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Culture War Roundup for the week of September 26, 2022

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Is the Gender War the oddest "culture war"?

Fair warning: this is going to provide few conclusions. TBH I'm more interested in soliciting opinions on which explanation seems most plausible.

I was on another sub and someone complained about how tiring the interminable gender war was. And it raised something I had been thinking of for a while: it feels like there's something very odd about a society where sexes are encouraged to disdain each other despite being unable to actually do without said sex.

I grew up in Africa and moved to the West near the end of my teenage years so I've lived in very different societies and have struggled to understand their differences. . One highly progressive and aiming for gender egalitarianism and another that has a very traditional understanding of gender still, due to religion and culture. As Muslim nations go we're pretty progressive relative to some of the Arabs (no one I knew growing up wore or was expected to wear hijab - though I saw more of them around when I returned not too long ago), but it's no Sweden.

The interesting thing is though, growing up, gender wars weren't as big a deal as in the West. I'm not saying that women never reacted badly to sexism or no one ever pushed for change. just didn't feel like there was this interminable "battle of the sexes".

Thing is: we had many other forms of culture war. The most obvious being ethnic strife. That was just taken for granted. It makes perfect sense to me that tribes will dislike one another, groups will cynically deploy identity politics as suits them and so on.

It doesn't seem obvious to me that any tribe will be so riven internally that men and women (the two components necessary for it to reproduce the tribe) see themselves as competitors or enemies. With this logic being taken to absurd extremes where women make money publicly mocking their husbands for the applause of the internet

So why is there a gender war? Why didn't it feel as big a deal back home? Potential reasons:

  1. There was, I was just too young to know. The most parsimonious and intuitive. Game stops, do not pass "go".

  2. There's "'gender war" in the same way there's "class conflict" in the medieval era: exploitation is still happening but conditions haven't allowed something like marxism (well...feminism here) to explode cause the proles are still too oppressed. So there's a latent gender war. a. There's some attraction to this one too, especially when it comes to one obvious gender war issue we don't share with the West: polygamy. Here many women are opposed and it does create a clear split between men and women. But it seems like it simply hasn't bubbled up into a politically salient critique of the whole institution or, even broader, some "patriarchy"

  3. The West has much weaker tribal and religious links, which means there's much less of a sense of intratribal loyalty to block gender wars or redirect them. If you're just someone in some random urban region (that you likely moved to) they're not really your men/women, it's not really your tribe. There's no common destiny; it's just random individuals and so it's easier to demonize them as oppressors/bitches. a. As a corollary: the absence of strong, traditional identities allows/drives people to identify in different ways that allow gender conflict.

  4. Traditional societies have a much clearer path to marriage/family which reduces what there is to fight over. It is precisely the shifting of norms (and their endless litigation) that justifies becoming a gender warrior. Even unjust but stable norms may be better here.

  5. Blank slate ideology hasn't taken root. IMO this leads to damage because the natural points of divergence between men and women are no longer natural tendencies we have to work around but actual failings on the part of the other side (obvious examples would be: women being "too" choosy, men valuing youth and variety "too much")

  6. The American culture war is just particularly strange; Austrians and other Westerners do not speak this way but they don't get as much airtime.

  7. Similarly: the Culture war doesn't actually represent lived reality, it is just a loud form of kayfabe, especially on the Left. Women and men pair up and go about their days, regardless of the TikTok rhetoric

  8. Feminism itself is to blame: the ideology, especially when stripped of class, requires a male enemy. When stripped of class it becomes a tool of middle class and above women seeking to remove barriers to their privilege who especially need men as such to be the enemy (if they argued on the basis of class they would risk arguing against the very privileged state they wish to reach). If this allows a middle class woman to talk down to a working class man as an avatar of the problems of all men...all the better.

So...I'm curious which ones the Motte finds intuitive (besides the obvious). Because - if I ignore my desire to be epistemically humble - I do have sympathy for 2,3 & 5 (though arguably 5 is just a proxy for how far feminist ideas have spread in the first place).

I do think it is the oddest culture war in that such an antagonistic relationship between the sexes is historically speaking quite new and seems to have originated in the West (though it is increasingly spreading to other countries now due to the fact that a huge amount of countries are culturally influenced by and want to emulate the West, and additionally feminist ideology has been intentionally promulgated by the West in countries they deem as being insufficiently progressive).

As to your list of possibilities, I think I am most sympathetic to 3, 4 and 8. I am not sympathetic to 2 at all.

