About 'Alpha+Good'

Alpha+Good (a bad wordplay on Orwell's "double plus good" and old machismo - I'm the realest after all) is a side project that belongs to 'Onklare taal' ('Unclear' or 'Unripe language'), the umbrella of several 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. Why is this in English why everything else in Dutch? Because I want to gun for a much wider audience here. Also, my literary English isn't good enough, otherwise I would always write in English.

Are you a little lost? This link will take you right back to my home page.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Flair, we need to talk

English version below for my anglophone audience.

Beste redacteurs (m/v) van de Flair,

Jullie magazine torst al lang een dubieuze reputatie als het aankomt op welk beeld jullie de wereld in sturen van vrouwen en mannen. Jullie laatste wapenfeit in die droeve geschiedenis van clichés is '10 dingen die mannen moeten weten over ons', gepubliceerd op 11 juli 2013.

Ik snap dat verkoopcijfers belangrijk zijn en dat een ideologische lijn verwachten van een entertainmentblad misschien veel gevraagd is, maar als je wekelijks een lezerspubliek bereikt van 700.000, bestaat er ook zoiets als een journalistieke verantwoordelijkheid. Jullie denkbeelden beïnvloeden mensen.

Uit de '10 dingen' maak ik vooral op dat de persoon (opnieuw, m/v, want er staat geen naam onder) die dit artikel geschreven heeft, niet alleen alle vrouwen over dezelfde kam scheert als overgevoelige, jaloerse en onzekere kasplantjes, maar er ook van uit lijkt te gaan dat mannen een soort emotionele neanderthalers zijn.

Indien de auteur van '10 dingen' de puberteit nog moet bereiken, kan ik hem of haar veel vergeven. Indien dit een volwassen persoon is, vraag ik me af van wat voor planeet die afkomstig is (zeg niet Venus of Mars alsjeblieft, da's nog zo'n pijnlijk cliché).

In de Angelsaksische wereld bestaat er zoiets als 'cosmocking', waar de soms ronduit psychotische sekstips van de Cosmo gehekeld worden, die nog net niet het territorium betreden van "steek een bunsenbrander onder zijn anus, daar krijgt hij het lekker warm van!". Jullie zijn niet veel beter.

Het is niet alleen de eenzijdigheid van het man-vrouwbeeld dat storend is, het is ook dat het voorbijgaat aan duizenden mannen en vrouwen die elke dag wel eerlijk proberen communiceren, over de muren van onnozele clichés klauteren en liever hun eigen invulling wensen te geven aan romantiek.

Breder bekeken: er zit nooit echt een lijn in jullie visie op vrouwenzaken. Vijf artikels over ontharing, gezichtscrème, spectaculaire make-overs en hoe dames toch dat beetje vet kunnen wegwerken, volgen naadloos op het vieren van eten van ijs uit de doos. Als toemaatje kan er nog een artikel bij over hoe spannend overspel is, en dan nog met een Echte Man. In de volgende editie getuigt een lezeres over "die feeks die m'n man afpakte", en moet een man vooral een schotelvod zijn.

Ik heb vele fantastische vrienden en vriendinnen, en ik benader hen als individuen, niet als curieuze leden van andere diersoorten die zich allemaal op dezelfde manier gedragen. Ik vind het belangrijk dat mensen zelfzeker en sterk zijn, niet dat ze zich terugtrekken in bunkers van man- of vrouwclichés om hun onzekerheden te rechtvaardigen.

Als man denk ik dat ik mag zeggen dat ik een andere man die alle tien jullie tips zou opvolgen tot op de letter, een enorme griezel zou zijn. Niet alleen zullen dit soort tips mannen die nog altijd denken dat vrouwen mythische, onverstaanbare wezens zijn, inspireren tot ongelooflijk gênante daden, het zal een ander segment van het mandom ertoe aanzetten precies het omgekeerde te doen, en lekker hatelijk en grof te zijn tegen vrouwen, zodat ze kunnen claimen dat dat rebels is. Ik heb van beiden al voorbeelden legio gezien.

O, ik zal zeker niet beweren dat mannenbladen vrijuit gaan in het promoten van ongezonde ideeën en clichés over de geslachten. Alleen koesteren die minder pretenties: het zijn seksistische bladen die grossieren in macho-onderwerpen.

