An interesting MRA argument

…and by “interesting” I mean that I’ve personally not run into it before, and that it’s actually one that deserves dissection rather than merely being laughed out of the room for sheer dumbosity. Somewhat unfortunately, this post has been incubating in my brain for so long that the blog in which I originally found the comments (No, Seriously, What About Teh Menz) seems to have moved to a new host, and now I can’t find anything there. So, this will be written from memory and therefore I can’t guarantee the full accuracy of the examples used to support the MRA’s talking point.

Anyway, the argument goes as follows:
We know that women have a higher status than men because women who “descend” into masculinity are tolerated , but men who are trying to do things “above their station” and adopt feminine things/behaviors are punished*; this is similar to the way rich people can affect the “ghetto” look and be cool, while poor people affecting upper class style and behavior are posers and fakes**; or similar to the way blackface is cool, but a black person trying to “pass” for a white one is considered to be transgressing.

The reason I find this argument interesting is because at first glance, that kinda sorta makes sense. Privileged people have more freedoms, and one of them is to appropriate things from the oppressed classes. Cultural appropriation for example is a huge problem with imperialism/colonialism/white culture***. But a closer analysis of the two claims in this argument makes it clear that that’s not quite how it works. So, let’s have a closer look at these claims:

1)The oppressors are permitted to be like the oppressed
This is only superficially true. As I mentioned, affecting and appropriating things that culturally belong to oppressed groups is certainly quite common. But there are “rules” about how you’re supposed to do that. For example, there’s a difference between appropriating/devaluing and adopting/supporting someone else’s oppressed identity. Wearing a hipster headdress is not the same as “decolonizing” and becoming involved in Native culture and society as an ally and/or as a spouse and parent to tribal members; donning blackface is not the same as becoming a student and promoter of Critical Race Theory; dressing up as a woman for Halloween, for a comedy show, or for a pride parade is not the same as living as a trans woman; and I’m willing to bet affecting a lower-class accent is not the same as abandoning your upper-class social ties and becoming a miner and moving to a working-class neighborhood. Point being, it’s ok to mock and play pretend, but it’s absolutely not ok to actually become part of, or a supporter of, the oppressed group. And in many ways, this can be seen by how the privileged classes define themselves, which is often by what they are not****. For example, pale skin was a sign of nobility when it meant that you were not a peasant; and then the Industrial Revolution happened, labor moved indoors, and suddenly suntanning became a sign of not being working class. Another example is Upper Class Etiquette (AKA “being classy”), which is basically an elaborate set of completely superfluous rules designed specifically as an artificial Upper Class Habitus setting the Upper Classes apart from the lower classes; and, sure, you can occasionally adopt what you think is a lower-class habitus, but only when it’s kinda obvious that it’s for shits and giggles; otherwise, it may well be perceived as a giant faux pas. A third, and probably the best-known example, is the one drop rule: whiteness being treated as such an endangered commodity that a single drop of black blood contaminated it permanently and made you non-white. Masculinity works much the same way, i.e. it identifies itself as what it is not, i.e. feminine. That’s why enforcement of transgressions out of masculinity and into femininity exist: they threaten the established hierarchy, and unlike in the cases of racism and classism, there isn’t even an equivalent ideology in the broader culture equivalent to “colorblindness” or “meritocracy” that would temper old-fashioned***** gender-policing the same way it sometimes does temper old-fashioned race- and class-policing.

