Category Archives: Sethics vs. Misandry

SethBlogs is opposed to bigotry… even when it’s against men. :)

ORWELLING UP II: Featuring CBC Feminism

The warnings of George Orwell play a significant role in the official philosophical anxiety of SethBlogs.




In the first episode of ORWELLING UP—which I wrote while I was reading George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-FourI questioned the notion of excommunicating artists for behaviours in their personal lives. Now, upon finishing Orwell’s dystopian imagining, I’ll peek in on what I increasingly perceive to be CBC Radio’s Orwellian policy on “thought crimes” against their patron ideology, feminism.

In George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four “nothing was illegal,” but, if you were caught doing something aberrant (i.e. outside the undefined but easily inferred Party lines), “it was reasonably certain that it would be punishable by death, or at least by twenty-five years in a forced labour camp.” Similarly, CBC Radio never speaks of a feminist policy. However, the consequences of drifting from CBC feminist party lines are undeniable:

(1) If you have incorrect opinions, you will generally be excluded from this grand, publically funded conversation. And

(2) If you do Houdini your way through that first barrier, but you nudge a toe out of feminist line, you will be challenged by the normally gushing hosts.

Meanwhile, the benefits of colouring neatly between the feminist lines are equally obvious:

(A) If you never question feminism, and always treat individual feminists as infallible equality-seekers, you will have a much greater chance of being promoted to valuable hosting and guest roles, regardless of your talent and intelligence in the areas you are discussing. And

(B) If you say something that is evidence and/or decency free, you will be supported with adulation, so long as it supports the orthodoxy of feminism.

In this blog, I have criticized what I perceive to be examples of CBC’s unstated but relentless pro-feminist slant, and how its hosts never question feminist dogma. Such yielding to this particular Big Sibling is understandable given both the risks of being pushed out of CBC for “thoughtcrime,” and—if I may offer a matching Orwellian term—the benefits of demonstrating virtuethink.

But these pressures to conform are never officially acknowledged. Indeed, if questioned, the host would likely say they were always expressing their own opinions. And they’re very convincing. Many of them probably are sincere (they were, after all, likely chosen for that apparent sincerity). But, if feminists are right that their excommunicated hero, Jian Ghomeshi, was a long closeted misogynist, then they must admit that any of these other beloved feminist personalities might also be faking their commitment to the faith for the benefits of such conformity.

This unstated but ever-present thought policing is a disservice to both critics of feminism, as well as proponents, who are able to release morally and intellectually inept statements into our public airways without challenge. And, while that surely feels good to them and their congregation at the time, it deprives them of the scrutiny we all need to improve our thinking. Meanwhile, those outside of the margins of correct feminist opinion are nearly always dismissed as sexists and/or misogynists because they hint at opinions that feminists have already deemed incorrect. CBC Radio thus treats intellectual debate as unnecessary (and potentially harmful) in such cases.

In this episode of ORWELLLING UP, I consider a June 20th CBC Q interview in which both the throughtcrime and virtuethink styles of silent feminist influence took turns leading a discussion. The conversation starred the ever warm, eloquent, and feminist-flavoured Gill Deacon interviewing Ali Wong, a rant-and-dirty-joke-wielding comedian who had both pleased and displeased feminist pastors.

Wong’s correct thinking was itemized first. Deacon played a clip from the comedian’s special, Baby Cobra, in which the then 7.5 months’ pregnant comic noted that male comedians just having a baby can merrily:

“…get up on stage a week afterwards, and they’ll be like, ‘Guys, I just had this baby. It’s so annoying and boring. And all these uppity dads in the audience are like, ‘That’s hilarious. I identify.’ And their fame just swells. Because they become this relatable, family funny man all of a sudden.”

Meanwhile, Wong hollered, just-becoming-mom comedians are a little too “busy!” producing and nursing the baby to return to the stage so quickly.

I thought this was a fair diatribe, which seemed to me not so much a hostile complaint about men as much as a playful, old-style, battle-of-the-sexes teasing of them.

CBC interviewer Gill Deacon, though, helped herself to a feminist reading of the comedy, marking the rant down in her Approved Feminist Grievance column as she celebrated it as a “fairly spot on” identification of a “double standard.”

I heard no evidence, nor claim, from Wong that she had been accosted by a double standard. A double standard implies that she was being dealt with by a different standard than her male rivals. That would mean her business and/or audience was not open to her pregnancy-or-post-pregnancy comedy in the way they would be if she were male. She made no such argument. As far as I can tell, she’s just claiming that it’s extra difficult for soon-to-be or just-become mothers to do stand up comedy. Fair enough. That doesn’t mean that there is sexist discrimination going on in this case; it might just mean that pregnancy and nursing needs can be hard on one’s comedy career. And, given that women are more often pregnant and nursing than men, they have that burden more often.

Curiously, then, after Deacon rewarded Wong for a feminist claim that she had not made, she scolded the comedian for some decidedly unfeminist material. Consider this interaction:

DEACON: You are a very professionally accomplished woman… You also joke a lot… about wanting to be a housewife… Is that really a fantasy of yours? You kind of make it seem like housewives are the geniuses of our time.

