Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Carnival of Feminists

The 25th Carnival of Feminists is up at Philobiblon.

Feminism Contextualized

As often happens in the ol' world of blogs, response to a comment or to comments often turns into a bit of a lengthy comment itself, which one may then turn into a post. I like that this happens--I think that in some ways it means that a conversation may be happening, which, for me, is one of the main goals of this groupblog.

Roots and Continuums
In the comments on my post about responsibility, context, and the feminism of walking down the street, it became apparent that my flavor of feminism, that the way to which I came to feminism, informed my view there in ways that may be important to point out. I may have mentioned this before, but I came to feminist theory from philosophy. (I came to feminism from various places, but the theory part of it showed itself first to me in philosophy classes.) Feminist theory that is rooted in philosophy has as one facet a strong thread of anti-essentialism and dichotomy-busting. That is, the notion that there is an 'essential nature' of women that is different from the 'essential nature' of men is strongly contested--and in the philosophic feminist stuff I tend to like, that part of a larger argument against essentialism in general. And along with the anti-essentialism comes the bursting of a lot of the bubbles of dichotomies--man/woman, strong/weak, mind/body, etc.: All of these have been called into question by feminists like Simone de Beauvoir and bell hooks, to name just a couple off the top of my head.

And for me, what often replaces the dichotomies are continuums. So, instead of being either wholly determined or completely of free will (to take a philosophic example), there is a continuum of free will and determinism, and we may find ourselves at various points along that continuum at various times. Similarly, regarding being held responsible for how our actions might affect others, even when walking down the street, we may be held more or less responsible (rather than either completely responsible or not responsible at all).

I think continuums reflect the complexities of reality, and, to be less grandiose, of day-to-day life, better than dichotomies. And this is informed by, and further informs, my preferred flavors of feminism.

Now, on to the responses proper to Eric's comments.

Continuum of Responsibility
I appreciate your comments, but we're still missing each others' points, I think, so I'm going to take a slightly different tach, and use the concept of a continuum of responsibility to discuss your further points. The notion of a continuum of responsibility is given as a contrast to the notion that we can always make hard and fast judgments regarding responsibility, along the lines of "I am completely responsible for X" or "I am compltely not responsible for Y". I think it's helpful to think of those two statements as limiting cases which never completely hold for beings that interact with other beings. So, now on to your points, given that conception. I'm not going to make an argument for this position here--I think it's a conception that comes from a good deal of what I've said so far and, hopefully, will get fleshed out more in my responses to you.

Shin Kicking
"However, there is a different between suffering for my actions. I kick someone in the shins and they feel pain, and interpreting my actions to be something they are obviously not like walking down the street minding my own business and saying nothing, or doing nothing to you."

Yes, there is a difference, but it's not that shin-kicking implies ultimate responsibility (though it implies a lot) and walking down the street minding your own business (and that will mean different things, depending on who you are and what street you're walking down--my point about context) implies no responsibility at all. I think that it's easier to ascribe responibility to the shin-kicker than to the 'neutral' walker-down-the-street, of course, but both are to be held responsible to some degree for their actions. So, while there is a difference between the two, it is a difference in degree, not of kind. Take the guy who is 'neutrally' walking down the street, except that every once in a while, he will pretend to kick somebody in the shins, to make them flinch. We would hold him responsible for that. Then there's the guy who walks just a little too close to you, so you have to veer off a bit. We'd hold him responsible for that. I'm claiming that, as we go down the line, there can be multiple facets of responsibility, and that it's not cut and dried. And, to return to the example from the previous post, I think that even somebody who thinks they are being 'completely neutral' ought to be held responsible for his (or her!) actions, expecially given the context of a society that is sexist toward women, a society that contributes toward violence against women in myriad ways--given that context, I think men don't have the option of walking down the street in an absolutely 'neutral' way.

Schizophrenic
"If that causes you or anyone to "suffer", then the responsibility is no longer with me. That's like saying I am responsible for a Schizophrenic walking down the street alongside me and screaming out loud that, "I am the evil monster from the Abyss and I want to hurt him or her!" When we look at it from this angle, we see quite clearly I have no resposibility for that interpretation. There is no innate value in my actions that should cause them to react like this. In fact, the entire interpretation may rest completely with the person's mental illness. They may point to the next person that walks by them and deride them the same way."

You don't have a lot of responsibility for this person, in this example--but I'd still say you have some. You may be able to choose, for instance, to ignore him or stare him down; you may choose to cross the street after hearing him berate somebody else. Sure, you aren't the sole cause of his laments, but you are a cause, and inasmuch as you might be able to lessen his struggle without causing yourself too much pain (i.e., crossing the street), I think you have a responsibility to. That you're not the main cause of his laments doesn't mean you're not contributing to them, or that you might be able to contribute less to them.

