"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, September 28, 2007

Men Doing Feminist Work: David Shepherd and Travis Price

By now y'all have probably heard about David Shepherd and Travis Price, the students in Cambrige, Nova Scotia, who didn't like that the new kid at school was bullied because he wore pink, and decided to hand out pink shirts in protest against bullying in general:
The Grade 9 student arrived for the first day of school last Wednesday and was set upon by a group of six to 10 older students who mocked him, called him a homosexual for wearing pink and threatened to beat him up. The next day, Grade 12 students David Shepherd and Travis Price decided something had to be done about bullying. RELATED: Pink shirts legend grows "It’s my last year. I’ve stood around too long and I wanted to do something," said David. They used the Internet to encourage people to wear pink and bought 75 pink tank tops for male students to wear. They handed out the shirts in the lobby before class last Friday — even the bullied student had one.

I applaud these guys, although they stop a bit short of what I would have wanted them to articulate. They point out that nobody should be made fun of for what they're wearing, but they don't, in any article I could find, even really mention that it's not about what somebody was wearing, really, but about homophobia. Their sentiment seems to be 'people should be able to wear what they want', when the sentiment really should be (and probably is, underneath), that people shouldn't be bullied for being gay. I think it's interesting that even these two brave students (because it was brave--the social pressures to go along with bullies are strong, especially in high school) haven't yet quite connected all of dots: It's not the pinkness, it's teh gay.

Still, ya gotta start somewhere, and these guys are way, way, way ahead of where I was when I was their age. And, as far as activism goes, they're way, way ahead of me now.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

What Men Can Do: On Meaningful Discussions and Confrontations

I'm still reading Katz' The Macho Paradox, and it's still got me thinking. Early on, Katz addresses the fact that many men feel immediately, personally, defensive when people point out the amount of violence men perpetrate against women. Katz sees this defensiveness as one of the biggest hurdles standing in the way of getting more men to comprehend and embrace feminist ideals:

“When I work with men, I try to address the concepts of guilt and responsibility up front because I know from long experience—and a lot of trial and error—that if the goal is to inspire more men to engage in transformative action, we need to do more than simply tell them to stop behaving badly. That is sure to provoke a defensive reaction. Defensiveness, in fact, is one of the greatest obstacles to men's involvement in meaningful discussions about gender violence. Simply stated, a surprising number of non-violent men cannot hear about the bad things some men do to women without feeling blamed themselves.”--pp25
There's a lot going on here. Is our goal to inspire more men to engage in transformative action? That's one of my goals, certainly—but goals are usually only best understood in comparison with other goals. It is more important to inspire men to change themselves, and to change the world, than it is to stop men from doing violence against women? Of course I would say these two goals are inextricably intertwined, but I also understand that sometimes you just have to pick a goal, and stick to it for while. Katz is suggesting that inspiring men ought to be our primary goal.

I don't think that it ought to be the top priority for all (male) feminists all of the time. First of all, sometimes we just don't need to care about the defensiveness of men. Sometimes, defensiveness be damned, we want and need to vent. Sometimes, defensiveness be damned, we are more concerned with using the stick, rather than the carrot. Sometimes, defensiveness be damned, we need to focus on building up women and providing them safe(er) spaces, rather than coddling men. And Katz recognizes this—he does, after all, start the book out by noting that he's not writing the damn thing to coddle men. He's trying to be practical. Along those lines, he points out that lots of us feel like it's not worth the confrontation—that we do indeed pick our battles:

“In anticipation of defensive hostility, many women (and some anti-sexist men) censor themselves in discussions with men about sensitive issues like rape, sexual harassment, and abuse in relationships. They decide that it is not worth such confrontations with men in their professional or personal lives. The cost is too high in terms of ill feelings and interpersonal tensions. So a lot goes unsaid. Moreover, because defensiveness is the enemy of critical thinking, an awful lot of men who stand to greatly benefit from reading and reflecting on decades of brilliant academic and popular work on gender, power, and violence instead avoid it like the plague. So a lot goes unread.”--pp25
I think it's easy to fall into a habit of avoiding confrontation in this way—and it may be even more easy for feminist men to do so, using their privilege as a nice little safety blanket. But I also think it's necessary to recognize that it's sometimes necessary to avoid confrontation, if only to simply keep one's sanity. (And, indeed, sometimes we avoid confrontations because they are genuinely, immediately dangerous to us—the best thing to do sometimes is to just walk away.) We need to take care so as not to expect way too much of ourselves, and of our allies. We can create despair in ourselves and in our community if we're not careful, by setting impossibly high standards of behavior in terms of when we choose to stand up to the sexist asshats of the world. And there is plenty of despair to go around without us creating any more.

That said, I think we have to be equally careful to not back down from confrontations, and in this way I think I may disagree slightly with Katz. If our goal is to inspire men to create change, we may want to be careful to not first inspire defensiveness in them—but that all depends on our audience, and who is speaking to them, and when. Context is mightily important, and timing. Sometimes we might want to avoid defensiveness—but sometimes we might allow some men to get defensive, if only to allow other men to see how patently ridiculous that can be. Sometimes we might make 'em defensive on purpose. I have in mind here the sort of disparaging comedy that people like Stephen Colbert tend to do. Take the famous clip of him asking the congressperson who is trying to get the 10 Commandments installed in courtrooms in his state. When Colbert asks him to name the commandments, and the guy can name two (sort of), Colbert is humiliating the guy. There is little concern for how defensive that guy might have become, and yet a point has been made, and made well: You're posturing, you jerk. Engaging with anti-feminist men in similar ways can do a lot of work. (Amanda Marcotte is particularly good at this, in blogland.) If only I were as funny (and had the same team of writers) as Colbert. (or Marcotte!) Of course, Colbert is a pretty good feminist himself...

