"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, October 31, 2007

Document the Silence


What Men Can Do: Work with Women

I ran across an interesting article the other day, written by Zainab Salbi, who is one of the founders of Women for Women International, an amazing organization, from first glance, that helps to connect women in their struggles in order to lift everybody up. In this article, Salbi notes that she experienced a change in her own conceptions of men while working Kabul:
I will never forget the day that two turbaned, bearded strangers approached me as I stood in the midst of a camp for internally displaced people on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan. My mind instantly flooded with stereotypes of the Taliban -- whose misogynist interpretations of Islam resulted in the brutal oppression of Afghan women -- and I braced myself for the ways they could express their disapproval for the women that were gathering to enroll in Women for Women International's program. But, to my absolute surprise, the men had come to thank me for the opportunities that our organization had brought to the women, their families, and their community.
First of all, I think it's wonderful that these men expressed their feelings on the issue--I'm not saying they should get a cookie, but I do think that it's a good thing when men recognize the ways in which feminist organizations help us all.

Next, Salbi takes a step back and asks us to acknowledge some of the struggles that men face:
But, what happens to men is complex as well. While it is true that men lead violent actions in war, including the majority of the killing, raping and pillaging that occurs, not all men are part of that reality. In truth, many men are drawn into the stereotypes of the male aggressor regardless of their own beliefs, values and actions. For example, when rape and other forms of gender-based violence are used as weapons during war, afterwards many men are left struggling with the very essence of their manhood and masculinity after they witness the rape of their wife and daughters.
I applaud Salbi's recognition of the importance of changing conceptions of masculinity and where that leads men--not only do men have to deal with the guilt of being the guiding force of violence (against women, yes, but also against other men), but they also have to deal with a lack of options. Bucking traditional masculinity is dangerous to men.

Salbi continues, telling a heartbreaking story of one man's (late) realization that how he had treated women his whole life was wrong. Unfortunately, this fact that was only revealed to him upon being humiliated at the hands of the Taliban:
As we work on building peace and stability in different war torn regions, it is important that we understand the complexities of gender and recognize the struggles not only faced by women but by men as well. This complexity and struggle can be seen all over the world. An Afghan woman once told me how her father-in-law, an older man with weak hearing who worked as a hospital guard during the Taliban control of Afghanistan was slapped by a member of the Taliban when he didn't open the door immediately to the knocks he couldn't hear. When her father-in-law returned home, he complained of being sick and remained in bed for three days. On the fourth day, he left his bed, knelt in front of the women in his family, and apologized for the times he had slapped them in the past, saying that, until his encounter with the Taliban, he had never thought of the humiliation it caused. From then on in that household, women were safe from physical abuse.
What can men do? Men can learn these lessons, sure (earlier would be better, of course, and the best situation would be if such lessons were taught to men as boys), but men can also work with organizations like Women for Women International, and donate to them financially, or as a volunteer. as more and more feminists see the importance of bringing men into the picture, this should help encourage more and more men to support these feminist causes.

Be sure to read Salbi's entire article. It's full of even more insight and inspiration, especially for feminist and pro-feminist men.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Tuesday Gender in the Comics

As usual, click on the comics to enlarge.

Complain, Complain, Complain
Read the press release from a book, oversimplify, write a comic, reinforce some behavior:
I must admit that this comic makes me laugh. This happens from time to time (mostly with South Park): I find myself at one time amused and offended. It's actually not a bad feeling. One good thing here is that the pointy-haired boss is the villain of the strip anyway (or one villain), so it makes sense that he would be this kinda jerk (although, really, this is too witty for him).

Original Spin
Here's a bible story I can almost believe:

I like how many apples he's eaten already (perhaps that made him wise enough to hire a publicist?), as well as the look on her face which tells us she's already realizing that she's going to be screwed over.

Manly Men: Tough and Gassy
To be a man, make sure you're tough, strong and vulnerable:
Oh, and don't listen to advice from your jerky friends on how to find love.

Monday, October 29, 2007

bell hooks Monday: Sex and Patriarchy

For those who have read bell hooks' feminist and race theory, but haven't read her autobiographical Wounds of Passion: A Writing Life, I'd point out that it's a lovely book, if difficult to read at times because of some of what she's had to go through in her life. It's also infused with feminist and critical race theory, so much so that it reminds me of reading Beauvoir's memoirs, which are filled with her philosophy in every page.

hooks simply has a way with words (in my opinion), and she's so self aware and not afraid to bring the fullness into her life, including her sexuality, into her theory, even if she does so subtly. Take this passage, for instance:
"I could not imagine having sex with any man in my parents' house. In their house in some way I am always a child. He wanted to do it there, to defy them. I did not understand this desire. One night we stayed awake while everyone else was sleeping, kissing and touching each other with out clothes on. It reminded me of hgh school, of crazed longings when boys would come over and one of my sisters would be sent to stand guard--to watch, so that nothing sexual would happen. This memory excited me. I unzipped his pants there on my knees in the darkness of my parents' house and sucked his dick until he came in my mouth. Pleasure and danger were there in that passion--the memory of boys afraid to come to our house cause Mr. Veodis might kill them. They all knew Mr. Veodis didn't let nobody mess with his girls. Down on my knees in the dark house of my childhood I was no longer Mr. Veodis's girl, I was my own woman, taking desire into my own hands. There were no spies in the house of love that night. It was our ritual marriage. I had broken the allegiance of family to be loyal to him. Love and betrayal were linked then. "

Ok, maybe "taking my desire into my own hands" isn't so subtle. But still.

There's so much here to unpack, but what strikes me the most is her description of consciously moving away from the rule of her father, from the literal patriarchy she had grown up in.

