“The Fall” and the pedestal

Telegraph Pass Phoenix, Arizona
Telegraph Pass
Phoenix, Arizona

Gillian Anderson’s The Fall keeps generating controversy. Political columnist Cathy Young calls the TV show “fauxminist,” disagreeing with some who call it the most feminist show on TV.

Almost every male character being bad or useless is a tradition of films with female heroes such as Thelma & Louise and Maleficent. But Young notes that even some feminists have wondered if The Fall is misandrist (man hating).

Alyssa Rosenberg writes in the Washington Post that The Fall suggests “all men are capable of terrible things. That’s the sort of sentiment that anti-feminists accuse feminists of using to smear innocent men, and that most U.S. feminists would aggressively deny believing.”

That it’s almost exclusively men who abuse and sexually exploit others is unquestioned. But is that true?

Society puts women on a pedestal. Traditionally, God is a man and Satan is a man. But as former feminist Warren Farrell notes, feminists say God could be a woman but Satan is a man. My take is that that men’s rights activists think God is a man and Satan is a feminist.

Or maybe both God and Satan can be either male or female.

The media, however, often ignore stories that challenge the notion that women are angels and men are devils. The Justice Department found that a significant number of boys in juvenile detention are sexually abused by staff. But it didn’t make headlines. Does the fact that 95% of the perpetrators are women (despite women being a minority of the staff) have anything to do with burying the story?

The Department of Health and Human Services found that a slight majority of child abusers are women. The Centers for Disease Control found that men are almost as likely as women to be emotionally abused by an intimate partner (Tables 4.9 & 4.10). And while 1 in 4 women have experienced severe domestic violence, so have 1 in 7 men  – making men about a third of the victims. And despite an almost exclusive focus on teen girls as victims of dating violence, it turns out that boys are almost as likely to be experience dating violence.

The CDC also found that 1.27 million women have been raped by an intimate partner (Table 2.1) while the figure for men is almost non-existent. But that’s because  a woman forcing a man to have sex isn’t considered rape. However, 1.267 million men have been “made to penetrate” (Table 2.2), and 79.2% of the perpetrators are women (page 24).

None of this means we should vilify women. But we shouldn’t vilify men either. Almost every human being, man or woman, has the potential to be violent in certain circumstances – particularly with their significant other. But acknowledging this means departing from the view of gender dynamics that dominates academia and pop culture today.


Identity Politics, Social Justice & Prejudice

Identity politics often divides groups into privileged and oppressed dichotomies. Whites are privileged and minorities are oppressed. Men are privileged and women are oppressed. And so on. But these dichotomies are simplistic even though there’s some truth to them.

A case in point is La Sha’s recent article in the Huffington Post about the sentencing of American student Otto Warmbier to 15 years of hard labor in North Korea for stealing a government poster. Sha’s takeaway is that Warmbier’s privileged heterosexual cis-gender white male status is like a drug, and his arrogance is “pathogenic.” She juxtaposes his theft of the sign to mass shootings in the United States, and compares his 15-year hard labor sentence to the racism and sexism she’s experienced as an African-American woman.

In addition to Sha’s schadenfreude over a violation of human rights, she’s exploiting a tragedy for ideological gain. Intersectionality adds a layer of complexity. Everyone belongs to multiple groups. One person might simultaneously belong a privileged group and an oppressed group. Some groups are more oppressed than others, and that can be used to gain status. On the other hand, a person’s good standing is diminished by belonging to a privileged group. So a heterosexual white male must try extra hard to prove he’s not like the others, and this involves checking his privilege and directing self-righteousness at others in his demographic group who don’t accept this ideology.

Intersectionality can be like walking a tightrope. Cathy Young notes that, “A white woman upset by an insulting comment from a white man qualifies for sympathy and support; a white woman distraught at being ripped to shreds by a ‘woman of color’ for an apparent racial faux pas can be ridiculed for ‘white girl tears.’”

Once I was talking to a man, and he mentioned Hirsi Ayaan Ali (a black ex-Muslim and survivor of female genital mutilation) being disinvited from a speaking engagement at Brandeis University because she’s an outspoken critic of Islam. He asked, “Why don’t feminists want people to speak out against female genital mutilation?” I didn’t know what to say. Feminists speak out against FGM all the time. The criticism of Islam (or even mentioning the role Islam plays in FGM) is the problem. Because social justice activists see Muslims as oppressed, Islam must be protected from any criticism. Hirsi Ayaan Ali’s transgression was failing to maintain the rigid dichotomy of oppressed and oppressors.

And oppressed status can be lost. In the United Kingdom, there’s an effort by the National Union of Students LGBT Campaign to drop representation for white gay men because they’re not oppressed within the LGBT community. No longer being oppressed could be seen as progress except that it means white gay men are being reclassified as privileged, and thus new members of the oppressor class.

In other cases, historically oppressed group might not be seen as oppressed at all. Cathy Young points out that “’social justice’ discourse sheepishly sidesteps anti-Semitism—surely one of the most pernicious forms of bigotry in Western history.” Social justice activists haven’t figured out how to support Palestinians while also recognizing that anti-Jewish bigotry is still a big problem.

Some argue that left wing radicalism will collapse because “revolutions eat their own.” After all, the quest for ideological purity has led some progressives to turn their backs on long time gay rights activist Peter Thatchell because he supports free speech, and feminist Germaine Greer because she doesn’t support transgender women.

But that might be optimistic. Insiders and outsides, us and them, is a quirk found in every human culture. And the self-serving bias – that insistence on justifying one’s actions – compounds the problem.