• Welcome to The Anti-Misandry Blog within SethBlogs! Confused? Click here for The Anti-Misandry Blog Introduction. Intrigued/enraged? Click on the “Anti-Misandry” link in the CATEGORY section to the right of this post for further episodes.

    THE ANTI-MISANDRY BLOG: EPISODE III

    A few weeks ago I listened to an interview by CBC Q alternate host Gill Deacon with performance artist, Heather Cassils, which landed a thorn in my paw that I haven’t been able to remove.

    I should admit, before I begin my ranting attempt to extricate my irritation, that I am uneducated and often unkind in my viewing of performance art. I instinctively find it to be bogus, in part because it seems wild and meaningless, but also because of the way the artists themselves seem to hide from explaining their work. Infuriating responses such as, “What does my work mean to you?” leave me rolling my eyes. It is a tendency that invades all art forms, I’m sure: poetry, sculpture, and abstract painting being also among the most guilty, not necessarily because they are inherently meaningless art forms, but because their cultural worlds have promoted subjectivity at the expense of comprehensive analysis.

    Studies suggest that wine connoisseurs will think a drink tastes better if they are told it costs more; similarly, I suspect, some devotees of performance art and sculpture will more highly value a work if it is not limited by legible communication. It is an exchange that benefits both sides as the artist is able to either randomly or simplistically put their confusing whims on a canvass, call it the workings of a soul in turmoil, and wait for the grand interpretations to come in. “What does the work mean to you?” is a question that allows the greatness of the piece to not be restricted by the merits/intentions of the artist, but instead be (unwittingly?) manufactured by the imaginations and contemplations of the beholders. So, while the artists get to create work without the necessity of substance, their interpreters get to freely express their wild (sometimes brilliant) analysis without fear of contradiction from the source.

    But Heather Cassils, in her interview, did not annoy me by this standard artistic babbling. Instead, I was disconcerted to find her straightforward and articulate. However, while my inner critic was not able to mock her for hiding from artistic analysis, it was able to be quenched by the fact that her work, unfettered by ambiguity, seemed shockingly simple to be receiving Q’s attention.

    Ms. Cassils had been asked by Los Angles Contemporary Exhibitions to produce a work that paid homage to the history of performance in Southern California. The artistic dynamo then searched their archives and found a 1972 sculpture of photographs by feminist artist, Elinor Antin, who had starved herself for seventy-two days and taken pictures of herself “wasting away” to portray social expectations put on women.

    (While this may have been a worthwhile feminist conversation to engage in regarding western culture and how it seems to glamorize thin femininity to the point that girls may feel pressured to stay lean by any means, I wondered at this point in the interview whether such blatant artwork added anything new or helpful to the 1972 discussion. I would be surprised, that is, if such a heavy-handed and simple artistic rendering of this standard feminist argument provoked a change in any entrenched minds. But maybe at the time it was a revelatory point. Moreover, at least the artwork in this case was transparent and communicating directly with its audience.)

    In response, Cassils wanted to make her own point through changing her body, but instead of a feminist criticism of how society misuses the female body, she wanted to “empower” women through a show of strength. Already a fitness trainer herself, she hired professional bodybuilding experts to help her load as much muscle onto her physique as possible in six months. The result was an appearance that, to her apparent delight, baffled conventional gender guidelines as people had trouble wrapping their eyes around a woman looking similar to a well-muscled man. As a result, she says she was mocked by strangers and challenged to arm wrestling matches.

    While I admire her strength (literally and figuratively), and recognize the pain she must have gone through to achieve this result, her product once again seems boring to me. Yes, with extra work, women can acquire muscle, too, and our brains – so used to large muscles primarily highlighting male bodies – will be surprised and perhaps disconcerted. But has Cassils taught us anything profound that we couldn’t have achieved from a few moments’ contemplation (or looking at female bodybuilders)? But my biases are showing. According to Cassils, at one of her shows, a person approached her and said that, if he had seen her ten years before, he would have made different (presumably healthier) choices with his body. So, simple as it may seem on her surface, perhaps Cassils’s particular rendering can intuitively provoke some troubled observers to see themselves from a new (psychologically helpful) perspective.

