Arianna Pattek

There was a comment left on my blog which was part of a campaign to cause harm to Arianna Pattek. I feel I must link to the following posts about this incident:

Lazy Libel: A Voice for Men “doxes” an alleged misandrist blogger — and ID’s the wrong woman

Why haven’t Men’s Rights Activists turned on Paul Elam for falsely accusing Arianna Pattek of civil rights violations?

The above website is not one I normally read and I do not necessarily agree with its views or approaches. I’m a masculist and support the fight for men’s rights, but it must be done in the right way.

Men and Depression

I think there’re many misconceptions around the way in which men experience depression. Depression isn’t less common in men for sure, they may just present to healthcare practitioners less often because studies haven’t evaluated the undiagnosed population. That is, researchers may be bad at measuring the true prevalence of depression. Medical staff may be bad at recognising it in men.

Being a man is associated with standards, expectations and ideas that are both enforced by self and by others. This can play a part in causing depression. It can also result in finding it difficult to help himself or ask for help, especially if the depression manifests itself in a form that results in greater aggression or substance abuse. People around affected men can find depressed behaviour ‘unmanly’, which is another barrier to talking about it or feeling supported.

Here’s a link to a discussion on this topic from the Royal College of Psychiatrists: Men and Depression.

Choice is an Illusion

I highly recommend this coursera course on Irrational Behaviour. It is lead by Professor Dan Ariely of Duke University, who has written several popular books on the subject. It has only started this week.

I find myself becoming more of a determinist in many ways. I realised choice is essentially an illusion we need, in order to function. We can’t imagine not having choices. I can intellectually realise that the act of choosing is an illusion, but I still need the illusion to function and make my so-called choices. Yet to give the word some meaning, I can think of it as a measure of both the degree of randomness existing in my life and the favourable factors that allow this randomness e.g. born to a well-off family in a developed country. As an aside, the illogical nature of the concept of choice and thus consequences based on this is one of the things that make religious systems difficult to reconcile.

In any case, I recommend to you this course because I want you to realise how flawed your perception and judgement is. Moreover, I want you to understand how others make their flawed judgements. To be as close to the truth as we can, we have to appreciate the inherent flaws in our observation, processing and subsequent decision-making. By my reckoning, that’s what makes scientific methods the closest instruments we have to the truth. They recognise that they are flawed, that they are measuring approximations to the truth. By recognising their limitations, they are closer to reaching the truth than any other methods available to us.

We need to understand how our behaviour is determined, and the factors that influence it. Using this, we can come as close to having choice about how we behave as we can… even if that still is an illusion ;p

Here’s the link to the course on Irrational Behaviour again. Do sign up.

Nature, nurture and gender

What determines gender as we know it? Biology? Society?

We make the mental error of somehow separating the body from the environment, when they are intimately intertwined. It is never nature or nurture, it is always a gene-environment interaction. We have to remember also that we as a species have an advantage; if our genes don’t agree with out environment, we can change it. We are adaptable. However, we need to understand how our biology works before we understand environment.

Let’s go back to the basic biological differences that determine gender. The difference is an effect due to different hormonal profiles androgens versus oestrogens. These hormones introduce tendencies for behaviour and the differences in sexual characteristics. Their largest effect outside sexual characteristics may be their effect on muscle, fat deposition and bone. Do they have a differentiating effect on the brain? The answer is primarily no in a direct manner, but perhaps yes in an indirect way.

We are born blank computers. Genes determine our brain’s hardware, but they do not determine our software in a direct way.  They do however determine the tendency of how that software will work. For example, pain is a hardwired sensation. Fire is a painful sensation. Our brain will associate fire’s colour with pain. However there’s also the added complexity that fire is a source of warmth, therefore a source of positive sensation if we keep our distance. This all in turn leads to the complex societal associations we have with ‘warm’ colours — the colour of fire — as a society, from passion to danger. Going back to the genes, they did not code for red means passion or danger. However we naturally learn these associations based on our hardware and its algorithms. Yet if we changed our environment where we never experience fire in any primary or secondary way, we would not experience red the same way.