2)The oppressed are forbidden from being like the oppressors
It is true that in order to properly maintain a hierarchy, it’s necessary to make sure the oppressed don’t just weasel out by becoming or passing for the oppressor. Further, since I just explained that the oppressor group often defines itself by what it is not, making sure that the oppressed don’t start doing oppressor-stuff is a way of preserving for oneself the permission to do these things#. However, internalized oppression and the hierarchy itself make it so that the stuff that “belongs” to the oppressor is seen as good, moral, “classy”, etc. while the stuff that “belongs” or identifies the oppressed groups is seen as inferior. Consequently, internal hierarchies within oppressed groups emerge, which state that even while being in the oppressed group, it’s “better” (more moral, more civilized, more normal, etc.) to be more like the oppressor and shun/abandon those things that mark one as a member of the oppressed class. Colorism is one such example, in which lighter skin color is higher in a racial hierarchy than darker skin, even among people of color themselves; similarly, African-Americans who have internalized a white habitus are considered more cultured than those who have a habitus associated with an African-American subculture (it’s probably not a coincidence that the first black president of the US is a biracial man raised by white people. Or, as Joe Biden noted is his typical foot-in-mouth kind of way: a “mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy”). Another one is the “normal gay” and “flamboyant gay” bullshit: gay men who are otherwise performing masculinity are seen as better, i.e. higher up on the hierarchy, than gay men who are seen to share more “feminine” attributes than just being attracted to men (incidentally, this is also where the weird thing about how it’s not “gay” to receive a blowjob from a man comes from: receiving blowjobs = manly, while giving blowjobs = womanly; and gay = womanly)##. In the trans community, this internal (self-)oppression based on how closely someone manages to conform to cisnormative and heteronormative rules is called the Harry Benjamin Syndrome.
And exactly the same happens to gender-roles. Because men are higher in the hierarchy, masculine things have higher status, whereas feminine things have lower status. The consequence? Femmephobia: the belief that feminine self-expression and things associated with femininity are inherently less good, moral, fun, valuable, etc. than masculine self-expression and things associated with masculinity. This is why women who do traditionally masculine things can sometimes be perceived as being “better” than those doing traditionally feminine things.
It should be noted that a lot of this “it’s better to be like the oppressor” stuff is a symptom of a transitional culture: in a static hierarchy, “upward mobility” of this kind is strictly punishable and control and suppresion of it seen as absolutely necessary for the survival of society. When it occurs within segregated minority communities, it’s only tolerated insofar as it’s invisible (or useful in a divide-and-conquer sort of way) to the oppressor group; the moment it spills out into the “mainstream” (read: the oppressor-dominated culture), it will be swiftly punished. In a transitional culture on the other hand, the oppressor culture becomes a “norm” and “ideal” that becomes a requirement for acceptance into a supposedly egalitarian/democratic/colorblind/whathaveyou mainstream. And when these two aspects clash, you get the faliliar Catch-22 that is being a member of an oppressed group: if you act in ways identified as belonging to your group, you’ll be shat on because of the low status of those social signifiers; if you instead act in ways identified with the oppressor group, you’ll be perceived as “uppity”, bitchy, a trap, a poser, etc., unless you somehow manage to do this while also helping maintain the hierarchy. See also “not like other women” and “model minority”.

So, to sum it up: oppressors are only allowed to appropriate oppressed-group-signifiers for the purpose of mockery and “play”, but not actually adopt them in any meaningful way; conversely, in transitional cultures with delusions of egalitarian ideals, the hierarchy itself mandates that acceptance into the “mainstream” requires emulation of the oppressor class on behalf of the oppressed. Therefore, the fact that women wearing pants is cool, but men wearing skirts is not isn’t a sign that women are the oppressor class; it’s a sign that masculinity has higher-status than femininity, and that we’re in a transitional culture which both enforces the masculinity-over-femininity hierarchy and uses the language of meritocracy and equality, thus basically saying that women have the right to abandon their shitty, feminine qualities and exchange them for the better, more masculine ones, while at the same time assigning lower status to anyone choosing to be more feminine than masculine###.

Conclusion: another MRA being wrong, albeit more creatively and cleverly than usual.

P.S.:I apologize for the ridiculous amount of footnotes. The topic got away from me a few too many times, and there’s entirely too many tangents kinda-sorta-relevant to this topic.

