Gender anti-fascism and the fourth wave


1:51 am - January 10th 2009

by Laurie Penny    


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People have been asking to write about men and feminism, and today, when I read our own Cath Eliot’s latest article on sexual bullying of girls at school, it all clicked into place.

Because of course, Cath is right. School is where it all starts. School is where girls learn to be sexually frightened of men. School is where girls learn that their bodies are objects of desire over which they do not automatically get sovereignty. And the fact that people are sitting up and taking this seriously can only be applauded.

But Cath’s article only tells a part of the truth, and sometimes a half-truth can be cripplingly misleading.

I don’t remember school as an environment where the boys lorded it around without a care in the world and the girls squeaked in corners hoping not to be felt up. In fact, as I recall, bloody all of us were terrified nearly all of the time. Most pupils of both sexes were learning what violence meant, which was power, and what power meant, which was sex. And everyone, whatever their sex, gender and orientation, lived with the fear of being declared not quite right – not girly enough, not manly enough, gay. School is where those rules of gender, power and violence were laid down, and it was a game ultimately won by nobody.

Sexual bullying in particular happens across the board in schools, and it has nothing whatsoever to do with romance. It’s perpetrated by boys against girls, but also against other boys, and in rare cases girls are even the aggressors themselves, and in every case it’s about asserting power over the victim, about laying down rules of dominance and submission. Moreover, male violence is a more constant and immediate threat for boys at school than it is for girls, as a recent study by antibullying.net shows: 90% of school-age boys reported being bullied mostly or mainly by other boys, compared to 29% of girls. In Brighton and Hove, attacks on boys account for 75% of violent incidents in school. So, in a childhood world where sexual and physical violence profoundly affect children of all sexes in school, is violent bullying still a gender issue? Of course it is. Violence– whether sexual, physical or both – is almost always gendered, and remains gendered throughout adulthood, because it is about power, and gender as constructed by patriarchal society has always been about power.

This culture has been achingly slow to even begin to let go of the archetype of masculinity bred from the archaic notion that whilst the female body is sacrosanct or profane- to be used and controlled – the male body is fundamentally dispensible. Women across the world remain unaware of the extent to which the Western model of masculinity is damaging – partly because we ourselves have spent way too long trying to emulate it.

A crucial mistake that continues to be made is the fallacy that acknowledging male gender oppression somehow invalidates the whole concept behind feminism. It does not. However, across the debate sphere for decades the cry ‘but men don’t have it easy either!’ has been taken as a direct attack on feminism – and sometimes it has even been meant as one. Otherwise perfectly intelligent commentators descend into petty fights over whose gender oppression trumps whose, not realising that everyone’s gender oppression is equally valid, not understanding that the expression of someone’s struggle is not an attack on everyone else’s.

If we are truly to leave gender fascism behind, we cannot allow ourselves to think in binaries – men and women, boys and girls, us and them. If we are to be liberated, then we must all be liberated, together: there can be noone left behind.

So what I hope for is a new kind of feminism – one that recognises that it is not only about liberating biological women from the constraints and indignities associated with their sex, but about liberating all human people from the cruelties and limitations imposed on them by their gender. It is still feminism, because it is about the exaltation and expression of ‘femininity’, but equally about re-imagining what masculinity and femininity signify. Women’s battles are at the heart of the movement, but they are part of the gender struggles of all human beings.

We have to recognise that the spectrum of gender prejudice extends into everyone’s lives and places limitations on all of us. We must see that when a young boy in boarding school faces daily sexual and physical violence for not being ‘masculine’ enough, when a girl on a sink estate finds herself on the wrong end of the postcode lottery when she tries to terminate an unwanted pregnancy, when a woman is fired from a senior boardroom position after her maternity leave, when a young man is sentenced to years in prison for membership of a violent street gang whose excesses provide the only positive enforcement he has ever known, those cruelties stem from the same source, and they must be considered together.

The best term for what is perpetrated by patriarchal cultural mores is not misogyny, nor even organised sexism, but gender fascism. Fascism in its most literal sense, in its etymological notion of the fasces, the ordered bundle, everything in its proper, pre-ordained and rigidly socially determined place. Gender fascism is what all of us – men, women and others, gay, straight, bisexual, transsexual – need to set ourselves against, if we are ever to stop tearing ourselves apart over outdated gender norms.

[A more detailed version of this post is up at Penny Red]

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About the author
Laurie Penny is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. She is a journalist, blogger and feminist activist. She is Features Assistant at the Morning Star, and blogs at Penny Red and for Red Pepper magazine.
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Reader comments


Good Lord, people still write articles like this?

I assume by ‘human people’ you wish to avoid confusion with some other type of people or a different species of human? Or is it something you wish to distinguish from the ‘non-human animals’ that animal rights activists insist on?

Congratulations, in any case, you have managed to articulate a form of feminism as condescending towards men as to women.

Everytime you use the word ‘fascism’ – gender or otherwise – you just trivialise the word. Simply by disagreeing with you will be enough for you to label me a facist, and me too much of a victim of patriarchy myself to know any better. What is a boy to do?