(Oh, and...probably not the best analogy, by the way, because you're (inadventantly, I'm guessing) comparing women who are feeling cautious about men walking down the street to schizophrenics. I know that wasn't your point, but it sort of came off that way to me.)

Actions "In Themselves"
"Because there a difference between "actions done to a person" and "actions that are in and of myself ". So I guess I don't care how people feel, react, or care about my actions in themselves. My concern and my responsibility begins when the action is directed towards someone, and not at a concrete inanimate sidewalk that my feet happen to be pounding against with each step that someone might interpret at happening towards them."

This is exactly the way of thinking that some flavors of feminism want to rail against--while there may be a difference in intent regarding any action, that doesn't mean that some actions are (wholly) either 'done to a person' or 'in and of myself'. That is a false dichotomy. In this world, we are surrounded by others (usually and often). Whether we intend to affect them or not, we affect them. So, there are few (if any) actions which don't effect anybody but oneself. From my point of view, my responsibility begins by simply being a social animal, not when I intend to affect others. I think this is the nature of our social reality. To be clear, that doesn't mean that I am ultimately and absolutely responsible for anybody else's reactions to my actions--they, too, live within a social world where their actions fall along the continuum of responsiblity, and as such they have some responsibility for their reactions to the actions of others. But that others have some say in how they react to me doesn't mean that I have no responsibility for how I act in the world--for how I might affect them, intentionally or unintentionally.

There's much more to respond to in Eric's comments, but I'm going to leave it at this for now, as the post is getting pretty long, and I have a responsibility to our readership (and to my fingers) to keep things bloggish and readable. :)

Monday, October 23, 2006

I'm very busy

... with college applications.

Thus, the lack of blogging,

Sincerest apologies.

Monday, October 09, 2006

On Victims and Victimizers

Cross-posted to my blog

There is a discussion in the comment thread on a recent Feminist Allies post about discussion of men as victimizers (in violent situations) without acknowledging that men are victims too, Daran makes the point that there is a lot of talk of men-as-victims with an addendum of "but they're men, so they're also perpetrators," with the implication that male victims of violence are somehow less harmed than female victims because of the latter group's lower tendency for violence. I don't know that this argument is especially common, but I have seen it made, or at least implied. Building a dichotomy of aggressors-vs-victims suffers from a glaring flaw: in fact only a very small proportion of the whole population of our societies is made up of people who are only perpetrators of injustice, or only victims, or neither: a patriarchical society maintains state because both women and men support and perpetuate it.

There have been discussions in various feminist spaces of "patriarchy hurts men too," but this is a difficult subject to deal with seriously because it is so often used by MRAs, rape apologists and other distasteful characters to justify the status quo, attack people trying to address real wrongs, or undermine female victims of violence, especially sexual assault and rape. Still, there is a lot of good argument to be made in "PHMT" discussions, such as the idea that part of the reason there is so much violence around is that violence is built into the societal male ideal, and that gender roles are set up such that much of this violence is directed at other males. So I want to make clear before going any further that in discussing male victims of male-perpetrated violence and the harm that patriarchy does to men I do not aim to belittle female victims or imply that the fact that men are harmed somehow reduces the harm done to women. If anything I say comes across that way, please point it out to me.

Promotion of Aggressiveness and Violence

Boys are encouraged to be violent in the games and sports they play. Television shows and movies geared toward boys almost invariably involve violent conflict, and violence and aggressiveness is exalted in myriad other ways. Throughout adolescence boys are taught in various ways, explicitly or subtly, that they can use violence and aggressiveness to advance themselves. The way to win in various games and sports is to be the most aggressive, the strongest, and so on. Likewise, the way to get ahead in one's career is often deemed to be through aggressiveness and dominance. This has been going on for as long as society can remember*, so that it has become normal for conflict resolution to be aggressive. If someone wants someone else's resources, violence is probably one of the first options they think of (whether they'd seriously consider it or not).

Gender Roles and Aggressiveness

So we have a society that promotes aggressiveness and violence in men, while promoting submissiveness in women. This is supposed to get conforming men into positions of prominence, while making conforming women attractive as wives. Thus men are set up as the ones who accomplish things and who occupy the important positions in society, while women are a sort of support class. This is related to what people refer to as "andronormativity": the tendency to act as though men are the ones who make up society, while women are "alsos," in the sense that "there are also women." Women, in this view, are a peripheral class**. So when women are in the workforce or otherwise taking part in society and "doing man stuff" they are expected to act in the same dominating and aggressive ways as men, since this is seen as the expected behaviour of those in positions of importance.

Gender Roles and Violence

Since society says that aggressiveness is a good way of dealing with resource attainment and conflict resolution, it is not surprising that violence is directed both at men and women. There are some differences between inter-gender violence and intra-gender violence, but overall they are very similar, especially in their cause: promotion of aggressiveness and violence as an effective tool to further one's goals. This is a direct product of the patriarchical societies that exist today. That aggressiveness and violence are not only encouraged against women but also against men is not in spite of patriarchy but because of it.

