Critical thoughts on feminism and social constructionism



On various pages of this website and blog I've criticized some of the dogmas of feminism, for instance the social constructionist dogmas about gender (as if sex hormones, for example, have nothing to do with gendered behavior!), the belief that every form of unequal power relations between men and women can someday, hopefully, be overcome, and the naïve idea that racism and sexism are equally morally problematic (the truth is that racism is just plain wrong, morally and intellectually, while sexism is part of human nature inasmuch as men and women are, on average, psychologically different and frequently get angry at each other, misunderstand each other, and generalize about each other[1]). But I sometimes return to these matters because I think the fashionable demonization of men as such goes a little too far,[2] and I'm annoyed by the lack of rational, evidence-based thinking and the deeply tribal tendencies among most leftists (no different in this respect from other categories of people, whether conservatives, academics, liberals, the wealthy, or whoever). I think it can be useful to have voices on the left who serve as occasional gadflies. (Not that I have a particle of influence.)


—I suppose I should stop subjecting myself to the feminist men-bashing, and the "gender is merely constructed and performed!" ideologizing, that's been rampant on social media and in the mass media for years. But I do, once again, want to embellish on points I've made elsewhere that poke holes in the dominant discourse of social constructionism. Feminism is an essential and overwhelmingly constructive political movement, but, like any movement, it isn't immune to criticism.


One might ask, "Why even criticize the logical and factual errors feminists make, if on the whole the movement is so constructive?" In part, it simply comes down to whether we care about understanding human behavior. If we don't care about that, then one key reason for making criticisms is gone. But if we do care, then we should be willing to sometimes think un-ideologically. The Judith Butler sort of "anti-essentialist" idealism, totally dismissive of all scientific research that shows the influence of physiology on gender and sexuality, is very primitive, and yet it's utterly hegemonic among liberals and leftists. Doubtless for political reasons. And while there might, sometimes, be political value in trumpeting the reductive message that humans are nothing but products of sexist socialization, I think we should be willing to explore the possibility that humans are also rational, creative, and reasonable, and that men and women, on average, are, in fact, quite different from each other, not only because of passive subjection to sexist discourses but also because of the active functioning of their brains and bodies.


In answering the above question, one might furthermore say that, if a liberal-left movement starts to alienate large numbers of people who broadly share its values and goals—as woke feminism sometimes does (alienating even such militant feminists as Camille Paglia)—then it's worth looking at why this is the case. For instance, is the movement mistaken in some of its social analyses? We shouldn't, out of the pressures of groupthink and cowardice, shrink from critical interrogation of any powerful ideology, including feminism. Constructive criticism might even advance the goals of the left, like by discouraging irrational divisive rhetoric against people who could be political allies.


My final apology for this blog post is that psychology interests me, and I find it unfortunate that, at least in recent decades, there have been so few honest "phenomenological" accounts of the nature and causes of gender relations, accounts that make explicit what is implicit. I don't see why such analyses have to be incompatible with left-wing values—or have to be academically pretentious and perverse in the way (sometimes) of gender studies.


So here are some foolhardy but hopefully accurate reflections on the sexes, which have the implication that we shouldn't blame men or "the patriarchy," or even "socialization," for every type of inequality between men and women. "Nature" plays a larger role than most feminists allow. Once we accept this fact, moreover, we might devote less time to spouting misandrist, objectively reactionary nonsense about the awfulness of men as such and more time to attacking real problems, from authoritarian political control over women's bodies to economic inequality between the sexes.