WONG: …I’m joking, because I obviously really love doing stand up. The desire, though, to not work anymore is real…

DEACON: And there’s no bells of concern that go off for you at all when your mind starts to go there?

WONG: No, I mean I think that’s real. I think a lot of my other friends, who are professional women, are like… “What the Hell am I doing?” when they see women who have super rich husbands… It’s all a fantasy…

DEACON: You say that feminism’s ruined it for us. Now we’re expected to work. Have you heard any complaints from women in any of your audiences with jokes like that?

WONG: Not really. I think most women understand that I’m joking…

DEACON: It doesn’t come across that clearly that you’re joking, I have to say. I found myself going, “Hmm, does she really think this? It’s hard to tell.”

WONG: Um, yeah.

DEACON: It sounds like I wasn’t all wrong. You kind of… do believe in the fantasy.

WONG: Yeah, part of me believes in the fantasy. But part of me also knows that it’s a fantasy. And the reality of it comes with consequences…

DEACON: ….At the end of your special, you do twist things around a little bit to sort of prove that point. But do you worry that men in your audience might think that they’re seeing what women actually secretly think?

WONG: I don’t really worry about that. I’m worried about if they’re laughing. I’m not worried about what really they’re thinking. …I’m not a teacher. I’m not a politician. I’m a stand up comic.

Notice that Wong had not only committed the speechcrime of joking about having blasphemous thoughts, but, with a little prodding, Deacon detected that Wong was doing more than just joking. Wong was admitting to taking genuine pleasure in imagining something unfeminist. She had committed a thoughtcrime: she had coveted an unapproved feminist lifestyle! If this weren’t bad enough, she had allowed men-folk to overhear her forbidden dreams.

So, far from being a freeing ideology that allows people more choice in their lives, this version of feminism is telling women not that they can be career-oriented if they choose, but that they should be. And not only should they be, but they should never enjoy dreams of greater leisure. That would clearly be fantasycrime! And, if you’re going to have these evil fantasies, the least you could do is not let the drooling men hear about it: men are too simple to understand that one woman’s favourite imagining neither means it automatically overpowers her simultaneous desire to have a career, nor does it represent all women at all times.

Next, Deacon “pushed [Wong]” for telling her audience about sexual desires that were also not feminist approved.

Wong responded to these shake-of-the-head questions by pointing out that her comedy is not a TED TALK: her goal, she said, is to just make people laugh.

Deacon did not seem impressed to hear it.

“So it’s just going for the laughs?” she asked.

Wong had clearly once again committed both a thoughtcrime (the desire) and a speechcrime (talking about it).

I’m not objecting to Deacon questioning anyone’s moral justification for their creative renderings. If Deacon wanted to explore the social implications of an artist’s material, that would be fine. However, my greatest trouble here is that Deacon and her fellow feminist interviewers at CBC are incapable of nuance both in their support and condemnation.

First, there is rarely exploration into the details and/or veracity within feminist—or, in this case, feminist-seeming—arguments. I have little doubt that pregnant women and new mothers have a particularly daunting time in stand-up comedy, but a good interviewer might have explored why the comedian thought that was so, and whether it was, as Deacon diagnosed it, a double standard, or an unavoidable consequence of biology, or something in between. Instead, in CBC Feminism’s world, any claim that a woman is treated worse than a man is approved without question or contextual consideration. Essentially, You have said something that confirms the Party doctrine, therefore I agree.

Then, on the disapproving side of the conversation, if ever someone says something that doesn’t coincide with the correct feminist opinion, the blasphemer is first given the option to renounce the position, and when, in this case, the comedian held onto her incorrect thoughts, there was no exploration of whether the comedian was nevertheless morally justified in her comedy. Instead, Deacon simply pointed out that Wong really did seem to be sincere about her wrongthink, and moved onto the next question.

This lack of nuance suffocates these conversations. We are left with vacant approvals and accusations without any moral foundation to hold them up. Instead, CBC Feminism (intentionally or otherwise) relies on fear of Party excommunication to keep their members from diverging too far from virtuethink.



II: FEATURING CBC FEMINISM (you were just here)

ORWELLING UP I: Featuring DJ Morals

The warnings of George Orwell play a significant role in the official philosophical anxiety of SethBlogs.


I: FEATURING DJ MORALS (you are here)


I am currently reading Orwell’s most famous contemplation of a thought-controlled society, Nineteen Eighty-Four, and as I read about Winston Smith and his work at the Ministry of Truth, I find myself increasingly perceiving Orwellian thoughts and policies around me.

On the May 1st “Stepping up and speaking out” episode of CBC radio’s Unreserved, Rosanna Deerchild interviewed Deejay NDN (Ian Campeau), who says he now restricts the content he plays (and listens to) on the basis of two moral maxims:

(1) If the lyrics are “oppressive,” and/or

(2) if the musician is “oppressive” in their personal life, then Campeau will not play the associated tunes for his audience, nor will he keep them on his personal playlist.

