About 'Alpha+Good'

Alpha+Good (sort of a bad wordplay on Orwell and machismo) is a side project that belongs to 'Onklare taal' ('Unclear language'), the umbrella of several of my literary projects in Dutch. This section is almost exclusively in English and comprises my ongoing thoughts on progress, gender, politics and various other social themes. Are you a little lost? This link will take you right back to my home page.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Connecting the dots

The gruesome gang rape, the resulting death of the victim, and the outrage it sparked in India as well as internationally, has probably baffled many people. As with brutal war crimes (that often involve graphic rape in no small part), acts like that seem almost incomprehensible from a common sense point of view. Why would people ever brutalise another human being like that? How is it possible that an entire group of adult people can participate in something so despicable and senselessly destructive that most people would not hesitate to put the perpetrators of these acts to death?

A lot of explanations have been offered for crimes like that. A sort of group think that becomes increasingly locked up in a bubble of its own and then produces terrible excesses is one explanation that is often offered. But I find that it also acquits people who were not directly involved with such crimes all too easily.

Gang rapists aren't born as hardened misogynists who don't see women (or in some cases, certain types of men) as human beings. The same is true for genocidal war criminals. Some among them might have been sociopaths all along, but the majority probably isn't. They're not born into their bubble of hate and frustration, but they do start off with basic assumptions about women or minorities that society openly condones or at least tolerates.

Women in India are second-class citizens at best. A staggering number of girl infants is murdered every year because having sons supposedly brings more honour to the family, and a dowry for a girl can break the back of a family already under financial stress. It's one of the most brutal points of intersection between sexism and capitalism, by the way. A lot of poor men grow up with the realization that they'll never be able to find a wife, yet they watch television and consume media that portray women in varying degrees as objects with no other purpose than to please men, and see women struggling for independence outpacing them in terms of power, success and money.

That poisonous cocktail really isn't that specific for India. It's the same story for misogynists in the rural United States, poor youths of North African origin in the streets of Brussels or Paris, or whatever group of men that is constantly told their genitals make them superior and entitled, yet are never able to cash in on that entitlement. There has even been a convincing case for the fact that it's that sort of rage that played a part in the mass shootings of the past decade, nearly always committed by white men in their '20s.

Until we recognise and see that as a society, we are still providing too much fertile ground for the most terrible excesses to start growing, and that these people do not start out as extremists or can be dismissed as completely alien, these things will continue to happen.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The age of the hyper-parasitic

Intellectuals complaining about not getting enough public recognition compared to what they see as vapid celebrities is hardly a new phenomenon. In the 4th century BCE, for example, the Greek orator Isocrates was already bemoaning the fact that meatheaded athletes were celebrated as heroes for simply being able to run very fast, at the expense of serious attention and recognition for intellectuals (I will assume that he meant himself here).

It is also a favourite pastime of intellectuals to complain about society somehow getting dumber or how the world will soon be ending because young people apparently like music that they don't. Even if that would all be true, it's unfair to blame kids solely for their own shortcomings.

But wait, there's more
Still, there are a couple of things that got me thinking lately. Perhaps my memory doesn't stretch far enough, or maybe phenomena like this indeed have been around forever in some form, but consider the following:

See, the fact here is not so much that what these people do is bad, it's that they take something bad, make it somehow worse, keep being shitty, and get rewarded for it. Frankly, I do find that incredibly depressing.

It's one thing to complain about this, but another to examine why this happens. I don't believe that the public, at large, actually demands to be insulted by talentless hacks or seeing people with questionable attitudes rewarded. What I do believe is that this "eh, I suppose it will do fine" attitude is symptomatic of a much larger problem: we're stuck.

Moving towards not moving

Research has, in fact, pointed out that pop music is less diverse than it was 30 years ago, and keeps getting less diverse. The famed Overton window has, in most developed countries, either not moved or has moved strongly towards the right, hardly an indication of progression. This correlates with the fact that since the 1970s, there have been no new political movements of note (stuff like the Tea Party isn't ideologically new). Technological innovation has become seriously hampered by patent wars. Oil companies and media companies have become bloated empires, but in much fewer numbers. The list goes on and on.

I think there are two key reasons for this:
  • The disproportionate influence that the disproportionally wealthy wield to protect their interests and/or increase their stake at all costs
  • The people who are in that group remain healthy and in control of the levers of pwoer for much longer than they would have a century ago

So what does that have to do with our political and cultural standstill, which has engendered a climate of hyper-parasitism? It's that true creation, true innovation and actual deep thought not just take effort (and thus more financial risk to do and support), but that they also present a challenge to the famed 1%'s interest.

'50 Shades of Grey', for all its purported S&M-angles, is still role-confirming crap that riffs of of what is essentially one long wet Mormon dream. Keeping Chris Brown around is apparently also easier than questioning an industry's twisted attitude towards women, not to mention the attitude of the owners of said industry.

An economy of parasites

There is an interesting analogy with the economy at large. Western economies have long moved largely from an agricultural to an industrial model, and after World War II, increasingly towards a service-based economy. Opaque stock markets don't just trade shares, but also include things like futures, derivatives, and allow anonymous institutions to nefariously speculate on the prices of foodstuff. This is parasitic to the max: this kind of money that makes money in a bubble of abstracts is harmful. There's a case to be made that in this way, speculants not just caused the ongoing debt crisis, but also the Arab Spring revolution.

What to do?

Unlike Noam Chomsky, I don't believe that the stagnant, parasitic attitude of the elites - and the proliferation of white-noise hacks that results from it - that hurts us all is completely deliberate. A lot of these people were born into privilege and wealth and have likely never critically examined their positions. In most cases, we won't change their minds, and unless we start getting hungry and deprived of our basic needs, a revolution's not going to happen.

What we can do, however, is the following:
  • Remain critical and observant, even of critical observation
  • Keep in mind the larger context: the world is a vastly more complex system than your immediate area and sphere of thought
  • Refuse to buy into a system that pushes inferior, unnecessary shit
  • Be active in making things better with the talents and skills you have, don't waste that
  • Remain social - too many self-styled activists are content to complain on the internet but don't actually do anything
  • Don't vote for politicians who are corporate stooges, although often you'll have to choose the lesser of two evils
  • Don't regard moral compromise as a cardinal sin, sometimes it's more important to get something done than to remain ideologically pure and watch things go to shit
  • Stand up, get up
It doesn't have to be much that you do, and it doesn't have to be immediate. Just don't expect things to change for the better if you never raise your voice.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Picking your battles

There are a few Facebook friends that I have unsubscribed from. In most cases, the reasons are political. These people cannot shut up about it. The majority of them are conservative, one of them is actually a fellow progressive.

I'm aware that some people use 'pick your battles' as an excuse to remain stuck in the quicksand of slacktivism or use it only to pay some lip service to whatever cause they claim to support. But there is a truth to it. If you're going to rush into every single battle, rectify every single falsehood or take up all causes, you'll achieve nothing. You might even alienate people that support you.

