Dumb And Dumber

Men Who Fake Feminism

There’s something really unedifying about two blokes arguing hammer and tongs about feminism. I don’t know about you, but it’s irksome in the same way as say, two atheists arguing about the interpretation of passages in the bible. In both cases, the participants are endowed with the wrong set of tools that disqualifies them from having any kind of credibility in the field. If you’re a guy, having a penis sort of disqualifies you from having too much moral authority on the topic expect to say, “yeah, what she said.” And in the instance of the atheists, having reason but no faith, is the wrong equipment with which to wrap one self around the arcane illogicality and irrationality of religion.

In that light I bring you today’s internet biffo between Bob Ellis and John Birmingham. It’s really obtuse and idiotic, but I guess Bob Ellis kicked off the stupidities first:

Why are deeds long common at office Christmas parties used by women to ruin good men’s careers? Why are left-wing harassers smashed, and right-wing harassers like Bill O’Reilly unharmed by it?

The Strauss-Kahn Moment has arrived, and the question must be asked: has wowser-feminism gone too far?

For, if we look back a bit, we will see I think that the Socialist Oscar Wilde, accused of pederasty, rightly, wrote no more plays, and the pro-Communist Charles Chaplin, accused of engendering a bastard child, wrongly, made only three more films in 36 years; and the Jewish ex-Communist Roman Polanski, accused of pederasty, correctly, made no more Hollywood films, and despite his evident genius was blocked, harassed and menaced for 35 years and faces jail in his 80s.

You wonder if this Bob has lost the plot. What has feminism got to do with the downfall of Dominic Strauss-Kahn, one can only guess at. Yes there’s been a lot of moralism disguised as feminism, but I don’t think any sane person is going to pin DSK’s woes upon the general acceptance of feminist ideas. Then you get John Birmingham lambasting Bob Ellis:

What you wrote yesterday wasn’t just any old bullshit. It was dangerous, hurtful bullshit of the worst kind. It didn’t set women’s rights back by years or decades or even five lousy minutes, because these days women don’t hold their rights at the whim of fools who think assault, harassment and betrayal are no big deal. Women are stronger than that and we are all better for it.

But mate, you set back the cause for the rest us; for every bloke who ever decided to keep his pants on, and his hands to himself; for every bloke who took seriously the admonition that it wasn’t all about him and his one-eyed little friend. That crap you filed yesterday, sure, it insulted women. But it insulted men on a much deeper level. It implied we can never change, we can never get better. And hell, maybe, as a gender, we can’t. But as individuals we can and do every day. And the first step is not making excuses for our bad behaviour or shifting the blame onto women as a whole, or on to some ill-defined political construct.

The moral indignation is a bit on the nose. I always found it highly suspicious when guys back in the 1980s would take up the cause of feminism to such an extent you’d wonder if they’d forgotten that they were blokes and as blokes still had those entitlements, but were willing to overlook that and to relentlessly argue on behalf of women – to impress women. I figured it was a brilliant new tactic to get laid. I don’t know if it worked but there were sure as heck a lot of guys wanting to argue about ‘The Female Eunuch’. I guess I was a little too rigid (and therefore an unreconstructed male chauvinist pig, penis-like – read, “dickhead”)  that I found those guys to be a new variety of hypocrites running around being moralistic.

To that degree, I sort of get Bob Ellis – I don’t agree with him, but I can extend the charity of understanding what he’s trying to say. And I get that Birmingham thinks this is bad and understand why one might morally  (self-)righteously take that position. But I think John Birmingham is being incredibly uncharitable when he says Ellis’ entire point is to justify criminal acts such as sexual assault and rape. It’s way overstating what can be inferred about Bob Ellis from what he has written in that entry.

