Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Reinforcing Gender Roles

Recently I posted about a comic strip, and hughristik/palecast made a comment that got me to thinking. Palecast said:
I think this strip also shows the way that many women reinforce gender roles in men.

Panel two: Women only want 'manly men'.

This is not just a stereotype: there is a lot of truth in it.

It's not true that all women are attracted to ultra-manly Schwarzennegger/Rambo types, and it's a massive oversimplification to say that women want "jerks," but women do tend to be attracted to men with more masculine traits than they have themselves.

Consequently, men have an incentive to display those traits if they want any kind of sex/relationships with women.

I have various flavors of reaction to this comment.

The first set of reactions are pretty knee-jerk: First of all, "sex/relationships" is sorta telling--it makes palecast's point out to sound like, "Well, if men want to get laid..." Secondly, "women do tend to be attracted to men with more masculine traits than they have themselves" is such a gross over generalization (on several fronts) that it doesn't add a lot to the conversation--as stated, it's sort of tautological (i.e. [straight] women are attracted to people who are men). At the same time, there are also so many exceptions to it in my own experience, that I want to put the burden of proof back on palecast to prove it.

On the other hand, I have a set of reactions that are less knee-jerk. Most importantly, I think it can be important for us to recognize the ways in which all of us reinforce traditional gender roles.

An Existentialist Aside
I get into trouble sometimes in feminist circles because I'm a big Simone de Beauvoir fan. One of the things that Beauvoir gets criticized for by some feminists is that she places a good deal of responsibility for the oppression of women on women themselves; this comes from Beauvoir's existentialist roots--at bottom we all have existentialist freedom, so in some sense of 'freedom', Beauvoir believes we are all ultimately individually responsible. But her philosophy isn't that simple, because she (unlike Sartre, as I understand it all) introduces the concept of practical freedom, and she shows that political freedom can limit us no matter how much 'existential' freedom we have. One example she gives is of a woman who is held against her will in a 'harem'--sure, she has existentialist freedom; she may choose to live that life or to kill herself, for instance, but she's limited to those choices by her lack of practical freedom, and Beauvoir wants it clear that this lack of freedom is important.

Back to Responsibility for Reinforcing Gender Roles
I mention all of this because I think there is some truth in palecast's observation--but I think that we need to tread very, very carefully when talking about it, mostly because it's complex stuff, but also because it's way, way too easy as men to slip into the "women like jerks" mentality. I'm pretty sure that conceptions of responsibility are usually more complex than people seem to think, which is why I brought up Beauvoir, and the way in which she is sometimes oversimplified.

For example, let's take the idea that women reinforce male gender roles by 'wanting manly men'. I do think it would be silly/wrong to deny this altogether. All of the millions of 'nice guy'(tm) discussions that are to be found on the internets aside, lots of men and women have had experiences in the dating world such that traditional male gender roles have been encouraged by both men and women. Regarding straight-identified people and dating (for the moment, let's limit it to this group of people, though of course traditional gender reinforcement can be found in interactions between people who don't identify as straight): what is going on when a woman says she wants a manly man, or when a man says he wants a womanly woman?

Well, first of all, such things mean different things for different people. Some women who say this mean they like men who look like lumberjacks (hi molly!). Some mean that they like men who take responsibility for their own well-being. Some mean that they like men who don't live with their parents any longer. And on and on. And it's important to remember that lots of women who may say this haven't critically examined exactly what they do mean by it (just as many men haven't critically examined their thoughts around liking femme-ish women)--and I would claim that these women may account for the majority of cases where things like "I like manly men" are uttered by straight-identifying women.

I would further claim that those women have some responsibility for examining what they mean by it. This is the main sense in which I agree with Palecast's comment: It's important to realize that men don't perform their genders in a vacuum, but in part as a reaction to women and other men.

