"The women of Bikini Kill let guitarist Billy Karren be in their feminist punk band, but only if he's willing to just "do some shit." Being a feminist dude is like that. We may ask you to "do some shit" for the band, but you don't get to be Kathleen Hannah."--@heatherurehere


Monday, July 31, 2006

Out In the Boonies: More Sexism in Comic Strips

Ok, so it's not exactly a comic strip that I wanted to talk about, but rather a TV show based on a comic strip.

I love Boondocks. I think Aaron McGruder's series of strips called "Flagee and Ribbon," which were run as satire on censorship directly after 9/11, are some of the best satire I've ever read. I have a lot of respect for a person who has stood up for what he believed in even in the face of losing some money/reputation around it (although it could be argued that standing up in that way actually increased his wealth and reputation).

I often feel conflicted about the strip, because, I think, it tends to pick at some of the various raw nerves that I have around race. There's something at once intriguing and at the same time frustrating about the charicatures that he paints--partly because I recognize myself and others in them, but partly because, well, I wish he'd write a novel or something about race, and really get into this stuff more deeply, on a more conceptually adult level.

I think he tries to do that a bit with his TV series based on the strip. I had seen bits and pieces of it here and there, but being a person without cable TV, I hadn't seen much. The first season came out on DVD recently, and I was eagerly anticipating it. I watched the first episode, which was relatively satisfying, full of humor of the cutting sort, and full of really neat animation; beautiful backgrounds, anime style artwork, great voices. The 'plot' of the first one harkened back to the first days of the strip, as Grandad moves the kids into suburbia. The second episode took on the 'Trial of R. Kelly'-and, while it had its funny moments as well--most of which were pretty shocking/funny--it introduced what seemed to me to be a not-so-subtle form of sexism. Kelly's victim in the trial (and if you don't know about the accusations and such, get thee to Google; suffice to say he was accused of peeing on an underage girl for sexual gratification) is portrayed as not-so-bright, 'into it' (i.e. she says, "if I didn't want him to do it, I would have gotten out of the way"); granted, this helps move the story along, as the story is based on Huey's frustration with Kelly not being held to even a very low standard of accountability simply because he's an icon of the music community. But still, when Riley's remarks that he would have gotten out of the way if somebody was going to pee on him go unchallenged in the show, I had to start wondering if maybe McGruder needed to take a closer look at how he treats women in the show.

And then there was the third episode, wherin Grandpa gets seduced by a 20-year old woman who is a prostitute--and Grandpa is the only one who doesn't realize this. Eventually her pimp shows up to get her back, and she does go back with him, despite the protestations of grandpa, who offers to send her to college, to help her find another sort of work.

And this woman, 'Chrystal', is played for laughs almost completely. When faced with the (false dichotomy) prospect of either going back to work for her pimp or 'going to school and getting a job,' she mutters under her breath that she doesn't want a real job, that she thinks school is boring--as if the sole reason that she's working for a pimp is that she's too lazy to go to school. But the straw that broke this camel's back is when Chrystal's pimp hauling his hand back to smack her is played for laughs. Granted, he doesn't get to smack her (this time) because Grandpa stops him, but up until he does, her pimp and his violent tendencies toward her are played fully for laughs (he says the 'pimp's prayer' before hitting her, which amounts to 'please god let the back of my hand heal this woman,' or some such).

It made me sick.

Watching some of the dvd extras, McGruder talks about his intentions in the show--he doesn't intend to just make political statements, he says--his intention is mostly to focus on the comedy. And I know he likes to walk a line between offending people and getting people to think and laugh; I didn't watch the episode on MLK coming back as an older man to see what has become of his legacy, but apparently that generated a lot of outrage and thoughts about things. Seems to me that McGruder takes the very easy way out as regards a woman being trapped in a life as a prositute with a violent pimp. Why doesn't he want us to think and examine our preconceptions there?

Of course, you might say that it's just a cartoon show, albeit an adult one. But it seems to me that this is another example of people being willing to take on a serious subject--race and racism--but to not acknowledge in any serious way the ways in which gender roles and sexism intersect race and racism. If McGruder can take on racism, censorship, and religion, why does he find it so easy to ignore gender inequalities?

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Diets and Body Image

(First, this post is unusually short for me. In the effort of sparing you the relentless tide of verbiage I generally generate, I’m experimenting with a less circuitous style. I’m doing my best to squelch my impulses to lay background, examine each point in minute detail, to explain and apologize for myself at every opportunity. I wrote a first draft of this post which was very, very long. I think you’ll be glad not to have to read it. That said paranoid as I am that I will have left something out, I feel compelled to remind you that, as you well know, the comment button exists and can be used to ask questions.)

Feminists of the world: What do you do when female friends decide to diet? A (reasonably) close friend announced a month ago that she was going on the Atkins diet, forcing me to confront the issue. I found myself facing a tangle of priorities—wanting to tell her that she was as she was, I never thought of her as overweight (true), wanting to support her in her endeavors, wanting to prevent her from being victimized by America’s weight-stupidity while also trying to respect her right to make her own decisions.

I have very mixed feelings about the whole thing. For the record, she *is* a little bit on the chubby side. She could afford to lose a few pounds. I always try to support my friends, I try not to criticize the choices women make about their bodies, and if dieting makes her happier about herself, I’d say it’s a good thing. But I have a few misgivings.

She’s not trying to lose just a few pounds. She’s decided to lose 30. And she hasn’t given herself much time to do it in. Plus, I have my doubts about the health and effectiveness of the Atkins diet.

Sadly, I don’t have all the information, nor am I likely to. She won’t tell me how much she weighs, only that according to her doctors it’s too high for her BMI. Her mother supports her in this, but knowing her mother as I do, it doesn’t reassure me much. I strongly doubt that she needs to lose 30 pounds.

I wouldn’t be surprised if her weight—the bald score, removed form context—sounded pretty high. But numbers and statistics don’t tell the whole story here. I don’t know what the BMI corrects for, but I think she’ll always tip the scales at an impressively high sum.

She’s a stocky girl—not outrageously so, but definitely with wider hips and broader shoulders than most girls I know. She competes in horse shows and raises farm animals, making her one of the most muscular girls I know. On top of that, she has enormously large breasts. Between the three, her weight, whatever it is, is undoubtedly much higher than average for her height. I can only hope she understands that. there may be quite more flesh on her bones than strictly necessary, but I can’t help bus suspect that it’s mostly muscle, and what fat there is congregating on her chest.

About a month into it, she’s lost 10 pounds, seems happy about it, and is being enormously responsible in keeping to the diet, going so far as to cook her own meals. She has yet to become rail-thin or anorexic, and it seems like a wonderful dieting success story. I just worry about how far she plans to take this…

Part of the problem, I guess, is that this is a new experience to me. It’s the first time a friend or relative of mine, which has me a little jumpy. So I guess I’m appealing to the collective wisdom of the Internets—do you have dieting success stories, your own, or for a friend? What makes a successful diet? What do you do when someone diets self-destructively? How can you tell the difference?

