Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Reckoning with a culture of male resentment

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Dayna Tortorici writes in the Guardian:

Three years ago, around the time I became co-editor of the magazine where I work, I began to notice a shift among the men of my profession. Writers, editors, academics and artists – men I’d known to be confident, easygoing, or arrogant – were beginning to feel persecuted as a class. They remarked on it obliquely, with jokes that didn’t quite sound like jokes, in emails or in offhand remarks at parties. Irritation and annoyance were souring into something worse. Men said they felt like they were living in Soviet Russia. The culture was being hijacked by college students, humourless young people who knew nothing of real life, its paradoxes and disappointments. Soon intellectuals would not be able to sneeze without being sent to the gulag.

Women, too, felt the pressure. “Your generation is so moral,” a celebrated novelist said to an editor who was, like me, in his late 20s. Another friend, a journalist in her 50s, described the heat she got from online feminists for expressing scepticism toward the idea of creating “safe spaces”. “I’m conservative now,” she said, meaning in the eyes of the kids. But the most persistent and least logical complaint came from men – men I knew and men in the media: that they could not speak. And yet they were speaking. Near the end of 2014, I remember, in the US, the right to free speech under the first amendment had been recast in popular discourse as the right to free speech without consequence, without reaction.

The examples in the press could be innocent and sinister. A Princeton undergraduate, the grandchild of Holocaust survivors, could not argue that he was not privileged in Time magazine without facing ridicule on Twitter. Once, on my way to work, I heard a story on the radio about a Pennsylvania man named Anthony Elonis who was taking a first amendment case to the US supreme court. He was defending his right to make jokes about murdering his ex-wife on Facebook, in the form of non-rhyming, rhythmless rap lyrics. “I’m not going to rest until your body is a mess / Soaked in blood and dying from all the little cuts,” he posted. When she filed a restraining order, Elonis posted again: “I’ve got enough explosives / To take care of the state police and the sheriff’s department.” Posts about shooting up an elementary school and slitting the throat of a female FBI agent followed. When he was convicted for transmitting intent to injure another person across state lines via the internet, he argued that he was just doing what Eminem did on his albums: joking. Venting, creatively. Under the first amendment, the government had to prove he had “subjective intent”. His initial 44-month prison sentence was overturned by the supreme court, but was ultimately reinstated by an appeals court. I learned later that he had been fired from his job for multiple sexual harassment complaints, just after his wife left him.

How did I feel about all this? Too many ways to say. The aggregate effect of white male resentment across culture disturbed me, as did the confusion of freedom of speech with freedom to ridicule, threaten, harass and abuse. When it came to the more benign expressions of resentment – in the academy and in the fiefdoms of high culture – I was less sure. On the one hand, I was a person of my generation, and generally thought the students to be right. Show me a teenager who isn’t a fundamentalist, I thought; what matters is that they’re pushing for progress. The theorist Sara Ahmed’s diagnosis of teachers’ reactions to sensitive students as “a moral panic about moral panics” struck me as right. (Her defence of trigger warnings and safe spaces, in a 2015 blogpost titled Against Students, remains one of the best I know: trigger warnings are “a partial and necessarily inadequate measure to enable some people to stay in the room so that ‘difficult issues’ can be discussed”, and safe spaces are a “technique for dealing with the consequences of histories that are not over … We have safe spaces so we can talk about racism, not so we can avoid talking about racism!”) I also agreed with the writer Elizabeth Gumport when she observed: “It’s not that you can’t speak. It’s that other people can hear you. And they’re telling you what you’re saying is crazy.”

Still, I had sympathy for what I recognised in some peers as professional anxiety and fear. The way they had learned to live in the world – to write novels, to make art, to teach, to argue about ideas, to conduct themselves in sexual and romantic relationships – no longer fit the time in which they were living.

Their novels, art, teaching methods, ideas and relationship paradigms were all being condemned as unenlightened or violent. Many of these condemnations issued from social media, where they multiplied and took on the character of a mounting threat: a mob at the gate. But repudiations of the old ways were also turning up in outlets that mattered to them: in reviews, on teaching evaluations, on hiring committees. Authors and artists whose work was celebrated as “thoughtful” or “political” not eight years ago were now being singled out as chauvinists and bigots. One might expect this in old age, but to be cast out as a political dinosaur by 52, by 40, by 36? They hadn’t even peaked! And with the political right – the actual right – getting away with murder, theft and exploitation worldwide? That, at least, was how I gathered they felt. Sometimes I thought they were right. Sometimes I thought they needed to grow up.

The outlet of choice for this cultural moment within my extended circle was Facebook. More and more adults were gathering there, particularly academics, and reactions to campus scandals over sexual harassment and “political correctness” ruled my feed. A mild vertigo attends my memory of this time, which I think of, now, as the long 2016. It began at least two years prior.

There were reactions to Caitlyn Jenner coming out as trans, to Rachel Dolezalgetting outed as white, to the phenomenon of Hollywood whitewashing, to sexual abuse allegations against Bill Cosby and Roger Ailes. Meanwhile, in the background, headline after headline about police murders of black people and the upcoming presidential election. Many of these Facebook reactions were “bad” – meaning, in my personal shorthand, in bad faith (wilful misunderstanding of the issue at hand), a bad look (unflattering to he or she who thought it brave to defend a dominant, conservative belief), or bad politics (reactionary). And yet even the bad takes augured something good. A shift was taking place in the elite institutions. The good that came of it didn’t have to trickle down further for me to find value in it. This was my corner of the world. I thought it ought to be better.

The question was: at whose expense? It was easy enough to say “white men”, but harder to say which ones, or how. Class – often the most important dimension – tended to be absent from the calculus. It may once have been a mark of a first-rate intelligence to hold two opposing ideas in mind, but it was now a political necessity to hold three, at least. And what of the difference between the cultural elite and the power elite, the Harold Blooms and the Koch brothers of the world? While we debated who should be the first to move over, pipe down or give back, we seemed to understand that the most obvious candidates were beyond our reach. What good would it do for us to say that Donald Trump would be kinder to Wall Street than Hillary Clinton would? To do so would be to allow a lesser man to set the standard for acceptable behaviour. We would tend to our own precincts, hold our own to account.

This may have been bad strategy, in . . .

Continue reading. Thee’s a lot more.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 December 2017 at 10:27 am

Posted in Daily life

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