Some preliminary thoughts on "male dominance"


Consider the notion of "the patriarchy." We hear of this concept all the time. Is there such a thing as the patriarchy? Surely, in a sense, yes. It seems that all "complex" societies and a good many "less complex" ones have been at least partially patriarchal, both in the public and the private spheres. In their book The Dawn of Everything, David Graeber and David Wengrow argue that Minoan Crete during the Bronze Age was ruled by women, but even this is debatable. The Marxist anthropologist Maurice Godelier argued in an article called "The Origins of Male Domination" (1981) that, while many "primitive" societies have been basically egalitarian, "in the last analysis" it is likely that men have always "occupied the summit of the power hierarchy." Why? One reason isn't hard to fathom: men are physically stronger, taller, and larger than women. In all animal species, these traits tend to correlate with (relative) dominance.[3]


So yes, it appears that men are, on average, the dominant sex, and one is free to lament this fact if one wants. (Personally, I find it extremely lamentable—lamentable even that there should be such a thing as "dominance" in nature at all.) One can also apply the word "patriarchy" to it if one wants. But it is indicative only of lazy and idealistic thinking to say men's dominance is solely a result of "socialization" or sexist "discourses" or some such. These things are relevant, but, in this case, social constructs and discourses emerge to some extent out of prior conditions of human physiology, anatomy, the biology of sex, and innate psychology. Unless we genetically reengineer the human species so that, for example, women are stronger and larger and men are physically weak and small, we're never doing away with some degree of relative male dominance—though that doesn't mean we can't reduce the disparity in status between men and women.


(What does dominance mean here? It means the tendency to—often informally—be a leader, to be confident and assertive, respected, listened to, to have a "strong presence" and generally a higher status. Of course, other factors are important, such as intelligence and verbal fluency, and these are not even relatively monopolized by the male sex.)


Another consideration related to men's relative strength, but also to their typically greater visual-spatial skills and facility with (or interest in) the mechanical problems of constructing tools and the built environment, is that men have been overwhelmingly responsible for creating the actual physical infrastructure of civilization. How often do you see women in construction crews? (Even if they can certainly do most of the tasks associated with construction work, it's more "natural," given sexual aptitudes, for men to do such work. Sexist discrimination is hardly irrelevant here, by the way; but even in the absence of such sexism, it is unlikely women ever would have constituted a majority of construction workers, carpenters, contractors, artisans, and the like.) One reason—in addition to workplace discrimination—there are fewer female engineers, architects, mathematicians, technologists, and other "systemizing" types is that women, partly because of sex hormones, are usually more interested in people-oriented occupations (education, social work, law, politics, art, dance, theater, music, history). Well, it doesn't require deep insight to see that constructing the material basis of civilization confers a lot of prestige and power.


To the extent that women increase their involvement in such activities of construction, engineering, and manipulation of the physical environment, their status and power will rise.


Here's another factor related to brute physicality: men's achievements in athletics and sports have always surpassed women's, for obvious reasons. Sports are a highly visible, culturally central activity, in relation to which women are treated as either secondary (in the case of female athletes) or spectators. The implications for female status are obvious.


This permanent fact of some male dominance, however, doesn't imply a permanent monopoly of political and economic power, for such power is a function of institutional arrangements and can be changed through activism. For many reasons these institutional circumstances are extremely stubborn and difficult to eradicate, but in principle, it may be possible someday in the future, in many (hopefully all!) countries, that men and women will hold equal or virtually equal economic and political power. The type of patriarchy this activism targets should and, perhaps, can indeed be abolished.


On psychological differences between the sexes


It's already an indictment of academic feminism and gender theory that you won't often encounter in such writing the perfectly obvious points I've made here—because these points are perceived as unflattering to women, politically pessimistic (I'm "naturalizing" gender, like a scientist), and hence unsayable. The humanities and social sciences, after all, are largely ideological, not strictly scientific or intellectually honest. (It's ironic that postmodernists have critiqued natural science as being ideological, socially constructed, and reflective of power relations, when those criticisms apply with far more force to postmodernism itself.)


But what I've said so far is only the tip of the iceberg. It's frequently considered rather enlightened or progressive for women to denounce men, in egregious (and "sexist") generalizations, as being, say, misogynistic, insensitive, selfish, narcissistic, and the like, but let's put aside the ideology and look honestly at male and female psychology and romantic relations.