For me, hooks' description here brings back some unpleasant memories of my adolescence, of being afraid of the fathers of girls I was dating. Fearing fathers was the general rule; though there were exceptional fathers I met who didn't treat their girls (or boys) as property, mostly they did, or seemed to. Such is some of the horrible power of traditional masculinity--no father ever threatened me, because no father ever had to. It was simply understood, by everybody involved, that physical harm could come to me if I was 'caught doing things' with some man's daughter--whether the implicit threat of violence would be carried out or not, it was assumed, and that threat helped to shape my relationships, both to the girls I was dating, and to myself, in ways I still have yet to fully recover from.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Friday Men Doing Feminist Work: Jeff Hearn

Jeff Hearn is a British sociologist who does work on men and masculinity from a profeminist standpoint. He is one of the founders of the sadly defunct profeminist magazine for men, Achilles Heel.

One of the things I find most fascinating about him is that it's always nice to run into scientists who are doing, y'know, actual studies on gender inequality. He is also a founder/member of CROME: Critical Research on Men in Europe, which bands together scientists of all genders to do actual research on men from a profeminist perspective. From Hearn's wikipedia entry:

During and after the time of his studies Jeff Hearn has been an active member of the profeminist men’s movement. With David Morgan, Colin Creighton, Chris Middleton, Ray Thomas and Clive Pearson, he initiated some ground rules for the study of men and masculinity, published as ‘Changing men's sexist practice in sociology’, Network, No 25, January 1983. Following work in the Men and Masculinity Research/Study Group at Bradford, the principles were developed and published in Achilles' Heel in 1987, and 3 years later Hearn and Morgan appended a sixth in the book "Men, Masculinities and Social Theory".

The principles in short: Critical studies on men should be profeminist and respect the autonomy of feminism/women's studies; critical especially to men's practices, interdisciplinary and use various methods; reflexive also to its own research.
The more often I find men who have been doing profeminist work around men's issues since I was in high school, the more I wonder how it is that I managed to not run into these men before now.

Check out some of the many books Hearn has written or contributed to here.

Thursday, October 25, 2007


There's a great Carnival of Feminists up over at Cubically Challenged, including a post about what it means to be a feminist man by Roy of No Cookies for Me. Go check out the carnival.

Why MRAs Want to Kill the Messenger

I've just started reading Susan Faludi's 1999 book, Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man, and so far I'm impressed with both the depth of her analysis and her writing style. Apparently she was lambasted from all sides when this book came out--some feminists thought she was being easy on men, and anti-feminists were pissed she was writing a book about men at all. But (so far, at least) she seems to simply be taking the concerns of how men get screwed by patriarchy seriously, not offering up excuses for men. And she's got the most succinct response to prototypical MRA concerns that I've run across, while at the same time offering up a sketch of an alternative way of understanding some men's reactions to feminism:

"Women's basic grievances are seen as essentially reasonable; even the most blustery antifeminist these days is quick to say that, of course, he favors equal pay and equal opportunity. What women are challenging is something that everyone can see. Men's grievances, by contrast, seem hyperbolic, almost hysterical; so many men seem to be doing battle with phantoms and witches that exists only in their own overheated imaginations. Women see men as guarding the fort, so they don't see how the culture of the fort shapes men. Men don't see how they are influenced by the culture either; in fact, they prefer not to. If they did, they would have to let go of the illusion of control.

Today it is men who cling more tightly to their illusions. They would rather see themselves as battered by feminism than shaped by the larger culture. Feminism can be demonized as just an "unnatural" force trying to wrest men's natural power and control from their grasp. Culture, by contrast, is the whole environment we live in; to acknowledge its sway is to admit that men never had the power they imagined. To say that men are embedded in the culture is to say, by the current standards of masculinity, that they are not men. By casting feminism as the villain that must be defeated to validate the central conceit of modern manhood, men avoid confronting powerful cultural and social expectations that have a lot more to do with their unhappiness than the latest sexual harassment ruling."(pp13-14)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

What Men Can Do: Speak Up

More good stuff from Jackson Katz's The Macho Paradox
"I believe that men who are silent in the face of other men's violence--whether the silence is intentional or not--are complicit in the perpetration of that violence. We're not guilty because we're men. We're responsible--because we're men--either for speaking out or for not speaking out about other men's violence. This is hardly a new concept. Some of the proudest moments in the history of this country are grounded in the principle that members of dominant groups have a critical role to play in the struggle for equality. For example, whether motivated by secular or religious beliefs, many white abolitionists in the nineteenth century understood that they were complicit in the 'peculiar institution' of slavery unless they worked actively to end it. A similar sensibility informed the many courageous white radical college students and mainstream white liberals who played an important role in the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Not coincidentally, a lot of those white people were accused by racist whites of succumbing to 'white guilt.' "(pp25)

We've all got our proud moments and our not-so-proud moments. The other day, in a group of acquaintances, one guy made a couple of 'jokes' that revolved around rape in men's prisons. I wanted to say something, but I didn't. This is a not-so-proud moment. I think that conceptions of traditional masculinity have an ace in the hole when it comes to keeping men silent: It's been set up to be 'unmanly' to talk about things like prison rape, to talk about men's violence against other men, in any other words but those of male dominance (i.e. 'those guys in prison deserve what they get'); traditional masculinity reinforces itself by silencing those of us who have (perhaps) the most power to do something about it.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Tuesday: Gender in the Comics

As always, click to enlarge the comics.

Ooogle Away, Boys!
Because we need to teach our kids early that it's ok for men, cops and crooks alike, to gaze creepily at women. Also, pretty women are liars.

Men At Peace
Every once in a while, the comics give us a critique of traditional masculinity. Non-sequitur questions the sanity of war by showing some men in a non-traditional scene:

What Women Want: Stilts
And finally, even Lio, anti-hero, succumbs to what the world tells boys and men what women want:

In a way, I suppose, this is also a critique of succumbing to traditional male masculinity roles. let's hope Lio learned his lesson.

