Josh Hawley’s “Virtuous Men” Should Grow Up

A recent headline at Buzzfeed News tells us that Murder Is A Leading Cause Of Death In Pregnancy In The US. It turns out this isn’t new. I found a WebMD article from bleeping 2001 that said the same thing:

Given all the risks associated with pregnancy, it’s easy to imagine that expectant mothers are vulnerable to illnesses and even to death. But shocking new information shows that these women actually are more likely to be murdered than to die from any complications of pregnancy — or from any other cause for that matter.

“We found that homicide was the leading cause of death among women who were pregnant … and accounted for 20% of deaths among that group, compared with 6% of deaths among nonpregnant women of reproductive age,” says author Isabelle Horon, DrPH, from the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, who conducted a study that looked at pregnancy-associated deaths from 1993 to 1998.

Fast forward to the Buzzfeed article of four days ago:

A woman in Houston who showed an ultrasound to her boyfriend, a mother of five who was carrying a sixth child, and a pregnant woman coming home from a baby shower were all recent victims of homicide, a top cause of death for pregnant people in the US.

Pregnant people are more than twice as likely to be murdered during pregnancy and immediately after giving birth than to die from any other cause, according to a nationwide death certificate study. Homicide far exceeds obstetric causes of death during pregnancy, such as hemorrhage, hypertension, or infection.

Pregnant women “face a risk of being murdered 16% higher than women the same age who are not pregnant, the recently released Obstetrics & Gynecology journal study concludes.” The article goes on to say that most of these deaths result from domestic violence.

With that in mind, let us skip over to New York magazine, where Sarah Jones writes about Josh Hawley and the New Anti-Feminism.

The conservative movement believes men are in trouble, and they know who to blame. “The left want to define traditional masculinity as toxic. They want to define the traditional masculine virtues — things like courage and independence and assertiveness — as a danger to society,” the Republican senator Josh Hawley said during a recent speech. Thus besieged, men are retreating into pornography and video games, abandoning their traditional responsibilities, he added. …

… Hawley’s anti-feminism isn’t novel, but he is responding to a new moment in modern American politics. Conservatives have always argued that by muddying gender roles, feminism harms men and women alike. Yet in recent years, this rhetoric has acquired an even sharper edge, pitting men and women against each other as if greater freedom for women comes directly at the expense of men. For Republican politicians and their supporters, Trump’s unapologetic misogyny further expanded the borders of the possible.

Trump has a long history of associating with men accused of abusing women. More recently, he has endorsed candidates like Sean Parnell and Herschel Walker, also accused. See also Domestic violence, sexual abuse: A number of Senate GOP candidates have to answer for ugly allegations by Amber Phillips in the Washington Post.

That an ugly backstory is no longer immediately disqualifying in Republican politics is arguably a sign of how much Trump has reshaped the GOP in his likeness. Trump won the presidency in 2016 despite being accused by more than a dozen women of sexual harassment and weeks after it was revealed he bragged about grabbing women’s genitalia.

“Politics has changed,” said one Republican operative, speaking on the condition of anonymity to be candid. “What’s seen as acceptable has changed.”

Josh Hawley complains that manly virtues like courage and independence and assertiveness are no longer valued by lefties. I think lefties would argue that courage, independence, and assertiveness are just dandy, but we want men to stop engaging in domestic violence. And if y’all could put a sock in the mass shooter thing, that would be swell.

Seriously, righties, what’s with all the tribes of violent, threatening, politically extreme men these days? Some of these groups appear to be explicitly male — Oath Keepers, Proud Bois. WTF?

Virtuous but underappreciated men? Or thugs? You decide.

Women do take part in some of their activities, but in an auxiliary role. It’s traditional. But then there are also more openly misogynist tribes, such as the Gamers and Incels and men’s rights activists. These are tribes of men who blame women for why their lives suck.

During the Trump years a number of social psychology studies documented that men who support Trump tend to suffer from “fragile masculinity” or “precarious manhood.” See, for example, “Precarious Manhood” and Voting for Trump from Psychology Today, November 2020.

Precarious manhood refers to the fragile nature of traditional masculinity.

Traditional masculinity, as a form of social status, is “hard-won and easily lost.” A real man cannot simply be: He must repeatedly prove his masculinity.

In the U.S., Knowles and DiMuccio note, masculinity is associated by many with behaviors like “avoiding the appearance of femininity and homosexuality, seeking status and achievement, evincing independence and confidence, taking risks, and being aggressive.”

And threats to (or doubts about) masculinity often motivate hypermasculine behaviors, such as risk-taking and aggression.

The Psychology Today article also notes that these same men score high on the right-wing authoritarian scale. See also How Donald Trump appeals to men secretly insecure about their manhood.

Several decades ago, Joseph Campbell warned that American men were not being properly taught to be men. He was writing about the Greatest Generation, mind you. Boys didn’t get enough time with their fathers and older men as they were growing up, he said. They were getting their ideas about masculinity from movies, not real life.

I’ve read that this problem is something that’s been growing since the industrial revolution and the rise of capitalism. Before the 19th century, the theory goes, most men were either farmers or independent artisans of some sort, and boys grew up working alongside their fathers on the farm or tanning hides or shoeing horses or whatever. Changing economic models took men out of their homes and made them employees who were gone most of the time. Succeeding generations of fathers became less and less involved in the lives of their children, and this has been especially hard on boys.

Since then, things haven’t gotten better. I’m not seeing Josh Hawley’s Three Masculine Virtues — courage, independence, and assertiveness — in the guys who abuse women, join private militias, need an assault weapon to go out for a sandwich, and throw temper tantrums when asked to wear a mask or get a vaccine. I see bluster, tribalism, and aggression, not to mention authoritarianism. Most of all, I see immaturity. Too many men seem stuck permanently at the emotional age of fourteen and permanent adolescent rebellion mode. They’ve got Mommy issues, and Daddy issues, and they blame everybody but themselves for whatever they don’t like.

I’m not saying this applies to all men. Most men I know personally don’t fit this description at all. But then, most men I know personally don’t own assault weapons or wear “Hillary for Prison” T-shirts.

Daddy issues, you say? They want Trump to be their daddy, because in their eyes he’s a real man.

