White women and Trump.

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Photo from “9 Women on Why They’re (Still) Voting for Trump,” New York Magazine

53% of white women voted for Trump.

In the circles I run in, there was tons of coverage and discussion about the myriad comments Trump has made over the years that many of us consider blatantly sexist. When the Hollywood Access tape came out, I took (and still take) his comments as an admission of sexual predation, a topic that means a great deal to me. I was already a #NeverTrump conservative, but the Hollywood Access tapes made it much more difficult for me to understand how people of good conscience, especially women, could vote for this man.

My feed started to include articles such as The Atlantic’s “The Revolt of the Conservative Woman” and viral tweets from conservative women feeling betrayed by their party’s defense of Trump. Between his apparent gross disrespect of women and the opportunity to elect the first female president, I thought women would vote in droves for Clinton and against Trump. Article’s like FiveThirtyEight’s “Women are Defeating Donald Trump” seemed to think so too.

But clearly I was missing some major parts of the puzzle. (Apparently a lot of us were, including the pollsters.) As Walker pointed out recently, Trump’s support among (all, not just white) women was only slightly lower than the average for Republican presidential candidates since 2000 (42% compared to an average of 44.2%). Clinton’s support among women was exactly average for the Democratic presidential candidates since 2000 (54%). Women weren’t driven to the polls to vote against Trump or for Clinton—overall turnout among women was only 1% higher than in 2012.

So what happened? What pieces of the puzzle was I missing, that women were neither particularly repelled by Trump nor particularly inspired by Clinton?

 

Maybe it was bigotry.

Predictably, some of my leftist friends think the missing puzzle pieces are racism and (internalized) sexism. I’ve seen repostings of LV Anderson’s piece at Slate (“White Women Sold Out the Sisterhood and the World by Voting for Trump”), which is filled with explanations like this:

What leads a woman to vote for a man who has made it very clear that he believes she is subhuman? Self-loathing. Hypocrisy. And, of course, a racist view of the world that privileges white supremacy over every other issue.

Sarah Ruiz-Grossman at Huffington Post authored a letter to white women that started with “Fellow white women, I’m done with you.” In sync with a lot of the commentary I’ve read, it showed no curiosity as to the perspectives, hopes, fears, or values of millions of women that led them to vote for Trump (or at least not vote for Clinton). Instead, and again, it simply told them what they didn’t care about, what their moral failings were, and what they must do now.

While I appreciate the frustration, I think this approach is an awful strategy. Lambasting people, especially conservatives, for bigotry has not been terribly effective at changing their minds (or votes). Berating the other side seems to mostly get them to tune out entirely when the inevitable accusations of prejudice begin. And the rampant shaming of Trump supporters clearly did nothing to dissuade them throughout the primaries (when shaming was coming from conservatives and liberals alike) or the rest of the election. Why would it work now, when they’ve won? They have less reason than ever to be concerned about the opinions of people who show no understanding of their perspectives or interest in their wellbeing.

But it’s not just that I think accusing people of bigotry is poor strategy; I think it’s poor reasoning too. In this post I go through three theories of how voting for Trump was bigoted and explain whether I think those theories make sense.

 

Theory 1 – Internalized sexists: women voted for Trump instead of Clinton because they are sexist against female candidates.

How Trump measured against Clinton is a major factor. The pantsuit nation adored Clinton, of course, so for them this was no contest at all. But we aren’t looking into what HRC’s biggest fans thought; we’re exploring the millions of women who disagreed.

It’s not that everyone who voted for Trump thought he was wonderful: exit polls show that 20% of people who voted for Trump had an overall unfavorable opinion of him. Nearly a quarter of Trump voters said he wasn’t qualified for or did not have the temperament to be president, and a full 17% of people who voted for Trump to be President said they would be “concerned” if he were elected!

But 28% of Trump voters said they chose him mainly because they disliked Clinton. Trump received about 60M votes, which would mean about 17M cast their votes primarily as a vote against Clinton. Along the same lines, while voter turnout for Trump was slightly lower than it had been for Romney, voter turnout for Clinton was much lower than it had been for Obama.

Some will argue that these numbers show sexism: people so rejected the idea of a female leader they either stayed home or voted for someone they despised just to stop Clinton. Actually women get accused of sexism no matter which way they vote: Women who backed Clinton are accused of bias, just “voting with their vaginas,” and the rest of us are accused of not voting for her because we’re misogynists. It’s a lose-lose.

But these theories ignore the fact that women don’t generally vote based on gender, and gender stereotypes end up being less relevant than party affiliation in voting decisions. In other words, we vote based on political positions. The reality is that most of the women voting for or against Clinton did so based on a variety of competing concerns and priorities, just as most men choose their candidates.

