Thursday, September 28, 2006

Feminist Fiction

What is feminist fiction? Before I even begin, I recognize that this could mean two things: in essence, overt and covert feminist fiction.

"Overt" feminist fiction would be fiction of which feminism is a primary theme. Stories by and about women challenging and overcoming gender roles, and the discrimination they face. Tamora Pierce, or Mercedes Lackey, in fantasy, for instance.

My stories aren't like that. My two biggest projects were conceived before I identified feminist, and they're full of other themes and characters. There is, in some sense, not "room", I sometimes feel, to address injustices suffered by women when I'm busy telling an epic of kings and thrones, dragons and magic swords. And yet that in itself is the height of male privilege--assuming that only male experience is important enough to grace my pages.

And so, it seems to me: shouldn't a feminist writer--a writer who believes that men and women are equal, that gender roles are oppressive, and so on--shouldn't such a writer write fiction that is in some way informed by that sensibility? Presumably, a feminist writer should NOT imply that traditional gender roles are a good thing. A feminist writer should NOT lazily exploit negative stereotypes of women.

And yet, in trying to formulate the requirements of feminist-acceptable writing, I found myself in a quagmire. Because the demands of story, of fantasy, and of reality so often conflict.

Stories about kick-ass female heroes are clearly feminist. Does that make stories that are NOT about kick-ass female heroes anti-feminist? Obviously not. What if the story features kick-ass male heroes, but no female heroes? Maybe it *is* anti-feminist. What if the shortage of female heroes is caused by an oppressive society? Feminist? What if the author fails to make this point explicitly? Anti-feminist?

How about relationship dynamics? Is a story anti-feminist because it depicts unequal relationships? Clearly not. What if it depicts them favorably? What if the (male) main character has an unequal relationship? Has unchecked male privilege? Aren't characters supposed to be true to life? And yet, if the protagonist is presented as an admirable man, a moral man, isn't it harmful to show this paragon of virtue blithely exercise male privilege?

Even heroes are allowed the occasional character flaw or petty moral failing. But does it count as a flaw if most readers don't recognize it as one?

Furthermore, because I write fantasy, I am halfway between writing life as it is and life as it should be, which makes the matter of responsibilities unclear. The writer of historical fiction is safe. He will not write about female knights because there are no female knights. But in writing fantasy, I am responsible for the world I bring to life. There may never have been female knights--but there were never fearless dragon-slaying knights of any kind, and never any enchanted swords. Why, if I am to invent a King Arthur and his round table, would it *not* have women in it?

So, What say you all: To make a long question short:

What responsibilities does a writer who calls himself "feminist" take on, in terms of the types of stories, characters, and plotlines he may use?

Responsibility and Intersectionality

Malachi asked a simple question that has led to some not-so-simple discussions: "[W]hat else can a man do, either with strangers or friends, in order to be as nonthreatening as possible?"

Among the various topics of discussion that came up from the question and its answers were comments and questions about the various ways we might weigh responsibilities according to gender. Among the various comments, it was suggested that men have no obligation to help make women feel safer--that it's up to the women themselves, and only the women themselves, to make this happen. It was also suggested that what we are obligated to do and what we might do out of kindness may be two different things. Lots of opinions were offered across the spectrum as well. In general, it looks like men doing things like crossing the street, whistling/humming, or similar sorts of things isn't a big deal for a lot of men to do, but that some men feel put out that anybody suggests they ought to do it.

I think the discussion was helpful, though not only in the ways that Malachi perhaps intended. Instead of (just) suggestions about what men can do to help make women more comfortable walking down the street, we ended up in a discussion about whether or not men ought to care that women may not feel safe walking down the street. To echo one of the commentors, it just seems strange to me to have to figure out whether or not men ought to be trying to help in the ways Malachi has seems cold to think otherwise. And for the most part, I do think that most of the resistence to such suggestions run along the lines of "...but men aren't responsible for how women feel," a position which I think ignores the complexities of the concept of responsibility in a world where we interact with lots of other people.

