Only The Sangfroid

Mark is of fair average intelligence, who is neither perverse, nor morbid or suspicious of mind, nor avid for scandal. He does live in an ivory tower.

These are his draft thoughts…

Quick Post: Notes of interest and whatnot

Every so often, a blog stalls because more urgent real life things get in the way.  I’m sorry.  Please forgive me.  Bryan Adams reference.

But there’s been interesting things going on that I should note and, if you’re interested in the sorts of things about which I write, you should be interested in these things as well.


First up, Kate Iselin (Sydney-based writer) wrote a piece, ‘No Country for Male Feminists‘, based partly in response to my blog post in which I argue that men can’t be feminists.  The piece was followed up in the Sydney Morning Herald for an interesting discussion about male feminists generally.  Kate thinks men can be feminists:

So, you’re probably wondering by now—how can a man be a good feminist? Well, it’s pretty simple. To start with, shut up. Literally. Stop talking, and listen. Listen to the women around you as they speak about their experiences, and amplify their voices whenever you can. Accept that many of the problems we are attempting to solve as feminists aren’t easy to fix, and they’re certainly not going to be fixed by the sudden involvement of a man.

For my unnecessary twenty cents, I wonder if Kate and I are talking about different things when we use the word ‘feminism’, and the disagreement on that term probably comes down to fundamental differences about the word ‘equality’.  Shutting up is one of the ways that I use my privilege, as I’ve argued before:

But am I any better by simply refusing to engage with ideas?  I have some friends and acquaintances who are extremely passionate about these issues.  I, on the other hand, am extremely conservative and have a manner which tends to make people feel patronised (both are — I understand — hideous flaws).  Instead of engaging with them on the subject, I have the option to stay quiet and move the conversation to less contentious grounds — and it’s the option I usually take.  Although I love a good argument, those conversations are just too difficult and too personal.  Too emotional and too confrontational.  They are discussions thatmatter and I have a hard and fast rule of only digging into esoteric, academic, pointless debates.  Thus, manners and civility kick in and we go back to ‘socially appropriate’ conversation.

Reading back through that post, I clearly wasn’t as careful as I ought to have been.  It could be argued that there’s a difference between ‘Shut up and listen’ and ‘Shut up and don’t engage’, but the key point remains: the shutting up is a way we (educated straight white males) reflexively use our privilege because it’s easier to stay silent than run the risk of having a discussion that matters to somebody else more than it matters to us.


Second, fans and frenemies of my pro-death penalty argument — including one friendly law professor who Tweeted abuse at me for an hour over it — will be excited to know that Al Jazeera English ran a very good article called ‘America’s Other Death Penalty‘:

As media attention has focused on America’s broken system of capital punishment, the gravity of an [life without parole] sentence has been largely ignored, with the exception of cases that involve juveniles. Prisoners sentenced to LWOP (known in some states as life without mercy) have only two recourses to avoid dying in prison: a full pardon or commutation of their sentence. Both are extremely rare and nearly impossible to secure. For this reason, some criminologists now use the term “death in prison” instead of “life without parole” when referring to these sentences.

Brooklyn Law School professor and former federal prosecutor I. Bennett Capers calls LWOP “capital punishment’s often neglected stepsister.” He blames its proliferation, in part, on death penalty abolitionists who have championed LWOP as a more humane alternative without considering the implications of their compromise.

So good.

Capers is against both the death penalty and LWOP, while I’m okay with the death penalty.  The difference in our positions is about whether or not permanent removal from society is a legitimate punishment (Capers doesn’t think that it is).


Third, I received an interesting mix of responses to the post about Caitlyn Jenner, and saw an article by Julie Doucet in The New York Times which argued along similar lines:

 For me and many women, feminist and otherwise, one of the difficult parts of witnessing and wanting to rally behind the movement for transgender rights is the language that a growing number of trans individuals insist on, the notions of femininity that they’re articulating, and their disregard for the fact that being a woman means having accrued certain experiences, endured certain indignities and relished certain courtesies in a culture that reacted to you as one. […]

Ms. Jenner’s experience included a hefty dose of male privilege few women could possibly imagine. While young “Bruiser,” as Bruce Jenner was called as a child, was being cheered on toward a university athletic scholarship, few female athletes could dare hope for such largess since universities offered little funding for women’s sports. When Mr. Jenner looked for a job to support himself during his training for the 1976 Olympics, he didn’t have to turn to the meager “Help Wanted – Female” ads in the newspapers, and he could get by on the $9,000 he earned annually, unlike young women whose median pay was little more than half that of men. Tall and strong, he never had to figure out how to walk streets safely at night.

Those are realities that shape women’s brains.

By defining womanhood the way he did to Ms. Sawyer, Mr. Jenner and the many advocates for transgender rights who take a similar tack ignore those realities. In the process, they undermine almost a century of hard-fought arguments that the very definition of female is a social construct that has subordinated us. And they undercut our efforts to change the circumstances we grew up with.

This loops me back to Kate’s article: the definition of feminism and who gets to say what’s in and what’s out.  Mixing with a wide variety of people, I know feminists who argue for intersectionality, trans-exclusionary feminists (TERFs), sex worker exclusionary feminists (SWERFs), and one excellent (black) feminist who argues that feminism is so inherently white that race theory needs to ditch all of its language and start fresh.  In a thread responding to Kate’s article, the topic of TERFs and SWERFs was raised, with some men (of course) arguing that they should use their privilege to ‘educate’ TERFs and SWERFs.  As if a bunch of men somehow knew what was the ‘right’ kind of feminism.  ‘Yes, we agree that we should shut up and listen, and we’ll educate feminists who argue for the wrong kind of feminism.  Man power for good!’

Then again, perhaps it’s just because I’m male that I can’t see how this or that branch of feminism is obviously wrong.  Perhaps even by suggesting that men shouldn’t use their privilege to shout down the ‘un-feminists who call themselves feminists’, I am tacitly supporting ongoing oppression.  This is why men can’t be feminists.

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