Monday, October 22, 2007

bell hooks Monday: Blueprints for Change

bell says:
The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity and Love is about our need to live in a world where women and men can belong together. Looking at the reasons patriarchy has maintained its power over men and their lives, I urge us to reclaim feminism for men, showing why feminist thinking and practice are the only way we can truly address the crisis of masculinity today. In these chapters I repeat many points so that each chapter alone will convey the most significant ideas of the whole. Men cannot change if there are no blueprints for change. Men cannot love if they re not taught the art of loving.

It is not true that men are unwilling to change. It is true that many men are afraid to change. It is true that masses of men have not even begun to look at the ways that patriarchy keeps them from knowing themselves, from being in touch with their feelings, from loving. To know love, men must be able to let go the will to dominate. They must be able to choose life over death. They must be willing to change.

--pp 17, The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity and Love.

I've been thinking a lot about what such blueprints would be like. So far all I've really come up with it a meta-blueprint: I think that people of all genders ought to take part in creating this new blueprint. Also, we ought to keep in mind that cultural blueprints, while not made out of nothing, are created--not found--by us: We don't have to live the lives we've lived in the past, to whatever degree we can change the blueprint.

How should men's blueprint be modified? And how ought we go about it. Well, the answers to those questions are works-in-progress, and part of what this blog is (or should be?) all about...

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Saturday Linky Goodness: Feminism 101 and "Things Happen to Men, Too!"

Tekanji has a fantastic post/FAQ up over at Feminism101 regarding "What’s wrong with saying that things happen to men, too?" (Full disclosure: In her 'other reading' section, she quotes a couple of posts from Feminist Allies, one by me and one by Dave.)

Tekanji's take on the work that men need to do, and the importance that context plays as regards discussions of what hurts men, is particularly lucid:
No one is saying that discussions on men and masculinities shouldn’t go on. It is absolutely important to have dialogue on men’s issues, including discussions on violence done towards men. The thing is, a feminist space — unless the topic is specifically men’s issues — is not the place to have that discussion and neither are spaces (feminist or otherwise) in which the topic is specifically focused on women’s issues. What it boils down to is this: Men, not women, need to be the ones creating the spaces to discuss men’s issues. There are a lot of feminist allies who do this, in fact, and there also a lot of non-feminist (or anti-feminist, if you really want to go there) spaces that are welcoming to this kind of discussion. Thus, the appropriate response to a thread about women is not to post a comment on it about men, but rather to find (or make) a discussion about men.

Now, I consider FA a feminist space. As such, certain types of discussion will be discouraged. But at the same time, I wonder if FA couldn't sometimes be a discussion forum for some of this stuff that many of us deem as inappropriate in some feminist women's spaces. What do y'all think? Is FA an appropriate forum for discussions about men's violence against men? About men and porn? If there were more forums where men could discuss such things, and do some good work in helping men overcome the negatives caused (in part) by conceptions of traditional masculinity, would it be worth having this be (in part) one of those forums?

Friday, October 19, 2007

Friday Men Doing Feminist Work: Men's Resources International

This week I'd like to introduce you to an organization called Men's Resources International. Focusing on new models of masculinity in order to help men embrace compassion, caring and love, and in order to help men stop violence that men cause, MRI holds training seminars around the world which help men change the traditional face of masculinity. Though it looks like what they mostly do is train trainers--they train people who do gender training--they seem to be an organization that is just a wealth of information, and I think they have a great attitude about how men ought to change traditional conceptions of masculinity.

From their site:
-- We believe that men are naturally loving, caring, and sensitive.
-- We know that there are men around the world who are eager to learn how to support women and end violence.
-- Our vision is a global network of women and men working together for unity and peace in our families and communities.
-- Our mission is to mobilize networks of men allied with women for violence prevention and positive masculinity.

Men’s Resources International (MRI) helps men around the globe practice and promote a healthy, compassionate, and responsible model of masculinity. Our approach is to identify and support men’s networks in all stages of development, and provide training, coaching, materials, and technical assistance to help these networks grow in size and effectiveness and to connect with other like-minded men and women’s organizations. All of our programs welcome male and female participants, and promote community-based leadership with men and women as partners. We use participatory, experiential education to promote personal growth, leadership development and organizational sustainability.

They've got a great page full of resources, a discussion board (though there doesn't seem to be a lot of discussion going on there), and a blog (of course!). Check them out.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Feminism Helps Men: Better Relationships

Y'all probably saw this over at Feministing, but in case you didn't: Looks like there's a new study out that reinforces my intuition that feminism helps me, at least, have better 'romantic' relationships:
They found that having a feminist partner was linked to healthier heterosexual relationships for women. Men with feminist partners also reported both more stable relationships and greater sexual satisfaction. According to these results, feminism does not predict poor romantic relationships but is actually the opposite.

The authors also tested the validity of feminist stereotypical beliefs amongst their two samples, based on the hypothesis that if feminist stereotypes are accurate, feminist women should be more likely to report themselves as being single, lesbian, or sexually unattractive than non-feminist women.

Their study reported that feminist women were more likely to be in a heterosexual romantic relationship than non-feminist women. The authors conclude that feminist stereotypes appear to be inaccurate, and therefore their unfavorable implications for relationships are also likely to be unfounded.

It's unfortunate, though perhaps not surprising, that the study focused on self-identified hetero's. It's also unfortunate that I can't seem to find the study itself online (if anybody can, I'd greatly appreciate a link). But it's a happy thing that somebody is even doing research on this stuff...and it doesn't hurt that the results seem promising to those of us who count ourselves as feminists, or feminist allies.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

What Men Can Do Wednesday: Avoid Othering, Avoid Demonizing

Choosing Conversations
Talking with people who have radically different opinions and worldviews can be difficult. It can be difficult enough that it sometimes feels like it's not worth it. And, of course, sometimes it isn't worth it--we have a finite amount of time in our lives, so we have to pick and choose our causes, and we have to make decisions about where to spend our time and energy.

