Thursday, June 29, 2006

The End of the Amnesty

I wrote this email to Amnesty International recently.

Dear Amnesty International,
I received a letter from you some days ago asking me why I had cancelled my monthly donation by direct debit, so this email is intended to explain my reasons.

In short, it is because you have decided to target 'Violence Against Women' as one of your major policy objectives. Does this mean that I am therefore in favour of violence against women? No, of course not.

I have always admired the work of AI in regard to victims of political incarceration, torture and execution, and that is why I decided to donate to you.

However, after I signed the form (was this an accident?) your representative explained to me that one of your major current policy objectives was stopping 'Violence Against Women', so I immediately went to the bank and cancelled my direct debit. There were several reasons for this.

Firstly, there is already a plethora of organisations dealing with violence against women, and if I wanted to donate to them, I would.

Yours, on the other hand, is the only one I am aware of which campaigns for political prisoners, focusing specifically on incarceration, torture and execution. By jumping on the fashionable domestic violence bandwagon, I am concerned that your organisation is losing its original focus, and short-changing the many (mainly male) prisoners of conscience around the world who depend on you.

Secondly, the concept of 'Violence Against Women' is an entirely spurious one. A musician friend of mine was recently mugged and beaten, but we do not need to invent a special new category called 'Violence Against Musicians' in order to condemn or explain it.

I put it to you that, statistically, women are much less likely than men to suffer violence. But of course, they do make the most media-friendly victims, don't they?

Men and boys the world over are coerced into taking part in military conflicts against their will, while women are not. This has been so from the earliest times. Consequently, most military casualties are men. Furthermore, most victims of violent crime are men. Most victims of industrial deaths are men. The poorest paid, dirtiest and most dangerous jobs are done by an almost entirely male workforce. Most homeless people are men. Most drug addicts are men. Men are more likely than women to die of all of the major fatal diseases, and consequently have significantly shorter life expectancy. Governments spend far less each year on men's health than they do on women's health. (see Warren Farrell, 'The Myth of Male Power'). The overwhelming majority of political prisioners and torture victims are men. How many women are held in Guantanamo Bay? What proportion of the prisoners held in Abu Ghraib are women? One percent?

Even in the seemingly clear-cut arena of domestic violence, the conventional wisdom is almost entirely wrong. All of the scientific evidence on domestic violence (http://www.csulb.edu/~mfiebert/assault.htm) shows that domestic violence is heavily correlated with alcohol and drug abuse, and that women are as likely, or more likely, than men to initiate violence, and that such violence is just as common among homosexuals as it is among heterosexuals.

Consequently, I put it to you that the term 'Violence Against Women' is entirely spurious and misleading. 'Violence Against Women', as a kind of global cultural phenomenon arising out of heterosexuality, or something called 'Patriarchy', simply does not exist at all. No more than 'Violence Against Musicians' exists. Violence takes place in all kinds of circumstances, but the categorisation of it in this way is simply a feminist political fiction, and a grossly misleading one at that.

Over the past few years I have noticed a distinct anti-male bias gradually creeping into your campaign work. You campaign against female circumcision, but not male circumcision, even though it is much more common around the world, is a good example. You address none of the clear biases that I have mentioned above.

As long as you continue to act as a mouthpiece for anti-male feminist ideology, I will remain unable to support you. At the current time, mine may be a minority view, but I confidently predict that it will grow in profile and popularity over the next decade. You may find your support base beginning to erode. What donations you do garner will not always be used to campaign against political incarceration, torture and execution. Resources will be increasingly siphoned off to support feminist causes, and it is the prisoners of conscience who are going to lose out.

Regards,

etc.

I am still waiting for a reply, but I'm not holding my breath.

Monday, June 26, 2006

It's Payback Time

Dear Rowland,
I read your recent article 'Payback time for boys', and I think you must be joking. If you are not joking, then I don't know whether to be angry or feel sorry for you. I assume from your name, perhaps incorrectly, that you are a man. If so, then I don't know what kind of self-loathing individual you must be to hold these views. Perhaps the entire piece was intended to be satirical. However, it doesn't sound as though you are joking. I can only assume that you are trying to advance your career by gaining the approval of your feminist editor or feminist readers

Your article repeats all of the standard myths of ideological feminism. It contains so many misrepresentations, wrong assumptions and misinformation that I barely even know where to begin. I shall take your article one sentence at a time.

