Christianity, feminism, gender, media, politics, race, racism, religion, social justice, Uncategorized, white privilege

Why “Politically Correct” Is A Right-Wing Slur Designed to Silence Opposition

I was recently asked about whether “politically correct is correct”. Here is my response.

The term “politically correct” is a right-wing specter. I have never once in my life heard an informed activist for the LGBTQ movement, the civil rights and anti-racist movement, the feminist movement, etc. say to someone “We have to be politically correct”. It doesn’t work, it has a namby-pamby ring to it, it doesn’t express the appropriate outrage, and it is frankly not appropriate for activism.
There are so many problems with the assertions against “PC” (I will now call them “basic courtesy and accuracy”) arguments.

The most major one is that we are never discussing the mere use of a slur in isolation. Even when a comedian breaks decorum in some way that costs them popularity, like when Michael Richards (of Kramer fame) did it, no one was focusing just on the mere use of the n-word. It wasn’t as if Richards said, “Man, isn’t Al Sharpton cool? He’s my ni**a”. Rather, he said “Fifty years ago we’d have you upside-down with a f**king fork up your ass!” and “That’s what happens when you interrupt the white man, don’t you know?” In other words, Richards’ rant was racial terrorism. He evoked some of the horrible atrocities that happened to people who were lynched, including being burnt with blowtorches and having pieces taken off, and he asserted his white supremacy and the degree to which he belonged. Yes, that was all still rhetoric, but it wasn’t just the literal word: it was his aggressiveness against people of color.

Many defended Richards on this front. They defended him as if his opposition was just fetishizing a word, “ni**er”, and giving it magical properties.

Of course, each time I write out that word, that word that has been used with hate, my stomach churns. See, whites have the privilege of viewing that word as just being a word. For blacks and even many other people of color (especially Native Americans, Arabs and Muslims, who have been roped into it by “prairie ni**er” and “sand ni**er”), it evokes five hundred years of history. It evokes hundreds of years where that word was bellowed in an effort to kill, enslave, bomb, hurt, lynch, burn, terrorize, and mangle people. It evokes hundreds of years of fear.
White folks routinely have the privilege of pretending history doesn’t matter and doesn’t echo. Even I, as the son of an immigrant, have to know better than that. I know supremacy has a life and a breath all of its own.

When people on the political left and center-left bring up that we should call people “transgender” and call them by the gender pronoun that matches their new gender identity, we aren’t just saying that as an idle matter of decorum: we are saying it to people who want them to go into a bathroom that they will mentally and in many cases physically not belong, who want to cut their wages or kick them out of their community.

When people on the political left and center-left bring up that we should try to call “Mexicans” Chicana/os, Hispanics or Latina/os, we aren’t just talking to people who insist on calling people from Mexico Mexicans: we are fighting against those who would call them rapists and drug dealers, as if the entire group was just one raping, drug dealing apparatus or entity, some tentacled monster.

When people on the political left and center-left insist that we should use gender-neutral language (“firefighters” rather than “firemen”), we aren’t just fighting the rhetorical obliteration of females doing a job: we’re also fighting those who think women can’t be leaders because of their periods.
Notice how no one really organizes as a movement to say “Don’t call atheists ‘godless heathens'”, and yet they still encounter a widespread sentiment that they are inferior and dangerous.

See, conservatives seem to think, “You’ve won everything! Can’t you just leave the English language alone?”

Oh, no, brother (and it is so often a brother rather than a sister), you have it twisted.

