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Whatever you do, don’t figure out that it’s systematic

You poke it, you own it is indeed an ancient “man law”.

I’ve been getting a ton of emails and blog posts on Technorati defending the ”you poke it, you own it” commercial (and so has Twisty, apparently) and the general gist of the complaints is the same: Feminists are clearly irrelevant because they waste their time talking about petty shit like a beer ad that instructs men that it’s cute to sit around with their guy friends and joke about how their penises are so mighty that they have the power to strip women of their autonomy. (Also, beers, but beers don’t have conscious thought so that’s mildly to severely less offensive depending on the amount of value you place on the existence of conscious thought. My guess is men who feel attached to Miller Lite commercials don’t value it that much.) A sample of the kind of criticism I’ve been seeing:

I’m generally sympathetic to their sentiments, but um… are you guys (women) out of your mind? Spending this much intellectual effort critiquing the not-very-catchy catch phrase from a beer commercial? I can get behind using a dumb beer commerical as the starting point in a women’s rights essay/blog entry, or at least an essay on men being humorously stupid (which is pretty much what all Miller and Bud commericals are about, being as their beer isn’t good enough to compete on taste) but there’s clearly some baggage being unloaded on a bunch of fairly innocent and clever commercials.

Ah yes, women who like to exercise the brain cells are mentally unstable, a venerable anti-feminist argument. Never fear, good sirs who love the beer commercials. Twisty and I are avowed non-procreaters so if all this thinking is indeed harming our uteruses, the practical effects of this are nil.

But blog posts like this are so illogical there must be some kind of Latin word for the error in logic they make. What is the phrase for an argument that disproves itself merely by existing? For if it’s petty to waste time writing blog posts protesting beer commercials that dehumanize women for having sexual intercourse, then surely it’s pettier to waste time to write blog posts whining about aforementioned blog posts. The sheer amount of time that defenders of this commercial spend on it demonstrates their deep affection for it and the sentiments of male ownership of female bodies contained within. The sheer defensiveness of this beer commercial space as a place where men get to let their hair down and talk about how they all really do feel superior to women after all is enough to alert those of us who are interested in a little justice instead of carefully protecting male egos that this is indeed something worth examining.

The absurd nature of the “petty” argument reaches are evidenced by this blog post Ampersand wrote defending a blog post he wrote a long time ago called the Male Privilege Checklist. The Male Privilege Checklist is a very silly, petty list and to reflect how silly and unimportant it is, anti-feminists on the internet have spents years grousing and complaining about it. This latest round of complaints is about how small the advantages men have over women in American society are, and therefore how petty it is to notice them. (As Ampersand says, it’s a stretch to suggest that the grousers would refuse to complain about a petty cut in their wages of even 10%, much less find themselves shoved back to 76 on the dollar they earn now.)

Anyway, the critic Ampersand takes on whips out one of my all-time favorite anti-feminist arguments called the “I’ll Give You Something to Cry About” argument.

We have women on this planet with REAL PROBLEMS and we’re going to fill our list with entries about our clothes and our weight issues?

Women in Iran are being sold into prostitution as children and then hanged for ‘promiscuous behaviour’… and the author of this list is going to concentrate on how long it takes to put on makeup. Shouldn’t the women with all the money and freedom the world has to offer (even if that money and freedom is fractionally less than that of their male counterparts) be trying to help the millions (billions?) of downtrodden women in China and Africa? […]

I think that, instead of focusing on little gripes (some of these 43 things are quite little comparatively), everyone needs to pull together to make sure that North Dakota and the new SCOTUS don’t overturn Roe v Wade.

Instead of the little gripes about things that affect only women, let’s focus on important shit, like my ability to fuck my girlfriend knowing if she gets pregnant on accident, I won’t end up being forced to pay child support. Women are getting killed in Iran and American men are paying child support already, and women have the nerve to complain about systematic oppression at home?

The logic of “I’ll Give You Something to Cry About” is as follows: Some people get beat down once a week, some get beat down once a day. The former have no cause to complain about the weekly beatings and they sure as hell don’t want to tempt anyone into giving them daily beatings, do they? The argument that no one should be getting beat at all is thereby wedged off the table.

At this point, I figure it’s obvious why anti-feminists get into such an uproar when a feminist singles out all the little ways wound into every day life that women are put into a subservient position. It’s not because it’s “petty” and they sincerely think being irritated at beer commercials precludes being concerned about honor killings overseas. It’s not because they think these things are truly beneath attention, as the now 132 comments at Hugo’s will show, commets that are mostly anti-feminists flipping shit because he wrote a post about the joking methods sexist men use to stifle women’s voices in a discussion. The reason sexists are so protective of the little things is because the devil is in the details. They are trying to prevent people from seeing the ugly truth that sexism isn’t the individual sins of a few bad apples, but is a systematic injustice.

