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Posted by on Sep 1, 2012 in Drama, Feminism, Freethought Blogs, Nonsense, Politics, Progressive Politics, Skepticism, US Politics | 23 comments

OMG an MRA!

So far, the only serious criticism I’ve seen about this blog is my choice of links to include in my blogroll. This is odd, because the blogs I’ve chosen represent all sorts of secular and political positions, quite frequently, in direct contradiction to my own. And yes, it’s true, one of the links is to the blog of a real live MRA! They do exist! For those who don’t know, an MRA is a men’s rights advocate, and in many corners of the internet they’re known as vile, vicious creatures. Being called an MRA is an insult that is meant to seriously wound the critic of any item on the third-wave feminist agenda (even the ones that contradict each other). But here’s the thing: if you haven’t heard the arguments they’re making and can’t respond to them with reason rather than invective and DMCA notices, then you’ve already lost. So you might as well become familiar with what they have to say, because it sounds a bit like this:

If you didn’t, now you know. Feel free to criticize Karen’s arguments, as many valid points can be made in response. Be skeptical of what she says. But personally, I don’t see her existence as a threat to feminism in any way, and I refuse to judge her character on the basis of her political views.

  • Clarification: Someone on Facebook asked me why I called Karen of GWW an MRA. Valid question. It’s because that’s how she self-identifies. Otherwise, I’d merely call her thought-provoking. But that doesn’t mean I have to agree with her on everything — or even on anything. But to discount her views on the basis of ad hominems and labels would be irresponsible in the context of freethought, skepticism, and humanism, three concepts that I fully embrace.

  • I am skeptical of the science of the speculations I’ve heard from GirlWritesWhat so far, and very skeptical of appeals to intrinsic sex differences (a claim that is altogether too easily abused, whoever makes it), but she does raise an interesting question:

    What *if* the science, should it become science, contradicts feminist ideology? I wonder what will happen in such a case?

    One would hope that the recent FtB orthodoxy requirements (on pain of excommunication no less) would not become the precedent for scientific inquiry…

    • Edward Clint

      I can’t comment on the expertise of this vlogger as I am not familiar with her. However, there are deep and interesting psychological sex differences in humans. This is overwhelmingly supported by the evidence. To deny it is equal in legitimacy to denying climate change.

      Frankly, if you could prove that there is no innate difference between men and women, you would rock the scientific world. You would have essentially said “evolution is wrong, and I have proof” because, like many animals, the selective pressures faced by our ancient fore-bearers were different for men and women. Most basically that women incur a large minimum investment in offspring and men incur a tiny one.

      Robert Trivers observed that the mere fact of which sex invests more in offspring predicts much of their sexual behavior. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the male or female- when males invest more because they guard and nurture, for example, the males are selective and sexually conservative and females more likely to be promiscuous and competitive.

      To show that humans, and humans alone, have bucked evo rules entirely and nigh-magically evaded the evolutionary pressure patterns that affect all the other critters? You deserve a Nobel prize for that one. I wonder why it has not been given yet.

      If scientific facts could be caustic to your politics.. it’s probably time to get new politics.

      • Agreed.

      • Vic

        As somebody with only little scientific knowledge of human biology and evolution, I’d like to say this:

        Whether there are differences in behaviour or thought processes (and I, so far, would say there are) the causes and patterns of which can be explained and described by science (which I think they can be, since they’d materialize in what we perceive as reality), neither the explanation, nor the description, nor the inherent biological/evolutionary factors would, in my oppinion, excuse or justify any kind of behaviour detrimental to one of the genders, which a rational being could detect and oppose in a societal background which would allow such opposition (which I think is available).

        So even if there were beneficial factors which caused historic society to set up male and female roles and socially accepted/non-accepted behaviours of the genders (and other members of society which did not identify with either and were most often severily punished for that), we also have to ackknowledge the reasons these factors were in place (e.g. survivability) and either changed or even ceased to exist due to e.g. technological change (which enabled societal change in a feedback loop).

        I’m intrigued by GWW’s hypothesis of female quality being a result of the economic changes of the 20th century, rather than the other way round (I don’t want to diminish the efforts of the early women’s rights movements, instead I’d say their appearance is a result of a society changing due to economic pressure (whereas there was biological pressure before, which opposed women’s equality in both rights and responsibilities (again, a feedback loop)).

        With that said, coming back to my original point, even if we find solid evidence for why it was beneficial for society to have men and women perform in certain ways under circumstances X, it is just clear to me, that there is no excuse to continue these behaviours, if the circumstances changed from X to Y (and thus creates different pressure on human behaviour), which I think they have and can clearly be demonstrated by science.
        There is, however, an explanation, a reason for these behaviours (which is, that societal change takes time), and I think it’s important to investigate those thoroughly instead of ‘merely’ ackknowledging discrimination (which is, by itself, no small act) and then blaming these behaviours on one gender’s ‘natural thirst for dominance’ or other inhuman qualities (which is, in my oppinion, detrimental to the effort of abolishing inequality).