So I constantly find myself wondering when it is and when it isn't worthwhile having certain discussions. When I was younger, and a more vehement atheist, usually I was making these decisions around whether or not it was worth my time to talk with 'the devout'. These days, I spend a good deal of time thinking about whether or not to respond to the online (mostly) opinions of various men who identify as "Men's Rights Activists" (or those who identify as anti-feminists).

Labels are Useful and Dangerous
Part of the reason I spend any time at all thinking about these things is that I tend to think I'm interacting with individual people, rather than members of a group--and I'm more inclined to respond to individual people who treat me as an individual person who disagrees with an idea I posted about than I am to respond to "an MRA" who is commenting because he has a problem with "feminism". Not that I have a problem with labels in general--I think as shorthand, they are useful--maybe even necessarily so. After all, I fall on the call-myself-a-feminist side of the can-men-be-feminists-or-only-allies debate; labels mean something, are important, have effects in the world. Words, to a certain degree, are power. But at the same time I think that identity, particularly political/social identity, is a sticky wicket, and that care should be taken to note that grouping people together is often going to help us miss an important part of the larger picture; responding to movements, rather than to individuals, carries a similar risk.

Defining Others
That said, when people who do identify as MRAs make what appear to me to be the same poor arguments again and again, I find myself tuning out, and overgeneralizing about "them". This is pretty much how 'othering' works. An individual with an opinion gets lumped together (or lumps himself together) with a group, the group gets a handy-dandy-not-complex label, and then the individual can become a villain.

This blog doesn't have the traffic that lots of good feminist blogs do, so all of this is coming from a guy who has had little experience as being the object of derision among the more vocal self-identified anti-feminists. (Here I'm even probably making a mistake by equivocating 'MRA' and 'anti-feminist'.) Blogs with high traffic have to moderate comments in a way that I will likely never have to do, in part because of the fringe-of-the-fringe-of-the-fringe of MRAs, who, say, make rape and death threats. So I can understand the reaction of wanting to lump MRAs into one category, and then describe that category in a way that, certainly, the MRAs are going to disagree with. I think this is what Jeff Fecke has done over at Shakesville in his post on the definition of MRA--he's presented a sort of 'MRAs for Dummies' post from a feminist point of view, and it's brought out some (in my opinion) good discussion but, unfortunately, the comments seem to be mostly not-so-helpful, on all sides. There seems to be less discussion and more cheerleading.

The Work I Want to Do
or, Here's Where I Get Into Trouble with Other Feminist Allies
And that's fine. Cheerleading has its place, I think, and can be useful and good, as part of a larger discussion. But I also think that posts that oversimplify group identity can sometimes be more trouble than they are worth, and I count Fecke's post as one of 'em. Yes, there are horrific MRAs. Yes, I think that MRAs tend to not understand some things that I think I do understand about the world. And yes, lots of MRAs, from my experience, have what I would call a misogynistic streak. But I also recognize, and think it's important to point out, that then there are some self-identified MRAs who I simply disagree with on a deep level--without having to demonize them. I think demonizing is a kind of othering, and I think it should be avoided if one can.

(Side note: One can't always get anything done from one's 'side' of things--I think, for instance, that nothing I say as an atheist will convince far-right evangelicals to back on on their stance on much of anything; moderate Xtians, however, can probably do some good there by shouting at the evangelicals. I think that more 'moderate' MRAs need to more often condemn the rape apologists and the like, for instance.)

Sometimes one has to generalize, simply because, as I noted above, we have a finite amount of time, and have to pick and choose--and this sometimes requires generalizing.

But, even while generalizing, I'd like to keep in mind that not all takes on "men's rights" are equal, and that, just like there is not one 'feminism' that all feminists partake in like some Platonic ideal, that there are self-identified MRAs who are more worth talking to as individuals, and that there are self-identified MRAs who are less worth talking to as individuals. And, though the time I spend talking to/with MRAs may vary depending on how much value I place on the conversation, and on having the conversation with that individual, painting with the broad brush that Fecke paints with as regards MRAs isn't the sort of work I want to be doing, though I see that it has its place. A definition of MRA given by a feminist ought to be the beginning of a conversation about what MRAs think, who they are, and what they want--not the end of such a conversation.

Why So Willing?
I've picked my own brain for the reason why I'm willing to give conversations with some MRAs a chance, why I'm willing to spend so much time on having what sometimes feel like the same conversations over and over again, even though we obviously disagree on a deep level about the world. One reason I find is that I have an intuition (that I can't support much, frankly--perhaps it's more of a hope?) that some MRAs think the way they do because, just like those of us men who identify as feminists or as feminist allies, they've been screwed over by traditional male masculinity--and I am interested in this one commonality. Why do I react to the shackles of traditional masculinity (in part) by embracing feminism, while some MRAs react by focusing on demonizing 'feminism', (even though, in my mind, feminism doesn't have enough of an effect on the world, as a movement, and as such seem unworthy of MRAs time) instead of focusing on how other men and traditional masculinity has screwed us all over?

I think I'm (so far) willing to have some conversations with (some) self-identified MRAs because I'm fascinated by the path they've taken, as compared to my own. And, for now at least, some of those conversations are worth having, if partly to avoid the demonizing and othering that is mostly a waste of time.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Tuesday: Gender in Comics

As usual, click on the comic for a slightly larger version.

Jealous of the Femme Cowboy:

I must admit I find this F-Minus comic funny. The idea that cowboys would wear blinky-light boots (or that there would be adult blinky-light boots at all) is just funny. It would be equally as funny, however, if the blinky-light thing wasn't linked to some sort of femme attribution by said cowboy's leg lift, as if he were kissing a butch sailor who likes his cowboys a bit fey.

