Saturday, June 02, 2018

Cathy Young on Jordan Peterson And Feminism. And My Responses.

Three examples of the most misogynist parts of American culture were among the things I read on Friday:

First, the New York Times posted an opinion piece concerning the women of the Alt right: the fascist/racist/misogynist part of the American electorate.

The piece begins by noting that women are as rare as hen's teeth among the public demonstrations of white supremacy, probably because that supremacy should properly called white male supremacy.

But there are some female white supremacists!  They call themselves tradwives, the kinds of women who stay at home, maximize the number of white children they birth and obey their husbands in everything.  A nightmarish version of the myth about 1950s.

We all know how well that experiment worked to keep women happy.  But never mind, these new fascists are going to follow Hitler's lead and force white women back into the Kinder, Kirche and Küche box.  What they plan for women of color is far, far worse, of course.

Some white supremacist women seem  to be willing to go along with their expected submissive roles, perhaps because they believe that women's liberation is a bad thing, one which has made women's lives more dangerous.* But the men in that movement don't welcome even those women:

At present, these shared dissatisfactions haven’t helped the alt-right recruit significant numbers of women because, quite simply, the men cannot keep their seething misogyny in check. Women, even those initially sympathetic to alt-right ideas, face blistering hostility on alt-right message boards and forums when they try to participate.

So.  So,  I say, while meditatively snacking on popcorn.  It makes sense for the men not to want women's online presence, because white male supremacy is exactly that.  Those women are not supposed to have a voice.

Second, Gavin Innes of the Proud Boys (yet another male supremacy movement) has the habit of explaining why women shouldn't have paid jobs of any kind, including those in the police force.  Indeed, according to Innes, women shouldn't vote, either.  Or step out of the house, I guess.

It's possible that these two stories overlap.  Innes could well be one of the white male supremacists, after all.  Both stories are about constraining women's rights by trying to push them back into a life of complete dependence on and complete obedience to their male partners.

The third, and the most disgusting piece of news I read is about Nathan Larson who is running in Virginia on a pedophile and rape platform, stating that "people are tired of all this political correctness."  The Libertarian Party of Virginia has disowned him.  His manifesto reads like something from a horror movie:

According to Larson’s campaign manifesto, his platform as a “quasi-neoreactionary libertarian” candidate includes protecting gun ownership rights, establishing free trade and protecting “benevolent white supremacy,” as well as legalizing incestuous marriage and child pornography.
In the manifesto, Larson called Nazi leader Adolf Hitler a “white supremacist hero.” He urged Congress to repeal the Violence Against Women Act, adding, “We need to switch to a system that classifies women as property, initially of their fathers and later of their husbands.” He also showed sympathy for men who identify as involuntary celibates, or incels, suggesting it is unfair that they “are forced to pay taxes for schools, welfare, and other support for other men’s children.”

It's always a dilemma to know if one should critique misogyny of these extreme types or not give it more amplification.  I have no real way of knowing how popular the above views might be, though I very much doubt that many people would agree with the sick and evil mind of Larson.  Perhaps it would be better not to amplify them if they are rare views?

At the same time, knowing about them is a precondition for explicitly and strongly rejecting them and the movements that advocate them.

I gave you those three examples, because they cast Cathy Young's recent opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times about Jordan Peterson's appeal to some young men in a different light:  As something akin to a gateway drug to the truly evil Alt Right movement, including its racist beliefs.

Young criticizes feminists for not addressing the pain of young men who no longer know if they are supposed to be the dominant patriarchal rulers of women or something else. This feminist failing, she argues, makes those young men easy prey for Peterson, the prophet preaching a return to patriarchal hierarchies, though with some gauze tossed over the facts.

That's a lot of blame put on feminism.  But Young has more**!  She argues that feminists are advocating for what amounts to a matriarchy:
For all its successes, contemporary feminism’s main message to men is not one of equal partnership. Rather, it’s: Repent, abase yourself, and be an obedient feminist ally — and we still won’t trust you. It’s no wonder that Peterson has found an eager audience in this climate. If feminists don’t like his message, they should offer a better one.
Must add creating that message to my to-do list.

More seriously, the two choices Young presents to us are weird.  They exclude the possibility that some of the young men who like Peterson's message don't want to be equal partners with women, that their world view is based on gender-based hierarchies.  Peterson, certainly, doesn't believe in the equality of men and women, given his ruminations on Eve, the snake and the apple, and his approval of traditional patriarchal hierarchies.

