Arguing on the Internet: There IS a Point (No, Seriously, Let Me Finish…)

I argue on the Internet a lot.

I doubt that comes as a surprise to anyone here, but I thought I’d say it anyway in case there was any question.

Many of these arguments quickly devolve into the mud-slinging that has come to typify “discourse” in the cable new and Internet era, and I’ve sunk to that level myself more than I’d like to admit, but if you’re willing to slog through the mud there can actually be a meeting of minds. It might take six hours, or two days, but it can happen!

Critical Thinking and Passionate Discourse

People feel very strongly about issues like racism, sexism, heteronormativity, and so on, and quite understandably so. These are very real problems that have very real negative consequences for a lot of people—for everyone, if you take the long and nuanced view. These very strong feelings can be useful in discussions about these issues, but they can also be detriments.

If you are so angry that you cannot respond rationally to any disagreement with your opinions, you have no place in the discussion.

Feel what you want to feel, think what you want to think, but don’t try to engage with other people who might disagree with you. It serves no purpose other than to fuel your rage.

Critical thinking—the ability to engage with ideas as objectively as possible, to be open to other points of view whether or not you ultimately agree with them, and to analyze observable facts without assuming non-observed information—is key to bridging all of the divides created by racism, sexism, and so on.

Often, the reaction to disagreement on the Internet (and elsewhere, these interactions just happen more frequently on the Internet these days) is to throw critical thinking out the window and to replace it with passion, either in the form of attacking the disagreer rather than his or her ideas, or in defending one’s own position with a statement about personal experiences that make them feel the way they do.

Personal experiences are not invalid—-they matter a great deal. They are not a substitute for evidence or logic. Too often they are used as such.

In my most recent exchange of ideas on someone’s Facebook page, I was told, “This could be so much more than a logical forum if you’d let it.” I reject this notion on its face. Any forum for public discourse that isn’t a logical forum is lesser than a logical forum, period.

Logic and critical thinking do not negate passion. They are not mutually exclusive. I would not spend my time thinking and writing about the issues discussed on this site if I were not passionate about them. I still try to apply objective logic as rigorously as I can, and I welcome all comments about any lack of success I have in that area.

Let’s be passionate, and let’s use our passion to heighten the level of discourse, not drag it into the mud.

The Happy Ending

Eventually, anyone willing to stick out the discussion indefinitely will tire, and the passion that blinds them will give way to an ability to engage. I’ve seen it happen many times. If it only happened once, that would be enough to convince me to keep arguing on the Internet, foolish though it may be.

Because getting someone to a point where they’re able to have a disagreement without resorting to insults is pretty nifty.

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Dear Black Female College Student: Check Your Own Privilege

TIME recently reprinted an article from The Daily Mississippian, the school newspaper of the University of Mississippi. Its author: a black female senior majoring in Classics and English and a regular contributor to the paper’s Opinion page. Her complaint: gay white men not “checking their privilege” and “appropriating her culture.”

White gay men do all kinds of things that piss this writer off, though she introduces her laundry list of complaints by saying “I don’t care” when clearly she does:

I don’t care how well you can quote Madea, who told you that your booty was getting bigger than hers, how cute you think it is to call yourself a strong black woman, who taught you to twerk, how funny you think it is to call yourself Quita or Keisha or for which black male you’ve been bottoming.

So, just to be clear, her major complaints include gay white men calling themselves “strong black women” (mildly offensive, I’ll admit), quoting Madea (horribly offensive as a matter of taste, but not exactly a hate crime), twerking (also arguably offensive when it comes to taste, yet still doing nothing to oppress black people), and talking about black sexual partners (offensive if you don’t like that sort of conversation, but not racially offensive unless you think white people shouldn’t sleep with black people, in which case you’re the racist).

But the ridiculousness of her complaint and her dishonesty in estimating the level of her own caring aren’t the major problem here.

If You Go to College in the US, You are One of the Most Privileged People Ever

The real problem is that, while she rails against the “privilege” of the gay white man and how white people in general “steal” black music (don’t like “black” music? you’re a narrow-minded racist. listen to “black” music? you’re an appropriating racist), she completely ignores the immense privilege she herself has.

