Isms

I was having a chat with Neo today, and it got me thinking about something. Something that’s really been bugging me. It has to do with isms.

People are really quick to label something (or someone) as ‘sexist’ or ‘racist’ or ‘misandrist’ or ‘feminist’ or whatever. The conversation came about when I thought Neo was saying that Nietzsche was sexist (he wasn’t. He was saying that the Conan books were sexist, but what follows applies). I thought that wasn’t entirely fair, since at the time of writing the books, Things Were Very Different. Plus, I was pretty sure that I’d never considered Nietzsche a sexist before, but perhaps on closer reading….but I digress.

Moving right along to figuring out he (Neo, not Nietzsche, although I would TOTALLY read a thesis Nietzsche came up with about Conan) was talking about Conan the Barbarian as penned by Robert Howard in the early thirties, I still don’t know that I would consider the books ‘sexist’. I mean, they’re fiction, and fiction is about made up stories about made up places with made up people…sure, women are little more than objects in Howard’s books, but on the other hand, if Conan rode up on his giant horse and lofted his sword above his head and shouted: “Matriarchy reigns supreme! I love and honour my mother, and grandmothers, and all the wymyn who I have been intimate with, at their own willingness and with no sexual-assaulty business at all!”, it wouldn’t be the same story.

You can say that the fictional culture Conan exists in is sexist, compared to the way we think of gender roles today, but saying the *book* is sexist? I dunno.

Consider “To Kill a Mockingbird” (I know, I know, Melistress hates it, but stay with me here for a moment): is that a racist book? Because of the way Negroes are treated in it? (Please don’t give me the lecture about the word ‘Negroes’; it’s one of the words used in the book, and it fits in this description) Or is it that there are racist attitudes present in the book, which form a large part of the story? Is racism an actual *character* in the book? A driving force?

I haven’t much patience for people who talk about how, for instance, feminists are all misandrists (an argument I read recently in a news article), or how everyone is a racist if they have a different opinion about the way FNUC should be run (something I overheard in the food court). I haven’t much patience for people who use these labels, because they tend to misuse them, or overuse them.

I am a feminist.

I am a feminist and I love men, and I don’t think men are all out to get women and suppress them and subjugate them and I don’t believe that society is “patriarchal” and misogynistic. I just don’t believe that. I do believe that women’s roles have really changed in the last 70 years, and that there’s still a way to go before we are considered and treated as equals, in the work force, at home, and in the media.

I am not a racist, and I am proud of my Canadian heritage, of my European heritage, and of the values instilled in me by my parents and grandparents and great-grandparents. I would not want to be a different ethnicity, although I do rather covet Egyptian eyes….I don’t subjugate Africans or Chinese people or Aboriginals or Welshmen. I don’t think less of people because of their skin tone or their accent (except for the British Monarchy) or the places their DNA originated. For the most part, I don’t really even care about that stuff. People are people, and that’s all cool.

I think colonialism is a, as Captain Cook put said when he encountered the Polynesian people (he wasn’t actually talking about colonialism; he was talking about their religious practices, but I really like the line), “shameful waste of humanity” that has damaged generations of people all over the world. And will continue, in many cases, to harm people for generations to come. I don’t think it’s right to blame people who have nothing to do with colonial attitudes for that harm. I suspect there may be people who still have colonial attitudes, and I think they are getting to be fewer and futher between. But colonialism is nasty and insidious – look at what’s still happening in South Africa.

And another thing that pisses me off: it’s not “reverse racism” when someone of African or Puerto Rican or Aboriginal or Asian descent decides they hate white folks. It’s just racism. If you decide you don’t like someone because they are brown or Muslim or white or Christian, it’s racism. Well, technically not ‘racism’ if it’s all about religion, but I don’t think anyone’s coined the term “religionist” yet. If you’re intolerant about a group of people based on their ethnicity, you’re a racist, pure and simple. The term “reverse racism” implies you hate yourself, which is probably the case if you’re running around spouting off about how much you hate X group of people. Or it implies that you’ve actually reversed racism and you actually love everyone, which is the way it should be.

