• SETHICS 19.05.2016 8 Comments

    You’ve probably heard by now about Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s fall from parliamentary grace yesterday. I accept the general criticism that he was brazen in his behaviours. However, I think the criticism was inflamed by his own feminist philosophy. I’d like to focus here on how his principles boomeranged on him.

    THE THEORETICAL BACKSTORY:

    In a previous essay, I described the distinction between Definition Feminism (the belief in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes) and Action Feminism (the advocacy work of those who call themselves Definition Feminists). Given that we humans are fallible, we cannot be surprised that Action Feminists sometimes make mistakes and advocate for policies that are beyond the purview of Definition Feminism, and sometimes even contradict it.

    Nevertheless, Action Feminists who call for sexist and/or Orwellian policies in the name of gender equality are able to shield themselves from critics by calling themselves Definition Feminists. This invariably frightens away mainstream critics, as nobody wants to disagree with a Feminist who insists they’re doing gender equality’s work.

    One such Action Feminist is Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. He calls himself a Feminist, but he is known for non-egalitarian policies in the name of gender equality.

    For instance, before he was Prime Minister, and two of his male MPs were accused of personal misconduct towards two female MPs, Trudeau suspended his team members before the investigation, explaining that “I am aware of how difficult it is for people to come forward.” This aligns with the Action Feminist philosophy of “Believe Women” (which is both sexist, in that it treats one gender as specially worthy of consideration, and Orwellian as it dismisses due process).

    For additional instance, Trudeau promised and delivered a gender balanced cabinet by promoting one in three of his female MPs (compared to one in 9 of his male MPs). Trudeau’s policies and procedures to achieve that result were once again consistent with Action Feminism, but not Definition Feminism. That is, he treated women differently from men (in a speech to the UN, he described how he actively recruited women in particular to join his party), and he utilized an evidence-free assumption of systemic sexism in Canadian politics to justify his discrimination against men.

    THE INCIDENT:

    But yesterday, in the House of Commons, Mr. Trudeau felt the wrath of the Action Feminism for which has been advocating.

    [Note: all of the quotes and descriptions I provide below are taken from the CBC National report on it, and so are not necessarily exhaustive.]

    As described on CBC’s The National, it all began with MPs gathered and talking before a vote regarding Canada’s “physician assisted dying” laws. Members of the NDP were in the way of Conservative whip, Gord Brown, who seemed to be struggling to get past them to get to his station.

    Whether or not the NDP were trying to physically filibuster or not, Prime Minister Trudeau apparently thought they were, and so he walked at a fast clip into the NDP assemblage to retrieve the Whip from the blockade.

    Now, this is where all Feminism broke loose. In his process of taking the Conservative Whip’s arm, the back of Trudeau’s elbow seemed to bump into one of the female NDP MPs, and she reacted with an expression of pain.

    The bumped-into MP, Ruth Ellen Brosseau, reported Trudeau’s contact with her to her colleagues, who—led by Thomas Muclair’s “What kind of a man elbows a woman?”—began shouting at the Prime Minister.

    It appears that Trudeau’s first action upon hearing the accusation was to attempt to go directly to the MP and to apologize to her, but before he could get to her, she left the room because, she says, she “was overwhelmed.”

    THE REACTION:

    If Trudeau had merely taken a male politician by the arm, he might have survived his brash actions in this case, but his accidentally bumping into a women was not to be stood for by the other Action Feminist sympathizers in the room.

    Once parliament came to order, Prime Minister Trudeau received the following accusations:

    Peter Julian (House Leader for the NDP): “He elbowed [Brosseau], and he manhandled [Brown]. Physical force in this house is never permitted, is never welcome, and it is entirely inappropriate.”

    Peter Van Loan (Conservative MP): “…the Prime Minister physically grabbing people, elbowing people…”

    Niki Ashton (NDP MP): “…not only was this the furthest thing from a feminist act…”

    Ruth Ellen Brosseau (NDP MP): “I was elbowed in the chest by the Prime Minister. And then I had to leave. It was very overwhelming. And so I left the chamber to go and sit in the lobby. I missed the vote because of this.”

    And later (after Trudeau apologized):

    Peter Van Loan: “I will move that the physical molestation of [Brosseau] be referred to the standing committee on procedure and House Affairs.”

    As you can see, many of these accusations were laced with Action Feminist philosophy.

    For instances:

    (1) LANGUAGE RECONSTRUCTION:

    In keeping with George Orwell’s imaginings in 1984, Action Feminists often like to change language to suit their political purposes. (For instance, whereas “assault” used be a physical crime, Action Feminists now describe trolls on the internet who say obnoxious, sexual things to women as guilty of “sexual assault.”)

    Similarly, notice here how the Trudeau accusers have used words such as “manhandled,” “elbowed,” and “molested” to exaggerate his actions. 

    (2) FAITH:

    Action Feminists are known for their faith in women’s testimony regardless of evidence. In this case, despite the video footage that shows that Trudeau did not raise his elbow towards Brosseau, Action Feminists still cheered on the silly implication that he threw his elbow towards her.

    (3) SEXISM, Style A:

    Action Feminism is ever celebrated for its ability to illuminate female victims while ignoring male ones. In this case, Trudeau intentionally took a male MP by the arm, but the Action Feminists in the room (including Trudeau, himself, in his apology) focussed their rage on him accidentally bumping into a woman.

    (4) SEXISM, Style B:

    In spite of Feminists’ insistence that they just want equality, it’s clear by their greater concern for female victims over male victims that they actually want special equality. In this case, accidentally bumping into a woman is worse than intentionally handling a man.

    (5) ASSUMPTION:

    When Action Feminists are criticized, their favourite response is to accuse their critic of misogyny. That is, they presumptuously argue that anything negative that happens to an individual woman, must have been done to her because she’s a women. In this case, Trudeau bumped into a women, and so he was accused of being a failed feminist. It doesn’t matter that it was an accident: his micro-aggressive misogyny is showing.

    (6) SAFE SPACE NEEDS:

    Action Feminist philosophy teaches women to celebrate any perceived victimization, and to demand and make use of “safe spaces” to help them cope no matter how minor the alleged offence.

    In this case, the NDP member left the room after the incident because, she says, she was “overwhelmed” by it. While I’m skeptical that she was as traumatized as she implies, I can understand why one would feel out of sorts after being bumped into by an aggressively-moving Prime Minister, and then being the subject of a political shouting competition.

    However, I think it is hard to excuse Brosseau’s willingness to miss the vote because of what happened. For a member of parliament to abstain from such an important duty so that they could tend to their emotional needs strikes me as the entitled inactivity of someone who believes with all their heart in safe space culture.

    THE APOLOGIES:

    Now, even though Justin Trudeau has supported the very Action Feminism that attempted to destroy him yesterday, I still feel sorry for him. He apologized twice for his actions (and again twice today). To Brosseau he said:

    “I want to take the opportunity, now that the member is okay to return to the House right now, to be able to express directly to her my apologies for my behaviour and my actions, unreservedly.”

    And one can understand why Trudeau would be so contrite. As an Action Feminist, Justin Trudeau has given up his right to defend himself. By his own philosophy, arguing in his own defense would have been sexist and victim-blaming.

    But Trudeau’s unequivocal apology is also scary. If Action Feminists are able to shame a politician into doing what is antithetical to their soul (providing a spin-free apology), what else can it do?

    MAY THERE BE HOPE?

    However, I did see one reason for hope that 1984 is not in our future. Confessed Feminist, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May defended Trudeau.

    “I have to say that I saw the Prime Minister approaching and following [Brosseau], trying to reach her and saying how very sorry he was. He had not seen her behind him. That is the truth.”

    So maybe May’s testimony, and the silliness it undermined, will persuade other feminists that Action Feminism isn’t the perfect, egalitarian movement that they’ve been promised. It’s a long shot, but it’s all I’ve got.

  • SETHICS 13.04.2016 8 Comments

    Before the Jian Ghomeshi trial, I criticized those who seemed willing to convict Ghomeshi in public without a fair trial. Now I am depressed to see how many people are still convicting him after a fair trial found him not guilty. In response, I offer this open letter to those confident adjudicators of justice, asking them to reconsider.

    Dear Believers:

    Outside the courtroom where former CBC host Jian Ghomeshi was acquitted of sexual assault and choking charges, you held up signs stating, “We believe Survivors,” and “Stop Victim Blaming.”  I understand that you are defenders of victims and justice and that you’re confident that both were failed in this instance. You are not alone. In my city of Vancouver, not long after the decision, a traffic-stopping march was organized to protest Ghomeshi’s freedom.

    You also have some support from your friends in the media. I’ve heard pundits on TV and radio lamenting the failure of our system in this case. While they haven’t said as directly as you have that Ghomeshi is guilty, I have heard many of them state that this verdict is a symptom of a system that is unfair to female victims.

    “Well you see those messages on the signs rights there…” said Riaz Meghji of City TV Vancouver’s Breakfast Television, referring to the protestors outside the Toronto courthouse. “The idea of stopping victim blaming, the idea that violence didn’t happen: these are powerful sentiments surrounding the conversation of sexual assault of what we’ve seen over the last few months of women having the courage to step up and tell their story.”

    Nevertheless, despite your confidence that justice failed in this case, I wonder if you’ve considered some unintended consequences of what you’re advocating.

    For instance, what do you have in mind when you instruct us to believe women?

    I can understand that if someone you care about were to tell you they’d been assaulted, then—unless you knew them to have an adversarial relationship with the truth—I think there is an appropriate social expectation for you to believe them.

    Presumption of truth-telling becomes trickier, though, for those in powerful roles such as  journalists, police officers, crown attorneys, and judges, who can significantly disrupt the lives of the people described in the untested “truth.”

    To avoid the catastrophe of innocent people being convicted of crimes they did not commit, Canada has a justice system in which there is burden of proof (beyond a reasonable doubt) required of the state before our society will agree to put a person in prison. There are various types of evidence that can help to build such a case, and certainly complainant testimony can contribute to that. However, since we know that people sometimes lie, distort, and even misremember, surely there must be a means of scrutinizing their testimony.

    If we were to follow your demand of automatically believing women we would have to put people in prison whenever women accused them.

    Are you sure that’s what you want?

    As Ghomeshi’s lawyer, Marie Henein, put it in an interview with CBC’s Peter Mansbridge:

    “It is pretty significant that in one of the highest profile cases… Where people expressed opinions not having heard a word of evidence. That you knew that you could walk into court and that there would be an impartial person that would decide on the evidence that is heard… That’s something that we should be incredibly proud of in this country… You can tweak the system. You can criticize the system in a knowledgeable way. And it does, it constantly gets re-calibrated as it should. But slam-dunk results? Guaranteed results? Presumptions? That’s not what a fair system is about.”