“Black people can’t have anything,” this author claims. Seriously. That’s a direct quote. She again has a laundry list of specifics, and again she manages to hit some real points (“solid voting rights”) and some par-for-the-course social justice whining (“hair styles”), but conveniently missing from this list are things like living in a country where you can have a piece published by your college newspaper, and, you know, BEING IN COLLEGE.

I’m not saying black women aren’t among some of the most oppressed people in this country. I agree with the author (I think) that black women have it harder, by and large, than gay white men. But if she’s going to include the line “black people can’t have anything” and then go on a 1000-word rambling rant that makes the same point over and over without presenting actual evidence or arguments, then she needs to get “called out” and asked to “check her privilege,” too.

Anyone who gets into college in this country can easily count themselves among the top 1% most privileged people to ever walk the face of the Earth, and probably in the top 1% of people alive today.

I’m not saying I think US colleges are so much better than colleges elsewhere (I’m more likely to argue the opposite, when push comes to shove) or even that I think college itself is so wonderful or so essential to success (I have two degrees, and I haven’t relied on either one while supporting my family for the past six years). But if you were given the necessary opportunities throughout your life that led to your acceptance by a US college, you’re leading a pretty “privileged” like compared to the vast majority of the world’s population.

If you grew up in the United States AND got into a college here, consider yourself even more privileged. You never had your home blown up or taken over by a military force, forcing you to flee as a refugee. You don’t live on less than a dollar a day, sharing a single-room dwelling with your extended family and a pit toilet with the rest of the block. You don’t have to worry about your religion making you a killer one day and getting you killed the next.

A black woman growing up and going to school in Mississippi almost certainly faced significant racism, and probably still does. WIthout knowing any of the details of this author’s personal life and struggle, I am still willing to concede that she has had to work harder to get where she is than have her white male counterparts, gay or straight.

But when the words “black people can’t have anything” comes out of one of the most privileged mouths ever to open, and when that voice is given the privilege of international exposure in a respected media outlet, someone needs to stand up and tell that privilege to check itself.


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The “‘Cuz I’m Black and Female” Fund

POC have had it bad. No argument from this corner. Women, too, have faced inequalities and continue to face them.

And then, there was this POS:

who created a crowdsourcing campaign with the title, “I need some white privilege.” Basically, she doesn’t make enough money and the only possible explanation is because she’s black, so everybody ought to chip in and give her the $135,000 she’s decided she’s owed.

Maybe she’s going for satire, but that’s not the impression she gives. She complains about racism, which I have no trouble believing she experienced, while also citing the fact that she was in gifted programs in school and got into college (she doesn’t mention whether or not she completed college or earned a degree, one might note), and then says she’s earned about $9,000 less per year than her average white male counterparts…without telling anyone what job she has, or what skills she has, etc.

She cites only one credible source of information, which does indeed document a wage gap between white men and others when comparing median annual earnings for all people across the country. She, however, claims that this gap is for people of different demographics doing the same work, which is either a gross misunderstanding (unlikely for someone who was so gifted in school) or—shock!—a bullshit way for her to blame her circumstances completely on institutional racism.

White men do tend to hold higher paying jobs than white women (this gap is closing quickly) and even more so than black men and black women, and there is real institutional racism behind that fact: unequal education opportunities is a big deal, and incarceration is another. These things keep POC from advancing in the workforce far more than the decision of any individual hiring manager.

But here’s a black woman who was in gifted programs in school, who was able to get into college, and who doesn’t appear to be imprisoned (nor does she mention anyone close to her being imprisoned and creating an additional burden for her, as is frequently the case when anyone gets incarcerated).

In other words, she’s a person who has had opportunities and has still not succeeded the way she wants to. There are plenty of people of all colors, genders, and other identities that could say the same. But not everyone chooses to blame their race.

She also claims that her “natural hair” is another reason she isn’t earning what she ought to be earning. And she might be right. But as a white guy with long hair and an untamed beard, I could say the exact same thing (if I didn’t earn my living as a freelance writer, where no one cares what I look like or what color I am as long as I get the job done). I’ve worked in office settings and been told my “natural hair” is inappropriate—something I’m sure my bosses would have been far too scared of a lawsuit to say if I were black, or female.