One comment in particular, though, brought these complexities to the fore, for me. Z said:

"This is the type of conversation that makes me feel like I need to teach my sons (Who would be black/ HIspanic) to just avoid women and white people all together if they have to whistle and hum, cross streets, and jump through hoops to avoid scaring women and white people. What if they run into another white person or woman on the other side of the street?"

The Intersection of Race and Gender
Z brings race into the discussion, and I think it's an interesting way to point to the complexities of our connections to other people, and to the notions of responsibility. The reason Z's example struck me so, I think, is that I have a strong intuition that it's the white people who hold most of the responsibility for feeling safe in this context, while I have a strong intuition that it's the man who holds most of the responsibility for appearing non-threatening in an analogous context. And, as such, it's where the conceptions of gender and race intersect that my own thinking about this stuff gets more interesting (to me!).

Part of my intuition regarding the racial aspects of these situations comes from a friend of a friend who is a large black man that leads medium-sized seminars. He remarked to me once that, as a large black man, he has a choice to make whenever he enters the meeting room where his seminars are held: He can either act in a way that makes the white people in the room (especially the white men) feel uncomfortable, or he can act in a way that makes them feel comfortable. Depending on the tone of the seminar, he might choose one over the other (sometimes it helped in teaching to make people feel uncomfortable, for instance). Of course, he said, this is true of his non-professional life as well, but it's very clearly apparent to him when he's leading seminars, because he is more in control of the entire situation by virtue of being the leader of the seminar.

After talking with him about this, it struck me that it is of course very unfair that he has to make this decision--as well as the fact that the 'default' position--what happens if he doesn't decide at all--tends to be that the white people are uncomfortable around him. What a burden to have to endure, really, to have it rest completely upon you whether people are afraid of you or not (to say nothing of the situations where there is nothing you can do to make people feel more comfortable, because their racism is so entrenched or some such). The intuition that I now have from this discussion and thinking about it is that it's an unfair burden that black men (and, of course, others) carry in this regard.

(I should note here as an aside that this is the least of my friend's worries, really; as far as bearing burdens, he's got lots to carry. I am not ignorant of the fact that this problem only scratches the surface of things.)

So when I think about Z's position and Z's sons, I think: Well, nobody ought to expect Z's sons to take all of the responsibility for white people's fear--it's the white people who need to take full responsibility for their own fear. But then, how can I also say that men ought to take responsibility for the fear that women may feel?

The answer is a messy one: Responsibility is tricker and messier than I have been treating it. First off, it should be pointed out that neither Malachi nor most of the commentors were adbicating (at least explicitly) any responsibility that women might have to feel safe themselves walking down the street. I come from the deBeauvoirian school of feminism, and as such like to recognize that where women have real choices, they may also be complicit in sexist problems. As such, responsibility does fall on women's shoulders, too. I recognize that this may be controversial for some other feminists, and I also recognize the real danger that people will take this as 'blaming the victim' as if I were taking such a simple-minded approach. But the possibility of complicity, for me, points to the complexity of the notion of responsibility.

When I walk down the street, I know I'm not a rapist. But I live in a world where lots of women have not only been sexually assaulted, but have had to endure various threats that may fall short of full-on physical assault; these threats can be traumatizing nonetheless--and as such, I think I have some responsibility to help communicate my good intentions (or my lack of bad intentions) while I walk down the street. Does this mean that I have all of the responsibility for women I walk down the street with feeling safe? Nope. But I still say I bear some of that responsibility.

Now, is that fair? Nope. It sucks, for all involved. I wish I lived in a world where I didn't have to think about this because women didn't have good reasons to feel unsafe walking down the street. But here we are, in this world. So, unfair or not, I still think I have something of an obligation. And I think other men do, too.

