FEMININITIES –Toxic Femininity

The dose makes the poison.

One of the very useful memes that has come out of the gender discourse in the last few years is a discussion of “toxic masculinity” or the traditional masculinity that teaches little boys to make themselves disposable for the sake of women, as distinct from an earlier demonization of “macho pigs” and masculinity in general.

Toxic femininity is not a personal trait of individuals. It is an aspect of a gender role, and since gender roles are a matrix of customs, expectations and policing, they are social rather than individual. That is what it means to say gender is constructed, if always on a pretty fixed base of biological sex for the huge majority of us, and this is where the construction takes place. (Gender identities are different; they inhere in individuals.)

I have drawn up a preliminary list of types and aspects of toxic femininity. They come from things I have picked up in the femmisphere in posts and comments, from things I have seen in the men’s side of the gendersphere and some come from personal experience. I wanted to list and name them so that people can use this in their own discussions and would have something to refer back to. The list is preliminary and suggestions on additions are gratefull accepted.

The list falls into two sections, Damseling and Gynonormativity. These roughly correspond to femininity seen as childlike, in a dependent position; and femininity seen as the moral standard, in a dominant position. This sounds like a contradiction but in fact it is just a description. The switch from dominant Moral Guardian to trembling Damsel can be instantaneous, because at bottom there is not much distance between them. The dominant matron battle-ax can very easily stand over a man and lecture him about defending and protecting poor, helpless women.

As we go through the sections below – and this is only a first cut at listing these aspects of toxic femininity, not claiming to be exhaustive – we’ll see exactly how much this stuff is socially constructed, how much it can’t even exist without a lot of cooperation from all parties involved. I’ve watched that happen.

And notice how  in each example for what the healthy and non-toxic version of this. There is a healthy and decent form of each one of these dysfunctions. Again, the dose makes the poison.

DAMSELING                                                                                              

Damseling is the female end of White Knighting – one cannot exist without the other. It is a celebration of helplessness and dependence on someone else’s protection. This is really nothing other than a feudal relationship. Depending on someone else for protection is a form of vassalage.

Examples include –

Victim Cred – For the most part we have a moral structure that stigmatizes victimizers and tries to validate victims. It doesn’t always play out that way in practice, but even in practice if a victim brings a complaint against the person who victimized him – oops, there’s counter-example right there – but anyway, for the most part the reaction from the rest of us will not be to stigmatize the crime victim as a loser, but rather the perpetrator. This feature of our moral code works against the operation of the law of the jungle, and it makes our type of society possible. So far so good. But of course it has a down side. It grants victims a moral claim, a form of moral superiority over those they identify as having wronged them, and this can incentivize victimology, the weaponization of victimhood.

          Strategic Resource: Victim Cred is a strategic resource and has to be shepherded. This includes not only maintaining what victim cred you already have, but increasing it. This involves making the validity of your victim cred unassailable, controlling access to victim cred by restricting the number of people who can claim victim status, adding to your victim cred by casting as much as possible of what happens to you as some kind of victimization and appropriating. 

          The “It’s Worse When It Happens to Women” meme:  This not restricted to rape, either. This was a big part of the FGM/MGM discussion until mostly feminists shouted it down – others had been calling BS on privileging FGM all along, but it was feminist voices that settled the matter. It pops up all over though. Boys being raped? It’s worse for girls, and they get silenced and victim-blamed more, and the rapists get off scot-free! You see how the claims don’t have to be any reaction to any facts, they just have to sound horrific enough to get the desired reaction. 

An extension on WCF below is to make it all about women even when there is no direct connection. This is how Hillary Clinton can say that women are the primary victims of war – war is worse when it happens to woemn – because they SURVIVE to deal with the grief. This is why every discussion of MGM inevitably ends up centering around the evils of FGM as a caution that of course it is immeasurably worse…. This is why when male suicide is discussed, female suicide attempts are considered relevant (It’s very important, just not relevant to the topic of actual suicide. So why is it brought up?)

           Appropriation of Others’ Suffering – This is why homophobia has to, has to be a form of femmephobia. This how legislative attacks on women’s health services get hyperventilated inot a “War on Women” – war is war; how many women are coming back from the War on women with legs blown off? This is how people think it’s appropriate to say that women “fought” for the vote, as opposed the very actaul wars men had to fight to get the vote.

           –       Women and Minorities: This is an application of Appropriation of Others’ Suffering lieke the others above, but this one stands out, so it gets its own bullet.This one was devised back in the 70s when the initial and limited successes of the Civil Rights Movement made the public relations and therefore political advantages of victim cred apparent. White feminists knew a good thing when they saw it and pitched themselves as the natural allies of black people and POCs in general. (The rise of Womanism represents of some of the reaction to this appropriation.) I really have seen white feminists insist that black men are privileged by having male privilege – this in a society where they and white men have spent the last 300 years destroying black men’s manhood.

