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Karen Straughan: Gender Politics on the Offensive: Part 3

Interview by GREG SCORZO –

Karen Straughan is famous for being a controversial gender politics Vlogger and Men’s Rights Advocate. Because of the nature of the stances she takes, many people are keen to dismiss her without even considering her arguments long enough to refute them. Because so much of her work induces both feminist and mainstream outrage, it’s often unnoticed that Karen is also an incredibly interesting gender theorist and historian.

This fact is partly what seperates Karen from many other gender activists, be they be feminist or anti-feminist. If Gender Studies departments were open to diverse and provocative views across the ideological spectrum, Karen would perhaps be a celebrity academic on par with Slavoj Zizek. Like Zizek, Karen is one of the more fascinating intellectuals of the 2010s. She is fascinating, in part, because you can gain incredible insights from both agreeing and disagreeing with her. But unlike officially institutionalised intellectuals, Karen does not come from academia. She does not work from an ivory tower. She’s a working waitress who does Vlogs from her kitchen. In this way, Karen’s Vlogs are to conventional academia what punk was to stadium rock. Love her or loath her, she says what many academics are afraid to say.

This interview was initially scheduled to be between 1 and 2 hours. We wound up talking for 7. Here are some of the highlights of what we said.

The Vlogs: I’m a Sexy Woman, So Stop Objectifying Me!

Greg Scorzo: Let’s talk about the next Vlog I wanted to discuss with you: I’m a Sexy Woman So Stop Objectifying Me!

Karen Straughan: Oh, that’s a good one!

Greg Scorzo: You say in this Vlog that that men are both objectified and their social worth is determined by this objectification. However, you say the objectification is quite different for men than for women. For men, it’s more about showing off status related to being financially successful or wildly admired. It’s less about the youthfulness or the shape or their bodies.

Suppose someone gives this objection: The objectification of men is less bad than the objectification of women because men have more control over how sexy they are. For a woman, you have to look young and skinny. If you can’t look young or naturally skinny, you can’t be seen as sexy in mainstream society no matter what you do. A man on the other hand, has more things he can to make himself attractive to women, regardless of how his body naturally changes.

Karen Straughan: I think that this objection vastly underestimates the amount of effort that goes into being financially successful or gaining social status. It’s not somehow easier to become a financially succesful man than it is to be a woman who loses thirty pounds.

Greg Scorzo: What about attractiveness and ageing? Isn’t that an area where men can remain attractive for a longer period of time?

Karen Straughan: Yeah, but that’s just an unfortunate consequence of human biology. It’s unfortunate for women that their sexual attractiveness is tied in with youth, but that can’t change. There’s no team of soccer players beating down the door to Madeline Albright’s bedroom. Even if they were, how many babies could she give them?

Greg Scorzo: Someone could agree with you and say that’s evidence that female objectification is more unfair to women. There are more things you can do as a man to compensate for ageing, weight gain, and so on while still being attractive. There are less things you can do as a woman to compensate for those things while still being attractive.

Karen Straughan: That’s life, though. One of the things women make a mistake about is they try to cling to their sexual attractiveness after it’s hopeless.

For women, attractiveness is associated with youthfulness. Youthfulness is not associated with wisdom or authority. It’s extremely unfortunate that for women, they lose some of their ability to command authority over others when they look sexy. They lose their ability to be taken seriously as an expert in something. At the same time, when you look at men, men don’t necessarily have any of those things when they are young either. They may be sexually attractive but hot young guys aren’t really considered catches for women.

Greg Scorzo: That’s true.

Karen Straugan: The young, hot pool boy is considered good for a one night stand and that’s about it. So there are different advantages and disadvantages to being young and attractive when you are male and female. As far as older women are concerned, I agree with Bill Burr. If you’re 50 and you look 50, you weren’t cheated. Just accept reality. There are women who have aged very very well, women like Judi Dench or Helen Mirren.

Judi Dench

Judi Dench

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Hellen Mirren

Those women don’t try and look like a 20 something vamp. Bill Burr has it right when he says to women, “Stop trying to look fuckeable in your 50s because you’re not fooling anyone!”

A lot of older women try too hard to look fuckable at older ages because they accept the encouragement of our culture to delay pairing up with someone. One of the really sad things is that if you ask men and women how interested they are in getting married, the point at which most men say they are interested is between 18 and 23. The point at which most women say they are interested is between 27 and 35.