Which brings me back to Z's sons. As men, I think they have similar obligations toward women. But as men who identify as/will be identified as black/hispanic, Z's sons have an even more complex situation to deal with--and as such they may have less of an obligation to worry about how safe women feel. And they may have less of an obligation not because they have some 'privilege' or some such, but precisely because they don't have privilege--they've got more shit to think about. They have lots of burdens to bear that I don't have--when they walk down the street; ought they be more concerned about women in general feeling safe, or more concerned about the fact that here's one more thing they have to think about as black/hispanic men? I don't think I ought to speak for them, because the complexities of identity and of what to do in the world are such that I'm not sure that being a man (and therefore, in my opinon, being obligated to do things to help make women feel safer) 'trumps' being a black or hispanic man...or what that would even mean.

What I do know is that people who offer up simple solutions in this regard--whether they say "You're no feminist if you don't whistle while you walk" or they say "Men have no respoinsiblity to help women feel safer"--are probably not offerring up real-world solutions, solutions that will tend to make the world a better place for everybody. Instead of oversimplifying things (like I was doing, I think, as regards not considering the intersectionality of gender and race in this regard), we ought to take the complexities into account--so, for me, that means that it can be the case that men, in general, have some respoinsibility to help women feel safer; but it slso means that people of color (for instance) may have different obligations in this regard than white people. It may also mean that people who are privileged in various ways have more obligations than people who aren't--class issues and heteronormativity might play a part here too.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

A Self-Indulgent Post

The discussion of LotR has reminded me of the reason I began reading blogs-- indeed, the reason I came to identify as a feminist--fiction.

Specifically, my fiction. You see, I style myself a writer. And in my fiction, I felt that I was doing women a disservice. My stories were meant to be a statement, something I could stand by, something that reflected my values. And yet, I kept wondering, in a nagging way, "Is this politically correct?

It was my writing that spurred to me to look online for feminist spaces. Spaces that could guide me in making sure that my stories featured real, admirable women. Of course, while I find plenty of feminist blogs, I quickly discovered that, amazingly enough--feminist bloggers had plenty of their own topics to cover, and were not eagerly awaiting the chance to critique the gender politics of a 16-year-olds fantasies.

I was so interested in the new vistas opened up by feminism that I cheerfully forgot my original motivation. I spent most of the past few months worrying about how feminism applied to real life.

But the nagging questions kept coming back-- Why, out of a dozen major characters, are only three female? Why have I yet to write a story with a female protagonist? (I have two outlined, none written) Why are the women falling all over my hero. (In fairness, he's the subject of many a male admiration-crush as well) Why, with two-score characters who comprise the casts of two complete story arcs, are they all heterosexual? All traditionally able? Why, in my avoidance of one negative female stereotype, do I play into another?

I intended this to be a short little post. Obviously, I failed. I've put off airing these questions because I couldn't figure out how to phrase them, how much of myself to reveal. Because I'm blogging anonymously, and some people would recognize the content of my books. Because these are personal issues that may not be of interest to everyone.

If people want to see more-- if they want to discuss the specifics of this character or that--I'm willing to write it. Perhaps I'll start another blog, and link it here. Of course, in so doing, I'd be tempted to out myself, since this would be much more convenient with my own email address. Perhaps I'll write about it here, though I'm hesitant to use this group-blog as a forum for something so personal and so tangentially related to feminism.

I do have one question I'd like to leave you all with, but seeing the massive length this post has reached, I think I'll leave it for a follow-on. I'm sorry for this post's incoherence, but this is an issue I've wanted to blog for quite sometime. Eloquence never came, so I must make do with sincerity.

When Disagreement = Murder

I am just consistently amazed at news reports about how people who want to do things like educate girls are not only disparaged, but out-and-out murdered. From the Feminist Majority Foundation:
Afghan Women's Affairs Provincial Director Killed
Safia Amajan, the provincial director of Afghanistan's Ministry of Women's Affairs in Kandahar, was killed by gunman today outside of her home. There is speculation that she was killed in retaliation for her outspoken support of women's rights and her work opening schools for women in Afghanistan, according to the Associated Press and BBC News. No one has yet claimed responsibility for the murder.