Other times, I fully appreciate where Katz is coming from. He goes to schools and talks about gender inequalities, espousing not only feminism, but trying to encourage a change away from the parts of culture with help to bring about men's violence against women. He goes to groups who specifically want/need/request to be talked to about sexism. I think in these places, it's probably a general good rule of thumb to do what one can to get one's point across without creating defensiveness, if possible. But of course most of us aren't doing feminist work in those spaces—we are at work, we are walking down the street, we're in bars and restaurants (ok, I'm not generally in bars, but I like me some food-other-people-have-made). In these places, it's not often clean cut, and various strategies need to be employed. And, as Katz points out, sometimes there's just no getting around the defensiveness, because many men have good reason to be defensive, because they are guilty of what is being called out:
“But not all men who react defensively are irrational. Some men actually have a troubled conscience, based on past (or present) perpetrations. No point in soft-pedaling this: there are millions of men in our society who (accurately) hear calls for men to speak out about gender violence as direct criticism of their own behavior. Many men get defensive and hostile at the mere mention of gender violence because they have reason to be defensive. The only way these men would not get defensive is if no one ever brought up the subject.”--pp25
One way to embrace them is to use feminist thinking itself to reframe just what confrontation can be, in which contexts it can and ought to happen, and what we ought to be arguing about. One great tool that I've gleaned from feminist theory is to learn to recognize false dichotomies and supposed conceptual 'binaries'-- and to call them out. "You're either with us or against us" tends to be a sort of anti-feminist way of thinking (though not always!), for instance. And I think developing a tendency to resist rigid binaries and to spot false dichotomies can help men who would be feminist allies to a great degree: We can recognize that it's not the case that we're either men or feminists, but not both, as the simplest example. We can also recognize that we can be part of a subset of humanity who causes a lot of damage while acknowledging that we, as individuals, don't have to shroud ourselves in guilt for all of the damage, even though we may still feel be responsible for it.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Tuesday: Gender in the Comics

As usual (for two weeks in a row!), we take a quick look at gender stereotyping in daily comic strips. Click on 'em to see them slightly larger (and there's no pun intended here as regards the first comic).

First up, Fusco Brothers, which traditionally disparages men as boors-who-can't-get-dates, one-ups itself by not only just having a picture on the comics page of a guy pointing to some boobs, but also by somehow connecting traditional conceptions of what counts as attractive boobs to what counts as having good morals. (The philosopher in me thinks this is just a perversion of Plato's ideas around the connections between what is aesthetically pleasing at what is good in general. But I think that's pushing it.)

Next up, this Rhymes with Orange strip is actually pretty funny, I think. I submit it to you because this is the first time I've heard the phrase "...smooth, manly finish."
I see "manly" being equated with "smooth" more and more in the future, as the number of products aimed at men's grooming continues to increase. Oh, and razors with 16 blades, each one of which costs 3 bucks.

Monday, September 24, 2007

bell hooks Monday: Barriers to Overcome

Sometimes men feel unwelcome in feminist circles. Indeed, sometimes men are legitimately unwelcome in feminist circles. But, while men who would be feminist allies ought to respect the desires of other feminist as regards when and where ally work can be done, they also shouldn't let the fact that sometimes, in certain contexts, some feminists want men to not be involved in ally work, or to be less involved, or to be involved only in certain ways, keep them from pursuing feminist goals, from doing ally work in whatever areas they can. If a particular forum doesn't welcome your ideas because you are a male feminist, there are still forums that will welcome your ideas (and lots of 'em, from my experience). Check your privilege, then move on and do some work somewhere else--there is always work to be done, and there are almost always places for you to do it. Create your own space, if need be.

Whenever I hear men who would be allies who are frustrated with particular feminist spaces, or with particular feminists, I think about what bell hooks has to say about those who would discourage black women from using the tools of feminism, even though aspects of feminism have been historically (and continue to be in various ways and to various degrees) racist. bell says:
"To many black folks feminism continues to be seen as synonymous with bourgeois white women. As a consequence any black woman who uses the term risks being seen as a race traitor. The dismissal of black female voices that advocate feminist politics has intensified with the resurgence of narrow nationalists thinking that either invests in supporting the maintenance of patriarchal gender role or insists that embracing an Afrocentric worldview will necessarily return black females and males to an idyllic location where gender hierarchies do not exist. Again and again in my work I have had to reiterate that the racism of white women should be militantly challenged but that it should not act as a barrier preventing black women and men from engaging feminist politics. Even though Karl Marx was clearly racist in his thinking, this has never stopped black folks who seek to radicalize their consciousness around the issue of class from engaging Marxism. Sure it is patriarchal condescension that leads black folks, particularly sexist black men, to assume that black females are incapable of embracing revolutionary feminism in ways that would enhance rather than diminish black liberation, despite the continued overt racism and racist agendas of those groups of whit women who can most easily lay claim to the term "feminism" and project their conservative and reactionary agendas. Often this condescension merely masks allegiance to sexism and patriarchal thinking in black life. Certainly, the labeling of black women who engage feminist thinking as race traitors is meant to prevent us from embracing feminist politics as surely as white power-feminism acts to exclude our voices and silence our critiques. In this case, both groups are acting to protect and maintain the privileges, however relative, that they receive in the existing social structure."--pp100-101, Killing Rage.