First of all, you are talking about the boys (i.e. male children) of today. Your very first sentence is 'For their sins, and the sins of their male chauvinist fathers, it’s payback time.' 'For their sins' ? What sins have our children committed? I would genuinely like to know.

You continue 'No one can dispute that men have a history of treating women as second-class citizens.' I do. I deny it utterly. It is simply not true. It is a feminist myth concocted for reasons of political convenience some time after 1965. The women of the Second World War generation do not seem to feel that they have been so systematically mistreated. This is something that the women of the 1960s generation started saying after - not before, after- they had acquired safe pregnancy control and opportunities to work on a par with men. Feminism is not the cause of the change in women's status in the last forty years, it is one of the symptoms.

At no time in history, anywhere in the world, have males 'run society to suit themselves'. My father and grandfathers, like most working men, put in long hours at low-paid onorous jobs, and gave every penny they earned to their wives and children. How do you explain that? How does that constitute 'running society to suit themselves'?

You then repeat one of the most time-worn lies of feminism: 'It used to be legal for American husbands to discipline unruly wives by beating them with a stick no thicker than their thumbs'. I have often read that this was an article of English common law. You claim that it was American law. Was it a federal law, or a state law? Can you quote me any legal references? You cannot, for the simple reason that it was never law, anywhere. It is simply a lie. A lie that has already been debunked many times.

Have you heard the one about how men beat their wives more during the Superbowl? Or when they are pregnant? These are all baseless lies perpetrated by the feminist movement in an attempt to undermine the image of men in the eyes of both women and men themselves, to undermine heterosexuality, marriage and the family, and to discourage women from forming relationships with men and having children. The primary goal of radical feminism is the destruction of the heterosexual family. You are helping them in that task. In fact, all the scientific evidence shows that women initiate domestic violence at least as often, or more often, than men, that such violence is strongly linked to alcohol and drug abuse, and that it is just as common among homosexual couples as among heterosexual ones. Reference.

Women, furthermore, commit most of the child abuse and child murder. Reference.

'When my mother was born, women were not allowed to vote'. You must already be old in that case, but perhaps you are. My question to you is: When your father was born, could men vote? When my grandfather fought in the Battle of the Somme in World War I, he could not vote. I wrote a recent piece about it on my blog. You may like to read it. Working men did not get the vote in the UK until 1918, the same time that women got it. How many women died in WWI? Zero.

Even after 1918, the voting age for men in the UK was 21 until 1969. So, many of the British men who died in WWII could not vote either. I doubt that the situation in the USA was very different, and I suggest that you check your facts, like a good journalist, rather than publishing urban myths and hearsay. If you want to get ahead in your career, diligent fact-checking is probably your best strategy.

'All the best jobs were reserved for men'. All the best jobs, I think you will find, were reserved for the rich. Upper class women entered government and the professions long before working-class men did. Feminist theory consistently refuses to provide any adequate account of social class, and it seems that you are buying into this myth of the Victorian classless society hook line and sinker. The best illustration of it is an examination of casualty statistics for the sinking of the Titanic. Most of the women survived, but most of the men died. Most of the first-class passengers survived, but that's because most of them were women. How can you explain this? First-class men gave up their place in the lifeboats in favour of female servants. It doesn't sound like a situation in which men 'run society to suit themselves'.

You continue, 'A woman’s place was in the home, cooking, cleaning, taking care of the children and serving as a help-mate for her husband. If women did work, their job opportunities were limited to a few acceptable occupations such as nurses, teachers, librarians, clerks or secretaries to male bosses.' In other words, they worked in situations where they were safe. That is still true today. If you read Warren Farrell's book, 'The Myth of Male Power', you will learn that all of the most dangerous jobs (security guard, coal-miner, fisherman etc) are done by men, and all of the safest jobs (receptionist, secretary etc) are done by women. Furthermore, all of the lowest status jobs (garbage collector, shoeshine, cab-driver, bellhop, sewer worker, etc) are done by men. How can you explain this?

