I worry more for my 19-year-old son than for my daughters, both in their early 20s. At a dinner party recently, a young woman told me that my son’s school was teeming with rape culture. That’s not true. I tried to explain why — that one bad boy, even a few, does not make a rape culture. But she didn’t seem to be interested in listening to this.
My son’s school has swallowed the fabrication hook, line and sinker. That is the wretched power of misguided accusations and outright lies. Repeat them enough and people believe them.
The confected panic became so ridiculous that at one assembly senior boys were told not to use the word moist as it might offend girls. The boys responded rationally. They muttered for the rest of the day about moist sandwiches, moist weather and so on. Some teachers joined in because, as a rule, overreach is rarely taken seriously.
Now I read that if my son, or one of his gorgeous and clever friends, studies medicine and becomes an obstetrician and gynaecologist, motives need to be checked. Are they in it for power? To enjoy watching women in pain? To perve at women’s private parts?
This is serious. Seriously wrong. I wouldn’t normally respond to another writer in this newspaper. We are a broad church, despite the claims of some ideologically blind critics that we all lean one way. Live and let write, I say. Sometimes their arguments sharpen mine.
Nikki Gemmell’s piece two weeks back needs addressing, not to sharpen opposing views given her claims are so easily sliced and diced. They need to be positioned as part and parcel of a wicked movement that seeks to punish men en masse, even smearing boys for the past deeds of some men.
Gemmell may not have meant to join this miserable movement. Maybe she was naive. But her claim that we should question the motives of why a man would want to be an obstetrician gives cover to others who choose gender as a determination of good or bad motives. Think of the obsessions about the white patriarchy and toxic masculinity. Rather than encourage more of these mindless accusations, can’t we agree that this genre of revenge feminism deserves no helpers? And that men should not have to defend themselves against inchoate claims about bad motives?
Revenge feminism is one part of a larger body of grievance politics, each offshoot with its own misguided postmodernist pursuit.
Post-Marxists assert power imbalances, regard objective knowledge as a construct of power, assume bad motives from those who have power, and then they prop up those deemed to be oppressed and punish those assumed to be oppressors. Many are so consumed with finding power imbalances, they do not stop to check whether they have found a real one, or whether they are making sense even when they have found the locus of power.
The redeeming feature of the postmodernist movement is that it is increasingly incoherent. Hence, it will not likely enjoy the same longevity of past, more comprehensible political movements. Rational people simply cannot, and will not, abide by the increasingly outlandish claims that emanate from the many parts of postmodernism.
From identity politics more broadly to narrower agendas of intersectional feminism and queer theory, along with their absolutist claims about cultural appropriation, unconscious bias, toxic masculinity, cisgender privilege, heteronormativity, and so on, more people recognise these as regressive, not progressive. All are aimed at judging people, not as individuals but as members of assumed oppressed and oppressor classes according to race, sexuality, culture and more.
Revenge feminism that reflexively impugns the motives of men is just another incoherent part of the mother ship of 1960s postmodernism that reworked itself in the 80s. But before each bit is finally dumped as part of modernity’s biggest political con, clumsy assumptions about power and gender are exceedingly unfair to men and do nothing good for women either.
My own experience points to the pointlessness of using gender to judge doctors. Three children. Two obstetricians. The first, a woman, was dreadful. Rough, rude, dismissive, she had many complaints against her I learned later. My second obstetrician was gentle and caring and he listened too. I judged both of them not by gender but by their individual skills, or lack of them.
My former father-in-law, a more decent man you could not find, was a GP in country NSW for many years in an era when the local doctor did all manner of things. He delivered so many babies that his family frequently bumps into those babies or the mothers and fathers, all much older now. This gentle man does not deserve to have his motives questioned for bringing babies into the world.
Gender stereotypes can blow back on women, too. Working as a young lawyer at a large law firm in Sydney more than two decades ago, I noticed that a higher proportion of senior female lawyers, partners in particular, were rude and dismissive. Kind of like that female obstetrician I would encounter some years later.
What was their beef? Maybe some thought young female lawyers had slid too easily into our chosen profession compared with their harder road. But why punish us for their trials and tribulations? Others didn’t discriminate on the basis of sex; they were equally awful to young men and women. The point is that some of us grew wary of older female lawyers and preferred to work for men. The men weren’t necessarily caring or gentle but they were fair.
Today, the pendulum has swung even further. In our biggest companies, in government bureaucracies and at universities too, gender is more prominent than ever. The way it is panning out, with quotas and special privileges for women, we are focusing less on people as individuals.
Today, if you want a genuine equal opportunity employer, your best bet may be a small business that is mercifully free of gender rules, and HR departments that enforce them.
Postmodern quests by social justice warriors have made us more sexist, and more racist, too.
Think of frequent accusations about toxic masculinity, not to mention bogus claims against white privilege. It is not corrective justice to smear all men with bad motives or to claim all white people are privileged. It is not justice of any kind. And it is not good for any of us.
There have always been sporadic contests over the core idea of the West that we treat people equally, as individuals who should be neither punished nor promoted by reason of their race, creed, gender or sexuality.
But today there is an escalating drive, under the auspices of identity politics, to divide people into smaller and smaller groups, starting from clumsy assumptions about power, replacing objective knowledge with unverified claims, ascribing bad motives to one class and good motives to another, punishing some, promoting others. It is driving people apart, creating default settings of distrust. Intersectional feminism, for example, is at war with itself, different groups of women laying claim to be the biggest victims.
In the victimhood sweepstakes, a woman of colour beats a white woman hands down, a lesbian woman of colour beats a lesbian white woman, and a trans woman beats a lesbian woman of colour. And a trans woman of colour? That is intersectional bingo. Meanwhile, trans activists in general are at war with biological women, and none of these groups is listening to the other. It is a shouting race to the top of a wonky ladder of victimhood.
It is no wonder then that identity politics is more morose and divisive, infantilising and illiberal now compared with, say, a decade ago. Given that we do not know where this ends or what the point of no return looks like, each of us should surely commit to being living, breathing examples of the great liberal mission.
Respecting and judging people as individuals is the road to genuine and enduring equality. If we start from this first principle, real empowerment and human flourishing will follow too. And a new social justice movement can better judge who holds power, who abuses it and how best to protect those at the mercy of real oppression.
We have to start somewhere. Not impugning the motives of male obstetricians is as good a place as any.