Farhan Akhtar makes a advertisement with the Delhi police, urging men to protect women, and urging women to call 100:
It did not sit well with some folk, such as Tanushree Bhasin:
… I found myself cringing every two seconds. All the points he raised, all arguments he made stank of thinly veiled sexism. So there he was talking about rape, violence, and inequality, without once questioning the underling patriarchal tone of the advertisement itself. “Yeh humaari zindagi mein kai kirdaar adaa karti hai — ma, behen, patni aur beti ban kar. In ki suraksha karna hamari zimmedaari hai,” he says. What this implies is that the narrative is still written by men, the story is still about men; women simply make appearances in their lives to serve them as mothers, sisters, wives and daughters. This age old argument says as clearly as possible that violence against women is not to be condemned because it is wrong to treat any individual that way; instead it is seen as man’s failure to protect his women — an embarrassment to any real man.
Interestingly, Farhan Akhtar is perfectly aware of the tone of his campaign:
Unfortunately, we live in a country entrenched in patriarchal norms. Now, if you were to see a woman being harassed on the streets, would you close your eyes because it might be condescending to her if you, as a man, were to try and help? In an ideal world, men wouldn’t have to be ‘the protectors’. The best we can do today is to change whatever enables violence against women.
Bhasin’s response is condescending dismissal: “A case of misguided feminism no doubt.”
Yet, Akhtar is, if not categorically right, certainly not categorically wrong. You have a problem: violence against women. One way to curb it is to create norms that induce men (who may lack the empathy or experience to understand what women are undergoing) to intervene. One way to do so is to create advertisements that tap into the existing “men should be protectors” rhetoric. The upside of this is potentially reduced casualties. The downside of this is that you end up re-enforcing existing gender norms, which hurt women in other ways. If you think that violence is a more serious weighty problem than other forms of discrimination, or that the advertisement has a large impact on male behavior and a negligible effect on gender norms (after all, it’s just one message among millions of “patriarchal” messages), then making that advertisement is the welfare-enhancing thing to do.
I’m not saying I buy this argument – I’m generally skeptical of the impact of advertisements on human behavior – but I do think it’s valid enough to deserve a serious response such as “The long term negative effects of this advertisement outweigh the short term positive gains.” Instead we get this drivel:
… the point is not to delineate gender lines again, and invent chivalrous men instilled with a protectionist spirit; what we need is quite the opposite — a complete negation of such lines drawn between men and women. … So long as gender sensitisation campaigns continue to speak in a language that is embedded in patriarchy, the very agenda of preventing violence against women will be continuously subverted.
Bhasin also cites two other examples of campaigns that try to improve the lives of women by tapping into existing gender norms: Akhtar’s own MARD campaign, and an ad from Apollo Hospital urging men to encourage their partners to get tested for breast cancer. All this really proves is that there is a trade-off between improving the lives of women within the existing system and dismantling the system. Whether to opt for the first or the second is not a trivial decision: if dismantling the system is difficult (it is) and if violence persists even in an atmosphere of relative equality (such as in Sweden, which has one of the highest rape rates in the world*) then one may sensibly conclude that women will be better off if one takes steps that – despite re-enforcing the system – make’s them better off within it.
This applies to many other debates as well. If one observes that divorced women suffer an enormous decline in their standard of living (because they can’t work, and don’t get adequate alimony) then one can either push to dismantle the homemaker/breadwinner division of labour (which is hard) or one can argue that the breadwinner owes the homemaker for services rendered, and therefore alimony should be adequate**. The latter option, because it’s based on existing cultural norms, is easier to push through. Downside: the campaign will have the effect of re-enforcing (at the margin) the cultural norms that caused the problem. Upside: it lessens the intensity of the problem.
One can have a serious discussion of long-term costs and short-term benefits, of how hard or easy it is to dismantle systems, or about whether such moves actually improve the welfare of women, even in short-term, but only with people are willing to think deeper than Bhasin and her ilk.
*Although I personally think this is the result of a high reporting rate, combined with a broad definition of what constitutes “rape.”
** A thank-you to Radhika Chitkara, a women’s issues activist/lawyer, for this example. She insists that I misunderstand it.
Juniot Diaz thinks so:
If you’re a boy writer, it’s a simple rule: you’ve gotta get used to the fact that you suck at writing women and that the worst women writer can write a better man than the best male writer can write a good woman. And it’s just the minimum. Because the thing about the sort of heteronormative masculine privilege, whether it’s in Santo Domingo, or the United States, is you grow up your entire life being told that women aren’t human beings, and that women have no independent subjectivity.
It’s certainly an interesting theory, although Diaz chooses to phrase it in a deliberately provocative manner. “Subjectivity” here refers to the characters being subjects (which can take actions) as opposed to objects (which can’t.) For example, Princess Peach in the Mario games, who patiently waits for Mario to save her, is an object, not a subject. More here.
