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August 03, 2013

Hamsters, Hypergamy, and Hatred: Oh My!!!

A few days ago, the indefatigable mr rdr sent us one of the most bizarre movie reviews we've ever read (and that's saying something):

Welcome to the Season of Impotent Swagger.

Even by Hollywood’s standards, the summer movie season has been notable for boys blowing up their toys: No sooner did Robert Downey Jr. almost destroy L.A. to save it in “Iron Man 3” than an onslaught of wanton destruction was loosed on the world, from such interstellar fantasies as “Star Trek Into Darkness” and “Man of Steel” to the “real world” mayhem of “White House Down” and “Fast & Furious 6.” On Friday, Mark Wahlberg and Denzel Washington lay waste to greater Texas in “2 Guns,” an exercise in ritualized male aggression in which guns, cars and other things that go “boom” and “vroom” aren’t celebrated as much as fetishistically worshipped.

It’s all in escapist good fun, of course. But, watching Stig Stigman (Wahlberg) and Bobby Trench (Washington) banter and backslap their way through “2 Guns,” audiences may detect a whiff of anxiety beneath the bluster. Maybe it’s director Baltasar Kormakur’s habit of having his characters aim guns at each other’s crotches or the increasingly frenetic (and laughable) escalation in firepower. But as the body count adds up in “2 Guns,” the inescapable impression is that the movie’s pseudo-casual cool isn’t entertainment as much as a cry for help.

It’s the same feeling that Anthony Weiner inspired this week as he tried to brazen his way through calls to exit the New York City mayoral race, with his compulsive exhibitionism outpaced only by his pathological ambition. Weiner’s breathtaking braggadocio called to mind other instances of political posturing this summer, whether it was Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) describing the children of undocumented immigrants as probable drug mules “with calves the size of cantaloupes,” or Congress spending this week avoiding substantive work, instead casting meaningless votes to score political points.

Washington and Hollywood have always enjoyed a symbiotic relationship, with politicians looking westward for borrowed glamour and contributions, and the movie industry coming here for reflected gravitas and policy bona fides. But these days, the two cities share something else. Both are fear-based cultures whose once-invincible leaders are facing radical changes and imminent extinction.

And they’re coping with those threats, to use Gloria Steinem’s famous phrase, with massive cases of self-induced testosterone poisoning.

The Editorial Staff found ourselves wondering over the weekend: what on earth did this woman mean to accomplish by writing a movie review that literally drips with venom and contempt for men (or just masculine force and aggression)?

Did she wish to point out to people who don't already agree with her, just how 'harmful' all this testosterone is to the Multiverse? If so, the way she went about it seems unlikely to accomplish that goal. The Editorial Staff are unrepentantly female, and we found her insult-laden diatribe so disturbing that it had the opposite effect: it made us actually look for reasons to defend what the author so desperately wishes to tear down.

Or perhaps her contemptuous rhetoric is designed to rally the troops who already believe that men are primitive, stupid, and violent creatures who create mayhem and destruction wherever they go? If so, the author probably had more success. Gaining the agreement of people who need no convincing isn't exactly difficult.

We couldn't help seeing the parallels to modern political discourse.

Political debate seems to be divided between those whose aim is to fire up the like minded (usually by demonizing anyone who disagrees with them) and those who want to win converts and shift public consensus in their favor. All of which reminded us of this excellent piece on the MRA movement:

NEVER MIND the “war on women:” According to growing numbers of bloggers, activists, and authors — some of them women — it’s males in modern Western society who are under siege and whose rights need defending. Is this the next frontier for gender justice, or a woman-hating backlash? Men’s advocacy raises important and worthy issues that often draw unfair ridicule. Unfortunately, it is also prone to toxic rhetoric that subverts its valid points and alienates potential supporters.

To many, the very notion of “men’s issues” or men’s rights seems laughable. But consider: If women were dying in 90 percent of workplace fatalities and three out of four suicides, would we not see such numbers as troubling—and as legitimate women’s issues? Yet, reversed, the disparities go unnoticed.

Unlike racial profiling of minorities, the disproportionate targeting of males by law enforcement gets no attention (women account for more than a third of illegal drug use but fewer than 15 percent of arrests). And, while men are often presumed dangerous to children, actual female molesters tend to get lenient treatment.

