March 27, 2008

Musings: Struggling to Share What/Who Feminism is For

Posted in feminism, gender, patriarchy, power hierarchy at 2:28 am by LB

Salon’s Broadsheet has this recent article: “Welcome to the ‘Menaissance'”, which, I have to say, struck me kinda funny…but also sad. It also struck a chord for me in light my recent thoughts pondering how people can take feminism so…wrong, especially when it’s something I have lived and breathed for the past 10 years, and what has fundamental to my understanding my experiences, others’ experiences, and the world around me.

I have been cruising around the blogosphere lately, and seen in abundance the incredibly angst that many men feel toward feminism. Clearly, feminism has ruined their life. It took away their housekeeper, it has subjected them to sexual activity that doesn’t revolve around their needs, it has meant legislation and social policy that doesn’t take men’s experiences for human experience; women’s economic independence has meant they men can no longer expect to be able to provide for a woman in exchange for control over her body and labor, and it has also meant that economic security is not enough to gain access to women at all.

And let me tell you, some men are really pissed. And say it’s feminism’s fault. And when women behave badly? Also feminism’s fault. They fail to see that an analysis of gender as a hierarchical institutional system of oppression is not just about women’s rights, but about analyzing society to reveal how the structure is harmful to all involved, but that equality often also means giving up some privileges. Women’s rights, however, often get rewritten as “special rights and advantages,” because from a man’s perspective, it might look that way because they are accustomed to seeing male-centered society as just “society.” The work structure that follows from men’s needs is seen as just “the workplace.” Men then end up resisting feminism, viewing it as advocating female dominance rather than see it as liberating masculinity as well as femininity.

I suppose I’m rambling on a bit and being vague, but I’m doing that a bit on purpose because I’m not trying to accuse or blame any particular individuals or websites. But I have had an interesting few days observing the way that many men perceive feminism-they perceive it as threatening (which is it-to structural male privilege), but in articulating their frustrations (and often rightly so) about their masculine gender role/expectation, feminism, and not patriarchy, is blamed. And it really is too bad. I’ve tried interacting with some of them, and let me tell you it’s really tough to break all these assumptions about what feminism is and what it isn’t, and articulating bad behavior that some women exhibit toward some men vs patriarchy as a cultural system of privilege. Not to mention that feminism does not advocate women’s bad behavior-women, for example, lying about being raped! Yet feminism gets blamed for this (because feminism created rape, I suppose, since it suggests women can say no if they don’t want sex. Or because feminism I guess teaches women to use whatever they can to their advantage).

We’re all concerned with young women not wanting to embrace the term ‘feminist’ because of much cultural misunderstanding. I think that problem is easier to address (by tangibly addressing real-life issues like Jessica Valenti does in her book) than how do we show men that feminism is their friend? That much of what they attribute to feminism is really a result of patriarchy? How do we convince them that it is worth it to give up some privilege in order to live safer and more meaningful lives?

Back to the Broadsheet article:

  • More than half of the men believe society is turning them into “waxed and coiffed metrosexuals.”
  • Fifty-two percent say they are forced to live by women’s rules.
  • Four out of 10 men are scared of spiders, while a third are scared of “bossy women.”
  • Many men feel they have to play too many roles.
  • For a sample of men allegedly enamored with stereotypical masculinity, they’re awfully whiny. Women are fairly familiar with the pressure to be “waxed and coiffed,” living by men’s rules and struggling to balance family with work. These men do, indeed, seem burdened and resentful, but to them, I say: Welcome to the party!

    While I don’t necessarily say welcome (although in some cases I do), it’s funny how these struggles are seen to be a result of feminism’s challenge to gender roles, therefore a reversion to traditional masculinity is seen as the solution, rather than the problem. I think men’s anxieties are very real and are surfacing now because the way we typically think about gender and sexuality has changed as a result of feminism and queer movements, and these changes and challenges bring into relief how traditional masculinity was predicated on a particular form of femininity and organization of sexuality.

    So I don’t want to welcome men into women’s struggles with patriarchy, except to hope their struggles might become the ground on which to be able to say, “I advocate feminism.”

    (the inclusion of this video is not to imply that The Feminist Majority speaks for all feminisms or all women)

    2 Comments »

    1. ballgame said,

      lindabeth, I’m disappointed that you haven’t continued participating over at Feminist Critics. You’re clearly an intelligent and nuanced thinker who appears to embody mainstream feminism — in short, precisely the kind of commenter we are trying to attract to the blog. We also try to support free dialog, however, and as a result have a few commenters whose bellicosity towards feminism/feminists often eclipses whatever substantive critique they may have. I’m guessing these kinds of comments played a role in your not participating and if so, I empathize. Balancing the goals of open critique and creating an environment conducive to the participation of feminists such as yourself has been a struggle for us and we continue to wrestle with different ways to go about this. I hope if we come up with a different approach you might rejoin our discussions.