    Are you so certain that the burden of proof isn’t something special that protects us all from human rights violations that we have witnessed in other countries and other times?

    A neutral observer might assume I’m straw-manning you (i.e. representing the least persuasive interpretation of your argument instead of the most compelling), and that by “believe victims,” you just mean that, when we meet people who say they’re victims, for compassion’s sake, we should err on the side of believing them.

    However, the fact that you’ve maintained your loyalty to your “believe women” maxim even in this case is telling. Even, that is, in a case where all three witnesses were caught deceiving the courts in their testimonies, you still chant your faith-based slogans.

    In contrast, former crown prosecutor, Sandy Garossino, said on CKNW:

    “It’s not about, say, misremembering the make and model of the car; it’s about having the make and model of the car be part of your narrative… So then’s it’s about, well how truthful are you as a witness? Are you telling the truth? Because that’s not just a fuzzy memory, that’s actually an invented memory. And these kinds of problems were all through all of these witnesses’ testimonies. That same witness insisted that she had had no further contact with Ghomeshi. She insisted—she was swearing on a stack of bibles that she didn’t make any email contact with him… And then when confronted, ‘Well, here are your emails. You did reach out to him. You did try and contact him. And here’s your photo of yourself in a bikini.’ She just said, ‘Well I was just trying to trap him so I could confront him.’ Well that’s just not believable.”

    Yet, dear believer, you still insist that believing these women is a moral imperative.

    And again you’ve got some support from your friends in the media who believe in your “believe the victims” signs. Consider Global TV news anchor Chris Gailus in another interview on CKNW:

    “It just points to how heavy the burden of proof is on the crown. This was really all about judicial process and the legal system. It really is troubling no doubt for a lot of women who were in positions where they have been abused, but in this case, based on the legal system that we live with, there just wasn’t enough proof, and the judge simply didn’t believe to a great enough extent that the women were honest and sincere in how they reported what happened to them, so we’re left with a decision that is baffling to a lot of people.”

    Actually, Mr. Gailus, there was no proof that Ghomeshi committed the crime. Proof implies incontrovertible facts that demonstrate the guilt of the accused. We have no such evidence. All we have are statements made by people shown to have deceived the court within those very statements.

    As Garossino put it:

    “You can’t come to the court and mislead the court, and deceive the court, as the judge found that they did, and still be believed. I mean, the judge just couldn’t accept it, and I don’t know any criminal lawyers who would.”

    Even if a presumption of truth from female complainants were the best standard for acquiring justice, is there not a point at which a reasonable person should reverse those first assumptions?

    Please imagine for a moment that you were a jury member in this case. I ask you to reconsider the following three issues before deciding how you would decide.

    (1) My and your first inclination is likely to assume that, if three people are making similar but separate accusations, that any coincidence of obscure details is, in itself, evidence. (How likely is it that three people would have independently invented the same story unless there was a pattern of behaviour by the defendant?)

    However, my belief in the unlikeliness of coincidence was shaken when I learned that the three complainants did not come forward at the time of the alleged crimes, but waited until (A) after Ghomeshi was fired from his CBC job for bedroom behaviours that it deemed unacceptable (but admitted they had no evidence was illegal or nonconsensual), (B) one of the complainants then came to the media to make her accusation before going the police, and (C) similar alleged victims were then encouraged to come forward by both the police and the media (who called any such accusers “courageous”).

    So I know you still believe the women individually, but do you agree that the overlap in their testimony is no longer evidence itself? Apparently, in the legal system, the judge cannot consider what is called “similar fact” evidence as supporting evidence when there is information (beyond guilt) that could easily explain the similar facts. (Clearly, in this case, we can reasonably say that the first complainant’s statements to the media could explain the similarity in testimony from someone who might have heard those statements). Therefore, the judge was required by law to look at each of the charges independently, and not as evidence for each other.

    If that sounds wrong to you, please imagine that you were on trial for a crime. Would you think it was okay for coincidence to be counted as evidence when the coinciding testimony arose after one of the accusers made her case to the media? Before you answer, keep in mind that, in court, Ghomeshi’s lawyer was able to demonstrate that two of the accusers communicated with each other about their testimony in a long email exchange before they went to court.

    (2) It was shown in court, by their email exchanges, that after allegedly being assaulted by Ghomeshi on dates with him, the complainants maintained flirtatious contact with him.

    Now, I know that the “believe women” movement tells us that we cannot put any expectations on how women will behave after abuse. But before you yield to that contention, please consider that the allegation here is not that Ghomeshi was in ongoing abusive relationships with these women, who felt powerless to leave their shared home or didn’t want to lose access to their children. These women went on dates with Ghomeshi, where they were allegedly, and non-consensually assaulted, and then continued to seek his company. While their stories could be true, is it reasonable to think they’re likely true? Would you, as a jury member, be willing to send a man to prison for decades based on such testimony? Can you truly expect a judge to think it’s reasonable that, after going on a date with someone and being seriously assaulted, that—instead of going to the police—a person would continue to try to date their attacker?

    (If you’re interested in considering this argument in more detail, see Janice Fiamengo’s case against the reasonableness of such a belief.)

    (3) It was shown in court that all three complainants told significant and relevant falsehoods under oath. Among their lies was claiming to not have had further contact with Ghomeshi after the alleged assaults.

    So, taking into account that these complainants waited to make their accusations until after Ghomeshi was publicly humiliated, and two of them discussed their testimony with each other in advance, and all three hid (and lied about) the fact that they continued to try to date Ghomeshi after they were allegedly assaulted, do you think it’s appropriate to apply your “believe women” faith in this case?

    If so, then any suggestion that I am straw-manning must be put to rest: it really does sound like you’re arguing for a blank “believe victims” cheque.

    And, forgive me, but do you have any worry that your commitment to faith over evidence is analogous to witch trials of the past?

    If you (and your equally virtuous friends in the media) were not aware of the above facts of the case, then I can understand why you might have assumed that Ghomeshi was probably guilty. (I too have a bias towards thinking the police and the crown have good reasons for bringing people to court.) However, if you’re going to protest a verdict as unjust, surely you have a moral obligation to learn a little about the case first, and whether the judge might have had a reason not to trust the complainants.

    Admittedly, some of you have said you did follow the case, but you still say the trial was unfair because it turned into an interrogation of the complainants.

    Consider the argument of one of your allies in the Vancouver march who said:

    “I feel there was a series of events where women were being put on trial versus listened to. That it was never really Jian Ghomeshi’s trial. It was actually about the women. And I think that got flipped around in very manipulative and deceptive ways.”

    And one of your signs outside the courthouse expressed the point this way:

    “The harsh reality is that once a sexual assault survivor is put on trial and not the alleged perpetrator, the public can no longer expect the court to be a trusted source of justice.”

    I agree that it’s unfortunate that alleged victims’ claims have to be tested in court. I have no doubt that it’s a painful experience. But, for those of us who do think we need to prove guilt before putting someone in prison, can you suggest an alternative?

    Ghomeshi, in fact, is the one who was on trial (that is, he’s the only one in court who might have gone to prison for a couple decades if convicted). The prosecutor presented the best evidence it could find against him. There was no circumstantial and physical evidence available, so the trial consisted solely of the testimony of the complainants. Yes, we should listen to them, but do you not think we must also be allowed to examine the veracity of what is heard in court? Otherwise, once again, we are yielding to the notion that complainants, by definition, tell the truth. 

    CKNW talk-show host Lynda Steele asked, “I want to know, though, how did this become about the women? I mean wasn’t this supposed to be about what Jian Ghomeshi did or didn’t do?”

    Yes, the trial is about what he did or didn’t do, but again the only basis we have for thinking he did do something criminal comes from the testimony of the complainants. The judge’s only means of assessing whether Ghomeshi assaulted them is exclusively derived from whether the accusers could convince him that they were telling the truth. Therefore, the defence attorney’s use of their own emailed words to demonstrate their difficulty with honesty in these very matters, is not putting the complainants on trial: it is testing their reliability in this case (the very reliability that you’re asking the judge to take as unassailable).

    If such testimony-contradicting evidence weren’t allowed in Ghomeshi’s defence, then what would be?

    Even if your intuitions are to believe women, are you sure that’s what you want from an impartial justice system? Would you want that standard of “justice” applied to someone you cared about if they were accused by a woman of assault?

    If so, I admit that your faith is unshakeable. In honour of your unwavering belief, you are hereby given a lifetime pass from taking part in jury duty. Simply bring your “Believe Women” signs to court, and you will be excused.

    Sincerely,

    Seth McDonough

  • I realize this is a first-world-fan problem, but the 2016 World Cup of (men’s) Hockey isn’t technically the “best on best” tournament that it advertises to be. Don’t get my grumpiness wrong, I’ll be watching as I have every true best on best tournament since I could crawl up to the TV, and (hopefully) cheering another victory for Canada (as I celebrated in KEEPING THE TORCH).

    Best on Best tournaments are a rare prize for hockey fans, because unlike the World Championships and pre 1998 Olympic tournaments, all hockey players from the top 6-8 hockey nations are made available by all hockey leagues. It has only happened twelve times before—

    Canada Cups: 1976, 1981, 1984, 1987, 1991

    World Cups of Hockey: 1996, 2004

    Olympics: 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010, 2014

    —and so has exciting significance to hockey fans (especially, he grins, Canadian Hockey Fans, who have seen their heroes skate around with the trophy eight times while the Soviet Union, USA, the Czech Republic, and Sweden, have won the Best on Best face off once each).

    But this year will be slightly different: along with the top 6 hockey powers (Canada, Russia, USA, the Czech Republic, and Finland), the NHL and NHLPA godfathers of the tourney have also invented two amalgamation groups, Team Europe, and Team North America. The former will be a collection of the best European players not born in the big four European countries that qualified, whereas the latter will be made up of the best Canadian and American players under the age of 24.

    It’s a brilliant idea (as it intriguingly expands the flavour of the competition), but it means that Team Canada and Team USA will not have automatic access to their best players, but instead, they will only be allowed to choose from their top players who are 24 years and older. This will not hurt Canada too much because they are rich with talent in that age group; in fact, I suspect the only one of the young stars who might have made the senior team would have been super rookie, Connor McDavid. The USA, meanwhile, is not as wealthy in the over-23 category, but is greedy of talent amongst the younglings, and so may be losing out on three or four names that could’ve improved their chances.