It’s times like these that I remember I’m only sixteen…

Friday, July 28, 2006

Twerp!

I know, I know, I can't stop talking about the word 'twerp'.

And yet, isn't Michael Brown just a great example of a guy trying to be a little bully?

(Alpha-) Male Feminism -- Part Three(?)

When I have posted before on what I (following the lead of others) termed 'alpha male feminism', I learned a great deal, both from particular comments (not only on this blog but of course on others as well) and also from the response in general. If I might generalize, most of the response has been along two basic lines of thought, which I'd like to look into more now.

'Alpha Male' is The Wrong Term
The first prominent train of thought in this regard is along the lines of "the term "alpha male" is just too fuzzy a term (or is an inappropriate term, or is the out-and-out wrong term to use here)" to the point that, rather than helping us understand the realationships between men (and women, and those of other various genders) and feminism, it actually gets in the way.

There is merit to this, I think, and quite a bit of it. And yet--we do have to consider that people throw this term around as if it does mean something definite, as if it were something simple and easy to recognize (or create in yourself). Given that it's not, part of our response to people who use it (in a 'positive' or 'negative' way) ought to be to call them on the complexities involved, but that can't be (to me) where our response stops. I think that our response ought to also include (say) an analysis of what it means to be an assertive man in a culture where, in at least a good deal of contexts, being assertive has negative implications for those around him (and this response includes discussions about ways of defining 'assertive' such that being it has no negative implications for those around us!). So, yes, 'alpha male' is a loaded term and should be understood as such in any complex discussion, but yes, we have to address its use as we address the complexities of what it means to be a man and a feminist.

And that was sort of what I gleaned from the whole of posts and comments about alpha male feminism--that some people believe that being a man and a feminist isn't a complex deal--some male feminists are twerps and some are alphas, if we are to go with jedmunds' and Amanda's stance on things (though I still don't completely understand Amanda's assertion that jedmunds was just trying to point out that there are many different (and equally good!) was of being a man who's a feminist; to me, that's akin to saying "Some radical feminists are ugly dykes, and some are normal" and expecting the dykes to think that they are somehow being 'more included'"). But if alpha is the wrong term to use, then why didn't more people call him on it? In part because some people do think that being a man and being a feminist at the same time is a simple sort of thing. But is it a simple thing?

Take, for instance, the fact that comments abound around these discussions that are along the lines of the oft cited idea that "feminism is the radical notion that women are human beings." While this might be true as far as it goes, this (to me) can't be all that feminism can give us. Even if you believe in this flavor of feminism, feminism must also supply some ways of changing the world and the people in it such that more and more of them understand it. Comparatively, whether or not you think alpha males exist, whether you think men ought to be aggressive or you think men ought to be assertive (in their feminism, too!), being and doing these things isn't a simple thing, if you want to hold to feminist ideals.

So, even given that 'alpha male' is a problematic concept--to the point of being useless, some think--examining why it's problematic, especially in the context of men who are feminists, can teach us a lot, I think. Or at least, doing so has taught me quite a bit, without settling for simple statements that boil down to 'just be a feminist!'.

And I say this not to end discussion, but like bringing up alpha male feminism in the first place, to begin and continue discussion.

Aggressive and Assertive
And I think the second most powerful response in the discussion was the idea of recognizing distinctions between aggressiveness and assertiveness--or similar distinctions--which, while not finalizing in any way, are quite helpful nonetheless (for instance, this is sort of the basic distinction that Nice Guys(tm) are apparently not fully understanding). And I bring this up now because I think this is exactly the sort of discussion that feminist men need--what may be obvious to one person (i.e. "well, that's being aggressive, not assertive") isn't obvious to us all, and to have people help out with framing these distinctions is a welcome change, I think, from the general take that, well, men can be feminists just by supporting women in feminism and by recognizing the radication notion that women are human beings. To do these things is good, but how to do them isn't clear-cut, and it won't be the same for every man who does believe in feminism and wants to act in support of feminist ideals. And it won't be the same for all feminists of other genders, either...in short, this points to yet another way that we might examine some of the complexities of what it means to be a man and a feminist.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Comic Strips and Gender Problems

I suppose any one of us could pull something from popular culture and point out how it's sexist/patriarchal-enforcing/genderstupid; I have a particular for daily comic strips, however, and seeing the sexism there is disheartening to me. Such a simple little thing, and yet they often embody the very sorts of sexism, the day-to-day sort, that tends to wear me out.

The first gender 'theory' stuff I learned was in a communications class in community college: Interpersonal Communication. And my final paper in that class was on sexism in daily comic strips--so maybe I also hold this stuff dearest to my heart because it was my way of getting into the theory in the first place.

At any rate, something that could become a regular thing here, is pointing out some sexism in various daily comic strips, partly for 'fun', and partly just because it's the sort of daily-behind-the-scenes sexism that often gets left behind when we talk theory.

First up, Mr. Boffo:


Where do we start, here? Well, for one thing, this comic sort of has one good thing going for it: It points to the intersectionality of gender and class. Here are the men in the wealthy class, wondering why they don't control everything about gender. But of course, they do control a lot of it, and the downfall here is what we might call 'everyday sexism' or some such. Notions that "rich white men's wacky wives sure do have them confounded" are the themes here. Sure, you don't control *any* of the means of production, but you sure do control your husbands, girls!

Ack.

Thoughts?

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Feminism - and Other Isms

I have heard others say that "Sexism" is "More Important" than racism, classism and therefore that being Female (or Male) is more important to our being as people as either the oppressor or oppressed class.

I believe that such a perspective is short sighted and counterproductive!

To tell a Black Woman - that her Gender is more important than her Race in what oppression she may face is presumptious. It may be true for some Black Women and in some circumstances. When We - who are White, Upper-Middle Class, (generally Het, not Disabled, not Elderly) Adult Males define what is most important for others we are demonstrating our privilige and tunnel vision.

I would guess that there are varying circumstances where various factors may be most important to individual people. Where Racism is quite visibly prevalent, it likely will be deemed more important by many than other areas where Sexism may seem more predominant ....

On a Practical Level - as Pro-Feminist/Feminist Men - I believe we should be More Responsible for helping reach and work with other Men to help end Sexism including: domestic violence, rape, sexual harassment as well as subtle and not-so-subtle discrimination against Women and Girls and similar.

Telling Men - that "You are THE Oppressor" particularly early in the communication is not likely to lead to a whole lot of positive changes in the behavior of other Men. It also makes us look very condescending towards other men and tends to cut off meaningful communication.

Helping Other Men confront our Sexism can be very different when we see ourselves as being similar to them, talk of our own issues and how we've Messed Up and struggled, etc. Part of this can involve talking about Racism, Classism and other Isms and how they relate to our lives.

