30 July 2011

Button My Collar Down, Flip It and Reverse It

Well this is odd. A slimy little city-boy gets turned away from a fashionable London club for being overdressed. The lightning rod seems to have been the tie. And the Evening Standard says this
The club chain was accused of inverted snobbery after sending out warnings to members to be "cool not school".
Broker Howard Wheeldon also calls it "reverse snobbery to keep City suits out of the club".

Now doesn't this strike you as odd? Being denied entry to a club for not wearing a tie, or wearing jeans or trainers or anything too chavvy - this is a matter of course. This kind of non-inverted, non-reverse, dog-bites-man snobbery is fine - so fine it's taken as a fact of life. Wheeldon is also rather preoccupied with the class-ridden concepts of "standards" and "respectability".

This story is basically a club imposing a dress code and reserving the right to refuse entry. The implication of any kind of outrage, of even bothering to report it outside of the and-finallies, is that this snobbery is wrong because it's inverted and reversed, because it inconveniences the powerful and not the uncouth. "Snobbery" is still fair game, provided it's the right-way up and the right-way round. Just don't be so naive as to try and fuck with the rich guys in suits.

Extra thing I thought of in the shower: Inverted snobbery, reverse racism, misandry, heterophobia - all of these are interesting. When you hate on gays, you kick down the pecking order. When those bad feminists hate men, they hate up. Downwards, having whole systems of privilege and institutional discrimination behind it, is far more dangerous. Upwards, however, is far, far more noticeable because the established prejudices blend into the natural order of things with the skill of Nazi stick-insects. So when some pathetic little minority rails against you for swinging your big, white, woman-liking cock that you were born with round your expensive house, just remember you're only noticing it because it's harmless.

09 July 2011

Porridge Pots Within Porridge Pots

Imagine you're a climate scientist, working on climate change. One day in early August, you give a paper at a prestigious conference at Oxford University, and spend the afternoon relaxing in the college grounds. As you unwrap your summer salad under a cloudless sky, a man approaches you. It's James Delingpole. You make small talk, and your field of study is mentioned in passing. He notices the umbrella protruding from your bag. Suddenly he's all accusations. You obviously have no faith in your own science. You expect rain every day in Britain, even on a glorious day like this, despite all the so-called evidence you put forward that it's getting sunnier. You try to explain that you carry an umbrella “just in case”, but for all it's worth you might as well tell a golden retriever that the mean man is still holding the stick.

Now imagine you're a feminist, trying to talk about the potential threat of rape to Pete Hague, who opens his polemic at 22m46s with this
Over the years, I have genuinely tried to be sympathetic to the feminist movement.
You can tell it's going to be good, can't you? As we quickly discover (and as I've previously pointed out), Hague's two favourite words to use in his section are “rational”, to refer to himself and feminists who agree with him, and “silliness”, to refer to feminist opinions he does not share. If one was a man-hating harpy with fuzzy armpits and a chip on her shoulder about phallogocentrism, one might be inclined to find that condescending, even mildly misogynistic, in the old-fashioned hysteria-and-emotion-and-that-time-of-the-month fashion. Despite his frankly enormous rationality, Hague's own weakness is exceptionally poor reading comprehension, and I shall be repeatedly and often tediously belittling him for it as the post goes on, while referring to my own arguments as “I get it Pete, but you'd understand this much better if you spoke six languages”.

We first see these reading skills in action when a nasty feminist says “Men still have no idea what 'no' means”, which Hague seems to interpret as meaning the same as “are rapists”. This doesn't just apply to perpetrators, but to judges, juries, prosecutors and random punters reading about it in the newspaper. Even a lot of women. Society has a confused understanding of what counts as consent. Many people think it can be expressed through some kind of weird thigh-and-cleavage semaphore (hence SlutWalks). Pete hasn't really thought about that.

