Tuesday, 3 November 2009

sick of the bloke-osphere

The Bloke-osphere

I hope Cath Elliott doesn’t mind me stealing one of her blog post titles but it is such a good way of expressing the issue I am about to try and discuss that I couldn’t resist the borrow. If you want to read the original blog post where I found this word then I urge you to visit her excellent blog – www.toomuchtosayformyself.com

And now to my matter…

Once again, I have sworn off Comment is Free. Once again I dared to read the comments on a feminist themed article, was made to feel sick and dizzy in rage, and left a furious comment stating that I would never return to its white and grey pages. And I wanted to use this opportunity to discuss why, and to see how other people feel about the CIF-esque behaviour on web forums when discussing an issue that is close to their heart, which for me is feminism, which for others could be climate change, healthcare, social reform, the war; all things which are close to my heart as well but which I don’t know as much about as feminism. Bearing this in mind, I am going to talk about feminist themed articles.

The last and final article I looked at on CIF was a well written, sympathetic editorial on the pay gap. The article clearly explained where the pay gap was happening in councils, why the pay gap was a problem and how the Leeds Council decision to reduce male wages to meet female wages has somehow made women workers look like the baddies, rather than the council managers who are paying unequal wages.
The comments were the usual barrage of denial of the pay gap’s existence, and my old favourite, that the pay gap is not a gender gap but a “mother gap”. Of course, it is us silly women’s fault for going off and having babies, if we didn’t have babies then we would get equal pay wouldn’t we! (erm, no seeing as the pay gap exists regardless). Oh but wait, if women don’t have babies we women get into trouble for being heartless Lady Macbeth style monsters intent on ruining the human race! What to do! Someone commented that bin collectors deserve more money seeing as it is harder to be a bin collector than be a carer. Having done neither job I can’t comment (although I have my view) but this is the kind of misinformed comment that abounded. (misinformed in that how the fuck does the commenter know which is harder?!)
But my favourite comment came from someone who complained that the Fawcett Society were always talking about how bad everything is, but never actually getting on and doing something about it.

WTF! This statement, coming from someone on a web forum, moaning about how bad everything is, but thinking it is more constructive to sit around on a web forum moaning than doing anything about it. (quickly realising how I was guilty of doing the same thing I shouted that I would no longer sit on CIF as I had better things to do, such as organise the representations of women in the media project, international woman’s day and Reclaim the Night).

I realised that part of the problem with the aggressive people on web forums – and by aggressive I mean those who are shouty and rude, and those who are also snide and patronising, is that they tend to be people who think they know best about a subject, who think they are more expert than the expert, who think they can criticise research and writing on which they know very little, and when someone questions their so called superior knowledge, they have a web tantrum and start criticising you of having an agenda, or being middle class. (surreal).

One area in which this is paramount has been illustrated today by Jess McCabe’s article. (Which I saw on the F Word – I did go on CIF to read the article and read the comments! I am keeping my vow…for now) The debate from CIF has strayed a bit onto the F Word, with CIF commenters calling her use of statistics into question. McCabe rightly points out that she didn’t do the research (the UN etc did the research) but the stats presented stand up in terms of the general patterns presented.
Whenever a feminist article appears on CIF or similar forums and uses statistics, commenters call the stats into question, saying they have been specially selected to serve a feminist agenda. Or that the stats are inaccurate (how the fuck can your average CIF commenter know that the UN stats are inaccurate!!) and are being used to serve a feminist agenda.

I have not noticed this kind of reaction to statistics on any other type of CIF discussion.

Of course I believe strongly we should question statistics. Of course they can be used to serve an agenda – we just need to look at the Iraqi death stats to know that. But when an article supplies a range of statistics that all pretty much point to the same outcome, as McCabe does in hers, as countless articles on rape, DV, pay gaps etc have done, then we can at least take those pieces of research as a base to build our understanding.
It is the arrogance that gets me, and puts me off from visiting the site ever again. The arrogance to assume that you know better than the author of the article which stats are genuine and which ones aren’t. If you have the evidence (which, considering as CIF readers are always demanding more evidence, you would think those complainants would produce themselves) to show that the author is being a liar, then post it. But what I have seen time and time again is this sort of assumption that feminist articles which quote stats are untrustworthy off the bat, with no backing up alternative research or stats.