And another thing! Ayn Rand is not a fascist. Just needed to say that. It’s been on my mind ever since someone questioned me as to why I would bother to read her books because ‘she’s such a fascist’ (actually, the comment may have been “she’s such a nazi”; I don’t remember). You might not like her style, and you might not like her stories, but if you studied her at all, you’d know she was kind of at the other end of the spectrum. She wasn’t really all that keen on *any* kind of government, to be sure. Not a fascist. At all.

Okay. I feel better now. Carry on.

cenobyte
cenobyte is a writer, editor, blogger, and super genius from Saskatchewan, Canada.

21 Comments

  1. You had me right up to the part about not subjugating Welshmen.

    I mean, come on…they’re Welshmen fer crissakes.

  2. To be frank, the idea of Conan being sexist only makes sense in a modern context with no sense or appreciation of history.

    Throughout almost the entirety of history, women were held in a subservient role. Sure, there were the occasional mother cults, matriarchal tribes and whatnot, but from antiquity to relatively recently, the majority of women were second-class citizens and treated as such. Conan’s world, the Hyborian Age, is simply reflecting history in this way.

    Howard hated this. He considered the idea of men “holding women down” to be abbhorent, and little more than slavery. He wrote a long tirade in a letter to a chauvinistic friend who believed that women were incapable of being intellectual. He raged about how women are only soft because men have been bullying and dominating them for so long, and expresses fierce appreciation for female philosophers, queens, princesses, poets, suffragettes and warriors women who bucked the trend.

    Here’s a short list of women throughout history that he admired:

    Aspasias (whom he considered the greatest philospher of all time)
    Sappho (whom he considered one of the greatest poets who ever lived)
    Elpinice
    Thargelia of Miletus
    Erinna of Telos
    Myrtis of Thebes
    Corinna
    Telesilla of Argos
    Praxilla of Sicyon
    Nocsis of Locris
    Anyte of Tegea
    Moero of Byzantium
    Joan of Arc
    Emma Goldman
    Kate Richards O’Hare
    Sarah Bernhardt
    Catherine the Great
    Elizabeth Barrett Browning
    H.D. Teasdale
    Sara Teasdale
    Isabella of Castille
    Edna St. Vincent Millay
    Archduchess Gisela of Austria

    There are others in different letters, but it’s clear that Howard was very informed about feminist history. Unfortunately, the rest of society wasn’t nearly as forward thinking, where the Conan stories featuring simpering flowers would be published while his phenomenal proto-feminist Dark Agnes was not, but Howard did his damnedest.

    Far from being mere “objects”, women were frequently the secondary main character of most of the Conan stories: there were independent queens like Yasmela, Taramis and Yasmina, who were treated as perfectly capable rulers; pirate lasses like Belit who were the terror of the seas; warrior women like Valeria, who was the closest anyone in a Conan story – male or female – came to Conan’s equal.

    Even the damsels in distress have some backbone and spunk. Zenobia drugs the guards, steals a weapon, and braves a monster-haunted dungeon to bust Conan out of jail – and she’s just a seraglio girl, not an experienced thief or warrior. Olivia, a former slave, sneaks into the middle of a pirate camp to untie the incarcerated Conan. One of the most helpless, Natala, even managed to stab the villain of the piece in desperation: how many ’30s pulp heroines can you say that of?

    Considering the times he wrote in, Howard was practically a proto-feminist himself. As for Conan: in one of the earlier (chronological) stories, Conan expects the Queen to put on armour and fight alongside the army, as the women in his homeland do, and is thus surprised that she does not. Cimmeria’s neighbours in Asgard and Vanaheim were the same. I’d wager most of the “sexist” remarks are more a result of disgust at civilized women not matching up to the badass females of his homeland. So your hyperfeminist interpretation of Conan isn’t really too far off the mark.

