Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course

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Systemic Misogyny or Over-sensitivity?

Screenshot courtesy of the Halifax Journal

Noted copy-paste journalist Margaret Wente has an article this week delving into recent events at Dalhousie’s Dental School, allowing us to return to our discussion from last Friday. Wente takes aim at the notion of “rape culture,” and puts the onus for progress squarely on women’s perceived sense of threat:

How did that happen? How did we create an entire class of highly privileged, mostly affluent young women who feel unsafe on campus, microaggressed at every turn, utterly unable to cope with the garden-variety misdemeanours of boys and men, who have been behaving badly since time began despite our many efforts (most quite successful) to civilize them?

Well, you know the answer. The universities are hothouses for a grievance culture that sees racism, sexism and misogyny under every rug. Many of the faculty derive their livelihoods from it. These institutions have constructed increasingly elaborate codes of conduct and large administrative apparatuses to detect and uproot these evils, however subtle and invisible they may be to ordinary people.

In Macleans, Anne Kingston musters a brief but thorough critique of Wente’s dismissal:

Protecting those accused of abusive behaviour is a hallmark of rape culture. So is dismissal of those subject to abuse. We saw it in the hand-wringing after the 2013 conviction  of two teenagers for brutally raping a young girl in Steubenville, Ohio.CNN, for one, fretted how the young men “had such promising futures, star football players, very good students,” not for a moment considering how the assaults might affect the victim’s future. In a similar vein, Wente praised the dentistry students who joked about drugging and sexually assaulting women as “decent people.” If she had a daughter in the class, she writes, the first thing she’d ask her was: “What are these guys like in person? Are they disrespectful pigs or are they decent people? (The answer, evidently, is that they are decent people.)” What evidence she marshalled to conclude the group is anything but “disrespectful pigs” is unclear. The fact they’re enrolled in a professional school? The fact they knew their posts were offensive, and then scrambled to cover up when they were about to be exposed? Equally unclear is why their actions in private shouldn’t be a more significant marker of character than their public personae—a lesson learned in the Jian Ghomeshi scandal.  If these students were decent people, they would come forward with an abject apology. They haven’t. Which means that if anyone needs a retrograde lecture on how to “man up,” it’s them.

Whether you are swayed by either of the pieces, they can be seen to broadly sketch out two fundamental planks of the argument over systemic misogyny and the ‘rape culture’ we discussed last week.

Based on the above readings, a few questions:

  • What do you feel are the merits of these two arguments?
  • Similarly, where do you feel that either of the arguments is vulnerable or weakly articulated?
  • Have you seen others make either case better?
  • Are there further perspectives that these two essays may be leaving out?

As ever, I’d be curious to hear from you in the comments.

 

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Part of the Problem: Talking about Systemic Oppression

Cartoon via Amptoons.com

Yesterday I shared the following quote with the face-to-face Philosophy 12 group:

Relationships between groups and relationships between groups and social categories, should not be confused with the oppressive behaviour of individuals. A white man may not himself actively participate in oppressive behaviour directed at blacks or women, for example, but he nonetheless benefits from the general oppression of black and women simply because he is a white man. In this sense, all members of dominant and subordinate categories participate in social oppression regardless of their individual attitudes or behaviour. Social oppression becomes institutionalized when its enforcement is so of social life that it is not easily identified as oppression and does not require conscious prejudice or overt acts of discrimination.

As we have recently begun to define the notion of Justice in class as the pursuit of a society that seeks to eliminate discrimination, the above definition provides a troubling circumstance to extricate ourselves from as a society, whether we find ourselves as part of the oppressor or oppressed class. A question resulting from our reading and discussion yesterday that deserves further reflection during our unit may be

Is it possible to benefit from the oppression of [racial minorities, other genders, classes, regions, religions] and not be deemed responsible for such oppression? If it is possible to be ‘innocent’ in such a case, under what conditions does such innocence exist?

These are difficult questions to confront, perhaps even moreso in an affluent suburb with many of the advantages that we enjoy here in North America. However, as events involving police brutality in the United States (something some would argue that we have little right to feel smug about in Canada), or recent revelations about CBC darling Jian Ghomeshi, or at Dalhousie University’s dental school may attest, we can be seen to exist within a violently oppressive culture.

This is a contentious point to make, I realize, and smacks something of the question of how does one convince a fish that it is swimming in water if it is all the fish has ever known? But I would hope that these recent events, and the provocative questions raised by reflecting on institutional oppression create a space to debate and discuss the ramifications of these realities, supposing we can accept that these are in fact realities.

To that end, do you (participant, commenter, or reader of this blog and post) feel that this is in fact a reality? Why or why not?

If you do see this/these events as part of a system of oppression and violence, how ought we proceed toward that “just” life? And is it possible for the beneficiaries of various forms of oppression to fight for not only their own innocence, but the equality and freedom from discrimination of all peoples?

For your further consideration, the original definition of institutional oppression comes from a  longer piece rebutting the contention that “not all men” are responsible for violent manifestations of the patriarchy, by Michael Laxer. You can read that article here.

 
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