I'm not directly comparing what black women who might be feminists feel about feminism to what men who would be feminist allies feel about feminism; I think the differences are myriad--men enjoy privilege as men that black women don't enjoy, I don't think men need to 'militantly' challenge where they are asked to stay out of the fight, just for starters--but I do think that the rationale that hooks is using here can work for us: The fact that sometimes particular feminist spaces are off limits to men who would be allies shouldn't stop men from using feminist theory and practice to do ally work, any more than Marx's sexism and racism should stop us from using Marx's class analysis.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Men Doing Feminist Work: Paul Kivel

Paul Kivel is one of the men who started the Oakland Men's Project, and today he still works as a violence prevention educator. Strangely, the term "feminist" seems absent from Kivel's site--and his many books don't claim the mantle. Likely this has something to do with the audience he is generally trying to reach, I suppose; likely some of the boys and men he does workshops with would shut down at the very mention of the term. Still, a cursory look at his books tells a feminist tale: He is trying to teach men to respect themselves, stop violence, stop sexism, stop racism, and create a community that nurtures us all.

I appreciate especially his words on learning how to be an ally, when the Oakland Men's Project began:
To be a true ally to women we had to hear their anger and understand its source in their feelings of hopelessness and experiences of violence. We learned how to listen, take criticism, and make changes while continuing to take risks. We were doing this work to reduce the violence. It was not just another way to wrangle women’s support, approval,or gratitude.

We also experienced anger from men as we spoke out. Some of them felt deserted,
unfairly blamed, or saw us as hypocritical. To counteract this anger we learned that it was crucial not to fault or attack other men for the lies and training they have received. By caring for and accepting them, while confronting their beliefs and attitudes, we were able to demonstrate the strong and loving alliances against injustice that are possible between men. The next sections show some of the ways that the staff at the Oakland Men’s Project have tried to model this kind of approach.

I went ahead and picked up his book: Men's Work: How to Stop the Violence that Tears Our Lives Apart. I'll let y'all know how it is.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Feminism Helps Men: New Lenses, New Mirrors

One of the great ways that feminism helps men is to give us another set of lenses for looking at the world. This means not only incorporating the perspectives of others and another set of theoretical frameworks when trying to understand the world; it also means having some new lenses and a set of theoretical frameworks for understanding ourselves. Sometimes I wonder about the need for feminist men to not only find ways in which feminism helps men, but also to explain to other men, non-feminist men, how feminism helps men. Sometimes I wonder, about this or that particular aspect of feminism: Isn't it enough that it's true? Or: Isn't it enough that it helps women?

But the practical side of my brain tends to take over, eventually, and I start worrying about how we're actually going to change the world, what the best paths to do that are--so I begin to think that, yes, if feminism does help men, we should shout from the rooftops the ways in which it does. Should selfish motivation be the primary motivator encouraging men to use feminist lenses, to do feminist work? One would hope that it wasn't always, but perhaps selfish motivation is the only way that some men, some of the time, are going to come to begin to examine feminist ideals. And if some of those men are reached, then I say it's worth trying. (I also think that attempting to appeal to those men is primarily the responsibility of other men--women have enough on their plates.)

And certainly, lots of men see some types of feminism as harming men, rather than helping them. Though this is almost always some version of 'kill the messenger' mentality, it's somewhat understandable where some of these ideas come from--there is lots of privilege to renounce, lots of power to give up--at least on the face of it, for men, so messages about patriarchy . But of course it's much more complex than that--and what men give up now because of their role in patriarchy, because of what they have to do in order to be seen as Real Men (and therefore to keep their privilege), because of the way that traditional male masculinity beats them down, is often hidden. One way that feminism helps men is to point out the damage that happens from the social enforcement of rigid gender roles, damage that happens to both women and men.

The ways in which men are damaged by rigid, traditional masculinity are myriad, and in the coming weeks I hope to analyze some of them, but the one that sticks out most in my own psyche has to do with the traditional stereotypes of women-as-social and men-as-independent/autonomous. As with many traditional gender roles, these two 'sides' are defined in terms of their supposed oppositional status, as if being social and being independent were entirely disparate sorts of things. There is lots of feminist writing out there which debunks the very idea that these things are oppositional: I recommend both Relational Autonomy, an anthology edited by Catriona Mackenzie and Natalie Stoljar, and The Autonomy Myth: A Theory of Dependency, by Martha Albertson Fineman.

The essays in Relational Autonomy read more like philosophy of feminism to me, and are in some ways more esoteric, but they tackle complex notions of agency from feminist perspectives quite well. The Autonomy Myth is a mix of sociology and feminism (in my mind) that debunks a lot of the ideas around so-called autonomy, pointing out the relational aspects of autonomy (i.e. 'the family' has often been thought of in political/social theory as an autonomous unit, but of course families depend to no small degree on 'the state,' and even what a family consists in is regulated by the state--who can and can't get married, for instance).

