Monday, April 30, 2007

What Kind of a Man Kills - Ethnically and Why?

* Black Man kills scores ..... , well there was that Black guy in suburban NYC once - who killed some folks, but no, not really,

* Latino Man kills scores ....., I can't remember that one

* Columbine - White Male Teens

* Virginia Tech - Asian Male

How are White and Asian Men - different - from "the others". Not my original theory, but Black and Latino men learn to express their emotions and blow off energy - not always in healthy ways, but they don't usually build it up inside until it explodes in Mass Killings.

Asian men are often forced to keep their emotions inside - to not express their feelings.
Many White men often feel pressured to keep their emotions inside - to not express their feelings. Bullying an d emotional isolation - seem much more common amongst these men than amongst the first two mentioned groups.

Thanks!

Why Didn't the Men Do Something?

There's a lot being said recently about various aspects of what went down at Virginia Tech. There's little doubt that when something serious like this happens, people tend to see the situation through their various lenses--seems to me that it's difficult (though not impossible) to have an "unbiased" view of such a tragedy right away; fear and anger run pretty high after something like this. And by the same token, the instincts of a lot of people tell them to jump right into the conversation, to voice some opinion. I think part of the psychological motivation here is a tendency to want to know why--a tendency that is made more powerful when we are afraid and angry.

Given all of this, I've been hesitant to write about it at all: after all, there are so many facts we don't yet know, so much we may never know, it's good to be guarded (I think) against coming to many immediate-yet-definite conclusions.

That said, as a man and a feminist, I feel like a response to certain trains of thought going on around the massacre is in order.

Too Political?
First up, some people are complaining that others are using the massacre to further political points. I would respond to this in the same way that Lindsay from Majikthise does (though I'm sure I wouldn't do it as eloquently):
If people of good will think that they have an apt political point to make, let them make it without assailing them for somehow taking advantage of the tragedy. That goes for both the gun control and the anti-gun control camps.
Current events should shape policy discussions. It's not a question of exploitation. It's a matter of proffering solutions and offering critiques while our increasingly fragmented national attention is focused on an issue.

If Instapundit thinks that the concealed carry ban caused the tragedy, let him say so. I think it's a dumb argument, but I don't see why there should be any kind of inverse statute of limitations for offering it. Yesterday I made fun of some wingnuts for rifling through their personal anxiety closets in public, trying to come to terms with the killings--but I was mocking them for saying stupid and venal things, not for "exploiting" anyone's death. Trying to enforce an arbitrary line between "human" and "political" responses to tragedies is a political strategy in its own right.[emphasis mine]


Why Didn't the Manly Men Step Up?

It's disturbing to me that anybody who hasn't been in some similar situation as the students themselves would have so little empathy so as to sit in judgment of the victims. It's not that I don't think the question "Why didn't anybody rush him?" can't be asked--I just think it ought not be asked in terms of blaming those who didn't rush him. We might ask it in terms of just how people tend to react in these sorts of situations--does the principle of the diffusion of responsibility and the bystander effect have anything to do with people's reactions? There are likely lots of factors involved--why not ask questions with these factors in mind, rather than simply asking "why didn't anybody do anything?"

First up, Nathanael Blake of the conservative site humanevents.com thinks the lack of people taking on the gunman shows the men at Virginia Tech are wusses:
College classrooms have scads of young men who are at their physical peak, and none of them seems to have done anything beyond ducking, running, and holding doors shut. Meanwhile, an old man hurled his body at the shooter to save others. Something is clearly wrong with the men in our culture. Among the first rules of manliness are fighting bad guys and protecting others: in a word, courage. And not a one of the healthy young fellows in the classrooms seems to have done that. When Kip Kinkle opened fire in Thurston High School a few years back, he was taken down by students, led by one who was already wounded. Why didn’t that happen here?


