I find gender issues perplexing.
There are all sorts of reasons why this might be. Reason number one is that I’m somebody who is ostensibly male but doesn’t really conform to male stereotypes, whatever they might be. Growing up with both strong male and female influences, that could be another. Physically I’m lithe and a bit feminine, so maybe it’s the old psychological problem of responding to what you look like – the soul growing to fit the body, if you like. As a kid I had a doll, as well as lego, and delighted in both dry technical manuals and flowery poetry. Androgyny is the watch-word here, which is a bit like not being able to decide between a VW and a Mini and getting a Kia Picanto. I’ve outed myself there: I think gender identity is like choosing a car. A psychologist could have a field day with that.
Really, what it comes down to is that I think men and women are basically the same thing, with interesting fleshy bits in different places. In my world, there are tomboyish women and girly guys, and everybody’s pretty okay with that. Therefore, the furious arguments that people seem to have about this sort of thing leave me baffled. Sort of like when people argue the superiority of Android versus Apple smartphones. I figure there’s something there for everybody.
So it’s worth noting from the outset that I’m unallied to either faction: as Gregory House would have it, those whose fleshy bits dangle versus those whose fleshy bits are aesthetically pleasing.
There are subtle differences, I guess. Female newspaper columnists like Caitlin Moran are more likely to comment on their vagina in print than male counterparts are to comment on their testicles. I don’t really know why this is. I think they think this is okay because their generative organs are some sort of Gift From God, rather than a biologically distinct tubular aperture. There are other, statistically interesting differences: serial killers are overwhelmingly male. Genocides are usually instigated and carried out by men. Religious violence is usually carried out by men, disproportionately against women. There are more male scientists, pilots, astronauts and street-cleaners. There are more female nurses, carers, bookkeepers and designers. I think those are the main ones – maybe you’ll let me know of others in the comments.
So when i read articles like this I get a bit wide-eyed and confused. This is a long list of nasty things that men do that makes them rape-supporters. I will now discuss each one at punishing length for the remainder of this post.
I have watched pornography. This much I’ll admit: a couple of years ago, there was a great show called Badly Dubbed Porn, in which actors humorously overdubbed porn (clue’s in the title, apparently). It was great: I watched and I laughed. I’ve seen Debbie Does Dallas. I know what Redtube is. I didn’t realize that made me a rape-supporter. Even worse, I do frame discussions of pornography in terms of free speech . I have also enjoyed musicals, movies, TV and plays where women are presented as sexual objects. Ipso facto, I support rape.
Of course this is hysterical nonsense (and yes, I do mean that as a bitter play on the etymology of the word “hysterical”). I don’t support rape, regarding it as an unforgivable crime. So there are at least a couple of exceptions to this list. For balance, and in the interest of fairness, I’ll direct your attention to the superior and majestic beauty of Nice Guys of OK Cupid, which depicts sex-seeking men of the most despicable kind. Nice guys, in case you aren’t aware, are manipulative pseudo-sociopaths who think that becoming a woman’s best friend gives them automatic sex rights. I mean, come on. These guys deserve all the hate you can muster. If you have any left over, extend it to these guys. They need the reality check.
If you’re to take anything away from these two examples, it’s that opposing-gender hate exists and is a terrible, foolish thing. The two camps believe respectively that men are either rapists or rape-abettors, or that women should be manipulated for sex.
What underlies this exhibition of low-intellect hate is a central conceit, and it is this conceit that drives the gender argument. The conceit is this: that wherever you stand gender-wise, the opposing gender is somehow other. The other gender is a foreign species. In short, men and women are different. Not just different in terms of biology, but culturally, intellectually and psychologically distinct.
There are two people, as far as I can see, who are responsible for this. The first is Simone de Beauvoir. de Beauvoir is these days known for two things: seducing everything nearby, from the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre to her female students, and for writing The Second Sex, published in 1949. In this work she laid out the central arguments for what would later become Second-Wave Feminism, the first being the efforts of Suffragists to gain the vote. The Second Sex is in many ways a great book, clearly articulating many existential issues of the time from a unique perspective. It did, however, contain a singular problematic theory, which has gone on to inform Feminist theory for decades.