But I would also claim that many, many women--most of the women I interact with on a daily basis and certainly lots of the women I've been romantically interested in--have thought at length about what they mean by "I like manly men" (if they do), and one thing these women don't mean is: "I like men who reinforce patriarchy." Rather, they mean that they like men who look like, say, lumberjacks, or men who aren't afraid to show their emotions, or men who don't feel the need to bully others, etc.

My point, which doesn't exactly run counter to what palecast has said, but has a different spirit, I think, is that we ought not treat masculinity as if it were a simple concept, easily understood by all. So, if it is the case that some women are sometimes encouraging traditional masculinity, we (men, women and others) need to try to better understand what traditional masculinity consists in, and what 'modern' masculinity might consist in. And, in a lot of ways, men have much more control and power over how masculinity develops than women have, though I'm not comfortable saying that women have no say in it, because of course they do.

Part of why the whole "women like jerks" mentality is easy to slip into is that men can have this "if we want to have relationships with women, we have to be masculine" mentality, which really is part of several false dichotomies. As I've pointed out, 'masculine' means different things to different people, first of all. But also, on a more personal level, do [straight] men really want to change the way they are (if they aren't masculine in various ways) in order to find romance with women? So, we end up with needing to continually define what masculine means (and people of all genders help to define this), but we also make decisions about how we want our identities to play out...and frankly it doesn't seem practical to 'act more masculine' just to find love, or even to get laid, especially given that 'masculine' means different things to different people.

So, what responsibilities to men have in perpetuating traditional masculinities? Well, first of all, they may put being themselves (like pig on the motorized horse) ahead of finding love (and/or sex) with people who don't like who they are. Men can work on what masculinity means to them, and what it ought to mean to them. Men can talk with other men about this, and with women, and find some differences of opinion and perhaps some comon ground. And this is just off the top of my head.

What can women do to stop perpetuating traditional masculinities? They can be conscious of what they mean by 'masculine' (and many women are conscious of this). They can ask themselves what masculinity does mean, and what it ought to mean.

But I still think that the majority of the work here can be done by men. Women may have some indirect 'control' of masculinity of men through relationships with men, but men can both encourage women to better understand masculinity, and walk away from women (and other men!) who don't care to look more deeply into what modern masculinity is, and what it might be.

Calvin's Tough Heinie

First we have Susie easily outsmarting Calvin:

Next, Calvin doesn't really learn any lessons, i.e.Susie is smarter than he is:

And then, finally, we find out that girls have delicate heinies, compared to boys:

My favorite part of this comic is the third panel: Is Calvin a feminist-to-be? His incredulity seems to peg him as somewhat 'gender blind'. Or does that make him an MRA in the making?

Monday, February 26, 2007

Conversations to Be Had

An excerpt from a conversation between me and my friend's daughter, who is 3 and 1/2 or so.

Kid [Looking at my laptop, which had a comic book panel on it]: What's that?
Me: That's a superhero stopping a bad guy.
Kid: Why is she stopping the bad guy?
Me: Because he did something wrong, and she wants to make sure he doesn't do it again.
Kid: She's a superhero?
Me: Yes.
Kid: She's old enough to take care of herself.
Me: Yep, she's an adult.
Kid: Is she married?
Me: Nope.
Kid: Why not?
Me: She doesn't want to be married.
Kid: How will she have any babies?
Me: She doesn't want any babies.
Kid: Ohhhhhhhh. [pause] She's a superhero?
Me: Yep.

Ok, so I lost the opportunity to point out that you don't have to be married to have kids, or want kids. But, in one little conversation, we get: Women can be superheroes, they may not want a man, and they may not want kids. And, given the way the kid had the conversation going--she's an adult? where's her husband? what about children?--I'd say it's not a bad conversation for her to take part in.

Possibilities, and learning to see them, are important.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Romeo and Juliet Part 3: I Blame The Patriarchy

As we all know, the play ends with a double suicide. Romeo's motivation is difficult to pin down without resorting to fictional constructs like "true love" and "soulmates." I have developed, as an actor, a different understanding of his death, one that I will perhaps discuss later-- but it is as yet incomplete, and not strongly supported by the text.

