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Is there a conflict between PC speech codes and the need to name sources of misogynistic violence?

(264 Posts)
OTheHugeManatee Tue 12-Jan-16 10:21:49

I've been following debates around the 'trans' issue on FWR with interest for some time. More recently I've also been appalled by the mass sexual attacks in Cologne and the related issue of the stilted, minimising way those attacks have been discussed - particularly in the left-leaning press.

It's got me wondering about possible conflicts between PC speech codes and feminist analysis. I think this is a feature of both these issues. To be clear, by 'PC speech codes' I mean the cultural taboos that make it socially unacceptable to make generalisations about certain groups of people.

In trans debates, trans people are cast as a minority within a minority, and women are re-framed as the ones with privilege who must cede space to ease their suffering. Much of the feminist discussion around this is, as I understand it, devoted to challenging this narrative.

In the Cologne attacks, there was a visible reluctance by left of centre media to be explicit about the cultural/ethnic dimension to the attacks. The implicit view, from some quarters, seems to be that the right of white Western women to move about at night free from sexual assault weighs equally - or even lower - than the right of refugees to be protected from ugly stereotypes and/or racist reprisals, and that therefore the ethnic/cultural dimension of the attacks should be played down lest it exacerbate the suffering of refugees.

Elsewhere though in FWR I've seen robust defenses of the validity and need for generalisations, when it comes to class analysis of gendered violence. As I understand it, it is reasonable and valid to generalise about men as a class, even if NAMALT, because otherwise it is impossible to name the problem.

So what I'm wondering is this: if generalisations about men as a class are defensible in the interests of naming feminist problems, does the same apply to subsets of men? For example if misogynistic violence is a major problem among men of a particular culture in the UK (even relative to the general depressingly high levels of misogynistic violence in the general population, and even if NAM[culture]ALT), are we comfortable spelling that out?

If there are classes of people among whom misogynistic violence is more prevalent than the already high norm in the UK, I want to be able to name the problem. But I think there is often substantial resistance to this. There may well be valid and internally coherent reasons for this, but I think that from a feminist viewpoint we need to think about what's going on here.

I think this is very difficult ground for feminism. I'm loth to give examples, for fear of derailing what's intended as a general musing, but here's a fairly incendiary one. There are persistent and worrying rumours coming out of Sweden that sexual violence against women has skyrocketed in that country in recent years. This is clearly a feminist issue, and one that should surely be tackled vociferously by feminist campaigners. You'd think. However there are also persistent rumours that the overwhelming majority of this violence is perpetrated by recent immigrants of Arab/North African origin. But there is an almost total blackout in the 'respectable' mainstream Swedish press around this; the only news outlets willing to touch it are right-wing outfits such as Breitbart, and frankly bonkers conspiracy mongers like the Gatestone Institute.

The rumours relate to Sweden, but imagine you're a feminist in Sweden hearing these rumours. Do you write it off as lies and hate-mongering? Perhaps it is nothing but lies and hate-mongering. I don't know and can't verify it either way. I hope it is. But perhaps (like Rotherham) it isn't. So should you take a stand for women and say 'I'm going to risk contributing to a right-wing, racist discourse because if there is any possibility that it's true it should be investigated and stamped down on hard, because I want to stick up for the women being assaulted'? Or should we be saying 'Overall I think Swedish women have a pretty easy time of it, considered globally, and I don't want anyone conducting racist pogroms in my name, so I'm going to keep schtum'?

More generally, I am wondering if we need to think explicitly about what, as feminists, we do when there is a conflict between the aims and needs of feminism and those of other 'rights' groups. (It might just be me who needs to think about this; for all I know you've all already worked it out). But I think there are some conflicts, and the Cologne attacks and trans rights thing points to that. And I think there's a general, vague presumption among many people who consider themselves generally right-on that this is not the case, and that all the various needs of the various rights campaigns are either aligned by definition, or can somehow be balanced out. And yet, it seems self-evident to me that the needs of different rights campaigns often conflict; witness trans and women's rights. And when this 'balancing' takes place, again and again it is my observation that it's the rights of women that have to give ground.

My personal stance is that women's rights come first and if there is a conflict between women's rights and another rights campaign I'm for women. But what do others think? I think it's a live issue for feminism, a difficult one (at least difficult for feminists who think of themselves as generally left-wing, anti-racist, right-on etc) and one that I've not seen much discussion on.

