Thursday, April 05, 2007

Some Questions, Some Answers

Sassywho asks a great series of questions in the comments. I think the questions are worth reprinting in their entirety here:
I would be curious as to your thoughts on, while quite a few men don't denounce feminism, they are indifferent or uninformed. What I mean is as far as the obvious issues, abuse, rape, for some equality in pay there is agreement and even alliance, but when it comes to more of the more intricate threads that even some feminist are not in agreement on many are sorely confused and/or opposed. Then there is the very common pseudo-feminism which is what I like to call the "pedestal" which is just as oppressive as patriarchy but one that many men feel comfortable in calling themselves feminist-friendly. While each of those have their own distinct challenges in having a conversation with men about feminism, I think by far, especially white males is the acknowledgment of privilege. To recognize it seems to bring forth a conviction of guilt, which is not the point and certainly not productive, but it seems to be the largest reason for denial and resistance. How do you see is the best way to address that, on an individual to a much larger scale?

Geo responded with some dead-on answers in the comments, I think, but I'd like to expand on his answers, and give some of my own.

Before I begin, I want to say that I think there are myriad answers to your questions--and that some of those answers are more obvious (though not less important) than others: It's harder to see privilege when you're swimming in it, it's harder to understand conceptual frameworks when they appear 'natural', etc. Any answers I give will be variations on the obvious ones, but I think these are complex issues for men, and therefore there are some complex answers.

In a way, this whole groupblog is dedicated to answering some of these questions--exploring what it means to be a man and a feminist seems to be at the root of most of what we do here, and that leads to answers about the ways in which men (including all of us) stay indifferent and uninformed about feminism. So, there are in some ways an infinite number of answers to your questions--and of course I'll only sketch out a few.

Indifference from Ignorance

I think the indifference about feminism comes from two basic sources. First of all, it comes from the ignorance in general of feminist issues. (This all gets messy and circular, I know, but it's all interrelated.) If you don't know about something at all, you're indifferent--but more importantly, if you really don't understand about something, it's harder to be really concerned about it. I think this is one area where women have a better chance at becoming feminists then men, simply because they have less of a chance of remaining ignorant about it. Just as people of color have a better chance of knowing how racism works than white people, just as poor people have a better chance of knowing the negative effects of class than people who have had wealth their whole lives, women are more often forced to face misogyny in its myriad forms, and are therefore less likely to be indifferent toward it.

But I think that there is a second, related, source of indifference when it comes to feminism and men, and this is the indifference that comes from the same sort of place that Mr. Shakes was talking about in the post Sassywho originally commented on: Men are, in various ways, on the top rung of the ladder, and it's a lot easier to rationalize from the top that feminist principles aren't needed.

And I think, in response to another part of Sassywho's question, it's a lot easier to rationalize on the day-to-day, subtle misogyny than it is to rationalize about the more intricate threads. As things get more complex, it's easier to dismiss them, sometimes.

Struggling Against Denial and Resistance
As far as how to address the denial and resistance, I think it has to be addressed on lots and lots of fronts--but I think one front that often gets overlooked is that of men encouraging discourse about all of this with other men. Part of why patriarchy keeps on truckin' is because men, even men who are more aware than most about feminism, even men who support feminist tenets, tend to reinforce misogyny and patriarchy in their interactions with other men. We don't do this because it's natural or something, we do it because it's what we have been taught, and because institutionally things are set up so that men punish other men for bucking the traditions. And we do this in amazingly subtle (and not-so-subtle) ways. So, one way to create change is for men to have conversations with other men about feminism. One great way to do this is (often) to just ask somebody who is showing some privilege or misogyny is to simply ask them what they think feminism is. Often a strawfeminist is involved, and people are unaware that there are many flavors of feminism (for instance, Mr. Shakes does have a sort of marxist-feminst take on things in the original post, but not all feminists are marxists).

So, those are some thoughts on what is obviously a large set of topics! We've talked a lot here about privilege and guilt, though more could be said about that, as well, perhaps we can post about that again later. I really appreciate your questions.
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