Trying to listen to the stories of Men can be very revealing! Telling a man who was abused as a child by a parent or other authority figure that he is "The Oppressor" simply because he is Male is not very helpful. Talking about how we can take our own Oppressions and use them to relate to Others' struggles, rather than finding others to Scapegoat can be helpful when done in a Loving, Caring Way.

Today - 2006 - in the USA (and Canada most probably) there are plenty of people who are Hurting through Various Isms - as well as simple tragedies and unfortunate circumstances like job losses, the recent deaths of loved ones, etc. Certainly it may be true that statistically us being Male is "most important" among all the Isms we face. IF we really want to confront Sexism and bring about Meaningful Change we need to be realistic and effective in our work and day-to-day lives in general. Helping others - Particularly Men - work with us in Small and Not-So-Small ways is Most Important! Supporting Women (as well as Men) is also Important.

Thanks!

Geo - who is saddened and Angered by the destruction and bloodshed my fellow Jews and Americans have caused in Lebanon in the past several weeks (which isn't to say that they are the only people who've caused Death and Destruction in that Area.)

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Pervasive Sexism

One thing that strikes me as interesting regarding Bush Jr.'s recent groping of another world leader, is the lack of talk about the fact that it's almost a certainty that Bush Jr. wouldn't have made such a mistake if the chancellor weren't a woman. That is, most people are chalking up Jr.'s creepiness to his general lack of understanding of how world leaders ought to relate. Cowboy diplomacy and frat boy mentality and all of that. But I also see this as a great example of just how pervasive sexism can be: Chancellor Merkel has risen to the rank of freakin' chancellor, and still she has to look out for creepy men with no good sense of boundaries sneaking up behind her. She probably deals with this sort of sexism (in addition to various other sorts) every single day--but to have to deal with it sitting in a room full of 'world leaders'?

Granted, Bush Jr. is a special case (in oh-so-many ways), but at the same time, he isn't a special case. One can imagine the same sort of behavior from Clinton, or Cheney, or (cringe) Kissinger; and why is this easy to imagine? Because this is how men tend to treat women, even in the highest echelons of power.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

"Modesty": the conservative clothing fetish (Lecture and open thread)

NOTE: In this post, as will most likely be my future habit, I sometimes use "girls" to refer to female persons in the abstract. This is not because I don't understand the distinction--I would never call a grown woman a "girl," but because, in fact, I am thinking about girls. specifically in the case of my own personal sexual experiences, the people in question are clearly girls, not. I fully expect, however, that many points I will make about girls now and in the future apply to women also. I rejected "females" simply because it sounds too impersonal.

In my last post (http://feministallies.blogspot.com/2006/07/these-creeps-think-about-sex-more-than.html), I was far less coherent than I could have been.

It was born originally out of my frustration with the tired old argument that men can't control the lust aroused in them by visual images (such as lightly clad or nude women.) This is obviously false, and not really worthy of much further argument.

However, the *reason* I don't buy into that claim seems potentially mroe interesting. I don't lust after girls because of their clothing. Now, I'm going to do my best not to be narcissistic. (I hope I spelled that right!) I'm certainly not going to say that everyone is or should be like me. Still, I cna only view the world through the lens of my own experience, and my personal perception take me in a rather different direction from the mainstream discourse.

I'll repeat again: I have never once been attracted ot a woman because of her clothes. For most of my life, I've barely been conscious of clothing--we aren't afraid of nudity in my household, I never had fashion sense growing up (I wore whatever was on top of the drawer) and I had a similar lack of interest in the clothing of others.

Now, I'm neither gay nor asexual--I'm not allergic to low necklines or visible bellies. Revealing clothing certainly can be hot. But my interest is not in the revelation itself but in *who* is being revealed. A good friend of mine, who I've long been attracted to, in a low-cut shirt or a fancy dress--that's hot. A random girl off the street, or a supermodel, in the same outfit--not hot.

Again, I could be exceptional. But it got me thinking: I find any kind of clothign attractive only when on attractive girls--often girls with average bodies and pretty minds. This seems to make sense: almost anything is sexy if it's associated with someone one personally finds hot.

Those calling for greater modesty seem to reach the opposite conclusion--that attractiveness is defined not by who you are, but by what you wear. implicit in the argument that men leer or harass because they fidn some type of clothing arousing is that they would NOT have been attracted if not for the clothing in question.

Now, what do we call it when one can't be aroused without a specific stimulus--that's right, a fetish.

I'll say it again--a demand for modesty only makes sense if made by men who fetishize women's clothing.

Now, I realize that not all men are alike. Generalizing about men's sexuality based only my own experience would be extraordinarily foolish. But it got my wodnering, are men as a whole really as clothing-focused as the conservatives claim? My suspicion is that the presumption that all men, by virtue of being men, must be aroused by certain types of clothing seems like one of those patriarchical gender-role things. So I'd love to hear from the men who read this blog, and my co-contributors: tell us about what clothing, if any, you find attractive, on whom, and why.

I'm not trying to be holier-than-thou. Finding clothing attractive or not isn't something we can help, a tleast not easily. And if many of us share this fetish in small part, that's hardly suprising. After all, fetishes are often shaped by society. If you *do* find revealing clothing universally lust-inducing, I mean you no disrespect.

But I believe that the feverish pundits writing polemics about the evils of short skirts may be a *bit* more sensitive to such thgins that the average man. And while I respect the existence of(almost) all sexual communities, it seems odd that a particular kink has so much sway over society. Odd, and dangerous. Because while the Homosexual Agenda has failed to destroy society--those right-wingers were right. There *is* a nationwide effort draw young people, even children in sexual fetishism--headed by people like our friend Bishop Yanta, who assume without evidence men are and should be aroused by "immodesty."

Opinions form the choir?

Monday, July 17, 2006

I Oppress Women.

This post was going to be a response to nobadges in this thread, but it grew into its own post.

I wrote:
I would look at the [patriarchy] not only as [a system] that places men on top of a hierarchy, but as one that encourages men to oppress women.


nobadges wrote:
I agree that individual men do oppress individual women through the current system. Of course, individual women also oppress individual women, and every other iteration you can think of.


nobadges misunderstood me here. I didn't mean "there are some individual men who oppress women." I meant that all men, in being men, oppress women.

This is not to say that every man is a rapist, nor that there aren't any men who treat women as equals. Thing is, though, by living in a sexist society men do things every day that oppress women -- sometimes things that can't be avoided even if we are aware of them.

For instance, let's say I go into a bank with my female partner to get a mortgage. The person we're speaking to might defer to me more than to the woman with me, asking me all the relevant questions. The assumption (perhaps unconsciously, perhaps not) is that I am the one in charge. So who is to blame for this? Well, certainly the bank employee takes some blame, and society in general is to blame for creating and maintaining a situation where the banker is likely to behave that way. I do not necessarily hold any of the blame in this situation, but my presence caused the oppression of my partner.