        While the suffering of women (and men) in history and today can not be excused or justified from our position in the present (at least that’s my position), I would go so far to suggest there were more reasons than just male indecency that shaped historic societies in peculiary similar ways on different continents and regions (and their changes over time with e.g. technological advances or the lack thereof).

        • Vic

          I’m sorry for placing the comment where it is, since it does not seem to represent the correct chronological order (my reply seems to be, for reasons unknown to me, shoved in between two other commenters’ replies). I apologise for any resulting confusion.

          • No worries, and as I said above, this is intended to be descriptive, not prescriptive. It’s the “why” and “how,” but not the “should.”

    • I hear your points, and I’m not certain of her background (she didn’t finish college), but evolutionary psychology makes more sense to me than other speculations, such as feminist theory. I’m open to changing my mind with evidence, but I think it’s important to recognize that evolutionary psychology is descriptive and not prescriptive. It seems that Karen is mixing some of the men’s rights dogma with a branch of the social sciences that interests me greatly, and thus weakens her argument. This post is one of her better ones. There are a few that I disagree with more strongly.

  • Please allow me be clear. I did not claim that there are no intrinsic differences between the sexes. That would be a premature conclusion, and nobody likes those. 😉

    What I am saying is that, as an explanation, inherent differences between the sexes can be problematic. It’s too easy to accept uncritically and too easy to abuse – both without conclusive evidence. Worse, it’s the kind of conclusion that may act to halt further inquiry. “That’s just the way it is,” has never been a good answer, and some will be only too happy to take a mere restating of the phenomenon as an explanation for it.

    This is one of those cases where I suspect it may be wiser to err on the side of caution, until driven inexorably to that explanation. If we leap too soon…

    That said, I agree with this:
    “If scientific facts could be caustic to your politics.. it’s probably time to get new politics.”

    While, courtesy of my own studies in analytic ethics, I am very much concerned with the distinction between description and prescription (as one would hope any empirical study would be), it is to be noted that the line between the two is desperately thin and easily confused, especially by those motivated to do so – such as ideologues of all shapes, sizes, and prescriptive contents.

    One thing I do like about GWW is that she is careful to provide us with a proviso before she puts on the hard hat and dives in. Warning: this is conjecture and speculation. This, to me, is a sign of intellectual integrity. Of course, that alone is no guarantee her arguments are correct…

    • I agree with this too. I do try to err on the side of caution, but personally, I cannot see women in the US as an oppressed class. Yes we are in some ways disadvantaged over extremely successful men (and women). But that’s about it. And it’s not completely clear why this happens and if it’s truly unfair to women, although it certainly can be when women end up working two jobs instead of one — as both homemaker and professional, or when they have to sacrifice career goals to take care of children. These are complicated issues that can’t be resolved by dogma (not that I think you’re suggesting that).

      • Edward Clint

        What do you imagine the “side of caution” to be? Why?

        • An easy example is not using gendered insults (typically), even though I think they’re no worse than any others. I’m simply happy not to offend people, and if I’m wrong and some social harm comes from them, then I dodged that bullet too. This comes as a more general policy of not using insults at all (which I’m sure you’ve seen me violate when cornered and angry).

          Another example is affirmative action, or better stated, diversity measures. I don’t oppose a reasonable attempt at proportionality of representation as long as standards of competence and safety are met. (I do oppose strict quotas.) As an aside, I think that diversity is particularly important in politics.

          OTH, I fully support women being able to choose how they want to live their lives, even if they choose completely traditional roles. So why do we deny men that option? For example, Hitchens wanted to be the main provider for his family (without stifling his partner’s desires for a career), so why is it a big deal if that’s what he chooses and his partner has no objections?

          At any rate, the explanations provided by evolutionary biology and psychology, which do show innate differences that are clearly not cultural, trump feminist theory. Where biology ends and culture begins, that’s the part that’s unclear.

          • Edward Clint

            Affirmative action and avoiding gendered insults are not well-described as the “side of caution”, and they have absolutely nothing to do with whether or not a research program is a good one. We should avoid gendered insult if there is good evidence they harm individuals. We should support affirmative action if there is good rationale or evidence that it reduces disenfranchisement of minorities because culturewide racism represses said minority, which is awful.

            The justification for either is purely a moral argument: harm to individuals and minorities is bad and should be remedied. This will always be true, regardless of anything any EP’r ever publishes.