Greg Scorzo: You think that’s a bad thing?

Karen Straughan: It absolutely is! Look at biological reality. Biological reality is oppressive, but biological reality is that women are most fit to have viable offspring between the ages of 16 and 27. At age 26, that’s when their fertility starts to decline. That’s when the risks of down syndrome and other birth defects go up. This is even more true if a woman has never had a child. If you’ve actually had a child at age 23 and you’re trying to have another child at age 32, you’re more likely to get pregnant than if you had never had a child at all.

Greg Scorzo: Someone might say, “Ok, you’re right. There are some biological risks that come with waiting until your 30s to have children. But that’s compensated by the fact that you have more freedom to determine the kind of family you want at the age that you want. These opportunities aren’t possible in a society where you’re expected to have a kid in your early 20s. These opportunities are instrumental in allowing women to make choices that make them happy.“

Karen Straughan: I’d say let’s ask how happy the women over 30 are who waited too long to have a child and then either couldn’t or had complications. Let’s see what they think. Let’s ask the woman who had to spend 75, 000 dollars to get pregnant. Let’s ask the feminist at Huffington Post who couldn’t find a good man because now that she had worked so many years at having a successful career, the only single men left are the creepy ones standing at the cheese table who she doesn’t want to talk to. The problem isn’t even just waiting until you’re in your 30s to have children. It’s waiting that long to think about your permanent romantic and family decisions. It’s about waiting until you’re 32 or 35 before you even think about settling down with a man. Then within a few months after your first date, you’re making noises like you want to have kids right away. That’s an uncomfortable thing to put most men through.

Greg Scorzo: I’ve spoken to many women who have had children later. When I say ‘later’, I mean after 30. Not after 50. They tell me it was much better to have their kids later because they’re much wiser and patient parents than they would have been had they had babies as young adults. They say they’re in better relationships than they would have been if they had married someone at 19 and then had a kid with them at 21. They say that for them, being an older mom is a much better way of being a mother. They see their family-free 20s as a liberating possibility that they would have been denied had they been born a few decades earlier.

Karen Straughan: Those are just anecdotal accounts of women who had positive experiences doing that. There are men who are circumcised who are perfectly happy with their circumcised penis and so don’t understand the problems the other circumised men have with circumcision. They don’t have a basis of comparison.

Greg Scorzo: But isn’t the important point that it’s good that there is diversity available in family choices? Isn’t it good that someone can choose to have kids at 23 and be really happy? Isn’t it good that someone else can choose to have a kid at 32 and be really happy? Isn’t it good that still someone else can choose not to have kids at all and be really happy? Those choices are possible because there isn’t a heavy social expectation to do one thing or another. It depends on what suits you.

Karen Straughan: I think it’s good that people are allowed to do their own thing. However, I do think that when we tell women that they should wait to have a family and first develop a career, we’re not giving them good advice. It’s best to adjust your career so that you can have your children earlier rather than later. It’s unlikely that you will go as far as a man in your place because of the children. A man who has your career trajectory is more likely to be a few years ahead of you. In any kind of field where you have to be on top of the latest technology, if you are a woman and you want to have kids, it’s your best bet not to start that career until your kids are at school. Then your career will be uninterrupted. You will be up to date on everything.

Greg Scorzo: Do you think society has an obligation to minimise those family-career trade-offs as much as possible for women?

Karen Straughan: No.

Greg Scorzo: The mainstream view seems to be an overwhelming, “Yes.” I’m not just talking about feminists. Saying “yes” to that question puts you squarely in the center of the political spectrum.

Karen Straughan: Absolutely. That’s why we have paid maternity leave for women. That’s paid for by the government. The money is coming from somewhere. It’s coming from my tax burden and your tax burden.

Greg Scorzo: So do you think having kids is not a right?

Karen Straughan: No, I don’t think it is.

Greg Scorzo: Is that the reason you don’t think society should facilitate it as much as possible?