I sometimes find puzzling the nearly universal conspiracy of silence about obvious average differences between the psychologies of men and women. Even without delving into the scientific research of the past century, some of the differences are apparent. There surely must be some implications regarding "male dominance" that women, for example, cry much more easily and often than men—behavior that people naturally don't see as exuding dominance or "strength"—and are more excitable and intensely emotional than men. (See Julia Serano's Whipping Girl for an account of how her emotions became more intense after she transitioned to being a woman. Most stereotypes about the sexes contain a kernel of truth—which is why they're stereotypes to begin with.) A man who was as prone to laughter, tears, excitement, anger, anxiety, and so on as women are (on average) would be seen, doubtless, as pathetic, weak, childish, and wildly unattractive to the opposite sex. Heterosexual men tend to be more emotionally detached than women, more "sober," to quote Kierkegaard from this offensive-sounding and overly generalizing passage in The Sickness Unto Death:


Woman has neither the selfishly developed conception of the self nor the intellectuality of man, for all that she is his superior in tenderness and fineness of feeling. [Her] nature is devotion, submission, and it is unwomanly if it is not so... [A] woman who is happy without devotion, that is, without giving herself away (to whatever it may be she gives herself) is unwomanly. A man also devotes himself (gives himself away), and it is a poor sort of a man who does not do it; but his self is not devotion..., nor does he acquire himself by devotion, as in another sense a woman does, he has himself; he gives himself away, but his self still remains behind as a sober consciousness of devotion, whereas woman, with genuine womanliness, plunges her self into that to which she devotes herself…

His mode of expression here is certainly objectionable, but he shows insight into average differences between men and women. One reason people associate women and children, after all, as distinct from men, is that both are more likely to exist in a sort of emotional immediacy. They're (usually) more "in the moment," more excitable and receptive—which is the main reason men enjoy their presence.[4]


Indeed, it's worth asking a question that is rarely asked in a serious way: why have such large proportions of men throughout history been attracted to teenage children? Ancient Greeks with their love of beautiful boys, kings and emperors with their harems of young women, countless "dirty old men" with their child brides, hordes of pedophiles today—what explains it? The answer isn't hard to think of: attraction to children is just a (pathological) extension of attraction to women. Women's emotional receptivity and excitability aren't categorically different from children's; they're only of a less extreme nature. Feminine "giggling," for instance—an essentially receptive thing, not assertive—is basically on a continuum with childlike giggling. Men find female giggling very attractive, and some men find childlike giggling attractive.


As unwoke as it may be to say this, implicit in male attraction to women is a kind of condescension, a protective urge. Young men, especially, are apt to see women as some sort of semi-angelic being, innocent, naïve, childlike, fragile, needing protection from the cruel world. John Keats gave expression to this feeling in the poem quoted near the bottom of this page, called "Woman! when I behold thee flippant, vain." Men feel similarly about their children: they need protection by the "adult," the one "in charge," the man. (Of course, women want to protect their child too, but, having a different affective cast of mind, they experience this impulse differently than men do.)


—None of this, again, should be controversial. It's just straightforward phenomenological description of human psychology, the kind of thing any intellectual would be happy to write if he or she were sufficiently courageous and interested in truth. But no, we're supposed to think that the age-old yin/yang duality—acknowledged by countless cultures—is pure bullshit, a mere social artifact with no basis in human nature! So much for postmodernists' supposed respect for other cultures and their insights.


When someone has the urge—and is expected—to protect, and to be gentle (like during sex), to always refrain from exercising his full strength, to be careful what he says so as not to hurt feelings, to "be a shoulder to cry on," and to control himself at all times because of his responsibilities, he is the one who (implicitly or explicitly) has the higher status and the greater power. Adults therefore—and for other reasons—have a higher status than children, and men, unfortunately, have an at least slightly higher status than women. Women and children are generally permitted to sort of "lose control" in public, to get emotional and even violent (think of women who hit their children or get infuriated at store clerks or some other hapless employee), but if a man acts that way he'll quite possibly be arrested. In this and other respects, society holds men to a higher standard. Likewise, if a young man and woman are drunk together and she seems sexually receptive, some feminists argue that he should act in her best interest and refrain from sexual activity because she might regret it later. She hasn't really given her consent. That is, they hold him to a higher standard: he is expected to know what's good for her better than she is. He is supposed to compensate for her "weakness."