In fact, we have so far to go, from anti-discrimination law to basic tolerance in public spaces to people actually being informed about atheists. We are fighting institutional discrimination, prejudice and bigotry stemming from institutional racism and white supremacy, homophobia and heteronormativity, sexism and male dominance, anti-atheist and agnostic bigotry and Christian hegemony, anti-immigrant and anti-global attitudes and American hegemony, and classism and the dominance of the rich. Notice how, in each case, I listed not just the group that was being targeted but the group that was being elevated. Every time someone says “This is a Christian nation”, it is yet another rhetorical assertion of a dominance that they have come to expect and yet have no right to expect and have not earned because such an endeavor would be impossible. The sacrifices of Christians who came before gives no modern Christian a single claim to institutional supremacy. Their majority status does not either.
Even within the realm of language, we’re not just making individual words taboo. When someone says “Blacks have lower IQ”, they are repeating an essentialist, racist, bigoted, stereotypical notion of people of color as if they’re in a spreadsheet. Even when there is some evidence supporting it, that evidence is never deployed honestly or consistently. And many times, such evidence is just outright false and dishonest. We are fighting people’s racist, sexist, homophobic and xenophobic ideas of other human beings, arguing that other human beings are on average just as competent, decent, intelligent and kind as they are. And those biases are used to justify present inequities. The logic, even when it isn’t stated out loud, goes, “Well, black people are criminals anyways, so why bother feeding their children?” or “Well, blacks are more likely to commit a homicide anyways, so why bother getting lead off the walls?” Once again, we can’t separate language and cognition from political ideas. Martin Gilens, and researchers working in his vein, have repeatedly found that racist biases are massively deterministic of whether one is willing to support policies like welfare. Policy issues in America are racialized and sexualized. Masculine identity is part of militaristic policies, which in turn influences debates like gays and women in the military.
The second issue is that, even insofar as we’re rectifying language, this is what societies do.
No society within the history of the planet has ever said that all language is equally appropriate in public parlance.

Most societies had very strong rules about what one could say in public. Honor codes, rules about courtesy that governed not just what hand one shook with (often as part of an effort to avoid contamination and the spread of germs even before people knew about the modern germ theory), kosher rules… the idea that there are certain things one does not say and do is common to history. Two of the Ten Commandments concern speech: Not taking the Lord’s name in vain, and honoring one’s mother and father.

One could argue that this was the case of feudal, monarchic and non-democratic societies. But that is emphatically false. Courtesy rules, manners books and so forth still exist. There are numerous 1950s shorts about the proper courtesy and rules for having a family dinner together. These emphatically include ways of talking and not talking: don’t gossip, don’t monopolize speech, don’t put people off their lunch.

What astonishes me so much about this is the political cleavage. Naively, I would have thought that many conservatives, people who are concerned with courtesy and decorum, would naturally and easily come to accept that there are certain ways we should and should not speak as a normative fact. They would come to accept, “Ah, these human beings prefer to be addressed by the opposite gender. How boorish would it be not to accommodate it?” One would think it’d be punk leftists who would spit and say “They’re a dude!”

But of course this is accepting conservative self-image and propaganda. In fact, the right-wing across history, the forces that preserve tradition, have always been perfectly able to be rude, cruel, and decidedly non-courteous. They just pretended otherwise as a thin veneer of civilization.
And challenging the entitlement (not the right but the sense that one should not face consequences) of those used to being afforded unlimited latitude challenges their supremacy. And when their supremacy is challenged, they are willing to get mighty rude.
Now, of course, is there a balance to be struck? Of course. Certain taboos should always be challenged. A transgressive attitude is always healthy at the right time and the right place. If friends are hanging out and talking, and there’s a high degree of trust, then it can be reasonable to say some things one might not say in mixed company. And certainly artists, comedians, etc. need to be granted some leeway to break sacred cows without too much criticism in response.
But remember: So many of the same people who fight the “PC agenda” will loudly support Trump’s support of seditious libel suits against journalists, loudly insist that one shouldn’t use the Lord’s name in vain, demand that the American flag never be burned or defaced, and insist that one should always “support the troops” no matter one’s disagreements with American foreign policy.
And it is precisely that “high degree of trust” that is not to be taken for granted. When so many people are able to say “I’m not racist, I have a black friend”, or otherwise signal that they’re not “one of the bad ones” and should be given some latitude, they fundamentally misunderstand the trust people. People of color, women, LGBTQ individuals, atheists and agnostics… none of them can trust the rhetorical goodwill of someone they don’t know.
The final point is precisely what the original questioner asked: “Others believe that being politically correct limits opinions, and will restrain them from conversing and interacting with others. Because of this, it will create a barrier between different groups, and do more harm then good”.
In other words, for the need of social lubrication and discussion, once again people of color, women, LGBTQ folks, non-Americans, immigrants… they all must sacrifice their sense of humanity and how they wish people would speak to them for the good of society.
Never once must the dominant group sacrifice their own sense of comfort, even temporarily, in order to learn new language and to (much more importantly) unlearn their toxic, unfair biases.
Every human being has a right to say, “I demand to be treated with respect, and if you don’t, I will not interact with you, I will not speak to you, and I will not do business with you”. There is a bare minimum of treatment we can demand in order to interact with us in commerce and daily life.

