Friday, July 9, 2010

Why is Andrew Klavan proud of his sexism?

This Andrew Klavan blog post, I think, expresses a certain kind of conservative mindset about as succinctly as possible. To sum it up: the dangerous sexism of the Muslim world makes the sexism of American-Christian conservatives charming, benign and even desirable.

Let's break it down.
I am a sexist. I believe men and women are inherently different and that it’s therefore appropriate to treat them differently. I continue to open doors for women, curb my occasionally profane tongue around them and stand when they leave the table. Feminists have occasionally berated me for this, believing such manners display a patriarchal and protective attitude toward them.
I'm not going to begrudge Klavan's door-opening for women. But.

Even if one accepted, broadly, that "men" and "women" were different, that in no way accounts for all the millions of individuals who might not fit those norms and who deserve to be treated on the basis of their own individual qualities instead of consigned to a broader group. Sexism is just lazy. In Klavan's hands, we can see pretty quickly, it's lazy and smug.

And in any case, it's a pretty short trip from "men and women are inherently different" to "men and women are unequal, and thus men deserve to have the power." Which leads us to...
They’re right: a protective patriarch is exactly the kind of patriarch I am.
Um, that's swell? Let's move on -- this sentence will be important in later context.
Compare our Muslim friends. In his book What Went Wrong, Bernard Lewis reports that a Turkish visitor to Vienna in 1665 was flabbergasted by the “extraordinary spectacle” of the emperor tipping his hat to a lady. He speculated this bizarre behavior might derive from Christian respect for the Virgin Mary. Maybe so. It's certainly true that the local rules of politeness bear within them the deepest attitudes of the culture. Which is something to consider in light of the imminent stoning of Sakineh Mohammadie Ashtiani in Iran, an Islamic horror story which inspires in me the very impolite desire to slug somebody, preferably with a clawhammer.
I'm glad that Klavan -- along with many of his fellow conservatives -- is so angry about the the imminent stoning in Iran. Let's get to the final statement, though.
I can’t help thinking that when feminists attack gentlemanly manners (and the Christianity behind them) they are threatening the very wellspring of their most basic rights.
And there we have it: My sexism is ok, because I'm not going to kill you! Be grateful, women!

Maybe that's unfair. But let me rebut Klavan in a manner I think conservatives will understand: I'll use the Cold War as an analogy.

Everybody agrees that the Soviet Union was a horrible, awful place: No personal or economic freedom, millions of people died because of Joseph Stalin's cruelty and tyranny. But the Soviet Union was also powerful, if despised. After World War II, the United States helped create the system of "social democracy" in Western Europe -- a hybrid of capitalism with a very, very thick social safety net -- in order to keep Soviet-style socialism from being too tempting to the masses and preserving a rough balance of power between superpowers.

Now: Stalin-era Soviet Union was about exploiting the people. Social democracies were about, for lack of a better word, comforting them. These days, though, there's lots of folks who see the social democracy of Western Europe -- with its high taxes, heavy regulations and monthlong vacations for workers -- as a way station to tyranny. Sure the people of Western Europe are and were more free than citizens of the old Soviet Union. But that's not free enough for many of today's American conservatives.

So it is with sexism. The choice isn't really between an Iran-style tyranny that kills its women or a "protective patriarchy" that uses less overtly coercive methods to still keep women in their place. The alternative is to recognize women as full human beings, possessing the same rights as all of us -- not "granted" to them by dudes -- and worthy of respect as a result.

(Hat tip: Julie Ponzi)


namefromthepast said...

The most important point that you make is that everyone is an individual.

Some women would be drawn to this guy's comments and if that's ok for them...whatever. It's their pursuit of happiness not mine or yours.

Frankly I think both Klavan and yourself have missed the point on the Muslim issue. It isn't a men/women thing-it's basic human rights.

It is a huge part of true conservative belief that we are "endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights" Not from "dudes", our gov't or from each other but from God.

Whatever your beliefs thank your lucky stars our founding fathers thought so or our lives and our freedoms in this country might compare with Iran's

Joel said...

Name: Something I've meant to say -- and shame on me for not doing so -- is that I'm kind of angry about how the Iran stoning affair is being used in the United States. Not simply as a means of criticizing Iran -- fair enough -- but as a partisan cudgel here. The instances I've cited have involved reasonably prominent commentators who make the case that liberals just aren't mad enough about the situation. Aside from being demonstrably untrue, it's simply ugly: Do we really need to be partisan bickering over the needless death of a woman?

I agree with you, completely, that it's about "basic human rights."

Notorious Ph.D. said...

namefromthepast, I believe Joel is pointing out the fallacy of the comparisons that both you and Klavan are making, albeit on different topics; namely, that if there's somewhere where people have it significantly worse, we have no right to complain. It's a silencing tool, and it's B.S.

Neither patriarchy nor political oppression is an on/off switch. It's more like a dimmer switch, one that probably can't be completely turned off, but ones that we should make a continuous effort to get to as low a setting as possible.