Speaking of victim blaming, he doesn't seem too happy with Rebecca Watson either
She made a video in which she mentioned in passing that this was a creepy way to approach her, and this seems to have kicked off a bit of a shitstorm, far beyond what the original incident, or Watson's comment on it, would seem to warrant.
The 'this' seems to refer to her making the video, which implies that it was her innocuously, friendly and downright fucking useful advice that caused the shitstorm and not, say, an arrogant know-it all bursting in, swinging his massive cock and balls all over the place and
belittling Watson's experience, in the context of the suffering women have to endure in less developed countries.
Again, he's also misread Dawkins. Dawkins refers quite specifically to Muslims, including Muslims in the West who live in households “dominated by Muslim men”. Perhaps he wants to make Dawkins sound less aggressive towards Muslims and more sympathetic towards poor people, perhaps he'd just understand this better if he spoke six languages. Either way, he's misrepresented the very man he was trying to defend
He was bitingly sarcastic, but I think he had a point.
Yes, he was. Bitingly if not that artfully. But Hague assumes all the bloody feminists are angry about is the sarcasm, rather than, say, the biting contempt for women, Muslims and especially Muslim women.
The Feminists disagreed though, and hit back hard, often citing Dawkins' privilege, race, wealth and gender
I don't think he's quite got the point of “privilege”. Being alone in an enclosed space with a strange man isn't a threat to Dawkins, because he's a man. It might be a bit more for a woman. He has no more personal, lived experience of this than I do, and this may or may not affect his ability to understand Watson's point. Many feminists are white and privileged themselves. It's not an expression of hatred, and Hague is missing the point by calling them “ad hominem” attacks.

Possibly my favourite bit is where he tries to explain it in Anglo-American “cultural differences”, because their rate of sexual assaults is 2% higher than ours, and because all feminists are Americans and look like this.

I do agree with him that it's unfair to label him a sexual predator when, from the story, all we know is that he was blithely inconsiderate. But I can't help wondering if half the time they weren't talking about “predatory behaviour” rather than labelling him
The apex of this silliness was reached by Amanda Marcotte, who claimed that any approach made by a man in a confined space is a conscious decision to use the threat of rape to increase the chances of getting a positive response. This absurd idea claims [...] an insight into the mind of every man on the planet
What she actually said was: “In sum, men who corner women know what they're doing. And yes, they are relying on the fear of rape to grease the wheels towards getting laid”. This doesn't refer to “every man on the planet” but those who “corner” women, who understand that they are doing so. What she says about fear of rape is not that they consciously use it, but that they benefit from it, knowingly or not. It's not only very different in substance, but he has drastically, changed the tone – not just to make himself sound more serious, but to make this sound like a calm, considered, theory-heavy argument from academic literature, rather than a simplified, throwaway clarification.

This he links to
something that many men have always feared about feminism: the “thought police” aspect. Again, like man-hating, I had always assumed this was a thing reactionaries made up about feminists.
This is where he really reveals himself. Pete Hague is saying absolutely nothing new. He's regurgitating the same old and tired anti-feminist goatwank that people with reading skills have refuted time and time again. He just modernises it by opening with“I really want to support them and believe they're not all man-hating mind-Nazis”, which is at least a more nuanced version of “I'm all for women's lib, but...”.

Then he gets onto Schrödinger's Rapist, and his English teacher starts to have serious concerns and contacts his parents. The post
treats unknown men as wave functions, with the potential to collapse into either a rapist or a non-rapist state.
Straight up, he's missed the idea that it might refer to the cat metaphor, as opposed to the actual physics.
A nice little solipsist metaphor that completely disregards the notion that men might have any intention or agency of their own.
He doesn't really get that the thing about the cat is that we don't know if it's dead or not. He seems to think that the “all men are potential rapists” means that as x% of men commit rape, there is an x% chance that you, as an individual man, will commit rape RIGHT NOW. If he spoke six languages, he'd probably realise that it just meant there's an x% chance of this complete stranger being one of the ones that rapes people. Complex, I know.
The bad astronomer described this situation as a “potential sexual assault” without any proof at all that this man had any such intentions.
This is the very interesting part. Largely, I think, because he's misunderstood it as being about the specific man, and partly because of his paranoid fantasies about the Thought Police, he sees the entire situation purely in terms of the man. The idea that the woman's perception and interpretation might be equally important, equally valid and, yes, equally rational doesn't even cross his mind. A friendly chat about privilege before recording could have set him straight before he started being all bullish and condescending about it.

He then pulls out the “what if you said this about a black person?” argument, thinking, genuinely I believe, that this will end the argument once and for all. I find this argument initially quite alluring, so I'm going to tell you another story or two:

You're a man. You get on a late-night tube, going to a not-particularly-interesting area of London. The only passengers in your carriage are you and another white man. At the next stop, he gets off and a gentleman of colour takes his place. To pass the time on the tube, you usually play with your Very Expensive SmartPhone. You know people who've been mugged for these, so you're naturally a little wary about being alone with strangers at night. But only a little.

