Okay, I have to get this off my chest, because I simply can’t believe this exists. Not that I believe the women who are talking about it are lying, but I simply wish that the humans who share my gender and my interests weren’t such complete asshats. It’s pretty well established by now that I’m not exactly a feminist (as a friend said recently, “I’m not a misogynist, I’m a misanthrope, there’s a difference”), but this shit is beyond the pale.
Lately I’ve seen some (lots of) stories about women being called fake geeks and being chased out of the community of gaming/comics/sci-fi/whatever for not being “real nerds”. Really? And this is happening because… why? I’d ask if the guys who are doing this are twelve, except that I remember being a twelve year old geekling, and if a girl ever showed any interest in the sort of things I cared about I’d be more likely to chase her away by falling all over myself showering her with attention and praise (you know, being creepy) than by challenging her right to be there (you know, being an asshole).
The weird part of this to me is that I’ve walked into a game store and comic shops with my wife and I’ve seen the reaction. First I walk in, and nothing changes. A few guys might look up, they notice one of their own, and then they go back to whatever it was they were doing. Then SHE walks in. (You can even see the capital letters running through their minds when it happens.) A girl. It’s always a girl, never a woman. There’s a sudden pause, like deer caught in the headlights, or possibly roaches caught in the kitchen light. All heads turn towards her to see what she’s going to do, and more importantly if she’s with someone (free range is fair game after all). Then their eyes surreptitiously follow her around the store until we leave. After seeing this happen a few times I could totally understand why neither she nor any woman would want to go into any of those kinds of stores (the weird funk of basement boys aside).
But that at least evidences, albeit in a crude and creepy sort of way, that geek men at least crave the presence of women. And having spent far too much time around geeks, I can say with some authority the only thing they love more than their hobbies is talking about their hobbies. So when a woman comes along who is ready, willing, able, and in fact eager to do just that, what is their response? To chase her away by calling her a “fake geek”.
Mr. Spock, your analysis?
“Highly illogical, Captain.”
That’s what I thought. I’ve heard the (bullshit) argument that at one point in time there were a few media outlets that hired models to pretend to like video games or other things to appeal to geeks and somehow that means all females who ever exhibit any interest in anything geek are forever tainted. Wow, that might be the first time in history anyone has ever used sex appeal to sell anything to anyone ever! </sarcasm> The worst part of that argument is that video game trade shows had been using booth babes for YEARS before that, and these same guys were eating it up with a spoon.
So what happened? Did a girl come along and ask you to engage her in conversation about the relative merits of Star Wars versus Star Trek instead of expecting her to wear both a Princess Leia costume and an original series Trek uniform?
Guys, there are women out there, real women, who share our passions, who care about the same things we care about, love them with the same intensity we do, dive in with the same ferocity and joy, and best of all they want to share it with us. It’s everything we ever dreamed of, and you want to shut them out.
Grow the fuck up.
I used to joke that nobody was allowed to be a hypocrite except for me. It was mostly a joke, but like most jokes there was a kernel of truth in it. I had my own hypocritical tendencies, just like everyone else, and somewhere in my mid-twenties or so (right around the time I started casually studying philosophy) I decided it was time to start facing my own hypocrisies and trying to winnow them out of my life.
Now before you give me any great credit for this, let me be clear about one thing: I do not make any claims that this made me a better person. I still had (and have) plenty of foibles, prejudices, and personal issues to resolve, and some of them I cling to with the tenacity of a dog with a bone. The difference is that I try to at least be aware of them and not sugar coat them with some blind lies. For example, I have come to accept that I am one of the worst drivers on the road. No, seriously. I am a menace to society. I’ll talk smack about other people’s driving all day long, but I don’t go around pretending that I am a model to follow. See? That’s what I mean when I say I am working on not being a hypocrite.
It’s not always easy for me, even now, because hypocrisy is easy. For me, it almost always starts by identifying some obnoxious behavior in someone else. One of my great flaws (what can I say, anything I do, I do it with greatness) is to be judgmental, and I do so love to judge. If I see someone else being rude, or loud, or pushy, or racist, or sexist, or any of a number of other things that I find offensive, I immediately categorize them in my head as “asshole, assorted”. Sometimes I even subcategorize them: “Asshole, loud”, “Asshole, racist”, “Asshole, sexist”. My favorite is the ones who categorize themselves into stereotypes, like “Asshole, Redneck”.
