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Read it and weep less.

February 7, 2009

So, remember that heinous article on women’s sexuality the New York Times Magazine ran two weeks ago? Well, like many of us, I was so pissed off by their retro fantasy dressed up as science that I dashed off a letter. And guess what? They printed it!

150 words max is hard, but I feel pretty good about it. Check it out:

Women’s sexual needs are not a scientific mystery. Want to increase female libido? Put down the pharmaceuticals and free our minds with equal pay, affordable child care and equitable distribution of household responsibilities. Wondering why women gravitate toward sexually passive roles? The answer has far less to do with evolution than with the ways women are shamed for expressing aggressive desire and with the pervasive idea that women who pursue their own satisfaction are asking to be raped.

What this woman wants is an end to tired clichés dressed up as science and the beginning of a world in which women are treated as individuals, each of whom may or may not be turned on by intimacy, back-alley ravishment or any number of things; a world in which anyone wondering what a woman wants knows that the best thing to do is just ask her.

JACLYN FRIEDMAN
Medford, Mass.

UPDATE: Charming. The letter’s been online for less than 24 hours, and already some douchenozzle’s attempting to shame me or call me unfuckable or unreasonable or something because I dare claim that women aren’t walking sex dolls. Very original. Excuse me while I go cry into my pillow.

34 Comments leave one →
  1. February 8, 2009 12:19 am

    My wife and I loved your letter

  2. jaclynfriedman permalink*
    February 8, 2009 1:35 am

    If that’s your way of approving of my letter, I really don’t understand your sense of humor.

  3. February 8, 2009 7:17 am

    Jaclyn,

    I hope I didn’t offend you, didn’t mean to, we sincerely loved what you had to say. Sorry, you didn’t get our sense of humor. My responses are meant to be poking fun.

    All the best

  4. John permalink
    February 8, 2009 11:45 am

    ZPP,

    I don’t get it either, sorry.

    Jaclyn,

    reading your rebuttal I think you may be “guilty” of committing the same fallacy you critized the article for – taking opinion for fact.

    You state that the answer *is* what you *believe* to be the answer.

    “The answer has far less to do with evolution than with the ways women are shamed for expressing aggressive desire and with the pervasive idea that women who pursue their own satisfaction are asking to be raped.

    Also,

    “a world in which anyone wondering what a woman wants knows that the best thing to do is just ask her.”

    I’m sorry, but isn’t that what science is about – and – moreover, what the scientists portrayed in the article attempt to do? If your point is to say that you’re worried that people reading the NYTimes magazine are not able to understand the concept of empirical distributions, that statements can have predictive substance for large numbers of people but not at all for any single individual, that’s fair enough. But in the end I have to ask you the same “stop deconstructing” question I had to ask Jill when she wrote about the article last week: Why is it so much more useful to ask a ONE woman to find out what she wants when her desires and sexuality is (in the applied paradigm of construction) logically just as constructed as the desires of multiple women. Why wouldn’t you deconstruct her desires? I don’t know – why accept her opinion, but not statistical distributions of opinions?

  5. jaclynfriedman permalink*
    February 8, 2009 11:54 am

    You would accept her opinion because, when it comes to her sexuality, that’s what matters. Not trying to invent some unified theory of What Women Want. What on earth would be the practical application of that, when the most important thing in pleasing any person sexually is engaging that specific person in a conversation about what pleases hir?

  6. John permalink
    February 8, 2009 12:38 pm

    Jaclyn,

    well, I wouldn’t say that the most important thing in pleasing someone sexually is “talking about what pleases that person” rather than actually “doing what pleases that person”😉. But apart from that –

    a practical application would be to get a better idea of what female sexuality is like in the aggregate and likely change the social perception thereof. I mean, that’s what you’re attempting here, aren’t you? Except that you’re basing your opinion on quasi-empirics (individual experiences) and value statements rather than actual empirics. I’m absolutely aware of the epistemological limits of research in this area and I’m completely with you that it’s paramount to find out each individuals desires and dreams in this area rather than reading a book about sexuality, but that’s no reason to be neither this dismissive about research in this area nor about publications such as the one in the NYT – precisely because – if you’re right about the social limitations of talking about female sexuality, familiarizing people with the thought that there is a lot more to female sexuality than what is known today is something you want to do – or rather, I think that’s something you’d want to do.

    I mean, it’s been six years or so since it was discovered that there is a lot of clitoral tissue that is inside the body. That’s pretty basix anatomy and noone ever looked at it. So I don’t understand why you would like to stop looking at female sexuality in a scientific way when there is still so much we don’t know about it? Oh, speaking of scientific research and talking about desire – there’s a great 4-hour UK Channel 4 documentary called “the secrets of female desire” that I once found on google video in which 8 women talk about their desires and participate and are confronted with this recent kind of research, including what was, I think, the first 3D sonogram of erect internal clitoral tissue.

    You’re saying that you can’t separate the body from the mind, which is true. But it’s just as true that you can’t separate the mind from the body.

  7. jaclynfriedman permalink*
    February 8, 2009 12:47 pm

    I think what you’re misunderstanding is that I want to destroy the idea of “female sexuality” as something that exists separately or differently from “human sexuality.” I want to bring about a world where there is no meaningful difference. This article is relying on lazy science and retro fantasies to “prove” that “female sexuality” is mysterious and profoundly different from “male sexuality.” I reject its methods and its conclusion.