Rules of manliness? I think that standing up to bullies is central to what we might call Rules of Humanness, but (to oversimplify), it's the idea that there are so-called Rules of Manliness that got us, in part, into this situation to begin with. What are the rules of manliness? Cho most likely thought the some of the rules of manliness involved killing people with guns. When we pretend that there are hard-and-fast rules that people should "already know" regarding their gender, we're asking for trouble.

And on that note, one interesting wrinkle regarding the example that Blake brings up is that, in that situation, the shooter, Kip Kinkle, made the mistake of shooting the girlfriend of one of the people who eventually did rush him, Jake Ryker, right in front of Ryker:

Then Kinkel, the 15-year-old suspect, turned toward the group and allegedly shot Jake Ryker's girlfriend, Jennifer Alldredge, in the chest and neck. That shocked and enraged Ryker, a well-built, outgoing wrestler. He stood up. The gunman aimed at Ryker, pulled the trigger and sent a round clean through his right lung.

A second later, the suspect's rifle ran out of rounds. The boys heard the click, click, click of the shooter trying to fire with an empty magazine. So Ryker made his move - literally using wrestling moves he had learned on the Thurston team.


It's probably not a good idea to generalize too much in any case from a couple of examples, but it strikes me as interesting that Krinkle got taken down in part because he pissed off somebody's boyfriend.

What's a Man to Do?
Which brings us to John Derbyshire's comment:
As NRO's designated chickenhawk, let me be the one to ask: Where was the spirit of self-defense here? Setting aside the ludicrous campus ban on licensed conceals, why didn't anyone rush the guy? It's not like this was Rambo, hosing the place down with automatic weapons. He had two handguns for goodness' sake—one of them reportedly a .22. At the very least, count the shots and jump him reloading or changing hands. Better yet, just jump him. Handguns aren't very accurate, even at close range. I shoot mine all the time at the range, and I still can't hit squat. I doubt this guy was any better than I am. And even if hit, a .22 needs to find something important to do real damage—your chances aren't bad. Yes, yes, I know it's easy to say these things: but didn't the heroes of Flight 93 teach us anything? As the cliche goes—and like most cliches. It's true—none of us knows what he'd do in a dire situation like that. I hope, however, that if I thought I was going to die anyway, I'd at least take a run at the guy.


I have to admit that, hey, I'd like to think that I would have tried to do whatever was the smartest thing to do in that situation. I think that even now, all this time later, it's not clear what the smart thing to do was. The people who confronted Cho in any way whatsoever are dead, so that doesn't look like it was the best way to go, even in retrospect, except from the perspective of possible lives saved, which is pretty hard to judge. Personally, I'm pretty sure I would be too frightened to do it, and I don't really have any particular reason to disbelieve that Derbyshire really thinks he would.


But if we're going to play the what-people-should-have-done hypothetical game, then why don't we ask some other hypothetical questions? Why didn't Derbyshire bother to ask ourselves if we would have noticed Cho's alienation, for instance. Why not say "I would like to think that I would have noticed this guy's depression and tried to get him some help"? Why not imagine that one would be better at spotting the potential for this sort of thing happening? Hell, while we're at it, why not imagine that we had a better support network for people with depression in the US such that things wouldn't ever have really had even the potential to get this bad? Why is Derbyshire's imagination about his abilities limited to doing more violence?

One reason, and I'm making an educated guess here admittedly, is that rushing the guy would be manly, whereas, y'know, paying attention to somebody's alienation is wimmin's work.

For that matter, it seems an equally pertinent question to ask why people didn't take his sociopathic tendencies more seriously from the get-go:
More than a year before the Virginia Tech massacre, Cho Seung-Hui was accused of stalking two female students and was taken to a psychiatric hospital because of fears he was suicidal, authorities said Wednesday.


In November and December 2005, two women complained to campus police that they had received calls and computer messages from Cho, but they considered the messages "annoying," not threatening, and neither pressed charges, Virginia Tech Police Chief Wendell Flinchum said.