Karen Straughan: I think it’s in the best interest of society to facilitate circumstances in which the raising of healthy and productive children is the predominant outcome. I think it’s in the best interest of society to promote policies that encourage intact families, even if it’s same sex couples. The two parents should be in a stable long term relationship, preferably marriage. This is because, for whatever reason, it just seems like it’s psychologically easier to leave a relationship than it is a marriage. So people are more willing to put effort into making a marriage work. I think we should incentivise a one income household being capable of supporting a family.

Broadly speaking, I think we should be incentivising certain things and disincentivising others. Unfortunately, we seem to incentivising the things that cause long term social harms and disincentivising other better things. We’re disincentivising marriage by making the institution stacked so heavily in favour of women. Men understandeably don’t want to enter into it anymore. We’re instead incentivising single motherhood, which is a predictor of a whole host of social maladies.

Greg Scorzo: But is the fact that single motherhood is a predictor of social maladies morally relevant? I mean, you could potentially find a statistic that showed that brown eyed people having children predicts all sorts of social maladies. If such a statistic exists, wouldn’t the most important thing be the ability of brown eyed people to have children without a social stigma?

Karen Straughan: I don’t have a problem with social stigmas. Social stigmas are a way of encouraging socially responsible behaviour.

Greg Scorzo: My worry is that the presence of children within all kinds of demographic groups could be a predictor of harm. Statistically, it may be more a predictor of harm to have a baby raised by a mexican family than a caucasion one. There could even be strange statistics that show that left handed people are more likely to have children who are in poverty or who have autism. That’s how statistics are. So it seems like a mistake to encourage different people not to have children if they are in demographics where there is a correlation between being in that demographic and the kids being worse off. I wouldn’t want to live in a world where black people being more likely to live in poverty becomes a reason to discourage black people from having children.

Karen Straughan: Here’s the thing. It’s not that we are discouraging women from having children out of wedlock. We are paying for women to have children out of wedlock. We are creating a situation where those mothers don’t have to pay for the consequences of their own decisions. We have created a situation in which a woman can have children even if she can’t afford them by men who also cannot afford them. She can raise them in a situation where they are likely to sufer serious disadvantages. When you look at something like left-handedness, I’m sure it was probably correlated with having certain problems (dyslexia, illiteracy). The reason I’m guessing this was true is because left handed people, a hundred years ago, were beaten on their left hand and forced to write with the other. But that’s not like single-parenthood. Single parenthood is a choice. It’s not like being left-handed or having brown eyes or being black.

Warren Farrell, author of The Myth of Male Power.

Warren Farrell, author of The Myth of Male Power.

Warren Farrell has pointed out repeatedly that for 95% of the economic strata, children of a wealthy single mother fair more poorly on several indicators of well being than poor children raised in intact households. We’re talking about the development of empathy, the ability to determine right from wrong, criminality, behavioural problems, learning disabilities, and teenage pregnancy. These things are more likely to happen to a child of a single woman who earns 150, 000 dollars a year than it is to a child that’s part of an intact family that makes 40, 00 dollars a year.

Greg Scorzo: That’s interesting. Janice Fiamengo did a talk where she was quite badly heckled.

Feminism Critical Author and Speaker Janice Fiamengo.

This moment was recorded and posted on youtube, although I don’t know if it’s still there now. She said something that made the crowd she was lecturing to incredibly angry. She said that there were stats which, at least, indirectly implied that children who grow up with a mother and a father do better than children who grow up with same sex parents.

Karen Straughan: I’m sure they do. I think though that children who grow up with two same sex parents probably do better than children who grow up with only one parent.

Greg Scorzo: Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that this statistic about children of gay couples is true. Would you say that we should incentivise gay couples not to have children because of this stat?

Karen Straughan: No, I wouldn’t. Honestly, I think it really depends on how these gay couples go about raising their kids. If you had two very strident lesbian feminists raising a boy, that would probably create problems.

Greg Scorzo: But in that case, it’s the ideology that’s causing the problems. Not the sex of the parents.

Karen Straughan: It is the ideology but it’s also the fact that I don’t think that couple would go out of their way to provide that child with male role models on a daily basis. They wouldn’t have uncle Scott who comes over a couple of times a week and hangs out with their boy. A boy in that situation with two women like this would be completely deprived of positive male role models and they would be bombarded with negative messages about masculinity.

Greg Scorzo: Would you think it’s ok if uncle Scott’s a drag queen?