Men's higher status—and society's higher standards for them (in some respects)—are constantly indicated by trivial, and of course "socially constructed," daily incidents the significance of which most of us, including feminists, hardly even notice. When a wife adopts her husband's last name, that indicates his status. She is adopting him as an important element of her identity. When she holds his arm as they walk together, that's a tiny indication of the difference in status between them. When a man is the customary "leader" in a dance with a woman, that expresses his higher status. Women who write things in their dating profiles like "Make me laugh!" or "Teach me something!" or "Take me to your favorite bar!" are unknowingly expressing their relative passivity—and their desire to be relatively passive, their enjoyment of it. (This isn't "oppression," by the way, and there's nothing wrong with it, or with any other female desire.) The universally valued, chivalrous injunction to "save the women and children first!" in the case of an emergency is an expression of the somewhat comparable status of women and children. The list goes on without end. Most types of female/male behavior, especially in, say, the first half of life (when, e.g., testosterone concentrations in men are highest), communicate relative passiveness vs. relative activeness—and the fact that this isn't only because of "socialization" is shown by the presence of these tendencies across very different societies, from, say, pre-Columbian Native American ones to modern China or the U.S.


Sex itself is, typically, characteristic of stereotypical gender relations. To enter a woman and ejaculate inside her is quite a manifestation of male potency. In most sexual positions, from missionary to doggy-style, women are the so-called "submissive" partner. And their verbalizations during sex, more often than not, express passiveness: "Do me!" "How do you want me?" "I love your power!" "You're so big!" "Choke me!" Even the ecstatic contortions of their bodies signify a kind of passiveness, being-done-to and losing control. On the whole, the man has taken charge. –Again, these tendencies are not only "socially constructed." They emerge organically out of the very nature of sexual intercourse (despite occasional exceptions, such as sexually submissive men).


It's rarely explicitly acknowledged that women and men experience sex, love, and romance very differently, because of anatomy, physiology, and psychology. To penetrate someone, and to desire that, is totally different than to be penetrated and to desire that. The former is intrinsically self-assertive, "virile," semi-dominating; the latter is more akin to submission and to elevation of one's partner. No wonder, then, that men want to have sex with as many women as possible (because it's intrinsically self-affirming) whereas women more often want to pick one partner, get to know him, take the measure of him, and decide if he's actually a person they'd want inside them, who could possibly impregnate them. Likewise, men are intoxicated by the female body; they're driven to see it naked and touch it everywhere, ravenously grope it and squeeze it and kiss it and taste it—"objectify" it: "License my roving hands, and let them go / Before, behind, between, above, below," John Donne said, speaking for all men. And women, of course, frequently enjoy this: they enjoy being touched, fondled, kissed, "manhandled" to some extent, treated almost as putty in a man's hands. The relations of power or relative dominance in this situation are pretty clear (and are comparable to those in most other "romantic" situations, whether the man is making the woman giggle, giving her flowers, paying for her dinner, buying her jewelry, or fulfilling some other wish of hers).


All of this is almost too obvious to point out,[5] but somehow people are still able to say, "Why do women have a lower status than men? It must be only because of male misogyny! It's the patriarchy!" The intellectual naïveté of this—or the willful blindness or self-dishonesty—is striking. The rage at men can even be somewhat galling, because, as I noted, the average heterosexual woman implicitly wants and expects, in certain contexts, to be of a slightly lower "status" than men, more "passive," receptive, protected, and so on. How many women are attracted to men of lower status than they—weaker men, shorter men, insecure men? A man thought to be of a higher status (whether in terms of his confidence, his finances, his career, his intellect, his physical strength, his older age, or whatever) is infinitely more attractive.


Young women want a man who can take charge. (If he can't, they'll usually reject him.) That says it all right there. Why are intellectuals unable to draw the obvious conclusions from this fact?


