Scott Douglas Jacobsen: I wanted to interview you because you’re a colleague. I haven’t set aside enough time to interact with you, so here’s my lucky break! Also, you mentioned having a different view, potentially, than the general “ethos” of The Good Men Project. How might your views differ, socially and politically?
Helen Pluckrose: Hi! Nice to chat with you. I am not sure of the extent to which my views differ from the general ethos of The Good Men Project but have caught pieces every now and then which seem to share talking points I have concerns about within intersectional feminism.
For example, a look at trending articles right now reveals ‘Explaining White Privilege to a Broke White Person’ and ‘Confessions of a Privileged White Male and Former Conservative.’
I am skeptical of approaches to social justice which focus on systems of privilege favoring dominant groups rather than prejudice and discrimination affecting minorities. This is often regarded as a kind of ‘original sin’ based on identity and used to perpetuate the root problem of prejudice and discrimination: judging people by their gender, race or sexuality rather than their values and behavior.
It shifts the focus to the groups least affected by prejudice and regards their greater access to rights and opportunities as an unjust privilege rather than focusing on groups which are disadvantaged and regarding this as a denial of basic equality needing to be fixed. As a universal liberal and humanist, I see more worth in focusing attention and compassion on those who are disadvantaged than shame and censure on those who are not.
I also find the systems of privilege approach to be reductionist and require many generalisations and forcing people into categories. Although the concept of intersectionality intended to overcome such reductionism and show that oppression can be complex and multi-faceted, in practice it often doesn’t because it neglects class unless accompanied by another form of marginalised identity and assumes that men are consistently privileged over women in a way that can only be supported by reading society through an ideological lens and applying much confirmation bias.
I support efforts to address areas in which men are disadvantaged – the right to genital integrity, unequal custody norms, unequal sentencing, neglect of provision for male victims of violence and a failure to address gender gaps in education, homelessness and suicide – but find that the men’s rights’ activism can also be highly biased and ideological.
I favor an approach to thinking about ethics in the realm of gender which is strongly humanist and liberal, and which values men and women as humans, as equals and as men and women facing different challenges due to biological and cultural differences.
Jacobsen: What are some important messages that those in The Good Men Project may not necessarily take into full account when considering their own political and social views, as someone with a degree of objectivity looking from the outside in? I am fascinated to know because I wouldn’t necessarily know as I am in the ‘water’ so to speak.
Pluckrose: I wouldn’t like to generalize as you have so many writers and they surely have a range of views. I recognize that The Good Men Project is neither men’s rights’ activism nor feminism but an exploration by men of the experience of being a man and trying to be a good one in the 21st-century society. I think free-ranging discussion of how to be a good man is a great idea in the same way as discussion of how to be a good woman would be because, although it is most important to be a good person, men and women are not identical physically, cognitively or psychologically and they do not face identical challenges in society.
I would simply hope that the overall ethos would be positive about the inherent worth of men, their contributions to society and the nature of masculinity.
I may be biased by my close connection with feminism but my experience of liberals addressing the topic of masculinity or manhood in an ethical sense is that too many see it as a problem to be fixed or restrained or detoxified.
They also tend to look at it in a way which centers men’s relationships with women rather than men’s own needs and experiences due to a feeling that these have been centered for too long which I’m not sure is true. Of course, this need not be the case at all.
Explorations of what it is to be a good man can be done unapologetically in a positive and practical way which does not devolve into the pathologisation of masculinity. It need not neglect to appreciate the positive qualities more typical of the male psychology nor prize them above those more typical of the female.
Also among the currently trending articles of The Good Men Project are ‘Why Does Stress Cause More Depression in Men Than in Women?’ and ‘Nobody Gets to Tell My Sons What It Means to Be a Man’ which I found to be both male-centred and positive.
Jacobsen: What are your favorite topics to write on? Can you link to some examples?
Pluckrose: Academically, I write mostly about late medieval and early modern religious writing by and for women. I am interested in the way that women negotiated authority and autonomy for themselves using religion within patriarchal societies which denied them both.
My popular writing on contemporary issues have included advocacy of secularism and skepticism, critiques of postmodernism and intersectional feminism, dissections of common flaws of critical thinking and analyses of how to fix the problems within the political left and thus strengthen it. The common thread linking these is my interest in ideology and the ways that people think and have thought, particularly on the subjects of religion and gender.
Jacobsen: We both contribute to Conatus News. What seems like its core message to you? Why did you start writing for them? How did you find them?
Pluckrose: I like Conatus News because of its positioning within the political sphere. With its core definition of ‘progressive’ and its commitment to secularism and human rights and its opposition to regressive, identitarian, postmodern politics, it is open to contributions from everyone from liberal centrists, liberal lefties, libertarian lefties, radical lefties, socialists, radical feminists and centre-rightists with liberal aims. This gives it both coherence and diversity within a leftist, progressive ethos quite different to the culturally-relative postmodern left. As a liberal centre-leftie, non-feminist supporter of gender equality who favours a mixed economy, I have strong differences with the radical writers, both feminist and economic but we tolerate these differences well and still find common cause where we can.
Outside of Conatus News, my readers are often centrists and much of my writing focuses on the problems within the left that I want to fix, so it is valuable to have a platform which appeals mostly to leftists. I found Conatus when Terry Murray, the feminist writer contacted me to invite me to the ‘Defending Progressivism’ conference, for which I am very grateful.
Jacobsen: Any feelings or thoughts in conclusion based on the conversation today?
Pluckrose: No, I don’t think so. I will certainly pay more attention to the output of The Good Men Project, though.
Jacobsen: Thank you for your time, Helen.
Pluckrose: Thank you, Scott.
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