Karen Straughan: Yeah, I probably would. I think that kids, both girls and boys, need to see both ends of the gender spectrum. Uncle Scott being a drag queen would expose them to something way on the female side. Uncle Scott is, in a way, presenting to the kids a way of being male. But he’s not presenting the entire spectrum of the male experience. What you want is balance. You want to show the kids the entire gender spectrum of humanity. You want to demonstrate different ways of being a human being so the kids can find their way amongst all of those.

Greg Scorzo: So when you say it’s important for boys to have male role-models, you don’t mean necessarily gender typical male role models.

Karen Straughan: Well, I think gender typical male role models are important. But I don’t think that a man has to be a lumber jack in order to be a gender typical male role model.

Greg Scorzo: Does uncle Scott qualify as a gender typical male role model?

Karen Straughan: No, because he’s not modelling the male gender. He’s modelling the female gender.

Greg Scorzo: Suppose uncle Scott says, “What I’m modelling for you is that you can be whatever you want. What I’m modelling is that your gender doesn’t matter as far as how you choose to present yourself.”

Karen Straughan: That would be fine as long as the child is exposed to other options. I don’t have a problem with transvestite or transgender people. I think the science behind transgenderism is very real. A lot of people don’t think that it’s real. I disagree. I know some people think if transgenderism is a problem in the brain, then you treat the problem with drugs that change the brain. You don’t make the body conform to the brain’s wishes. That’s not terribly feasible. The easiest thing and the path of least resistence is to make the body conform to the brain’s wishes. Changing the brain is too difficult.

Greg Scorzo: It seems like the problem with transgenderism isn’t the body conforming to the brain’s wishes about what would make the brain feel comfortable. The problem is the idea that a normal, healthy body can be “wrong” to begin with. Many people are willing to say that transgender identities are fine. They say we should respect transgender identities and transgender rights. But they want to get rid of the idea that there’s a right and wrong combination of mind and genitalia. They want to get rid of the idea that if you have a penis, you ought to have a certain kind of mind or personality.

Karen Straughan: I would say that’s slightly “pie in the sky” thinking. When it comes to transgender people, the performativity of gender isn’t terribly important. But if you look at transgender men and women, they tend to push things to the far extreme. So a transgender man often tries to be extremely butch. A transgender woman often tries to be quite feminine. These are not people who are satisfied with being androgynous.

Greg Scorzo: I know of some transgender people who are. But you may be right insofar as the transgender population, on the whole, is concerned.

Karen Straughan: Most transgender people aren’t simply NOT identifying with the gender they were born as. They are actively identifying as the other gender.

Greg Scorzo: Well, the question is, are they really identifying with the other gender? Or are they identifying with the other gender role?

Karen Straughan: I don’t know that you can separate the two. I think gender roles are seated in biology. Culture certainly influences them and builds off of them, but I think they are essentially routed in our biology. When you look at the brain of a cisgendered person, it looks one way. If you look at the brain of a transgendered brain, it looks another way. If it’s a transgender woman, there’s a certain part of the brain that’s shaped like a woman’s.

Greg Scorzo: Is that true in every case or simply true in most cases?

Karen Straughan: It’s true even in cases where the transgender person never transitioned and lived their whole lives as the gender they were assigned. They died on their death beds, saying, “I’m in the wrong body.” Now, I should qualify this by saying I’m explaining data from quite a while ago. Now, in this day and age, transgenderism has become very widespread. Not everyone who chooses to transition today has the brain structures I just described. When you look at how things are becoming because of counter-culture, you can see a crop of teenagers who feel they are transgender because they are rebelling. They are going against what is considered the norm, as teenagers often do. They will say they are transgender when they aren’t really. Maybe they’ll grow out of it.

Greg Scorzo: Interestingly, the understanding of transgender that is fashionable today would prohibit you from saying that there are “real” transgender people and people who claim to be transgender because it’s fashionable. At least as far as most transgender activists are concerned, gender is a mental state. It’s literally how someone feels that determines their male or femaleness. The reasons for feeling that way don’t really matter. If I feel like I’m a woman because I like Sex and the City, then I’m a woman.

Karen Straughan: That’s absolutely ridiculous! It really belittles the actual difficulties that real transgender people deal with. With them, the signs typically arise very early in their development. For some of them, it’s literally their first memory. For some of them, it’s literally age three or age four.