MorrisZapp Tue 12-Jan-16 10:33:45

This problem has always been with us. My mum is a hardcore lefty, and a radical feminist. She will bend into all manner of logical contortions to avoid saying anything negative about people with brown skin.

So any misogynistic culture amongst people with darker skin than us is minimised, downplayed and ultimately met with 'yes but here in the UK it's just as bad'.

But if a white person, particularly one of high cultural or financial standing, makes a sexist comment this is held up as 'all that is wrong with the world'.

I'm reminded of Mark Lamarr challenging Shabba Ranks on The Word back in the Eighties. Nobody else would say 'hang on, aspects of this new music style seem to be hideously sexist and homophobic' because he is black.

Now we have silencing and hand wringing over the actual physical assault of women in public. This problem will get worse, much worse.

People like me who are sickened by eg The Guardian's response will look elsewhere for news and comment. We will be categorised as right wing and intolerant.

RhuBarbarella Tue 12-Jan-16 10:40:40

What is NAMALT?

"The implicit view, from some quarters, seems to be that the right of white Western women to move about at night free from sexual assault weighs equally - or even lower - than the right of refugees to be protected from ugly stereotypes and/or racist reprisals, and that therefore the ethnic/cultural dimension of the attacks should be played down lest it exacerbate the suffering of refugees."

I am wondering and struggling a bit with the way this gets framed, not just by you but as a general interpretation of what is going on. In Cologne/Hamburg as much as Rotherham. Or Sweden maybe?
It may be that it is not like this, but more an issue of generalised, institutionalised misogyny, the everyday sexism variety we know... Where the police doesn't really respond or react in a sufficient and adequate manner. They victim blame, don't see the issue.. react more or less as they did in Cologne, all's quiet, not a problem. Many women and girls get followed, called or whistled at, touched, leered at. Now, the new factor is 'the different' misogyny and boundary crossing behaviours. It stands out because it is not what we are used to (and thank god, I don't want to get inured to a wider repertoire of women-bashing behaviours).
If the let's call them 'local' misogynists get to act out their behaviours, that doesn't mean that 'others' can do that too. The 'local' behaviour is part of our culture,is how we treat 'our wimmin'. If others do it, or do it differently but basically with the same sort of mindset, we have to find a way of telling them of without addressing the underlying attitude to women, hence the race-card. It is then 'their' culture that is violent against women, and we don't want that.
The problem is to address the whole issue without going for the race card but keep your eyes on the underlying wider culture of misogyny. That is hard, because the racism issue is very emotive and attracts a lot of loud voices. Trying to disengage from that may then lead to accusations of evading the issue, trying to cop out from saying is is people from Northern African or Middle Eastern countries acting the way they did.

BarryMerry Tue 12-Jan-16 11:12:15

Thankyou for so eloquently expressing what I've been thinking for months.

A couple of years ago I read the Almost Nearly Perfect People about the Nordic countries and was shocked about the Swedish rape statistics.

Last summer I tried to find out more on google and like you I only came up against Breitbart/Gatestone & more scary off the scale far right blogs.

So when Cologne happened, I was sickened but not surprised.

To your point, I think this is an inherent weakness of leftwing politics, it will always be riven by conflicting intersectionality politics. Whereas the right, who champion individualism (no such thing as society, just individuals and families...) are at least united in the philosophy that there are only individuals and no such thing as classes... just my musings over the past few weeks anyway.

Egosumquisum Tue 12-Jan-16 11:18:49

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Dervel Tue 12-Jan-16 11:40:39

Feminism seems to be more about smashing patriarchy these days as opposed to just challenging mysogyny whenever it occurs.

Thus if any group is in anyway not on top and can easily be perceived to be "in power" they are free to be as mysogynistic as they like.

I believe the situation in Sweden is more than rumor, it is fast becoming the rape capital of Europe. The problem lies that it is actually illegal to examine issues along racial/ cultural lines.

They are simply not allowed to compile statistics on the ethnicities of rapists.

ISaySteadyOn Tue 12-Jan-16 11:44:53

I don't have anything useful to add. I just wanted to say that I really like your posts and your username OTheHugeManatee. They're always thoughtful and well considered and well written and this one is no exception. It describes an issue that I struggled to put into words and you've done it beautifully.

