The Violence of the Misogynist Mind

February 4, 2016 § 2 Comments

Yesterday, one of my alma maters, Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia, sent out a video from Facilities about #NationalSweaterDay, which is a Canadian initiative to turn down the heat in the winter, to remind consumers about environmental responsibility (and the cost of heating).  The video itself is several years old, but it was circulated again.

To my eyes, this is horrible. A female professor is named “Pinkums” and is addressed as “Miss.”  I know from conversation with my female colleagues that they have a real struggle to be addressed as Doctor, or Professor.  Oddly I, as a white man, do not.  And, frankly, this video is degrading.

News of the video became widely known through the blog of Elise Chenier, a professor at SFU.  I was appalled when I came across this and tweeted my shock and dismay at SFU. No university should engage in this. Ever. To the credit of the university, it apologized almost immediately. And the video had long been pulled from circulation.  According to the CBC:

SFU vice-president for external relations Joanne Curry later released a statement addressing some of Chenier’s concerns. In the statement, Curry agrees the videos were “inappropriate, sexist, and not in keeping with our equity commitments.”

“As the video was produced by an external vendor, I had not seen it. When I did watch it, I immediately agreed with the feedback we had received,” the statement read.

“We took steps to remove the video as quickly as possible and have followed up with the group who produced and distributed the video to ensure it will no longer be used.”

Note, however, that Curry immediately passes by buck, noting that it was made by an external vendor.  But, the university did the right thing, as Chenier notes.

Today, I awoke to find my Twitter feed aflame with trolls.  Interestingly, all but two were men. The two women both noted they were “anti-feminist” in their bios.  Getting trolled on Twitter is nothing new.  It has happened before, it will happen again.  I have received all kinds of hate on Twitter, including death threats.  But today’s trolling was interesting in the sense that the men, all of whom were white, who attacked me descended into homophobia from the get go.  Some hoped I got raped, others told me to perform sexual acts on other men.  One threatened to rape me. And then there was the garden variety name-calling.

I spent a good amount of time blocking and reporting people today, thinking that this happens everyday to feminists on Twitter.  I can only imagine the abuse Chenier is getting right now. There was #Gamergate. Or what about when women suggested that a woman’s face be put on paper money in the UK? This happens every, single, fucking day to women who are threatened with rape and death for calling out patriarchy and male privilege.  And we let that happen. Every single one of us.  Right-thinking men, in particular.  We need to find a way to fix this, we need to figure out a way to marginalize these kinds of men, or the likes of Roosh V.  This is not ok.

MLK noted that the problem African Americans in his time faced wasn’t actually an African American problem.  It was a white problem.  Hence, he worked to raise white consciousness.  To convince white people they were the problem and had it in their power to fix racism.  By no means have we succeeded, but we have made a lot of progress.

Misogyny and sexism, similarly, is a male problem.  But, it seems that sexism and misogyny is considered acceptable for some men.  When people are offended by things like the SFU video, they respond with banal statements like “Can’t you take a joke?” Yes, I can. But this isn’t funny.  This is the basic laddish response.  But then there’s the anger, the violent, misogynist, threatening anger.

Male anger needs to be curbed.

But as much as I want this kind of thing stopped, I still struggle with the basic question of why some men act like this?  Is it simply about power?  Is it because they feel marginalized?  Why do some men feel the need to respond to feminism with vile, disgusting language?  And in some of these men, I think it goes beyond words and there is a danger in their threats and fits.

Sadly, I fully expect more trolling in response to this post.  The trolling will continue on Twitter.  And there will be some nasty comments left on this blog.

Agnotology and Obama’s Religion

February 26, 2015 § 15 Comments

Jeff Jacoby is the resident conservative columnist at the liberal Boston Globe, the main Boston newspaper.  Jacoby is a very intelligent man and while I rarely agree with anything he writes, his column is usually well worth the read (as long as it’s not about climate change; he is delusional on this matter).  But yesterday, Jacoby set a new low.

In yesterday’s column, Jacoby ponders President Obama’s religion.  He takes to task reporters who asked Wisconsin Governor (and Republican presidential hopeful) Scott Walker about whether or not he thought the president was a Christian.  I agree with Jacoby thus far.  I don’t see the relevance of any of this to either Obama as President or to Walker as a prospective candidate.