The most key thing that I think it's necessary to note is that the gender "war" is mostly only fought in one direction - it's primarily feminist-leaning women and their male sympathisers accusing men of all manner of wrongdoing towards women, and most people out there who aren't all that invested in the gender war seem quite willing to go along with and accept that same narrative. The only major pushback is from people who think that feminism goes too far in their demonisation of men (a defence of men rather than a condemnation of women). Outside of a few isolated and much-maligned circles which people really love to draw attention to due to their deviance from mainstream thought, there's no real reverse equivalent where men express animosity towards women on any large scale and identify them as the source of society's major social ills.

I do think there's an element here of Western society being extremely fractured. When people's lives are atomised and disconnected, it's very easy to forget about people as being, well, people. Especially by the people most disconnected from the trials and tribulations that "normies" face. It's easy to forget about the countless men who work the dirty dangerous jobs to hold our society together when you spend your whole life far removed from that, and to see men as a group as being privileged oppressors. It's notable that feminism is predominantly a movement of upper-middle class women, and has always been such from its very inception. They are so distanced from these conditions that they have the ability to ignore the sacrifices of the men who keep society afloat, and can regard male behaviour and masculinity as a virtual pathology in need of reform. These are the women with the most social clout and influence, and who have the most ability to propagate narratives into the mainstream.

Even in the West, the further away you get from the urban sprawl and the less atomised people are, the less of a gender "war"-type dynamic there is. In the smaller and more rural towns, everyone knows each other, the conditions are far tougher, and it's probably more difficult to start arguing that the men going out and doing all kinds of dirty, thankless labour each day to bring back money for their families are nefarious oppressors of women whose behaviours exemplify toxic masculinity. It's harder to conceptualise of an imaginary spectre of "patriarchy" looming over everything when the society is cohesive and you have personally formed bonds with everyone in your small village.

Then there's the inherent unnatural-ness of the current environment we exist in which has shaped our gender roles in a very weird manner. Our advancement rendered the female role obsolete - a domain which women's psychology is suited to - and pushed them into the male sphere. While technology didn't render human labour in the public sphere obsolete (it would probably take the development of AGI to do that), it unintentionally ended up destroying the private/domestic sphere. The development of all sorts of domestic conveniences to make women's lives easier - created in the men's public sphere, might I add - ended up leading to women's discontentment, as all sorts of chores they would often do communally and share with other women essentially became a set and forget activity. The female role lost the status that it once had (which it should be noted was considerable), and so they flooded the male sphere. Who wouldn't?

The issue here is that the public sphere is characterised mostly by hierarchical, stratified relationships where people are valued for their productivity and are generally held at arms length. This contrasts with the kind of more communal relationships that women prefer, and additionally women are less likely to value climbing the rungs of the corporate ladder than men are. In line with these preferences, since women have entered the workplace and public life more broadly you can see social changes to the nature of the workplace which have made it fall better in line with women's preferences. There's increased emphasis on niceties, stepping on other people's toes is discouraged, making people feel uncomfortable is the worst thing you can do, strict hierarchies are increasingly seen as a negative and the environment has slowly started to look more and more like the personal network-type relationships women tend to be predisposed to.

But no matter how friendly to women's psychology the workplace has become, there's only so much that can be done. These cooperative super-organisms which make up the public sphere can't exist without hierarchy, and can't exist while prioritising the comfort and preferences and sensibilities of every individual at all levels. In other words, it will always suit male psychology far more than it does female, and women will always feel somewhat alienated in such an environment. So you get all these knee-jerk narratives which I think resonate with a lot of women on some level about how the public sphere and its institutions are unfriendly to women. However, they get the cause wrong.

All these things that accompanied industrialisation and modernity massively contributed to the rise of feminism. The feminist preoccupation with women's representation itself could be an ill-conceived attempt at replacing the social status and elevated moral standing that used to accrue to women for performing their roles in the private sphere with formal authority in the public sphere, and it might be ultimately why they attempt to engineer equal outcomes for women in the public sphere in the face of all evidence pointing to the fact that it is simply unworkable. Though of course they won't frame it that way, they'll point to "workplace gender bias against women" (the widespread existence of which, for the most part, I think is questionable and contested at best) in order to justify their attempts at social engineering in order to force parity in public life.

Once feminism and feminist ideas about the "patriarchy" and man-as-enemy became entrenched, the whole thing ended up feeding itself. While it claimed to be a radical, revolutionary ideology, its success was precisely because it capitalised on and reinforced very old perceptions of men as agents with a responsibility to channel their agency towards protecting and providing for women, and women as non-agentic victims who are the appropriate recipients of this protection and provision. Fundamentally, feminism is nothing new, and the main difference I see that exists is its extremely antagonistic attitude towards men and its portrayal of gender relations as being a conflict (well, and its insistence that women occupy the same sphere as men). Many generations have at this point grown up being invested in feminism, and there are plenty of feminist academics and activists who have made the entire thing their livelihoods.

