Saturday, November 22, 2014

Shirtstorm: Will American Feminist Hypocrisy Never End?

I’ve now read through much of the initial feminist commentary on the zany shirt Prof. Matt Taylor wore during the live stream of the Philae landing. I now understand why these women see the shirt as a major news story, and after reading their pieces, I’m ready to offer some new figures.

American feminists deserve to be ignored about 78% of the time. The number was 70% just a decade ago, so you see the trend.

I didn’t always think of the feminist movement this way. In terms of the feminism that insists women are equally capable to men and should be equally represented in companies, government, universities, etc., I’m still totally on board. But as for the newer feminism, or this neo-feminism, that focuses on the sexual politics of everyday life, I am like many people: I see little there beyond a deep and infantile hypocrisy.

Feminists have somehow come to insist that women can be sex goddesses and revel in their sexuality--they regularly champion those who are aggressively sexy--then in the next breath scream against men who react to them as sexy. (Well, not always: If it’s an unwanted man who shows some interest, that’s called “objectification”--“He’s a pig,” etc. But if it’s a guy they judge hot, then it’s not objectification, but “flirting”.)

Such feminism is a shallow hypocrisy, and should be called out as such. Women who subscribe to it refuse to recognize that they can’t have it both ways: namely, they can’t both "celebrate" their sexuality in the public arena and then not be recognized as sexy when they'd prefer not to be. Because the public arena is just that: a public space, where people mix and intermingle in relative freedom.

For decades now, these women, in their writing and speaking and everyday behavior, have sought to impose an absurd double standard on those around them: "Notice me; worship me; don’t notice me--what are you looking at?” all at the same time. They are like a little girl at a birthday party who, when she is told she can have cake or ice cream, says she wants both, then cries and ruins the party because in fact she can’t have both.

As for Matt Taylor’s shirt, the irony is that the supposedly “objectifying” images on it are images of female sexual power that these very same feminists would celebrate--were they in a mood for celebration. But instead, since they see the shirt’s being worn by a bearded scientist, it suddenly becomes an offense more newsworthy than the scientific history Prof. Taylor just helped make.

Never mind that the shirt was designed by a woman friend of Taylor’s--such details aren’t likely to slow down these women when they're feeling righteous and have a not-so-sexy male in their sights.

In fact such feminists have very nearly succeeded in making feminism a dirty word via their endless pettiness and hypocritical posturing. The movement used to focus on substantial issues of women's equality, but somehow, beginning in the 1990s, we watched it devolve into a sort of non-stop tirade conducted by a clique of largely privileged Women's Studies grads who apparently could find nothing better to do than discover new ways men were offending them.

For years, the main conceptual tool wielded by these women has been "objectification"--which, as I've said, they now apply selectively to any kind of sexual attention that doesn't arise from their own deified personal libidos. If something turns them on, it's cool or liberating. If the same kind of thing appears, say, on the shirt of an overweight man like Matt Taylor, suddenly it's "objectifying women". Which means what exactly?

The concept of objectification is itself nearly useless. Why? Because every human in love or in normal social interaction shifts constantly between objectifying others and respecting/interacting with them as persons--indeed often with the very same person in the course of the same get-together. This comes with the fact that we are sexual beings; it is not something that will ever disappear as long as we are human.

And so: a man admires a woman’s legs from across the room, but then admires her wit and passion as they talk; then later, again, he’s looking at her legs; then they talk more, and he’s back to thinking about her character and ideas. Though in this way she has been "objectified" several times, his respect for her hasn't suffered because of it. She may in fact end up being someone he respects more than anyone else he knows. And of course women are also constantly doing the same thing: appreciating men’s physical charms without thinking any less of them; ogling men's abs and making sly comments barely out of earshot--without necessarily thinking the man is therefore just an object.

Yes, some of the sharper feminist theorists have tried to define the parameters of objectification more carefully, but even among them there are those who recognize the concept is inevitably subjective or undefinable. And that is precisely how it comes to be used by the thousands of card-carrying "feminists" who spend their time in a fury against the male gaze. They use it simply as a pseudo-theoretical slur to throw at anything that doesn't please them. This is why the whole concept of “objectification”, as a basis for criticism of the desiring gaze, should have been junked years ago. In itself the term has virtually no conceptual meaning.