HelpfulChap Tue 12-Jan-16 11:46:37

That is an excellent OP.

I wish I had that way with words.

BarryMerry Tue 12-Jan-16 11:52:30

You have a point Ego... I was going to start a thread in here about Sweden last year, but sat on my hands as I thought it was too contentious. Wrt to trans issues, there was a lot of heat as it was in the public eye so much... hoping this year will bring more light to the debate.

I really want to talk about sweden (& recent events now), but I have no idea how to start framing my ideas. Cologne has been like a political earthquake in my own mind/political identity & old certainties have shifted & vanished.

Egosumquisum Tue 12-Jan-16 11:55:04

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

OTheHugeManatee Tue 12-Jan-16 12:04:27

Rhu - NAMALT is shorthand for 'not all men are like that'. As I understand it, it's a wry concession to the persistent attempts by some men to derail discussions of male violence by pointing out that not all men are violent. So rather than saying 'Men treat women like property' a feminist might say 'Men (NAMALT) treat women like property'. (Lame example but hopefully you see what I mean.)

The reason I find this interesting is that it flies in the face of the widely-accepted idea that it's not okay to generalise about groups of people because that's prejudice and discrimination. The argument (again as I understand it, others are probably better-informed) is that while yes, not all men are like that, gendered violence is still real and we need to be able to analyse the behaviour of men as a class relative to women as a class - because if we can't name the problem we can't do anything about it.

I also take your point that culturally specific violence against women, if indeed there is such a phenomenon, may not be the only factor contributing to situations like the assaults in Cologne. But no-one is minimising the efforts of feminists to challenge institutionalised misogyny in the police force. Far from it: my sense is that addressing mishandling of sexual assault and rape by the police and justice systems is a major feminist theme. On the other hand I get the distinct impression that there is pretty widespread resistance to challenging culturally specific violence against women, perhaps for fear of inciting racist reprisals; and that this resistance extends even into some feminist quarters.

Personally I tihnk 'intersectionality' has had an absolutely catastrophic effect on feminism. It leads to a kind of paralysis, where it's no longer possible to take a clear stance on mistreatment of women because every instance of suffering has to be assessed and graded according to a complex hierarchy of victimhood. I know few on FWR are fully signed up to this worldview, but I think dilute versions of it are very widespread. The relativising tendency it encourages contributes to a kind of excuse-making that, effectively, makes refugee men from non-western cultures less responsible for their actions than ethnic Germans, and less culpable in situations like Cologne, because they are deemed to be oppressed on a number of other axes (refugee, poor, non-white etc etc).

I find the lack of willingness by the centrist or left-wing press to address some of these issues deeply reprehensible. Not least because the lack of solid statistics means the field is wide open for hateful rumour-mongering. And yet, can you imagine the UK government doing an analysis of rape or domestic violence cases by ethnicity/culture/religion, and releasing the results? Whatever they indicated, they'd be explosive. No civil servant would risk their career doing something like that.

Ego - I think the lack of coverage you mention certainly reflects the logical bind 'intersectionality' type feminists find themselves in when something like Cologne happens. I reference the trans thing as well because I think these are both instances in which conflicts between the perceived needs of different minority groups are 'balanced' in a way that is detrimental to women.

As an aside, I've wondered in the past whether this reflects an unconscious belief by 'intersectional' feminists that, in fact, equality for women has been achieved and therefore the main effort to achieve equality for all should prioritise other groups. Personally I disagree with this. Women's rights remain fragile, as we are increasingly seeing, and we will need constant vigilance and some determined clear thinking to stop them being swept away in a flurry of competing rights claims.

Dervel Tue 12-Jan-16 12:09:18

Is mysogyny ever ok? If no why can't it be challenged wherever it occurs?

OTheHugeManatee Tue 12-Jan-16 13:04:37

Well, you'd think so wouldn't you Dervel. But it's my observation that it just isn't as simple as that. It's definitely more acceptable to challenge some kinds of misogyny than others.

BarryMerry upthread talks about wanting to post about the Sweden rape thing, but deciding not to for fear that it might be too contentious. I've also considered starting a thread on the same subject on several occasions but had second thoughts.

