media

Masculinity Unmasked

Masculinity is defined as the possession of the qualities traditionally associated with men. But, what type of men?

In the documentary The Mask You Live In, director Jennifer Siebel Newsom explores the masculine qualities found in the United States today, asking the viewer to question the harm they are causing to boys. (The film is available online; click here to watch.)  This is Newsom’s second film as part of The Representation Project, following the documentary Miss Representation, looking at depictions of women in the media. Although the discussion and research for The Mask You Live In is focused on the U.S., the film’s message is important to millions of boys and men around the world.

mask_poster_wlaurel-021915_500x745Newsom’s inspiration for making the film came from falling pregnant with her son. In an interview she said,

“It was really important to me that I could nurture a son who could be true to his authentic self, who wouldn’t always feel like he had to prove his masculinity. There’s so much loneliness, pain, and suffering when one is pretending to be someone that they’re not.”

The Mask You Live In resonated with me and my childhood. Each area discussed – sport, relationships, work, etc. – provides opportunities for growth…but also provides opportunities for perpetuating harm. The harm in question is that of patriarchy.

There are three lies about masculinity that every boy learns in America:

  1. We associate masculinity with athletic ability
  2. We associate masculinity with economic success
  3. We associate sexual conquest with masculinity

These three lies pave the foundation for a life of men feeling inadequate.Boys who don’t achieve a fictional level of manliness and are unsupported in alternative achievements live without the self-esteem needed to be happy. As one interviewee notes, “Comparison is the thief of all happiness.” As the film shows, boys and ultimately men struggle to stay true to themselves while negotiating America’s narrow definition of masculinity.

This all starts at a very young age, when boys enter school.

  • 1 in 4 boys report being bullied at school
  • Only 30% of those who are bullied notify adults

(All stats come from the film.)

One of the main reasons for bullying is societies binary view of gender: Men are masculine; Women are feminine. This outdated view of a person’s range of self-identification is framed around femininity being about emotion, relationships, and empathy. Men and masculinity are everything that isn’t these attributes, and any boy who exerts emotion or empathy will be bullied for not adhering to it.

The conservative view of masculinity – one that doesn’t leave room for emotion and relationships between boys – also breeds homophobia. Boys learn very early that if they do anything remotely seen as feminine or loving towards fellow boys that they will be labeled a “sissy” or other sexist language than harms all genders. Society has taught boys that girls are the only one who are free to care about boys.

This inevitably leads to loneliness among boys and men. One way to combat these feelings is to self-medicate, which young men do by taking drugs and alcohol.

  • By age 12, 34% of boys have started drinking
  • The average boy tries drugs at age 13
  • 1 in 4 boys binge drink (consume 5 or more drinks in a row)

These social problems are made worse by society’s inability to let boys talk about their feelings, whether good or bad. In the film, a male teach gets a group of young male students to do an exercise. Each takes a mask. On the front they write what image of masculinity they present to society. On the back they write what they are hiding. This simple exercise gets to the root of so many problems, yet is still difficult to build into a reformed education system.

Until everyone understands the root problems of masculinity, boys and men will continue to experience inadequacy, loneliness and the mental health problems these feelings produce. Ultimately, many will turn to suicide if these problems go untreated.

  • Every day 3 or more boys commit suicide
  • For boys, suicide is the third leading cause of death
  • Fewer than 50% of boys and men with mental health challenges seek help

Even in the small village I grew up, we had a fellow student commit suicide. Many students and adults could not understand why it happened. It’s a shame that the teachers and staff in that school were not better trained to understand the root problems discussed in The Mask I Live In. It may have prevented this needless death and other, unseen pain.

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Rates of suicide in the United States, The Mask You Live In

In the last century, thanks to the fight of the women’s rights movement, girls and women now have greater equality in attaining educational success. Unfortunately, during that same period of time, men in power did little to change the way boys learn. Schools were punishing boys through humiliation, such as by making them write on the board. Rarely did they ask why is this kid acting out. This has meant that boys are under-performing in school, as compared to their female counterparts.

  • Compared to girls, boys are more likely to flunk or drop out of school
  • Compared to girls, boys are: 2 times more likely to be in special education, 3 times more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD, 2 times more likely to be suspended, and 4 times more likely to be expelled

In a world that limits boys’ ability to talk about themselves, most turn inwards and spend their time in solitary activities – many of which spur harmful notions of masculinity.