    The thorn that landed in my paw, however, was not Cassils’s presentation, but was derived from her interpretation of her own work. When asked about the experience of overloading her body, Cassils admitted that, while she had intended it to be empowering, it was, in fact, uncomfortable, explaining that “…the regime of the act of creating that transformation became very rigid: I couldn’t leave the city, I had to eat every three hours, the workouts became gruelling, I lost flexibility, I couldn’t do any kind of heart rate training, and so it became difficult to walk up stairs because I had twenty-three pounds of extra meat hanging off my body… and so something that I had initially thought would be this empowering thing became this oppressive thing.”

    “So,” she ought to have concluded in reference to the ‘wasting away women’ metaphor that had first inspired her, “my artistic result makes me wonder if western society also puts pressure on men to imprison themselves in a painful, obsessive exercise regimen that may eventually break their over-muscled bodies.”

    Nope. Instead, the pains she felt while increasing her “masculinity” were not observed through the same lens that had told us how hard it was to be “feminine.”

    Nor did the interviewer ask a question that would bring this obvious conclusion to the forefront. I suppose I can’t blame the artist or the interviewer. We live in a culture that rarely acknowledges that there may be painful pressures experienced by men that parallel those felt by women. Anorexia is considered a disease (or a form of cultural murder, according to some feminists), while excessive steroid use is a sign of men’s obsession with power. Cultural analysts rarely acknowledge that boys might feel pressured by images of shirtless large-muscled male superheroes in the same way that we think girls are influenced by images of uber-thin women in tiny clothing.

    (I recall the Special K ad campaign a few years ago that tried to tease women out of their body image concerns through a series of vignettes of fictionalized men, such as a truck driver or a Harley Davidson rider, concerned with their bodies, and saying unexpected lines such as, “I just wish I could fit into my skinny jeans again.” These phrases from men were meant to be comical since it was far from how we see men seeing themselves. The ad concluded with a message that “Men don’t obsess about these things. Why do we?” This was a ridiculous and offensive assertion that did not consider the possibility that many men do aggressively scrutinize their own physiques, but they don’t express it as openly or in the same way that women do.)

    It seems to me that part of what could make Cassils’s performance art interesting is that she is experimenting with her body to see what happens. I don’t like this style of body manipulation (why do something so unhealthy for philosophical exploration that my simple brain thinks could just as easily be made through an essay or a drawing?). However, I would respect Cassils if she had held herself to her experimental results. The fact that she ignored the unambiguous conclusion that being overly masculine might hurt, too, demonstrates that she was not going to deviate from her feminist argument, regardless of the results. Thus, Cassils’s message, in addition to lacking profound insight, does not possess an openness to discovery that would have justified it living in Cassils’s experimental medium. But at least now the thorn is out of my paw.

  • Welcome to The Anti-Misandry Blog within SethBlogs! Confused? Click here for The Anti-Misandry Blog Introduction. Intrigued/enraged? Click on the “Anti-Misandry” link in the CATEGORY section to the right of this post for further episodes.

    THE ANTI-MISANDRY BLOG: EPISODE II

    According to Translink, sexual assaults on Metro Vancouver transit are becoming more frequent. If they’re right, then that’s troubling (especially if it’s a significant rate of increase), and I hope that transit, and society in general, is able to reverse this trend. My concern on this blog, however, is the misandrist rhetoric that seems to inevitably result any time there is news of individual men assaulting women. As in the case of the apparent serial rapist who terrified the citizens of the UBC campus last year, there seems to be a belief amongst some feminist commentators (who are unchecked by the media that interviews them) that, because most reported sexual assaults are committed by men, most men are guilty.

    Consider Angela Marie MacDougall, the Executive Director of Battered Women’s Support Services, who told CKNW’s Simi Sara that:

    “…the biggest thing that we have to say is that men have to stop. It’s just really something about our culture where there’s this idea that men can do this type of sexual violence with impunity.”