What is it that makes guys like Derbyshire ask "Why didn't somebody rush him?" but not bother to ask the more interesting and helpful questions about how to prevent the situation at the outset? Probably some rule of manliness that I didn't get the memo on...

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

SCOTUS Stuff

Regarding the recent SCOTUS decision on abortion, I'll defer to my congressperson, Barbara Lee:

“The Supreme Court’s alarming decision yesterday was an attack on women, an attack on women’s rights and an attack on women’s health and it should not be allowed to stand,” said Lee. “It will send doctors to jail for performing the procedure that they believe to be the safest for a given woman it sets the dangerous precedent of substituting politics for sound medical decision making.” Lee spoke out in favor of the Freedom of Choice Act, legislation introduced today by Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) in the House and Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) in the Senate, of which Lee is an original cosponsor. The legislation would for the first time, codify the rights guaranteed under the Constitution by Roe v. Wade. It would bar government - at any level - from interfering with a woman's fundamental right to choose to bear a child or to terminate a pregnancy. The bill's introduction follows yesterday’s Supreme Court decision in Gonzales v. Carhart, in which the Court has, for the first time since Roe v. Wade, allowed an abortion procedure to be criminalized. “We cannot let right wing extremists take us back to the days of back alley abortions,” said Lee. “We need to pass the Freedom of Choice Act and ensure that politicians will not be able to interfere in decisions that should take place between women and their doctors.”


This probably should go without saying, but I'll say it nonetheless: This decision hurts men, too. (Pardon the heterosexist slant for a moment.) When my partner has her rights curtailed in such a way, my life is affected in huge ways, some more direct and some more indirectly.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Imagining our Time Together - ? ?

In my early days of my Pro-Feminist Men’s identity in the early 1980’s men’s gatherings were an important way of us connecting as men. Often then our connections related to our fears as Gay and Straight Men of each other (Bi Men seemed an issue later on) – and breaking down our boundaries was very helpful.

For some Robert Bly seemed an important voice. For others radical feminism became important. A few of the Het men bought into Male Anger and seemingly became anti-feminist. AIDS seemed to intervene as the 80’s moved ahead and the Het related energy seemed to leave almost entirely.

A few years ago I went back to a California Men’s Gathering and I was the only man there who identified as “hetish” – there was one bi man and the rest were all Gay men. The gathering was about community; Het men were “welcome”, but with no Het involvement in planning and community, it was a Gay Gathering.

Trying to envision an “ideal men’s gathering” today feels different and a little unclear. In a sense it feels like creating something that we generally Don’t Have anymore; a male community with Feminism as a key component. Clearly there would need to be an energy supportive of Het, Bi and Gay (and possibly Trans Gender) Men together. For this to be possible would require much more Het energy in such directions than seems common.

As a man in my mid-50’s, a variety of ages of men would also be important. I’d like to be around men from their 20’s to men at least in their 70’s. I would really like to experience men talking about “politics and life in general” – not meaning Bush Bashing – but rather Feminism influenced thought that might be all over the place in various ways. Our learning to learn from each other and to share both in our commonalities and our differences would be important to me. Part of this might reflect our spirituality and being playful and silly.

I think that as men we need to create a lot of “male things” in new ways, challenging much of our pasts as “real men” both in how we’ve grown and what recent generations of men have created. What I imagine isn’t a real movement. That would take a lot more work and effort.

I’m curious – what other men: 1.) Might imagine as time together – different visions than I hold and 2.) Any reactions to some of my images/ideas – above, 3.) Or - am I just "an old foggy" in what I speak of- not relevant to many of you younger men?

Thanks!

Friday, April 20, 2007

Carnival!

Well, now I have my weekend reading all laid out in front of me:

The 36th Carnival of Feminists is up at Fetch Me My Axe. I love the layout this time 'round. Lots of work was put in to that, aside from the great content.

Monday, April 16, 2007

I've Been Silent About the Imus Crap....