    Meanwhile, all five European Teams have been given access to their full age range of talent. Any holes in their 23+ pool can be filled in by newbies.

    And, even though, in this case, Canada is not significantly hampered given its unmatched depth of 24 and older stars, the European countries are not being punished for their lack of similar depth.

    Meanwhile, I think the Team Europe idea is masterful (it’s great to give fans from non-powerhouse countries a chance to watch their favourites in such an elite battle), and that collaboration team in no way hurts the other European squads, as they won’t lose any players to it.

    However, the tournament’s set up of a young stars team that draws its membership only from North America is clearly a disadvantage to Canada and especially the United States.

    One possible solution to this disparity would have been for Canada and the US to be given first dibs on those young stars, but then (A) the young stars team might not be competitive enough, (B) Canada might just grab McDavid when they otherwise wouldn’t to lessen the chance of North America beating them, and (C) it would have been awkward for North America to wait for their betters to pick their entire team before selecting theirs.

    Thus, the only way to make the under 24 team an equitable offering would be to make it a true young stars team comprised of players from anywhere in the world.

    That solution would have at least leveled the playing surface such that each national team (as well as Team Europe) was limited to the same elderly demographic of talent.

    But I still see two problems there:

    (1) It would still cease to be a Best-on-Best tournament as lots of stars from around the world would be relegated to the kids’ team (even though the loss of talent would be shared, certain countries, like the US, would lose more of their best players than others), and (2) it seems strange to me to force players to compete for an age-based team instead of their national squad. Most young hockey players watch their national heroes and hope to join them one day. But this young stars offering puts athletes like McDavid in the position of potentially eliminating his own country from the competition.

    The solution to me, then, would have been to quash the young star idea, and instead to have two “Team Europe”s made up of two separate geographical amalgamations of players who grew up outside the big six countries.

    And, if it was really important to the World Cup organizers to get young stars like McDavid involved, they could require every team in the tournament to have at least one player under a certain age on their roster.

    As it is, if either Canada or the USA doesn’t win, they have something to complain about.

  • 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 XIII

    I argued in THE NEW CENSORSHIP: FEMINISM vs. FEMINISM that there are two types of feminism, Definition Feminism (which is the theoretical pursuit of gender equality), and Action Feminism (the practical representations of it). My contention is that, while Definition Feminism is a noble goal, Action Feminists are—like all of us—fallible (both intellectually and morally) and so should be subject to scrutiny like all of us.

    However, I believe that Action Feminists have been masterful in silencing criticism via the simple technique of hiding under the noble definition of the movement they claim to represent. (Who, after all wants to criticize a person who assures us they’re helping the disadvantaged people of our world?)

    I listed there eight ways in which Action Feminists intimidate dissent with appeals to their moral superiority, and I would like to expand here on perhaps their most hostile means of self-protection, their use of the term “male privilege.”

    Proponents of the all-encompassing phrase “male privilege” often insist that it is not an insult to men: instead, they say, it is merely meant to ask men to “be aware of” and “acknowledge” that they have certain privileges over other people.

    Well, considering that we all have privileges that not everyone has, it’s difficult to decline the invitation. But, in their gentle description of the alleged intentions of this phrase, Action Feminists are hiding its multiple powers. Consider these five roles it takes on:

    (1) “PRIVILEGE” THE INSULTER:

    I think we should acknowledge that telling someone they are privileged (especially in today’s discussions of identity) is not innocuous.

    As I argued in MEET THE MISANDRY, it seems self-evident to me that, by the mathematics of achievement, most egos will be more chuffed by a personal success acquired in spite of a disadvantage than with the aid of an unearned advantage.

    So, requiring that every member of a particular gender group “acknowledge” that they, by definition, are advantaged over non-members is demanding that they admit that they are not as worthy of their achievements as they would be if they had a different gender. It’s essentially saying, “You’re not as good as you think you are.” Even if that’s true in particular cases, let’s admit that it’s not a friendly statement to make to someone. 

    Similarly, people who are officially in the catchment area of affirmative action sometimes complain that people assume that they have received special treatment. I can understand their annoyance: to be consistently diagnosed as having benefited from a quota system when, in fact, you might have gotten there on your own is surely annoying. Well, that’s what it’s like for so-called privileged men constantly: all of their successes are treated by Action Feminists as the work of privilege.

    And yet, by denying the derisiveness of the term, Action Feminists are having their cake, and throwing it in their adversaries’ faces, too.

    (2) “PRIVILEGE” THE ASSUMER:

    It’s hard to doubt that some people (both men and women) will have been given undue, gender-provoked advantages in their career and/or personal lives, and perhaps more men benefit from “boys’ club” thinking than women do from “progressive” hiring policies. But how can we know who gets more automatic benefits in our current one-sided conversation? 

    As I argued in THE DOUBLE STANDARD OF DOUBLE STANDARDS, there seems to be a double standard when it comes to identifying privilege in mainstream media, politics, and gender studies courses: perceived male advantages are highlighted, while possible female advantages are ignored. In such a setting of one-sided analysis, how can anyone be confident of the current state of gender opportunity gaps?

    (3) “PRIVILEGE” THE SEXIST:

    Even if it can be established that men, on average, are privileged, it’s still sexist to assume that all men benefit while all women suffer. To demand that every man acknowledge his privilege is ignoring the possibility that a particular man might have had a “lived experience” that is different from the alleged average. 

    Nevertheless, the term “privilege” is often applied liberally to individual men that Action Feminists disagree with. Without knowing a particular man’s degree of privilege, Action Feminists are not shy about dismissing his argument on the grounds that it comes from a “privileged white man.” 

    But surely shouting down an individual man for committing the crime of “speaking while male” (Sargon of Akkad) is a sexist slur which presumes things about him based purely on his gender without knowing his story. If such gender generalizing to an individual is not sexism, then what is?

    (Although, of course, some definitionally-deprived Action Feminists will argue that women can’t be sexist against men, because men have all the power. How wonderfully circular of them. They have redefined sexism to mean male mistreatment of women, thus proving there’s no reason for examples of the reverse to be entered into evidence.)

    (4) “PRIVILEGE” THE SILENCER:

    A brilliant strategy employed by Action Feminists is to point out that it’s difficult for those with gender privilege to recognize it in themselves. I don’t doubt that’s true. But such skepticism of privilege doesn’t prove its existence either. After all, female Action Feminists also deny their own gender privilege.

    Therefore, grandly stating both that an entire gender is privileged over the other, and that privilege-skeptics amongst that gender are not allowed to argue back (because they are blinded by said privilege) will not do.

    While we cannot take the accused’s anecdotal evidence as proof that they are not privileged, we cannot universally discount their arguments either. Instead, we should—as ever—measure each sides’ claims by their evidence and reasoning.

    Instead, Action Feminists have helped themselves to the sexist double standard of treating dissenting male voices as definitionally damaged by their so-called privilege, while elevating feminist female voices as automatically made authentic by their alleged disadvantage. There appears to be no Action Feminist mechanism of sorting privilege from disadvantage other than by the faith-based claim that men always have privilege over women.

    For instance, if a discussion panel is made up primarily of men, it will be criticized by feminists for doing so even where there is no evidence that the men were invited because they were men. Meanwhile, when all-female panels are convened expressly to be all female, they are celebrated by feminists as opportunities to hear female voices.

    In neither case is the quality of the arguments assessed; instead, simply the act of speaking while male (i.e. dominating the discussion) is represented by Action Feminists as intrinsically less valuable than speaking while female (i.e. providing a voice to a disadvantaged group). And, if a male critic objects to this grand claim, well that’s just his privilege talking.

    Maybe a case can be made for the value of gender diversity in speakers and politicians (although, I would argue instead for diversity of thought and let the genders fall where they may), but the misandrist consequences of enacting a policy in that direction are serious, and so require genuine evidence and caution before being employed.

    More importantly, when someone is speaking, we should never discount their views by definition of their gender even if we think they got to the podium because of it. If their ideas are as bad as the alleged system that elevated them, we should be able to show their flaws, instead of attacking the gender of the person espousing them.

    Nevertheless, because Action Feminists have been so successful in treating privilege as a universal systemic aid for the male gender, those who are skeptical of such automatic advantage (both generally and individually) are described as part of the problem, and thus are to be ignored.

    (5) “PRIVILEGE” THE HARMER:

    The term privilege has the (easily foreseeable) effect of diminishing our compassion for the group of people accused of it, and it allows Action Feminists to justify the sending of fewer resources their way.

    Yet, as much as feminists assure us that men are privileged, there is lots of evidence in the West that it’s actually men who—in general—are more disadvantaged (in criminal court, family court, hiring policies, shelter availability, medical research, and more).

    Perhaps those conclusions are falsely-arrived at in the same way that critics accuse the Action Feminist stats of being manufactured, but my point (as ever) is that our collective media—terrified of and/or hoodwinked by Action Feminists—refuse to examine these issues objectively, and so the myth of universal male privilege is allowed to run free without objection. Consequently claims of “privilege” are a weapon that surely hurts vulnerable men. 

    I don’t think that all feminists use these privilege accusations with hate in their heart, but it’s hard to doubt that it has damaging consequences for humanity, and so I think they ought to recognize the harmful power of the term, and not apply such a sexist generalization so cavalierly.

  • In Part I of this essay, I argued that there is a distinction between Definition Feminism (the pursuit of gender equality) and Action Feminists (those who advocate in feminism’s name).

    HIDING UNDER DEFINITION FEMINISM’S COAT:

    “There’s a special place in Hell for women who don’t help each other.”

    —-Madeleine Albright, campaigning for Hilary Clinton in 2016.

    By utilizing appeals to our compassion (for women) and to our fear (of being branded misogynists), Action Feminists have convinced the mainstream media and politicians not to question their status as perfect representatives of gender equality (i.e. Definition Feminism).

    They have achieved this result through a variety of false equivalencies:

    (1) CRITICISM OF ACTION FEMINISM = “HATE SPEECH”:

    SITUATION: I was going to send one of my arguments to the Hourglass Literary Contest, but I discovered in the magazine’s guidelines that they “do not tolerate… anti-feminism” because they have deemed such criticism to be a form of “gender hatred.”

    I think we can assume, by their open-ended use of the term “anti-feminism,” that the writing contest is not contemplating any distinction between the ideals of gender equality and the alleged efforts to produce it. No, evidently, criticizing feminism in any form is intrinsically “hate speech,” and thus is forbidden.