Juliet's suicide is more readily understandable: she has been killed by the patriarchy.

Juliet's stated reason for suicide is simple grief at her husband's death. This is undoubtedly a factor, and the most visible one. But it is worth examining, I think, why Romeo's death should be so great a blow as to be literally life-ending. Romeo is, after all, a man she has known for less than a week. From where, then, comes the wild intensity of love and sorrow that drives the play?

In my experience, love tends to arise from familiarity--the longer you're around someone, the more you develop understanding, trust, attachment, affection. The more one has come to rely on someone, the more it hurts to lose them. It does not seem to me that Juliet has had time to really know Romeo as a person--everything about their relationship is overly hasty. The intensity of Juliet's grief over a man who is, by all rights, little more than an acquaintance is troubling: how did they become so codependent so quickly? At a shallow reading, she has lost little--Romeo's death simply puts her back where she started.

The answer is that the young lovers do not see each other simply as other human beings. They see each other as symbols, as living representations of their most heartfelt desires. What Juliet sees in Romeo is escape.

It may be true that Romeo's death only puts Juliet back where she started, but it seems that is a fate literally worse than death. Her mother is cold and distant, displaying no emotions but vengeful cruelty. Her father is affectionate but selfish and prone to fits of rage. Her life with her family is degrading and infantilizing. Worse, her sources of support-- Tybalt, whom she admires, and the Nurse, whom she trusts, are also lost to her through the action of the play.

It is scarcely surprising that when she awakes in the tomb, she chooses death rather than rescue.

Of course, her father is not the only man to blame for Juliet's condition. Paris is equally to blame, though he cleaves close to social convention. He is Juliet's other husband, and stands in stark contrast to Romeo. While Romeo's interactions with Juliet are sometimes problematic, he at least recognizes her right to choose her husband. He approaches her, while Paris approaches her father, seeking to buy Juliet like any other object. Paris is neither especially cruel nor immoral, merely blind to the suffering his careless actions cause in women, society's underclass.

A third man fails her too, though still more well-meaning. Friar Lawrence agrees to marry her not because he approves of her choices but because he can exploit her for political gain--admittedly in the service of a good cause. Still, his reluctance to jeopardize his own position compels him to keep Juliet's marriage secret for too long, ultimately sacrificing her life for his own sake. Even at the end, when he tries one last time to avert her death, he can only offer her retreat into a nunnery--hardly victory over patriarchy.

These three are the proximate cause of Juliet's death, and Shakespeare pulls no punches in the final scene. But every man in Verona plays his part in dooming the lovers, as will be discussed in part four.

Documentary on Masculinity

Saw this one on Feministing. There's an interesting interview in Vibe magazine with a filmaker (Byron Hurt) who has a documentary coming out on PBS soon about the role of masculinity in hip-hop. Looks pretty interesting. Here's something he notes about hyper-masculinity--it's pervasive:
I think the way you see manhood portrayed in hip hop is deeply entrenched in American culture, not just hip hop culture. Like if you watch cowboy movies, gangster movies, action movies – you can see the same elements of manhood and masculinity in those areas that you will see in hip hop. What distinguishes hip hop from the rest of the culture is that hip hop is so blatant. Also, with hip hop you have a lot of young men who come from poverty, and other situations, that make this quest for hyper-masculinity seem much more essential.

I also love hearing a man describe how he came to understand that there are deeply ingrained problems around gender and the oppression of women:
Hurt’s relationship to some of hip hop’s lyrical content shifted soon after college, when he was hired to educate high school and college athletes about gender issues. “I didn’t know anything about ‘gender awareness’ when they hired me,” he says. “It made me nervous. I was worried my friends would think I was soft for what I was doing.” The training he received on the job, though, changed his life. “I realized for the first time that sexism and violence against women were real issues. And I felt like I could make a difference.”