  • In a week, the average boy spends: 40 hours watching TV, sports, movies; 15 hours playing video games; 2 hours watching porn
  • 31% of males feel addicted to video games
  • 99% of boys play video games
  • 90% of games rated appropriate for children over 10 contain violence
  • 50% of parents don’t monitor ratings
  • The average 18 year old has seen 200,000 acts of violence on screen including 40,000 murders

Even when boys are outside, playing sports and interacting with other boys, they can be prone to the same negative examples of masculinity. Sports encourage play that is violent and competitive. Coaches often act as father figures, which can do an awful lot of good and an awful lot of bad. A coach can instill the same type of homophobic, anti-girl language that recycles through generations of unchanged language.

In the film, when asked “how would you feel if your coach called you a ‘sissy’?” a boy responded that it would “devastate” him. What does this mean for how we teach boys about being a girl.

Sports has the wrong mix of power, dominance, control, moral clarity. A ‘Win at all cost’ culture in sports means winning at the expense of character development. The myth that sports builds character can only become true if coaches teach and model it.

The Mask You Live In documents four male archetypes in media:

  1. Strong silent guy, who is always in control
  2. Superhero character engaging in violence to maintain that control or in order to achieve whatever goal is in front of him
  3. Thug, man of colour, who are pigeon holed into violent roles
  4. Man-child, who is in perpetual adolescence, whose body doesn’t have lots of muscle. He purports masculinity in another way – through degradation of women, engaging in high-risk activities

Media has a definite effect on people’s behavior. If it didn’t, advertising would collapse.

Violence on TV, movies and video games adds to the culture of boys being made to think that ‘real’ men must fight to be respected. There’s a reason the US army trains people using video games. It’s because it gets them used to some of the experiences.

A report on youth violence by the US Surgeon General found that violence in media has the following three effects:

  1. Children may become less sensitive to pain and suffering of others.
  2. Children may be more fearful of the world around them.
  3. Children may be more likely to behave in aggressive or harmful ways toward others.

These same forms of entertainment, combined with pornography, push an agenda of dominate men and submissive women – a fundamental lie of masculinity.

  • 34% of youth online receive unwanted pornographic exposure
  • 93% of boys are exposed to internet porn
  • 68% young men use pornography weekly and 21% of young men use pornography daily
social-isolation

Image from The Mask You Live In

These harmful portrayals of both men and women can be overcome through reasoned sex education. Unfortunately, many parent in the United States are opposed to this, due largely to conservative views about talking openly about one’s sexuality and alternatives of sexual identity.

  • Only 22 states require public schools teach sex education

Because of shame around sexuality, porn is sex education for most people. Without sex education in the school and with silent parents at home, many boys turn to their computers for guidance, with terrible consequences. The internet provides “excess in social isolation”.

  • 83% of boys have seen group sex online
  • 39% of boys have seen bondage online
  • 18% of boys have seen rape online
  • Exposure to pornography increases sexual aggression by 22% and increases the acceptance of rape myths (that women desire sexual violence) by 31%

Boys are being conditioned towards violence.

By the time boys reach puberty, society has implanted the worst forms of masculinity, through school systems that allow bullying and punish expression; through media and sports that promote violence. Porn then teaches boys “what women want and how men are supposed to perform”. Both of those are wrong. It’s difficult to think, but “rapists are being produced by our culture”.

Researcher in the film call this the Great Set-Up: “We raise boys to become men whose very identity is based on rejecting the feminine and then we are surprised when they don’t see women as being fully human”. So we set boys up to grow into men who disrespect women at a fundamental level and then we wonder why we have the culture that we have.

Boys enter their teenage years being told that “A man is always supposed to be on the prowl” or “I’d like to hit that” or “I’d like a piece of that” or “I’d like to tear that shit up”. In all of these cases the woman (or sometimes man) is an object, an “it” or “that”. And violence – “hit”, “tear” – is the means to the sexual end. This teaches boys not to see the humanity in girls and leads to a culture of sexual violence against women. Young men are then sent to universities with toxic ideas of sex and sexual expression.

  • Every 9 seconds a woman is beaten or assaulted
  • 35% of male college students indicated some likelihood of raping if they knew they could get away with it
  • 1 in 5 female college students is the victim of an attempted or completed sexual assault

Young men on university campuses represent a recipe for failure: 18 year-olds desperate to prove their masculinity to 19 year-olds. Campus environments provide two things for young men: horizontal solidarity by bonding with your ‘bros’ (hooking up, initiations, hazing); and the feeling that girls can’t do these things (hierarchy – men are superior to women).

