On Fake News And A Pyrrhic Victory For White Heterosexual Men [Opinion]

W.L. OrmsbyW.L. Ormsby

On Thursday last week, the Huffington Post SA published an attack on white men and patriarchy in general, authored by one Shelley Garland. It turns out that Garland was a fake person created by Nick Shannow – also a pseudonym – to conduct a social experiment.

The Huffington Post was disgraced when their editors failed to verify the identity of the author. Meanwhile, as expected, the article went viral. At the center of the unverified author’s opinion piece was a call for white men to be disenfranchised from the vote.

Of course, the outrage from the white male camp was quick and aggressive. No free-thinking society in the world should ever consider denying any demographic the right to vote. I agree. However, some of the other points raised in the article are valid. My argument follows.

First, some context.

Nick Shannow disclosed that the point of his experiment was “to show that one can write absurd, racist and sexist hogwash, as long as the target is the right one.” He also believes that nowadays “wild claims are published with very little fact-checking or consideration to what the broader impact of publishing obvious piffle will be.”

Fact-checking is vital, yes, and editors must exercise strict vigilance in that regard. However, in the interests of free speech, I think many publications are loathe to interfere in opinion pieces for fear of curtailing the “free” part of the speech. Opinion pieces are branded with a disclaimer that indemnifies the publisher.

Shannow wanted to prove that the Huffington Post would only be willing to publish content that matches their ideology. In the end, he concluded that “it is unlikely that [Huffington Post] would publish a piece with the same sentiments but aimed at a different race group.”

Where is the control experiment? How can this conclusion be drawn without having sent another article that advanced the thoughts and values of extreme right ideology to test his theory?

In that sense, the experiment failed dismally.

With regard to the content of the article, a white male, in an attempt to produce a document that would be seen as “a piece riddled with factual errors, logical fallacies, and not something that an MA student could possibly write,” actually made a number of very valid and accurate points — points that I have seen many MA and even Ph.D. candidates argue.

For the white men who lit bonfires and danced around huge flames, enjoying a brief moment of schadenfreude, the victory is a Pyrrhic one. The cost? Well, the cost to white men lies in all the valid arguments Nick Shannow did make in his attempt to discredit leftist beliefs and a fallible media. The cost lies in the fact that the continued attack on white heterosexual male hegemony will only gain momentum after this paltry effort.

But, nevertheless, for the purpose of my argument, I’m going to treat Nick’s article as if it was written by, well, himself. Let’s take a look at some of his claims.

It’s no secret that white heterosexual men (WHM) have dominated social, political, legal, and economic spaces for thousands of years. According to a study published in the Journal of Counseling & Development, men are deeply devoted to the system of patriarchy that favors them exclusively.

“Androcentrism refers to the centrality of the male experience for all humans, independent of sexual and gender diversity within the culture (Bem, 1993). [White men] have an unearned yet normative advantage given to them by religious, educational, corporate, and family institutions. Men come into the world as the preferred sex; they earn more money than women for comparable work; they are not expected to change their names upon marriage, and it is assumed that their offspring will automatically take their names; nearly all human development models have been created by men and have been influenced by a male perspective; men own the majority of the world’s capital, despite the volume of non-remunerated women’s work throughout the globe (Robinson & Watt, 2001).”

Women fought for suffrage; homosexuals fought for equality; black people fought for total emancipation and independence. During the 20th century, right up to our present in the 21st, the world has witnessed a gradual increase in marginalized people demanding recognition, respect, and egalitarian legislation.

ADVANCE FOR USE MONDAY, JUNE 20, 2016 AND THEREAFTER -FILE - In this Aug. 26, 1977 file photo, Hazel Hunkines Hallinnan, one of the original suffragists, rests after marching with supporters of the Equal Rights Amendment on Washington's Pennsylvania Avenue. Thousands of women participated in the march which coincided with the 57th anniversary of women's suffrage. (AP Photo/File)Featured image credit: Associated PressAssociated Press

So why does the WHM feel threatened?

This disruption of the status quo has presented a significant problem for the WHM. Their self-imposed position at the very top of the social hierarchy is under threat. Michael Kimmel, the executive director of the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities and a professor of sociology and gender at the State University of New York, sums it up quite astutely.

“If the whole world used to be our locker room, then we could say what we wanted with complete impunity. Now a lot of guys have to watch what they say. That’s got to be hard.”

During a TED Talk, “Why gender equality is good for everyone — men included,” Michael Kimmel recounted an extraordinary exchange between two women; one was black, the other white.

According to Kimmel, the white women said, “All women face the same oppression as women. All women are similarly situated in patriarchy, and therefore all women have a kind of intuitive solidarity or sisterhood.”

