Naomi Wolf, Karen Straughan & Antigone Darling discuss feminism (plus my personal thoughts)

This evening I’m watching:

Pausing at 11:30… I actually do like what Naomi Wolf said in that the feminist lens can serve as a useful tool for analysis. That’s true, it can. Theoretically, though acknowledging all analyses not being equal. The trouble is when someone winds up so limited by such a lens that their outlooks get skewed to the point of becoming unfairly biased. We all obviously have our biases and none of us can claim a fully objective perspective, but the stated aim in movements of this nature is to examine society through particular lenses in an effort to understand and perhaps work toward remedying social injustices. My own interest is in better understanding what’s going on without looking to be prescriptive, whereas many involved in these gender-bent movements are pushing for political change and select legal action, that being where I wind up in outfield in these sorts of discussions. But regardless, it’s good to see this panel come together to lay out their perspectives.

Anyway, carrying on…

Pausing at 20:22. Seriously wish Antigone Darling had held her microphone a little further away. Her voice comes across booming on my end and is most difficult to understand.

But I like what she’s saying about how the term “feminism” shouldn’t dominate the dialogue since it’s not supposed to be about either sex lording over the other. It does boil down to individuals ultimately, even as gendered perspectives can prove useful in examinations of social phenomena, just as racial and socioeconomic focuses add to our understanding as well. But, ultimately, these are human matters experienced in whatever which ways by us as individuals. That’s the fundamental starting point.

Pausing at 31:07… Back when I was a freshman and sophomore in college I too looked into the organization N.O.W. and actually donated a little, that being during my own first “wave” of interest in feminism, and I have to say that members within that organization did state some pretty hostile shit. It’s been a long time and I can’t recall anything clearly, just that the sentiment expressed seemed decisively hostile toward males, especially toward those males not closely associated with the feminist movement. That’s just the nature of that organization, and it wound up personally turning me off, for one. Even during a time when I felt pretty hostile about men my damn self, and justifiably so at that point in time IMO. Probably for me it came down to seeing N.O.W. representatives were acting rabid and figuring eventually they would wind up trampling on the rights of women too if given enough power. Just because an organization claims to advocate on behalf of women doesn’t make it any less vulnerable to corruption, most especially if it’s angling for political clout.

Pausing at 40:48… Gotta say it — I get where all of them are coming from. Both Naomi and Karen make good arguments, but what seems to be lacking from Karen’s analysis is just how much of a role Abrahamic religions have played over the last nearly 4,000 years and in how they absolutely have redefined many people’s gender roles accordingly (as determined by their interpretations of scriptures, which has, over time, divvied up in different ways). That’s no small matter. Because religions have been losing their stranglehold on humankind since the Enlightenment Era that still in no way eradicates prior history which, for several thousands of years, was patriarchal. Not everywhere on the globe necessarily, but notably where Abrahamic religions had influence. The documents themselves (e.g., the Bible and Torah) may be interpreted differently, but for the vast majority of people subjected to it it was taken as placing males in leadership roles in most (if not every) aspect of society. It cast the role of that which they call “God” as male in the image of male-dominated hierarchy structures that had arisen somewhere within the 3,000 years leading up to the formation of the major Abrahamic religions.

Humans are evolving, both socially and biologically, and the rise of domineering male-dominated hierarchies are a notable part of our not-so-distant history. It’s still close enough in the rear-view mirror that these religions continue to exert influence (though it’s morphed into a bastardized political power-grabbing vehicle since its inception, practically devoid of its spiritual content by this point), obviously, hence why there’s this big “war” being waged between atheists and various types of theists across societies nowadays. Those religions proved bigoted (particularly in practice) on every level and in one form or fashion against all groups of people, but so goes the evolution of social dynamics during the rise of civilizations. Economics were a major factor as well, and I’d argue men originally played into that scheme better than women did or could have, they being unshackled by the physical limitations imposed by pregnancies and child-rearing. Biology dictated so much until just a very short time ago when advanced technologies afforded women unprecedented control over our fertility (which then called for political action to get laws to recognize and protect access to). That was a significant game-changer.