Het probleem is jammer genoeg dat Flair aan een cultuur blijft meewerken die vrouwen nog steeds obsessief wil laten bezig zijn met hun uiterlijk, het behagen van mannen en, uiteindelijk, het in stand houden van de status quo tussen de seksen. Die status quo valt de dag van vandaag nog steeds negatief uit voor vrouwen. Daar ligt het echte pijnpunt.

Zeg alsjeblieft niet "we beschrijven de dingen zoals ze zijn". Jullie werken er aan mee. Jullie houden ze in stand. Jullie maken mensen - en voornamelijk jullie eigen publiek - onzeker met luie journalistiek en verkoopzucht.

Met vriendelijke groeten,
Anton

***

Note for English-speaking readers: Flair magazine is a little like Cosmopolitan (although we have that one here as well), but mainly for the Belgian and Dutch markets.

Dear Flair editors

Your magazine has long had a questionable reputation in terms of the image you're broadcasting about women and men. Your latest addition to that sad history of clichés is '10 things men ought to know about us', publish on July 11, 2013.

I understand sales figures are important and that expecting ideological consistency from an entertainment magazine is a tall order, but if you reach an audience of 700,000 readers every week, you've got to take some deontological responsibility. Your ideas and articles really influence people.

The lesson I'm learning from '10 things' is that its author draws all women as hypersensitive, jealous, insecure and frail with one broad stroke, and at the same time, seems to assume men are some sort of emotional neanderthals.

If the writer of '10 things' hasn't reached puberty yet, I'm prepared to forgive them a lot. If it's an adult person, I'm wondering what kind of planet they're coming from (please don't say Venus or Mars, that's another one of those painful clichés).

The Anglo-Saxon world has a thing called 'cosmocking', which skewers the at times genuinely psychotic sex tips found in the Cosmo. Some of those are barely an inch away from "light a Bunsen burner under his arse to make him all hot and bothered". You're not doing a much better job.

Broadly speaking, there's no real coherence in your vision on women's issues. One edition can have five articles about depilation, facial cream, spectacular make-overs and how women can lose their last ounces of fat, followed by an article describing the joys of eating ice cream straight from the box. As an afterthought, one edition celebrates how exciting adultery is with a Real Man, while next edition features a teary testimonial about "the witch that stole my husband", and somebody else saying men should be damp rags.

It's not just the one-sided image of men and women that bothers me, it's also denying that thousands of men and women try to communicate honestly with each other every day, attempt to scale the steep walls of stereotypes, and would rather decide for themselves what it means to be romantic.

I have a lot of fantastic male and female friends, and I approach them like individual people, not like curious members of other species. For me, it's important people are self-confident and strong, not that they lock themselves up in a fortress of gender clichés to justify their insecurities.

As a man, I also think I'm allowed to say that I think a guy who'd actually follow through on all ten tips would be a giant creeplord. Not only will these tips inspire men who still believe women are mythical, uninintelligible creatures to acts of supreme embarrassment, they will also inspire another segment of men to do the exact reverse. You know, the type who thinks it's edgy and rebellious to be hateful and rude to women. I've seen plenty of examples of both.

Oh, I certainly won't say that men's mags are exempt from criticism when it comes down to promoting unhealthy stereotypes about the sexes. The difference is that they're less pretentious about it. They're sexist magazines with macho subjects.

The trouble is that Flair keeps contributing to a culture that wants women to be obsessively preoccupied with the way they look, how they can best please men, and keeps contributing to a culture that wants to maintain the status quo between genders. That status quo is still a net loss for women today. There is the real issue.

Please don't say "we're just saying how it is". You're helping in creating it. You're maintaining it. You're making people - especially your own audience - insecure with lazy journalism and commerce.

Best regards,
Anton

Monday, July 08, 2013

MRA deconstructed (conclusion)

Harmful consequences to feminism

The tenets of MRA and their underpinnings - whether legitimate claims with false explanations or entirely false assumptions to begin with - have consequences in the real world. These consequences are not innocent. People who dismiss MRAs as petty or misled may understimate how being constantly bombarded with misogynist ideas on top of an already sexist culture can really turn some men from low-level sexists into full-blown misogynists.

Detraction from the cause of feminism

As if it wasn't enough that a lot of discussions on gender inequality are derailed by displays of ignorance (from both genders), MRAs poison the well a bit further. They force feminism even more on the defensive than it already is, and distract it from discussing the underlying issues that matter.