          The Princess and the Pea – Daintiness is generally a good thing, but it can be weaponized, for instance if it is used to extort special considerations out of someone or society as a whole. We all have food sensitivities and that’s fine, and some things are just disgusting it msut be admitted, but rejecting food because it’s “gross” is taking daintiness too far. Nobody much likes getting their hands dirty, but if you think a girl shouldn’t have to do this or that dirty job and besides that’s what boys are for, that’s taking daintiness too far.

“Sugar and spice and everything nice…” how liberating would it be for little girls to hear “Spiders and lice and every vice, that’s what girls are made of.”?  So you don’t have to spend your life trying to be nice-nice, you don’t have to worry if some crudity you let slip out is going to shock people.

Bambi-ing: This is a tendency for society to conflate women and children, to assign women a claim to the same kind of care, protection and leniency afforded children. Obviously it is misogynist, but its effects are misandrist as well, both since men get the job of babying women, and also since getting this kind of care gets typed as non-masculine, so they are cut out of care when they need it. The name is chosen specifically because is both refers to that baby dear character in the Disney film and is also a stereotypical (and obnoxious) nickname of grown women, thus capturing the conflation.

          The Women and Children First (WCF) meme: This is not only an expression of male disposability, it is also an infantilization of women. It is a case of expecting men to sacrifice their lives for  women’s lies as if those women’s lives were as valuable as children’s and thus more valuable than men’s.

           The Female Sentencing Discount : This is an institutional and systemic form of female privilege in which female perpetrators either receive lighter punishments or even are not prosecuted at all for the same or convicted crimes as men. It is quite well documented.

           Sex-negativism: This is the source of demonizing male sexuality that is such a strong feature of our laws and social policy. This also the source of “rape privilege” – the idea that rape is somehow the most heinous crime EVAH, that it is worse than murder or having your children taken from you are anything else. It is basically a desire to cling to a pre-adolescent state.

           Fat-shaming: A lot of what we call fat is not fat. Yes we have obesity problems in our societies, but a lot of women get called or think of themselves as fat when in fact they just have the bodies of grown women. And hate it. I bet if you gathered a group of a hundred women and asked them each to draw up lists of the five biggest examples of misogyny they observe, fat-shaming would be high on a lot of those lists. it’s about holding to a pre-adolescent body ideal well inot middle age. Arrested development.

Daddy’s Little Girl: This is so well-understood that it probably does not need much explanation, either what it is or of how toxic it is. As obnoxious as a Daddy’s Little Girl is, she’s not the source of the problem. Her daddy is. Chances are very good that Mom tried everything under heaven and earth to raise her daughter to be decent but Daddy undermined her every step of the way for his own selfish reasons.

The Princess Culture:  This is not just the Princess-Industrial Complex, as cannibalistic and noxious as that is. It reaches much further into the culture. It includes a lot of romantic tropes – expecting the man to get down on one knee to propose marriage, expecting a ring or some kind of gift for giving birth to one’s own child. Feminists have denounced the engagement ring from the angle of it being a possession-taking ritual – so far so good – but so far they have not exploited the female-entitlement angle of the ritual for criticism. That is probably a job for MRAs anyway.

Of course it’s wonderful to dote on someone you love and wonderful to receive that kind of attention. Where it crosses the line probably comes when one person comes to expect as her due rather than appreciating it as a gift. But the Princess Culture is all about fostering an attitude of dependence. “Someday my prince will come….” is really is a clear example of misogyny in a velvet glove.

 

GYNONORMATIVITY

Gynonormativity is not in of itself a bad thing. There are situations where what is generally considered a female way of doing something is the appropriate way, regardless of who is doing it. Teaching young children – primary grades surely, but even the older elementary grades sometimes – is one obvious example. Some kinds of anthropological fieldwork obviously call for gynonormative approaches. In other areas it’s neutral.  In some it’s not suitable.

These are examples of bad gynonormativity:

The Golden Uterus : GU is a distortion of the motherhood role into a tool for subjugating others to the mother’s will. It can even be used as a form of power to use in a rape. James Landrith recounts how his (pregnant!) rapist used her unborn child as a human shield against him to keep him from defending himself against her while she raped him.

The Moral Guardian – The Moral Guardian is now almost exclusively a female role, (Although until recently you saw men doing it to. It still exists in communities on the Religious Right.)

Ninni Tokan recounts a story over at Pelle Billing’s blog of being regulated on by a Moral Guardian:

“It is October 2008, I am on the train to Stockholm. I will finally meet my wonderful friends from an online forum. Then I will go directly to this weekend’s conference; I have already gotten myself together for that. I’m all dressed in black slacks and a black blouse, with thin white lines. I’ve made myself up and fixed my hair.