But how can you accurately gauge what battle is worth fighting? There's no clear-cut flowchart I can offer on that one, sorry. But here's a few contextual elements that help me to decide if I'm going to say something, and how I'll say it:

  • The better I know the person who said something offensive or misinformed, the more likely I am to challenge their opinion, e.g. if a close friend would claim Zwarte Piet isn't racist.
  • The more distant I know someone is from my own convictions, the more inflammatory their opinion has to be to actually make me respond, e.g. a liberal moaning about taxes won't really get me to respond.
  • The more people are present and listening, the more likely it is that I'll say something. The tone will depend on what kind of audience it is.

Also, I do try to argue from a position of good faith, which I think can help any type of debate or discussion you're having. So:

  • Unless I get indications of the contrary, I'll assume my opponent is also arguing in good faith
  • I won't descend into personal attacks and hyperbole
  • I don't want to let others move the goalposts of the debate
  • I try to understand where the others are coming from, even if I think their opinion is horrible
  • I won't debate anyone who thinks the possibility that they're wrong doesn't exist

Lastly, the whole 'battle' thing isn't even really about winning. I know that back when I held a host of uninformed or stupid opinions (I probably still hold some), arguing with me until I admitted defeat wasn't really going to help a lot. It was a combination of a steady trickle of personal experience, reading and discussing that slowly turned my views. I'm already pleased if I can at least plant a seed of doubt.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

About speaking up

All changes in society come from people who decide to stand up and say "well, this is not okay". Paradoxically, even the most bitter reactionairies begin that way. But when standing up for a progressive cause (i.e. towards a more inclusive, more egalitarian and less prejudiced society), you go against the established hierarchy. That can be kind of scary.

Recently I submitted something to the Tumblr 'Men Against Assholes & Misogyny' started by the comedian Jen Kirkman, who had grown tired of all the internet sexism and the people who didn't speak out against it. Submitting something seemed like a no-brainer. It's just the internet, the safest space of all if you've got something to say, right?

Actually, as I was writing, I considered that it might be read by those same vile sexists that throw out casual rape threats and exclusively judge women by their appearance. I wasn't sure if I was prepared to, at best, roll my eyes at the number of people that would suggest I was gay, would surely be able to beat my ass in a fist fight or thought I was making a clever ploy to reel in all of the internet's sweet pussy. I also started worrying a bit about portraying myself as too much of a feminist - you know, a misguided progressive can harm their own cause much more than a malicious reactionary ever would. To paraphrase Nietzsche: "the most insiduous way to undermine a cause is to defend it with the wrong arguments."

I got over these thoughts, of course, but it was then that it occurred to me that speaking up in real life must be very hard for a lot of people, too. As I wrote in my short piece, I'm getting better at it. It's still not easy to be in between a rock and a hard place. You don't want to always be That Guy who goes off on a social justice tangent in every setting. But you also don't want to get idiots get away with harmful opinions.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

My Bechdel failure

I recently happened upon a thing called 'the Bechdel Test', also known as the Bechdel-Wallace Test, or, apparently, the Mo Movie Measure. While primarily used when talking about gender bias in movies, it's equally applicable to any work of art that is story- and character-driven.

The test is as follows:
(1) Does the work of fiction have at least two women in it?
(2) Do they talk to each other?
(3) When they do, do they talk about anything other than men or a man?

These seem like simple questions that make a lot of sense, yet, if you interpret the test liberally (e.g. replace 'man' with any sort of marriage- or relationship-related topic), apparently a lot of works with traditionally strong female characters don't even pass the test.

Now, it's no secret that I consider myself a progressive person with a deep interest in minority causes and feminism, so I decided to apply the test to my own short and long stories. For the sake of brevity, I've only considered work I've written since January 2010, and only if the story consisted of two or more chapters. Here are the results:

  • De patriarch (The Patriarch): passes none of the questions, although in fairness, this is a story without dialogue and only two characters
  • Desert of the real: passes the first question, barely passes the other two, but in such an insignificant way that it doesn't really count
  • De kleine onderwereld (The Little underworld): passes none
  • De gehangenen (The Hanged): passes the first question, fails the other two
  • Jahannam: this story is as of now unfinished, but it passes all three questions, although the last two weakly so
  • De spiegel van Satraoron (Satraoron's Mirror): passes none
  • Ungesicht (Unface): passes the test, but not exactly with flying colours
  • De nacht van de ram (The Night of the Ram): passes the first two, fails the last
  • De presidenten (The Presidents): passes none
  • Alleen op feestjes (Only at Parties): passes the first, fails the two other questions
  • Einde (End): passes the test
  • De vergelijking van Wolver (The Wolver Equation): unpublished, but only passes the first question
  • Zeppelin: fails the test completely

In numbers: out of 14 short stories I've written since January 2010, only four pass the Bechdel Test, and if I'm really strict, only two do. Five stories fail the test completely.

As you can tell, this is a sobering conclusion. While I like patting myself on the back that I've come a long way as a writer since the days I was 15 and didn't know any better than to write horrible turns of phrase about how a female character had "luckily calmed down and became the cornerstone of a family", it shows that I still have a lot of progress to make if I want my progressive stances to be reflected in the fiction that I write.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Student life and sexism

I posted about this on another forum, too, but I also wanted to share it on this blog. It's a reaction to the outrage on this article:
Last week, the Everyday Sexism Project received a message from a student about to start her first year studying physics at Imperial College, London.

The message included a forwarded email, which she said had been sent by the Physics Society to all first year physics students. It read "Freshers' Lunch...This will be mainly a chance for you to scope out who's in your department and stake your claim early on the 1 in 5 girls."

For female students to be sent an email from a university society marking them out as sexual prey before they’d even started their course seemed extreme and inappropriate. But a few days later, we received another email, this time from a freshers' week volunteer. He wrote of his distress at the "horrific normalisation" of sexist attitudes and sexual pressure during the week’s festivities.

He described a group of excited male first-years who told him about “slut dropping”. The process, they explained, involves driving around town with friends in the early hours of the morning and offering a lift home to a young woman they deem a “slut” (usually a woman in a “post-club state”). After asking her address, they drive as fast and as far as possible in the opposite direction before forcing the woman out of the car and using a camera to film her “standing by the side of the road as they drive away”.  It’s difficult to know how widely this has occurred but the concept is reminiscent of a disturbing new trend of ‘slut-shaming’. On one occasion, the first-year added, it had taken the girl eight hours to get home. When asked how he knew, he explained that they were ‘friends’ on Facebook.

Another message came from a student distressed about the inclusion of a “Slag ‘n’ Drag” themed club night as part of the freshers’ week festivities at the University of York. The university’s student newspaper, Nouse, describes the event as “the one night of Freshers ‘…where a girl can dress like a total slut and no other girls can say anything about it’”. It goes on to say that “the girls rock out in their best bra and French knicker combo [sic]”.

