Our brains are pattern-finding, habit-creating machines. Have you ever gone through your morning routine to suddenly feel unsure if you locked the front door? Our brains take the easiest path, short-cuts to save energy; turning down brain activity while going through the motions of habit, and turning up alertness when presented with novelty.
Just as a habit dismisses the hassle of constant attentiveness, ideologies and rigid thought patterns are ways to benefit from a similar form of autopilot. By sticking to a pre-established narrative or sets of rules you do not need to concern yourself with the hassle of deciphering daily “noise”*.
However, turning down this noise leaves us vulnerable to the unexpected. Realities can be quick to change, while unyielding thought patterns and universalities are tools built to be unyielding and permanent. Timing has a lot to do with flowing with life, but on autopilot, we can’t factor in subtlety, ambiguity or contradiction. In conforming to straightforward concepts we may find ourselves comforted by truth, but we are not safe, in fact, we may be keeping danger safe.
In this post I will be looking at feminism, social justice warriors and how appearances can be deceiving.
We should all be feminists?
In a Ted talk titled “We should all be feminists”, Chimamanda Adichie challenges conventional ideas about gender (1). She points out that, while males are physically stronger than females, this would have only better qualified them as leaders a thousand years ago. Back then, the physically stronger person was more qualified to lead while today attributes like intelligence, creativity and inventiveness are more valuable and not different between the sexes. She concludes we are not seeing more women in positions of power and prestige because our narrow view of gender traps both sexes. “The problem with gender is that it prescribes how we should be rather than recognizes who we are”, she says.
Although the message to honor true nature is agreeable, this narrative is flawed.
By creating rigid thinking patterns to interpret the world we are making it easier to dismiss individual interactions and contexts. If the goal is to treat everyone as individuals, despite gender, why do we need to tell all people to be feminists? Can’t we have individuals who disagree with this narrative? I find this strange coming from someone who knows the danger of a single story.
Here is an equally if not more effective narrative:
When our survival depended on physical strength, men subsidized women’s reproductive inequalities, manifesting more as equilibrium rather than gender war. The sexual dimorphism in our species is evidence of this trade-of; some of the physical burdens of survival were relieved from women and taken up by men. Our ancestors relied on male hunting parties to potentially sacrifice their bodies to provide game for the group. And with greater male competition, our ancestors relied on male bodies to fight and protect us from other invading males. Protecting women and children is a wide-spread cultural norm. “Positions of power and prestige” were not privileges awarded to the strongest by group consensus, but earned through competition and adversity, where the stakes were life and limb.
The world has changed through this competition and innovation over adversity. With intelligence and creativity, men made more and more ways to keep women and children safe and provided for. Male competition has helped establish tribes, cities and nation-states. Not many men or women have reached the pinnacle of positions of power and very few made the history books, yet many more men have died and risked their lives in its pursuit. In absence of the barrage of war and wilderness, individuals are just as likely to follow gender stereotypes**.
Keeping Safe with Boundaries
Before I continue, I’d like to touch on the concept of boundaries. In our interactions with others there are spoken and unspoken behavioural boundaries. The established boundaries vary in culture and context but give a general guideline of what is acceptable behaviour. On a spectrum these would be minimums, while on the other side of the spectrum there are personal boundary maximums and top-down controls like enforced laws.
A good illustration of this is a martial arts class. The individuals give non-verbal consent in a sparring match by donning the appropriate gear and entering the space established as the practice area. The minimum boundaries are established and perhaps some maximum boundaries, like no head kicks as dictated by club policy. Now there is a gray area of where individual maximum boundaries lie. Many may test where these boundaries are through non-verbal communication, pushing their partner harder and observing their response. Some may establish boundaries through verbal communication, “you are hitting too hard” or “can we go faster?”
The gray areas are what make individual interactions unique and can help reveal and build character. Pushing a boundary that has been established by another can lead to conflict. But sometimes conflict is good. Sometimes, as in a martial arts class, it allows your practice to progress. Sometimes it leads to a good debate. Other times it endangers your person and this boundary needs to be protected through self-defence or law-enforcement.
This gray area is littered with ambiguity and contradiction. Sometimes you’re having a bad day (boundary contraction) while other times feel like expressing an opinion (boundary expansion). The people interacting with you are always different too. Just like in the martial arts example, timing can be everything. This context is something that slips out if the grip on ideologies, rigid ways of thinking or top-down control is too tight (2).