You're a lady-girl. You get into a carriage on a late-night tube, going to a not-particularly-interesting area of London. The only passengers in your carriage are you and another woman. At the next stop, she gets off and a gentleman takes her place. You have a vagina. You know people who've been raped, so you're naturally a little wary about being alone with strangers at night. Often more than a little.

Now, Pete, in the second scenario, while the woman is still unlikely to be harrassed or assaulted (very unlikely in fact – we're only potential rapists you know!), I'm sure you'd agree she is under more threat from the man than she was from the woman, even if it's only a rise to about 0.005%. This is for the following reasons:
  • If we take Kinsey's estimate that around 10% of people are less than entirely straight, this means this means the man is nine times more likely to want to have sex with her than the woman, even we completely disregard any possibility of bisexual or heteroflexible men.
  • Should the man wish to have sex with her, and should he also be willing to even without her consent, he is significantly more likely than the woman to be able to physically overpower her.
  • Even if she believes she could best him, a man is more likely to believe he can overpower her, and therefore more likely to try in the first place.
  • Cocks. Useful if not essential for rape, I've heard.
  • Due to social conventions about making the first move, a man is more likely to approach her, and so the risk of an aggressive reaction to a 'no' is a greater danger.
  • To my knowledge, lesbian sexual assault is not particularly prevalent, though this may be a grossly unfair myth.
So Pete, if you consider these situations at all analogous, which you do, this obviously means you believe it to be at least nine times more likely, though probably much more so, that a black person will steal your mobile that a white. Please tell me you didn't mean that, and that you'd just utterly failed to read Schrödinger's Rapist properly or think about the issues in any kind of depth.

Anyway, he blames the victim a little more and a little harder, and wags a token finger at Dawkins:
Watson reporting this was kind of tactless and, as some have suggested, it had an element of bragging to it, which didn't help. Dawkins probably shouldn't have made such a sarcastic comment. But this incident does need to be put into perspective with the horrors that women suffer around the world.
And then, for the first time in the podcast, with a sigh that would make Johann Hari proud, he manages to make me feel condescended to:
And feminists. If you want support from men, then please stop calling us rapists, or potential rapists, or anything else like that.
I am a man. I support feminists in an awful lot of things. Not only do I do this after reading Schrödinger's Rapist, I actually treated Schrödinger's Rapist as advice on chatting up strange women without scaring them, in the confidence that I'm not any kind of a rapist, nor had that been implied. The reason I can reconcile this with my penis is because
  1. I understand what a “potential rapist” is.
  2. I take the time to try and understand the feminist arguments that bamboozle me slightly or initially come across as a bit man-hatey.
  3. I speak six languages, and so am able to understand relatively simple concepts written in plain English.
  4. Through intense research, I can now even distinguish between a man (head, two legs, two arms, one winkle, usually) and a situation (location and set of circumstances, no winkle, usually).
So anyway, I think the moral of the story is to read once quickly for gist then again more slowly for details, that direct quotes are safest and indirect reported speech is for people with some vague comprehension skills, and that you should always make sure you actually vaguely get what a thing is about before you get all hot and bothered and 1970's retro-sexist about it.

Update: Comment off the man himself:

06 July 2011

Magic Porridge Pot

A lot has been said on this Dawkins thing. This is good and full of links if you missed it. But I think we're all focusing so much on the frantic, privileged screaming that we miss the extra reasons why you were right to hate Dawkins. Also why this Skepchick woman seems really sound and quite lovely. Firstly, watching her account of the situation (here, 4m30s-ish), you notice her tone and her attitude towards the guy who approached her. She didn't call him a rapist. Or a harasser. Not even a potential rapist or harasser. As she points out herself, her most vicious condemnation of his behaviour is "guys, don't do that". This is a woman who receives rape threats as a matter of course, and that's the most venom she can muster.

This is how to deal with privilege. Privilege is invisible to the privileged. The guy in question probably doesn't worry about being assaulted in lifts very much, so the idea of that kind of threat probably didn't cross his radar. The rule of "don't sexually proposition women in a confined space without exits" had crossed my mind, but not before reading Schroedinger's Rapist, and lifts had never come into it. Now I have*. Thanks Richard. I've learned. Calling out privilege isn't, and shouldn't be, about making someone feel uncomfortable about who they are and what they don't even know they don't know. It's about wondering if that person has ever considered this and saying, well, "guys, don't do that". Calling out privilege isn't an attack. It's a lesson. In this case, it's a lesson on how not to massively intimidate a woman you want to have sex with you.