You then present a fawning and inaccurate history of the feminist movement. You may learn something about the Suffragettes if you read my blog entry referred to above. Did you know that feminists actively supported sending men who couldn't vote to war in 1914?

Did you know that they were heavily involved in the introduction of Prohibition, including smashing up saloons with axes?

Did you know that they were heavily involved in the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s?

Did you know that they were heavily involved in Fascist movements in the 1930s?

Did you know that women number among their ranks many dictators and serial killers?

Your rose-tinted view of women's history (and therefore, women) is dangerously naive.

'Perhaps boys became discouraged with all the efforts to rally support for the girls, which included the “Take Our Daughters to Work Day,” self-esteem programs, teaching seminars, education grants and specially crafted curricula and teaching methods designed to appeal to girls.Or perhaps boys simply can’t compete and men knew this all along, which is why they rigged the process to maintain power and control'.

This is perhaps your most bizarre argument of all. I will take your second point first. '...perhaps boys simply can’t compete and men knew this all along, which is why they rigged the process to maintain power and control'.

Firstly, how is it that the superior class came to be dominated by the inferior one? That doesn't make any sense. Secondly, if they did manage to do so, then it seems they were competing pretty effectively. Why is it that, in any supposed competition, if women win, they win fairly, but if men win, they only win by rigging the process? Your sentence contains two contradictions and a double-standard. Quite an achievement.

Now to take your first point: 'Perhaps boys became discouraged with all the efforts to rally support for the girls, which included the “Take Our Daughters to Work Day,” self-esteem programs, teaching seminars, education grants and specially crafted curricula and teaching methods designed to appeal to girls'. Does this not count as 'rigging the process' in your view? I would like to know what you think does count as rigging.

You then go on to quote some statistics, which to any reasonable person would sound depressing, but you offer them in apparent triumph: 'Boys, according to the report, are more than 50 percent more likely than girls to be held back in elementary school, one-third more likely to drop out of high school and twice as likely to be identified with a learning disability'. These are no doubt true, at least approximately. What amazes me is that you seem to think this situation is a cause for celebration. It might be worth pointing out, just for the sake of it, that boys are twelve times more likely than girls to be identified as having outstanding mathematical ability. Reference: Steven Pinker, 'How the Mind Works'.

Your comments on academic affirmative action are equally interesting: 'The number of boys who are qualified to go to college or want to continue their education has declined to the point that many colleges must give preferential admissions to boys to maintain a semblance of gender balance on campus. Understandably, higher qualified girls don’t appreciate losing out in the admissions battle to lesser qualified boys simply to achieve gender diversity.'

Is there not a rather obvious parallel here with regard to affirmative action for race? Could it not be the case that blacks and men are both socially disadvantaged groups? Presumably you are in favour of affirmative action for blacks, but not for men? Why the double standard? You seem to approve of the fact that female students are displeased about being passed over in favour of boys, but presumably you do not feel that white students would be justified in being displeased about losing out in the same way. How can you explain this?

Then comes the dramatic climax:
'While girls are being encouraged to excel in school, boys are being disproportionately medicated with attention-deficit disorder drugs.Perhaps it serves them right'.

You admit that girls are given encouragement while boys are not. You admit that boys are being medicated disproportionately. But perhaps it serves them right. This is one of the reasons I thought you were being satirical; you think these double standards are justified - no-one could seriously think that. Surely, the abolition of sexual double-standards is the whole purpose of feminism. If it is not that, then what is it?

I would like to re-iterate my very first point: What sins have our children committed? Even if everything you say about society in bygone generations were true - and it is in fact, nothing but an absurd, self-serving pack of lies - why should children today be punished for it?

In short, your article was a shameful, incoherent, ill-thought-out travesty from start to finish. If you are looking for a story to write about next week, I have just given you about fifteen. I don't believe you will pursue any of them however. I think it is less work for you just to stroke the egos of your feminist readers and take your paycheck.

