"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

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.
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