Greg Scorzo: Because you reject the view that gender is a mental state, you are very likely to be called transphobic these days.

Karen Straughan: I don’t see why. Once you convince a population that something is biologically unavoidable (like homosexuality), acceptance levels go way up. So I don’t see how saying transgenderism is biological (a result of genetics or hormone fluctuations in the womb) is being transphobic. I don’t see how saying transgenderism isn’t a choice is somehow transphobic.

Greg Scorzo: The activists would agree with you that it’s not a choice. But they would say that it’s a feeling.

Karen Straughan: But where do our feelings come from? They come from our brains. That’s biology.

Greg Scorzo: They don’t want to distinguish betweeen a “transgender brain” and “a non-transgender brain that strongly feels trangender.” They want to say that all experiences of feeling like a certain gender are equally valid. If you don’t accept that, you are a bigot, basically.

Karen Straughan: That’s ridiculous. That’s like when, Garfunkle and Oats, the female singing duo, did a song that starts out saying, “sexuality is shades of grey and it occurs on a spectrum. I made out with a girl and it was great! I’m bisexual now!” Then the singer is confronted with a vagina in her face and she flips out because it’s so disgusting. One of the lines is, “it looks like a sandwich behind a dumpster.” Because of this song, Garfunkle and Oats were called mysogynistic and femme-phobic for saying that there are some women out there who think they are bisexual because they’re ok with kissing a girl on a dance floor to get male attention. That’s bullshit. You’re not bisexual if, when confronted with the genitalia of another woman, you get grossed out.

Greg Scorzo: Women proclaiming themselves as bisexuals because they tolerate making out with other women was very fashionable in about 2002.

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Advertisement for Katy Perry’s 2008 hit, I Kissed a Girl.

Karen Straughan: Even later than that. Remember that Katy Perry song, “I kissed a girl and I liked It”?

Greg Scorzo: That was 2008. From the 90s up until the late 00s, mainstream Feminism seemed much more sex positive than it is now.

Karen Straughan: Yeah, before Lacy Green became the last bastion of sense in Feminism.

Greg Scorzo: In the “I’m a sexy woman, don’t objectify me” Vlog, you endorse Dan Savage’s view that objectification shouldn’t be seen as problematic because it’s universal. He says what matters is that it’s done fairly and respectfully. How do you think it’s possible to do it fairly and respectfully?

Karen Straughan: We do it all the time. When the pizza guy comes over to my house, I don’t see him as a full and vibrant human being. I don’t care about his childhood or homelife or what his aspirations are. I see him as a delivery vessel for pizza. Am I dehumanising him? No. I’m polite to him. I give him a nice tip because I understand that it sucks being a pizza delivery guy. Yet I’m not that interested in seeing him through the full vibrancy of his lived experience. Here’s an interesting thing about objectification and how it actually works vs how feminists define it. Feminists define objectification as dehumanisation. Dehumanisation is what typically occurs before genocides.

You lable a target group, “cockroaches”, “scum”, “vermin”, or something else which is sub-human and a threat to humans. The reason why, in those circumstances, the target group is stripped naked and their face is covered is they appear more vulnerable. They literally become perceived as an object, as something that is powerless, stationary, and acted upon. But that doesn’t mean that you see them as incapable of suffering, or having their own desires or their own inner life. You simply see them as less powerful. You see them as not having agency.

Greg Scorzo: You could see them as more powerful if you desire them.

Karen Straughan: Yes, when we look at men and women, the more clothes they have on, the more we see them as agents. Then we see them solely through their actions. We don’t explore their motivations. We see them in terms of what they do. We see them as embodying only their actions. When we slowly strip away their clothes, we see them more as objects. The more we strip them naked, the more we see them as being less capable of agency. When this happens, our perception of their minds changes. But it doesn’t go away. Feminists would tell you that it goes away. What actually happens is when people are more naked, we see them as more capable of experiencing things, more worthy of sympathy, more capable of suffering. For women, these things are more true than they are for men. If women had been in the pile of naked bodies in the Abu Ghraib photos, the outrage would have been heard from orbit.

Greg Scorzo: Yes, Abu Ghraib is not respectful objectification.

One of the famous Abu Ghraib photos of 2004.