Give me a fucking cookie:

Apparently, men clean their homes not because they like to live in clean houses, but rather because it keeps their wives from murdering them. Make a note.

I'm crying because I'm laughing, not because of the mace in my eyes:

I may be the only one here, but I find jokes about women who have to defend themselves against stalkers and rapists with mace to be...how shall I put this...not jokes at all. Even when made by comic-strip women at the expense of possibly perfectly respectable comic-strip men. It seems to me the idea here is that this guy is just asking this woman out, but she refers to her mace--which might actually need to be used against actually violent, stalk-y men, to ward off a guy she doesn't want to give her phone number to. Which, in my mind, is exactly the sort of thing that makes people think stalking is akin to asking somebody out.

Which, y'know, it isn't.

Monday, October 15, 2007

bell hooks Monday: Anger As Motivator

More from hooks' The Will to Change:
"Nowadays I am amazed that women who advocate feminist politics have had so little to say about men and masculinity. Within the early writings of radical feminism, anger, rage, and even hatred of men was voiced, yet there was no meaningful attempt to offer ways to resolve these feelings, to imagine a culture of reconciliation where women and men might meet and find common ground. Militant feminism gave women permission to unleash their rage and hatred at men but it did not allow us to talk aobut what it meant to love men in patriarchal culture, to know how we could express that love without fear of exploitation and oppression." (pp 12)

My inclination is to be somewhat skeptical about blanket claims about what women who advocate feminist politics 'have to say', and about blanket claims about early radical feminism. It's important to me to recognize that, while hooks almost certainly knows more about this than I do in general, I ought not take her claims as gospel. Hooks' personal experience in this regard is important to recognize and take into account, but one should also get a sense of this from a larger historical perspective, if possible. These sorts of claims can also be kind of self-perpetuating at times, especially within feminism, I think; one great example of a similar kind of claim is the idea that there is a (growing) rift between second- and third-wave feminism.

Still, my only reasons to doubt hooks here center around being careful about huge generalizations (in general!). I think it's pretty safe to say she paints a fair picture, while keeping in mind that others may disagree with her in this regard.

I think it's also important that, if it is the case that there wasn't much room for feminist women to be concerned about the plight of men in early feminist thought, if it is the case that anger toward men eclipsed other feelings toward men, that we recognize that we shouldn't find this fact surprising. Lots of us would probably say that some such anger was and is justified, and as a first stage of a movement, necessary and useful. And, to the degree that such anger is still justified, it's still understandable and useful.

I think there is plenty of room in feminist theory, feminist movement and the various feminist circles for groups of women who have anger toward men as a primary motivating factor. There's still a lot to be angry about, after all. I would hope that such groups aren't the only groups of feminists, mostly because I think that multiple ways of doing feminist work in the world are more likely to more quickly bring about some of the sorts of change that most feminists (if we can pardon my generalization for a moment) want. Also, I think that being motivated only by anger (if there are people who are only motivated by anger) is tiring, and that such motivation will help burn one out pretty quickly, if it's all one has.

But more than that, I think there are more women doing the sort of work that hooks wants feminists to do than she thinks there are, but we travel in different circles!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Men Doing Feminist Work Friday: Don McPherson

Continuing to note feminist men who make a difference to feminist movement, I was pleased to discover that men like Don McPherson exist. From his wikipedia entry:
Donald G. McPherson (born April 2, 1965 in Brooklyn, New York) was an NFL and CFL quarterback drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1988 after a college career at Syracuse University during which he won the Maxwell Award and finished second in the 1987 Heisman Trophy voting. He also played for the Houston Oilers and for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Ottawa Rough-Riders.

In some ways I suppose I am a 'typical' touchy-feely, sensitive-guy-type of feminist (hopefully I'm not a Nice Guy, in the negative sense of the term). I'm not a big football-watcher. There is some sport that I like, but I'm more likely to do something locally than watch something globally. I'm more likely to rally around the person playing a pickup game of basketball at the local court than to rally around some national team. And, frankly, part of what turns me off to organized sports is the institutionalized sexism that is often involved in organized sports. Which is why it's such a relief to hear an ex pro football player say things like this:
"Let's look at the semantics of sexism," Don begins, writing on a whiteboard. The Dragons lean forward intently, as if he's a coach outlining strategy for an upcoming game. Then he stands back and reads these words aloud.

Jack beats Jill.

Jill was beaten by Jack.

Jill was beaten.

Jill is a battered woman.

"What's happened here?" Don asks, pointing his marker at the last line. After a few seconds, one of the players speaks up. "Jack's missing?" Don nods. "Jack is out of the picture and Jill is stigmatized. That shows that even our language about sexual violence blames women for the things that men do."

Not only does McPherson do work in places tough spaces (high school, college and pro-sports areas), he does it as a self-proclaimed feminist; not only does he fight violence against women, he does so while acknowledging that the fight is a feminist fight:
“I introduce myself at lectures by saying, ‘I’m Don McPherson. I’m a recent nominee for the College Football Hall of Fame and a long-time feminist.’ I know it probably shakes some people up when I say I’m a feminist, but I am. You can be both. I think we do men a disservice if we tell them you are less of a man if you care about gender issues.” – Don McPherson, former quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles

Furthermore, he sees men's violence against women as both a women's and a men's issue, and also sees the connection between homophobia and violence against women:
"We, as men, have to be involved in the dialogue." Men commit 90 percent of violent acts against women, he said. "This is our issue," McPherson, who called himself a feminist, told the men. "We don't raise boys to be men," he said. "We raise boys not to be women or gay men."