Diaz believes that because of the sexist stereotypes that they’re exposed to (in life and literature), men are unable to grasp that women are capable of a wide range of beliefs, attitudes, actions, choices etc. In contrast, women are brought up aware of how deep male characters can be and, because they’re women, are capable of writing equally deep and interesting female characters. The claim here strikes me as theoretically sound. Of course, it’s very difficult to empirically test – you’d have to collect a large sample of characters, think of a way of measuring “deepness” or “subjectivity” and figure out whether the female characters written by men are better (or atleast more stereotypical) than male characters written by women. This strikes me as an almost impossible task, given how subjective coding characters is. This is the kind of thesis for which, perhaps, the only evidence is the experience of readers.
So I’d have been happy to defer to Juniot Diaz’s experience (he’s a hotshot writer, has won many heavy literary awards, and teaches writing to boot, so he has a decent sample) if it weren’t for the fact that he trips over himself with the very next sentence:
And because you grow up with this, it’s this huge surprise when you go to college and realize that, “Oh, women aren’t people who does my shit and fucks me.”
In other words, men (or, atleast, boys) are pigs who are interested in women only for sex and what they can do for them. They’re emotionless brutes, incapable for forming meaningful, understanding relationships with the women in their lives. They’re only interested in sex. In the span of one minute, Diaz goes from berating sexism to personifying it.
So we have two competing theories: (1) women don’t create stereotypical male characters, and Diaz has astutely observed this tendency (2) women do create sexist male characters, and Diaz lacks the knowledge required to spot this. Given his inability to spot anti-male sexism in his own speech it seems highly unlikely that he’d catch it in the stories written by his (female) students. At this point, I’m leaning heavily towards (2).
For a better understanding of sexism in (Western, english) fiction, read the entries on the TVTropes Double Standards page. It categorizes tropes into sexist against men, sexist against women, against either, and “sexist in execution, but not nature”. Each trope will be accompanied by dozens of examples, including cases where the trope has been averted or subverted.
Cimino suggested that in some human ancestral environments, aspects of hazing might have served to protect veteran members from threats posed by newcomers. “It’s almost as though the period of time around group entry was deeply problematic,” he said. “This may have been a time during which coalitions were exploited by newcomers. Our intuitions about how to treat newcomers may reflect this regularity of the past. Abusing newcomers –– hazing –– may have served to temporarily alter their behavior, as well as select out uncommitted newcomers when membership was non-obligatory.”
I am amazed by how many proponents of fiscal policy don’t understand that it’s symmetrical. Fiscal policy doesn’t mean more government; it means more government during recessions and less government during booms, with no overall change in the average level of government. Anyone who doesn’t even get to that level of understanding, who doesn’t think in terms of policy regimes, is simply not part of the serious conversation.
There is a reason the rest of the world — especially the academic world — abides by a simple set of ethics that include: read what you criticize, document what you say, try to understand the other side’s view, respect their integrity, don’t lie, don’t insult, don’t deliberately misquote, attack ideas if you will but not people, don’t make up slanderous allegations about your opponents personal motives, and (hello, New York Times) check your facts. And when you see someone flagrantly violating these rules, tune out.
Statistical modelling, and luck:
Vukcevic placed his guests into four categories, ranked in order of likely attendance, from “definitely” to “unlikely”. He assigned each category a probability and added some further assumptions: families would either attend all together or not at all; beyond that, one guest’s decision to attend would be uncorrelated with another guest’s. With a target of 100-110 attendees, and an absolute maximum of 120, Vukcevic and Ko celebrated with … 105 people.
[However] Vukcevic’s assumptions were flat-out wrong. For each of the four categories, the actual attendance rates were lower than forecast. (“Likely” attendees had an assumed attendance rate of 80 per cent and an actual attendance rate of zero.) Vukcevic predicted that the chance of having 100 or more invited guests attend was more than 99 per cent; only 97 did, a result which the model said was vastly unlikely.
… And yet Vukcevic and Ko celebrated with “an ideal number” of attendees. How so? Another assumption proved felicitously flawed: that the chance of uninvited guests was zero. Happily for Vukcevic and Ko, their failure to account for wedding crashers cancelled out all the other mistakes.
Contemporaries heavily criticized the abolitionists for scaring moderates, but abolitionism won. The simplest explanation is that there’s a trade-off between bargaining and conversion. Moderates are better at bargaining with people holding preferences fixed. Abolitionists are better at changing preferences. And when the status quo is very far from righteousness, it’s preferences that have to change to get an acceptable result.
… Yes, extremists can be very bad for a cause. But it’s generally when they’re uncivil or worse. Otherwise, extremists at least serve the function of making moderates look reasonable by comparison.
He’s defending an open borders stand against an “increase immigration” stand, but the claims may apply to other debates as well.
The cartoonists at The New Yorker are as articulate as the writers. Here is Robert Mankoff on stereotypes in cartoons:
… most comedy is based on the predictability of types. And the types, whether they are dumb bosses, greedy bankers, callous doctors, scheming lawyers, or talkative women and insensitive preoccupied husbands, are never good types. Humor doesn’t praise.
To get a joke, you do not have to believe that the typecasting is accurate. Rather, you just have to be aware of it.
1. Anecdotal evidence is evidence. Also: absence of evidence is evidence of absence.