The Mask You Live In notes a unique ‘code of silence’ found in American society. This is the conflict between the heart that wants to the right things, and the head that has been conditioned to do the opposite. This is the fear that many men have that prevent them from acting ethically and continues the ‘male peer culture’.

“Choice is rooted in our privilege.”

Not only is sexual violence perpetuated by men, mostly, it attacks both women and men, girls and boys. The culture of silence that our society has instilled into boys prevents them from seeking the medical and mental health services to overcome these violent crimes.

  • Over half of all boys are physically abused
  • 1 in 6 boys is sexually abused
  • Abused and neglected children are 9 times more likely to be involved in crime

America is unique for its culture of guns. These guns are the weapons of choice for many boys and men who seek suicide as an end to their pain – an end with immediate resolve. The films summarizes this as: “Whether its homicidal violence or suicidal violence, people resort to such desperate behavior only when feeling overwhelmed by shame and humiliation.”

“While we as good men don’t perpetrate the violence, we are part of the collective socialization.” Men and the culture that works against progress are the fertile ground that’s required for the violence to exist.

  • Every hour more than 3 people are killed by a gun. That’s over 30,000 lives annually
  • 90% of homicide perpetrators are male. Almost 50% are under 25

The male role belief system is a recipe for violence: Men are defined as superior, women are defined as inferior. And to be a real man, you also dominate other men. Respect is linked to violence. These notions and all that was explored above collectively explain the level of violence that remains in society, as well as the phenomenon of ‘mass killings’ in America.

  • Mass homicides (where 4 or more people are killed) occur on average every 2 weeks
  • 94% of mass homicides are committed by males
  • The youngest mass shooter was 11
  • The rate of mass shooting has tripled since 2011
  • And there has been almost 1 school shooting per week since Sandy Hook
mass-killings-in-the-us

Mass killings across the United States, The Mask You Live In

 

At its core, The Mask You Live In creates a dialogue between healthy and unhealthy ways to define manhood. These dialogues have for far too long been absent from education institutions and the wider society but are slowly being openly discussed. Debates among men are addressing many long-standing problems, such as ‘aggrieved entitlement,’ where men in positions of power feeling entitled to power and that they’re not getting that power anymore.

The Men’s Rights Movements sees the end result of patriarchy – suicide violence, depression, rape against men – and feels that its the result of women’s liberation without understanding where the struggle really lies. Until men understand that the system that produces inequality between genders (as well as racism, homophobia and other discrimination) is harmful to others as much as it is to themselves, men will never be free.

The liberation of men and boys is inextricably linked to the fight by women and girls against patriarchy. The language and actions of men towards boys must start with peace and respect. Violence can not be condoned in any form; language that assists violence must be countered in every instance. Homophobia must be challenges alongside recognition that all males have the right to be feminine, irrespective of their sexual orientation.

The coming revolution in mental health will help boys open up and discuss their needs with other boys, who were also sitting silent with the same concerns. Parents should take the opportunity to encourage their children to challenge the harmful masculine and feminine stereotypes in society through their words and actions. Individual action is not enough; a new society needs to be created.

Everyone deserves to feel whole. Starting the process of talking about these issues, as early as possible, for both boys and girls, is essential for future improvements to solving society’s problems. Talking across gender line is needed at all ages.

Each of us can do our part in expanding what it means to be a man for ourselves and the boys in our lives.

Watching The Mask You Live In is a good place to start and should be required viewing in all classrooms.

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Down With The Royals, Up With Democracy

Pandas and royal persons alike are expensive to conserve and ill-adapted to any modern environment.

This comparison of British royals to zoological specimens by novelist Hilary Mantel is but one of many ideas presented in Joan Smith’s book, Down With The Royals.

Down With The Royals by Joan Smith Biteback Publishing, 120 pp.

Down With The Royals
by Joan Smith
Biteback Publishing, 120 pp.

In three parts, Smith dissects the arguments for maintaining the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the arguments in favor of moving towards a republic.

A public debate on the issue is nearly impossible as the media exaggerates the royal family’s popularity. There are royal correspondents who spend their entire day finding the smallest detail to report on TV and in the press; this is also at the expense of important global affairs. On the other hand, contrasting views are belittled. When the organisation Republic holds a rally, attendance is restricting and under-reported in the news.