Amajan had unsuccessfully requested bodyguards and secure transportation from the Afghan government; at the time of the attack, she was getting into a taxi to go to work, BBC reports. Aleem Siddique, spokesperson for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, said his agency "is appalled at the senseless murder of a woman who was simply working to ensure that all Afghan women play a full and equal part in the future of Afghanistan."

I understand that some men think that women ought not be educated--and that this position is reprehensible in and of itself. What I don't understand is the mindset that, when you disagree with somebody, you ought to do violence to them. I mean, as a passing thought/feeling, I can identify with it--I've thought that it might be fun to meet Bush Jr. in a dark alley someday--but to actually do the violence, to go the the extreme of killing somebody because she wants to educate your daughter, I have a hard time understanding.

I know. Naive as hell; sheltered too, probably. But: How does one interact with men such as these, when understanding seems so far away?

(Note: And, of course, my inability to comprehend some of these things isn't limited to what's going on in Afghanistan; I'm still flabbergasted that the president of the US is very big on torturing people, just as a for-instance.)

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

More Carnival

And, of course, go check out the 23rd Carnival of Feminists up at Lingual Tremors. There's even a post of mine up there (thanks to whomever did the nominating--it's a privilege to be a part of the Carnival, even if a good deal of my post was cribbed from Kameron Hurley's original post).

Erase Racism Carnival

The 5th Erase Racism Carnival is up over at one of my favorite blogs, Black Looks. I think the ideas put fort in this carnival are important to feminist allies, in general, since race issues and gender issues intersect on so many levels, and so often. And I think some of the concepts and responses to people who seem antagonistic toward the idea of ending racism (!) are similar conceptually to what some of our responses ought to be to ward people who seem to be antagonistic toward the idea of ending sexism, and ending the oppression of women.

For instance, recently we've had a few people comment on a post about the oppression of women with what amounts to "well, men are oppressed, too!". The fact is, whether or not you see men as oppressed, noting the oppression of men isn't an appropriate response to analysis about the oppression of women. Which isn't to say the two are mutually exclusive--it's just that "men are oppressed too" can't be the only response to the fact of women's oppression. It doesn't get anything done. Plus, the oppression that men may or may not endure, to the extent that women don't hold the power in our society, doesn't come from women's actions, but from those of men.

One of the posters at the Erase Racism Carnival makes a similar point about the tendency of white people to respond to charges of racism with "but black people had slaves too!" Sokari introduces Naija girl's post and gives us a blurb:
A disillusioned Naija girl’s is sick of white people’s reactions to accusations of racism which is to retort “But blacks sold their fellow blacks too”. She responds in a post “Why I resent white people”. Naija Girl starts with the reason for her post and then goes on to discuss the slavery in traditional African society and the impact the European invasion had on African life.[Sokari]

that whenever we, as black people, open our mouths to talk about racism, they are quick to stifle us by bringing up the ‘But blacks sold their fellow blacks too’ card. I am sick of this attempt at a cop-out, and will now address this……..First of all, yes. Blacks did indeed sell blacks. I can hear the self-congratulatory cheers and back-slaps being passed around the white crowd now…….. What was prevalent practice in Africa was having servants (domestic slavery). Slaves were employed by kings, chiefs, and wealthy people in their houses as domestic servants. The number of slaves a man had usually determined his social status. Usually many of the slaves were captives of war. Enter the white man with goods like iron, whiskey, linen, gin, cotton and wool, offering them in exchange for slaves.[Naija Girl]

I think this speaks to us as feminist allies, and to those who chime in "but men are oppressed too" without anything else to add.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Gender Trouble in the Comics

This is actually one of my favorite Calvin and Hobbes comics...funny, I didn't remember the first two panels (click to enlarge):

C&H is strange is this respect, because it often acknowledges the sexism in the traditional gender roles that it tends to enforce--and the first two panels are a perfect example of this. You're supposed to get a chuckle at her husband's awkward thoughtlessness--but you also notice that we don't see 'mom' (do Calvin's parents have names in the strip?) coming out to join them, or remarking that Calvin better learn how to do dishes or some such. And the more I think about it, the more I can't remember that we see Calvin's mom in any other role but mother/housewife. At least we see dad at work sometimes (he gets to leave the house)--and there are his famous camping trips that mom and Calivin get dragged along, so we know he likes the outdoors. I guess mom has done some gardening, so maybe it's not part of the sexism that she's mostly the mother role--Calvin's dad doesn't get to do much other than be a dad.