I could go on, about women's representation in the media (usually their own self-representation therein) but I think these are different topics. The key words here are "narcissism" and "childishness" and “hypocrisy”. As Glenn Harlan Reynolds wrote in a USA Today column, some women watching the science event unfold on their screens were apparently “overcome by the desire to feel important and powerful at others' expense”:

Thus, what should have been the greatest day in a man's life--accomplishing something never before done in the history of humanity--was instead derailed by people with their own axes to grind. As Chloe Price observed: “Imagine the . . . storm if the scientist had been a woman and everyone focused solely on her clothes and not her achievements."

The best thing intelligent women could do for the feminist movement is spend some time, as women, attacking the shrill "feminists" who regularly claim to speak for them in the press. They should attack those who made a big deal out of Matt Taylor’s shirt; those who think "objectification" is a useful concept and who use it almost to the exclusion of all other concepts; those who think using the term "patriarchy" in one's critique is sufficient as analysis; those who've managed to make feminism intellectually useless through their nonstop shrill posturing.

I wish I were part of a society where I felt I could be proud to support the self-identified feminists around me. But it looks like I’ll have to wait. As long as the movement continues to demand both cake and ice cream, it shouldn’t be surprised if people consider it childish and irrelevant.

Eric Mader

Added 11/23:

Among the many feminist pieces online responding to Taylor's shirt, Nikita Ramkissoon's piece at Thought Leader provided a casebook example of the kind of thinking "objectification" theory leads to. I recommend reading it. As the reply I tried to post there at first didn't get posted, then got cut in half, I'll offer it here--for the record as it were:

If we reduce it to its basic premises, the argument you make here, Nikita, runs as follows:

1) Men in our society “own” women, so men’s attention to women’s beauty or sexuality is always an attempt to further consolidate this ownership and is thus always a matter of objectification.

2) Women in our society don’t own men, so women’s attention to male beauty or sexuality is never objectification, but rather a kind of worship of or awe at masculine power.

Really I don’t know what is more striking about this argument: the sheer obviousness of the double-standard or the fact that many so-called feminists still think such biased claims are worthy of any respect.

First, a few simple questions: Who showed you (or your feminist sisters) what is happening in men’s heads when they look at women? Human sexuality, after all, is a complicated phenomenon, with many levels. How would you know anything about the various levels or elements that make up male sexuality? How do you presume to define my sexuality, and that of other men, so precisely? Please show me your sources, if you have any, besides other feminist writers who’ve now been repeating this same worn-out urban legend for decades.

But second, and more importantly, the only even tentative logic your argument holds is based on your first premise, which is easily disproved: namely, your claim that men in modern societies “own” women.

I’m sorry, but I personally have never met a man who owns any women. As far as I can tell, there is no one around me who knows of such an institution either. As a modern Westerner, I see all the time how women are free to walk out on these men who supposedly “own” them. It’s called breaking up. And in such cases, if the man were to try to force her to remain under his “ownership”, that would be a crime and our justice system has statutes to deal with it.

So what society exactly do you live in? If you live a modern Western society as I do, the level of malice and possessiveness you project into the heads of men like me is simply offensive--those men you somehow imagine “own” you or are trying to own you. Or have I misunderstood your argument? Because to me it looks no more respectable as argument than it would be to claim that, say, “Black men are inherently violent” or “Jews will always try to cheat you.” Nobody who tried to foist off these kinds of unfounded racist generalizations would get a second hearing. Because such claims are not critical discourse, but merely bigotry. Yet this is just the kind of prejudiced assertion you’re promoting. This is the intellectual company you belong with. Like antisemitism or other forms of racist theory, your discourse is offensive starting from its very founding premises.

You write that: “We cannot lay back and make feminism comfortable for you. We refuse to work within your paradigm, because it’s your paradigm that is doing the oppressing.”

Okaaaay. Frankly, Nikita, I don’t care if you make it “comfortable” for me or not. I’m personally not interested in getting closer to people who themselves are comfortable living a prejudice that is nearly sociopathic in its extremity. But forget about me. Think of the women around you. The least you could do, for them, some of whom have posted comments here, is to make “feminism” a bit more respectable in terms of its intellectual rigor. Because at present your discourse is shabby, offensive, and bankrupt.

Yes, there is still serious gender inequality in many world cultures, including Western ones, so I would think that you, as a feminist, would recognize the work that needs to be done. Why not begin by throwing out this transparently two-faced discourse of “objectification” and finding a different tack? Sure, it may not be as sexy or exciting as the man-hating mythology you currently spout, but it will almost certainly bear more fruit. After all, evidence suggests that even most Western women are getting tired of the spiel you currently have on offer.

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