Fundamentally, a hereditary monarchy, Smith points out, is undemocratic, expensive and unaccountable.

Long ago, King George III made a deal with the government after racking up huge debt. The royal family would receive a fixed annual salary and have their debts removed, in exchange for handing over the rents from their crown land to government. Today, this results in the royal family receiving an salary of £40 million each year. The revenue from crown land is around £200 million. So, it seems like the Parliament is making a profit.

However, the true costs are hidden. “One significant element that doesn’t appear in the official estimates is the cost of providing security for numerous members of the British royal family, along with the bill for royal visits.” The cost of royal security is estimated at £100 million. Adding other costs, the actual cost of maintaining the royals is closer to £300 million. Equally important is the fact that the royal family doesn’t publish full accounts and leaves out the most expensive elements, like security. This royals are costing taxpayers tens of millions of pounds each year, far more than any of the other remaining royal families left in the world, such as Sweden or Denmark.

The royal family isn’t a good caretaker either, allowing important heritage properties fall into disrepair. Almost 40 percent of the royal estate’s building were not in an ‘acceptable’ condition in 2012, according to the House of Commons public accounts committee.

But what about tourism, defenders of the monarchy may shout. This is another myth that royalists spread.

Smith shows that rates of tourism have no connection to Royal events like weddings or births. In fact, the evidence points to a decline in tourism during years of major events. This makes sense when you think about it. How many Europeans and international tourists plan their vacations to coincide with the one or two days a year when the royal family is out in public celebrating a wedding or birth. Tourism, like in France and the US, does not rely on having a king or queen living in a royal palace when you arrive.

The final claim by royalists that Smith dissolves is that the Queen and her family remain neutral when it comes to ruling the country and influences government. This is another myth to be undone.

From supporting Fascist Germany to Apartheid South Africa in the past to repressive regimes in Saudi Arabia and Qatar today, the royal family has a long history of supporting regimes for their own self interest. Their partisan views have been spun by the media out of public debate, but friends of the royals have confirmed that they are ‘natural-born Tories’.

The Queen as head of state holds and uses the power of veto over government legislation. Whitehall papers show that overall at least 39 bills have been subject to this process, known as “Queen’s consent” or “Prince’s consent”. We don’t know how many bills have been amended or vetoed altogether before reaching Parliament. Prince Charles, heir to the throne, is known for his meetings with high-ranking government officials and memos; all of which are kept secret and away from public scrutiny.

Queen Elizabeth II is also the Head of the Commonwealth, an organisation with a combined population of 2.1 billion people, yet her role is neither elected nor subject to a fixed term. 16 nations, including my own (Canada), count Queen Elizabeth as their head of state. This relic of the British empire and its colonies and territories is entirely at odds with current notions of democracy and human rights. The export of parliamentary democracy and common law to these nations and others continues to face outdated problems, such as ‘first past the post’ voting and anti-homosexuality legislation. How can one family and one person have so much power, in perpetuity?

In every area of modern society, the royal family is long overdue for a replacement. They are a drain on taxpayers money. They have ruled for over 1,000 years without any say from the people. They ally themselves with repressive regimes and influence British legislation. And they use the media as a shield against public debate and any means of accountability. On every issue, the royalists are living a fairy tale.

God save the Queen? Hardly, as Smith concludes:

In the twenty-first century, we shouldn’t still be imploring an imaginary deity to save an inherited head of state. If we can only find the courage, we are perfectly capable of saving ourselves.

The Powerful Need to Invalidate Social Movements

tumblr_mu4239ywbb1r0cemdo1_500As a white man, I rank very high on the ladder of privilege. My skin color and my gender are just two aspects of my identity, which have been prioritized by Western society for centuries. I also benefit everyday from my sexual orientation (heterosexual), my nationality (Canadian), my level of education (two university degrees), my mother tongue (English), my lack of disability (whether physical or psychological) and my age (28). It took me some time to understand this but now I know that, in almost every aspect of my identity, I have immense privilege, which many do not. Unfortunately, many people don’t see it that way. Many people with a similar attributes to myself have not realized their privilege and fight against any evidence to that effect.