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CNN reported that millennial women in particular “rejected the notion that gender should be a factor in their vote.” As FiveThirtyEight put it:

Clinton’s stunning loss Tuesday night showed that issues of culture and class mattered more to many American women than their gender. The sisterhood, as real sisterhood tends to be, turned out to be riddled with complications.

On average, for the last 5 presidential elections, 89% of Democrats chose the Democratic nominee and 91.4% of Republicans chose the Republican. Last week 89% of Democrats chose Clinton and 90% of Republicans chose Trump. If internalized sexism were a major factor in terms of female nominees, we’d expect 2016 to show a drop in Democrats voting for the Democrat (as internally sexist Democratic women abandoned Clinton) and perhaps even a jump in Republicans voting for the Republican (as internally sexist Republican women were motivated to stop Clinton). But there was no such change.

Similarly, if internalized sexism was a major factor we’d expect Clinton to get a lower proportion of women’s votes compared to previous Democratic nominees. Yet, as mentioned above, she got exactly the average proportion of women Democratic nominees have had in the last five presidential races. Or, if we’re operating under the idea that only conservatives can be bigots, we’d at least expect a higher proportion of women to vote for Trump in order to stop Clinton. Yet Trump got just slightly less than the average proportion of women Republican nominees have had for the last five races.

If anything, these stats suggest women weren’t influenced by gender at all.

 

Theory 2 – Indifference to sexism: women cared more about party lines than taking a stand against Trump’s misogyny.

There are several assumptions embedded in this line of thinking: (A) The women who voted for Trump accessed the same information we did about him. (B) When they assessed that information, they came to the same conclusions we did about the degree of Trump’s misogyny. (C) There was nothing else in the balance for them in this election that could have meant more to them than Trump’s misogyny.

2a. Trump voters were likely accessing different information.
Hopefully it’s not a secret that conservatives and liberals consume different media. I wish I had time to do an entire blog post on how drastically this impacts our views of each other and of our political landscape. But the main point is we should be very careful when assuming that everyone else—especially people that run in different social circles and already hold different perspectives—“knows” the same “truths” we know. Which stories get reported and how they’re described varies a lot, and sadly, at least in my experience, most people don’t look for sources from worldviews they don’t hold. Or, if they do, it’s not in an attempt to observe and understand, but to feel outraged and argue.

So when John Oliver does a witty, biting piece on “making Donald Drumpf again” and you see it reposted over and over, that doesn’t mean everyone saw it. The people who already hated Trump were a lot more likely to see it than anyone else. Late night comedy is, after all, a bastion of liberal derision.

Pictured: Echo Chamber with John Oliver
Pictured: Echo Chamber with John Oliver

2b. Trump voters were likely interpreting information in different ways.
That’s not to suggest Trump supporters were wholly unaware of criticisms against him. I think it’s unlikely, for example, that many Trump supporters didn’t at least hear about the Hollywood Access recording. But the context in which conservatives in general, and enthusiastic Trump supporters specifically, interpreted that was often quite different than how leftists saw it.

Many people (including me) were disgusted and horrified by Trump laughingly talking about getting away with kissing and groping women without their consent. But many others mostly heard politically-motivated faux outrage. The same people so focused on Trump’s comments and the sexual assault allegations against him remained dismissive or defensive about the long history of sexual misconduct and assault allegations against Bill Clinton—and Hillary Clinton’s role in silencing Bill’s accusers. Clinton fans retorted that Hillary isn’t responsible for Bill’s behavior, but that misses the point. She’s responsible for her behavior: she referred to these women as “floozy,” “bimbo,” and “stalker,” and put great effort into “destroying” their stories.

Yeah, okay.
Yeah, okay.

Good luck telling conservatives they must take a principled stand against sexual assault while refusing to acknowledge that the Clintons basically embodied rape culture.

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Of course the Hollywood Access tapes are only one example of Trump’s sexism, but the pattern remains the same. Whatever example you point to, if outraged accusations of bigotry are coming from leftists or the media, conservatives are extremely skeptical. In fact, getting back to point 2a, conservative circles are more likely to have articles about people who made up stories of hate crimes – stories which, before being shown to be false, often caused viral online outrage (as well as extensive donations to the alleged victim).

I find this problem very frustrating. I do believe the left is too quick to claim bigotry, but I believe the right is therefore too quick to dismiss actual bigotry. Robby Soave of Reason.com summarized this view well:

[It’s] the boy-who-cried-wolf situation. I was happy to see a few liberals, like Bill Maher, owning up to it. Maher admitted during a recent show that he was wrong to treat George Bush, Mitt Romney, and John McCain like they were apocalyptic threats to the nation: it robbed him of the ability to treat Trump more seriously. The left said McCain was a racist supported by racists, it said Romney was a racist supported by racists, but when an actually racist Republican came along—and racists cheered him—it had lost its ability to credibly make that accusation.