Assuming she likes to dress for work the way she is dressed in her “give me money” picture—because she’d want to project the most professional image possible when complaining that she’s been mistreated in the professional world, right?—I have no problem at all believing employers haven’t been interested in her due to the way she presents herself. That’s called culture, and it’s a choice to play the rules or be a rebel. It has nothing to do with the color of your skin.

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A Word About Men’s Rights

I’ll admit it—this blog is more reactionary than pro-active. I’m more concerned with the inaccuracies, illogics, and hypocrisies of what other people are saying in the social justice realm than in finding crusades of my own to fight. Judge that how you will, but there it is.

As such, I don’t intend to devote much time or space here to men’s rights, just as I don’t intend to devote much time or space to the direct advocacy of women’s rights or anyone else’s rights. These are all valid issues that deserve direct advocacy and pro-active attention, but they’re not what this blog is about.

I do want to take a moment to talk about the way men’s rights are treated by the social justice brigade, though. Specifically, I want to address the problem of holding up the worst kind of men’s rights activists as exemplars of all supporters of men’s rights supporters, and more broadly as exemplars of all men.

There are groups who purport to be about men’s rights who spend more of their time denigrating or railing against women. It’s true, and it’s undeniable. The members of these groups are misguided and troubled at best and misogynistic abusive assholes at worst. I do not support these groups, endorse messages of hate of any kind, or think that their purpose or their process is conducive to making a better and more equal world for all.

This doesn’t mean that men’s rights is a bullshit movement overall, or even that these inflammatory and hate-filled groups don’t make a valid point on occasion. There are inequalities in our society that disadvantage men and favor women, from certain criminal sentences and incarceration rates to custody agreements and family court perspectives to cultural expectations regarding jobs, family, and self-sufficiency.

These are very real problems facing men throughout Western society, arguably more in the United States than anywhere else, and dismissing these issues shouldn’t be as easy as dismissing the most radical and hate-filled men’s rights groups, either. When you cherry pick your enemies to make your own moral stance stronger, you weaken the logic of your argument and the strength of your position.

Calling all feminists “man haters” has long been a tactic of those opposed to feminism or the perceived feminist movement. It’s an argument that the majority of feminists are, quite rightly, tired of fighting because it is a distraction, a way to invalidate or discount an entire point of view without actually engaging with that opinion.

And yet there is a minority of feminists who really do hate men, and who really do want a society where men are oppressed. Assholes come in all shapes, sizes, sexes, and genders, and there are feminist assholes, too. That’s equality for you. But using this minority of feminists to discount the movement as a whole, or to distract from the real debate, is a bullshit way to engage because it is in no way representative of the movement or the debate.

The same is true when it comes to men’s rights. The most vocal component of the”movement,” such as it is, is the radical component fueled by anger and frustration that is more their own doing than anyone else’s. This is frequently the case with social justice movements of all kinds, especially in their earliest stages. But using this minority of men and men’s rights supporters to discount the movement and debate as a whole is bullshit.

What’s bullshit for the goose is bullshit for the gander. If you think’s men’s rights is total bullshit no matter what, fine—but argue with the fundamental ideas, not the assholes who most inexpertly express them.


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Inequalities Aren’t Interchangeable

Two wrongs don’t make a right. It’s a concept most of us are taught at a young age, and we know it to be true. And for most people in most day-to-day situations, it’s easy to apply this maxim—you don’t slash someone’s tires for pulling into the spot you wanted, or mug a stranger because someone scammed you out of twenty bucks.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, things aren’t so friendly in the social justice world.

Here’s the basic line of reasoning I see frequently used in many specific machinations:

  1. The people who have been dominant in Western society have predominantly been straight white men.
  2. The people responsible for most oppression in Western society have predominantly been straight white men.
  3. Therefore, all straight white men are responsible for oppression in Western society and need to pay the penalty in terms of “privilege checks” and other inequalities

The exact rendering of this logic depends on the context, the particular social justice warrior, and the particular “person(s) of privilege” being addressed—sometimes it’s just a race thing, or a gender thing, or a sexual orientation thing, but often it’s two or even all three of these.