One of the famous Abu Ghraib photos of 2004.

Karen Straughan: No it isn’t. The only reason why those things happened in those places is because the victims were men, because we have less capacity for compassion for men. I don’t think you see things that systemic with women. I was watching a documentary on “the horrible plight of women in Afghanistan.”It was about women who were in prison. They were in prison for really trivial offences like adultery. A woman gets five years for adultery. A man gets twenty years for adultery. A woman serves her five years in a prison that looks like a community center. She’s allowed to keep her children with her. She’s given job training and education. There are doors, not bars on her room.

The men’s prison, where the man is serving twenty years for that same crime, is much worse. There’s no visitation rights allowed, hard labour, bars, and a bare cell. The prison doesn’t bother educating the men because they die in there. So I don’t think you would find women, even in Afghanistan, being treated in prison the way men are treated there. It’s because we have an extra capacity for compassion for women that we don’t seem to have for men. We can look at a single man who suffers, where he suffers from something random like cancer. But we still don’t feel the same level of compassion for him that we would a woman in a similar situation.

Greg Scorzo: Do you think we are biologically predisposed to do that?

Karen Straughan: I think this reaction is biological in origin and so will never completely go away. But our modern culture takes it way too far. It takes it to a point where “man-spreading” on a subway is seen as an assault on the dignity of women everywhere. It’s seen as a harm to women that men, because of their narrower pelvises, need to spread their knees a little bit so they don’t topple over. We see that as an intentional affront to women.

Greg Scorzo: So it seems like the aspects of anti-male sexism you want to challenge are the social constructions; the sexist cultural attitudes that go much farther than the biology needs to.

Karen Straughan: Yes. I understand the reason we empathise with women more, biologically. It’s because they look more like children. If you look at the phenomenon of Neonoteny, it explains why we think baby tigers are cute and adult tigers are scary. Women don’t shed as many childlike features as men do, as they grow up. A lot of the features that men develop at puberty are geared towards behaviourally not being childlike. The difference in the structure of the tear glands between men and women requires much more stimulus to induce a man to cry. When we look at the way we feel about kids, we want to protect them when they are threatened. We are sad when they are saddened. We want to help them. We feel all those same things about women, in part, because of how women look.

Greg Scorzo: That relates back to the topic of objectification in a way. You said something really interesting in the “I’m a Sexy Woman”, Vlog. You say that Feminism objectifies women more than anything else in public discourse. You define objectification as the denial of personal or moral agency. Agency is the idea that the things you do have an effect on the world and on yourself. Suppose someone said this: The fact that Feminism objectifies women doesn’t count against it because (a) objectification can be done respectfully and fairly and (b) any civil rights movement has to objectify a group that is oppressed. Feminism no more objectifies women than the push for Blacks getting the right to vote objectified Blacks.

Karen Straughan: I would think there might be some validity to that if I thought women were oppressed. But I don’t. I don’t agree that women were uniquely and universally oppressed all through history. If they were, they were no more so than men were. When you compare women to blacks, you’re comparing apples with oranges. Men and women have never existed in separate bubbles. There is a very real difference between the way a majority white population will view blacks no matter how they say they aren’t racist. There will be implicit assumptions as far as prejudging black people. At least that’s how things are at this point.

Unfortunately for feminist theory, we have mostly positive psychological associations with women. When you look at implicit association tests, women prefer women 100 percent of the time and men prefer women three quarters of the time. So in looking at women, feminists are literally looking at the class of people that is most well liked, most admired, most preferred, the class that most people favour or side with, and feminists are trying to tell everyone that this is the group that is most oppressed. The people who like women one and a half times as much as they like themselves are somehow the oppressors. It’s that group that has somehow ganged up on women and suppressed them throughout all of history.

Greg Scorzo: I’m sure a lot of feminists would agree with you on this point and still see it as evidence of female oppression. They’d see the favouritism towards women as disadvantaging women in some way.

Karen Straughan: Of course they would. And the irony is it is kind of a disadvantage for women.

Unearned favouratism doesn’t help women. White knighting from men especially doesn’t help women. It stymies their growth. It stunts their ability to actually grow into the equals of men. As long as men are there to defend women and prop up their bullshit, women won’t be able to compete with men. When a woman endures the same amount of abuse or threats or negative feedback as a man, she is treated as though she’s more victimised than him. Isn’t that just special pleading? Isn’t that just saying women are weak?