A quick Google search demonstrates that such events, where male students are given the opportunity to dress in a humorous way whilst girls are expected to dress sexually or arrive scantily clad, are far from rare fixtures on freshers’ week schedules. Themes range from ‘Tarts and Vicars’, ‘Rappers and Slappers’ and ‘Geeks and Sluts’ to ‘Golf pros and Tennis hoes’.

The Lancaster University Students’ Union website boasts an event entitled “Slut-droppers vs Moshers” and the Women’s Officer at the University of Sheffield Students’ Union wrote an open letter to complain to local club Carnage about a “Pimps and Hoes” themed night, which she said seemed to be “exclusively aimed at students”. This hasn’t stopped a “Pimps and Hoes” event being advertised on the University of Derby Student Union website, or the similarly inappropriately named “Cherry Popper presents…” event appearing on the University of Wolverhampton Students Union site, while Dundee University Students’ Union proudly announced its own “CEOs and Corporate Hoes” themed night.

Perhaps the intention is light-hearted. But it is sobering to consider that these fresh cohorts of new students, perhaps amongst them the CEOs of the future, both male and female, are being sent the message by their own universities that men are CEOs, Pros and Geeks – powerful, talented, intelligent, whilst women are condemned to derisive sexual valuation alone.

Meanwhile, female first-years at the University of Kent were “horrified” when their freshers’ week culminated in a show by a hypnotist who allegedly made them perform lap dances and told them “When you wake up, you will think he touched you up just now.”

When we asked about freshers’ week experiences on Twitter, responses came thick and fast:

“At our [Student Union]…girls had to suck the choc off a kit kat chunky placed between a blokes [sic] legs”.

“Contest where girls had to dance on stage. Most cheers win. Girls encouraged to take off items of clothing. No guy version.”

“I think sex acts are a big 'funny' thing at uni. My friend was asked to deep throat a hotdog for free drinks.”

One woman wrote to tell us that the sexual pursuit of female freshers was nicknamed “seal-clubbing” at her university, effectively highlighting the worrying dynamic of vulnerability added by the fact that many students are experiencing their first week away from home. Pressure to take part in sexual situations and ‘make a joke’ of serious issues impacts male students too, with one particularly disturbing report we received reading:

“Flatmate quit lacrosse team when given team 'rules' stating that members don't date - that was what rape was for.”

Another wrote: “men's hockey team had fancy dress party at Student Union bar. Theme was rape victims. So awful its [sic] unbelievable but its [sic] true”

A 2010 study conducted by the National Union of Students revealed that of a nationwide sample of 2000 female students, 14% had been seriously physically or sexually assaulted, 68% were subject to sexual harassment and nearly a quarter had experienced unwanted sexual contact whilst at university. Given the severity of these statistics, it might be time to try a new theme for freshers’ week.

Author’s note:  The third paragraph has been amended to clarify that there has only been one reported incident of 'slut-dropping'.

Student unions and associations all over the world seem to have a serious (image) problem with this. Allow me to weigh in with a little experience from inside such a union - I was a member for four years, and on the board for three years, one year of which as president. Of course, you may also take my opinions and experiences with a grain of salt because I'm a man, and maybe doubly so because I'm from mainland Europe (though I doubt the latter really matters).

- Media love, love, love to report in the grossest and most sensasionalist terms about young people and sex. Whether the take is that young people risk disease, sexual predation or a prediliction for unhinged experimentation, there's always an undertone of apocalytpic fervour about it. That's not to say excesses don't exist or some trends can't be worrying, but their proportional occurrence is usually overstated. For instance, a few years ago, local media reported a craze where girls would insert vodka-soaked tampons into their ladyparts to speed up alcohol absorption. The story was widely debunked afterwards, but it stuck with many people as an example of "degenerate youth".

- Student life in particular seems to carry that twisted undertone of being young and getting to have as much sex as you can or want, while for the majority of students, it's anything but. Most sudents are somewhat shy, not that experienced and yes, curious, but most guys certainly aren't embryonic rapists waiting to hatch from their Nice Guy shells, and neither are most girls okay with being objectified for the sake of social acceptation. I don't doubt that what the article says is all true, but in my experience, stuff like that was not the norm, and mostly occurred with student unions that were already populated for the largest part by guys (most unions here are co-ed), or unions that had a seedy reputation to begin with, and thusly only attracted seedy people. Not that it makes it okay or that it shouldn't receive any scrutiny, but I do want to point out that it's not the norm, at least where I'm from.

- Since 2002, the student union I was part of annually hosted such a 'pimps & hoes' party. One of the reasons for its success was that most of the girls who came felt comfortable with it was because they knew the majority of people there personally and as such, had a good idea in advance about which guys could be trusted and which were sketchier. The union kept doing it every year because of the huge success. In 2005, the union restricted it to members only (and only if they were dressed up), or early ticket buyers. We'd done this because the 2004 edition had attracted a lot of wrong people, mostly mid to late 20-something guys, not dressed up, who'd come to ogle scantily clad girls and did not know anyone there. I'm not denying that the whole party theme is open to criticism, but I'm saying that dress-up parties like that don't have to be a raunchy free-for-all. Since 2005, creepers never really had a chance, though I don't know what it has been in the last few years since I'm not a student anymore and too old to attend anyway.

- If you're in the middle of it, it's sometimes really hard to see your own privilege. I think we did a lot of good things (no hazing rituals, going out our way to make people feel welcome and not being exclusive), and my predecessor (who was a woman), myself and my immediate successor clamped down hard on the old school sexist attitude of a lot of guys, but I do also see that we let people get away with things that were definitely not okay. That's the flip side of that comfortable context: some people feel more at ease and less judged for experimenting and 'going wild', but some people are pressured into going farther than they really want, and that's not cool.

- I'm not sure whether there is an upsurge of misogyny in student life or not because I'm not part of it anymore, but it wouldn't surprise me. However, I think the fundamental discussion after this article should how society/media seem to be judge, jury, accused and defendant when it comes down to creating attitudes like that: create the impression student life is going to be all about no-consequences sex, then shame everyone involved for doing it by breathlessly reporting on the excesses of that attitude.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Some words about harrassment from a porn star

It's not that I want to be lazy, but I felt that this article had the full right to be reposted in its entirity. I do know that some feminist activists and thinkers consider Jezebel to be a mixed blessing, I did think this article hit nails with hammers. You can find the original here.

I can actually remember every time a person at a convention or trade show has touched me inappropriately. My first year at the Venus Fair in Berlin there was a man who shoved two of his fingers into my panty-covered vagina. It was really fast, like he was standing there one second and the next I was trying to figure out how the gusset of my underwear had ended up in my vulva. There was a man in Texas who rather violently squeezed my ass while we were taking a picture and then laughed at how I'd "squealed like a piglet." Seriously. I'm kind of disappointed by how much of a stereotype he was. At AVN this year, a guy grabbed my forearm while I was walking from the elevators to Digital Playground's booth. He let go when I punched him in the testicle area. There's an average of three people per convention who try the more subtle approach of sliding their hand a bit too far down my back when I stand next to them for a photo. Every single one of them apologizes when I gently put their hand back where it belongs and ask them to remember that I am not a blow up doll.