Friday, February 16, 2007

Boondocks Redeems Itself

At the Risk of this turning into the Feminist Groupblog Through Comic Strips Blog, I think it's important to point out that, for all my bitching about grandpa shaming Riley, at least Huey eventually ends up talking some sense (click to enlarge):

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Manly Pig

I'll admit it: A cartoon pig riding a motorized horse in front of a supermarket is funny. There's no way around that, even though the horse looks like he needs a rest (strips with anthropomorphized animals have trouble when they run into anthropomorphized animals that aren't sentient-ish).

And yet, I love how this one little strip reinforces so many gender stereotypes in four little panels. Panel One: Sad, but not gendered, particularly. Panel two: Women only want 'manly men'. Panel Three: And they want proof, so act out. Panel Four: It's funny because Pig's idea of manly is so un-manly!

One redeeming feature: Pig being Pig, flying in the face of the patriarchal forces trying to make him into something he doesn't want to be...

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Grandpa Works for the Patriarchy

The title is slightly tongue in cheek. And yet, what better way to reinforce the patriarchy than to make fun of a boy for listening to 'girl music'? You get to reinforce gender stereotypes all around, and also get to take a little boy who already wants to be the meanest person around and make him feel ashamed! (Click to enlarge.)

Once again, this is in some ways a silly little thing--just a comic in the paper. But this is a perfect example of the sort of actions that men do to other men (and that fathers, uncles and grandfathers) to reinforce sexist attitudes.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Romeo and Juliet 2: Female Agency

Thus far I've been talking about Romeo, but of course the title of the play is Romeo and Juliet, so it's time to introduce the leading lady.

Fortunately, Juliet is a heroine modern feminists can be proud of.

In setting up the title characters' relationship, Shakespeare pulls something of a bait and switch. They first meet at the masked ball in 1.5 -- an exchange which is ludicrously overgendered.

[To JULIET] If I profane with my unworthiest hand
This holy shrine, the gentle fine is this:
My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand
To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.
Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much,
Which mannerly devotion shows in this;
For saints have hands that pilgrims' hands do touch,
And palm to palm is holy palmers' kiss.
Have not saints lips, and holy palmers too?
Ay, pilgrim, lips that they must use in prayer.
O, then, dear saint, let lips do what hands do;
They pray, grant thou, lest faith turn to despair.
Saints do not move, though grant for prayers' sake.
Then move not, while my prayer's effect I take.
Thus from my lips, by yours, my sin is purged.
Then have my lips the sin that they have took.
Sin from thy lips? O trespass sweetly urged!
Give me my sin again.
You kiss by the book.

This exchange casts Juliet firmly in the feminine-passive role, and it seems we are in for a straightforward courtly romance.

Not at all! Consider their next meeting, in scene 2.2

This is the infamous balcony scene. romeo overhears Juliet speaking of him from her balcony. He comes out to greet her, and, after a brief confirmation of their identities and their mutual attraction, they get down to business. Juliet says this:

[...]O gentle Romeo,
If thou dost love, pronounce it faithfully:
Or if thou think'st I am too quickly won,
I'll frown and be perverse an say thee nay,
So thou wilt woo; but else, not for the world.
In truth, fair Montague, I am too fond,
And therefore thou mayst think my 'havior light:
But trust me, gentleman, I'll prove more true
Than those that have more cunning to be strange.
I should have been more strange, I must confess,
But that thou overheard'st, ere I was ware,
My true love's passion: therefore pardon me,
And not impute this yielding to light love,
Which the dark night hath so discovered.

In short, Juliet has figured out that traditional courtship and passivity give women a raw deal. She's not ashamed to have expressed her desires, though she knows some may find it improper. This is very significant, since, as I will argue later, the central struggle in this play is the efforts by both Romeo and Juliet to cats off societal expectations. Just as romeo is told true manhood requires violence, Juliet has apparently been taught that true womanhood demands passivity. Like romeo, Juliet wants to escape the role she has been assigned.