There’s something so sadly pathetic about putting Trump’s head on Rambo’s body. Trump must be the least masculine man to ever sit in the Oval Office. He’s a spoiled, pampered punk who never held a job or faced a real physical challenge in his life. But some men are so desperate for a daddy they’ve turned him into one, projecting all their twisted notions about manliness onto his flabby frame.

And Scrawny Josh Hawley is a private prep school brat who never met a principle he wouldn’t betray to further his ambitions. Masculine virtues, Senator? What would you possibly know about masculine virtues? Or any other kind of virtues, for that matter?

I started this post with something I’d just learned about homicides of pregnant women. Women don’t exactly rule the world yet. The pandemic has hurt women economically a lot more than men. There’s still a pay gap. Even before the pandemic women, but not men, found a lack of affordable child care a barrier to employment, and it’s worse now. We’re still underrepresented in government and business. But Hawley’s “virtuous men” resent us anyway. That’s just pathetic.

Real men grow up.

Feminism Is Not Doomed

Michelle Goldberg has written a lot of commentaries I genuinely admire. This column is not among them.

For the last couple of years, feminism has been both ubiquitous and improbably glamorous, its pop culture currency symbolized by Beyoncé silhouetted before a giant glowing FEMINIST sign at the 2014 Video Music Awards. On television, women went from ornaments to protagonists, starring in a slew of raunchy comedies in which men were often afterthoughts. Feminist polemics became a staple of fashion magazines. Female college students demanded standards of sexual consent that were often unfathomable to their elders. In my little corner of Brooklyn, ambient feminism appeared to influence the way fashionable young women dressed. They wore oversized shirtdresses or loose wide-legged pants and chunky shoes, clothes for doing things rather than displaying oneself. Last year, the New York Times ran a trend piece about hip young women rejecting thongs in favor of comfortable underwear. Female masochism, it seemed, was falling out of style. …

This is not a fashion column. Whether “ambient feminism” was influencing women’s wear outside of Brooklyn I cannot say. After some more verbiage on women’s cultural triumphs in the Big Apple, Goldberg gets to her point.

For 25 years, after all, Clinton was reviled as a synecdoche for unseemly female ambition. That’s part of what made her candidacy so fraught. If she’d become president, it would have been in the teeth of widespread male opposition; even the models that showed her winning had her losing the majority of men. She proposed policies that would have increased women’s power and autonomy at every level of society: equal pay, paid family leave, subsidized child care, abortion rights. For all her manifold faults, her election would have both signified progress toward gender equality and made more such progress possible. Before Nov. 8, it looked as if the arc of history was bending toward women.

Trump’s victory has obliterated this narrative. In many ways it was a fluke; had a few thousand votes in a few Rust Belt states gone another way, we’d be talking about Clinton’s popular vote landslide and the decisive defeat of Trumpian reaction. However freakishly contingent his triumph, it forecloses the future feminists imagined at least for a long while. We’re going be blown backward so far that this irredeemably shitty year may someday look like a lost feminist golden age. The very idea that women are equal citizens, that barriers to their full human flourishing should be identified and removed, is now up for grabs. A pastor warming up the crowd at a post-election Trump rally in Louisiana promised that with Trump in office, the White House would be a place “where men know who men are, women know who women are.” The massive power of the American state is about to be marshaled to put women in their place.

The rest of the column is pretty much about how far backward feminism will be blown. It doesn’t look good for Roe v. Wade and reproductive rights generally, but for women in large parts of the country outside of Brooklyn that’s been true for the past few years. And right-wing clergymen have been calling for putting women in their place all along, as well. You don’t hear them much in Brooklyn, but they can be pretty loud elsewhere.

A synecdoche in Goldberg’s context means that Hillary Clinton was the embodiment of all uppity women. That was true in the 1990s, and it remains true in some right-wing enclaves, I’m sure.

But Hillary Clinton is not all women, uppity or otherwise. She is a particular woman with a particular history who has been in the worldwide public eye for about a quarter of a century now. To see rejection of her as a rejection of all possible women presidential candidates trivializes both feminism and Clinton, I say.

I would argue that if anyone was rendering Clinton into a synecdoche of anything, it is the upscale urban women who identify with her. But the 2016 presidential election was just plain not a referendum on feminism. I’m sorry, ambient Brooklyn feminists, but people out here in Not Brooklyn Land actually are concerned about other issues.

There’s that income inequality thing. You may remember hearing something about it during the primaries. An Economic Policy Institute study released this year said that income inequality in the U.S. has reached levels not seen since the late 1920s. That is a seriously bad thing that’s having a real impact in peoples’ lives.

The United States is now the most economically unequal nation of all Western nations. Americans have considerably less social mobility than Canada and Europe. (Source.) The Middle Class is shrinking just about everywhere in America. Most Americans are one paycheck away from living on the streets. White working class people are so stressed about this, their life expectancy is in decline.

One can argue, possibly truthfully, that whites are more stressed about their economic decline than nonwhites because they had further to fall. One definition of suffering is that it’s what’s found in the space between expectations and reality. That, however, doesn’t mean that their stress should be dismissed as a vestige of white privilege. Being one paycheck away from the streets doesn’t feel privileged.

There is all kinds of data telling us that the biggest change in voting patterns between 2012 and 2016 is found in the Rust Belt states. These are the places where, 50 years ago, a guy could graduate high school, get a union job at the local factory or steel mill, and enjoy both job security and a cushy middle-class lifestyle, complete with a home, the occasional new car, and trips to Disneyland for the family.

Those days are gone. People are very stressed about it. And neither party, to be honest, has done much to give people any hope that the future won’t be even bleaker.

Along comes the 2016 election. Trump, the narcissistic con man, went to the Rust Belt and told people what they wanted to hear. But Clinton barely talked to them, and if she addressed their particular concerns at all, they didn’t hear it.

And she lost their votes.

Feminism had little to do with it. I don’t doubt gender bias whittled some votes away from Clinton, but it wasn’t to blame for her collapse in the Rust Belt states. That was the economy, folks.

It was also class. Class inequality is real, and getting worse, in the U.S. And upscale urban liberals are oblivious to it.

The mistake many upscale urban liberals make is that they assume the bigots who leave comments on Facebook, or the violent dimwits who showed up at Trump rallies, are representative of all Trump voters. Yes, Trump tapped into a vein of bigotry, including misogyny. But data tell us that many people who voted for Trump acknowledged he was a jerk. They simply judged — wrongly, I believe — that he was the jerk who might actually do something to make their lives better.