A smattering of the inequalities perpetrated by social justice warriors in the name of righteous retribution include telling (insert “privileged” class here) what they can and can’t wear, eat, listen to (in terms of music), and of course what ideas they are allowed to have and express. This is, of course, a form of oppression—a relatively mild one without (as of yet) many real legislative or policy-bound consequences, but oppression nonetheless. It is a reduction of equal access to the culture and to dialogue, which any civil rights activist can tell you strikes at the very heart of equality.

Yet the “logic” in the social justice world persists: “Because other people who share your skin color/have similar genitalia/enjoy getting frisky with the opposite sex have been oppressors, you will now pay by being oppressed yourself.”

The same logic is also used to justify making sexist jokes or generalizations about men, or racist comments about white people, heterophobic comments about straight people, etc. The type of comments that the social justice brigade thinks is tantamount to a lynching if it’s about an “oppressed” class is funny, true, or both if it’s made about a “privileged” class. “People who look like you are oppressors, so now we can make fun of the way you look,” is essentially how it goes.

Not only is this clearly an instance of trying to make two wrongs into a right, and punishing people for problems they didn’t (in almost all cases) cause, it’s also likely to be counterproductive in terms of ending oppression on all sides, as it only serves to alienate straight and/or white and/or men (except for the legions of parasitic apologists, of course).

Telling someone they’re not entitled to a seat at the table—any table—simply because their sexual orientation or their gender or their race is the same as that of other people who did or do nasty things is oppression, plain and simple. And it doesn’t fix other oppressions, or make up for them.

You can’t achieve equality by trading inequalities, and two wrongs don’t make a right.


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Equality: The Individual and the Institutional

Many discussions of privilege and virtually all exhortations to “check your privilege” come down to a fundamental misunderstanding about what individuals can and can’t do—and do and don’t do—when it comes to perpetuating inequalities.

Racism, sexism, and others forms of discrimination and oppression can be carried out on an individual level, it’s true, and there is a connection between individuals’ discriminatory beliefs/behaviors and the institutional oppression that causes more widespread and practical problems, but check your reality before you go telling anyone to check their privilege.

What Individuals Do, and Can Do, About Inequality

Simply, people should treat other people the same regardless of their gender, race, sexual orientation, etc, etc. That’s it. Don’t tell inappropriate jokes in the wrong context (and I think there is the right context for almost any kind of humor, but we’ll get into that later), don’t make assumptions about people based on unrelated criteria, don’t be mean to people who are different or dismiss their ideas simply because they are different, and so on, and so on.

Basic stuff. Basic stuff that a hefty portion of the population has a problem living up to, but basic stuff nonetheless.

So if you’re hiring someone and you think you might not work well with a candidate because they’re black and you’re white, now is a good time to check your “privilege.” Understand that making this decision based on race automatically gives white people generally, and the white employment candidate in particular, and advantage, recognize that you might have benefited from that advantage, and choose the best candidate regardless of skin color.

In short, don’t be a racist asshole. I think you can manage.

“Privilege” Ignores the Real Institutional Problems

What you can’t do, as an individual, is change the way education is funded to ensure that people of color have the same opportunities to learn and succeed as their white counterparts. You can’t make advertisers stop using photoshopped images of scantily clad women (and men) to sell products (and if you try, you might be “body shaming”…I still haven’t figured this one out). You can’t change the institutional racism, sexism, and others -isms no matter what color your skin, what your genitalia look like or who you like to rub them against, or how you feel on the inside.

When the social justice leage tells people to “check their privilege” simply for joining conversations or stating opinions, what they are saying is, “you are responsible for the widespread institutional racism and sexism in our society, so be quiet and listen to the people you’ve been oppressing.” They’re laying problems that aren’t your fault or in your power to solve at your feet, and telling you that your opinion is invalid until you’ve solved them (which they know as well as you will never happen).

This is, clearly, bullshit.