Is it time to abandon the idea that equality / rights lobbies are all naturally compatible with one another and part of the same cause? For example it seems to me that a commitment to cultural diversity meshes very uncomfortably with a commitment to women's rights. After all, women's rights are, in origin at least, a pretty culturally specific white Western phenomenon and numerous non-white, non-western cultures have no strong history of feminism or women's rights campaigning. So if we are committed to respecting cultural diversity then some of the cultures we may be called on to respect include endemic misogyny. Logically, it's inevitable.

parachutesilk Tue 12-Jan-16 13:41:44

In theory you could use the language of risk factors to avoid generalising about groups of people. Maybe the top three risk factors (which won't all carry the same weight) for being a rapist in Sweden are 'being a man', 'having been brought up in particular Middle Eastern or North African countries', and 'having had a particular type of deprived/abusive childhood'?

Narratives that imply "you're lucky if you're tenth generation Swedish brought up in Sweden, you fit in better with local culture and laws" rather than "Swedish men are good, immigrants are dangerous" could be more attractive to some left-wing people who are reluctant to name certain cultures as causing more problems than others because they fear sounding racist or xenophobic.

On the other hand, a lot of (especially right-wing) people will hate that because it sounds like denying free will and letting people avoid taking personal responsibility for their actions. In the same way they don't like asking questions about what makes any criminal commit a crime, because they tend to see looking for reasons as too much like looking for excuses.

If you're the type of person who prefers an explanation that says "bad people of bad character commit crimes, and good people don't", then all the nuances of stats do for you is to fine-tune the labelling of different groups as the mutually-exclusive 'good' or 'bad'. So when this is done for rape stats that might have a cultural or ethnic dimension, it will be seen as racist both by rigid-thinking nonracists who will resist it, and by opportunistic racists who will exploit it.

I think there are people like this on the left as well as the right, and the hierarchy of victimhood of some intersectional politics, which positions groups of people as 'good' or 'bad' based on their oppressed status relative to each other, plays into the interpretation of complex explanations as slandering the characters of groups of people. Even though in theory intersectionality should be all about the nuance, in practice (especially when you look at things like privilege walks) it seems to be all about a hierarchy of worthiness. The resistance to the idea that transwomen are in any way influenced by their male socialisation and experience of male privilege is an example of this.

Seeing people as equally fundamentally innocent at birth, but influenced in a complex, nuanced way by their various experiences, makes accepting complex stats and analysis easier, but I don't think that's a popular view in general on either the left or the right (for the different reasons above).

FesterAddams Tue 12-Jan-16 14:03:28

Manatee wrote:
can you imagine the UK government doing an analysis of rape or domestic violence cases by ethnicity/culture/religion

ONS publishes some stats, but only breaks down by ethnicity not culture or religion, and without DV broken out. This is 2014: www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/480250/bulletin.pdf

The 2012 stats include spreadsheets with more detailed data: www.gov.uk/government/statistics/statistics-on-race-and-the-criminal-justice-system-2012
See for example tab 3.09 in the suspects table, and 5.05a in the offenders table.

grimbletart Tue 12-Jan-16 14:36:42

For me, my belief in the human value of women is absolute.

Women are of equal value and deserve full human rights wherever they are in the world. Bugger culture, bugger religion.

I am not right wing, nor left wing. Just a bumbling along in the middle ground sort of person.

But on the issue of tippy toeing around cultural and religious sensitivities I am sick of the mealy mouthed cultural and religious apologists.

My personal stance is that women's rights come first and if there is a conflict between women's rights and another rights campaign I'm for women

YY OTheHugeManatee.

Someone has to stick up for half the human population as a priority. And if not feminists, who?

What has been happening in Cologne and other cities and the way the "liberal" and left media covered it, at least initially, has really made me angry that yet again we see an attitude of "budge over women". Anyone's rights are more important than yours.

MelindaMay Tue 12-Jan-16 14:56:29

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

MelindaMay Tue 12-Jan-16 14:59:29

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

kesstrel Tue 12-Jan-16 15:06:37

Women are of equal value and deserve full human rights wherever they are in the world. Bugger culture, bugger religion.

The irony is that countries that follow that line seem to have a much greater chance of economic development, and a chance to emerge from poverty.

So maybe it isn't just a question of what is good for women, it's a question of what is good for everyone. It's just that some cultures can't or don't want to see that.

grimbletart Tue 12-Jan-16 15:07:57

Not turning on you Melinda. Would never wish to "trample over women of colour". They have every right to be mistresses of their own fate and if they choose a different path from me so be it.