            It also is hardly “safe”. In fact, exactly the opposite is true. For the sake of argument, if we are incorrect about the effect of these actions (and many argue that there is evidence AA can increase divisive attitudes, though I do not) we could be doing great damage. Minimally, we could be wasting valuable time and resources on do-nothing solutions instead of searching for better ones. At worst, both could backfire in our faces making the problems worse. Hey maybe women want to be treated like adults who can handle themselves, and not be coddled by society which will save them from mean words of others’.

            At any rate, the explanations provided by evolutionary biology and psychology, which do show innate differences that are clearly not cultural, trump feminist theory. Where biology ends and culture begins, that’s the part that’s unclear.

            I’m glad you think so. No clear line can ever be drawn between biology and environment- but that’s fine because we’re not looking for one. Our biological explanations don’t just agonize some cultural ones that happen to be incorrect- they help explain how culture is possible in the first place. Most living things don’t have culture but humans do. Something about human biology permits that. I think that’s worth trying to understand, scientifically.

          • Well, that’s the whole thing in a nutshell — I don’t think feminist theory has anything to do with science. Reaching a conclusion (favorable to you) and then citing selective evidence to support it is not how science works. All of this plays on male guilt for former wrongs and, also, on male desire, and suddenly we have male feminists “oppressing” women who raise inconvenient questions.

    • Edward Clint

      I will try to be clear as well.

      …. That would be a premature conclusion, and nobody likes those.

      Not premature; False. There are many well documented sex differences. Not hypotheses, not guesses or speculations; Well replicated effects from data spanning decades and cultures. Now, the extent and nature of some and how they interact with culture are some of the on-going questions. But the question of “are there innate sex differences?” is not a question. The jury is most definitely in.

      What I am saying is that, as an explanation, inherent differences between the sexes can be problematic. It’s too easy to accept uncritically and too easy to abuse – both without conclusive evidence. Worse, it’s the kind of conclusion that may act to halt further inquiry. “That’s just the way it is,” has never been a good answer, and some will be only too happy to take a mere restating of the phenomenon as an explanation for it.

      Why are they problematic? Too easy to accept uncritically? Why would this be true? Why do you say “without conclusive evidence”? This seems like a pejorative aimed against scientists who’ve chosen this field, such as the people I work with and aspire to be. Are we scientific imbeciles, and you feel confident to assume this? That we don’t mind the evidence and leap to conclusions? What an awful and offensive thing to imply.

      Halt inquiry? Where are you getting this? No researcher ever wants to halt any sort of legitimate inquiry. When sub-fields emerge and expand, academics and researchers start creating symposia and boards for the express purpose of advancing that subdomain further along. This is precisely what has happened in several areas of EP.

      This is one of those cases where I suspect it may be wiser to err on the side of caution, until driven inexorably to that explanation. If we leap too soon…

      Please tell me which is the “side of caution” and how you arrived at that conclusion. Any kind of explanation for a property of people can be misused, and generally has been.

      Lastly, for someone who seems incredibly concerned with evidence-based conclusions and not rushing to judge, I expect your claims to be backed up with evidence sufficient in scope and detail to damn the work of many thousands of researchers from dozens of countries over four or five decades.

      • “Why are they problematic? Too easy to accept uncritically? Why would this be true? Why do you say “without conclusive evidence”? This seems like a pejorative aimed against scientists who’ve chosen this field, such as the people I work with and aspire to be. Are we scientific imbeciles, and you feel confident to assume this? That we don’t mind the evidence and leap to conclusions? What an awful and offensive thing to imply.”

        Oh, I’m sorry. Are you offended? Is being offended part of your experimental methodology? As long, you know, as you are not responding in reflexively emotive manner. Do you yell at beakers or the chalkboard?

        It’s unfortunate you didn’t consider my point, or even try to understand it, *before* launching into this …unfortunate… tirade. If you had been paying attention, and agree that it is possible to easily confuse the prescriptive with the descriptive, then you, presumably promoting the science, might have been more inclined to agree with me, since what I am really advocating is being careful to not allow confirmation-bias based interpretations to jaundice (one way or the other) the data.

        Are you telling us that there is no history in our society of assuming “intrinsic sex differences” as an explanatory device and then shaping social policy about that assumption as a justification? And indeed, of doing so incorrectly?

        By erring on the side of caution, I mean recognizing that there may be matters that are social constructs and therefore matters of negotiation, rather than strict hard-wiring (even if the hard-wiring is influential). Sometimes we try so dedicated to make all things a matter of hard-wiring that we seek to end negotiation on these matters. If it is hard-wiring, I want to know about it, but if it isn’t, then I don’t want it characterized as hard-wiring. Unfortunately, once we assume something is hard-wiring, we stop permitting for the possibility of negotiation – and that is an error. We are interested in avoiding error, are we not?