    1. Apologies, that should be:

      H.D. (aka Hilda Doolittle)
      Sara Teasdale

      Good grief, I might’ve implied they were related!

    2. See, the point that I never really got to very well was that before you can sling an “ism” at someone, you have to understand the context in which the text/work was written; I could call the bible sexist, too (and many do so, wrongly) without any understanding of the sociological context of the work.

      Excellent comment, Al. Thanks for posting!

      1. I think a lot of people who call the bible sexist are doing so in response to exposure to people who believe it unquestioningly without considering the sociological context (not out of lack of awareness, but because of belief in a supernatural origin of the book that makes its prescribed morals timeless) and encourage regressive policies/ideas based on it.

        Also, there are plenty of psycho radfems who would not consider someone who did not hold what a sensible person would consider misandrous views a real feminist, wouldn’t consider you a feminist. So it is not like that concept of feminism is a fiction.

        1. Oh, that’s very true. And I don’t consider *them* feminists, either. I consider most folks like that misandrists. Spiteful, intolerant people. If they talked about Asian folks the way they talk about men, they’d be taken to task. So what makes it okay to be spreading the hate?

          Nothing, that’s what.

  3. Any time you promote any difference at all you are creating inequality. Personally, I campaign for true equality. Treating people the same regardless of any factor. The second that you champion better rights for a group that has been maligned in the past you just push the pendulum the other way.

    It is certainly easy for me to say this having never encountered discrimination directed at me (being a white male as I am). I don’t tolerate discrimination around me and I speak out against it at every opportunity. If anyone needs a token White male to apologize to them I guess I can do it, but I don’t see the point. I can’t speak for those who may have discriminated in the past, present, or future. Plus why should I apologize for things I never did?

    So I’ll make everyone a deal, lets all stop this craziness all at once and start with a clean slate. It might not be fair from a historic perspective, but life isn’t fair. Creating further unfairness to combat past unfairness is doomed to fail.

    I am over here waiting with open arms for everyone else to join me, let go of the past and let’s go build a new future.

    1. This attitude, the ‘can’t we call get along’ defense? I’ve never liked it. It completely flattens and homoginizes culture and defeats the whole idea of getting along.

      I am not saying that anyone who supports this idea is racist, or sexist, or whatever ‘ism’ you want to use, but the language itself is speaks to the problem of the idea.

      You are ‘waiting with open arms’, in a place of privilage, for ‘everyone else to join’ you. But what if I don’t want to join you, or be like you? What if I’m much happier being quite different from you?

      As far as life being unfair goes, you’re right, it is very unfair, but that doesn’t mean you can suddenly jump to an equal state by ignoring the past inequities. Y’know old grade school playground cliches, two wrongs don’t make a right.

      I’m of a world view where promoting difference, promoting the space between those differences, is the ultimate goal. Finding the tension of disagreement, of experiencing the similarities between these spaces is the goal for understanding and erasing inequalities.

      You state that you treat everyone the same no matter what the difference. Yet that cannot be true. You would treat a waiter different than your dinner companion. Yes, I know I’m overapplying your blanket statement. I know what you mean is that no matter someone’s race, colour, creed, orientation, dress, etc., you attempt to treat all equally. And that is admirable and respectable.

      I’m all the way over on the other side of that spectrum, or perhaps better all the way, almost 355 degrees around the circle from that. I treat everyone as an individual of a unique set of experiences and observations, and while I know they may misinterpret my intentions I am almost always ready to help facilitate a better understanding. Unfortunately I know I’m never going to understand everyone and everyone is not going to understand me.

      So our statements, from one perspective, are very different. In fact from one perspective, we’re so far away. Yet… Really if it is a circle we’re talking about we’re incredibly close, only five degrees of seperation, yet very different routes to get to similar points. We both want a better world free of inequalities, and we both do so by doing what we feel is best for the people around us, yet different ideas, different motivations.