They also exclude the obvious conservative idea (which should appeal to Young) that those young men are  themselves responsible for becoming equal partners or at least well-functioning citizens.  Sure, help is always a good thing to give, but I sense that Young is arguing that feminists broke the world and now they must fix it.  All alone.

I have never been able to figure out why masculinity is viewed as both the dominant power in many parts of the manosphere and at the same time so frail that almost any kind of criticism will shatter it***.  Neither have I been able to figure out why the well-being of some men (Gavin Innes, Nathan Larson, the Alt Right racist misogynists, and so on) appears utterly conditional on the brute subjugation of women.

Perhaps I am naive, but I do believe in the equal partnership idea, in the idea that we are on the same team, and that we are much more the same than different.  We all yearn for pretty much for the same basic things and we all feel pain when we are hurt.

The task Young demands from feminism is an impossible one, if Peterson's acolytes are expected not to do any of the work themselves.  In that it's not so different from the tasks all sorts of people have assigned feminists:  Be the only people who care about oppressed women of all races, ethnic backgrounds and religions, but also be equally eager to fix every other problem the world suffers from.  If you do not succeed in that latter task (which is impossible), then the fault is yours and your feminism has failed.

I wonder how my first three examples of misogyny are the fault of feminism.


* Vaguely quoting the Handmaid's Tale:  These women are offered "freedom from," rather than "freedom to."

The latter has dangers.  The former looks at first glance safer, but nobody is going to defend tradwives against their lords and masters, and given that tradwives are not supposed to have paid jobs,  their financial well-being ultimately depends on only those men and what they deem sufficient.  Or would depend, in the kind of world the white male supremacists are plotting.

The former also means that no woman can ever become anything else but a submissive wife and mother.  Just one career path for all women, with a lifelong boss and no promotions.

That is not a loving partnership.

** Including this:

In this bewildering environment, Peterson offers a code of personal responsibility and self-discipline. Although his message appeals to both genders, the core of his fan base and the focus of his world-saving fervor are young men. Indeed, one of Peterson’s central themes is that men in the modern Western world are in crisis.

Crisis or no, there is certainly evidence that many men and boys have been left struggling by the cultural transformations of recent decades. A 2013 MIT study, titled “Wayward Sons,” notes that boys are more likely than girls to be negatively affected by parental divorce; that young men are less likely to go college or even complete high school; that working-class men are more likely to be left behind by economic shifts that working-class women; and that those who lose out in the labor market are likely to face poor prospects for marriage and fatherhood.
I don't think any of that has much to do with feminism, with the possible exception of divorce frequencies, given that feminism made escaping bad marriages somewhat easier for women.  But most early feminists were not advocating for divorce.  Rather, they were advocating for better marriages and the right to escape from bad ones.

The other problems Young mentions are probably linked to traditional concepts of masculinity:

For instance, boys might not want to do well at school if girls also do well at school, based on the subtractive definition of masculinity (masculinity is only what women don't or can't do).  (It's also true that the jobs available for men without college education are considerably better-paying than the traditional jobs available for women without such education.  Even many of the latter now require a college degree (such as nursing).)

Working class men fare less well than working class women in bad labor markets because women are more likely to accept service jobs when well-paying blue-collar jobs disappear.  One reason for that difference may be that service jobs are regarded as female jobs, and some concepts of masculinity make them difficult for men to accept without feelings of emasculation.  The service jobs also pay less than the disappeared mostly male blue-collar jobs. 

Thus, losing the better blue-collar job is a more bitter pill for traditionalist men than losing a worse blue-collar job might be for traditionalist women.  The former may choose to stay unemployed longer, in the hope that the good jobs will return.  Or that Trump will bring them back.

Finally, men who "lose out" on labor markets may not do poorly in marriage if they are willing to contribute inside the home.  Someone not working for money or at home is unlikely to be a good marriage prospect, whether male or female.

In short, I see almost everything in that list as something caused by the kind of traditional masculinity and traditional gender roles Peterson advocates.

**** This does not mean that I like the overly sweeping genetic or demographic generalizations that are so frequently used on Twitter and elsewhere, even when they are aimed at, say, white men.   For one thing, they are exactly the kind of generalizations much of sexism and racism is based on.

But to be hurt by the term "toxic masculinity", say, is odd.  The term does not mean that men are toxic; it means that some culturally-constructed versions of masculinity are.

The probable reason for interpreting the term "toxic masculinity" as an insult to all men is the fact that right-wingers and anti-feminists see masculinity as a purely innate and constant characteristic, not influenced by culture or upbringing, something that every man will automatically share.  That's not how I see the term, or how most people on my side of the political aisle see it.