March 12, 2009
Wa-Po blogger Cillizza implies Obama’s Council on Women and Girls is not for addressing gender issues
In an odd phrasing, Washington Post political blogger Chris Cillizza seems to imply that Obama’s call for a Council on Women and Girls, is not primarily a result of his recognition that we need policies and solutions to social problems that adequately address how they impact women and families (for whom women are still overwhelmingly responsible for the care of). In other words, Obama is forming this council out of the recognition that appropriate solutions to social problems must take both men’s and women’s experiences into consideration.
Obama has both personal — his wife and two daughters — and political reasons to make this sort of high profile move to ensure that women’s needs are being addressed by his administration.
In 2008, 53 percent of the electorate was female and Obama carried that group 56 percent to 44 percent over Arizona Sen. John McCain.
So Obama’s “personal” reasons for putting the council into place are that he has a wife and daughters. Yawn. How insulting to think that men are only concerned about women’s issues and the male-centric models of citizenship and public policy because they have daughters. I would hope that there might too be fathers of boys who are concerned about gender issues so their sons could have the socially-supported ability to be at-home dads if they choose, without their masculinity being denigrated and without threat to family finances because their female partner’s career is being stymied by gender discrimination (by pay or “mommy tracking”) or sexual harassment in the workplace.
And the “political” reasons Obama is putting this into place is…to keep the allegiance of his female voters (?). So Obama is doing this to keep women happy, not because it’s good policy?
Reading between the lines, much?
Oh and let us not forget, this council is in no way (expected to be) substantial: “Expect then more symbolic moves like the establishment of the Council to demonstrate Obama’s commitment to women and women’s issues.” Because all women voters expect are empty gestures without results. Because women usually applaud style over substance. Because women don’t want to be taken seriously, just acknowledged. Because women are above all, fans of [political] superficiality.
(I think you have us confused with lad-mag apologists.)
And I think you underestimate women as political actors who demand accountability, as well as our new President, who has demonstrated at least an understanding that there are structural barriers to success that equal rights legislation did not address.
March 9, 2008
I’ve been a little more MIA lately than I intended to be. I had a week off from class at the end of February and went to New York City, and now I’m getting into the busy time at school when I have to start thinking about my course paper and am feeling the pressure of writing my thesis….
So here’s a quick post about another post and comments to it that I found interesting.
A few of my thoughts (and I commented on it as well):
- I was immediately put off by her article at the beginning when she says:
It’s long been my view that sexism and misogyny do every bit as much damage to men as to women.
I do not agree with this. Like one commenter says,
I do not think “sexism and misogyny does every bit as much damage to men as it does to women.” If it did, they would stop it. Damage, yes. “Every bit as much damage” seems to me to be a stretch too large for reality to encompass.
The next commenter indicates why men being damaged by sexism is often hard for men to see or want to do anything about-this damage comes from a system that advantages (white) men. while in many ways they are hurt by it, there are many more ways (or perhaps more tangible or rewarding ways) they are privileged by it.
Perhaps there is a kind of sub-conscious cost-benefit analysis going on here-certainly women who yearn for traditional gender roles or who demand a man to take care of her do the same thing. In fact, attitudes don’t need to be even as retro as that-there are many ways that women choose “the path of least resistance” (please! read The Gender Knot by Allan G. Johnson) by “using” patriarchal attitudes to their advantage instead of fighting them-many uses of “sexuality” to “get what you want” can fall under this category.
Another commenter made this interesting point,
I think many men aren’t fighting to undermine the patriarchy not because they support it or hope to benefit from it, but because they literally don’t understand it’s there. The world is set up for them, it seems to run fine, why can’t everyone else adapt?
It takes actually stepping outside oneself to recognize the level of privilege men have. Now, needless to say, some men are aware of that privilege and are happy to defend it. But many who are opposed to feminism are actually opposed to strawfeminism, many are opposed to “man-hatin’ humor,” which isn’t part of any feminism I’ve seen, and many are afraid of change because they’re just afraid of change.
True, true. There needs to be some way to educate men about feminism and gender analysis. There is the awful assumption that feminists hate men. Many feminists like men an awful lot, they just hate patriarchy. And it can be hard for men who feel like women want to “take away” “their” privileges to see how they are hurt by patriarchy and how its critique can benefit them. then there’s also that darn cost-benefit thing which keeps many men from embracing feminist critique.
