Update: Newest material is at the end. Updated 6/22/11
My recent blog post titled Pegs and Holes caused quite a stir on the Internet. One of my harshest critics, feminist website Jezebel.com, accepted my offer to be interviewed about whatever it is that they find so objectionable about me. Jezebel’s Editor-in-Chief, Jessica Coen, asked writer Irin Carmon to represent the common viewpoint at Jezebel.
Let’s start with some background on the participants to give you some perspective on the bias that each brings to the table. I’ve been a long-time financial supporter of women’s causes, particularly in the abuse realm. I have a long history of promoting and mentoring women in my own businesses. And I’m pro-choice.
My mother was a strong woman who raised three kids, worked most of her life, taught me to play baseball, and was the first member of the family to get a motorcycle license. She kept a loaded rifle in the kitchen and often used it to gun down rabbits and other assailants to her vegetable garden. And she didn’t take shit from anyone.
My first career, in banking, came to an end when my boss told me there was no potential for a white male to get a promotion until the company did a lot of catching up in the diversity department. My second career, at the phone company, ended the same way, although I stayed around while I worked on my cartooning career on the side.
Irin Carmon has been a staff writer for Jezebel for about two years, during which time she has been covering politics, reproductive rights and health, sexual assault, workplace discrimination, and more. Irin is a 28-year old woman who reminds me that she does not deign to speak for all women.
Scott: Irin, your editor volunteered you to discuss your objections to my recent blog post titled Pegs and Holes. What in particular did you find objectionable?
Irin: Even seen as hyperbole or intentionally incendiary rhetoric, the piece does a disservice to men above all, and to women too. You start out by referring to men in the public eye who are “tweeting, raping, cheating, and being offensive to just about everyone in the entire world,” and suggest that this happened because “society is organized in such a way that the natural instincts of men are shameful and criminal while the natural instincts of women are mostly legal and acceptable.” Leaving aside for a minute the implied equivalence of that laundry list (breaking your marriage vows versus raping someone), this is a bleak perversion of biological determinism. By that reading, the presumed majority of men who don’t rape (or cheat, or tweet) are simply better at managing their innate desires to violate someone else, which I’d wager isn’t true to the lived experience of most non-raping men. What you deem the “natural instincts of women” isn’t defined, but I’m going to assume you mean stereotypes about nurturing and nesting. In fact, history, recent and otherwise, is full of examples of women who were treated as “shameful and criminal” for following their own natural instincts for how to live their lives, whether it was whom to sleep with and when and how often, what jobs women “should” do, how many children to have and when, etc. etc. Until very recently, those strictures were on the books and enforced by men, full stop. Men and women are both better off that all that’s no longer official, at least in this country.
You write, “Society has evolved to keep males in a state of continuous unfulfilled urges, more commonly known as unhappiness.” In fact, what’s evolved is that women are now politically and, to a greater extent, socially recognized as full human beings. In contexts where women were seen as men’s property, rape, or any non-sanctioned sex was (or is) punished as such, and often the women were punished too. We now have a legal and social model that formally recognizes women as people. That changed because some men and women didn’t see the world as, in your words, “a zero sum game. If men get everything they want, women lose, and vice versa,” and who saw the harm and dehumanization implicit in that model. Incidentally, though women were historically told they are too volatile or emotional to run the world’s affairs, you suggest it’s men who are unable to cope.
You cite Hugh Hefner as an example of a man who has “lost,” or implicitly, been societally shamed. (“Society didn’t offer him a round hole for his round peg.”) But by every possible measure, Hefner’s no victim. He is a very rich man. He has a robust sex life with women who look like the ideal upon which he made his fortune. He’s an icon. I’d say society has offered him quite the round hole. It’s hard to think of a woman who has experienced anything comparable, but then, I don’t agree this is a zero sum game.
My question to you: What do you get out of posting these incendiary commentaries on gender? And why accuse others of misrepresentation when they’ve mostly stuck to directly quoting you?
Scott: Phew! Wordy.
As for your question, I write what I think will be interesting and thought-provoking. I stake out positions that I haven’t seen – whether I believe everything I write or not – because unique viewpoints interest me most. My blog is about inviting readers to wrestle with unique points of view strictly for fun. My regular readers understand that. When my writing is taken out of context, the way Jezebel and others did, it sometimes looks like a crazy rant and it pisses people off. That’s more of a bonus than a main goal.
I don’t understand most of what you wrote in response to my question. Can you try it again without the history lessons? I agree that women had it worse in the past. My offending blog post was about today and the future.
I think we can skip the question of whether I offended men, since that is not what is bothering Jezebel or Salon, just to name two. And most men correctly interpreted the post as saying that male sexual urges manifest differently in different men. The men who complained imagined I was saying all men are repressed rapists. That’s a simple case of bad reading comprehension, or maybe it is because the post was carved up by bottom-feeding websites until the meaning was distorted to fit an agenda. At Huffington Post, where the average reading comprehension is high, you can see that most commenters can’t understand how anyone would be offended by the post.
You say that the natural instincts of women can lead them to shameful and criminal behavior. I have a higher opinion of women than you do, in the sense that I think men are genetically more prone to bad behavior. If your point is that women suck just as much as men, I’ll take your word for it. But you’ll need to explain why our jails have so many more men than women.
I’m still confused why my blog is more offensive than what you just wrote. Can you try again, in simpler terms, and without the history lesson, to explain your objection to my post?
Irin: Not sure what’s left to say if all you can say about my good-faith critique of your piece boils down to TL;DR. (Sorry, “Phew, wordy.”) Surely a “certified genius” such as yourself knows how to read English when strung together in three paragraphs.
But I’ll boil it down anyway. Feminism is not about women being better than men. It’s about creating a world where gender and sexuality don’t stand in the way of each of us pursuing our individual rights, including to autonomy over our own bodies, whether that means who we have sex with, how many children we have, if at all, or what jobs we have. This might be a “history lesson,” but for thousands of years, that hasn’t been the case. Men ran things for most of that time, and by and large they still do; feminists and allies happen to believe that full participation will be better for everyone. Unfortunately, the transition is still incomplete, including on your blog, but we’ll keep at it nonetheless.
Scott: If that’s your point, we’re in full agreement. I’ll leave it to my readers to decide if the bottom line is you’re unwilling or unable to defend what another writer on Jezebel has written on this topic. You simply explained some history and made some generic points about equality.
My readers should know that I requested this interview with Lane Moore, the Jezebel.com writer who characterized my opinion, with manufactured quotes, as “All men are rapists.” That is the ridiculous view I was expecting your employer to defend. I assume that in preparation for this interview you reread my blog and realized there is no defense for Jezebel’s position, and so you smartly retreated into history lessons and generic statements about the goodness of equality.
To be fair, you were assigned this interview by your boss. It’s clear to me that you’re too smart, and probably too ethical, to defend Jezebel.com’s grotesque interpretation of my writing.
So we’ll end here, and I’ll take this up with Salon’s writer, MaryElizabeth Williams, assuming her offer still stands. Stay tuned.
[Update: Jezebel.com is linking to this post. That’s why the voting changed direction so abruptly.]