  8. Roy permalink
    February 8, 2009 1:03 pm

    a practical application would be to get a better idea of what female sexuality is like in the aggregate and likely change the social perception thereof. I mean, that’s what you’re attempting here, aren’t you? Except that you’re basing your opinion on quasi-empirics (individual experiences) and value statements rather than actual empirics.

    But that’s not what the original article was doing, John. The original article had very little by way of empirical data, at all. Instead, it had a lot of speculation and self-serving interpretation. It talks about how when they studied women and men looking at images of heterosexual sex X was noted, but then goes on to put a pin on X that is just as easily explained in other ways, too. That women do or do not look at men as often as women? That’s empirical–it can be tested and measured. To claim that women’s viewing other women’s bodies is “narcissism”? That “the women in the crowd gazed at the women onstage, excitedly imagining that their bodies were as desperately wanted as those of the performers”? That’s not empiricism, that’s spin.

    I’m absolutely aware of the epistemological limits of research in this area and I’m completely with you that it’s paramount to find out each individuals desires and dreams in this area rather than reading a book about sexuality, but that’s no reason to be neither this dismissive about research in this area nor about publications such as the one in the NYT – precisely because – if you’re right about the social limitations of talking about female sexuality, familiarizing people with the thought that there is a lot more to female sexuality than what is known today is something you want to do – or rather, I think that’s something you’d want to do.

    The NYT article is full of tired stereotypes and all kinds of wild and irresponsible speculation about the motivations of women, all disguised as science. I think it’s important to call out bad science when it pops up, otherwise people read it, and mistake it for, you know, actual science, when it’s really more an op-ed that trades in nasty stereotypes instead. I don’t know about anyone else, but while I want people to understand that there’s more to female sexuality than has traditionally been noticed, I don’t want to do so in a way that just shifts the perspective to some other wrong notion. It’s not enough to change the way that it’s viewed when you’re just moving from one wrong/bad perspective to another wrong/bad perspective.

  9. John permalink
    February 8, 2009 1:06 pm

    Jaclyn

    “This article is relying on lazy science and retro fantasies to “prove” that “female sexuality” is mysterious and profoundly different from “male sexuality.””

    I don’t entirely share that point of view. I do get your point and I think that you’re largely right about exaggerated differences, but I would say that not trying to understand human (and female as a part thereof) sexuality as well as ignoring possible anatomical differences for the purpose of not being confronted with something that may challenge your beliefs seems not overly enlightened to me. I guess this is the point where we have to agree to disagree.

  10. jaclynfriedman permalink*
    February 8, 2009 1:18 pm

    I’m not ignoring anatomical differences, nor am I afraid of challenges to my beliefs, when they’re grounded in good science or logic. But the article doesn’t really bother to link anatomical differences to its irresponsible conclusions. Roy lays this out much better than I do in his comment above. Not to mention that gender isn’t binary – there are at least seven known chromosomal sex combinations, not just the much touted XX and XY, and so even focusing on biology we’d do better to consider human sexuality as a whole.

    But honestly, you lost me when you started with the condescension. “Not overly enlightened?” Afraid of being confronted with things that challenge your worldview? Perhaps you should look in the mirror. I think we’re done here.

  11. John permalink
    February 8, 2009 1:39 pm

    Roy,

    I completely agree. That said, for all the possible problems with the article, I wouldn’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. Sex and the City has spread stereotypes as a tv series as well as opened a more substantial discourse about female sexuality as a social phenomenon. That’s why I – overall – welcome such an article. As for the science,

    Jaclyn,

    I’m not ignoring anatomical differences, nor am I afraid of challenges to my beliefs, when they’re grounded in good science or logic.

    if that’s the case I may have misread your statements, in which case I’m sorry. You seemed to be mostly interested in deconstructing than in generating knowledge.

    “Not to mention that gender isn’t binary – there are at least seven known chromosomal sex combinations, not just the much touted XX and XY, and so even focusing on biology we’d do better to consider human sexuality as a whole.”

    I absolutely agree with considering “as a whole”, but while medicine is concerned with the human body “as a whole” there are people specialising in cardiology or neurology. Their interest in the heart or the head doesn’t mean they’re not aware that both body parts are integral parts of the body as a whole.

    About the condescension – well, again, if you’re not saying it’s just as good to merely claim stuff instead of really looking into it – which is what I perceived your statements to be saying and which I, personally, do tend to find condescending myself, then I’m sorry for saying the “lack of enlightenment” thing. But maybe it’s also worth wondering about why I could end up misinterpreting your statements like I possibly did.

  12. February 8, 2009 7:11 pm

    I think what you’re misunderstanding is that I want to destroy the idea of “female sexuality” as something that exists separately or differently from “human sexuality.”

    Just wanted to say nicely put Jaclyn. I’m glad the NYT is getting (and publishing) some articulate critiques of the original article.

  13. Wendell permalink
    February 8, 2009 10:15 pm

    I’m in a bad mood, so apologies in advance. Plus, I’m a big-picture person, so if my terms are too sweeping I apologize for that, too.

    What we have a problem with, John, is that the article is not engaging us to think beyond our own experiences, or to think beyond the boundaries of proscribed gender norms. It takes them for granted. Jaclyn’s and others’ commentary is generally focused on calling this out.

    Another thing that pisses me off is putting this pseudo-science (as others have already pointed out) on the pillar of “science” in order to gain a sort of privilege due to many looking at science as “correct.” Fuck no. True science at its best is open inquiry, building on past work and discoveries and leaving the unanswered questions for further study by successive scientists.