Walker, of course, couldn’t resist.  He said he didn’t know if the president is a Christian.  This is a disingenuous response if there ever was one.  Jacoby then notes that Americans as a whole seem confused on the matter:

[Walker] has plenty of company.

During the president’s reelection campaign in the summer of 2012, the Pew Research Center polled a national sample of registered voters: “Do you happen to know what Barack Obama’s religion is?” More than one-third of the respondents — 36 percent — said they didn’t know. Only 45 percent identified the president as a Christian; 16 percent said he’s a Muslim.

That was the seventh time in a little over four years that Pew had measured public awareness of Obama’s religion. The first poll, back in March 2008, had yielded almost identical results — 36 percent couldn’t name then-Senator Obama’s religion, while 47 percent said he was Christian and 12 percent answered Muslim.

Indeed.  But this is where Jacoby goes right off the rails:

Over the years, the president has made numerous comments on religious topics, and his messages haven’t always been consistent. It isn’t hard to understand why a sizable minority of Americans, to the extent that they think about Obama’s religion at all, might be genuinely puzzled to put a label to it. Honest confusion isn’t scandalous.

This is NOT honest confusion.  Obama’s religious beliefs aren’t that complicated, he’s a Christian who doesn’t go to mass often, like most Christians.  What this is is racism.  This is the same racism that drove the Birther movement.  I severely doubt if John McCain had won in 2008, or if Mitt Romney had won in 2012, their religious beliefs would ever be a topic of discussion.  I seriously doubt that 36% of Americans would have no clue about the president’s religious beliefs.  As for the discussion that Obama is a Muslim:

public opinion polls show that despite liberal denial, at least one in five or 17% of Americans recognize that Barack Hussein Obama is a Muslim.

This is the first sentence of an entry on Conservapedia on “Obama’s Religion” (the bold is in the original).  Note the “is” after the word “Obama” and before the word “a.”  Jacoby is dead wrong to go down this road, because this is exactly where he is going.

Agnotology is the study of deliberate ignorance.  Deliberate ignorance is easy to spot in our culture.  Examples include the insistence that Hitler was a communist because he led the National Socialist party. Or that because Lincoln was a Republican and he freed the slaves Republicans cannot be racist.  These are both fallacies.  Clearly.  Yet, there are people in the United States who will argue to their death that these are truths.  These kinds of beliefs are easily perpetuated in the so-called Information Age.  Scrolling through my Twitter feed on any given day, I can find any number of un-truths passed off as truths (especially by “facts” accounts, that claim to only tweet fact).  These un-truths get re-tweeted for all sorts of reasons, of course, but an un-truth repeated often enough eventually becomes believed as truth.  Thus, the editors of Conservapedia can, with a straight face, claim that “17% of Americans recognize that Barrack Hussein Obama is a Muslim.”  And how did 17% of Americans come to believe that Obama is a Muslim?  Because this lie has been repeated often enough that some people have come to believe it.

Jacoby disingenuously opens this can of worms in yesterday’s column.  Jacoby is smart enough to know that the “confusion” over Obama’s religious beliefs is irrelevant.  He is also smart enough to know that this confusion is a fine study in agnotology.  But, instead he appeals to the lowest common denominator and uses his column to perpetuate ignorance.

Stephen Harper’s War on Canada

January 30, 2015 § 6 Comments

Last weekend, the Toronto Star published a scathing article, looking at how Canada’s elected government, led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, has muzzled, shut down, and otherwise sullied government branches.  Harper has silenced scientists working for Environment Canada and Health Canada, all in an attempt to keep them from publicising the harm caused by the Tarsands in Alberta.

Then there’s Harper’s war against the Library and Archives Canada.  This is the national archives and library of the country.  In other words, it’s kind of important.  Rather than fund it properly, ensure that Canadians have access to their national history, Harper has cut funding, shut down branches, and done everything it can to prevent us from knowing the history that his government spends too much time blaming us for not knowing.  This is unacceptable, and downright terrifying.

Mark Bourrie, the author of the article notes that: “In 2008–2009, Library and Archives Canada spent $385,461 on historic documents. In 2011–2012 it spent nothing. In Washington, the Library of Congress’s acquisition budget was between $18 million and $19 million annually from 2009 to 2012.”  Think about that.  In 2008-09, LAC’s acquisition budget was .02% of that of the Library of Congress.  In 2011-12, it was 0%.  This is a national disgrace.