I could (and will!) mine these works for lots of ideas here, but my main point is this: Without the influences of feminism, these types of analysis wouldn't be happening the way they are. Without feminism, we might not understand that 'autonomous' doesn't mean 'without others'--we might miss some of the connections. And, in missing those connections, we get more caught up in false dichotomies and rigid gender roles.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

What Men Can Do: Guilt vs. Responsibility

I've begun reading The Macho Paradox: Why Some Men Hurt Women, and How All Men Can Help, by Jackson Katz. I'd like to thank whomever recommended the book to me, though I have since forgotten who did. (I seem to be acquiring good books on feminism, men and feminism, race theory and action and the like faster than I can read the damn things. But that's an embarrassment of riches, I suppose.) I'd like to first note that the subtitle seems to be unfortunate wording--to me it sounds like this is a book instructing men how to help other men hurt women. But, then, coming up with titles is a difficult sort of thing to do, so I don't fault him much for that.

So far I like Katz's writing style, and I like the fact that he isn't holding back, isn't coddling men around issues of violence against women. More importantly, though, I think it's great that he's addressing one of the things that often keeps men from doing good ally work, or from wanting to become feminist allies at all: guilt. More importantly, he addresses what I also see to be one of the main reasons that men sometimes let guilt get in the way of doing good ally work--the conflating of guilt with responsibility.

After giving us lots of statistics about the violence that men commit against women, Katz sends out a clarion call to men to become allies:
"It is long past time that men from all walks of life owned up to their part in all of this. The status quo is simply unacceptable. And while it is crucial that women and men work together to address the problem, the primary responsibility resides with men. Men, after all, are the primary perpetrators of rape, battering, sexual abuse, and sexual harassment, at least according to those radical feminists over at the FBI. So we can dispense with the idea that it is anti-male to say what everyone already knows to be true. There is an awful lot of violence against women in our society, and men commit the vast majority of it."--pp24

It probably goes without saying that I agree with Katz as far as he goes. I do think that the focus of the book, that of the violence men perpetrate against women, is too narrow for what I would want, if I could have whatever analysis I wanted (this, given that I haven't read the whole book yet)--I think that men's violence against women is one very important facet of the violence that men are taught in general; I think that an analysis of the violence men perpetrate against other men, against people of all genders, in addition to an analysis of the violence men perpetrate against women, is in order. I also recognize, however, that there is plenty to be said for the view that a good starting place to deal with this stuff is where Katz starts, given the damage men do against women.

But I digress.

Katz next lets us know that he's not going to coddle men (and the women who might help to coddle them), but neither is he going to try to use guilt to motivate:
"Is saying that unfair to men? Better yet, is telling the truth unfair to men? For those who think it is, please know that I am not going to spend a lot of time in this book catering to men's defensiveness around this subject. Or to women who feel obliged to rush to the defense of their sons and husbands. But let me be clear. I am also not going to guilt-trip twenty-first-century American men by blaming them for thousands of years of sexism and patriarchal oppression. Men shouldn't feel guilty simply for being born male. That's silly. If there is a reason to feel guilty, it should be about what they do or fail to do, not about their chance placement in one gender category."--pp24

And we do feel defensive, there's no doubt about it. Even the most adamant male feminist allies find ourselves feeling defensive about the abuses men have committed against women, and we don't just feel defensive about the abuses each of us, as individuals, have committed--we feel guilt about being men, from time to time at least. I think this is somewhat ridiculous, in some ways--but in other ways it reflects that we know that we have and do benefit from male privilege: No matter what degree we feel we participate in violence against women, we still benefit from violence that has been committed in the past, and violence that will be committed in the future, of men against women. So there will be some guilt there, and some defensiveness. But Katz hits the nail on the head when he points out the important distinction between guilt and responsibility:
"Nonetheless, when it comes to discussions about men and sexism, the concepts of guilt and responsibility are often confused. They are not the same thing. For conscientious men, especially those who are just beginning to grapple with the enormity of the problem of men's violence against women, feelings of guilt can be paralyzing, whereas feelings of responsibility at least have the potential to be energizing."--pp24

As men who would be feminist allies, we can recognize and appreciate all of our feelings, both our feelings of guilt and our feelings of responsibility. Still, we can try to use the feelings of responsibility to overcome the guilt to a degree where we can do something about the world apart from feeling defensive. I don't think this is ever easy, but it's a place from where to begin.

(As a side note: I have an intuition, one that I can't back up without some more thought, that most of the entire men's rights movement might be able to be traced back to defensiveness around feelings of guilt. Sometimes it seems as if there are two choices: Recognize the guilt and feel responsible, in the sense that Katz is talking about, or recognize the guilt and feel defensive. Allies do the former, and many MRA's do the latter. Again, not something I can fully back up just yet, just a thought.)

Monday, September 17, 2007

Tuesday: Gender in the Comics

We're going to try to make our wee little analysis of gender in comics strips a weekly thing, since we seem to have enough fodder for a weekly post on it. I've tried weekly posts in the past (i.e. bell hooks' Mondays!) that petered out. We'll see how this goes! (As always, click to enlarge the comics.)