Still, I think it's interesting to note that, for all of the progressive-ish-ness of C&H -- it critiques modern education, our ways of dealing with the environment, and the idea that in whatever ways we can, we ought to support keeping the positive aspects of childhood through adulthood--it also depends, largely, on gender stereotypes. And it seems to me that it didn't have to.

The princess in modern fiction

This is the beginning of what will probably become a series of posts exploring the relationship of feminism to fiction. This is something I've been thinking about for some time--as both a feminist and a novelist, I wonder sometimes what my obligations are to reconcile the two.

Today, however, I'm thinking what I, as a fantasy lover, think of as the princess syndrome--the nature of the female lead in a action or adventure story, when she is there primarily to give ris eot a romantic subplot. This psot is hardly meant to be a complete survey of entertainment, And I'm probably guilty of far too many sweeiping generalizations. So I'd appreciate it if you'd mentally append the occasional "in my experience" or other qualifier.

As we all know, a woman's worth is usually defined in terms of her value to men--and this is painfully obvious in myths and legends, and a lot of fiction as well. The female character is not only always beautiful, but usually defined almsot solely by her beauty. Any other qualities she has-- a vast inheritance, for instance, or some magical power of blessing or prophecy--also exists primairly as a means to make her more desireable. Her actual role in the story completely lacks any agency. Her lfie is ruled b ymen who order her about, sell her, use her as a reward, kidnap her, send ehr away "for her own safety," and generally act as simply a piece in the chess game played by the men. When she falls into the hands of evil, she dutifully waits to be rescued.

It's a narrative with which we're all familiar, of course, and one that we have seemingly outgrown. But while most everyone claims to support women's equality, and the most blatant types of sexism have been repudiated, I'm not sure the underlying narrative has changed.

I'm going to pick on Arwen from the LotR movies here. Now, I'm not blaming the creator's of those films; they did what they could to give her a real part while staying true to the source material. But Arwen's plight is a perfect example of what irks me about comtemporary fantasy. And because the story has two versions, it shows the change in sensibilities which I am talking about.

Remember, female characters--particularly princesses--are defiend by thier desirability. As men's taste in women changes, so do the heroines who grace film and novel.

In the book, Arwen does... well, actually, I can't remember what she does, other than show up at the end and get married. I haven't read the books in a LONG time, but to my recollection, she wasn't a whole lot more interesting than any fairy-tale princess. She is passive and beautiful, and that is enough.

But women's equality has made some headway. Women are now supposed to be smart, sexy, confident, and highly skilled. Tame passivity is out, self-sufficiency is in. In the *movie* fellowship of the ring, Arwen carries a sword, gets to make some sarcastic remakrs, and does some trick riding to save Frodo from the ringwraiths. This is what modern tastes demand-- In order ot be a worthy match for Aragorn, she too *must* be a heroic individual.

Or does she? This is where entertainers run into trouble. The success of heroes like Buffy, Xena, and Elizabeth Swann showed them that the public wants smart, capable heroines. And yet these heroines are threatening: if they don't need to be rescued, what wil happen to traditional masculinity? How will we continue to re-tell the same male-dominated plots (featuring epic confrontations of two male warriors, for instance) if the *women* get the idea that the story is somehow about *them*?

Fictional females seem to be in a double bind that real women probably find familiar-- They should be smart, but not *too* smart. Or rather, capable yet subordinate, careful never to accidentally steal the limelight from their male counterparts.