    That said, for my adulatory tone towards science, both sociobiology and evolutionary psychology have been royally fucking up. Why? Because the vast majority of scientists doing the work are focusing on aspects of humanity that have immense connections to the cultural/societal. And because science is implicitly privileged, these scientists don’t even think to involve a social scientist in their work. (It’s not necessarily the scientists’ fault they don’t realize this, but it sure is their responsibility.) The social scientist can show the scientists what hidden assumptions they have been basing their work on. The social scientist can give them needed perspective on the subject they are tackling.

    “The Caveman Mystique” is an excellent example of this. The author has studied both realms of discipline, and she calls out this lazy science for not acknowledging the social in their “equations,” specifically in the study of masculinity. She makes it clear she’s a feminist from the start. How great would it be for the author of an evo-psych or sociobiology study to give their background so that the reader can weigh this with the content?

    A not-insignificant aside: this weekend I watched the History of Sex on the History channel, and just caught a bit of the Evolution of Sex on the Discovery channel. Guess which one I found less tedious? Ding! Correct–the former. Thanks to it, instead of teasing someone who has more “traditional” (for lack of a better term) views of gender roles and sexuality as being “Puritan,” I now know that most of that crap is thanks to the Victorian era. /rant

  14. John permalink
    February 9, 2009 12:27 am

    Wendell,

    I’m not quite sure where I have mentioned evolutionary psychology in my comments?

    “Another thing that pisses me off is putting this pseudo-science (as others have already pointed out) on the pillar of “science” in order to gain a sort of privilege due to many looking at science as “correct.” Fuck no. True science at its best is open inquiry, building on past work and discoveries and leaving the unanswered questions for further study by successive scientists.”

    In the end this is an explicitly epistemological question: is it possible to establish something people from different perspectives can accept as true or not. We’re all closed systems so there is logically nothing beyond individual experience. If you say we cannot establish anything that we can both accept as true then we really cannot communicate as we would not even be able to establish each other’s actual understanding of the words we use. Deconstructing the world like this is a valid point of view, it’s been around since the atomists. But everyone doing this has to come to terms with their own experience, with the fact that there *is* something where there is supposed to be nothing if you keep splitting hairs long enough. If you think that there is a point in communicating, in exchanging individual perspectives, you must necessarily accept that there is something some other person can understand, if only to a degree. This mutually accessible part of reality is logically intersubjectively “correct” – not necessarily factually “correct”, but correct as a shared reality for which further deconstruction does not serve any purpose.

    If you’re interested in the moral problems of science being conducted without social concern, I would recommend the Swiss author Friedrich Duerrenmatt’s “The physicists.” As for evolutionary psychology – I don’t know enough to have a truly informed opinion on this matter. In my uninformed view, I think that you are right, that biological and social research would benefit from more cooperation – and that cuts both ways – and that humans are not, in the words of Steven Pinker “blank slates”. But what exactly is written on those slates and how our immense cerebral plasticity is shaped and reshaped is beyond my knowledge, beyond most people’s – or even everyone’s – knowledge, and really only marginally relevant to what I was trying to say.

    “the article is not engaging us to think beyond our own experiences, or to think beyond the boundaries of proscribed gender norms. It takes them for granted. Jaclyn’s and others’ commentary is generally focused on calling this out.”

    Well, I think it’s a matter of perspective whether something is challenging or not. If human-subset-female sexuality isn’t much of a topic for discussion then such a feature will likely challenge some established ideas. Maybe not yours, maybe not Jaclyn’s…

    “She makes it clear she’s a feminist from the start. How great would it be for the author of an evo-psych or sociobiology study to give their background so that the reader can weigh this with the content?”

    I agree that any author’s biographical details/political leanings are too often disregarded in areas outside the normative social sciences. But on the other hand, not having read the book you mention (although the title sounds interesting), what does her “being a feminist” mean in that context? That she is not open to draw some conclusions that don’t fit her world-view even if her data set leaves no other possibilty? I know scientists who are feminists and wouldn’t have that problem (some may, though) and I know neo-conservative scientists who wouldn’t (and some who would). Personally, I would attempt to let the research speak for itself. If political or biographical details become desicive for the interpretation of a paper, it’s usually problematic science.

    “A not-insignificant aside: this weekend I watched the History of Sex on the History channel, and just caught a bit of the Evolution of Sex on the Discovery channel. Guess which one I found less tedious? Ding! Correct–the former. Thanks to it, instead of teasing someone who has more “traditional” (for lack of a better term) views of gender roles and sexuality as being “Puritan,” I now know that most of that crap is thanks to the Victorian era. /rant”

    Are you trying to tell me that actually understanding one’s subject is important to the quality of science?

  15. Wendell permalink
    February 9, 2009 1:58 am

    Because I was mostly speaking generally, I wasn’t directly speaking to your post, John. Evo psych makes many of the same unquestioned cultural assumptions that the article at hand made. I was bringing the article into a larger context of problematic, preconception-reinforcing pop-“science.”

    If you think that there is a point in communicating, in exchanging individual perspectives, you must necessarily accept that there is something some other person can understand, if only to a degree.

    I honestly didn’t really get where the rest of this paragraph was coming from–I’m tired–but all I meant is that science exists *in time, in history, in culture* and an example of this is the recent talk of how Darwin’s abolitionist views influenced his theory of evolution. The sentence quoted above is *my exact argument* for why the social/cultural must be considered with/incorporated into science that studies anything interpersonal–the “something” in that sentence.

    Well, I think it’s a matter of perspective whether something is challenging or not.