In Brighton and Hove, attacks on boys account for 75% of violent incidents in school. So, in a childhood world where sexual and physical violence profoundly affect children of all sexes in school, is violent bullying still a gender issue? Of course it is. Violence– whether sexual, physical or both – is almost always gendered, and remains gendered throughout adulthood, because it is about power, and gender as constructed by patriarchal society has always been about power.

This is all a bit too Sociology A-level Coursework for me. Could you re-write it in English?

Sorry for being flippant, but I seriously can’t follow the point you’re making in the above few sentences.

However, I think I do disagree with what you’re saying. From my memories of school, there were pecking orders amongst both genders which were mostly based on physical characteristics and if you were high in the pecking order for either gender, it gave you the ability to bully those below you in either gender. Not everyone exercised that ability, in fact the majority did not – but a handful of people can quite effectively intimidate large numbers of others, so this didn’t really matter.

I think that where we differ is that I don’t see this as being an issue about gender. So when you write “liberating all human people from the cruelties and limitations imposed on them by their gender” I think ‘yes, but is that all?’. Surely there are a lot more (and a lot more important in some cases) limitations than merely those of gender? As you’ve acknowledged, being male is no guarantee of a place high in the pecking order, nor is being female a bar either. Doesn’t this mean that there are other, more powerful, forces in play?

No look. Fascist is what Mussolini was and what a few contemporary losers aspire to be. This week I’ve seen Israel, New Labour, environmentalists, Hamas and now the whole of Western civilization referred to as fascist. Crap in every case I’m afraid.

Incidentally, the word Fascist, in the 1920s Italian sense, was derived from the fasces, an ancient Roman symbol of lawful authority, consisting of an axe surrounded by a bundle of sticks; fascists used this to symbolize the fact that the sticks were, individually, fragile, but when bound together as a group, strong. This did not refer to the traditional state of the old society, which Fascists hated, but rather to the future possibility of the new state, as embodied in the existing Fascist groups. Fascists did not seek to perpetuate the “ordered bundle, everything in its proper, pre-ordained and rigidly socially determined place”, quite the opposite, they sought to smash existing society and create a stronger bundle in its place.

Am I just being a pedantic word-obsessive? perhaps, but if so I am only following Orwell

4. Publicansdecoy

I love your writing. You always manage to articulate very well precisely how I feel. I call myself a feminist, although if I want to be pedantic I say I’m a gender egalitarian.

A lot of people don’t want to hear this sort of argument though. They’re comfortable enough with the status quo continuing.

Guys, I don’t see actual points of objection here as opposed to simple quibbling over the word fascist. And no, I’m not about to label anybody as such, so keep yer pants on.

Shatterface: could you articulate your objections in words?

RK: Yes, I think that’s where we differ – I see most violent bullying as inherently to do with gender, and I can think of little more important than liberating people from the constraints of gender. If that’s not looking wide enough, then what is?

WB: I know the etymology (hence ‘ordered bundle’), I was merely interpreting it differently. However you read it, the fasces is a symbol of uniformity – of a clutch of similar people together forming a violent tool. I’m not sure Orwell would object there.

PD: Damn straight, and thank you!

If a lot of people are comfortable with the status quo, doesn’t that tell you something?

There are many causes of bullying in school and the cod-Freud (and why is it that only feminists keep that crackpot misogynist’s theories alive when psychologists rejected them as pseudoscience 40 years ago?) equation that power is all about sex subordinates issues of race, creed and class to that of gender, just as Marxism subordinates all issues to class.

We’ve seen where trying to reconstruct society according to outdated blank-slate theories lead in Eastern Europe and Asia and it isn’t pleasant; we’ve also seen where the belief that sexual abuse is endemic leads in the countless ‘satanic’ abuse panics and the pseodo-science of ‘recovered’ memory and ‘multiple personality disorder’.

If you want to speek for ‘human people’ try talking as if you belong to the same species rather from the planet Judith Butler.

Oh, and I’m not defending fascists but your desciption of an axe as a ‘violent tool’ is indicative of your paranoia about the omni-presence of violence: an axe is no more a ‘violent tool’ than a hammer or a sickle and symbols or expressions of unity are as common in the ‘brotherhoods’ and ‘sisterhoods’ of the left.

Yes, I think that’s where we differ – I see most violent bullying as inherently to do with gender

OK, that’s pretty much what I was thinking. The problem is that I don’t see it that way, and I’m not sure that all that many people do. In my experience, bullying is about status and that is something which I believe is orthogonal to gender; in a school environment, boys may bully other boys by picking on their physical weakness, their unpopularity, their ‘weirdness’ and girls may pick on other girls for broadly similar reasons. Furthermore, girls may bully boys and boys may bully girls, again using similar grounds to establish their higher status, although the nature of inter-gender bullying tends to be different (girls may favour teasing and use of psychological bullying against boys, boys may favour use of physical force against girls – although there is something of a stigma against ‘hitting girls’) but I don’t see how any of this flows purely from gender or gender identities. If we lived in a hypothetical world in which there was only one gender, there would still be status-based bullying, which seems to me to make gender, at best, only a partial aspect of the problem.

