Thursday, 27 November 2014

The Right to Free Speech

One thing that really disturbs me about our society is the unpleasant habit we have collectively developed of closing down a debate because the subject matter is offensive to us.

For example, a debate to be held at Oxford University over the pros and cons of abortion was recently halted due to threats of interference from feminist students. They were upset that people could ever consider that there are disadvantages to abortion. On that particular point, I might ask them to enquire how the aborted foetuses feel about it, but that's for another time.

The point is that just because a viewpoint is offensive to some, does not mean it shouldn't be debated and scrutinised.

There is an increasing tendency for this postulation to be met with the response: 'the right to free speech doesn't mean the right to a platform!' In other words, you can say what you like, but you can't force others to publish your views or to even allow you to utter them on their property.

I'll admit, there's some logic in that argument. But I still have a few big problems with it.

Firstly, it seems to imply that giving a platform to unpalatable views, or indeed, sharing a platform with someone who expresses them, somehow condones those opinions. This logic is taken to absurd length when some people actually call for a BBC journalist to be sacked because he had a photo taken with a by-election candidate for Britain First. No, I'm sorry, that's complete nonsense. Sharing a platform with, or providing a platform to someone, does not mean that you condone their views at all. It simply means that you are allowing them to express their opinion, that's all.

But what if their views are so utterly repugnant that they can't even bear to tolerate them being expressed? I suppose that some people don't even want to take the risk of even being associated with such opinions, and therefore refuse to publish them.

People might not have an automatic right to a platform to express their views, but if they are denied any platform whatsoever, then de facto they are being denied freedom of speech. We must, therefore, as a society, have some platforms which are guaranteed - where no subject is taboo, where anything can be debated without fear or favour. Parliament is one such institution - MPs are traditionally protected by Parliamentary privilege - a device which allowed them to participate freely in debates of great import without having to fear persecution or prosecution on the grounds of treason or sedition. Even today, Parliamentary privilege is used to protect MPs from court proceedings during the discharge of their offices.

Universities should be another. Seats of learning and centres of education and debate which have formed one of the cornerstones of our culture for centuries. And yet, Oxford students felt compelled to close down a debate on abortion because they found it 'offensive', and they didn't want things being discussed at 'their' university.

Well, I'm sorry to say, folks, it's not just your university. You study there, but you are subsidised by the taxpayer to do so. The university itself, whilst it theoretically could become entirely private, is rooted in hundreds of years of British history. Kings have studied there and granted it Charters. It has produced knowledge which has benefited us all. Universities are for the public sharing of knowledge and learning for the greater good. They belong to us all, not merely the people who study there.

And finally, regardless of whether an opinion is regarded as toxic or not, regardless of whether it is regarded as offensive or not, that opinion must be heard. An attempt to close down or suppress opinion merely because it 'offends' is the worst example of groupthink - a desire for harmony and conformity which leads to irrational decision-making and ultimately, bad choices, by suppressing opinions that challenge assumptions, stereotyping of challengers as weak, evil or stupid and an irrational sense of moral supremacy against such challengers.

Sound familiar?

So to anyone who considers closing down a debate because they're 'offended', I'll say only this: have you considered the possibility that your opinion is wrong?

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Why I Am Not a Feminist

So with feminism seeming to be headlining the news again, and lots of men being asked 'are you are feminist?', I thought I'd give my answer.

I'm not. I dislike feminism, and the myths that seem to roil around it. Here's a few of them.

1. Feminism is just supporting gender equality!
Really? Is that actually true?

First, let's look at the word itself, shall we? Feminism derives from the Latin femineus, meaning 'of or pertaining to a woman/women'. The ism suffix is typically applied to Greek loanwords, 'denoting action or practice, state or condition, principles, doctrines, a usage or characteristic, devotion or adherence, etc.' ( So the very word 'feminism' means 'for the women'.

If feminism purports to support gender equality, then why does the very word itself refer only to one gender? That is, by its very nature, sexist. Of course, historically, and indeed in many countries throughout the world, feminism and gender equality have been the same thing. Women have traditionally been an oppressed section of society, and therefore furthering their rights has been synonymous with approaching gender equality.

But that is now not the case in the modern Western world. Throughout the Western world, women enjoy the same civil, political and employment rights as men. The pay gap is closing, if it hasn't evaporated already. In fact, it is now becoming quite apparent that men and boys actually face quite significant and serious social impediments.

I cannot think of one single example of when I have heard of a self-declared 'feminist' standing up for men's rights. How, then, can feminism be held up as an ideology which supports gender equality?

2. Women need feminism because they are oppressed.
No, they are not. Certainly not in the Western world. Women have the same civil, political and employment rights. They are no long beholden to men - they can vote, work, join clubs, do whatever they like. Men-only clubs are now compelled by popular demand to admit women. Organisations like the Freemasons are increasingly seen as being old-fashioned and out of touch. This, to me, does not signify a climate of oppression towards women.