The above paragraph is absolutely nothing, NOTHING, compared to what it's like to be a girl or woman walking around in public in broad daylight. With dirty hair up in a ponytail or bun, no makeup, and baggy clothing on. With headphones in, sitting in a coffee shop or on the subway with your nose in a book, or talking on the phone.

Men have followed me down the street poking me in what one can only assume is an attempt to get my attention. Men have grabbed the cord to my headphones and ripped them out of my ears. Multiple times. Men have grabbed parts of my body, or my coat or purse strap. Twice, when I was transporting my Lyra (the three foot metal hoop/circus apparatus I do aerial work on) they have grabbed the hoop and refused to let go until I threatened to kick them. They've blocked me into corners on mostly empty subway cars, followed me for blocks and then stood outside whatever shop I duck into for absurd amounts of time. They stop their cars in the middle of the crosswalk to stare and yell things out of the window. Years ago, in Philadelphia, one man walked around my neighborhood asking people if they knew where this blue-haired white girl lived because he wanted to return her phone. Fortunately my neighbors were too smart for that trick.

They say I have a sweet ass, nice tits, a real pretty dress. They say I'm their future wife, or I'd look good with their dick in my mouth. They try (and probably succeed at times) to take pictures down my shirt. They ask if they can get my number, they ask where I live, why I'm not smiling, why my boyfriend lets me walk around by myself. Then they ask why I'm such a bitch, if my pussy is made of ice. They say that they never do this, as though I've somehow driven them to inappropriate behavior and deserve it. They say they're just having fun, trying to pay me a compliment. Pretty frequently they get mean, slipping into a loud tourettes — like chant of bitch-whore-cunt-slut.

Before you try to tell me that it's because I take my clothes off for a living, let me tell you that this started way before I was 18. Let me tell you that every single woman I know has at least one truly terrifying story of street harassment and a whole bunch of other stories that are merely insulting or annoying. Let me remind you that in a room of pornography fans, who have actually seen me with a dick in my mouth and who can buy a replica of my vagina in a can or box, I am treated with far more respect than I am walking down the street.

It seems like women have been sharing their experiences with sexual harassment all over the place in the past few weeks. That's what prompted me to share mine. As Jen Bennett said on twitter, there is clearly something in the air. It should be in the air. Speaking up is the only way that we can help people understand that something is an issue. Sharing is how we let each other know that we are not alone. Open discussion raises awareness of things like Slutwalk and Hollaback.

Street harassment is not a rare or isolated occurrence. It does not only happen in America. It does not only happen to young or traditionally-considered-"beautiful" women. It does not only happen on public transit or in low income areas.

We shouldn't have to have a big angry dog named Funster to protect us. We shouldn't have to carry Mace or a knife, hoping that we'll be able to use it properly if necessary or investing hours of our lives in self defense courses (something a lot of women have neither the time nor disposable income to do). We shouldn't have to travel in packs to feel safe (again, something that isn't really feasible).

Men have been responding saying that they want to divorce their gender. That they didn't realize, until we started sharing our stories en masse, what it is like to be a woman. That they wish there was something they could do. That they're sorry for the way other men treat people. Men shouldn't have to feel like they need to apologize on behalf of their gender, or feel ashamed of being male. Unless they're one of the ones doing the harassing, I don't think they should apologize.

There are things that can be done. When someone you know engages in inappropriate or harassing behavior towards a woman, let them know they did something totally not cool. Like: "Actually, that woman had a right to be upset when you chased her down the street. She was completely accurate when she called it creepy" or "Hey, this story you're telling me about putting your dick on a drunk stranger's face at a party when she clearly didn't want it there but was too sleepy to fend you off, that was a totally not cool thing to do with your penis, bro." Teach every moldable male* mind (brothers, friends, sons) that treating women (humans) with respect is the right thing to do. Don't have sex with jerks. Don't blow them, don't give them a handjob, don't give them your phone number. If you hear a woman asking a man to leave her alone or calling attention to the fact that he's whacking off in the train station, add your voice to hers. Say "This is not ok. This is not cool. We see what you are doing and it is unacceptable."

*I'm focusing on the men here because I've never experienced or heard of a case of menacing street harassment by a female. I could be misinformed. Could be. Possibly.

Friday, August 17, 2012

I am a fake man

When I was young and relatively clueless about the social realities of patriarchy and intersectionality, I was already annoyed by the myth of the 'Real Man'. I thought - and still think - it is dumb to say there can only be one type of real man, implying anyone who doesn't meet these standards is somehow not worthy of respect. What angered me even more was that so many women bought into it. True, for a while lady magazines ran with the 'New Man', the guy who does household chores and watches chick flicks, the Metrosexual, who is basically the non-gay flamboyant man, or the Übersexual, the man who is even too flamboyant for gayness. These cycles alternated with cries for the return to the 'Real Man', but the key message was the same: there's only one way to be a man, only one way to please the ladies. 

Needless to say, to my teenage self, this was incredibly confusing. What's worse, I blamed women for this confusion, not the overarching social structure where it's actually other men who dictate what being a man is all about. Men have a disproportionate amount of power in all facets of life, in the past more strongly than they do now, but it's still undeniably here. So, it's not really a surprise many women buy into the idea of the 'one way to be a man'. Needless to say, the image of the ideal woman is an even bigger bag of cultural schizophrenia: mother, whore, free, demure, object, agent, etc. I'd probably drink myself to death if I was a woman, with all that pressure piled on me.

The past decades have seen an ebb and flow of women's rights, but mostly a steady flow forward. One bad consequence: as women pour into spheres traditionally dominated by men, men retreat. In fact, they label those now mixed spheres as 'female', call it a day and move to a sphere where they still dominate. This is now why, as opposed to a few centuries ago, the arts, teaching, libraries or dancing are tolerated as part of a man's life at best, derided as being unmanly at worst. The worst consequence is that it has made certain groups of men anti-intellectual and hostile to culture. I mean, we live in an era where a buffoon with questionable points of view like Newt Gingrich is considered an intellectual, and Donald Trump is seen as a successful businessman.

By the way, make no mistake, even the arts are still dominated by men. The most famous contemporary writers, directors, chefs, teachers and bookkeepers are men. It's just that these areas of life are less overtly hostile to women than, say, construction or engineering.

So, the image of what a 'Real Man' is, has considerably narrowed within macho circles, especially among the less educated. Hand in hand with an increased focus on bodily ideation (companies discovered that men can be made to feel just as insecure about how they look, news at 11), society has created a subset of caricatures that hyper-emphasize traits like assertiveness, self-confidence and pragmatism until they become aggression, arrogance and dullness. This is a problem, and a problem that guys need to address. No amount of whining about certain women who actually like guys like that is going to help - and by the way, women who do like these caricatures are often caricatures themselves.

Instead of trying to expand or change the definition of a 'Real Man', as some magazines and writers have attempted in the past few years, we simply need to do away with the idea that there is a 'Real Man'. It's horseshit. What's more, it implies a form of misogyny, too - 'unmanly' men get ridiculed with gendered insults that carry the underlying assumption that women are weak, governed by emotions and have a low self-image.