Kirsten Powers explained the same idea in terms of misogyny:

After all, these same voters have watched as every Republican candidate in recent memory has been accused of waging a “War on Women.” If Democrats are going to claim that Mitt Romney and John McCain hate women (and they did), then they shouldn’t be surprised when voters ignore them when they say Donald Trump hates women. If every Republican is a misogynist, then no Republican is.

I don’t believe the right’s resistance to recognizing bigotry is all the left’s fault. I think that’s a factor, but ultimately we’re all responsible for assessing each situation and trying to be fair-minded about it.

Even so, I think many conservatives viewed the outrage over Trump as nothing more than yet another chapter in a long history of selective and manufactured leftist outrage, and so they discounted it. So even if they had watched John Oliver, they probably would have just rolled their eyes at another leftist show mocking conservatives again.

2c. Trump voters were weighing a lot of additional concerns apart from bigotry.
But there were a lot of conservatives who heard about the problems with Trump and were seriously concerned. Many of them became the #NeverTrump crowd, but others still voted for Trump. Why? Because they weren’t balancing the problems of racism and sexism against nothing. They were taking those issues and factoring them in with a lot of other issues, weighing each one, and coming to a decision. Even women who voted against Trump had other concerns they considered more important than sexism.

Many reject as ridiculous this concept of weighing multiple factors, saying it’s a weak excuse to try to cover up bigotry. They assert nothing could outweigh the civil rights threats Trump represents, and therefore the people who came down on Trump’s side, by definition, just didn’t care enough about civil rights.

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Keep lecturing people about what they don’t care about while showing no understanding of what they do care about. That’s been so effective so far.

Interestingly, I saw the same reductive thinking from conservatives trying to berate #NeverTrump people into voting for him. If you didn’t vote for Trump—if you voted for Clinton, or even if you voted third party—you must not care about massive government abuse and corruption, our country’s impending economic collapse under an overregulated welfare state, and, possibly above all, the killing of tens of thousands of babies.

Does that last part sound hyperbolic to you? Because, for a huge portion of the pro-life movement, that was the assertion. Many pro-lifers view abortion as morally equivalent to any other unlawful human death. If you want to imagine the abortion debate from a pro-life perspective, just replace the concept of “fetus” with “toddler,” and listen to how the arguments sound. So when Hillary Clinton campaigned on a platform of no restrictions through all three trimesters and requiring Medicaid to cover abortions, that was an absolute deal breaker for many people. Abortion happens in this country roughly 1 million times a year. Imagine for a moment you were choosing between (1) a candidate who stirs racial animosity and blatantly disrespects women and (2) a candidate who unapologetically embraces policies making it legal to murder a million toddlers a year. Who would you pick?

If your first response is to explain why that second description is false, you’re missing the point. Yes, I understand that for many, abortion is nothing at all like killing a toddler and even the comparison is offensive. I’m not trying to convince anyone here how to feel about abortion. I’m trying to convince people that you can’t sincerely talk about what motivates others if you refuse to acknowledge their actual perspectives. People who voted for Trump could (a) recognize Trump’s racism and sexism, (b) care greatly about those issues, and (c) still believe the threats Clinton represented were more dire. The only way you can genuinely believe that every single vote for Trump represented at minimum a callous disregard for civil rights is if you ignore or dismiss the circumstances and value systems of millions of people.

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Passion about abortion likely affected many of women who voted for Trump. LV Anderson was aghast that more than half of white women would vote for a man who said he’d appoint Supreme Court justices to overturn Roe v. Wade. It is amazing to me that so many people are still taken off guard when women are antiabortion. Half of American women are against abortion, and that has been true since long before Trump entered the primaries. Yet each time thousands or millions of women don’t go for the pro-choice position, pro-choice people are just so surprised. This is another example of the same pattern: be totally unaware of what people have repeatedly said they care about, and then be surprised and angry when they vote for the things they said they cared about all along.

I’ve used abortion as an example of competing values, but it’s only one of many. A recent New York Times article profiled women who voted for Trump. While 22-year-old Nicole Been mentioned her deep opposition to abortion as part of her stance, other women discussed Trump’s approach to veterans, their own dire financial situations, and their disillusionment with Democratic efforts to improve their lives. Another New York Times article profiled college-educated women who voted for Trump; they, too, opposed abortion, but focused more on economic security and job and college prospects for their children.

Article after article about the parts of the nation that went wholeheartedly for Trump (including many counties that had previously voted for Obama twice) describe recurring themes of economic and cultural despair, resentment at being derided by the rest of us, and the way economic and racial anxiety intertwine. (Here’s one or two more.)