Consider the rest of LotR: Arwen, who has been portrayed as a warrior capable of starring in action flick ehrself, does *not* accompany the fellowship on its mission. Her involvement in the rest of the story is limited to lending spirutal support to her man, since nurturing *is* the noblest of female achievements. She shows up again at the very end to propvide the conquering hero with a wife--and in the process of marrying him, quite *literally* gives up her own life and identity. From immortal elven princess to short-lived consort, all for the love of a man.

Strained plotting produces this kind of thing time and again. Consider Elizabeth Swann, from Pirates of the Caribbean. She is very intellignet, skilled, and assertive, but never quite manages to escape the "princess" role. Though she has no end of clever ploys, she still gets kidnapped, taken hostage, and fought over throughout two entire movies, and the rare few times she's left to her own devices--such as when she so cleverly commandeers the ship in the sequel--her only thought is to get back to her man as soon as possible, since there was evidnetly no room to give her any goals or motivations of her own.

The lesson here is not that women have value in themselves, but that a smart slave is more valuable than a stupid one, once convinced to accept serivtude. Todays princesses are no longer to wait passively ot be rescued; on the contrary, they must always attempt to save themselves.

But not, you know, hard enough to actually succeed.

Saturday, September 16, 2006


I was reminded today of a conversation my father recounted, as we were walking home late at night. He mentioned to me that a friend of his, a very tall black man, was fond of late-night walks but found himself frequently scaring people he happened across. The man's solution? If he whistled while he walked, people who were otherwise terrified of blacks found him less threatening.

Though I hate to compare the oppressors with the oppressed, it reminded me of another bit of advice for late-night walks. Several times I have seen feminists advise men to cross the street in order to avoid appearing to follow a lone woman at night.

Though I understand that women are well within their rights to be wary, it got me wondering: what else can a man do, either with strangers or friends, in order to be as nonthreatening as possible?

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Violence Against Women and the Spread of AIDS

Men's Resources International (a quite informative pro-feminist website) has a link to a report showing a direct link between violence against women (and children) and the spread of AIDS and HIV. From the report:
If societies do not prevent violence, the rates of infection will not decrease and many millions more will suffer. More than twenty million women and children worldwide have the HIV virus. Women who experience violence may be nearly three times more likely to acquire it.
Download the entire report in pdf here.

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?

Monday, September 11, 2006

Back of the God Bus, Please

Has anybody else run into the amazingly ignorant rationalizations around the proposal to possibly ban women from Mecca?

Among the rationalizations, each of which is supposed to be a claim that this isn't about gender or sexism:
The chief of the King Fahd Institute for Hajj Research, which came up with the plan, told The Associated Press on Thursday that the new restrictions are already in place. There have been word-of-mouth reports of women being asked to pray at new locations away from the white-marbled area surrounding the Kaaba in recent weeks.
So, it's ok to do it, because we've already been doing it.
But the religious authorities behind the proposal insist its real purpose is to lessen the chronic problem of overcrowding, which has led to deadly riots during pilgrimages at Mecca in the past.
Yes. It's all about the overcrowding, with no mind toward gender at all. That's why it hasn't been considered that perhaps men ought to be banned from Mecca. Sheesh.

I just love it when men make a decision that's 'not sexist' even when they don't include women in the decision-making process and the practical effects of such a decision mean women are at a disadvantage.

Luckily, Muslim women (and some Muslim men) are standing up and saying "No.":
Aisha Schwartz, founder and director of the Muslimah Writers Alliance, started a petition in protest of the proposals, which has already gathered over 1,000 signatures. The petition begins, “The religion of Islam was revealed for both men and women. Both sexes are equal when it comes to the performance of religious duties and in terms of rewards and punishments.” According to Arab News, Muslims in 38 countries have joined together to ensure that women cannot be denied access to mosques.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Gender Essentialism of 'Wanting a Boy'

If you haven't read Kameron Hurley's blog--which recently moved--you should. She's got what I would call a very practical feminism going on in her life which I think is fascinating; I'm not sure if she would call it that, but that's how it strikes me. In one of her recent posts, she describes a situation where she takes some coworkers to task for making disparaging remarks centered around another coworker's attempts to have a boy baby after having two girl babies:
They have two daughters, and this would be their third child. They didn't want to know the sex of the child, mainly because it seems they've been really hoping for a boy, and didn't want to be "disappointed." And there's been some murmuring around the office.