Those who demand that people not correct other people’s speech… are correcting other people’s speech.
The anti-PC brigade have a fundamental hypocrisy: They say “I should be able to say anything I want, and you shouldn’t be able to say anything you want”.
To quote Jeremy Sherman’s astute analysis: “By accusing people of being PC we try to persuade people to be less sensitive, less influenced by other people’s opinions, but in declaring PC a universal moral error, we pretend that we could live in a world where no one influences anyone. Usually we do it as a way of claiming our right to try to influence others without being influenced. It’s like the current libertarian craze, motivated by ‘my freedom to say and do what I want, without getting hassled’ If you want your freedom to say and do what you want, expect the same from everyone else. The person who accuses others of being PC has his own PC sensitivities. He’s saying it’s politically incorrect for you to be politically correct. Anti-PC and libertarianism are often rationalizations for dishing it out without having to take it in”.
Either we accept that anything is okay to say or we accept that there should be voluntary rules that we choose, as civilized human beings, as to what we say or do not say. And if anything is okay to say, I get to tell someone else to shut up. If someone else gets to call a friend of mine the “n-word”, I get to call them a monster who shouldn’t show their face in public. If we’re going to make society an endless war of words, then we get every weapon just like you do. Either way, the anti-PC crowd is wrong. Either way, they are demanding “My rules for thee but not for me”.
See, what conservatives want is consequence-free speech, not free speech.
Not only is that not a right, not only is it a logical contradiction, but it is a moral absurdity.
You see, this entire battle is really a battle of entitlement against responsibility.

When we have rights as human beings, that gives us power. And with great power comes great responsibility.

If we have the right to choose how we speak, we have the duty to choose that speech carefully.

Those who argue against those calling on them to have respect and kindness for others are arguing to be moral children. They want the rights without the attendant responsibilities.
That is not good for them. And it must be obliterated as an idea.

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activism, feminism, politics, race, Uncategorized, white privilege

One of the Best Microcosms of American Politics Ever

It’s hard to know where to begin here. (For those who don’t follow the link: Palin is blaming Obama for her son’s domestic abuse, by virtue of PTSD and the challenges of being a vet).

Should I say that blaming Obama for PTSD, instead of Bush or the Republican Party or the Democrats writ large or the military-industrial system, is a bit like blaming the janitor when an apartment complex gets trashed? Should I say that the sheer political hypocrisy ignores that it’s her party that wants to cut mental health benefits for veterans?

Should I note that this is from the supposed party of personal responsibility?

Should I note that it’s an example of a white person getting off the hook because we can blame someone else, in this case a black politician?

Should I say that, as much as I sympathize with what Palin is saying (with perfect hypocrisy and with no serious belief), saying that her son became violent as a result of military service is to insult millions of people with PTSD who will not hurt others?

Should I point to the fact that again domestic violence is the fault of everyone but the male abuser?

Should I say that this is another example of a leading politician blaming anyone but themselves for their family’s problems?

Perhaps the biggest thing I can say is this: Again, we see that conservatives in this country are committed to “Me and mine first” as an ideology. Palin could care less about PTSD and how it hollows you out until it was her family that was hurt. And she doesn’t want solutions: She wants to be able to be angry.

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feminism

An Open Call to Basic Honesty from “Men’s Rights” Douches

“Men’s rights” folks, do me a favor:

Next time you want to post some shit about how “Men get screwed in custody disputes” as if that obviates 24 cent on the dollar wage disadvantage and 2.5-to-1 or 5-to-1 underrepresentation by women in numerous fields, make an argument as to how women could even in theory be at fault.

Remember, since women have not been in charge historically for, gee, the last several millennia in most societies, you’d have to prove that somehow they could get these matters of policy or value through.

And don’t just say “Feminists did it”. Point me to the feminists advocating for unfair standards in custody cases, or the court system, or any institution. Point to their successful campaign to actually convince judges or prosecuting attorneys or whomever else, or to get a law passed, that has this discriminatory outcome.

