“Woman” Is Not My Slave Name (from the DGS archives)

Before vagina hats, there was the “muff match”!

1st published WEDNESDAY, 14 DECEMBER 2011

 

woman slave name

Anne Snitow, Gender Diary in Conflicts in Feminism Eds Marianne Hirsch & Evelyn Fox Keller

 

 

I agreed with Naomi McAuliffe in her worry that feminism is doing itself no favours with its choice of high profile campaigns this year in Is the Muff March a cunning stunt? (For more on cunning stunts masquerading as feminism see this blog post) Where we differed was with the principle behind the march; in this case “the very real issue of cosmetic genital surgery.”

A real issue? I understand the personal is supposed to be political, but this is just a bit too personal. It may be the statistical case that “Labiaplasty, vaginal tightening, and hymen reconstruction are all on the increase”, but if women are choosing to do these things with their own highly evolved brains, where is the issue? The (apparently) oppressed women inside the Harley Street clinics were not privileged a voice to enlighten us. If they had, a curt, ‘Get stuffed and mind your own muff business’, might have been the response.

The feminists succeeded in getting headlines, but what benefit to the cause – indeed, what cause? Only WH Smiths could have benefited from the stunt, being spared a few hours of ‘radical’, ‘guerilla’ feminist activities denouncing the female form as pornographic and slapping stickers over pert boobs. In the war against sexual objectification, the next step may well be putting paper bags over pretty girls faces as they walk down the street. Come to think of it, these Object and Feministing girls would do well in Dubai, enforcing purdah.

But back to the elusive “issue”. With nobody being physically forced into anything, McAuliffe invoked the feminist context of collective female shame. Always a safe bet as, not being perfect, humans very often feel shitty about themselves whatever their sex. History is littered with ideologies which have sought to harness this nebulous power. “Women and girls have to live with accusations of smelling like fish, smelling during our periods, having vaginas that are too slack, having labia that is not neat enough, growing too much hair (as though it’s a choice), or not decorating a minge like a Christmas tree with some ghastly vajazzle. They’re reacting to these accusations with razors, wax and a surgeon’s scalpel.” 

If this is anything to go by, feminists are spending far too much time hanging around with teenage boys, (or frequenting Mumsnet – the vernacular is pretty much indistinguishable.) To take serious note of either opinion has the political weight of engaging in a debate on climate change with the Monster Raving Loony Party. There’s an adage about arguing with idiots that some feminists would do well to heed.

Another thing which jarred about this protest was the implication that such surgery was driven by vanity. Many surgical procedures in those clinics are not actually ‘cosmetic’ (as if that were a pejorative term – it isn’t) but reconstructive. But typically, these feminists jumped to the most negative opinion of women as vain, shallow, and easily led creatures. What a woman recuperating after getting a 3rd-degree perineal tear repaired would have made of their caterwauling we don’t know.

It reminded me too of the ‘too posh to push‘ myth; a myth pretty much perpetuated by women in the media. Anyone who has ever been through childbirth knows it is not about being posh, it is a genuine mortal fear of childbirth and wanting to avoid unimaginable pain. So unimaginable, in fact, it’s impossible to imagine it afterwards. That’s a neat biological trick! It’s about a series of trade-offs: between facing that fear and pain (surely an individual choice in a civilised and technologically advanced society) or having a few extra days bed rest and a sore tummy; between childbirth induced vaginal and rectal trauma or a fully functioning pelvic floor.

It’s one of the cornerstones of our civilisation that women do not have to face the mortal horrors of childbirth alone and without help if they need or want it. Why lead them up the garden path, then slam the door in their faces? I find it odd, not to say highly disturbing, that it is feminists, and not ‘The Patriarchy’, who are protesting that there should be limits to those privileges; and not based on medical or fiscal considerations, on ideological ones. Thankfully we do not live in a feminist autocracy, and our reformed patriarchy gives women the choice to avoid these traumas, and to have them surgically fixed, for whatever reason they so choose – bladder control or good sex – without the harassment of the establishment. Feminism once fought for women to have opportunities and choices such as these. Now it almost seems like it wants to revoke them.

As a society, we have come far. No man can now take to the pavement, pious placard in hand, telling women what they ought to be doing, and rightly expect to be called anything but a sexist pig. So what does that make these feminists?

Actions speak louder than words. For all the cries of feminism being a pro-women organisation, more and more it actually appears pro-feminist and anti-women. The disconnect between feminism and women is becoming more palpable as time passes. If it is for women, why won’t it listen to us? Why not take criticism where its due? Why not adapt? The feminists on the ‘Muff March’ perfectly illustrate how orthodox feminism today is not about creating opportunities for women or empowering them to make their own choices. It is about disseminating archaic 20th-century dogma and slavishly following ideology, in spite of women’s wants, needs and lived experience today.

So here’s my question: Does feminism serve women or do women serve feminism? That’s not a rhetorical question. It needs to be answered.

Too often feminism connects the word ‘woman’ in terms of weakness, victimhood and shame. If I could tell these feminists anything, it is that times have changed and ‘woman’ is not my slave name.

Follow the link to see the Facebook debate about the Muff March

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An Old Sexual Manifesto from 2011

I wrote this originally in 2011 and it references another old feminist campaign from 2006 (which I had researched and referenced in my university dissertation which was an attempt to unify liberal feminist aims with evolutionary psychology). It’s now 2017 and feminists still haven’t changed the record as we see with the furore over walk-on girls in sport. I have kept the original context in to show how feminist arguments never develop, only get recycled. The links go to the orignal sources I collected along the years.