I think that this may be to do with perspectives. Your perspective places a very great emphasis on gender. Mine doesn’t. Not everyone regards gender, sex and sexuality as being the central pillar of their identity, and I think that treating it as such runs a significant risk of ignoring those whose identities are based on other things.

Sunny, Sunny, the boys are being mean to meeeee! *grizzle*

Seriously, Rob – if you think that gender, sex and sexuality aren’t significant parts of everyone’s identity, you may want to examine your own privilege there.

In fact, before you respond I advise that you take a deep look into your backpack of privilege :http://www.rastafarispeaks.com/repatriation/index.cgi?noframes;read=33358. Read this, it says it better than I could ever say it.

Hmm. Having read it, I’m still none the wiser. I mean, I can see the point that systems which were put in place by groups sharing certain characteristics would tend to favour those groups. The argument isn’t helped by the 26 examples of white privilege given in that document being, in large part, quite silly examples. Being white guarantees having good neighbours? Someone should have told some of mine over the last few years…

I’ve got every genuine sympathy with the idea that oppressed people should not be oppressed. I just don’t recognise anything in the arguments that you’re making that will bring that about. I’m not sure what accusing me of being privileged achieves here. I don’t think that you’re ever going to get me to believe that I am, or that I should have to do anything other than behave in a moral way towards others. Again, I think that we have different perspectives here and it’s unlikely that I’m going to abandon my own in favour of yours.

I’ve linked to this plenty of times, but my favourite examination of this particular problem is here (just scroll down to the quoted bit in italics). The problem, when it comes to ‘male privilege’ is that you’re asking a bunch of generally decent people to give up their entire way of life because, well, you think there’s something wrong with it. Consider the character in the quote I linked to – how much shit do you think teenage boys get for being, say, a bit geeky? It’s actually rather a lot, as I might happen to know, and it has nothing to do with gender. Yes, if one views the world through the gender perspective then those white males are still supremely privileges. It doesn’t stop them being treated like shit in certain circumstances and it doesn’t guarantee them permanent happiness, freedom from fear or escape from any or all of life’s anxieties. Your perspective really isn’t the only one that matters.

The shit teenage boys get for being a bit geeky is absolutely to do with gender. Geekiness isn’t within the traditional bounds of masculinity, hence. That, in face, being almost the entire point of my article.

That aside, in what way do you think you’re not privileged?

Also, don’t start quoting Cryptonomicon at me to make a point, mate, I’ve written a dissertation on misogyny in Cyberpunk, and Stephenson is far less redeemable than Gibson.

Here:

“Well, I’m sorry I haven’t had the good grace to get nowhere,” Randy said, now feeling just a bit surly for the first time, “but I have found that if you work hard, educate yourself and keep your wits about you, you can find your way in this society.”

The trouble is that that’s not true – never has been, never will be – unless you have the good fortune to be born male, white and relatively privileged. The fact that Randy, like so many other white men, has got to where he is partly because of privilege **does not negate that hard work** – that’s the mistake, he has been given opportunities and he has chosen to take them, and that’s laudable. Privilege, however, does inform that experience, and the gracious thing to do is to acknowledge that. Sorry if your own privilege irritates you. My privilege (white, middle-class, english speaking) irritates me just as much when I’m called on it, but at least I can see the advantages it has given to me.

“The shit teenage boys get for being a bit geeky is absolutely to do with gender. Geekiness isn’t within the traditional bounds of masculinity, hence. That, in face, being almost the entire point of my article.”

How do you know? No doubt they do fail to conform to traditional bounds of masculinity but I’m not sure that’s their problem. In my judgement, the shit geeks get is for being different, basically, and for lacking the social skills necessary to avoid the fallout from that…

It’s to do with gender, as I suppose most things are indirectly, but I think it’s very simplistic to say that gender is the key to it…

14. Shatterface

Your sudden recognition that being white and middle-class grants privilage rather negates your articles claim that power relations are all based on gender.

Of course, you are probably blind to the fact that being middle-class makes you ‘privilaged’ over an oik like me and so contradicting me makes you a bully. Sorry if reminding you of your privillage irritates you though.

We could put our personal identities aside and argue along lines of rationality and evidence rather than Victim Top Trumps – or would that all be too phallologocentric for you?

You’re poor shatterface? I’m mentally ill! TRUMPED!

Er, I mean…good point.

16. Shatterface

Sorry, my comment was directed at Laurie, not yourself – though onviously the fact you type faster than me is oppressive.

I think you’ll find that’s typespeedism, mate. I’ll see you in court.

18. Shatterface

Oh, and mentally ill? Medicated since 2001, matey and probably undiagnosed since childhood.

The shit teenage boys get for being a bit geeky is absolutely to do with gender. Geekiness isn’t within the traditional bounds of masculinity, hence. That, in face, being almost the entire point of my article.

