Monday, June 18, 2007

bell hooks Monday: Who Is Responsible for Change?

More from bell hooks' The Will to Change:
"Women and men alike in our culture spend very little time encouraging males to learn to love. Even the women who are pissed off at men, women most of whom are not and maybe never will be feminist, use their anger to avoid being truly committed to helping to create a world where males of all ages can know love. And there remains a small strain of feminist thinkers who feel strongly that they have given all they want to give to men; they are concerned solely with improving the collective welfare of women. Yet life has shown me that any time a single male dares to transgress patriarchal boundaries in order to love, the lives of women, men and children are fundamentally changed for the better."(pp10)


I applaud hooks for encouraging men to learn to change--to learn to love others, to be loved, and to love themselves. I applaud her for recognizing that sometimes women don't give much encouragement to men in order for them to change--I think it's important for we men to recognize this and to talk about it. I don't think I agree with some of her conclusions, however: Just because if women gave men more encouragement to change it would make changing easier for men doesn't mean that that is the job of women.

That things get better when men learn to love doesn't entail that it is the job of all women everywhere to encourage men to learn—that is, there is room enough for groups of women, I think, even large groups of women, who spend their time and emotional energy on improving the lives of women through avenues other than helping men learn how to love. I think that helping men learn to love and be loved is worth the time and energy, my time and energy, and I think that it's likely necessary in order to have the sort of egalitarianism that I want the world to have along gender lines. But that doesn't mean that I think everybody ought to be spending all of their time doing it—in fact, I think more of the burden remains on men; to the extent that men benefit from patriarchal culture,the burden remains mostly on men to change culture in such a way that patriarchal norms that don't allow men to love and be loved in more ways are left behind. And while I think it is important to note that somewhere along the way, men of course need women to help them understand and accomplish these changes, that doesn't mean that we have to wait for women to embrace us, to 'give us a cookie' for making these changes; we can make a start, and include the women who want to be included, as they come.

Is it tough to make these changes in the face of not getting encouraged by (some)women (some of the time)? Sure. One wants one's efforts to bear fruit, and to be recognized. But it seems to me that making just about any change away from the status quo is going to be painful for those who have been reaping the rewards--that's part of why it's a freakin' challenge to change the status quo.

So, while I'm all for noting that both men and women embrace patriarchy at various times, and that men who are willing to change oftentimes get less-than-encouraging results from other men, from women, from society at large, I think it's important to recognize that men can still make a lot of good change happen, and that it is their responsibility to do so. When we have women support those changes, that is fantastic; I don't think that it's their job to do so.
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