In fact, behavior that some feminists, such as Andrea Dworkin, have criticized as misogynistic and degrading to women is often celebrated—perhaps rightly—by "sex-positive" feminists, who plausibly argue that women should be allowed to explore their sexuality even if it takes "demeaning" forms that Dworkin wouldn't like. Wearing flagrantly self-objectifying clothing, for example, or enjoying and participating in degrading pornography, are sometimes considered "empowering" for women. (Similarly, one recalls the widespread celebration some years ago of Beyoncé's commodification of her sexuality as a bold feminist move.) Apparently the irony passes unnoticed that behavior that reinforces women's objectification and subordination should be considered "empowering." But this is yet another instance of the common and perfectly normal female desire—in part a social artifact, and not always consciously acknowledged, but nonetheless a deeply rooted desire—to be relatively "passive" in certain circumstances.


Again, though, to describe all these facts has no implications with regard to essential types of feminist activism. It should be self-evident that the activism focused on domestic violence, rape, sexual harassment, the right to have abortions, and on material issues of childcare, economic security and status, etc., is of a wholly different moral character than the naïve intellectual discourses that pretend there is no natural basis at all for "sexist" gender relations. This is why I'm saying nothing about the fight against political misogyny: it's too obviously legitimate and necessary, and there's nothing interesting for me to say about it because it's already universally embraced by leftists and liberals.


But what a disgrace, in the age of 21st-century science, that a semi-"blank slate" model of the mind is still taken seriously by vast numbers of educated people! Behold the influence of postmodern idealism/empiricism—Foucault, Bruno Latour, Judith Butler, and the like, but also the more general, scientifically illiterate 100% social constructionism of much feminism since the 1960s.[6]


Not only women suffer


This post has taken on a rather polemical tone, so I should probably repeat the disclaimer I made in a footnote: I'm not making value-judgments (as if men are "better," whatever that means). We're free to deplore any fact about how people naturally behave and think. Personally, I do deplore the "immorality" of nature—the cross-species tendency to valorize "dominance" and devalue, for example, males who are weaker or smaller, or females, or, say, anyone who is physically unattractive. Or, even worse, the vicious struggle for survival itself: the carnivorous eating alive of luckless prey, the starving to death of endless numbers of animals, the very creation of an animal—homo sapiens—capable of the horrors history is full of. Nature cares nothing about our human values of equality and justice.[7]


If you want to play the value-judgment game, it isn't hard to find reasons to say men are the more "shameful" sex. The proliferation of pedophiles, sleazebags, sociopaths, psychopaths, sadists, narcissists, domineering buffoons, amoral power addicts, and every other horrific type of male personality (though not only male) is enough to establish this. A feminist friend of mine once said, "men are actively horrible, while women are horrible in their passiveness." The second half of that statement is a little harsh, but there's a lot of truth to the first half. Of course, it too is oversimplified. Men should be shamed to the extent that they act badly, and women should be shamed if they act badly too. Neither sex is "better" than the other, and it's incredibly immature to make such judgments. We're all individuals with our unique strengths and weaknesses.


Having said a little about the partially natural foundations of gender stereotypes—and by implication the inadequacy of feminists' blaming men for every type of sexual inequality (as though women have no agency and are nothing but victims)—I want to say something about the liberal and left tendency to ignore or dismiss the problems of men in favor of an exclusive focus on the concerns of what they call "the marginalized." (As if millions of men—even white cisgendered men, believe it or not!—aren't effectively "marginalized" in our crushingly inhuman late-capitalist trainwreck of a civilization!) It isn't exactly a brilliant political strategy to try to alienate an enormous popular constituency.


It must be said, first, that it certainly is hideous how much suffering men cause women (and each other). Not only institutionally, as with the blatantly misogynistic Supreme Court, but also personally. We shouldn't be surprised that the dominant sex is apt to treat "the second sex" appallingly, not least because the dominant sex (sometimes) treats everyone, including fellow males, appallingly. But that hardly excuses it.[8] Western society, fortunately, has become well aware of women's suffering due to the achievements of feminism since the 1960s, even if the U.S. is currently experiencing a regression. Unfortunately—on a personal level—male violence and abuse persist, and surely, to some degree, always will. The best we can do is to mitigate them, through education and a more enlightened politics.