Then maybe we have a problem of semantics – I’m just not understanding what you’re saying properly. The thing is, as Woobegone says, it’s not immediately obvious that failure to conform has anything particular to do with gender. Especially as this puts me in a rather odd position – on the one hand, I’m a non-conformist geek and we’re meant to be on the same side (as non-conformists). On the other hand, you’re accusing me of being (I paraphrase and exaggerate a tad) a propagator of white male privilege. Can I be both at the same time?

That aside, in what way do you think you’re not privileged?

I realise that I’m conforming to the stereotype by saying that I’ve genuinely not given it much thought. I’m not sure what good enumerating my privileges would do. However, my overriding belief is that the overwhelming majority of any privileges I have stem from being born in this era of human history, rather than to do with skin colour or gender. The reason I’m better off than the majority of humans throughout history is because of when I was born, not what race or nationality I am (being a white male a thousand years ago would do me substantially less good than being a female of another race today). Another way of stating this would be that I have benefited from the efforts of those who have gone before me – modern medicine, electricity, central heating, the personal computer, et cetera.

Also, don’t start quoting Cryptonomicon at me to make a point, mate, I’ve written a dissertation on misogyny in Cyberpunk, and Stephenson is far less redeemable than Gibson.

Could you elaborate? I’m genuinely interested. However, that takes us way off-topic.

Maybe Stephenson is a good case to study here though. Most of his books are technophilic; his historical arc which runs the the Baroque Cycle and into Cryptonomicon is built around the idea of human progress through technology. The thing is, as a geek I really buy into that. You could say it’s part of my identity. And I really sympathise with Randy Waterhouse in the quote I linked to, because he’s just an honest geek who thinks that being a geek is a good thing to do. And for his troubles, he’s accused of, well, much the same thing that you accused me of. To be fair, I’m quite self-consciously echoing some of his arguments, partly because another part of being a geek is finding discussions like this to be fun for their own sake.

I’m not irritated by my privilege*. In fact, I barely think about it at all, and I will most likely unthinkingly do my utmost to pass it on to my children should I have any. This, I think, is because I don’t regard the world as a zero-sum game in which any good thing that one person enjoys must come at the cost of pain for others. I suppose you might say that I’m wrong, and you might be right – I’ve just never seen it that way.

* dictionary.com gives several definitions for privilege:
1. a right, immunity, or benefit enjoyed only by a person beyond the advantages of most: the privileges of the very rich.
5. any of the rights common to all citizens under a modern constitutional government: We enjoy the privileges of a free people.

Naturally I tend to favour the latter definition and would hope that any privilege I enjoy will not be exclusively my own.

20. Shatterface

Hmm, beating up another kid for being a swot is enforcing traditional forms of masculinity – if he acceeds to yobbery he’s internalising this definition of masculinity but if he perseveres and graduates to become a scientist he’s then guilty of perpetuating the inheritantly masculinist doctrine of western science with all its ‘sexed equations’ of relativity and bias against fluid dynamics.

There’s no outcome which can’t be recouped to support radical feminist arguements.

A theory which ‘explains’ everything explains nothing.

“…and probably undiagnosed since childhood.”

Because of the class (and to some extent gender) bias of the NHS, no doubt!

I don’t know where I fit in on the victim ladder. White heterosexual middle class and male, but queer. And Jewish, which according to Danny Finkelstein means I can reject all criticism ever as not understanding the history of Nazi oppression. Brilliant.

Anyway, is it that bad a thing to get into a few fights at school (not the same as bullying which should always be avoided)? We don’t live in a utopia of non-violence so we might be better off inducted in a relatively controlled environment so that we can keep our wits about us on the occasion we face violence from a mugging or anything else.

Woobegone and Shatterface: I see your medication and raise you one year in in an institution plus medicated since 2006, plus TITS. Booyah.

Srsly guys, the whole point of this article was that it’s NOT about the Oppression Olympics, but rather about recognising that everybody’s oppression is interlinked.

23. Publicansdecoy

Rob and others,

I’m really glad that you feel that gender expectations haven’t impacted on you. That despite the continual reinforcing of those roles throughout the processs of socialisation, you’ve managed to rise above it all. Do you honestly believe the majority of the rest of society has travelled with you?

When I can walk into town just wearing a bit of eyeliner without verbal or physical hassle, then maybe I’ll believe you.

24. Shatterface

If it’s just that oppression is I’m not sure that subordinating it all to gender helps – and certainly using the term ‘fascism’ outside its original context makes sides entrench: both sides of the IP conflict employ the broad definition and I don’t see it bringing them together.

In fact I see the term ‘feminazi’ employed regularly by anti-feminists. You can’t dismiss that as hyperbole if you use the same tactic.

And you also have radical feminists like Mad Bunty who insist that gender roles are discursive and yet voice oppinions on transgendered people that would shame most chauvenists.

25. Shatterface

Publicansdecoy, why are you wearing eyeliner anyway? You can hardly complain that society is enforcing gender codes when you are embracing them so obviously.

I wore eyeliner as a Goth: *that* was a challenge to gender stereotyping.

‘And you also have radical feminists like Mad Bunty who insist that gender roles are discursive and yet voice oppinions on transgendered people that would shame most chauvenists.’