Note that racial anxiety is one of the recurring themes. The left seems to want to reduce this narrative to bigotry and nothing more, and I’ve spent a lot of time here explaining why I think that’s inaccurate. But the right seems to want to reflexively deny bigotry had any part to play, and I don’t think that’s true either. At minimum there was certainly a racial component to Trump’s candidacy. Looming large in the support of Trump were concerns about minority groups getting unfair preferential treatment and resources, immigrants taking resources and increasing criminal activity, and terrorists threatening our safety.

 

Theory 3 – Institutionalized sexism and racism – regardless of personal motivation, women who voted for Trump supported a platform that would disproportionately harm minority groups.

A major hurdle with discussions of racism and sexism is the use of the same words to mean very different things. In my right-leaning circles, “racism” generally means an individual’s disdain or animosity towards others based on race. Same thing with “sexism,” but based on sex. In my left-leaning circles, “racism” and “sexism” often mean individual disdain or animosity, but can also mean cultural norms and systemic and institutionalized systems that disproportionately negatively impact minority groups.

So when someone claims that a vote for Trump was racist, they could either mean (a) the person casting the vote has disdain or animosity toward people of other races or (b) the person casting the vote, regardless of his or her motivations, helped to uphold systems that have major negative impacts on women and nonwhite people.

The interesting thing about the “effects not intentions” version of racism is that it can be empirically verified. Motivations can be pretty complicated, multifaceted, and irrational. Effects can be objectively measured. So if “racism” (or sexism or Islamophobia or homophobia) is defined as “policies and practices that hurt these groups,” and if electing Trump ends up hurting these groups, then it follows that electing Trump was racism, by this definition.

3a. It’s reasonable to believe electing Trump will end up hurting these groups.
Trump campaigned on ending sanctuary cities, suspending visas, and deportation. If implemented, those policies would disproportionately affect undocumented immigrants (about half of which are Hispanic or Latino, followed by Asian) as well as American citizens from families with mixed citizenship statuses. Whether you agree with these policies or not, and whether you personally care how these policies affect others or not, it’s hard to deny that they will negatively impact immigrants and their family members who are American citizens.

Trump has talked about requiring immigrants from predominantly Muslim countries to register upon entering the U.S.  Alternatively he called for a ban on Muslims immigrating to the country; while he clarified this would not apply to American citizens, it’s hard to believe such policies and related rhetoric about Muslims won’t affect public perception of and reaction to Muslims already living here. The FBI has released data showing a 67% increase in hate crimes against Muslims in 2015. Some are worried this trend is related to Trump’s rise and campaign rhetoric; others say there are other factors–such as 2015 terrorist attacks–that likely played a part. But I think either of those reasons underscores the central point: when the public increasingly perceives a group as dangerous, violence against innocent people in that group becomes more likely.

It seems like Trump’s potential effects on African American communities have been less of a focus, but there are reasons for concern. (This link includes some reasons I think conservatives will dismiss as more faux outrage, but, for what it’s worth, I believe some of these points are pretty valid.)

While Trump didn’t propose specific policies against LGBT folk, the 2016 Republican Party platform did object to legalized gay marriage and take other positions seen as anti-gay. Because Trump was the Republican nominee and can now nominate SCOTUS judges, many believe he will work to adopt those Republican positions. I think it’s unlikely gay marriage will get overturned, but I don’t think it’s a certainty, and I see why many people are worried their marital status could be threatened.

Trump has a history that suggests a pretty disrespectful view of women, not to mention (again) his statements in the Access Hollywood recordings. To the extent women believe support for Trump signals societal dismissal of sexual assault, that belief could have another chilling effect on women reporting assaults and seeking help. I watched this play out on both the national level and with women I know personally after the Access Hollywood firestorm. Women (and men, for that matter) who have experienced sexual assault listened as friends and family who were Trump supporters minimized, dismissed, and, in my opinion, very generously interpreted Trump’s statements. That was difficult. Victims of sexual assault hear those reactions and believe the reactions would be the same if they came forward with their own stories. I can understand why people fear this kind of dismissal of sexual misconduct will only get worse now that Trump will be president.

A vote for Trump lent support to these policy proposals and attitudes, even if the person voting didn’t personally support one or any of the above. In this sense I think Theory 3 is truer than the other theories—I think a Trump administration will very likely make life harder for these groups.

3b. First problem: negative effects count as racism regardless of what they’re being weighed against.
Consider Trump’s campaign regarding Islamic terrorism. I do believe requiring (mostly) Muslim immigrants to register upon entering the country, or refusing to let them enter at all, will negatively affect the public’s views and behavior toward Muslim Americans and Muslim immigrants already here.

But I also recognize that the people who support these measures believe they will significantly increase our national security and safety. Based on my understanding of Theory 3, what Trump voters believe about these measures (and how those beliefs speak to their motivations) is irrelevant, because Theory 3 is all about effects on minority groups, not the intentions of the people pushing these policies. Whether they sincerely believe these measures will save American lives doesn’t change whether or not this approach is defined as racist.