Greg Scorzo: That reminds me of another point you make in the Vlog. You criticise women who dress using sexual symbols and then get upset when those sexual symbols produce sexual responses from men. I was wondering how you would respond to this rebuttal:

“Women should have the right to wear whatever they want but their intensions should always be respected. If they intend their short skirt to be a sexual symbol, fair enough. But if they don’t, it should just be treated as a short skirt. The reason why men shouldn’t verbalise sexual reactions to sexual symbols on a woman is their status as sexual symbols should depend on the intensions of the woman. Not social norms which are independent of women’s intensions. ”

Karen Straughan: The problem with that rebuttal is it requires mind reading. I think it’s a bit much to expect men to look at women in a tiny skirt and automatically know, “she doesn’t want me to look at her.” That sounds like a case of the woman saying, “I like to dress provocatively but I do not mean to provoke!” It’s saying that men need to cater to women by somehow being able to read their minds. It’s also saying that men have to completely suppress everything about their own psychology and sexuality so as to not offend women.

Greg Scorzo: What if we could modify that rebuttal like this: “If the woman wears something that arouses the man in public, the man has to go into default mode. Default mode is the assumption that the woman wants to be seen asexually. It’s only if the woman tells the man that she wants to be seen by him in a sexual light that he can then express his sexual attraction to her. So as a man, you start off assuming the woman doesn’t want to be objectified, wait until you get a signal from the woman that she does, and then you can tell her she looks hot.” Is that modification still problematic for you?

Karen Straughan: Yes. That’s like saying men should avert their eyes from their social betters. In any sexual encounter that happens in public, somebody has to make the first move. What that paradigm suggests is it should never be the man who makes the first real gesture that is an indication of sexual interest. He must wait until the woman tells him, “I’m interested in you.” However, if expressing sexual interest in someone without their consent is harrassment, then the woman saying, “I’m interested in you” is also guilty of harrassment. But that’s if we’re consistent.

Greg Scorzo: So if we’re consistent, no one can make the first move.

Karen Straughan: Yes and we aren’t consistent. Women can make the first move but only because we’ve defined harrassment differently for men and for women.

We have an attitude that requires that men shall not speak until they are spoken to by women. It’s like women are socially superior to men. That’s what all this kind of thinking amounts to. A woman can give a definite signal of sexual interest that a man can reciprocate while its simultaneously not ok for a man to give a signal of sexual interest that a woman can reciprocate. Men are not allowed to show any interest whatsoever while women are allowed free reign to show whatever interest they want in men.

Greg Scorzo: Yes, there’s a pretty extreme asymmetry between the behaviour we expect of men and women on the street. You have to be far more aggressive to be considered a harrasser if you are a woman on the street engaging in some cat calling.

Karen Straughan: Yes you do. This really is just special pleading on the part of feminists. One set of standards for me and another for thee. When you look at feminist concepts like “Stare Rape” where if a man is ogling a woman, he’s really raping her, there’s a noticeable streak of female supremacism there. Demanding that a group of people don’t make eye contact with you is what’s expected of a slave class. If you are a slave, you do not make eye contact with your social betters.

Basically, women are allowed to talk to men but men are not allowed to talk to women. Women are allowed to look at men but men are not allowed to look at women. Women are allowed to impute intensions on a man who is dressed a certain way and assume he’s available and open for offers. A man is most definitely not allowed to do that to a woman.

Greg Scorzo: What’s interesting is in the Vlog, you talk about women dressing sexy in a way where you impute intentions to them. You say certain women dress in provocative clothing because, whether they know it or not, they’re trying to get male attention. Do you think it’s sexist to attribute unconcious motives to only women when you explain why they dress the way that they do?

Karen Straughan: No, but I’m talking mostly about the subconscious motivations of women. When women apply make up, wear high heels, and do all these things that accentuate their attractiveness, I think it’s pretty obvious they are trying to appear sexually attractive. As a woman, how do you know if you are sexually attractive? You get male attention. Women just don’t want sexual attention from substandard men. Did you ever see that Saturday Night Live skit, “Sexual Harrassment and You?”

Greg Scorzo: No, I haven’t.