And, what I don’t get is why, if stats are so untrustworthy, why if the stats produced by the author are fitting an agenda, how should we be expected to trust the commenters reply stats? How can we tell if they are any more trustworthy? It goes round and round and round.

My final point on stats is this. When a feminist article doesn’t use stats, and instead uses anecdotes and stories, the author is accused of not backing up the stories with stats! But if stats are added in, then the stats are untrustworthy! It’s a minefield! You can’t win.

This isn’t just a bloke thing btw (referring back to my bloke-osphere title) but something commenters of all sex and gender do. For example, a recent article on menstruation activists sparked off a crazy set of anger and disgust and lack of understanding about the subject of women’s periods. It was frightening, the sheer horror and disgust expressed by people on this subject. It really showed a degree of terrifying women hating. But that’s by the by. The conversation moved towards mooncups, and I had men and women who had NEVER used a mooncup telling me it was crap/unhygienic/for people living in pixieland/unpractical and a host of other adjectives. Yes, the mooncup isn’t for everyone, but it is a clear example of uniformed commenters thinking they know best and drowning out the voices of those who have an informed opinion or experience. When I explained why their comments were unjust, I was told I was living in pixieland. Nice.

I think there should always be room for debate and argument, for people to disagree and point out differences and flaws in the argument. But the attitude of the anti feminist commenters on CIF doesn’t match this. The volume of those who shout down and disagree and slag off feminist perspectives stifles debate and stifles conversation, as people like me slink off to lick our metaphorical wounds and decide it just isn’t worth a hassle to fight back against people who’s view point will never, ever be changed because they just won’t listen!

From stats and misinformation, I am going to move on to the more gender specific, bloke-osphere nature of this debate, and relates to the de-railers of conversation on an article about a feminist issue by crying out loud and clear “what about the men!”

The clearest example of this is about rape. The crime of rape is generally discussed and framed around a feminist debate, with the recognition that men rape other men too, that men can be a victim of rape and that by working to improve rape sentencing for women and making it easier for women to feel able to report rape, we will simultaneously be breaking down barriers and helping men feel able to report rape too. I am massive believer in the idea that the fight against rape can’t be won separately.
Yet whenever an article on CIF or any feminist forum, including Cath’s blog and the F Word, we have (chiefly male) commenters wanting to discuss false conviction rate.

Now. I am not denying that false accusations of rape do happen. But when the conviction rate for rape hangs between 5-6%, a conviction rate lower than most other violent crimes, and the false accusation rape is, on average, the same as every other crime including insurance fraud etc, I don’t think that false accusations are the issue that should be discussed. I think the issue that needs to be discussed is why the hell, in this day and age, did Amnesty’s recent survey on attitudes suggested that 33% of people think a woman asks for it if drunk/wearing a short skirt. Why are the Daily Mail writing headlines saying women are drunk, not drugged. Why is the conviction rate so low.

A false accusation of rape is devastating I am sure, and can ruin a reputation. But if you read CIF et al you would think that these accusations abound, that they are more prevalent than rape, that the false accusation rate for rape was 95% rather than actually being the same as the false accusation for every other crime.

The same happens in discussions on DV, objectification and street harrassment and even on the pay gap (“well I work in the public sector so earn less than these high flying private sector women who are complaining” kinda thing). A discussion on DV will veer to “what about male victims” – a statement tha does need to be considered but generally ignores the fact that the majority of male victims of DV are the victims of male partners and comparitively the male victims of women partners is very small. Yes we should be fighting to end ALL DV, whether perpetuated against men or women, whether perpetuated by men or women. But when we all know that the majority by a LONG CHALK of DV survivors are women attacked by men, when TWO WOMEN A WEEK are killed by their (ex and current) partners, I think it is ok to approach the DV debate from a female perspective. As with male and female victims of rape, if we can encourage people to believe in the seriousness of DV against women then this simultaneously encourages us to look at the whole DV picture and not place one gender above another. This doesn’t change the facts though, that the majority of victims are women, that the majority of offenders are men.

