What’s Really Wrong With This Picture?

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Tue, Jan 27 - 9:00 am EDT | 4 years ago by
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Riposte Modernism - Men's Studies

You might have seen this meme floating around on social media. The image itself varies (I admit I only picked this one because I like that the guy has a pipe), but the caption is the important part.

Men's Studies - Called History
Source: Quickmeme

I’ve seen this particular complaint, and that particular retort, thrown around in non-meme form as well. I’ve also seen some people try to argue that there should be some kind of justification for “Men’s Studies,” which apparently has even become enough of a thing in some circles to merit a Wikipedia entry.

But I have come here today not to praise Men’s Studies, but to bury it. And, at the same time, to point out the gross conceptual error in that particular internet meme’s retort to the concept of men’s studies, and why I would argue that this kind of thinking is in fact harmful to feminism.

First, let me say that I would call myself a feminist. A strongly pro-equality, strongly sex-positive individualist feminist. I’m pro-LGBT, strongly believe that no one should be discriminated against on the basis of gender, support and encourage the involvement of women in geek culture, I’m (obviously, it’s crazy this needs to be said) strongly opposed to rape and sexual harassment of any kind. And while being sex-positive I also do recognize and share concerns about the depiction or objectification of women in popular media, to the point that I have to admit I don’t always approve of some of the links or articles on this very website, and have said so to my own boss (or as I call him, “The Invincible Overlord”). But I also believe in free speech being an essential route to social evolution, which I likewise consider part of my perspective on feminism.

And that’s the thing: those of you (my friends reading this) who haven’t looked into feminism a great deal might not realize that “Feminism” is not one thing. As much as people sometimes try to present it as some kind of monolithic entity (both its supposed proponents, including certain groups desperately trying to own control over the definition of that term; and those who oppose the thing they’ve set up and called feminism), there are in fact huge varieties of perspectives within feminism, that are often in direct opposition to one another. That’s how you can end up with situations like the one where a self-defined feminist organization claiming to be dedicated to defending women could end up censoring and shutting down a talk being given by a famous (but sex-positive) feminist woman.

In that scenario, the Ada Initiative allegedly interested in promoting involvement and agency for women in the tech industry, were advocating a kind of censorious anti-sex feminism and took umbrage with a talk about drug use and harm reduction by Violet Blue, whose feminist credentials are fairly unimpeachable but are of a different kind of feminism (one that believes in empowering women who make choices as individuals rather than theoretically “protecting” them as an abstract group).

Guidelines for geek conventions created by the Ada Initiative were later used in an attempt to pressure the Escapist Expo into setting up an “anti-harassment” policy that would have potentially targeted a large number of women that engaged in cosplay or drew art that anyone might claim to feel “uncomfortable” with (note: fortunately, the people at the Escapist realized those implications and later revised their anti-harassment code to something far more sensible). I’m fairly sure that a large number of those women artists and cosplayers would define themselves as feminists, but would certainly not feel like the Ada Initiative style of feminism speaks for them. Lately, there have been brands of feminism that have moved away from the bra-burning sexual liberation of the past and turned into enforcers over other women (many of whom also consider themselves feminists) as to what they are or are not allowed to wear. And as you might imagine, this has created a significant internal conflict within feminism:

Feminist clothing
Source: Tumblr

To say nothing of what happens in the conflicts between feminists when it comes to actual feminists in the adult industry (like the harassment that “Suicide Girl” and “I Hit It With My Axe” star Mandy Morbid wrote about experiencing from supposed feminists even while she was gravely ill in the hospital. I know for a fact that Mandy Morbid says she is a feminist just as much as the people who have viciously attacked her say they are.

It’s not just about sex, there’s also a famous conflict between feminist schools of thought on the subject of Transgender inclusion; where some revered (mostly “second-wave”) Feminists including Gloria Steinem and Germaine Greer had rejected the idea of accepting Trans Women as real women or including them in the feminist movement, arguing that Trans Women are nothing more than “males who’ve castrated themselves” who are engaging in some kind of a “pantomime” representing a fake view of womanhood from a male image (it should be noted that Steinem has later recanted some of her more vitriolic views, but others, including Greer, have not). The perspective of these feminists has been extreme enough to lead them to deny Trans Women participation in Feminist events, cultural festivals, and to try to deny them jobs or access to charity support on account of their not being “real women.” This is of course totally at odds with the view many other (particularly post-second-wave) feminists have that Transgender Rights are a compatible or even essential part of the feminist cause.