Of course, this does not mean to say that sexism against women is a thing of the past. The stereotypical image of builders whistling at a pretty girl passing by still happens. But it is hardly symptomatic of a widespread social malaise aimed at oppressing women and girls - the 'Patriarchy' to which so many feminists laughably refer. A bunch of ill-mannered yobs whistling at a girl is precisely that, nothing more. For every one of them, you'll find ten men that think such behaviour is ludicrous.

There is a demographic which suffers severely from the tenets of modern society. They are:

  • More likely to be victims of crime;
  • More likely to be driven into crime;
  • More likely to be falsely accused of crime;
  • More likely to receive custodial sentences;
  • More likely to under-perform at school;
  • More likely to be denied custody of their children;
  • More likely to sacrifice high proportions of their income to support their family;
  • More likely to pay higher taxes;
  • More likely to die early;
  • More likely to be unable to receive quality healthcare;
  • More likely to commit suicide;
  • More likely to have their genitals mutilated;
  • More like to work in hazardous occupations.
Of course, I refer to men. But it's women that are oppressed(!).

3. What about the pay gap?
The pay gap is an observable phenomenon where women tend to get paid less for doing the same job as men. This is seized upon by feminists as evidence of systemic sexism and discrimination against women. It is certainly true that, prior to the passing of the Equal Pay Act 1970, women did face systemic discrimination in this regard. However, they do not any more.

The remaining 'pay gap' can be explained. Consider that men and women, by virtue of their biology, tend to play different roles in the rearing of children. Women bear children, and so in most cases, there is a presumption, both on their part and on society's, that they will perform the role of primary carer for any children they have. As a result, women with children tend to have significant career gaps where they have been caring for children, typically for 1-7 years. This represents up to 17.5% of a woman's working life. Is it any surprise that women tend to get paid less?

If you want to truly assess whether there is a pay gap which is solely down to gender discrimination, then you need to compare the pay of childless women against the pay of childless men, and women with children against men with comparable career gaps.

 There is no pay gap. Some women get paid less because they haven't been working as long as their male counterparts, that's all.

4. What about female shortfalls in male-dominated professions?
This is the idea that women and girls are 'guided' down certain career paths from a very young age, again with the idea of keeping them in their place.

Years ago, this was no doubt true. Girls generally studied arts and crafts at school, whereas engineering and science with the exclusive preserve of boys. However, this is no longer the case. Girls are not denied access to careers in science, engineering, law or politics, any more than boys are denied access to careers in teaching, nursing, hospitality or social work. However, there is a constant focus on so-called 'male-dominated' professions, with this being held up as another example of systemic bias.

The truth is the men's brains and women's brains work in a fundamentally different way. Their neuron distribution patterns are markedly different - they approach problems in different ways, they make choices in different ways. As such, it is perfectly reasonable to conclude that women will tend to make different career choices to men. This does not mean that such career choices are less valid, or that the careers are less important or fulfilling. I would submit that teaching and nursing are just as important as any other field of human endeavour, yet we do not fixate on the apparent 'shortage' of men in those fields.

By all means, focus on equality of opportunity - but attempting to engineer equality of outcome is an exercise in futility.

5. Girls are subjected to soft discrimination though!
Soft discrimination is the idea that girls especially are manipulated by the media, toy manufacturers and others into a certain way of thinking during their formative years, especially through the use of so-called 'girly' toys, such as dolls and pink things. The cry of feminists in this regard is that companies should have 'gender-neutral' goods and marketing, so that girls are not compelled down a certain route.

This is just complete fantasy. I'll let you in on a giant, humongous, secret as to why products marketed to women and girls are usually pink, or dolly-associated: because they are more likely to sell if they are.

Companies are in the business of selling their products. As such, they are responsive to market demands. Girls and women tend to like pink things, hence a company manufacturing goods for them will tend to make them pink. Likewise, if they make anything for men, it tends to be black and featureless, because many men find a simplistic aesthetic to be quite attractive. There's no giant conspiracy.

I have a son and a daughter of very similar ages. My daughter, having a slightly older brother, has had various choices of the toys she has been able to have and to play with. I have never forced or guided her into liking any particular set of toys that could be defined as stereotypically 'girly'. She has always had the option of playing with Lego, action figures, toy guns, swords and things like that - and her brother has always been willing to share. But when presented with the choice, she often plumps for dolls with pretty dresses. Why? Because she is pre-disposed to do so. There's nothing wrong with that - it doesn't make her inferior. It just means she kind of likes pink, that's all.

6. Women still do most of the housework!
Again, true - women are more likely to be the primary contributor in terms of domestic chores compared to men. But women are also more likely to be in part time work and more likely to be in jobs with little or no physical demands. This, therefore, is not really a matter of gender, but a matter of contribution. If your partner has longer hours and earns more money than you, then you enjoy a lifestyle which is in effect subsidised by them. It is not unreasonable under such circumstances to pull your weight by doing jobs around the house.