Please don’t demand statistics. You know that that is true!

Street harrassment, objectification – the same thing again. You talk about street harrassment, or how you don’t like the way women appear in magazines, and you get told that “men get harrassed bty drunk women in clubs” or “men are being objectified too now”. Well, I get harrassed by drunk men in clubs, and in pubs, and on the street, and by sober men on the street, and by sober men in the park, and by sober men in the workplace, and by sober men everywhere I choose to go. There is a growing problem with the objectification of men in the media but it is miniscule compared to the frankly insane objectification of women. And again, if we fight the objectification of women, we can fight the objectification of men! The two go hand in hand! By saying enough to the objectification of women we can nip in the bud the growing problem of male objectification.

Enough of examples. I’m going to try and explain why I think (chiefly male) commenters derail the debate in this way.

Because it is a way of saying that women’s problems aren’t important, aren’t serious, shouldn’t be taken seriously in a serious forum of serious debate, and if we are going to talk about it then surely it would be better to look at the more serious ways in which these non-serious issues could seriously effect men (I am being repetitive on purpose).
It says that an issue is only important if it affects men more than/as much as women. It says that women should stop fighting for their rights and start fighting for men’s rights instead.

By undermining the research and evidence without proof, by saying that talking about women’s issues shouldn’t happen without talking about men as well, the “bloke-osphere” is saying that issues which affect women aren’t worthy of attention, and are only worthy of attention if framed in a way that takes men’s issues into account too.

This is why when there was ONE article about the effect of D-Day on women and dozens about the bravery of the men in D-Day (bravery rightly celebrated), commenters rushed to the site to criticise that the article didn’t mention the male fighters. No one commented on the articles about the male fighter bemoaning the lack of mention about women. It’s why people try to conflate Chippendales with the rise of strip clubs.

Forums like these are becoming a hostile environment for women like me who want to present the female side of the question. Rather than allowing debate, it stifles it, saying as it does that the women question is unimportant, unless constantly backed up by explaining how men suffer too.

The way the patriarchy hurts men is important. We need to tackle male rape and domestic violence against men. But there is nothing wrong about framing these debates through a feminist perspective and by looking at how they affect women, when women are in the majority of those affected. By constantly derailing the debate, the bloke-osphere makes a mockery of debate and of discussion, turning it into a one sided anti feminist squabble, conveniently ignoring the survivors and those affected, who need help, support, law changes and attitude changes. Instead, when these arguments kick off on CIF et al, the reality of the issues are forgotten about in favour of semantics and hypotheses. And I am sick of it.

PS - Tabloid Watch, Daily Quail, Enemies of Reason and other wonderful male written blogs are out there and provide a feminist friendly space so it isn't all bad readers. i think the main offenders know who they are...


vongosux said...

I'm not demanding statistics. I'm offering them:

gender and domestic violence:



Wage gap:


Additionally, the "gender gap report" that you'll be hearing about shortly from the World Economic Forum, is one of many studies that exclude recognition of male victims.


violetta said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
violetta said...

domestic violence:


"One in four women and one in six men will be a victim of domestic violence at some point in their lives"

sianandcrookedrib said...

Hi guys!
Well I couldn’t have done better myself at proving my point than you have. Here I am writing a blog post about how the blogosphere can stifle debate by elements of it demanding that a feminist debate becomes about the male issues, and here you all are, asking me to do that very thing!
The irony, as I am sure you will appreciate, is quite delicious.