So what does all this tell us? First, that we have to throw out the idea that there’s only a single feminism out there. Second, all of the above? It’s HISTORY. I’ve just shown you history.

Yes, back to the original topic we go! The idea that we need a Men’s Studies because there’s a Women’s Studies is dumb. But it is equally dumb, and probably far more short-sighted and deleterious, to argue that History is men’s studies. History is the study of humanity, and if you really want to concede the field of that arena to men, you aren’t helping your cause, you’re drowning it, for any number of reasons.

I’ll note to y’all that this is personal to me. As an academic, I did degree work in both History and Comparative Studies. Now, the latter wasn’t Women’s Studies (though I did take Women’s Studies courses), but the point stands that I’ve looked at things from both sides. Women’s Studies is one of various interdisciplinary academic fields (like Religious Studies, which, if you’re curious, was the one I did), which is by no means the same as History. To clarify, an “interdisciplinary study” is a field of academic study that combines multiple individual academic fields. So Women’s Studies (like Religious Studies, and most of the other “studies”) takes pieces of the methodology from History, Anthropology, Psychology, Sociology, Political Science, and sometimes other fields. This provides certain advantages. It allows for a broad examination of specific case studies or the observation of a particular phenomenon from a variety of angles, but it also means that it is explicitly NOT any one of those aforementioned fields. An important distinction is that there are significantly different standards for academic methodology in these various fields; from things like modes of research to methods of citation. I can tell you for a fact that the onus on proper citation or use of primary sources to support an argument are not nearly as strong in any comparative study as they are in History.

This is not to say that there shouldn’t be Women’s Studies, but that mistaking that for “history, women’s version” is a disastrous misreading. The study of the history of women NEEDS to be done within the field of History itself, and indeed a great deal of important work has been done within that field. And when it is done in the field of History, it takes on a different level and style of rigor than within Women’s Studies, where ultimately the main purpose is not in the careful and accurate assessment of historical fact, but in looking at the broad-stroke nature of women’s issues from a modern lens. Work that has fallen under the aegis of Women’s Studies has involved positions, including historical claims, that would never have passed the muster of burden of proof in History (usually justified under the idea of it being ‘different ways of knowing‘ than historical research).

The problem with this is that by doing so, by setting history apart, writing it off as a “tool of the patriarchy to oppress women,” you are writing off all the foundational concepts of our intellectual world, including those very concepts that allowed the emergence of Women’s Studies in the first place. You are dismissing the value of fact-based study as valid for women, or as a valid way for women to discover the story of women through history. It may not be as immediately apparent as in the sciences, where this concept that ‘fact’ is an optional and possibly ‘oppressive’ demand has led to a situation where women still lag behind in the hard-sciences or medical professions but are overwhelmingly over-represented as both the sellers of and customer base for quack medicine like homeopathy or movements like anti-vaccination; but the damage it does is just as insidious, because it tarnishes the entire ideological basis of one’s causes. How can it not if what you’re saying by claiming that History is a masculine discipline amounts to “proving your claims is for boys?” In just what way does cornering yourself into an academic ghetto and cutting yourself off from the foundations of the Western intellectual tradition do anything other than cut off your own nose, breaking your own tools, to spite the Patriarchy’s face?

History as a discipline needs women, and needs people doing serious historical research related to women in history. Women’s Studies may have its uses, but it is not that.

History belongs to women as much as men; and History as a discipline must likewise. So I close with a quote from another feminist, Janet Radcliffe-Richards; she said it about the sciences but it applies just as much to history: “It is hard to imagine anything better calculated to delight the soul of patriarchal man than the sight of women’s most vociferous leaders taking an approach to feminism that continues so much of his own work: luring women off into a special area of their own where they will remain screened from the detailed study of philosophy and science to which he always said they were unsuited, teaching them indignation instead of argument, fantasy and metaphor instead of science, and doing all this by continuing his very own technique of persuading women that their true interests lie elsewhere than in the areas colonized by men.”