So reflect on that over your chai lattes, ambient feminists.

First Annual Convention of the He-Man Woman Hater’s Club

This weekend the International Conference on Men’s Issues was held in a VFW hall in St. Clair Shores, Michigan. It was originally going to be at the DoubleTree Hilton in Detroit, but some feminist groups protested and the terrorized He-Men chose to move the venue, adding that they had sold too many tickets to remain at the DoubleTree. The surplus of ticket-buyers apparently couldn’t find the VFW hall, however, because by all accounts only about 100 guys showed up.

I direct your attention to what TBogg wrote about it. He nails them pretty darn well. But I have a little more to say.

Like BooMan, I am prepared to acknowledge and address systemic bias wherever it might be found. However, as BooMan says, the He-Men seem less interested in actually doing something about these alleged systemic biases than in expressing hatred for women, particularly feminists. I’ve run into this with these guys many times before. Whatever their cause du jour, they are incapable of rational, productive discussion about it because within seconds they will turn the conversation around to how those evil women hate them because they are men and how feminists are destroying manhood and America and western civilization generally. It’s all they really want to talk about.

I do think there are factors in our society and culture that impact men in harmful ways and which need to be addressed. But these trends had been written about long before second-wave feminism emerged in the 1960s. Back in the late 1940s, for example, Joseph Campbell wrote some interesting stuff about how industrial-age culture had alienated men from their families and made them more emotionally infantile and brutish.

The post-World War II era really did lock both men and women in tightly confined gender-role boxes that restricted their emotional and personal growth and perpetrated a weirdly adolescent view of sex, as exemplified by Playboy magazine and the auxiliary clubs and bunnies. In the 1960s women rebelled, but men, on the whole, did not. Individual men grew out of it, but men collectively never had the cathartic consciousness-raising moment when they perceived the confinements of the box they’d been shoved into.

I see the He-Men as guys locked tightly inside a conceptual box — the box of who they think they are and how they think life should be — that is out of sync with what’s going on in our culture generally. And they feel great unease about this, no doubt. But instead of confronting what’s really wrong they hunker down and scapegoat “feminism” as the source of their unease. Most “men’s movements” that have emerged in the 50 years since Betty Friedan wrote The Feminist Mystique have been reactionary attempts to reinforce the box, when what they really need to do to be happy is break out of the damn thing.

And I don’t know of any way to reach them; they’re too invested in their collective fantasy to accept help. I only ask that the majority of men who have outgrown the box to more frequently stand up to the He-Men and say, no. This is not who we are. This is not what manhood is. Maybe fewer younger men will get sucked into it.

I also want to address the women speakers at the conference. TBogg wrote of one:

Surprisingly, many of the speakers at Manstock, were women who were there to validate the attendees worst fears…. for a modest speaking fee:

Dr. Tara Palmatier, a men’s rights activist who advertises herself as a “shrink for men,” explained that “feminism has evolved from the radical notion that women are people, to the radical notion that women are superior.”
She diagnosed some women with what she called “golden uterus syndrome,” which she explained as what happens when a mother will “fleece your ex-husband in divorce court and take assets you didn’t earn, you deserve it, take that bastard to the cleaners, force a man into fatherhood with an accidental pregnancy, hey, if he wouldn’t commit, sometimes you gotta push him into it.”

So, instead of fleecing “your ex-husband in divorce court and take assets you didn’t earn,” Palmatier fleeces men by telling them that their problem is not their own shortcomings. Nope, it all on their ex-wives. That’ll be $220 please, same time next week?

Yeah, there always will be people who will exploit the pain of others to make money. But women do occasionally exhibit what I call the “Daddy’s Good Girl” syndrome. It’s basically a strategy to gain the approval of men by giving them whatever they want and being whomever men want them to be. Show me a “Daddy’s Good Girl” and I will show you someone who is desperately and neurotically needy. Tara Palmatier sounds like one, although she may be just an old-fashioned grifter, of course.

The Heart of Darkness

It shouldn’t surprise you that the “manosphere” is blaming the Isla Vista shootings on feminism and western anti-male culture generally. Here is an actual blog post from just two days ago:

Rodger should have checked his male privilege at the door and atoned for the sins of thousands of years of “male patriarchy.” He was likely exposed to infantile “trigger warnings” during the course of his education. He received direct propaganda that insinuates all men are potential rapists. American universities are becoming firmly anti-male with their extreme left ideology and policies. Just recently, the Justice Department has ushered in directives that attempt to restrict the definition of consensual sex, making any attempt by Rodger to fornicate with a female at a college party a potential rape encounter that would have gotten him kicked out of school without a trial. Pro-female policies now dominate most American universities. Rodger would definitely not have received a sympathetic ear to his plight. . . .

. . . Seven people are dead because society has decided that shy and awkward men like Elliot Rodger do not deserve a girlfriend and that there is absolutely no way to improve his loneliness and loserdom through learning game or any other social behavior. At the same time men like him are ostracized, there is no legal means for him to solicit prostitution (in California) to release his biological and very pressing urge for fornication. Current cultural dogma wants to sweep the millions of lonely men like Rodger under the rug while instead focusing on gay marriage, “street harassment,” lack of empowered girls in video games, “rape culture,” and the horrors of letting young girls wear pink and play with dolls.

The new “let them eat cake” is “let these socially awkward privileged losers have xbox and pornhub.” Yet we still feign outrage and surprise when every so often one of them picks up a gun and starts shooting. The same people who attack game refuse to give men like Rodger a way to achieve sexual happiness, and for that they are indirectly responsible for these deaths, which could have been avoided if Rodger was steered into game and not shamed for it.

More people will die unless you give men sexual options

Until you give men like Rodger a way to have sex, either by encouraging them to learn game, seek out a Thai wife, or engage in legalized prostitution—three things that the American media and cultural elite venomously attack, it’s inevitable for another massacre to occur.

The author of the post also expressed outrage that anyone would find his site offensive or the “manosphere” misogynistic.