And again, we have a case of men not understanding that one woman does not speak for all women, nor even for all feminists. Just because MB expresses chauvinist opinions, how does that invalidate anyone else’s feminism? How, in fact, is it even relevant?

Oh, and Shatterface: if wearing goth getup is a challenge to gender stereotyping, aren’t you a little concerned when teenagers dressed as goths get murdered in the streets, as young Sophie Lancaster did last year? When I was a teenage goffic, the girls and particularly the boys risked their physical safety every time we went to the seafront to hang out. Just for challenging gender stereotypes with their long hair and makeup.

I think you’ve proved my point quite nicely, actually.

28. Publicansdecoy

Shatterface,

I like wearing eyeliner sometimes because I think it looks nice.

I have a penis though, so apparently some people (a lot of people, actually) think that means I’m not allowed to.

“So I have this dream about a new kind of feminism – one that recognises that it is not only about liberating biological women from the constraints and indignities associated with their sex, but about liberating all human people from the cruelties and limitations imposed on them by their gender.”

There’s nothing new about this at all, in fact it’s long been a part of feminist and gender theory.

To quote bell hooks:

“As all advocates of feminist politics know most people do not understand sexism or if they do they think it is not a problem. Masses of people think that feminism is always and only about women seeking to be equal to men. And a huge majority of these folks think feminism is anti-male. Their misunderstanding of feminist politics reflects the reality that most folks learn about feminism from patriarchal mass media.”

Kate Millett, as far back as 1977, wrote in Sexual Politics:

“Primarily, however, a sexual revolution would bring the institution of patriarchy to an end, abolishing both the ideology of male supremacy and the traditional socialisation by which it is upheld in matters of status, role, and temperament. This would produce an integration of the separate sexual subcultures, an assimilation by both sides of previously segregated human experiences. A related event here would be the re-examination of the traits categorised as “masculine” and “feminine,” with a reassessment of their human desirability; the violence encouraged as virile, the excessive passivity defined as “feminine” proving useless in either sex….”

And take a look at Lilith’s Manifesto, signed by a group of women’s liberationists back in 1969:

“The mutilation of individual whole human beings to fit the half-sized procrustes’ bed society assigns selectively to “men” and “women” serves a purpose far more contrary to the pursuit of freedom than simple divisiveness: because all persons can be consigned to one or the other category and their personalities trimmed, by differential social experience, to fit the mold considered appropriate to their sex, none can excape; half the human race receives indocrination and training in the exercise of dominance over others, while the other half receives reciprical conditioning to servility, all being given to presuppose that a pattern of authority and submission to authority is the universal, inevitable, and biologically determined order of social relationships.

All known societies have thus utilized the clear and all-inclusive dichotomy of sex as the chief vehicle for early and continuous limitation on the essentially liberatory free play of human imaginings and aspirations, perverting a benign natural phenomenon to service of the social status quo. Bourgeois society only inherited this tradition — anti-revolutionary by definition — and modified it to suit the special needs and conditions of capitalism. Socialist societies have done no more than modify it likewise to their ends. The pursuit of freedom demands that it be utterly transcended.”

You may or may not be making interesting and important points. Unfortunately I become overly nauseous due to your chosen writing style which appears to be ‘Bourgeois 1st Year Oxbridge Undergrad English Student Playing at Revolutionaries’. An over-reliance on ‘fascism’ and ‘oppression’ just makes the whole thing seem silly.

Slander, I haven’t been a first-year Oxbridge Undergrad Student for four years. What’s silly about oppression?

“I have a penis though, so apparently some people (a lot of people, actually) think that means I’m not allowed to.”

Yeah, “guyliner” was the nadir of this. ‘Cos males who appreciated the aesthetic of that particular cosmetic just weren’t MANLY enough *beats chest, howls etc*.

“And again, we have a case of men not understanding that one woman does not speak for all women,”

er… you do realize that you just took one man as speaking for all men, right? Practice what you preach eh?

“Srsly guys, the whole point of this article was that it’s NOT about the Oppression Olympics, but rather about recognising that everybody’s oppression is interlinked.”

But respectfully I really don’t think that it is. I don’t think, for example, that American blacks lack of a right to vote was anything to do with gender. It was to do with race & European racism. I don’t think the oppression of, oh I don’t know, the Tibetans by the Chinese, has anything to do with gender, or anything to do with race either, it’s more to do with politica power. The oppression of the Falun Gong religious group in China is not really about religion, it’s about power too, but the oppression of homosexuals in Iran is about religiously inspired hatred. And so on.

For a long time doctors thought that there was one cause of all disease. It was a major advance when they binned that idea and started to look for the cause of each disease individually.

P.S Obviously you can say that all oppression stems from the fact that humans are not very nice, or “Original Sin”, or “selfishness”, or whatever, but that’s all meaningless really. Saying it’s all due to gender or sexism isn’t meaningless, but is wrong, I think.