At least here in Europe, the press retains some vestige of independence. In the USA it seems that the media is just the tame lap-dog of monied vested interests. I will be happy if you prove me wrong.

Regards,

etc.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Billy Elliot

Film: Billy Elliot (Dir: Stephen Daldry, 2000. 110 min, UK / France)

The eponymous hero of the film is a pubescent boy from a working-class coal-mining family in Northern England who has ambitions to become a ballet dancer. The basic dramatic premise of the film is derived from the conflicting values of Billy’s background and the ballet. However, the film is not really about ballet at all. Billy Elliot is in fact a deeply misandrist, heterophobic piece of work.

Significantly, the film is set not only in a mining community, but it happens also to be during the British miners’ strike of the early 1980s. There are references to the strike throughout the film, and we frequently see pitched battles between strikers and riot police. Billy’s father and older brother are striking miners, and bitterly opposed to Billy studying ballet, which they perceive to be effeminate and to bring shame on the family. Billy’s mother is dead, but is portrayed as a saintly character who would have supported him had she still been alive. Billy has a friend of about the same age as himself called Michael, who is secretly a homosexual and transvestite.

Although his father initially forbids Billy from going to dance classes, he attends in secret, claiming that he is going to boxing lessons. Eventually, the enthusiasm of Billy’s dance teacher, combined with Billy’s determination, win his father over. Mr Elliot’s growing identity crisis and despair, his sense that his own values are not worth preserving, also seem to contribute to his change of heart. In the two miners, father and son, we see a gradual loss of identity, a gradual sense that they are fighting a losing battle.

Billy’s talent eventually wins him a place at the Royal Ballet School, and he moves to London, thus enabling him both to escape his oppressive parochial background, and to develop his talent. Towards the end of the film, we learn that the miners’ strike is lost, and the strikers dejectedly accept defeat and return to work, knowing that only redundancy awaits them.

At the end of the film we see Billy’s father and brother travelling to London to attend Billy’s first public performance, as the male lead in Swan Lake. They take their seats for the performance, and suddenly notice sitting next to them Billy’s childhood friend Michael, dressed in full female drag. Looking somewhat bewildered by what is happening to them, they greet Michael, and sit back to enjoy the performance. As the film ends we see Billy, now a handsome and muscular young man, make a triumphal entry onto the stage.

Billy’s father and brother represent traditional masculinity, and in this film, traditional masculinity is in crisis. The obvious poverty, gloom and constant conflict make their world a dismal and unattractive place. The State, in the form of mine closures enforced by riot police, represents the unstoppable forces of history and progress, against which the strikers stand, boldly but ultimately doomed. Billy and Michael represent a new phase of human (or at least male) development.

Over the course of the film, we see Billy’s father and brother transform. At the beginning of the film, they are coal miners, traditional working-class men who implacably oppose any kind of effeminacy; political and economic defeat forces them to re-examine their beliefs; by the end of the film, they are attending the ballet in the company of a transsexual. Their transformation is complete. We witness the miners’ (and therefore masculinity’s) defeat and humiliation, and re-invention. The only men who emerge at the end of the film with their identities intact are Billy and Michael, the ballet dancer and the transsexual. What we see, in allegory, is the defeat of the male by the female, the heterosexual by the homosexual. The message of the film is that men are finished. Feminisation is the only way ahead.

Feminists on ‘Catch-22’, by Joseph Heller

When I was at university, I heard some feminist criticism of the novel ‘Catch-22’ by Joseph Heller. There were two main criticisms.
(1) There aren’t enough women characters in the novel.
(2) The character called ‘Nately’s whore’ doesn’t have a name – she is merely seen as a chattel of Nately. This is demeaning and dehumanising to her, and by extension, shows the author’s contempt for all women.
I regard these criticisms as spurious and absurd. Let’s take each of them in turn.