First up, Diesel Sweeties keeps the stereotypical dream alive that women really, really dig men who are violent with other men:
Ok, it's really only starting a myth that robots are hawt when they're being violent toward men, but still...

Next up, a blast from the past. For Better or For Worse is reprinting some older strips from the 80's, and this one we'll call: But What About the Menz?!!
Men can't win, you see! Every single decision around door opening for women is a moral minefield that men simply can't traverse without being blown to smithereens. Or, rather, some women like doors opened for them and some don't, and one doesn't always know which. Interestingly, I do think this is how a lot of men feel, so there is a lot more to be said on this point. But the saying will happen later.

And finally, a blast from the past-past, with Mutt and Jeff teaching us a lesson about what men can and can't demand:
Thank goodness women don't want to kiss men, but must have it demanded of them. That way women have power over men by saying no!

The Comments That Help a Lot

Lots of good, encouraging words and ideas coming out of my post about ally work, and I thank everybody for their kind words. I also have to say that comments like this will keep me going for a long, long time:
I've been using this blog to gather strategies. So, two things: In a confrontation with an anti-feminist or a non-ally, I've found that "Not cool, man," works every time I had to use it. Jeff, your description of your mother's reaction to your Lego toys inspired me to start teaching feminism to the two young sons of a couple of friends of mine. "Is that fair to say that Mrs. B-- has to do all that by herself?" and so on. -- Bach-us

Bach-us not only gives me an excellent, simple strategy to employ, but also encourages me by noting that some of my words may influence how some young boys are raised, however much. That, in a nutshell, is why I'm writing this stuff at all.

Thanks again.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Ally Work: Argument and Influence

The recent dustup that started as an innocent posting of a puppy picture on feministing that has blown up into a pretty angry 'discussion' has got me to thinking about how we all communicate with each other, the responsibility of feminists to each other in general, and the responsibilities of feminist allies to communicate well with each other and the larger world. Recently, Geo expressed some disappointment with the community aspects of Feminist Allies as agroupblog--I don't think he'd mind my mentioning that he felt a lack of community here. And I think there is a decided lack of community here--part of that is just blogging reality (we're all busy), part of it is personality quirks (we interact and communicate in various ways) but part of it probably has to do with lack of direction as far as what allies (and feminists in general!) ought to be doing, at least as far as my understanding of it all. So I've begun thinking of narrowing focus over here, of thinking more about what I (we?) want to do here, and about the larger question: What are the best ways for feminist allies to go about trying to change the world?

Framing Feminist Work as Ally Work
One of the reasons that I frame the flavors of feminism that I embrace from the perspective of an ally is that I think doing so pays tribute to some of the intricacies of working passionately on something in the face of not always being explicitly invited to the party, of feeling directly influenced by something on a deep level and wanting to influence right back. I also frame things this way because I think men are in a particularly interesting position to change the minds of other men as regards feminism--because patriarchy is so ingrained, female feminists have some roadblocks set up before them in terms of changing the minds of men, roadblocks set up explicitly and implicitly by some of the basic structures of culture itself. Put more bluntly: It's possible that many men are more likely to listen to other men about feminism than they are to listen to women about feminism.

Choosing an Audience
This is not a happy thought. It sort of pisses me off that it might be the case, but really it's just a vestige of the current social system, an accident of history that comes from a long, long period of patriarchy. It's something that feminists have to face up to, and make decisions about, if one of their goals is to influence those who don't (yet) agree with them. I think many feminists understand this, and do make choices based on the current situation. Sometimes they choose to not want to influence men so much (i.e. radical feminists often see changing the minds of men as merely a possible byproduct of changing the world so that it's not so misogynist). Sometimes they choose to keep men in the mix, but not focus so much on men, since in many ways the focus of everything is often on men. Some feminists (bell hooks comes to mind) get a lot of flak for suggesting that we need to enlist men as allies just as much as we need to enlist women. I imagine there are some feminists who focus on men almost exclusively, thinking to change things from within the current power structure (though I haven't met any, which is interesting). I think all of these strategies are valid, that they all get some work done. I try to not fault anybody for choosing one over the other, even though I, of course, fall into the camp that thinks enlisting men as allies is one of the more important things we can do as feminists (especially as feminist men). Even if we share a lot of the same concerns, our paths for getting to our goals may be different.

How Do We Go About Actually Changing the World?
But aside from basic questions about choosing an audience as writers (and activists) who do feminist work, what are the best ways to actually change the world? What are the best ways to change minds? What are the 'central' causes we need to champion? When is it ok to not respond to criticism, to draw lines, and when do we owe it to each other, to feminists and self-identified non-feminists to respond?

I understand that there are no blanket answers here, though there may be some general guidelines. And one of the most general tenets of what I want to accomplish is this: I think that passionate-though-reasoned discussion (not simply laying out arguments) can get some work done. At times I wonder if I'm of the disposition to get any of this work done, because I oftentimes feel like I'm not getting my ideas across, or that I'm not understanding the ideas of others. But I'm convinced that such discussion is possible, and worth a lot of work--and, I'm convinced that such discussion can actually change people's minds.