It’s worth noting that at this time I considered myself a liberal feminist in the way Christina Hoff Sommers does today. I had yet to examine the premises of feminism in detail, compare them with those of egalitarianism and come to the conclusion that there is, in actuality, no such thing as liberal feminism, only egalitarianism. For more of that analysis see this essay which is a further analysis of my contribution to this paper published in the Journal of Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences, Vol 8(1), Jan 2014, 3–11 Note: the latter link is a live download of the full PDF. Enjoy. Px
……………

 

One might be forgiven for thinking the recent rumblings of feminist agitation within the pages of The Guardian signified a progression of some sort. In Moral panic? No. We are resisting the pornification of women, Gail Dines and Julia Long take up arms against the old foe of the ‘pornification of culture’. They repeat scripts written by feminists of decades past, “(P)ornification…perpetuate(s) myths of women’s unconditional sexual availability and object status, and thus undermine women’s rights to sexual autonomy, physical safety and economic and social equality.” This asserted in spite of the fact that women in the West enjoy unparalleled levels of sexual autonomy, control over their fertility, physical safety and economic and social equality. A similar campaign has been hosted on the pages of The Guardian before. That too ended with a live Guardian debate. That one, like this one, was basically a book promotion dressed up as feminist activism. Lets take a step back in time…

On April fools day 2006, media feminist and Guardian regular Madeline Bunting railedagainst the sexualisation of our public spaces, decorated ubiquitously with female bodies, which to her represented, “another insistent, insidious message of how culture shapes expectations of our sexuality, another reminder of one’s own powerlessness to assert other images of sexuality with anything like comparable prominence.” Buntings invective was roused by, amongst other things, a console game advertisement on the sides of UK double-decker buses which had instructed those who just happened to glance at it to ‘Paste your girlfriend’s white bits here.’ Bunting posited a brief thought experiment, “Imagine: could I have an equivalent number of double-deckers trumpeting the message that sex is the magical experience of mutual giving?”, but quickly had a reality check, “Boring … duh … The problem about our pervasive cultural sexism is that the debate is tilted all one way.” The piece signalled her allegiance to radical Marxist feminism in the title, Sex Slaves to the Market, and predictably pointed a highly critical finger at that putative symbol of western patriarchy; capitalism. “Pornography is colonising all other forms of media… a multimillion-pound industry will carry on churning out the websites, DVDs and magazines that are distorting our sexual mores.” 

A week later, Libby Brooks, another Guardian regular and fellow traveller, published a new call to arms for feminism, A New Sexual Manifesto, again, in The Guardian, “This is not about being anti-sex,” she began, pre-empting the oft-used insult of feminists being anti-sex and frigid, “It is not about being prudish, or easily embarrassed, or unliberated. But it is about anger.” 

Both articles were motivated by two recent feminist publications, the primary being Ariel Levi’s investigation into the rise of what she termed ‘raunch culture’ in the US. In the best spirit of the sisterhood, it was called Female Chauvinist Pigs. Both Bunting and Brooks had been roused into action by an attempted broadside at Levi’s exposé from Kate Taylor, Today’s Ultimate Feminists are Chicks in Crop Tops, which appeared in the Guardian on 23 March 2006, and seemed to re-run many of the anti-feminist clichés that Brooks’ attempted to foreclose in her first few sentences.

Taylor opened with, “Men, you can relax. You are no longer the enemy. Instead, judging by recent events in America, modern feminists have a much shapelier target in their sights – other women. Specifically, scantily clad women who use their sexuality to get ahead.” Taylor then subverted this sass by succinctly encapsulating the dilemma facing modern feminism; the same unresolved dilemma that emerged in the UK in the early to mid-1990s, articulated within the media-friendly ‘ladette’ paradigm:

“Levy thinks raunch culture is a feminist movement gone terribly wrong. We are, in her eyes, doing all these things merely to show the men that we are “one of the guys” and “liberated and rebellious”. Naturally, she finds this confusing. “Why is labouring to look like Pamela Anderson empowering? The answer is, labouring to look like Pamela Anderson is not empowering. We’re not trying to be empowered. The twentysomething women I know don’t care about old-style feminism. Partly this is because they already see themselves as equal to men: they can work, they can vote, they can bonk on the first date. For younger women, raunch is not about feminism, it’s just about fashion.”

Here we had some dissent from the ranks, some space for real debate to emerge, not simply the usual rhetoric regurgitated for a new generation. Here was a voice from that generation, disrespecting the matriarch with a message from the front. But Bunting was not about to privilege this particular female voice, “They may recruit a naive cheerleader – such as Kate Taylor on these pages last week – but she’s only a token; this phenomenon is driven by the market. While the cash rolls in, millions of lives are muddled, sometimes even ruined, by the multiple misconceptions being peddled.”

That was Kate told. She was a ‘token’. The ‘pornification of culture’ was a problem only Marxist feminists could solve. The message was clear: Don’t you dare disrespect the non-hierarchical sisterhood! The title of Levi’s book, Female Chauvinist Pigs, invoked a similar, uneasy paradox. The elephant in the sisterhoods room; female intrasexual competition. Yes, once again, the great nemeses of feminism, other women, play footsie with patriarchy while Amazionia burns.

Pigs, was ostensibly a ‘new’ broadside against the ‘pornicopia’ of the West, but which suspiciously looked to me like a Stateside reworking of Imelda Whelehan’s Overloadedwhich charted the rise of ‘Loaded’ magazine and lipstick feminism in 1990s UK. In it, Levi railed against women living in the false consciousness of sexual liberation. The message was: You’re not liberated. You’re still being exploited and to make things worse, you are willfully abetting the patriarchy! To a feminist, there could be no greater crime.