For instance, when it comes to sexism, Campeau says:

“I guess it was kinda just like waking up to the idea of misogyny, and how I fit into the role of perpetuating it… And, you know, playing specific artists who have [been] known to have been misogynistic or have been harmful to women. I just choose not to promote them anymore. And it’s just kind of, you know, I just don’t align with those ideas anymore.”

Maxim 1 is, I think, an understandable rule of play. I can appreciate why a DJ would not want to lend their volume to content they believe is unethical.  Yet I think this is a delicate and potentially damaging code of curation; if we’re not careful, we may find ourselves excommunicating music that seems unethical, or tiptoes near the promotion of troubling ideas, but is actually commentary that is morally and/or artistically beneficial. As Campeau says:

“I try to not listen to any music that’s oppressive in any sort of way… it’s been a real learning curve and real, you know, prioritizing of values.” For instance, “…you have things like Kendrick Lamar’s last album, which was incredibly racially advanced in the way he was discussing topics… but he was still misogynistic within it, so as much as he was trying to elevate his community, he was still oppressing half of it.”

I see a few moral quandaries that will be difficult to solve here, but ultimately I think it’s reasonable for a private curator not to propagate art to which they are morally opposed. Regardless, my concerns are doubled in the second maxim, so I’ll focus my criticism there.

Maxim 2 calls for the DJ to assess the moral merits of people whose artwork they would otherwise endorse. For instance, Campeau says he’s:

“…not going to play Chris Brown anymore after what happened with Rihanna, that was a really easy choice…”

[Brown was charged with assault and making criminal threats towards Rihanna, and he pled guilty to “assault with intent of doing great bodily injury.”]

But, Campeau says, this culling of his playlist

“…gets really, really tough when you start realizing how all of your heroes are not exactly what they appear… There are so many… things like David Bowie, Led Zeppelin, Africa Bambaataa… like, there’s all these people who have done harm, it seems that everybody seems to be okay with that as long as they make good music?”

Campeau’s  (hereafter DJ Morals’) code of ethics calls for a purity of artistic souls, which—if it catches on as an ethical maxim—will unduly limit the art we’ll be able to experience.

BILL: Are you going to see the new Hamlet production?

TED: Haven’t you heard? It’s been discovered that Shakespeare once said something sexist, so he’s officially been removed from the Approved Artists List.

BILL: Seriously? Damn, I liked him.

TED: I know. So did I. But we can’t very well endorse that kind of sexism by enjoying his so-called art.

BILL: Of course. You’re right. To be sexist, or not to be sexist, that is the question.

TED: Um, even alluding to one of his quotes is kind of sexist. Sorry, I can’t be friends with you anymore.

BILL: Fair enough.

Now, dear DJ Morals, I’m not saying you shouldn’t criticize behaviour that you think is harmful (I’m doing so right now ;). I’m arguing that, unfortunately, artistic and moral merit are not always linked. And so, to limit your catalog of musicians to those who have lived perfect moral existences will clip the wings of the music you play.

There may be enough “moral” musicians (or at least potentially “immoral” ones who haven’t been caught yet) for individual DJs to still put out good stuff, but since DJ Morals is making a moral argument (he said he’s aiming to “end racism in Canada” and “to change society…” such that his “daughters [feel] safe walking home alone at night”), he’s arguing others should follow his lead. And, since he is clearly a member of the movement of so-called “social justice” which currently dominates popular media, his policy could conceivably be confused for good ethics and become the common moral code of music appreciation.

Consequently, as our ethics become more nuanced over time, there may be increasing numbers of artists (including the next Beatles or Wayne Gretzky) who will be ineligible to perform for us. And, if it’s the case that historically oppressed cultures are more likely to be uneducated, perhaps they’re more likely to be caught on the wrong side of the moral law, and so DJ Moral’s policy may disproportionately affect the artistic output of the very communities he argues need “elevation.”

Moreover, while our ethics may be improving over time, our public moral consensus is still fallible, and so if we limit ourselves only to the artists who are currently morally correct, we may be closing our minds to new moral considerations.

This moral purity requirement for performers isn’t a far-fetched fantasy/fear. As I discussed in THE SEPARATION OF WORK AND PLAY, there are many popular pundits who already demand that sports leagues suspend players who are accused of crimes. Blasphemously enough, I don’t think workers should be suspended for anything outside of work that doesn’t make them a danger to their co-workers, but at the very least, I am baffled that even those who are still legally presumed innocent should be excommunicated from their profession on the grounds that they are believed by the public to be guilty.

Even more drastically, recall that Jian Ghomeshi was fired from the CBC, not for illegal acts, but for admitting to his bosses that he took part in consensual sexual behaviour that they deemed immoral. If the rumors are true that—along with being a doubleplus sexual wrongdoer (to use Orwell’s “newspeak”)—Ghomeshi was a workplace bully, then that would have been an understandable reason to fire him. But the CBC has no place in the bedrooms of its hosts.

