Thursday, October 8, 2015

Mansplaining Feminism

Status Update: I'm Doing Nothing by Surian Soosay is licensed CC BY 2.0.
This was originally posted as a comment in a feminist group that I somehow have admin access to. How that happened should be a fascinating story, but it's sadly pedestrian - the original admin was taking a vacation and she felt I'd be too relaxed and easygoing to do anything detrimental to the group. The post has been edited slightly to take advantage of the fact that it's posted on a page that supports inline HTML links, as opposed to Facebook which inexplicably doesn't.

Trigger warning: LONG.

I thought about posting this as a comment, but decided the point was large enough to warrant its own post.

I'm going to explain, as best as I can, why a lot of feminists get bent out of shape about #notallmen and often reply, on the extreme end, with #maletears and #killallmen. My target audience is primarily male (i.e. some of the more difficult guys that find themselves arguing with feminists here), though I’m sure there are a few women that are perplexed by this issue as well and may benefit from what you’re about to read. To do this, I'm going to lean hard on my experience as an active participant in the Libertarian movement and, by necessity, do quite a bit of mansplaining (i.e. potentially talking out of my ass). If you're a feminist and believe I'm wildly off base, feel free to say so in the comments, but please remember that I'm not trying to explain feminism to you - I'm trying to explain it to others that see only a very cherry-picked version of it, so certain details and nuances will be glossed over or explained using potentially problematic language that, I hope, resonates better to my target audience than academic feminist terminology.

Libertarianisn, in its modern form (i.e. the form you usually bump into on the Internet these days), was founded to oppose the oppression caused by the governments of the United States of America - local, state, and federal. More specifically, it often focused on the oppression caused by the governments of the US against white people (white males more often than not, though ALF members will happily point out that feminists were better represented in the LP than most political parties - I call this "damning with faint praise"), which should be a pretty familiar problem among feminists at this point - in fact, let’s call this form White Libertarianism, since it nicely parallels the background and interests of White Feminism and exhibits some of the same frustrating, myopic behavior due to its limited perspective. As an example, if you see a "libertarian" cheering on Putin because he's poking a stick in the US government's eye (at the cost of innumerable Russian, Syrian, Ukrainian, and Georgian lives), that's White Libertarianism privileging its oppression by the US government while ignoring the oppression of others across the globe by other governments, such as the Russian government.

Ron Paul is a textbook White Libertarian.

The biggest issue with the limited perspective of White Libertarianism, however, at least when we’re talking about the role of the Libertarian movement in the US, is that most fairly affluent white people (like me!) only deal with the government maybe twice a year - once when we file our taxes and once when we go to the DMV. Some more affluent white people might deal with the government a little more often and experience additional frustrations when doing so - say, when they’re trying to get a permit to renovate their garage, or open a business, or what have you. Some might also deal with the government when they’re dealing with their children in school, though their experiences with government school are generally far more positive than everyone else’s. Occasionally, we might get pulled over for a minor traffic infraction, at which point we can usually count on being treated fairly and professionally, if curtly. This, needless to say, is a markedly different experience from the experience of poor people - especially people of color - in the United States, which, in turn, is an infinitely more positive experience than those on the wrong end of graft-infested governments in Eastern Europe or South America, or governments that openly and blatantly privilege certain tribes in Third World countries.

Which brings me to the following question: What is the role of government workers in the Libertarian movement?

From a White Libertarian perspective, government workers potentially look like natural allies. After all, they get to witness the inefficiency of the government every day of their working lives. They get to watch politicians promise them fat pensions in one hand, then refuse to pay for them in the other. They get to watch politicians decide to remove “waste and fat” by adding various pointless rules and regulations to their jobs, rules and regulations that often cost more to implement than they could ever conceivably save (I wrote a blog post ages ago about this - link in the comments). Plus, a lot of White Libertarians know government workers - government work is a decent professional job, if you can get it, that pays well and has decent benefits. Consequently, if you’re a college-educated White Libertarian, chances are you know more than a few government workers personally and you know that they’re generally decent, hardworking people. So, why not leverage that additional experience and frustration with government inefficiency and harness it to the Libertarian movement?

Because, if you’re not a White Libertarian, government workers are collaborators. They’re the ones in power. They’re the ones bashing down doors at 2 AM killing your grandmother and throwing flashbang grenades in your child’s crib. They’re the ones pulling you over every week for some made up traffic infraction and taking your money. They’re the ones seizing your car using civil asset forfeiture laws. They’re the ones telling you what food you can buy and what neighborhoods you get to live in. They’re the ones threatening to arrest you because you’re walking home from work - which you wouldn’t be doing if they didn’t impound your car - and they don’t like the way you look. They’re the ones bombing hospitals. They’re the ones torturing prisoners. They are the problem. #KillAllStatists #KillAllCops #CopTears #FuckThePolice. What’s their place in the Libertarian movement? Dead, their backs against the wall, with their heads nailed to pikes placed across the street from the nearest police station or City Hall as a warning to others. They are gangsters enforcing their will at the point of their guns. They deserve no quarter or mercy.