With the progress of feminism, however, has, as I said, come a relative decline of interest in the problems of men. Attention to these is now often relegated to the dark corners of the internet—incel forums and the like—and reactionary media figures. The intellectual buffoon Jordan Peterson quite possibly never would have become a celebrity if liberalism and the left had not ignored the concerns of millions of left-behind young men, a huge sea of lost souls. Who are now, in many cases, ripe for fascism because of their rage and alienation.


Even if their despair couldn't have been solved, it's important at least to be noticed. Peterson notices them, and they love him for it.


Much of the despair arises from their relations with women. Or their lack of relations with women. What they need are left-wing figures to talk to them, to acknowledge them and "recognize" them. Or, better, left-wing institutions and public spaces to discuss together and raise consciousness. There's no substitute for sex or a relationship with a woman—it is this that allows the man to feel like a man, to feel affirmed, listened to, cared for and loved—but the construction of public spaces could be precisely a means toward realizing these desires. Social privatization and atomization, driven by neoliberal capitalism, bear much of the blame for the loneliness epidemic that afflicts men and women, but these men, brainwashed by libertarianism and Ben Shapiro, end up as ideological foot-soldiers for exactly this capitalism that has been their downfall!


As someone who has, like most people, known what it means to be lonely and frustrated, I have sympathy for the millions of young men who are sexually starved, anguished, frequently rejected by women after one date for no apparent reason except that she "didn't feel the chemistry." (And what determines chemistry? If he's funny enough, charming enough, good at flirting, or else very good-looking, etc. If he doesn't exude a confident and high-status masculinity, she'll quite possibly brush him aside and look for someone else.) I think of that guy who tweeted some weeks ago that he's gone on countless dates, been consistently kind and friendly, and yet been rejected so often that it seems as if all women had a meeting wherein they decided not to date him. So he's just come to accept that he'll never have a girlfriend, and he's trying to adjust to that fact.


I don't really know what I'd say to them, but I wish I could talk to these men who feel hardly human because of their rejection by the opposite sex. They feel ignored, invisible, many of them. The male craving to touch female flesh, to lie next to a woman, to protect her and stand up for her and hold her hand and, holy of holies, enter her body in the most gentle and loving way—these longings, rooted deeply in the male body, demand consummation, and can torture if they go unconsummated. To be shunned by such beautiful people (it seems) as women is the most awful injury, cutting to the very core of one's manhood. To see women, day after day, in their short skirts and low-cut shirts, flaunting their bodies almost as if to taunt and tempt every man who they know isn't allowed to touch them, can be agonizing for the young men who are expected not even to cast lingering glances. Month after month, year after year, many are deprived of the barest touch, the merest kiss, the breast to fondle or the legs to be enveloped in.


And so, in misery, a lot of these men become misogynistic. But what is misogyny? It can take structural forms, as when women are systematically excluded from some institution, and it can take subjective forms, as in the hostile attitudes that find expression online. Feminists have stretched the term so that almost anything can be misogynistic—acting chivalrously, looking at a woman's half-exposed breasts, "objectifying" her (as if her highly revealing clothing isn't self-objectifying), making some inadvertent generalization in a conversation—but this is just the usual excess that attends all popular movements. We shouldn't let it mislead us into thinking misogyny is only imagined and not a real problem. There is misogyny even in the womanizing behavior of charismatic, narcissistic, sociopathic men (see: the Tinder Swindler) who are wildly popular with women and end up breaking their hearts.


Unfortunately, there is no hope to eradicate misogyny. Resentment or even hatred of women will always be present in some men who have been frequently rejected—just as hatred of men will often be present in women who have been rejected. These are natural psychological reactions to acute unhappiness that is thought to be caused by some group of people. You can no more do away with them than you can do away with the human psyche. But it's true that in a less privatized, atomized, and frivolous society, a world without such an incredibly toxic dating culture, the sexes would doubtless have a healthier attitude toward each other.