Gender as a horse race

MRAs play into the mainstream media narrative that the battle of the sexes is somehow a horse race where both sides have strengths, weaknesses, advantages and disadvantages. It's basically another form of the 'truth must be in the middle!' rhetorical fallacy. A more objective look will, time and again, reveal that gender-based problems are the result of one thing (patriarchy) and that this system hurts women much more severely than it hurts men.

Hostility and rape threats

Because MRAs (and unfortunately, quite a number of other people) think feminism is passé, has achieved its goals or is even 'on top' now, they feel it's okay to open the gates of hell and unleash all sorts of degrading and threatening comments. They breathe new life into decades of feminism-bashing that have branded the movement as extreme, humourless or shrill.

Fear of speaking out

Ultimately, the existence of MRAs might make women more afraid of speaking out. I cannot emphasise how crucial this is. A lot of women are afraid of rocking the boat when it comes down to sexism, close their eyes to it or resign themselves to the fact that it's just the way things are. The hateful messages of MRA movements only add a new layer of pressure to that. To men who are concerned with gender equality and who want to address issues with masculinity, MRAs have poisoned the debate.

 

The tragedy of it all

There's an interesting quote I recently heard that I'll paraphrase (I forgot the source). MRA shares some aspects with the Pick Up Artist community and Internet Libertarians - most members appear to be white men in their 20s and 30s, often college-educated. They have big havens on Reddit.

In a way, all three of these groups realise that the ways our societies are structured are not okay. It doesn't work for them. These young men are bombarded with the idea that they should be successful sexual conquerors, but women don't flock to them. They're tantalised with the idea of the American Dream, but they fail at it. They keep hearing about the plight of women, but they are confused about the relative silence on the issues they face.

Unfortunately, all three take conclusions from that that are devastatingly inaccurate. Internet Libertarians want the system to become even more deregulated and unstable because Conservative media has them believe the system failed due to an excess of socialism. Pick Up Artists try to con women into sleeping with them because they sadly assume it's the only way they'll ever get laid. MRAs lay the blame for men's problems at women's feet, and forget or deny that their true enemy is the patriarchy.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

MRA deconstructed (IV)

This is part IV of my series about MRAs. I'll be discussing a point that pops up frequently in their discussion groups.

 

"Women are out to get and use men"

Some men are bitter about previous relationships or come out of toxic environments with bad women - women can be every bit as shitty as men. Somehow, some men project this image onto all women, and confirmation bias leads them to seek out only stories that confirm their worldview.

    False rape accusations

This one is bound to come up in any discussion of rape. In fact, false accusations are rare and accusations seldom lead to convictions. Among the reasons why they feature so disproportionally in the rape debate is that they are disproportionally featured in the media, and here's why: false stories often end up being very spectacular and attract attention. The false accusation angle also has the nefarious consequence of hindering the actual debate about rape, its causes (rapists) and what can be done to prevent it (destroying rape culture).
What MRAs think it is: Plots to destroy innocent men's lives
Actual issue: Sensationalist media reports
Actual solution: Stop being an obstructionist little shit

    Gold diggers

Nobody in their right mind thinks that all of Hugh Hefner's peroxide brides married or lived with the man out of genuine love. The problem is that MRAs seem to be convinced women exist to syphon off a man's fortune and ignore the actual cause why 'gold diggers' are even a thing in the first place. Beyond bullshit evopsych justifications, women are simply not as rich as men and possess less power. Their road to both faces roadblocks that the road of men to these goals does not. Yes, partnering up someone for their wealth is ethically questionable, but maybe we should also question the fact that men of great wealth and power leverage these two aspects as well to attract, bind or even outright buy off women. Yet that rarely goes questioned.
What MRAs think it is: Women want a free ride
Actual issue: Powerful and wealthy men 'buy off' women
Actual solution: Empower women

    Women aren't thankful for male assistance in their cause

Some men who consider themselves feminists become very angry when women are not grateful for their assistance to the cause of equality. Here's the thing: they shouldn't be thankful. All you did is prove that you are not a shitty person. If anyone thinks that "not being a giant douche" is an accomplishment worthy of accolades, they probably are a giant douche.
What MRAs think it is: Women are unthankful
Actual issue: Holding some cool opinions doesn't merit you a medal
Actual solution: Support a cause because it's right, not because you want the kudos

    Women can be picky about their sex partners

In a culture that encourages or at least condones men racking up their number of sex partners and does the reverse for women, it is not surprising that men are - in general - less picky than women are when it comes down to sexual partners. However, that is not 'female privilege' or whatever MRAs would like to call it. Men are often at liberty to consider only a few factors in whether they wish to sleep with someone. For women, there are far more background factors, such as slut-shaming, fear of rape, bodily harm and a cultural context that tells her wanting no-strings-attachad sex is demeaning by nature. Also, the MRA whine chorus about 'picky women' is uncomfortable to me for a final reason: it comes off as nice-guyish entitlement, as if they mean to say "why won't these women sleep with me?".
What MRAs think it is: Female privilege.
Actual issue: Slut shaming, rape culture, male entitlement.
Actual solution: End slut shaming and rape culture.