So, not being able to parade these women for shame with heads shaven in the marketplace, Levi levelled at them the accusation of being not just chauvinists, but pigs too. Talk about tough love. Not since Faludi’s ugly-sisterly rant against Betty Friedan in Backlash for having the gall to be a (spit) liberal feminist, had feminist competition been so disseminated.

All this would not have appeared so ironic if there was any sort of agreement within feminism about female sexuality. But the truth is, now as it was then, that orthodox (aka ‘radical’) feminists object to ‘false’ representations of female sexuality in the media, even though they, within the multitude of feminisms, can’t actually agree on what female sexuality is. All they can do is agree on what it is not. A tenacious attachment to such stagnant and conservative feminist values is very well documented within the published articles of media feminists over the years in the Guardian, and more than illustrates just how little the discourse has adapted to changing times.

Taylor’s lonely dissenting voice found support however in the unlikely form of Lynne Segal in A Misguided Manifesto. Segal attended the live event even though she, “was reluctant to join the fray, feeling I had been here many times before.” She charted her journey to such weariness, ending with a defence of the young women castigated by Levi and co, bringing with her a healthy dose of historical perspective, “Superficially, it is easy to see the appeal of this attack on raunch culture: young girls are not “liberated” by wearing thongs, waxing their bodies…or buying sex toys. But then again, I’m rather glad they feel free to do this without getting stoned alive, without being arrested as whores and hookers.” Refreshingly free of feminist cultural relativism also.

Fast forward five years and we have a re-run; same script, same stage, different characters. Moral panic? No. We are resisting the pornification of women. No you’re not, your co-opting feminism to sell your book. Having read the script already many times before, I’m not buying it. Feminism was in crisis in 2006 and it still is today. The last thing it needs is the cynicism and, yes, conservatism of Gail Dines. Re-reading Brooks and Bunting, Dines and Long, it’s easy to forget true pioneers like Olympe de Gouges who in 1791 wrote one of the first feminist tracts, Declaration of the Rights of Women and Women Citizens; who spoke out for her sex and against the Terror and was guillotined for it; or modern-day feminist pioneers like Egyptian Aliaa Magda El-Mahdy. Dines, Brooks and Bunting & co cannot support El-Mahdy as her chosen weapon, her young, naked female body, is precisely that which they do not understand – the unbound power of female sexuality.

It’s easy to forget that feminism desperately needs a new manifesto, one that reiterates its duty of care and allegiance to all women (not just card-carrying feminists) above and beyond defunct 20th-century ideologies. It’s easy to forget that feminism is an essential movement in a world where we know men will attempt to constrain female choice if cultural mores allow them to. It’s easy to forget that we in the West are the exceptions to the global rule of female oppression, that we should stop navel gazing and use our power and influence to help less fortunate women, and by proxy their children and menfolk, enjoy the rights and privileges Dines, Bunting and Levi seem to take so much for granted.

Back at the Guardian debate in 2006, Segal came away with a subversive message:
“Let me share a little secret with you, something that hampers any attempt to rectify sexual behaviour: sex is all about wanting to be objectified, wanting to be the object of another’s desire, another’s gaze (even if, like a traditional straight man, we pretend that this is not the case). However, it is about wanting to gain this attention in ways that are reasonably safe from risk, harm or hurt – except, perhaps, for when these are the very things that turn us on.”

Predictably, after much sound and fury, the event ended up signifying nothing. I could not attend, but I did email Bunting asking her if the debate would be published. In a brief reply, she reported that she thought there would be a podcast on Comment is Free. After waiting some months for it to appear I emailed again to be told ‘I don’t think there is any podcast’. I have a feeling this next event will similarly be lost to history, and survive only as a strategy to be re-run with the next publishing deal. More fool us if we fall for such cynical, superficial nonsense masquerading as feminism.

When is a feminist not a feminist?

This essay was first published as “When is a Feminist Not a Feminist” as a guest blog on Lee Jussim’s Psychology Today Rabble Rowser blog here. Updated 13/9/17.

“Feminism: The advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of the equality of the sexes.”

“Egalitarianism: The doctrine that all people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities.”

The two quotes above are sourced from the Oxford Dictionary. On the face of it, feminism and egalitarianism appear to converge. Indeed, it is not unusual to hear feminists appeal to this dictionary definition whenever they asked to describe feminism. I will call this the “reasonable person” defence, e.g., What reasonable person could possibly disagree? The point being, they can’t. Not if they want to remain reasonable in the eyes of others.

But similarly, what reasonable person could disagree with egalitarianism? Both premises are highly reasonable. But as numerous studies and surveys have demonstrated, a majority of people support egalitarian values but do not identify as feminist.[1] [2] [3] [4] What’s going on? Are these people confused, ignorant, or both?!

Neither.

It seems the non-feminist (not anti-feminist) egalitarian majority either know or intuitively suspect a crucial difference between the goals of egalitarianism and feminism. Unfortunately, looking to dictionary definitions does not help us articulate what these differences are.

A visit to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy gives us a more detailed description of both concepts. The opening preamble to the egalitarian chapter[5] dovetails nicely with the dictionary definition above. The feminist chapter, however, quickly diverges from the dictionary definition, running off into various strands where the key theme is internal disagreement within feminism about what feminism is. It takes just over 3,000 words before the term patriarchy first appears but when it does, it is neither problematic nor contested.