Otherwise, admit that MEN IN CHARGE decided to screw OTHER MEN in pursuit of their political agenda, so that the problem remains men… in charge. Not women. Not feminism.

I have yet to see a single one of you guys do this, so I’m not holding my breath.

Footnote: Though it should not actually need to be said by any feminist, male or female, I am not stating that men are intrinsically brutal, violent or really anything. Men qua men are not the problem, but masculine, patriarchal culture that has brutal, short-sighted, uncompassionate, destructive values and political priorities. And this culture is not the only problem, but must be understood along with racism and white privilege, classism and capitalist values and institutions, straight supremacy and homophobia, and political power, militarism and statism as forming the basis of the oppressions the majority suffer under.

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feminism

Response to Jeremy Renner and Chris Evans’ Black Widow “Slut” Gaffe

In context of my recent posts about gender inequality, I’d like to take a slightly different tack about the recent interview where Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye) called Black Widow a slut.

I disagree with the negative comments on this front, from a few perspectives.

First of all, I think that Jeremy and Chris were using the “slut” and “whore” language as a sort of glimpse into the subconscious of their characters. While Cappy would never think about a woman that way for anything beyond a tenth of a second, actors occupy their characters without judgment, and we as men have to be honest about the fact that sometimes when a (particularly beautiful) woman may leave us, it makes us feel used and hurt. That’s human. Cappy and Hawkeye would both move on rapidly because they’re good people and they really love Natasha as a friend and comrade, but they can be a little hurt.

Second, I really feel that Jeremy and Chris were mocking the whole focus on the idea and were being sarcastic. I think they were mocking those people who WOULD call someone a slut for doing that. The sarcasm in their tones is so apparent, and Jeremy and Chris are both so good-natured about it.

But, see, that’s sort of the point.

I don’t detect malice from them. That could be because I’m a man and, as much as it can actually be hurtful to be called a man-slut (as I often have been), the onerousness of that idea of promiscuity is just not as big for me. That could be because I generally see the best in people. It could be because I like Chris and Jeremy as actors and people, based on what I’ve seen.

See, every time we have to react to something like the Michael Richards rant (which by now is probably long forgotten due to you damn millennials with your iPhones and your baggy pants) or a celebrity gaffe in public, we collectively are being asked to test our instincts and intuitions about people and their motives. We do that with limited information.

On the one hand, we should be careful on these issues and not let momentary hurt or anger distract us.

On the other hand, we should also hold people accountable.

I think it’s quite justifiable for me not to see malice in these two men’s reactions. But I think it’s quite justifiable for plenty of women to. They don’t need to be less thin-skinned and I don’t need to be more judgmental and mistrusting. We can be different people and have different estimations. Women are justified in having less trust for things like this because trusting has hurt them before.

Where Jeremy and Chris went wrong was not in making a joke but in then not clarifying that joke and expressing something more sensitive. It would have been appropriate to actually discuss how their characters would react, and make clear that they were joking.

That’s because people’s feelings matter.

A lot of men are going to claim that they shouldn’t apologize because they shouldn’t give in to the offended PC crowd.

I hope we can all see how utterly and completely devoid of merit and sensitivity that reaction is.

If you hurt someone’s feelings, you should apologize. Even if it wasn’t your intention. Even if you couldn’t have anticipated it. Because apologizing might make them feel better, and might also make you more sensitive in the future.

White men want to have the privilege not only to make jokes, but to not have to listen to the negative feedback about those jokes or to be held accountable about the content thereof or to not have to assuage hurt feelings.

So, yes, I think Chris and Jeremy should clarify what they meant and apologize for hurt feelings, and perhaps even discuss slut-shaming as a problem. They should do this not just for PR reasons but also for human reasons. There’s no problem we have that more dialog can’t help get at least a little better. Talking is the solution, not silence.

After all, Cappy would despise slut shaming as being dishonorable, rude, and un-American. And shouldn’t we want to be like Cappy?

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feminism

Chivalry and Our Choice of Masculinity

I’ve always been somewhat baffled by the specimens of masculinity that I have seen in the real world.

In our collective fantasies, we have so many excellent examples of masculinity.

There’s Superman: Dedicated, idealistic, gentle, compassionate, living in a world of dreams. With all of the power and strength in the world, he doesn’t even think twice about using it any other way but to support and protect others.

