Originally posted on September 3, 2009
Given a recent discussion over at No, Seriously What About Teh Menz, I thought this old post was particularly relevant.
It happens every day. In fact, it is pretty hard to avoid it. There are some things that can only be understood with a slap on the forehead. Things so mind-boggling that one wonders how humans managed to evolve thumbs while being this mentally inept. This one happens to be a powerful dose:
There’s a very common misperception that sexism is subjective—that any given incident identified by one person as sexist could be identified by another as not sexist, and either both of them are right, because the whole thing is just a matter of opinion anyway, or the latter is right, because if it’s not equally obvious to everyone, it can’t be sexist. It’s this conventional wisdom about the subjectivity of sexism that underlies the ubiquitous “I don’t see it” rejoinder, particularly recurrent in discussions of expressed sexism against women, on which this post will be focused.
Sexism is, in fact, not subjective. What’s subjective are individual reactions to sexism, but sexism itself can be objectively determined. (I’ll come back to that in a moment.) Individual reactions to sexism will, naturally, be as vast and varied as the individuals who react—but because there are men, or women, who aren’t offended by something, or don’t find it sexist, doesn’t mean it isn’t. One can always find someone who refuses to be offended by something: That Michelle Malkin wrote In Defense of Internment doesn’t American government-built concentration camps any less objectively offensive or wrong.
Well, technically this contradicts the blog’s previous position about sexism which clearly demonstrates that sexism is the result of a subjective theory. However, that is not the one.
Institutionalized misogyny, like any endemic prejudice (racism, homophobia, ageism, ableism, sizism, etc.) should be viewed as a system, with rules and laws governing its existence—although, by virtue of cultural indoctrination, they generally aren’t obvious unless one makes an effort to see them.
Sizism? That is an “endemic” prejudice? Yet, that is not the one either.
The patriarchy is very like the Matrix, in that it is a false construct laid over the top of a reality, that makes things look very different. Viewing the same thing while fully and uncritically socialized into the patriarchy and while cognizant of its falsity creates two very different pictures.
That is the one. I will give you a moment to stop laughing.
Let us continue:
Like the Matrix, which Morpheus described as “everywhere. It is all around us. Even now, in this very room… It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth,” the systemic sexism known as the patriarchy is so comprehensive and profound that “seeing it” actually takes some effort, some willingness to see it. And, like those who find themselves awakening from the Matrix, people who find themselves awakening from the patriarchy learn to identify its patterns, upon which it is dependent for the transmission of its ideals and its continual self-generation.
Not so surprisingly, McEwan fails to realize the irony of the comparison. Perhaps had she watched Reloaded and Revolutions she would have learned that Morpheus’ views and explanations are shown to be dogmatic, one-sided and false — just like the Matrix itself. The truth cannot be found simply by realizing that the Matrix is a false reality. That is only the beginning. One should–in fact one must–question every rule, every notion, every item of dogma, including whether one has attained knowledge. This means that one must be like Neo, not Morpheus (who represents systems like feminism), and assume that everything one is told may be false. Why? Simply because one has been shown that the world was not what it seemed to be.
To use the comparison, the “awakening” is only the acknowledgment of sexism… against women. True awakening requires questioning whether males can be victims of sexism, whether women are innocent bystanders and whether power lies totally on one side or if power is in and of itself an illusion.
If feminism is supposed to be Morpheus, then it is dogmatic and ultimately incapable of leading to true gnosis (knowledge). The best it can do is notice something out there, but it will never present reality objectively or completely. Ironically, following dogmatic views will simply cause the same conflict over and over again, which is what every One before Neo did when they rejoined the Source. It is only by questioning both sets of dogma that one can gain true knowledge. (Interestingly, Morpheus’ views were actually part of the Matrix’s system of control, implying that the machines may have intentionally freed the minds of those unwilling to accept the Matrix. This raises some entertaining questions about feminism and its potential true purpose, if we continue to use McEwan’s comparison.)
Now, all that aside… the Matrix? Who compares themselves to the Matrix? Who has the arrogance to actually make such a comparison? It is just so … immature. And the comparison does not even work. Did she not watch the films and the shorts? The humans were not exactly innocent people. They tried to wipe the machines out of existence and the machines protected themselves. If that is her comparison, then she is tacitly suggesting that women subjugated and oppressed men first. Not only that, the only person who can solve the problem is a man (i.e. machine) who resoundingly rejects feminism (i.e. Morpheus’ dogmatic views).
Seriously, if you are going to make a comparison with a fictional thought experiment, at least to pick one you understand, not one to make you look clever.
UPDATE: McEwan recently reposted the above post on her personal blog. I responded to it, although I did get the sense that there was something familiar about it. Given the time that has passed, I am not so humored (well, still slightly humored) by McEwan’s citing of the Matrix as akin to “patriarchy” that I cannot mount a better criticism of the flaws in her position. Below is the response I intended. I edited it when I posted on McEwan’s blog to avoid complaints about making it about “teh menz” and for length. This is my intended comment in full:
So: Toss out the idea that women/men are more subjective/objective observers of sexism.
You contradict this statement when you wrote, “women are generally better at identifying the patterns of misogyny by virtue of having been subjected to them for a lifetime.” It implies that women are more objective observers of misogyny than than men. More so, your explanation of an objective definition is actually not objective. “Institutionalized misogyny” is a political position, i.e. an opinion, which makes it inherently subjective. What one presents is no more objective than citing original sin as the cause for all bad acts. That one believes this is true does not make it any way objective.
In order sexism to be objectively determined, all factors must be considered. This means examining the “system” from all sides, both that of the “oppressed” and the “oppressors.” However, your definition does not. It excludes males as potential victims of sexism (and presumably all things associated with it such as physical and sexual violence) and excludes females as potential oppressors (and presumably abusers, rapists, etc.). Secondly, it excludes the institutionalized misandry being perpetuated by women and men. Thirdly, you present males as inherently less capable of seeing and understanding sexism, although given how you frame sexism one could argue that this is not a contradiction.
The existence of bias inherently creates problems for objective analysis because one may exclude or ignore something due to that bias.
It is curious that you would cite the Matrix as an explanation since you appear to lack any understanding of it beyond the first film’s initial dogmatic approach that was later shown to be wrong. More so, the Machines were later referred to as “endowed with the very spirit of man” and revealed to be a reflection of “man’s inhumanity to man” in The Second Renaissance parts 1 and 2. In your attempt at whatever the above is, you unfortunately misinformed your audience about the films’ actual position. Ironically, you position is the very thing the films, as philosophical tools, demand the viewers to be wary of: “unquestionable” dogma and variant systems of control.
It would seem one missed the most profound message: There is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.
Coincidentally, you also missed the most profound point of the Matrix Reloaded: the awakening is just another system of control. The very thing you glamorize is shown to be not only wrong, but profoundly dogmatic. It is just another prison for one’s mind. Like all the Ones before Neo, you chose merely from the paths others set in front of you. You do not seek a third way, and in that way is you are bound to “reload the system” and perpetuate it all over again.
Granted, making a third choice actually takes a willingness to see it. However, like Cypher, one can be willfully blind, which may explain your lopsided view of sexism and your air of intellectual “superiority.”