As to the reason why I am not sympathetic to 2, it's because I think any claims about any historical female lack of power (and by extension, female lack of power in other similarly traditional third world societies) are incorrect and simply appeal to perceptions of potentially dangerous, agentic men and non-agentic women. Analogising it to class is a false equivalence because women have never been viewed by men like the underclass was viewed by the nobility. For an upper-class person, their entire social milieu and family are likely upper-class as well, whereas men have wives, sisters and daughters and have incentives to want them to do well. There's also all sorts of evidence pointing towards the idea that people generally (yes, including men) have a preference for protecting women and view them more positively than men which is simply not the case when it comes to other social distinctions like class or race, and there's lots and lots of evidence of traditional social norms and practices that clearly contradict the "male oppression of women" hypothesis. And that perspective is incoherent too - how is it that feminism is such a dominant ideology now if under traditionalism men were so tyrannical and women were so powerless? Men just thought "you know, we should stop doing this 'oppression of women' thing we've done for centuries on end now in virtually every society and never once questioned before?"

I don't hold the opinion that even polygyny reflects male privilege and female oppression. I don't think polygyny has to reflect control and coercion of women and there's evidence against that prevailing view, but even if we assume that that is what it is for the sake of argument the fact is that anything that controls female reproduction necessarily also controls male reproduction. Every polygynous marriage results in a man (or multiple men) being forced into reproductive oblivion and no hope of partnership (especially in these societies with strict premarital and extramarital sex taboos), and the only way you won't end up with a society full of incels is a society where a good portion of the men are dead. This is actually a big deficit of polygamous societies stability-wise - it's not good to have a huge amount of men disconnected from society and family.

There's so much more to say (I can explain and source my arguments more rigorously than I have here) but I don't want this comment to branch into a two-parter.

Every polygynous marriage results in a man (or multiple men) being forced into reproductive oblivion and no hope of partnership (especially in these societies with strict premarital and extramarital sex taboos)

You would think that the ban on widow remarriage in such societies also disadvantages men - after all, being able to marry a widow gives a second chance to men who can't get a partner under the system of one man/multiple wives - and yet it is always the widows who seem to do worse. The traditional hope and blessing was for the wife never to be a widow (so she should die before her husband), and the widower is free to remarry if he wishes.

I do think we don't realise how heavily Western values were influenced by Christianity, especially by the honour paid to the Virgin Mary. This slowly changed attitudes to women, to marriage, to sexuality, to a lot of things.

You would think that the ban on widow remarriage in such societies also disadvantages men

As far as I know there is currently no legal ban on widow remarriage in India at the moment. This is not a particularly new development either - the Hindu Widows' Remarriage Act 1856 is the early piece of legislation that granted widows the legal ability to remarry, and more current laws such as the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 do not prevent widows from remarrying (rather, it simply provides that a marriage may be solemnised between any two Hindus as long as neither party has a spouse living at the time of the marriage). The article you linked is talking more about the social stigma that gets attached to widows in very staunchly conservative parts of the country than anything else.

If we were to talk about the current Indian laws, I think there's actually an argument that the laws are very favourable to women in quite a few ways, especially considering the fact that preferential treatment of women is explicitly allowed in the equality provisions of the Indian constitution. In a section dictating that the State shall not discriminate based on demography, it's followed up with a bunch of caveats, including "(3) Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from making any special provision for women and children."

and yet it is always the widows who seem to do worse.

Unless you do a proper comparison as to who's "doing worse", I don't quite see how this has been proven. The article does speak about the plight of shunned Hindu widows, but it does not provide any such comparison, nor does it attempt to.

I do think we don't realise how heavily Western values were influenced by Christianity, especially by the honour paid to the Virgin Mary. This slowly changed attitudes to women, to marriage, to sexuality, to a lot of things.

This is a common view I see expressed - that the Western world is unique in its treatment of women, even historically - and I am a bit doubtful about it. I've noticed that women are simply assumed to be worse off in the third world with no real substantiation - this is not to say that everything is great for women in these societies, but there's little acknowledgement of the corresponding male issues that exist in them.

In countries such as Afghanistan, there is a practice such as bacha bazi, which translates as 'boy play'. It is on the surface a harmless form of entertainment - young boys dancing for the entertainment of their elders. The boys are trained as dancers, dressed as girls and made to perform to groups of men. Then the boys are taken to hotel rooms where they can be sexually abused. And despite the US military knowing that many of their Afghan allies were involved in the practice of bacha bazi, they continued providing aid to these units.