    More significantly, as I described in FREE SPEECH FROM FEMINISM, various critics of Action Feminism in Canada and the US have been protested by Action Feminists on the grounds that they are promoting “hate speech.” In some cases, the protesters have been so assured in their convictions that they have pulled fire alarms to disrupt the blasphemous talks. And the mainstream media rarely questions the righteousness of such accusations and tactics.

    CHEATS: If one pays attention to the actual content of feminism critics, it is clear that most of them are Definition Feminists. They too are arguing for the most gender equal-society we can create. But they disagree with mainstream Action Feminists about whether we currently live in a patriarchal society, rape culture, and systemically-unfair-to-women economic and political system. Moreover, they argue that in certain arenas in our Western society, male people have generally fewer privileges, yet more obligations, than female people.

    Of course, like Action Feminists who assume woman are always worse off, such critics are fallible. They might have their facts wrong; they might be offering bad solutions, and so on. But such disagreement over the facts does not prove sexism.

    CONSEQUENCES: By arguing that opposing claimants to the best path to gender equality are “hate speakers,” Action Feminists scare away reasonable criticism of their work. As I argued in THE USEFUL CRUELTY OF SCRUTINY, any ideology that does not benefit from rigorous criticism is in danger of being overtaken by its worst ideas.

    CONCLUSION: This contest to be the go-to representatives of gender egalitarianism ought to be covered by the media with a neutral curiosity. And the rest of us should do our best to criticize the media when they fail. Otherwise, they have no incentive to risk the misogyny-badge they would likely receive for asking feminists tough questions.

    (2) CRITICISM OF ACTION FEMINIST DATA = RAPE APOLOGIA:

    SITUATION: Whereas in science, skepticism is a tool to reduce mistakes, in gender studies discussions, skepticism of Action Feminist data is considered to be hateful towards the victims described in the data.

    For instance, Action Feminists have produced statistics that seem to suggest that approximately 20% of American college women will be sexually assaulted. However, critics, such as philosopher Christina Hoff Sommers, have argued convincingly that there are serious flaws in the studies (such as non-representative samples and strange interpretations of data) which have facilitated these shocking results. Dr. Sommers says that the best data shows the numbers are closer to 2%. A common Action Feminist response, then, is to accuse Dr. Sommers of being “a rape apologist.”

    CHEATS: There is nothing in Dr. Sommers’ argument that suggests anything but contempt for rape. She merely disagrees on the facts of how prevalent the cruel crime is.

    To argue that anyone who is skeptical of the scariest rape statistics is a “rape defender” is to put Action Feminists themselves in danger of being called rape apologists. After all, if they’re sure that 20% is the right number, it just takes one alternate Action Feminist to argue the number is 25% to make the first suddenly a rape apologist unless they immediately accept the higher number.

    CONSEQUENCES: Is it not obvious that this kind of “You accept the scariest numbers or you promote their cause” argument is inevitably going to facilitate a culture of rape research that is skewed? (As I’ve argued before, such a system provokes “rape culture” culture.) Indeed, under such high-stakes pressure to conform, how many social scientists will have the courage to resist?

    CONCLUSION: As Dr. Hoff Sommers argues, serious problems deserve serious statistics. The only way to achieve a true understanding of these issues is if we are allowed to make sure Action Feminists are not accidentally and/or intentionally steering the numbers to fit their expectations; and the only way to do that is to require that Action Feminists be subject to scrutiny like everyone else. “You’re with us, or you’re a misogynist” reasoning cannot be allowed to dominate the conversation.

    (3) CRITICISM OF FEMINIST ANALYSIS = A LACK OF COMPASSION:

    SITUATION: When critics of Action Feminist data argue there are flaws in the design and/or interpretation of feminist research, they are accused of disrespecting victims, and denying the “lived experience” of women.

    CHEATS: Anecdotal evidence is not valueless as an intuitive starting point for investigation, but it is not necessarily representative of a population either. In scientific research, those intuitions and individual experiences may guide the researcher as to where to focus their lens, but that is all it can do. Particular experiences cannot override the resulting data.

    Such a recognition that our intuitions do not always generalize does not mean we shouldn’t try to help those who are suffering, even if there are fewer sufferers then we anticipated.

    CONSEQUENCES: Action Feminists often get away with conflating legitimate skepticism of their conclusions with contempt for the victims they claim to speak for. They have been unnervingly successful in muddying these moral waters by utilizing noble-sounding phrases such as “believe victims,” and “listen to women.” With these emotional, faith-based slogans, Action Feminists have successfully created and nurtured the notion that questioning social scientific research is denying the “lived experiences” of individual victims.

    CONCLUSION: The truth is becoming tangential to these discussions. We must stop allowing unearned conclusions to be claimed without criticism.

    (4) INDIRECTLY CONTRADICTING FEMINISM = MISOGYNY:

    SITUATION: Action Feminism’s hold on our public conversation is illustrated not just in their reactions to cases where their allegedly omni-benevolent work is checked, but also in circumstances where a public figure says something which indirectly doesn’t coincide with a feminist conclusion.

    Recall the case of General Lawson, wherein the commander of the Canadian armed forces tried to explain the continuing presence of sexual harassers in the military by suggesting they were “biologically wired” that way. This was on the wrong side of the Action Feminist position that nurture (as opposed to nature) is always the culpable parent when it comes to creating bad characters.

    There was bi-partisan agreement amongst Canadian politicians (and the mainstream media that covered them) which contended that Lawson had been “offensive.” He apologized, but not without a call from then third party Liberal Leader (now Canadian Prime Minister) Justin Trudeau for the General to be fired.

    Meanwhile, brilliant screenwriter (and Action Feminist) Joss Whedon similarly discovered the danger of indirectly crossing feminist orthodoxy when he wrote a movie in which a female superhero lamented her inability to have children.

    Even though her male superhero counterpart was similarly disillusioned by his childless future, Action Feminists on Twitter railed against their feminist ally, Whedon, for allegedly imposing a traditional gender role on one of his female characters.

    CHEATS: Action Feminists are helping themselves to unearned interpretations of meaning. In Lawson’s case they are suggesting that, by blaming biology instead of society for bad sexual misconduct, he is not holding his soldiers accountable (since no one can control their biology). But, as I argued in WIRED FOR OFFENCE, if feminists are right that nurture is responsible for all of our moral defects, the soldiers have no power over that cause either.

    General Lawson stated unambiguously that he was targeting the sexual harassers in his charge. Thus, even if his one-sided understanding of the cause of the problem was silly, it seemed to have no effect on his intention to hold the assailants accountable.

    Meanwhile, in Whedon’s case, there’s nothing wrong with criticizing his artistic choices, but why are Action Feminists so certain that individual female characters represent a writer’s views on all women? (Indeed, feminists don’t need to travel far in the Whedon resume to see that he has written many “strong female characters.”) Moreover, why all the rage? Does everyone have to blindly follow every expectation of Action Feminism or be Twitter assassinated? Action Feminists seem to forbid any diversity of thought.

    CONSEQUENCES: Action Feminism’s speed of rage when confronted by innocuous, indirect disagreement surely encourages the sort of politically correct, sycophantic non-speak we hear from so many politicians and pundits (as I described in A NEW POLITICIAN’S GUIDE TO WAFFLING). Few people with a platform have the courage and/or will to cross feminist dogma, and so they play it safe, leaving meaningful and diverse conversation as the casualty.

    Meanwhile, it is often said that there are fewer nuanced roles for women in Hollywood than there are for men. If this is true, one possible contributing factor is that Action Feminists, such as the above Twitter assassins, have scared some writers away from creating interesting female characters. As Action Feminists demand female leads be beacons of feminist strength in all ways, the resulting characters become a wee bit boring. Writers can only have so many shiny lights of independence in one movie, so, when it comes to filling the imperfect (i.e. interesting) character roles, I can imagine some screenwriters erring on the side of making them male to avoid being accused of sexism.

    CONCLUSION: When Action Feminists attack, we need to do a better job of politely asking them to justify their assumptions.

    (5) CRITICIZING FEMINISM WHILE POSSIBLY BENEFITING FROM IT = UNTENABLE:

    SITUATION 1: When women criticize Action Feminism, they are often asked why they are betraying a cause that is trying to help them.

    CHEATS: It turns out that some people don’t define their values just by what helps themselves most. Moreover, some female critics of Action Feminism may believe that, despite Action Feminism’s theoretical concern for women, it does women more harm than good in practice.

    SITUATION 2: Men who criticize Action Feminism are often told that “Feminism benefits men, too.”

    CHEATS: In certain cases, I’m sure feminism does benefit men. If, for instance, feminism has helped to free us from the universal assumption of gender roles, that’s probably a benefit to many individual men and women. But that doesn’t mean such people can’t criticize Action Feminism for over simplifying the issue with their insistence that gender is entirely a social construct. Moreover, there’s no reason that said “benefitting” person can’t have other moral disagreements with the work of Action Feminists.

    CONSEQUENCES: Both men and women are told to support Action Feminism, not because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s the selfish thing to do.

    CONCLUSION: We should demand that Action Feminists not use people’s gender to guilt them into agreeing with them. Instead, we should remind people that moral value is not necessarily predicated on personal value.  Moreover, the identity of one’s gender has no relevance to the validity of one’s moral argument.

    (6) CRITICIZING FEMINISM = BEING OPPOSED TO ANY OF ITS GOOD DEEDS:

    SITUATION: Consider feminist singer/songwriter, Katie Goodman, who song-ranted at young, female celebrities who said they weren’t feminists. She explained that, in fact, if they liked the benefits that feminism had helped them to achieve, then they were obligated to accept they were feminists. Sang she:

    Yeah, babe, you’re a feminist

    Just take a look at the checklist:
    Do you like voting?
    You like driving?
    You’re a feminist.

    Past feminists gave their lives
    To let you vote and be more than wives
    Saying you’re not a feminist gives them hives

    CHEATS: Here Goodman is ignoring any possible distinction between between Definition Feminism and Action Feminism. Just because I am critic of the general way in which Action Feminists ply their trade, does not mean I am obligated to disagree with every opinion they espouse, nor every good deed they achieve.

    If Action Feminists deserve credit for de-coupling gender from the franchise, great (although, as Janice Fiamengo describes, the situation may have been a little more complicated than celebrated), but such moral achievements don’t prove that every act performed by Action Feminists is as virtuous as their best.

    If you’ll forgive the harsh analogy, I also think giving toys to needy kids is a worthy endeavour, but that doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to criticize other activities of the Hell’s Angels.