Karen Straughan: It gives three rules to avoid a sexual harrassment suit. It’s done like one of those black and white films that kids in the 50s would watch in elementary school. The three rules are, 1. Be Handsome. 2. Be Attractive and 3. Don’t be Unattractive. The same behaviour from a guy who looks like Brad Pitt is going to be received very differently than behaviour from a guy who looks like the dude who played The Human Centipede.

Greg Scorzo: Do you think that unfair reaction, on the part of women, may be something women are biologically predisposed to give?

Karen Straughan: Yes, absolutely.

Greg Scorzo: Do you think this is a biological norm in women that’s feasible to challenge?

Karen Straughan: I think we should always challenge our biological norms. I think that Feminism has done a piss-poor job of challenging certain biological norms, instead working very hard to reinforce many of them. Feminism reinforces the biological norm that a sub-par man who expresses any interest in a woman is harrassment, that this is somehow harming or endangering women. It is entirely likely that black and hispanic cultures are more likely to promote male assertiveness of a kind that makes men more inclined to approach women they are attracted to. Men may even be expected to behave that way in black or hispanic culture. So when feminists do an anti-cat calling video where you see a bunch of black and hispanic guys cat-calling a white woman, feminists aren’t just criticising men. They’re criticising black and hispanic culture, insinuating that black and hispanic culture is harmful to women.

Greg Scorzo: To be fair, the makers of the cat calling video you are describing (Hollaback) did say that there were caucasion white collar workers who also cat called the woman they filmed. They say they edited them out because they weren’t loud enough to clearly hear onscreen.

Karen Straughan: I doubt that. There may have been one or two white collar caucasions, but I highly doubt the frequency was the same as what the other men did. That’s completely contrary to everything I’ve ever experienced or seen. I lived in neighborhoods where there were high Islamic and Pakistani populations and there was never any cat calling. I think that has to do with the fact that Islamic and Pakistani cultures are extremely patriarchal. In patriarchal cultures, you don’t treat respectable women that way.

Greg Scorzo: Interesting. So you think cat-calling is a product of capitalist societies that aren’t patriarchal?

Karen Straughan: No, I don’t think its necessarily a capitalist thing. It’s maybe more a function of the sexual revolution or sexual freedom. All of that seems to have been more quickly embraced by the black community. They’ve embraced things like having sex out of wedlock and not living in intact families. It used to be very different. In the 1920s, over 80% of black families were intact.

Greg Scorzo: Are you in favour of the sexual revolution that happened in the 60s and 70s?

Karen Straughan: I think it had it’s pluses and minuses. Speaking as someone who has had more of her fair share of male and female sexual partners, I can’t really say that I think there is any justification for slut shaming. I think you can criticise women for lying about birth control, forcing men into fatherhood and things like that. But if you are responsible in how you choose to have sex, you shouldn’t be belittled for your sexual choices. There seems to be potential benefits from sexual freedom. At the same time, I don’t know if I’m the model of the typical woman who has lots of sex. So I don’t necessarily know that the sexual revolution was beneficial for women, generally.

Most women that I know are not capable of being as being promiscuous as I was without having some kind of psychological damage. When I was highly sexually active, most of the girls who were also highly sexually active around me, I think were doing it because they had self-esteem issues. I think there are objective harms and benefits for women and men that came out of the sexual revolution movement.

Greg Scorzo: If we could go back in time to 1964, would you have been an opponent of the movement or a supporter?

Karen Straughan: I would have been a supporter of anything that would have increased the freedom of individuals to make choices. As long as you’re not forcing anyone else to pay for your choices, make whatever choices you like.

40Greg Scorzo: It seems in the last fifty years, women have gained a newfound reputation as successful participants in the economy. There’s been a substantial influx of successful female writers, academics, artists, business women, and so on. Do you think that’s a positive thing?

Karen Straughan: Yeah, of course. I think women have a great deal to offer to the economy and society. I would never say that a woman’s intellectual contribution or scientific contribution should be either disallowed or taken less seriously just because she’s a woman. I think that’s complete bullshit. I’m not against women running for office, being strong leaders or being bosses. Two of my favourite bosses over the entire course of my working life were women. One of them I used to call, “Shirley the Nazi.” I meant that as a compliment.

Click here to see what she says next. 



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