And to top it all off, he understands that one of the best things male feminists can do is take the talk to other men:
By keeping his emotions and experiences inside, Don realized he was helping to perpetuate an image of manhood that was dehumanizing to both sexes. Now, Don works with athletes, students and young men to change the culture that cultivates abuse. "This movement is about challenging what men say to each other in all male environments, how we raise our boys, and how we talk about women which limits who men are." says Don. "Violence against women is a men's issue and men have to confront other men, otherwise, it won't end."

Thursday, October 11, 2007

When "Making a Logical Argument" = "Emasculating"

What does making a logical point in a political argument have to do with one's testicles? Apparently the folks over at Talking Points Memo think that backing off in an argument is emasculating. They note, introducing this clip, that "It may be a first. Castration via live satellite hook up.":

What? Only Real Men stand by stupid opinions?

The thing is, I agree with TPM on their critique of Scarborough...he's generally a portrait (from what little I've seen) of a guy full of himself and full of hot air, and he bandies about traditional masculinity like it's nobody's business. And in this clip he clearly has no problem spouting off his opinions to his cohost (who happens to be a woman), but has more of a problem trying to assert his masculinity with Senator Webb on the line; but TPM buys into traditional masculinity by characterizing Scarborough-backing-down as having lost his testicles, and having lost his status in the hierarchy:

True, it looks like it was Veracifier that originally placed the comments in the video, but then TPM just keeps the traditional masculinity ball rolling by introducing the clip as having something to do with castration. There's plenty to criticize about Scarborough without resorting to the language of man-challenges.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

What Men Can Do, Supplemental: Resisting the Use of the Phrase "Pimp Your..."

I know I'm behind the curve on this one, but does the use of 'pimp' in popular culture bother anybody else as much as it bothers me? I visit a good little health site, Mark's Daily Apple pretty much daily (duh!) -- there are so many good tidbits there about food health and exercise that it's usually worth the visit. But then here comes an article about having a healthy brain, but instead of the title being Having a Healthy Brain, or Hacking Your Brain, the title is Pimp Your Brain.

It was a pleasant surprise that Sara, who originally posted the article, responded to my comment regarding the title. She has asked for others' opinions -- if you've got a minute and you agree that the continuing use of 'pimp' in popular culture to denote 'making something better' is worth resisting, go comment.

What Men Can Do: Responding to Worthwhile Comments

Toy Soldier recently left a comment on a post of mine that dealt with encouraging men to better recognize connections between violence by men in general and violence by men against women--my suggestion being that a strategy one might employ to get more men to better understand the role that traditional masculinity plays in men's violence against women is to better understand the role that traditional masculinity plays regarding men's violence in general. Toy Soldier thinks that the fact that I didn't talk about women's violence against men is not only worth noting, but also implies that I don't think that such violence and its victims are unimportant:
It is unfortunate that in your description of the violence committed against males you fail to mention women as aggressors. Most child abuse is committed by women. Nearly 40% of the people who rape and sexual abuse males are women. Recent studies show that women initiate and commit the same amount of domestic violence as men.

By avoiding mentioning that important aspect of violence committed against male you present an inaccurate view of male violence. Unless you consider female violence against males as inconsequential or condone it, it insulting to male victims of female violence to pretend they do not exist. -- Toy Soldier

Respond, or Point to Feminism 101?
My first impulse was to send TS to Feminism101, specifically the FAQ on FAQ: Why are you concentrating on X when Y is so much more important? But, while I think that Feminism101 serves a great purpose in this regard sometimes, there are times when another sort of response is necessary, and called for, and worth my time.

Some Common Ground
Toy Soldier and I may simply have world views which are incompatible fairly deep down. But I think that some common ground can be found. So I think a more thoughtful response than sending him to F101 must begin with a few comments detailing where I think TS gets things right. First off, I think TS's blogger etiquette (for lack of a better phrase) is right on here--he comes in, makes his point succinctly (and politely, using language like "it is unfortunate that") and then leaves the rest of his discussion to take place in his own space, rather than derailing any possible discussion over here. This type of etiquette is a big deal to me, given the ways that we, as bloggers, sometimes talk to each other in comments, and it is much appreciated. Additionally, it represents a way of talking to each other where some work can actually get done, if both 'sides' want some work to get done.

Secondly, TS is right that the violence that women commit against men is important. It is also important that male victims of the violence women commit against men are often silenced; the ways in which boys and men are silenced, we might note here, may be different in important ways than the ways in which women are silenced. Mostly, in my opinion, boys and men are silenced by the institutional nature of conceptions of traditional masculinity.

My basic agreement with TS is this: These things are important.

Point of Disagreement: What Does Choosing a Focus Imply?
My disagreement with TS stems from (at least) two places. First of all, I have some trouble with his factual claims about levels and frequency of abuse, which I discuss below. I also have a problem with TS not providing links to the studies he refers to--when making a point over here, any self-proclaimed feminist critics ought to know that the burden of proof is on them, a good deal of the time.

More importantly, though, I disagree with TS that not mentioning female violence against men every time I bring up male violence against others is "consider[ing] female violence against males as inconsequential," or that I'm "condoning it" by omission. Instead, in my opinion, I'm focusing on what I see as one aspect of a larger problem: Patriarchy and traditional masculinity help to cause men to do violence against each other and against women. Sure, patriarchy and traditional masculinity also help to cause women to do violence against men, boys, and other women, but that's not the aspect of violence-caused-by-patriarchy that I chose to focus on.

Does choosing that focus mean I don't think other types of violence are important? I don't think so. But I can see where TS might see it that way, and why. After all, if we look back to any movement, including feminist movement, there are places where the thinkers involved were taken to task for not giving enough consideration to various groups. When wealthy white women try to tell poor women of color that they should wait for their issues to be addressed (or ignore their issues completely), they should be called on it. And I can begin to frame TS's points in that light (though I don't know whether he would see it that way, of course): Perhaps by not mentioning women's violence against men every time I talk about men's violence against men and women, I'm somehow leaving out something fundamentally important.