The theory was this: that the way that men and women behaved, thought and lived their lives were philosophically and existentially distinct. de Beauvoir made this a central theme of the book, and it was later taken up by other writers, including Germaine Greer and Gloria Steinem, eventually colouring the entire Feminist movement to some degree. The idea that men and women are distinct from each other in nigh-unbridgeable ways is more or less accepted these days as a cultural fact. It was compounded by the second person responsible, John Gray, who helped cement this idea in popular culture with the influential Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus in 1992.
In Venus, Gray led credence to the notion that men and women operate under, to use a computing analogy, fundamentally different programming languages. Men and women, he argued, behave in biologically-predetermined ways, handed down over millions of years of genetic predetermination. You’ll have heard these claims often before: men are hunters: they act without talking, are emotionally unavailable and respond to stress with aggression. Women, on the other hand, are social, maternal creatures, who forge strong emotional bonds and are less spatially and logically aware. Claims of this sort became a theme of the 90s, influencing other important pop-psychology books like Why Men Don’t Listen And Women Don’t Read Maps. In the space of half a century, men and women had begun to regard each other with an alien suspicion, as if they had indeed come from different planets.
That this conceit was central to Second-Wave Feminism was unfortunate and, it could be argued, has held up the equalization of the genders by a couple of decades. This feminism, as distinct from First-Wave feminism, didn’t seek for women to be legally equal to men. It sought for women to be equal in all ways to men. And therein lies a logical problem. You can’t insist on equality while emphasizing a difference: the rationale automatically becomes indistinct and suspect. This suspect “truth” is almost exactly the same as in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, in which the pig leaders proclaim that, “all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.” Feminism all-too-often (though not always) relies on the argument that men and women are totally, totally different in every way possible, yet should be treated the exact same at all times.
If that seems counter-intuitive it’s only because I am attempting to remove some of the obfuscation in the gender argument. Men and women are cruel about each other because they believe themselves to be different from each other. This is a belief that was developed many thousands of years ago by up-start religions, yet the modern wave of intellectuals have done nothing to dispel this myth, seeking instead to reinforce it. As a result, we live in a world where men and women fear and hate each other, and the gender argument emphasizes differences rather than similarities.
Of course, this is to the detriment of everybody. Racism, for example, arises out of the perceived differences between races. It was once a central tenet of White Western thought that Africans were unfit to look after themselves, being physically superior but mentally under-endowed. They called this the White Man’s Burden. It was specious nonsense, as the 20th Century proved time and again: there was no difference between Africans and Caucasians. Recognizing that race was less than skin deep was crucial to the Civil Rights movement: when people discovered that the perceived “otherness” was just a myth. The gender issue suffers under the exact same problem: we perceive immense differences between men and women, and therefore we can’t help but treat each other differently. It is human nature to fear the alien and mysterious – a survival trait that once served us well, when foreign tribes could be either friends or foes. These days it’s kind of problematic. When we insist on our gender differences, we’re fulfilling an ancient obligation to our anthropological training: we learn to hate what we are not. This problem has been compounded by organized religion for millennia, of course: the prototypical Abrahamic religions were exclusively patriarchal, with women treated as bizarre, menstruating objects, with some sects insisting that women hide their bodies in order not to inflame the lusts of men (the simpler solution being, of course, that men gain some sense of self-control). The New Testament features women in one of two roles, mothers and whores, which tells you everything you need to know about Christianity. This is all backwards, of course, and the insistence on differences between the two genders has been steeping in our culture for way too long.
So, what’s the solution? My attitude is to regard men and women the way a biologist would. Clams and Chinchillas are sexually dimorphic of course, but to the biologist they’re still just Clams and Chinchillas. We are all people of a roughly similar beauty and caliber, clinging on to a rock revolving at a thousand miles an hour through the bleak emptiness. We came from primates with no more concept of gender politics than a concept of the motor car, and we’re headed for a future in which men and women will be indistinguishable. It’s time we got all this sorted out.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have stacks of pornography to watch.