A few months back, on my smoke break I encountered a colleague who, when he saw that I hadn't shaven for a week or two, snidely remarked that I had 'finally decided to become a real man'. I replied that I hadn't felt any lack of manliness in me before that. Admittedly not a brilliant comeback and a bit of a 'you had to be there'-moment, but I do think that's the spirit in which remarks like that should be addressed. Don't try to redefine what a man is. Just don't play that game.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Ah, the elite!

Across the board, the left is often accused of being elitist. This criticism is expressed in two ways. First, there are terms like 'limousine liberal', 'champagne socialist' or 'gauche caviar' which describe politicians who claim that their political origins lie with labour and emancipatory movements but lead the luxurious lifestyle of those they criticise. Second, it attempts to paint left-wing politicians as being removed from the reality on the ground, safe in their ivory towers of academia, out of touch with what 'the people' really want.

I'll take on the latter first. In my lifetime, I can't recall an instance of hearing a mainstream left-wing politician claim to speak for 'the people' at all. Rather, it's usually the domain of populist right-wing parties. In addition, with the catastrophic breakdown of the world's banking systems and economies due to the adherence to neo-liberal policy orthodoxies and the vicious ways in which the "1%" keeps interfering with international politics, I don't think the right gets to say that the left is somehow removed from reality. What they really mean, and what a real anger is that the right can tap into, is that the left always appears as though it knows what's best for the people, even if it is against their will. That suspicion is not entirely unwarranted. But it consciously conflates the notion of a parliamentary democracy with freedom of speech with the idea that somehow, the people are always right. If that were true, homosexuality would still be illegal, women wouldn't have the right to vote and gruesome death penalties would still be normal. An avant-garde advocating piecemeal social progress and greater equality for all is not a bad thing, as long as it's kept in check.

As far as the idea goes that left-wing politicians betray their own principles by having their own drivers and leading a comfortable, wealthy life, I'm not so sure why that's a problem. Apparently, the right gets away with it - it's even expected of them. It's ridiculous to assume you must be poor to champion the cause of the less fortunate. However, that criticism does hit a very important point, and one that frequently gets overlooked. With professional politicians coming more and more from the same class, ideas stagnate and politics become more a question of clan affiliation and byzantine networking. When was the last time, in Europe, someone who truly was 'from the people' (i.e. lower middle or working class) held a position of power? Both right and left love playing up the image of the outsider, but true outsiders are extremely rare.

It's been since the '70s that new political movements broke any ground in the West, with the greens. Ever since, there have been plenty of fresh ideas to solve the challenges that we face, but precious few of them have trickled down (or rather, up) to the leading class. Why? Since the '80s, social mobility has steadily been eroding. Well-off people's life expectancy has skyrocketed, and with it, the amount of time they have to hold on to power and groom others to follow in their footsteps, often their very own sons and daughters. Some countries have introduced voting thresholds, ostensibly to keep out extremist parties, while other systems are locked in a two-party struggle that has led to unhealthy amounts of partisan bickering over non-issues.

It's painfully obvious that each time the system gets adapted, it serves the interests of the ruling caste of politicians. It's disingenious that a lot of them claim to keep speaking for the people, though not as disingenious as the media, who willingly participate in whipping up controversies where there are none, or focus on distractions. What good is freedom of speech if not every voice has a chance to be heard equally? What good is voting if perceptions get skewed by corporate-owned media with a vested interest in 'business as usual'? The left is elitist - sure, there's some merit in it. But coming from the right, it's like the West lecturing China on neo-colonialism.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Democrazies

If you would ask an average citizen of a Western-style democracy to define the pillars of their government, the answers you'd most likely get are (1) rule of law, (2) separation of powers, (3) freedom of expression, (4) government by and of the people and (5) separation of religion and state.

Ever since Karl Popper wrote his 'The open society and its enemies' in 1922, democracies have had an uneasy relationship with 'enemies within', movements that seek to end one or all of those five pillars. The irony is that these movements demand protection under the banner of freedom of expression, so a democracy finds itself in a bind: to ban movements that, say, advocate a second Holocaust, anarchy or the establishment of a ruthless theocracy, a democracy would have to violate its own principles, thus changing in nature and inching closer to the goals of what they want to rid society of.

'Freedom of expression' is a thorny and misunderstood term. It's the ultimate refuge for people who refuse to face facts ("I have the right to say global warming doesn't exist!") and really, there's no country where such freedom is unlimited. For example, the Hitler salute is banned in many Western European countries, and a lot of countries have hate speech laws.

The question remains, what can a society do against fascist parties or religious fundamentalists of all stripe that make sure they don't cross the line into hate speech territory? I personally believe there's no simple recipe. Rather, there's several things a society can do:
  1. Examine and expose. Don't pretend they don't exist. For example: a Belgian pact to keep out the far-right from all governmental levels only served to make it stronger throughour the '90s and '00s until its role was usurped by a new right-wing party that is worryingly growing very similar the one it's now absorbing.
  2. Ridicule. Extremist movements are often completely prepostrous in their end goals. For example: by treating scientifically unsound theories like creatonism as serious contenders, the media legitimise it. Note that humour or ridicule should use sound logic themselves, not just 'funny because because'.
  3. Address root causes. Why do these movements arise? While their ideology may be repulsive, their anger and resentment probably has a real cause. For example: the rise of movements like the UKIP is tied to the scathingly anti-European, populist anger addiction of right-wing tabloids that thrive on sensationalist headlines to sell more copies.
  4. Educate. True democracy starts at home and in schools. It's necessary to explain to people time and again why a democracy is a good idea, why it is not always what people think it is and why it is important to develop critical thinking. For example: the influence of corporate-owned media and the poor quality of education has deluded millions of Americans to vote Republican, against their own interests.

On a last note, extremist movements are very adept at adopting emancipatory rhetoric from feminist, gay or other minority groups. They paint themselves as martyrs or victims. However, there is a big difference: traditional emancipatory movements fight for inclusion in a larger whole. Extremist movements want to exclude everybody else.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Can you be too politically correct?

Short answer: yes.

Long answer:

'Political correctness' is a term dreamed up by reactionaries. They mean to say that people will say (or not say) certain things out of fear of offending a certain group, while really, everyone is thinking something else. Someone who prides themselves on being 'politically incorrect' then tries to twist antiquated prejudice or ignorance into being some sort of free speech hero.

A good example: 'Oh please, don't be so politically correct. That guy over there is not 'challenged', he's a cripple.' For one, it's of course pretty dumb to think that you, as part of a dominant outgroup, gets to decide how someone from a minority gets to call themselves or wants to be addressed. Secondly, it assumes that everyone secretly thinks 'heh, a cripple' when they see someone in a wheelchair. It's something that resurfaces often in discussions with racists, sexists and rape apologists - they all seem to think that everyone believes what they do, but they just cover it up because it's not palatable to some imagined left-wing cabal of good political taste.