The thing is, this guy is no lone outlier. He represents multitudes of men. There are vast swarms of these guys online. Since I don’t tend to blog about feminist issues except for reproductive rights, which doesn’t seem to interest the “men’s rights” crew (except for their belief that they should have a “choice” to not pay child support if they don’t want to), they don’t often show up here. But I’ve bumped into them in countless discussion threads on other sites. There are certain topics that will draw them like ants to a picnic, and when that happens they will completely dominate the thread and make rational discussion impossible. They are quite certain the world (which, apparently, is run by women) is discriminating against them, and they are seething with hostility about it.

Beside the “men’s choice” argument, they are particularly obsessed with the belief that civil courts and the justice system discriminate against men, as well as the educational establishment and the health care system (breast cancer research gets more money than prostate cancer research). There’s also a subset of them who are convinced their lives and manhood were ruined because they were circumcised as infants, without their consent, and routine male circumcision is just as bad — maybe worse — than female genital mutilation. But only women get sympathy for their “circumcisions” because women are privileged. Check out the discussion thread on this Salon article for examples. (Don’t assume you understand their arguments until you read them. There probably is a rational argument that routine circumcision is unnecessary, but that’s not the argument the MRAs are making.)

What usually happens on these threads is that maybe one or two emotionally healthy men will comment to gently suggest that the haters are off base, and then they disappear, and the only male voices on the thread will be MRAs venting their pathological hatred of women. I’ve seen this happen countless times. And what do you want to bet there is considerable overlap between the MRAs and gun rights crowd?

Last January Jill Filipovic and Amanda Hess wrote widely read articles on women being threatened and harassed online. These articles drew much sympathy but not much action or follow up.

For more on the MRA phenomenon do check out this anti-MRA website (run by a man, bless him) and its glossary, which is as good a primer on the MRA subculture as I’ve seen anywhere.

The anti-MRA blogger linked to a paper on “aggrieved entitlement” as a factor in violence, mass shootings in particular. This is close to a point I wrote about quite a bit in My Book, which says a combination of holy cause/fanatical grievance is a common feature of violent mass movements, whether religious or political or something else. In some cases, the sense of entitlement stands in as the holy cause.

Although I doubt those who are deep into MRA/PUA culture are likely to change I do think it’s important that more emotionally healthy men get involved in standing up to the MRAs. I suspect the widespread disapproval of other men could prevent more younger men from getting sucked into MRA-ism. This is not a fight women can wage alone.

Just Like Old Times

G. Gordon Liddy used the “M” word. It’s like the past 40 years of feminist activism never happened. Of course, for Pat “that woman” Buchanan, they really didn’t happen.

You’d think there’d never been a woman on the Supreme Court before. The reactions to the nominations of Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg were genteel compared to what’s being thrown at Sonia Sotomayor. As I remember it, Ginsburg’s judicial record at the time of her nomination was, arguably, more “liberal” than Sotomayor’s is now. Certainly when Ginsburg was nominated plenty of conservatives spoke against her confirmation. But (as I remember it) most of those objections were about Ginsburg’s support of Roe v. Wade, not her potentially fluctuating female hormones.

And the way the wingnuts continue to call Sotomayor an “affirmative action” pick is downright hallucinatory. Get this bit of dialog between Bill Bennett and Fred Barnes:

BARNES: I think you can make the case that she’s one of those who has benefited from affirmative action over the years tremendously.

BENNETT: Yeah, well, maybe so. Did she get into Princeton on affirmative action, one wonders.

BARNES: One wonders.

Sotomayor was valedictorian of her high school class and went to Princeton on scholarship.

I doubt any of these same people called Clarence Thomas an “affirmative action pick,” although I found a biography of Thomas that says “Yale University Law School accepted Thomas through its affirmative action program.” To be fair, Thomas’s academic record was respectable enough that he would have been considered for admission regardless of race, I suspect. His academic record is less impressive than Sotomayor’s, however.

O’Connor’s nomination was a long time ago, and my memory of it is hazy. Being nominated by Ronald Reagan rather than a Democrat probably shielded her from the worst of what might have been thrown at the first woman nominee to the SCOTUS.

However, reactions from the Right to Sotomayor are so much more over the top than than they were to the nomination of Ginsburg, who is at least as liberal as Sotomayor, and I do wonder why. Tossing out some ideas —

  • Ginsburg is Jewish. Antisemitism really is a big no-no on much of the Right. Gotta support the state of Israel, you know.
  • Sotomayor is Latina. I think these days the Right is twitchier about Hispanics than they are about any other racial minority.
  • No leadership. There’s no authority on the Right who can order the worst of the hotheads to tone it down.
  • They’re out of power. Nothing fights harder than a wounded, cornered animal.

Anything else you can think of?

Empaths and Sociopaths

This used to be a staple scene in action films, as I’m sure you know — a scary thing happens, and the woman the hero is in love with screams and freezes in helpless terror. Then the hero, cool as scotch on the rocks, steps in and vanquishes the scary thing and saves her. On to the kissing scene.

Many years ago I read a behavioral study that said, if anything, women are slightly less likely to panic and freeze in the face of danger than men are. And when you consider that men are something like ten times more likely to commit homicides than women — murder most often is an act of rage, I believe — you might suspect that men are at the mercy of their emotions at least as much as women.

But we can’t have hysterical men and brave, cool women in films because it doesn’t take us to the kissing scene nearly as easily, does it?

Also many years ago, I realized that when a man said his views were “logical” and mine were “emotional,” the word logical (used in context) meant “what I want,” or “what I believe,” with the underlying assumption that the wants and beliefs of a man are the correct, standard or default, wants and beliefs, and those of a woman are controversial, subjective and/or alternative. This was true regardless of the merits of the man’s position. The want or belief became “logical” by virtue of maleness. “Logic” was something like a trump card played by a man against a woman whenever he couldn’t think of a better argument.

I don’t see the male/female, logical/emotional dichotomy publicly expressed nearly as much as I used to, and younger women may not have run into it as much as I did. But it hasn’t entirely gone away, has it?

This correlates to the idea that whites favoring other whites is not ethnic bias, because whiteness is a default norm; what Publius calls the “invisible baseline” fallacy. In this view, bias occurs only when one deviates from the default norm.

Since the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, many arguments for and against her have turned on the question of whether a judge should have “empathy.” Yes, say some, because it helps her see how her decisions affect real people in the real world. No, say others, empathy and emotion are biases that blur the cold logic of the law.