What I meant was that I will never stop believing and saying that women are of equal value and our rights are my priority just because it might upset e.g. those of another culture, those of another religion, politicians too mealy mouthed to face facts or cowardly media too wimpish to call out what happened in Cologne and other cities for what it was.

MelindaMay Tue 12-Jan-16 15:15:33

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

MyFavouriteClintonisGeorge Tue 12-Jan-16 15:26:07

Apologies, I have not read the whole thread.

My immediate reaction is that if you stick to reporting or discussing what appears to have happened on a specific occasion based on credible evidence, you are hardly making generalisations about a specific group.

For that reason, I don't understand why e.g. 'Majority of Cologne attackers Arab or North African say onlookers' is problematic (except on public safety grounds: the police are getting a slightly hard time for downplaying it given that in both Sweden and Germany they know there are groups of organised, violent hard-right groups eager to capitalise on any criminal act by migrants, real or perceived). It is not at all the same as 'Majority of Arab and North African men are sex offenders' is it?

As a black woman, I have a deep suspicion of the kind of PC person who bends over backwards not to say anything negative about people (individuals or as a collective) of other races or religions from them. It is unrealistic, artificial and actually, no indication that the person concerned isn't prejudiced.

And, everything MelindaMay said.

StepAwayFromTheThesaurus Tue 12-Jan-16 15:44:18

I think this is a good point about what feminism is actually for. Is it a political movement for women's rights (as you'd assume), or (as has been increasingly the case for the past decade or so) is it some sort of postmodern fight against the oppression of minority groups (such that women's rights are forgotten or even viewed as unimportant, especially if the women in question are white, western and middle class)?

I remember doing a 'feminist geopolitics' seminar years ago as an undergrad and making all sort of (probably quite dubious) pomo arguments about how it's not just about women but multiple forms of oppression, etc, etc. But increasingly, I think I completely missed the point. There are multiple different forms of oppression but, when you end up playing oppression top trumps, women's rights tend to get sidelined and even dismissed outright. There is a very real need for feminism as a political movement concerned with women's rights.

There obviously needs to be some discussion within feminism to work with the diversity within the category 'woman' but there are very good reasons for prioritising that particular category as your focus and for not allowing feminism to be derailed.

moonstruckl8 Tue 12-Jan-16 16:11:30

for every right on left wing feminist you get there is the right wing feminist for whom feminism is about solidifying class supremacy or racial supremacy. this was going on from the suffragettes time until now. in the united states the suffragettes movement sidelined black feminists in order to attract southern suffragettes with the argument of 'how can the black man have the vote before the white woman'. they argued that winning the vote would allow them to support the white man and hinder the influence of the black man's voting power. in the UK at the time when universal suffrage came to the New Zealand population the suffragettes at the time used to argue how could the brown maori woman have the vote and they white women in the heart of the empire not have it. Emmeline Pankhurst of the Suffragettes believed strongly in colonialism alongside supporting the rights of women in the UK to vote. i also mention class as well because the advocacy of Maria Stopes for abortion rights for women was to do with being a strong believer in eugenics and conversely dislike of poor people having children. not a love for her fellow woman.

intersectionality still applies even if you wish not to deal with racism or religion. could you in a discussion about violence against women in liverpool - the highest in the UK,
www.liverpoolconfidential.co.uk/News-and-Comment/Domestic-violence-in-north-Liverpool-six-times-national-average

not mention the deprivation and poverty levels in the city? no religion, no race, just talking about marginalisation of women and economics.

www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/jobs/9003245/Liverpool-has-biggest-per-home-unemployment.html

MrsTerryPratchett Tue 12-Jan-16 16:13:36

There's another thought that keeps popping into my head. I worked for a long time in street homelessness and we always had a couple of men using services who were from Arabic speaking countries, very bad drinkers and could be a problem to female staff. It struck me that they probably wouldn't have been pissed as farts and harassing strangers at home.

That got me thinking about men in general. You only have to look at the record of the British Army and so on to see what groups of single men without women are capable of. Swedish men seem to commit stranger rape on a very reduced scale but there they are in Thailand, with young, vulnerable women (I don't want to use prostitutes as the vast majority are trafficked and underage when they start).

So is the risk factor men without women? Partly.

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