"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

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Living with Feminist Anger Toward Men

There's something of a discussion going on over at Twisty's place regarding the abhorrent article in Details magazine y'all may or may not have seen entitled "Is Anal Sex the New Deal-Breaker?" The article is (as Twisty points out) a perfect example of deeply held misogyny in action, there's no doubt about it. And when reading such a thing, I'm struck by a definite sense of (for lack of a better term) impotence regarding what to do about it. I can decry it here, I can talk about it with friends, but what else (directly) can I do about it, as a feminist man? The men I hang out with don't read that crap anyway, and, short of hanging out at the newsstand and haranguing anybody who buys Details, what do I do?

So here's what I do: I decry it here. I talk about it with my friends. And, when the chance arises out in the world among men who might just love articles like that one, I try to engage them, as best I can. I try to better understand their blind spots, their ignorance, and how to communicate to them. Is there more I could do? Sure. I could hang about newsstands and harangue people who buy Details. I could start a boycott of the advertisers in Details. But these things don't seem to me to be ways of really changing things--engaging others in dialog to foster change is the way that I generally end to find the best successes, though they may be few.

Here Comes the Anger and Self-Hatred
And what else do I do? I lament. I feel guilty for my gender. I have anger toward men who just won't listen. I have anger toward myself for the ways in which I buy in and sell out. And, to whatever small degree I can, I turn to my community for emotional support when I feel so overwhelmed by the whole thing--and Feminist Allies can be a huge part of that community.

Lest this be seen as turning an issue regarding misogyny of women into an issue of men having to deal, I want to say that there are at least two things involved in discussing something like the Details article: There is the misogyny of the article, which must be called out, along with the ways it relates to general misogyny encouraged by men and society at large, and there is the set of emotional crap that comes along with being a man who wants to stand up to that sort of thing, who spends a good deal of his time trying to encourage change in the world around feminist issues. Is my emotional reaction to the article the most important thing in the world, or even in the feminist world? Nope. Is it something that I think feminists need to address in general? Nope. But it is something that I have to address, and something that I think a community like Feminist Allies can help with. It may not be the most important thing to deal with, but it must be dealt with, or I can't do any good in the world.

Rad-Fem Anger
I enjoy reading what I consider to be radical feminist writings, and there are some good rad-fem blogs out there. I would put I Blame the Patriarchy in that category. And I enjoy reading Twisty in part because it's often very hard, as a feminist man, to read I Blame the Patriarchy without getting my defensive hackles up. I think that we often do our best thinking when we feel uncomfortable, and it's good practice, as a feminist man, to read stuff that sometimes rubs me the wrong way, in order to flush out my blind spots, and in order to better spot just where I'm getting knee-jerk defensive and where I might be able to contribute to the discussion.

And yet, it's hard as hell to read words like these:
Whenever I write about how much men hate you, somebody — usually a dude, but sometimes a Mrs Nigel — always chirps up, “That’s no way to win men over to your nutty Twistolution!” And they are right. Dudes won’t support feminism unless there’s something in it for them.--Twisty

Of course, Twisty isn't trying to convert men to feminism--as far as I understand her, that's not her job, and I agree wholeheartedly. I think that it is the job of men to win other men over to feminism, in general, though I think we should take all of the help from people of all genders that we can get. I also think there is ample room for Twisty's flavor of feminism, for radical feminism in general, in the larger scheme of things, even if I don't agree that everybody should do radical feminist action. And I agree with Twisty--men ascribe to feminism (in part, at least) because of what they get out of it, though I do, of course, want to add that some men see 'what they get out of it' as a healthy dose of humanism, of egalitarianism, of a balancing of power systems and the like, rather than only what Twisty has experienced as what men think they ought to get out of feminism, which is mind-boggling in its misogyny:

In my case, they seem anxious that I behave solicitously toward them, to reassure them that radical feminists don’t really want to substantively diminish their social status. My advocacy for women’s entitlement to domination-free lives may sometimes look good on paper to liberal ‘feminist’ dudes, but they loudly demur when it comes time for them to acknowledge that they oppress women whether they like it or not, by virtue of their participation — whether it is a voluntary participation matters not a whit — in male dominant culture. When I explain why their position is untenable, that oppression is experienced by the oppressed as hate, it is interpreted as my crossing the boundaries of feminine propriety. This makes’em mad. And they get mean, e.g. “I don’t hate women, you stupid bitch!” These glittering examples of Western manhood appear not to grasp the irony of responding with hate to a men-hate-you argument. The justification for their subsequent personal attacks (one fellow human recently expressed his happy anticipation of my rapidly impending obituary) seems to be that I am just not obsequious enough. Insufficient obsequiosity apparently invalidates any argument made by a feminist, however shimmeringly astute it may otherwise be. As a cause, the fight against the oppression of half the human population is only supportable if it is presented with a solicitous head-tilt, a pert giggle, and an invitation to fuck you in the ass. But hate you men do, however often certain of them wish you dead from cancer for saying so without first offering to bend over.--Twisty

And, of course, my defensiveness immediately rises up to shout: "But! But! But! Not all men are like that! What about me?! What about Dave and Orion and Geo! What about Roy, and Hugo?" And I recognize the inappropriateness of this response, on its own. Still, while it's not appropriate for me to plead with Twisty to remember that not all men are like that, and not all feminist men are like that, it is appropriate for me to remind myself that not all feminist men are like that--though there's always an echo of "well, not all the time" which marks the places where those of us immersed in a culture find ourselves supporting the status quo, however much we try to consciously resist doing so. Reminding myself of the good that some feminist men can do is another way of dealing with the anger and self-hate that can come from being a feminist man.

Dealing with Violent Words Against Men
And it helps me also, to remind myself of those things, when I read a comment in that same post that involves a fantasy of violence toward men:
This topic has inspired a new sexual fantasy for me: Some wicked-smart lady scientist develops a roofie antidote—some kind of alkaloid that the partay girl can injest pre-party which is harmless to her, but which renders unconscious any male engaging in sex with her. When she regains her judgment enough to determine whether or not the sex was consensual, she can decide to either wake him up with a bit of fellatio, or gently extract his testes from his nutsack and insert them in the orifice of her choice.--Dawn Coyote

Admittedly, this is couched in the form of a fantasy (though as a sexual fantasy, it makes me feel a bit oogie)--and people often fantasize about violence. And, admittedly, this is a fantasy about possible violence toward somebody who has done violence. And yet: I think such talk is wrong, unhelpful and, well, violent. Is it as bad as the sexual violence that is advocated in the Details article? I don't think so, if we can make such judgments. Still, it's hard to read such words, and have them go unchallenged in a discussion forum.

Yet I am limited as a feminist man in the ways I can respond to such things. I don't think it's appropriate for me to go on that thread and comment about it--that's exactly the sort of tactic that "feminist" men who like to draw attention away from women's issues to their own issues are wont to do. That's one reason I think FA is the better forum for this discussion, in as much as it allows us to talk about these things without drawing attention away from the issues that affect women directly. But even here I am limited, because I can't just say: All talk of violent acts is wrong. And the reasons I can't are inextricably intertwined in the reality of our current system(s) of oppression. It's not my place to tell women that such talk is out of line, in part because we, as feminist men, have more important things to do: For instance, to convince other men that misogyny and sexual violence against women is as wrong as it is rampant.

And yet, I can understand the anger that leads one to such fantasies (though, again, the sexual component doesn't ring true for me): I have a recurrent fantasy of getting Bush Jr. alone in a dark alley, for instance. And I also understand that my concern about violent words isn't a good response to the fact that the Details article is violent in its own right, and the ways in which that article tries to make sexual violence ok. And yet, and yet, and yet, I still want to cry out: Can't we all talk about this stuff without the violence? (And I hear myself immediately wondering if that isn't my male privilege talking, just a bit.)

And, frankly, I feel discouraged and demoralized by Twisty's words, and by Dawn Coyote's words, and by the silence around violence against men in a forum that is responding to the horrible prevalence of violence against women. Is it their fault I feel this way? No. Am I asking them to stop? No. But I must do something about these feelings, and here I am, letting it all out. What else can I do?
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