Nevertheless, the CBC and DJ Morals are burgeoning Big Brothers. They seem to believe it is their duty not simply to discuss morality with their audience, but to punish those they believe have crossed moral lines in their personal lives. This would be dangerous enough if the CBC and DJ Morals were infallible ethicists, but what if they’re moral morons? The CBC daily demonstrates their eligibility for such a description with their sexist policy on all gender discussions. Meanwhile, DJ Morals is an admitted former enjoyer of misogynistic rap music. (I have always despised such lyrics, so—by his moral math—it seems I get to announce that I am a better person than he is.)

Our ongoing attempts to improve our ethics have potential for much good. But we must be careful in our zeal to promote good behavior to avoid becoming thought police who not only challenge the ideas and behaviours with which we disagree, but also vaporize anyone who disagrees, or is accused of terrible actions or words outside of their artistic life.


I: FEATURING DJ MORALS (you were just here)



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.


In DEFINE YOUR WAY TO INFALLIBILITY, 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 sex 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.


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 The 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 go 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 “elbowed” MP and to apologize to her, but before he could get to her, she left the room because, she says, “[she] was overwhelmed.”


If Trudeau had merely taken a male politician by the arm, he might have survived his brash actions in this case, but 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:


In keeping with George Orwell’s imaginings in Nineteen Eighty-Four, Action Feminists often like to change language to suit their political purposes. (For instance, whereas “assault” used to 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.


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.

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.


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.


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.


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?


However, I did see one reason for hope that Nineteen Eighty-Four is not in our future. Confessed Feminist and 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.


SethBlogs does not believe in trial by faith even when applied to a preacher of the religion in question.




III: BEYOND BELIEF (you are here)

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 person 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 nontruths 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 apparently 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 prosecution 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.




III: BEYOND BELIEF (you were just here)


I argue in DEFINE YOUR WAY TO INFALLIBILITY 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 list in the sequel post, THE INFALLIBILITY CLOAK, 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:


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

As I argue 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 sex. 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 merit 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.


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 argue in my DOUBLE STANDARD OF DOUBLE STANDARDS series, 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?


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 with whom Action Feminists disagree. 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” (Carl Benjamin) is a sexist slur which presumes things about him based purely on his sex 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.)


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 sex is privileged over the other, and that privilege-skeptics amongst that group 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 side’s 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 sexes 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 sex even if we think they got to the podium because of it. If their ideas are as bad as the alleged system that promoted them, we should be able to show their flaws, instead of attacking the sex of the person espousing them.

Nevertheless, because Action Feminists have been so successful in treating privilege as a universal systemic aid for the male sex, 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.


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 hearts, 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 consider not applying such a sexist generalization so cavalierly.

THE FREE EXPUNGE OF IDEAS VI: The Infallibility Cloak (Part 2 of 2)

“A person who only knows their own side of an argument knows little of that.”

—SethBlogs paraphrasing social psychologist and Heterodox Academy co-founder, Jonathan Haidt, paraphrasing philosopher and free speech defender, John Stuart Mill.



VI: THE INFALLIBILITY CLOAK (2 of 2) (you are here)

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

“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). Thus they use their cloak of gender egalitarianism to shield themselves from criticism that their actions may not live up to it.

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


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 women are always worse off—such critics of feminism 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 in that duty. Otherwise, they have no incentive to risk the misogyny-badge they would likely receive for asking feminists tough questions.


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.


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.


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 HOW TO AVOID QUESTIONS, AND INFLUENCE PEOPLE). 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.


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 oversimplifying the issue with, for instance, 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 sex or 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.


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 sex 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.


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 is 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.


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 sex. 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 sex or 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 sex, 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 sex. Ideas should be measured by their content, not by their owners’ chromosomes.


“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 sex? 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.



VI: THE INFALLIBILITY CLOAK (Part 2 of 2) (you were just here)

THE FREE EXPUNGE OF IDEAS V: Define Your Way To Infallibility (Part 1 of 2)

“A person who only knows their own side of an argument knows little of that.”

—SethBlogs paraphrasing social psychologist and Heterodox Academy co-founder, Jonathan Haidt, paraphrasing philosopher and free speech defender, John Stuart Mill.



V: DEFINE YOUR WAY TO INFALLBILITY (1 of 2) (you are here)

“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.


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.



V: DEFINE YOUR WAY TO INFALLBILITY (1 of 2) (you were just here)


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 emcee’s opening remark that the issue of men’s well-being was woefully underrepresented in our public discourse. But the tempering of my temper was tempered as I watched the film, and discovered a 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 screening.

Two of the panelists have replied to me, but since the organizing agency has not responded, and it has now been more than 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?

*SETHBLOGS NOTE: I now believe this conclusion that men are more likely to be victims of violence than women is generally understood by reserachers to be true.

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.

Seth McDonough


To paraphrase Bill Maher, some of the alleged offenders described in the following argument may not be worth defending, but their rights are.