Before a Libertarian jumps in - I exaggerate slightly. But only just. Read comments on Cop Block sometime. There’s a reason so many Libertarians are fanatics about the Non-Aggression Principle - it’s because it’s explicitly designed to keep people that think like this from taking over the movement.

Trouble is, when you’re talking about exterminating (or something close to) all government workers, you’re talking about somebody’s friends, neighbors, and family members. Those who know government workers personally - cops, teachers, civil servants, and so on - will not, under any circumstances, allow a group of angry people to seriously harm them. In fact, if you try to sell Libertarianism to them using that sort of language - a language of hate, bitterness, and revenge - they’ll reject it automatically. They’ll radicalize themselves to oppose you if they feel you’re dangerous enough to actually do harm. If you live in, say, North Korea, perhaps that opposition is worth it - perhaps those that work for the government truly are beyond redemption and the only option is violent revolution. If you lived in Rwanda during the genocide in the ‘90s, the solution wasn’t to appease the sensibilities of the murderous Hutu gangs that were rounding up Tutsis - it was to either kill more of them than they killed of your tribe, if you could, or run away as fast as possible if you couldn’t. If you lived in Apartheid South Africa and were on the wrong side of the government imposed social order, the solution was…

Wait, what’s that? Apartheid in South Africa was overthrown more or less peacefully? A couple people got the Nobel Prize for pulling it off? Hmm. I wonder if there’s a lesson there.

This, I think, is one area where White Libertarianism can actually bring some much needed perspective to the movement. We actually know government workers. We eat with them, drink with them, talk with them. We know that, for the most part, they’re people, just like the rest of us, trying to do as good of a job they can with the tools they have. Government teachers usually want our children to learn. Government police usually want our neighborhoods to be safe. We also know that there’s a reason these people follow unjust policies and unjust laws, at least in the United States, and it’s a good one - the laws and procedures they follow, at least *theoretically*, were written and enacted with input from citizens of all socioeconomic and racial backgrounds. If they start picking and choosing which ones to follow, they’ll probably end up privileging their own experiences and opinions over the experiences and opinions of those that theoretically had their voices heard in the political process. Remember, if we encourage police officers to use their own judgment when deciding which laws to enforce, we don’t get to pick and choose *which* police officers exercise their judgment, nor do we get to pick and choose which way their judgments fall. They might choose to ignore the laws that “unjustly” prevent them from performing police brutality, for example, or might choose to ignore the laws that “unjustly” punish their coworkers when they engage in abusive behavior.

Now, does this mean a kindler, gentler, more inclusive approach toward government workers is the right solution for Libertarianism across the globe? Not at all. I’m not even sure it’s the right approach in all parts of the United States - I think it would work well in Reno (where I live), for example, where our civil servants are fairly professional and have a decent reputation, but would be an utter disaster in places like Ferguson, where the local governments were explicitly created to further the interests of segregationists and small-town tyrants. I think there’s room for both well-meaning civil servants and the Battle of Athens

Personally, I get the impression that White Feminism is trying to drive the same point home among the broader feminist movement. Yes, poorer, less privileged men are almost universally going to be reactionary against the feminist project - after all, when a person doesn’t have any control over their own life but sees an opportunity to control another’s, they’ll frequently take it (this is the path from which petty bureaucrats are formed). However, what several White Feminists are trying to say (and this is the part where my ass potentially does the talking) is that they’re seeing more and more men become open allies of the overall project. They’re seeing men, especially among the more affluent, better educated group, learn the goals of feminism, learn how those goals benefit themselves as well as women, and are consequently signing on to help advance the project. Since a lot of these men are in positions of power and privilege, they’re pretty useful to have as allies - they’re actually in positions to move public policy and the social culture in a more feminist direction. On the other hand, these men are used to being respected, valued, and listened to, and if feminists won’t listen, well… who will? /r/TheRedPill?

On the other, other hand, part of the problem is that there’s a class of men that are, by default, used to being respected, valued, and listened to while everyone else is ignored. 

Of course, they’re the ones with the levers of power to begin with, which is bad…
But some of them are willing to share, which is good!
But they’re not willing to give them up entirely, which is bad...
But they’re willing to listen to feminists while wielding their levers of power, which is good!
But their levers of power contain potassium benzoate…
Uhh… am I being detained? Am I free to go?

So, to wrap things up, if you’re not a feminist and you see a feminist rant about #NotAllMen, understand that there are very good reasons for that rant. Not all women are privileged enough to live, work, and be surrounded by generally reasonable men, and those women really need to get their voices heard. Additionally, a lot of the more reasonable men are also spoiled, privileged brats that need to sit down and shut up once in awhile and let the people that know what they’re talking about do the talking, something which you’d recognize if you think about the Pointy Haired Bosses in your life (as an IT worker, I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve had my job explained to me by someone that doesn’t know how to reboot their computer). If they’re following it up with #killallmen and #maletears, well, there’s probably a pretty good reason for that, much of it probably involves a considerable amount of personal trauma, and if you walked a meter in her shoes, you’d probably feel the same way. If you don’t believe me, ask a convicted felon how they feel about the government. Or ask someone from a country where their government doesn’t even pay lip service to the idea of basing their authority on the consent of the governed. Same idea, oftentimes the same oppressor.

With that, over 2000 words later, I am done. #endrant

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