On individualist lifestylism and woman-blaming: musings on recent attacks

Many of you have seen one of the latest women writers to come under attack – the author of Why I won’t let any male babysit my children, Kasey Edwards.

Edwards takes a cold, hard look at the too-high likelihood that males with unsupervised access to children will sexually abuse them, compares it with the far lower prevalence of women committing child sexual assault, and concludes that the policy of her and her husband in only allowing women unsupervised access to their children was the most responsible choice they could make.

She acknowledges:

Still, as she notes:

Edwards did not argue that all parents should or would be able to adopt her family’s policy.

It is unsurprising that castigation ensued, for her daring to point out that the high prevalence of male-perpetrated child sexual abuse (CSA) has ramifications for parenting decisions. We know how the standard expectations in this society go: men will perpetrate most, women and girls will be most victimised, and women are not supposed to act on these conclusions. Oh, and feminists who point out these stats must be reminded that “not all men are like that” and “women do it too”, even though the statistics that we ourselves furnished acknowledged that. (These reminders are given so often that feminists have developed the acronyms NAMALT and WDIT in wry reference.) Men’s feelings are supposed to be prioritised most, even above children’s safety.

Edwards predicted:

Duly, men complained about the “sexism” of her ideas, and some white men even compared them to “racial profiling”. [1]

To be blunt, many men are so accustomed to having their feelings prioritised that they react with anger to this different arrival point. Some on the political left have responded with angry indignation at Edwards’ daring to indulge in individual rather structural (systemic change) solutions to the problem of male predation on children: as though her and others’ children should be the reasonable sacrifice that enabled this systemic change. Few deigned to explain how endangering children would help this political revolution occur, although there were some token references to men doing more domestic work and childcare and giving women respite from these responsibilities. Notably, these angry injunctions about the importance of a structural, political solution to CSA were made as a counter-thrust to Edwards’ sober explanation about her risk-management in the here and now, rather than as a sympathetic addition to it.

And herein lay the evident diversion of their response from that of the best socialist approaches. Bolsheviks, by which I mean those who are serious about making revolution, sympathise with the oppressed in their attempts to cope with life. They acknowledge the extent of their problems, rather than counterposing attempts to survive (and to help their children survive) with political solutions which won’t all take effect in the short-term. To the disclosure of these ‘individual’ solutions, we express solidarity and try contributing to collective political solutions in order to lessen the burden on individuals.

To jeer at individual women that they are “bourgeois” and “lifestylist” for protecting their children is (1) to assert that those who allow unsupervised male access to their children are not those things (sadly, CSA is common amongst all classes). And (2) to demonstrate that one has an interrupted political maturity and cannot (or does not want to) grasp the difference between collectively moving towards systemic solutions, and expecting those bearing the brunt of the oppressive phenomenon to have already advanced towards this systemic solution despite its lack of creation as yet.

Given that male sexual power over women and children is societally replicated at many points, a helpful response to the prevalence of CSA should include (but not be limited to) discussions on: how family courts aid CSA by prioritising men’s access to children over the children’s safety; the economic pressures keeping women within the capitalist family unit; porn culture (which eroticises the girl-like physical form); policing which trivialises male sexual assault and disbelieves victims; and other aspects of the social construction of heterosexual relations.

Simply hacking into women for getting real about the dangers of male predation achieves none of that.

These aggressive criticisms of women who have, as yet, no revolutionary solutions available to them are, ironically, a form of individualist lifestylism – and a form from which men are noticeably spared. Especially in Left political groups, where women voicing the expectation that men not treat women worse are often responded to with hurt reminders that we are not yet living in a socialist utopia.

In this case, Edwards was berated by both women and men because she had not specified that she’d disallow her husband unsupervised access to her daughters! How very dare she impose any boundaries at all on men, if she were not willing to impose them all!! The lack of absolute congruence in an abstract sense between all her statements and positions was considered a worthier topic to pick over than the daunting statistics of CSA which she’d revealed, or than how we could go about better supporting women and children.

When I posted Edwards’ article at Marxist Feminists, in order to encourage marxist acknowledgement of this predicament and prompt discussion about how to ease it, some commenters seemed to view critiquing the woman as more important than critiquing the system that’s caused the problems. Ire was expressed at this mother who failed to publicly acknowledge the potential risk posed by her husband and any hypothetical future sons:

jane smith marxist feminists 2.PNG

That was it, in terms of acknowledging the massive service done by Edwards in raising this matter for broad discussion. There seems no conception here that women are left to make the best decisions available to us in our own situations, and for many this means accepting the presence of one or two males while acting to rule out any others, thus at least decreasing the danger. She is far from being the only woman acting on these dire statistics in this way. (Her figures show that fathers and stepfathers do not constitute the majority of abusers, but may be the largest subgroup of them. I cannot tell whether Jane Smith disagrees with this or was using “most” in an unclear way.)

Smith’s two main criticisms, however, were so bogus as to indicate the peculiar hybrid of misogyny and bourgeois feminism whereby concepts are twisted away from their meanings in order to imply that feminism is ailing because of individual women’s failures to ensure their personal lives are contradiction-free:

  1. #notallmen requires that one derail a discussion on male-pattern behaviour (i.e., behaviour which is far more typical of males than females, and generally reinforces male supremacy) by protesting that “not all men” participate in said behaviour, even though no-one had claimed “every single man”. Clearly Kasey Edwards did not hijack her own discussion, and nor did she say “not all men” about her own family.
  2. “Virtue signalling” requires that one reasonably expects to receive a social reward for one’s actions; to be praised for doing the right thing. Where one is voicing opinions likely to be received with antagonism, and antagonism is already on display, the “virtue signalling” jeer seems unhealthily oblivious, as though one’s socio-political concepts were not firmly tethered to observed reality.

Jane Smith’s embrace of the bourgeois habit of dressing one’s woman-blaming in feminist attire has undoubtedly been encouraged by the postmodernist practice of verbal ‘deconstruction’, which has now morphed into critiquing women (rather than the circumstances in which society places us) in a way that suggests the criticism itself will alter societal dynamics.

Any feminism which fails to jettison this moralistic outrage at other women for being unable to live oppression-free, uncontradictory lives is destined to reinforce the current system. Feminists need to develop the skill of distinguishing between a woman’s participation in personal practices which might allow male power over her, and her politics. Publicly debating the latter may be appropriate; debating the former is best practised in a way that highlights the general dynamics/harm and not the individual, and concentrates on the social forces that placed her in that position.

And as for the criticism coming from male Leftists (one announced his interpretation of Edwards’ article as being that she thought everyone could afford to pay for sex-segregated private schools), that is rather more transparent and needs less explanation.

Still, one feminist’s response was so incisive that I’ll repeat it: ‘The real insult here is to the male ego, that a woman would presume to deny them anything, even access to hypothetical kids they will never meet. This is 100% about their feels and how those man feels are more important than the safety of children and the peace of mind of those children’s parents.’

[1] I cannot improve upon this response to the ‘racial profiling’ charge:

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