I don't think so, and here's why: I think that these problems are big and complex enough that there is plenty of room for work on all fronts--and I think that pointing out, like TS is doing, that women do violence against men too every time somebody talks about violence men commit against men and women does less to draw attention to the violence women do to men and more to distract from the fact that men do a lot of violence against women, and against other men. So, while I think the former is important and is worthy of discussion, and I think that it should be an important goal of feminist men to deal with the violence done by parents (male and female) against boys (and girls! and people of all genders!), that doesn't mean that I think it should always be the topic of discussion, or always the most important facet of the subject of patriarchy and violence.

And, while TS seems to center his take regarding the abuse that men can suffer on feminists for various reasons (talk about killing the messenger!), he doesn't only do that. His blog, though filled in my mind with lots of rhetoric and misinformation (I'm sure he'd say the same of this blog...), is also full of good resources for men. So, while I don't agree with his general worldview, and I don't agree with the implicit argument that his site seems to make about feminists causing all the hardships men face (rather, I think it's patriarchy and traditional masculinity, often, which contributes the most to the suffering men feel), I do agree that men and boys aren't as likely to report violence done against them (especially if it's done by women), and are likely to suffer greatly because of the ways in which traditional masculinity influences how they deal with their trauma. (Plus: Many of the boys who are abused by their mothers will go on to abuse their wives, sons and daughters, in part because they aren't given good ways to voice their pain.)

And I hope all of this isn't taken as lip service. I know that questions of focus can come down to real differences in conceptual underpinnings, and that can lead to real differences in practical considerations. Again, my example from feminist movement: When feminist movement (more) ignored women of color when doing feminist work, and women of color said something about it, sometimes feminists reacted by noting that those problems would get dealt with later--and TS might well interpret my reactions to his position here as a similar move. I don't think it is. If you read this blog with any frequency, you'll see that I take the way men are harmed by patriarchy seriously, and address it quite often. (That's what the Feminism Helps Men posts are about, for instance.) If you really think that I'm condoning female-on-male violence by not mentioning it every time I mention male violence in general, then we're going to have to agree to disagree.

I'll admit that I wanted to not respond to TS at all, at first, but then I checked out his blog some more, and I see that you're genuinely interested in helping men who are victims of abuse (TS gives links to various groups that support men who are victims of abuse)--though he oftentimes focuses more heavily on women-on-men violence than I do--and that's my central point: There's plenty of room for both talk about men's violence against women (and men), and about women's violence against men--that doesn't mean that they both have to be talked about in every discussion.

Back to the Stats
TS doesn't give us specific links to his facts, but his points are worth at least some looking into--and I think that things are much more complex, at the very least, than TS is willing to admit in his comment:

Just as one 'for instance'--even if 'most child abuse' were 'committed by women', (and again, TS doesn't provide us with links to the studies he mentions) isn't it important that in single-parent homes, which account for almost a third of all families, single mothers account for 5/6ths of all of 'em? And yet, the percentage of men who abuse children is almost as high as the number of women. We should expect, if all else were equal, that women would be abusers at rates around 3 times higher than men (at least)--though it's hard to gauge because not all abuse happens in single-parent homes, of course. Instead, we find that, of people convicted of abusing children (80 percent of whom are parents), 58% were women and 42% were men. So, even though women are much more often (to the tune of 3 times as often) parents than men are parents, women who are convicted of abusing children do so at only a 10% higher rate than men who are convicted of it. This isn't even going into the societal stuff around the likelihood (in my mind) of women being convicted for it more often because male-on-male violence from father to son is more socially acceptable. Sources:
There were an estimated 11.4 million single-parents in 1994.
Women comprised
about five-sixths of all single parents.

Nearly 80 percent (79.4%) of perpetrators were parents of the victim; Approximately 58 percent (57.8%) of perpetrators were women and 42.2 percent were men.

The point is, it's much more complex than TS lets on in his comment. Basically, I have some concerns about what appears to be an oversimplification of the situation, and of the interpretation of the statistics involved.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Tuesday: Gender in the Comics

I think the Mr. Boffo comic below gives us quite a rich picture (no pun intended) of several different facets of traditional gender binaries:

The reason the joke 'works' (if it does) is that door-to-door salesmen (are there still door-to-door salespeople, other than those peddling religion?) can gain favor from women who answer the door by pretending that those women aren't, in fact, women at all, but girls--because there's nothing worse if you're female than looking old enough to, say, own your own house. Not only can they gain favor by doing so, but it's complementary. And it's 'funny', see, because salesmen can't do the same thing with men because it's not complimentary, generally, to call a man a boy.

On the other hand, here's a comic which implicitly acknowledges the Ultimate Power that comics have in reinforcing gender stereotypes:

Plus, it sort of offhandedly is snarky about the old testament, as if Moses (or perhaps another prophet?) would still be walking around, lost, today. Which is a bonus in my book, even if it also reinforces the male stereotype by imagining that a guy would rather lead his people through the desert forever than ask to stop and ask for directions...

Monday, October 08, 2007

bell hooks Monday: Changing the System from Within the System

"Radical and/or revolutionary feminists who created feminist theory but lacked doctorates recognized that our work would be comletely ignored if we did not enter more fully into the existing patriarchal academic system. For some of us, that meant working to get Ph.D.'s even though we were not that interested in academic careers.

To succeed within that system we had to develop strategies enabling us to do our work without compromising our feminist politics and values. This was not an easy task, yet we accomplished it. Some of us from working-class backgrounds changed our class status and entered the ranks of class privilege. We understood economic self-sufficiency to be a crucial goal of feminist movement. However, we also believed, a belief now affirmed by experience, that it was possible for us to gain class power without betraying our solidarity toward those without class privilege. One way that we achieved this end was by living simply, sharing our resources, and refusing to engage in hedonistic consumerism and the politics of greed. Our goals were not to become wealthy but to become economically self-sufficient. Our experiences counter the assumption that women could only gain economically by colluding with the existing capitalist patriarchy.--bell hooks, Where We Stand: Class Matters, p108."