So Richard Dawkins is basically attacking a woman for giving out really useful pulling advice. You'd have thought that'd satisfy the guy's daily quota of being an arrogant cockgraze, but no.
Dear Muslima

Stop whining, will you. Yes, yes, I know you had your genitals mutilated with a razor blade, and . . . yawn . . . don't tell me yet again, I know you aren't allowed to drive a car, and you can't leave the house without a male relative, and your husband is allowed to beat you, and you'll be stoned to death if you commit adultery. But stop whining, will you. Think of the suffering your poor American sisters have to put up with.

Only this week I heard of one, she calls herself Skep"chick", and do you know what happened to her? A man in a hotel elevator invited her back to his room for coffee. I am not exaggerating. He really did. He invited her back to his room for coffee. Of course she said no, and of course he didn't lay a finger on her, but even so . . .

And you, Muslima, think you have misogyny to complain about! For goodness sake grow up, or at least grow a thicker skin.

Note, first of all, that this Muslima (Richard Dawkins is frightfully clever and knows the Arabic for a Muslim lady. Let us not forget this) isn't a specific one or even from a specific country, she's more of a generic hodge-podge of all the things Islam does to women, and there's probably only one or two places in the world where you'd get all of them at once.

More importantly, note how the generic hodge-podge is of things Islam does to women. Women do not, for example, make up around fifty per cent of Islam, nor are they in any way important to its reproductive cycle. Richard Dawkins would like you to conveniently forget this person is a Muslim. So, Muslima, if you're listening: Richard Dawkins hates you. Richard Dawkins thinks you're a delusional, superstitious moron. He finds you revolting in your stupid fucking bin-liner. He thinks you're a "great evil". Obviously it's sad that you get cut and stoned and beaten, but the important thing right now is that a feminist gets put in her place.

I've seen this kind of solidarity before. You know the kind where the real victim is the pampered Western liberals. Richard Dawkins strikes a blow for women of colour, by grabbing one by the leg and beating a white feminist repeatedly on the tits with her.

Afterthought: Dawkins' later dismissal of the come-on as "only words" is just as thick. A major failing of language is to look at speaking and listening as one-way streets. You say what you mean, and if they understand it the wrong way, they fail. But the game is much more involved than that. When we speak, we constantly anticipate the other person's understanding based on conventions and context. We stick -ed on the end, safe in the knowledge that they'll interpret it as a past event, passive or hypothetical. We understand instinctively that saying "tea?" means more in a kitchen than in a swimming pool. We avoid big words around small children. If we fail to understand how our language will be received, we've failed to use it properly on the most basic level.

It's the same with speech acts. Inviting a person for coffee-which-probably-means-sex is an action. A verbal one, a communicative one, and an entirely non-violent one, but an action nonetheless. Lift Bloke made Rebecca Watson aware and conscious of the fact that he wanted to knob her. He didn't - because he couldn't and because no-one can - make her aware that he had no intention of raping her. He failed to read the context, and failed to anticipate how he would change the context by speaking. I'm quite willing to believe he did this innocently, in the same way you wouldn't hold it against me if I accidentally offended some Americans by misusing 'fag'. But he did it all the same and so richly deserves to be taken aside and given some friendly advice.

And for Richard "Shit Off Jesus" Dawkins to completely dismiss the complex linguistics of human pre-fuck ritual, it's, well, a bit dogmatic and unscientific if you ask me.

*What I've concluded is that the best approach is probably to pretend she's not there all the way up, and then as she gets out on her floor and the doors are open, go "oh, by the way...". Pretend like you were too nervous to talk or something. This is in everyone's interest as, if she says 'no' straight away, you'll have to stew in the awkwardness all the way to your floor until you wish you'd just farted in there instead. But also she's less likely to be scared of you and thus want to hump you less.

02 July 2011

Cupcaeks and Ponys and Chainsaws and GUNZ

Just twat this with my twitter:
It's great being male. I can bake whatever the fuck I want without making any kind of a statement about my attitude to feminism.
and got pointed to this article by this lady.