This is not a great example, but it shows the insidiousness of privilege. I don't even have to be in the same room as a woman to cause her oppression: if I am one of two equally-qualified candidates for a job, and the other is a woman, I am more likely to be hired. The blame here is not mine unless I played up my maleness in the interview or something, but because my privilege caused me to gain to the detriment of the female candidate I am in a way taking her job opportunity away from her without ever meeting her.

So I as a man, I as a white person, I as a non-poor person, I as an able person and so on through all the privileged classes I am a member of, I contribute to oppression of oppressed classes simply by being who I am. I can't or won't change who I am, so instead I try to change in whatever way I can the structures that cause me to be an oppressor. Yes, it's rather a sisyphean undertaking, but it is the right thing to do.

These Creeps think about sex more than I do, and I'm a 16 year old boy. (part one)

Seriously.

I'm sick to death of hearing calls for greater modesty among women. First there's the obvious argument--the injustice of it all, the artifical definitions of mdoesty, the unwillingness to consider practicality, the use of "modesty" as a tool of oppression.

On top of that, I find it personally insulting that anyone would try to blame women for my (hypothetical) trespasses. You know why? because I intend them to be hypothetical. blaming women for inciting lust implies that men will be lustful, and that it's completely out of men's control.

But neither of those points, important as they are, as commonly heard in the feminist blogosphere, is what I'm writing about today. Because reading another impassioned speech on the topic of feminine modesty, whether by Bishop Yanta, a troll over Hugo's, or an (Am)Taliban official never fails to raised another question in my mind, one far mroe disturbing:

What the fuck is wrong with these people? It absolutely defies my ability to comprehend. Every time someone writes a cautionary tale about the all-consuming lust inspired by the mere sight of a belly shirt, some leg, a bit of cleavage, or, you know, an ankle, I find myself trying desperately to understand what is going through his head.

I always fail. Now, I may have lived a somewhat sheltered life--as a middle-class suburban homeschooled teen, I imagine the mode fo dress I'm accustomed to seeing is rather reserved. But I'm no stranger to the female form. I watch movies, filled though they are with supermodel/actresses. I play video games and own D&D books, filled though both with grotesque distortions of the female form and utterly pandemic immodesty. My female friends may be homeschooled, but they aren't nuns. At parties especially, thighs, bellies and breasts are usually in evidence, if not abundance.

So it's with some confidence that I'm able to proclaim that I don't know what the hell the Fashion Priests are complaining about.

I've never lost my respect for a girl (or woman) because of her dress. I've never been tempted to impropriety by someone's dress. Surprisingly enough, I do my best to judge people by something toher than their clothing. If anything, I especially respect those willing to defy the Powers That Be and dress the way they want to, since it implies to me they might be independant in other ways. In any case,, treating less-dressed people decently isn't even some great act fo self-control, it's jsut a non-issue.

I've never been distracted by a person's apparel. I mean, how hard is it really not to look? maybe the mod(esty) squad are just too easily distractable, but when I'm working, I'm generally concentrating on my work, not my neighbor's clothes. And because ym gaze frequently wanders--away from the person i'm talking to--I know full well it's quite possible to have a conversation without looking, if it's that cold-shower-inducing.

But I think It's safe to say more than that: I have never--not once in the sixteen years of my life-- had lustful thoughts as a result of someone's (lack of) clothing. I honestly find it a rather alien mindset: A girl's clothing barely registers with me, unless I'm already attracted to her. And the single biggest factor in how attracted I am to a girl is how well I know her. (I'd like to think it's because I find people's inners selves attractice. a less flattering hypothesis would be that I only get to know a girl if I find her attractive)

Like many of the issues about which Conservatives get worked up, I just don't get it. Are America's champions of sexual purity the most easily aroused among us? Girls in our group started showing thier bellies --the boys' academic performance did not suffer. Girls have shown up at dances in miniskirts--no sexual orgies ensued. I've seen pictures of naked ladies-- They were aesthetically intriguing, no more.

To every woman who belives male self-control is destroyed by skimpy clothes-- to every man who claims to slightest bit of skin sends him into an all-encompassing lust-- and most of all, to every priest whose attention is spent as much on the church's less clothed girls as on his sermons-- I ask: what the fuck is wrong with you?

Skewed

I've started reading Black Sexual Politics: African Americans, Gender, and the New Racism, by Patricia Hill Collins, and it's quite interesting (maybe I'll have something substantial to say here later about it); most notably, so far, her description of the need for a continuing discussion about the way race, gender and sexuality intersect in particular within various African-American communities, even in the face of more and more discussions of race which consciously move away from the African-American set of experiences in order to understand these concepts more broadly.

That said, reading Collins' take on the need for various discussions from various points of view highlighted something that all of us here have been aware of since we started this groupblog: It's pretty white around here. We would love to have some men of color who are feminists posting; the lack thereof (I think) is a reflection of the newness of the blog, and of our probably whitewashed efforts to recruit--and by this I mean the only effort we've made is the 'passive' effort to ask for contributers on the blog itself. Until we remedy this situation, and as a first step toward that remedy, perhaps anybody out there reading (and, of course, our other current posters) could give me some links to some men of color who are also feminists posting/blogging/writing books about the intersections of gender and race from a feminist perpspective? (I apologize for the possible overuse of the word 'intersection' in this post, and in future posts. I'm reading Collins, as I said, and her voice/tone/jargon is downright viral.)

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Intro - A New "Older" Voice

Hi,

I'm a new contributor to this blog.

I'd guess I'm a "bookend" for you Malachi - I'm 55 years old and got in my first men's consciousness raising group I think in 1981. I then went to my first men's gathering where I was exposed to lots of Gay, Bi as well as Het Men, helped organize a larger men's gathering and got very involved in the Pro-Feminist Men's Movement. In 1983 I helped co-found Men Stopping Rape, Inc. of Madison, Wisconsin and later founded The Men's Anti-Rape Resource Center (it's now retired).

When my son was born on my 36th birthday in 1987 (he attends Cornell University) I became involved with fathering issues editing the National Organization for Changing Men's Fathering Newsletter. After moving to the San Francisco Area in 1989, my men's work dwindled due to work and family and other things.

I recently moved and now live with my step-sons and second wife in a gorgeous house in a Pacific Northwest (U.S.) City. On July 1st, 2006 I officially retired. I will be tutoring in a public school in the fall and doing other volunteer work as well as househusbanding. In May, 2006 I started my own blog which is at: www.geoisphere.blogspot.com. I anticipate focusing my feminist related writing more here, rather than there.

I'm always open to questions, constructive criticism, etc.

Thanks!

Geo

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

In case you're wondering, I haven't dropped off the face of the earth

I haven't posted here in a while, and it's mainly because I just went back to work after a long absence, and real life is catching up with me. I have a couple of posts brewing, though, and as soon as I can force myself to get enough sleep and find a couple of hours where I'm not working, apartment-hunting, job-hunting or too tired to think I'll bang them out. Promise.