It's not that only discussion can do this. Sudden changes in one's life can cause basic opinions to change. Some opinions tend to change 'naturally' with age and experience. But I also think that discussion, when it's enjoined by people who care about each other as people, who respect each other to a large degree as people, can get us somewhere. Not all of the time. Not in every way. But I wouldn't spend so much time writing if I didn't think that I might, at times, be able to give a take on something that somebody else maybe hasn't thought of, if I didn't think that something I say might lend itself to changing minds.

Of course, writing--and blogging in particular--isn't always about changing minds. Sometimes it's about cheerleading and preaching to the choir. And there are lots of times and places for that. It's good to feel a sense of community, and preaching to the choir can serve that purpose. I am still suspicious when people seem to be only preaching to the converted, but I also see that there is a lot of good to be done by doing so, some of the time. And, frankly, the jury is still out on whether or not blogging engenders discussion, in my mind. Short, angry posts seem to get a lot more attention, and more "discussion" than longer, well-reasoned arguments tend to get. There is kindling enough for flamewars forever and on into eternity, probably, for as long as the Interweb exists, because of the nature of the medium. (Of course, impassioned, angry responses to the opinions of others aren't only happening in the land o' blogs. It happens in classrooms, on TV, and even among my close friends at the dinner table.)

How Do We Go About Changing Minds?
Despite all of this, I still think that discussion, with respect and care, can change minds. My opinion in this regard is probably partly because of my background in academic philosophy, which sort of hinges itself on the idea that communication of ideas can change minds (though some philosophers would disagree). But part of why I believe this is simply from experience. I have changed, in part, because people have pointed out blind spots to me, because people have offered perspectives that I didn't think of (or didn't have access to). Discussion has increased my understanding of things, and it has increased my ability to empathize with others. So one way in which I think we go about changing minds, the main way for me, is to talk, talk, talk. That doesn't mean that I will discuss anything ad nauseum with anybody--we all draw our lines, based on limits on our time, as well as lines based on moral intuitions (I don't, in general, tend to care to take time to try to change the minds of hardcore misogynists, for instance).

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Including Men in Conversations About Abortion

Amanda Marcotte has a post up on Unsprung which mostly disparages an article that Courtney Martin recently wrote regarding acknowledging men's emotional responses to abortion. In the article, "Why Men Should Be Included in Abortion Discussion,"Martin describes some reasons why men feel isolated as regards how abortion affects them, and she suggests that men be more included in the discussions around abortion, and that men be more included in the clinical setting--currently, men are generally not even allowed into the procedure room, and (Martin says) don't get the counseling they might need. (Note: Her argument in this regard doesn't seem as based in fact as I'd like--Planned Parenthood does offer counseling to men, for instance.)

Marcotte takes issue with the article in general, though she first notes where she thinks Martin gets things right: Traditional male masculinity makes it hard for men to get any help they might need. Marcotte says:

I love Courtney and usually think her writing is interesting, and I certainly like how she briefly makes the point in the article that men probably feel lost after an abortion because masculinity standards make it hard for men to even begin to describe their feelings about sex, relationships, and especially accidental pregnancies.

She immediately takes issue with the rest of the article, however, beginning by noting that masculinity standards causing problems aren't limited to the abortion issue:
But that’s an issue with masculinity standards, not with abortion per se.

While I agree that this arena is just one area in which traditional male masculinity standards cause men (and people of all genders) harm, I don't really understand the force of Marcotte's argument here. Sure, this is just one area where men face a problem with male masculinity standards, but we don't overcome problems with traditional male masculinity in a vacuum--we have to confront the problems of male masculinity standards in exactly these sorts of situations, where everybody is harmed by them.

But What About the MENZ?
I think we need to talk about this issue keeping in mind the complexity of the situation, and not let Martin's points be reduced to the all-too-common "But what about the men!" sorts of thinking. And Marcotte points out in a comment later on that part of what's going on here for her is that she sees Martin's post as a call to divert resources from women to men:
Which would mean they have to take away from resources devoted to women. On that day that women have enough, men can have more. But until women have enough, men should not get any more. This is pretty basic. There's nothing wrong with being a grown-up and saying, "Well, it sucks to be me, but it sucks way worse to be her, so my job here is to be supportive."

I think this is an overly simplistic way of interpreting what Martin has to say, but I also think that conversations about men and abortion need to be seen through the lens of resources, and I agree that it's best that women, who don't even have enough resources for reproductive rights as things stand now, shouldn't have to suffer a loss of any of those resources so that men can have some of them. And in a way, I think Marcotte's position on this issue stems from the very real fact that women don't have enough resources, and I can understand that calling for some resources for men, in the light of that fact, can seem preposterous.

On the other hand, I think that wanting more resources for women and wanting more resources for men don't have to be oppositional positions--to some degree Marcotte is setting up a false dichotomy. For instance, I think it would be great if feminist men showed a greater interest in this issue, formed some support communities, and found a way to raise some money for such services for men. Of course, Marcotte's point might still hold in this case--those men could be raising that 'extra' money for the women who don't yet have enough access to reproductive services. And I think feminist men should be contributing to groups like Planned Parenthood for that reason.

The question remains, for me: Is it practical, it is ethical, to demand that men get no resources for counseling, no inclusion in the larger discussion, until women have all of the help they need?