Juliet continues to surprise and gratify the feminist reader throughout the play. A few lines later, she gives an excellent example of negotiation and boundary-setting:

Well, do not swear: although I joy in thee,
I have no joy of this contract to-night:
It is too rash, too unadvised, too sudden;
Too like the lightning, which doth cease to be
Ere one can say 'It lightens.' Sweet, good night!
This bud of love, by summer's ripening breath,
May prove a beauteous flower when next we meet.
Good night, good night! as sweet repose and rest
Come to thy heart as that within my breast!

In scene 3.2 she expresses explicitly sexual desire, a rarity among Shakespeare's heroines. She also chooses her loyalties (it's a rare Shakespearean heroine who truly rejects parental authority. they may temporarily be at odds with parents, but in the end, the father almost always approves of the husband.) In act 4, she actively seeks out the Friar's help. And, of course, at the end, it is she who chooses to die.

Her decisions aren't numerous, nor are they especially effectual-- she doesn't get what she wants or, ultimately, have much control over her fate. But she tries to live her own life, and tries pretty admirably, too. She is a clear victim of the patriarchy, spending the last half of the play being bought sold, and fought for by a group of powerful men-- a fate she eventually decides is literally worse than death.

The specific blend of patriarchal forces that drives her to suicide will be the subject of part three.

Romeo and Juliet 1: The Virgin-Whore Dichotomy

I've decided that my feelings about Romeo and Juliet are complex enough to merit a couple of posts worth of exploration.

Romeo and Juliet 1: Virgins and Whores

The early parts of Romeo and Juliet establish a strong virgin-whore dichotomy in the culture of Verona.

The show opens with a display of ugly misogyny.

True; and therefore women, being the weaker vessels,are ever thrust to the wall: therefore I will pushMontague's men from the wall, and thrust his maidsto the wall.
The quarrel is between our masters and us their men.
'Tis all one, I will show myself a tyrant: when Ihave fought with the men, I will be cruel with themaids, and cut off their heads.
The heads of the maids?
Ay, the heads of the maids, or their maidenheads;take it in what sense thou wilt.

The servants of Lord Capulet view (their enemies’) women as no more than sexual objects. This objectification of women is immediately linked to the cultural demands of masculinity—this conversation is interrupted by the appearance of Montague servants, leading to a violent brawl. This straightforward objectification is echoed later by Mercutio.

Romeo, meanwhile, also begins the play unable to see women as people. He has rejected the bawdy acquisitiveness of the other men of Verona but replaced with romantic idealization. At the beginning of the play, he is pining away for "Rosaline" a young woman he scarcely knows. He is explicitly compared to the poet Petrarch. Like any "Nice Guy" he's more interested in writing poems and speeches as exercises of his own romantic prowess than actually getting to know her, and seems rather miffed at the thought that she makes her own life decisions.

Itwould be a mistake to think Shakespeare encourages these misogynist attitudes. Friar Lawrence calls Romeo out for his misogyny at his first appearance, but it's the other title character, Juliet, who really drives home the fact that women are people in their own right.

Stay tuned for part 2: Female Agency

Friday, February 02, 2007

Good Things, Part 1

I am overwhelmed, sometimes, by the amount of misfortune in the world. To be a feminist and follow current events is often acutely painful. But there is also good in the world, and feminists have come a long way. So I've decided to try, about once a week, to remember something I came across that made me smile-- something gender-related, of course.

I'll start with Romeo and Juliet.

I've been with a theater company that does Shakespeare for four years now, and in that time I've been exposed to a lot of his plays. Many of them are truly problematic from a feminist standpoint. Thus, I was quite pleased to learn that Romeo and Juliet was the play we would do this year.