    By the word impunity, MacDougall seems to imply that our culture condones, or at least doesn’t care about, men attacking women. Oddly, in my couple of decades of riding transit several times a week, I’ve never witnessed a sexual assault (even though I’m the sort who’s naturally wary that a bad agent could board my bus at any time, so I’m usually watching for misconduct). Nevertheless, MacDougall says that “… 90% of [women], in terms of the straw poll that [she’s] done, and some surveys that [she’s] seen, and research that [she’s] done, experience at least one form of sexual harassment or sexual assault while on public transportation.”

    That is an extraordinarily high number, for which I would like to see the source study and its parameters (I think we should always be respectful but skeptical of high numbers coming from non-profit agencies who have a vested interest in convincing donors that their area of work needs significant aid). Nevertheless, even if the true number is considerably less than 90%, it may still be deplorable. That doesn’t mean, however, that men in general are committing these crimes: instead, it’s likely that a tiny but prolific percentage of males are performing these ugly deeds. But MacDougall uses the 90% victim number, before calling out men in general, as a means of luring our brains into thinking that a high percentage of men commit sexual assault.

    This trick of language echoes the anti-male word choice used by feminists at UBC last year when there appeared to be a serial rapist on campus. As I articulated in my previous post Taking Offence, after the rapist had attacked a fourth woman, and police asked students, women in particular, to be extra careful when walking at night, feminist students complained that this safety plea was offensive: instead of telling women not to get raped, they said, we should be telling men not to rape women. Men? What do men in general have to do with an individual predator?

    The anti-male claim that masculinity in general provokes male sexual violence requires evidence beyond speculation. It’s conceivable that our society’s construction (or lack of deconstruction) of gender is partly to blame for some sexual assaults on women. However, that still does not justify blaming men altogether. There are many men who despise the macho culture (which is allegedly to blame), and have no interest in preserving it (for that matter, there are some women who support and cheer on macho men: go to a Canucks’ game and notice that it’s not only the male fans who celebrate the fights). So what does the average male who politely goes about his day have to do with violent criminals?

    While the design of our society may have something to do with why some men assault women, and it may be a higher percentage of men who contribute to a psychopathic belief that rape is permissible, I would bet that the vast majority of Canadian men believe that rape is a terrible crime. And yet, without evidence to the contrary, “men” are treated as though they are all complicit in the actions of individual rapists. (It is an odd extrapolation, which, against any other group, would be denounced as bigotry: for instance, if the assailant turned out to be a member of a racial minority, would we call out that racial group and tell them to stop raping women?)

    Nevertheless, not only do misandrist feminists blame all men for the sins of terrible individuals, they also argue that mens’s shared choice of washroom obligates the apparently few of us who don’t directly assault women to take responsibility for our gender’s alleged embarrassment and to talk to our friends about their bad habits. Says MacDougall:

    “…this is a social issue that really goes beyond what the police can do. So it does take for the men… to speak with other men about the importance of respecting women, of looking at that culture of masculinity, and the ways in which gender violence is endemic in that, and for those men that choose not to be violent, or to do sexual violence on transit, to raise their voice to those that do. That really matters, and I think that goes a long way.”

    I’m touched by the way she says, “for those men that choose not to be violent…,” as though we all have urges to attack women. Who are these men that MacDougall wants me to talk to? I’m not aware that I’ve ever met such a person. In my many years of playing a variety of sports, I’ve never heard a man tell another guy that he enjoys sexually assaulting women in his free time. I’d say if anyone ever hears anyone else plotting to assault a woman (or any person) on transit, the best thing to do is to call the police. If the assault is in progress, I think that most people will do what they can for their fellow citizens, and I certainly hope that I would step in. Perhaps the strongest people present (usually men) are the best candidates for such an intervention, but I would not do so because I felt guilty as a man that another man was a criminal; instead, if I had the courage to intervene in such a dangerous situation (and I hope I would), it would simply be because I wanted to help a fellow citizen who might otherwise get hurt.

