Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Infiltrating Patriarchy: How and When to sell our souls

Surprisingly enough, abandoning traditional values is harder than it looks. The problem, in short, is that in a partiarchal society, conformance provides tangible benefits--and those benfits can be used ot advance whatever one's goals are--even counterculturalism.

There are two ways, I think that limited conformance can advance the cause of nonconformance. For one thing, those who conform to societal expectations oftne ge tmor erespect, which makes it easier for them to make people listen. For another, it's easier to break down one prejudice at a time. However, I do worry about the downsides of the strategy.

A salient example from my life: Because many of my interests are not terribly "masculine" I often find myself suspected of being gay. Often, I vigorously deny this. I always feel vaguely bad aftwerwards--I shouldn't emphasis my straightness as a virtue--but I feel it's important for people to undertsnad that male dancers are in fact sometimes straight.

The Problme here is that I'm faced with two stereotypes at once: once, that people who do "X" are gay, and second, that being gay is bad. Sadly, I haven't yet found an efficient way to combat both.

Similarly, as I've written about before, there are circumstances in which I am considered unusually masculine. Some subcultures--gamers, for instance, have definitons of masculinity that do NOT require that one be brawny or sports-oriented. Unfortunately, some gamer communities, while they protest against traditionoal masculinity, seem to desire little more than a shift in emphasis from muscles to IQ scores. The misogyny, trash-talking, and bullying are still there.

Among gamers, I blend in. And among them, I am often considered "manly." The problem here is that fighting the dominant mode of the culture can interfere with the message one is trying to communicate, leaving one again in a double-bind. I'm willing to endure some opprobrium for fighting the dominant culture--but if I join the trash-talking and sling a few insults, I can that much mroe influence, perhaps to speka out against bigotry. It's a pernicious double bind.

The root of the problem, I think, is that mainstream culture bombards out groups with a diverse array of negative messages. Out-groups often are subjected to two simultaneous delusions:

Group A cannot do X
X is good.

The problme here is that fighting one stereotype reinforces the other. Suppose the prejudice in question is that "gays are effeminate." If one argues that gays CAN be traditionally masculine, say by writing a tory about a kick-butt dirty cop action hero who happens to be gay, one dispells prejudices against gays at the cost of reaffirming the belief that impulsive bloodthirstyness is a virtue.

On the other hand, if one responds to the "gays are effeminate" with "what's so bad about being effeminate," one tacitly concedes that gays are effeminate.

I guess the question here is this: When a minority is criticized for failing to live up to a straight white male gender role, what is the correct response? To live up to it, to criticize, or some mixture? How does one tell, case-by-case, how to respond?
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