“Feminism, as liberation struggle, must exist apart from and as a part of the larger struggle to eradicate domination in all its forms. We must understand that patriarchal domination shares an ideological foundation with racism and other forms of group oppression, and that there is no hope that it can be eradicated while these systems remain intact. This knowledge should consistently inform the direction of feminist theory and practice. (hooks 1989, 22)”[6]

Here is the first hint of what differentiates feminism from egalitarianism. You will note there is no mention of equality by hooks; the goal is “liberation” from “patriarchal domination.”

Ask an orthodox (social constructionist) feminist what feminism means and you are likely to get one of two responses. The “reasonable person” defence is one, while the other, is what I will call the “atomistic dodge”. This entails the feminist stating that feminism is not a monolithic movement, that its aims are too complex to pin down[7]. This position personifies intersectional feminism. Note how the descriptions contradict one another. It is easy to get lost in this equivocal maze.

So, rather than trying to discern the differences between warring feminist factions, I instead asked myself what they had in common. The results help us see the difference between egalitarianism and all feminisms.

In 1963, the liberal feminist Betty Friedan published a book about a “problem with no name.” Seven years later, radical feminists named it “patriarchy.”

Patriarchy was conceived of as the underlying structure which facilitated men’s oppression of women; “a system characterized by power, dominance, hierarchy and competition, a system that [could not] be reformed but only ripped out root and branch.”[8] (my emphasis)

This moment marked a fundamental change in strategy as feminists shifted from a liberal policy of achieving equality through reform, to a radical strategy of trying to dismantle the panchreston known as patriarchy. Around that time, Friedan was unceremoniously kicked out of the organisation she had founded because she wasn’t radical enough[9]. Since that time, patriarchy has remained central to all subsequent waves of feminism. While it is true that the different factions of feminisms have slightly different conceptions of patriarchy, they all agree on the following three premises: [9a]

  • Patriarchy is a socially constructed phenomenon which enforces notions of sex and gender that equate to male supremacy and female inferiority[10] [11].
  • Patriarchy is the mechanism by which all men institutionally oppress all women[12].
  • All feminisms are united in the fight against patriarchy (if little else)[13].

Add in postmodern gender theory and you have the four pillars of all feminisms. Even the ones at each other’s throats.

The fact that these founding premises are false is never addressed. They are axiomatic feminist natural laws. Both the existence and origin of patriarchy are assumed by orthodox feminists rather than explored, yet the flawed, circular logic of the these premises represent the ideological bedrock of all orthodox feminisms — from radical to intersectional — and social ‘justice’ activism today.

The orthodox feminist concept of patriarchy is embellished from the anthropological observation that in many cultures men appear to hold more social, economic and political ‘power’ compared to females. Orthodox feminists assume men grasp for power and resources to dominate women because they hate them (misogyny). My research suggests patriarchy is vastly more complex than orthodox feminists have ever imagined and that women have just as much influence in its structure and maintenance as men. As Mary Wollstonecraft noted;

Ladies are not afraid to drive in their own carriages to the doors of cunning men.”[15]

It is my assertion that patriarchies exist on a wide continuum from malign to benign. I call these two sides ‘reformed’ and ‘unreformed’ patriarchy. Reformed (Western democratic) patriarchy appears to facilitate female choice; unreformed (of the type which appears in theocracies) appears to suppress it. More crucially, reformed patriarchy also appears to protect against unreformed patriarchy. Were orthodox feminists ever successful in their goal of “smashing” patriarchy in the West, the unintended consequences could be catastrophic for civilisation as we know it.

Patriarchy is a large adaptive system which can both oppress and liberate, both male and female. It is largely determined by local ecological pressures, which is why we see so many different versions of it. At its centre is the fact that humans are a sexually reproducing species. Men and women have shaped one another, both physically and psychologically, over millions of years, via the process of sexual selection and mutual mate choice. In turn, we create culture, aka ‘patriarchy’, as our fitness landscape. So feminists want to smash culture. That’s a lot easier to understand.

And here lies the rub for orthodox feminisms enamoured with patriarchy and gender theory today. Heterosexual men and women are attracted to one another precisely because of their stereotypical sexual traits. In fact, they are not stereotypical, they are archetypical. There is a simple dynamic to this: Men want power and resources because women want men who have power and resources.

This isn’t because (as many MRA’s insist) women are selfish gold diggers or men (as many feminists assert) are shallow aesthetes. Sexual dimorphism and the sexual division of labour are not patriarchally imposed tyrannies. They are an elegant and pragmatic solution for a species who give birth to altricial offspring with unprecedentedly long childhoods. This dynamic between the sexes, of teamwork and strong pair bonds, is one of the foundations of our success as a species. The survival of offspring is central to this — whether we choose to have children or not.

The sexes simply cannot be understood except in light of one another and the reason we evolved to cooperate: offspring. It will continue to be so for as long as we remain human.

The orthodox feminisms legacy is one of taking the capricious, delightful and, yes, sometimes cruel battle of the sexes and turned it into a war of attrition. The circular logic also has feminism devouring itself from within.

Last year, one of the the most iconic women of the 20th century, the radical feminist and intellectual, Germaine Greer, was denied a platform to speak at a UK university.[16] Her crime? Greer is what intersectional feminists call a TERF, meaning does not reject biology wholesale and, while she respects the egalitarian rights of men who want to identify, live and love as a woman, she insists this doesn’t actually make them biologically women; they remain trans-women. For this she was stripped of the right to speak, verbally abused and labelled a bigot. The champagne socialist feminist Laurie Penny went so far as to cast Greer in the same light as people who want to murder homosexuals.