  • Welcome to The Anti-Misandry Blog within SethBlogs! Confused? Click here for The Anti-Misandry Blog Introduction. Intrigued/enraged? Click on the “Anti-Misandry” link in the CATEGORY section to the right of this post for further episodes.

    THE ANTI-MISANDRY BLOG: EPISODE I

    Let’s begin this misandry collective with a zoomed-in look at how some university students have been trained by their gender studies professors to view their world, and how the media is terrified to question them.

    As a result of the six sexual assaults against female students at UBC this past summer (crimes that police say were probably committed by one violent individual), officials increased campus patrols and asked students – especially female students – to be extra careful when walking at night. According to CKNW news reporters, some students said they were “offended” by this request because it “implies that [female students] are asking for trouble.” Oh my: where have all the good arguments gone? Asking students to be careful, when someone is, literally, out to get them, is not in any way blaming the victims; instead, it is simply trying to reduce students’ risks of further attacks. Sadly, there will probably always be violent human predators in our society: they seem to be a fact of nature (and/or nurture), and like other such powerful forces, the act of preparing for them, so as to mitigate their reach, is a reasonable thing to do. Asking students to participate in their own safety is not insulting them, it is showing care and respect for them, as it suggests that they can be proactive in their own safety.

    I am aware of the concern with blaming victims, and I think it is legitimate to check law enforcement for language that seems to suggest the victims are culpable for crimes committed against them. However, what is the basis for criticism here? If these critics were to script the perfect phrases for the police in cases where there is a dangerous offender in their neighbourhood, what would they suggest? And if such critics were aware of precautions that, in their experience, seem to reduce one’s chance of becoming a victim, would they withhold the information just to avoid suggesting that one could reduce one’s risk? (To that end, would they consider the suggestion of taking a self-defence class also to be offensive?)

    I am baffled by the lack of critical thinking exhibited by these complaining university students from my alma matter. What exactly are they arguing? Should one never adjust one’s behaviour for the sake of safety? Are these auto-offended students really advocating that their classmates go solo wherever they normally would at night, and not worry about a possible assault, because after all, they’re not doing anything wrong? (By that same argument, one shouldn’t practice defensive driving either.) This is a dangerous suggestion that could put easily-persuaded students at increased risk, which makes me wonder why the journalists who reported the students’ radical argument (that safety suggestions are offensive) didn’t seem to challenge them.

    Why didn’t the reporters ask the allegedly offended students what the alternative was to the police’s request for students to be vigilant (and avoid being alone as much as possible) when walking at night until the rapist was caught? I realize reporters are loathe to criticize female university students who are claiming to be feminists, but when those students are making potentially dangerous arguments, is it not the duty of journalists to challenge them?

    One such feminist student was, in fact, given a forum on CKNW to explain why the safety request was offensive: instead of telling women “not to get raped,” she explained, “we should tell men not to rape women.”

    I’ll take on the misandrist element of this remark in my next post Attacking Men, but for now, I would like to clarify something: law enforcement agencies that advocate being careful in dangerous situations are not necessarily suggesting that criminals have a right to commit violent crimes in poorly lit areas. Instead, it’s conceivable that the police want to catch the bad guys, but are aware that they cannot be omnipresent, and so, until they have cleared the streets of all violent offenders, they are suggesting, that for our own safety, we the citizens avoid dangerous situations where we can. I think the police probably thought it was implied, by their increased patrols apparently aimed at catching the rapist, that they are, in fact, opposed to rape. Indeed, I think all but a tiny fraction of the male population consider rape to be a moral outrage. So telling men not to rape when there’s a serial rapist in our neighbourhood would be like reminding citizens not to murder when there’s a serial murderer out there.

    Nevertheless, these bizarre arguments were published without any criticism by the Vancouver media. This is not good news for the pursuit of gender equality: when the worst arguments are allowed to spread without contradiction as representatives of feminism, genuine equity feminism is unlikely to see much time in the spotlight.