Did you catch what I just did there? That’s right, I just stereotyped someone. And isn’t that what sexism, racism, and all the other evil -isms of the world really come down to? And that’s one of the great hypocrisies I have yet to relieve myself of. I’ve at least gotten to the point where I can catch myself doing it, most of the time, but I haven’t gotten to the point yet where I just don’t do it, which is kind of contrary to my most dearly held principles of addressing every person as an individual. Not that I intend to like every individual, but I prefer to dislike people retail, not wholesale. It’s just got a more personal touch.
The one that I have struggled the most with, and the one that I didn’t even acknowledge until fairly recently, was the concept of “straight white male privilege”. Yes, I know, I’ve ranted before about how life’s not fair for men either, and I stand by everything I said. But one of the things that came out of that was that I was finally pointed toward a description of “straight white male privilege” (I put it in quotes like that because I still see it like that; I did mention I’m still coming to terms with it) that finally at least made some sense to me. In fact, I’m going to specifically ask you to go read that article. I’ll wait here until you come back.
All done? So yeah, that worked for me. It clicked. Mostly because before I read that, most of what I had heard focused on how easy straight white men had things in the world, and quite frankly, I’m here to tell you that the people who have it easy are rich. The rest of us have to work for it, just like everybody else. And if you’re smart or (even better) good-looking, that goes a long way too. And there are things that can screw you no matter who you are, like being physically or mentally challenged, or just plain ol’ fashioned bad luck.
And that’s the hypocrisy I’ve been struggling with the most. That refusal to acknowledge that yes, all of this is true, but it’s irrelevant to the conversation at hand. Because rich can happen to anybody, intelligence and good looks can happen to anybody, physical and mental challenges (unfortunately) can afflict anyone, and luck is a fickle bitch. But straight, white and male are all favored classes, and they also “just happen”, but not to just anybody. So I get that now.
And it sucks.
That’s not the world I want to live in. That’s not the world I try to live in. But the fact is, when companies are hiring, they look at my name and they can tell. “White Male” practically jumps off the page. I’m the default setting, and that’s makes a lot of people just that little bit more comfortable. I’m pretty sure I come across 100% hetero in an interview, and that makes a lot of people just that little bit more comfortable.
And it sucks.
That’s not the world I want to live in. That’s not the world I try to live in. But the fact is, I’m only aware of these things when I think about them. It’s not reflexive, because I haven’t lived it. Not that I would choose to; anybody who would deliberately choose to live a life harder than they need to should have their head examined. But I’m working on being aware of it so that I can ignore that “default setting” and approach people the way I intend to, as individuals, get to know them as they are. That’s not to say I’m going to like them, or that I’m going to be anything other than who and what I am. But if I am going to like someone, I want it to be for who they are, not what they are, and if I’m going to dislike someone, I want it to be likewise.
That’s the world I want to live in.
In a recent post, I seem to have stirred up a bit of controversy regarding some stated opinions about feminism. One opinion I explicitly did not state was my opinion regarding abortion, as I felt it was at best tangential to the issues I was discussing at the time. It is a weighty and emotionally charged issue, and I did not want it to distract from the other issues I was trying to raise. However, it is also an issue worthy of serious discussion and debate, and I feel the time has come at last to lay out my position.
Before I begin, I want to make a few things clear. While I will do my best to discuss the matter as rationally and dispassionately as possible, that does not mean I am in any way immune to the emotional freight attendant to it. On the contrary, I am as invested as anyone in the matter. That having been said, I believe that any issue worthy of being debated as a matter of law, or even being considered as a matter of law, should be addressed as rationally as possible. The purpose of the law, in my view, is to allow us the time and distance to make decisions in a manner we would not and cannot in the heat of the moment.