I hope I haven’t lost you. Regardless, what I’m trying to say is that biology gives us basic hardware. This hardware gives us tendencies for our behaviour in a particular direction. These tendencies will only occur in a specific environment. Understand where this all originates, and you can use your power as a technological sophisticated human being to alter the environment in such a way as to push the tendency in some other direction.

Our behaviour towards warm colours is a relatively simple thing. When it comes to complex behaviour, it isn’t merely enough to rely on tendency. So one of our earlier biologically determined functions we have is to identify other human beings and copy their behaviours or their ideas. Genes cannot directly determine behaviour in an inherited way. However, memes can. Memes are inherited ideas and behaviours, inherited ways of conducting life that’re passed on. Most of us are traditional people; it is very difficult to untangle our thoughts and behaviours from the particular group we have been born into.

Gender is mostly memetic. The group we are born into tell us very quickly which category we belong to: male or female. They tell us how we behave and who we are expected to be attracted to based on this category. Deviations from accepted behaviour actually seem to be pushed by biological tendencies though that are particular to that individual; these are too strong to entirely accept memetic concepts. Memes may have been important for survival, but that does not make them true. Many concepts of gender can make sense from an evolutionary perspective, yet this inheritance can be due to memetic basics which we no longer need to take as true due to our ability to influence on the environment.

This does not mean that memes are powerful and basic to your behaviour. I can be as gender aware as I like, but the ideas of male and female and what that means are deeply programmed. Yet recognising this, I can work with these concepts and my biology to change it or make it more complex. I can condition myself to accept something different. The biological mind-body is a simple thing. Reward it with a positive sensation and it quickly learns to associate whatever the accompanying stimulus is with good things.

A man can feel aggression, an emotional tendency that he’s more likely to have due to his androgen profile. Yet how he expresses this aggression and how he uses it is socially and environmentally determined.

My concept of male can be associated with aggression. Whether this aggression is interpreted positively or negatively or in an even more complex way, this is memetically socially or culturally determined.

Here’s an example of an implication of this. If we as women are told that we are attracted to men and that aggression is male, it isn’t surprising that some of us can learn to eroticise aggression. This is in a complex way because of other contradicting superficial social messages about aggression. Even if it is socially conditioned, that still means it can be a very powerful response. However, awareness of this response means you can adapt it. Practicitioners of safe, sane, consensual BDSM learn to use their responses in controlled environments that do not overflow necessarily into their social interactions.

Our biology is also more adaptable than we give it credit for. Behaviour and a change in environment can trigger changes in our biology due to our dynamic feedback systems. Whilst we can’t change our genes, the pattern of gene expression (genes can be turned on and off in a sense) can be regulated by our environment and our behaviour.

In summary, biology and environment are complex systems that interact dynamically. Awareness of how this works and what is actually necessarily ‘biological’ gives us insights into why we think how we think about gender. This also gives us an avenue to change that and disown memes that are unnecessary for our survival.

Anita Sarkeesian REVEALED

Insincere apologies for the ridicilous title. For more about Sarkeesian and who she is, here is a youtube video series on her:

Anita Sarkeesian Part 1: The College Graduate

Anita Sarkeesian Part 2: Burqa Beach Party

I don’t agree with the implicit/explicit views of the person who made the videos (including the weird flyby reference to burqas), but the information/background on her is pretty interesting.

For balance, here’s her TEDxWomen talk on Cybermobs and Online Harassment

Damsel in Distress (Part 1) Tropes vs Women by Anita Sarkeesian

You can see the video in question here, which discusses the use of the damsel in distress as a trope in videogames.

Her critique illustrates so many elements of what I find inadequate in modern feminist discourse. I’ll be fair to her, the tone is seemingly meant to be patronisingly/matronisingly simplistic Feminism 101, which doesn’t leave room for complexity. To sum up my criticism of her criticism, she leaves behind a discussion of masculinity and, thus, men.