After a while on the train I need to use the bathroom, and I’m not alone, so I get into a queue of 3-4 people ahead of me. The man at the front of the queue throws a glance backward, finds me in line, halts with his eyes and smiles. I respond to his smile and he disappears into the bathroom. When he comes back, he stops for a moment and we talk. Before he goes, he asks me to come back to his place to talk more later.

The man goes and I take a step forward when the queue shortens. On my left is a lady stands up, about to get into line. She casts a quick glance, which lands on me, and looks down at what she has in her hands again. The fraction of a second later, the reaction, the death gaze.

In slow motion, she lifts her eyes and the eyes meet mine. Then as she scans her eyes, slow down along my body, my shoes, flip and go as slowly up and look into my eyes again. Her eyes are razor grass, her facial expression clearly says “improper”, but the entire procedure lasts just a second. After bobbing her lightly on the neck and looks conspicuously obliquely upwards, before she returns to what she was doing.

What exactly happened? What was the social game that took place? Why did the man and woman act like this when they saw me on the train?

What we call gender roles can be likened to a flexible picture frame of standards, within which we “should” find ourselves. The frame will vary depending on social context, but also factors such as age. That both men and women reacted to was that I, on a train, found myself a step outside my picture frame in terms of “fitting clothes.”

The man would have reacted the same way if we’d met at a pub. His response is what we call “flirting”, “encounter”. It’s part of his gender to be the “fishing” (poor men, so tiresome it must be!). He obviously showed interest, without being the least disruptive; he is both pleasant and enjoyable (we talked more later) … and not without me taking his interest as a compliment. Sure it has happened that I happened onto to men who ” fish “without it being the least pleasant. And yes, some men sometimes be a bit “too on”. But men who do not ” fish nicely” are a crystal clear minority.

The woman, however, she had not reacted as if we’d met at a pub. She probably had not even noticed I existed. At a pub, I would had been dressed  “right” in my gender (hence flexible picture frame). While the man’s reaction was “fisherman”, the woman’s reaction “moral guardian” whose purpose is to get me in line and teach me how a woman should act / be. It is almost exclusively women who guard women so that we stay within our gender!”

The Church Lady – Churches are almost female-dominated with male front men, which is why they are typically so toxic for women. This dynamic is called “The Blue hair Mafia in the Catholic Church and in black churches it’s called the Amen Corner. These women quite often control, and in Protestant churches, choose the clergy. They are tools of power in female hierarchy struggles. Of course this dynamic is harmful to men and especially to boys, but its real victims are women who happen to fall outside the Amen Corner. All the hyper-emphasis on policing women’s sexuality is no accident. See Ninni Tokan’s story next above.

          Female Approval: “Man up!” “Get a pair!”The Real Man discourse and the whole concept of what makes a man a good man usually come down to one thing: How useful is he to women. That’s the measure of how good and masculine a man is. The measure of what made a woman a good women used to be the mirror image of this. Thank God feminism eroded that away to nothing. Now it’s time to do the same with this. 

“Man up!” “Get a pair!” Lectures from a woman on toxic masculinity are probably going to get a readier hearing than from a man, and the history of 70s feminism as a broad cultural change shows that. But harangues for more masculinity, especially a masculinity destructive to the man and beneficial and profitable to the woman, from someone who never has and never will have to meet the same standard, are just patently offensive.

Ultimately men’s need for female approval stems from childhood where women are the only authority figures around, because all the men have to leave the kids for most of their waking hours and support the whole arrangement. Where mothers do need this kind of authority to raise kids, espcially in the absence of the fathers they have sent off to support them, it’s dysfunctional when this authority gets transferred to women in general as a feature of a gender role. It’s disastrous when it gets transferred to wives.

          The Flag-Waving Civilian Hyper-Patriot: Never served a day in her life, but she is ready to hound any man in sight to “man up” and go lay down his life for her. This chicken hawk is a real moral guardian of patriotic values. See also White Feather Society. 

          “Boys will Be Boys” – Listen around and you will see how general the meme is that men are eternal boys and that women are long-suffering adults picking up after them. It comes out in teachers saying that girls mature faster than boys – by the gender-biased standards of teachers. It comes out in 20-something women presuming to lecture men their age on manners and mature behavior. It comes out in TV commercials and programming showing men as helpless, clumsy and incapable, but always with some superior woman coming to the rescue, or more often just looking on clucking her tongue.

          Creep-shaming – This is how women take to Church Lady out on the street and use it on men. Lots has been written about creep shaming and if we want to go further into it, we can. It generally comes down to a content-free grenade a woman can lob at a man, though of course though content-free it is not necessarily consequnece-free. It can all too easily have real legal and criminal consequences.