Meanwhile, for the sake of reducing the threat of fascism, it would be advisable for leftists and liberals to stop ridiculing and demonizing all men and instead start taking them and their problems seriously. Otherwise you're driving them into the arms of the fascists. (Historically, liberalism has always been complicit in fascism—liberals fear socialism, or economic democracy, more than fascism—but it's sad that even leftists now are complicit in the rise of the far-right.[9]) After all, it isn't as if most women are saints either. Both sexes participate in and/or benefit from the exploitative, authoritarian relations of capitalism, and both sexes (or most members of both sexes) are harmed by them also. Both sexes act with astonishing cruelty toward other people. As individuals, men are no worse than women.


Many feminists—I see them on social media pretty often—will deny that men have distinctive problems at all, but to wildly dismiss the opposite sex like this is only to substitute a fascism-enabling war between the sexes for the revolutionary war between the classes.


Rationality vs. ideology


Mainstream intellectual culture revolves around denying or ignoring uncomfortable truths. It is controlled and policed by ideologists who refuse to face—or to publish—obvious facts about a wide array of issues: the disastrous nature of capitalism, the catastrophic role of the U.S. in the world, the total amorality of power centers, the desperate need, for the sake of human survival, to build global anti-capitalist movements. And, far down the list, the irrationality and misandrist tendencies of feminist intellectual discourse.


It's perfectly predictable that most liberals or leftists who come across this blog post will have no response to it except "Misogyny!", but my hope is that some readers will have the cognitive capacity to separate the realm of value from the realm of fact. To look at homo sapiens honestly, warts and all, holding their value-judgments at bay.


To spread the message—implicitly or explicitly—that men are nothing but terrible oppressors, that their masculinity is "toxic," that they're alone responsible for all of history's evils and have contributed very little that's positive, that virtue is equivalent to femininity, that only women really suffer and that male perspectives are intrinsically prejudiced and unjust, is to turn people against both feminism and the left. Likewise, to reduce all of gender and sexuality to socialization, as if sex hormones don't exist and women and men aren't naturally psychologically different in some respects, is to turn people against feminism, because these dogmas are transparently ideological and stupid. It's as if Judith Butler and her acolytes, provincially postmodernist, have never read a scientific paper or are incapable of reflecting on the status implications of, say, physical size and strength or the tendency to cry easily and crave protection by men. However ridiculous these status implications are, they do exist.


It would be nice if feminism could be more realistic and less fanatically social constructionist/woke, but that won't happen. Mere reason is hopeless against hegemonic institutions and ideologies. It's up to more realistic people, or the more realistic side of the same people, to focus on the things that matter: class organizing, resistance to the dismantling of abortion rights, organizing for maternity leave and free childcare, the defeat of all Republican candidates for office, in general raising the security and status of women. This is what's rational and what's needed—not the contempt for men that often passes as feminist.


*


[1] Many expressions of sexism are awful and should be challenged through activism, but sexism as such—categorizing most people as either male or female and being strongly influenced in your thoughts and behavior by that categorization—is universal. For example, taking greater care not to hurt women's feelings than men's is both sexist and very, very common—and also the right thing to do, because women and men are different.


[2] The linked article has flaws, but it isn't worthless.


[3] Notice, also, that even just among men, physical strength and size tend to correlate with relative dominance, other things being equal. A smaller and weaker man is usually less dominant than a large and strong one—and elicits less sexual interest from women (who usually show greater preference for strong, tall, (semi-)dominant men). So it's hardly only women who are disadvantaged by the inequalities that are inscribed in nature.