The two cases examined below show this backlash and are similar for a number of reasons. First, they are social movements fighting inequality in society – one on the basis of race, the other on gender. Second, they both utilize the Internet and social media as tools for communication and organizing, including Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook. Third, both have been met with criticism from privileged people outside their movements trying to invalidate their message. This point has far-reaching importance as invalidation by outsiders can be found across nearly all social movements and includes acts of denial, shame, ignorance and faux compassion. Fourth, they are largely centered in North America and Europe. Finally, each of the two cases below shows the difference in understanding between outsiders with a cursory understanding of the field they are questions and academics who rebut them.

#BlackLivesMatter

“Because of the brutalizing and killing of black people at the hands of the police and the indifference of society in general and the criminal justice system in particular, it is important that we say that…”

Black Lives Matter.

This explanation of what is implied by the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement comes from a law professor responding to complaint from a first-year student. The student (or possibly, students) had been so offended by the professor wearing a BLM shirt that they wrote a two-page complaint. The letter said wearing the shirt was “inappropriate” and “highly offensive.” Further, it said “we do not spend three years of our lives and tens of thousands of dollars to be subjected to indoctrination or personal opinions of our professors,” and urged the professor to avoid “mindless actions” that might distract students at a law school where not everyone is passing the bar.

The professor, Patricia Leary of Whittier Law School, responded. She wrote an impassioned and thoughtful response. (The full exchange can be found here.) Professor Leary unpacks many of the student’s premises, such as whether tuition allows students to make demands on their education and institution, in her six-page response. The ones I found helpful specifically addressed the student’s claims that the BLM statement “is racist and anti-law enforcement”. These thoughts, held by many Americans, have resulted in counter movements, the so-called “All Lives Matter” and “Blue Lives Matter” slogans.

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Following BLM, whites and pro-police groups came out with their own thoughts on which “Lives Matter”.

Black Lives Matter (BLM) originated in 2013 as a hashtag on social media, campaigning against violence and systemic racism toward black people. It has now grown into a global movement. The BLM movement is addressing the long history of police violence against African Americans and raising consciousness through protests. Law enforcement in the United States has a racial bias, as evidenced by the Guardian’s database on police killings and stories in their series The Counted. Blacks are killed more often than whites. Other minority groups, Native Americans and Latinos, also face higher rates of police violence than whites.

killings_2015

Americans killed by police in 2015.

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Americans killed by police in 2016, as of October.

These statistics hide the stories of men and women shot by police and often killed. Stories like the shooting of unarmed people, like Charles Kinsey, who had his hands up and said he was unarmed when Miami police marksmen opened fire this year, or Oscar Grant, who was killed on New Year’s Day 2009 after being shot in the back while lying on the ground face down and handcuffed. These incidents were filmed, preventing the police from disputing the facts. In other cases of death by shooting, like Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, the police officers who acted were found to have previous incidents of excessive force. Often these police receive little to no punishment, which sparks anger within the American American community.

These recent cases, following the history of slavery and racial segregation, are what many white people, including the anonymous student, are trying to invalidate. As Leary explains,

“Black Lives Matter is about focus, not exclusion.”

This is the core misunderstanding of people, like the anonymous student, who attack social movements. BLM is focusing on a problem. It doesn’t exclude anyone from debating the issue. It is not only Black Lives Matter, but, rather, Black Lives Matter too.

A focus on racial profiling and racial inequality in the United States criminal justice system (which I’ve previously written about), in addition to police brutality, are important human rights problems in the U.S. Discussions on police violence often intersect with disability and poverty, which also go ignored by many.

not-in-serviceSaying “Blue Lives Matter” does nothing to address police brutality. It is an attempt to deny the claims of the BLM and replace them with equal footing for police officers. In the cases noted above, where they were unarmed, victims were shot regardless of the threat they posed to police officers. This is a serious problem, found across the U.S. and needs to be addressed, not ignored.

Similarly, saying “All Lives Matter” is a denial of the history of racial inequality and its results. Rather than listening to victims and researching their claims, many white people will go on the defensive saying things like “You’re not the only ones.” Yes, white people are killed by police, although at a much lower proportion than minority groups. Rather than addressing this problem, which affects everyone, people who shout “All Lives Matter” are attacking the one actually doing something about it, namely the BLM movement.

Who Needs Feminism?

While studying in the UK last year, I heard about a conference on the issue’s affecting women. As someone new to the area and hoping to help create change, I was hoping to attend. Unfortunately, they were excluding men from applying.

At first, I took offense. Shouldn’t I be able to attend? Don’t my opinions and voice matter? I was wrong on both counts. Men should never dictate what women can discuss, or who can attend such discussions.