Don’t be a racist or sexit or homophobic or transgenderist individual. Vote and speak out against institutionally protected racism, sexism, etc. Do these things, because these are real problems that really need to be fixed. But don’t feel invalidated because some racist or sexist or heterophobic asshole tells you to “check your privilege” in a discussion about institutional problems you didn’t cause and can’t single-handedly fix.


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Yes, Sexism Exists, and No, Women Aren’t Above Reproach

This will be a quick one, folks.

Yes, sexism exists. Yes, it can been seen at practically every level of society, and leads to things like the undervaluing of women’s opinions, the undervaluing of work accomplished by women, and a variety of other institutional and personal injustices.

And no, it does not mean that every interaction between a man and a woman is automatically sexist.

We need to fight sexism. We need to point it out and call it out when we see it, we need to work to correct it whenever we have the power, and we need to complain to those with the power to correct it whenever we don’t have that power.

We also need to recognize that women—just like men—can do bad things, perform poorly on a job, fail to contribute effectively to a relationship, be bad parents, etc. The point of feminism is that women are as fully human beings as men are, and that means (in part) they are subject to the same foibles and failures that men are.

In anticipation of the reactions from the social justice community, I am NOT saying men should go around pointing out women’s faults, or that anyone should go around pointing out anyone else’s faults. But there are many types of relationships, both personal and professional, where it is someone’s duty and/or right to discuss another person’s shortcomings. And when it so happens that a man is in a position to critique a woman, the interaction is not automatically sexist.

People of all sexes and genders should treat other people with respect, especially when they are handing out criticism. Men certainly can be sexist when critiquing women, as can women to men (and men to men and women to women, when it comes down to it), but there is a growing position amongst the Internet’s social justice feminists that men, due to their automatically sexist views of women, should refrain from anything but praise in any situation (and even that praise can be sexist, so maybe it’s best to just shut up altogether).

A man who complains about his wife is an asshole. A woman who complains about her husband is commended for her patience in putting up with such an asshole. Either way, the guy’s the asshole and the woman is the victim of a misogynistic system.

A male boss who critiques a female employee’s job performance is as likely to be accused of sexism as he is to be taken at face value, regardless of the female employee’s performance. Again, she is simply the victim of the patriarchy, no matter how badly she screwed up.

This is a bullshit way to see things. It makes women into perpetual victims, excuses subpar performance, and makes men the scapegoats for any unhappiness or lack of advancement/achievement for women.

There are sexist men who disparagingly judge their wives based on misogynistic standards, and pointing that out is great. There are sexist bosses who unfairly judge female job performance and create a host of other issues for female employees, and they should be sued until they change their ways or change positions. But these husbands and bosses are not ubiquitous features of all marriages and businesses, and the assumption to the contrary does everyone a disservice.

Recognizing where sexism exists is important. Recognizing where sexism is absent is equally important. Sometimes criticism, even of a woman and even by a man, is justified, Sometimes people are assholes without sexism entering into it, too (that is, a criticism can be disrespectful and unwarranted and still not be sexist). Be on guard, but be objective, too.


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Opinions are Objectifications…If You’re a Man

Have something positive to say about what a woman’s wearing? You’re objectifying her as a physical/sexual object. Your thoughts are a little more critical? You’re “slut shaming” or “body shaming.”

If you’re a man, you simply should not have an opinion on what any woman wears. Period.

Now, I’m not saying that the objectification/sexualization of women and their apparel isn’t a major problem in our society. It is. And most of the time, comments about what anyone is wearing or how they look, whether positive or negative, are probably inappropriate and unnecessary.

But as much as there’s a double standard when it comes to judging women based on what they wear, there’s a double standard when it comes to judging men based on the thoughts they have.

Seeing—and Judging—Aren’t the Same as Harassing

Let me be perfectly clear: I am not defending any man’s (or woman’s) “right” to tell other people how they should dress, what they should look like, how they should express themselves, how outward they should be in their shows of sexuality or even when clothing becomes overtly sexual. People should be able to dress how they want to dress, be happy with the body they want (whether that means actively trying to change their bodies in healthy ways or being happy just as they are), and be able to walk down the street without hearing anybody else judge them.

That is the ideal, and it is something every decent person in any society should be striving toward.