Why should women — or men for that matter — mind? In 2014 a trans-woman in the US was awarded “working mother of the year” despite neither giving birth or being primary carer to her children.[17] Recently, Caitlyn Jenner, who has been living as a woman for a few months, was awarded “woman of the year” ahead of countless women of substance who have made extraordinary accomplishments while facing actual selection pressures unique to their biological sex. Men too have their own just as intense, yet unique, selection pressures. Trans-people have their own unique ones too.

Trans-activists are lobbying for a change of language by midwives to refer to people giving birth as “pregnant persons” not women.[18] At a time when people debate whether a woman drinking the odd glass of wine in pregnancyischild abuse, a trans-woman took powerful (but funnily enough not socially constructed) hormones to stimulate lactation[19]. A discussion of the nutritional value of the milk extends to the trans-mother reporting the milk is thick and creamy, which seems to identify it as something other than human breast milk, which is highly dilute and low in fat.

Orthodox feminists frequently claim that we live in a rape culture, even though rape and all violent crime in the West is in steady decline and rape prosecution statistics are on a par with other crimes at over 50%.[20] [21] In the US there is a ‘progressive’ movement on college campuses to lower the threshold of proof in rape prosecution trials. It is staggering to think these educated people have forgotten terrible lessons within living memory; the bitter crop of strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

To balk at this is not hatred or phobia but healthy scepticism. We are all equal before the law under classical liberalism and egalitarianism. This is not the case with orthodox feminism. It places ideology and tenuous group identities before individual people. Individual rights and choices are “problematic”.[22] Women like myself who point out the logical inconsistencies and totalitarian mission creep of feminism are labelled anti-feminist and anti-woman; as if “feminist” and “woman” were synonyms. They aren’t. Feminists are identified by their politics, not their sex or gender. They do not speak for women or the majority of egalitarians in society; they speak only for themselves. The dictionary definition of feminism is in serious need of a rewrite.

 

For more reading on reformed and unreformed ‘patriarchy’ see this short essay 

Refererences

[1]http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/04/10/feminism-reproductive-rights-la…(link is external)

[2]http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/16/feminism-poll_n_3094917.html(link is external)

[3]https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/evolutionary-entertainment/201205/g…

[4]https://www.google.co.uk/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&es_t…(link is external)

[5]http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/egalitarianism/(link is external)

[6]http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/feminism-topics/(link is external)

[7]https://archive.is/Dv71r(link is external)

[8] Tong, R. (1989). Feminist thought: A more comprehensive introduction. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

[9]http://connection.ebscohost.com/c/articles/16142596/the-lavender-menace-…(link is external)

[9a] Kruger, Daniel J.; Fisher, Maryanne L.; Wright, Paula Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences, Vol 8(1), Jan 2014, 3–11 Patriarchy, male competition, and excess male mortality http://psycnet.apa.org/index.cfm?fa=buy.optionToBuy&id=2014-01458-002

[10] de Beauvoir, S. (1949/1986). The second sex. New York, NY: Penguin Books.

[11]Cudd, A., & Holstrom, N. (2011). Capitalism, for against: A feminist debate. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

[12] Gamble, Sarah (ed). The Routledge Companion to Feminism and Postfemnism. Routledge: 2001

[13]Gamble, Sarah (ed). The Routledge Companion to Feminism and Postfemnism. Routledge: 2001

[14]http://psycnet.apa.org/index.cfm?fa=search.displayrecord&uid=2014-01529-004(link is external)

[15] Mary Wollstonecraft. A Vindication of the Rights of Women. 1792.

[16]http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-10-27/lehmann-greer-and-the-no-platformi…(link is external)

[17]http://www.huffingtonpost.com/meghan-stabler/transgender-mother-responds…(link is external)

[18]http://www.breitbart.com/london/2015/09/29/transphobic-midwives-must-say…(link is external)

[19]https://archive.is/oEfQg(link is external)

[20]http://www.theguardian.com/society/2010/mar/15/stern-review-rape-less-fo…(link is external)

[21]http://straightstatistics.fullfact.org/article/how-panic-over-rape-was-o…(link is external)

[22]http://feministing.com/2015/05/07/choice-feminism-time-to-choose-another…


Originally published at porlawright.com on December 18, 2015.

Darwinian Gender Studies: Unpoisoning the well

If any man could draw up a comprehensive, infallible guide to navigating this treacherous territory, we would certainly erect a statue to his everlasting memory. There is a Twitter account dedicated to exploring and enumerating precisely the distinctions and differences between the acceptably erotic and the intolerably sexist. It’s called @SexyIsntSexist. It is, of course, under the control of a woman.” Neil Lyndon. Do men really understand what sexism is? The Telegraph 20/5/14

My area of research is cross-disciplinary and includes, but it isn’t limited to, evolutionary anthropology, palaeoanthropology, psychology, biology, ecology, primatology, human sexuality and gender studies. For brevity’s sake, I refer to this as Darwinian Gender Studies (DGS). This area represents to me, the consilience of the natural and social sciences, as envisioned by E.O.Wilson. DGS is evidence based and does not follow the orthodox feminist model of post modernism and social constructionist theory.

My PhD thesis will be developing an evolutionary, bio-cultural model of what orthodox feminists call “patriarchy”. I won’t post my whole thesis here – but I will  give a general précis of my research interests (including a paper I have co-authored here) and why I believe they are very important today, in a time where political correctness, social justice and toxic feminism  has taken us deep down the postmodern rabbit hole. I am an egalitarian, and equity feminist. I am a woman who wants to build bridges of understanding between the sexes not walls of fear and mistrust, which is what I find orthodox feminism does today. I’m passionate about humans and humanity; what we are, what we are not. Two things we are, which we cannot cease to be and also remain human, are a sexually reproducing, pair bonded species. These are basic facts of our biology and psychology, and cannot be erased by social engineering.