    CONSEQUENCES: This is a problem with committed ideological affiliations: they disallow nuance. You’re expected to either take on the label of the ideology (and the baggage that it entails), or you must admit you’re opposed to everything ever done in its name.

    CONCLUSION: We need to start openly criticizing demands for intellectual simplicity and point out that Definition Feminism and Action Feminism are not always identical.

    (7) HAVING A MORAL HIERARCHY DIFFERENT FROM FEMINISM = MISOGYNY:

    SITUATION: When critics rank non-feminist imperatives over the goals of Action Feminism, such dissenters are immediately accused of being opposed to those feminist hopes. For instance, Action Feminists have attempted to change the legal system to make it easier to prosecute alleged sexual assaulters. This sounds like a noble cause, but the problem is that Action Feminist “solutions” may be putting due process in danger. However, when critics point out such concerns, they are accused of being “rape culture” advocates.

    CHEATS: Action Feminists appear not to understand the vital concept of moral hierarchy. If, for further instance, I value free speech over freedom from hate speech, many Action Feminists contend that I must agree with any bigoted language that free speech allows. They do not accept the possibility that someone could value public decency while choosing free speech as the more important necessity of a civil society.

    Action Feminists, of course, are entitled to their own moral hierarchy. If they want to argue that the good of convicting a higher percentage of guilty people is worth the sacrifice of also convicting more innocent people then that’s a legitimate philosophical stance to take. Similarly, it’s legitimate for their opponents to argue that keeping innocent people out of jail is more important than catching higher numbers of bad guys. It’s an interesting moral dispute. But to claim that due process defenders are misogynists is an intellectual cheat of the lowest order.

    CONSEQUENCES: As vital moral questions arise, criticism of Action Feminist solutions are demonized and thus dissuaded. Without such a filter, both the best and the worst ideas of Action Feminism get through. Soon, we may lose our rights to due process and free speech without having made our best cases for protecting them.

    CONCLUSION: We need to demand that Action Feminists argue fairly and not sideline important discussions with wild accusations of misogyny.

    (8) CRITICISM OF FEMINISM WHILE NOT BEING FEMALE = IRRELEVANT:

    SITUATION: Perhaps the most aggressive of Action Feminist silencing language comes in the form of the term “male privilege.” (I will write more about this term in a spin-off rant.) Men who disagree with Action Feminists are often dismissed because of their gender. That is, given they are male, they are described as definitionally privileged, and consequently disabled by their life-long advantage such that they cannot recognize their privilege, and therefore cannot be expected to speak reasonably on sexism.

    CHEATS: I’m not sure why Action Feminists are so confident that privilege universally harms perspective, and disadvantage automatically improves it. But let’s assume that those claims have proven to always be true.

    We’re all privileged and disadvantaged in some ways. And certainly, particular groups sometimes have widespread advantage or disadvantage. Whether men or women as groups are more advantaged or disadvantaged is an interesting question to which Action Feminists argue they have the unequivocal answer: any claim other than universal male privilege is apparently laughable.

    To make this broad case, Action Feminists point out certain inequivalencies of results, such as fewer women in high-paying jobs in general, and in politics and STEM fields in particular. But, if results alone prove inequality of opportunity, then there are lots of statistics that show men are also sometimes less equal (higher sentences for the same crime, lesser custody rights, gender quotas against them, more workplace deaths, more homelessness, fewer shelters, less medical research, and (thus?) higher suicide rates, lower life expectancy, and more). 

    Clearly, privilege isn’t as simple as checking one’s gender. But by dogmatically treating “male privilege” as a tautology, feminists have managed to undermine our collective skepticism. Indeed, men who don’t acknowledge their privilege are dismissed as the worst misogynists of all.

    Thus, men wanting to stay on the right side of Action Feminists not only cannot disagree with the ideology, but also must confess their complicity in provoking it.

    Moreover, even if one does legitimately come to the conclusion that men in general are more privileged than women, that does not justify assuming that every individual man is privileged. For instance, let’s say there’s a 20% advantage for men over women going into STEM, but a 10% advantage for women over men going into novel writing. While the former case might mean that men on average will fare better just because of their gender, the aspiring male writer may still be systemically disadvantaged in his life.

    CONSEQUENCES: Along with anti-male hiring policies in work and politics, pundits and politicians’ genders are often taken into account when assessing their arguments. Sometimes, for committing the crime of being male, pundits’ arguments will be dismissed on the basis that their privilege is showing.

    Also, sometimes individual men are excluded from discussions so as to ensure a panel is more gender balanced. In contrast, if a panel is unanimously female, Action Feminists celebrate the result as an achievement for inclusiveness.

    CONCLUSION: If we’re going to examine unfair advantages in work and play, we must not assume the very thesis that Action Feminists have a vested interest in proving. If Action Feminists claim a particular disadvantage, we should give it no more automatic weight than we would someone claiming any other fact of our society.

    Moreover, we cannot allow Action Feminists to exclude certain people from participating in discussions on the basis of their gender. Ideas should be measured by their content, not by their owners’ chromosomes.

    THE SHIPS ARE SAILING:

    “If you’re not a feminist, then you’re a bigot. I mean, there is nothing in between. It’s like being pregnant. You either are pregnant, or you’re not.”

    —-Gloria Allred, feminist activist and lawyer.

    These many examples of Action Feminist silencing behaviours have consequences beyond their individual cases. Surely, as politicians and media professionals witness the career disintegrations of resisters to Action Feminism, it is understandable that they prefer not to put themselves in the same line of fire.

    Consider incoming Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s delivery on his promise to gender quota in a balanced cabinet. Whether you agree or disagree with affirmative action discrimination, it is a decision that has serious consequences. Many moral questions should have been asked by the media of this Prime Minister.

    (For instances, if we let quotas instead of qualifications determine who is elevated to the top government positions, aren’t we by definition going to have a less accomplished group? Moreover, is it fair to the individual men who otherwise would have been promoted based on their merits that they be excluded because of their gender? Is there any evidence that such men were unduly advantaged in acquiring their resumes, or is it possible that other factors, such as general differences in female and male career interests, played a role?)

    But, instead of the obvious critical questions, the Right Honourable Justin Trudeau was asked the soft-as-a-feather question of why gender parity was so important to him. And he simply replied:

    “Because it’s 2015.”

    This resulted in approving laughter from his new team, but no follow up query from the media.

    Indeed, in my perusal of the mainstream media coverage, the only criticism I encountered of Justin Trudeau’s gender quota policy was one which argued that it would hurt women. I don’t doubt that such a quota system can have unintended negative consequences for women who, in particular cases, may be unfairly assumed not to have earned their position via merit. However, why is the media not looking at the consequences of this policy on men, as well as on the quality of the government?

    “Because it’s 2015” may sound vapid (and it is), but it also contains a warning:

    Given we now live in the modern era, it is embarrassing for us to still exist in a system which privileges men over women. And, if you question my policies, you are suggesting that it’s okay for men to be privileged over women. Go ahead and challenge me on these points, I dare you.

    I submit that Prime Minister Trudeau didn’t justify his gender quota system with clear moral arguments because he didn’t think he needed to. He figured the media would cower to his implied warning, and realize it was safer to leave the matter be: and he was right.

    Action Feminists have succeeded in making all criticisms of Action Feminism taboo. Indeed, even the most scary ideas within Action Feminism are now able to hide under the coat of its noble, Definitional godmother.

    Recall singer/songwriter Katie Goodman’s rhetorical question for women who don’t want to call themselves feminists:

    “A feminist is described as a person who believes in social, political, and economic equality of the sexes. Why is this so confusing?”

    It’s confusing because many people who advocate in feminism’s name are calling for policies that do not match the ideals of gender egalitarianism.

    The key to saving ourselves from the worst ideas of feminism is to demand the right to distinguish between the various ships that carry her name. Not all Action Feminisms are gender egalitarians; and not all critics of Action Feminism are opposed to gender equality.

  • THE SHIPS OF THESEUS:

    “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

    —-William Goldman (via his character, Inigo Montoya) in The Princess Bride.

    As imagined by the ancient thinker, Plutarch, there are two candidates vying for the title of the Ship of Theseus. First, there is the ongoing ship that has continuously flown Theseus’s flag for the past, say, 20 years. It has travelled from port to port, and floated on missions on behalf of Theseus with the same licence plate number throughout. (Let’s call this Continuous Theseus.)

    But, as it has been injured along the way, the Ship of Theseus has had its parts replaced one by one over that same double decade. In fact, we are to imagine that, as of today, every individual piece of the ship, whose escapades we have been following, is now distinct from its original part. Meanwhile, all of the discarded original pieces have been re-assembled by an archivist to recreate the original ship. (Let’s call this Original Theseus.)

    The question, then, is do we have a paradox of two ships that are the same ship?

    My answer has always been that the apparent contradiction is simply a linguistic dispute resulting from the fact that we have only one word for two concepts, functional vs. molecular identity. If you’re discussing the ship that has carried out the missions of the Ship of Theseus, then HMS Continuous is your boat. Whereas, if you’re interested in the very matter that was used in the first instance, then HMS Original will be your choice.

    So, in my view, this not a paradox; instead, there is more than one way to define identity (and both are useful notions that we should feel free to use so long as we’re clear about which we’re utilizing).

    Meanwhile, I believe that many discussions of our controversial friend, Feminism, have had similar identity confusions. Many self-described “feminists” insist that the work they do is, by definition, identical to their philosophical mission statement, i.e. the pursuit of social, economic and political equality between the sexes. (Let’s call said goal Definition Feminism.)

    Definition Feminism has a lovely, egalitarian sound to it; the trouble is, some of us perceive that, in action, many self-described feminists seem to be agitating for something that encompasses much more (and less) than gender equality. (Let’s call any of these applications of Definition Feminism, Action Feminism.)

    To avoid confusion, then, I contend that, we should do our best to distinguish Definition Feminism from those flying its flag while on board a different ship.

    THE SHIPS OF FEMINISM:

    A feminist is described as a person who believes in social, political, and economic equality of the sexes. Why is this so confusing?”

    —-Feminist and comedic singer/songwriter, Katie Goodman, in response to some young female celebrities not calling themselves “feminists.”

    If you consider yourself to be a feminist, I don’t ask that you immediately accept that any particular Action Feminism is distinct from the pursuit of gender equality. All that I request for now is that you consider the possibility that it could be. History demands that we recognize that sometimes philosophical ideologies that sound noble, by their definitions, can be misapplied (intentionally or accidentally) by their practitioners.