First of all, what I’d like to say is that there’re popular games such as Tomb Raider with strong female protagonists. The latest instalment — which I’d love to play once I have a life and an income — is written by Rhianna Pratchett; she discusses it here.

Videogames that would use tropes such as the damsel in distress are aimed at a male audience that has ingested the lies of traditional masculinity (patriarchy, if you will). They perpetuate ideas about what a man should be. If the women in these games are an object of sexual desire, then the male figures are simply a mechanical object of violence. They are as entombed and defined by gender roles as the women are.

A man is socialised to believe from a very young age about where his worth lies. His worth lies in his strength, his ability to defeat other men. His worth lies in materials, in his ability to accrue wealth. One could argue that more than anything, his worth lies in ultimately successfully accruing as many female objects as possible and that’s where the other parameters ultimately derive from. This is often reflected in games that’re misogynist: it’s about the violence, the cash and the women.

Many people from all walks of life play videogames. Yet the core demographic is a certain kind of person. It will be a male. This Gamer will not conform to these stereotypes. This Gamer will be treated as valueless by society, by women and by other men because he does not conform to our expectations of what traditional masculinity is. Yet The Gamer will want to conform, whether he wants to acknowledge it or not. Videogames will be the Gamer’s only vicarious achievement of social success; he will consume them to attain that.

This is why for the damsel in distress to disappear, men need to be liberated from social expectations, from traditional masculinity. A man should not be defined by his ability to attract, control and dominate women. A man should not be defined by his ability to accrue wealth. A man should not be defined by his ability to do violence. A man should be valued for kindness, intelligence and other strengths that — dare I say it — patriarchy does not value men for.  Expectations about gender roles have become so much more flexible regarding women than with regards to men. That’s something that should be remedied. Fixed gender roles will always be perpetuated, enforced and maintained if they apply to any one group. Remember, average women are as much enforcers of patriarchy as men are.

I look forward to part 2.

The Royal Family

Hilary Mantel — author of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, both winners of the Man Booker prize — has made comments about the Duchess of Cambridge (Kate, married to Prince William) that have made newspapers and caused outrage. I believe her comments are entirely warranted. I believe it’s clear from the context that the comments aren’t a reference to Kate as a person; the problem is Kate is not allowed to be or allowing herself to be a person.

I’ve come to hate the institution of The Royal Family, specifically what it represents. They are figures of authority and influence that isn’t warranted. They’re  toothless lions that the public worship. They’re a symbol of  tradition, conservation. The only positive they represent is functioning as an attraction for tourism, giving Britain credibility as an historic country. The Queen was voted the most influential woman in the country. Yet, the woman is working well into her old age. Inheritance rights for a first-born female child or a non-Church of England member have only recently been considered (nevermind consideration of a fully elected monarch).   The Queen is bound by appearances and traditional expectations on female behaviour. She is the figurehead of the Church of England, an institution that represents religious orthodoxy. She is the head of the Commonwealth, representing British colonialist imperialism. The Queen is loved for being a martyred figurehead draped in pretty jewelry.

I find the roles and expectations the Royal Family suffer under quite appalling. In no one is this more apparent than Kate Middleton at the moment. Pictures of her semi-nude body are offensive not only as a violation to privacy but to archaic expectations regarding her constructed image of modesty. The process of the pictures’ suppression reveals a darker nature to the power the Royal Family still have.

Yet the princes also reveal the disturbing continued expectations placed on men and masculinity. They provide role models to men in the country, role models where the young princes constantly put themselves in combat and risky situations. This provides the message that men are not valuable unless they engage in such roles.

The Royal Family have no holidays and no freedom. Certainly not the example of emancipation the public should venerate! Loving the Royal Family is loving and longing for slavery and subjugation. It’s wanting to follow the abusive ex who only can’t hit you anymore because their hands have been cut off. But their voice hasn’t. Their voice will damage and mislead you. They’re only behaving well because they’re on the strongest probation.

Don’t get me started on how deep the medical institution of this country is deeply intertwined with The Royal Family and the peerage, in a way that is not nearly transparent enough. That’s a rant for another day.