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A Ferret Called Wilson

Chasing Happy, Chasing Dreams

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Feminism

On Humanism

Last week was a week for feminist bashing. First, a post by a member on a men’s support forum that I frequent blamed the liberated modern feminist for the shape of modern male body shame. More recently there have been a number of articles published commenting on Hillary Clinton’s impending rise to power and on the form of feminism presented by Ms Sandberg in this article. I used to think of myself as a feminist, but I think feminism is outdated, and a misnomer, for what the true meaning of the movement represents. Today, I think of myself as a humanist.

I thank my fellow bloggers, les femmes, for helping me to find words to express my standing, and I thank a a particularly genuine forum member at the support forum for the inspiration to remember my own humanity in the midst of the anger.

Humanism. It isn’t feminism because it doesn’t seek to place women on equal footing as men, or to insult men or put them down, and it isn’t masculinism or patriarchism because it doesn’t seek to maintain the long standing oppression of women. Humanism is the philosophy that all humans have value, that we are all made of flesh, that we all feel pain, we all cry, we all fear the unknown. Humanism seeks to undo the damage that centuries of body shaming and millennia of power seeking have put on our collective psyches. Humans wants peace for all humans in their own hearts, and in their relationships with each other.

After the claim was made that modern feminism is responsible for the shape and style of small penis humiliation, another man added an explanation: feminists seek to topple the patriarchy, but instead of going for the strongest males, they attack the weakest first and use the cheapest shots. This naturally results in women shaming non-alpha male types for their insufficient sex drives, small penises, lack of ambition and generally non-alpha male patriarchal personality types.

I understand where this man is coming from. He feels inferior to the alpha-types that define what ideal modern masculinity looks like, but it is easier to blame women, outsiders, for attacking him than it is to blame his fellow men. He would like to be an alpha, but he isn’t. However, if he rejects the image of alpha as fundamentally flawed, he incites ridicule from other alpha males — the strong and empowered males that he claims women are afraid to challenge, but whom he himself also fears. Rather than accept that he fails to meet the standards he upholds, or to take the responsibility to change the things in himself that he disapproves of, he finds an outside entity which is socially weaker than he is and attacks it instead.

Thanks to the gentle words of another member on the forum, when I read these accusations I saw them for the expression of impotence that they really were, rather than the attack on myself that they felt like. I suggested that where he wrote “feminists” he might instead write “people who seek power over others” and where he wrote “alpha males” that he might instead write “those who currently have power and social approval.” I think what this man was really trying to say is that people attack the weakest representations of their enemies when they feel threatened, and that in doing so they harm those who are in fact closest to themselves, perhaps even their allies.

To be a humanist takes a wider perspective than to be a feminist. It is not enough to topple all the males, but rather, we must select from within the whole of masculinity what bits are truly harmful to us and what bits are nothing more than the imperfect and clumsy attempts of other human beings to fight for their own happiness. After all, men still are in a position of power over us. We don’t like it and we don’t want to accept it, but we can further our own goals if we acknowledge it and make allies where we can.

I am no political strategist. In fact, I am quite simple in my understanding of humans. I see the philosophy of humanism as a torch in the night. By recognizing the humanity in all of us, even those who would appear as my ideological enemies, I can make better choices, see more clearly, and feel less threatened by the violent world that I live in.

The Clitoris is for Men

Several weeks ago I read a post by an advice columnist who I am not on particularly good terms with and it rankled me. The advisee, a young male, was concerned that he could not bring his female partner to orgasm with penetration. The advice he received was twofold: First, he was shamed for his male supremist desire to bring his partner to orgasm through penetration. Second, he was instructed in the “universal knowledge” that the clitoris is located outside the vagina and is not sufficiently stimulated by penetration and that he was required to provide oral, manual or electrical stimulation directly to his partner’s clitoris if he wanted her to orgasm.

Well, recent and extremely overdue research on the female reproductive anatomy has produced this three dimensional image of the human clitoris

The Internal Clitoris
The complete clitoris as presented on the Museum of Sex (NY) blog. The yellow portion is the clitoris and the blue structures are the bladder (left) and the vagina (right), which leads into the uterus (upper most).

Take a moment to appreciate this image. Exactly where is the clitoris again? It sure appears to me to be inside the female pelvic cavity, wrapping around the urethra and the vagina and extending forward to the mons pubis and backward towards the anus. Just by looking at this image, if you were to ask me if the clitoris was better stimulated by rubbing a finger on the glans clitoris, the tiny little nub sticking out and down on the left side of the image, or by rubbing some phallic object against the inner circle of it by way of the vagina, I’d go vagina every time.

So why was I so upset by the advice given to this young male? Besides it being out of date, it was also advise for a man seeking a goal and completely neglected the woman in question. More specifically, imagine being the owner of such a magnificent and complex organ of sexual satisfaction and imagine never once having been able to wield it properly. Now imagine you have a partner who wants to learn how to help you wield that organ to achieve its full glory, but when he seeks the necessary knowledge on how to do this, he is told that your organ is busted and isn’t actually meant to work that way and he should stop trying. No one once asks you what your opinion in all of this is.

This brief interaction between two men discussing a woman’s body without her input is not a new phenomenon, nor is it an example of bonding behavior we would expect to see only between extreme political conservatives. In fact, this is just one more case of a history of conversations between men for the benefit of men. As far back as I can remember, every storybook character I ever read about was either a woman seeking a husband, or a man. Every historical figure I ever studied was a man, save for the exceptional woman who was noted for her womanhood. In movies, women were the reasons that men became great, but they were never great themselves. God Himself is a man. In my adolescent years I was desperate, as all adolescents are, for a role model. I dove deeper and deeper into the philosophy behind what I was given to study in school, digging for some universal truth about humanity that would validate my existence. What I found was the vastest of empties. I would search in the books that we read for a female character that had positive traits and what I discovered was that in order to emulate these characters I had to be beautiful, and I had to be romantically unattainable. Attainability, was anathema to female success. The only women of virtue in any of my studies were desperately, painfully and permanently alone. It is a wonder I survived adolescence at all.