    (As always, consider George Orwell’s Animal Farm for an illustration of this phenomenon.)

    Such a distinction between theory and attempted practice is a natural consequence of human fallibility. Most of us are imperfect, and so our ability to apply our best ideas may be undermined by our intellectual and moral limitations.

    So, if it’s possible that an ideology—-even one as noble of spirit as Definition Feminism—-can be accidentally or intentionally misrepresented by imperfect practitioners, then a crucial means of protecting ourselves from such wolves in feminism’s clothing is to make sure that we question not just the best ideals of feminism, but also the arguments of its alleged advocates.

    If you are a feminist, you might believe that the majority—-if not the entirety—-of feminists are doing good work. However, how can we know this if there are no means of checking that those flying the flag of Definition Feminism are indeed matching its best intentions? Similarly, most scientists may be sincerely trying to produce the most reliable scientific studies possible, but we require them to use both a rigorous double-blind scientific method and peer review that try to disprove the resulting claims, to ensure that we catch errors (even unintentional ones). I cannot conceive of a reason that feminist philosophers and researchers wouldn’t benefit from the same oversight.

    Nevertheless, in the current state of gender discussions, many feminists—-whether they are as virtuous as their best definition, or as morally flawed as their harshest critics suggest—-have managed, by a variety of brilliant methods, to evade vital criticisms. Instead, when they do or say something that seems dubious to critics, in lieu of arguing their side, Action Feminists will often point to the definition of their movement, and suggest that those who disagree with their particular contentions clearly disagree with equal gender rights.

    This will not do. Perhaps such Action Feminists can prove all of their claims, but they cannot do so by using the best ideals of their movement as cover. The question remains whether they are, in fact, sailing the true ship of Definition Feminism, or some other ship, that looks like it in name and mission statement, but in fact is doing things beyond (and/or less than) feminism’s scope.

    In Part II of this essay, I will describe eight ways in which Action Feminists subdue criticism by appealing to the virtues of Definition Feminism for protection.

  • WARNING: This post contains plot spoilers. If you haven’t yet seen Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, please do so now, and then report back here to discuss.

    WARNING II: This review contains lots of details of The Force Awakens without full explanation because I’m assuming you have heeded the WARNING above, and have now seen the movie once or thrice such that you’ll be able to follow the details.

    And now, without further a Dooku:

    To bookend my nostalgia-aided anticipation of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, it’s time to decide what I thought of it.

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    I think The Force Awakens is both brilliant and disappointing. It respects the humorous yet earnest tone of the originals. It divides its time well between storytelling and action. And there are many delightful new characters ready to fill our action figure collections. Most significantly, I’ve had a great time in my trilogy of viewings, and in each instance I’ve noticed something I didn’t in the first attempt.

    So, if The Force Awakens were the first-ever Star Wars, I would mark it down as a ten and buy my ticket to a fourth big screening with a giddy smile on my face.

    However, Episode VII cannot be measured only by its own excellence; it must also be checked for its ability to contribute to the saga that brought it. And that is where I am a smidge frustrated.

    (Before I list my complaints, I offer two caveats. (1) I still loved the movie, and will support its sequel efforts with all my force. (2) I would be delighted if any of my quibbles were proven wrong in future episodes.)

    (I) THE DARK SIDE NEVER SLEEPS:

    Some have said that, by copying the plot structure of Episode IV: A New Hope, Episode VII was pandering to nostalgi-addicts like myself. I think the opposite. To my obsessive fancy, the best way to honour Star Wars fanaticism would have been to continue the story that came before. That is, Episodes I-VI gave us an account of how the dark side rose and then fell from power. But, by reinstalling the same scenario of the dark side dominating with an oppressive regime at the start of this film, I felt as if those first six movies did not have a significant effect on the structure of our current galaxy.

    I don’t object to the dark side rising again (if not, “it’s gonna be a real short trip”), but I would have preferred this movie to be more about how it re-rose. Instead of starting with a Darth Vader II (Kylo Ren) and an Emperor II (Supreme Leader Snoke) already back in the same dominating dark places that they were in Episodes IV-VI, I would have loved to see the new dark leaders slowly undermining our victory in Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.

    As it was, it seems to me that director/co-writer JJ Abrams, along with co-writers Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt, are essentially saying, “We’re gonna start all over, fanboys!”

    That worked for Abrams’s other epic directorial commission, Star Trek, since that starry adventure has long been a multi-version universe. However, I don’t think such rebooting fits for Star Wars which has always been a continuing saga). Maz Kanata’s (Yoda II’s) explanation that evil regimes always dominate in some form (from the Sith to the Empire to now, The First Order) didn’t satisfy me. If the dark side taking over is inevitable, does any of this matter?

    (Nevertheless, I repeat my willingness to apologize for these complaints if the future movies and stories illuminate what I’m missing.)

    (II) THE HAN SOLO GOES DARK (LAST CHANCE TO AVOID SPOILERS!)

    The choice to send Han Solo to another universe was understandable (and I think the decision matched the original vision of George Lucas who, in his director’s commentary for the classic trilogy, talked about his preference for killing experienced heroes—such as Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda—so that new ones could get their own John Williams theme). And I thought that Solo’s death by his son’s (Kylo Ren’s) dark sword was a brilliant inversal of Luke saving his father from darkness. So I think the decision made good dramatic sense (and certainly the scene in which our Solo hearts were broken was wonderfully rendered), but I wish they could have picked someone other than the best character in the saga to sacrifice to such a noble dramatic cause. With all due respect to Princess Leia (and Carrie Fisher), I don’t think she has the charisma of her man, so she could have supplied all the dramatic significance of Kylo Ren killing a parent without us losing the guy who once brilliantly told Chewie to “Fly casual.”

    But again, from my couch, it seems that J.J. Abrams wants to remind us that the old guard is to be moved out of the way.

    (III) THE STORMTROOPER GOES LIGHT:

    Reformed stormtrooper, Finn, was a great character on his own, but to my psychological eye, his behaviours didn’t match what I would expect from someone who had spent his life being brainwashed at Stormtrooper Productions. I think Abrams et al lost a humour opportunity there wherein Finn might have felt a need to ask for orders at inconvenient times.

    Instead, Finn transformed from (I) being part of a brainwashed class who always had to follow orders to (II) being constantly delightful and ready to go his own way. There was little reference to any psychological consequences of what he’d been through (except his general fear of the First Order from whom he had escaped).

    Nevertheless, for his charismatic and humourous talents, I like Finn as Han Solo II.

    (IV) THE LIGHT OVERPOWERS:

    I’m confused by why Finn, a force-free fellow, did so well in a light-saber fight with force-wielding Kylo Ren. I recognize that Ren was injured, and that he still defeated Finn reasonably quickly. Nevertheless, Ren seems to have powers with the force that are pretty close to his grandDarth, Vader. In the original six episodes, I don’t recall any forceless foes troubling Jedi or Sith-level force artisans.

    Similarly, I thought Luke Skywalker II (future Jedi, Rey) seemed too powerful too quickly in her uptake of the ways of the force such that she was able to defeat Kylo Ren. Again, I realize Ren was injured, but he’s also been trained in the force by Luke Skywalker and Supreme Leader Snoke. Rey, meanwhile, seems to have had no training, and is relying only on her intuitive sense of how the force works. Indeed, without a single lesson on letting the force flow through her, she may already be most the skilled Jedi since Yoda.

    It’s been pointed out to me that Rey has likely got some impressive Jedi genetics roaming around her. I agree, but so did Luke Skywalker, and he wasn’t instantly infallible when he first realized he could deliver his own pizza without leaving the house.

    (UPDATE: Reading some of the blogs about this movie—which I’ve now seen four times—they point out that, in her flashback to being orphaned on Jakku as a tiny girl, Rey was wearing traditional padawan garments, meaning she would have had some Jedi training, after all. I’m still confused about how that would explain her ability to go lightsaber to lightsaber with Ren, who’s training was not interrupted in childhood, but I think the point does undermine my quibble there.)

    Nevertheless, I enjoyed the banter of Finn and Rey, and I’m happy to have them be my new heroes. And, once again, I would be delighted to be proven wrong on all of these points via the details that will entertain us in future episodes.

    (To that end, there’s a funny, albeit crusty criticism of killjoy criticisms of The Force Awakens by Matty Granger. Perhaps his arguments are sufficient to undermine my concerns, but I’m not satisfied yet.)

    May the next Episodes prove me wrong. 🙂

  • This week, the world gets to witness for the first time, Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens.

    I was in grade 1 when the prior entry in this galactic log, Episode VI, Return of the Jedi first visited our movie screens. At the time, I was afraid of watching movies in theatres. I don’t remember why I was scared, but I know that I must have been quite anxious because I recall my dad having a serious chat with me, trying to persuade me that this movie would be worth overcoming my fears for.

    When he mentioned the movie, though, I was already aware of it. That very morning in “show and tell,” one of my classmates had told us about having seen Jedi the night before. He described a compelling story of a heroic Lifesaver guy dueling various evil forces (I can still remember the image I produced in my mind of a cylindrical lifesaver candy man wearing a rainbow of colours battling bad guys).

    So, halfway through my dad’s description of Return of the Jedi, I told him that I had heard of that movie, and that, actually, I was interested to see what would happen to the colourful hero. No further persuasion was required: I would deign to take in a film that evening.

    I don’t recall whether I realized, during that first viewing that the “Lifesaver man” I’d been daydreaming of was, in fact, the lightsaber-wielding Luke Skywalker, Jedi Knight. There probably wasn’t room in my brain for such contemplations: it was already occupied by a thousand thoughts and emotions, as my new heroes and friends, Luke, Han, and Leia battled the evil yet mesmerizing villains, Darth Vader and The Emperor.

    There was now a force permeating my imagination that would never go away.

    I tell this candy-flavoured story of my first meeting with the greatest saga of my movie-going life not because I think it is especially unique, but because I suspect all those who love George Lucas’s galaxy far far away have their own story of complacent expectation turned to wide eyed, ‘What have we here?’ discovery.

    The fact that I was lucky enough to meet Star Wars for the first time in childhood probably intensified its effect on me. As did their unprecedented offering of action figures. All huge movie franchises have toys, but the Star Wars empire sold figures of every minor character who stumbled into frame long enough to wave “Hi” to their moms. And my brother, one of my sisters, and I wanted them all. Not just for the sake of completing a collection, but because each character seemed to be a true resident of that wonderful galaxy. They weren’t just cogs in in the wheels of Jabba the Hutt’s tomb, they were the keeper of the Rancor (i.e. the guy who trained the monster who was paid, in food, to eat unwelcome visitors). That shirt-less Rancor-keeper, who cried when his drooling, building-sized creature was killed by Luke Skywalker, was an important person to us. Rancors needed someone to take care of them just like our own pets did.