As usual, bell hooks gives us a practical perspective--this time on fighting classism and sexism while at the same time living in a patriarchal and sexist world. This is one of the things that I have begun to struggle with more and more, as I rapidly go from being in my thirties to being what was once, to my mind, very, very old. Practical considerations seem to be more and more important as I get older, especially financial considerations. I find myself with impulses to keep what I have to myself, to perhaps give up more and more freedoms in my day-to-day life so that I can amass some wealth to keep me safe and sound in my old(er) age. Not that I have much to worry about, even these days--I still basically live paycheck to paycheck; but still, I have a bit more breathing room than I had before, and I have watched myself begin to shy away from some of my more stringent stands on class--or at least I fear that I might.

One example of this: At my job, we have a 'cleaning service' come in twice a month to dust, sweep and clean up in general. There's one guy who's been doing it for years now, and he and I always chit-chat just a bit when he comes in, then we both go about our respective work. When he first started, I was still new at my job, and it felt really, really weird that he was there, doing more manual labor, and I was sitting at my desk, checking email or the news (and, of course, doing some work, too). I couldn't do it for a long time, because it made me feel uncomfortable. It felt wrong that somebody else was there, a stranger, to clean the space I worked in day-to-day. As the months rolled on, however, it has gotten less strange, to the point that I'm pretty much just used to it, and I sometimes forget that he's there until it's time for him to go. I tune him out. It's the sort of thing that I had always hated from other people when I was working retail.

In relationship to what hooks is saying, above, I think what I sometimes need to refocus on is the day-to-day solidarity with people without (as much) class privilege as I sometimes have--hooks gives me hope that one can (and must?) to some degree work to change the system even as one participates in it. This is important to everybody who wants to change the world, probably, but I find it particularly important to being a feminist ally who is a man, because there is no way that I can't gain from my male privilege, no matter what else I strive to do.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Friday Men Doing Feminist Work: Favorite Male Feminist Bloggers

I go back and forth sometimes as regards men who identify as feminists, or as feminist allies, and how much blogging can make a difference. I've come to think that, as one part of what we do in the world, as one piece of a very much larger puzzle, it can. Yes, a lot of what we do as bloggers can tend to be more like living in academia if we're not careful--ivory tower feminists may do more harm than good for feminist causes--but a lot of what we do gets people thinking, and at least offers us some kind of community to find some comfort and some passion.

So this week's Men Doing Feminist Work Friday is about some of my favorite male feminist bloggers.

  • Chris Clarke at Creek Running North:
    Despite the fact that I disagree somewhat with him about his pretty famous "why I am not a feminist" post, it's still a great read, and made me understand the conceptual troubles around naming men as feminists a lot better. But what I like most about Clarke's feminism is the way in which he integrates it into his other posts, and into his life. He writes poetry about feminism and men, for pete's sake.

  • Hugo Schwyzer: I still say that Hugo's Christianity will one day collapse under the weight of its sexist underpinnings, in the light of Hugo's feminist proclivities, but part of what makes Hugo a good read is the complexity of his life, and of his worldview--and of feminist principles that live along side, say, Christian ones. I also like that Hugo doesn't shy away from long posts--blogging tends to be a short-blurb medium a good deal of the time, and the issues that feminists have to deal with aren't always best served by the short-blurb format. Plus, the guy writes at length about Christianity and BDSM.

  • Roy at No Cookies for Me: Let's be honest, Roy's got the best blog title of any male feminist blogger (please correct me if I'm wrong here). Roy finds a nice mix of deeper theory and pop-culture analysis. It's lovely to find posts about video games right alongside (or concurrent with) posts about conceptual analysis of traditional masculinity. Plus, he's funny.

This isn't an exhaustive list, of course (not only am I leaving out lots of people I've met online recently, but also some of the people who've been A-listers for a while), but these are the guys that post often, and almost always have something important to say.

Who are your favorite male feminist bloggers?

Thursday, October 04, 2007

What Men Can Do: Recognize the Connections

Geo makes a great point (one among many) in his comments on my last What Men Can Do post, the one dealing with what counts as meaningful discussion and what counts as confrontation. He says:
If/when - we can get men - "normal men" to really relate to Male Violence as a major problem (everywhere) I think it may be easier to tackle both sexism and sexist violence.
I think Geo's right on here, though (as always) I think there are complexities that we need to keep in mind. If we're concerned about men getting immediately defensive when discussing male violence against women (and that last post was about when and where we might think it's worth being concerned about), then discussing the tendency of traditional masculinity to teach men to respond with violence to various sorts of situations may be a good starting place.

Most men have been on the receiving end of male violence, or know a man who has been. Men have been drafted into wars, or tricked into enlisting with promises of achieving the ultimate in masculinity. Men have been smacked around by fathers as boys. Men have seen their mothers smacked around by their fathers. Traditional masculinity teaches men to give some violence back when in these situations, even when that is impossible (a good deal of the time), or when it would do not good anyway (a good deal of the time). Feminist critiques of traditional masculinity can help men see that traditional masculinity is a big part of the problem regarding the violence of men in general--and then we can start talking more about the everyday violence that women experience at the hands of men who have not yet learned to recognize the ways in which traditional masculinity sucks for all of those involved.

I don't think this is the only way that we can approach men about violence against women--depending on the context, I think a more direct approach on that front is sometimes warranted--we might bring men's violence against women to the fore and then later talk about men's violence in general (and heck, violence in general).

No great revelations, perhaps, but I think it's good to keep reminding ourselves of the different ways we might affect the world, of the different ways we might change some minds.