Creative Destruction

October 29, 2006

Anatomy of a Feminist

Filed under: Blogosphere,Feminist Issues,Link Farms — Daran @ 6:08 pm

Marcella:

You seem to be focusing on word games as a way to attack what I do.

Marcella misunderstands. I wasn’t attacking what she does*. I was criticising what she did, i.e., what she wrote, in the specific comment to which I was replying. I was also criticising what feminists typically do, which that particular post exemplified. It was always possible that her post might in fact be atypical of her own writings. My overall impression of them – and of her – is that they are generally insightful, fair, and interesting. But I had not studied them in sufficient depth to form a view as to whether the specific criticisms were typical of her or not.

(*I’ll take that footnote here: I am in no way hostile toward either Marcella herself or to what she does. I do, however, have a very robust style of criticism which I apply just as rigorously to those, such as herself and Barry, whom I respect and like, as I to to those I don’t. I understand that this style may be perceived by its targets as hostility, though it is not intended as such.)

Unfortunately the comment with my substantive criticism appears to have disappeared, but my objection was that in that post, she, through her wording, collectivised the behaviour of men as perpetrators, and excluded them as victims.

If you read my blog you’d find that I don’t exclude male victims or pretend they don’t exist. I don’t give male victims equal time because the victimization isn’t 50/50.

Let’s have a look at a few of her recent blog posts, not so much for the substance of what she says, but her choices of topic, and how she frames the issues:

An Example Of The Devastation Rape Can Cause

In this post, she uses an example from the media together with her own experiences to draw some general conclusions about the experience of rape. The examples are necessarily gendered, but the conclusions are expressed in gender-neutral (hence gender-inclusive) terms with this sole exception:

…the amount of responsibility put on girls and women to prevent their own rapes can take a heavy toll.

The exclusion of men and boys from this statement is appropriate because the particular pressure she references doesn’t generally apply to male victims.

All in all, this was an agreeable, if not particularly exciting post, with nothing objectionable in terms of its framing of the issues.

Sheik: Rape Caused Not By Criminals But By Victims

The first part of this post is similar in construction to the last. She cites a necessarily gendered example to draw a non-exclusionary conclusion. In the second part she deconstructs the obnoxiously-sexist utterances of a Muslim cleric. Again, there is no problem with how she frames these issues.

Another Accusation Against Priest Who Allegedly Abused Mark Foley

Another illustrative example – this time with a male perp and male victims – from which she draws a conclusion which she frames gender-inclusively.

From Baghdad To Sexual Exploitation In Damascus

In this post, the illustrative example features female victims of a female perp. That latter might have been worth highlighting, given that the perps of this kind of exploitation are normatively male. (Contrast such an approach with the obnoxious gendering typically used by feminists to reinforce the normative role of males-as-perps.) However Marcella chooses to make a more general political point.

New Place For Domestic Abuse Victims

This is an example where gender-neutral language implicitly excludes men. The perpetrators and victims of DV are normatively men and women (or men and women-and-children) respectively. The illustrative example in the cited article reinforces that norm, as does the single gendered sentence in Marcella’s commentry. No indication is given that any of the planners, or the journalist, or Marcella herself, has given any consideration to the fact that some of the victims of domestic violence are male and they also need help. As a result, it’s highly likely that this “Place For Domestic Abuse Victims” will in fact be a place for only some of them.

At this point it is, er, normal, for feminists and DV activists to point out that DV is ‘normally’ (in the sense of usually or generally) perpetrated by men against women (or women and children). Where the severity of DV rises to the point that the victim needs external help, this is true. However the problem with normative constructs is that they turn generalities into unconscious assumptions. It’s probably true that a majority of DV victims are white, but nobody would suggest that this is a reason to exclude them. On the contrary white-normativity is regarded as problematic when it excludes POC. Similarly although helping female victims who are also abusers presents practical problems, and some of them end up being excluded from service because of it, that exclusion is seen as an unfortunately-necessary evil. Contrast with the plight of men, where the exclusion of even non-abusive victims is ‘justified’, according to violence-against-women activists, on the grounds that they might be abusers, or – worse – that other men abuse, or – even worse – that men abuse. The latter two formulations collectivise the actions of men in a way which blames the victims.