    Each character and location in the Star Wars galaxy existed independently of what would eventually happen to them: in our minds, they were significant people and places that housed communities and hierarchies and bureaucracies. To posses an action figure who worked on the Death Star was to have, in our Star Wars carrying case, access to that terrifying place.

    My parents and relatives supported my siblings’ and my Star Wars figure obsessions with birthday and Christmas gifts. My bother and sister’s unwrapping moments were consequently just as important to me as my own. (And my other sisters joined in, too: collecting Star Wars figures, which they could then use in trade to extort their Star Wars-addicted siblings to help them with their particular household tasks.)

    I am sure that every generation has their childhood-earned kinship with particular adventures and characters. (The Harry Potter generation, I imagine, feels Ron and Hermione are better companions than Han and Leia, while generation Oz probably thinks The Tinman, Lion, and Scarecrow are the best friends a person could ever have.) And so my hope here is not  to persuade anyone that Star Wars is the best adventure ever put to screen.

    But let’s face it: it probably is:

    You see, Star Wars isn’t just about space ships, it’s about the most textured space ships you’ve ever seen. Not just because they’re big, but because they have fascinating shapes and sounds (for instance, the iconic screech of the tie-fighter was created from an elephant roar). And George Lucas realized that not all space ships are new, and so he outfitted them with wear and tear in both their look and sound.

    Nor is Star Wars just about grand CGI-generated settings; in fact, the best of the Star Wars universe was built using models. (Unfortunately, Lucas tried to outdo himself with CGI in the prequels: but, to quote Yoda, while he tried, he “did not do.”) As Lucas said of his original achievement, he created those worlds by zooming in on the parts that made up the story, and so letting the backgrounds speak for themselves without the filmmaker announcing, “Look what I have created!” The results provoke the feeling that we are guests in a galaxy of stories that are happening simultaneous to our particular viewing.

    And Star Wars doesn’t just have great characters, it has more iconic characters per minute of story time than a Charles Dickens novel.

    Star Wars villains aren’t just dark and deep voiced. They have a whole dark spiritual side of the force to themselves, and they’re the most deep voiced of bad guys you’ll ever wanna hear (CNN even hired Darth Vader to introduce their network). Plus they’ve got personality. The Emperor doesn’t just mock his enemies, he mimics them. And he doesn’t just have a maniacal laugh, he has a maniacal chuckle when he sees Luke starting to succumb to his taunting.

    And the humour! Well, let’s just acknowledge that Jar Jar Binks is the worst character in the history of cinema (partly, I suppose, by relativity, because he is living in a saga that produced many of the best-ever characters); regardless, you can feel free to fast forward through his parts. (George Lucas, himself, acknowledged in the making of Episode I: The Phantom Menace that Jar Jar was either going to make or break the film. He was half right: although Jar Jar ruined every scene he was in, the story is still worth watching if you make sure to get pop corn during Mr. Binks’s scenes.)

    And the romance in Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back isn’t just sweet, it’s entertaining and genuinely-earned. (Plus the love triangle has an accidental moment of innocent incest. Beat that, Hunger Games!)

    Star Wars doesn’t just have pure-veined heroes, it has champions who could turn to the dark side (like their dads did before them); it has reluctant heroes who only rescue princesses because they can imagine a hearty reward; and other heroes who betray their friends, only to try to rescue them from the chilling results.

    Star Wars doesn’t just have a good side and a dark side, it has a corpus callosum in every brain that puts its owners at risk of being pulled to the other side.

    And Star Wars doesn’t just possess catch phrases (“May the force be with you,” “Search your feelings,” “I’ve got a bad feeling about this”), it has echoes of language across all six films that is operatic in its placement and repetition. (This is something Lucas acknowledges was his intention.)

    And Star Wars doesn’t just have the most exciting music, it has the heart-starting scores of John Williams. Try humming the theme to Star Wars without smiling. But, equally as important, consider Williams’s melancholy yet hopeful music in Episode IV: A New Hope, as he serenades Luke Skywalker’s longing to escape his Uncle’s claustrophobia-provoking farm. Whenever I hear that somber tune, the force awakens in me.

    But again, my appeal here is not to argue that my Star Wars figures are more worthy than your Buck Rogers figures or your Catniss Everdeen posters, but instead just to say that there is room for one more on the Millennium Falcon if you’d like to join us.

    As the sequel to the Star Wars film that first triggered my imagination comes to screen this week, I would like to invite anyone who could use a boost to join us on this quest to see what happens next.

    And, if you’re afraid to get caught up in an imperial world of modern cinematic warfare, don’t worry, it’s not as overbearing as all that. It’s just a little movie about a little Livesaver-candy Man standing up to some bullies.

    (P.S. It’s now January 31st, and I’m on the other side of having seen this movie three times now. My thoughts on it are here.)

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  • It all started with referee-requested video review. As video quality and viewpoint abundance has improved, sports such as football and hockey wanted to take advantage of their many unblinking eyes to get crucial calls right.

    But, as the technology has continued to advance, sports leagues realized that there were unlimited matters that could be sent to the video adjudicators to consider. In football, it was not just whether a player caught the ball, but whether he had full control before his feet were out of bounds. The subsequent concern then became whether such constant reviewing and editing of all in-game referee decisions would slow the games down to the point of making them dull for fans.

    It was then that the notion of player/coach challenges burst into our sporting consciousness.

    For instances, tennis players and football coaches were given a finite number of challenges in each contest, such that they could request a video review of certain referee decisions. But, if their inquiry was proven wrong, it would cost them one of their challenges (and in the case of football, one of their valuable timeouts as well). Thus the challengers had to be frugal with their review requests and not spend them unless they were either confident or dealing with a crucial moment in the competition.

    Perhaps to the surprise of the sports leagues, they quickly discovered a strange consequence of these participant challenges: the option added to the intrigue of their broadcasts because the question of whether a participant should challenge became part of the strategy of the game, and in turn something for the announcers to discuss with us between plays.

    For professional football leagues such as the NFL and CFL, coaches’ challenges have been especially effective as entertainment-enhancers: football is a sport that it is divided into many individual plays that rarely last more than ten seconds.  As a result, the bulk of the broadcast is made up of the space between plays, where the strategy of the last iteration is up for scrutiny. Adding in the element of “challenges” has improved the nuance and significance of those discussions.

    Similarly in tennis, where players can question line calls just after they happen, challenging has added a dimension to the between-play contemplations: players are analyzed not only on their level of play, but also their ability to wisely risk their challenges.

    And so all was right and entertaining with video challenges in sport until the NHL tried too hard to get in on the scrutinizing of action.

    Unlike football and tennis, which are made of short bursts of excitement punctuated by long pauses for analysis, hockey is a fluid competition. This is a crucial distinction. In football, each individual play is so short-lived that all challenges of questionable calls happen directly after they occur.

    Such immediacy of fact-checking is important for athletic competitions to avoid becoming “Schrödinger’s sport” (à la that wacky philosopher’s strange thought experiment in which he claimed that a neglected cat in a covered box was both alive and dead at the same time). That is, if a play were allowed to continue indefinitely past the point of a possible referee error, we would be living in a strange Schrödinger-like condition wherein the play would be both happening and not happening at the same time. So, even though the play would have been ruled admissible by the on-field referees, we the fans would be in the constant position of wondering whether a long-earlier missed call could cancel out all of what we were witnessing in the present.

    To avoid this quantum state, when tennis players think their opponents’ shot has been erroneously called in, the skeptical player must stop the action immediately (and risk the point) in order to acquire a review: they cannot continue playing, and then retroactively request a video peak after the fact.

    Consider, in contrast, then, whether either of the NHL’s two new coaches’ challenge options lead us to action that is both happening and not happening.

    (1) Coaches can now challenge whether a goal occurred in concert with the goaltender being interfered with.

    This is an understandable question to which we want the right answer every time. If a player illegally bumped into the goalie, then that is not only relevant to whether a goal should count, but it is a question that is asked immediately after the infraction. Well done, NHL: Schrödinger is kept at bay here.

    (2) Coaches can now retroactively challenge whether a play that led to a goal was “on side” (that is, did a player enter the attack zone before the puck did?).

    In this case, a play can be mistakenly ruled on side by the linesman, and can continue for an unlimited amount of time without intervention. If, however, the attacking players eventually succeed in their daunting mission to score a goal, the opposing coach can turn back the clock as far as necessary to check whether one of the goal-chasing players was a millimetre off side. Thus, Schrödinger is suddenly dominating our sport!

    If, that is, the off side team manages to score a goal, then the game wasn’t actually happening because the goal will be called back, and all of the consequences of the play we were watching for, say, a minute will be irrelevant (and the game clock will be reset to the point of the linesman error). However, if the defensive team takes the puck away from the attackers, and manages to do something beneficial for their side (even scoring a goal), then the game was in fact being played all along. The defensive coach gets to hold onto this quantum challenge for as long as the play remains in their defensive zone or a goal is scored.

    For more specific examples, when one team has earned a two minute power play, every second is potentially beneficial, so when one of these quantum off sides occurs, the defensive team can watch the time tick down with no risk of being scored against. One of the attacking players may try out a brilliant maneuver that he’s been saving for a crucial moment, and he may succeed, only to find out that the game wasn’t actually happening when he unveiled it.

    Such a challenge option goes against the spirit of our viewing of the game. When a play is on or off side by a smidgen, the flow of the event is essentially the same whether a foot was on this or that side of the line. If the off side intervention is called as it happens, then so be it: the line was technically crossed illegally. But, when the play is allowed to go on, and we fans think we’re watching a play that’s been legitimized by the linesman’s call, our hearts and eyes are excited by each scoring chance. To have such a play finally achieve a brilliant success, only to retroactively employ a ruling that was missed much earlier, the game we are watching becomes a continuous Schrödinger conditional.

    An analog in tennis would be if players were allowed to retroactively challenge foot fouls. That is, when serving, tennis players aren’t allowed to touch the service line with their feet, so if the umpire catches the tiny infraction, then the play is stopped, and the player loses a serve (fair enough), but if said line judge misses the foul, then the wee advantage in foot position is not essential to the ongoing play. So to watch Federer make a great diving volley, only to have the play cancelled on the grounds that twelve shots earlier he nicked the line with his foot would be a sporting (and entertainment) abomination.