The number of female characters
Consider the setting of the novel. It is a US Air Force base on a small island off the coast of Italy during World War 2. From here, the US Air Force flies bombing missions against targets in Italy and Germany. Catch-22 is a novel about the futility of war. Most of the characters in the book are male simply because of the setting. On a World War 2 operational air base, there simply weren’t that many women around, and there is no use in pretending otherwise.

We also have to bear in mind that the events in the novel are seen through the eyes of the main character, Yossarian, and the women we encounter are really just the women he encounters. As military aircrew on active duty in World War 2, he just doesn’t encounter that many. He lives in an almost exclusively male, military environment.

The female characters in the novel fall broadly into two groups: American military nurses and Italian prostitutes. Yossarian encounters some Air Force nurses on the base, especially when he spends time in the hospital with a feigned illness in an attempt to avoid flying bombing missions. We are introduced to a few of them by name, most notably Nurse Duckett. The only other significant group of women in the novel are Italian prostitutes that the American servicemen spend time with when they go on leave to Rome. Apart from these two groups, there simply aren’t any other women around.

What exactly is it that the feminist critics want? Should Heller have created a lesbian peace camp outside the gates of the air base, in the interests of political correctness? Should he have invented some high-ranking female military officers just to appease potential feminist critics in future decades? Had he done so I suspect that the feminist critics would simply have found something else to criticise. In a novel about combat in World War 2, I find the charge that there are ‘not enough female characters’ almost incomprehensible. We can ask, why was it only men who were forced to take part in combat? Once again, feminists make privilege sound like punishment.

Nately’s whore
Let us turn now to the second feminist charge, that ‘Nately’s whore’ does not have a name, and is therefore dehumanised. My response is basically to ask ‘Why pick on her?’ In order to understand the naming of Nately’s whore, we need to consider the wider issue of character naming in Catch-22 generally. Many of the characters in the novel do not have names: ‘The soldier in white’, ‘the Texan’, ‘the dead man in Yossarian’s tent’, ‘the tail gunner’, ‘the CID man’, to name just a few. The feminist critics do not seem to be concerned about whether or not these characters are dehumanised, or whether these naming practices dehumanise men as a group. Moreover, many of the characters who are named have names which are obviously absurd, such as ‘Major Major Major Major’. This could be said to be equally dehumanising.

Three characters are worthy of special mention: ‘ex-PFC Wintergreen’, ‘the tail gunner’ and ‘the dead man in Yossarian’s tent’. In the context of the military, each person has a rank which determines their role within the organisation. Ex-PFC Wintergreen doesn’t have a rank. He used to be a Private First Class, but at the moment he seems to have no military rank, even though he is serving in the military. This is absurd, and no doubt deliberately so.

The tail gunner bled to death in Yossarian’s arms in the back of the plane, with his intestines spilling out onto the floor from a massive abdominal wound. He doesn’t have a name, but for some reason the feminist critics don’t regard that as a problem.

The dead man in Yossarian’s tent doesn’t even exist at all. He was a new arrival at the base who, after his long journey, was assigned to rest in Yossarian’s tent until his paperwork could be processed and he could be assigned a billet of his own. He was killed in action before the paperwork could be done, and cannot now be reassigned. He only exists in an administrative black-hole. Yossarian has to share his tent with the dead man’s personal effects, which he cannot remove. The dead man in Yossarian’s tent does not have a name either, but at least Nately’s whore is still alive.

Catch-22 is a comic novel intended to illustrate the insanity of war. The naming (or non-naming) of characters is just one device among many that the author uses in order to create an atmosphere of tragic-comic absurdity. The message of the novel is that in war, everyone in dehumanised; in war, normal human values do not apply.

As I mentioned above, we have to bear in mind that the events in the novel are seen through the eyes of the character Yossarian. The naming and non-naming of characters is intended to convey Yossarian’s personal perspective on events. We can assume that Nately’s whore has a name, and that she knows what it is, and that Nately knows what it is too; the point is just that Yossarian doesn’t know. In fact, as far as naming practices are concerned, we all talk in this way all the time; we all refer to people using expressions like ‘my sister’s boyfriend’, or ‘Mary’s next door neighbour’s kid’. We do not worry that we are dehumanising them. Such language serves a perfectly legitimate social function. The characters in the novel which do have, for want of a better word, ‘normal’ names – like Appleby, Dunbar, Arfie and Nately – are Yossarian’s immediate crew members, those closest to him. The non-naming of a character like Nately’s whore tells us about Yossarian’s relationship with that character; it conveys only social distance, not misogyny.