Millionaire Date Rape

The problem with Marcella’s commentry, that “real rapists come in all shapes, sizes and economic classes” (my emphasis) is that the illustrative example is only really illustrative if the defendant in the article is a real rapist. In other words, her commentry implicitly assumes the guilt of the unconvicted defendant.

How Can A Group Be Pro Life When Those They Want To Shut Down Need Bulletproof Glass?”

Here we have another norm – that pregnant people are female. The ‘generality’ that this norm turns into an ‘assumption’ is in fact a universality, so the ‘assumption’ is the safest on the planet. Hence this normative construction is entirely appropriate.

Another Reason Men Shouldn’t Act As Judge and Jury

This raises so many issues it needs an entire post to itself.

Man Makes False Sex Offender Allegation Through Flyers

Marcella’s excellent initial point is to challenge the normative notion that false accusers are female’.

Her subsequent point is a little off-target. While it’s correct and worthwhile to point out the potentially dire consequences of an accusation made outside the criminal justice system, her suggestion that false police reports can’t have such consequences is wide of the mark. It’s not unheard of, for the police to kill those they attempt to arrest, nor is it for prisoners, even if only on remand, to be killed by prison officers, other inmates, or by their own hand.

How Abusers Convince Themselves They Aren’t Doing Anything Wrong

A male perp/male victim case cited in support of inclusive, gender-neutral commentry resulting in a worthwhile and interesting post.

That’s the end of the current front page, so I’ll go no further, other than to consider the post Marcella herself drew to my attention

If Men Want To Understand Male Sexual Exploiters Listen To Female Exploiters

A somewhat rambling and incoherent discussion about what female abusers can teach us about male abusers.

Conclusion

I undertook this review at Marcella’s rhetorical invitation with a view to confirming, or in the alternative, refuting, her defence that she “doe[s]n’t exclude male victims or pretend they don’t exist.”, as well as my own perception of her as “insightful, fair, and interesting”. I’m happy to say that, based on this admittedly limited sample, I find both statements generally confirmed. Particularly notable was the absence of obnoxious gendering in her commentry.

I have one criticism of her work as a whole, and that is her persistant (and unsurprising) adherence to feminist normative values in her analysis. This is reflected in her choice of topics as much as in what she says about them. Feminist norms are not all harmful, and it may surprise my regular readers to learn that I do not consider them generally harmful. Many of them represent a distinct improvement over those of society-at-large which they are intended to supplant. But some feminist norms are less than benign, and it is toward these that the bulk of my criticism is focussed. If feminists are serious about challenging gender norms which harm both men and women, they they need to focus some critical attention on their own value systems.

I’d like to end by expressing two hopes: Firstly, that Marcella takes this piece in the spirit of constructive criticism in which it was intended. And secondly, that my own posts, as a corpus, would stand up to critical scrutiny as well as hers have.

4 Comments »

  1. I agree with much of your criticism. I stumbled upon the same post earlier yesterday. One thing, however, I think is misstated:


    …the amount of responsibility put on girls and women to prevent their own rapes can take a heavy toll.

    The exclusion of men and boys from this statement is appropriate because the particular pressure she references doesn’t generally apply to male victims.

    In my experience males have been equally subjected this expectation of prevention. ,a href=”http://www.malesurvivor.org/Professionals/Articles/index.htm”>Several researchers have noted that as a result many males blame themselves for their unfortunate sexual experiences as a result of society’s assumption that all males can prevent such acts and therefore if it happened, it was consensual.

    Comment by toysoldier — October 29, 2006 @ 6:49 pm | Reply

  2. Corrected link.

    Comment by toysoldier — October 29, 2006 @ 6:56 pm | Reply

  3. Point accepted, toysoldier, I will update the post shortly.

    Comment by Daran — October 29, 2006 @ 7:36 pm | Reply

  4. Daran, I’m fine with people talking about the issues of sexual violence which don’t get talked about much or at all.

    Unfortunately, the issue of male victims/female perpetrators of sexual violence or domestic abuse too often comes up in a way that seems intended not to help male victims but to counter efforts that help female victims or to bash the people who are trying to do something even if they are doing it imperfectly.

    I think that’s incredibly sad.

    Comment by Marcella Chester — October 29, 2006 @ 11:38 pm | Reply


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