There is no such thing as 'political correctness'. The only people who force themselves to say things they don't believe are, indeed, the very same reactionaires who know their beliefs are not shared by the majority of people (but never realise why most people think they're wrong). Another instance is where people feel they want to be nice and inclusive to minorities but involuntarily offend them by being as inoffensive as possible. Like, for example 'I love gay culture, it's so colourful and feminine!'.

So, being too 'politically correct' comes from the same misguided beliefs and ignorance that the term itself originated from. Interestingly, there's also a considerable overlap between the desperate wish not to offend anyone and what's been identified as the 'geek social fallacies'. Trying to be inoffensive is not what respect is all about. Respect is trying to understand someone else.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Why pick-up artists are super-creepy

Most people who have seen 'Magnolia' probably remember the character TJ Mackey, a self-made man whose avowed mission is to help shy, confused men score better with women. In a brilliant portrayal by Tom Cruise, TJ Mackey turns out to be a broken egotist with parent issues and pretty misogynist beliefs. Unfortunately, 'Pick-Up Artists' or PUAs fit that misogynist caricature almost to a T - maybe without the daddy issues, but the misogyny is definitely there. Why?

1. In their quest for sex, women are reduced to mere objects. Now, plenty of people, both male and female, can go out looking for sexual gratification and that's fine. However, PUAs take objectification to an extreme that treats women as complex machines where all you need to do is input the right sequence of actions to gain the desired result.

2. It is insincere. Again, everyone has probably given a compliment they didn't really mean, or exaggerated a trait to make themselves look better in the eyes of someone they desired. For PUAs, everything's a game, literally, including the entire faux-scientific-sounding jargon. If you google the term, you'll come across a wide variety of forums with a mind-bogglingly long list of jargon.

3. It is degrading. By assuming that men need to manipulate women into sex, PUAs believe that a woman doesn't desire sex herself. There's a subset of PUAs who concede that women do desire sex but are socially conditioned not to let it on too much (which is unfortunately true), but that doesn't mean that it's a-okay to aggressively pursue sex solely on your own terms, with a complete disregard for another person's feelings and thoughts. Even worse is that some popular PUA tactics rely on actively destroying a woman's self-esteem to make her comply with what you want, which borders dangerously close on rape.

4. PUA culture has a veneer of helping out socially awkward and shy guys. The problem is that what sound advice it has to offer (be confident, learn to accept rejection, dress yourself well, have something interesting to say, don't be a doormat) can be found elsewhere too, and is completely distorted into some weird form of mimicry of how socially successful people behave.

5. It's interesting to note how PUA culture solely revolves around getting laid. Relationships are discarded because PUAs seem to believe that women are vile creatures who will always seek ways to dominate and destroy men. That's not only another example of glaring misogyny, it's also damaging to how men should view themselves - as sex-crazed automatons incapable of forming an emotional connection with someone else.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Theory of parameters

Can we discuss art? “De gustibus et coloribus non est disputandum” is a Latin saying that has survived the ages – it all boils down to whether you, personally, like something or not. Taken to its logical extreme, these sayings would render the entire business of art critique, music and film reviewing and literary criticism irrelevant. On the other hand, people who argue that any form of art can be discussed on its merits in a meaningful way have, whether they like it or not, an underlying idea about what good art is and that that idea is universal.

So, on the one hand, nihilism, on the other hand, Platonism. There is no middle ground, once you think about it – you can’t claim that art is personal and then discuss it, and neither can you claim that your or anyone else’s opinion is worth more without an inherent belief in a fixed sense of aesthetic values.

Move away from dualism

Maurice Merleau-Ponty claimed that man, especially in the West, was malformed and twisted by dualism. Even before him, thinkers such as Thomas Aquinas and Hegel attempted to reconcile dualistic notions into something larger – Aquinas tried to reconcile pragmatic Arestotelianism with Platonism, while Hegel formulated his theory of dialectic materialism, which would become the basis of the work of Karl Marx. However, even their theories still suffered from the grandiose ambition to house even the wildest contradictions under one theoretical roof. It took us until the 20th century, with Wittgenstein, Russell and others, to realise that no one logical system will ever be adequate to explain one phenomenon in its entirety.

Why this derail into the philosophies of dusty, dead white men? Isn’t this thing supposed to be about music?

It is. Through discussions with friends, I developed a theory which I like to call “the theory of the parameters”. It simultaneously explains why and how discussing art is meaningful, and why there are limits to it.

We all have parameters

Even the most uneducated person in the world has a notion of art, even if they don’t define it as such. For example, their criterion for appreciating a painting could be: “Does it feel like an adequate reproduction of reality?” or “Is it beautiful?”. Then most likely, the old Flemish masters and the hyper-realists would be very pleasing to this person, while they would consider Mondriaan to be nothing even approaching art. While a person with only one criterion for appreciating art is likely very rare, it doesn’t make their opinion worthless.

Consider an art critic. They have different sets of criteria. Examples could be: “Does it tell me something about the society the artist lived in?”, “How original is this work?”, “Does it tie in with existing traditions of art?”, “Does it have a sense of irony?”, “Was there any technical skill involved?” or “Does it have a message about art as such?”. One of this critic’s criteria might even be diametrically opposed to the one criterion of the anonymous in the paragraph above: “How far does it deviate from reality as we know it?”

I call these criteria ‘parameters’. In discussing any form of art, these parameters come into play, and someone with a bigger, more varied set of parameters will automatically have the upper hand in a discussion, because (a) they will usually know more about the matter at hand and (b) can argue their point of view from several different points of view at once. So, no, someone who only likes realistic art doesn’t have a worthless opinion, but it is highly irrelevant. Discussing art is not a win-or-lose game, but someone with just a few parameters will run out of steam quickly, and place severe limits on any type of meaningful discussion.

But how does that explain there is no consensus in the art community?

This is not only because they may have different parameters, but also because they weight them differently. I’ll offer two examples, this time from the world of literature.

Ancient Greek and Roman writers usually shared a great deal of parameters, sometimes summed up in the expression “imitatio et aemulatio” (“imitation and improvement”). Their idea of great literature was literature that not only blatantly copied earlier writers, but tended to add its own touch of genius. So, to be taken seriously as a writer by the ancients was to have a deep understanding of all preceding literature and ground yourself in that tradition, then try to add a few touches of your own. The Romantics, however, introduced “creativity” as a new parameter on the art scene (one that hasn’t left the great reservoir of major parameters ever since). They found tradition to be constrictive. So there we probably have two equally skilled groups of artists with a radically diverging set of parameters, although they likely would have had a whole list of them.

A more subtle example takes us to the modern world of movies. A good friend of mine and I share a great deal of tastes. We also both like David Lynch movies. We might even say we share a great deal of parameters. He thinks “Lost Highway” is superior to “Mulholland Dr.” while I think the exact opposite. I understand his points about “Lost Highway” being more original, more radical in its exploration of the soul’s darkest corners and has some cool things going for it, such as a cameo by Marilyn Manson and music from Rammstein, but I think these points are not that important. For me, the superior acting, more sure-footed direction and multi-dimensional script of “Mulholland Dr.” take precedence. So, we assign different priorities to our parameters. This is but one example how you can agree to disagree, and still don’t find discussing art is pointless.