Alpha Male Feminism: Be a Man, Part Two

Remember This Discussion?
A while ago I wrote a bit about the way that men bullying men is a way to perpetuate the sort of male-dominated hierarchy that some feminisms (including the sorts that I embrace) tend to want to avoid. I still think that men who call themselves feminists ought to generally refrain from responding to other men in a way that is buying into the bullying mindset, but I also think that the whole notion of being both a feminist and an alpha male is something worth exploring in more detail, as it is more complex than it might first appear.

Can You Be an Alpha Male and a Feminist?
jedmunds from Pandagon thinks so; in the middle of all the 'Nice Guy' rigmarole, jedmunds pulls this out in the comments:
You can be a feminist and an alpha male at the same time. Not all feminist men are as twerpy as hugo.

There's a lot of background to the discussion jedmunds was commenting on, and I am admittedly not getting into all of it (I did a bunch in Part 1). But whereas I focused on the name-calling (i.e. 'twerp'), which I consider bullying of one man by another, I'd like to look more closely at the idea that a man can be a feminist and an alpha male at the same time.

A good deal of this all hinges, of course, on whatever conception of 'alpha male' that we find ourselves using. I've been using it very loosely--possibly too loosely--and I think most other people do, as well. The equivocation, intended or not, of a lot of people (myself included) of the phrase tends to lead us to ignore the main conceptual analysis that needs to be done, I think. Can alpha males be feminists? Well, it depends what you mean by 'alpha males'. (It may also be important to note that I think most of the blog-ish discussion on this stuff is utilizing a decidedly non-scientific conception of 'alpha male'.) In a pop-sociological sense, alpha males who don't buy into patriarchy seem something of an oxymoron--alpha males exist, in part, to create the hierarchy; being the 'alpha' of whatever group one is in is by definition being the one who maintains the hierarchic structure, with the alpha at the top. Is such a conception of alpha male in any way consistent with any kinds of feminism that we might want to embrace?

What Nice Guys(tm) Think
It's pretty clear that the things that the Nice Guys are complaining about don't really have much to do with alpha males--instead, they have to do with said Nice Guys blaming their lack of significant others on things that they believe are outside of their control, when, in fact, being a Nice Guy(tm) is unattractive and well within their control. And it's relatively clear that when Nice Guys say they're complaining that women 'like jerks,' they are confused and projecting at the very least; they are also, it seems, not talking about the same alpha males that jedmuns and Amanda at Pandagon have in mind--the alpha males that jedmunds and Amanda have in mind are a positive sort, and downright attractive. Amanda supports jedmunds by noting:
Bingo, jedmunds. It'’s as simple as that. This shit frustrates me to no end, as I tend to go with men that have aggressive personalities (they'd have to, to keep up) and yet their politics are spotless. Because I aggressively vet for that.

Not that I'’d need to. You donĂ‚’t actually meet hot, confident, fun men where I live that are conservative. Consevatives tend to be dweebs.

What can we get from Amanda's comment about what she thinks counts as an alpha male feminist? She obviously agrees with jedmunds assesment that Hugo is a 'twerp', and she also agrees that it's possible to be an alpha male (which is at least not-a-twerp) and a feminist. So what else counts as not-a-twerp--what else counts as an alpha male-who-is-also-a-feminist? Amanda gives us some idea here. An alpha male-who-is-a-feminist is, among other things: Aggressive, hot, confident and fun.

Aggressive, Hot, Confident and Fun
What's not to like about somebody who is aggressive, hot, confident and fun? Of course, there are going to be various sorts of likes and dislikes--not all people like the same things in a significant other. Also, what's 'aggressive' to some is downright 'mean' to others. So I'm openly and admittedly generalizing from Amanda's statment; but I'm not trying to say 'this is what feminist women want in a man'. What I ultimately would like to better understand are the complexities of being the sort of alpha-male who can also be a feminist. Both jedmunds and Amanda think that it's possible to be both...what are the men they have in mind like, and how difficult might it be to be one, or to even spot one?

One clue might be the nice lists of confident-but-not-Nice-Guy men that came out of zuzu's post. I'm thankful for that resource, because it gives one an idea of what Amanda and jedmunds might mean. But it doesn't take us very far, really, because it seems like men like Morgan Freeman and Jimmy Stewart probably don't go around calling other men twerps, and aren't the bullying type. But what we have is jedmunds calling somebody a 'twerp', and putting himself forth as an example of an alpha male who is a self-declared feminist--and Amanda agrees. So, is such name-calling, done by jedmuns and approved of by Amanda, what Amanda means by 'aggressive' and 'confident'? Probably not all that she means, but given her approval of the name calling, men bullying men in that way is part of being 'agressive' and 'confident' to Amanda...bullying and name-calling of men by men is at least part of being an alpha male-feminist of the sort that Amanda finds attractive (and part of being the sort of alpha male-feminist which jedmunds thinks he is).

Agressive, Confident, but Not A Jerk
Now, I'm all for calling bullshit on people when you spot bullshit. But, similar to the way that feminist men ought to be careful--very careful--in how and why they go around calling bullshit on women who are feminists for various reasons (i.e. invading spaces that are women's spaces, not taking privilege into account enough and the like), men ought to be careful with how and why they call bullshit on other men who consider themselves feminists. Not that they shouldn't call bullshit, but that the way they do it ought not, to the greatest degree possible, support patriarchy. I think that name-calling of men by men does just that, and inasmuch as alpha males are bullies of other men in this way, they don't support the sorts of feminisms that I embrace. So, if what people like Amanda mean by 'aggressive' and 'confident' includes bullying of men by men, then I'd say that her idea of what a feminist man ought to be conflicts sharply with my idea of what a feminist man ought to be; her idea of a feminist man seems to include men who support patriarchy by dominating other men.

Aggressive and Confident in the Real World
Another possible problem is represented by the following question: Can a man be agressive and confident without dominating other men, in the sense of bullying, but also in a more general sense? While I'm coming to better understand that it may be possible (see the lists that zuzu's commentors suppled us, above), I have some doubts that it is in any way a simple or easy thing. I get that there are, of course, various ways to be aggresive and confident. On one end of the spectrum that people like Amanda implicitly suggest exists, are men who are agressive and confident, yet are still feminists (and as such are pretty attractive!). On the other end of the spectrum are the Nice Guys, who are so non-confident that they are the wrong kind of aggressive. But none of these men exist in a vacuum. Let's take the man on the 'good' end of the spectrum, and put him in an actual environment.

He may be generally aggressive in that he vies for what he wants, speaks his mind, doesn't put up with bullies, calls people on bs. He may do great things like calling other men on their own sexism. He may be confident enough to do all of this, not caring much that he might be smacked down in various ways for it by other men and by the culture in general (and, of course, by people of all genders). As a feminist, he might stand up to other men (and women!) who are anti-feminist in their thinking and actions. But what happens if he's in a room full of agressive and confident men who aren't feminists? How does he speak his mind, vie for what he wants, stand up to bullies and such when these anti-feminist men aren't playing by the same rules? They will use patriarchic hierarchies of power, but our Good Guy is supposed to be undermining patriarchy. So what happens when these Bad Guys start dealing out their aggressiveness? They'll do it by dominating our Good Guy--what can he do that doesn't buy into trying to dominate them right back? In short, how can our Good Guy react in a way that is 'aggressive' and 'confident', but which doesn't smack of the patriarchy-hierarchy invocation of calling men names?