Just as gender roles are often harmful to a man when he is expected to live up to some difficult or distasteful ideal, so are they harmful when another man takes his gender roles too much to heart and attacks those he deems susceptible to or worthy of exploitation. Part of those gender roles is "take what you want." This leads to sexual violence when "what you want" is sex or sexual dominance, and it leads to street crime when "what you want" is drugs, money, or whatever else. So why are men not the only perpetrators of "take what you want" crimes? Because that attitude is more than just a part of a gender role: it's part of what one does to get to a position of prominence, regardless of gender. It just so happens that getting to a position of prominence is also part of a gender role: that is traditionally something that men do, not women. A female mugger is as much of a breach of gender lines as a female CEO, after all.

Victim Gender

So when a man is mugged, whoever is mugging him is doing so because they see it as acceptable to dominate another person in order to get what they want. Sometimes the motivation is dominance itself: there are people who attack strangers simply for the fun of attacking them. The same patterns are seen in situations where women are attacked: either the attacker wants to get something tangible from the victim (possessions or sex) or they want to exert dominance over her. All these forms of violence stem from the same philosophy: "To get ahead, you must be aggressive; take what you want, when you can." and this philosophy is entrenched in and intrinsic to patriarchy and any other system that encourages the exertion of power over those who have less of it.




* It is true that other animals, including primates, use violence to get what they want, and there is surely some of that in what we (as a species) do. But it is also true that we actively encourage violent behaviour, especially in boys, above and beyond any biological inclination we might have. So as a species that continually works toward suppressing and changing its instinctual programming, it seems quite a stretch to blame biology alone for our violence.

** The same thing is seen in studies of race, sexuality and other fields: issues are examined as though dominant class X is the default, while other classes are variants or deviancies.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

No Neutral Ground and The Blindspots of Privilege

In some recent comments, PaleCast once again does us all a favor by giving us some stuff to chew on -- I find the amount of stuff that PaleCast says that I want to give some thought about to be pretty amazing, given that we disagree a good deal of the time (it's tough to find people who disagree intelligently and in a way that makes it fun and interesting to continue discussions).

PaleCast's comment was directed at a post that revolved around possible obligations of men toward women in sort of day-to-day walking down the street contexts, but I want to crib something he said and use it to make a larger point, because I think that PaleCast inadvertantly commits something of an error that we are all liable to commit from time to time: Imagining that there is a 'neutral' way of being, as regards gender inequalities (or race inequalities, or inequalities around sexuality, etc.).

PaleCast frames the debate about what men might be obligated to do day-to-day in this way:
It's not that simple. As I said in my previous post, I see at least three options:

1. Actively hurting the woman, or trying to scare her (wrong, obviously!)
2. Going about your business and ignoring her (neutral)
3. Doing something deliberate to appear more non-threatening (good)

Hence, I disagree with your dichotomy of "intimidate" vs. "respect." Intimidating, bullying, or picking on someone implies intent. If the man ignores the woman and goes about his business, he isn't doing anything wrong, and any feelings of fear she has are 100% her problem.

What I first notice here is that PaleCast does explicitly acknowledge that there may be more options than these three (i.e. "at least three options"). So, even if we take his framework to be something workable, we might allow that there are all sorts of gray areas between the three possible ways of being, and that we probably move between them all depending on the contexts.

But I think the basic framework as it stands is flawed -- and I think that people may want to frame things this way because (in part) they are blinded by their privilege. The problem isn't just with #2, as my post title might imply. I'll get to 'being neutral' in a second.

Regarding intentionally causing harm through intimidation, or intentionally causing good things through being non-threatening: I can, of course, decide to try to be more or less intimidating, and I will have varying degrees of success, depending on the context. That is, if I decide to be more intimidating but I have just been put in a maximum security prison, I'm not likely to be able to pull it off much, but if I decide to be more intimidating and I'm walking into a kindergarten class, there's more of a chance I'll be able to carry out my intention. I think that the context plays at least as important a role in the case of one trying to be intimidating or trying to not be intimidating as does one's intentions. Context counts. Intentions counts. But they alwasy both count for something.

Going About Your Business
I think the idea that as we 'go about our business' day-to-day we are affecting others in both intentioned and unintentioned ways can be sort of intimidating--at least for me. If you think about it too much or too often, it can feel sort of overwhelming. On the other hand, you might also develop an overwrought sense of your importance in the world--thinking that you have some influence on that woman you're walking behind might, if you're not careful, lead you to think that you have more influence on her than she has on herself or some such. One trick is, of course, to recognize both that you do have influence just by walking down the street, even if you believe you're acting 'neutrally', while at the same time recognizing that your influence isn't absolute any more than anyone else's.