Modern times, full as they are with sexual freedom and women’s rights, still prove to be no more welcoming of the human female than the histories were. Indeed, even on a subject so intensely personal, so intensely feminine as the existence and nature of the clitoris, women are not even invited in to speak. The clitoris, it seems, exists only for validation of the male ego, and if he wants that ego validated, he better get to it directly and not waste time on pleasuring a woman in the process.

Bad Science

An article published in this week’s issue of The Week (March 23, 2012) claims to have explained “why women seek conflict.” I didn’t know until I read this article that women did, in fact, seek conflict. Women’s overwhelming marital and career strife can often be boiled down to an aversion to conflict; when their overbearing husbands or bosses criticize them or deny them the authority they deserve, preferring to keep relationships smooth, women back down and simmer quietly inside rather than correct their superiors-by-default.

However, according to The Week, and “researchers,” “women tend to want to engage around conflict,” while “men…find conflict threatening.” I am sure that this research was motivated by the innumerable cases of unruly women in bars breaking bottles over each other’s heads and wrecking the furniture, or perhaps the rising incidence of women getting out of their cars at stop lights to threaten the driver in the next lane who didn’t get out of the way fast enough. On the other hand, it could simply be the many cases of domestic violence wherein women, in their desperate need for conflict, pester and nag their poor peace loving husbands into a fit of rage, so that they will, most unwillingly, beat, rape and abuse their wives into an ecstasy of emotional rapture. This one must certainly have been the motivation.

The study consisted of filming 156 couples interacting with each other and then reviewing the films with the man and the woman in the relationship and asking them to describe their feelings. Their finding was that women felt more secure and validated when their men were distressed. There are a number of problems with this study and the conclusions it claims to achieve. The most basic are simple math: 156 is a very small sample. Maybe with a good theoretical model built on well established behavioral findings, one might be able to draw conclusions from 156 observations, but generally speaking, good data sets should have thousands of observations in order to draw reliable conclusions.

Supposing, however, that the sample size was large enough that the statistics measured were robust, we next must face the problem of causality. Most periodicals that publish on academic findings make the error of implied causality. Put simply, we hear a lot of language that says things like “eating red meat increases your risk for heart disease.” What this means is that if you are a data point in a research project and your data point gets put in the bin of other data points that all eat red meat, then that same bin would be full of a lot of data points who have heart disease. The key here is that it doesn’t mean that you will have heart disease. That’s because red meat doesn’t cause heart disease, but its consumption is correlated with heart disease. A less reported correlation is with firemen and fires. Whenever you see a building on fire, you tend to see firemen running about. More firemen running about is correlated with more fires, but no one would say that firemen cause fires.

In this study, we face the same difficulty of establishing causality. We know that firemen don’t cause fires because we know that we build fire stations in order to respond to the fires, that is, we have a theoretical model explaining why the firemen and the fires appear at the same times, so we know which causes which. However, in the study on conflict, women’s feelings of security were correlated with their men being distressed, but which caused which, assuming there even exists a causal relationship. One possibility, one that many divorced women will happily ascribe to, is that conflict arises in a relationship when the party who is usually submissive asserts her opinion. A woman feeling more confident and validated in her point of view is more willing to stand her ground. This upset of the typical balance of power leads to conflict as men who are not accustomed to being stood up to must reassess their position, which leads to distress. In this perfectly plausible story, women are indifferent to conflict, but their positive feelings about themselves or their relationship initiate conflict which leads to the correlation.

Another explanation could be that men do not care for their women until they scream — the squeaky wheel explanation. Men are often more assertive about their desires and more willing to fulfill their own needs without checking in with their women or friends whereas women tend to consider more how the whole group will be affected by her decision. Thus, a woman is likely to quietly sacrifice her own needs if she feels that the relationship as a whole will benefit while men are more likely to sacrifice a woman’s needs if she doesn’t make a big stink about it. Thus, a woman feels ignored and uncared for in the status quo and the only times she receives attention from her man is when she puts on a show. In this case the woman certainly is seeking conflict, but the explanation is not that the conflict makes her feel good, or that she has some intrinsic pleasure from fighting, as the article would suggest, the explanation is that the behavior is encouraged by her mate. This is the exact same social process that leads to whiny children, too.

Finally, the article suggests that men ought to be more tolerant of women’s inherent need for conflict while women should be more understanding of men’s desire for peace. Pardon me while I cry shenanigans here. This implication on the surface sounds like science is finding answers for our every day problems, but lets look a little closer. Remember that time when you found yourself sitting down reading the Sunday paper and thinking “Gee, there are so many women in the world with insatiable needs for conflict!”? Right. Thought not. The article begins by creating the idea that it is common knowledge that women desire conflict. It then goes on to use this false presumption to motivate a statistically weak study on relationships that supposedly demonstrates this “fact.” Finally, the language that it uses to describe its solution to this invented problem describes women as hysterical, emotionally warped creatures that are more something that we as society have to deal with than something we would want to be around. At the same time, the men in the study are described as fundamentally harmless, peace loving creatures — both traits that we as a society value in others.

So what is this really about? This article is a devious attempt at using bad science to further vilify the feminine in our society. It’s a really good strategy, too. Because if our society holds anything more sacred that the Pope, it’s science. Science never lies.

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