Like the case of Professor Leary and the anonymous student above, many men (and women too) will think their voices are being discriminated against in situations where women discuss issues that affect them. This is epitomized by the Men’s Rights Movement (MRM) and online debates.

On social media, people have expressed their solidarity with women’s rights and issues with hashtags like #YesAllWomen and #HeForShe. They also posted photos of themselves with statements starting with “I need feminism because …”.

This was countered by people on social media, like Facebook group Women Against Feminism, who wanted to show why they “don’t need feminism”.

Rather than seeing the first group’s grievances and saying, “Yes, there’s a problem with gender as it is today, and we must fix it, we must do better”, as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie suggests, the second group denies their claims and feels feminism is the problem. Many of the anti-feminists claims do not match what is found in reasearch, as Lisa Cumming points out. Men and women don’t have the same rights and opportunities. The suffragette movement, which was the first wave of feminism and led to women’s right to vote, is just one example of this inequality and why feminism matters.

In a large number of cases, these posts attack feminist’s character rather than the issues. When they do discuss issues, the anti-feminists question why men aren’t talked about more by feminists, since they’re 50 percent of the population.

This is exactly what happened when Lauren Southern, an online commentator for The Rebel, a Canadian media platform, posted a “I Don’t Need Feminism” video on YouTube. Lauren argues points familiar to the MRM, including male suicide, sexual assault against men and custody of children. In fact, these are the three issues that are repeated ad infinitum by MRM proponents. These three concerns are, unsurprisingly, discussed by feminist writers as well.

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In a reply to Lauren’s video, Jenna Christian addresses each claim in detail. Jenna notes that “feminism helps us understand and confront not only the violences and inequalities facing women, but also the problems facing men.” On whether feminism is sexist, Jenna responds that “there are real and serious inequalities that continue to face women, and it is not unreasonable or sexist for a movement for gender equality to focus primarily on those problems” (emphasis added). This is very much in line with the idea of exclusion that I’ve been talking about and how many outsiders may feel.

On male suicide, male workplace deaths, male combat deaths, and male homicide deaths: “feminists demonstrate how norms of femininity and masculinity entrench ideas about appropriate male and appropriate female behavior, which deeply shape the conditions of these male deaths.” Through many examples and references, Jenna goes on to explain how feminist theories help to explain domestic violence against men, men raped in prison, male privilege, child custody following divorce, and the other critiques by Lauren. In all, it provides a successful rebuttal.

Jenna and Lauren decided to continue their online discussion. Jenna provided a prompt looking at the devaluation of femininity. Lauren provided a second video, adding points on income inequality, which Jenna addressed. The conversation didn’t move any further.

One point which is very telling is that Lauren, in her second video, states that Jenna provided “no proof that feminists speak for men’s issues”. This is strange since Jenna has two posts before filled with citations of feminists speaking on men’s issues. It’s unclear if Lauren even read the critiques of her video. (It’s also important to note that the media platform that Lauren works for and that hosted her video is staunchly anti-feminist. Rebel Media, among other views against basic human rights, denies all claims made by the trans* community and denies that there is anything apart from a men/women binary.)

I find this exchange between Jenna and Lauren interesting for two main reasons. It’s interesting that two women are discussing issues related to men. It’s interesting not because they can’t discuss men’s issues. It’s actually the opposite. Women can research the problems of men. And men can research the problems women. Or more simply, everyone can research gender.

The cognitive dissonance within the MRM and anti-feminist media is important to note. On the one hand, MRM proponents will deride anyone who undertakes gender studies, saying that they really should have studied in the heavily male-dominated fields of STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) so they can get a job. Then, on the other hand, those same people will criticise gender studies for a (perceived) lack of inclusion of the issues that affect males but not encouraging men to switch from STEM to gender studies to research said issues. It’s as though they want the gears of industry to keep on turning while never questioning the struggles of the people who turn those gears every single day. It’s really hypocritical.

x_lon_polandabortion_161003-nbcnews-ux-1080-600The other reason I find it interesting is that anti-feminists seem to have a small worldview and a short memory. It wasn’t long ago when women, in North America and Europe, couldn’t vote, hold public office, attend university or own land. These victories were just some of the advancements in the process for equality. A process that continues today.