 

WRAPPING UP

NinniTokan says that to free women, women have to dare to “make femininity problematic” and to shift the focus from demonizing men to women’s real gender problems – collectivism, moral guardianism and social punishments. She related (above) her own experiences of being slut-shamed by an older woman as an example of the damage gender role policing does to women.  She insists it is mostly women who enforce gender roles on other women.

She says the problem is not so much gender roles as the pressure to conform to them, and that to a large extent exerting that pressure is a part of the feminine gender role itself. I can confirm her in that; I have certainly experienced policing of male gender roles at the hands of women.

I consider it a perversion and a distortion of the feminine role and I call it toxic.

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  • http://stonerwithaboner.wordpress.com Stoner With a Boner

    “It grants victims a moral claim, a form of moral superiority over those they identify as having wronged them, and this can incentivize victimology, the weaponization of victimhood.”

    Well, I’ve often wondered why some feminists refuse to admit anything bad that happens to men or make it about women again like the Hilliary Clinton quote….

    One of the biggest critiques of the MRA’s is that they are a parody of feminism and that they are fighting for the “victim card” whereas they should be fighting for “something else.” Others say that the “victim card” is super powerful in modern society…

    Heck, even one Libertarian economist blogger is now saying if you can get welfare/unemployment benefits, get it and don’t feel guilty…. His catch phrase is “enjoy the decline.”

  • embroil

    “This is why homophobia has to, has to be a form of femmephobia. This how legislative attacks on women’s health services get hyperventilated inot a “War on Women” – war is war”

    Why do I get the feeling you’re being disingenuous here, with an especially literal interpretation of the phrase?

  • embroil

    That is, an especially literal interpretation of the phrase “war on women”, d’oh

  • http://feck-blog.blogspot.com Feckless

    This might fit in here….from Jim R. Macnamara’s 2006 study

    Discourse suggests that women can be whatever they want to be; men have to be what feminist-dominated discourses dictate they should be, affording them limited possibilities and denying them self-determination and autonomy as individuals. This position is in conflict with the philosophy of choice widely advanced in feminist gender theory. If men are to be ‘liberated’ and afforded the same autonomy that women claim, they need to be allowed to be what they want to be. Imperfect that may be at times, but social equity suggests that men should be allowed to write themselves into existence and be given voice in the discourse that forms the scripts that other men use to write themselves into existence.

  • http://dannyscorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com Danny

    This is how people think it’s appropriate to say that women “fought” for the vote, as opposed the very actaul wars men had to fight to get the vote.
    I can agree that there was a fight for the vote. There was protesting and there were efforts to deny women the vote here in the States. Different fights I’ll say but fights to say the least. I would say that the fight that women had to go through for the vote is more akin to the fighting that is done in protesting, essay (or these days, blog post) writing, and speeches. Women’s fight for the vote is more like the fight that men are waging now for parenting rights. It’s a fight but not the same as the wars that men had to fight.

    emboil:
    Why do I get the feeling you’re being disingenuous here, with an especially literal interpretation of the phrase?
    Despite what I said above I don’t think he is being totally disingenous on this. I know I’ve seen claims that all homophobia is based in hatred against women. As in homophobia against gay men is based on hating men that do something that is associated with being a woman (attraction to men) and homophobia against gay women is based on hating women for not doing what is associated with being a woman (attraction to men). So no matter how you look at it all homophpbia is secretly about hating women .

    And I have personally witnessed this same appropriation tactic used at the intersection of gender and fat. Fat hatred against women is bad because it shames women for their bodies not being a certain size/shape and fat hatred against men is bad because it likens men to women in order to insult men. Mind you this requires assuming that the reason fat men are shamed is because of a hatred of women and totally ignoring that fat hatred of men starts at wanting to shame a man for not having an ideal male body.

    Give them enough time and I bet they could even figure out how racism is really about hatred of women.

  • embroil

    I was mostly commenting on the “women aren’t getting their legs blown off in this war on women” bit. Like I said, it’s an incredibly literal interpretation of the phrase. It’s war as a metaphor. It’s not exactly a new concept.

    To claim that racism is about hatred of women would be ridiculous, of course but there are ways that ideologies of racial supremacy involve Otherizing people on the basis of their (lack of) masculinity/femininity or hyper-sexual nature. Consider the stereotype of the Asian male as emasculated and asexual or the hyper-sexualization of Black men and women. The idea remains “Look they’re not like us! They’re not even proper men and women!”

  • http://paddybrown.co.uk Patrick Brown

    I was mostly commenting on the “women aren’t getting their legs blown off in this war on women” bit. Like I said, it’s an incredibly literal interpretation of the phrase.

    Yes, it is, and deliberately so. War is something that conscripts, kills, maims and gives PTSD to men, and feminists using it to describe a debate over whether it should be compulsory or optional for occupational health insurance to cover contraception for women is trivialising and offensive, especially to men who have served in the military, of whom there are some here.