Since I've been looking for good cultural reference points to introduce my friends to feminism, I was overjoyed. The more I look at the play, the more I like it. Some highlights:

-- the destructiveness of the feud illustrates the damage done by male gender roles
-- The interactions between Romeo, and Mercutio illustrate homosociality
-- Juliet makes her own decisions, and even possesses explicitly sexual desires
-- the abusive, controlling father is revealed for what he is-- abusive and controlling
-- Romeo's downfall is caused by his murder of Tybalt -- motivated explicitly by a desire to conform to masculinity

I'm sure everyone here knows this already; I know there is a substantial body of gender-based Shakespeare scholarship. But I've got to post something, and this makes me smile.

Now I should go finish learning my lines...

Thursday, February 01, 2007

What is it About Men? Part Two

In Part One, I outlined some of the general reasons why I think that an exploration of men, masculinity and violence is a good personal and social goal to have, and began to sketch out some of the emotional difficulties that come up for men who do so. I think I would be remiss, however, if I didn't point out that one of the sources of my personal exploration (this time around) was a question that a good friend of mine posed. She asked me, in various ways, what it is that makes men think they can use violence in their lives the way that they do?

The context of this question was an attempt by her to possibly/partially explain to me why an ex of mine seems to have an intense interest in not having any contact with me at all. And, while characterizing my friend's questioning as saying 'She doesn't want any contact with you because you've had temper tantrums in the past' would be oversimplifying her position, she did want to draw my attention to the possibility that the places where I have followed the script of traditional masculinity may have contributed to my ex's desire to not have anything to do with me.

To be clear, these are my friend's ideas and not my ex's ideas. Also, our breakup wasn't the result in any direct way that I know, of some sort of abuse of her by me. Tantrums on my part weren't a common occurence or anything like that; I don't think that my ex felt abused in the traditional senses of the word. But therin lies part of the complexities of the institutional structures which surround violence and abuse which is perpetuated by men against women: Things we as a culture wouldn't have characterized as abuse in the past are clearly seen as abuse now. Who is to say that a few tantrums in a relationship aren't abusive? (The person who feels abused, likely, may be in a good position to make such a judgment.) The ways that men are able to use and abuse their privilege in the course of regular relationships with women are many, and they can be subtle.

Standing in the Doorway
Take, for instance, something as simple as standing in a doorway during an argument. This was something that was a trigger for my ex, due to past experience. During any sort of argument, whether heated or not (and we really didn't argue very often), there were all sorts of ways for me to exercise my privilege as a man who weighed 100 pounds more than my interlocutor. Things that I tend to do 'automatically' when I argue--stand up and move around a lot--are the sorts of things that can also be exercising privilege. If you're in an argument where feelings are raw, where people feel insecure or the like, then standing up while the other person sits can be an exercise of power. It doesn't have to be--I want to make that clear, that I don't think all of these things have to be important as regards privilege; but they can be, and as such, we need to be aware of them.

Paying Attention Isn't Easy
But this 'being aware of them' isn't as easy as it might sound. It's a constant sort of thing, a conscious sort of thing. And it's exactly the sort of thing that gets more difficult just when it needs to be recognized the most. That is, it's hardest to not use the power that standing up, raising one's voice, or blocking a doorway just when one is caught up in an argument; and it's hardest to not even notice that one is standing up, raising one's voice, or blocking a doorway just at this same time. So, one answer to the more general question "What is it about men that they think they can use violence the way they do?" is "They sometimes don't know that they're doing it." This is, to stress again, not an excuse, but an explanation. And it's an explanation that needs to be talked about by men (and by women, I think), for several reasons. First of all, it needs to be talked about because some men do use it as an excuse. Some men will end up saying things like, "I had no idea that my standing up and screaming at you, even though I'm 100lbs heavier and a foot taller than you, would make you feel like you couldn't respond to what I was saying." Or worse, they say, "It's your choice to be intimidated by that. You should know I would never really hurt you or anything."

