  How many molested boys in the case of Jerry Sandusky?

Sigh.  I always find it fascinating how acceptable sample sizes of one are in these kinds of stories.  Because Andrew feels a certain way, then all men do.  Just let me try to do that same kind of writing about me = all women and you will get a never-ending bloodbath of poor Echidne.  But Andrew can get away with it. 

And sigh.  Someone on Twitter today pointed out that many anti-feminists seem to believe that men are sorta monsters** and many feminists that men are rational and empathetic creatures.  The latter are then accused of hating men.
*  That a system of patriarchy, in its very essence, must be based on biological sex differences is worth pointing out here.  We need at least average sex differences in physical upper-body strength and perhaps also in the willingness to use those differences in the service of aggression.

**  Or at least utterly unable to exert any kind of control over their hormones.  I hope it's needless to say that I don't agree with that formulation, but it is common on the right in the "we constrain you for your own good" type of policy prescriptions about women and girls.