But I say that if you step away and look at the question a little more broadly, the truth is that the decisions of every judge who doesn’t happen to be an out-and-out sociopath are being shaped by empathy. The distinction is, to whom is the judge feeling empathetic?

My view is that everything we think comes from a complex of psychological discriminations and impulses, little of which have anything to do with “logic.” The way we understand ourselves and the world begins to be shaped from the moment we’re born and continues to be shaped by the culture we grow up and live in. In other words, all of our understandings are biased. This is pervasive and inescapable. Often the difference between “logical” and “empathic” people is that an “empathic” person has at least a dim appreciation of his own biases, whereas a “logical” person is utterly oblivious to them.

This week Nicholas Kristof wrote a column about the difference between how liberals and conservatives relate to the world, and how much of these differences emanate from our prefrontal cortex, which “has more to do with moralizing than with rationality.” Our “logical” thoughts actually begin with the “moral” impulses. “It appears that we start with moral intuitions that our brains then find evidence to support.”

Human brains seem to be wired in a way that makes us want to join tribes and be part of an “us” that stands against an “other.” But if we get to know an “other” personally, they seem less strange and foreign and may cease to be an “other.”

“Minds are very hard things to open, and the best way to open the mind is through the heart,” Professor Haidt says. “Our minds were not designed by evolution to discover the truth; they were designed to play social games.”

Thus persuasion may be most effective when built on human interactions. Gay rights were probably advanced largely by the public’s growing awareness of friends and family members who were gay.

Our minds were not designed by evolution to discover the truth; they were designed to play social games. When John Yoo wrote memos that rationalized torture, he was not being “logical.” He was playing a social game and empathizing with his tribe. When John Roberts makes decisions that are blatantly biased in favor of corporations over individuals, he is playing a social game and empathizing with his tribe.

You see the picture — to some people, empathy is only “empathy” when it’s being shown to people who are not the default norm, or the invisible baseline, or whatever you want to call it. Otherwise, it’s “logical.”

I know my fingers may fall off as I keyboard this, but in his column today David Brooks has a pretty decent description of how the “logical” decision-making process really works. Our conscious, cognitive understandings of things are based on internalized models of what we’ve been conditioned to believe is “normal.” We may be able to articulate our ideas and perceptions in a coolly logical way, but the process by which we arrive at our ideas and perception is “complex, unconscious and emotional.” This is always true, whether we want to admit it or not.

So it is that two different and equally intelligent people may look at the same set of facts in a case and apply the same set of laws and come to different conclusions. They are working from different internal models of what the world is supposed to be. From this their judgments about which facts in the case are critical and which are not may be entirely different.

Brooks asks if Sotomayor is able to understand her biases as biases. This I cannot know. I’d like to think that people who have been the victims of bias are more capable of recognizing their own biases, but in my experience that is often not so. However, I do think that people with a healthy appreciation for empathy may also have more appreciation for the genuine messiness of human decision making than those who — foolishly — see themselves as “logical.”

Going back to the hysterical women and cool-headed men in films, and how that is so not like the real world — my observation is that women may tend to be better at processing emotions than men. That is, when a woman is frightened, she is less surprised — caught off guard, if you will — at being frightened than a man might be.

This is a gross generalization that cannot be applied to individuals; lots of men process emotions more skillfully than lots of women. However, I think there is a tendency for men to be less accepting of and intimate with their own emotions, and this may be as much nurture as nature; cultural rather than physiological.

What’s critical about emotions is not whether you have them, but whether you let them jerk you around and make you act in ways that are not in your best interests. And by any objective measure I’d say men self-destruct at least as much as women do. Logical, my ass.

Love Is Not a Social Problem

Except for my occasional posts on reproductive rights, I try to stay out of current trends in feminist thought. I do this because I appreciate that young women today are living in a very different social and cultural context from the one I grew up in back in the 1950s and 1960s. Often their ideas about sexuality and childbearing in particular don’t square with my experiences. But I think part of emotional maturity is appreciating that other people are having a very different experience of life from the one you’re having, and their experiences are just as valid as yours.

That said, today I was so disturbed by this post at feministing that I’m going to break my own rule and write about it. Go read it and then come back here for commentary and discussion.

One of the wonderful things about our species is that there are a lot of us, and we don’t all have to be living the same life. It’s a fine thing to know one’s own mind and live accordingly, even in the face of cultural pressure to live some other way. When a man or woman makes a personal decision not to marry or have children, for example, that decision should be respected.

But that goes both ways. Whenever anyone wants to coerce others to conform to one life experience, I say that’s a problem.

I understand that marriage can be awful (believe me), but I have also known couples who still take delight in each other after many, many years of marriage. There are and always will be people who fall crazy in love with each other and want to stay together forever. Just because this doesn’t happen to you doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen to other people.

But why is there marriage? Why not just live together if you want to and split up if you want to? For one thing, I think some kind of legal mechanism that protects the most economically vulnerable partner in a dissolving pair-bond is necessary, particularly if there are children. It’s also useful to have a neutral authority, such as government, to see to it that battling, separating couples are making rational decisions about the upbringing of their children as well as the disposal of their assets. And there are other reasons. It may be that our society should make more room for serial monogamy as opposed to death-do-us-part exclusivity. But if you want to know why there ought to be marriage, talk to gay couples who have lived many years together without the legal status of marriage.

The author of the feministing piece writes, in his last paragraph,

Thus as I realized how the cultural imperative on starting a family was unfair to women and the poor, I felt an instinctive aversion to it. That is the emotionally conditioned response that could override our responses to needs and instincts that make us want to reproduce. And if we rule out the biological ‘instinct’, which is strictly only to have sex and not to reproduce, my case for saying no to reproduction becomes much stronger.

I think he’s saying that he has an instinctual aversion to starting a family, and because he has this instinctual aversion everyone else ought to have it also, and that this instinctual aversion ought to override the instinct to reproduce, which doesn’t exist anyway. And now that he has decided that everyone’s life should conform to his life experiences, he proposes imposing his own aversions on everyone else. If there’s another interpretation of that paragraph I’d like to hear it.

I also suggest that our likes and dislikes come from many places, and there is a difference between, for example, instinct and neurosis that the author ought to sort out.

