"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

Friday, January 26, 2007


Blogger has finally let us upgrade to the new version. There may be some layout problems for a few days...

What is it About Men? Part One

In terms of how long I've been alive, I haven't really identified as a feminist for very long. The first inklings of feminist thought really found their way into my life when I first started college, in a communications class that had a section about the different ways that people of different genders might communicate, and the power structures that are built around those different ways. That was over 15 years ago, sure, but that was just the beginning, and I really didn't start to identify as a feminist until about 5 years or so ago.

Once you're given a new lens through which to look at the world, changes in the way you see the world can sometimes explode sort of exponentially. And, once that lens has been used, it's hard to set it down (which is usually a good thing, though it can make hard, and make acquiring other ways of seeing more difficult, too). The understanding that you begin to acquire, especially the part of it that is hindsight, is bittersweet--its often great to see things more practically, but it's just as often hard to feel like a fool (hindsight) or to feel overwhelmed by all of the work to be done.

As I continued looking at things through the lens of gender and inequality, I started to look back at my life-so-far through different lenses, including the lens of gender and power differentials around gender. For instance, I began to see the enormity of the task my mother took on by raising me mostly on her own in a world which pretty much discouraged her from being financially stable as a woman raising her son on her own. I saw her decision to divorce my stepdad in a new light, because I better understood the emotional and financial complexities involved in such a decision. I also began to look at my own relationships with women--friendships and romantic relationships--through new lenses. I better saw that not only was some of my behavior in the past unconscionable, but that the behavior itself was rooted in patriarchy, in mythic masculinity, and in fear brought on by these constants in my life.

As I said, these realizations were often bittersweet. Nice to finally figure things out a bit better, but the truth hurt. One of the hardest realizations was that I had been the boy (and then the man) who had used the privilege ascribed to me to, among other things, bully women. I don't think I was very aware of this while I was doing it, but that of course doesn't right any wrongs or make me feel much better about the wrongs committed.

In general, my expression of priveledge in this regard was having temper tantrums. I see this now as an expression of priveledge because boys and men aren't discouraged, in certain circumstances, from this type of behavior. It's perhaps a cliche in feminist circles, but it's also true that 'boys will be boys' carries an awful lot of cultural weight. Some of the tantrums were big, some of them little. They could vary from muttering under my breath contemptuously, all the way to me punching walls. Once, in an effort to get a girlfriend to continue our conversation (the entirety of that conversation I now see as me just being a bully), I stood in her way, blocking her from leaving. Like badly setting a screen, I knocked her down. Even at the time I knew that what I had done was just pretty much fundamentally wrong, and I am not proud of my actions. It's hard for me to talk about the fact that I did this--I see myself as a 'different person' now, but I recognize that I am responsible for that action, and always will be; I also understand that it's hard to change. There are times when remembering that event, and others (slamming a door on the way out, for instance) drives me to almost despair. And then I think about how poor-little-me that sort of thinking is; if it drives me to despair, imagine how it might affect the people that were the victims of my actions, in the long run. Which, of course, leads to more despair.

To be very clear, because I think that there are a lot of men who make some changes and then want a cookie, I want to say explicitly that I am not interested in 'credit' for not being that person any longer--but I am interested in how I came to change, how I can change more, and how I can encourage other men to make some of the same changes. (In addition, I suppose, I'm always looking for other role models in this regard, because they seem oftentimes to be few, and hard to spot.)

And I'm also interested in understanding the aforementioned despair, in turning past actions into ways of seeing the present and ways of becoming that will keep such things from happening in the future. To sit in despair is one thing, to continue to try to change for the better is a better thing to do, I think. And one way to help prevent such behavior in myself (and then, in turn, to help others make similar changes) is to try to better understand the underlying causes of such behavior. So in the coming weeks I'll be posting about this, trying to answer some of the questions surrounding men, masculinity and various forms of structuralized encouragement toward violence that men who consider themselves feminists (and feminist allies) have to understand in order to change.

I'd also appreciate hearing any suggestions or stories of change from your own lives. Any encouragement toward change and understanding we can give to each other is helpful...

Global Gag Rule Challenge

Feminist Daily News reports that a bipartisan group in the House of Reps is putting forward a bill to challenge Bush Jr.'s invocation of the Global Gag Rule, which prevents federal money going out to international agencies which like to do really dangerous things like educate women about reproductive rights and give them options. Let's hope they're able to push this bill through.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Erase Racism Carnival #8

The 8th Erase Racism Carnival is up over at Trying to Follow. Because I believe that many of the causes of feminism are the same causes of anti-racism, I thought I'd point y'all to it. Lots of good stuff to read over there, including one post by Changeseeker at Why Am I Not Suprised that has some advice on how to be a good ally--advice that I think to some degree can be utilized those of us who identify as feminist allies, even though her original intent was to discuss some good ways to be an ally in the fights against racism. She notes the value of just shutting up sometimes, for example:
But decades ago, I was taught that part of serving as a bridge is to introduce my fellow-speakers of color. To share the stage, if you will. To prepare the minds of listeners and then, when I have their attention, to give up the lectern to one who might otherwise not have access to it. That this is part of my job as one who has a clue. As one who wants to make a difference. As an ally. And the process of doing this, of course, sometimes means that I have to shut up (saying this to myself, of course, in the nicest possible way).