At the same time, we are human beings. All of us, no matter whether you identify as a man, a woman, both, or neither. Most of us have certain physical qualities we are attracted to, and other qualities we are not attracted to. This typically includes body type and modes of dress. There are many men who like larger and curvier women, and many men who do not. There are women who like hairy men and women who can’t stand them. There are people of all sexes and genders who like seeing a lot of skin, and people of all sexes and genders who are attracted to people who dress more “modestly” (for lack of a better term).

Likewise, we are all part of a culture. Our culture has a huge influence on each of our individual, personal attractions and turn-offs, but more importantly it sets down certain standards of appearance as “normal” and others as “abnormal” or “counter-culture.” In a free and progressive society such as ours, everyone should be free to wear something that is considered “abnormal” or “counter-culture” without fear of harassment and without reprisals when it comes to civil rights, but no one has the right to be found “attractive,” “beautiful,” or even “appropriate” in any style of dress they choose to wear.

You might wear a leather teddy and top hat for a nice Sunday brunch and be a perfectly lovely person, but you should be neither surprised nor upset when other people stare at the cultural statement you’re making (and you are making one, whether or not you meant to). Wear the same outfit to a job interview at a national bank, and there should be no surprise (and no discrimination suit) when you aren’t hired.

Yet men—specifically heterosexual men—are told constantly that it is not OK for them to find a certain body type attractive and another type unattractive, or a certain style of dress appropriate and another inappropriate. If you are more attracted to curvy women then you are to skinny women, or vice versa, you are misogynistically judgmental, and if you express this preference to anyone more “enlightened” than you are you’re body-shaming, as well. If you find a certain style of dress turns you on or matches your expectations for how someone should dress in a given situation while others don’t, you are again an asshole, and if you express this opinion you pretty much deserve to be castrated.

Hypocrite Much?

Imagine telling a gay man that they were “body shaming” some guys by stating an avid sexual preference for another body type. Imagine telling a heterosexual woman that she shouldn’t care about things like body hair, or baldness, or height, all of which are physical qualities many women see as deal-breakers when it comes to selecting a romantic partner.

Crazy, right? People are attracted to the people they are attracted to, plain and simple, and if you tried to tell a woman that she was being misandrystically judgmental for expressing her preference you would either be laughed at or, more likely, labeled a “neckbeard” or other stereotype of uninformed patriarchy-perpetuating asshole.

So why is it OK to tell men that they need to get over body type and style of dress? When we’re speaking purely in terms of aesthetic appreciation and/or sexual attraction, welcome to humanity, where to see is to make certain judgements. Culturally influenced or not, every person judges every other person when they see them, and men seeing women is not in a special class.

Does this excuse men treating women differently in professional settings based on body type? Absolutely not. Should the way Hillary Clinton looks be a subject of conversation amongst “serious journalists”? Absolutely not. Is there a huge imbalance in the way men and women are acted towards based on how they look and what they choose to wear? Absolutely yes.

So let’s fight the real problem: the fact that women are treated differently based on how they look in situations that have nothing to do with physical appearance. Telling men what they should or shouldn’t be attracted to, or that they aren’t allowed to have the same types of opinions on women’s clothing and appearance that women have towards men (and that women have towards women, often to an even higher degree), is ridiculous.

And men (and women), in general, keep your opinions about someone’s physical appearance to yourself. Unless you’re in a situation where it actually matters, you know the person, and know how to give constructive feedback, keep both positive and negative comments to yourself. Chances are the other person doesn’t want to hear them.


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Dreadlocks, Disses, and other Distractions of the Social Justice Movement

I recently lost a friend over a fight about dreadlocks. It wasn’t a question of fashion taste—I don’t have dreadlocks nor did I have a problem with hers—but rather the fact that I was “at least slightly racist” because I think it’s OK for white people to have dreadlocks if they want them and she thinks it isn’t. And because she’s black, she gets to make that decision.

Her reasoning is that dreadlocks originated on slave ships as a result of the inhuman and filthy conditions captured Africans were subjected to on the journey over the Atlantic. Chaining people so close to each other that they didn’t have room to turn over, conditions worse than those afforded to livestock making the same journey, led to the rampant spread of diseases, many deaths, almost unimaginably horrible psychological trauma as a result of being trapped in your own waste and that of your companions and being chained for days or weeks to the rotting corpses of your family.

