Men, Women, Left & Right: The Problem With Generalisation

Today I read two things, written by two very different people in very different places, both of which annoyed me quite a bit. The first one was this by Julie Bindel for The New Statesman and the second one was by Damian Thompson at the Telegraph. The one thing that both pieces shared is their willingness to lump people into blocks, so that they can be easily defined and derided. Whether it be “the Left” or “Men”, (or in my case, both) grouping everyone who falls under those respective umbrella terms so that they form a nice big target diminishes your argument, as well as helping to alienate people who may have agreed with some of the points you are making.
Firstly, Mr Thompson. “The Left” is a big group. We disagree with each other. A lot! You only have to look at the one supposedly left-of-centre party, The Labour Party, to see that. In the last decade we have seen Blair vs. Brown and Miliband vs. Miliband, and that is just on which individual is leader of the party. There is nothing we on the left do better than in-fight, backstab and name call. We disagree with each other almost as much as we disagree with various different factions on the right. There are many on the left who do not agree with UK Uncut (I am not among them). Ignore the fact that events over the weekend had little to do with UK Uncut and more to do with the death of Mark Duggan, who was shot by the police. Ignore the accusation that “criminals used social media to co-ordinate their actions, just as the Left does” as if there are not plenty of right wing viewpoints represented on Twitter – that Mr Thompson uses twitter to regularly promote his articles doesn’t make him a member of UK Uncut, a lefty or a criminal does it? To throw everyone on the left into one group is a lazy generalisation that trivialises his argument even more than an opening line of “I suppose I’ll be accused of exploiting the Tottenham riots and London-wide looting for political ends”. By the way Damian, you are exploiting them, but then, that was the point, wasn’t it? What happened over the weekend was not right, but it was understandable. This is what must be discussed and considered over the next few weeks – looting, burning down people’s homes and businesses is not acceptable, because it is illegal. But it is not as if the emotions that caused the protest were not present long before this weekend. The lack of trust between residents of Tottenham and the police is not something that is new. Add in the extra pressure of an economy in trouble, high youth unemployment and a government that shows little regard for those at the lower end of the income scale, and it only takes one action to spark people into action. Do not blame social media. Do not blame everyone on the left, or young people. Look at what created the increase in tensions, as well as whether or not the police actions were justified. It is important that people realise that it is possible to understand without condoning, to sympathise without supporting and to acknowledge the problems without trivialising what people are going through. Mr Thompson failed at that. What happened was not a PR disaster for UK Uncut, it was an actual disaster for those whose neighbourhoods were vandalised, whose livelihoods were destroyed and whose homes were burned down. Please do not use what has happened to them to try and score political points or make jibes at other commentators. That’s just crass.
Being lumped into one big group with everyone else who defines themselves as a man was actually more of a problem than a mass political generalisation. I would define myself as a feminist. I am very uncomfortable when feminist writers of any stripe generalise “men” as one large blob. We do think differently, and there are some men whose attitudes towards women disgust me. I do not want to be branded as one of them simply by virtue of being heterosexual and being a man. One of the arguments made regularly by feminists is that men should not all see women as sexualised objects, there to provide sex, food and babies. They are not. Much in the same way as not all men are beer drinking loudmouths who cannot control themselves when they see a pair of legs in a short skirt. I think that men have a vital part to play in the feminist movement – and hopefully proper gender equality for everyone. This is something that I would like to believe Ms Bindel also agrees with. It is important that men do not accept the idea of “fun feminists”, partly because it is a terrible name, but mainly because it is another example of women pandering to men. Doing it in a slightly different way is not feminism, it is simply reinforcing the social gap between the genders, and this time it is doing it with a female seal of approval. This is not feminism, and I would hope many feminists agree with me. Therefore, being told that if “men” agree with a type of feminism then it has failed, I find to be a real problem. Do you mean me? Do you mean those men who agree with real gender equality, who want to end the acceptance of misogyny that is prevalent in our society? I would hope not. I am not saying that feminism without men is dead, but I do believe that we can get involved, that we can make a difference, and if we want gender equality across the board, then both those of every gender should be encouraged to get involved. I am a feminist. I am not the same as those who laugh at rape jokes, who blame the victim for domestic violence or see women as nothing but objects for sex. I don’t want to be grouped with people who do. It could cause arguments.


