5 things feminists need to stop saying

We owe feminism for challenging the traditional kinder, küche, kirche role we had delineated for women. As more women went to work, the feminist movement helped make the workplace safer and work schedules flexible: changes that helped men too, says Warren Farrell in The Myth of Male Power. Working women commanded more respect from their husbands and children. Most women in the developed world know and exercise their rights. Efforts are being made to reduce the suffering of women in developing countries.

But feminism in the developed world is running out of dragons to slay. While Rush Limbaugh’s comment on Sandra Fluke was unfortunate and classless, the outrage it provoked and the attention it received suggest that there are few outright gender-discriminatory injustices in the Western world. Devoid of real enemies, feminist zeal and passion are becoming tools for social engineering. Truth has become subservient to the collective female emotion, which, like all forms of collectivism, is set by those who represent it. Even if most women identify as feminists, at least some women are victimized by feminism. Feminist arguments have been used to oppose prostitution and pornography even on occasions where the women were willing. Feminism has taken an ugly turn. Now it is sexist to suggest anything that might displease a woman. We are all supposed to shut up and nod along or get relegated to the doghouse. Whatever women say, say yes or you are a sexist. If you’re eloquent about it, you’re a misogynist. Fine. We surrender. But it’s time to retire some statements –

1. If women ran the world, it would be more peaceful

At the 2007 Emmy awards, Sally Field said, “If mothers ruled the world, there wouldn’t be any goddamned wars in the first place,” to tumultuous applause. Sally Field is just one person, but I’ve heard other women say this. Wendy Schiller, a Brown University professor, said on Real Time With Bill Maher that women are get-together-to-solve-problems kind of people, and hence appointing more women-leaders will make things better. (She has not read this or this. Here is the original research article.) The audience responded with a big female cheer. When Andrew Sullivan tried to argue, she silenced him with petty rhetoric. Shouldn’t any particular woman feel insulted when characterized solely as a group-member, no matter how superficially positive the characterization?

And let’s not forget that history is replete with violent female leaders. Queen Mary Tudor is called Bloody Mary because she burned over 300 Protestants at the stake for heresy. Queen Elizabeth I massacred Ireland. Indira Gandhi had operation Blue Star and imposed the national emergency during which she ruled by decree. Golda Meir had operation Wrath of God. Hillary Clinton’s vote for the Iraq war shows that she is pro-violence at least some of the time. Margaret Thatcher had the Falklands War. These records are among the bloodiest. And by the way, these women sent men to their deaths.

The lady’s not for turning … the other cheek (Wikipedia)

Good politicians need to be ruthless. They need to make tough decisions. These qualities were attributed to men. The political process simply selects for such personalities, male or female. So if only women ran the world, it would be the same. Women are capable of injustice as well. Remember Lynndie England at Abu Ghraib?

United States Army photo from Abu Ghraib priso...

Such a sweetheart (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As a bonus, here’s a bunch of women laughing about a man getting his penis chopped off and thrown into the garbage disposal. His crime: asking his wife for a divorce. One woman who notes the blatant sexism is quieted with more jokes. I am for all kinds of humor, and free speech above all; but can you imagine the outrage if the roles were reversed?

2. Government must ensure women earn as much as men

Sounds great right? Who except the purest, most-distilled sack of chauvinistic excrement would disagree with this? For every dollar a man earns, a woman earns 66 cents. Surely something has to be done to fix this injustice. It would solidify women’s presence at the workplace, and cement their rights, right?

Only if you’re unaware that over 95% of the people in the professions with chronic and acute health risks are men. Firefighting, pest-control, construction and other such jobs have over 95% men. Because these jobs are harder and carry higher risk of death and almost a certainty of injury, it’s hard to find people willing to do them. So we need to offer higher salaries. On the flip side, women represent over 95% of dental hygienists, secretaries, speech pathologists, preschool and kindergarten teachers etc. (2010 census report here.) Nobody denies that these jobs have challenges, but they are a lot safer and much less grueling. Men work more hourscommute farther, and do not get pregnant. As sexist as that last one sounds, an employee going on maternity leave is a cost, and employers consider it while negotiating salaries.

I’m sure some employers believe that women aren’t as good as men, and therefore pay women less. But governmental action isn’t going to change them. These prejudiced employers will stop hiring women if they are forced to pay them as much as men, as Milton Friedman explains. Without the government forcing hands, a sexist employer is forced to pay a cost of the higher wage when he arbitrarily chooses a man over a woman. His prejudice costs him. If for whatever reason, a woman is less preferable for a job, the best bargaining power she has is the offer to work for less. Feminism aims to reduce this power thus screwing the pooch for female employees.