It also led to the dirt-and-grease-encrusted matted hair that we now call dreadlocks. This hairstyle was re-appropriated, so the story goes, first by slaves in the Caribbean/West Indies and then by other black slaves, former slaves, descendants of slaves, and by blacks generally as a remembrance of slavery and a means of taking ownership of their heritage. The spirit of this appropriation is akin to the long-standing tradition in the LGBT community of turning negative slurs into positive affirmations of identity, most notably with the terms “gay” and “queer,” both of which started as insults by outsiders and are now used to self-identify by members of the community.

Now, there is some debate as to whether or not this history of dreadlocks is entirely accurate; unquestionably, dreadlocks appeared in numerous cultures from around the globe thousands of years before the Atlantic slave trade of the 16th-19th centuries, and can still be seen in many cultures essentially untouched by the United States slave trade. But giving my friend the benefit of the doubt in terms of how dreadlocks came to prominence in our own contemporary culture, I still had some significant problems with her position.First and foremost, equality means equality. In an ideal world, if one group has access to something than all groups should have access to it. There is no mode of expression, style of appearance, hygiene method, etc., that should be seen as morally/ethically correct for one group and otherwise for another group.

We don’t live in an ideal world, I will more than readily admit, and there are instances and situations where enhanced access for marginalized groups can do more to restore equality than mandating equal access. Hairstyle isn’t one of them. A white person wearing dreadlocks does absolutely nothing to promote or perpetuate racism, no matter what their reason for wearing dreadlocks is. Frankly, a black person wearing dreadlocks doesn’t do anything to promote and end to racism, either.

Dreadlocks, like any other involved in semi-standout hairstyle, are a highly personal statement no matter who is wearing them, and getting mad at someone for wearing a symbol with personal meaning is silly. And saying that people of a certain color shouldn’t be “allowed” to use a certain personal symbol in a way that has personal significance to them is, well…racist.

Turn On, Tune In, Cop Out

That isn’t even my big problem with my friend’s stand against dreadlocks on white people, though, nor the reason that she told me to unfriend her before she got around to just unfriending me, instead (passive-aggressiveness in a social justice warrior—unheard of, I know). Though I think she is “at least slightly racist” for her attitude towards white people and how they should be “disallowed” from expressing themselves through the hairstyle of their choice, I think her attitude and the passion behind it are indicative of far larger problems in the online “social justice” movement.

Dreadlocks were simply the latest item in a long and growing list of all-but-inconsequential issues that got my friend’s ire raised on Facebook and Tumblr. Perceived racism in a local bar’s joke about the end of the world as supposedly predicted by the Mayans, the looks she got (or thinks she got) wearing her go-go pants to do her grocery shopping, and privileged straight white men expressing an opinion on pretty much anything—there were the things she directed her activism toward

Strangely absent from the instances of injustice she brought to the attention of her social media followers were such things as the immense disparity in income and wealth between the white and black populations of the United States (or the related disparity in incarceration rates, educational achievement, entrepreneurship, etc.), the dearth of openly homosexual/bisexual/transgendered people in positions of governmental and/or economic/corporate power, the fact that people in many countries are still put to death for engaging in consensual sex with the partner(s) of their choice, and so on.

The real issues of social justice, which are legion, don’t seem to be on her radar at all. If it makes for an easy text-on-picture item to share, or can be boiled down to a two-sentence stance that draws a line of moral black and white (no pun intended) where even a question leads to automatic condemnation, she’s on board; if it requires a bit of research, some real critical thinking, or even worse real action, it’s not worth raising a fuss about.

In a city or country where the proportion of black business owners and black college students is far lower than the proportion of black people in the population as a whole, finding and fighting the root of these problems is way more important than railing against white people wearing dreadlocks, no matter what you think about white people or dreadlocks themselves. The social media form of social justice is training people to turn on, tune in, and cop out when it comes to real activism. You “like” someone’s angry and misinformed status, and your job is done.