- Another concern I had is the way that what she deplores (emotional men denigrated as feminine and therefore men are taught not to experience a range of human emotions) does not seem to be part of the feminist/gender analysis of the social construction of masculinity and femininity, which it most certainly is. She says,
In our society (at least), the following traits are considered primarily “female/womanly”:
Tender, Emotional, Vulnerable, Receptive, Passive, Compassionate….
…If you are living in a misogynist, sexist society where privilege is awarded automatically by virtue of manliness/maleness or perceived manliness/maleness, and therefore, being womanly/female is an undesirable (if not despicable) position, then you are going to work hard to avoid the culturally-acceptable traits of womanliness…
…Men feel — because they’re human. They experience moments of tenderness, and vulnerability, and emotion (yes, emotions other than rage) — as well as moments of compassion, and receptivity, and passivity.
The problem is: They can’t express that without looking like a woman. Which, in a sexist, misogynist society, would be a bad thing. A thing that loses you jobs, and gets you called “pussy”, and “mangina“, and subjects you to suggestions that you “sit to pee” — which would all be BAD, because being anything like a woman/female human is BAD.
This is exactly what the feminist critique of gender entails-both that what has been traditionally labeled “feminine” has been denigrated in order to support patriarchy and sexism, and also that there is nothing inherently bad or gendered about these attributes. Masculinity and femininity are not two separate social constructions where you can critique one without the other. consistent with a deconstructive analysis, masculinity is not self-defined-it is defined by what it is not: feminine. So to critique the arbitrary production of femininity and the subsequent denigration of all things female is to also critique masculinity. In this example there are many “wrongs” here-the idea that certain traits are considered “bad”, that those “bad” traits are arbitrarily linked to a particular gender by arguing a natural connection, that this gender is denigrated all over society, that anyone in the dominant gender who exhibits said traits are denigrated as well…(see my post on the politics of the word pussy)
Now many female feminists do not necessarily write extended analyses about masculinity, but there are many male feminists who do, and they are well worth reading. (see my earlier post).
February 3, 2008
First, an excerpt:
Let’s not kid ourselves here: men as well as women are limited by gender stereotypes. The idea of men as stupid and sex-obsessed is an enduring generalisation that is allowed to flourish in – dare I say it – a much more brazen way than the stereotypes about women, mainly because no man ever stands up and says: “Hey, that’s sexist and it offends me!” The problem is, while women are encouraged to reject the ludicrous ideas that are held about them, men are supposed to embrace them….
…From an early age, women are aware of their gender and what it means for their lives, far more than men are. Feminism encourages women to shed gender stereotypes and consider themselves as individuals. Men simply don’t think about gender. Why would you, when it rarely impacts in a noticeable way on your life? Very rarely is your progress barred because you are a man and it is true that male culture generally does not promote frank and open discussion of such issues.
Many men aren’t feminists simply because it has never occurred to them that they should be: when you’re not faced every day with the challenges thrown up by gender inequality it is very easy to think: “Well, we’ve changed the law so we have equality now.”
And I’d add to his analysis, that often times the gender stereotypes perpetuated for men have the effect of reiterating homophobia and misogyny-so on the one hand, men see little need to challenge them since they don’t seem to directly affect their lives, but also they tend to reinforce their dominant position in society (by labeling the “non-manly” as “gay”, by using overactive sex drive to justify sexism and objectification…)
In order to combat these stereotypes, gender analysis (feminism!) absolutely has to be embraced. This is not only to prove them false by demonstrating they do not accurately reflect the diversity of men’s lives, but also to provide discursive analysis to understand how these stereotypes produce masculinity in particular ways: in much the same way that, for example, feminist analysis showed that the stereotype that women are not as good at math and science as men guided teachers and parents to steer girls away from those subjects at both school and home, after which few women would enter those fields, providing the empirical fact that women do not so well in math and science because few women in fact do work in those fields.
What this example (and many others!) shows is that even if stereotypes do reflect a significant portion of a population, that does not make their manifestation “natural.” It is important to look at how masculinities and femininities are produced as such. And as I allude to above, there is much analysis done already that looks at the sexism and homophobia that produces masculinity in particular ways. So if we want masculinities that are rich and varied, and if we want to combat homophobia and misogyny, men need to embrace gender analysis, feminism, and begin to critique these stereotypes on a regular basis in their daily lives the way feminism has been for decades.
May I recommend…