As was the reign of patriarchal religions and their spread via imperialist endeavors. To acknowledge the gains achieved legally in modern times while saying nothing about the social setup (other than the purely biological component) that claimed dominance over many cultures dating back hundreds or thousands of years that had a profound influence on how roles divvied up and impacted human psychologies to the core is, I believe, disingenuous and just as biased as feminists who focus on history over a century ago and then skip back to talk of our primitive pasts without appreciating what political feats have been accomplished in most recent times. Both wind up being skewed perceptions because they’re geared toward standing in opposition to one another rather than assimilating data so as to form a more well-rounded comprehension of events leading up to where we stand today. Not all of us have come to stand in equal places, and I’ll argue class divisions remain extremely relevant, perhaps now more than ever as we’ve experienced power centralizing in organizations, businesses, and the State (welcome to the Heyday Age of Economics as ruler of all); and though I don’t personally subscribe to the notion that equal outcomes on all conceivable matters is the ideal, the level of disparities made possible in modern times is simply astounding (namely between the haves and have-much-fucking-less) and will prove to be unsustainable. Humans are too jealous to accept that outcome — blame evolution there too and look into literature on primate behavior to see relevant similarities.

This is why I say that what we call patriarchy isn’t so much about each individual man being invested with greater power over women and children (though that slant is most definitely central to Abrahamic religions, at least in terms of fathers and leaders), it’s about there being a shift toward more of a masculine-oriented style of organization of societies during the rise of civilizations. Likely because the masculine orientation could be harnessed and utilized to build up these civilizations at that stage in the game. Nowadays we’re confronted with different demands, namely conformity, and that’s where utilizing womankind (and feminine-oriented styles) generally proves more advantageous (at least for those standing to benefit from such a construct, depending on how we wish to look at this matter). From my own view, this is more a story of how power concentrates and culminates into making modernity possible, for better or worse, and both men and women, generally speaking, have been and will continue to be used along the way in satisfying these objectives.

At some point it almost seems irrelevant whether wealthy interests are steering this ship or if the hand of fate is doing so. In a real sense, it’s virtually all the same.

Pausing at 44:04… I didn’t find the audiobook Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus useful either.

Pausing at 48:12… I don’t like how the moderator cut that conversation off about rape, and I also don’t like how Naomi Wolf jumped to calling Karen a “rape apologist” without hearing out her assertion. The thing is that Karen’s right there: oftentimes rape does wind up coming down to a he said/she said matter so far as legality is concerned. There really is no crystal-clear, unambiguous definition of what might be considered “rape” today. It’s one of those subjective claims that can be very difficult for outsiders to assess given that we weren’t present for whatever transpired. False claims of rape can and do occur. Also, bonafide rapes can and frequently enough still do tend to go unreported (noting that reports of sexual attacks from complete strangers very often are reported to police, just not so much when between intimates and acquaintances). I personally blame (at least in part) the focus shifting to expecting legal measures alone to remedy these problems when it’s undeniably a moral and spiritual matter at its core. It’s a question of respect between individuals, whether male or female, flowing in both directions. The problem is with people using one another, either because they’re intoxicated and can’t put up effective resistance,  or because opportunity knocks, or because one wishes to extort money through chicanery, or whatever. All are examples of serious disrespect, and both males and females have proven willing and able to exploit one another. That’s the underlying concern here, so far as I see it.

Pausing at 50:00… Yes, I agree with Antigone there. Hormonal contraceptives are a serious issue impacting women specifically but also appears to be impacting society more generally too. We as Americans (and perhaps Canadians can relate too) are being over-saturated with hormones, from oral contraceptives to foods to plastics (and even marijuana as well, since weed contains phytoestrogens). That’s an important consideration, though I don’t think it needs to be addressed by feminists alone. Especially considering the impact such hormones appear to be having on offspring. Much more research needed there.