Kasimir Urbanski doesn’t write on a specific subject; he’s EveryJoe’s resident maniac-at-large. A recovering Humanities academic and world-traveler, he now lives in South America and is a researcher of fringe religion, eastern philosophy, and esoteric consciousness-expansion. In his spare time he writes tabletop RPGs, and blogs about them at therpgpundit.blogspot.com.

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  • http://www.greyhawkgrognard.com/ Joseph

    The polar shift in Feminism over the last thirty years is positively staggering. It has gone from a movement dedicated to supporting the sexual revolution in the name of gender equality into one that seems to be nothing more than a grievance industry. The way they have abandoned anything that seems to be hetero-sex-positive is the proof.

    • Kasimir Urbanski

      Well, again, there’s more than one feminism, or a clear and very significant rift or series of rifts within feminism. But it does seem, unfortunately, that the ‘grievance industry’ variety are the ones who are having the most dominant presence/influence in Universities and on Internet Social Media alike.

    • BCS

      It’s because the media loves to amplify the most egregious voices.

    • Kasimir Urbanski


  • A random troll

    Interesting view. I always thought that there was some value to gender studies — in the sense of understanding a complex social construct. But I wouldn’t even have put history in the running to be the most closely allied field. Sociology and anthropology all the way.

    • Kasimir Urbanski

      As I mentioned here, I also think there’s a value in academic gender studies! I hope the article didn’t come across as saying ‘there shouldn’t be gender studies’, or especially ‘women’s studies’. It’s just saying, as you point out, that this is not the same as History as a study.

  • lysanders_twin

    Boring and bland identity politics. That the author would even ask or purport with any seriousness that history belongs to some identity, regardless of which one, is RIDICULOUS!

    There are men and there are women, there are even hermaphrodites–maybe history belongs to them?

    Feminism is stupid because it purports to assemble a set of qualities and affix it to a group of people and, as we should all agree, people are individuals and not members of some over-arching group that presses upon them and all other members of that group similar qualities.

    There are so many beautiful ways to support the fact that the individual is paramount over their ostensible characteristics. I see no cause to believe that having one set of genitals draws someone into certain beliefs; though, society generally does a good job of alienating the individual and making them social pressures. But alas being influenced by society, too, contradicts any novelty to having been a so-called man or a so-called women and the implications of those statuses. We, humanity, are capable of being influenced by so many things and genitals are the least of it, lest you count how others treat people based on their appearance which is largely how many of these idiotic ideas about gender and sex propagate verification bias to the witless masses.

    This article? I will say it! Phallogocentrism. Which is to say, you have liberated women from nothing and further instilled them into the phallus of knowledge; the unseen purveyor of masculinity according to Derrida and I would tend to agree. Very sexists indeed.

    • Kasimir Urbanski

      This is some kind of parody post, right? No one says “purport” that often!

      Derrida was a moron. But, like you, he wrote in such a way as to desperately try to put on the impression that he was smarter than he was. He liked to use big words and write with complexity where simplicity would have sufficed (but would have also revealed how empty of content his writing really was).

    • Bordeaux Vixen

      funny, that’s sort of how i feel about your writing kasimir and lysanders’…

    • lysanders_twin

      Frankly, I am not surprised to see a response that attacks my person rather then what I said. Sure Derrida was a fool he was ensconced in academia as it would appear you lack of brevity would betray. But alas, the Author is Dead, no? Or is Barthes a fool too?

      So if you didn’t understand what I said….well that is fine. Re-read it. I intended everything I wrote. You see, purport is a word; and, like all words, it means something and I believe it is even in the dictionary. If it frustrates you to see words that do not grace your intellect very often then I suggest you expand your horizons. Your stupid article could have been half the size and it still would be too long. And the themes, you toiled with the pathetic themes over and over and over again. It bad style if you ask me but I try to be a gentlemen. You put it out there I told you what I thought and you attacked me personally for it. That is rude to say the least.

      Derrida may not have been great but he was a giant compared to the content of this screed; and you sir are the epitome of a philosophically confused phallogocentrist. That is phal-logo-centrist; there, I broke that one down for you into its constituent parts so as not to upset you delicate understanding of what is and isn’t a proper word to use in a discussion.