People opposed to feminism and women’s liberation also seem to ignore the news, because there are plenty of countries where it’s needed. Recently, the people of Poland have protested in the streets against the government’s planned reproductive rights laws that would limit abortion. Poland already has extreme laws that force many women to undergo illegal abortions that risk their lives. The protests worked, forcing the government to back down.

Following the release of a damning Human Rights Watch report in July, the hashtag #IAmMyOwnGuardian went viral in Saudi Arabia, with women of all ages tweeting for a change to the system. An unprecedented petition calling for an end to the male guardianship system in Saudi Arabia has been put before the kingdom’s government after gaining over 14,000 signatures.

Who needs feminism?

Everyone.

Further Implications

When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.

Instances of people rallying against BLM or feminism are useful in understanding privilege in society. To understand white privilege, it’s important for whites to unpack their invisible knapsack and understand the historical context of racial inequality. Women and men opposed to feminism should look at what feminists actually say. They might be surprised by what they find (and how much of it agrees with what they are concerned about). These two cases are useful in addressing other social movements and the invalidation that outsiders thrust upon them.

In the fight for marriage equality and adoption for same-sex couples, campaigners have been countered by religious conservatives, who play the victim and say homosexual marriage is an affront to ‘traditional’ marriage. Marriage is a social construct that has changed over time and excluding same-sex couples is hurtful. Religious groups also say that “kids do best with a mom and a dad” while ignoring the plight of orphans or abused children within heterosexual couples. Opponents do not see homosexuals as their equals and seek to punish them for this belief.

Both of these issues for same-sex couples played out in Mexico last month. Thousands of people in Mexico City have protested against a government proposal to legalise same-sex marriage, which they say would undermine traditional families. Opponents to the change in constitution also believe that reforms will make room for same-sex adoption (currently illegal in Mexico). A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Mexico City has said that President Peña Nieto’s proposals felt like a “terrible stab in the back” to the Catholic hierarchy with whom he had previously had a good relationship.

A similar backlash occurred in the U.S. before the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage, where evangelicals needed to hear some hard truths: “No one is going to make you be gay. Preachers will not be forced to marry gay people. It will not become illegal to be a Christian. God isn’t going to destroy America.” I’m sure the same will hold true for Mexico and the rest of the world.

The notion of invalidation can apply to international issues as well. When in comes to global poverty and the obligation of wealthier nations to provide foreign aid, many people will say that politicians should “helping those here” first. Following flooding in the United Kingdom, politicians and the press used the opportunity to attack foreign aid. Similarly, opponents of foreign aid also oppose providing sanctuary for refugees and victims of war on similar grounds. It’s difficult to see why no one has responded by asking: “Why not do both?”

In these cases – All Lives Matter, Men’s Rights, traditional marriage, etc. – there is a trend in defending the status quo. The powerful sections of society – commonly, rich white men – attack anyone who questions their power, rather than addressing the inequality that results from their ingrained privilege. They use conservative elements of media, government, business and religion to help fight their cause. As shown above, people in the public also help fight against their own causes. They push back against racial, gender and sexual equity. They also push back against notions of compassion for the impoverished and victims of war.

Racial justice movements, like BLM, question the police and criminal justice system that has evolved from slavery and racial segregation. Feminists have also campaigned against the violence of police and the military, as well as economic inequality, political representation and reproductive rights. Same-sex marriage is opposed by orthodox religion and also acts to question its moral supremacy. Intersectionality brings these discussions of race, gender and sexuality together, along with age, disability, colonialism, language and more.

Let’s hope that everyone can join together to fight for social justice and equity.

Finally, “All Houses Matter”:

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A Theory on the Conspiracy Theory

In my early years of undergraduate, conspiracy_theory_1672775I got swept up (like many impressionable youths at that age) into the subject of conspiracy theories! It’s a somewhat embarrassing admission, but I have learned a lot, looking back now. So, I’d like to take a moment and share some reflections.

First off, a bit of hard science.

Within the Scientific Method, a theory is the end point following observation, questioning and testing hypotheses. A theory is the hallmark of scientific inquiry and defined as:

A supposition or a system of ideas intended to explain something, especially one based on general principle independent of the thing to be explained.

Theories that follow this include the theory of gravity, the theory of evolution (versus the belief in intelligent design) and the theory of a heliocentric solar system.

On the other side of scientific reason is beliefs – those ideas that are or can not be proven with rigor. A conspiracy theory is one such example, as the Oxford English Dictionary defines it as:

A belief that some covert but influential organization is responsible for an unexplained event.