I wonder if the feminist critics picked up on ‘Nately’s whore’ only because she is a prostitute; I wonder if they would have reacted in quite the same way if she had been ‘Nately’s lawyer’. It is not really naming practices that the feminist critics are objecting to at all; it is the concept of prostitution. They are offended by the fact that Heller does not explicitly condemn all prostitution as exploitative; that he does not toe the politically correct feminist line.

The feminist critics neglect to examine the relationship between Nately and Nately’s whore (and in fact an entire paper could be written on the subject). The whole point – the reason she is referred to as ‘Nately’s whore’, rather than just, for example, ‘the whore with the big breasts’, or ‘whore number 14’ - is that Nately was in love with her. Nately did not regard her as a prostitute for hire; he wanted to take her back to America after the war and marry her. Part of the tragedy of the novel is that these two people, who might otherwise fall in love, find themselves forced into this impossible situation by the circumstances of the war. Moreover, his love for her was not entirely reciprocated, which means that she had a great deal of power in the relationship. It is not unreasonable for us to think that Nately is being naïve in falling in love with a prostitute; we are told at one point that he gives all of his money to her during one visit to Rome. The power relations between these two characters are not as simple as some feminists would have us believe.

Indeed, the character known as Nately’s whore doesn’t really fit the feminist mould of one-dimensional sexually-compliant victim. In a scene referred to repeatedly throughout the novel, she assaults Arfie by hitting him repeatedly on the head with a stiletto heel. In fact this incident is one of the very few things that we know about her. The feminist critics make no mention of this, but no doubt they would say it was Arfie‘s fault for provoking her.

Everyone in the novel is dehumanised by the war. The men are forced by their communities into participating in mortal combat against their will, and many of them are brutally killed in the prime of their lives. The entire novel – even its title - is about their struggle against this impossible situation. The answer to my question ‘Why single out Nately’s whore for special attention?’ is an easy one to answer; she is singled out by the feminists just because she is a woman, and just because she is a prostitute.

Inherent, structural misogyny
Lastly, we need to examine the feminist claim that the non-naming of Nately’s whore by extension shows contempt for all women. Where is the evidence for this? It is simply a feminist dogma. Even within the context of Catch-22 it is far from clear. At one point Yossarian has a love affair with Nurse Duckett, but there is no evidence that he regards her with contempt, and even if there was, it is not clear that this would be related to the fact that he doesn’t know the name of Nately’s whore. Do the feminist critics want to claim that Joseph Heller was a misogynist, just on the grounds that he created a character called ‘Nately’s whore’? This would be an absurd claim.

Catch-22 is, without doubt, one of the greatest English-language novels of the Twentieth Century, and moreover, it is unremittingly humane. By offering these bizarre, ill-thought out and petty-minded criticisms, the feminist critics have shown that they have failed to appreciate why any humane, liberal individual should be delighted with Catch-22, failed to understand the humour, the tragedy or the irony, or appreciate the innovative use of language. Failed, in fact, to understand the novel at all.

Competition vs. co-operation

When I was active in the peace movement in the early 1980s, there was a cartoon strip in circulation which showed two ponies tethered together between two bales of hay. Each pony would pull against the other in an attempt to get to the bale of hay nearest to it, but neither could move because of the other one pulling in the opposite direction. In the final frames, the two ponies are shown sharing first one bale and then the other. The single caption beneath the strip read ‘Co-operation is better than competition’. It was an unexamined dogma of the peace movement that this was true; to question it would have almost been considered heresy. It is time to question it now.

