This is a response to an Oct. 14 submission by Jeremy David Bendik-Keymer, professor of Ethics at Case Western Reserve University. It is unfortunate that the professor experienced ridicule and even abuse for things such as a hyphenated last name and for having a progressive-looking father. Curiously, he attributed the gay bashing to his “flaunting of gender norms—one system of normativity crashing into another… .” Persecution regardless of origin is wrong, but I must disagree: His mistreatment was principally due to behaviors that went against the norm and were viewed as abnormal or suspect—not a clash of prevailing normative systems. Bendik-Keymer was different and vestigial insecurities simmering within his would-be tormentors were collectively able to dominate their behavior. A behavioral psychology model fits better: This is not a colliding of societal tectonic plates; rather, these ugly phenomena are best understood at the level of the psyche.
His closing paragraph intertwines his traumatic personal experiences with the 2016 Presidential election; it’s where he addresses Trump’s “‘locker-room’ banter,” passionately welding it to hate speech and violence against women. Fair point. He concludes with: “But it is also oppressive to men . . . in the way that the norms of objectification of women fall back on any man who refuses to subscribe to the hateful gender and sexuality norms of patriarchal and heteronormative America.” The crux is that locker-room banter, obviously oppressive to women, is also oppressive to men. But the mechanism of male oppression is difficult to discern in the way he chooses to unfold it. For example, what does “fall back” mean? If something “falls back” on me, then I’m responsible for it. So, is this man who “refuses to subscribe” to hate speech—the virtuous man—responsible for “the norms of objectification” of all womankind? We can only be responsible for ourselves in how we treat others.
I assume that Bendik-Keymer would wish to reach the largest audience possible—philosophers like ears. But is deploying the opaque parlance of philosophy the most effective way to achieve this? I think not. Know your audience. I want to accept the author’s conclusion, but the justification of it, in its desire to be intellectually potent, falls short. He utilizes his language norm to the detriment of my comprehension norm. Crashing normativity systems indeed.
Eric C. Palik
Western Reserve College ’79 Psychology/Chemistry