All the necessary provisos aside, if it’s not clear from the title of this post, let me be clear now about my position: I am in favor of a woman’s right to choose. Before the gasps of shock or hateful comments begin, I ask that you read on to understand my reasoning; it is not something I came to by chance, nor did I simply go with what “feels right”. Like most everything else I believe, I started from the same base libertarian principles I have held for a very long time, and moving forward I have come to what I believe is the only logical conclusion. Also please note that I do not see it as an unlimited right, something else born out of those same libertarian convictions and that same logic. I welcome anyone to challenge me on the logic, or any point of fact, but please reserve points of faith for yourself, as I assure you that you will not sway me.
The first point I begin with is the fact that there is, indisputably, at least one person in this situation, a person who must be addressed, and that would be the woman in question. I know this might seem redundant, but sometimes it seems to me as if people who speak of a “right to life” have forgotten the existence of this person, or that she also has rights. Or does she? On this point, I turn to Murray Rothbard:
Let us set aside for a moment the corollary but more complex case of tangible property, and concentrate on the question of a man’s ownership rights to his own body. Here there are two alternatives: either we may lay down a rule that each man should be permitted (i.e., have the right to) the full ownership of his own body, or we may rule that he may not have such complete ownership. If he does, then we have the libertarian natural law for a free society as treated above. But if he does not, if each man is not entitled to full and 100 percent self-ownership, then what does this imply? It implies either one of two conditions: (1) the “communist” one of Universal and Equal Other-ownership, or (2) Partial Ownership of One Group by Another—a system of rule by one class over another. These are the only logical alternatives to a state of 100 percent self-ownership for all.
I highly recommend reading the entire piece, as Rothbard explores the full (absurd) implications of each of the two positions he lays out, as well as building a strong defense for the notion that every person has an ownership right in their own body.
Having established that there is at least one person who has rights, we are left with the question of whether we as a society have a right to violate her right to self-determination. I do not deny that there are times when we can do so in the name of a greater justice, but those times must be in extremis, and most often are done so when there is a direct and credible threat to the life or property of another person. This is of course the assertion of the pro-life movement; that abortion is in fact a threat to the life of a person, and should therefore be banned. Let’s test that assertion, shall we?
One slogan that is often resorted to is “life begins at conception”. Perhaps, although that’s not saying much. Any single-cell organism qualifies as being “alive”, and we do not ascribe the rights of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” to every living creature on Earth. According to the Constitution Society, “[u]nder Common Law existing at the time of the adoption of the U.S. Constitution, “natural personhood” was considered to begin at natural birth and end with the cessation of the heartbeat.” However, they do go on to note that “technology has created a new situation, opening the way for statute or court decision to extend this definition and set the conditions under which personhood begins and ends.”
So that’s not definitive, although I do think it gives some guidance. Even if technology has pushed back the boundaries of what could be defined as “personhood”, I don’t think that any rational person would call a sperm a person, and yet there are rational people who would declare a zygote a person. I have to admit I don’t understand this. By the same standard, I wouldn’t deny that a fetus one minute before birth is as much a person as a baby one minute after being born. So where do we draw the line?
Ultimately I have to go with the concept of “personhood”, and the best definition I can attach to it in a very real, philosophical and moral sense for myself: the idea of a singular, individual consciousness that exists separate from another. This requires that the fetus be able to exist viably ex utero in order to be ascribed the rights of personhood. While I understand that development is not constant in all cases, and I am not up to date on the latest science on when that point is, I am fairly certain that moment is not at conception, but it is sometime before birth. In the same way that we draw a line to denote when someone becomes an adult regardless of individual development, so must we do so here. Because that’s what the law is: a set of boundaries that we as a society have agreed to in advance.
If anyone reading this has gotten this far and is still discomfited by my suggestions or finds them lacking in some way: good. So do I. This is not an issue we should be addressing with laws and courts. This is an issue we should be addressing with empathy, personal discussion, and the greatest respect possible. The simple fact is that no matter what side of the debate you are on, you have to acknowledge that no one considers abortion lightly, if at all. But trying to control another person by force is not the answer; denying a woman her right to self-determination will not win the day.
Recently I’ve been reading a lot more internet chatter about feminism, which I can only take to mean it’s on the rise again. This wounds me greatly, as I had hoped we lived in a Post sort of world. You know, post-racial, post-gender, post-political, Post brand cereals, whatever. But I guess that ship has sailed, and we’re right back to having the same arguments that we’ve been hashing over (and failing to reconcile) for decades.