...partly because there's so many people who have said things much more lucidly than I ever could. You know, people like Gwen Ifill:

Hat tip to Feministing.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

On Silence, Outrage and Being Feminist Enough

Hugh had some things to say regarding my post on Violence, Bullies, and the Right Time and Place, and I think a good deal of what he said deserves some discussion. Started writing an uber-comment, and decided to turn it into a post, in the great blog-hackery tradition.

First of all, thanks for commenting, Hugh. Hugh and I don't always agree, but I think (especially lately) we've been able to have some fruitful discussions, mostly tempered by the fact that we have some points of agreement, but also because we have a similar way of interacting online, and a good deal of civility toward each other. And, while I could live a happy, fulfilling life without again reading posts or comments from one of his partners on Feminist Critics (Daran), I often enjoy discussing things with Hugh. (Two quick asides: Sweet Jesus Malone is that a pretty site y'all have over there, what with the fading-in-and-out underline links and such. Whew. Secondly, I picked 'Feminist Allies' because of the ambiguity in the language--we can be seen as allies of feminists and/or feminists who are also allies; seems to me that 'Feminist Critics' suffers, rather than benefits, from this ambiguity, doesn't it? Do you get lots of people surprised that you are 'only' critics of feminism, and not sometimes critics who are feminists?)

Some Agreement
Hugh says:
This post reminds me of our previous discussion about "misandry," sexism against men. I know we didn't agree on everything in that discussion, but I think this video, and the thread, are good examples of some of the things I was getting at.

I can see why this would fit into your larger framework in some ways, Hugh. And, truth be told, I think our discussion of what you characterize as misandry, along with some other discussions about violence against men that I've read, has made me more keenly aware of not only portrayals of violence against men, but also of actual violence against men; in addition, I think I'm coming to a better understanding of the intricate connections between patriarchy and violence against men (most often perpetrated by other men, but not always).

So, while we might still disagree about the term 'misandry', I think that we can agree about a lot of what is going on here. I think 'sociopathic' is actually a fairly apt description of paying somebody to beat somebody up, for instance.

So, given all of the places that you and I might agree on this topic, I hope you don't mind if I concentrate on the places we (may) disagree.

What Counts as Feminist
Hugh points out:

This is NOT a feminist music video.

I tend to try to avoid binary views around what/who counts as "feminist". In some ways this is a purely philosophical decision--I just don't think that concepts very often work in an all-or-nothing way, and when they do, they're often not very useful. Which isn't to say that everything and anything counts as feminist in my mind--there are limiting cases of the concept for me. It's just that this video isn't one of them. I think that there are aspects of feminism in the video--the feminist themes that the original song (aside from the video) conveys do come through in the video to some degree: independence (emotional and otherwise) of women from men, the value of friendship vs. traditional romance, etc. However, the video also conveys lots of stuff that I don't associate with the sorts of feminisms that I embrace--paying somebody to inflict violence isn't part of any sort of feminism that I have a stake in (and it strains the imagination to think of a kind of feminism that paying somebody to inflict violence would fit within, other than strawfeminism).

I'm not trying to gloss over anything here, either, Hugh. I think it's pretty *important* that we all recognize that there are almost always aspects of things which are more-feminist and less-feminist (I would imagine you might agree that some stuff is both misandrist and not-misadrist?). Along those same lines, I don't think it's a requirement for everything posted to a feminist blog to be capital-F-Feminist, forever and ever amen. The song is about some universal themes--dealing with a broken heart, dealing with jerky people (in this case, a cheater) who seem to 'get away with it', getting some modicum of revenge on said jerks--and as such the video seems pretty much apropos in the FRT context that it was found in. Being human (and thus being a part of such universal-ish themes) and being feminist aren't mutually exclusive. Plus, it's sarcastic and snarky, which fits some of what Feministe does pretty well, right? Heck, that's one reason I read it daily. Granted, the video goes beyond those universal themes in some ways that I think are wrong, but that doesn't mean that I feel a desire to call "NOT FEMINIST" on the post. I think such pronouncements are often not very useful.