I was still childless during the glory days of second-wave feminism, and I believed fervently that maternal extinct was a stupid myth. And then I had babies and learned otherwise.

We are animals, after all, albeit over-specialized in the brain department. My definition of an instinct is body-knowledge; something your body knows how to do even if your head doesn’t. Because we are over-specialized in the brain, humans tend to dismiss things outside of the limited scope of cognition and conceptualization, but this is a narrow way to understand yourself. Do not assume you have no instincts because you are not cognitively aware of them; it is because you are not cognitively aware of them that they are instincts.

For example, nursing mothers having warm, fuzzy feelings about their babies often find themselves leaking milk like Niagara Falls, even if baby is somewhere else. That’s instinct. It’s something your body does without involving intellectual brain functions.

For some of us — not necessarily all of us, of course — pregnancy and motherhood give us our first conscious experience of instinct beyond sexuality. In my first pregnancy and experience of motherhood I was often caught off guard by sensations, emotions, and body actions I did not expect. It was my first clue that my almighty intellect was not the captain of my fate that I thought it was. Perhaps it’s something one has to experience to appreciate. However, I urge people who have not had this experience not to dismiss parental instinct so cavalierly.

Likewise, some people really, really want to have children, and others do not. The urge to have children is partly a matter of cultural conditioning, although I don’t think that’s the whole story. But wherever a deeply felt need comes from, it pains me when that need is not respected by others. If someone else’s urge is different from yours, you don’t have to relate to it or understand it, but I strongly suggest that you respect it.

Pay attention: Dismissing someone else’s needs as trivial because you don’t share that need is a form of oppression. It’s also damn arrogant.

Regarding family — it also was after I had babies that I came to appreciate family. Human mothers with newborns are incredibly vulnerable in many ways and need support, emotional and material, from somebody. It’s a survival thing.

Robert Frost said that “Home is the place, where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” My definition of family is that they are the people who keep that home for you. You may or may not share genes or even like each other very much. But people within a family do tend to bond and become, well, family. It’s human. Some families like to live in each other’s pockets, and some like to maintain a cool distance. Some families care for each other deeply, and others don’t. But I say the need for some kind of home or family is an innate quality of our species not easily denied.

Likewise, single mothers can raise children successfully — I have some personal experience with that — but raising children is so much easier if one has a supportive partner in the enterprise. For that reason, it is no bad thing if a society encourages parental couples to remain together to raise children. However, society should recognize that some couples are better off separated, and children don’t always benefit from a couple staying together “for the sake of the children.”

Yes, raising children can be very stressful. But, as the Buddha said, life is stressful. If avoiding things that look stressful is the star you steer your life by, I feel sorry for you.

For many humans, romantic relationships and the bearing of children are their most significant, and intense, life experiences. It is bad, and it is good; it is stressful, it is wonderful; it makes you crazy and keeps you strong. It’s the stuff life is made of. If it doesn’t interest you that’s fine, but don’t think for a minute that you are in any position to pass judgment on what other people are experiencing.

Destroying Feminism

I said a few weeks ago that if second-wave feminism weren’t already dead, Hillary Clinton’s campaign would have killed it. And may I say it was exactly this sort of self-absorbed whining that strangled feminism lo those many years ago.

Yes, Hillary Clinton got hit by a lot of really ugly sexism, but it wasn’t why she lost the nomination. If anything, the sympathy vote was her biggest asset. And it would be really great if people could just address the sexism issue without wrapping themselves in the gloriously self-indulgent mantle of victimhood. I could also do without the self-pity, the score-settling, and the denial of Clinton’s own bad behavior during the primaries. Thanks much.

Not Equal

Clinton supporters worked double-overtime all weekend complaining about sexism and smearing coming from the Obama campaign. Andrew Stephen at New Statesman explains:

Hillary Clinton (along with her husband) is being universally depicted as a loathsome racist and negative campaigner, not so much because of anything she has said or done, but because the overwhelmingly pro-Obama media – consciously or unconsciously – are following the agenda of Senator Barack Obama and his chief strategist, David Axelrod, to tear to pieces the first serious female US presidential candidate in history.

You want an example? Stephen continues,

Obama himself prepared the ground by making the first gratuitous personal attack of the campaign during the televised Congressional Black Caucus Institute debate in South Carolina on 21 January, although virtually every follower of the media coverage now assumes that it was Clinton who started the negative attacks. Following routine political sniping from her about supposedly admiring comments Obama had made about Ronald Reagan, Obama suddenly turned on Clinton and stared intimidatingly at her. “While I was working in the streets,” he scolded her, “. . . you were a corporate lawyer sitting on the board of Wal-Mart.” Then, cleverly linking her inextricably in the public consciousness with her husband, he added: “I can’t tell who I’m running against sometimes.”

Um, that’s the best you’ve got? I fail to see what’s “sexist” about pointing out Clinton’s ties to Wal-Mart. Why is this not “routine political sniping,” as was Clinton’s twisting of Obama’s “Reagan” remark?

Oh, wait; we’re defining “sexism” as “criticism of Hillary Clinton.” Gotcha.

Before you get all huffy and remind me of the Hillary nutcracker, let me say once again that there really is vile and ugly sexism being aimed at Hillary Clinton, and this is not OK with me. But Clinton undermines her own argument and the cause of feminism by conflating all criticism of her with sexism.

In the years after the publication of The Feminine Mystique, a charge often leveled at feminists was that they wanted equality while still clinging to the protections and perks assigned to being female, such as the expectation that men would open doors for us and clean up their language in our presence. Personally, I was willing to open my own doors and put up with some blue language in exchange for equal pay — which I never got — and I think most feminists felt the same way.

But Senator Clinton embodies the old anti-feminist stereotype. She can sling mud all she likes, but be careful what language you use in front of her because, you know, she’s a lady.

There’s no question that our culture and news media are rank with sexism. However, the Obama campaign itself is not the source of it, and seems to me the Obama campaign has treated Senator Clinton with more care and deference than Clinton and her surrogates have shown him.