What’s really surprising is the gusto with which people are lining up to kick Bob Ellis for being wrong-headed. it’s like there’s been an outbreak of sanctimonious feminism-sympathy by a bunch of guys. For my part, I intensely dislike moralist critiques in general. If you’ve been any reader of this blog and the ones before it, you’ll know I squirm in discomfort at moralists thumping on their tubs. Where there’s a moralist, my experience tells me there’s always the foul stench of hypocrisy, and by my own nature I can abide hypocrisy less than failure to adhere to strict moral codes. Laws are one thing, they must be obeyed as Socrates noted;  but moral codes as dictated by the clergy or the general discourse of feminism are highly suspect things, for they invariably invoke an ‘ought’ out of a described state of ‘is’. And any ideology is a catalogue of ‘oughts’ construed out of what they see in the way the world ‘is’. There is no categorical imperative. Kant’s simply wrong.

The last time I looked at this direction, feminist moralists were lining up to hang French culture in its entirety as an extension of the Dominic Strauss-Kahn case. I think Bob Ellis did a terrible job of writing about it, but it is a line of discourse out there. And maybe labeling it ‘wowser feminism’ does get you into the dog house of intellectuals in this country, it’s still worth asking the question all the same. Similarly, John Birmingham is right that we cannot condone rape and sexual assault no matter how culturally normative it once looked – but who is really arguing against that? Put on the spot, Bob wouldn’t say that rape and sexual assaults are good things or acceptable to society. By deliberately ignoring the ramification of such moralist argumentation, Birmingham is also deliberately underplaying that there might be a problem in burying a person’s accomplishments for their peccadilloes. When Ellis asks if he is willing to bury Kennedy’s legacy in exchange for Kennedy’s moral failings, Birmingham says:

Er, I think you’ll find JFK was president. A large part of his voter appeal? A fresh clean image. A war hero and family man with a beautiful, glamourous wife.
To bad he was banging the actress.

But it wouldn’t be for me to say whether that disqualified him from office. (My personal opinion? ‘Meh’). That’d be the choice of voters in November 1960. It wasn’t one they were offered, because they had no information about his future sexual trangressions. Just as they had no information about Nixon’s future crimes.
Do you really think it’s helping? All this time you spend in the TARDIS?

In other words, he’s deliberately not seeing the point of the hypothetical exchange. Nor shall he make commitments:

Ellis: No, no, do YOU think he should have been elected President? He was a serial harasser, a grinning adulterer, he knowingly transmitted non-specific urethritis to unsuspecting film stars, he availed himself of the mentally unstable Marilyn Monroe and sped her suicide…
Just do it, Birmingham.
Man up.

Birmingham: t’s a silly question, Bob. An undergrad question. You’re asking would I make him President knowing now what I know about him. What you need to ask is ‘would JB vote for him knowing ‘was a serial harasser, a grinning adulterer, he knowingly transmitted non-specific urethritis to unsuspecting film stars, he availed himself of the mentally unstable Marilyn Monroe and sped her suicide…’
Knowing just that? And being voter in 1960? Probably not, no. I wouldn’t have voted for him.
But nor would I have voted for Nixon.
In the US system you dont have to vote.
In the Australian system when faced with unpalatable choices I usually just deface my ballot paper with some sort of message for the scrutineers. Just because a candidate hitched his or her wagon to the ‘progressive’ mule isnt reason enough for me to climb on board.
I’m not seeing a lot of point in voting for Gillard for instance. Other than to keep Abbott out. And that’s not nearly enough.

So Birmingham says he would trade off Kennedy’s legacy for his moral failings, even though he wants to hide behind the caveat of historically not being able to do so because there is only one history. Frankly, it’s weak and dumb. If one believes there is only reality and no hypotheticals in history, then one must necessarily embrace both Kennedy’s legacy AND his moral failings. If Bob Ellis’ argument was arcane and abstruse, bordering on the nonsensical, Birmingham is plain obtuse. But this is what I mean when I say dumb and dumber.

It’s a strange media spectacle when two people generally on the left side of politics have a go at one another for not being politically correct or astute enough. It’s even worse when they choose to misconstrue the other party for their own moral indignation. I guess these thing are amusing because people get so hot under the collar and a good argey-bargey beats a unison chorus from the choir.


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