During Daniel Caron’s reign of error at the the LAC, he and his management team came up with a code of conduct for employees:

Caron and his management team came up with a code of conduct banning librarians and archivists from setting foot in classrooms, attending conferences and speaking at public meetings, whether on the institution’s time or their own. The 23 pages of rules, called “Library and Archives Canada’s Code of Conduct: Values and Ethics,” came into effect in January 2013. Employees could get special dispensation from their bosses, but the fine print of the gag order made it unlikely that permission would be granted. The rules called public speaking, whether to university students, genealogy groups, historians and even other archivists and librarians, “high risk” activities that could create conflicts of interest or “other risks to LAC.” The code stressed federal employees’ “duty of loyalty” not to history or to Library and Archives Canada, but rather to the “duly elected government.” Employees breaking the code could find themselves reported to LAC managers by colleagues who turned them in on what James Turk, executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, called a “snitch line.”

“As public servants, our duty of loyalty to the Government of Canada and its elected officials extends beyond our workplace to our personal activities,” the code said. It reminded librarians and archivists, many of whom do not consider themselves public menaces, that they must maintain awareness of their surroundings, their audience and how their words or actions could be interpreted (or misinterpreted). They were warned not to fall into the trap of social media. And LAC employees were warned that teaching a class or speaking at a conference put them at special risk, since “such activities have been identified as high risk to Library and Archives Canada and to the employee with regard to conflict of interest, conflict of duties and duty of loyalty.”

This is appalling.  I cannot think of a universe where giving a pubic talk is “high risk.”  Especially for an archivist.  How is it high risk? University students might learn how to use the archives?  Various publics may learn how to look for their ancestors?  And the very fact that Harper has farmed out aspects of LAC’s geneaology department to Ancestry.ca is criminal, and nothing short of that.

Then there’s the part about “loyalty to the Government of Canada and its elected officials.”  Um, no.  Civil servants DO have a loyalty to the Government.  It’s part of their job.  But a loyalty to the elected officials.  No.  Wrong.  The loyalty of civil servants in Canada is to Canadians, the taxpayers and citizens.  We have a right to know whether or not the tarsands are harming our environment.  We have a right to be able to go to the LAC to discover our history.

Harper’s war on brains, as The Star terms is, is unacceptable, wrong, and dangerous.  The way to build a healthy nation is through an educated populace.  But Harper clearly does not want this.  He wants Canadians to be poorly-educated, to not have the essential information they need to make decisions on matters of public policy.  Stephen Harper needs to be stopped.  The Government of Canada needs to recover its moral compass.  The government should serve Canadians, not see them as contemptuous and a nuisance to the government.

Harper’s behaviour is nothing short of undemocratic and un-Canadian.

Gratitude

November 17, 2014 § 6 Comments

A couple of week ago, I published this piece on the new racist discourse in the United States, thinking that this was pretty bloody obvious to anyone paying attention.  I was surprised at the response.  The post went viral, it’s been re-blogged a bunch of times, tweeted and re-tweeted, and got a lot of readers.  I was also inundated by comments on the post, to the point where I had to close comments on it.  I closed comments largely because I got a couple of threats in response to the post, I should note (nothing serious).  This soured me to some degree, that people would take time out of their days to threaten me over what I wrote.  Some of the comments that I did allow to be posted were bad enough, but there were a good 15 or so I did not post that were largely incoherent rants about Muslims, African Americans, and women, and how they are collectively ruining the world.  But, it’s easy enough to dismiss wingnuts.

But what I suppose I overlooked in this storm of negativity is the positivity that came out of the post, and all the people who left positive comments on the post itself, as well as those who took time to send me a note of gratitude or agreement, all the people who re-blogged it, tweeted it, shared it on their own Facebook feeds.  And, after having some time to reflect on all of this, all I can say is: thank you.

Anita Sarkeesian and Why I Got So Much Trouble on my Mind

October 16, 2014 § 7 Comments

I got so much trouble on my mind, like Chuck D. back in 1990.  Anita Sarkeesian is a feminist gamer, and critic of gamer culture.  I’m not a gamer, but I have female friends who are, and I have friends who design video games, including women.  They all report a culture of wider misogyny.  But I’m not here to lambaste gamers, I’m here to point out misogyny is a deep-seated cultural issue.  It permeates every corner of our culture, it’s regarded as acceptable by far too many, both men and women.  Too many of us stand around and watch it happen, and we do not call it out for what it is.  We do not stand up.

