If you aren’t a feminist, you’re OK with the idea that only males can consistently have good ideas; only males can be responsible for worthwhile actions; that only males ought to be taken seriously by default. If you’re OK with those things, then you need not be a feminist. But you’re also an enemy of reason, intellectual honesty, and fact. You’re probably not a great person either.

This isn’t because females ought to be thought of as the only ones who can have ideas, act responsibly, be taken seriously by default. People like Tory MP Philip Davies think that this is what’s at stake in talking about feminism. You can practically smell the castration anxiety.

You should be a feminist because the false oppositions like this occur within a larger edifice of received wisdom that is destructive. In this edifice are fossilised opinions, passed on by tradition, that have no basis in justice. But they have a tremendous bearing on social and political realities. We can call this edifice ‘White Male Heteronormative Patriarchy’. For our purposes, this captures the essential racist, misogynistic, homophobic, conservative, and seni-fideism [1] of the thing. It lauds old, straight, conservative, white males, to the exclusion of all others. We can call it ‘The patriarchy’ for short. If you’re not a feminist, you’re OK with the patriarchy.

The patriarchy is a historically transmitted syndrome of ideology, brutality, and nonsense. It underwrites tremendous feelings of entitlement for those who espouse it. Davies feels entitled to say all he wants to say, for instance, because of the patriarchy. He wants to sit on the women and equalities committee because he will say it’s fair. Because feminism has made calls for greater equality in representation of females on company boards, for example, Davies can say that that very idea means he’s entitled to sit on the women and equalities board. He’s entitled to because it wouldn’t be fair for feminism to demand equality of representation, only to then deny the same to men. This is wilfully blind to representational imbalance, and the clear need for an instrumental intervention to redress that imbalance. Davies’ position means pretending not to see something obvious in order to secure his own wishes. In gaming things in this way, it is tremendously infantile.

The patriarchy likes to trade on using talk of equality as a way to perpetuate itself. There is a need to effect a reductio ad absurdum of progress beyond it. That means using the tools of progressive thought in order to make the objects of progress appear foolish. This allows the ever-present patriarchy to retain its steadfast greyness and degrading invisibility. Davies et al get to revel in a feeling of having won, moreover — we showed them! Ironies abound in all of this. One central site for this comes in the concept of political correctness.

People like Davies don’t like to be told that they ought to refrain from speaking in certain ways. Davies’ speech, after all, reflects the contents of his fantastic mind. What wonders we might miss were its expression to be moderated! Davies and co are entitled to say whatever they want. This means that the idea of political correctness appalls them. Political correctness is a practical way to arrest the perpetuation of damaging, untrue, lazy, or offensive views of the world. Caricatured by many, it is nonetheless a subtle tool.

The caricature goes that political correctness stops people from saying what they really mean; that in place of candour, it promotes clunky euphemism; that it’s a device of the weak to make the strong work at a weaker rate. Like anything, political correctness can be done badly. But it is supposed to operate not just at a verbal level. The idea ought to be that in suspending a lazy use of language, reflection on that language is prompted. The meaning of what one is trying to say thereby comes into question. If I have to rephrase myself as I go along, I also have to ask myself what I mean. What am I trying to say?

Political correctness ought to pose more of a constructive challenge than a threat. Maybe you find yourself thinking that you probably shouldn’t say that after all. It’s probably a bit off, lazy, a bit coarse, could be put better. Nevertheless, what you’re driving at is easily expressed otherwise. Two things result: you’ve made yourself understood, and you’ve gained some insight.

Davies and his boys have trouble with this. Perhaps the things they want to say can’t easily be rephrased without using off terminology. Perhaps insight is a bit too much of a reach. Perhaps it’s not nice to spend too much time reflecting, when you’re a certain type of person. It might show the groundlessness of entitlement, for instance, or shine a light on dark views you don’t want to admit you hold.

Political correctness has the potential to liberate free speech in the sense that it demands that one reflects on what one says before saying it. Freedom of speech demands that you say what you mean, but includes that you must take into account the consequences of what you say. Political correctness is a progressive device that moves beyond freedom of expressive speech, into a dimension of free and responsible dialogue.

Davies doesn’t want to be constrained by this however, and even blames political correctness for killing men. He says it does this by stopping mens’ issues being discussed. Yet it is precisely the reality of deep, patriarchal social constraints that leads to male depression, suicide, and aggression.

The sort of stereotyping that opponents of political correctness want to prolong is inherent within patriarchy: men are rational, women are emotional; boys don’t cry; women are property; men fight for what they believe; you can’t lose to a girl. These are deeply encoded messages within patriarchy. They condition and warp boys and men, as well as girls and women. Political correctness would demand that such stereotypes and binaries were opened, explored, critiqued: Boys don’t cry? Why? Is masculinity somehow soluble in water?

When the patriarchy is perpetuated, boys and men suffer. Patriarchy is a corrosive. If the men-are-rational trope, for instance, is prodded it can be seen to undermine itself. All the appeals to fairness, equality, the feeling of entitlement and privilege that motivates the patriarchy clearly comes from emotional need; fear of rejection, fear of vulnerability; losing face. The ideas of patriarchy that suppose only males can consistently have good ideas is clearly undermined by the fact of clever women all over the place. So who’s emotional and irrational? And why should emotional need be seen as a negative, and be shrouded anyway?

Furthermore, the discussions Davies provokes cements the gender binary of male/female. Even this is contingent and perpetuated in patriarchy. If the distinctions such as those just challenged — about reason and emotion — collapse under scrutiny, and their prima facie function is to divide, then those classes and those divisions are untenable. The bullish, domineering, taciturn male identity is just a role. So too the irrational, untrusted, female. Here, gender identity is a performance — but the writers have no imagination. It’s a puppet show, with patriarchy at the strings.

The edifice of patriarchy, and the syndrome which it perpetuates, constrains as much as it props up feelings of entitlement. It is a disciplinary matrix unreflectively borne by those who feel it benefits them, who take the conditioning for the sake of the seeming rewards. In this, it is an egotistical doctrine that grounds social pathology. It is irrational, emotionally suffocating, and completely contingent. Feminism is not just humanism, but also male liberation, and more besides.

Take yourself seriously, get feminism.

[1] Faith in elderliness. I may have made this word up.

Info on featured picture: V0012067 Three grotesque old men with awful teeth pointing and grimace

Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images Three grotesque old men with awful teeth pointing and grimacing at each other. Coloured stipple engraving by J. Collier, 1810. 1810 By: John CollierPublished: 4 June 1810

Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0


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