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By Jason Michael
“I TELL YOU THIS EARLY MORNING,” said the Irish rebel Michael Collins shortly after concluding the Anglo-Irish Treaty, “I signed my own death warrant.” It has become a studied habit of mine never to discuss feminism and gender politics. It has always seemed to me that, as a man and as a man who belongs to not one but two exclusively male institutions, venturing into the world of gender politics is like seeing a sign that reads: DANGER! LANDMINES and still thinking clambering over the wire fence to pick the flowers on the other side is a good idea. So, this decision to comment on the political weaponisation of gender politics feels like the signing of my own death warrant. Let’s see how it goes.
First, a preamble of sorts: When I engage with women online to address statements they have made or articles they have written, with which I disagree, I am invariably labelled a “misogynist,” and not for anything I have said about the sex of my interlocutor or about women in general or the nature of womanhood, but because – and simply for this reason – that I have had the audacity to challenge a commenter or author who so happens to be a woman. This is far from unique to my experience. It appears to be a tactic employed mainly by those at the progressive, left, or the so-called “radical” locations of the political spectrum. From how I have seen it used, it appears to function as a method to deflect from the argument and ultimately derail the conversation by forcing the male speaker to retreat from the debate. No one wants to be labelled a misogynist.
"...*this element* within Scottish politics will only become more emboldened unless we step up and condemn their at… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…—
Jason Michael (@Jeggit) November 29, 2018
So, I ask myself, am I a misogynist – do I have a problem with women? The honest answer is – probably. We are all products of this society, and the society and culture in which we have been raised and formed is deeply, structurally misogynistic. It is also racist, bigoted, classist, and beset by a whole host of other unjust and often poorly challenged assumptions that benefit some and hold others at the worst positions of an uneven playing field. As a man, I realise the unfair privilege being a man in this society gives me. I am a misogynist, but – and hopefully to my credit – only insofar as there are certain privileged assumptions which I have inherited and absorbed that I have not fully discovered, challenged, and overcome. But I am trying.
Outwith my socially and culturally shaped character there are the philosophies that assist us in this process of overcoming the old man. For me, and this is not everyone’s cup of tea, this is largely informed by my Christian faith. While not in a literal sense, I believe God created man in her own image, and that he created them male and female. “Man” in the creation story of the book of Genesis is male and female. This articulation has shaped my understanding of the absolute equality of women and men. Similarly, the maleness of Christ – the male Son of God and masculine saviour of the world – presents no contradiction to this understanding of the absolute equality of the sexes. What may seem like a contraction here was answered early in Christian theology by St. Gregory Nazianzus when he wrote: “What has not been assumed has not been redeemed.” In plainer language what Gregory is saying is that, by taking human form, God redeems people by taking on the fullness of their human experience – and that means, to the Christian, that it is not the masculinity of Jesus that is important but his humanity – male and female.
But enough religion. What I had hoped to achieve in the above brief excursus was that the reader might better understand my point of departure when it comes to engaging in the question of gender and its use in the world of politics. I do not believe men are in any way superior to women by virtue of their masculinity. Rather, I believe the current state of inequality between the sexes is disordered, morally wrong, and inherently sinful. It damages human beings and weakens society.
Jason Michael (@Jeggit) November 29, 2018
Over the past couple of days, I and a number of other pro-independence bloggers have found ourselves once again embroiled in a social media skirmish in which gender has become an issue. Our colleague Gareth Wardell – “Grouse Beater” – was judged by the Disciplinary Committee of the Scottish National Party to be in breach of the rules. He, according to the party’s women’s and equalities convener, was guilty of publishing an anti-Semitic attack on a trade union activist. Almost immediately after the news of this decision broke a dispute erupted. In my opinion what he published was not antisemitic, and this opinion was shared by a number of other members of the independence campaign. But the women’s and equalities convener had published an article making the case, on some intellectually flimsy premises, that it was indeed antisemitism.
Given the convener’s position in the SNP, it was obvious this expert opinion would have been instrumental in informing the decision of the Disciplinary Committee – and so, it was the argument set out in this article we had to challenge. Not once has the convener, the author of the article, responded to the numerous arguments we have made against the thesis of the piece; that Mr Wardell’s comments were anti-Semitic. Instead, what has happened is that others across social media have rallied to the defence of the author – not the author’s argument – because she is a woman. This gendering of the debate was summed up by one Twitter user, who wrote:
Isn’t it funny any time *that* faction of the Yes movement kick off, there’s a-l-w-a-y-s a woman they’re chasing with a pitchfork over some manufactured grievance.