And we’ve only talked about what they believe, not what is objectively true. Apparently NSEERS, the similar Bush-era program that required immigrant registration, was ineffective at preventing terrorism; it sounds like it was just more security theater, but in this case directed at specific groups. But suppose, hypothetically, immigrant registration made a huge difference in national security. Suppose—as I suspect is the belief of some who support this idea—that without immigrant registration we’d have more San Bernadino and Pulse nightclub shootings. Or another World Trade Center.

If these policies actually prevented terrorism deaths in our own country, does that change whether they are racist? If I understand Theory 3 correctly, it does not. In this way Theory 3 rings a bit hollow for me, because while it is at least technically accurate and objectively measurable (does X policy negatively impact Y community or not?), if it ignores all other factors I still consider it misleading.

3c. Second problem: conflating Theory 3 with Theories 1 & 2.
In my experience, the left frequently blurs the line between “negative impacts” and “personal animosity.” A great example is the Slate article “There’s No Such Thing as a Good Trump Supporter.” Chief political correspondent Jamelle Bouie argues that Trump supporters do not merit empathy because they “voted for a racist who promised racist outcomes.” He cites other authors who have claimed Trump’s victory does not reveal an “inherent malice” in the populace (referring to the “personal animosity” definition of racism). Bouie counters with the “negative impacts” definition:

Whether Trump’s election reveals an “inherent malice” in his voters is irrelevant. What is relevant are the practical outcomes of a Trump presidency…If you voted for Trump, you voted for this, regardless of what you believe about the groups in question.

But, as the title of the piece suggests, Bouie is not condemning only the effects of voting for Trump; he’s condemning the Trump voters themselves. He asserts that it is myopic and even “morally grotesque” to suggest Trump supporters are good people. He compares Trump voters to the men in the early 20th century who organized lynchings (they “weren’t ghouls or monsters. They were ordinary.”) and the people who gawked and smiled at those lynchings (“the very model of decent, law-abiding Americana.”) He sums up: “Hate and racism have always been the province of ‘good people.’”

Note the switch here. Bouie is no longer talking about practical outcomes; he’s talking about hate. He has switched from the “negative impacts” definition of racism back to the “personal animosity” definition. So is he saying that most Trump supporters did not have inherent malice but should be condemned for the policies they supported? Or is he saying that anyone who can support Trump has to be, at least in part, motivated by hate?

And this is often how I see the conversation going. To (heavily) paraphrase:

Person A: If you voted for Trump, you’re racist.
Person B: I’m really not. I disagreed with a lot of what he said but I thought Clinton would do more damage in XYZ ways.
Person A: Yeah, you may not personally feel racist but you supported racist policies. It just shows you think the concerns of white people are more important than the actual human rights of everyone else.
Person B: That’s not what I think at all!
Person A: It’s not about what you personally think! It’s about what you supported!

And repeat.

In other words, in principle motivation is supposed to be irrelevant because racism is about effects, but in practice accusations of racism nearly always boil down to motivation—at best a selfish indifference and at worst outright malice. So, in principle, I think Theory 3 has some merit and is worth talking about. In practice, I find I just end up repeating the arguments I made for Theories 1 & 2.

 

Paglia Weighs In On Campus Sex Crimes

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I like Camille Paglia a lot in no small part because the world clearly has no idea what to do with her. I mean, just look at the intro she gets to this piece for Time: Paglia is the author of Glittering Images: A Journey Through Art From Egypt to Star Wars. I mean, that’s true, she did write that book, but it has nothing to do with who she is, what she thinks, or why so many people find her fascinating (or infuriating). Anyway, here’s her take on sex crimes on collage campuses: “Young women today do not understand the fragility of civilization and the constant nearness of savage nature.”

She calls the warning cries about levels of sexual violence on college campuses “wildly overblown” and–in direct contradiction of conventional wisdom from all the experts–declares that it really is forcible rape by strangers that should be every woman’s concern. She writes:

Despite hysterical propaganda about our “rape culture,” the majority of campus incidents being carelessly described as sexual assault are not felonious rape (involving force or drugs) but oafish hookup melodramas, arising from mixed signals and imprudence on both sides.

I’d be inclined to write her off as being a bit over-confident in her own anecdotal experiences over hard facts if it were for the fact that I also recently read an NRO piece on the same topic: The Rape Epidemic Is a Fiction:

Much of the scholarly literature estimates that the actual rate is more like a tenth of that one-in-five rate, 2.16 percent, or 21.6 per 1,000 to use the conventional formulation. But that number is problematic, too, as are most of the numbers related to sexual assault, as the National Institute of Justice, the DoJ’s research arm, documents. For example, two surveys conducted practically in tandem produced victimization rates of 0.16 percent and 1.7 percent, respectively – i.e., the latter estimate was eleven times the former. The NIJ blames defective wording on survey questions.