Let me first state my contrary bias. On the spectrum of government control and anarchy, I am in favour of laws restricting behaviours that explicitly harm others. Moreover, where laws are not appropriate (such as in the case of free speech), I like to see jerks get their social comeuppance as much as the next karma connoisseur. However, I am wary of the current state of moral fervor dominating public discussions wherein those accused of committing crimes, legal or otherwise, are not only publicly shamed, but are also called to be fired or reprimanded by their employers, even where their alleged fouls have not been proven and/or have dubious relevance to their work. For instances:

(A) A common jerk made profane remarks to a reporter while she was in the midst of a live feed. She called him out. He defended himself. The resulting video found an audience. Someone figured out where the jerk worked and alerted his boss. The jerk was fired from his five-figure job.

(B) An NFL player was charged by the police with a hit and run, DUI, and vandalism. The next day, the athlete was released by his team.

(C) A CFL player (known already for ignorant opinions) shared on Twitter a link to a Holocaust-denying video. The player was fined by the CFL.

(D) A British Lord was photographed socializing with prostitutes and was consequently pressured to resign his position. He resisted at first, but eventually relented to public and fellow-Lord pressure. (Although there was, apparently, no legal basis for him to be removed.)

(E) NFL superstar Ray Rice was seen on a hotel security video in an altercation with his fiancé: as she approached him in an elevator at a rapid pace, he punched her in the face, knocking her unconscious. Rice pled out of a criminal conviction by agreeing to 12 months of counselling. Initially he was suspended for two games, but after public pressure, he was released by his team, the Baltimore Ravens, and suspended indefinitely by the NFL.

Now, if employers fire their employees because they have good reason to believe they might harm their co-workers on the job, or already have done so, I have no objection. My concern here is with cases where employees are relieved of duty because their bosses have deemed them morally unfit for work (usually at the behest of popular opinion).

While I, too, will not type a sad-face emoticon for the fool who lost his job after verbally accosting someone trying to do theirs, I am nervous about the lack of public resistance to employers extending their gaze beyond their employees’ on-site activities with the aim of pronouncing judgment on their off-site behaviours. As we presently stand, the general assumption seems to be that—where someone is accused and/or convicted of a crime outside the job or of saying or doing something politically unwise—our society is right to pressure the accused’s employer to fire that person.

That, to me, is a scary state of employment affairs. I suspect most of us wouldn’t want our doctors or bus drivers to refuse service because of such character flaws, so why are we so quick to allow vigilante karma officers to run our human resources departments? And now that we’ve opened up Pandora’s judgement, how far might the employers take their newfound lease on pink slips?

BOSS: Nicely done, Johnson. You’re doing a better job of recycling your newspapers and respecting your elders, but I think you could donate more money to UNICEF, and I’d like to see you spend more time with your kids and less time coveting your neighbour’s wife. Have those things done by the end of next month, and I’ll consider keeping you on… Oh, and by the way, in this election, I’m voting blue. See that you do as well.

Who’s going to be in charge of defining these moral no-go zones? We can all agree that punching someone in the face (unless in opposition to an attacker) is morally egregious, but what about less morally obvious codes, such as religious doctrines? If enough people in the public are opposed to gay marriage, is it okay for a company to fire a married gay person on moral grounds?

Unfortunately, there is little public appetite today for employers to make a nuanced case for why they are not in a position to evaluate their employees’ outside-of-work conduct and speech: public morality, after all, is not known for its ability to recognize such distinctions. To the no-nuanced public, if an employer does not punish their employees when they are accused of a crime or of saying something deemed offensive, they clearly condone such behaviour.

This puts employers in a dicey spot where they either condemn their employee for something beyond their expertise and jurisdiction, or risk the wrath of their customers. Given such a choice, many employers are relenting to the public’s demands for their employees’ excommunication.

Thus, I think the potential for injustice caused by our guilty-until-proven-innocent and readily-offended public morality is dangerous, and we need to recalibrate our expectations of employers when it comes to assessing their employees’ outside-of-work activities.

I submit that the starting point in these discussions ought to be that employers do not have a right or obligation to punish their employees for anything that happens outside their jurisdiction. Instead, companies should be expected to prove that they have just cause (i.e. something relevantly injurious to the company’s functioning, such as a conflict of interest, or a conflict of safety) to fire an employee. If pundits and other public moralists (and even our legal system) were to accept this as a first principle of employer-employee relations, employers would, I submit, feel less pressure to make unjust terminations to appease public wrath.

With that “don’t fire employees without workplace cause” frame of reference in mind, I think the most complicated scenario for employers and critics to consider is the case where an employee (usually possessing a high profile) commits a moral infraction that could hurt the brand of their company.

Consider the NFL’s indefinite suspension of Ray Rice for punching his wife. The claim was not that Rice’s violent behaviour made him unsafe for his workplace, but instead that his actions were so despicable that the NFL needed to send a message of condemnation of violence against women, or be seen as a league aiding and abetting men who beat up women.