    • Kasimir Urbanski

      Oh, I have read Derrida. I know what ‘phallogocentrism’ is. For the benefit of any who don’t: it’s exactly what I’m rejecting in this article, namely the notion that rationality is somehow both a product and a tool of ‘patriarchal oppression’. In other words, “proving your claims is a boy thing”, but adding that the demand that people use reason in their arguments is somehow oppressive (presumably of people who want to just pull ideas out of their own backsides and not have to in any way defend those ideas). It can only have any credibility if you begin with the premise that there’s no such thing as truth.
      And by implying that it is a masculine concept, and that women are especially somehow ‘victims’ of it, it is also a profoundly sexist concept.

    • lysanders_twin

      What credibility does truth have? I think that is an element to the barrier in your understanding of what Derrida is saying in my opinion. But when I was in school it was my impression that almost no one was able to comprehend the breathtaking stakes in the western epsiteme that you are criticizing.

      I think a great parallel would be Nietzsche’s early essay on “Truth in the extra-moral sense” and not the Nazi sympathizer’s translation because that is the worst one.

      What you are arguing is like Margret Slaughter’s bullshit. The thing I love about phallogocentrism is that it has nothing to masculinity but it sure tricks people into thinking it does; and that is the filter that I use to know whether people even understand it at is most basic notion.

      There is no such thing as masculinity nor femininity other then the things that people believe about it. And, ironically, in a ode to the validity of derrida’s ideas–but not the truth ;)–the human body itself tells us there is a spectrum of sexual being and that while most end up on the outward ends of this spectrum there are those that enjoy the happy medium of having both organs, or elements of one or the other in various degrees. Therefore, there is no such thing. It is bad logos, to use the tried notions of plato et al. Which is what derrida does in my opinion and why I think that he is brilliant in his madness.

      You seem to be against post-modernism in general and I can tell that it is for the most mundane and vain elements of it. The edges where you have mis-read, or as they say, failed to play, with the words. You have closed it off in a sense. You have singled out the Truth and built upon it but, my friend, the foundation is made of sand. And here we are, back at the beginning, because, that truth you mentioned? Well, that truth is the structure….your premises and conclusion are the logos…..your demand that it is the only way is the centrism.

      Take it or leave it but I have been around the block a few times when it comes to this stuff. I have even lead seminars on it when I was an undergrad and you sound so similar to those naive objections from lower-classmen first being exposed that I do not think that you comprehend what derrida is saying. And that is fine but know that, at least in the case of my opinion, you do not know what you are talking about it.

    • Kasimir Urbanski

      “After we came out of the church, we stood talking for some time together of Bishop Berkeley’s ingenious sophistry to prove the nonexistence of matter, and that every thing in the universe is merely ideal. I observed, that though we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it. I never shall forget the alacrity with which Dr. Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it — “I refute it thus.”"

    • lysanders_twin

      I can see how you think this is witty and applies to your critique but it doesn’t. In fact it only verifies what I have speculated about your own understanding.

      I get it. Ha ha. You think I write to much and that I use words that frustrate your vocabulary, why else would you mock? Therefore I am a sophist. I have been called worse and I could as easily say the same to you. I say that there is no truth and it is as if I have unseated the sun from your solar system but the blindness you feel is fleeting if you have some integrity. As I said, having these objections, or at least quoting them, shows a lack of understanding to the concept at hand.

      Disregarding the truth does not negate a truth; just the truth you are looking for.

      “TRUTH, n. An ingenious compound of desirability and appearance. Discovery of truth is the sole purpose of philosophy, which is the most ancient occupation of the human mind and has a fair prospect of existing with increasing activity to the end of time.”

    • Kasimir Urbanski

      I mock because until now you’ve failed to make any argument really worth responding to. Just self-satisfied words that have no basis in reality, like Bishop Berkeley’s idiotic arguments, and unlike Dr. Johnson’s very real rock.

    • lysanders_twin

      Hardy har har. I could say as much about the slop you write. Which was kinda my point. Trust me, I really mean what I say and just because I get a blank stare from you doesn’t necessarily make me wrong. In fact it really brings home that pompous attitude of a know-it-all that isn’t used to having someone disagree with them.

      And, ironically, Samuel Johnson was a pompous douche bag too.

    • lysanders_twin

      In reality this (for the record):

      This is some kind of parody post, right? No one says “purport” that often!

      Derrida was a moron. But, like you, he wrote in such a way as to desperately try to put on the impression that he was smarter than he was. He liked to use big words and write with complexity where simplicity would have sufficed (but would have also revealed how empty of content his writing really was).

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