When Silence Equals Condoning
More from Hugh:
The second thing that disturbed me was the unwillingness of the people on Feministe to condemn the problematic moral aspects of the music video (except one or maybe two people). I don't think anyone in that thread actually condones the violence of the music video, but they seem to condone the moral view of the video, which suspends empathy for men and substitutes revenge for justice.


I think it's important to recognize that sometimes silence does condone action. For instance, men remaining silent around sexist behavior is something that I think most men need to work on (including myself), in part because men staying silent around that crap is a good part of what buttresses patriarchy. But I also think that silence can amount ignorance or disagreement, and in these cases a different set of tactics may be needed than would be needed when people are knowingly doing something wrong. Also, I think that consequences, both immediate and not-so-immediate, need to be taken into account in any case--so even if it's 'only' ignorance that is causing somebody to be violent, that doesn't mean we can keep silent.

In the context of the video posting, I think people just weren't seeing the violence as a problem (and I discussed this in my original post, when I noted that perhaps men are more likely to see it as a problem). I don't think people were keeping silent because they endorsed the behavior--I would guess that people were 'silent' because they didn't agree with me, or that they had no opinion on it whatsoever. Do I think they ought to have an opinion on it? Yep. But the question then becomes--should I get outraged and complain, or should I be bothered and try to tease out some discussion in an appropriate forum. I'll stand by my claim that after one remark (after which two people agreed with me and nobody disagreed) with something of a lack of responses, it was time to take my question to another forum--not because the posters and readers on Feministe shouldn't talk about this stuff, but because it's not up to me to decide what gets talked about on Feministe. I get to comment, sure, and Jill has even subsequently said that it would be fine for me to comment more than once if I'm not getting any feedback--but I still think that saying my piece and walking away to my forum is the way to go, if what I wanted was a further discussion of the violence in the video. So: I wasn't outraged by the silence in this case (you seem to be outraged for me, Hugh); I was bothered by it, and did something about it.

More on Outrage
More from Hugh:
To take this one step further, imagine if you posted that video on your blog, with no criticism of it. Then imagine that feminists called you to account, and you ignored them. Who would be the asshole here, them, or you?

I don't really care, most of the time. This is the sort of outrage that I'm trying to unlearn, frankly. Sometimes it's good to get angry--thinking of Cheney and Bush Jr. making millions off of a war they created, for instance, can be constructive--but one has to pick and choose. We don't have an infinite amount of time or emotional energy. I think that, to some degree, I *would* be an asshole if I dismissed things that people I've been in conversation with in the past bring up--but I have to pick and choose who I respond to. It's good for people to call bullshit, but not every call of bullshit deserves a response--or even if it does, we may not have time to respond to everything. For instance, it's doubtful I'll ever comment much on any of Daran's posts at Feminist Critics, because Daran isn't somebody I'm interested in having a dialog with. Daran may bring up a fantastic point sometime in the future, but that in itself doesn't mean I ought to respond. (And my silence doesn't mean, by itself, that I agree or disagree with Daran!)

Being Silenced
From Hugh:
This is an excellent example of why I don't identify as a pro-feminist man, because I would feel silenced if I had to subordinate my moral sense to stay in the good graces of feminists.

I don't feel silenced, in general, in feminist spaces, and I don't think I was silenced in any way--implicitly or explicitly--on Feministe. That said, long ago I was called a troll on Bitch, Phd. for pressing a point. I thought that in the particular case it was an unfair characterization, and I still do, but I've realized that it doesn't really matter--I'm not really silenced, I just have to pick and choose my points better, and voice my opinion in various forums if one of my opinions isn't welcome at one. (I also think that episode made me understand the relativity of trolldom.) To me, not pressing my point too far (and making a judgment about what is 'too far' in the first place) isn't to stay in anyone's good graces, but rather to make an attempt at civility (keeping in mind that 'civility' is a slippery concept).