Feminist and SJW Bullying
What is ironic about Adichie’s talk and feminist campaigns like “He for She” (3) or “Ban Bossy” (4) is the claim women are capable of being strong, creative innovators if only others, especially men, listen to and respect women. This is, in fact, a call to be more sensitive to the personal boundaries of females. I would strongly argue this goes against genuine social equality, especially if one gender is needed to back another while tip-toeing around personal sensitivities.
Feminism, especially in these cases, seems to be nothing but an alert to males of discomfort and putting the onus on them to figure out how to fix it.
The desire to protect women has been a reoccurring theme in human history, with feminism doing nothing more than heightening female sensitivities and placing misogyny on the trigger finger to shut down any criticism or debate. Remember, “the problem with gender is that it prescribes how we should be rather than recognizes who we are”. Women do not need help in the endeavour of individual self-discovery. The idea of policing masculinity so women can be more of who they are is damaging to men. Those that hold tight to the narrative of oppression can, instead of validating the male experience, simply write it off (5).
Who then, is protecting male autonomy? Strength is a concept independent of masculinity. Vulnerability is a concept independent of femininity. Writing off an opinion, idea or experience based upon predetermined labels or identities is a step towards losing one’s humanity. In fact, it seems like many in modern feminist and SJW circles are defining themselves through correcting others. In applying rigid thinking patterns, such as privilege hierarchies, they are losing context and genuine compassion for their fellow humans.
For Crying on Mountaintops
When I was a girl my dad would take me on skiing trips. Though once a speed demon, I grew an aversion to the first couple runs of the day as I entered my pre-teens (and took up snowboarding). I would sit on the top of the run and cry. At first my dad would try to coax me but after a while go down a ways and wait for my fear to lift. If this didn’t work he’d start going down without me.
It was in these moments when he had just disappeared beyond my vision that I was forced to confront my victimhood. I heard the narrative clearly in my head, the cries of abandonment and self-pity. But when there is no one to hear your whining or take pity on your tears your ass seems to become intolerably cold. In these moments, there was nothing left to do but get going.
Since then I have forced the issue again and again. Pushing boundaries makes my life exciting and helps me cultivate a sense of satisfaction. Debating with someone with a differing opinion, practicing a sport with someone who has achieved greater mastery, or pushing a personal boundary alone in nature, exposes the sticking points, rigid thought patterns, the bias, the ego. It opens you up to wonder at your own character strengths and shortcomings and to new discoveries, all the while connecting you to a collective human experience.
You know what is in those gray areas of subtlety and ambiguity? Connective tissue.
Gender ideologies aim to represent universally. However, we are all individuals engaging in a variety of interactions in a variety of contexts. The longing to explore the generalities of human nature and what it means to be male or female is locked in that gray area of personal boundaries. You may choose to explore overviews of the nature of the sexes just as you may choose to pursue an ideal of egalitarianism. You may define what gender equality means to you, and live it. Or not.
One question though: are you keeping them safe or keeping danger safe?
Further Reading/ Footnotes: * A lot of the ideas of habit formation are coming from an article I read in SA: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-the-brain-makes-and-breaks-habits/ If you see the full article there is a really interesting diagram of a mouse’s brain activity while it goes through a maze- when completes it the first time and then when it becomes habit. ** This 40min long Norwegian documentary titled the Gender Paradox may give us clues to what this may look like. When individuals are free to choose careers that reflect their true natures they fill gender sterotypes consistent with their sex. youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p5LRdW8xw70&w=560&h=315 Feminist and SJW Debris: (1) Chimamanda Adichie’s feminism ted talk https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hg3umXU_qWc (2) A great example of boundary over-sensitivity is the hollaback video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b1XGPvbWn0A We should fine people who choose to interact in a public space? Do we just take the victim’s word for the description of the offence? (3) Emma Watson’s speech He for She speech: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v6XTx2Rg04g and a (4) Ban Bossy: http://banbossy.com/ (5) I think the more subtle but pervasive female supremacy attitudes are probably more damaging. But an obvious, in your face example is Suey Park – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MNK-e6nnFGY