Why is co-operation better than competition? Had you asked me at the time, I would almost certainly have told you something like the following: This is an anti-nuclear movement. We object to the nuclear arms race, and the nuclear arms race is an extreme form of competition. Nuclear war is an extreme form of war, and war in general is an extreme form of competition. Our society’s obsession with competition is part of the problem. We cannot abolish war unless we abolish competition in general.

This line of argument now seems to me to be plain silly, but it is very typical of a type of argument that characterises political rhetoric of all shades, a kind of ‘slippery slope’ argument which, in order to work, depends upon the convenient stretching of concepts and artificial blurring of boundaries.

Competition seemed more likely to produce negative outcomes, and cooperation positive ones; when we looked at the negative outcomes around us – unemployment, poverty, militarization - we discerned that competitive practices were at least partly to blame. On the other hand, if we pointed to what we valued most about family, friendship and community life, we noticed that these things seemed to be characterised by a high level of cooperation. Our thinking was also based upon opposition to the Thatcher government, which was at its height. Margaret Thatcher extolled the virtues of competition, and we were opposed to her, so if she liked something, we had to dislike it.

It was (and still is) an unexamined dogma of the feminist Left that women were naturally co-operative, and men naturally competitive, and as co-operation is better than competition, it seemed to follow that women were better than men. None of the basic premises were questioned.

I didn’t realise at the time that this kind of reasoning fed into, indeed produced, the Greenham Common school of anti-male anti-nuclear campaigning. War is one of the bad things that men do to women. War is competition, and men are competitive, so to get rid of war, you need to get rid of men.
It didn’t occur to any of us at the time that warfare is probably the most highly co-operative of all human activities. Consider any major military campaign, and the quantity of personnel and materials required, and the meticulous planning. It is not just the soldiers themselves who are involved; the whole national economy (including the female population) is geared towards producing the materiel needed. Somewhat bizarrely, in the peace movement none of that was considered. There was a general tacit acceptance of the ideological dogma that competition was destructive (and therefore male), and co-operation was constructive (and therefore female).

I intend to examine some of these assumptions now.

The view from the Left
The Left offers no clear account of the relationship between competition and co-operation, but in general it is deeply suspicious of competition in any form. There is an implicit association between competition and the pursuit of self-interest on the one hand, and cooperation and altruism on the other. The oppressor class is selfish and greedy, and encourages competition. The oppressed class, in contrast, is selfless, civic-minded, and compassionate, and encourages cooperation. The ruling class always acts out of narrow self-interest, but the oppressed act out of compassion. So goes the informal mythology of the Left.

Marx would probably happily admit that the oppressed class, the proletariat, also acts out of narrow self-interest; they are after all, going to become revolutionaries in order to improve their own circumstances.

The feminist movement has appropriated much Left-wing thought, and the dogma about competition is no exception. In feminist theory of course, men are the oppressive ruling class, and women the oppressed class. As a result, we see a gendering of concepts; competition becomes ‘male’ and cooperation becomes ‘female’. Thus, throughout feminist discourse we see a strong ideological association between maleness and competition on the one hand, and femaleness and cooperation on the other. Leftist mythology teaches that cooperation is somehow morally superior to competition, and so it follows by extension that femaleness is morally superior to maleness. It is a female chauvinist’s charter.

Oddly, this mythology contradicts the Leftist dogma of social constructionism. If gender is socially constructed, then what does it mean to say that men are competitive and women cooperative? If moral values are socially constructed, then what does it mean to say that women are morally superior to men?

The implied conclusion that women are superior to men is of course, pure ideology. Even if we accept that apples are green and bananas are yellow, and that green is better than yellow, it doesn’t logically follow that apples are better than bananas.

Sex and the single ideology
Are men always competitive? You only need to see some boys playing football in the street to see males co-operating. Look at your built environment. Almost everything that you see around you in the urban environment was designed and built by men working together in cooperation. How could men have built the World Trade Center, (or indeed destroyed it) without co-operating? The very notion is absurd.

In fact, men do compete with each other for mates, something which actually benefits women, and I will discuss this at some length later. However, the feminist Left’s implicit belief that males are exclusively competitive is downright silly.