I think it's a tricky business, which is why men like jedmunds end up bullying people like Hugo; this isn't to say that being aggressive and confident but not a supporter of patriarchy is impossible--it's just a difficult line to walk, and it isn't talked about enough. Similar to the way that some women are called 'bitches' (and not in the positive way) simply because they are aggressive and confident, feminist men who are aggressive and confident may be stuck in something of a patriarchy-created trap--what does it mean to be an aggressive feminist man who isn't aggressive in the way that the anti-feminist men are? In the very act of being aggressive, he may be seen to be anti-feminist, depending on the context. Part of being an anti-feminist man is buying into the patriarchic tradition of being aggressive in a way that dominates not just women, but men as well. How can one be aggressive toward anti-feminist men without, for the moment, turning into an anti-feminist man?

Again, this isn't to say that it's impossible. But I think it becomes a relatively intractable problem fairly quickly for men who struggle against patriarchy--I wonder if we have all had the experience of realizing after the fact that we shut down some anti-feminist men by using the patriarchic structure itself?

And what other sorts of 'aggressive' behavior might we employ that isn't buying into patriarchy? If there are ways to be 'agressive' and 'confident' as an alpha male and at the same time to be a feminist man, I think they are not obvious (perhaps just not-obvious-to-me!), and that they ought to be fleshed out. And they certainly ought to include a type of aggressiveness that doesn't buy into patriarchy the way calling men twerps seems to me to do.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Patriarchy and the World of Lies

I've finally figured out how to explain to myself what I consider the most pernicious of patriarchy's many sins agaisnt society: it gives rise to a world of lies, where facades, conformity and self-deception reign and genuine expression is stifled.

I was thinking about economics the other day. Specifically, the concept of a "free market." Free markets work best because they give rise to what economist Tim Harford calls a "world of truth." People pay for what they want, based on what it's worth to them and what it costs to make. The optimal amount of everything is produced, everyone is working in the right job, because people are seek out what's best for them..

Plenty of factors can interfere with the free market, however. Externalities are a major one. An externality is the flaw in a market which results when one person's action has an effect on naother, either positive or negative. If negative, too much gets produced: I don't have to pay for the damage I inflict. If positive, too little: If I maintain my lawn, it will increase your property value--but I may not find it worthwhile unless you pay me.

Welfare Economics is the discipline of economics that tries to create perfectl efficient markets, maximizing the total benefit enjoyed by all memebrs of society. In my last post, I proposed a very similar decision-making system for individuals: subdivide yourself into several persons, each representing a given interest, and look at the tradeoffs involved in indulging one need by neglecting another.

This insight finally made clear to me what's wrong with the patriarchy, indeed with the mere existence of gender roles: it destroys the free market of the soul. just as taxes and subsidies cna skew incentives for economic choices, social approval or reproval can similarly skew personal choices.

For instance, a woman in summer considering wearing skimpy (that is, comfortable) clothign must consider not only her own physical comfort, how she personally wants ot look, and her budget, but also the likely reactions of outsiders. Often for anyone, but especially for women, the demands of society conflict with what is actually best.

A world in which a woman is cowed into wearing clothes that are too hot is senselessly inefficient. It is a world where people ar eless comfortable than they should be, for no added gain. It is a world where social disapproval (a "tax" on revealing attire) prevents people from wearing what they truly want to wear. If conservatives hate government control over business, they should realize that government control of people is just as bad, for just the same reason.

Women aren't the only ones who suffer. Every time a man refuses to take dance lessons because they "girly" or "gay," talent is being wasted. we are--all of us-- less productive, less well-rounded, less interesting people than we should be, because our options are artificially limited.

I've never felt pressure to conform to my gender role; quite the opposite in fact. I do many fo the thigns I do: wear long hair, act in plays, dance, write poetry, actually talk to girls, etc.) in part because I actively enjoy the surprise, disgust, or amusement I provoke.

In short, patriarchy controls my rebel life as much as anyone else. I like my long hiar--I think it looks good, and I don't have to cut it often. But I'll be honest with myself. If not for the attention my hiar brings me, i would have cut it logn ago. It's simply too impractical, too muhc work to care for, to keep out of my face, and so on. I have long hair precisely because boys aren't supposed to.

I wish the world didn't work this way. I wish men felt free to take ballet. I wish I could assume my friends' stay-at-home moms do so because they want to, not because they have to. I wish people understood that not all men like sports. I wish that one of my female friends wouldn't hide a second shirt in her backpack to chang einto once she gets out of her house.

I wish people could be honest about what they feel. I wish boys only kissed girls because they were in love. I wish rumor didn't attribute me four or five girlfriends, all because I actually *like* girls and treat them decently. I wish girls starting dating when they were ready, not when their friends expected it. I wish girls only kissed boys because they were in love.

I wish that people felt safe enough to be themselves.

Thanks a lot, patriarchy. Thanks for making vindictive self-hating manipulative liars of us all.

Patriarchy is nothing more than the fascism of the soul.

Confusion Over Clothing: normative/positive "shoulds" and overlapping responsibility

There’s another discussion of women dressed in “attractive/provocative/inappropriate” clothing over at Hugo’s, and the same tired arguments are being rehashed in the comments section.

In every discussion of sexual aggression against women—whether a prominent rape case, a diatribe against street harassment, or a more nuanced examination of the way women’s clothing choices affect their public personas—some trollish commenter decries the “foolishness” of women complaining about their poor treatment and tells them to “face facts.” He (and it is almost always a man) argues that feminism is giving men the responsibility for women’s choices and that if they don’t want their breasts stared at they shouldn’t wear shirts that reveal them.

The feminist community’s response to this commenter is, appropriately, indignant. After all, some truly unpalatable sentiments are expressed here, all in a way that reinforces the patriarchy by requiring women to preemptively compensate for male failings. The discussion is rarely very fruitful, though, because the two camps (and indeed, individual commenters involved) are rarely speaking the same language. Two words cause a lot of confusion in these debates: “responsibility” and “should.” A clear distinction between moral and practical responsibility and normative and positive shoulds would make things much clearer.

Let’s start with responsibility. A responsible person is one who acts sensibly and appropriately. One who avoid getting in trouble or acting imprudently. And, in that sense, I suspect the anti-feminist trolls are more accurate than most feminists want to acknowledge.