Multiculturalism and Liberalism

Today (Saturday 5th February 2011) we have seem a member of the social, political and cultural mainstream decide that multiculturalism is a failure in Britain. It must be easy to define how multiculturalism has failed us as a wealthy, Oxford educated white man. The “doctrine of state multiculturalism” has been dismissed as being soft on extremists, so a new direction will be taken to combat terrorism: a Blair-esque “muscular liberalism”.
“The doctrine of state multiculturalism” has not encouraged people to live away from the mainstream. They may have chosen to do so, but encouraging multiculturalism is not about the minorities, it is about the mainstream. It is about encouraging people to realise that there are different cultures being followed by people living in this country. It is about realising that, while those cultures may be different, we can celebrate those differences, rather than talking about tolerating them. When we accept and welcome other cultures, there will be integration. Of course there will be fringe groups on the edges who decide not to integrate, but that should not mean that all those from a similar culture must be blamed or accused. As we would not expect to be judged on the sins of our fathers, we cannot judge people based on the sins of those on the fringes of their communities.
Since it is a lack of British identity that is being blamed for young, disillusioned people embracing extremist, potentially violent, views, it is important to define what is the British Identity that everyone is meant to fit in to? I do not think that defining that culture so that we can decide who is in it and who is not is possible or fair. Through the late 20th century the British identity involved becoming more multicultural, having West Indians, Asians, Arabs, Jews and others moving to Britain and becoming part of the culture. The notion that everyone in Britain will conform to ‘British culture’ is laughable. Those who felt that everyone must conform to the pre-war ‘British’ identity were the likes of Enoch Powell. No culture, British, American, Indian or otherwise is a finite, unchangeable quantity. Cultures are defined by those living in them, experiencing them and contributing to them, not by what part of the map they are in at the time. Vilifying one group, deciding that they need to change or lose part of their home culture will not help them to conform to your culture, it will simply cause them to resent you.
If multiculturalism is such a failure, then why are there so many kebab shops, curry houses, Chinese restaurants? Why do so many Brits drink beers brewed by Dutch, Belgian or German companies? There are different cultures here in the UK, and many of us enjoy interacting with them, even if we are not part of them. Knowing the difference between Sag Paneer and Aloo Gobi doesn’t make you Indian, but if you did not interact with Indian culture (even if it is just for the food) then you wouldn’t. It is a simple example, but the point remains. Or here is another example; if multiculturalism has failed, how is it that the Chair of the Conservative party is a Muslim woman? While I disagree with Baroness Warsi over a great many things, the fact that a Muslim woman could chair the Tory party would have been unthinkable without multiculturalism.
How can people be integrated when phrases like “muscular liberalism” are used to describe how he would like everyone to integrate? Is the idea that everyone will be integrated, by force if necessary? It is not possible to force someone to believe in what you believe. That has been tried before; The empire, the invasion of Iraq, American Cold War support for any dictator who promised to crack down on communism (even if that meant deposing a democratically elected head of state in the process). It is not about saying ‘you will agree with us’. Integration should come from a sharing of ideas, a sharing of ideals, and the realisation that we are not as different as we may superficially appear to be.
“Strengthening … security aspects” has also been proposed. Is this more of the muscular liberalism that is being proposed? Gathering intelligence on religious groups – I would imagine almost entirely Muslim groups – purely because they are religious groups is incredibly illiberal. We are already one of the most watched, scrutinised and observed populations in the world, and in order to make us feel more at liberty and safer the government would like to strengthen security again? National security will be used as a justification, as it always is, but at what point does the state intervention into our lives become too much. The government wants to scale down state involvement in our lives, shifting power “from the state and to the people”. Then how do they, and their Liberal Democrat partners, equate this with even more state monitoring of everything we do, say or believe. There are so many peaceful devout Muslim groups, are they to be spied on and then shunned because of the actions of a few extremists who even Mr Cameron acknowledges are “not the same” as devout Muslims?
One more thing:
In Egypt over the last 2 weeks we have seen many things: protests, a dictator desperately clinging to power and also a great example of multiculturalism in action:
In this picture, there are many Muslims praying. In the foreground there are Egyptian Christians linking arms to protect those praying from any attacks while they are observing the rituals of their faith. This is an example of multiculturalism at its best. Christian and Muslim communities in Egypt have their differences, but here they are united in their desire to rid Egypt of Mubarak. Being from different social and religious groups or cultures has not stopped them from joining each other in action.
(credit picture:!/nevinezaki)