  • embroil

    Then you have to be willing to apply that reasoning to other uses of war as a metaphor, such as war on religion, class warfare, “war is a drug”, etc. Even the use of war by the US to describe their invasions of other countries is suspect.

    If there’s anything wrong with the war metaphor by now, it’s that it’s extremely overused and cliched. And it’s overused because it works. The entire point is that it gains its strength from the association with war. War is a terrible thing, the memory of which is constantly fresh in the minds of the American people.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conceptual_metaphor

    I guess what is needed is car or football metaphor. People don’t get hurt from those things, right?

  • http://thedamnedoldeman.com TDOM

    In many ways the war metaphor can be quite appropriate even when applied to something like American football. the game itself is a metaphor for war and it involves a physical struggle. I see nothing wrong with a football player calling himself a warrior. But in some contexts the war metaphor is nothing more than an appeal to emotion. The so called war on women falls into that logical fallacy. It does so because no one is actually trying to hurt or harm women as a group. Yet those who speak of the “war on women” want us to believe that women will be harmed by this so called war. it’s an emotional appeal and nothing more.

  • http://paddybrown.co.uk Patrick Brown

    The point, I think, is that, if feminists are going to hyperventilate, and they do, over metaphorical uses of terms they “own”, from post-natal depression to rape, then they need to be careful about using terms metaphorically themselves.

  • embroil

    The point is that complaining about the use of a war metaphor isn’t really good criticism. I oppose this war on war metaphors.

  • HidingFromtheDinosaurs

    Embroil:
    Honestly, in light of the way they talk about actual war and the way they’re throwing the whole “war on women” thing around, it is something that needs to be criticized. It is exactly the sort of base, unfounded appeal that has brought them this far and it represents something we need to stop letting people get away with. The problem is not that they are employing a metaphor, the problem is that the metaphor they are employing bears no conceivable relation to the thing they are using it to describe. This is a tactic they use to control discourse, stifle opposition and obscure the facts. In this case, it is made especially odious by the fact that the metaphor they are using marginalizes and trivializes the experiences of a group of people they have frequently worked to deny the recognition, protection and treatment they deserve. As long as this sort of tactic is tolerated, there is no hope for open and reasonable debate.

    Just for fun, let’s examine a few other war “metaphors” that have been mentioned:

    Class warfare: Anyone who thinks this is a quaint exaggeration failed history. Just because the rick and poor aren’t killing each other outside your window doesn’t mean that it hasn’t happened quite a lot and isn’t still happening in a lot of places right now.

    War on crime / war on drugs / war on terror: If you define war as being exclusively between nation-states, then these do not qualify. You would, however, have a hard time denying that they were intended as campaigns of organized and violent assault against the phenomena in question and that they sometimes met with equally violent resistance.

    Football / sports in general: Utterly absurd, but what can you expect from people who play a game called “football” with their hands? I consider this to be a problem and I know that I am not alone in doing so. I suggest you refrain from using this metaphor yourself and complain when it is used by others.

    War on religion: This has certainly happened numerous times, although I assume you are referring to spurious and reactionary comments by the American political groups collectively referred to as the “religious right”. They are engaging in the exact same practices as the people talking about a “war on women” and deserve an equal share of criticism, shame and disgust.

  • HidingFromtheDinosaurs

    Oh, I forgot one:

    Current American wars against technologically and numerically inferior opponents: Since when has “war” required or even implied all sides to be equal? Would you really go up to a veteran coming home with their leg blown off and tell them that they have not been in a war?

  • embroil

    Something like the war on drugs should be even more indefensible considering that while it announces itself as a war on a concept, illegal drugs, it’s really a war on the people most affected by this campaign, the poor and people of color living in low-income areas. It’s something that has literally resulted in the marginalization and deaths of millions. To even call it a war is to deny what it really is. It’s like how (with my intended-to-be-cheeky comment) the US and other nations will illegally invade a foreign country and couch it in terms to disguise any acts of aggression on there part. People are more comfortable with the idea that a conflict is being waged in order to introduce freedom and democracy to foreign nations. They don’t really want to hear that it was actually an act of imperialism in order to establish world dominance with the added benefits of those countries’ resources.

    And these are supposed to inspire less outrage than war on women? That’s the one that marginalizes and trivializes the experience of soldiers? Not the racist prison pipeline? I’ll get back to you on that when I figure out how this isn’t a case of “Bad when x says it, good when y says it.”

  • Ginkgo

    Embroil,
    ” I’ll get back to you on that when I figure out how this isn’t a case of “Bad when x says it, good when y says it.”

    I don’t accept any of those misuses of “war on X”. they are all crap, for various reasons.