Then there's things like Boko Haram in Nigeria. People know them for kidnapping the Chibok girls. What people don't know is that Boko Haram went from village to village kidnapping thousands of boys. They not only kidnapped boys, but they killed them too (in many of their attacks, they seem to have specifically targeted men and boys and exempted the women and girls). Here are some links about that. Source 1, source 2, source 3, source 4.

A report by Oxfam in August 2016 noted that thousands of men and boys were killed by the terrorist group Boko Haram in north-eastern Nigeria. In an Oxfam protection survey with communities affected by violence, people reported 41% more killings of men and boys by Boko Haram than of women and girls; and the number is even higher among adults, with 77% more men killed than women.

What the mainstream goes nuts over, though, is the kidnapping of the Chibok schoolgirls. This despite the fact that Boko Haram were not initially intending to kidnap the girls - the girls were not even the actual target of the raid, and yet these girls being kidnapped was the event that galvanised the international community to start paying attention, as well as offering equipment, intelligence, resources and manpower to "bring back the girls" and deal with Boko Haram.

So let's just say I always regard it as a bit dubious whenever the spectre of misogyny and unique female hardship in third-world countries is raised due to the selectivity of the attention applied to the third world. This is a very good counter-narrative article on women in the third world and media bias (actually, it's a chapter in a book by Tim Goldich, published as an article), which sums up my views on this pretty well:

"You can go to a brutal place, catalogue only the brutality toward women, and on that basis conclude that women are the victims, but if you don’t research conditions for men, if you don’t compare the female victimization against male victimization, your conclusion is logically bankrupt."

Don't get me wrong: I am not trying to argue who has it worse or better. I'm trying to explain why as a result of all of this, I've come to see most takes on gender relations in the third world as the presentation of half-truths at best.

Social stigma is a very potent force, no matter what legislation may say. Talking about how polygyny affects and affected men neglects how it affects and affected women, too. We can't disentangle it by saying "X has it worse, Y has it worse"; for every man who can't marry the woman he wants, there is a woman being married off as a second or third wife who doesn't want it either (first or primary or higher-ranking wives have traditionally not been very kind to subsequent wives or concubines).

The Bachi Bazi boys and the likes are disgraces. It's not much consolation to say that women have been forced into similar roles, and I think you do have to look at "why do some cultures tolerate this, and others don't"? You are correct to say that unique female hardship in third-world countries is not unique and is more complicated than "Western culture is more advanced", but there are differences.

However, the main point is that feminism took the real disadvantages and pointed them out, but is now stuck in the mode of "it is all the fault of men". Men are disadvantaged too, but it may be that male disadvantage and female disadvantage do not resemble each other. So we're trying to compare apples and oranges, and measure it in how many bananas that means.

Social stigma is a very potent force, no matter what legislation may say.

Sure (though I suspect the stigma heavily depends on where in India you are). I'm just clarifying some things and also stating that there's no actual proper analysis which is made that allows us to appropriately come to a conclusion that women are faring worse. Usually, people look at things that affect women (or that they think affect women), create narratives of female oppression in their mind and assume there is no "other side" of things, when often, there is.

Legally, women in India actually have a huge amount of protections and privileges most people elsewhere never hear about. There's way too many to easily list here, but as previously noted, article 15(3) of the Indian constitution explicitly allows for preferential treatment of women. The constitution (article 243D and 243T) surprisingly also provides for very generous female quotas in village councils (panchayats) and municipalities, but there are other, more egregious things in the law I'll detail below.

The Indian penal code (IPC) contains specific offences that uniquely protect women.

IPC section 354 contains the offence "Assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty" which is female specific and carries a more severe sentencing of up to 5 years. Section 354A on sexual harassment is also gendered. Section 354B "Assault or use of criminal force to woman with intent to disrobe" and 354C "Voyeurism" are both strictly male-on-female crimes and carry sentencing of up to 7 years. Section 354D "Stalking" is also male-on-female, and carries a maximum of 3 to 5 years depending on whether it is a first or second conviction. In comparison, the penalties for the other gender neutral offences under the section "Of Criminal Force and Assault" carry sentences of up to only 2 years at most.

IPC section 375 clearly defines rape as only male-on-female, and any attempts to make the definition of rape gender neutral were fiercely protested against by Indian feminists. The IPC does have a law against unnatural offences (Section 377) which may cover male-on-male offences, but it doesn't seem like it would cover the case of a woman forcing "natural" PIV sex on a man.