    Women trap men with babies

In sexist jokes as old as the Methuselah's beard, marriage is depicted as a cage that robs men of their freedom. Claims that women deliberately get pregnant and then expect unsuspecting men to provide for the child play into this. It does happen. But more often that not, marriages are cages for women: even in societies where they are not expected (anymore) to be homemakers, household chores and raising kids is still primarily their responsibility. By the way, instances of men deliberately controlling women by getting them pregnant or removing their access to birth control are way more rampant.
What MRAs think it is: Trapping poor sods in life of financial slavery
Actual issue: Sexist views on marriage
Actual solution: Engage in healthy relationships
 On to the final part!

Saturday, July 06, 2013

MRA deconstructed (III)

This part III of the series about Men's Rights Activists or MRAs. This part focuses on what a lot of them accuse feminists of to have caused in perceptions of men. The accusations can be briefly summed up by the title.

 

"It is not okay to be a man anymore"

What is a man? What does it mean to be a man? MRAs love to complain that traditionally 'male' character traits are now suspect thanks to feminism. This statement is stupid for two reasons, because most serious feminists don't believe in gender essentialism (so no trait is inherently male or female), and it's men who will bring up 'male' traits when they try to defend unacceptable behaviour, such as the "boys will be boys" thing after stories of sexual harrassment.

    Men are (deliberately) misunderstood

The myth of the misunderstood man ties into the previous paragraph. Again, if the problem with things like sexual harrassment is truly that women misunderstand men (it isn't), then maybe men should try to communicate more clearly. For instance, the thing with catcalling is that women understand all too clearly that men do it to impress their buddies - but men don't understand how it makes women feel degraded and unsafe. Falling back on being "misunderstood" is lazy as shit.
What MRAs think it is: Harmless intentions are twisted into malign ones
Actual issue: Male entitlement and privilege
Actual solution: Respecting boundaries

    Misandry is real and nobody ever talks about it

An individual woman can certainly hate men as a group, so in a literal sense, 'misandry' does exist. However, it doesn't exist in an institutionalised, systematic way like misogyny does. All signs that would indicate men being oppressed in certain areas of life are a consequence of a social order created and maintained by empowered men. The biggest and most empowered perpetrators of 'misandry' are other men. 'Misandry' is problematic because it gives the impression that it is an equal counterweight to misogyny, which is far from the truth.
What MRAs think it is: An unseen (female) conspiracy that keeps men down
Actual issue: Patriarchy hurts men, too (in different ways)
Actual solution: Destroy patriarchy

    Gender quota hurt men

Gender equality is not a zero-sum game. Of course, in a Board of Directors has eight positions and gender quota suddenly require two members to be female, some men on the previously all-male Board will be dropped from it. That creates a dent in male privilege, but it doesn't exactly hurt men across the (no pun intended) board. If we want to have women as our equals, it requires that we are prepared to share power.
What MRAs think it is: Political correctness gone mad
Actual issue: Men are still firmly entrenched at the top of all power structures
Actual solution: Correct sexist assumptions and attitudes that maintain these structures

On to part IV.


Friday, July 05, 2013

MRA deconstructed (II)

This is part II on the topic of Men's Rights Activists or MRAs. Let's deal with their first big core tenet.

"Feminism ignores the challenges that men face"


One of the basic tenets of MRAs is that feminists ignore or downplay the challenges that men face as a gender. Not only is that not true, but feminists also have a right to do so. Do we ask a black power movement to please think of the white people, too? There's something dishonest about that, especially because men often only bring up issues that affect men when they discuss women's issues. But let's take a look at some of these issues.