So the numbers are really in dispute after all, and Paglia may have some legitimate backup. Setting that contention aside for a moment, however, I think there’s no real arguing with these paragraphs from her piece:

Colleges should stick to academics and stop their infantilizing supervision of students’ dating lives, an authoritarian intrusion that borders on violation of civil liberties. Real crimes should be reported to the police, not to haphazard and ill-trained campus grievance committees.

Too many young middleclass women, raised far from the urban streets, seem to expect adult life to be an extension of their comfortable, overprotected homes. But the world remains a wilderness. The price of women’s modern freedoms is personal responsibility for vigilance and self-defense.

And that dark vision of human nature and the reality we inhabit really explains Paglia’s appeal to conservatives despite her radical left-wing politics. I can’t resist quoting just a bit more:

Current educational codes, tracking liberal-Left, are perpetuating illusions about sex and gender. The basic Leftist premise, descending from Marxism, is that all problems in human life stem from an unjust society and that corrections and fine-tunings of that social mechanism will eventually bring utopia. Progressives have unquestioned faith in the perfectibility of mankind.

The horrors and atrocities of history have been edited out of primary and secondary education except where they can be blamed on racism, sexism, and imperialism — toxins embedded in oppressive outside structures that must be smashed and remade. But the real problem resides in human nature, which religion as well as great art sees as eternally torn by a war between the forces of darkness and light.

You should just read the whole post. It is, like so much of what she writes, well worth the time.

Sameness or Sexism

2014-09-24 Ginger Rogers

Just came across a blog post by Patrick Rothfuss that made me a little sad. Here’s the relevant portion:

Today Oot came up to me and asked me if I’d like to play a game.

“What kind of a game?” I asked him.

“Oh you know,” he explains, sounding very matter-of-fact. “A guy game. Because we’re both guys.”…

[T]his stuff is insidious… This constant, low-grade sexism is everywhere. It sneaks in.

I’m skipping some text, but it really is the case that Rothfuss goes straight to sexism without any other statement from his son at all. A distinction is drawn between guy games and girl games and that alone is the basis for crying sexism.

So let’s get a couple of things straight. First: the presumption that any gender difference is a form of discrimination or sexism is pernicious. There really are differences between the sexes, and refusing to acknowledge those differences will hurt someone. Since I’m responding to a particularly extreme view, I can pick particularly easy examples to illustrate this point. If you deny physiological differences between boys and girls, then there’s no basis for girl- and boy-only versions of sports. No WNBA aside the NBA and no USWNST aside the USMNST. Obviously, in sports, denial of stereotypical differences would be mostly bad for girls. And, although there’s still controversy, an increasingly large number of people believe that denial of differences in education are mostly bad for boys. Wherever there are significant differences between male and female, and there are at least some such differences, denying those differences will do at least some damage to boys, girls, or both.

Second: a big motivator for calling out sexism is that doing so is a powerful cultural signifier. If you want to be popular with the right sort of people–and if the right sort of people are intellectual, progressive, etc.–then you write about sexism. There’s a cadre of sci-fi and fantasy authors in particular (Patrick Rothfuss, John Scalzi, Jim Hines, and Mary Robinette Kowal all come to mind) who regularly use their prominent blogging voices to personally weigh in on this issue. I’m sure that a lot of their motivation is genuine, but it would be foolish to ignore the role that displaying in-group status has. Meanwhile, it’s easy to find similar cadres of sci-fi and fantasy authors (notably Larry Correia) who do the exact same thing from the opposite end of the spectrum. It’s bad because it’s polarizing, and it’s downright creepy because of the overt religiousness of so much of the language. White male privilege is the new original sin:

It’s like trying to keep dust out of your house. You can do a lot, but ultimately, *you* are one of the main reasons there’s dust. You track it in on your clothes without knowing it. And even if you somehow managed to avoid that, you’d still shed skin cells. Even if you don’t want to.

Third, the fact that discussion of sexism functions so prominently as a means of expressing tribal loyalty means that there’s enormous pressure to discard nuance. Every instance of sexism you can find to write about in a poignant and self-aware way will raise your status. So there’s a strong incentive to (1) see sexism everywhere and (2) not think too critically about any given potential instance. People who think about these things in more detail will protest that I’m taking a kind of straw man because virtually no feminist who’s thinking and writing seriously about the issue is going to take the extreme position that there are no gender differences or that we should ignore the gender differences that exist. No one seriously wants to merge the USWNST and the USMNST, right? I get that. I’m not trying to paint all social liberals with the brush of this one blog post by a highly gifted author with (to my knowledge) no actual expertise or training in sociology, anthropology, women’s studies, etc. What I want to show, instead, is the way that potentially usefully sophisticated and productive critiques of society can be subverted by the gravitational pull of popularity.