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*women wearing pants vs. men wearing skirts; the fact that trans men face less violence than trans women; etc.
**to use my own example of this, take for example British class consciousness. It’s kinda fashionable for upper class Brits to affect lower-class accents; OTOH, someone from a lower class background trying to affect an upper class accent could be interpreted as uppity, fake, a poser etc. Also, from what I understand, there’s also a thing among younger folks of “dropping” aristocratic titles to be cool; but you’d get your ass handed to you if you instead wanted to take one on when you don’t have one. So, down-classing yourself = cool; up-classing yourself = punishable
***for example, here’s an entire excellent blog about appropriations of Native American culture by whites, especially by hipster culture: Native Appropriations
****that’s actually one of the identifying characteristics of being a privileged group: being the default, the un-modified state; being defined in common language as that which lacks distinguishing characteristics. That’s why “ethnic” never refers to WASPs, even though that’s technically a kind of ethnicity, and a human figure lacking secondary (or tertiary) sexual characteristics is interpreted as male.
*****”old-fashioned” vs. “modern” bigotry is a discussion in and of itself, but basically it’s the difference between being a blatantly prejudiced and discriminatory bigot (what we traditionally call “a racist”, “a misogynist” etc.) and someone who perpetrates microaggressions. Don’t know where dogwhistles fall here; probably the former masquerading as the latter
#and actually, it just occurred to me that of course appropriation is a way to allow the oppressor-group to do oppressed-people-stuff without losing their status and identity: Pat Boone’s career is in fact based entirely on this principle.
##the issue with “lipstic lesbians” vs. butch lesbians doesn’t neatly fit here because of the intersectional nature of it: on the one hand, feminine lesbians are considered “straighter” and more gender-role-conforming than butch lesbians, and thus are rewarded for that; on the other, femmephobia means that a feminine form of self-expression is considered lower-status than a masculine AKA butch one.
###while simultaneously still enforcing the old gender-roles. this intersectionality means that gender-non-conforming cis women and gender-non-conforming cis men both end up suffering along two axes of oppression while being in the oppressor category on one; and it’s also this intersectionality that synergistically ends up super-shitty for trans women, because they suffer from femmephobia (pretty much regardless of how butch their self-expression; but femme trans women tend to get more of this), gender-non-conformity (when they’re treated as supergay or superfeminine men), and misogyny.

the 19th century vs. the 20th century

recently, I’ve encountered the odd, neo-con/libertarian meme that says that quality of life improved more in the 19th century than in the 20th century, because the 19th century was more libertarian and less socialist than the 20th. To me, that does not sound right, on so many levels. So, I went digging for some statistics, just to see what the numbers say.

The first indicator I checked was life expectancy changes in the USA. I’ll split the data by gender and race, because that’s how the data is split up, and because the numbers aren’t evenly available. Also, most of the data is unfortunately only available for 1850 and later, except for northern US white males in 1800, where the life expectancy is listed as 36 years (and judging from the data for 1750 and 1700 showing southern life expectancy to be lower than northern (tropical diseases?), I’m guessing it was still lower in 1800 as well1. In another source2, Table 5 lists the life expectancy in the US in 1820 as 39 (I’m willing to bet that’s not including slaves, though). Anyway according to available data3, in 1850, life expectancy for whites was as follows: men 38.3 at birth/48 at 10 years, women 40.5/47.2; in 1900, it was men 58.2/50.6, women 51.1/52.2; in 1950 it was men 66.3/59, women 72/64.3; in 2000 it was men 74.8/65.4, women 80/70.5 Roughly then,the 50-year-increases were, between 1800 and 1850 apparently not noticeable, as far as the available data goes; between 1850-1900, it was 20 years at birth/2 years at 10 years for men, 11/5 years for women; between 1900 and 1950 it was 8/9 years for men, 21/12 years for women; between 1950 and 2000 it was 8/6 for both men and women.
For non-whites, the data only starts at 1900. However, life-expectancy for non-white men increased from 32.5/41.9 in 1900 to 58.9/53 in 1950 and 68.3/59.6 in 2000, while for women it increased from 35/42 in 1900 to 62.7/56.2 in 1950 and 75/66.2 in 2000. For the 19th century to match those rates, all non-whites would have had to have been murdered at birth in the years 1800-1850 (for completeness sake, the only datapoint I found for life expectancy of black Americans was for 1850 and was 23 at birth, most likely due the abysmal infant mortality rates4)
So, to sum it up: looks like in the USA, 1850-1900 was good for white infant boys, while 1900-1950 was great for everybody else. Call me biased, but I’m handing this round to the first half of the 20th century.