What makes this even worse in the case of my friend is that I don’t doubt her sincerity or her capabilities for an instant. She is very active in the various minority communities with which she identifies, including running workshops for teenagers and trying to educate the public on racial and LGBT issues. She does put her beliefs into actions, in other words, but they are still the actions that are easy to take—actions that bring her into confrontation with other people’s ideas about expression and identity instead of the real and practiced prejudice that still exists in institutions throughout the country.

Misguided though I think her stance on dreadlocks is, I would care less about her position if it didn’t come at the expense of highlighting and fighting the real problems of racism that still exist. If she didn’t just focus on the easy, buzz-worthy topics and tried tackling some of the harder things, too. If social justice warriors won’t so distracted by superficial and imagined insults, they might become actually useful in effecting change.

If they’re having any current effect at all, it’s helping to perpetuate the status quo by ensuring the discussion never gets anywhere meaningful.


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Having a Penis Does Not Make Me a Part of Rape Culture

I’m not going to debate whether or not a “rape culture” exists—I don’t think the term is well-defined enough to have that debate, and leaving the term’s subjectivity aside the subjectivity of the evidence makes any debate all but impossible. For the purposes of this post, I will concede that “rape culture” exists insofar as there are rapists and rape victims in our culture, and that their existence permeates many aspects of social life for both men and women.

An article from a penis apologist recently made the social media rounds telling all men that they were a part of rape culture just for being a man. Some men rape women, went this author’s logic, therefore all women are scared of being raped by all men, therefore all men perpetuate rape culture. Breaking this down even more simply, his argument is that because men scare women by their very presence, men are creating rape culture.

If men can scare women merely by their presence, then the reverse corollary is also true: women can be scared by men simply by their presence. Stated this way, women perpetuate rape culture just by being scared of being raped.

So in essence, women are also perpetrators of rape culture. Everyone who participates in any interaction that results in a fear of rape, even if that interaction is as simple as occupying the same parking lot one evening, is contributing to rape culture.

In short, everyone who is part of a culture where fears of rape exist is a part of “rape culture.” In shorter, a culture where rape exists is a rape culture.

If that was actually the point this author was trying to make, that’d be fine. It’s circular reasoning that doesn’t really lead to any substantive new insights or means of addressing or changing rape culture, but at least it’s logically defensible.

The problem is, that isn’t his point at all. His point is that all men are guilty of perpetuating rape culture because some men rape women. He says it point-blank: you are a part of rape culture “because you are a man.” He leaves the reader in suspense as to whether or not women who rape other women or women who rape men (and yes, there are women who do these things) are a part of rape culture. He seems to imply, though he never outright states, that women generally are not a part of rape culture.

But if you have a penis (he does seem to identify maleness with having traditionally male genitalia, though this is not explicitly addressed in his piece), you are a part of rape culture whether or not you’ve ever raped, assaulted, or harassed someone. Whether you are gay, straight, bisexual, or asexual, if you are a man then you scare women and you are part of rape culture.

He even cites facts and figures that would seem to discount his theory, but they don’t dissuade him from his man shaming. He notes that 75% of women who are raped by men knew the men who raped them before the incident. Meaning that fear of the strange man in the parking lot is largely unfounded—not that people shouldn’t be wary in situations when they might be vulnerable, but that the fear of rape by strange men he claims is so pervasive isn’t an accurate reflection of the real risk of rape.

He acknowledges that the vast majority of men do not and would not rape other women (or other men), and says we should be angry at the men who do rape because they give all men a bad name (I think there are better reasons to be mad at men who rape women; he might, too, but he doesn’t say so), and then goes on to say it makes perfect sense for women to be scared of every man they encounter. I agree that women should be vigilant, as should all people in situations where they might be victimized, but I also wonder how much of rape culture is the culture of fear created by the media—including social media—rather than a legitimate concern for safety.

I am not a rapist. I have never attempted to touch someone sexually without permission; I have never even cat-called to a woman across the street. I think that type of behavior is disrespectful and disgusting. If I am a part of rape culture, it is because I am a part of a culture that has becomes obsessed with the fear of rape, whether that fear is justified or not. It isn’t because I have a penis.


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