Male feminism

Now, if you ask most people, especially most men, if it is possible to be a male feminist, they will say no. Some of them may assume you are gay.  I am sure that most of them will not know what feminism is. They may think it means you hate men, want them to be subjugated by women.  In fact I am pretty certain that they will think that – hence also the assumption that if you are a male feminist, then you are homosexual (the concept that you can be gay and not think ‘like a woman’ will most likely be lost on them). I know these statements may seem like I am pushing the lack of knowledge to an extreme, but I’m not really.
Take for example the recent Sky Sports issue, with Keys and Gray (in the interest of full disclosure, I cannot stand either of them) both ending up without a job because of their sexist remarks – incidentally, Sian Massey clearly knew the offside rule pretty damn well, since she got the decisions in the game right. They deserved to get fired. They did. Got what they had coming to them, and right now ought to stop trying to justify it, and just accept that they are wrong.
What has wound me up a bit more than that, however, are some of the responses. From Giles Coren and his ‘what about the men’ column, to the accusations that since Loose Women is ok, then misogyny is ok. If you want to read a pretty thorough trashing of that particularly moronic point of view, then this is top of the book list:
I was expecting arguments from male numbskulls that don’t get it. Lots of men don’t. I like to think that I do. What is even worse than that is the response from women. Here is an example, this stunningly bad piece of poetry from Kate Hopkins on Twitter (from the Apprentice apparently)”
“There once was a man Andy Gray. Who said what he thought every day. On one occasion [sic]. He caused an invasion. Of feminists who needed a lay!”
What particularly staggers me about this is that this woman was put in the eye of the media by appearing on a television show for people to try and get a job working for Alan Sugar, at what appears to be a reasonably high level. What Ms Hopkins has not gathered about these “feminists who needed a lay” is that without feminists, she would not be able to have applied for the job that got her on television, and made her name. Wouldn’t have happened. She would have ended up, at most, as a secretary or assistant. That is not to besmirch the hiring practices of any of Lord Sugar’s companies, but without feminists fighting for equal employment opportunities and similar equalities, this woman would not have been able to broadcast that incredibly closed minded piece of garbage to her, at time of writing, 1,485 followers.
The problem seems to be a pretty impressive lack of understanding about what feminism means. When I learned about the suffragettes at school it was about getting the vote for women, because they were subjects, and ought to have a say in who was running the country. I’m sure that, outside the hardcore sexist misogynist groups, no one will doubt that women ought to be able to vote.  But what I would like those who get all upset that ‘feminists hate men and are out to get them’ to realise is that feminism is not about making women superior to men. It is about getting women to be equal to men.
1.       The doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men.
2.       (Sometimes initial capital letter) an organized movement for the attainment of such rights for women.”
“Rights of women equal to those of men”. That is it. Being a man doesn’t mean that you cannot want women to be equal with men. You may not believe it, but if you want women and men to be equal socially, politically, legally, then you are a feminist. Congratulations. It doesn’t in any way challenge your masculinity, or mean your dick will fall off. Some of your mates may laugh, some of them might agree. Those who laugh, challenge them on why. Expose the inherent sexism that we see all around us every day. If you make them defend an argument that says that women are in any way less than men, then if we are very lucky, they might hear what they are saying and realise how wrong they are. Or, at the very least, just like Keys and Gray, with their misogyny exposed, they might just shut up and leave the rest of us in peace.