Look at the consequences in this example: I said my piece, I got little response, so I came to FA to talk about it. A discussion ensued. Jill even responded. To me, that's exactly how civility ought to work--mutual respect all around, even when people disagree.

And Then, Some More Agreement
Hugh, one more time:
Well, I will say something like that: men are oppressed (or, to avoid quibbles about the term "oppression," we could say "systematically mistreated") due a generalized suspension of empathy for them, which is exemplified by this music video. It's the notion that in certain situations, we don't have to see men as human beings anymore. We can send them off to war, leave them on sinking ships or in conflict zones while evacuating the women, perform experiments on them (particularly in the case of minority men), dismiss childhood bullying to them as a natural and inevitable feature of their gender, or beat them up when they cheat on their girlfriends.


While I think your examples are problematic, Hugh (and I may discuss that at more length at some point), I think the term 'general suspension of empathy' toward men is fairly apt, and I do think that the reactions (or lack thereof) to the video betray that suspension of empathy to some degree. I also think that you and I might disagree as to where the suspension of empathy comes from--I blame the patriarchy. But it shouldn't be surprising that you and I might agree on the suspension of empathy--after all, I did write the original comment over on Feministe (which presumably you agreed with to some degree), and a subsequent post (now two posts) about it here on FA.

There's probably more to say, but this post is already way too long to begin with, and I doubt many people have made it this far! Thanks again to Hugh for his comments.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Mama's Boy: Accidentally Raised as a Feminist Man, part III

This is the last of a series of three installments of posts describing some of my own development as a feminist. You can find the first two posts here and here. This piece was originally written as a submission for Shira Tarrant's upcoming book, Men Speak Out: ProFeminist Views on Gender, Sex and Power (which will be published by Routledge in November, 2007). Last time I talked about some of the ways in which my larger economic situation affected my upbringing, my mother, and my feminism. This time I'll talk a bit about a big part of what feminism means to me: Not letting people be bullies.

Fighting the Bullies
A big part of feminism in my life also centers around issues that are deeply entrenched in gender, but aren't only applicable to gender. My mother taught me to have little tolerance toward bullies, and she often did this by standing up to sexist men, who are at least one type of bully, in my mind. In 6th grade, I had a teacher who also happened to be a golf player. My mom played golf, and after a parent-student meeting where they discovered they both did this, they made plans to golf together. Turns out this guy (one of the few teachers in my childhood that I really didn't have much respect for, even before the following incident) was something of a rampant sexist, and it came out pretty conclusively as my mother proceeded to whip his ass in a golf game. He talked about women's beginner's luck (she wasn't a beginner), about how she got to hit from the women's tees (until he said that and she started hitting from the men's tees, still whupping him), and how it was wrong for a woman to be raising a son alone. This aside from the fact that her son, his student, was a straight-A student. One day on the golf course, when he said something particularly antagonistically sexist, she walked up, slapped him, and walked off the course.

It took a lot for me to get out of my mother that she had slapped him. But I could tell something happened immediately upon the next day of class. I didn't get called on, for instance. He was colder to me than he had been. Being my mother's son, I confronted him about it, after class one day. He denied that anything had gone wrong, and his enthusiasm of denial caused me anxiously await my mother's return home from work that evening, where I finally got it out of her what had happened. The next day, my teacher continued to treat me not-so-well, though, being a model student (and, at the time, I thought, smarter than him), there wasn't a whole lot he could do. One day, he left the classroom to make a phone call (this in the days before cell phones; he also had to avoid being eaten by dinosaurs), something he wasn't really allowed to do. The class responded slowly to his absence, but decisively. People began to throw a big red foursquare ball around. I didn't participate--I was enough of a schoolboy (mama's boy?) that I though such things were wrong. But at some point, the ball came to me, and I held onto it. A good friend of mine tried to take it from me, we wrestled with it, and I ended up tripping and pushing him through a window. All play stopped at that point--though he was just fine, miraculously not harmed at all. The teacher returned, and began yelling at me, as if I was some sort of ringleader, dragged me outside and began threatening to take me to the principal's office.