We have the stories of knights like King Arthur and his Court, who stood up for what they felt was right against impossible odds.

We have Robin Hood, who is willing to defy the rules of a society in order to rectify social inequities on his own.

There’s Terminator 2’s John Connor, who has a pet robot and realizes quickly that that means he has power over others, and chooses not to use it to hurt. He’s a child who’s willing to tell his mother, “We need to be a little more constructive here, OK?” He sees other children playing with guns, understanding the risk of nuclear war, and asks, “We’re not going to make it, are we?”

Anyone who grew up with video games had the opportunity to embrace Final Fantasy’s Cecil Harvey, a man who chooses to reject his nation and defy unjust orders based on his conscience, becoming a Paladin when given the opportunity and learning to sheathe his blade instead of striking others down with violence.

And even when we read the history books, there are example of great men who were philosophers, moral teachers, and scientists. We have the sensitivity and wonderfully expansive brain of Albert Einstein, the towering ethical figure of Dr. King, the concern with peace of Alfred Nobel, and even business tycoons like Rockefeller and Carnegie who aimed to succeed in the game of business but also to do good with their money in charitable foundations.

There’s the white hat cowboy, too: The John Wayne, or the modern cowboy cop character like Dirty Harry or John McClane or Justified’s Raylan Givens. These characters may have a simplistic sensibility, and there is an anti-intellectualism in this archetype that may need to be adjusted, but they basically are the kind of people who ride in and solve problems.

Even silly films and stories often echo this concept of masculinity. Joe Don Baker’s Final Justice, for example, may be a silly Mobius strip of a movie, but the protagonist suggests that people should strive to uphold true justice beyond hypocritical laws supported by dishonest politicians.

I thought, quite naturally, that anyone would want to strive to be like those men. Sure, we might stumble and fall along the way. We might fail to achieve those goals. But surely that would be what any man in his right mind would want, right? That would be the ideal to strive toward?

Then I looked around and saw men proud to be thugs and gangsters like UFC fighters and rappers pose as. I would see frat bros proud to be able to keep down vomitous swill. I saw people value their masculinity by their inability to control their anger, or be afraid of ordering an alcoholic beverage they might actually enjoy because it was “girly”.

I’ve been a lifelong feminist. I’ve often felt like an outsider to the other exemplars of my gender. And yet, I’ve often been called “all boy”. I’m a loud, boisterous person. I’ve never once felt like I was truly a woman, or even that me striving to be a woman would be something better. I was proud of who I was.

Navigating this contradiction to me, this feeling that masculinity wasn’t a problem and yet seeing how often it was, kept being complicated to me.

You see, it’s easy to blame hormones and the lack of frontal lobe development. It’s easy to say, “Boys will be boys”. And sure, I engaged in some stupid, reckless things as a young man. Yet I never treated women with the disrespect I see others so casually engage in. I’ve never been able to look at a person as merely a sexual object.

It’s easy for us to say, “Oh, that’s just patriarchy and sexism”. It’s easy to point to the powerful influences of conformity that begins from a young age when everything from the school system to the restrooms to the television cereals and video games segregate men and women.

But the fact is, at the end of the day, we are all making a choice as to what kind of people we’re going to be. What kind of man or woman, what kind of American or Canadian, what kind of white person or person or color, what kind of gay man or straight man… we are choosing our identities.

And it is so clear to me that there is an idea of masculinity that is incredibly traditional that would be a fantastic foundation to build off of.

Chivalry these days is often associated with trivial things like opening a door for a woman. But that’s not chivalry any more than Christianity is going to church on Sunday.

To be clear: I’m not saying that women can’t strive towards the ideals of knights, or cowboys.

But these archetypes have historically been masculine.

And there is nothing inconsistent about the idea of the modern knight errant and respecting the rights and choices of all people, women included.

One of my favorite Arthurian legends is the story of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle. Gawain, for those of you not up on the Arthurian mythos, is the knight’s knight. He and Galahad are commonly offered as the ultimate expression of the knightly code, as compared to Lancelot whose humility was great but who could not have fidelity to his friend. (Lancelot certainly broke the “bro code”, as we might put it today).