35. Shatterface

Sophie Lancaster was murdered for being a goth, not for challenging gender stereotypes. As a girl most people wouldn’t have found her wearing eye-liner or having long hair exceptional. They would not have found these aspects an affront to gender dress codes. You’ve just cited an example violence most definitely NOT about enforcing gender stereotypes.

Likewise, me wearing eye-liner was a challenge to gender stereotyping; you wearing eye-liner was simply conformative. You might as well have said wearing a pink dress and a bow in your hair was a challenge to gender stereotyping.

If you’d had short hair and no make-up you’d have still been within acceptable gender codes (which are broader for women) but without necessarily promoting them.

Check your sources: Sophie Lancaster wasn’t the first target of the attack – her boyfriend was attacked first, presumably for his outlandish style of dressed, and she was involved afterwards. The boyfriend was also left in a coma, and barely survived.

I think the question here is this: are there groups which are oppressed on grounds other than gender? The answer is almost definitely ‘yes’. Are we just trying to do some coalition-building by saying ‘actually it’s all part of the same problem’? If so, what’s wrong with a basic creed of individualism as put forward by, say, J.S. Mill? Perhaps this has all been a misunderstanding, but I still feel like the theory is being put forward that all oppression is fundamentally about gender.

No, Rob, not ALL oppression is about gender – but all gender opression is interlinked, and opression of men is subtler and more widespread than people imagine. Okay?

Shatterface’s point still stands. They weren’t attacked for being un-masculine. They were attacked for being goths. I know a girl who was attacked by some chav girls, for being a goth. In the 60s if you were a rocker you might get beat up by mods. Sucks but it’s got little to do with gender.

40. Shatterface

Then why mention only Sophie Lancaster and not Robert Maltby, whose name you coul not be bothered looking up?

Because Sophie Lancaster was the one who was murdered, not Maltby. I think any more discussion of this particular one is tasteless and disrespectful, to be honest, so I’m calling time on it here.

Woobegone, I think that the argument goes a bit like this: Goths do not conform to the mainstream. But the expectations of the mainstream have been largely shaped by men, to a greater extent than women. Because this state of affairs generally helps men, and the men who are most helped rise to positions of influence, it persists without anyone really noticing. Thus when goths are victimised because they do not conform, it is their failure to conform to a male-dominated social order which lies at the heart of the problem. I don’t really buy it, but if you accept the basic premise then the rest does make sense.

I’ve seen quite a few arguments like this about politics, in which essentially similarly-minded people end up disagreeing over semantics and systems of understanding. It’s basically a problem of perspective. Imagine that the problem is a sculpture, but you’re looking at it from one angle and Laurie is looking at it from another. You’re both seeing the same problem, but you don’t recognise each other’s description of it. And the solution works in a similar way: each of us holds a different piece of the puzzle. The trick is to realise that we need to put those pieces together instead of arguing over who has the ‘right’ piece.

43. Publicansdecoy

>>Likewise, me wearing eye-liner was a challenge to gender stereotyping; you wearing eye-liner was simply conformative. You might as well have said wearing a pink dress and a bow in your hair was a challenge to gender stereotyping.

Er, Shatterface, as already stated in a previous comment, I am male. But don’t let that stop you in your pomp.

44. Shatterface

Publicansdecoy, I was answering Laurie’s comment (27) where she claimed her having eye-liner and long hair put her at risk of attacks by the gender police.

And Laurie (40): you brought Sophie Lancaster into this.

45. Publicansdecoy

I see, sorry for the misunderstanding.

But I think you’ve taken a very selective reading of Laurie’s comment there. And, like I said earlier on, I’ll believe that society is as unconcerned with gender stereotypes as you are, when it’s safe for me to go to the local in a dress and eyeliner.

46. Shatterface

I’d also be interested in what exactly is the solution to ‘gender fascism’ even if your diagnoses was correct.

Class is undoubtedly socially and economically defined and attempts to dismantle it have now collapsed in failure despite leaving a bodycount which dwarfs the holocaust. Religion seems to have survived the Enlightenment too.

Unlike class or religion, gender, while not identical with sexual dimorphism, still has a large and obvious biological componant. Short of the chemical suppression of pre-pubesent children and having them raised by robots what would you suggest?

47. Publicansdecoy

Are you interested in having a genuine and open discussion about it, or do you just want to misrepresent and carp on smugly?

That could be asked of the whole internet though couldn’t it?

49. Publicansdecoy

It could, but I thought this place generally tried to do things a bit better than that. I mean, nobody (as far as I can see) has suggested ignoring biological differences or anything like that. That’s a dishonest reduction.