Attempts to restrict abortion are decried as patriarchal control over female reproduction, yet there is virtually no recognition of ways in which current policies treat paternity as a public resource. Men coerced into unwilling fatherhood (through deception about birth control or even, however rarely, such extreme methods as use of stored semen from a condom) must still pay child support. Even those tricked into supporting children they didn’t father find little recourse. On the flip side, divorced fathers often feel they are treated more as wallets than as parents.

Even when imbalances that disadvantage men or boys — such as male academic underachievement — become the subject of concern, such concerns are often viewed with suspicion as potential attacks on women.

Men’s advocacy raises important issues that often draw unfair ridicule.

Many feminists (of both sexes) claim the answer to men’s issues is feminism. Male adversities, they argue, stem from patriarchal norms, which feminism opposes, including the stereotype that women are better parents or the stigma against men showing weakness. Feminist battles against sex discrimination have sometimes focused on the rights of males, from equal parental leave to benefits for husbands of female veterans.

Yet, with a few exceptions, feminists have balked at any pro-equality advocacy that would support men in male-female disputes, acknowledge that women can mistreat men, or undermine female advantage. Supporting paternity leave is one thing; supporting equal parental rights after divorce is another. While the feminist push for gender-neutral laws in the 1970s helped dismantle the formal presumption of maternal custody, actual efforts by fathers to get sole or joint custody brought on a swift backlash from the women’s movement. Likewise, when the campaign for tough domestic violence policies netted more female perpetrators, women’s groups pressed for anti-male double standards, promoting the myth that nearly all female violence is in self-defense. Meanwhile, laudable feminist efforts to secure justice for rape victims have often turned into calls for a presumption of male guilt.

You should read the whole essay - it's quite good. Ms. Young is more sympathetic to several men's rights issues than the Editorial Staff, but this seems like a good time to look at what changes to some of the laws MRA oppose should look like. Let's take them one by one:

1. Male suicide rates and workplace safety. It seems incontestable to us that if we're going to devote substantial public resources to improving the lives of women and girls, we should be just as concerned about the lives of men and boys. There's a real question as to what issues properly demand public resources and government intervention. Arguably, we have overinvested in improvements to the welfare of women and girls, but the basic fairness argument is hard to oppose.

On the other hand, we can't help wondering if men want to be protected by the Nanny state? Grim's writing over the years has convinced me that something in men needs and seeks out danger, risk, and even the strong possibility of death or injury. And it seems plausible to us that men and women may flourish in very different environments. Men may actually need danger, challenge, and risk to reach their full potential while women may actually develop better in a different environment.

Either way, the MRA movements points ought to be seriously considered as they have real merit.

2. "Disproportionate" targeting of men by law enforcement, lenient treatment of female offenders. Here, we'd want to see more data. We are suspicious of disparate impact arguments in general. Laws that are gender neutral on their face, but disparately impact one sex or the other are not sexist laws. If in fact female criminals are treated more leniently by the justice system for equivalent crimes, that's something that seems unjust. How would we go about changing existing laws to counteract biased sentencing, though? Do we need quotas? Should the law mandate rigid sentences across the board?

These are the "remedies" feminism and other identity politics movements typically propose - they use law as a blunt instrument to right perceived wrongs. The questions that keep popping up are, "What specific changes to the law would fix this problem?", and "Would these changes work as intended?"

3. Male "reproductive rights" - we've looked at this one recently. It seems obvious that men should not be forced to support children they didn't even father. This is one area where we wholeheartedly support changing present laws to prevent judges from passing the cost of unintended pregnancies onto wholly innocent men. We would also support careful studies of divorce, alimony, and custody awards. Alimony in particular seems overripe for reform. It was originally intended to prevent women who sacrificed career and earnings from being left destitute after divorce, but in a world where women have more opportunities than ever before, it's hard to justify anything more than temporary alimony.

As for custody, we've also covered that before but this is another disparate impact argument: the laws of most states are facially neutral. Though we're not unalterably opposed to sensible reforms, we're not inclined to think that unequal outcomes that spring from unequal divisions of child rearing responsibility pre-divorce are a pressing social problem that urgently demands immediate government interference.

If there is a case to be made here, it ought to be a case that balances the interests of children, women, men and society. Narrower arguments that cast the issues only in terms of fairness to men (or seek to equalize outcomes according to some arbitrary formula) leave us cold. That they resemble arguments made by radical feminists and the civil rights crowd is no accident - they are, in fact, the same arguments: "Any time outcomes don't exactly mirror our representation in the population, social injustice is presumed to have occurred."