    The “war on drugs” was Nixon’s transparently dishonest use of the term to whip up support for his policy. I remember it very clearly. he wa splaying to irrational fears. As you point out it has turned out to be a war, but not on drugs. It actually comes the closest to being an actual war given the amount of bloodshed going on in Mexico.

    “It’s like how (with my intended-to-be-cheeky comment) the US and other nations will illegally invade a foreign country and couch it in terms to disguise any acts of aggression on there part. ‘

    Now I get what you were trying to say. yeah, funny how actual wars are not called wars.

    This is a good point and there is a lot to look at at:
    “To claim that racism is about hatred of women would be ridiculous, of course but there are ways that ideologies of racial supremacy involve Otherizing people on the basis of their (lack of) masculinity/femininity or hyper-sexual nature.”

    There has been a trend in the culture for about 100 years to ascribe what used to be class differences to gender roles. Basically what has happend is that low class attributes get ascribed to men. And then male attributes get ascribed to low status women. In effect, this is what license calling African-American hyper-sexual.

    “The point is that complaining about the use of a war metaphor isn’t really good criticism. I oppose this war on war metaphors.”

    Are you equally opposed to rape metaphors? “I really raped that test!” “I got raped on my taxes this year!” Do you think those uses of the term “rape” in any way trivializes rape?

  • HidingFromtheDinosaurs

    Embroil:
    There is a very simple pattern to the division between what I considered acceptable to call “war”, either as a metaphor or as a literal description. I am surprised you did not notice it. Everything I declared could reasonably be called war involved significant loss of life as a result of planned actions and overt hostility. The difference between the “war on drugs” and the “war on women” is that the objectionable part of the “the war on drugs” is “on drugs” (it fails to accurately represent the targets and intentions of the campaign), whereas the objectionable part of the “war on women” is the “war” (the actions in question would primarily effect women, but they are neither violent nor perpetrated with hostile intent). I made no claims as to the justice of any of the “wars” listed, just on whether or not they could accurately be described as “war”.

  • embroil

    Gingko: I oppose rape metaphors the same way I “oppose” war metaphors in that they’re both overused and cliched.

    Question: does this opposition to the war metaphor stem from a belief that war should always be treated with the utmost seriousness? If so, are things like Dr. Strangelove and Inglourious Basterds equally as objectionable?

    Hiding: The existence of violence is not enough to justify the war label. You wouldn’t refer to a genocide as a war, would you? The body count accumulated as a result of the war on drugs/terror is what, in my opinion, pushes it to a more objectionable point than the phrase war on women. People are dying as a result of actions that would be considered criminal in any other context but it’s all justified by the language they wrap it up in.

  • HidingFromtheDinosaurs

    Embroil:
    I would not call a genocide a war because a more specific label exists, but I might consider it a subcategory. The existence of violence was not the only criterion I gave, as you well know. I consider that the widespread organization and specifically-directed hostile intent involved are the deciding factors.

    Your objection would require that I attach connotations to the label of “war” (justification, self-defense, opposition capable of putting up an equal fight) that I do not believe it merits. Saying “X was, or is roughly comparable to, a war” does not express any moral judgment on my part, merely a factual observation based on criteria I have decided on after some deliberation and stated clearly.

    I object to the “war” of the “war on women” for the same reason that I object to the “on drugs” of the “war on drugs”: both are highly inaccurate and fail to convey the reality of the situation described. I do not object to the “war” in the “war on drugs” because it fits my definition. This does not represent any judgment on my part as to the results and actions associated with either term. I consider, as I have stated, that all of the people, especially people in positions of power, who engage in this kind of misdirection should be attacked for it. Real public discourse cannot coexist with this sort of rhetorical sleight of hand and these behaviors will continue until they start having negative consequences for the people who engage in them. Criticizing them is the first step in making that happen.

    In summation, I will not stop criticizing people for talking about a “war on women” just because a bunch of buffoons hid their atrocities under the label “war on drugs”. In fact, I consider that an insistence on some standard of accuracy in political rhetoric will work to prevent those atrocities from being repeated or their perpetrators escaping judgment.

  • Ginkgo

    “Question: does this opposition to the war metaphor stem from a belief that war should always be treated with the utmost seriousness? If so, are things like Dr. Strangelove and Inglourious Basterds equally as objectionable?”

    Excellent question, and not only because I looked at it myself.

    No.

    And the same goes for rape metaphors – sometimes they are valid and sometimes they aren’t because they trivialize what they are metaphoring off of. So when someone says a piece of pristine forest was “raped” by a logging company, that is a valid use of the metaphor, but if someone says they are “raped’ by being ogled on the street, that is trivializing rpae. If someone calls a protracted struggle on some issue in Congress a a”war”, I’m willing to go along with that, or a campaign to eradicate a disease, for instance. But calling something like de-funding of an important program a “war” trivializes war.

