Tuesday, March 29, 2011

I'm a what?

Before I begin this post, I would like to briefly state that I have never formally studied feminist theory or the social sciences beyond the compulsory courses I did in early high school. If something is grossly wrong (which I hope is not the case), I will welcome well-reasoned corrections (i.e. don't just tell me I'm wrong, tell me why I'm wrong).

There has been a lot of talk lately of a certain author of a comic called Dilbert, who goes by the name Scott Adams. This Adams recently wrote a blog post, on the request of his readers, about a concept called Mens' Rights. Unfortunately, he did it in a way which was insulting to pretty much all of humanity, and unsurprisingly triggered a shitstorm. From what I can tell, some people have been nasty to Adams in return, rather than refuting the many incorrect "facts" which he presents. I personally don't think he necessarily deserves to be called names for believing commonly believed stereotypes about men and women, even though his use of said stereotypes is odious. That being said, his childish copy-paste reaction on a number of feminist blogs which critique the original post, and his blanket dismissal of other people's feelings and opinions on the matter deserve the utmost contempt.

Adams is of the opinion that his original blog post mocks the "Mens' Rights Activists" (hereafter referred to as MRAs). And so it does, to some extent. By calling them "pussies" and not saving their energy for more important battles. And then he justifies this by suggesting that you deal with women in the same way you would a petulant child demanding candy or a flailing mentally disabled person who hit you in the face. He says that he's not comparing these groups of people, but then compares them again, repeating that you should deal with them in "disturbingly similar" manners, justified by saying that you should only fight in battles you know you're going to win.

Er. Pardon me, Scott Adams. This paints women as irrational beings which men can only deal with by ignoring as much as possible. At risk of being dismissed by critics for being hysterical, this shit really pisses me off.

Women are adults, and deserve equal treatment with other adults in the human race. Treating women like children because "it's just easier that way" is a kind of cop-out, don't you think? I don't have any studies, but I would think that treating women like the fully rational beings they are would actually be easier for everyone - they would no longer have to deal with the frustration of constantly being reminded that they are considered less-than because of circumstances they have no control over, and everyone would be less likely to need to deal with the messed up relationships which result from systemic power imbalances like this.

Let me re-finish Scott Adams' statement on battles.

"If a woman tells you that she's earning 80c to your dollar, you don't argue with her." You do something about it. You don't save your energy for more important battles, because this one is important (and contrary to popular belief, you can care about multiple issues concurrently). That may not be the path of least resistance, because social change is difficult. But instead of just resignedly saying "life is unfair", you can vote for political parties which prioritise gender equality. You can excise language which uses the feminine as an insult from your vocabulary (because a girl being called "such a girl" shouldn't be insulting!). You can support girls in pursuing careers traditionally reserved for men (which are also better paid). You can support equalising the pay rates of traditionally "masculine" and "feminine" professions (because teachers are surely as important as lawyers). You can support women you know in negotiating better pay or getting promoted, and you can do equal work in your home so the women in your family don't take on a "second shift" which might prevent them from committing to their outside employment fully.

Even if the beginning of Adams' original post is ignored, on the grounds that it is the opinions of the MRAs he's mocking (and in the interest of making this post slightly shorter), not only does the original post insult women, it also insults men. Saying that men are apathetic, brow-beaten and constantly desirous of sex is pretty insulting to them. I, for one, know that they are certainly capable of more. That's not to say that there aren't real societal problems which men also need to navigate - such as uneven prison sentencing, toxic definitions of masculinity and parental rights - but Adams' post manages to trivialise those issues as well, using examples like who gets served first at a restaurant or opening jars.

Now that I've done an incomplete analysis of Adams' original post, lets move onto his response to the responses his first post got from around the internet.

He begins by explaining how his post was supposed to be funny, and how everyone seems to be worried about issues he doesn't think are important. Next he claims that people were "changing its context" by taking it too seriously, and how he didn't realise how seriously people would take it. He continues by dismissing everyone who was offended by it as excessively "emotional" and accusing feminist bloggers of being combative ("the with us or against us instinct took over"), and finishes off by dismissing people who were offended by it as being merely offended "by their interpretation" of it.

I'm pretty sure his post is essentially based on excerpts from derailing for dummies 101 - let me recap.

It was just a joke on the internet!
I made it because I was sick of all these people complaining about how they've been discriminated against in some way ("I'm been experiencing a wicked case of "whiner fatigue."")
Don't you have more important things to worry about ("THOSE are problems. Your thing: Not so much.")

Adams clearly has a low opinion of people's ability to change their opinion on things/analyse to their environments ("I don't believe humans can be influenced by exposure to better arguments") - maybe he's projecting - so he claims he's just presenting a "different" opinion, since exposure to a broad range of ideas is supposed to be good for you. See also "But being offended is good for you!".

People dissected the post and analysed it - and in doing this they apparently inflated how clever they were - see "You're being too intellectual/not intellectual enough" ("...crowed that I don't understand how the Internet worked, I would politely suggest that perhaps I do.") He claims that they wouldn't be able to understand the post because their analysis of it "changed the context", by which I suppose he means "you're interrogating from the wrong perspective".

He also protests his being labelled an asshole, and in the same sentence accuses people (feminists?) of stereotyping all men as such ("I was presumed an enemy and labeled a misogynist. I was also labeled an asshole, which I have come to understand is a synonym for male") - see also "But I'm not like that, stop stereotyping!".

He characterises all the responses around the original post as people getting "excited" about it, and states the oft-repeated "fact" that emotions destroy rationality. See "You're being over emotional" and "You've lost your temper so I don't have to listen to you". I suppose he wouldn't agree with me in my belief directed emotion is actually conducive to motivating one to change one's circumstances.

Finally, he repeats his assertion that men are apathetic except when it comes to dealing with each other  (wtf?), uses the feminine as an insult (again!), and apologises without actually apologising - he apologises on behalf of women for getting their own interpretation of his post wrong (wtf), and even manages to get another little jibe in at feminists in the last sentence ("even feminists..."?).

As far as I can tell, both posts are rehashing some pretty insulting existing stereotypes about men and women, and the second was "la la la I'm putting my fingers in my ears and I'm not listening to other people telling me that I'm wrong and I'm certainly not apologising to you people for being offensive even though I know I was being offensive". I'm hearing a man who is both aware that he is not engaging with his critics, and is also unwilling to engage.

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