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.

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MP’s report on sexual harassment in schools ignores female intrasexual competition

I had to rattle this off quickly  as a counter-point to the media frenzy today about this report.  Apologies for typos – there will be many!

Toxic masculinity or female intrasexual competition?

“MPs seek better plan to fight school sexual harassment

Sexual harassment and abuse of girls are too often accepted as part of daily life, according to a Commons Women and Equalities Committee report.”

Key findings are:

stat2

The committee chair, Conservative MP Maria Miller, is popping up on my radio every hour on the news bulletins and is explicitly pointing the blame at boys and pornography. She repeats the most shocking and salacious findings as if they were the most prominent findings in the report.

The report had already piqued my interest so I have been looking at it today. Here are some pertinent points from the list of conclusions and recommendations from the report itself

“1.Sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools is a significant issue which affects a large number of children and young people, particularly girls, across the country. Evidence shows that the majority of perpetrators of this abuse are boys, and the majority of victims are girls. However it is essential that the negative impact on both boys and girls is recognised and addressed.”

“2.There is insufficient data to conclusively demonstrate that sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools is a growing problem. It is true that such behaviour has occurred in schools for many years, as in wider society. However, significant qualitative evidence suggests that increasing access to pornography and technological advances, including online platforms, can facilitate harassment and violence and thus exacerbate the problem.”

(Yet somehow, in light of this lack of evidence, the government should non-the-less…)

15…create a statutory obligation in the forthcoming Education Bill for all schools, primary and secondary, to develop a whole school approach to preventing and tackling sexual harassment and sexual violence. We also recommend that the Department for Education remind all school Governors of their legal obligations to address sexual harassment and sexual violence in school. Guidance and support on how to achieve this most effectively should be provided to Governing Bodies.”

(Echos of Title IX, anyone?)

24.By the time they reach secondary school children often have entrenched views about gender norms. It is therefore important that children are educated about gender equality, consent, relationships and sex in an age appropriate way starting in primary school.”

(In other words, an entrenched political and  ideological organisation wants government funding to go into schools to teach young and impressionable boys and girls how to interact)

“30.Too often, SRE ignores the position of boys and young men. It must be broadened to challenge harmful notions of masculinity and reflect boys’ experiences. It should also support boys to challenge and reduce sexual harassment and sexual violence.”

“31.We welcome the Government’s interest in supporting boys and young men to be part of the solution to the problem of sexual harassment and sexual violence. We recommend that the Government fund research to establish the most effective ways to achieve this.”

You get the implicit picture; girls are victims, boys perpetrators of sexual harassment. In case this wasn’t clear enough, they included a visual signpost.

Girl, interrupted by sexism

Girl, interrupted by sexism

Of course the feminist Twittersphere is going nuts. If there was a flag representing “the patriarchy”, they’d be in the streets gleefully burning it.

So lets review:  the report itself states there is no evidence to support the problem is a growing problem, yet the rhetoric I’m hearing on the radio makes it appear out of control and endemic. Which is nothing new:

endemic

And indeed further down the page we find this statement:
tip-of-iceberg
I’ll come back to this later.

Firstly, I was particularly interested in the following claim, number 1 on their page of findings and recommendations:

major-girls

Further down this page it states:

major-girls-2

Note the reference. I followed it. It took me here:

cross-2

Lets just be clear. The cited reference is to support the claim that “Evidence shows that the majority of perpetrators of this abuse are boys, and the majority of victims are girls.”

It took me a while to find a break down of the sex of the harassers – in all graphs they are referred to in sex and gender neutral terms – but when I did, it revealed something very interesting:

harasser-sex
The findings here clearly state that even if girls are more harassed in total, they are not more harassed by boys, they are harassed by other girls.

Spending more money on teaching kids about consent, as is in the recommendations, will not help victims. Demonising boys, toxic masculinity or “laddism” – all deemed problematic in the report – will not help anyone. The claim they want to help boys is hollow.  The claim they want to help girls even more so. Who commissioned this report? How much were they paid and was it from the public purse?

Note above boys appear to “harass” other boys more than girls. This is a finding because in their definition of sexual harassment they include name calling and banter as harassment. “Calling someone “gay” or “lesbian”…was the most frequently mentioned type of sexual harassment”

The numbers on female abusers here appear to be in line with the findings of a 2014 Demos report on internet misogyny which found that 50% of online abuse came from females.

demos

Lets revisit this comment in Crossing the Line…

“Because girls reported higher rates of sexual harassment than boys did, this finding raises questions. Why didn’t boys or girls admit to sexually harassing girls when more girls than boys said they had been sexually harassed? Why does it seem to be more acceptable to sexually harass boys? These questions are critical to developing new strategies”

Now read this again in light of this new information:

tip-of-iceberg

Indeed.

I research female intrasexual competition, something I frequently call the pink elephant in the feminist room. Female competition and rivalry exists but takes a very different form from male competition, which is more open. What these reports are uncovering is not the tip of the iceberg of endemic male chauvinism but of endemic female passive aggressive bullying of their female rivals.

The main strategies of female competition are well documented; targets are socially ostracized, she is the subject of pernicious gossip, her character attacked, her sexual history discussed, her reputation ruined and crucially, boys are recruited by the female bullies to join in the attack. This is the well documented anatomy of how females compete – by stealth. The effects on the target are utterly devastating. It is this phenomena that feminists should be looking into if they genuinely wish to help young girls thrive at school. It is this research that needs more government funding not feminist sex education.

Logic dictates that if there actually is such a thing as toxic masculinity, there must also be a female analogue. And there is. There is also evidence that it is feminists, not “the patriarchy”, who seek to suppress and control female sexuality, especially in the West. (See Baumeister & Twenge, 2002).

The recommendations in this report do NOT support the papers findings. Feminists want access to young women in schools, to police their sexuality via fear – when the main negative effect on their self esteem is their female peers. These are all questions I am working on as a researcher, but many people have come before me. Female intrasexual competition is not new. It’s just taboo.

In spite of the feminist insistence that toxic masculinity is the problem, as a society, we need to widen the debate to include discussion about toxic femininity. If you want to see everyday evidence of female enmity in action, just look online at the bitter rivalries between feminist sects.

Orwellian Feminism

Orwellian Feminism

How can a movement with so little insight into itself or female competition be of any help to us?

If feminism is a humanitarian movement before a political one, it will face up to its own shortcomings.

The question needs to be asked: does feminism exist to help women and girls, or do women and girls now exist to help feminism?

Shoddy reports like this make me suspect the latter.

I am an egalitarian because I believe in the equality of the sexes. I am not a feminist because I do not support feminisms central aim which is to dismantle a fictional Western patriarchy, not, as many people believe, to promote sexual equality. For more in depth analysis on this issue see When is a Feminist Not a Feminist? 

More reading on female intrasexual competition:

The development of human female competition: allies and adversaries
Joyce F. Benenson
http://rstb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/368/1631/20130079

Female competition and aggression: interdisciplinary perspectives
Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2013 Dec 5; 368(1631): 20130073.
Paula Stockley1 and Anne Campbell2

A Mind Of Her Own: The Evolutionary Psychology of Women
Anne Campbell
https://global.oup.com/academic/product/a-mind-of-her-own-9780199609543?cc=gb&lang=en&

Warriors and Worriers: The Survival of the Sexes
Joyce F Benenson
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Warriors-Worriers-Survival-Joyce-Benenson/dp/0199972230/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1473767339&sr=1-1&keywords=warriors+and+worriers

#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