So what does this mean for me personally? To be honest it means I’ve had to confront my own patriarchal misogynistic tendencies. Yes, I admit that I have them. Of course I have them. C’mon, I was born in the mid-seventies and educated in public schools. I’m lucky I can even spell “patriarchal misogynistic tendencies” let alone admit having them. And I do. But just like paranoid schizophrenics can still have enemies, misogynists can still be right from time to time.
Here’s my favorite example: I’ve had a crazy ex-girlfriend or two. Now don’t get me wrong on this; I actually have several exes, and for most of them I hope I hold the place of “pleasant memory”, and I more likely hold the place of “bullet, dodged.” Most of those ladies I don’t even think of anymore, and while I may have in my callous youth said some unkind things about them I at least have enough class to regret it. But the fact is I do have one or two truly crazy ex-girlfriends. I even have objective witnesses of both genders to back me up. But here’s the problem: everything I’ve seen in the feminist orthodoxy says that’s wrong. That somehow I’m as much to blame as they are, if not more so, simply because I was a willing participant in the relationship. Boy, that’s not blaming the victim much, now is it? Only I can’t be a victim, because of my gender. That’s one.
My next favorite is things like quotas, preferences, and government set-asides. There are plenty of these designed to help women get ahead in school, in business, and in civil service. Setting aside the question of their efficacy, I wonder about their essential morality. Is this just? Is it right to single out one gender and favor them over another? And if so, for how long? Sure you may feel you are correcting some sort of societal imbalance, but when there’s no limit set the assumption is that injustice is either endemic to society or the individuals that comprise it (which are basically one and the same). With women graduating from college at higher rates than men and getting more advanced degrees than men these days, have we reached the day we no longer need these set asides? If not, will we soon? Will we ever? That’s two.
And hey, for the third issue, let’s go for a hat trick of issues that all tie together: divorce, custody, and child support. Despite the great gains that have been made by women in the workplace and men in the home, the default assumption that is near impossible to overcome in any divorce proceeding is that a man should support a woman “in the style she has become accustomed to”, and if there are kids they will almost always go to mom unless dad has absolute iron-clad proof she is a drug-addled child molester. In that case the kids will probably wind up with her parents. Fathers without custody will be tasked with child support (don’t get me wrong, I’m all for that) and hunted down like the dogs they are if they miss a single payment (a bit draconian, but hard to argue with), and in the rare event a mom doesn’t have custody she has to… well, how often are they ordered to pay child support? And when was the last time you heard the phrase “dead-beat mom”? And please don’t feed me some line about women being “nurturers”. Remember, we don’t assign gender roles in this classroom. So that’s three.
Last but not least is a real touchy one and the one I expect to catch the most hell over, but I feel the need to say it since nobody else will. First a clarification: I am not taking a stance on abortion here. That’s another post entirely. I do have an opinion, a strong one, but I don’t want to cloud the issue with that argument. Let’s simply take as given that Roe v Wade is the law of the land. So women have the right to decide, once they are pregnant, whether or not they will have a child. What right do men have in this arrangement? If he disagrees with her choice, either way, he is powerless. Completely at her mercy. He can beg, plead, persuade as best he might (and please don’t suggest threatening because I will gladly see a man in jail for that), but he has no recourse before the law. If you believe that is fair, turn the situation around. Put a woman in ANY situation in which she is bound for almost twenty years by a single decision that a man makes on her behalf, even if he is bound by that same decision, and tell me that it’s still fair. Here’s an alternative: let him surrender his parental rights if he doesn’t want the child. It’s not everything, but it’s more than nothing.
Life’s not fair. I get that. But why is it that women get to cry “life’s not fair” and call it a movement? Why do men have to stand by on the sidelines and simply accept the slow chipping away at our dignity and all the good we have in order to make the world an acceptable place? There is injustice in the world, this I understand; that is a fact that is not limited by gender, ethnicity, or politics, and we should all stand against it. But robbing from Peter to give to Paulina does not create a better world; injustice is not the answer to injustice; misandry is not the cure for misogyny.