“That faction,” as explained by Juan Mac on the A Thousand Flowers blog, is “a who’s who of perjurers, misogynists, conspiracy theorists and yer das” – “an insular nationalist clique of middle aged men.” The “manufactured grievance” was the serious charge of anti-Semitic racism. During my time in the Department of Sociology in Trinity College, Dublin, I consulted with Fr. Stephen Sizer in an academic project dealing with the funding of Israeli settlements in the illegally occupied Palestinian territories at a time of great trial for him. Using a definition of antisemitism that counted any and all criticism of the State of Israel as anti-Semitic racism, the Board of Deputies of British Jews accused him of antisemitism on account of his academic publications and Palestinian Solidarity activism. As a result of this his bishop ordinary removed him from ministry, effectively ending his vocation and his career as a Christian pastor.
Sonia Mota (@SoniaKatiMota) August 27, 2018
Antisemitism is a very serious charge. We are obliged to fight antisemitism wherever and whenever it raises its ugly head, but – and like gender – it has often been weaponised as a false accusation by people like Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel, against political opponents. It has the power to have people removed from their employment, blacklisted, and vilified – to the benefit and furtherance of a less than honest political agenda. Such a false accusation is far from manufactured. It is fundamentally unjust. Those accused of it have every right to defend themselves – even the guilty, as the right to a defence is a basic principle of law. But something tells me that even this legal right must be denied by people of the guilty-until-proven-innocent school of thought; people like Juan Mac, who – one must assume – sees the denial of this right as central to his project when he says he’s “here to change our society.” But I am happy with the rule of law.
In hiding behind this myth that we, “middle aged men,” are “a-l-w-a-y-s” chasing women with pitchforks – like angry and uncouth villagers, the gender politicians are wilfully ignoring the truth. Men argue with men in politics all the time. This has nothing to do with the sex of the belligerents, but this fact is deliberately overlooked when the picture is drawn of a club of men – obviously all members of the same secret society, “the patriarchy” – rounding on a woman who is portrayed in the most sexist way; as weak, fragile, and defenceless, against their bullish behaviour.
Not so very long ago my friend Peter Bell and I had a falling out over the participation of a particular right-wing organisation in the independence movement. I believed him to be profoundly wrong and said as much. He believed just as strongly that I was wrong, and he said as much. A few thousand words were spilt over this argument, and, in the end, he blocked me on Twitter. At no point in that stand-off did anyone anywhere chime in with the suggestion the dispute had anything whatsoever to do with either of the two of us being male. It had nothing to do with being a man. It was about people I strongly believe to be racists and fascists. My frequent pitched battles with Mike Small are famous. He doesn’t like me much, but I doubt his dislike for me has anything to do with my gender. He hates my guts because, no doubt, he believes me to be a misogynist and a racist. The only pro-independence male blogger’s block list I think I haven’t been on – ironically enough – is Stu Campbell’s.
Yet, the very moment heckles are raised against a female independentista – a woman belonging to a certain political set, that is – the waters are instantly muddied with the pathetic suggestion the problem people have with her is her sex and not her comments or arguments. Now, I am not going to suggest there are not real misogynists out there …on the internet. Of course there are. Women and girls have it tough online and in every sphere of society. As we have already said, the default setting of our society is sexist and there is no shortage of men who just fear and loathe women. But the automatic leap to the assumption of misogyny whenever a male voice contradicts a female speaker is stupid. When it is done for no other reason than to deflect genuine criticism and in so doing cause harm to the critic it is toxic and dangerous, and it undermines the real and grown-up fight for equality.
jill Abel #McBot (@gabel4scotland) November 29, 2018
This last point is what I mean when I use the term gender politics as a pejorative, and it is hugely important that we distinguish this political weaponisation of gendered defences from the real and important struggle for a more even playing field for women and girls and for all kinds of equalities. Returning to the Grouse Beater débâcle, the point has to be stressed that my contention was not and is not against Fiona Robertson, the SNP’s women’s and equalities convener, as a person or even as a woman. In both regards I wish her nothing but the best. My argument was and is against an argument – an abstraction, an article headed “Holding Ourselves to Our Own Standards.”
I will continue to argue against the argument made in her article, and I would do that regardless of the sex of the author. That the fact she is a woman has been used to suggest my reason for challenging her argument is misogyny – not by Ms Robertson, I hasten to add – is upsetting. It is intellectually dishonest and cowardly. Some who agree with some or all of what I have written here may think it wise to shy away from this particular chestnut, thinking it too thorny, too risky. That is their right and their freedom. But there is much more at stake here, I believe. This is not simply about immature identity and gender politicians trolling adult conversations. This is about the health of our democracy. Naturally, free speech comes with responsibilities. I am not a supporter of unrestricted free speech. Some things are and should remain beyond the pale – racism, misogyny, and every other kind of hate speech for example. But within reasonable parameters we must be free to debate with everyone in the marketplace of ideas without the fear of weaponised identity and gender politics and spurious accusations of anti-Semitic racism. All of these things diminish our ability to converse openly and therefore damage the fabric the open society and weaken our democracy – and we are seeing the signs of this everywhere around us.
The Inevitable Future of Gender Politics – Tim Goldich