Gawain is willing to marry a woman in order to save his lord, Arthur, who is described as hideous. (Okay, this part of the story may not be the most idealistic or progressive). Ragnelle explains that women want “sovereignty”: They want to be able to make their own choices. Gawain actually listens on this front. Ragnelle then reveals that she has a curse: She can be beautiful during the day or at night. Gawain has to pick. Does he have a beautiful woman on his arm during the day, or a beautiful woman to share his arm at night?

His answer is classic: It’s not his choice.

In modern terms, we’d say that Gawain knew that Ragnelle had a right to make her own choice.

As a result of his choice, Ragnelle’s curse is lifted entirely.

Okay, okay, so the good guy gets the beautiful girl. In the real world, not only does that not always happen, but the idea of a reward for goodness is inherently problematic and becomes doubly so when applied to women.

But the point is that Gawain had a code of ethics, and it guided him to make an exceedingly modern choice. In an era where women were overwhelmingly viewed as being subordinate to men, Gawain told his wife, “Honey, I’ll support whatever you choose”.

Today, a man might face a dilemma of a wife who may be torn between work and spending time at home. His answer is the same as Gawain’s: “Honey, I just want you to be happy. If you want me to help you figure out the choice, I’ll do that. But I will support you in what you choose, because it’s your life and I can’t live it for you”.

To me, that is the resolution of the paradox. Being a feminist isn’t about male self-loathing. It’s about being a true knight. It’s about saying, “I don’t need other people to be subordinate to me, or listen to me. I don’t need to control my home. I don’t need to view my wife or my children as an appendage of myself. I only need to live life honestly and honorably”.

The present inequalities that women face should offend any man’s sense of justice. If a woman is making more money than us, then we should be happy that the system is fair rather than seeking out juvenile excuses about affirmative action or preferences.

In an upcoming book, I argue that the superhero code is similarly a way that we can live life ethically, both as far as our individual choices and when it comes to social choices.

We as men have no excuse for bad behavior. We can’t claim, “No one taught us better”. Because the stories have always been there for better models for our behavior.

Men should take back masculinity. We should take back an idea of masculinity that emphasizes respect for freedom and autonomy (“sovereignty)”, concern for the weaker, and resistance to bullies and cretins. We should emphasize intelligence and class instead of stupid and self-destructive antics. We should aim to be servants for the people we love, due to our own choice and not because of social obligations. A true knight, whether male or female, can be gentle to those who are frightened and pose us no threat while simultaneously being willing to lay down our lives against those who are cruel and violent. A true knight wouldn’t insult the humanity of someone and then say, “Well, fuck you if you can’t take a joke”.

So when we see men cat-calling women, or making blue comments that we know they would view as demeaning, we can call them out for having no courtesy. When we see men willing to strike those weaker than themselves, we can call them out for being cowards.

We can choose alternate models of masculinity that emphasize generosity of spirit, kindness, forbearance, and love.

If men strove to be true knights, they could be part of the solution instead of part of the problem.

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feminism, psychology

Beauty, Inner Light, and What People Take for Granted

For those of you women who rightly or wrongly complain about men ogling, flirting aggressively, catcalling, or even fondling, allow me to share why those stories make me furious. (This is in no way intended to trump, only complement).

I’ve always believed, likely (as is so common in my life) due to the influence of superhero narratives, that when we have something special, it should be respected. Honed. Shared. Whether it’s because of our brain, our body, or something else, it should be acknowledged.

In my life, I have found that people have sometimes related to my positivity and optimism as a resource. They have taken advantage of it and have sometimes given very little in return.

This can make someone feel used, feel very much like a sucker. It can lead to resentment and serious hurt. It can make us feel, in Willy Loman’s immortal words, like a piece of fruit.

A beautiful woman who finds herself treated with a lack of respect is having something special, something valuable, be treated as something to be taken for granted.

When others have something special, it’s incumbent upon us to recognize that it is their choice to give it. We have to respect that they are like us, humans with feelings and needs. As Kant famously argued, we can’t ever treat another person merely as a means to an end. If we are going to do so, we have to respect their right to consent, and as a corollary their right to decline.

Any time we see someone treating someone else like an object or a tool and not as a person, it is our duty to stand up and say something. That’s including men with their friends, customers and bosses with workers, and any kind of people who are impinging on the generosity of others.

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