Of course this applies to both sides of the political spectrum. There’s an incessant gravitational pull towards extremism the moment you declare an allegiance to a particular ideology. It becomes an arms race to see who can show they are more committed than their fellow partisans. It also ensures that opposed ideologies have a steady stream of prominent but incompetent spokespersons who constantly pump out a dumbed-down, inflammatory version of the ideology to keep the other side’s anger and righteousness sufficiently aroused. As someone who is staunchly conservative in their beliefs, I am in no way immune to these effects, but my hope is that writing about the non-partisan aspect of the question as I’ve tried to do in this post can suck some of the oxygen out of the partisan flamewar.

There is a fourth and last point, and it’s an important one. Nothing in this post should be construed in any way as an argument that Patrick Rothfuss is a bad person or a bad parent. The biggest reason for that is that judging him on such grand scale based on one blog post would be lunacy. I don’t know him personally, and even if I did I would still not have any basis for forming a judgment like that. Honestly, my impression of Rothfuss as person and parent based on that blog post is rather high. Parents always get a lot of things wrong. The most important thing we can do, I believe, is try sincerely to get it right. Rothfuss sounds like a father who is really trying, and I respect that immensely. I can say no better for myself. Besides, when all the angst was said and done, he went and played with his kid. As far as parenting goes, that’s all that really mattered in that blog post.

Child Support

This post is reprinted with permission from Secular Pro-Life:

 

When arguing about abortion, I’ve seen a lot of people claim “sex isn’t a contract.” Other variations of this idea include: 

  • Consent to A doesn’t mean consent to B (that is, consent to sex doesn’t mean consent to reproduction).
  • You clearly don’t consent to reproduce if you use birth control.
  • Sex is not a crime and shouldn’t be punished / Rights cannot be restricted unless there is a crime.

The problem is, when it comes to reproduction, these arguments only apply to women. 

If a man gets a woman pregnant–be it his wife, girlfriend, affair, or one night stand–he is legally bound to provide support for that child. In other words, because the man participated in the child’s conception (because the man had sex), his rights are altered. It doesn’t matter if the man was only consenting to sex, and not to reproduction. It doesn’t matter if he used birth control. It doesn’t matter that sex isn’t a crime. He fathered the kid, so the law considers him responsible for the kid.

And the law takes a pretty hard line on the subject. Courts can require a father to pay child support based not just on what he earns, but on what courts believe he has the ability to earn. Child support obligations remain even if a father goes to prison, or declares bankruptcy. Even if he wants to terminate his parental rights (and therefore his parental responsibilities), the courts usually won’t allow it unless there is another adult prepared to adopt the child and take over that responsibility. And there are many methods for enforcing child support. A man’s tax refunds can be intercepted, his property seized, business or occupational license suspended, and in some states his driver’s license can be revoked. If he still fails to make payment, he can be held in contempt and given jail time.

In short, if a man has sex he runs the risk of being (rather tightly) legally bound to any new life he creates. In the essay “Abortion and Fathers’ Rights“, author Stephen D. Hales summarizes the situation:

…the father, having participated in conception, cannot escape the future duties he will have toward the child. The father can decide that he cannot afford another child, that he is not psychologically prepared to be a parent, that a child would hinder the lifestyle he wishes to pursue, and so on, to no avail.

Sound sad? If a man is forced to pay child support, that could mean serious emotional, psychological, financial, and social repercussions for him. So why do we have child support laws? Is it because we hate sex, and want to punish people for having sex?

No, of course not. And interestingly, you rarely see anyone even suggest as much. No, it’s clear to most people that we have child support laws in order to, you know, support children. Child support laws aren’t enforced to punish men for having sex—they’re enforced because it’s best for the child. In the same way, abortion shouldn’t be outlawed to punish women for having sex—it should be outlawed to protect fetal life. In both cases, it’s not about punishment, it’s about protection.

And that’s as it should be.

I’d love to live in a world in which there are no unplanned pregnancies and no unintentional parents. I think people should have control over whether they become parents, in the sense that people should have control over whether they get pregnant or get someone pregnant. That’s why I support comprehensive sex education: I want people to understand their own fertility and, if they do choose to have sex, I want them to understand how they can best prevent pregnancy while being sexually active.

However, once pregnancy has happened, once there’s already a new human organism in the picture, it changes everything. I think the people whose actions created that new life should be responsible for its protection. 

Of course, many people disagree. Abortion rights advocates place reproductive freedom over protecting the lives we create, at least when it comes to women and pregnancy. How would this mentality look if they also applied it to men and child support? Hales has an idea:

A man has the moral right to decide not to become a father (in the social, nonbiological sense) during the time that the woman he has impregnated may permissibly abort. He can make a unilateral decision whether to refuse fatherhood, and is not morally obliged to consult with the mother or any other person before reaching a decision. Moreover, neither the mother nor any other person can veto or override a man’s decision about becoming a father. He has first and last say about what he does with his life in this regard.