It is a deeply unpleasant but very real truth that the way a woman is treated in public is closely related to her attire. While many commenters relate anecdotes in which they were the subject of sexual aggression while modestly attired, this is slightly misleading. We shouldn’t forget the fact—it demonstrates that this isn’t about hardwiring but male privilege—but I think it’s fair to assume that women receive more sexual attention when they are, well, sexy. Now, there’s no objective definition of what is and is not sexualized clothing. In fact, I think it changed with time and place. But, on a simplistic level, a woman who goes out wearing clothing that reveals her breasts probably knows that they’re going to be stared at.

From a practical standpoint, all one controls is one’s own behavior, not the environment. If one holds that:

A: if I expose my breasts, they will be stared at
And
B: if my breasts are stared at, I am receiving unwanted attention

Then it necessarily that “If I expose my breasts, I will receive unwanted attention.” If my biggest priority if to avoid unwanted attention, then I should not expose my breasts.

This argument is the core of the troll’s argument and it is logically sound. The only problem is what it leaves out. First, one must be wary of the converse error: even without exposed breasts, one may still receive unwanted attention. Second, other considerations. One does not, presumably, expose breasts purely to earn unwanted attention. Therefore, a woman exposing her breast is probably doing so for some other reason, whether to attract wanted attention, because she can’t find clothes that don’t, or because it’s more comfortable given the weather.

Thus, a woman who wants to avoid sexual harassment is forced to make other sacrifices. The anti-feminist is right in the superficial sense that a woman who wants to avoid negative social consequences should (empirically, not morally) dress “modestly” whatever that means. His mistake, and what makes his argument unacceptable to feminists, is that he suggests that this is a fundamental part of the world, and should not be further examined. feminists can accept the logic, but recognize the decision to be “modest” as what it is: an unpleasant compromise.

Moral responsibility, of course, falls on the person who actually performs an unpleasant action, no matter why they did it. The victim is never morally at fault for being the victim of an immoral act. For example, if I leave my car unlocked with the keys in the ignition when I go into a hop, and someone drives off with it, there are two kinds of responsibility here: I acted irresponsibly by leaving my car unlocked while the thief ignored his moral responsibility not to steal it. Everyone who wants to avoid having their car stolen should (empirically) lock their doors while at the same time everyone given a chance to steal a car should (morally) refrain from doing it.

After my friend’s car is stolen there is absolutely nothing contradictory about my simultaneously advising him to be more careful and calling for the thief to be caught and punished.

So everyone has, at a minimum, two tasks as they go through life: be pragmatically vigilant against encouraging others to trespass against them and morally vigilant against committing trespass against others. a woman deciding what to wear needs to take into account both what she wants to wear, and the reactions she will probably elicit, and decide whether the hassle is worth it to her.

So where do we stand now? We’ve realized that people do evil things, that they should be despised, and that, at the same time, it’s a good idea to do what you can to prevent them form doing evil things to you. That’s a pretty good rubric for living in the world as it is today, but being activists we want more. While we recognize the double bind women suffer today, we want to make sure that the same double bind doesn’t hamper the women of tomorrow.

My suggestion? Don’t compromise, if you can possibly avoid it. If all you want is to maximize your personal well-being, it may be easiest to go with the flow. But that isn’t going to change the world. If don’t like the current, I swim against it. Figure out how much you need to compromise to survive (by which I mean, to live a rewarding life, not simple physical survival) and then compromise that much and no more. If you absolutely hate being stared at, your own well-being may require you to do everything in your power to avoid it. But if you cope with it a little, go ahead and wear that low-cut shirt.

We can only remake society by challenging it.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Putting Men in Their Place(s), Part One

A discussion about the intersections of gender identity, sexual identity, gay men as feminists and the notion of safe places to talk about sex recently turned into a discussion (in part) on what part men ought play as feminists in the larger scheme of what feminism can be. Jake objected to my expressing disappointment that Bitch, PhD didn't give gay feminist men (and bi feminist men, and bi feminist women) the same segregated spaces to talk about sex that she gave to straight feminist women and (eventually) gay feminist women and straight feminist men--and she (Jake) was adamant that my expressing such disappointment--which she considered the same or as or similar to 'requiring something before respecting someone' and 'demanding'--isn't within the scope of what feminist men ought to be doing:

Calling yourself a feminist doesn't make you one, Jeff. Lots of men who call themselves feminists, and even believe that they are feminists, nonetheless can't see past their own privilege far enough to realize that women in general are not their mommies and have no responsibility to make feminism easy for, or inclusive of, them.

Feminism is our movement, on our terms. You are welcome to join, but not if you try to tell women what feminism is and how it should be done.

I have two almost simultaneous emotional reactions to such statements: First, I feel a deep sympathy and empathy (almost a solidarity, ironically enough) for such statements. Second, I feel defensive. I try to encourage the first emotional reaction in myself, and to discourage the second one, but there's no doubt that I feel both, and it's probably a good thing to recognize this at the outset. In the spirit of trying to keep the defensiveness at bay, I would like to first address the merits of Jake's point--and there are many. I don't do this because I think Jake needs (or wants!) any backing up from me; I do this because I think it's important for men to explicitly acknowledge the truths in what Jake has said, and because it really hurts nothing to say it again and again.

Also, it's important to note that this isn't a diatribe for or against Jake. I think it's not going too far to say that Jake's position here is a relatively common position, and one that, as feminist men, we are going to be integrating into our thinking on a regular basis. Addressing these concerns, I think, is sort of like a Feminism for Men 101; it will be an ongoing process, so maybe the analogy to a classroom isn't quite right, but the idea of having some basic ideas to go back to as regards the points Jake is making seems worthy of some time, in part because Jake's not alone in her thinking here.

The Mommy Thing
Jake's choice of language around 'women are not your mommies' is likely not accidental. There is a strain of thinking, as a result of patriarchy, in my opinion, that runs very deeply in men that tells us that women are to be depended on by default to do various things in our lives. As a kid, even though I was raised mostly by my mother, I still developed tendencies to not, say, clean up after myself as much as I ought to (and my mother would be the first to agree!). This is something that I am still fighting, I think, to this day. A trite example, perhaps, but these sorts of 'everyday' things point to how deeply this stuff runs in men. And, to the degree that it does run deep, and to the degree that it permeates other spheres of life, it's important to point out that men can often treat women like they are here to take care of us. And I think it's important that this isn't just a huge generalization--I think that many men, once awoken to feminist ideals, start to see this in themselves. Not all, perhaps, but many.

Another good reason for Jake's language is that, in the realm of feminist blogs (and I would add--in the realm of the women's studies classes I attended in college), men often come into the discussion with their privilege showing, and they do so for similar 'mommy take care of me' reasons. Oftentimes, women feminist bloggers are expected to not only write about feminist issues, but to hold the hands of men who stumble upon their blogs, are new to feminism, or are struggling with privilege in whatever ways. What happens is that men often come in with sincere questions and such, but what they really need is Feminism 101; the problem, of course, isn't being ignorant per se--the problem is expecting women to go to great lengths to help men catch up on the theory and practice of feminism. And who holds one's hand in such ways? Surrogate mommies. So some well-chosen words from Jake not only make their point, they are a pretty good shorthand for a lot of what men need to be aware of as regards becoming better feminists; in addition, calling men out in this way by invoking the idea that they are mama's boys in this specific sense might be a way to get them to listen--a metaphorical light slap in the face.