Another defense of pettiness available here.

Posted by on 05/30 at 07:33 AM
  1. Okay.  This is not about the ads or the list, both of which I have a position probably within 10% of yours.  I understand that anti-feminists often post comments that betray their cluelessness about how they’re anti-feminist.  Or trolling comments.  But I submit that you have to be able to point to some actual anti-feminism in someone’s argument before deciding they’re anti-feminist.  Disagreeing with you tactically or strategically isn’t enough.  Also, in the environmental action arena I’ve used a version of the “Cry About” argument on my friends - not to say “Your concern isn’t important” but to say “I think your concern is not the first thing we have to worry about and a better place to start is this other thing.” Very often people with a laundry list of political problems find its length preventing them from making productive action on any one thing.  Maybe the commenter concerned with REAL PROBLEMS was a troll, but when someone who appears to be on your side disagrees with your priorities you don’t start by assuming their motives are in opposition to yours.

    Posted by  on  05/30  at  10:38 AM
  2. For if it’s petty to waste time writing blog posts protesting beer commercials that dehumanize women for having sexual intercourse, then surely it’s pettier to waste time to write blog posts whining about aforementioned blog posts.


    Not to mention that these folks have adopted the fallacy that popular culture is so insignificant (because it’s not playing at the Met?) that it can’t possibly affect our lives or the way we think about the world. Never mind that it surrounds us 24/7 and that it’s nearly impossible to get away from it, even if we try. Never mind that advertising, movies, radio programming, and TV shows are at the center of lucrative industries based on providing content that marketing studies determine will engage our limbic systems enough to get us to buy stuff we don’t need.

    Not to mention that the people who complain that progressives of all stripes have no business analyzing something that’s “just a commercial” often are the same ones who bitch about applying “anachronistic” values to high culture (like, say, Shakespeare). The truth is that we’re not supposed to analyze anything, according to these folks. Because, after all, it’s a buzzkill to realize that most beer commercials aren’t really funny and that Shakespeare wasn’t a “man ahead of his time” when it comes to his depictions of women and minorities.

    Honestly, I do have some understanding of the impulse behind these complaints. It’s no fun to be forced to realize you’ve been unreflectingly lovin’ on some misogynist bullshit all these years. After all, I remember how crappy it felt to finally realize how screwed-up Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” is. But the thing is, folks, it’s the fact that this stuff is so compelling and so apparently inocuous that makes it so insidious.

    And, by the way, yes, I do still love Shakespeare’s work. I just realize that it doesn’t always present a system of ethics I want to accept without question.

    Posted by Ancrene Wiseass  on  05/30  at  11:19 AM
  3. It is a matter of containing the scope of the conversation.  It’s the same trick we see with claims of “personal repsonsibility.” The idea is to focus on the individual and ignore the sociological aspects of the question.  By not taking the eyes off of the specific, the causal roots need not be discussed.

    At the same time, the offending ad needs to be seen as a symptom.  Fighting only the symptoms was the flaw in the degraded thing that political correctness became.  It can never get at the root injustices causing the symptoms.  I think a more charitable account of some of the opposition is a sense of impatience in focusing upon the little matters that are effects and not the big things that are causes.  Sure, some of it is good ol’ deny the existence of patriarchy, but I think there’s also a deeper “what now?” question there that is a real question.  “Ok doctor, you’ve given me the diagnosis, but please talk to me about the course of treatment—don’t just go on and on about how horrible the disease is.”

    Posted by SteveG  on  05/30  at  12:13 PM
  4. If we took each of the pieces of this separately and critiqued them on their own merits and failings, it might be seen as less important by some, certainly by those who would prefer to not have their own (hey dude, that was cool ugh?) reactions called out for attention and discussion.  But these sorts of commercials and lists represent a much larger anti-female semioticity spreading across the media.  It is not just beer or burgers, but cars, phones, magazines, --all manner of consumer product marketing is now focussed, for some reason, on declaring male supremacy.  This is happening everywhere, not just the US.

    Is it that the dominant masculine referents have been so severely threatened by forty plus years of feminism, that the corporate world is actually losing money from not selling to men???? That clearly hasn’t been the case thus far.  There must be some other sets of reasons wherein male dominion is perceived to be under attack and must resist in order to maintain its dominion.  Is it linked to the political and religious partisanship?? Could it be that marketing researchers have found that female values and purchasing dollars (particularly focussed on sustainability and planetary concerns) will reduce the profit margins of alcohol sales, trucks and large manly SUV’s, and the gasoline companies??