So, how to answer your queries and criticisms. Well, let’s start with you, Anti-Misandry, seeing as you got here first. You say that I am telling lies about male DV. This is a charge I completely disagree with. If you read what I say, and read things I have written about this elsewhere in the internet, you will see that I very strongly say that it is vital to tackle male DV and to help male survivors escape violent abusive relationships and to encourage men to report violent partners, in an effort to help individual men and to help remove the taboo surrounding male DV. In the same way that we must help women survivors. Surely this is what you would want yourself? No one wants to not prevent male DV. No one wants to refuse help to male DV survivors. Maybe you know some people but I certainly don’t. But just as we won’t get anywhere in solving the issue of DV by looking solely at female survivors, neither will things work the other way around. I am merely suggesting that when the majority of abusers are male (be it in straight or homosexual relationships) it is ok to look at this issue from a feminist and women centred perspective. We also need to look at women on men and women on women violence, of course we do. If we are serious about tackling domestic violence, we need to look and learn about what prevents people from reporting, what keeps people staying in the relationship, why is the danger greater when the partner leaves, what patterns of behaviour does the abuse take, how can we care for children in abusive relationships, etc etc.
What we don’t need is squabbling over “who is the biggest victim”. That is not going to help anyone. To be continued…ran out of space!

sianandcrookedrib said...

Continued…Historically, it has been feminists pushing these questions and issues to the forefront, organising the refuges and setting up the support groups. We owe a lot to the women (and men) who have done this legwork of putting DV on a political and media agenda (still not enough but it’s a start). And we need to take the work they have done and continue working together, men and women together, to help survivors of DV, to encourage reporting of DV and to prevent this horrific and often deadly crime.
If you don’t believe that men and women need to work together to help such vulnerable individuals then that is very sad.
And it isn’t a lie to state that the majority of abusers are men, whether their victims are male or female. And it is not a lie to say that 2 women a week die as a result of DV, a fact which doesn’t make the news (unlike when its counterpart happens but that is a whole other issue).

Reginald – I don’t understand what you mean.

… - my answer to you is pretty much the same as to Anti-Misandry. I am writing a blog about women’s issues and how women’s questions and arguments are hijacked on the blogosphere to talk about men’s problems. I am never going to deny that men have problems too, and that attention needs to be paid for them. But coming back at me with stats from Fathers4Justice (you are kidding aren’t you??!!) and demanding I pay attention, asking me to put aside my concerns about feminism in favour of talking about what you want to talk about – is that fair?
I would not come on Anti-Misandry or a male rights blog and start yelling at you to talk about women’s issues. I ask for the same respect in return.
And one final thing – it is not the job of feminists to campaign for men’s rights as well as women’s rights. Luckily most feminists recognise that the patriarchy hurts men and women, and that removing dangerous patriarchal structures will create a better world for everyone. But it is not my responsibility to fight your battles or say your arguments for you.

I don’t want this blog to become a place for a slanging match. So I would ask you to not come on my blog unless you are willing to respect my opinion and the comment policy.

James said...

I'll prefix this with the health warning it deserves in that these are all personal views, I'm no expert in feminism, domestic violence or rape, and I'm a man, but I will also say it shows how far we've come as a society when we still have page 3 models in a popular 'newspaper' and vapid gossip magazines aimed squarely at women. I suppose there is now too a dizzying array of magazines of similar calibre like Nuts and Zoo for men, but also harming the cause of women more than that of men. The idea that a successful children's TV presenter has to get her kit off for a lads mag to get anywhere seems to pass off without question.

What did you mean specifically when you said the pay gap exists regardless? Do you mean regardless of whether the women in question have kids? If so I wonder if what we're seeing is a prejudice against women because an employer thinks they might have kids, whether or not the women actually intend to?

I've long wondered whether giving men the same parental leave as women might help narrow the pay gap. If nothing else, more men taking up a more equal role in childcare may help to change the perception of a man's role in society, as well as removing any argument companies (especially smaller ones) might have to discriminate against women.

I wonder too whether this is tied in with capitalism and the very skewed short-term view it imposes on value judgements of the different kinds of work done in society. Without kids there would be no future for humankind, yet the enormity of that has to be dragged down to arguments at an economic level like not having anyone to create wealth to pay our pensions before many people will listen. It's the same with issues like climate change, where we've become distracted by money rather than thinking of direct solutions.

The frightening levels of domestic violence that persist and the conviction rate for rape are shameful for a supposedly civilised society. Of course there are male victims of DV and rape, though they are in the minority. What I think is telling though, is that people think of it as having a particular stigma attached to it when men are victims that makes it harder for them to seek help.