I wasn't used to being yelled at by teachers, and I responded with a zeal that I now attribute to my mother's example of fighting bullies: I told him that he should go to the office right then, right at that moment, and I'd explain to the principal how he had left the class alone for 15 minutes, and that somebody had almost gotten very, very hurt. I could feel that he was trying to bully me, and I responded in the way that my mother had implicitly taught me: I wasn't going to stand there and take it. He backed down, of course, just as he had backed down to my mother when she stood up for herself. And my mother's example of standing up to a sexist bully still helps me to stand up against bullies today, sexist and otherwise--though I tend to find the sexist ones most often, it seems.

Irony
The irony, as I've mentioned, is that my mother doesn't consider herself a feminist. I think she thinks about feminism in the ways that a lot of people do--the "feminist backlash" has been a relatively successful oversimplification of the various strands of feminism, to some degree. Those who haven't heard of or read any feminist thinking that has been done post-second wave are really missing out, and my mother is among those people. She doesn't know about the intersectionality of oppressions, doesn't get that the fluidity of identity can free us from some of the rigid gender roles that we have created; she dislikes the term 'feminist' because she thinks it means something that it no longer means, something that it really never meant at all. And that's fine with me. I'll take up the mantle. I'll learn more about feminist theory, but I'll also do my best to live my life as a feminist, like my mother taught me--whether she wanted to teach me that or not. And I'll always remember that the little lego broom is for everybody.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Violence, Bullies, and the Right Time and Place

{Ok, it's a long one. But I figured since my long treatises of how I became a feminist have encouraged exactly ZERO comments, I'd just forge on ahead and see if we can get into the negative numbers of comments with more and more long posts.}

Kissing Feministe's Ass
Have I mentioned how much I love Feministe? I must admit that I mostly enjoy Jill's posts; though both piny and zuzu often have some great insights, I think I just like Jill's writing style the most. And, of course, I still miss Lauren's thoughts on feminism, though I thoroughly enjoy her new-er work in Faux Real. One thing about Jill is that she often has a combination of really long-ish, drawn-out posts, combined with discussions of pop culture, which I find good and necessary and powerful.

Friday Random Violence
All of which is to preface that I feel sort of weird complaining about a recent post of Jill's that is pretty much totally about pop culture. It's not even a normal content-filled post, because it's part of the Friday Random Ten feature. Jill posted the video to a Lilly Allen song:

I had no idea who this was until this video, but I could immediately relate to the feelings behind the song--getting dumped by a jerk sucks, and revenge fantasies can be quite healthy and comforting, I think. And I'd guess that lots of people can identify with feeling happy when a jerky ex feels sad. Showing my age: Many were the hours I spent listening to Cyndi Lauper's "I Don't Wanna Be Your Friend" and The Mountain Goats' "No Children". As I said, it's comforting.

That said, the video (not the song itself, since there doesn't seem to be any violence implied in the lyrics alone) freaked me out quite a bit, and I thought that I'd mention it in the comments there:
I may be overreacting here, but the first ‘prank’ pulled in that video seems really disturbing to me. Perhaps it’s because I have known several people who were accosted in a similar way, and seen the way even ‘mildly’ getting the crap beat out of you can damage you, long-term. I know that such a portrayal pales in comparison to the amount of violence against women portrayed in various media, but it still freaks me out. I’d be curious if anybody else had a similar reaction?

At least one person seemed to agree, but what ensued wasn't a discussion of the violence, but rather some short discussion on the merits of Johnny Cash.