      It is a matter of perspective, and that is what the ‘let’s all get along’ issue bothers me about. It ignores perspective. And it goes back to the language the used. How can an individual from an oppressed culture take your invitation at face value, when the culture that you represent has used similar invitations to abuse them? And since your invitation is to join you, rather than to just join together, somehow that still leaves a strange implication that somehow you possess, and will continue to possess, a position of power to whoever may join you.

      You may not intend any of these things. Your language is an honest and open attempt to get your point of view out and to extend what you perceive as a hand of welcome and caring. Yet your perspective is not the only one, and bt inviting this ‘all get along’ suggesting, your perception is in danger of obliterating all the others.

      1. I think you’ve missed the point, Coyote.
        I’m not waiting anywhere for anyone to do anything with me, and I do think the differences among people are awesome. I would HATE for everyone to be like me, and I’ve no idea where that came from.

        I don’t treat everyone the same no matter what the difference. Did I say that? Because if I did, that’s not what I meant to say. Of course you treat some people differently: family is treated differently from strangers. Drunks are treated differently from sober folks. And I don’t know why you assume that treating people as individuals with a unique set of experiences PRECLUDES or is mutually exclusive with the idea that people come from the same place and go to the same place, and are built the same. People are people. You’ve put words in my post and are claiming these two things are not compatible. They are. I do that too. You know that. It’s part of knowing that all people are the same.

        And I call total bullshit that a) I’ve said anything about “let’s all get along”. I never once said that. This post does *not* ignore perspective, and when you talk about an individual from an oppressed culture, you’re talking about my culture too. How the hell do you know what culture I represent, unless you’re classifying me as “a colonialist”. And I’m not asking anybody do “join me”. Where the hell did *that* come from? Never did I say “y’all have to agree with me or fuck the hell off”. I’m telling you my thoughts, and am not offering up solutions or suggestions on how to fix it. So assuming that I am is presumptuous at best.

        Coyote, if you think that *I* claim that my opinion, or “perspective”, as you say, is the only one, and if you think I’m encouraging people to “all just get along”, you’re wrong, and you’ve read what I’ve posted with an agenda in mind. A lot of people do that, when all I’m doing is thinking out loud.

          1. No, actually, I didn’t notice that. I have to approve the comments in the dashboard thingummy, because the ‘mail me the comments’ thing wasn’t working, so it wasn’t at all clear that you were replying to someone else.

            I just only now noticed it, though.

            And the comment became MUCH more clear. Still confrontational, but much more on the point.

          2. Well, the intent wasn’t to be confrontational, but to explain why I don’t like the ‘can’t we all get along’ point of view. As I said, I don’t believe Mrdg2u has any intent of being any ism and is genuinely going for a better solution, but it isn’t one I endorse, since it seems opposite to the intent. Feel free to remove them.

      2. Hmmm… Good points Coyote.

        I guess, to clarify, I will add to my original thoughts:

        1) I disagree that “Can’t we all just get along” flattens and homogenizes culture, unless somehow “We all HATE you all” is a part of said culture, and in that case no great loss. Usually these sorts of things stem back to past injustices and atrocities (etc) and really do nothing to advance a people. In fact usually they are used as justifications for creating further strife (and atrocities in extreme cases). I can treat with you as an equal and respected peer without diminishing your culture heritage or anything else. In fact I love other cultures, and travel and, seeing things through others eyes.

        2) The only “privilege” to my “place where I am waiting with open arms” is that I am content to be here with no baggage weighing me down. You want to put yours down so we can get together at your place without you looking at me as a member of the oppressor race… No worries.

        3) I actually think we agree on a lot more than we disagree on, especially with the respecting the other as a unique collection of experiences part. I believe that we are irrevocably shaped by our experiences, but we do have a choice by how we move forward.