Monday, January 22, 2007

Blog for Choice Day

Blog for Choice Day - January 22, 2007

I didn't end up going to the counter-protest that BACORR had organized Saturday against the anti-choicers (though I did find out that the anti-choicers group was organized by various Catholic groups--they ought to be spending their time and money saving Catholic churches in SF, if they really cared about their influence), because I was still feeling quite sick and tired.

I feel very guilty for not going.

That said, today is Blog for Choice day. Every once in a while, I run into somebody who knows my life history who is suprised I'm pro-choice. After all, my mother had me in the midst of not-great circumstances: My father wasn't going to stick around for various reasons, she was young, and she wasn't anywhere near financially stable. And yet, she decided to go ahead and have me. People have actually said to me that I should be thankful that abortion isn't as readily available as I think it ought to be, because I woulnd't be here if it were.

Which, of course, is bunk, and misses most of the point about being pro-choice. Part of the reason we often say 'pro-choice' is, of course, political framing. But part of the reason is because the choice part is fundamental to the ideas behind safe, accessible, legal abortion. This is important to remember regarding women having the choice to have abortions, but it's equally important regarding women having the choice to decide to not have an abortion--and here I mean that any sort of foced pregnancy or forced abortion goes against the notions of lots of pro-choice people.

I'm pro-choice in part because I think that being anti-choice is both anti-child and anti-woman, to put it sloganistically. I'm also pro-choice because I think that, while men have lots of rights regarding children, the decision whether or not a pregnancy is carried to term isn't one of them. I'm also pro-choice because it's the most practical way to be--like the abstinence-only educators out there, ignoring the fact that women will need to terminate pregnancies whether or not it is legal is a fact that needs to be taken into account when thinking about abortion.

There are lots of other reasons, but those are some. What are yours?

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Mythic Heroism and Masculinity

Lauren has a great post up over at Faux Real wherin she discusses Save The Day Guy, a variation of sorts of The Nice Guy.

Among her best points, and one that is apropos of things I'm interested in, is this:
Over time, after spending far too many nights in dark rooms watching Mel Gibson movies with very dudely guys, I realized just how scarily these young men internalized mythic heroism and the sect of Hollywood that promotes it. The thing about heroism is that it isn’t very glamorous — it’s being in the wrong place at the wrong time and keeping one’s head on straight, it’s managing to hold your arms out when you realize there’s a baby flying at your head from the sixth floor of a burning building. Heroism is predicated on the potential of tragedy, so I worry about those who aim to base their identities on being present during the misfortunes of others.

I think the ways that men are indoctrinated into this sort of mythic heroism that she's talking about mean that men also need to struggle against such things. I remember a group of three friends who were mugged a few years back: two women and a man. The man noted that he had gotten a lot more 'why didn't you fight back?' sorts of reactions than he had suspected, and it affected him more strongly in that way than he had thought it might. The thing I like about Lauren's post is she's questioning the very meaning of this sort of mythic heroism, and its links to traditional masculinity along the way.

Plus, she makes fun of Bush Jr. And while that's like shooting fish in a barrel at this point, it's still almost always worthwhile.

Feminist Critique in the Comics

Think I'm the only one who is obsessed with looking at daily comics through the lens of feminist-ish thinking?

One of my favorite blogs does it too, occssionally. Scroll to the end of the post...

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Preparing for College

I'm back from Christmas heaven and application hell, for the time being, and anxious to get back to blogging-- If only I knew what to blog about.

So, I'll just blog on what I'm already thinking about: College.

Specifically, the fact that that is where I will soon be.

College means new opportunities. I'm not sure which excites me more: the classes I can take or the chance to move out of the house. But there's at least one other crucial opportunity I'll have: a chance to re-invent myself.

You see, although I love my homeschool community, I can't deny that it's a small one. We get about fifty kids, generally, for our biggest dance. That means everyone knows everyone and, usually, has known them for years.

College will be my first chance in a long time to be judged by my behavior, not my history. So I've been inspired to try for some self-improvement before I go. College will also be my first prolonged immersion in anything resembling mainstream culture, and the first social circle I'll enter as an identified feminist.