No Easy Answer
And that isn't a rhetorical question, at least for me. I think it's a tough one, mostly because of the poor showing men have historically regarding the reproductive rights of women. It makes a good deal of sense that we might want to ignore the needs of men in this regard until we've taken (more) care of the needs of women. And men are already getting some of their needs met, anyway--Marcotte points out that men do usually take part in discussions with their significant others regarding abortions, that they do come to the clinic waiting rooms. What more could men want? Marcotte notes in the comments:
Literally, there's not much left there except to have your girlfriend rubbing your back to make sure you feel comforted during her D&C.

I think this line of thinking comes from a rational, practical place, mostly because there are so often cries of "What about the men!" But I also think that it's harsh and oversimplifying, and that it sets up a false dichotomy. It's harsh because it's doubtful (in my mind, at least) that having their backs rubbed for comfort during a D&C isn't what the men in Martin's article seem to be claiming they need. Instead, they seem to be claiming to need a community, somebody to talk to, about their experience:
Jack looked to close friends for support -- one male, one female -- but felt somewhat abandoned while actually in the clinic waiting room: "I remember sitting there feeling terrified. I would have appreciated someone to talk to who had been through that moment."
Philip*, a 27-year-old, regrets his inability to handle the significance of his girlfriend's abortion. He received little support at the time and still -- years later -- feels like he hasn't truly processed what he went through.

Are these men going through emotional turmoil akin to the kind that some women go through when they choose to abort? Probably not. But they are going through turmoil, and that fact is what Martin is pointing out, along with the suggestion that their turmoil matters. I think that such emotional turmoil should be addressed. I agree that we should not take resources away from women to do so, but that doesn't mean that nothing can be done, that nothing should be done, for men.

The False Dichotomy
I noted that I think Marcotte's position here is oversimplifying and reflects a false dichotomy. She says that men already are already included enough, and to include them more takes away from the needs of women being fulfilled. I think that we should be careful to make sure that women get taken care of, but I also think that, given that most women do include the men in their lives when deliberating an abortion (as Marcotte points out), given that men do show up in waiting rooms at clinics with their significant others, it seems as if at least some women might agree that men have an emotional stake in the abortion decision, even if they don't have (and shouldn't have!) the right to make the decision. (In fact, it may be that men need more counseling regarding abortion in part because they don't have a right to make the decision. Feelings of powerlessness are some of the most difficult things to deal with, especially for men raised in a culture of traditional male masculinity.)

And here's where the false dichotomy comes in: It's likely in men's best interests to get some counseling (if they need it) around abortion decisions--but it's also likely in the interest of the women involved; in order to be a good, supportive partner, men may need some help. Does that mean that resources for women should be taken away from them to provide this help? Nope. But it does mean that putting some resources toward men would likely benefit women as well. I admit this is treacherous territory, because this position could easily be construed as "Give resources to men in order to help women!" but I think that if one keeps in mind the complexities of the situation, such conclusions don't have to be immediately made.

What Can Men Do?
An important part of my position here is this: Men need to provide resources for men regarding possible emotional fallout from making decisions around abortion. Men should be raising some money, volunteering, and be learning to talk to each other. This doesn't mean that men can ignore that women need resources--but it does mean that they out to provide some resources for each other. Does this mean that resources for men ought to be men's primary concern around abortion, around reproductive rights in general? No. But it also doesn't mean that men shouldn't try to get the emotional help that they feel they need. We should be supportive of our partners as much as we can, but part of supporting them is taking care of ourselves at the same time.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Chicks Dig Feminists: Reloaded

Darkdaughta over at One Tenacious Baby Mama was kind enough to include one of my older posts in her Reloaded space. She's got an interesting idea in the Reloaded space, looking for (in my words) some community, some interaction, some line-by-line taking apart of ideas and such. So go give it a look, I'm in some great company there, to be sure.

Update: Apparently, I'm too dumb to realize I was supposed to post the Reloaded links here, as well! So here they are:

incredible juju's i'm back to
angry pissed off ungrateful little transracially abducted mutherfuckers from hell
what is a men's movement?

Friday, September 07, 2007

Linky Goodness: Conversations to Be Had

Cara over at The Curvature has a great post up about the possible inclusion of men more often in discussions about reproductive rights, in which she sums up a complex situation (we've got MRA's complaining "What about the MENZ!" as well as abortion clinics excluding men even when those women want their men to be in the room for the abortion procedure, for instance)concisely. I recommend going to check it out.

And Roy over at No Cookies for Me applies his clear thinking to the ways in which feminists (and other bloggers) tend to argue around issues that are dear to their hearts--unfortunately, we tend to do it with a lot of anger and dismissiveness. Roy gives us a few ideas as to why.

Of course, you're all probably already reading The Curvature and No Cookies for Me, but hey, I've got a busy morning.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

What to Do With Stereotypes of Masculinity?

Over at Feministing the other day, Jessica submitted this video, with the title "No Comment Necessary":

Of course, there were a few comments about it, mostly ranging around how people weren't at all surprised by the results, and a few about how the video was obviously edited to show that all men think about are their penises and all that women think about are their brains. It's a wee little clip, and as such, we can take it at face value as just an amusing little piece of culture.