Case in point: Geraldine Ferraro — the same Geraldine Ferraro who complained awhile back that Obama wouldn’t be a serious contender if he were white — accused Obama of being “terribly sexist.” Here are her examples, as told to Phillip Sherwood of The Telegraph:

  • His response to Mrs Clinton’s reminiscences about learning to shoot as a girl at her grandfather’s summer cabin in Pennsylvania. Miss Ferraro said: “He walked up and down the stage with his microphone like a stand-up comic and ridiculed her as an Annie Oakley,” she said, quoting his reference to the legendary female sharpshooter. “Would he have ridiculed a man by comparing him to John Wayne? Of course not.”
  • His apparently dismissive description of Mrs Clinton as “likeable enough” during a televised debate before the New Hampshire primaries.
  • His role in an earlier debate in Philadelphia when several of the male candidates running at the time were said to have ganged up on her, prompting Mrs Clinton to complain about the “boy’s club” of US politics.
  • His “failure”, Miss Ferraro claims, to speak out against other sexist acts such as lewd T-shirts, the men who shouted “Iron my shirt!” at Mrs Clinton and jibes about her “cackle”. Mr Obama also apologised to a female reporter he called “sweetie” in an aside that received widespread coverage.
  • Mind you, one of Senator Clinton’s selling points is that she’s tough enough to take on whatever the Right throws at her. Yet she wilts over being called “likable enough”? (Although it was fine for her to say that Obama wasn’t a Muslim “as far as I know.”) And she wants Obama to play the gentleman and defend her from the nasty people who made fun of her laugh, but it’s not her place to defend him from racism?

    Oh, yes, racism. That’s the other charge the Clintons have been making — racism hasn’t been much of a factor (even though data suggest racism has been an “unusually salient” factor in some of Clinton’s wins). Certainly the Obama campaign hasn’t been complaining about it. Yet we might wonder why Senator Obama was assigned Secret Service protection before any of the other candidates? The campaign isn’t talking.

    (IMO Obama doesn’t talk much about racist factors in the race because he is taking great care not to run as The Black Candidate. He’s palatable as a candidate to many white Americans only as long as he seems to be transcending racial issues, I suspect. This tells us something about the racial factor in the campaign.)

    Eugene Robsinson writes about Clinton’s campaign,

    Clinton has always claimed to be the cold-eyed realist in the race, and at one point maybe she was. Increasingly, though, her words and actions reflect the kind of thinking that animates myths and fairy tales: Maybe a sudden and powerful storm will scatter my enemy’s ships. Maybe a strapping woodsman will come along and save the day.

    Clinton has poured more than $11 million of her own money into the campaign, with no guarantee of ever getting it back. She has changed slogans and themes the way Obama changes his ties. She has been the first major-party presidential candidate in memory to tout her appeal to white voters. She has abandoned any pretense of consistency, inventing new rationales for continuing her candidacy and new yardsticks for measuring its success whenever the old rationales and yardsticks begin to favor Obama.

    It could be that any presidential campaign requires a measure of blind faith. But there’s a difference between having faith in a dream and being lost in a delusion. The former suggests inner strength; the latter, an inner meltdown.

    Die-hard Clinton supporters do seem to be in meltdown mode. More and more they seem just like wingnuts, dismissing all critics of Senator Clinton as “Hillary haters,” just as those of us who criticized the Bush Administration were just “Bush haters” in the eyes of the Right. You can point out the serious documented blunders made by the Clinton campaign all day long, but that doesn’t register with the Clintonistas. She’s only losing because of sexism.

    Truth is, if Second Wave feminism weren’t already dead, Clinton’s campaign would have killed it. She would have proved to the women haters that women aren’t ready for equality.

    See also: Bob Herbert, “Roads, High and Low“; Gary Younge, “Clinton has run her campaign the same way Bush has run the country“; Michael Tomasky, “The Hardest Word“; John Harwood, “The White Working Class: Forgotten Voters No More.”

    Roger Cohen, “The Obama Connection.”

    What Feminist Movement?

    Anne Applebaum’s most recent entry to the Jonah Goldberg Brainless Twit Fellowship begins this way:

    “A court in country X sentenced a black man who had been severely beaten by white men to six months in jail and 200 lashes.”

    How would you react if you read that in a newspaper? Shock, horror, anger at the regime in country X, no doubt. And once you learned that punishing blacks for associating with whites is routine in country X, you might even get angrier. You might call for sanctions, you might insist that country X not participate in the Olympics. You might demand that country X be treated like apartheid-era South Africa.

    In fact the sentence is real — almost. When originally published on the CBS News Web site last month, the story concerned a woman, not a black man, and country X was Saudi Arabia.

    Here is the real quote:

    “A Saudi court sentenced a woman who had been gang raped to six months in jail and 200 lashes.”

    Applebaum goes on to admit that there was, in fact, outrage over this incident.

    Hillary Clinton led a chorus of Democrats condemning the ruling, and a few editorials condemned it, too. It wasn’t much, but it mattered: Thanks to international pressure, the Saudi king has pardoned the woman.

    A “chorus of Democrats” isn’t much to Applebaum, but it seems to have been enough. So what’s her problem?

    Her problem is that “the feminist movement” in America was silent.

    Instead, we have (fortunately) fought for less fundamental rights in recent decades, and our women’s groups have of late (unfortunately) had the luxury of focusing on the marginal. The National Council of Women’s Organizations’ most famous recent campaign was against the Augusta National Golf Club. The Web site of the National Organization for Women (I hate to pick on that group, but it’s so easy) has space for issues of “non-sexist car insurance” and “network neutrality,” but not the Saudi rape victim or the girl murdered last week in Canada for refusing to wear a hijab.

    NOW is a relic. I suspect young American feminists rank it just above the National Christian Woman’s Temperance Union in relevance to their lives.

    The fact is, there is no “feminist movement” in America, and there hasn’t been one since the Equal Rights Amendment crashed and burned in the 1980s. There are splinterings of feminisms, cells of activists working for this or that fragment of women’s issues, but there is no movement, and there is no organization that truly represents American feminists. Including NOW.

    Applebaum goes on to criticize “reigning feminist ideology,” as explained by anti-feminist Christina Hoff Sommers. (Sommers is one of those right-wing hacks who makes a living constructing liberal strawpersons to bash; nice work if you can get it.) The truth is that there is no reigning feminist ideology in America today. There are many ideologies and notions and ideas drizzled about here and there that can be called “feminist,” but the only “ideology” that ties most American feminists together is an ideal of equal treatment and respect for women. Beyond that, good luck finding consensus on anything.