    Something else to always bear in mind is the effect that male disposability has on our perspective. A common trap people fall into is “It’s worse when it happens to women” – the idea that the same harm is somehow less acceptable if it happens to a woman. One way this plays out is “erasure by false equivalence” – triviailizing a harm by likening it it some lesser harm as if the two are equal, for instance higher murder rapes for men than rape rates for women. This is not some iron-clad rule – “any use by a woman of a metaphor involving a harm to a man is always a trivialization!” – it is just something to always watch out for and make sure it’s not clouding one’s judgment.

    As for seriousness, yeah war is serious but Inglorious Basterds was the farthest thing from tirivializing it. That unit was shown doing horrific things and the film didn’t flinch from that. Dr. Strangelove was so surreal and creepy that if anything it exaggerated the reality in order to tell the truth of the horror of what it was condemning. That’s the the opposite of trivialization.

    Movies that trivialize war? A lot of John Wayne’s shit comes to mind. The whole chivalrous, fair play ideal. Things like that.

  • http://dannyscorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Danny

    embroil:
    I was mostly commenting on the “women aren’t getting their legs blown off in this war on women” bit. Like I said, it’s an incredibly literal interpretation of the phrase. It’s war as a metaphor. It’s not exactly a new concept.
    No the use of war as a metaphor is not a new concept and whether its new or not isn’t the problem. The problem is that, in the real of gender, the folks that have taken the “war on women” terminology talk are some of the same folks that will deny from the highest mountain any talk of “end of men” or “boy crisis in schools”.

    Its not that they are using it as a metaphor its that they seem to want to reserve the most horrifying of metaphors for women and girls only on the condition that if its used to describe men and boys its treated like some terrible act of appropriation.

  • dungone

    I tend to side with what Danny and a few other people are trying to point out. The metaphor of “war on women” is wrong because it is appropriation of male suffering to promote what can more accurately be described as a war on men. The fact that VAWA is a faulted piece of legislation that erases male victims while violating a few of their human rights. A metaphor is a metaphor, but that metaphor is obnoxious.

    Moreover, the “war on women” paints a lot of disparate criticisms using a very broad stroke. When someone opposes VAWA on the grounds that it’s sexist, it doesn’t have anything to do with whether or not they oppose abortion on religious grounds or whether they oppose insurer mandates that effectively boil down to a hidden pay raise for women at the expense of men. Some movements are truly anti-woman and full of ill intent, others are principled and seek justice and equality. The worst possible argument in bad faith that feminists can do is to lump all of these together and call it a “war on women.”

  • Chris

    “This one was devised back in the 70s when the initial and limited successes of the Civil Rights Movement made the public relations and therefore political advantages of victim cred apparent. White feminists knew a good thing when they saw it and pitched themselves as the natural allies of black people and POCs in general. (The rise of Womanism represents of some of the reaction to this appropriation.) I really have seen white feminists insist that black men are privileged by having male privilege – this in a society where they and white men have spent the last 300 years destroying black men’s manhood.”

    I know I’m late to the party, but this touches on something I’ve been wishing more people would talk about. To me, the feminist history of endless female oppression always read like a badly hijacked version of black history as told by the Civil Rights movement in the 60’s. When I first read feminist theory the whole oppressed / oppressor class dichotomy immediately jumped out at me as something borrowed from Civil Rights. It never sounded right because it sounded like language that was designed to talk about race and class but it was repurposed for gender instead.

  • http://dannyscorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Danny

    Or to say about women what feminists love saying about men.

    Yes that stuff is terrible and it needs to be addressed but it just doesn’t compare to what happens to men.

  • Ginkgo

    Heh, Danny – you fell for it! All that stuff is the stuff that happens to men. Look at it agian. Isn’t it every mean, boy-hating teacher you ever had, every whiny little damsel who expected everyone to feel sorry for her and hop to it to make her happy, and all the rest?

  • http://dannyscorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com/ Danny

    Of course you’re right Ginkgo. But come on I know I’m not the first person that think about turning their smug phrases back on them…

  • Aych

    Relevant to this inane “restricting abortion is a War on Women” schtick: it obscures the extent to which some women favor restricting or even banning abortion moreso than men do.

    http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2012/04/02/false_reports_gop_not_losing_women_in_contraception_war_on_women_romney_obama_2012_gender_gap.html

    “Some oft-forgotten context: The GOP is the party of white men and white women. Democrats win women. But pundits regularly forget that Democrats have not won a majority of white women since 1964…

    …more women are social conservatives than men. Fifty-seven percent of white Republican women attend church at least once a week, compared to 42 percent of white Republican men, according to Pew Research Center survey data… Republican women are more likely than Republican men to believe abortion should be illegal in all circumstances.”

