According to my critics, my analyses are the pathetic opinions of “a man,” “a Jew,” “an old guy,” “a sexologist,” or “a liberal Californian.”
Note that men don’t accuse me of thinking like a man, Jews don’t accuse me of thinking like a Jew, old people don’t accuse me of thinking like an old person, etc. No, it’s always people who DON’T identify with a particular trait who label me as coming from that narrow-minded, prejudiced place.
Which is to say that it’s only women who accuse me of thinking like a man. And they never mean it as a compliment.
Some women claim that since I have never or could never have a particular experience, I can’t think clearly about it. But although I might never have the experience of menopause or miscarriage, being male doesn’t disqualify me from thinking about such things, collecting data about such things, or making logical inferences about such things. If I’m a sensitive human being, being male doesn’t even prevent me from understanding experiences such as menopause or miscarriage. Every human being struggles to make meaning out of loss.
Just as white people can study racism, and the non-handicapped can study disability, men can study gender, sex discrimination, sexual assault, and various phenomena connected with porn.
A thoughtful, trained person can study a subject while having no experience in it. For example, a woman who’s never been pregnant can study food cravings, mood swings, libido, sleep patterns, and anxiety in pregnant women. So can a man. If s/he’s a good researcher and a faithful reporter of facts and ideas, the lack of experience with pregnancy should be completely unimportant to the work.
Unfortunately, it has become increasingly acceptable for the public (especially activists) to ignore or discount someone’s work because that professional hasn’t had direct, personal experience of what he or she is studying, describing, and opining on. Especially if they disagree with that professional’s conclusions.
This is terrible.
Declaring that someone has no legitimacy to study something (because of gender, race, etc.) is dramatically different than critiquing their work, such as pointing out assumptions or methodologies that challenge the logic or value of its conclusions.
Any criticism that starts with “How can Doc say anything relevant on topic X when Doc hasn’t had any real-life experience with it?” isn’t a critique of Doc’s work, it’s a critique of an entire field of inquiry.
That’s unacceptable. Critique the work, folks, not the author’s demographics or life experience.
Here are two things that are NOT legitimate critiques:
~ “I had a different experience than the ones Doc describes, therefore he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. But Doc doesn’t understand my female experience—just like a man.”
~ “Doc clearly doesn’t understand the pain I’m in, therefore he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Ignoring a woman’s pain—that’s just like a man.”
* * *
I periodically get such critiques, taking the form of Klein has no right to an opinion on this. Klein’s work is obviously the work of a man, and therefore biased or worthless. We don’t have to analyze what he’s actually written—he disagrees with our viewpoint and he’s a man, so we are free to ignore his data and argument.
Or someone is in a lot of pain, and I’m not addressing their particular pain, so Klein’s comments on social, cultural, political, or family dynamics are arrogant, self-referential, defensive, or the product of some privilege.
Or someone feels free to psychoanalyze me based on a superficial look at my latest policy analysis or clinical position, which clearly doesn’t (and wasn’t intended to) address their personal pain: Klein is obviously a porn addict, or unable to connect with women (tell that to my wife of 30 years), or insecure as a man, or uninterested in seeing beyond his (alleged) privilege. The proof—for starters, I’m male.
* * *
In my various writings and lectures during 2017, I:
~ cited FBI data showing that the rates of sexual assault and child molestation have declined;
~ explained why women need to take responsibility for comparing themselves to porn actresses and then resenting their husbands and boyfriends as a result;
~ discussed the advantages of college women limiting their binge drinking, including reducing their risk of sexual assault;
~ showed therapists that women who claim the “right” to a porn-free home are reinforcing power dynamics that will undermine the relationship;
~ suggested that women with men who have unreliable erections could choose to expand their sexual interests beyond intercourse (of course, men could too); and
~ said that Hillary Clinton being a woman was a poor reason to vote for Hillary (Note: see Betsy DeVos, Sarah Palin, Sarah Sanders Huckabee, Ivanka Trump, and Michelle Bachmann; and note: I voted for Hillary myself).
Each time, I was attacked as being clueless about women—”just like a man.” And attacked as having a “male perspective,” which made my ideas about politics and about male-female relationship dynamics of terribly limited value.
When I periodically write that men rely too much on Viagra, I never get complaints about my “male perspective.”
* * *
The whole phenomenon has made me wonder what it would be like to write using a woman’s name, profile, and online photo. Would those who currently agree with me still agree? Would most fence-sitters become supporters or opponents? Would those who disagree with me feel obligated to do so more thoughtfully? Less rudely?
It would be terribly sad if simply changing my alleged gender made a dramatic difference in how my work was received.
I’m old enough to remember when the opinions of many serious public figures were dismissed because they were thinking “just like a woman.” I’m proud to have watched our country change—criminalizing marital rape, ending gender-based newspaper employment ads, institutionalizing the word Ms in most public places.
The idea of deriding something as “just like a woman” has gone out of fashion, and I daresay no modern woman would stand for it.
So why has “just like a man” become increasingly acceptable?