        4) I am saddened that someone with the same colour skin as me has (and likely still will) done you (or someone you know, or are descended from) wrong. Partly because that isn’t right, but mostly because it makes you distrust a hand honestly extended in friendship. I guess that is why I used the language “over here waiting for you to join me as well”, I understand that you may need space and time to heal, and I respect that.

        5) I guess my point about not wanting differences came across as me wanting there to be no differences between people. Although I do like the George Carlin Racism Solution (Keep fucking until we are all the same colour). I think we would all suffer for not having any heritage of our respective differences. What needs to end is the differential of treatment between people whether that be promotion without merit, or prejudice against.

        I hope this helps further our understanding of each other. I for one love a good discussion, as anyone who knows me will attest.

  4. a) The Welsh accent is one of the most beautiful on the planet.

    b) I think people who haven’t read Ayn Rand call her a fascist because they saw the Simpsons. I have read some Ayn Rand. I kind of loved it.

  5. 1) I DO hate To Kill A Mockingbird. I think it is pretentious and I think it was very presumptuous of her to write it. It was written to show that she could write and with little care for what she was writing about. GAH!

    2) In defense of TKAM, the book is not racist. There are characters in it who are, indeed, racist and it was about a racist time. But the book and story itself was written from the point of view of a little girl who sees racism going on in her childhood.

    3) I love Ayn Rand. Particularly Anthem. People wince when I say that. Then again, I don’t even understand what facist means – except that it is supposed to be bad.

    When writing you need to stay true to the time period you are writing about. If women were second class citizens and little more than chattel of the characters during that time period, it does not make the book or even the author sexist or (my favorite word) misogynist, but it makes the time period sexist.

    Consider Maya Angelou writing about racism she has encountered in her life. Same story. Written by someone ACTUALLY affected by it. Is Maya racist? No! Would a white person writing about such events be racist? Maybe, if they held those views and even tried to present the story as being the “right” way to be, but in a general sense, probably not.

    1. If I was a total jerkface, I’d say you only didn’t like To Kill a Mockingbird because you didn’t underSTAND the social CONtext in which it was written, and that the SUBLIMINAL DIALOGUE represents a kind of PEJORATIVE and PATRIARCHAL SYSTEMIC dialectic.

      But I’m not that kind of jerkface, because I totally just pulled most of that sentence out of my arse.

      My favourite Rand title is “The Fountainhead”. I really really liked it.

      Also, I can’t decide if I don’t like Maya Angelou because I just don’t like her writing or if my opinion has been coloured by the fact that Oprah prattles on about her all the time.

  6. Agree on all points, really really agree. Save for the blanket label of colonialism as bad…

    Yes, many bad things happened, I won’t deny that. However, as one example of it not having been all asshattery, Australian farmers feed about 60 million people (more than double the number of Australians). Given that the locals hadn’t developed any kind of technology more complicated than sticks by the time whitey showed up, the food crises in the 70s and the one we’re due to have very shortly would and will no doubt be more severe had folks with agricultural know-whats not turned up to work the land.

    Also, regarding the Welsh accent… while the horrid writing is more than enough to stop me from ever watching another Torchwood, having to listen to that Welsh woman say ‘Ohh Jahhck’ would certainly drive me off too.

    1. I think the point I’d make here Viper is that every hunter-gatherer society either evolves into an agricultural one, or it dies out, or it gets colonised. At least, according to history. I don’t know an awful lot about Aussie history, but I know that there are an awful lot of people who say and said the exact same things you’re saying about the Australian Aboriginal population and those of Canada, the US, South Africa, the Polynesian Islands, Central America, South America, and pretty much any place that’s ever been colonised.

      I wonder what would be considered worse: the loss of an entire people (like the Beothuk) or the loss of that people’s culture and its subsequent subjugation to colonial attitudes. I don’t know.

      Personally, I don’t care for colonialism. I think it did (and does) many Very Bad Things. That being said, I come from a long line of people who’ve been colonised for over a thousand years, so maybe I’m just tetchy about it….

i make squee noises when you tell me stuff.

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