    Of course. My apologies–I thought that was a given in my post. And my standpoint says this article is mostly reinforcing the general populace’s perception of gender roles, within their comfort level.

    what does her “being a feminist” mean in that context? That she is not open to draw some conclusions that don’t fit her world-view even if her data set leaves no other possibilty?

    Have you studied standpoint? It’s pretty crucial to much of modern social science. Your second sentence above is a postulated conclusion which, unfortunately, fits in to what I perceive as your standpoint based on some somewhat bitter comments on other posts here. Otherwise I have no idea where it could have come from.

    And I know some leftists who are absolutely terrible people on a personal level, while knowing some rightists who are a pleasure to be around. I’m asking for the standpoint *and* the science to be taken *together.*

    Personally, I would attempt to let the research speak for itself. If political or biographical details become desicive for the interpretation of a paper, it’s usually problematic science.

    I’m not sure you understood what I was saying, and again this could be my general language. If science deals with the social, I am calling on it to include not only the input of a social scientist, but also relevant standpoint info of the scientists. To me, this would be good social science, and only improve the work being done–at least in theory. The second sentence above is odd–for me the word choice doesn’t convey your meaning at all, though I’ll try. That is not at all what I meant by standpoint/biographical details, and I’m not sure we’re on the same page linguistically, regardless of agreement or dis-. However, I do have a rebuttal to that sentence–wouldn’t it have been great to know who ordered certain more serious/ominous language be removed from a climate report released by the Bush/Shrub II administration? And an understanding of their background would tell us at least a little as to why? Contexts of all sorts reveal a lot, thus my emphasis on good science taking it into account.
    Regarding Caveman Mystique, her identifying as a feminist who has had training in the fields of evo psych/behavioral science as well as women’s/gender studies tells you that you better brush up on both to fully understand what knowledge she drops, cos the book is *dense*. The fact that E.O. Wilson thought sociobiology could be a source of good in the world shows the motivation for it, and while his motivation may be honorable, good intentions don’t always make for success–sometimes they can make more problems than were there initially, if you haven’t thought everything out (like taking the social into account). Think Ursula K. Le Guin’s “Lathe of Heaven.”

    Are you trying to tell me that actually understanding one’s subject is important to the quality of science?

    Maybe it’s because it’s late and I’m tired and not in the mood for snark, but again, most of my post was directed not at you but at whomever has the patience to read through my whole comment, thus the attempt at speaking generally.

    Thanks for the recommendation–“The Physicists” looks interesting.

    I should have written this earlier: what annajcook said.

  16. John permalink
    February 9, 2009 11:31 am

    Wendell,

    again, I don’t really feel comfortable commenting on this, but –

    “Evo psych makes many of the same unquestioned cultural assumptions that the article at hand made. I was bringing the article into a larger context of problematic, preconception-reinforcing pop-”science.””

    I always had the impression that the point of evolutionary psychology is to find what behavioral elements are pre-cultural, at least to the extent that this is possible. I’ve only read Geoffrey Miller’s “The Mating Mind” and I found it interesting to which extent he emphasized he was speaking of “hypotheses” not of facts, even in a book written for a non-specialist audience. Maybe that’s the equivalent of what you were so impressed with with respect to the author of the “caveman mystique” on the other side. And yes, I agree that “pop-science” is often a problem.

    “I honestly didn’t really get where the rest of this paragraph was coming from–I’m tired–but all I meant is that science exists *in time, in history, in culture*…”

    That paragraph was actually dealing with the problem of “standpoint” that you mentioned. If you don’t arbitrarily limit standpoint to the classic categories of gender/race/class you’ll logically get back to classic individualism and end up destroying your object of analysis. It’s what happened to Judith Butler. In other words, the standpoint you mention logically requires the existence of a common truth, a standpoint-independent “correctness”.

    “Your second sentence above is a postulated conclusion which, unfortunately, fits in to what I perceive as your standpoint based on some somewhat bitter comments on other posts here. Otherwise I have no idea where it could have come from.”

    Actually, it was more of a question what her political/ideological views would mean with respect to her research.

    “However, I do have a rebuttal to that sentence–wouldn’t it have been great to know who ordered certain more serious/ominous language be removed from a climate report released by the Bush/Shrub II administration?”

    But that’s not what I consider science. That’s politics.

    “good intentions don’t always make for success–sometimes they can make more problems than were there initially, if you haven’t thought everything out (like taking the social into account).”

    That’s the subject of “The Physicists”. However, what’s “good results” is a problematic construct in itself, and in a polity there are very few rules to judge the common good – majorties clearly aren’t a moral justification for anything – Kant, Rawls, to a degree, in my opinion.

  17. Wendell permalink
    February 9, 2009 2:19 pm

    Hiya John,

    I always had the impression that the point of evolutionary psychology is to find what behavioral elements are pre-cultural, at least to the extent that this is possible. I’ve only read Geoffrey Miller’s “The Mating Mind” and I found it interesting to which extent he emphasized he was speaking of “hypotheses” not of facts, even in a book written for a non-specialist audience.

    My main point is that, regardless of what was pre-cultural when–because apes have a form of culture, too–that due to the eons of cultural changes and back-and-forth between the biological and the cultural, you need a social scientist alongside. I would ask the question how much Miller’s hypotheses were based on current cultural norms–however subtle or unconscious, and whether these hypotheses reinforced those norms.