I can understand the mathematics of such a brand-protection argument. Given that entertainment, much like politics, draws crowds as much by personality as it does by talent, if an athlete’s reputation for violence leads some of us to think badly of their employer’s brand, then in a sense their performance could be questioned.

Nevertheless, I’m not convinced that the needs of the brand should outweigh the rights of its workers. I see two categories of circumstance to consider:

(1) First there are disputed cases, such as when someone is charged with—but hasn’t yet been proven guilty of—a crime. In spite of the suspect’s right to a fair trial, their employer may feel the perception of their guilt is already tainting their good brand name. Sadly, though, mob opinion is rarely a meticulous means by which to assess a person’s guilt, and so employers using it as their lead moral advisor will surely sometimes fire innocent employees.

Therefore, as painful as it may be to see an allegedly violent offender roaming the field of our favourite sports team, I see no solution other than to allow the justice system to be in charge of taking away the criminals it deems unfit for society. And, if the courts do not put a perceived villain in prison, I think it is oppressive to allow companies—at the behest of popular opinion and brand protection—to make like kangaroos and presume their employees’ guilt.

(2) Second, there are the cases where the problematic actions of the high-profile employee are not in dispute, such as when the celebrity has been either convicted of a crime, or captured on an uncontested video saying or doing something that a company would not want associated with their brand. Again, from a fiduciary point of view, it is understandable that organizations would want to exile high-profile employees who have behaved in ways that the public condemns.

Nevertheless, I still fear that such brand-harming justification gives too much power to our sometimes puritanical public opinion to rule our lives outside of work. Again, I can imagine exceptions—such as when an employee’s personal reputation is the primary basis for their employment (as in the case of a celebrity spokesperson)—but in situations where one’s personal life is irrelevant to the actual tasks one is paid for (as when one carries a football for a living), I propose that we reconsider the notion that it is appropriate for employers to require their employees to stay on brand while they are off duty. This isn’t to say that employees should be allowed to directly insult their workplaces while at an outside-of-work microphone (that strikes me as a conflict of interest), but—beyond such exceptions—I do not think that employers should be allowed to limit their employees’ freedom of association and speech.

Moreover, are we sure we trust our ideological social justice leaders—who advise our employers—to provide sound and ethically-sourced judgments?

For concerning instance, whether one believes that feminism is a force for equality or a force for sexism (or both), it’s hard to deny that it currently has a controlling influence on our public morality. Consider the difference in our understandable contempt for Ray Rice’s assault on his wife, and our lack thereof when confronted by a parallel incident in which another NFL football player, IK Enemkpali, punched a teammate, Geno Smith, breaking his jaw to the point of knocking his compatriot out of action for 6-10 weeks. Given this happened in the locker room in front of witnesses, the team rightly fired the fist-throwing athlete, but note that there was little if any of the public moral scorn that Ray Rice received for his similar assault on his fiancé. In fact, some observers have even blamed the victim, Smith, stating he was acting aggressively towards Enemkpali, and thus provoked the violent reaction. (Recall that Rice’s fiancé was behaving aggressively towards him, too: but not many would want to defend Mr. Rice on those same grounds.)

Moreover, in response to the Enenkpali assault, SportsCentre supplied for our entertainment the “Top Ten Teammate Fights.” (Again, can you imagine a “Top Ten” segment serenading Rice’s crime?) Then, within a couple days, a second team hired the offending player on the grounds that his punch was a one-time error.

I don’t object to this decision; if the new team thinks Enemkpali can improve their results and doesn’t think there’s a pattern of violent work behaviour that would pose a risk to his new teammates, I think it’s reasonable for them to take him on. But the fact that the team was able to do this without the same moral condemnation that has left Ray Rice still without an employer is evidence of our current feminist-leaning moral infrastructure.

(Consider also an incident in the NHL wherein super-villain Milan Lucic followed an opponent—who didn’t have the puck—during an NHL game and, just for vicious fun, whacked him between the legs: Lucic was not suspended but fined $5000 of his $6 million per year salary, and I suppose, probably suffered the indignity of making a sports station or two’s, “Top Ten Ooooh Moments.”)

If it were just violent abusers of women who suffered under this feminist double standard, I wouldn’t be particularly troubled. However, as our Western culture becomes increasingly submissive to the uncompromising expectations of feminism, buoyed advocates are demanding (and sometimes receiving) firings for not only violent offences against women, but also failures to be feminist in thought.

Recall General Lawson, who “offended” all three major Canadian political parties for suggesting that biological wiring was complicit in creating sexual harassers in the military. Liberal Party Leader Justin Trudeau called for him to be fired for this innocuous, if unsupported, claim.

More troubling, consider the career crucifixion of Nobel Laureate and medical researcher Dr. Tim Hunt who, at the World Conference of Science Journalists in Korea, made a joke that was clearly intended to satirize himself as a fossil of gender relations in science:

“It’s strange,” he said, “that a chauvinist monster like me has been asked to speak to women scientists. Let me tell you about my trouble with girls. Three things happen when they are in the lab: You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticize them, they cry. Perhaps we should separate labs for boys and girls.”