Men have a particular moral imperative to stand up in the face of misogyny.  Why?  Because misogynists are also men.  Men threaten women.  Men rape women.  Men kill women.  And spare me the “men’s movement.”  It’s nothing but a sad-sack attempt by a rearguard of men, upset that their access to patriarchal privilege is under threat.  Of course, that threat is only in their tiny little minds.

Sarkeesian was scheduled to give a talk on misogyny and gamer culture at the Utah State University.  Then some pathetic little man emailed an anonymous threat promising a “Montreal-style massacre” if USU allowed her talk to go ahead.  I’m not going to quote this pathetic little man’s threat here.  But I will remind readers that on 6 December 1989, one misogynist opened fire at the École Polytechnique de Montréal and shot 27 people, killing 14.  All of the dead were women.  All of them.  Why did he do this?  Because he claimed that feminists had ‘ruined’ his life.  So, too, did the anonymous man who threatened Sarkeesian at USU.

Sarkeesian wasn’t even told about the threat against her life by USU.  She read about it after landing in Utah.  Moreover, USU and the Utah police were unable to provide protection for her, as Utah is an open-carry state, meaning it is entirely legal to carry concealed weapons onto a university campus.  To prevent weapons on campus, or to have people check their guns at the door would have violated their Second Amendment rights.  I’m not sure that’s even true, but that’s an argument for another day.  So Sarkeesian cancelled.

I can’t say I blame her.  Who wants to be a martyr?  Especially for something as basic and simple as civil and human rights and the right of women to be treated equally by society.  But, this also lets the crazies win.  This lets the misogynists win.

I have had death threats in the past, in response to articles I published on a now-defunct London-based magazine website.  The threats against me were not credible, so I ignored them.  I have had a variety of threats against my person and my employment on Twitter.  But, again, they weren’t credible, so I ignored them.  But this is what the bullies do.  If they don’t like what you’re saying, they threaten you.  If you’re a woman, they threaten to rape you.  They threaten to kill you.  The threats Sarkeesian felt was very real.  Hell, she’s already been the target of some asshole’s idea of a joke with a video game that allows players the chance to punch her in the face over and over again.

We cannot let the crazies win.  And Sarkeesian continues to speak out about the threat to her life.  I applaud her.  If the crazies win, we lose civilisation.  Someone’s Second Amendment rights do NOT trump my First Amendment rights.  And, arguably, USU, as a state institution, violated Sarkeesian’s First Amendment rights.  There is a lot of talk about “rights” in the US, the rights guaranteed to us by the Bill of Rights.  But nowhere does it say that anyone’s rights trump those of someone else’s.  Not in the Bill of Rights, not in the voluminous jurisprudence that has developed surrounding the Constitution.

And yet, I haven’t seen a politician come out in support of Sarkeesian.  Nor have I read a thing about an attempt to find the man who made this anonymous threat in the first place.  He sent an email.  It’s not that hard to trace it.

Welcome to the Terrordome indeed.

Immigration in the United States, plus ça change

August 7, 2014 § 8 Comments

I am doing a bit of research into the Know Nothing movement of the 1840s and 50s in the United States.  The Know Nothings were a secret society that eventually evolved into a political party, based on the premise that immigration was bad for the United States.  In short, the Know Nothings, who also formed one of the bases of the nascent Republican Party in the late 1850s, were nativists.  They believed in a United States for Americans only.  We could, of course, note the irony of that statement, given every person not of Native American heritage in this country is of immigrant stock.  But, we’ll leave that alone.  They were called Know Nothings not because they were ignorant (as my students always suppose), but because, as a secret society and asked about the society replied that they “knew nothing.”