But of course, as a guy who finds meaning in even daily comic strips, I think that some comments are definitely necessary.

When Stereotypes Are True
Thing is, while we have no idea what the general response from men and women is represented in the video from any information they give us, we do have some good intuitions based on our own experience in this culture that they are probably somewhat representative. It would be great if we were given some statistics, but that wouldn't make for a very entertaining video, perhaps. (Ok, it would make it more interesting to me.) There's some circularity going on here--people who pay attention to culture understand that men are taught to revere their penises, to worry about them, to think about doing violence with them, to focus on them, to be insecure about them, on and on, ad infinitum. Men are taught that what is important about them is centered on their cocks, which is part of why, when asked by a person on the street about bionic parts, lots of men respond with 'penis'.

What do we do when we suspect that a stereotype (in this case, that all men think about are their dicks) actually represents the reality of the situation? How do we change the world so that the stereotype doesn't ring true?

Some Possible Paths
One way to ask such questions is to simply post a video like this without comment. People who understand that patriarchy hurts men will sort of automatically know that these guys are being played by the system. They do think way too much about their cocks, but we all know that's because (in part) it's what they've been trained to do, and to give up doing that involves rejecting traditional male masculinity (in part) and patriarchy. But I think that there isn't enough recognition of how patriarchy hurts men in general to make this assumption very often, even in feminist spaces. So, instead of people reacting to this video with "yep, men get trained to be penis-worshiping jerks, doesn't that suck," we get "this needs no comment and isn't it funny that men are penis-worshiping jerks!?" I think simply posting this thing without acknowledging some of the complexities involved is like posting the video of the beauty show contestant spouting racism and then laughing because all white women are so like that, when obviously they're not.

Instead of simply implying/acknowledging that men are stupid cretins who can (obviously!) only think about their penises, I would love some questioning about why it is that (some? most?) men are so penis-focused. Why not bring some questions along about why men even joke about smacking somebody upside the head with their bionic penis? How does living in patriarchy contribute to such things? And why is it that we don't (often?) think that women would respond in a similar way? In a more egalitarian culture, one in which men weren't encouraged to participate in traditional male masculinity and to focus on their cocks, or one in which women were taught to revere their pussies in some of the same ways that men are taught to revere their penises, would the men not be so prone to cockfighting references? Or would women be more prone to violence-by-vagina references?

Changing Things
I think that men are taught to be penis-focused. No doubt. I also have no doubt that lots of men would respond to the question in the video with 'penis'. Maybe even most men. What I want to know is: How do we, as feminists, work to change things so that shaking our heads and laughing at the men who embody (so to speak!) the stereotypes isn't the only response we have? And I think that putting up a video like that without comment doesn't do any of that work--rather, it reinforces the stereotype without giving any explanations as to why, or without giving men a path toward understanding how they're trained by being part of this culture to want bionic cocks.

: To be clear, I'm not saying that it's Jessica's responsibility to do this work: I think in general that there is a lot of room for feminist men to recognize that there is work to be done in this regard and to do it. I'm am a bit disappointed that the commentors on Feministing, who are so often full of vocal and varied voices, didn't see anything complex that needed some discussion. But maybe that just reflects that more feminist men need to do more work in getting the message out that patriarchy hurts men, too.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Gender Comics Roundup: Men Are Callous, Sex-Obsessed Cretins Who Don't Know How to Load a Dishwasher. Oh! And Women Are Nags.

Once again, the daily comics paint a bleak picture as to what it means to be gendered. (Until we fix our formatting, click on any comic to enlarge.)

How Men Interact with Each Other: No Empathy Allowed

Funny, because this describes exactly how I interact with my male friends! First of all, I only do so while drinking. Secondly, I only inquire as to how they are doing if it doesn't involve me directly. Thirdly, we never empathize with each other. That would be girly. Or gay. Or both.

Men let their significant others be burned alive because they like to watch boobies:
I have to admit that F-Minus is still one of my favorite comic strips. Tony Carrillo often has stuff in his strips that subtly defy gender norms, actually. But this one irks me, in part because of the violence-by-neglect involved. It still would have been "funny" if, say, the house was just burning down around him, but instead his wife is burning to death. Which doesn't make it funnier, to me. (To be fair, I'm being heterosexist here: The guy could be bi and his 'hon' might be a guy. Still, his SO is, as I mentioned, burning to death.)

Men Can't Do Chores, and Women Are Really Good About Nagging Them About It:
So good at it, in fact, that they can teach men a class on it! ha! Take that, nagging wives and girlfriends! And take that, erm, men who don't load the dishwasher!

Of course, there are problems regarding how men do and don't share household chores, so there is a way in which this is both funny and true. Still, both men and women seem to be mocked here, or at least the traditional stereotypes of 'em. Also, apparently, to properly load the dishwasher you have to do it like you're doing yoga.

Women Only Want Strong, Burly Men:
My namesake, Jeff, is mistaken on at least two counts: One, that drinking a healthy drink will make him tall and strong and, two, that all women only want men who are tall and strong.

On a slightly more serious note, it is interesting what happens to one when one realizes that there are people who find one's current body type hawt. You go through life thinking you have to measure up to some set of standards, and then somebody comes along as chastises you for wanting to get rid of your belly, because that's what they like (in part) about you. It's disorienting.