IPC section 493 has an offence titled "Cohabitation caused by a man deceitfully inducing a belief of lawful marriage" which is also gender-specific - it can by definition only be male-on-female.

IPC section 498A has an offence titled "Husband or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty" which carries a sentence of up to three years and a fine. 498A is pretty infamous in India for being misused by women, where many of them used it to file false accusations so that they could settle scores. In line with this, there is also an additional law called "Protection Of Women From Domestic Violence Act 2005" which is again gender specific.

IPC section 509 has an offence titled "Word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman" which sets out punishments for anyone who, intending to insult a woman's modesty, "utters any words, makes any sound or gesture, or exhibits any object, intending that such word or sound shall be heard, or that such gesture or object shall be seen, by such woman, or intrudes upon the privacy of such woman". There are other corresponding gender-specific acts relating to this topic such as the "Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act".

Then there's the Code of Criminal Procedure, or Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), which has more. CrPC section 46 states that "Provided that where a woman is to be arrested, unless the circumstances indicate to the contrary, her submission to custody on an oral intimation of arrest shall be presumed and, unless the circumstances otherwise require or unless the police officer is a female, the police officer shall not touch the person of the woman for making her arrest". Even more bizarrely, officers are instructed not to arrest women after sunset and before sunrise (except in exceptional circumstances with prior permission from a Judicial Magistrate).

As to male social issues, I'd note that India itself has its own version of bacha bazi, known as "launda dancers". Again, these are young boys who dress as women and dance, and "A range of physical and sexual abuse towards launda dancers has been documented during wedding processions. These include: being bitten, burned with cigarettes, assaulted and gang raped at knifepoint, with even reports of deaths for protesting against such abuses."

There are studies that seem to indicate that boys in India are subjected to more childhood sexual abuse than girls, but boys are hardly ever thought of as victims in the mainstream.

Then there's also the boys and young men who are abducted, castrated and forced into being "hijras". Point of this entire thing is, if you don't go looking into things yourself, you're going to come out with a bit of a skewed view as to what third world countries as well as traditional, historical societies are actually like.

Talking about how polygyny affects and affected men neglects how it affects and affected women, too.

I'm unsure how I specifically neglected this and how else I was supposed to approach it, especially considering that my comment partially functioned as a rebuttal of the conceptualisation of polygyny as being oppressive towards women - I argued that it was a fundamentally incomplete view because it ignores how polygyny affects men. In my opinion, the majority of people have a fundamentally broken view of polygyny as representing male privilege when I think it does not. My statement that "People are ignoring half the picture" isn't me ignoring half the picture.

I'll also restate that it's probably a hasty assumption that polygyny must represent women being coerced since there is ample evidence that polygyny can be driven by female choice. As I stated elsewhere:

"It's commonly posited that polygyny can definitely be chosen by women when a given female’s position is enhanced by becoming the second mate of a resource-rich and already paired male, rather than the sole mate of a resource-poor unpaired male."

"In their paper "Why Monogamy?" Kanazawa and Still propose a female power theory of marriage practices, hypothesising that polygyny arises when women have more power in a society with high inequalities of wealth among men. Using data obtained from political science and sociology indexes, they demonstrated that societies with more resource inequality among men were more polygynous. Additionally, they found that, controlling for economic development and sex ratio, when there is greater resource equality among men, societies with more female power and choice have more monogamy; but when there are greater resource inequalities, higher levels of female power are accompanied by higher levels of polygyny. Accordingly, the incidence of polygyny may indicate female choice rather than male choice. "These findings are consistent with our prediction that women choose to marry polygynously or monogamously according to which choice benefits them or their offspring"."

However, the main point is that feminism took the real disadvantages and pointed them out, but is now stuck in the mode of "it is all the fault of men".

Feminists created a false perception of how gender relations operate with their myopic focus on women. If someone is essentially going around treating massively important social issues and parts of the social system as if they're not even there, it can hardly be argued that their view is in any way balanced.

Men are disadvantaged too, but it may be that male disadvantage and female disadvantage do not resemble each other. So we're trying to compare apples and oranges, and measure it in how many bananas that means.

Well, if anything that's a reason why one should find statements about women's oppression dubious at best! Any statement that women have been uniquely oppressed and represent a sort of gender "underclass" requires one to have made such a comparison, which is probably quite difficult if not impossible to do without making a litany of very questionable value judgements. More than that, as you also note it's presented as oppression by men without much evidence being offered up to support the idea that the offending custom actually originated from men in the first place.

And the other big reason is that most of the people making these statements often fundamentally just don't consider male issues to be a salient consideration at all, which is another huge error in their thinking.

EDIT: trimmed some parts, made an amendment