Getting back to the importance of context--I think it applies just as much in the case of when one thinks one is acting neutrally as it does when one has other intentions. The fact that context is so important, combined with the notion that intent is also important, pretty much does away with the idea that one can be neutral, even doing something so seemingly innocuous as walking down the street. When you make your way through the world, you are, first of all, making your way through a world of other people; you are also in a world that affects you through various means--including, for instance, structured gender roles. And those structures are important. They're just as important (if perhaps not as obvious) as the structures I would face if I were put in a maximum security prison--to act neutrally there means something different than acting neutrally in a kindergarten class, which means something different from acting neutrally walking down the street (and it depends on which street! what time of day! who's walking around you!).

Going out on a limb here--I think that women understand the impossibility of neutrality in the world better than men sometimes might, and I think that is in part because of the experience of privilege that men have. Men can more easily think that they can walk neutrally through the world, while women have a better hold on the reality of the situation, because they have more often been the recipients of the negative consequences of the fact that 'netural' is a context-specific concept (in some places at some times, for instance, the 'neutral' position on adultery is that women can be stoned for it, just as a horrific example).

Friday, October 06, 2006

Foley - and Related Issues

I find the entire Foley "Scandal" bizarre and a good example of how crazy sexual/gender politics are. While the "Scandal" may benefit my political interests, it's not "good" in of itself.

Here we apparently have a closeted Republican - who par for the course, champions right-wing values outwardly to keep his position including being a supposed "champion" for children and homophobe - so hypocritical - yes.

Now he's tarred and feathered, but the issues of abusing children and abuse in general will in the end get little attention.

When will we as a society treat:

a. The abuse of children, particularly by men - focussed upon men
b. The rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment perpetrated by men as well as:
c. Domestic Violence perpetrated by men as

"normal" behavior that is not acceptable in a similar way to how homophobes make clear how to them gay/lesbians aren't "ok" as people.

The Normal Behavior is that we have Gays, Lesbians, Transgendered persons among us and they are "normal". Foley should have been "ok" as a Gay Man, with consent adult male partners (similar to his apparent primary partner in Florida).

None of this means that Men are bad people. What is "bad" is that we don't deal with the societal problems we have and really try to work seriously to end them. We are lost in the moment in "scandal". Similar statements could be made related to Racism as well. The two aren't opposed to each other!

Thanks!

Geo

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Of Race and Gender - A Slightly Different Perspective

I'm 55 years old. I'm White, Jewish, from an upper-middle class background. My partner is 43, Black, having grown up Christian and converted to Judiasm many years ago, also upper-middle class in background. Over the 4 1/2 years we've been together I've slowly learned a little of what being Black is to my partner and how different her life experiences are in some ways.

She isn't "every Black person" which is important, while being Black is extremely important to her.

For B - being Black - is almost always more important to her than being female. White People see her Blackness and respond to it much more than her being Female. She sees significant differences in White and Black Feminist (Women). Separatism seems much less prevalent to B. Having a child-free world is much less likely, though one may personally not have children.

(There is an Afro-Centric upper-middle class world which B doesn't identify with. IF she did, she'd not be with me - a White Man.)

Often there is a feeling that as a Black Person she doesn't want to identify as different from other Black people. Men and Children are important. When seeing another Black Person in a predominantly White environment usually both people will acknowledge the other Black Person's presence. This is, of course, "foreign" to me in a sense, though I can understand a part of it.

Translating and "passing" are also important. Having a "responsibility" to be "normal" among White people and in a sense being responsible for their feelings when together is a burden I don't face. Translating is a Survival Skill. I have no survival skills.

I will never (emotionally) understand the importance of hair in the life of B and many Black women. Natural hair vs. extenders, straight verses kinky hair and many other issues are foreign to my life experiences. Perhaps my numbers aren't exactly right, but I think that roughly 13% of USians are Black and they spend approximately 70% of the total monies spent on hair products.

For B there are issues being around certain "White" environments while it is far less important in other circumstances. Where she feels "power" issues or snobbery it is significant.

Having two bi-racial sons is very important to B. Her sons face potential pressures that she won't face being Female. (Other pressures she has felt being female of course). Her sons aren't "Ghetto" and will be trampled in some predominantly Black environments while facing issues of not being White. Fortunately their worlds are frequently very diverse!

In understanding or trying to understand it is important to recognize how rude treatment or being ignored can sometimes be seen as blatant racism, however frequently situations are far more ambiguous. Is the other person having a bad day or seeing a White Friend and reacting to their friend rather than to Race, Gender, body size or being assertive.

I'm only a "beginner" where it comes to understanding racism in many ways. I remember my 19 year old son asking me questions related to B's Blackness - and "how Black people are" when he first met her. Life isn't so simple! We each are individuals.

I hope that some of this is Helpful! Thanks!