Now, let’s look at Britain, for comparison. For some reason, I’ve been unable to find such nicely detailed data for Britain, but what little I did find, mirrors the story in the US: one ghastly little chart (written in Comic Sans, FFS!) for school children noted life expectancy in 1750 as 31 for men and 33 for women, and in 1900 as 45 for men and 48 for women5. The aforementioned table 5, being an international comparison, lists UK life expectancy as 40 in 1820, 50 in 1900, 69 in 1950, and 77 in 1999. And lastly, a government source lists the life expectancy at birth in 1900 for men at 45 and women at 49, and in 1999 at 75 for men and 80 for women6. So, it looks like the 20th century wins in Britain, too.

Now, let’s look at some other data:
GDP per capita (Measured in 1990 international dollars) was $1707 in 1820, $4921 in 1913, and $18714 in 1998 in Britain; in the USA, it was $1257 in 1820, $5301 in 1913, and $27331 in 1998; the average height for US men was 172.9cm in 1800, 170cm in 1900, and 177.4 in 1970 7. For education in the US, data is available once again only from 1850 on. The percentages of 5-19-year-olds enrolled in school were as follows: in 1850, it was 59% for white men and 53.3% for white women, and 2% for non-white men and 1.8% for non-white women; in 1900, it was 53.4% for white men and 53.9% for white women, and 29.4% for non-white men and 32.8% for non-white women; in 1950, it was 79.7% for white men and 78.9% for white women, and 74.7% for non-white men and 74.9% for non-white women; in 1990, it was around 92% for everyone8.

At this point, I could dredge up statistics on other specific living conditions (which, yes, did improve some over the course of the 19th century; generally with the passage of laws forbidding some atrociousness or another) like eradication of diseases, better working hours, etc. However, I’ve now pretty much lost interest in continuing. People’s lifespans have improved, famines are unheard of, people have more money and better education. And all of it improved more in the 20th century than in the 19th. So, Libertarians and neo-cons are wrong. Anyone surprised?

Booker T Washington — The Teabaggers’ favorite African-American

If you go back to the post about the Teabagger Magazine, you’ll notice that there’s an article about Booker T Washington in it. There is a reason that teabaggers would do this, and why they like this man. I wasn’t aware of this, because I didn’t, until last week, know shit about Booker T Washington. But I had to read one of his essays for class recently, and a lightbulb went on. So, I’m going to share what I’ve found out. I’m sure it won’t be too difficult to see why the teabaggers like him.

Booker T Washington was born in slavery, and he was very active in African American politics in the South, especially after Reconstruction, between 1890 and 1915. He was a very prominent figure, especially because he actually had a good number of white sponsors to his cause. This was primarily because of something called the Atlanta Compromise.

Here are some excerpts from and about his speech at the Atlanta Exposition, from his autobiography:

“The wisest among my race understand that the agitation of questions of social equality is the extremest folly, and that progress in the enjoyment of all the privileges that will come to us must be the result of severe and constant struggle rather than of artificial forcing. No race that has anything to contribute to the markets of the world is long in any degree ostracized. It is important and right that all privileges of the law be ours, but it is vastly more important that we prepared for the exercise of these privileges. The opportunity to earn a dollar in a factory just now is worth infinitely more than the opportunity to spend a dollar in in an opera-house.”