    I don’t know; but having seen Tragically Hip for the first time in a long time Saturday night, i am reminded of a song lyric that i rework as follows.

    anything so systematic should get hated

    Posted by  on  05/30  at  01:34 PM
  5. As usual, Wiseass said exactly what I wanted to say and said it first—an likely more eloquently.

    But I wanted to add that I just saw this commercial for the first time yesterday when I forgot to fast-forward the TiVo and I was absolutely, viscerally horrified by it.  I felt ill and violated.  And I don’t often have that reaction to beer commercial misogyny, or pop culture misogyny in general.  But the phrase “you poke it, you own it” was so f-ing disgusting and humiliating and dehumanizing (and horrifying brazen, too!) that I nearly wanted to cry.

    If that’s not something worth getting pissed off about, I don’t know what is.  The emotional and pyschological effects of culture and society are as important as (and sometimes enable) the material ones.

    Posted by Dr. Virago  on  05/30  at  02:50 PM
  6. Firblefrot, two comments:

    1) Do you open your comments to your environmental cohorts with “are you guys (women) out of your mind?” Because that kinda sets a tone, don’t you think?

    2) If feminists waited until the big injustices were solved before working on the small ones, the small ones would wait forever.  I see how this suits the antifeminists, but not how it works for us.

    Hey, my captcha is “Father.” Heh.

    Posted by  on  05/30  at  02:58 PM
  7. Wow. I’m a man, and in the dozen times I’ve seen that commercial, I never realized it was misogynistically aimed at me.

    Learn something new every day.

    Posted by  on  05/30  at  09:21 PM
  8. Maybe this is why I stopped watching TV (except for certain news items), a few years ago. Pardon me, but I think the whole idea of letting this media either influence you, or be used as an example of broader issues, is to be culturally bound in the worst sort of way. The reduction of the whole as consumer drone is too much for me, never mind the injustice and myth it spreads.

    Posted by Virgil Johnson  on  05/31  at  01:37 AM
  9. I have not seen this commercial.  From the descriptions here, it sounds like a fairly transparent bit of misogyny. 

    Your critsism is perfectly justified, but there are numerous examples of feminist bloggers taking idiosyncratic and bizarrely humorless stances on several issues.  The most recent example I know about was pointed out on this very site.  There was also the flap over insults that end in -bag, and Ann Bartrow’s bust up with the guys at Sadly,No! over the proper way to refere to David Horowitz.

    When confronted with the assertion that mocking P. Hilton is anti-woman, or that all epithets that end in -bag are sexist slurs, I might well say “um… are you guys out of your mind?” I would be perfectly willing to assail Heart and Ms. Bartrow for being petty, hurmoless, and misguided.

    But my logic in dismissing Bartrow and Heart is identical to the logic your critics use to dismiss your criticisms. Am I guilty of making an argument that disproves itself merely by existing?

    Posted by  on  05/31  at  08:42 AM
  10. Thanks, Amanda, for another great post on this topic.

    This makes me think of all the times in the past (I don’t even bother to do it anymore) when I’ve complained about Rush Limbaugh, usually while his radio show was being overheard in some public place. Anytime someone said, “Aw, what’s the problem? It’s just entertainment. Nobody takes him seriously”, it was always (and I do mean always) a White male.

    Of course it’s just entertainment to him. He’s never on the business end of that knife and all the “collateral” damage it perpetuates.

    Posted by  on  05/31  at  09:17 AM
  11. It sounds like you were getting mail from men who were trying hard to be receptive to the idiocy of feminism but really couldn’t see any point at all in why you were spending time on utter trivia.  They didn’t realise you were spending time on utter trivia because feminism has no issues.

    So you call them anti-feminists and ignore / insult them.  Well done.  The xenophobia of modern feminism is going to guarantee it’s demise, but let’s face it you don’t have any choice in the matter.  If you cannot withstand criticism from anti-feminists but instead have to ban them and run and hide all the time, it’s not possible to have an evangelical or outward-looking group.

    Feminists are looking more and more like the religious / racist right in that respect.

    And oh btw?  Men and women are paid the exact same rate whenever they do the same work.  I assume you knowingly posted a lie when you pretended that the 76% figure was comparing men and women doing the same work?  It’s dishonest to lie.

    Posted by  on  06/07  at  09:55 AM





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