How are new parameters developed?

People’s minds can obviously be changed. The best example is education. An art teacher, for instance, typically guides students through several art genres and styles, and attempts to explain why the artists of that day made the choices they did. I had an art teacher who repeated an experiment every year: at the start of the school year, he would show a slideshow of about fifteen paintings, and asked us all whether we thought this was art or not. He repeated the same slideshow at the end of the year, possibly to gauge his own effectiveness as a teacher, but also as a form of self-reflection on how our opinions had changed.

It doesn’t have to be typical top-down education process only that affects how our parameters develop, multiply or change priorities. In my early adolescence, I thought of Verhoeven’s film “RoboCop” as a pretty good action movie, but too focused on excessive violence to be taken seriously. One of my brothers made me see that “RoboCop” is about much more than just violence, and nowadays I also appreciate the movie for its subtexts and various other elements that escaped me the first time, because I simply did not have those parameters yet. Interestingly, Verhoeven’s status as a “dirty old man” is still a debate among cinephiles.

As a last note, I am not passing judgement on individual parameters or how they are informed. This framework is just a general idea that attempts to make a case for art, music or literature discussion as not pointless at all.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

White Whine #3: Multiculturalism has failed

Multiculturalism is a fact. Just like gravity can't suddenly 'fail' to exist on earth (barring quantum fluctuations), so have cultures been living side by side for as long as cities have existed. To paint multiculturalism as a left-wing, happy go-lucky hobby project is completely ridiculous. What the right actually means to attack is the tensions between immigrant communities and their descendants with the communities that were around before their arrival.

By the way, I am going to talk mainly about North African and Turkish immigrants. Whenever a European person says 'multiculturalism has failed', they're not talking about any immigrant group other than Muslims. There have been occasional fears about Polish plumbers, but I'm quite sure that discussion wasn't as deeply mired in mutual prejudice, racism and cultural presuppositions.

No doubt that tensions exist. While I am very wary of making general assumptions about one culture, ethnic group or religion, there's no denying that the cultural distance between, say, a family with roots on the Moroccan countryside and native West-Europeans will be greater than between someone who's moved from Athens to Brussels. It is also true that for far too long, the left has looked the other way when the theme turns to crime among immigrant youth, how girls report feeling unsafe or getting harrassed by them, or how some young Muslims attack openly gay or Jewish people. That is seriously not cool at all and frustrates a lot of people.

The right, again, is also right in pointing out that bad social integration lies at the root of the problem, but it is completely wrong in putting the onus only on the immigrant communities themselves. Research has indicated that Flemings and Walloons are among the most racist people of Europe. Time and again, employers get outed for having a secretive policy of not hiring people who look too brown or are of North African or Turkish descent. This is a big, big problem because it foments frustration.

Traditionally, Mediterranean cultures are patriarchal. Their very overt patriarchy bothers a lot of Europeans (and Americans too, I am sure). To pick a less controversial example, if you've ever been to Southern Europe, you might have seen how from an early age, boys are sometimes treated as princes, and the bad apples among them act like impossible little Mussolinis with a huge entitlement complex. Now put little Mussolini in a context that simultaneously tells him that he's a prince, but the wider society he lives in considers him a backwards savage and oh yeah he's pretty sure he won't be able to find a job and never get to have all the fancy stuff or any sign that says he's made it.

Then, people he sees as 'naturally' inferior to him ascend beyond his social position: rich gay men with nice designer clothes, confident women who go out alone at night, or Jewish people who have always been stereotypically associated with financial success. Top it off with his confrontation with racism on an everyday level that you and I (I am pretty sure 99% of my audience will be white) never have to face, and yeah, you can sort of understand why a young man like that would be an explosive cocktail of anger. So they run back to their safe space: their culture, their traditions, their religion, the place where they meant something. The fact that snooty whites come around and tell them that their culture is backwards only strengthens this belief.

The left has generally remained silent on this issue. That's too bad, because I think that these problems can be successfully tackled from a very real socio-economic angle. Here's a few thoughts:
  • Workplaces where there's a healthy mix of sexes and ethnic backgrounds will decrease racism. You realise you're all in this together.
  • It is absolutely crucial that employers who are found to be discriminating get named, shamed and hung out to dry.
  • Concentration schools and ghettoes need to end.
  • Emancipatory initiatives from within immigrant communities should be supported, but the state shouldn't make its own - you can't force people to emancipate.
Other issues that could help advance the position of ethnic minorities more or less fall in line with other initiatives to create a more egalitarian society. I'm specifically not addressing homophobia and sexism within the Muslim community because I have a keen sense that these feelings are not altogether dissimilar of those in native, white underclasses in the West. They're just not as exacerbated by a sense of 'Kulturkampf' or racism.

Getting back to the idea of multiculturalism as a surefire mechanism to doom a society, I would say that this is simply not supported by history. The Roman Empire's might and power grew expansively as it absorbed other cultures and those cultures impacted Rome's. It's funny to note that even then, there were backwards, staunch defenders of Rome's "rural values". Genghis Khan built one of the world's most impressive armies (a questionable feat in itself, obviously) with a meritocratic structure, regardless of ethnic background.

No, rose-tinted glasses are a bad thing and stuff like this doesn't solve itself. But there is no alternative, and any serious solution can't be explained in a political slogan. Except, maybe, this one: we all suffer from various forms of oppression. Instead of snarling and guarding jealously whatever we have think we've got left, we need to make a stand together and solve this mess.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

My big fat Greek debt crisis

It's been plastered all over the news for months now, ever since the debt crisis in the Eurozone started: Greece had big problems in maintaining fiscal discipline, and now all of Europe has to pay the price. There have been some protest voices, sure: some say that Greece would do better to opt for an Iceland-style scenario, others rightly doubt the disproportionate influence of rating agencies - which, by the way, are all US-based and have often been wrong - and some on the left sing the familiar tune of a European Union too beholden to neoliberal fundamentalism.

What surprises me about all of this is that people act surprised. Disregarding all valid objections against the straitjacket Athens finds itself in, back when Greece joined the Eurozone, all politicians already knew it was cooking the books and shouldn't have been let into the Euro in the first place. Hell, when it joined the EU, a lot of the reasons for its joining were rooted in cold war ideology that wanted to reward Greece for casting off the chains of military dictatorship without lapsing into communism.