In response, the black woman said, “I’m not so sure. Let me ask you a question. When you wake up in the morning, and you look in the mirror, what do you see?”

So the white woman said, “I see a woman.”

Then, very poignantly, the black woman said, “You see, that’s the problem for me. Because when I wake up in the morning and I look in the mirror, I see a black woman. To me, race is visible. But to you, race is invisible. You don’t see it.”

The black woman proceeds to make an irrefutable observation of social privilege, saying, “That’s how privilege works. Privilege is invisible to those who have it.”

At this juncture, referring again to the study on White Male Identity, we see valuable insight into the WHM understanding of privilege.

“The White male will either ignore, deny, or minimize the issues dealing with race and race relations. In addition, his attitudes about gender tend to be very traditional wherein gender roles are rigid and prescribed. Low level encounters dealing with race will not trigger dissonance. Individuals in this phase are operating on what Rowe et al. (1994) labeled the “fairness principle,” which implies that the man wants to continue the status quo and is not aware of the need for legal steps to correct discrimination. Ethnocentrism characterizes this type as does a belief in the superiority of White males to women and to people of color. There is limited awareness of how women and people of color contend with discriminatory practices related to their gender and race.”

Now that the tables are turning, WHM are feeling emasculated and discriminated against. There’s that old adage which says that for anyone who has enjoyed privilege, equality feels like oppression. This is the reason men are lashing out, trying silly tricks to delegitimize those who criticize them. The Bro-Club is feeling persecuted. Playing the victim.

Michael Kimmel argues that white men are suffering from vertigo due to how fast transformation is taking place. Women have infiltrated almost all professions, leaving WHM feeling like spaces that were traditionally theirs are now being “invaded.”

“Ever since women started to argue for equal rights, men have started to think that this is something against them personally.”

Of course, you’re going to feel like you’ve lost something. You have, and you are. The transfer of power is difficult, we get it, but it’s happening with or without you.

Women Cadets graduate from military academy
Female cadets attend their graduation and commissioning ceremony at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)Featured image credit: Mike GrollMike Groll

But I digress, back to Nick Shannow’s piece. In it, individual claims are made that are worth noting purely for the fact that they’re not fake. For example, the claim that the upsurge in right-wing political power can be attributed to the contribution of the WHM vote.

1. A Pew Research Center study indicated that during the 2016 U.S. presidental election, “53% to 41%, more men supported Trump than Clinton.” The advantage for Trump among men is larger than the 7-point advantage Romney had in 2012. According to the New York Times, “particularly white men without a degree” were responsible for swinging the vote towards Trump, and another Times editiorial ascribed Trump’s meteoric rise to a crisis of white identity. Professor Janet E. Helms from Boston College, argues that WHM used the election to protect their dwindling privilege.

2. Nick claimed that 97 percent of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) is owned by whites. This figure is based on the contention that direct ownership by black people makes up only 3 percent of the JSE. There is no real consensus on this matter, so for safety’s sake, I will use the JSE’s actual reported figures. By the end of 2013, black South Africans held 23 percent ownership in the Top 100 listed companies, while 22 percent was in the hands of whites.

Foreign investment made up 39 percent, and it is interesting to note that the majority of JSE foreign investment comes from Britain, United States, Netherlands, Germany, and Luxembourg. I think it’s safe to assume then that the 39 percent is also in white hands. Roughly 16 percent of the market share has yet to be analyzed, but the JSE believes the figures will include a demographic mix. Either way, it will increase white ownership. Shannow’s value of 97 percent may not be accurate, but it is clear that the vast majority of JSE ownership remains in the hands of whites.

According to a 2015 study by Jack Hammer Executive Report, the number of black CEO’s in the Top 40 JSE listed companies had declined to a mere 10 percent. Moreover, only 21 percent of people making up the Top 40 executive teams were black South Africans.

3. Mr. Shannow is correct when he points out that “the past 500 years colonialism, slavery, and various aggressive wars and genocides, have been due to the actions of white men.” The sheer magnitude of WHM-led colonialism dwarfs all other crimes of a similar nature.

4. Nick Shannow takes a stab at individualist ideology. Rightly so. Collective responsibility is a moral value. We don’t live on different planets. Humans have always been communal animals.

5. Finally, Shannow argues that “it is time to wrestle control of the world back from white males,” which is an entirely rational and widely accepted assertion. But it will happen through the legitimate self-determination efforts of the intersectional movement.

In affirming their regressive masculinity, there is a peculiar camaraderie within the WHM community – a stagnant echo chamber, if you will – that seems to imbue these bros with some sort of self-imposed mission, out to destroy anything and everything that threatens their fragile hegemony. It will pass.

As for denying anyone the vote, preposterous as it is, that seems like something only a white heterosexual male would do.

[Featured Image by W.L. Ormsby/AP Images]