Sunday, 13 November 2016

Class and Gender: Engendering Failure II

Anita Sarkeesian writes:
There's no such thing as sexism against men.  That's because sexism is prejudice + power.  Men are the dominant gender with power in society.
 This is a line of reasoning one encounters frequently in so called social justice circles.  But is it accurate?  And if it is not accurate, is it merely hyperbole intended to raise awareness of legitimate issues, but doing no harm otherwise?  Or is this actually a dangerous idea?  It is an idea that distorts our understanding of how power and privilege really work?  Does this idea draw our attention away from where real power and privilege lie, and scapegoat people who are actually powerless?

What is wrong with this statement.  It's based on an understanding of power that's wrong and self serving.

Since most of the very real powerful and privileged – the super rich – are white males, therefore all white males must collectively constitute an upper class?  This is bad logic on the face of it.  But to assume that males collectively constitute an elite that’s organized around recognition and defense of its privileges as a gender completely flies in the face of the behavior of corporations and governments daily.  Corporate and state power rarely meets a feminist cause it doesn’t like.  Could it be because feminist causes usually entail an expansion of state power?  Could it be because the real value that women have as far as capital is concerned, is as workers, consumers and as tax payers? 

Those who defend the concept of “male privilege” may indeed have some valid points to make overall about how men have it easier than women.  The point of my saying this is not to be yet another anti-feminist commentator to toss his hat, or should I day his fedora, into the messy dispute over gender and privilege.  Rather, I question whether or not “privilege” is actually a useful concept in describing the advantages that men do enjoy.

Privilege, by its nature and definition, implies a source of power sufficiently strong to grant special prerogatives to one segment of the population but not to another.  If there was so strong a power in our society, would this individual or body be the more logical target for the critics of institutional power and privilege?

Those who defend the notion of male privilege point out that women still make less money overall then men.  77 cents for every dollar or something like that.  The real nature of this pay gap and the reasons for it have been explained time and again and I won’t get into them in detail here.  Suffice it to say, that when you’re value is measured more in pure economic terms, you’ll place a higher premium on economic reward when making your career choices.  This often comes at the expense of longer hours and harsher working conditions.  But even if it were true that men were paid more money than women for the same jobs, does this make men the real bearers of privilege?  Seems to me as though those who sign the paychecks are the ones with the real power and privilege in this scenario.  Why no analysis of corporate structure and power, Ms. Sarkeesian?  Perhaps because you’re a beneficiary of it?

Which raises another question.  The narrative presented by Sarkeesian in this tweet is one that is repeated frequently, in academia and “left” leaning corporate media and disseminated very effectively by a vast network of bloggers, academics and professional activists.  It is frequently pushed on social media platforms whose multi million dollar CEOs openly embrace this line of thinking, to the point that critics of it can face blocking on these very social media sites?  Does it make sense that the truly rich and powerful would openly embrace a very real criticism of institutional power?  Does access to this kind of influence really characterize a powerless and marginalized segment of the population.  Anita Sarkeesian herself has addressed the United Nations on behalf of causes important to her.  Similar access to the UN has not been extended to her opponents and critics in social media, some of whom have many more followers than Feminist Frequency does.  Is this what we’d expect from a marginalized demographic?

Sarkeesian’s statement assumes that prejudice against powerful groups is okay - it is based upon a "two wrongs make a right" kind of mentality. Note that real, concrete measures to erode power differences are not a problem. But that is not the purpose of this statement.  Sarkeesian’s statement obscures who the real holders of power are, and therefore makes even holding them accountable, let alone fundamentally reshifting the balance of power in a more egalitarian direction, more rather than less difficult.  How can you redistribute power away from people who already have very little power, except to become more powerful than them.  Which is what this is really all about.

None of this means that it is actually men who are the oppressed class – there are plenty of both men and women out there with nothing but their own labor power to sell as a means of sustenance, and the lack of access real power and influence that this entails.  Nor is this to be taken as a denial of female mistreatment at the hands of males in many circumstances.  I do not condone this, and I would urge my male listeners not to take what I’ve said as a license to look down on or mistreat women in any way.

Sarkeesian’s statement’s real purpose is to be a self serving statement in that it enables women who agree with it to assume a stance of moral superiority vis-a-vis men, which can be exploited for personal advantage.  She does not seek to obstruct those who would enable violence against women.  She seeks to obstruct those who would bring to light and criticize female mistreatment of men, in both private and public contexts.  There is no place for either in any real progressivism worth its salt.  Any version of the left that does not have “an injury to one is an injury to all” as a core motto is not a left worthy of anyone’s support.

Her statement is a conservative; a reactionary statement in that by defining a powerless people as the ruling class, those who really are powerful escape scrutiny.  It seeks to establish gender rather than class solidarity, and the beneficiaries of this can only be the rich and powerful.

Note too that much of Sarkeesian’s social criticism is directed at the preponderance of sexual imagery in popular culture, and the portrayal of sexuality in media.  This kind of criticism has typically come from the far right rather than the left.  In light of that, and the high levels of institutional support that Sarkeesian’s variation on feminist ideals actually receives, what does this tell you about how “progressive” her agenda really is? 

With "social justice leftists" like this, who needs conservatives?

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