Since I'm lacking in insight today, I'm going use my signature cop-out, and poll the audience: do any of you readers out there have advice for a young man going off to school? I'm looking primarily for advice relating to gender and/or politics, but practical pointers wouldn't be unhelpful either.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Three Short Descriptions of Gender

Something light to get me back into the swing of serious blogging: I was tasked to write a half-page on the following question:

According to [Hilde] Lindemann and other feminist philosophers, "gender" is not just a case of biological characteristics. Briefly explain three other factors related to "gender"

Gender establishes an identity we can claim as our own to guide our interactions with others and with society. It establishes certain norms that we can try to live up to in order to fill our niche: certain descriptors such as “wears frilly clothes” or “has calloused hands” we can take to sketch out an identity.

Gender gives us a way of classifying others. If we accept that gender parallels sex exactly, and that sex is easily identifiable, we can assume a wide range of characteristics for someone as soon as we meet them. Whether they actually possess any of the qualities we ascribe them is secondary: gender gives us a framework for knowing things about people.

Gender provides socially defined and acceptable ways of interacting. If we accept gender as a useful thing it is possible to interact, even with strangers, in complex and socially useful1 ways by following the scripts and guidelines gender lays out for us.

So how would you characterize gender? How would you describe, in a couple of sentences, what it is and what it does?

cross-posted to my blog.

1 Thanks to Jake for the phrase "socially useful".

Monday, January 08, 2007

Gender Identity in Comics

At the risk of this quickly becoming a one-note blog, here's another piece of gender identify problems in comic strips:

This strip is named "Monty" (formerly it was Robotman, which was quite a bit funnier, really), and the characters pictured have appeared so infrequently that I don't even know either of the women's names. I think this is telling--I know that men are sometimes pressured by family to have kids (from my own experience, in part), but I'm guessing that my intuition that it's more likely to get such pressure if one is a woman isn't far off base. Thing is, this particular strip might actually be slightly funny if it were Monty's mom pressuring him, because he's the sad sack of the strip, the guy who doesn't generally get what he wants exactly how he wants it. As it stands, this strip depicts a sideline character in a run-of-the-mill 'joke' about how mothers of adult daughters just want their kid to have kids (bringing in some ageism to boot!). So, on one hand this strip might just give us a reflection of the way things 'are', but on the other hand it simply isn't very freakin' funny on any level. Whereas Monty as Ladybugman, which I can't find an image of, while still reeling with some gender problems, is at least smirk-worthy.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Where Are All of the (Datable) Feminist Men?

There's a neat little post over at Postcards From Guyville about where/how to meet feminist/feminist friendly men to date. Y'all should go check it out and add to the discussion!

(Postcards from Guyville is just a great little blog anyway, so go check it out.)

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Gender Identity in the Comics

First of all: Happy New Year everybody! It would be great to have some sort of positive, happy post at the beginning of the year, but the closest I can come to that is to point out some gender reinforcement going on right in the ol' comic strip page. I tend to have trouble not seeing comics through the lens of gender studies and feminist theory--such is what happens once you begin taking in some feminist ideas.

I think comic strips are an interesting place to see how gender is reinforced in our daily lives, and how that reinforcement often affects us all negatively.


Our first comic is Pearls Before Swine. This is a snarky little comic strip, and the artist/author often employs a kind of 'meta' cartoon style, where he draws himself drawing the strip. He also talks a lot about the way strips work from within the strips; recently he introduced a duck character which is a 'nonanthropomorphic' duck to go along with the very antrhopomorphic duck already in the strip. This is an interesting little thing to do, and it's one of the reasons I read the strip. Unfortunately, it looks like he introduced this character as the perfect girlfriend for the anthropomorphic duck: She can't talk like he can, so she can't do all of the traditional things that women do--nag. Except that she can, with one word: "Quack." Not only do we have silly gender assignments such as 'men take out the garbage and watch football', but we additionally have 'women nag'. Even nonanthropomorphic duck-women.


Next up is another of my favorite strips, F-Minus. This is usually a one-panel strip which owes its roots to comics like The Far Side and Bizzaro, but is usually more dry and less full of goofiness than those two. I like this comic in part because one is struck almost immediately (or at least I was) with some suprise that the main character is a man and not a woman. I think this also reflects, however, the degree to which our culture is more and more encouraging men to be body-conscious (in the negative sense) in the way that it has encouraged women to be for a long, long time. But part of what makes this comic funny, if it is funny, is the guy in his speedo freezing his butt off--it if were a woman, we might feel slightly differently, as if that's not a far cry from the truth in a culture full of breast augmentation and butt-firming creams. It's funnier with a man there in part because we don't as much expect men to (traditionally) behave this way.

Mountains and Molehills
Some might say I'm trivializing gender stuff by focusing on a small segment of pop culture--comic strips. But again, these are solid parts of our day-to-day lives (ok, of my day to day life, and I think this is where a lot of the work on recognizing gender norms and how they might negatively affect us can be done.