Also, one of the best ways to get a raise is to ask for one. Fewer women than men have families dependent primarily on their income. Consequently, a man is more motivated to demand a raise or else because there is a direct correlation between his raise and the improvement in his family’s standard of living. Another instance of this differential earning pressure on men and women is the evidence that self-employed women make less than self-employed men do, probably because they choose other comforts in life that are incongruous with a large profit, according to a 2001 study by Rochester Institute of Technology.

3. Women are smarter because they don’t hump everything they can

This popular refrain seems anecdotally true. Most women could go outside and suggest sex, and guys would line up to oblige. Hence we assume that men are slaves to their primal nature and that women are cerebral and ethereal beings who cannot be distracted from their goals. The most sophisticated of men, on the other hand, turn into blithering idiots by a glimpse of cleavage.

That conclusion is premature. In our society, sex for sex’s sake has consequences. People who get a lot of action are often assumed to have some moral deficit or a self-esteem deficiency for which they overcompensate with promiscuity. So people weigh the risk of getting labeled against the benefit of a dalliance.

When guaranteed a good sexual experience, women are as promiscuous as men, says Terri Conley at the University of Michigan. Of course, this guarantee is often more easily available to men. Most men can gauge with one look whether a woman will please them in bed. A quick head-to-toe scan isn’t enough for women. Given the social price of sex, the high cost-to-benefit ratio for women makes them more discerning. There goes that female philosophical high-ground, which brings us to…

4. Women are more spiritually evolved than men

This is classic question-begging. First, few people can define spiritual evolution, and they are all meditating under Himalayan icicles not to be disturbed. If we can’t even agree on a definition, how can we go about laying men and women on a continuum of spirituality. But some feminists love spouting this party line. Men are impulsive, women are thoughtful. Men are stupid, women are smart. Isn’t this what we see on TV? From Everybody Loves Raymond to Scrubs and even How I Met Your Mother, the woman in the relationship is a genius who swoops in and solves the problem while the husband is busy screwing up. (You gotta love Everybody Loves Raymond. They showed nine seasons of a housewife who never kept a clean home, couldn’t cook to save her life, but yelled at her husband for not contributing.) But it makes sense why TV shows are like that. Women watch more TV than men in any time slot. Women also shop more than men do. No sponsor would want to mess with that. Women need to see this for what it is: a ruse to make them swipe that credit card. As Bill Maher asks, “If women are more evolved, why are they so impressed by shiny objects?”

I’m trying to imagine the mixed emotions of an evangelical feminist about this pic.

Side note – No present species or sex is more evolved than any other. Humans of today are no more evolved than the chimpanzees of today. Humans and chimps  simply have common ancestors. Read The Greatest Show On Earth by Richard Dawkins for more information. (Side side note – I don’t support Professor Dawkins’ condescending reply to Rebecca Watson regarding Elevatorgate. However, the ad hominem attacks on Dawkins for expressing an opinion were disturbing. Tracy Clark-Flory of Salon.com called him a dick: sexist lingo, which apparently women are allowed to use, you know, when the guy deserves it.)

5. You can’t say that because it’s offensive to women

My favorite argument. Anything that offends women is now off the table. When Larry Summers was President of Harvard, he asked if the poor representation of women in science could be due to inherent differences in aptitude between men and women. To be clear, this was one of his theories. He was booed off the academic stage followed by crucifixion in the press, which ended only with his resignation. Such sentiment is rife in colleges today. Suggest an idea a woman might find repugnant, and you’re a chauvinistic pig.

German designer Karl Lagerfeld was given the collective middle finger for calling singer Adele ‘a little too fat’. What he said was, “The thing at the moment is Adele. She is a little too fat, but she has a beautiful face and a divine voice.” I’m probably standing too far, because this looks like a compliment. (They make it sound like he camped outside her house with Atkins pamphlets.) Adele responded that she was happy with the way she looked and how she represented most women. She has since hired a trainer to help her get healthier, according to a source of the Daily Mail.

A few years ago, conservative talk-show host Dennis Prager was accused of endorsing marital rape. I immediately pictured a grinning Prager motivating a large congregation of rapist husbands lauding their tireless pursuits and egging them on while lecturing on combinations of physical force and emotional blackmail simmered to perfection.

Tomorrow: alibi practice and crime-scene cleanup.

His article (Part I and part II) was about how sometimes for the health of a marriage, a woman should consider having sex with her husband even if she’s not ‘in the mood’. Prager also argues that we rarely leave other important things in life (going to work, taking kids to school etc.) at the mercy of our moods. I don’t agree with everything he said in the article, but he never endorsed any form of force. The feminist argument assumes that women are animals who have sex when and only when their monkey-brains tell them to, and a woman having sex for any reason other than raw desire is being raped. If that’s true, all prostitutes are rape-victims. Shouldn’t it be anti-feminist not to distinguish a woman’s free will from her feral instinct? Yet, feminists were happy to take this position and over-simplify women. Prager simply suggested that women make a conscious decision to have sex in spite of their mood. He respected a woman’s volition more than his critics did. Men are constantly told to cuddle and hold their partner after sex, buy flowers, give back-rubs, foot-massages and the like, in spite of their moods or lack of them. But they comply for the health of the marriage. And they should. Being aware of one’s desire and going against it for a good reason is a sign of maturity. Women cannot expect equal treatment (neither can men) and demand qualified speech. That is injustice.