It's worth looking back at the '80s for the root causes of the current crisis of the European Union. When Greece joined the EU in 1981, it had gotten rid of its military junta for barely seven years. By contrast, the first post-Communist Central European countries only joined the Union 15 years after the fall of the Iron Curtain, while Spain and Portugal waited over a decade. How did anyone seriously expect that Greece would mature into a perfect democracy with a forward-thinking fiscal policy by mere virtue of entering the Union in its infancy stages of liberal democracy? Secondly, the early '80s were the onset of neoliberal orthodoxy. The crazy caroussel that put countries like Spain, which did not accrue outrageous debts, in such a bad spot was played by institutions and countries that were much better at them than weak, newly democratic governments could hope to be. Compare Iceland and Luxembourg. Luxembourg is an obscenely rich, small country with a population comparable to Iceland's, and has a bloated banking sector. The difference is that it's had that for a very long time and knows better how to game the system. Iceland didn't, overplayed its hand and crashed.

The biggest winners and losers? Why of course, again since the '80s, the biggest winners have been financial elites who do not produce anything of value for anyone, their political lackeys who try to make others believe that poor people are stopping them from becoming as rich as them, and right-wing media who support that message with lurid fearmongering. The losers: everybody else.

For what it's worth, I believe in a common European currency and I believe in the European Union as an idea and a concrete project. How we can do it differently and to the benefit of the peoples of Europe rather than a handful of old white men, I'll address in a later post.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

White Whine #2: 'Feminazis'

The common image of the screaming, bra-burning, feminist with a square jaw and copious armpit hair is not only ridiculous and demeaning, it is also untrue. There are a lot of misconceptions about feminism. I'll try to be as brief as possible here, but what men feel selective outrage over (e.g. men being portrayed as stupid doofuses in commercials) is actually a much wider range of topics that hurts both men and women. A few statements:

- Not all women are feminist, and not all women understand feminism.
- If an individual woman happens to be a bad person, it's fundamentally wrong to attribute her bad traits to her being a woman.
- Physical, verbal and sexual violence against women is still an enormous problem.
- Feminism has no need for a 'male perspective' precisely because our entire society is informed by this very same male perspective.
- Feminism by not hostile to men, but it is hostile to patriarchy.

The common shorthand is that "Feminism is the radical notion that women are people". That they get treated fair and square, not written off, insulted, lavished in unwarranted praise, treated with kid gloves or fawned over simply because they happen to women.

If men who felt selective anger at being caricatured, what they need to blame is not feminism but patriarchy in general. In fact, if we would all take a few seconds to think that this sort of minor inconvenience is what women and other minorities face every day, we might begin to understand their plight.

One last thing: it's dumb to portray men as some sort of manchild-neanderthals, but as a man, I must say that no matter how coarse, this is a stereotype that we owe to ourselves. Some men still even pride themselves on it. And really, one joke in bad taste and men are hurt? I guess you've never tried to go in an online multiplayer game as a woman.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

White Whine #1: White Entertainment and Straight Pride

"But why is there no White Entertainment Channel or Straight Pride parade?" Because pretty much everything is tailored to white, heterosexual people. History? The deeds and acts of white people, pretty much. Literature? A history of old, dead white men. Most important movie characters? White men. Pretty much every major institution in the West? Geared towards heterosexual people. The reason why 'White Pride' or 'Straight Pride' is absolutely stupid is because the entire West is one big celebration of whiteness and straightness through a mechanism called privilege. Lastly, there is currently no 'White Pride' group that is not at least covertly extremely racist and hateful.

Are progressive movements antiquated?

The most high-profile progressive cause of today is probably the LGBTQ movement. They fight against discrimination based on sexual orientation and push for equal rights to heterosexual couples. While a lot of countries in the West still have miles to go to achieve true equality, the headway these movements are making is undeniable. It is a more quiet but by no means less vocal movement than the American Civil Rights movement of the '60s, the sufragettes of the '20s and beyond, and the first workers' unions of the early 20th century. Unfortunately, all this progress has lulled a lot of self-described progressive and conservative people alike into a false sense of comfort.

Certainly, if we have to believe the uninformed, the West has moved beyond racism and sexism, unions protect workers' rights and all is well. It's true, progress has been made on many fronts since the start of the 20th century, but to say that empowering movements have become obsolete is misguided at best:

- Violence against women is still a jarringly frequent occurrence
- The 1% continuously try to use their political henchmen to make people believe that unions and regulation are their enemy
- Racism, no matter whether it is dressed up as 'ironic' or not, still prevents people from getting hired and gets exploited by opportunist politicians
- Hostility against sexual minorities, verbal or otherwise, is still commonplace outside of large urban centres and sometimes even inside of it
- Women are still a minority in corporate Boards and high-profile political life

The list goes on and on. To make matters worse, there's a number of groups that insiduously claims that it is now, in fact, heterosexual white men who are getting the short end of the stick. The problem with this statement is twofold:

- Most hetereosexual white men are completely blind to their own privilege because they never experienced anything else
- They focus on petty anecdotes or elements of a patriarchal society that harms everyone, not just them

Progressive movements are certainly not antiquated. In fact, more than ever, in the face of environmental collapse, resurging hard right movements, corporate media manipulation and cynical exploitation of fear, a coherent progressive message is more important than ever. The bottom line is, and this will return in this blog a couple of times, that we are all in this together. Only if we attempt to erase mutual prejudice, we can truly make the playfield level and be societies that offer everyone equal opportunities to succeed in life and be happy - not just the 1%, who is happy to make us believe that 'uppity' minorities are our enemy and the cause of our problems. That is simply not true. The real problem is a deeply-entrenched system of privilege over privilege that finally ends with a tiny amount of white old men.

Friday, February 10, 2012

What is privilege?

The difficult thing about privilege is those born into it rarely notice it. Even worse, some do recognise it and fight very hard to maintain that position of social dominance over others and other groups.

Now, what is privilege?

I am a white, heterosexual, middle class, cisgendered man. My opinions will never be challenged because of my gender, I will meet far fewer obstacles in my professional life, sexual intimidation and sexual assault are but extremely dim fears on my radar, I do not have to deal with any sort of religion that tells me I am a second class person, I don't look particularly poor so I don't have to face stereotypes of laziness and stupidity, there are no powerful political parties in my country that openly hate or mistrust me because of my skin colour, and I am not really judged as a person for the amount of sex partners I have had.

Do you see the pattern developing here? These are all problems faced in various forms by groups in society that are less privileged than I am. Sure, it is entirely possible for me to get raped or to be the target of racial hatred, but not only is it much more unlikely to happen to me than to women or non-white people, but by definition, other groups have to face fears about these matters on almost daily basis.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Alpha+Good

This is uncharted territory for me, but a long time in the making.

Not only have I decided to start up a third (!) blog, I will also write it in English to potentially reach a much bigger audience. For my fiction, essay and poetry projects, my English is simply not good enough (or, to be kinder to myself, I'm not experienced enough in that type of English to master it as well as I master my native language), and most of the books that I review aren't even available in English.

The reason for this blog is that I wanted to divorce my political and social opinions a little more from my literary work. Of course, there will always be a certain osmosis between both. However, more and more, my political, ethical and philosophical convictions have been melding into one coherent structure, driven by a purpose - to help others. I fall squarely within the realm of progressive politics, and there's a lot of work to be done all over the world to improve our lot.