“My own belief is, although I have never before said so in so many words, that the time will come when the Negro in the South will be accorded all the political rights which his ability, character, and material possessions entitle him to. I think, though, that the opportunity to freely exercise such political rights will not come in any large degree through ouside or artificial forcing, but will be accorded to the Negro by the Southern white people themselves, and that they will protect him in the exercise of those rights. Just as soon as the South gets over the old feeling that it is being forced by “foreigners” or “aliens”, to do something which it dies not want to do, I believe that the change in the direction that I have indicated is going to begin.”

“I believe that it is the duty of the Negro — as the greater part of the race is already doing — to deport himself modestly in regard to political claims, depending upon the slow but sure influences that proceed from possession of property, intelligence and high character for the full recognition of his political rights. I believe that the according of the full exercise of political rights is going to be a matter of natural, slow growth, not an over-night gourd-vine affair.”

“As a rule, I believe in universal, free suffrage, but I believe that in the South we are confronted with peculiar conditions that justify the protection of the ballot in many of the states, for a while at least, either by an educational test, a property test, or by both combined”

bonus quotes:

“then, when we rid ourselves of prejudice, or racial feeling, and look facts in the face, we must acknowledge that, notwithstanding the cruelty and moral wrong of slavery, the ten million Negroes inhabiting this country, who themselves or whose ancestors went through the school of American slavery, are in a stronger and more hopeful condition, materially, intellectually, morally, and religiously, than is true of an equal number of black people in any other portion of the globe”

“To those of the white race who look to the incoming of those of foreign birth and strange tongue and habits for the prosperity of the South, were I permitted I would repeat what I say to my own race, [...] Cast down your bucket* among these people who have, without strikes and labour wars, tilled your fields, cleared your forests, builded your railroads and cities, and brought forth treasures from the bowels of the earth, and helped make possible this magnificent representation of the progress of the South”

I’m not going to comment on what cultural work Washington’s accommodationist writing was performing during his lifetime, because I’m really not familiar enough with the political and social context. Suffice it to say that he did have contemporary African-American critics, most notably W.E.B. DuBois. However, aligning yourself with these sentiments today speaks volumes, and not necessarily in favor of those who do so, I think.

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*metaphor for seeking what you want where you are, instead of looking for it elsewhere

Get them while they’re young

Once upon a time, Lego’s were a genderneutral toy. Now they are no longer, as exemplified by the fact that Scheels has a set of children’s winter coats, with the “boys” coats having a lego design, while the “girls” coats have a butterfly design; or the fact that Lego now has “girls” sets, that come in pink boxes and have pink bricks, and are designed to make girly things.
And it’s not just Lego. The visit to almost any children’s toy site asks, as the first question before you can see the products, whether you’re shopping for a girl or a boy, or at the very least sorts all its toys into a “boy” and a “girl” category; the categories are usually non-overlapping, too. Because boys and girls are just SO different that they wouldn’t ever play with each other’s toys, and just picking from a general selection of toys might result in buying a toy for the “wrong” gender? And ads are just as bad, as This video explains (And looky there, Sweden comes out as the most progressive country again :-p). I’m sure the banning of ads to kids is helpful, but until stores stop gendering their toy-sections, and adults stop buying such highly gendered toys for their kids, the stupid gender stereotypes will continue, and will give adults an excuse to perpetuate the stereotypes; after all, all little girls naturally like to be told they’re pretty, right? Can’t be that they’ve been socialized from birth into this, right?