For those not tuned into his humour frequency, he followed up this jest with a clarifying remark:

“No seriously, I’m impressed by the economic development in Korea. And women scientists played, without doubt, an important role in it. Science needs women, and you should do science despite the obstacles and despite monsters like me.”

After the most controversial aspects of the joke were released to the Twitter mafia (without any of the clarifying content that surrounded it), Hunt was forced to resign from all of his scientific positions. No matter how offended one may be by a joke, we should all be worried to see a world-class medical researcher cut off from helping us all because of things he said while giving a toast. I don’t begrudge criticism of what people say in public, but are we sure such controversial humour disqualifies Hunt from being a good scientist? If Dr. Hunt had harassed or bullied his colleagues (female or male) in some way, then the benefits of his good science may not be worth the harm to his co-workers and subordinates; however, many female supporters have come forward to say that Dr. Hunt has long been a champion of their work.

(And, once again, you don’t need to search far into the internet to find examples where feminist scholars have said much more earnest and sexist comments without any official discipline. For just one recent example, consider the Gender and Diversity Professor at the Sauder School of Business, Dr. Jennifer Berdahl, who speculated in her blog that former UBC President Dr. Arvind Gupta had left his post after only one year because

“…he lost the masculinity contest among the leadership at UBC, as most women and minorities do at institutions dominated by white men.”

She was not officially disciplined for such masculinity-deriding commentary; admittedly, she says that some higher powers-that-be have criticized her for it, but the result so far has not been any official censure for her sexist-seeming choice of words. To the contrary: the Faculty Association has demanded that her lead critic, John Montalbano, a faculty advisory board member at the Sauder School of Business, and the person who funded Berdahl’s position, resign his commission for using his station to criticize a faculty member.)

Whether or not you agree that our society is currently driving under the influence of feminism and other specialized moralities, surely all of us should be concerned when fellow citizens, who are legally entitled to work, are barred from doing so because of perceived or real moral errors outside of work. While Ray Rice may be a terrible person and certainly did something awful, allowing his employer to fire him for a crime he committed outside the borders of their institution solidifies a precedent that should make us all raise our eyebrows. More crucially, while I, too, prefer respectful discourse, when employers can decide to fire their employees because they find their outside-of-work words “unacceptable,” that scares the moral fervor out of me.

A sequel to this daunting discussion is now available in THE SEPARTION OF WORK AND WORK.


“A person who only knows their own side of an argument knows little of that.”

—SethBlogs paraphrasing social psychologist and Heterodox Academy co-founder, Jonathan Haidt, paraphrasing philosopher and free speech defender, John Stuart Mill.



IV: NOTHING TO SEE HERE ( you are here)

Previously in this NEW FREE EXPUNGE OF IDEAS series, I have written about the power of political correctness to suppress speech via the magnitude of its proponents’ outrage and calls for punishment of those who stray from “acceptable” opinion. In this episode of THE FREE EXPUNGE OF IDEAS, I will examine the argument of a scholar who defends the increasing powers of political correctness.

On June 21st, I overheard an interview on CBC’s The 180, in which interviewer Jim Brown asked a gender studies’ grad student, Zaren Healey White, whether Canadian universities have become too politically correct at the expense of free academic thought. The conversation had the veneer of a serious philosophical discussion, but to my ear, it evaded the most troubling aspects of limiting free speech at the behest of ideology, however well-meaning such measures may claim to be.

Thus, I sent a message to The 180, articulating some serious issues that I thought were missed in the discussion. Since it has now been two weeks, and I have not heard back, I offer that letter here.

NOTE: The transcript of the interview is available as the first comment on this post. I won’t be offended if you listen to or read the interview before taking in my reply.

Dear Mr. Brown:

I enjoy your show and interview style. Your attempts to unearth new perspectives in our little group think world is admirable.

In keeping with your mission, I would like to provide a 180 perspective on your 180 interview with Memorial University Gender Studies Masters student, Zaren Healey White, in regard to her contention that increasing political correctness in Canadian universities is a positive evolution.

Your guest was articulate and charismatic, and yet she sidestepped significant problems with her ideology.

When you asked Ms. Healey White to explain how she defines political correctness, she said:

“I just basically mean things that I think are values that I think we should value. So basically it’s not political correctness for its own sake, it’s that ‘Let’s be empathetic, sensitive, and aware—let’s be aware of language and how the words we use could impact people.”

Empathy, sensitivity, and awareness all sound like nice goals to strive for in theory, but in practice who gets to decide which language and opinions pass the test? As much as Ms. Healey White and her colleagues may have good intentions and talented brains, there are lots of smart and kind people who disagree with their diagnoses.

As the late journalist and intellectual Christopher Hitchens argued:

“Who is going to decide?… Who will you appoint? Who will be the one who says, ‘I know exactly where the limit [on free speech] should be. I know how far you can go. And I know when you’ve gone too far. And I’ll decide that? Who do you think, who do you know, who have you heard of, who have you read about in history who you would give that job?”