It is worth pointing out here that feminists ascribe a high level of cooperation to men whenever it suits them; men cooperate with each other in oppressing women and maintaining the Patriarchy. Like all conspiracy theories, feminism makes the mistake of ascribing an absurdly high level of cooperation to the supposed conspirators.

By the same token, what does it mean to say that women are co-operative? Are they always co-operative? My experience certainly doesn’t bear that out. Throughout my life, women have competed with each other over their appearances, over exam grades, over men, over the success and brilliance of their children. I know of women bullying each other in private life, and doing each other down at work, and most ironically of all, I have known many women to play the game of “I’m a better feminist than you are”. Ask anyone who has worked as a teacher in a girls’ school whether girls are really the caring, nurturing angels that feminist dogma tells us they are. Again I can ask, why on earth would anyone think that women were co-operative? Even if they are, we are then faced with the need for an explanation. Why are they co-operative? Is it a part of their essential make-up? What happened to the ideological dogma that gender is socially constructed? The claim that females are co-operative is at best highly contentious, and at worst, absurd.

Meanwhile, back in the real world…
Co-operation and competition generally occur in complex mixtures. That game of football in the street involves both. It seems to be accepted among zoologists that there is no such thing in nature as true altruism; there is only long term and short-term self-interest (e.g. Richard Dawkins, ‘The Selfish Gene’). Competition and co-operation are game strategies which correspond to each of these types of self-interest. Taking this into account, the claim that women practice long-term self-interest more often than men do seems, on the face of it, a much more innocuous one, but still, I would argue, one that is essentialist and vacuous. It would require empirical justification, but none is ever offered.

Co-operation and competition are strategies which are applied, or not applied, with respect to particular problem domains. Usually, two entities which interact together use a mixture of competition and co-operation. Take commercial companies as an example. Are the big supermarket chains competing or co-operating? It depends on the problem domain. They compete against each other for market share, but they still have common interests which they will co-operate over, such as combating shoplifting, or lobbying food producers, regulatory bodies and consumer groups. The relationship between the big supermarkets is a mixture of co-operation and competition.

Let us consider banks. Do the banks in your town compete with each other, or co-operate with each other? They compete with each other for customers, but they also co-operate wherever they have mutual interests. The fact that you can use your ATM card in a competing bank’s ATM machines indicates that the banks are co-operating with each other. They also co-operate over combating armed robbery and cheque fraud.

In fact, this is how competition and co-operation interact in every sphere of life. Wherever two parties have divergent interests, they are likely to compete; wherever they have common interests, they are likely to co-operate. No group or task domain has a monopoly on either strategy.

Of course, one of the unacknowledged dogmas of feminism is that men and women have no common interests; feminism represents the relationship between men and women as an essentially antagonistic one. For all their posturing about their own peace-loving cooperativeness, feminists promote a view of the world which is highly confrontational, and a view of sexual relations as essentially competitive. Irony piles upon irony.

Le pauvre feminism
The argument discussed here typifies much of the feminist discourse that I have come across. It is vacuous and yet to the naïve it manages to convey an air of intellectual plausibility, as long a you don't start asking awkward questions. It claims to promote the good of society, but if accepted, will be socially divisive. Its reasoning shows scant regard for logical consistency or empirical evidence, but consists largely of ad hoc resemblance thinking and unexamined popular myth.

Yet ironically, the very basis of feminism presupposes that men are extraordinarily co-operative. Men have, so the theory goes, been systematically excluding women from participation in public life since the dawn of human history. This would require a truly super-human degree of co-operation between men. How exactly (and indeed why exactly) this has supposedly been achieved has always been, for me, one of the great unsolved mysteries of feminist theory.

For feminists to say that one sex has a monopoly on co-operation, and the other has a monopoly on competition is an utterly vacuous claim, and it often surprises me that intelligent adults (perhaps particularly men, because they are the ones who suffer from the negative representation) are prepared to even countenance it. It is of course also a sexist assertion; and this from a movement ostensibly set up to combat sexism. This is one of the most pertinent of all criticisms which can be levelled against feminism; that it has a profound degree of sexism built into the very structure of its arguments.