*sigh*

***today’s post is almost entirely made up from the gender: children/youth tag as Sociological Images. I encourage everyone to go look through the rest of it, because it’s really a fascinating topic.***

All Peggy’s Men

Pandagon has been doing Mad Men Mondays, which is how I got into watching that show. And OMFG, is it ever an awesome show. But lately it feels like the Mad Men Monday threads don’t address the stuff that goes thru my mind when I watch the show, so I think I’m going to occasionally blog about it too. And I’m going to start with Sunday’s episode, because it was one of the best ones so far. It was called “The Suitcase”, because superficially it was about trying to create an ad for Samsonite suitcases (and because all the characters in the episode unload fucktons of “baggage” on each other), but it might as well have been titled “All Peggy’s Men”, since it revolved around her, and three men with which she had three different kinds of relationships: her bland-ass, family-picked fiance who doesn’t have his own internet page and whose name I don’t remember; Duck, her former lover, who is still (literally) insanely in love with her and who is a relapsed alcoholic; and her boss Don Draper, a slightly stereotypical “asshole with a heart of gold” who is recently divorced, lonely, and as a result on his best way to become an alcoholic, as well, and who has throughout the show been sort of a mentor to Peggy.

The episode takes place on Peggy’s birthday, and the three guys manage to show themselves from their least pleasant sides: her fiance invites her whole family (with whom she doesn’t get along well at all) to what was supposed to be a romantic candle-light dinner as a “surprise”, then throws a fit over her having to work late, and they actually break up; Duck starts out ok, by sending her flowers and a gift which is the offer to become a partner in an ad agency he wants to create, except then it turns out that he’s drunk, doesn’t really have the funding for this, and actually got his ass fired from his previous job. And then he shows up at her work, sobbing about how he can’t go on without her, but ending up calling her a whore when he thinks she slept with her boss. Draper himself comes off least bad of the three, and that’s saying a lot considering he starts out by taking her apart for an ad idea he didn’t like, and then making her work late (probably because he’s lonely and dealing with a fuckton of emotional issues in that episode especially), and then getting drunk and throwing up. But at least he doesn’t insult her, apologizes for fucking up her birthday after finding out it was her birthday, buying her for food and drinks for that, and actually having a halfway sane, caring personal conversation with her (while the other dudes made their relationships with her mostly about themselves).

Anyway, somewhere halfway through this episode there’s a scene shortly after the break-up (by phone) with the lame fiance who doesn’t really know shit about her, when she drags her boss to the bathroom where he proceeds to throw up a lot, and her ex-lover shows up to make a scene. At that point, Peggy gets this really weird expression on her face… and for a moment I got this impression that if this were me in that situation, I’d be thinking that if this was my choice of men, becoming a spinster/crazy catlady would suddenly seem far more appealing. As a matter of fact, almost none of the men in the show make very good husbands: if they’re not lying, cheating, divorcing-for-a-younger-model assholes, they’re paternalistic and condescending.

So there you have it… patriarchy makes men unappealing.

Those who forget history…

Excerpt from Chile’s Free-Market Miracle: A Second Look, by Joseph Collins and John Lear:

Starting in November 1981, a series of banks and businesses began to fail, including several if the principal conglomerates that had benefited most from privatizations of government-owned companies and sweeping financial and business deregulation. The result was a drastic contraction of the economy that rivaled the worst years of the Great Depression. the gross domestic product (GDP) dropped by 14 percent in 1982, and official unemployment rose to over a third of the labor force (and in reality even higher). Suddenly the Chilean “miracle” had little to show for itself except a heavily indebted and failing private sector and an economic base incapable of supporting such high level of debt.

The military government responded by distancing itself from free-market policies, at least long enough to bail out the private sector. Over the next two years, the government absorbed the debts of many large businesses, restoring them to soundness before selling them off to private interests. Other companies were sustained through preferential exchange rates with which they could pay their dollar debts. The government would up taking on as public debt some $16 billion in foreign loans, most of which had been originally incurred and often recklessly spent by private Chilean conglomerates.

By contrast, middle-class families watched with disbelief and anger as the balances on their home mortgages, indexed to the dollar value of the peso, soared; but the government offered them no relief.

This was written in 1995.