The Cleveland Bus Driver and Feminism

by Benjamin Studebaker

There’s a video out last night on YouTube in the process of going viral in which a Cleveland bus driver is verbally and physically assaulted by a passenger and responds by punching said passenger:

It is worth talking about because the driver in question happens to be male and the passenger in question happens to be female, and so an interesting conversation about gender and the ethics of self-defence has sprung up, one that is very much worth having because it undercuts some of the core issue facing feminist theory today–whether it is about advancing women at the expense of men, or true gender equality.

Imagine that, instead of a woman, the individual who had assaulted the bus driver had been a man of the same physical strength and ability as the woman in question. The punch the driver threw would still be disproportionate and excessive (throwing the violent passenger off the bus is one thing;  the punch was unnecessary), but the on principle “men should never hit women” reaction still common to many people would not apply. There remains strong social pressure indicating to men that violence against one another is acceptable, but violence against women is less so. This is of course a hold over from the sexist culture that asserts that women are weak and feeble and require male protection. Other elements of that sociological ethos include concepts like “women shouldn’t work” or “women shouldn’t vote” or “women are overly emotional”, all concepts that feminists rightly condemn as misogyny and unacceptable.

What’s interesting is that the push for equality from feminists has started to undermine values like “men should never hit women” even though feminists themselves rarely pursue those issues. At the time of writing, the most liked comment in response to the video affirmed gender equality and rejected feminine exceptionalism:

self defence bitch. hate that “its a girl bullshit”

The bus driver himself can be heard saying in the video in his defence after throwing the punch:

she wanna be a man I’m gonna treat her like one

There are a variety of other comments expressing sympathy for the driver or support for gender equality:

Loved it, good to see equality is happening…Ladies, you can’t have your cake and eat. Either you want equality or you don’t…Chivalry is dead ladies. Feminism killed it…If someone hits you you can hit them back. That’s called self-defence. Are you equal to a man or aren’t you?…

Many of the comments are offensive or crudely written, as is common with YouTube, but the message that can be taken from them is that there is a shift in attitudes with regard to this subject, which, in all honesty, follows logically.

What you have with feminism is and idea where the basic principle is extremely reasonable and sensible, so much so that it cannot rationally be rejected–that women and men should be treated as equals in society. In this respect is quite similar to say, racial equality, which has a similar level of self-evident sensibility to it. The trouble for gender equality is that the group pushing for equal status often seems to have accepted a double standard in which the areas in which the old traditionalist prejudices are advantageous are allowed to persist or even encouraged even as the areas in which the old prejudices are disadvantageous are discarded. This perpetuates the perception that feminism is not about gender equality but is instead about women getting the better of men. Racial equality faces a similar problem with affirmative action, in that it violates people’s sense of what equality means and makes the movement for racial equality seem to be about advantaging non-whites rather than promoting equality.

These areas where equality movements are caught supporting policies that are not equal but are advantageously sexist or advantageously racist create and fuel a backlash against the movements themselves. Men and whites become defensive and protectionist, worrying that these movements are not really out to equalise themselves with men or with whites but to get the better of them. It is imperative for the success of equality movements that they are never seen to support inequality, lest they give aid and comfort to the opponents of equality by giving them some intellectual rationale to persist in their beliefs.

Consequently, it is imperative for the sake of gender equality that men and women be treated equally with regard to violence. Now, perhaps you’re a pacifist and you believe no one should ever hit anyone for any reason. That’s fine–the point is not that violence is okay, but that violence is okay or not okay irrespective of gender. In a given situation, it cannot be acceptable to hit a man but not a woman, or vice versa. The same goes for affirmative action–all racial groups must compete on an equal playing field with one another in order to avoid the perception, whether true or not, that inequality of opportunity is being generated to the disadvantage of whites.

If the bus driver faces censure for his actions, it should be based not on the gender of the passenger he struck, but on the level of force he used in subduing her when she was clearly substantially weaker than him and could have been subdued with less force. There is a proportionality question that is serious and worth considering.

Racism, sexism, and other prejudices are most common among angry, emotionally frustrated people. For these people, politics boils down to very basic principles–liberty, equality, and so on. No one is ever going to convince the people prone to racism or sexism that women should be treated with respect and simultaneously should never bit hit, or that black people are just as capable as white people but need to be given a leg up through affirmative action. The inherent contradiction of these ideas rubs these people the wrong way and they start to see such policies as some kind of conspiracy against them for the benefit of people who are not like them. They aren’t going to buy into the nuanced, complicated arguments that make an effort to justify those policies. These people are the last bastions of old prejudices and have to be confronted by equality movements differently from the mainstream if the persistent gender and racial injustices are to be wholly and completely eradicated. Intellectual consistency, glaring, obvious consistency, is the best policy.