    Glass cellar

As a corollary to the glass ceiling, men deal with the 'glass cellar'. Overwhelmingly, the world's most dangerous, unsanitary and menial jobs are done by men. One reason for this is very similar to why not many women get selected for jobs in the upper echelons of business and politics: the people who select them are men. In other words, it's men who saddle other men with these dangerous jobs, out of the sexist assumption that it's 'men's work'. Secondly, male-dominated environments such as the military tend to be hostile to women, making it less likely for women to choose them as a career path.
What MRAs think it is: Women getting off scot-free from dangerous professions
Actual issue: Employers (mostly men) are sexist to other men, too
Actual solution: Unionisation, reduce hostility to women in male-dominated professions

    Men are more likely to die violently

Male life expectancy is generally lower than female life expectancy. The causes are complex and manifold, but a significant number of these causes relate to violence. The biggest perpretators of lethal violence are men. Violence perpetrated by men is a problem that men must solve.
What MRAs think it is: Men are valiant knights who die protecting women
Actual issue: Men are raised to believe violence (against other men) is acceptable
Actual solution: Raise boys to be less violent

    Men are stereotyped as (potential) rapists

The famous term 'Schrödinger's Rapist' describes the uncertainty women feel when they are spoken to by men they do not know. Some men take offence at this description, but instead of being offended, they'd better realise that some 20% of women in the US alone get raped in their lifetime. As is the case with general physical violence, rape is an important issue that men must address among themselves: the onus is not on potential victims to protect themselves, the onus is on stopping potential rapists. Nothing will subside women's fears more than there simply being less rapists around.
What MRAs think it is: A slanderous attack on the vast majority of men
Actual issue: Rape culture leaves rapists largely unchecked
Actual solution: Stop rape

    Men get the short stick in a divorce case

As a result of the fact that men generally earn more money (which is in itself a result of systematic sexism), they often end up paying alimony. The evidence that the justice system is rigged to favour women in divorce cases is scant. We can assume that men will stop being required to pay child support if pay equality becomes a reality.
What MRAs think it is: Women manipulate courts to advantage them
Actual issue: Income and power disparity, society sees women as mothers
Actual solution: Pay equality, degendering of marriage roles
On to part III.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

MRA deconstructed (I)

Let's go back in time about a decade. Back then, I was right in the middle of my university years. As I said before, my thoughts on social progress and politics weren't as organised and coherent as they are now. Our alma mater offered a course on gender, for instance, but I wondered why it focused almost exclusively on women, as if men didn't matter. The answer is the same as the answer to questions why there are things like a Black History Month: because all the other stuff already (implicitly) focuses on men. It's the default.

If you grow up as a boy, you don't really see that. It's a thing that sits there in the background. What you do notice, is the steady portrayal of men as dumb savages or bumbling dads. You notice that men can be negatively portrayed in ways that women cannot be portrayed without drawing ire from various groups. You don't really know why that is, but you start assuming it's because of feminism. After all, you think, women have gotten the right to vote, have access to contraception and there are whole segments of the media and retail world devoted almost exclusively to them. Female-on-male violence, for instance, is also often played for laughs. You feel that that just isn't okay.

Fortunately, as I grew older and started burrowing deeper into the world of gender and social justice, not only did I discover the true reason behind forces like this, but I also gained perspective. While the 'savage caveman' caricature may be offensive, it was not created by women. Some women may believe it, but it was there long before they gained a voice in the media. Commercial industries that focus on women tend to do so in ways that reinforce gender stereotypes, and almost all of those focus on beauty or romance, not self-actualisation or intellectual development. Guess who leads those industries? I don't think I need to tell you that. Oh and when a woman slaps a man on television, it's because men by and large think men should be strong enough to take it, lest they be thought of as... a woman.

Now, this trip down the memory lane brings me to the topic I'd like to discuss: Men's Rights Activists or MRAs for short. They are mainly an American phenomenon, but I have no doubt that European men will be sensitive to some of the movement's messages as well. I certainly think that when I was around 20 years old, I might have found myself agreeing with a lot of what they were saying. This is the reason I'm devoting attention to MRA right now, in hopes of dissuading other men to go down their dark path.

Make no mistake: MRA is a hateful ideology through and through, akin to White Power and religious fundamentalism. While it couches itself in the language of the oppressed and may occasionally make an interesting point about masculinity, it is all about maintaining privilege. I will try to deconstruct some of MRA's basic assumptions and more seductive aspects here and prove why their movement makes no sense. In the next section, I will try to explain how their ideological foundation leads to other ideas and actions that makes it hard to ignore them as a factor in the debate about gender and equality, not matter how much I'd love to see them as little more than an absurd self-parody with no influence beyond a group of men that was already bitterly misogynist.

On to section II.