    ‘Church ladies,’ indeed.

  • Ginkgo

    “But come on I know I’m not the first person that think about turning their smug phrases back on them…”

    I hate smugness because it is the opposite of honest inquiry and self-doubt and intellectual rigor. And Sun Zi will tell you that as useful as it is to exploit an enemy’s weakness, it is much more effective to use their own strength against them.

  • Ginkgo

    Aych, the fact that women are in the forefront of that kind of policing of women is a huge blind spot in feminist analysis. It is inevitable in a theory that ascribes all power to men. Under those rules women simply can never exercise power over anyone, including women. In fact it is an exmaple of Tthe Surrendered Wife scam – exercise power and then deny you have any.

  • Aych

    I feel that this projection-filled appeal to ridicule is somehow related to this thread:

    http://www.alternet.org/teaparty/155393/how_the_ayn_rand-loving_right_is_like_a_bunch_of_teen_boys_gone_crazy/?page=1

    I couldn’t keep a straight face while reading this. I literally had no idea that the word “Nanny state” is sexist as hell.

    If I read this correctly, this author seems to think that society doesn’t adequately insist upon adult behavior from men. It coddles men, catering to them, keeping them as perpetual children who don’t “take responsibility.” Kind of sounds like the conservative attitude towards welfare recipients, doesn’t it?

    You know, the only two occasions I ever see a feminist like Ms. Robinson utter the phrase “personal responsibility” is to #1. Demand more of it from men and #2. Demand that women be perpetually exempted from it. This article clearly falls into category #1.

    Perhaps it’s the case that women have always taken so much responsibility for everybody throughout the whole of human history that they should never need to do so ever again, while men have never taken responsibility in human history and should therefore always have to do so from now until doomsday. That’s probably what she means.

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  • http://dannyscorneroftheuniverse.blogspot.com Danny

    The Women and Children First (WCF) meme: This is not only an expression of male disposability, it is also an infantilization of women. It is a case of expecting men to sacrifice their lives for women’s lies as if those women’s lives were as valuable as children’s and thus more valuable than men’s.
    I’d like to add to this the way that deaths (or other unfortunate events) are reported in the media. Looks at how civilian death tolls are reported in war torn areas like the Middle East and Africa. Usually the form of, “X were killed. Y of them women and children.’

    Just saw this today (http://www.broadwaylondon.org/Aboutus/LatestNews/chain-report-street-to-home-2012_13.html). A report on homelessness in London. Guess which gender had their proportion specifically highlighted?

  • Ginkgo

    Danny, that’s a common expression of this norm. I saw one yesterday where someone read a report that siad that women commit 52% of X and it was reblogged as “men commit X almost half the time.”

    You have better clarity on this than I do, but it appears to track the way news coverage of black people, exspecially men, tends to slant negative. Never anything you can refute in that particuar instnace but the total effect is nonthelss slanted and insidious.

  • Druk

    “the fact that women are in the forefront of that kind of policing of women is a huge blind spot in feminist analysis”
    I don’t know that I’d call it a blind spot, exactly. I see it addressed all the time by feminists. A majority of men, or a minority of powerful men do something? Patriarchy. A majority of women do something? Patriarchy. It’s so simple!

  • Ginkgo

    “I don’t know that I’d call it a blind spot, exactly.”

    Yes. If you take the time to fabricate a rationalization, you must think the issue deserves the effort.

  • Political Cynic

    “There are situations where what is generally considered a female way of doing something is the appropriate way, regardless of who is doing it. Teaching young children – primary grades surely, but even the older elementary grades sometimes – is one obvious example.”

    I don’t agree with this statement. In fact it is not necessarily proven that the “female” way is better in education for boys-and given the evidence that, for example, female teachers tend to grade boys more harshly and more often on behavior rather than merit, I’m not sure this is a valid statement. I think we would need a better definition of what the “female way” of teaching at those levels is, and better evidence of why it is “better” before making this sort of judgment.

    It may be true. It also may not be true. I would argue that, at best, it is likely unproven at this point. So I’m not sure this is the best example of when doing something “the female way” is necessarily “better”.

  • Ginkgo

    PC, I agree with your disagreement now that you state it that way. My formulation was poorly worded and I may just go back in and change that.

  • Adiabat

    Danny: “But come on I know I’m not the first person that think about turning their smug phrases back on them…”

    lol, I’ve really enjoyed telling the feminists at Ally’s blog to “go educate yourself about feminism” every time they ask for a citation for what should be common knowledge to anyone involved in feminism. They’ve stopped asking now.

  • Ginkgo

    Adiabat, you have more patience than I do. I can smell a sexist pig a mile off now and Carnation and Raging Bee are sexist-ass fucking pigs. And they have a crew of toadies over there. I go in when I can but it’s like bailing the ocean.

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