The key word in that definition is belief, an idea accepted without proof. Something very counter to science, or the scientific method of explanation.

‘Truth’ versus Storytelling

You probably have heard of some conspiracy theories in your life. There is the JFK assassination, fluoride in the water, 9/11 being an inside job, and more.

You may have laughed at some of the more outlandish tales, like the one about world leaders being lizards, half-lizard hybrids, or something like that! It can change from day-to-day.

One of the most famous conspiracy theories is the one about the moon landing being faked. Some supposed evidence might be people saying “we didn’t have the technology” or “it was all a show to scare the Russians” or that “it was filmed in a studio in the Nevada desert”.

My theory on what is happening, why the public believes these stories, is a mixture of two parts.

The first part is some truth, or facts.

JFK was assassinated (sadly). The photos and film of the moon landings were of poor quality. Powerful people have closed-door meetings, usually without public record.

These things are true. But they are only a small part – say, 5 percent – of what is going on.

The other 95 percent is storytelling – a 95:5 split. People telling compelling stories to fill in the gap and, more dangerous, to sell their agenda.

The problem is people making up claims – usually without any scientific background – and spreading them as truth. They get repeated, again and again, with the original source becomes forgotten.

I’ll explain more by describing two examples. But before then, I have one more definition.

Different in meaning but similar in wording are plain, old conspiracies (without the theory part). A conspiracy is:

A secret plan by a group to do something unlawful or harmful.

The key to this definition is causation. There is a link between a group’s secret plan and the harm that is causes to society.

True Conspiracies

Take the example of the General Motors streetcar conspiracy.

It was a case where General Motors (selling buses), Firestone (selling tires), Standard Oil (selling fuel) and other companies bought up streetcar lines in 25 American cities, discontinued service, ripped up rail lines and replaced the system with buses, fueling profits for all those involved. The first thing you should notice about this description is how boring it is – that’s because it’s based on fact and not a captivating story. I still find it interesting, nonetheless.

Convictions occurred in 1949 to the parties involved for conspiracy to monopolize commerce. They were acquitted of conspiracy to monopolize transit. This case was also hinted at in the film Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

Apart for the illegality of it, this case also caused harm to the planet by pushing a fossil fuel agenda and by forcing governments to have a costlier, more complicated city transit system than the electric system it replaced.

‘True’ Conspiracies involve investigation, identifying parties and, if needed, prosecuting any wrongdoing. They usually show up in the press over a day or week and then go away or into the history books. They rarely get questioned over time – like the JFK shooting. Why? Because all the facts are already known, made public or go to court.

Some aspects are unknown because some things may stay confidential, but this is the minority of information and not the greatest. They might be classified by a government or happen behind board rooms.

Another great example of something approaching a conspiracy is the concentration of media ownership. The major harm that this type of control has on a society is its ability to exercise unrestricted journalism, a true free press.

Rather than explaining it in detail, I will suggest you watch the 1998 Robert Smigel animated short film “Conspiracy Theory Rock” (video below), part of a March 1998 “TV Funhouse” segment.

It was removed from all subsequent airings of the Saturday Night Live episode where it originally appeared. Michaels claimed the edit was done because it “wasn’t funny”. The film is a scathing critique of corporate media ownership, including NBC’s ownership by General Electric/Westinghouse.

So What?

I think it’s important to talk about this issue for two major reasons.

Maxistentialism-Philosophy-Poster-2On one hand, the public’s scientific literacy is lower than it could be, leading many to belief the pseudoscience and false prophecies that grand orators are presenting to them. I find the quote one the right by Aristotle very powerful in this regard.

Another reason these topics need to be talked about in the public discourse is that they continue to reappear. For example, the Global Surveillance Disclosures brought to light by Edward Snowden and others. Governments are making agreements with one another and with major technology corporations to gain control of our personal information. While the debate on legality is going on, one thing that’s for certain is that it is harmful to a nation’s basic ideals of the right to privacy and free speech if the government can spy without warrant or some type of check and balance.

The two films Citizenfour and Terms and Conditions May Apply are great sources which shed more light on these matters.

I can call my claim a theory after many years of observation, testing the claims of others against what the science says and reflecting as an outsider. I feel that is it replicable to may instances but am open to feedback.

That’s my theory. I’ll let you decide if it’s true or not.

P.S.

Question everything!

Even those people who are also asking questions.

Update

It looks like Western Canada is more uneducated on these things than I previously thought!

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