I came across this list of things that Roman Catholics hate about the United States from the Boston Know-Nothing and American Crusader in July 1854.  The Know-Nothing and American Crusader was one of the main newspapers of the Know Nothings, and Boston was a major centre of the nativists.  Boston was ground zero, in many ways, in the ‘invasion’ of Irish immigrants and refugees in the years of the Famine and afterwards.  Here’s the list:

  1. They HATE our Republic, and are trying to overthrow it.
  2. They HATE the American Eagle, and it offends them beyond endurance to see it worn as an ornament by Americans.
  3. They HATE our Flag, as it manifest by their grossly insulting it.
  4. They HATE the liberty of conscience.
  5. They HATE the liberty of the Press.
  6. They HATE the liberty of speech.
  7. They HATE our Common School system.
  8. They HATE the Bible, and would blot it out of existence if they could!
  9. The Priests HATE married life, and yet by them is fulfilled the Scripture, to wit: ‘more are the children or the desolate, than the children of the married wife.’
  10. They HATE Protestants, and are sworn to exterminate them from our country and the earth.
  11. They HATE the name of Washington, because he was a Republican and Protestant.
  12. They HATE all rulers that do not swear allegiance to the Pope of Rome.
  13. They HATE to be ruled by Americans, and say “WE WILL NOT BE RULED BY THEM!”
  14. They HATE to support their own paupers and they are left to be supported by the tax paying Americans.
  15. They HATE, above all, the ‘Know Nothings,’ who are determined to rid this country of their accursed power.

The author of this wonderful list signed his name as “Uncle Sam.”  Newspapers in general allowed correspondents to use anonymous pseudonyms in the 19th century, so this isn’t surprising.  But the nom de plume of our correspondent is telling of the cause of the Know Nothings.

As I am doing this research, I’m thinking back to my experiences in June, when I was told by a table mate that the AP Reading I was at that I don’t belong in the United States because I “don’t love America” (I don’t “love” Canada, either, for the record).  And, thenthen, on the way home, at a layover in Dallas, another traveller, watching the news, told me that all immigrants should be rounded up and deported (this one didn’t know I was an immigrant).  And as I watch the drama unfold about the refugee children from Central America in this country, and see the horrible rhetoric coming from the right wing, I can’t help but think that, even if 170 years have passed since “Uncle Sam” published his list of things Catholics hate in The Know-Nothing and American Crusader, in some ways, nothing has changed.  The rhetoric of “Uncle Sam” echoes that of some far right politicians, commentators, and regular citizens I’ve seen on Twitter in the past month.

Of course, the Know Nothings were never a majority of Americans, any more than those so violently opposed and hard-hearted to the plight of children today are even close to a majority.  The overwhelming majority of Americans then and now do not have a problem with immigration and immigrants.  But, then as now, the squeaky wheel gets the grease.

On Immigration, Redux

June 21, 2014 § 2 Comments

In response to my post on immigration and immigrants, my friends and I got into a discussion on Facebook, comparing the political rhetoric in the US, Canada, and the UK.  Certainly, attitudes such as that expressed by my Dallas friend exist in Canada and the UK.  And there are similarities and differences between the old Anglo-Atlantic triangle.  Canada takes in more immigrants per capita than any other nation in the world (bet you didn’t know that) and the United States takes in more immigrants in absolute numbers than any other nation in the world (bet you did know that).  Canada, however, while it does have some undocumented immigrants, does not have the same issues as the United States (which likely has the highest number of undocumented people in it) and the United Kingdom.  The UK gets the undocumented through Europe and its former empire, as aspirants sneak into the nation, or overstay their visas (if you want a heartbreaking account of the undocumented in the UK, I point you to Chris Cleave’s Little Bee, or, as it’s called in Cleave’s native UK, The Other Hand).

But. There is one fundamental difference between the three nations.  In Canada and the United Kingdom, the political parties that pander to racism and anti-immigration positions (and let’s leave the undocumented out of this for now, ok?) are not in the mainstream.  Certainly, these types exist in Canada’s governing Conservative Party, but they are not in the centre of the party, at the cabinet table, etc.  And in the UK, there are certainly a few in the governing Conservative Party that express these views, but they are also similarly on the margins, and the odious UKIP party is a fringe movement.  Whereas, here in the United States, the Republican Party panders to this mindset.  It doesn’t mean, of course, that the GOP does much about to tighten immigration laws when in power, but, it still gives credence to arguments such as my Dallas friend’s.  It seeks the vote of the likes of him.  So, ultimately, anti-immigration positions are very much nearer the mainstream in the United States than in Canada or the United Kingdom.

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