The Blindness to Privilege Thing
Jake is also right to point out that men are often blind to their own privilege. This isn't, of course, applicable to only men who discover feminism and patriarchy--people, in general, have blind spots with regard to their own privilege; it's almost definitional that it be so, at least subconsciously. Fish don't think about the fact they are in water and all that--people who hold privilege subconsciously see that privilege as 'the norm', and often have to have it pointed out to them (though they can learn to 'point it out to themselves'). And, to the extent that our blind spots cover so much, men ought to not only appreciate it when women point out those blind spots to us, but ought to get into the habit of pointing them out to ourselves, and to other men. (Dave's particularly good at this.)

Whose Movement?
There is also a lot to be said about noting at the outset of any discussion of men and feminism that feminism is born, to a great degree, out of the reaction of women to their oppression from men. There are all sorts of causes of feminism, of course, but it would be pretty hard to find the feminist woman who didn't think feminism had something to do with fighting against the oppression of women. And, given that resisting the oppression of women is one of the centers of feminism (for most people identifying as feminists), the quick, obvious answer to "Whose movement is the feminist movement?" is: Women's.

Again, I am thankful to Jake (and other women and men who have pointed this out, not only to me but to various men) for bringing this up and for putting it right there where we can't avoid seeing it. I appreciate the strong language. And there are lots of reasons that the language needs to be that strong, and that direct. Men, because of ignorance and because of blindness to privilege (usually a combination of both), can tend to go stomping around trying to define feminism for women. (I've been accused of this by Bitch, PhD, a long time ago--and I wish I still had the link!--for instance.) When a man does this, it's often completely utterly obvious to the women involved, and the man is oftentimes utterly oblivious to the same degree--so the direct, strong words (which really are sort of line in the sand) may be the only kind that can do the most good, in these cases.

In Part Two (hopefully more quickly forthcoming than Part Two of the Alpha Male discussion!), I will discuss some of the complexities that are implicit in Jake's points, and (in a possibly presumptuous way) try to sketch out the framework for how men might participate as feminists in feminisms that echo Jake's thinking.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Male Privilege and Mock Trial

I’m preparing for the return of the school year, hoping to tackle it in a feminist fashion. One of the best things about my homeschool group is that it’s small and the women who run things are approachable. Therefore, even as a single student, I can exert considerable influence over the institutions I live under.

I’ve always believed that equal rights for women are, well, a right, and that equal talents between genders are a fact. (I’ve known too many female black belts and math-savants to think otherwise) The new piece of the puzzle for me is the concept of male privilege, and unfortunately it’s one I’ve always exercised frequently with my homeschool group.

It’s nothing but arrogance that prevented me from seeing it before—I foolishly believed. I earned everything I had through exceptional talents. Ah, youthful folly. It never once occurred to me that people might listen to me more readily because I was male, that I might get more credit for the same achievements, or anything of the sort. A major part of the problem is that I *do* have a lot (some say an excess) of self-confidence, a forceful personality, and some take-charge instincts. Thanks, patriarchy. But disentangling what’s really me form what’s the patriarchy’s influence, what’s self-confidence and what’s self-aggrandizement, what’s inspiring leadership and what’s privileged domination is no mean feat. Before I recognized my privilege, it was impossible.

I know better now, but still aren’t sure exactly what I can do about it. I’ve been particularly worried about the reformation of my Homeschool group’s Mock Trial team.

For those unfamiliar with the Massachusetts Mock Trial competition, the basic idea is as follows: each team is mailed a booklet containing all the facts and laws relevant to a single (fictitious) criminal charge or civil suit. Within a given trial, a team calls three witnesses (played by teammates), while 3-6 lawyers divide up the eight attorney roles: three direct and three cross examinations, and make an opening and a closing speech. Since each team will portray both prosecution and defense, there are a total of 22 “positions” to play over the course of a season, although by doubling or tripling up, one person could conceivably cover as many as 6 of those 22.

The first order of business at the beginning of the year is dividing up those positions among the team. The division is not equal: many attorneys will play two roles, but some get only one and others take on three. Further, not all roles are equal: the “star witnesses” and their examinations are coveted, as are the closing statements.

The exact particulars of the distribution are different each year, but there are notable trends. While we’ve had numerous (and very skilled) female attorneys, with only one notable exception the “star” attorneys of our team have been male. Female team members disproportionately take on witness roles, which are seen by many as less difficult. Male team members are almost always assigned the parts considered more “confrontational.” They conduct the heated cross-examinations; girls do cross exams requiring a lighter touch. Girls read the sedate and neutral opening statements; boys deliver the invective-laden closing arguments. If there’s one thing I can give us credit for, it’s how we assign the witnesses: we have a long and successful tradition of having girls play the expert witnesses.

(Incidentally, before this very moment, I never realized how gender-based our casting really was!)

Now, the teammates own wishes play a substantial role in assigning the parts, so they bear some of the blame. The subjective nature of the judging is another confound: if male attorneys are widely perceived as more competent or threatening, a coach might simply be picking the team members likely to get the best scores and still be an unwitting pawn of the patriarchy.

Every year, I’ve had a substantial role, and every year, a bigger role than in the year before. I wish my sister-counsel well, but fundamentally, every role I get is a role a female student doesn’t—and maybe, I now realize, one more qualified than I am. Even so, I’d like to be the start again, for obvious reasons. Is there anything I can do about this? What can I do to make sure that I’ve truly earned the role I get? And how can I make sure the (female) coach is fair to (female) students?

A (New) New Voice

Hello, everyone. I’m Malachi. I ended up on this blog through pure serendipity: I was thinking of starting a blog of my own when I stumbled across this blog’s request for contributors.

I’m far from an expert on feminism. In fact, I’ve only identified feminist for the past couple of months, although I give myself credit for fighting the patriarchy unconsciously long before I was introduced to feminist theory when I stumbled across Pandagon.

Thus, I’m not going to be writing as a lecturer dispensing wisdom, but more keeping a journal of a man attempting to live a feminist lifestyle. In fact, I expect to ask for advice more often than give it.

In the style of Dave, a random fact sheet:

· I’m a 16-year-old heterosexual white guy. Not the stuff of which feminists are traditionally made but I shall try.
· I am home schooled, and always have been
· I’m an east coast American.
· Most of my friends are female, but few identify as feminists
· I never conformed well to gender roles, or expected others to.
· My mother’s radfem friend tried to explain all this to me years ago, but girls in my homeschool group are treated well enough that I didn’t quite get it. Even so, I can see that we have a long way to go.

Anyway, more to come, I suppose. Ja, mata.