        Once we assume that hard-wiring is the true conclusion, there is little cause to entertain other possible explanations, such as, say, negotiated social ones.

        it is my hope that other readers will understand the point I am making, perhaps from a slightly less volatile mental state.

        • Edward Clint

          Oh, I’m sorry. Are you offended? Is being offended part of your experimental methodology? As long, you know, as you are not responding in reflexively emotive manner. Do you yell at beakers or the chalkboard?

          My offense is based in the subject matter of this discussion. You’ve made claims with implications about a discipline that I find wrong and also unsupported. I further speculate you might be unaware of why this would be offensive. Further, deliberate insults are not appropriate to civil discussion.

          what I am really advocating is being careful to not allow confirmation-bias based interpretations to jaundice (one way or the other) the data.

          A fine point, except that it is one that applies to all science being done everywhere, all the time. You made it clear that you felt this one area was special, prone to problems. There is utterly no reason to think so. The only possible way that could be true, is if these researchers, as a class, are not as good as others whom you’ve not chosen to single out.

          Are you telling us that there is no history in our society of assuming “intrinsic sex differences” as an explanatory device and then shaping social policy about that assumption as a justification? And indeed, of doing so incorrectly?

          My compunction was not about what “society” does, but what contemporary researchers are doing. Society has been and is racist; Does that permit me to, no evidence given, ascribe that trait to any particular group of professionals, and to further say that their output is significantly influenced by that racism? I think it does not. Such a claim might be raised, but certainly only with evidence in hand, not speculative presumptions.

          … Unfortunately, once we assume something is hard-wiring, we stop permitting for the possibility of negotiation – and that is an error. We are interested in avoiding error, are we not?

          From this paragraph I can see that you have a good many misapprehensions about what biological bases of behavior are and what they mean for society. First, I want to be clear I understand what you mean. By “negotiation” versus hard social constructs, I think you mean the degree of freedom people have in society i.e. a woman being compelled to be a housewife or have a menial “womanly” job like kindergarten teacher versus being an engineer or CEO. Please tell me if I have that wrong.

          The basis for this sort of freedom, the openness of negotiation in your terms, is that people value their liberty. They are harmed when society imposes its will on them. This is a moral argument, not a scientific one- but it rests on one important scientific fact. It requires for one kind of hardwiring to be true: people have a nature, and don’t like to be stepped on. If this were not true, if society could simply condition people to have any sort of minds, then people could be conditioned to enjoy their imposed role; it could be made to be their most fervent desire. No moral argument could be made that oppression is happening. Oppression is only possible if people have a will to freedom. They do! And they’re born with it, and it can’t generally be taken away.

          Had we assumed no “hardwiring” (a non-scientific term that I do not use), we’d have no basis for a moral argument against oppression. This is hardly the side of caution! This is not mere conjecture. The argument of the “blank slate” for humans has been a tool used in many unsavory purposes, from communism to “black rage made me kill that guy” legal defenses.

          Any theory of human nature can be abused, and has been. There is no such thing as a side of caution. Nothing any evolutionary psychologist can ever discover about “hardwiring” will change the simple moral truth that people want self-determination and deserve it, and certainly none have ever implied otherwise.

  • openlyatheist

    I’m honestly surprised to see this video, but I’m not surprised it was you who had the courage to post it, bluharmony. 🙂

    I’ve been watching GWW’s videos for some time and she has radically altered my perception of feminism, starting with her video “Feminism and the Disposable Male.”

    Despite the accusations of misogyny and an “old boys club” in the atheist community I have noticed that there appears to be little to no MRM presence in said community whatsoever. Two of the most vocal anti-feminists I know on Youtube, barbarossaaaa and pinegrove33, are Christians.

    I have considered blogging on the subject myself, but perhaps you will beat me to it!

  • Allen Hildebrandt

    Just an FYI, while Men’s Right’s Advocate does fit with the anagram, so does Male Rape Apologist.

    I’m pretty sure a lot of people on FftB are using the latter when they abbreviate.

    • No, they’ve been clear that they mean Men’s Rights Advocates or supporters of the Men’s Rights Movement. But they use rape apologist just as frequently, with both men and women as the targets. Needless to say, none of those people are guilty as charged.

      • Allen Hildebrandt

        You’ll forgive, I hope, that from my experience and observations of their usage of MRA in articles and rants it seems like Men’s Right’s Advocates (Abbreviated) seems to have no distinction with them. They treat MRA as if they are Male Rape Apologists.

        • Oh yes, that is true. It’s also true that they use those terms instead of providing an argument against the point being made.

          • Allen Hildebrandt

            Do you happen to use G+ at all?