"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

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.


Sweating Through fog said...

I think we need to be careful when judging the motivations of fathers. Some fathers do consider their daughters as "property" like you say. Some fathers are protective of their daughters because they have concern for them, and are suspicious of the motivations of men and boys, and the harm they might do. They don't want their daughters hurt, thats all. Not much different than when a mother cats a skeptical eye on her son's girlfriend - it can be based on a legitimate concern on whether she'll be right for him or not.

jeff said...

I had mentioned that there were exceptions to the rule, swf, so I'm not sure we disagree on the basics here.

That said, I think that very few men analyze their feelings of protectiveness for their daughters--for instance they think it's just fine to be protective of their daughters in these ways, to have purity balls and the like, but to not feel protective of their sons in many ways at all, and certainly not in terms of their sexuality.

So, yeah, I think that people are complex, and that not all fathers see their daughters as property. But lots do, and it was my experience (as I noted) growing up that they most often did.

Bach-us said...

The extreme alternative is a neglectful father. I think somewhere there has to be a happy medium in which fathers (and mothers, as sweating through fog reminded us) show love without being over-protective. I also think most over-protective or controlling parents are unwilling or unable to trust their own children, and they don't consider all of the implications and ramifications of that lack of trust.

jeff said...

Bach-us--And I think that it's a hard row to hoe, actually. Being a parent means (in part) making tough decisions and being self-aware in ways that can be really, really difficult.

I hope it's obvious that I don't think that parent's shouldn't protect their children. I do think that men tend to be 'protective' of their daughters for some of the wrong reasons and in some of the wrong ways (i.e. purity balls).

But again, I don't think it's easy to protect your children without overprotecting them. Just worth doing.

jeff said...

(full disclosure: I'm not a parent, though I'm an uncle).

Jim W said...

This is a very troubling and disturbing post. You describe the "horrible power of traditional masculinity". This view of masculinity as purely negative produces serious results, in the form of hatred and fear of men AS MEN - not as individuals.

Men do not become men by embracing feminism, but by embracing healthy masculinity first. If there is fear there - that must be addressed, but not by opposign "traditional masculinity.

jeff said...

Jim W--
I never said that masculinity is somehow 'purely negative'. I'm talking about (and hooks is talking about) negative aspects of traditional masculinity (in this case, that her father's masculinity was bound up in controlling his daughter, including in controlling her sexuality).

So: What would you classify as a 'healthy masculinity'? I bet we can come to some agreement as to some aspects of a healthy masculinity, though in the end I want to show that traditional masculinity--which is defined in part as unchanging and true forever-and-ever-amen--as a harmful fiction.

Given your new-ish status as a stay-at-home-dad, you might understand how this works: In traditional masculinity, the kind that is most often given to us today as a standard, but which is treated as if it was always this way, you're not masculine if you are a stay-at-home dad. But of course, there are alternate conceptions of masculinity--those which include stay-at-home-dads as manly as hell.

geo said...

Men may come at finding a healthy masculinity in various ways I guess, but most commonly we look at How we've been hurt - as boys and men. While we may see positives in some of our "goal centeredness", "decisiveness", "arithmetic - logical skills" - or whatever we find part of our strengths many of us find basic problems there.

Women similarly need to look at what is healthy and unhealthy as they grow.

Finding a health "masculinity" - which excludes feminism and looking at gender issues in general seems difficult for me to fathom for most of us.

Saying that "masculinity" is the problem isn't helpful. We do need to find areas of "positive maleness". Often such areas may evolve when we free ourselves from "gender constraints" and work towards a common humanity which Doesn't Exclude - How Many Men - hurt both other men and women - through bullying and otherwise exerting power Over others.

Certainly individual women can be hurtful. Certainly individual men may be wonderful, positive people.

There are plenty of positives around, but ignoring our issues isn't helpful.

Sweating Through fog said...

Masculinity isn't the problem. Phony, insecure masculinity is.

There are long traditions of positive masculinity. Of men that showed leadership without being brutal; men who were warriors in the cause for justice; men who were great artists and spiritual leaders.

So when hooks talks about "traditional masculinity" she's making a pathology seem deeper and more intrinsic, by calling it "traditional"

jeff said...

geo--thanks for your comments. I wholeheartedly agree that saying 'masculinity isn't the problem' doesn't get us very far.

jeff said...

I should be clear that 'traditional masculinity' is the way I discuss these things, not hooks (at least not explicitly in this passage). I see so much of masculinity caught up in what you might call phony, insecure masculinity.

I'd love to hear your take on what a positive masculinity entails: If it's just showing leadership, being a warrior for justice, being an artist and/or spiritual leader, what's masculine about that? Seems like traits of positive humanity.

That said, my saying 'traditional masculinity' doesn't mean that I think there are no positive masculine traits, just that I think masculinity as an unchanging, forever-and-ever-amen sort of thing is bogus, and tends to be harmful to men. But perhaps my reasons why ought to be better laid out: I'll put that on my list of posts-to-come!