March 27, 2008
Musings: Struggling to Share What/Who Feminism is For
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)