These sorts of excuses shouldn't be tolerated by anybody. To claim either of them as excusing behavior is to stand in a place of conscious ignorance. In both cases, such a claim betrays a conscious ignorance of the way human beings' central nervous systems work--if we feel physically threatened, we are put in a place that isn't conducive to rational discussion, for instance. And, even though in various situations individual men may not have the physical 'advantage' during a confrontation, in general they do, and that general fact informs even the situations where the man is smaller than the woman or some such. That is, even if I'm 4'2 and my interlocutor is 6'2, if she grew up in this culture, she has likely interacted with quite a few men who consciously or unconsciously were intimidating in various ways by their very stature. The latter 'excuse' in particular betrays priviledge--not as many men have come face to face with thinking that somebody would never really hurt them, only to be shown the opposite.

So What Do the Explanations Matter?
I think the explanations can matter, if they are used for something other than excuses. If we can better understand the reasons why it can be easy for men to come up with such excuses, we may be able to more easily change. I think bell hooks is an invaluable resource in this regard, and her book The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity and Love has been helpful in trying to understand the ins and outs of being a feminist man. One of the concepts that I continually go back to when dealing with the limits of my own ability to overcome my training is to remember that it is training--that it's not essential. hooks notes:
"Every day in out nation there are men who turn away from violence. These men do not write books about how they manage to navigate the terrain of patriarchal masculinity wihtout succumbing to the lure of violence. As women have gained the right to be patriarchal men in drag, women are engaging in acts of violence similar to those of their male counterparts. This serves to remind us that the will to use violence is really not linked to biology but to a set of expectations about the nature of power in a dominator culture." -- bell hooks, The Will to Change p55
First of all, I think it's interesting that men don't tend to write books like the one that hooks has written. (And I would love to hear of the books that men have written, from all y'all!) In fact, even men who are die-hard feminists tend to not talk about this...or at least I haven't found enough that do in whatever limited experience I have with all of this stuff. When it gets talked about, it often gets talked about in a 'feminism-is-to-blame' or a men-as-victims framework, which are frameworks that just don't seem to get to the reality of the situation to me.

But even more interesting (and perhaps somewhat controversial in feminist circles?) is hooks' idea that the women who engage in similar acts of violence point to the lack of biological essentialism involved. Unfortunately for those men who would bring up their divorces and supposed child-custody cases as evidence that they somehow don't experience priviledge, the fact that sometimes some women exercise some power doesn't get in the way of the institutionalized patriarchy that we all live under. And that institutionalized patriarchy includes indoctrinating boys (and then men) into a world where they are permitted to do violence of various sorts, and are indeed expected to do violence. The indoctrination begins early, sure, but it's helpful to remember, to repeat to oneself in times of feeling guilt and (sometimes) despair, that men are not essentially violent.

This is a grand claim. It's the sort of claim that's hard to prove or disprove. But I think the very fact that there are men who manage to shed most or all of these violent learnings show that it must at least be possible for some men to do so. If actual men do so, then it's possible for at least some men to do so. And, to borrow and distort Sartre, since it's very difficult to tell whether one can change something 'fundamental' about oneself or not, we may as well act as if we can change it. Even if we end up only being able to change somewhat, even if we find ourselves in something like a constant struggle to improve, then at least we're improving.

But changing things which are learned so early on that they are often mistaken for essential characteristics, changing things that are so deeply rooted at times that we have a hard time even recognizing them, how does one accomplish that? Well, I'll save some of the ideas I have about that (hint: getting by with a little help from your friends) in the next installment.

Disclaimer: For those of you who feel compelled to respond with statements like "but men aren't privileged, it's women who are privileged" or variations on that theme, please keep it to yourselves. That discussion can be had in other places, at other times. This is a discussion for men who have begun to see their privilege, and who want to make positive changes to reduce the amount of violence perpetuated by men toward women.