I am disappointed to see aggressive criticism of Laurie has been when the infinitely more delicious prospect of patronising her coos so invitingly . The poor sweet girl is clearly onto something but has failed on this occasion to express it .I recommend a course of CS Lewis whose lectures on medieval Literature are a magnificent example of luminous brevity . Think nothing of it young lady

Still as she seems to be saying no more than that roles are learnt in early life which are debilitating to men and women we can skim quickly though the rest. Maybe ; maybe not . Observing my own children at Nursery , I find the Liberal orthodoxy , that men and women were essentially the same , does not hold up well . Quite how differently little boys behave is a revelation
.If behaviours are at least in part innate who is Laurie to tell people not to be what they wish to be ? Quite what further legislative steps can be taken defeats me . I see the Liberals wish to impose career breaks on men (presumably so as to increase dependency on the state ).I also know that Mr.Clegg will deem his own career far too important for this boon

The problem is there is no more frontier . As civilisations become settled they often become feminised Power is removed from individuals and cooperative and social skills become more useful than risk taking and courage. This is certainly happening to our society .Perhaps the state , manipulated by baby boomer establishment women may impose a sort of gender homogeneity upon us . As a man I agree that it might be a good thing . I would agree as a packed my case with Hemingway and Humphrey Bogart DVD`s and lit out for the territory , following the spirit of Huck and be free of women and their rules .

( Back for tea I expect)

Newmania – I’m sorry, was that meant to be patronising?
Must try harder, old sausage.

52. Publicansdecoy

Newmania,

What’s in your tea?

53. the a&e charge nurse

Haven’t a number of authors (including DH Lawrence) predicted men and women will evolve into a state of androgeny, with a concomitant increase in bi-sexuality ?

Anybody who frequented Taboo (in Leicester Sq) will have had a little taster already.

Nick: And Jewish, which according to Danny Finkelstein means I can reject all criticism ever as not understanding the history of Nazi oppression. Brilliant.

Hah! I’m glad someone actually made that point. I was too lazy to blog that this week.

laurie , I think if you had survived the nazi concentration camps or the communist gulags you would not use the words “oppression”, “cruelties” and “facism” quite so easily. In fact having listened to a friend who did survive the horrors of eastern Europe in WW2, who basically witnessed every inhumanity to man that it is possible to imagine ; I think it is rather insulting to those who survive fascism and oppression. The problem is that those who did survive the horrors of WW2 or the Soviet or Chinese gulags are often so traumatised, that they are unable to speak about the cruelties inflicted on them. Therefore , as a matter of respect to those whom did suffer and especiallly those who did not survive, we should be far more careful when describing certain unpleasantness .

Charlie: Do we need to get self righteous over words? I think in the dictionary these terms are fairly self explanatory, and don’t really dictate a minimum level of occurrence before they can be used. A parent can act in a fascist manner to their kids just as much as a nation can act in a fascist manner to another…the word means the same, and is relevant, in both examples.

Or perhaps on the flip side we need to invent different levels of “terrorism” or similar too now, lest we get arguments in the future of “Oh you can’t call THAT terrorism as only 20 people died, in my day….”

Britain is one of the freest and most prosperous societies that’s ever existed (though our present masters are working hard to rectify matters on both those counts). So if you were born and brought up here, you can’t really call yourself oppressed, not by any objective standard, at least.

Getting back to the subject of bullying in schools. I think we can all agree it’s bad. So what can be done about it?

“A parent can act in a fascist manner to their kids just as much as a nation can act in a fascist manner to another…the word means the same, and is relevant, in both examples.”

No they can’t. Well I suppose a parent might act like an actual fascist but I don’t think it’s very common. Fascist has a specific meaning. I think in those examples better words would be “bullying”, “authoritarian” and perhaps “aggressive”, all of which are perfectly good words, and serve to identify what’s actually wrong with something, rather than just saying “it’s fascist” which is basically an insult.

bear in mind that right-wingers have started calling everyone facists too nowadays, so the word isn’t even “ours” any more. I mean most of us are envirofascists and we support Islamofascists…

The problem with calling everything fascism is that when an actual fascist comes along you have nothing left to call them. I often wonder what people who like to use the word “Islamofascism” would have done if they had to call Mussolini something. Was he a Fascofacist? maybe Hitler was a Nazionazist?

, you can’t really call yourself oppressed, not by any objective standard, at least.

Not by historical standards. But that doesn’t mean some groups can’t be opressed, relatively.

The problem with calling everything fascism is that when an actual fascist comes along you have nothing left to call them

I agree with this.

“The problem with calling everything fascism is that when an actual fascist comes along you have nothing left to call them.”

I find it hard to care if the worst of our problems is finding the right word to be insulting to someone. We get far too pent up about words here.

56. Lee . Havel and Orwell have all stated how tyrannies distort language for their purposes. Therefore when we throw around such words as oppression, cruelty and fascism we diminish the horror of those who have truly suffered. Are you saying that a parent who behaves in a fascistic manner to their children is the same as a child growing up in WW2 watching mass executions , the sight of and smell of rotting corpses hanging from trees ,enduring hunger and cold ?

“Are you saying that a parent who behaves in a fascistic manner to their children is the same as a child growing up in WW2 watching mass executions”

No, but then neither does the word Fascist, it’s just a word. Now, if I was running around saying that that parent was acting as if she were Hitler then I’d completely understand what you’re saying, but that’s not what is happening. A perfectly ample descriptive term for how someone is is being used, that is all, to taint the word with a single act in history…to me…is much more frustrating.

63. Shatterface

I think using the word ‘fascist’ in this context devalues a word we might need if someone issues us with a parking ticket or stops us smoking over our babies’ cot.