    Here’s an interview with a philosopher of science who really delved into things: http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=psyching-out-evolutionary and a quote from the top of the second page: “You can’t be specific about what the adaptive demands were on human psychology without knowing something about the way that humans minds were working then, and that’s something we just don’t know.” I would add that extrapolating anything from what we do know invariably imposes our current biases upon it, thus the shoddy work. Add to this the study of neuroplasticity and the knowledge that genes adapt *to* environment, you have to seriously question the motives of much of evo-psych, while I would submit all of these things actually fit into *evolution.*

    A good summary of “The Caveman Mystique,” and like the book this blog is associated with, the book and link discuss rape: http://darwiniana.com/2008/10/24/caveman-mystique/ Salient line from link: “The problem is indeed pop-Darwinism, but keeping in mind that Darwinism is itself pop-evolutionism.”

    Lynn Margulis’ “What is Sex?” Has chapter upon chapter of excellent biology talking about reproduction and mating of various living things, yet at the end of each chapter she spends a page or so making the most horrifically specious connection between what she just covered and some human behavior that “fits” her science. Excellent science, shitty understanding of the social.

    Say what you will about Butler, but her identification of gender as performative is revelatory and holds true even for apes.

    If you don’t arbitrarily limit standpoint to the classic categories of gender/race/class you’ll logically get back to classic individualism and end up destroying your object of analysis.

    I categorically disagree. Gender is performative, much of race is, if not all, and there’s a reason it’s called “socioeconomics.” The individual is inextricably linked with the larger culture(s) they inhabit. Even if something is not “innate”, even if it has much of its roots in the social, does not mean it should be any less respected as a part of an individual’s identity. Yet another way in which the social is less privileged. Whether a drag queen’s identity as such is based on events in their life, their genetics, or a combination of the two should not matter–they should be respected and treated as a human. Fabulous humans! And the fact of their very existence destroys much of normative gender notions and proves the performative nature of gender.

    Actually, it was more of a question what her political/ideological views would mean with respect to her research.

    Though I still think it’s telling that you chose that particular question to pose. It’s worth examining that, I think. To me, it means she brings a sorely lacking perspective to the field, balancing it out. To consider this ideological is to privilege the extant “science” as pure, impervious to critique, and that’s utter bullshit because, as I have said a zillion times by now, the backgrounds (no matter how subtle and unexamined) of the researchers should also be taken into account.

  18. John permalink
    February 9, 2009 6:02 pm

    Wendell,

    “… you need a social scientist alongside. I would ask the question how much Miller’s hypotheses were based on current cultural norms–however subtle or unconscious, and whether these hypotheses reinforced those norms.”

    Well, as I said, I think both disciplines would probably benefit greatly from increased cooperation, but as far (and that’s not very far) as I understand, there’s not much interested in even listening to each other. Would you be think it’s just as important to have an evolutionary scientist work alongside a women’s studies professor to help her understand the intricacies of parental investment theories? And while I fear I’m getting dragged into a discussion about something I don’t really know much about (evolutionary psychology) – reading this sentence –

    Add to this the study of neuroplasticity and the knowledge that genes adapt *to* environment, you have to seriously question the motives of much of evo-psych, while I would submit all of these things actually fit into *evolution.*

    makes me wonder about why you would assume that disagreement about the origin of behaviour would necessarily require questioning the motives of those disagreeing with you. Isn’t that what you told me I should be careful about when I wondered how being a feminist would be relevant for the author of the “caveman mystique”?

    It’s intersting you linked to the Buller interview because, now trying to read up on this, had just read about his position and the reply linked to on the Wikipedia page about the evolutionary psychology debate. Maybe this kind of exchange is the start of the cooperation you suggest…

    I categorically disagree. Gender is performative, much of race is, if not all, and there’s a reason it’s called “socioeconomics.” The individual is inextricably linked with the larger culture(s) they inhabit.

    Yes, that’s true… but – hmm. I’m not quite sure how that is relevant to what I had written about the logical problems of clustering standpoints. It’s oxymoronic. I think we may talk past each other here.

    “Even if something is not “innate”, even if it has much of its roots in the social, does not mean it should be any less respected as a part of an individual’s identity. Yet another way in which the social is less privileged. Whether a drag queen’s identity as such is based on events in their life, their genetics, or a combination of the two should not matter–they should be respected and treated as a human. Fabulous humans!”

    I agree again. I just wish that this perspective would also be accepted with respect to people who aren’t able to compete in oppression olympics, which, my standpoint, is not usually the case. Accepting this approach would allow a degree of openness to other people’s perspectives that I think would help everyone a lot.

    “Though I still think it’s telling that you chose that particular question to pose. It’s worth examining that, I think.”

    I suppose my perception is not necessarily one of feminists “balancing” things out, but rather one of feminists being gynocentric in whatever the look at. That, of course, maybe considered “balancing” when you perceive everything to be androcentric. But I don’t, so yes, that’s a statement based on my standpoint.

  19. Wendell permalink
    February 9, 2009 7:02 pm

    makes me wonder about why you would assume that disagreement about the origin of behaviour would necessarily require questioning the motives of those disagreeing with you.

    Because when I read and hear most of these folks speak, I can hear unquestioned assumptions in their words that may have affected their work.

    I just may not understand what you mean by clustering standpoints–sometimes too much logic misses the fact that these are human beings’ experiences, which all too often don’t fall neatly into a logical framework. We don’t have to arbitrarily limit any standpoint, because the mass of identities that make us up is gigantic–and I call this experience. I don’t see how this runs back to ‘classic individualism.” And when in certain experiential situations, certain identities of a person may be more in the fore, while others shift to the back. It’s a constantly dynamic dance.

    but rather one of feminists being gynocentric in whatever the look at. That, of course, maybe considered “balancing” when you perceive everything to be androcentric. But I don’t, so yes, that’s a statement based on my standpoint.