It might be impossible to prove that either way (ie. are cases underreported or just fewer), but the very idea that it could be true speaks volumes of how people expect men to react to different things.

Why is it assumed that men should feel especially humiliated about being beaten by a woman who's close to them, or about being raped by another man? There's a notion lurking there that a man should as a minimum be able to defend himself physically to be above ridicule, and that women are weaker than men and couldn't possibly do any damage to a real man. Both I think are rubbish and yet I suspect not widely challenged, and they hint at women being expected to be nurturing and emotional and men being expected to be strong and aggressive.

I think you're right to be annoyed by people derailing the argument to talk exclusively of male victims as although on the rise, women have suffered this for far, far longer and in greater numbers.

Ultimately I think popular culture, advertising and the press still has a large part to play in shaping (consciously or otherwise) gender roles, and it irritates me that people continue to buy papers/magazines they pretend to despise. Yet I feel powerless to do anything about it.

Ah well, I didn't want you to think that you only had a collection of CIF-troll clones reading your blog... you at least now have another viewpoint represented however unqualified and rambling ;)

sianandcrookedrib said...

Hi james

Thanks for your comments. I agree with you on it all. About parental and maternal leave, definitely. In terms of saying the pay gap happens regardless, the latest stats from Fawcett et al suggest that women without children are suffer a pay gap as well as women with children. This, it is suggested, is because of the employer (think Alan Sugar’s famous statement) may think it is a risk to hire or promote a woman of child bearing age (which, technically these days is between 12 and 60!) in case she does decide to havea baby. It’s so absurd!
I very strongly believe that, as you say, the best solution for this is parity in maternity and paternity leave. I think the current 2 weeks for fathers is a sheer insult to men. Not only do I think that economically things would get better if maternity and paternity leave was more equal – in that by men taking time off as well employers would be unable to discriminate between mothers and fathers and one aspect of the pay gap would be diminished. But I also think it would help encourage family bonding, would encourage and support men in seeing themselves as fathers, and encourage male and baby bonding. My friend who recently became a father was devestated about the lack of paternity leave, he felt it an insult to his attitude towards his baby and his role of a father.
We complain about absent fathers and lack of father role models, but we don’t allow fathers to take a role in their baby’s childhood. It’s so backwards!
If maternity and paternity leave had greater parity then we would perhaps stop seeing child rearing as a female occupation and instead see it as something the family does together. Obviously in terms of breast feeding etc it is vital that women do take time off in a way that it isn’t (physically) vital for men. But I think it could be emotionally vital.
And, if we changed the way we think about women and maternity leave and men and paternity leave, the pay gap could conceivably be reduced. The capitalist argument is strong to. Why do we put money above family? It’s an important and interesting question.
Your comments on DV are very similar to my own views. I really believe it is important to empower male victims to be able to report DV, to not see it as shaming or weak, in the same way that we work to empower women in the same way. No one deserves violence. We all deserve respect in our relationships and to not suffer violence, whether male or female. This is the problem I have with the MRA et al, they don’t seem to want to recognise that everyone is in agreement that violence against men and women, and rape against men and women has to end.

The whole media issue is huge as well – I’m currently involved in a project on women in the media and representation, and the problems are manifest, from sexualisation to “ideal” body shapes. Men mags also express an objectifying view of women. But they also present an idealised, narrow version of how to be a man which is equally frightening.

I truly believe that if men and women don’t start working together to fight inequality, objectification and violence then things will get worse for men and women. Which is why I get so upset by this “us and them” mentality of the MRA etc. The patriarchy hurts everyone and we can fight it together.

Many thanks for your supportive comments.

Hannah M said...

Really good post. I totally agree about the obsession with statistics - demanding 'proof' and accusing the writer of lying if none are provided, then accusing the writer of choosing stats to serve an agenda when they do. And of course, bringing it all back to 'men get attacked/raped/objectified too!' Everything has always been about men, but the minute it's not they all get angry.