4. Male academic underachievement. This is a serious problem that deserves our attention, but once again the causes are not clear. What strikes us most about the argument that schools must be designed around the special needs of girls (or boys) is just how rarely special pleaders for girls/boys are willing to grant what they demand to the opposite sex. But if you believe that boys can't flourish unless schools are "boy friendly", you can't very well resist the argument that girls can't flourish unless schools are "girl friendly". Such arguments tend to turn competition for scarce resources into a zero sum game where progress for one sex can only occur at the expense of the other.


Young makes several strong points in her essay. Mainstream feminism absolutely has reflexively treated the demands of the men's rights contingent as threats to female progress. If society is to prosper, both men and women must be treated fairly. What constitutes "fairness" isn't a simple question, especially given the disparate influences of biology and culture on real world outcomes for men and women. And it won't be settled on the Internet. But radical feminists lose credibility when they reflexively resist the gender equity they claim to support.

Young's other point is that the strident, angry, and contempt laden rhetoric of a vocal subset of men's rights activists really does cost them support among people of both sexes who are otherwise inclined to help. The movement is rife with name calling (Uncle Tims, White Knights, Beta/gamma/omega males) and insulting and often laughably unselfconscious stereotypes. The rationalization hamster is a particularly amusing example of the latter tactic:

Bad Decision: “I deserve only the most attractive and successful man despite the fact that I don’t have much to offer in the context of dating and relationships.”

Resulting Consequences:
Can’t find any man for dating or a relationship or only has one-night stands.

Hamster Processing Result:
“There are no good men” or “Men suck”

Final Result:
“It’s not my fault.”

A big part of the backlash against radical feminism is caused by the anger, contempt, and loathing for men. Broad brush stereotypes are distressingly common: "all men" are said to be violent, oppressive, stupid, dishonest, or [insert pejorative du jour here]. They brandish outrageous anecdotes, while rarely bringing actual data to the table to establish the prevalence (and often, even the existence) of the problems they wish society to address. Sadly, similar voices in the MRA movement have adopted the same tactics, and as with feminism the loudest and most unreasonable voices are the ones we remember.

The real tragedy here is that serious issues like the shrinking burden of proof for sexual assaults don't generate the attention they deserve. It's hard to argue with Ms. Young that we'd all be better served by a united gender equity movement that doesn't see everything as a zero sum game where women can only win if men lose.

Posted by Cassandra at August 3, 2013 10:37 AM

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This is a good piece, Cass. Sometimes we only talk when there's a disagreement or a point of dispute, so I thought I'd mention that I agree with almost everything you say here. The only few points on which I'd argue are well-trod ground for us, not worth raising again, but for the most part I think you're quite right.

Posted by: Grim at August 5, 2013 10:19 AM

Good lord, I do so love pressing the Princess' buttons! :-) I'll admit to knowing something about women. Why shouldn't I? Women cars and guitars are the three best things in the world - after dogs, of course. Harmony being the most perfect (unattainable?) thing in the universe, however, means that I've spent most of my life just trying to keep all three of my favorite things in a passable state of tune. These are labors of love, and like all endeavors, they occasionally require an offering of pain: smashed knuckles, callused fingers, jewelry, etc. But so what? It's got to be worth it, right? Otherwise, I'm a complete moron. And I'm not complete by any means.

So, anyway, whenever I come across a male-bashing diatribe I have to wonder the hell I'm doing wrong. And about one second later it hits me: Not a damn thing.

Posted by: spd rdr at August 5, 2013 11:33 AM

Glad you enjoyed it :) I really do wish the debate would center more around proposed changes than around rehashing grievances and fanning the flames of mutual suspicion and distrust.

The thing is, outrage mongering is very effective at generating support among the already converted and strong emotion may be the only thing that gets people off their tuckii and into the fight. But I have to wonder whether activism that can't be sustained, absent seething hatred for the other half of humanity, is a good idea?

Certainly it doesn't seem designed to promote clear or unbiased thinking.

Posted by: Cass at August 5, 2013 11:36 AM

Will the horrors of hypergamous hamsters ever end?

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at August 5, 2013 01:29 PM

I saved a hamster, once.

Saving the Endangered Hypergamous Rationalization Hamster should be a piece of cake.

Posted by: John "Foreagainst" Kerry at August 5, 2013 03:05 PM

I've got proof, too. I have a Purple Heart from where it bit me.

Posted by: John "Foreagainst" Kerry at August 5, 2013 03:27 PM

Bada boom!
Bada BING! :)

Posted by: Cassandra at August 6, 2013 05:22 AM