Wednesday, 24 September 2014

The Battle of the Sexes

One of the arguably many things that's off about the 'net is the way it acts as an amplifier for the nastier parts of the human psyche. No matter what sites we visit it is almost a given that the content will in some way boost negative feelings, even if trends of looking at pictures of fluffy kittens being adorable are strong and stable. This seems to be strongest on sites where users can leave comments, principally news sites, where it seems as if almost anything can produce vigorous responses, and many of these are what might be termed 'unhelpful'. Arguments and flame wars grow up over the most innocuous comments; articles are torn apart. Truisms are repeated, often without pausing to check if they actually are true.

There are quite a few subjects that gather ire, Israel and Palestine, Atheism and Christianity, and anything to do with sexism, feminism or the rights of either sex. And the comments they produce will largely simply echo 'truisms'.

This seems to be particularly true of anything to do with gender. If an article about women comes up a sizable number of men will pile in to tear it apart, pick at any statistics and try to rubbish any points the author has made, frequently without seeming to have read the piece first. If something about, say, female on male domestic violence is published, you see the same effect, only from the other direction. Neither side seems to stop and ask what other factors might be endemic in say a pay gap, to consider how what they consider 'normal' behaviour affects the other sex. They retreat into cant and a party line, relying on stereotype and ridicule.

The problem with this is that it frequently seems to be the case that a lot of what these people, whichever side of the line they fall, are arguing for the same thing. In the case of domestic violence for instance, it's usually the case that the what is desired is some sort of recognition that there is a problem, that something has to be done. But only by the other side. Men dispel criticism in terms of ignorance of what's going on and not wishing to interfere (or at least they do at the woolly liberal Guardian). They also will merrily state that the statistic of 40% of domestic violence female on male D.V. as evidence that women are just as bad. Female posters do much the same, Both sides want the other'to take 'ownership' and to do something about it. Understandably neither side is willing to oblige.

Both are too busy pointing fingers at each other to realise that if they united they would stand more chance of achieving something than if they continue to rant and rave (and at least feminists campaigning against D.V. have organised and tried to do something, many of the men complaining don't even put their hands in their pockets).

This weird combat is repeated in pretty much every feminist thread, or indeed anything that relates to a clash between the sexes. Like mighty siege engines they strive, and gain no ground. I suppose winning isn't the point, only the effort; firing your trebuchet.

At the end of the day, it's all pointless. It achieves nothing and nobody is converted, and whilst I've used feminism examples, I imagine that applies to the vast number of these threads on the other subjects that attract such opprobrium.

It makes me wonder if we've moved forwards at all; if anything actually shifted at all. Many people are nostalgic for the 1970s, 80s and 90s when things seemed clearer, and patriarchy seemed to be crumbling. I wonder if it did or if it was just an illusion.We seem to be prisoners of two things, a narrative and stereotypes.*

The problem with the latter is that 'man' and 'woman' are loaded terms, they conjure images just as any word does, 'cat' for example. The stereotype smooths away everything distinctive, creating an amorphous blob upon which ideas and prejudices may be projected. By removing any individuality we can create a 'mass' and then make it faceless. Perfect for the requirements of fostering these generalisations. These are seldom helpful, they create straitjackets for both sexes and allow pointless arguments to continue. The galling thing is that we know that individuals aren't like that but once you use a generalised noun all the stereotypes seem to be fair game. To use a completely unconnected example, cats are meant to be aloof, suave animals, but any cat owner will have stories about how their animals fail to be like that at all.  And yet the image persists.

This is what I mean by being a prisoner of a narrative, a story that's so ingrained into society and culture that nothing can shift it. These myths, whether it's that boys don't cry or women are bad at science, spring directly from the stereotypes we cling to. Despite everything, they persist; memes of the worst sort. They're reinforced through culture and media. Why we can't break free I'm not sure, perhaps at the end of the day we're too lazy or the echo chamber is so all-encompassing that no matter how hard we try they'll always have some presence.

Sadly I don't know how we break free of them either, apart from education, communication and listening to each other without prejudice. Even then how do we do that without having the baggage we carry influence what we hear.

*Legally and technologically things have changed, I'm not sure attitudes have.