In my research, I interrogate orthodox feminist concepts, such as patriarchy, objectification, gender power differentials, mating systems and psychosexual differences using humour and evolutionary explanatory models such as sexual selection, parental investment theory, mutual mate choice, female choice, signalling theory and perhaps most importantly intrasexual competition. History shows us that whenever our species has ever attempted to take control of biology and bend it out of shape to ideological goals, human tragedy always follows. It’s a lesson we still don’t seem to have learned. Because in spite of overwhelming evidence, many people, and especially orthodox feminists, still hold fast to the idea of an endlessly flexible human nature, and indeed, human nature is flexible, but a blank slate it is not. Neither is it a crude caricature of immutable deterministic drives and instincts as often painted within the orthodox feminist doctrine of biological determinism. Human nature is very much mutable, but not infinitely or arbitrarily so, and here lies the nub: Within what may seem like infinite variations of human action and reaction to what life throws at us, our predispositions on a broad scale are actually predictable. There are enough constants within this calculus to recognise the existence of an unmistakably human nature. This nature will vary and recalibrate between individuals and ecologies, but these variations dance around a constant, evolutionary fire.

“Those who journey from political correctness to truth often risk public disapprobation, but it is notable that most never lose their tolerance or humanity. They may question the politics of race, but not that racism is bad; they may question campaigns about women’s pay, but not that women and men deserve equality of treatment.” Browne, A. (2006) The Retreat of Reason: Political correctness and the corruption of political debate in modern Britain. Civitas

I am following in the footsteps of female evolutionary anthropologists, ecologists, biologists, psychologists, philosophers; women such as Barbara Smuts, Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, Anne Campbell, Helena Cronin, Griet Vandermassen, Catherine Salmon, Maryanne Fisher, Bobby Low, Hanna Kokko, Helen Fisher, Rebecca Sear and many many more. Their work reveals that, far from orthodox feminist fears to the contrary, evolved psychosexual differences do not equate to inferiority. In evolution, we in fact see true equality expressed in discrete and fascinating ways. These women (and many men too) illuminated the role females play as potent agents of evolution via the phenomenon of female choice. These female scientists affected an unsung revolution – unsung by feminism, not evolutionists – by shattering the male perspective biases that once dominated Darwinism. They did this, not with declarations of war against patriarchy and angry rhetoric, but with rational thought.

Unlike orthodox feminists, I’m not angry. I’m passionate. Passionate about truth seeking. When it comes to the principles of natural selection – the struggle to survive – men and women differ very little. Rather, it is in the principles of sexual selection – the struggle not just to survive but thrive enough to have offspring and allow them to thrive also – it is here that the main differences start to become manifest  None of these differences equate to inferiority.

I’m passionate about logic and rationalism – something women have nothing to fear from! Yet feminists do fear it, as philosopher Janet Radciffe Richards notes in her book The Sceptical Feminist, 

“…in spite of girls doing better at school than boys, feminists are still woeful at rationality…feminism has some tendency to get stuck in the quagmire of unreason from time to time [but] it cannot be denied that adopting an anti-rational stance has its uses; it can be turned into an all purpose escape route from tricky corners”  

This is a very good description of the majority of feminisms today, be they radical, liberal, intersectional or any other tribe battling for dominance in the victim narrative. All eschew logic and reason and all are in thrall to the flying patriarchal spaghetti monster in the sky. Mary Wollstonecraft and Olympe de Gouges must be spinning in their graves. But then again, today they would also be dismissed as cis white privileged scum.

What I am most passionate about is having the opportunity to have a role, however small, in helping us better understand ourselves as a species. It’s an investigation that could save us. A cross-disciplinary advancement of a consolidated theory of all variables noted under the term “patriarchy” has huge policy implications. It not only pertains to the oppression of women but of men also. An analysis of the true dynamics of resource control is especially pertinent in a world in which resources are predicted to become scarce.

As a woman, I am interested in the unique selection pressures women face due directly to their sex. But as an evolutionist, this interest does not make me blind to the fact that men face their own unique selection pressures for the same reasons. Indeed, the evidence seems to point to males being subject to much more intense pressures than females, not least in the battle to actually be born male!

One sex cannot be understood except in light of the other. Men and women have co-evolved, each shaping the other both physically and psychologically via sexual selection. Men desire power and resources because women desire men who have power and resources. And female power, well that doesn’t look like male power, and so often goes unseen, especially by feminists. That doesn’t mean they don’t have it, or use it against each other. From an evolutionary perspective, feminism can be categorised as the study of the conflict between the sexes – intersexual conflict – with a particular interest in proximate mechanisms of how men oppress women and how this oppression can be countered. But this is only half the story. Evolutionists posit that to really understand intersexual conflict one must also analyse intrasexual conflict, and broaden the enquiry to include an analysis of ultimate mechanisms of not just how, but why, men pursue the goal of power and resource control (see above).  The focus on both intersexual competition (the battle between the sexes) and intrasexual competition (the battle within a sexes) is central to Darwinian Gender Studies. Feminism is itself a battleground fraught with female intrasexual competition.