    And you are certainly entitled to it, but don’t be surprised when called on it: these two sentences tell me you may not truly understand what feminism is all about, or may have had poor schooling in it, or are just not open to the ideas and perspectives it brings to the table for whatever reason.

    Regardless, the broad stroke in those two sentences leads me to believe there is some concern trolling going on. Apologies for not noticing earlier, and helping steer the conversation off-track.

    Have you read “Yes Means Yes”? There are some great essays on masculinity in there from *gasp* a feminist perspective! Not only that, the whole book is *useful*.

  20. John permalink
    February 9, 2009 7:59 pm

    Wendell,

    “And you are certainly entitled to it, but don’t be surprised when called on it: these two sentences tell me you may not truly understand what feminism is all about, or may have had poor schooling in it, or are just not open to the ideas and perspectives it brings to the table for whatever reason.”

    I’m sorry, but don’t you think it’s a little condescending to suggest stupidity, unwillingness to learn, or both, just because someone may not have come to the same conclusions (or perceptions) you have? That’s slightly unexpected from someone who is emphasizing the importance of individual standpoints as much as you are.

    “Regardless, the broad stroke in those two sentences leads me to believe there is some concern trolling going on. Apologies for not noticing earlier, and helping steer the conversation off-track.”

    What’s “concern trolling”?

    “Have you read “Yes Means Yes”? There are some great essays on masculinity in there from *gasp* a feminist perspective! Not only that, the whole book is *useful*.”

    No doubt, and I have added it to the list of books I need to read (as that other book you mentioned, “the caveman mystique”. Alas, my pile of books I have to read is high, so it may take a couple of weeks until I get to these. That said, I think the feminist perspective is quite interesting in a number of respects (and I have read both about feminist history and feminist philosophy). And it’s bringing a lot of things to the table that I find both personally and theoretically interesting (and others that I think are simply wrong). But I do think that he theory is – by it’s own definition – unbalanced. To put this differently – do I, as a white male heterosexual agree with a lot of the feminist analysis of today’s society? I do. Do I feel that a lot of the changes feminists try to achieve would benefit me as well? I do. But do I feel that my interests and experiences are as important to feminism as any woman’s? I don’t. And I doubt there will be many feminists who disagree with that assessment.

  21. Wendell permalink
    February 9, 2009 9:07 pm

    Didn’t intend to offend, John. It may feel a little like feminism 101 education by fire…

    The feeling that lead me to say that you may not understand is best summed up by this:

    But do I feel that my interests and experiences are as important to feminism as any woman’s? I don’t. And I doubt there will be many feminists who disagree with that assessment.

    Your words are incorrect, IMO. You understand that because of the way you present to the world, the larger society weighs your interests and experiences more heavily than those who may not present like you, right? Feminism is interested in changing that. Further:

    the feminist perspective

    Again, the singular is not accurate here.

    Spend a good amount of time here, for starters http://finallyfeminism101.wordpress.com/

  22. John permalink
    February 9, 2009 9:39 pm

    Wendell,

    thanks for your suggestions, but I’ve started with a graduate reader for an MIT feminist philosophy class. Thank you, though.

    You may not try to offend me, fair enough, but you still tell me that how I FEEL – my perception – is wrong. How can it be wrong? How can you know? Oh, right, my statement that I’m white heterosexual male tells you that my perception is blinded by my privilege and that I am just ignorant and “entitled” since I don’t agree that my feelings and experiences are currently being given more weight than that of others. Disagreement equals ignorance or worse. That’s what I call condescion, sorry. And this is what I call unbalanced. Maybe something to think about.

    I agree that “feminism” is best used in plural, but on the other hand that implies that there is no real conceptual core to the discipline, which I don’t think is really the case. But yes, generalising about feminism is difficult. Still, most people constantly do it, and, when confronted with something they do not agree with, usually will say “that’s not my feminism”. As for finallyfeminism101, have you spent a lot of time there? The site is thinking of feminism in singular as well, just saying.

  23. Silver Hands permalink
    February 9, 2009 10:41 pm

    I have to say that I was so impressed to read all most all of the letters in response to the NYT article. They brought up the male gaze, female agency, objectification, “post-feminism”, biological determinism, pseudoscience, ethics in science and journalism etc. In short, everything that needed to be said about the original article.

  24. February 11, 2009 11:49 am

    Well put, and in 150 words or less! I’m continually amazed at your ability to be clear and concise, and am eagerly awaiting the book, which should be in the mail to me right now.

  25. Valkyrie607 permalink
    February 12, 2009 10:11 pm

    John–briefly–

    You said the following:

    “But do I feel that my interests and experiences are as important to feminism as any woman’s? I don’t. And I doubt there will be many feminists who disagree with that assessment.”

    Your statement is too general to be useful either way. I disagree with that assessment. I’m a feminist. How many is “many”? Shall I go out and track down ten other self-identified feminists for you who disagree with that assessment? Thirty? One hundred?

    Then, when called out about your generalizing about feminism/feminists, you respond:

    “You may not try to offend me, fair enough, but you still tell me that how I FEEL – my perception – is wrong. How can it be wrong? How can you know?”