    Moreover, note how the retroactive off side checking only benefits the defensive team and never the offensive team. That is, when linesmen make the mistake of calling a play off side (when in fact it was on side) to the unearned benefit of the defensive team, there is no recourse whatsoever for the offended offensive team. The coaches can’t challenge that bad call because the play has already been stopped, and so we’ll never know what might have been. Many wonderful goals surely disappear from possibility each year because of this type of linesman error.

    But, given that we’ll never know when such exciting results would have occurred, there is much less embarrassment for the on-ice officials if they accidentally help out the defensive team.  (In contrast, if they erroneously allow a play to continue, when in fact it was off side, and the offensive side scores a goal, the replays will damn them because of the knowable consequences of their error.)

    Thus, it is already in the referees’ best interest to err on the side of guessing in favour of the defensive side if they’re ever unsure (and, in a game that happens as fast as hockey, such difficult close calls present themselves frequently).  As a result, many exciting offensive plays are stopped in a league that is already wishing it could talk its coaches into being a little less defensive-minded.

    (As I argued in DEFENDING THE NHL, I think off side is an unfortunate rule because it disrupts the flow of a game that is currently dominated by a defensive structure, such that goalscoring is now at a dull 2.50 goals per team per game compared to 3.53 in 1992-93 and 3.95 in 1981-82. Thus, I submit that the NHL should get rid of the rule altogether. The similarly structured sports of basketball and lacrosse survive without off side and are much more exciting as a result. But, since the NHL is unlikely to remove this entertainment-hindering rule, it should at least avoid giving all of the benefits of close calls to the defensive side.)

    At some point this season, there will be a moment that means a lot to the home ice fans: a player will score the greatest goal of his career, a long-time fan favourite will achieve a milestone marker, or a team will find victory in overtime to get into the playoffs, and then the fans will hear the dreaded words: “The opposing coach is challenging [whether a minute ago there was a technicality that could retroactively overrule the play].” I’m not sure I want to be watching when that happens.

  • 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 XII

    Last month, I attended a screening and panel discussion of a “documentary,” The Mask You Live In, which claims to compassionately examine serious issues facing the male people in Western society. I arrived in my seat with no expectations of an unbiased examination; instead, I was aware of the trend of such analyses not to be done by neutral social scientists, but by feminists, hoping to incorporate into their patriarchal-society-ideology the seemingly contradictory facts and figures that indicate that the “privileged” men have some struggles, too. Nevertheless, my resolve to be unimpressed was tempered by the MC’s opening remark that the issue was woefully underrepresented in our public discourse. But the tempering of my temper was tempered as I watched a brilliantly subtle 97 minute feminist editorial. If one squinted one’s eyes, the filmmakers seemed to care about their subjects, but, as they turned their gaze to solutions, it was clear that their answer was, as ever, feminism.

    Now, I don’t object to applying one’s ideology to an issue, but I think it is disingenuous to claim to be a documentary, only to sneak in one’s entrenched philosophical perspective as the panacea. A simple subtitle such as, “A Feminist analysis of the struggles of men and boys” would have done the trick. As it was, neither the film nor the panel that discussed it acknowledged the feminist elephant in the room. In response, I sent the following letter to the organizers as well as the panelists of the film.

    Two of the panelists have replied to me, but since the organizing agency has not responded, and it has now been over a month since I sent my letter, I offer it here for the record:

     

    To whom it may concern at The UBC Men’s Depression and Suicide Network:

    Thank you for putting on your free screening and subsequent discussion of the film The Mask You Live In, which purports to contemplate men’s and boys’ issues. I appreciated the enthusiasm with which the panelists were discussing this topic.

    Nevertheless, I think the ideological makeup of both the film and your panel is an affront to intellectual fairness.

    I think it should be noted that the film was written through a feminist lens.  Many familiar feminist talking points are ever-present in the film’s narrative, from the wild and unproven assumption that gender is purely a social construct, to the further controversial claim that video games cause violence, to the startling assertion that we live in a “rape culture,” and the supporting myth that 1 in 5 women will be sexually assaulted (see philosopher Dr. Christina Hoff Sommers’s critical analysis of this specious statistic), to the notion that men are, by definition, privileged: “We must use our privilege [to forge change]…” was the common mantra of the male role models on screen, who seemed to have just taken language training from a gender studies course.

    However, while anyone familiar with feminist theory would recognize that the film was written from a feminist perspective, neither the film nor those who presented it at UBC acknowledged its ideological bias. Instead, the film claims to be a documentary, an objective analysis of these issues. That is either intellectually dishonest or ignorant. If the filmmakers had said, “We’re feminists, and we see that men are struggling, too, so we’re going to try applying our feminist theories to men’s issues,” then so be it. I would still want to criticize their feminist conclusions, but they would have honestly represented their project as a partisan analysis, which may be smart and well-articulated, but which is by no means an objective investigation offered by a neutral party. The audience, who is perhaps unfamiliar with feminism’s dominance over most modern discussions of gender, would then be aware that they are witnessing an opinion piece from a particular philosophy that views the world through the lens of patriarchy theory and the notion that gender is entirely a social construct.

    Moreover, each member of your expert panel seemed to be viewing the movie from either a feminist or, at best, neutral perspective, but there was no one up there to criticize the privileged feminist point of view. Indeed, when Dr. Jennifer Berdhal (a gender and diversity professor at the Sauder School of Business, who at least seemed to admit that that she was a feminist) explained that the phrase “Don’t be Mama’s boy” is one that tells boys that women shouldn’t be their bosses, there was no one to suggest that the expression might instead just be implying (and understood by most to mean) that male people are expected to be tough and not go metaphorically crying to their nurturing mothers when they’re struggling. (It’s not a nice expression, for sure, but from my perspective, it is much more misandrist than it is misogynist.)

    There were some subtle criticisms from the audience of the feminist leanings of the film and panel, but the feminist panelists either intentionally or unintentionally reinterpreted those questions to fit their feminist narrative. And again there was no one on the panel willing or able to critically respond to that bias.

    For troubling instance, consider the argument from Kyra Borland-Walker (of UBC Speakeasy) that the reason that males kill themselves significantly more often than females is because boys and men are socialized to use guns, and therefore, if girls played as much with guns, they would kill themselves just as frequently. This implied that the comparatively high rate of male suicide is not in any way related to men’s particular suffering, but instead is simply and solely the result of them having a greater kinship with a deadly weapon. No one in the panel pointed out that that there could be other reasons that men choose to use more lethal means. Perhaps, that is, men choose guns because they are more determined to kill themselves as they feel they have fewer options. Some suicide attempts are cries for help. And so maybe, in a society that seems to care more about women’s suffering than men’s*, men more often use guns because they don’t think anyone will help them if they do cry out.

    *By the evolutionary necessity of sending our boys into dangerous terrain (from fighting lions to going to war to working in coal mines), it is hard to deny that humans have come to value male life less than female life. How often do we hear news reports referring to victims of war, “including women and children” as opposed to civilians in general? Why are calls to “stop violence against women” ubiquitous, even though (according to men’s rights activists) men are equally if not more often the victims of violent crime? (Why not just, “stop violence”?) Why is more medical research spent on women than men even though women tend to live longer?

    Perhaps the men’s rights’ notion of “male disposability” is inaccurate, but a panel discussing men’s issues ought to be aware of it, and equipped to discuss it from a neutral perspective, instead of one that assumes that men are universally privileged. As it was, Borland-Walker was able to reach for her unsubstantiated claim that women would kill themselves as much as men if they had the weapons, and thus protect the notion that men are privileged, without a single counter argument from her fellow panelists.

    The imbalanced discussion is not Dr. Berdhal or Ms. Borland-Walker’s fault. They have their perspectives, and there’s no reason they shouldn’t provide them when invited. But it is once again intellectually egregious to have a panel, claiming to speak about men’s issues, without anyone there to criticize the feminist orthodoxy, which has a lot of misandry on its resume to answer for.

    “Man-splaining,” “Man-spreading,” “male privilege,” “male gaze,” “male entitlement,” “male violence against women,” “teach men not to rape”: these are all gendered insults brought to you by feminism. The same feminism whose perspective dominated this “documentary” that claimed to want to help boys be themselves. I’m not saying that the film was all bad: there was some interesting exploration of the pressures that many boys feel to be tough and aggressive, and to neatly fit into gender roles. However, the film’s biased interpretations of the cause and effect of these troubles demanded a sober response. There is research, for instance, that suggests that children who grow up with single fathers tend to be more empathetic than children who grow up with single mothers. Researchers don’t know why that is, but psychologist and meta-researcher Dr. Warren Farrell offers a compelling argument that men’s tendency to safely roughhouse with their children actually helps children better understand limits, and the distinction between assertiveness and violence. Another common hypothesis is that, because fathers tend to comfort children when they fall less than mothers do, and instead tend more often to encourage their offspring to get up and try again, children with significant fatherly involvement tend to be less self-involved, and in turn more empathetic.

    I don’t know if those hypotheses are correct, and by pointing them out, I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t also emotionally nurture our children in the ways that mothers seem to more often, but the notion that the sole solution to boy troubles is for traditional dads to be more like traditional moms is simplistic. (More likely, I suspect that children do best with a healthy dose of both comforting when they fall and encouragement to get back up and try again.) Moreover, as Dr. Christina Hoff Sommers argues in The War Against Boys, part of the problem may be that we demonize common boy behaviour and pathologize their generally more rambunctious play from a young age: maybe that’s part of the reason that boys seem to be losing interest in school much more often than girls (because “they are treated like defective girls”).

    Again, perhaps Dr. Hoff Sommers is wrong in this assessment, but it would have been nice if the film and/or just one of your expert panelists had discussed her significant research on this subject.

    The film, I noticed, was written, directed, and produced exclusively by women (at least their names were traditionally female). I don’t have a problem with that in theory: if they were the best people to create a movie about men’s issues, then so be it. But I wonder: would a movie about an alleged problem of “toxic femininity” (that discussed how women needed to use their “privilege” to influence girls to be better people and treat boys better) that was written, directed, and produced solely by men have inspired such a supportive panel to convene at UBC? Or would such a film have been dismissed as sexist propaganda?

    I can understand the motivation, when looking at men’s issues, to utilize a feminist perspective in doing so. After all, when men’s issues clubs have attempted to form in other universities, they have been denied ratification on the grounds that they “do not centre female voices” in their discussions. However, I think we must resist such an autocratic notion that men’s issues can only be seen through a feminist lens, or not at all.

    Sincerely,
    Seth McDonough

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