The concern about American people’s—and mostly especially women’s (since more females willingly go this route than males thus far)—reliance on anti-depressants/anti-anxiety prescription pills is pointing out a worrisome trend, I agree. And if people do their research and delve back into the history of the field of psychiatry, they will learn how women had been its preferred guinea pigs for many decades. That’s a major concern, and it impacts men too seeing as how they have to live with and/or around us (not to mention now many young boys are being targeted for psychiatric diagnoses; plus, returning soldiers are being increasingly medicated for PTSD). Men also work with us women. They must share a society with us. And we’re being fed a dangerous lie based on largely unsubstantiated quasi-scientific “theories” that are proving extremely profitable for those tied in with the fields of biochemistry/pharmacology and related marketing/advertising.

Strongly agreed that those are both serious issues begging to be reckoned with that potentially impact us all.

Finished viewing the video. On a final note, I agree that weapons deserve to be brought up on these topics if we’re going to focus on concerns about safety and protecting our rights and well-being. Feminists are especially prone toward dismissing that option, IME, which has for a long time blown my mind. Why wouldn’t women want to do what is in their ability to ensure that they don’t wind up victims of unwarranted violence? And nothing spells out equal quite as succinctly as an equalizer, which firearms indeed can indeed be. They (potentially, if successfully executed) bring stopping power to the situation, whether when defending against a bigger and stronger attacker(s) or one individual wielding a weapon himself/herself. There does come a time to take matters into our own hands instead of waiting for the State to fight our battles for us. Granted, it’s bullshit that opportunists try to take advantage of others, but that’s unfortunately an inescapable fact of life and it won’t be eradicated any time soon. Might help to curb that end of spectrum of the gene pool if it refuses to act respectfully. (But even there I realize it devolves down into a he said/she said dispute in the legal system in trying to prove one’s right to utilize lethal force allegedly in self-defense. If the supposed offending party is rendered dead and there were no other witnesses, who then really knows what was what?)

Anyway, very good video and discussion. Body language gave away that Naomi and Karen weren’t too fond of one another, but so be it. Still seemed productive that they all sat down and at least tried to broach these topics.

[Lightly edited once again 1/31/2015 for typos and greater clarity.]

A dialogue between Professor Corey Anton and Stefan Molyneux from 2011

A dialogue between Professor Corey Anton and Stefan Molyneux from back in 2011:

Watched it once a while back, but tonight watching it again, paying closer attention now that I’m more familiar with Stefan’s positions after having watched several of his videos over the last many months.

Pausing at 16:34, yes, Prof. Anton was getting at there what I’m wondering about too. “Why do people become so slavish to institutions?” A top-down approach will never prove sufficient, not unless the plan is to someday turn us into droids, maybe require us all to be on prescribed drugs or find ways to genetically alter future generations (good luck with such a scheme and all that can and will go wrong with it). If we’re to exist as free individual agents with autonomy and power to live productive, meaningful lives, then it really does boil down to each of us individually, because an authority can not live our lives for us, and why would we want it to? Authorities and economies cannot provide all moral guidance, and again, why would we even want them to?

Yes of course each individual is molded by the culture(s) they are raised in and who they’re raised by and all the institutions and other external factors that shape reality as we experience it. And that’s where we run into the problem of the paradox: people are not strictly individuals nor strictly members of a collective. We are both, inescapably. It cannot be helped.

The libertarian argument has been augmented to suit modern economics and all talk of rugged individualists successfully striving for the top is a rarity-turned-myth promoted by this new narrative. It’s a fantasy that will remain very far from reality for most. This idea of pulling oneself up by the bootstraps is overplayed but useful in shifting all responsibility onto individuals, furthering this trendy belief that all the power lies within our own selves and there’s no one to blame but oneself. It’s an oversimplification, to say the least.

Stefan does not argue along that line and clearly does acknowledge educational and social influences, but he steps in another hole that plenty of “anarcho-capitalist” atheists step in, which is placing so much emphasis on the ‘science’ end of things without paying much attention to the history of how humans have behaved socially. We are not merely bags of bones, flesh and DNA — we are hugely defined by our relationships with one another, but we also have these inner lives and drives created through who we are (as is always evolving, but beginning with our core personality traits) meeting with our environment and all entities and people in it, both directly and indirectly. In short, we’re complex creatures with complex needs and a complex history. For some to assume that human nature can be rather easily molded to fit the latest ideology is a scary proposition, and I don’t see how this might be grandly accomplished except through some method of compulsion. This logic is premised on the notion that humans are significantly malleable while maintaining sane states of mind. I do not agree with that assumption. Look around and ponder it.

