The debate between the sexes has raged on for decades and it seems necessary to acknowledge that, to some degree, neither side will buckle to the other. The reason for this, obviously, is that we each have our own views, our beliefs and our own cause. A staggering amount of research and statistics are available that prove, beyond doubt, that institutional and cultural prejudice exists against men, so we must ask ourselves why the feminist movement, and individual feminists, refuse to acknowledge this?
My argument would be down to the natural tendency of us all, as humans, to favour information that supports our own preconceptions and our idea of the truth and to discredit that which threatens it; this is well known in psychology and is called “confirmation bias”.
Perhaps one of the first lessons in research, science and experiment is to acknowledge our bias, prejudice and the simple fact that we are, most likely, looking into something in order to prove ourselves right. It can be an incredibly difficult task to remain objective when faced with data that conflicts with, what we know in our core and very being, is correct.
Confirmation bias is no more evident than where emotional investment and identity is at stake. It is one thing to objectively hold a viewpoint and opinion and face the challenge to change that, but it is quite another when it threatens a perspective and ‘truth’ that we have attached to our idea of ‘who we are’ and ‘what we are’. I am a “Christian”. I am a “Feminist”. “I am a….” What we are saying is that we have made a belief a very definition of who we are and, perhaps, why we are here. This truth belongs to me, defines me and more than that, it IS me.
We might, then, understand the conflict of the Creationist when faced with the evidence of the Big Bang and evolution. It doesn’t just threaten a fact within his mind, it threatens the core of his beliefs, who he is, what he is, how he got here. Better to discard the information and evidence and explain it away: better to protect oneself. Emotion before objective thought. Self-preservation before truth.
This is true, also, of anyone adopting beliefs and ideas with which they invest themselves on an emotional level and on a level of identity: “This is me”, “I am a….”
I bought a fantastic book, “Does Feminism Discriminate Against Men? A Debate” by Warren Farrell and James P. Sterba. The reason I bought it? I liked that it was a book devoted to discussion. Both sides were represented. As a complete work, it was without bias, which is the objective manner in which I aim to approach the gender equality discussion. I ran a bath, made a mountain of bubbles, threw on some tunes, had a couple of candles flickering and readied a short whisky (which is perhaps the most stereotypically “manly” thing about that whole event, but I was happy). All that remained was to get the book which had arrived that day. I bought it for objectivity, with a noble and, perhaps, pious, idea of just how fair I would always be in my contributions to the discussion. As I approached the bathroom, the book in hand, my curiosity got the better of me. I would read every word in that book, but I couldn’t wait to find out what its final answer and conclusion was to that question that was burning in my mind: Does feminism discriminate against men?
Padding toward the warmth of the bath, I flicked to the last page. It was going to tell me just how right I was. I had independently researched so many factors in this debate and formed my own conclusion that Feminism does, indeed, discriminate against men; and I was about to read, in black and white, just how intelligent, thorough and brilliant I had been in my efforts. It was going to agree with me…and what a joy the book would be to read as the candlelight flickered on the bubbles, as I sipped on my cheap whisky, knowing that with every passing word, I was getting closer to that last page, where it reads in stark black and white lettering: YOU WERE RIGHT, CHRIS!
“Given that feminism has not discriminated against men, the future of feminism and men looks very promising indeed, especially if men in sufficient numbers come around to endorse the feminist ideal of equality, so that it can be legally enforced.”
I huffed, I puffed, my brow creased and I glared at the page before casting the book down onto a stack of towels and opting to read a sci-fi novel. How could it say that? How could a book claiming to look at the real facts come to that conclusion, in light of everything I’ve researched, every discussion I’ve had with broken fathers who are unrepresented in the law and every mind-numbing examination of statistics? How could a credible study of all the information available to us come to such a ludicrous conclusion and say that I am wrong? They’ll publish anything these days!
With one foot plunging through the bubbles and half a mind to get some more whisky, I looked at the sci-fi novel, with disgust. Not just because it was proving to be an awful read, that caused me to consider that perhaps I could write fiction, but because I suddenly came face to face with my lack of integrity. Holding that awful sci-fi novel as a preferred option to facing whatever truth may be found in my previously planned bubble bath reading time, I saw bias. Prejudice; against truth and knowledge and wisdom.
I picked the book up again and resolved to find out why I might be wrong. Why did my research and my own mind lead me down a wrong path? I was, perhaps, to be challenged to question whether I was wrong, but that should always be the case, if my previously noble and definitely pious (proven by this point) notion of objectivity was to be believed. I was, perhaps, to find out that I was wrong: but am I seeking truth, or self-affirmation and sense of belonging in a community?
As it turns out, I had been a silly buffoon. The book is, indeed, designed as a debate. Warren Farrell, in opposition to feminism, went first; and if you’d like to read his summary page, you’ll find it on page 111, in the middle of the book. James P Sterba then took his turn, concluding on the page that confronted me with an ugly side of myself.
Even with the most noble intentions, my own bias, my own prejudice for the truth I believed in and my own sense of self-preservation got the better of me.
I do not tell you this to, simply, disgrace myself. Rather, I admit to it as an example of how we all, whatever side we’re on, are susceptible to that very real, very tangible, but often unnoticed in ourselves, discrimination against real truth and real knowledge. What is our goal?
I did read through that book and it remains my favourite, simply because it includes both sides of the argument in a concise and fair debate. It’s not like trying to make sense of the issue as one person speaks about the wage gap and another brings up the disposable sex, before someone then brings up the lack of education for girls in third world countries. Even that last sentence was confusing! Read that book. Each subject is represented by one side and responded to fairly. The only question that matters is about how we will read it.
Through my own disgrace, I realised I had to acknowledge my prejudice and bias and read Farrell’s arguments with a mind of questioning and criticism and Sterba’s arguments with an openness to whatever truths might be found in his interpretation of the available data.
Truthfully, I do not think that an acknowledgement of personal bias and a genuine pursuit of truth will ever be found in the proud, emotionally-invested, career-feminists such as Valenti, Chemaly or Greer. All they see is that which supports their own sense of self, sells their books and keeps their articles popular. To some degree, perhaps they don’t even choose to be blind to the very real facts of male discrimination.
For the same reason, I don’t think there is any reversal of major feminist organisations, such as NOW, or even websites such as feminist.com. How many feminists who confront their own confirmation bias does it take to reverse the ingrained assumptions and direction of a moneymaking, job-safe feminist organisation? None: they get fired.
I would hope that any MRAs or humanists would engage with all topics in the gender equality debate as individual evaluations of discrimination, each deserving their own objective study, research and conclusions. Should we study an issue and objectively conclude that feminist claims were correct, would we allow that admission? I would hope so.
Still, I have to say it as I perceive the situation. The prejudice against truth will continue, the emotional investment and bias toward one’s own truth will always result in two sides of an argument. Like the Protestant and Catholic churches, we must learn to live and communicate together, rather than spending all of our time and energy trying to pull down each other’s steeples.
What we can demand, though, is an unbiased government. It is not their job to support either ‘movement’ or express any bias, or wear any campaign’s T-shirt. What we should demand of them is that, while bias may exist in co-existing MRA or Feminism, it should not exist in the government or in laws.
Let the feminists enjoy their ivory towers and their personal affirmation of their own righteousness, seriously, leave them to it. Let us, instead, focus on taking what we know…what we objectively know…and demanding objective action from our government, not from feminism.