It's a weird article. It links to this blog post, which starts off vaguely feminist but (seriously) turns into a venomous diatribe against "cold, indifferent", "eerily reptilian and unfeeling" non-bleeding birds. It advises young women on their posture and punctuation. It's also peppered with stereotypes about adult women and men:
Let him take you out on a date, maybe not on a walk or an Xbox session, even if you are, God help you, addicted to LA Noire. Meet your friend for wine instead of fro-yo one night.
Apparently women only play video games as a favour to men, and I never had to drag my ex off Spellforce 2: Shadow Wars at any point in our time together. When two women get drunk together, they under no circumstances drink bitter. And old women are, of course, unseamly:
Nobody's asking you to be matronly. Laura Bush is no longer in the public eye-as I write this, she's cheerfully douching somewhere far away, in private. You can make your own modern womanhood-there's no need to fear the dowager.
And it's just generally got this air about it of screaming "YOU'RE THE WRONG KIND OF WOMAN" at anyone she thinks is too childish.

Anyway, I'll concede. Cupcakes are bollocks. I hate the texture of icing and the sound of meringue is like fingernails on a blackboard to me. But cooking and eating cake are both highly enjoyable pastimes, and this may go some way to explain the motives of cupcake feminists. Rather than this theory
It's all to the same ends— women are trying to broadcast to men that we won't bite their dicks off. It's just that now, instead of lipstick, we're wearing glittery lip gloss, or that shit you get in the drug store that tastes like Dr. Pepper.
I suspect that, in a manner similar to the sex-positive branch of feminism, a key factor underlying the tendency to bake cupcakes is because creating and devouring delicious foodstuffs is a fucking brilliant hobby.

Besides, you want to see the infantilisation of men. Girls, you're way, WAY behind. The fact is, I don't see My Little Pony being made into a multi-million dollar film-franchise, and this might be because women are infantilising themselves to mirror us. So why do we do it? Well, it's partly a reaction to pop-feminism. If women are all intelligent and mature and serious and career-oriented, then surely manly qualities are silliness, childishness, pisstaking and neglecting work for Call of Duty 2. The pantomime drag of masculinity sends women a message saying "Look! I am a heterosexual! If you were to fancy me, there is a serious possibility I would reciprocate. Therefore consider me from the outset as a potential sexual partner". Which is handy. Capitalism associates maturity with professionalism and ambition, so the best retreat from your soul-crushing job is retreat into childhood. Also, and perhaps most importantly, it's fun.

The thing is, for someone who describes herself as "in general, a Funny Lady", Julie Klausner is taking this whole process very seriously. Most people who actually take part in it don't. Probably the best example of this is Hyperbole and a Half. Much of the time, it's hilariously, heartbreakingly cute. But it's also peppered with supermanly awesome, not just to take the piss, but also terrifying monsters and death blood killing attacks. It's self-infantilising, deliberately, consciously and to both genders to the point where it's often hard to distinguish one from the other. And it's funny, because irony and stuff.

And, as I constantly blather on about, irony means a lot more than we give it credit for. One of the most pathetic, wrong-headed, essentialising things I've seen for a while was the Real Men Don't Buy Girls campaign, and look how much mockery of traditional masculinity they deploy in their mildly amusing videos. The campaign genuinely seems to believe in Real Manly Manhood for Actual Real Men as something worth aspiring to and a serious way of promoting a serious issue, but still ironises images of masculinity through hyperbole. It's also a keystone of German humour. The reason we can get away with it, the reason Ashton Kutcher can entrench prescriptive masculinity while simultaneously sending it up, the reason a German can call you a big girl's blouse while mocking the entire concept of big girl's blousehood, is because it's part of the game. Perhaps more so in America than here in the Kingdom of the Sarcastic Understatement, but ridiculous hyperbole is a masculine quality going back as far as the Mesopotamians. Irony, flippancy and not taking your sexuality seriously are all straight masculine qualities. Women are disadvantaged by it. Queers struggle to accept and define it. Transpeople reject it yet still have it nailed to them against their will. But if you're a boy who knobs girls, gender identity is all good clean fun.

The fact that women are not acting like Serious Grown-Up Feminists, that they're dabbling in pastel-pink, cinnamon-dusted, kitten-soaked femininity is not necessarily a sign of disadvantage. If anything, it shows confidence, like gay men who publicly and semi-ironically play up their gayness. It shows women no longer have to assert themselves by taking womanhood seriously. They're joining men on the fun, flippant side of the gender binary because, well, it's a lot better than the serious, professional one. Though I'm still not sure if it's all a good thing. Do we joke about it because we're all so mature about sexuality these days that nobody takes it entirely seriously? Or have we just updated our model of gender to allow ourselves room to arse about exaggerating, so long as the underlying message of Men Are Tough and Women Are Pretty gets through? Anyway, I suppose the moral of the story is this:

If you like cupcakes and enjoy cookery, bake cupcakes. If you dislike either, don't. Ignore feminism.