What Stefan is proposing is a theory that we have no way of knowing if it’ll prove successful, and the odds look to be against it on several levels, particularly when it comes to thinking people only behave violently because we are taught by authority figures to do so. That’s simply not true, and in the absence of any form of government providing some level of protection and redress for aggrieved persons, it’s going to be a painful lesson to contend with. Think corporations are going to come to our rescue? Would we even want that?

But what I think Professor Anton is getting at is us striving against some of our base-level motivations and drives and transcending them so as to become the moral beings we wish to be is the only way one truly becomes moral, because morality isn’t a top-down affair, at least not beyond superficial appearances. As much as culture and environment influences each individual, it ultimately winds up coming down to each individual’s striving.

Stefan differs from this in that he seems to believe a societal overhaul along with the creation of a new culture (somehow — that part’s never clearly explained, leaving us to wonder how the chicken will manage to come before the egg?) will impel people to do what is in the best interest of this new setup. His reasoning for this seems to be that it would be the rational thing for people to support — but how often are people all that rational is what I want to know? We have an entire history of acting irrationally on plenty of levels. In fact, it can be said that humans have never acted all that rational. But now, apparently, we’re ready to become rational. Why? Because we’re capable of reasoning and therefore should be able to assess what’s within our collective long-term best interest. This notion is predicated on the idea that we humans just keep evolving to become better and better, or at least we possess the potential to be so. And to an extent I agree — the potential does exist, potentially. Stefan’s argument seems to be hinged on this, plus the idea that people will opt for a 100% non-violent society. But on that latter point I couldn’t disagree more.

One reason being that if all others choose non-violence as their response, it leaves those with the willingness to act aggressively or violently with an advantage. They will do what the rest refuse to do — they will go on the physical offense. And believe you me, that will occur. It will always occur. We can adopt defensive strategies for dealing with it, but a non-violent strategy will render folks sitting ducks. And that’s fine if one wishes to abide by a pacifist code of ethics — go for it, but don’t expect everybody to go for it.

And I’m not sure we’d want a completely non-violent society anyway. We’re aggressive beings at times, and it’s so far proven the only effective way of handling certain disputes and violations. Stefan’s concept of non-violence extends so far as to include all coercion and force. Can there be a way to hold a person against their will without the use of force? Because they will resist with force. We’re active, physical creatures — this must be accepted. It is who and what we are at the core, and I can’t think of any way to transcend this if we are to continue to care about protecting ourselves and others (which we very much do care about).

In another video by Stefan he talks about all money being basically on debit cards where a bank or whoever, in response to a violation, has the ability to simply cut off one’s access. Now, I have trouble seeing this as much better than the use of force. We’re talking about a State-less society here so I’m unsure who decides and enforces the laws in this sort of setup (well, obviously it’s major corporations and banks, as he eludes to), but whoever or whatever does wields an awful lot of power, more than any entity really does today. Because there he’s envisioning all money going digital and all purchases requiring some sort of card or chip, all of this taking place within a corporate wonderland. Those with the power to control access to money control everything. They control all of society and nothing really stops them from coercing us, especially not if we’re all set on remaining non-violent.

Ya’ll tell me, how does the logic go here? How might people maintain power to keep mammoth corporations in check in the absence of any form of government? Some major corporations today are already proving more powerful than nation-states, and we’re seeing what they’re driven to do.

I must agree with Prof. Anton that it seems that logic is predicated on some sort of Social Darwinist theory, which is potentially dangerous. This is where all talk of evolution winds up troubling me a bit, because the reality is, counter to what some folks like to believe, that how we best adapt to a given environment doesn’t always turn out to be in humanity’s long-term survival interests. We’re not just ascending ever higher and higher, even though it appears right now our technology indeed is.

To be returned to at a later date…