Finally, the adversarial interaction between feminists, masculists and those in between keeps everyone in check. (I ignore the squiggly Microsoft Word uses to nudge me to reconsider ‘masculists.‘) Stifling opinions for their apparent repugnance only drives prejudice and bias underneath. Say whatever you want, but when contrary evidence is presented, evaluate it, and change your opinion if necessary. Stop being loyal to a fault.

Unbridled blasphemy

As I was gumming down a bowl of soup that some diet-friendly misanthropic nihilist might have invented, I noticed a banner which read, “Maybe God is the answer?” That was the message verbatim.

Now, most of my regular readers know my cynicism about religion and might consider it hypocrisy that I joined a catholic university, but let’s move past that for now. Please note that this is not a slight on Christianity but on religion in general. In fact, my kind of atheism is strangely ecumenical as it unites all religions while calling them crazy. What hurts me deeply is the marketing of religion that is done today. Many a graduate student can testify to being accosted by a missionary with the dangling carrot of free tuition in exchange for accepting Jesus Christ as their personal savior. “God wants you to give till it hurts” is one of the many lines smoothly delivered by buff evangelists as they continue to mercilessly fleece poor innocent people.

Another cheap shot especially practiced by religion is that it attacks people when they are the weakest. Terminally ill patients are often known to have complete conversions during their last hours. While the religiously fanatical lobby notches this in their victory column, it can also be explained as a form of mental anesthesia that people crave when their fear, desperation or pain gets too much to handle.

The Hindu, Muslim and other religions are not far behind in their hypocrisies and their endorsement (and sometimes instigation) of atrocities. They too captivate people when they are most mentally feeble.

Richard Dawkins, the geneticist & acclaimed atheist, says that religion is the best product to sell because neither its virtues nor its promises are vulnerable to scientific testing. This is a product whose qualities you cannot experience until you die. The funniest part is that the people who tell you what happens after death lack serious resume points in the experience category themselves. If, in a scientific discussion, someone throws conjecture after conjecture at you without a shred of data to back them up, you would show that person the door. Yet, we grant religion a free pass and complete immunity from all logical accusations.

Sam Harris says that most people who follow one religion are atheists with respect to others. They believe in no god but their own god. Atheists, Harris says, simply go one god further. Bill Maher notes the pejorative connotation of the word atheist in modern times, and prefers the word rationalist. A rationalist is simply a person who does not conform to an ideology in principle but questions everything and is a natural skeptic. You need to convince such people, and not preach to them or command them.

I have met many people who argue that as I cannot disprove the existence of god, there has to be a god. To this, the great philosopher Bertrand Russell proposed a theory that there is a small teapot orbiting the sun and that its orbit lies between that of Mars & Earth such that it is too tiny to be seen by the most powerful telescope. As we cannot disprove the existence of said teapot, it must exist, and we are free to worship it. This kind of juvenile logic would be rejected by most children if said in the context of the teapot, and rightly so, for it is impossible to prove a negative, and hence the burden of proof should be shouldered by the people who claim the existence of any object.

The least these religious people could admit is that they don’t know. I would still respect that. It is their unwavering certainty in the face of many a contradictory proof that baffles me the most.

A friend of mine once gave me a patronizing smile during one such argument and said, “We must not critique these stories & fables in religious texts, but merely take the good out of them.” Is that not a critique in itself? Does it not take critical thinking to separate the grain from the chaff? And who is to decide which is which? Are we free to choose?

I consider it an offense to be told to suspend my critical thinking for any reason whatsoever. Richard Dawkins opines that we can lead perfectly moral and decent lives without being taught so by religious scripture. Having considered that, let us weigh the damage wrought by religion against the little (not unique) good it does. It pains me to visit ground zero in NYC. That horror would not have happened if there was no religion. If there was no promise of an afterlife, no one could have convinced young men to throw their lives away and take many others with them. There would have been no Holocaust. Closer to home, we Indians have seen enough brutalities committed in communal riots to know what I’m talking about.

If you woke up one day and saw that Princess Diana was speaking to you, you would suspect that you were hallucinating. Substitute that with the voice of god (which, by the way, you have no way of identifying) and you might just be called a prophet or a messiah.

I am very cynical & venomous on this subject simply because of the time, money, energy and other resources I see being wasted on this selfish mental anesthetic. Let’s face it. We humans fear the unknown. Death is the ultimate unknown. So no matter how incredible the explanations offered to us are, we swallow them down just like I swallowed that soup-we have a void to fill, and when we are really desperate, anything goes.