  • THE ANTI-MISANDRY BLOG: INTRODUCTION

    Misandry, the hatred of men, is rarely identified in popular Canadian culture, and yet it seems—to my increasingly sensitive ears—to be growing in popularity. It is difficult to know whether or not misandry is, in fact, now more prevalent in Canada than its anti-female sibling, but it is clear that, whereas misogyny has been effectively pushed to the shadows (such that it is politically dangerous for any public person to be perceived as under its influence), anti-male sexism is openly practiced on our public airwaves every day.

    I believe that, in the history of this world, anti-female chauvinism has had more power than the reverse, but, as we’ve seen in the last century, our society can change rapidly. As George Orwell expressed in Animal Farm, the oppressed can become the oppressors if we don’t scrutinize them with the same intensity as we did their predecessors. It is not my intention to argue that public misandry in Canada is as influential today as misogyny has been previously (and continues to be in nations where chauvinistic religious teachings overpower secular democratic philosophy); instead, I am arguing that no one should be the victim of bigotry, even if one’s gender-similar ancestors started it.

    Thus, with this post at its launching pad, I intend to write an Anti-Misandry Blog within SethBlogs (simply click the “Anti-Misandry” link in the Categories to the right of this post to see all future arguments). In this introduction, I am not yet making the case that misandry is running free in our public discourse: I will leave that to my upcoming posts. However, I will suggest here, for those who are skeptical that such pervasive sexism against men could possibly exist in a world that has for so long been ruled by Kings before Queens, that the swinging of the pendulum may be an inevitable result of human nature.

    For the average human ego, a disadvantage is as good as an achievement. We will often highly esteem in ourselves the obstacles we believe we have endured as much as we appreciate our official results. (It’s simple mathematics of the ego: if getting to the top rung on whatever ladder of success one is climbing is considered good, then arriving there from the bottom rung is more impressive than inheriting the position.)

    The tricky thing is, then, since most human egos yearn to see their life in the most complimentary possible analysis, we will want to credit ourselves with as many disadvantages as we can get away with. This means that, even if the freedoms and opportunities for our particular group improve, our natural tendency will be to resist noticing or acknowledging when things change for our better. (This is not to say that those who claim disadvantage are incorrect, but merely that we cannot, as many gender analysis studies do, take self-reporting as infallible.)

    Moreover, on the other side of the distinction, it is also predictable that those people who are accused of continuing to enjoy condemned historical advantages will be reticent to question their accusers (especially if they want to be seen as progressive). Many men, for instance, who believe in gender equality—or at least want to be perceived so—would prefer to err on the side of anti-male language (and get credit for being a friend to all women) than to admit to feeling skeptical of a feminist claim.

    These two inevitable forces, under the influence of politically correct rage against divergent opinion (as depicted in my posts, The New Censorship and The New Censorship Continues), has yielded a media culture that is collectively incapable of critically assessing chauvinism. I have no doubt that there is still much anti-female sexism lingering in Canada, but, in the absence of genuine criticism of modern feminism, it’s difficult to know where we’re at. (See, for instance, my post The Useful Cruelty of Scrutiny which documented CBC’s forced and condescending “International Women’s Day” piece regarding three allegedly disadvantaged women of Bay Street in Toronto.)

    Thus, in opposition to these one-sided gender discussions, this Anti-Misandry Blog will seek to identify cases of anti-male language which are allowed to roam free in the public discourse, unchecked by the Canadian (and sometimes American) media.

    This is not meant to be an anti-feminist production. On the contrary, it is an equality project: to my mind, the best nutrition for any philosophy is not to patronize it, but rather to criticize it so that only its best arguments persist.

    P.S. Don’t take my word for it: before sampling my rant-filled waters, I suggest reading the foremother of anti-misandry, one of my philosophical heroes, Christina Hoff Sommers, in particular her book, Who Stole Feminism?

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