"Poor guy's been shooting blanks," Mr. T said this morning at the roundtable office meeting.

I rankled.

"Wow, Mr. T.," I said, "that was only marginally demeaning to every woman in this room."

First of all, I love that Kameron said something, 'even' in a workplace situation. This is exactly the sort of day-to-day fight that it is sometimes hard to fight as a feminist. But I think it cuts to the heart of the disingenuousness of people who say that they're not being sexist, exactly, but that they'd be disappointed if they had a girl. And I think a lot can be understood as you start to figure out why you want a child of a particular sex, whether you desire a boy or you desire a girl.

So, when one of the commentors says:
That said, if Karin and I have another kid, I'd like it to be a girl. I won't be disappointed if it's a boy -- as you said, I won't love them any less -- but it would be nice to, you know, get to see what it's like to raise a girl, too...

I immediately begin to wonder--why is it that it's different 'raising a girl'? Certainly doesn't seem like it should be different because of the sex of the baby--but it's different because of the gender that will get created around that sex. And I think it's interesting that there's a deeply-seeded idea (no pun intended) that raising a girl ought to be different--not just is different--than raising a boy. Seems to me that the similarities between the two ought to fundamentally outweigh the differences, though I know in practice it doesn't work out that way, partially because of the self-fulfilling prophecy nature of 'wanting a girl'.

The very act of wanting a boy or wanting a girl smacks of a kind of gender essentialism that bugs me. It would be like wanting an engineer or wanting a basketball player--certainly it would be a different experience raising one or the other, but why ought one have a higher value at the outset? Wouldn't it just be great to have a kid, have the kid be happy?

And what's with the idea that one can want to have a girl, but not be disappointed at having a boy (or vice versa)? Do people have a different sense of wanting than I do? When I want something, and I don't get it, there simply is dissapointment, isn't there? Sure, it may be offset in the case of children by the joy of having a kid, but that doesn't mean there isn't disappointment--and I think ignoring that fact, or trying to weasel out of it by saying "I want 'x' but I won't be disappointed if I don't get it," really points to the fact that people do see different genders as having more or less worth than other genders, which, y'know, just doesn't wash with me--it smacks of a gender essentialism that flies in the face of the various kinds of feminism I embarace.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006


There's a great segment on Foreign Exchange about gender inequality in Africa (the segment in question is in the final third of the show). Maria Metembe, who is the Minister for Ethics in Uganda, and has been involved in Ugandan politics for many years, lets us know that 80% of the food produced in Africa is produced by women, while almost none of the land is owned by women. Watch the rest of the interview--it's full of compelling facts, and she is quite a persuasive speaker.

Being "Fully Male"

As many others no doubt feel similarly, I'm sad at hearing of the death of the Crocodile Man - a favorite of my younger step-son.

At the same time, for me the part of "Maledom" that strives for being the "manliest" and hypes dangers and trivializes much of reality to get there is not something I hope we as men will strive for.

It may be fun and silly to do lots of things! Beyong the areas of education and learning there are plenty of horrific examples I can give. Eating 50 hot dogs in 15 minutes or similar doesn't promote values I believe in. It is tragic when young men lose their lives after guzzling beer for hours on end. Driving our cars at high speeds endangers others as well as ourselves.

Values such as being a good father (or son) and listening and being present as a friend faces death don't make us as men heroes, but are really very important to me.

Striving to do better in our lives is an important value! Trying against the odds to succeed in school or on a work project or even on training for a difficult race all may be worthwhile, life affirming goals for us and those we care about.

Let's learn about animals and realistically about their charms and dangers. Let's celebrate the lives of those around us and those we may lose. Let's affirm positive life affirming values!