      As to your OP, I think you (and Tracy over at Salon) have some legitimate points. Feminism has, indeed, opened up possibilities for rethinking how gender affects men. I agree it’s misleading for anti-feminists to blame feminism for some of the oppression men suffer under traditional gender roles.

      However, there is a very real gap between mainstream feminism’s avowed goal of gender egalitarianism, and its oft-times dismissive attitude towards how men are oppressed by gender roles and the extent to which the average man actually benefits from them. For example, the notion that all men are privileged over all women (of the same race and class) is demonstrably false. Many mainstream feminists also tend to deploy the concept of ‘patriarchy’ in a way that implies that men hold some hive-like mentality (i.e. if most of the rulers of a society are male, then all men benefit). And many mainstream feminists (or at least, many blogfeminists like Amanda Marcotte and Hugo Schwyzer) tend to direct precisely the same partriarchal shaming concepts towards male feminist critics (i.e. imply that they’re unmanly) that feminism supposedly renounces. (Even in Tracy’s post, she says that the men openly struggling with today’s gender landscape are “awfully whiny.”)

      I don’t think it’s accurate to characterize the critique of these kinds of hypocrisies as simply men ‘misunderstanding’ feminism.

    2. lindabeth said,

      I appreciate you jumping in over here. I appreciated the kind way you welcomed me at your blog, I’ve honestly meant to show up again. I was really interested in the blog at first, and was optimistic especially because of the “what feminism got right” part. I must say, that I’m not sure that is reflective of what many of your commentors think and many of them are not as thoughtful writers as you are. I had to not return because I realized that the discussions would tend to be very time consuming and would take a lot out of me. Considering I am a grad student and have my own blog, I needed to wait to even look at the responses since I find myself with so much to respond to! I also found myself questioning how productive it is to even have interjected in the first place. It seems that you and your readers all operate from a similar mentality and I am now second-guessing my intervening in the discussion as possibly misguided. But feel free to correct me on this.

      I think that better and clearer discussion on your blog would be better served by the following (in my humble opinion):

      You have a “what feminism got right” page. From that, and perhaps this is where I misjudged, I’d call you a feminist. What you say there encapsulates a lot of what feminism is.

      I think your criticisms need some clarification. Perhaps also make a “what feminism got wrong” page or a detailed and precise list of what you find problematic about feminism. It should include details and names where possible. Even better is if you are responding to a tangible event or story. Also, it may be helpful to tackle one issue at a time, in a meaningful way. for example, I would have loved to responded to your original post o n objectification in a more meaningful way, doing a point by point discussion and probing to see where the root of your objecting came from, so it could be better discussed.

      After my first round of commenting on your blog, I realized that I didn’t even know how to respond because I had no idea where you were coming from. Feminism is varied, and it is very unique in this respect. Feminists agree and disagree with one another. Feminisms do also. There is no single, overarching organization that is responsible for recognizing, organizing, and authenticating “feminism.” Because of this, I have no way to approach your criticisms without context. From looking at “what feminism got right,” it’s hard for me to see how we fundamentally disagree. And don’t forget, you can disagree with some feminists, so some kinds of feminism, and still be one. Lord knows I sure am!

      I cannot speak for other blogger’s practices, but I can say that no one is perfect and 100% consistent all the time. We may be feminists, but we’re human too. And, deviations don’t necessarily mean that the rest of what they say is untrue.

      About your specific comment:

      For example, the notion that all men are privileged over all women (of the same race and class) is demonstrably false. Many mainstream feminists also tend to deploy the concept of ‘patriarchy’ in a way that implies that men hold some hive-like mentality (i.e. if most of the rulers of a society are male, then all men benefit).

      This may be yours and my greatest hurdle, because I do believe this is true. But it may be a matter of nuance and approach more than a matter of pure disagreement (which is what I often feel the mis-communication is on your blog discussions). Because much of what feminism analyzes is concepts, institutions, systems, and how they play out “in real life” and affect personal belief…and more. (Sorry that wasn’t very “nuanced”). the male privilege that affects all men (yes, all) is systemic privilege that is unintentional, and often can’t be rejected. We can talk more in detail about this, but this is fundamental to feminism~and you should be happy about this because this means that sexism isn’t simply the result of “bad people” but is built into a system of rewards. Sexism is, to quote the Gender Knot, “the path of least resistance” for men and sometimes women too. This is also why changing who’s in charge doesn’t necessarily mean sexism will change.

      Anyway, this is probably a discussion more suitable elsewhere. I invite you to email me lindabeth29 AT gmail DOT com if you want to talk more “off the record”. I was wary to put these comments on your blog because I didn’t want a backlash of reaction. And I will return to your blog, hopefully sometime mid-week, but I’m not sure I can really comment effectively when I have to respond to “feminists say this or that.”

      Also, just want you to know your blog was only one of several I am referring to in this particular post.


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