Intrasexual competition has two strands, male-to-male competition and female-to-female competition. Much is known about male intrasexual competition (but is totally ignored by orthodox feminisms), but outside of evolutionary theory, less is known about conflict between women; female intrasexual competition. It is the pink elephant in the feminist room. Competition within a sex is always much more intense than between sexes. Using female intrasexual competition as a lens to look anew on hot feminist topics such as the beauty industry, the rise in cosmetic surgery, the size zero controversy, anorexia, the endless bitching and wars of attrition between the many tribes of feminisms; female intrasexual competition brings fascinating new insights, as these phenomena seem to be expressions of female competition not male oppression at all.

None-the-less, there is still a comfortable consensus within orthodox feminisms that the beauty ‘ideal’ is a tyranny perpetrated upon women by the male patriarchy. “Feminists down the ages have argued that the oppression of women is played out on their bodies, their clothes, their style of adornment. To politicise dress has been one of the enduring projects of the women’s movement.” (Walter,N. 1999) Naomi Wolf tackled this concept in her enormously successful book The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women. It suggests that this patriarchal strategy is one of ‘divide and rule’ as it “creates a climate of competitiveness among women that divides them from each other.” (Gamble, Sarah (ed). The Routledge Companion to Feminism and Postfemnism. Routledge: 2001)

Competitiveness is the key word here… Perhaps the idea of sanctioning the idea, nay the fact, of female intrasexual competition seems frightening for orthodox feminists because on the surface of it, it threatens the very notion of a ‘sisterhood’. Yet we know that men are murderously competitive with one another, as homicide rates attest, and this does not seem to threaten their notion of ‘the patriarchy’. The evidence that the beauty myth may not be a tyranny perpetuated on women by men, but on each other (if it is a tyranny at all), reveals a much more complex and fascinating picture of female agency. It also goes far to liberate women from the doctrine of passive femininity.

The fact is, women are fiercely competitive, but as the existence of feminism attests, this does not stop women cooperating to face challenges. Although, as feminism also shows, its wilful ignorance of human nature means feminists cannot agree on anything for long. This explains the many tribes within feminism, and the fiercely defended hierarchies that exist within feminism itself.

I do not deny that these revelations are tricky for feminists to negotiate, but that is no reason for not taking them on. That female intrasexual competition exists is not in doubt. The degree of it however will vary from culture to culture. We know dominance hierarchies exist in many species and all apes. We know females have a large role in the construction and maintenance of such hierarchies. We also know that women are often not united in their interests, and compete with other women for resources and mates. An individuals environment is crucial to how they calibrate their own needs.

I also want to study sexual economics and the female control hypothesis. This is a fascinating idea which is laid out in the paper The Cultural Suppression of Female Sexuality by cultural psychologists Roy Baumeister and Jean Twenge. This suggests that in our environment in the West, it is women more than men who control the sexuality of females; their daughters, their peers and their rivals especially! Lets suppose for a moment, that Susan Brownmiller stumbled upon a truth when she said that fear of rape was an institutional tool to keep “all women in a state of fear.” Who is wielding that tool today via the meme of ‘rape culture’ on university campuses by use of false statistics? Orthodox feminists, that’s who.

If I could sum up my research goals, it is the following quote, attributed aptly to both a man and a woman – the functional, inspirational human dyad of Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan: “If we do not know what we are capable of…then we do not know what to watch out for, which human propensities to encourage, and which to guard against.” Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors. I believe that it is vitally important that we understand our biological heritage just as much as our cultural.

One thing I have learned in the current culture sex war is that those in denial of our biology seem the most enslaved by it, especially their tribal instincts. So, where to now for Darwinian Gender Studies? I have been studying and developing Darwinian Gender Studies for 10 years with the help of some truly wonderful mentors such as Professor Daniel Nettle (Ncl) , Dr Helena Cronin (Darwin@LSE), Dr Griet Vandermassen (Ghent) and Dr Robert King (UCC). At the moment I’m an independent researcher – I’m independent because I am an unorthodox candidate for academia having left school at 16 with zero qualifications. The careers advisor at the time recommended I work on the cheese counter at the local supermarket. It’s a long story, and along the way I was diagnosed on the autistic spectrum as an adult (something I experience as an overload of empathy not a deficit).  Since then – and not without a huge amount of effort I may add – I have found my way to a place today where I have been privileged to be offered an unconditional place on a postgraduate programme in Evolutionary Anthropology at one of the UK’s best red brick universities. I reveal the fact of my aspergers not to play the pity card, but in the hope that it can help – maybe even inspire –  those who also have a diagnosis on the spectrum. To show that seeming weaknesses can actually be strengths. Help me make this happen. Donate here http://www.gofundme.com/paulawright or boost this blog.

Thanks for reading.

Further reading Griet Vandermassen Sexual Selection: A Tale of Male Bias and Feminist Denial Griet Vandermassen: Who’s Afraid of Charles Darwin: Debating Feminism and Evolutionary Theory Anne Campbell: A Mind of Her Own: The Evolutionary Psychology of Women Sarah Blaffer Hrdy: Mothers and Others: The Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding Sarah Blaffer Hrdy: Mothernature Susan Pinker: The Sexual Paradox: Men, Women and the Real Gender Gap Christina Hoff Sommers: Who Stole Feminism? Cindy Metson & David Buss: Why Women Have Sex; Women reveal the truth about their sex lives, from adventure to revenge (and everything in between) E.O. Wilson: Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge Jerome H.Barklow (ed): Missing the Revolution: Darwinism for Social Scientists

#GamerGate: The Players and the Played

The #GamerGate controversy reached a new high (or low depending on your perspective) recently when one of its main protagonists, the radical feminist and cultural critic, Anita Sarkeesian, was featured on the front page of the New York Times. Ironically, in view of the focus of her criticism about passive female characterization in video games, she herself was cast as the “damsel in distress”, under threat from active male protagonists.