Coming late to this partay. Laurie, would I be right in thinking you’ve now slightly revised your original proposition that school bullying is always to do with gender? I have a single-sex example for you.

At my girls’ school (11-18), there was a fair-to-middling amount of bullying, some physical and most verbal. This obviously wasn’t to do with gender in the direct competition sense (no-one to be competitive to). And thinking about the bullies and the bullied, it was by no means clear that the most feminine girls bullied the least feminine. There were two main divisions that I recall – physical size and geekiness. Little, delicate girls and geeky girls got picked on, big girls and non-geeky girls did the picking.

Now, a physically intimidating non-geek is supposed to be the male pattern of perfection, not the female-as-handed-down-by-the-patriarchy. You could still, I suppose try to link this into a fairly tortuous model of the “alpha” girls somehow imitating the male form of bullying (from what example?), but it’s pretty tenuous. Logically, if the bullies were seeking to conform to the patriarchal gender stereotype and bullying those who didn’t, they’d have conformed to the pink bow in hair and eyeliner one.

In fact, I think the way bullying works at single sex schools demonstrates (a) that physically well-developed non-geekism is a *human* perfection pattern, not a specifically male one (which would make sense in evolutionary terms, if we want to be reductivist about it) and (b) that bullying cannot possibly always be linked to gender and/or sexuality.

Having said all that, I’m very alive to the possibility that it’s just my perception that the non-geeks bullied the geeks. Maybe other people on both sides of the scale saw it differently. Which rather underlines the point about individual viewpoints – it’s simply not in my nature to view the world through the lens of gender (something I believe I owe to that schooling method, by the way).

The great weakness of many stripes of feminism to me is the assumption that everybody sees the world in a gendered way. And if they don’t, they damn well should. My assumption would be the opposite. It would be my ambition that every girl had the kind of schooling which meant she *didn’t* see the world through the lens of gender.

When I was younger, it never so much as crossed my mind that my being female would define the way I felt or the way the world treated me, and I suspect this blitheness has led me to success more than once. I’ve been surprised in more recent years – and often charmed, I suppose – to find so many people caring about my “plight” on my behalf. Somehow, my upbringing gave me some deep-seated confidence that whatever restrictions normally operated on women, they didn’t apply to me, that I was a human being before I was specifically a woman, and deserved to be treated as such. If we could replicate that confidence on a mass scale then surely we’d have a permanent end to any final whisper of male privilege. Whether single-sex schooling would really work to do that by itself I don’t know.

Incidentally, if my account of my schooling reads like I’m quait middle-class and from Surr-ay, it’s because I am. Both of which are probably at least as important as gender in defining how well I will do in life.

Newmania, I’m very glad you’ve had a nice spliff and calmed down, mate, but you might want to watch your consumption rate there, or maybe just the play of light on your hand. Have you ever really thought about your hand, mate? I mean, really /thought/?

Shatterface, libertarian geeks, other thickies. It helps if you read the article and then engage with the points in it, rather than having a good old Don Quixote at the (rather tattered now, actually) straw feminist in the corner, you’ll note that Laurie’s not been claiming that gender is the only site of oppression or the single paramount societal issue, merely a hugely important one that’s often mishandled. You’ve been kind enough to present a good deal of evidence for this, and for that, thank you all very much.

I, myself, don’t regard myself as a “geek”, though I have tendencies in that direction, and while elements of my self-presentation caused me a fair (HA HA) number of problems in my (all-boys) school, I’ve been lucky enough to avoid the worst of it. But not so lucky that people around me haven’t been damaged, in some cases in ways that are extremely long-term. The degree to which conventional masculinity was policed by both students and staff in that school and any number of others I’ve heard of was extensive, and characterised by violence, exclusion and appeals to public opprobrium. This took place primarily in the form of homophobia, and any infringement of, again, masculine gender norms was an invitation to, at least, public mockery, often with the acceptance or even participation of staff, or, at worst, repeated subjection to serious violence without hope of recourse to wilfully ignorant authorities. The training required for young boys to become men is a lengthy course in the power of intimidation and physical violence. In an establishment of education, boys (and indeed, no-one) should not have to learn how to fight in order to defend themselves and others from their own peers and those in authority over them. Nevertheless, this is the case, and it’s hurt every young man I know in some way or another. We need to stop doing this shit to ourselves, in short. It’s not there /for/ anything.
Sunny, I respectfully disagree, though I recognise the validity of your point. In context, I would argue that the form that gendered socialisation of children in this country can be characterised as fascistic: a group of people with very little power or self-determination are compelled into a variety of roles involving child-bearing or violence with a variety of coercive tactics, up to and including the persistent threat of violence from authority figures and peers, for goals that I perceive to be at best vestigial and at worst reactionary and malign. I’m not sure what better word to employ.

Bravo!

Quick question Penny:

The trouble is that that’s not true – never has been, never will be – unless you have the good fortune to be born male, white and relatively privileged.

Would you say that someone who was Prime Minister for over a decade found their way in society?


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