(And if we’re being really consistent, he doesn’t have to inform the woman he impregnated, or anyone else, about his decision to refuse fatherhood.)

It seems to me that consistency requires abortion rights advocates to argue for the man’s right to choose as well as the woman’s: the pro-choice mentality means that, as women can “walk away” from their pregnancies, men should be able to walk away from the women they have impregnated. 

Not very uplifting, is it?

Or we could strive for a different kind of consistency–the kind that holds both men and women to a higher standard. This is why I’m for child support laws, and this is why I’m against abortion.

Racism: A Definition and a Critique

A couple of weeks ago I came across an extremely articulate explanation of perhaps the dominant perspective of racism from the American political left. The explanation comes in the form of an online Powerpoint at the Tumblr of Women of Color, In Solidarity.

It’s a fairly short and straight-forward presentation, and I’m deeply appreciative of how starkly it lays out the case against white privilege, starting with this definition of the key terms:

2013-11-06 Racism Definition

So here we have a very precise definition of racism: it is the institutionalization of discrimination (which is itself the acting out of prejudice). This definition has one very important and straightforward consequence: reverse-racism (i.e. anti-white racism) cannot exist.

2013-11-06 No Reverse Racism

In simple terms: individuals may have anti-white prejudice and may even act on that prejudice (which is anti-white discrimination), but because this discrimination is not built into the structure of our society it’s not institutionalized and therefore doesn’t qualify as racism by definition. The author slammed this point home with one more emphatic slide:

2013-11-06 Tragedy of Victimization

Once again: this is a clear and unambiguous perspective on race and–within its assumptions and definitions–it is consistent and logical.

But it is still deeply, deeply flawed. The flaw will seem subtle at first, but as it ripples through the larger argument it will have profound implications. And the flaw is this: the assumption that the cause of discrimination is animosity

Read moreRacism: A Definition and a Critique

“Anything You Can Do…”: Feminist Superhero Revolution Starts at Marvel Films?

Captain Marvel Vol 7 5With recent rumors cropping up (emphasis on rumors!) about the possibility of Battlestar Gallactica actress Katee Sackhoff being in the running for the possible role of Carol Danvers, aka Captain Marvel, in The Avengers: Age of Ultron, feminist comic fans can have a peg to hang their hopes on. There have been a number of compelling female characters in recent superhero films, from Peggy Carter in Captain America, to Pepper Potts in Iron Man, to Catwoman in Dark Knight Rises, but even those characters had problematic elements with the portrayal of their characters. And the above characters also played chiefly supportive roles in the narrative to the male protagonist.

Things are looking a little rosier, though, with the future of the Avengers. In addition to this (albeit speculative at this point) inclusion of Captain Marvel, Joss Whedon, who has a history of writing compelling women in past projects, has already went on record about adding a little more gender diversity to the mix in the Avengers sequel, with the announcement that Scarlet Witch, one of his “favorite” characters (I think she’s fantastic, too) will be joining the team for the sequel, along with her brother Quicksilver.

Read more“Anything You Can Do…”: Feminist Superhero Revolution Starts at Marvel Films?

Orson Scott Card and His Imitation of Fox News: Paranoia? Hyperbole? Satire?

After reading novelist and political commentator Orson Scott Card’s bizarre “thought experiment,” titled “Unlikely Events,” I really am quite mystified. In the article he plays a “game” in which he imagines President Obama becoming a fascist overlord ruling with an iron fist over America and being a figure akin to Hitler. Although he tries to reassure his readers that, of course, he doesn’t believe this stuff, and that he’s just wearing his hat as a “fiction” writer, yet he still also insists that “it sure sounds plausible, doesn’t it? Because, like a good fiction writer, I made sure this scenario fit the facts we already have — the way Obama already acts, the way his supporters act, and the way dictators have come to power in republics in the past.” He says that “the writer’s made-up characters and events must seem truthful. We must pass the plausibility test.”

But then Card shovels in comparisons to Hitler and every other dictator he can think of. When people start comparing their ideological rivals to Hitler, they have shown their refusal to speak with nuance and distinction. They have immediately lost the argument, in my mind. He then throws in a huge number of broad generalizations and hyperbolic statements such as this:

Obama is, by character and preference, a dictator. He hates the very idea of compromise; he demonizes his critics and despises even his own toadies in the liberal press. He circumvented Congress as soon as he got into office by appointing “czars” who didn’t need Senate approval. His own party hasn’t passed a budget ever in the Senate.

In other words, Obama already acts as if the Constitution were just for show. Like Augustus, he pretends to govern within its framework, but in fact he treats it with contempt.

Read moreOrson Scott Card and His Imitation of Fox News: Paranoia? Hyperbole? Satire?