And yes, blokes - it swings both ways. If the missus works longer and harder than you do and/or gets paid more, get your bloody marigolds on. If I was married to a woman bringing in more than me and working longer hours, you can be damn sure that the house would be immaculate and there'd be hot food on the table when she got home.

7. What about cultural expectations?
There's cultural expectations around men, too. For example, it seems perfectly reasonable for a woman to describe herself as a 'full-time mum'. Any such attempt from a 'full-time dad' would almost certainly be met with raised eyebrows.

If you want to talk about cultural expectations, how about the representation of men in the media, especially advertising? They're almost always portrayed as an imbecile or a comic foil to the clever woman outsmarting them.

How about the 'mother knows best' philosophy pervading our culture regarding childcare? As if, by implication, dads know fuck all? My experience of ante-natal and post-natal care of my children was one of disdain - health visitors and midwives looking at me helping with the raising of my children as if to say, 'what's the sperm donor doing here? He's done his bit.'

How about the disadvantages and discrimination fathers face in family court proceedings? During mediation with my ex-wife about contact and residence, it was put to me that she was a better parent simply because she was a woman. By the supposedly impartial mediator. They were rather surprised when I savaged that assertion for the naked sexism that it was.

Cultural expectations affect both men and women, so I hardly see it as an exclusive 'the-Patriarchy-are-keeping-us-down' issue.

8. The female body is used to sell everything in advertising! It's demeaning!
Our obsession with the female body isn't so much symptomatic of the Patriarchy objectifying women, but more the innate way that human sexuality works.

On a biological, instinctive level, men are programmed to want to have sex with women. This gives them the evolutionary advantage of having as many children as possible, thus ensuring that their genes survive the ravages of natural selection. Men tend to be attracted to women who manifest physical characteristics associated with child-bearing - wide hips, young-looking (incidentally, grey hair is not as noticeable in blondes, which therefore makes blondes look younger), big breasts (usually), healthy curved figure. No great mystery there.

On the same, biological, instinctive level, women are programmed to want to have children. Obviously, they also tend to be attracted to males who exhibit physical characteristics likely to produce healthy offspring. However, on that instinctive level, they also tend to want to attract and most importantly retain a man to provide for her and her offspring once she has given birth. In order to do this, women tend to have a biological desire to make themselves attractive to men.

That's why humanity is obsessed with the female form. Because it's in our DNA. Note, of course, I am not talking about our modern society, simply ancestral and evolutionary instincts which have developed over millions of years.

Personally, whilst the evolutionary theories explain this phenomenon quite satisfactorily, it appears to me that we should be making a moral choice as a society to lessen objectification of people, regardless of gender. But again, the immediate feminist leap is that it is evil men responsible for the objectification of women. In actual fact, the biggest culprits are usually women themselves.

Look at women's magazines. Usually edited and written entirely by women. You wouldn't think they'd objectify themselves, would you? And yet, virtually every women's magazine cover has a woman on the front. A woman who normally conforms to the above evolutionary stereotype of attractiveness.

Look at the way hair and beauty products are marketed. Normally by women. In some cases, very famous, wealthy women, exploiting the insecurities of other women to make even more money. Men are not solely responsible for this exploitation - it is a phenomenon that women are equal participants in.

And in case anyone suggests that men are not objectified in the same way, Diet Coke and fireman's calendars obviously don't exist then.

In short, sexual objectification is not an exclusively female issue, nor is it deliberately engineered by the non-existent Patriarchy. It is a problem which all of modern society needs to get to grips with.

9. Women are pre-judged based on what they wear.
Yeah, sometimes. It works for men, too. See what happens when they wear dresses in public. We're all guilty of pre-judging people based on their appearance. Again, it's not an exclusively female issue - it affects us all.

10. Feminists try to raise awareness of other equality injustices as well!
Really? They seem to spend an awful lot of time banging on about how terrible things are for women in the Western world, and ignoring huge injustices like the systemic oppression of Jews and Christians in the Middle East (both men and women), the sexual enslavement of women and children by Jihadist militant groups, the correlation between certain cultural groups and sexual grooming of children and the challenges that men face due to prejudice as well. All I seem to hear from feminists is how terrible they have it.

So there you have it. I'm not a feminist, because feminism only looks at one narrow part of human inequality, and often seeks special concessions in favour of that inequality rather than addressing the problem directly. It is a divisive, aggressive ideology that masquerades as something benign, where it is often simply used as cover to try and implement and justify continued prejudice against men.

It is also inherently hypocritical. Just the other day, a scientist who had just landed a probe on a comet was ridiculed by feminists for wearing a comic book shirt with some pretty ladies on it. So let me get this straight - men aren't allowed to criticise women for what they wear, 'cos that's sexist, but feminists are allowed to criticise men for what they wear...? Right.

Nope. Not a feminist. I like equality too much.