Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Resisting Traditional (Religious) Masculinities

One of the silver linings of the 'discussion' (such as it is) of Jessica Valenti's Full Frontal Feminism for me is the rediscovery of brownfemipower at Women of Color Blog. I don't always agree with what she has to say (erm...who do I agree with all of the time?), but she has some really powerful things to say, and often deals with issues without trying to mask their complexity. One fine example of this is her follow-up post to a post about la familia, and the ways that strong belief in family life for Chicanas can be a strong anti-woman force, sometimes. She says:
For a long time, I didn’t realize that what we were talking about was abuse. This wasn’t what we saw on Oprah or the Burning Bed–this wasn’t submissive white woman with down cast eyes and forlorn face. This was a bunch of lively and fierce mamitas figuring out how to live with something they didn’t know how to get out of. Something they didn’t know how to get out of because there was no place to escape to, no place to run to, no place to hide. My friend’s family were all back in Washington State–they had migrated here when she was in high school, and she had stayed behind when she got married. There was one homeless shelter in the city, and it was run by hard line Christian Evangelicals that wouldn’t even let husbands and wives sleep together on the same floor and required you to go to services every night (Christian, not Catholic). And if you can’t go to your family and you won’t go to a shelter, which neighborhood family do you turn to that isn’t yours? The one that is currently living in their car or a hotel? The one whose father just lost the only job in the family? The one with four kids (and another on the way) living in a one bedroom house? Or the one whose mami was also getting her ass kicked? Because there was no one to turn to, these women, (myself included), learned how to “take it”. How to live with abuse in a way that made them feel that they still had control of their lives, that they still had some say.


In one section of one post, brownfemipower brings together so many factors of oppression, and recognizing how they intersect, and how that intersection plays out in real life, for many women, that I'm pretty amazed at her writing. This is exactly the sort of thing that sometimes keeps me from writing about where oppressions intersect, because it's difficult to do justice to any one aspect while talking about as many as possible. I think she manages to do it very well, and you should read the whole darn thing.

The reason I bring her post up here is twofold: First off, it's apparent to me having read a bunch of the stuff around Valenti's book, that, whatever the truth of accusations leveled against her (I'm holding off commenting too much about it until the dust settles, mostly because it's too overwhelming at the moment, and I don't think I can analyze it at all objectively), everybody who calls themselves a feminist can do more to be inclusive of everybody. I think I do an ok job when it comes to gender inclusiveness (i.e. I get lots of emails saying, "What do you mean by 'people of all genders'?); I think I manage to bring class into discussions quite often as well; I am getting better at including queer perspectives. But I am shitty at inclusiveness when it comes to race. And age. And Ableism. There are lots of good reasons as to why, but none of them mean that I can avoid trying harder, and still be a good person. So I'm trying harder. So that's one reason I'm bringing in brownfemipower's ideas, as they relate to some of the stuff I want to say. Even as I say this I feel the spectre of tokenism, I look around for where I'm acting like a privileged jackass, I fear that I'm not being inclusive of lots of different other groups of people, that I'm 'stealing' her ideas without adding to them or doing justice to them. But y'know, I have to start somewhere, and this is where I'm starting at.

The second reason I bring up brownfemipower's post is that I think the point about the religious-based shelter being a place that reinforces the very roles that are part of the problem a good deal of the time is an important point, and one that's related to men and masculinity. Religions are not gender-neutral, and I haven't run into a popular religion yet that isn't at bottom incredibly sexist. This is something to be discussed, of course, because lots of people think that, while some religions are like that, their version of their religion isn't. And that may well be the case--but I want to have those discussions with people, but as I do I will keep pointing out that organized religion tends to reinforce patriarchy, that it is one of the main forces for keeping traditional masculinity and femininity alive. And, to bring in some of what brownfemipower has to say--it may be the case that traditional conceptions of family can't help but reinforce patriarchy as well (though, of course, she doesn't say that, exactly--those are my words). And I want to claim that traditional conceptions of family are often based in traditional religious views, which are quite sexist, so we ought not be surprised that the conceptions of family that come with them are, as well.
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