    A few seconds of googling reveals that feminist bloggers did indeed speak out on the Saudi rape trial: See Jessica at Feministing, Echidne, Elaine Vigneault (who argues that this is not a feminist issue, but a human rights issue), and Melissa McEwan. I found these examples on the first search results page. Someone ought to tell Applebaum about web searches.

    Rightie blogger Betsy Newmark took Applebaum’s bait and tsk-tsked “feminists” for not speaking up for Saudi women.

    These feminists don’t want to give up the glory days when they could point to real discrimination in civil and economic rights for women so they get all excited about car insurance or protesting Wal-Mart for not selling the morning after pill. Anne Applebaum is absolutely correct. A perusal of the NOW web site doesn’t reveal any concern for the way women in some Islamic countries are treated as true second-class citizens. They’re more worried about whether girls are encouraged enough to study math and science. For shame.

    Putting aside the fact that being denied a “morning after pill” can have genuinely tragic consequences (you know the Rightie Motto: It’s not a problem until it’s my problem) — the NOW web site is not exactly the alpha and omega of feminism, as I’ve said. But there are some interesting little nuggets buried in their archives. I like this one from August 2002:

    On the eve of the Congressional vote on whether to take military action in Iraq, the National Organization for Women stands with a diverse coalition of leaders from the religious, academic, business and labor communities to demand peace. Congress must reassert the integrity of our country’s foreign policy by voting down a dangerous resolution that would give the Bush-Cheney administration broad authority for “pre-emptive strikes” against Iraq and any other country they believe may act against U.S. interests. …

    … For Iraqi women, the war carries the danger that their nation will degenerate into an even more militarized society. We know all too well how such an extreme militarized culture in Afghanistan gave rise to a life of violence and oppression for women there. A U.S. invasion of Iraq will likely entail similar dangers to the safety and rights of Iraqi women—who currently enjoy more rights and freedoms than women in other Gulf nations, such as Saudi Arabia.

    A news google turned up this story:

    IRAQ: “Bad” Women Raped and Killed
    By Ali al-Fadhily

    BAGHDAD, Dec 18 (IPS) – Women are being killed by militia groups in southern Iraq for not conforming to strict Islamic ways, the police say. And, increased threats from militia groups is driving many women away from their homes.

    Basra police chief Gen. Jalil Hannoon has told reporters and Arab TV channels that at least 40 women have been killed during the past five months in the southern city.

    “We are sure there are many more victims whose families did not report their killing for fear of scandal,” Gen. Hannoon said.

    The militias dominated by the Shia Badr Organisation and the Mehdi Army are leading imposition of strict Islamic rules. The enforcement of these ways comes at a time when British troops have left Basra, the biggest town in the south, to the Iraqi government.

    This is from last week’s Guardian:

    Freedom lost

    After the invasion of Iraq, the US government claimed that women there had ‘new rights and new hopes’. In fact their lives have become immeasurably worse, with rapes, burnings and murders now a daily occurrence. By Mark Lattimer

    They lie in the Sulaimaniyah hospital morgue in Iraqi Kurdistan, set out on white-tiled slabs. A few have been shot or strangled, some beaten to death, but most have been burned. One girl, a lock of hair falling across her half-closed eyes, could almost be on the point of falling asleep. Burns have stretched the skin on another young woman’s face into a fixed look of surprise.

    These women are not casualties of battle. In fact, the cause of death is generally recorded as “accidental”, although their bodies often lie unclaimed by their families.

    “It is getting worse, especially the burnings,” says Khanim Rahim Latif, the manager of Asuda, an Iraqi organisation based in Kurdistan that works to combat violence against women. “Just here in Sulaimaniyah, there were 400 cases of the burning of women last year.” Lack of electricity means that every house has a plentiful supply of oil, and she accepts that some cases may be accidents. But the nature and scale of the injuries suggest that most were deliberate, she says, handing me the morgue photographs of one young woman after another. Many of the bodies bear the unmistakable signs of having been subjected to intense heat.

    Read the rest, if you have the stomach for it.

    Let me post also a bit of a March 2007 op ed from the Guardian by Haifa Zangana:

    Within days of the US troops Operation Law and Order, the “surge” plan announced by the Bush administration on January 10, two courageous Iraqi women, for the first time in the Arab and Muslim world, appeared on TV to speak about their rape by Iraqi troops. The first was 20-year-old Sabrin Al Janabi (the initial alias for Zainab Al-Shummary) and the second was Wajda, a mother of 11 from Tal a’far, the northern city.

    The case of Sabrin/Zainab was emblematic of the farce that is Iraqi government. When her tearful statement was aired by al-Jazeera, all media outlets rushed to describe the rape – to fit with the Anglo – American manufactured label of the bloodshed in Iraq – as Sectarian. So the BBC reported the rape saying,

    “The 20-year-old married Sunni woman says she was taken from her home in Baghdad to a police station, where she was accused of helping insurgents – and then raped by three policemen.”

    Not failing to remind its listeners that, “The Baghdad police are predominantly Shia.”

    In no time, Al Maliki – not known for his quick response to Iraqi women’s plight – issued a statement calling the woman a liar and a criminal and claimed that she was not attacked; fired an official who had called for an international investigation and described the rape as a “horrific crime” and ordered rewards for the officers Zainab accused of raping her.

    Betsy: NOW was right.

    We can all play these “I am more concerned about the rights of women than you are” games, but it’s all just games. We now have little leverage to help the women of the Middle East. The White House pays lip service to women’s rights when it serves some Bushie interest, then turns a blind eye to crimes against women when it doesn’t.

    And we can’t very well point fingers at other peoples’ messes when we don’t clean up our own. Molly Ivors writes,

    I have no problem adding my voice to the cacophony of those calling the original Saudi ruling appalling. I also decry the treatment of gang-rape and corporate-imprisonment victim Jamie Leigh Jones, who Ace of Spades and Rusty Shackleford have called a liar whose story is “too perfect.” (Wow, imagine if there had been inconsistencies! That would have convinced ol’ Rusty!) NOW also does not mention her on their site, but I do not blame them for her rape and subsequent abuse by a system more interested in keeping Vice-President Meisterburger in fresh colostomy bags than meting out justice.

    See also Susie.