    The reason your perception can be wrong is that you’re not talking about YOU–you’re talking about feminists. To be more precise, you’re talking about your subjective experience with feminism and feminists.

    When you say “When talking to feminists I’ve met, I’ve felt as if they devalued my perspective because I’m a man,” nobody can argue with you. Most likely, rather than arguing, folks will respond with curiosity and engagement: “Really? Tell me about it. Who were these feminists?”

    When you say “My experiences and interests are not as important to feminism as any woman’s would be,” well, that is VERY arguable. Cos you’re talking about feminism. And–as with me–there may be plenty of people who are feminist and who value (or don’t) your interests and experiences regardless of your gender. But when you generalize your negative experience with a few folks to encompass the entire group, you may meet with some defensiveness. Just sayin’.

    –Valkyrie

  26. John permalink
    February 13, 2009 2:53 pm

    Valkyrie,

    Your statement is too general to be useful either way. I disagree with that assessment. I’m a feminist. How many is “many”? Shall I go out and track down ten other self-identified feminists for you who disagree with that assessment? Thirty? One hundred?

    taken straight from the site (finallyfeminism101) that Wendell recommended the definition of feminism (rather general, and I think even slightly inappropriate for much of the radical feminist concepts presented on the site, but still –

    “The advocacy of women`s rights on the grounds of sexual equality (OED)”

    Even in this very general and hardly radical definition, it’s the advocacy of *women’s rights* based on the grounds of sexual equality, not the advocacy of *sexual equality*. But of course, as Wendell (and the finallyfeminism101 blog explains) I am not able to see the the latter actually equals the former because of my privilege –

    “[T]rue gender equality is actually perceived as inequality. A group that is made up of 50% women is perceived as being mostly women. A situation that is perfectly equal between men and women is perceived as being biased in favor of women.”

    And from within the logical framework that is a perfectly reasonable statement. I may even be true from outside. But there is simply no way to logically falsify the claim that my disagreement is caused by my “privilege” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falsifiability).

    Most likely, rather than arguing, folks will respond with curiosity and engagement: “Really? Tell me about it. Who were these feminists?”

    Really? I was usually confronted with sweeping generalisations about “my privilege.” But there were exceptions to the rule.

    But when you generalize your negative experience with a few folks to encompass the entire group, you may meet with some defensiveness. Just sayin’.

    Valkyrie, I haven’t. But things can always be put more clearly. So, that’s a valid criticism. Still, I think the requirements for precise formulation and acceptance of linguistic conventions are another good example of what I was referring to when I explained that even though I agree with a lot of feminist propositions (despite their lack of falsifiability) and I think that some of them are quite helpful to men, I don’t think that male experiences are as important in feminism as any women’s. But, that, as well, is a non-falsifiable statement in a standpoint paradigm.

  27. Wendell permalink
    February 13, 2009 5:32 pm

    John, since I felt your posts were difficult for difficult’s sake, I got irked. This is why I don’t fancy myself a spokesperson for anything. I’m working on it, though.

    It’s okay to feel not included, and even okay to feel attacked–it’s the generalizations that come back out, as Valkyrie pointed out. http://finallyfeminism101.wordpress.com/2007/03/11/faq-what-is-male-privilege/ is where I ended up, mentally, from reading what you’ve posted previously. Feminism involves the individual, regardless of who they are, engaging in some potentially difficult introspection. AKA, XYZ privilege is not your fault, but it sure is your responsibility.

    Since you are intent on linguistic semantics, let’s take a look. “Mankind,” “he,” “his” referring to an abstract male person claiming to include women, and numerous other examples are places where a woman might not feel included. Linguistic semantics? Maybe. I’m not saying you have to use “hir” and “ze” everywhere, just take a second to think about this in light of your concern about men’s experiences. When reading language that purports to include “woman,” yet nowhere speaks of “her” in inclusive or specific terms, this “others”/can alienate women. *Unless* with their own sense of self or tools such as feminism they are able, at every single encounter with this language, to remind themselves they are people of worth, regardless what the language intends to say. The other possible result of encountering this language (in addition to myriad other things) is internalized sexism. So if you feel like your experiences are valued less, this is valid regardless of my agreement. However, due to the above example and countless other historical and current examples, taking your concern and running with it, I would have absolutely no problem with men’s experience taking a back seat to women’s–we’re still in the same automobile, right? And who likes a back seat driver?😉 (Insert awkward attempt at naming the vehicle, like “Feminmobile.”) Men have helped out along the way and have been included along the way–Frederick Douglass, for one, had to make some painful choices regarding his “allegiances”–but feminism originated/s from women’s experiences. So even if it’s by the most minuscule amount–and again within the framework of your concern–I have no problem putting women’s experiences first until things get better. In all truth, doing this on the conceptual and discursive level is the least we can do. Part of this is staying back and listening (or PTFA as some more rough and tumble ‘net denizens might say) if you’re male-identified. Of course, I’m finding much of the “third wave” (or whatever problematic term one tacks onto more recent feminisms) more inclusive than the “second wave,” though of course there are major exceptions to both. This is another thing exciting about feminism: it’s always growing and changing–evolving, even. And I would submit that it has grown into a useful framework that can speak to many people’s experiences and help make sense of them, among many other things.

    When I was irked, I was going to post the following, but now I share it in the good spirit of internet teasing.🙂 Enjoy, all! “I feel this will be my last response, because I’m tired like Larry Wilmore.
    http://www.touchytranny.com/2009/01/god-im-tired.html ” The last couple lines of the post bring it macro.