Ostensibly, headlines like this are a direct validation of her work. Sarkeesian asserts that video games directly contribute to a culture of gendered violence in real life and – hey presto – there it is!  

But are radical feminist claims about games promoting violent norms really correct?  Studies of violence in video games say no. Last year the U.S. Supreme Court evaluated the evidence and came to a disappointing conclusion for people, like Sarkeesian, who are fond of using ideological rhetoric to win hearts over minds before all the evidence is in.

It appears that video games, even violent video games, have more positive effects on people than negative. Where negative effects were noted, these were with people who had already scored highly on tests showing a predisposition to anti-social behaviour. But, as the following graph shows, the case for the corruption of society by video games, is weak.

violence vs games graph

*What makes people angry with Sarkeesian (anger is allowed, abuse is not), is that she is unaccountable. Her videos on sexism and toxic masculinity are used as educational aids in schools, yet they are based on ideology not evidence. Sarkeesian has no academic credentials. She has legitimate critics, I am one of them, but she refuses to engage in open debate and instead directs attention to the abusive minority. That’s cowardly and manipulative. There is no logic that dictates that women are any less corruptible by power than men. To suggest otherwise, in fact, would be sexist. 

This is not to excuse threats or suggest that such harassment isn’t traumatic. What reasonable person would not condemn the criminal harassment of women, (or men), in any industry? That is surely moot. What is less moot, is who is actually responsible for these threats.  

Sarkeesian is adamant that the culprits are the supporters of #GamerGate. Yet the evidence points to third-party mischief-makers and anonymous trolls being equally vicious to both sides. Journalists are disseminating the radical feminist narrative uncritically, but they themselves are implicated in the scandal, so their impartiality cannot be taken for granted. The involvement of the notorious hacking/trolling group GNAA (who are experts at tricking the media into panic-mode) should also send alarm bells ringing.

Absent further evidence, claims about the identity of the anonymous trolls are pure speculation. There have been no arrests. People on either side of the barricades have been subject to abuse, although coverage has focused mostly on one, photogenic side. In a story about games and players, it’s difficult to discern just who is the player and who is the played. 

Who are the most likely suspects? GNAA aside, in every 100 people there will be one bona-fide psychopath. Twitter alone has over 200 million active users per month! There are estimated to be around one billion “gamers” worldwide. That certainly leaves room for a sizeable minority of psychopaths who would jollily send prominent women obscene emails. I’m inclined to think it’s these kinds of people who are responsible for the threats, and a recent study of online trolls supports this. A lazy trend in the media towards favouring the narrative of lunatic minorities on Twitter to draw sweeping conclusions about gender and culture is not a healthy one.

But I spy another trend. I am a gamer, but I am also a researcher in evidence based gender studies. I see this squabble not as about games or journalism but an expression of a wider battle that has been spilling out into popular culture for a few years now. A battle that was surrendered, and whose unintended consequences are now emerging. When Sarkeesian made the front page of the NYT this battle also went mainstream, yet very few people are aware of it. It is the battle for feminism. 

Radical feminism has already won this battle. It is documented in the denouncement of the woman who launched the second wave, Betty Friedan, as an anti-feminist, by Susan Faludi in Backlash. Many equity feminists dropped “feminist” and took up “egalitarian” instead. The unforeseen consequence of this was a vacuum of authority that allowed radicals to claim the “feminist” brand. Now people who attempt to challenge radical feminism are, like Friedan, labelled anti-feminist, as if “feminist” and “woman” were synonyms. They aren’t.

The dictionary definition of “feminist” is in urgent need of revision!

 Radicalism is the orthodoxy in feminism today. Radfem mater familiar Germaine Greer went so far as to announce this summer, “We’ve gone as far as we can with this equality nonsense. It was always a fraud!”

The radical feminist script; about men and masculinity, female passivity, objectification and patriarchy, was written in the 1960s and 70s, but you can still hear it echoing down the generations in the sermons of people like Sarkeesian, who has a long and troubled relationship with “straight-male” sexuality.

gender raquel 2
Radfem questions are always rhetorical. The answer to, “Is it sexist?” is always, “Yes.” They see sexism and misogyny everywhere, the way Abigail Williams saw Goody Proctor with the devil.

In the face of increasing tolerance of sexual expression, radical feminism has refused to adapt. More worryingly, it has refused to listen to the voices of dissenting women. This raises an important question: Does feminism exist to support women, or do women exist to support feminism? Unlike radical feminist questions, this one is not rhetorical.

So when radical feminists protest that gamers are “anti-feminist”, remember this does not mean “anti-woman”. In the modern context, it is more likely to mean “pro-equality”.

Radical feminism is a separatist movement, not a conciliatory one. One which “Bathes in Male Tears” while David Haines and other members of an accursed class of “straight, white males” pay an unimaginably terrible price for the freedom radical feminists take for granted. Radical feminism is about building walls between the sexes. Egalitarianism is about building bridges.

In an interview before she died, Friedan wondered, “if women are alienated from the women’s movement because it is antagonistic toward men, I understand that…Maybe the women’s movement has to be superseded by a larger political movement.” That movement is egalitarianism.

#Gamergate is an egalitarian push back against a modern feminist doctrine which explicitly wants to suppress “problematic” elements of human nature. History is littered with the damning results of such attempts. But history also shows that humans – men and women – fight back. Against the last wave of radical feminism comes a rising tsunami of egalitarianism.

*edit 25/10/14