[EDIT: Feminist literature has addressed this question of physical strength and size. Let me comment on, for example, Kate Millett's overrated classic Sexual Politics: "The heavier musculature of the male is biological in origin...but is also culturally encouraged through breeding, diet and exercise" (p. 27). True. Culture is important. But the male's "heavier musculature" seems to be "culturally encouraged" in nearly all societies, for reasons of competition between males, hunting for prey, sexual prowess, etc. "Yet it is hardly an adequate category on which to base political relations within civilization. Male supremacy, like other political creeds"—but it isn't only a political creed; it's a deeply rooted tendency in personal relations (as we'll see)—"does not finally reside in physical strength but in the acceptance of a value system which is not biological." Again, true: a value system, as such, isn't merely "biological"; it's also cultural. But there is no reason to think biology can't influence value systems. (For instance, the value placed on sex and procreation is clearly biological in origin.) "Superior physical strength is not a factor in political relations—vide those of race and class." Well, for one thing, I'm not making a vulgar reduction of political relations to superior male strength, so this criticism doesn't really apply to me. But, actually, superior physical strength can be a factor in political relations. Suppose one race were very physically weak: we would hardly be surprised to find that it was frequently enslaved by others. —Anyway, this gives you the gist of some of Millett's arguments against the importance of "nature." The others are similarly weak.]


[4] The feminist urge to say, in effect, "Sexism!" in response to such thoughts as Kierkegaard's, and thereby to dismiss them, isn't a serious response. Kierkegaard was no idiot, and he had far more psychological insight than the run-of-the-mill feminist. By the way, women's "permission" to be relatively emotional—and, to repeat, this stereotype of "emotionalism" is based on truth, not prejudice—is an example of a kind of female privilege: as I just said above, a man who acted exactly like most women do would be judged laughable and pathetic because of his lack of self-control. (This is just a fact about how he'd be perceived; I'm not making any value-judgment, as if I endorse such a perception oridioticallythink there's something shameful about female behavior. Lest one kill the messenger, one has to distinguish between reporting facts and 'endorsing' facts.)


I also might as well note here that there is much truth to the widespread idea that gender is on a spectrum, that the sexes aren't absolutely different, and that everyone has masculine and feminine traits. I'm only saying (or rather repeating the results of scientific research) that most women cluster near one end of this psychological spectrum while most men cluster near the other end.


[5] It's also seen as impolite—or even misogynistic—to point it out. But, while it's quite proper that in polite company you shouldn't make elementary observations about human behavior that might make someone uncomfortable, if you're actually interested in understanding, you can hardly ignore the implications of any of this.


[6] Social constructionist feminists are in an unenviable position. For the sake of their ideology they're committed to denying that biology or natural human responses play any role at all in constructing gender or status relations between men and women—because as soon as you admit they play even a small role, you're naturalizing gender—but this forces them to ignore or try to explain away every piece of scientific evidence and every consideration of elementary rationality that suggests gender is grounded in biology. So they can't help but be dogmatic, irrational, and scientifically perverse.


[7] This isn't to endorse Social Darwinism. Humans are a deeply social and communal species who can, do, and should take care of each other.


[8] It does, however, make somewhat less impressive the usual charge of "misogyny!" Men treat each other horrifically, just as badly, in a sense, as they treat women. And they often treat women much better, much more respectfully. As I said above, sexism or "double standards" can work to the advantage of women, as when women aren't ridiculed or ostracized for behavior that would get a man relentlessly mocked or even physically assaulted. In this respect, feminists, despite themselves, are very much in favor of a kind of positive sexism or an underlying chivalry—and they're right. It would be unbelievably offensive and gauche, or worse, to treat women just as one treats men. (For example: if a woman acts in a highly obnoxious way, a way that would get a man knocked out if he acted similarly, a man is forbidden from hitting her, because she's a "weak" and "defenseless" woman. It's telling that there isn't a similar stricture against hitting a comparably weak or physically frail man, which you'd think there would be if simple "weakness" or "defenselessness" were the issue. Instead, it seems that chivalry and sexism are the only motivations for this (correct) "don't hit women" rule. This is even more clearly the case given that society is actually more forgiving of parents who hit their children than of men who hit women!—despite the greater disparity in strength between adults and children than between men and women!)


[9] Frankly, they were complicit even in the 1930s, given the suicidal sectarianism of both Communists and Social Democrats.

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