    V-day weekend! Everyone go see or read the Vagina Monologues and volunteer for or donate to your local battered women’s shelter!

    (Has Eve Ensler read “Yes Means Yes” yet?)

  28. John permalink
    February 13, 2009 6:58 pm

    Wendell,

    *Unless* with their own sense of self or tools such as feminism they are able, at every single encounter with this language, to remind themselves they are people of worth, regardless what the language intends to say.

    That is a valid point, yet I would also mention that the artificial creation of language/pronouns/underscores/in-word-Capitalisation (in German) to create a supposedly gender balanced language may also have contributed to an increased perception of alienation from the way it was before. This, as every coin, has two sides.

    “So even if it’s by the most minuscule amount–and again within the framework of your concern–I have no problem putting women’s experiences first until things get better.”

    Well, that’s ok for you, if that’s ok for you. I didn’t suggest you did have a problem with that, just that – for whatever I may appreciate about gender inspection and feminist ideas – I don’t feel at home there – and if you remember I said “But do I feel that my interests and experiences are as important to feminism as any woman’s”. I was speaking of *my* interests and *my* experiences. While I believe that’s the same for every man, I would not want to impose my *not* being conceptually ok with that on anyone else. About the “until things get better” thing – that takes us back to the “who gets to define what” problem and the falsifiability issue. And the problem what real practical equality actually consists of as every person is different to start with.

    “Feminism involves the individual, regardless of who they are, engaging in some potentially difficult introspection. AKA, XYZ privilege is not your fault, but it sure is your responsibility.”

    The introspection part is something I think is very valuable. And it’s only in this context that I think “privilege” is a semi-useful term. But, alas, there’s no way to tell for myself whether I am actually aware of my privileges, since it is a privilege to be blissfully unaware of my privileges?
    And why use the standard American intersectionality matrix, simply because it’s a neat way to combine the marxist origins of feminism with the still most salient social cleavage in the US? What about other dimensions? What about intelligene? Is that a privilege? What about beauty? Empathy? Abilities? What about – getting back to yes means yes – sexual power? What’s considered a level playing field in a world in which people are necessarily different? And what kind of starting advantage (privilege) should be considered ok – beauty? intelligence?
    And what does it mean to be “responsible” for it even though it’s not one’s fault? Take this example – I have a friend who’s a successful rather leftist director. He’s also got a son who’s going to school now. His leftist instincts told him to send his son to a public school, even though the public school had a bad reputation and his son would have had a much more difficult time being the son of a successful director among less privileged kids (think Veronica Mars with only one rich kid). His father instinct told him to forget about his leftist ideals and send his son to the private school with the good repuation, where his son would likely not feel alienated being his son. What would you think is responsible where there’s no fault? It’s not a simple question…

  29. Wendell permalink
    February 14, 2009 1:38 am

    No no no–what I meant by

    “So even if it’s by the most minuscule amount–and again within the framework of your concern–I have no problem putting women’s experiences first until things get better.”

    was for you to engage in a thought experiment and see what it’s like to be a second-class citizen in one area. As well as in your framework of not feeling like your experiences matter as much, I was attempting to build a framework to use that and possibly show this isn’t necessarily a make/break conception of feminism. I, for one, don’t share it, but was trying to show that humility is worth it and often not the easy road, whatever you feel about the experiences being valued issue.

    Responsible–own it. I have depression (no problem sharing this)–it is by no means my fault that I do, and I’ve made peace with the fact that I will live with it for the rest of my life in one form or another. It is my responsibility to myself and others to name it, take steps to alleviate it and treat it, own it, and be *aware* of how it impacts my life on even the smallest level. Apply this last sentence to privilege, patriarchy, etc. Rinse. Wash. Repeat.

    Simple answer to difficult question–the person weighs what is more important to them using the knowledge they have (the ideal is all the knowledge they can muster, mind/body/soul) and acts accordingly.

    I miss Veronica Mars.

  30. John permalink
    February 14, 2009 1:04 pm

    Wendell,

    I would even say that humility is the mark of any reflective person, and “owning onself” is certainly one of the best ways to interact with the world. That said, provilege is only useful as personal tool for introspection, unuseful for public discourse because of its conceptual weaknesses and its prevalent use as a pseudo-rethorical framing device not rarely used in an attempt to shame and silence dissenters.

    I miss Veronica Mars, too.

  31. Wendell permalink
    February 14, 2009 1:46 pm

    I guess that’s where we diverge. I examine my life mind/body/soul, and hyper-intellectual workouts never do justice to anyone as a complete being–keeping privilege in mind is just one of many dimensions to this, regardless of conceptual/rhetorical framing. I leave the “shame and silence dissenters” portion for you to carry.

    Peace.

  32. John permalink
    February 14, 2009 2:37 pm

    Wendell,

    hyper-intellectual workouts never do justice to anyone

    I would argue the opposite; or rather, that the abstract is always the base upon which we rely. Quoting Keynes here –

    “… the ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. … it is ideas, not vested interests, which are dangerous for good or evil.”

    peace.

    absolutely.

  33. March 10, 2009 5:39 am

    I thought you might like to know that I interviewed Daniel Bergner recently and the letters came up.

    [ http://clarissethorn.wordpress.com/2009/03/10/interview-with-daniel-bergner-author-of-the-other-side-of-desire/ ]

    I think his heart’s in the right place and he’s at least willing to talk. I’m doing my best to get him to examine his assumptions … I bet he’d be interested in talking to you and hearing your perspective, too.

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