To my eye, gender scholars such as Ms. Healey White are currently the leading arbiters of politically correct speech in university culture, and it is they who teach the students who subsequently demand increasing “sensitivity” in academic discussion. So, when we give into student protests and limit who can speak and what can be said at universities, we are allowing a small group of gender scholars to have incredible power over all academic discussion.

This is not merely a theoretical speculation. Gender studies ideology has made some scary changes to the definition of sexual consent on university campuses, including the new notion that participants—especially female participants—cannot consent while intoxicated. Meanwhile, at the University of Ottawa, after two male hockey players were accused of sexual assault, the entire hockey team was suspended for a year. Those who criticize such repressive and autocratic justice are treated as pariahs by the gender studies collective.

This means that gender studies leaders design strange new rules of justice but will not accept feedback from those not accredited by them to speak on such matters. For instance, when erudite and polite critics of feminism such as Dr. Warren Farrell, Dr. Janice Fiamengo, Dr. Paul Nathanson, and Dr. Katherine Young have attempted to speak at Canadian universities, they have been denounced by feminist protestors as “hate speakers,” “rape apologists,” and “misogynists.” While the students had a right to these accusations, they should not be lionized for such hostile (and baseless) behavior, which inhibits legitimate discussion. Moreover, in some of those cases, the protestors blocked entrances to their opponents’ talks and pulled fire alarms, thus proving themselves literally closed to criticism.

Far from advocating compassion for those who see the world differently, gender scholars seem to allow no room for “error” amongst those with whom they disagree. Once someone says the “wrong” thing, they are not merely criticized, they are called to be excommunicated from their careers. Such chilling results surely give pause to others who might not agree with every commandment of gender scholarship but don’t want to lose their livelihood over it.

And note that such restrictions in current university speech is not just about limiting vicious words but also traumatic content. “Trigger warnings,” which began in gender studies, are becoming an expectation of university professors when they engage in material that students might find challenging or provocative. The theory behind this strange practice is that the warning protects the students who may suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from being further traumatized. Again, this sounds compassionate on the surface, but in reality it is based on speculation that traumatized students will be triggered by content that reminds them of their harmful experiences. According to philosopher Christina Hoff Sommers, who has reviewed the scientific literature, there is no psychological evidence for this conclusion; in fact, quite the opposite, because students who are never exposed to content similar to their trauma have little opportunity to get free of it. Thus, instead of protecting students from harm, it gives additional power to the trauma, while demonizing discussion about it.

Meanwhile, even if trigger warnings were psychologically justified and there were an objective way to censor disrespectful language without limiting ideas, there is a double standard in favour of protecting gender studies from [being criticized for] its own sometimes hostile ideology. For all her calls for “valuing the inherent dignity of people and caring about them, and caring about their lives and their experiences,” notice that Healey White more than once dismissed critics of political correctness as “privileged.” For instances:

“I haven’t come across a lot of marginalized people who have a problem with political correctness. It seems to be people who have a lot of privilege who say, ‘Well I’m used to being able to say what I want, and I want to keep saying it.’”


“I feel like the people leveraging the critiques that the students are too sensitive are the people that have benefitted from getting to say whatever they want, and not having to worry too much about oppression.”

How does Ms. Healey White know whether such critics have privilege or not? Generally, privilege is shorthand for “white,” “male,” and/or “heterosexual,” which of course is not exactly treating people of such blasphemous traits with empathy, sensitivity, and awareness: instead it paints all such people with the same insult: regardless of the individual circumstances in your life, you have, by definition, been privileged by your biological traits, and so therefore we cannot take your perspective as seriously as ours.

Such blanket wielding of the term “privilege” is bigotry personified. I won’t presume that Ms. Healey White is motivated by such mean-spirited intentions, but nevertheless she is capitalizing on a currently en vogue expression that carries with it a lot of vicious baggage.

Moreover, even if we assume the veracity of Ms. Healey White’s almost-impossible-to-verify notion that most of those who criticize political correctness have never experienced oppression (Ayaan Hirsi Ali being, I guess, an aberration), how does that prove their contentions incorrect? In philosophical argument, ad hominem claims (i.e. arguments against the traits of a person instead of their argument) are considered irrelevant. An individual can be both personally flawed and possessing of a good intellectual argument simultaneously, so by definition the person’s traits cannot prove or disprove the validity of their argument.

For instance, even if I defend free speech solely for my own selfish enjoyment of saying whatever I want (as Healey White suggests), it may be the case that my defence of free speech is still, inadvertently, correct. Meanwhile, even if gender studies students, who are mostly women, focus primarily on women’s rights over men’s rights, it’s possible that the feminist conclusions they draw are valid. The best way to determine the answer to those questions is to look at the arguments we all put forward, and examine them on their merits.

Seth McDonough

REMINDER: The transcript of the interview is available as the first comment on this post.



IV: NOTHING TO SEE HERE (you were just here)