Time and Place
I'll have to admit that I was pretty disappointed to not get any sort of reaction from Jill to my comment about the violence in the video, and disappointed that few others seemed to care one way or another. I was tempted to say something again over there, but decided that this was a perfect opportunity to check my privilege. It's not my right in any way to get feedback from Jill. There are lots of possible reasons that I didn't get much of a response, from the fact that few people read/post comments on the FRT posts to the fact that moderating and responding to comments on a blog such as Feministe must be something close to a full-time job. I already have to pick and choose what I respond to here on Feminist Allies, and we get a few comments a post on average. So, sure, I was very interested in what Jill might have thought about the violence, but if I had in any way demanded such a response, that would be akin to becoming something like the sort of bully, ironically enough, that I thought the woman in the video--and her friends--were being.

I don't want a cookie here. This is all by way of saying that I came thisclose to being an ass over there, which sort of sucks, but in another way helps me to understand when others forget to check their privilege when dealing with me. In addition, I'm happy that I have the space here on FA to talk about it--this is the right place to do so.

Bullies and Violence
As I had said in my comment on Feministe, I know that the violence perpetrated in the video pales in comparison to both the amount and depth of violence against women portrayed in various media. (Yet another reason to not make such a big deal of it over on Feministe.) Still, the violence bothered me, and I don't think that ignoring that is healthy for me--and that discussing it, drawing some attention to it, is something worthwhile for me to do as a feminist, and as a man.

My first reaction to the video is mostly visceral. Paying somebody to beat the crap out of somebody else just makes my skin crawl. It's an exercise in power dynamics that is at the core of what it means to bully people (i.e. having enough money/capital/influence to get somebody else to do violence to your enemy). Paying somebody to damage somebody else's property is up there on my list of wrongs, but it just doesn't have the same feeling as paying somebody to beat somebody up, potentially causing great physical and emotional harm, long-term. Are there people who 'deserve' to get beat up? Maybe. Rapists come to mind as one possible example. But even if we agreed that some people 'deserve' it, it still ought to be a last resort and only in extreme cases, rather than a way to get over one's heartbreak.

But this is just a video, some people might say. And I'd tend to agree on some level--but that's part of the irony of this situation: Jill is one of the people who has taught me (along with Bitch magazine and Feministing) that it's never 'just' anything with pop culture. Pop culture has power, and begs to be better understood and analyzed through feminist lenses.

But What About the Men?--Where I Stroll Into MRA Country
And I find myself thinking: What if the gender stuff was reversed in the video? What if some guy was hiring people (who are of two genders, interestingly enough) to beat up his ex-girlfriend, so he could enjoy seeing her cry? I think that would outrage me even more. Why? Well, in part because I think that women already get much, much more than their fair share of these sorts of portrayals in the media, not to mention lots of real-life violence in real life. I mean, crap, they make whole movies that revolve around physically harming women because they are women. (There are lots of movies about violence being done to men, but often the fact that they are men isn't the central reason for the violence.) It may also be the case that I would feel more outrage if the genders were 'reversed' because to whatever extent I buy into patriarchic bs (see below).

And I want to be careful here, because I am *not* saying: Men are oppressed because people don't see the violence done to the guy in this video as a big deal. But I do want to say that it's interesting that I am more easily bothered by the violence against that guy--partly because I identify with him on some level, as a man--than perhaps Jill or the other-than-male-identified people who read Feministe might be. Perhaps this is one of the places where men may be able to better recognize the ways in which patriarchy hurts men?

Patriarchy Hurts Men
And here's how patriarchy is working in and around the violence in this video. This is not an exhaustive list, but rather just some pointers into better understanding it all.

  • It's patriarchy that helps us to less often see violence done against men as a big deal, by reinforcing traditional conceptions of masculinity such as uber-independence and able-to-get-beat-up-and-come-out-of-it-alive types of strength.
  • Similarly, it's patriarchy which helps us to think that it's ok for a woman to hire people to beat up a guy, even though it more obviously wouldn't be ok for a man to hire people to beat up a woman--and patriarchy does this once again by reinforcing traditional conceptions of masculinity and femininity, in the minds of people of all genders.
  • It's probably also patriarchy which keeps some men from voicing their concerns about the violence portrayed against men--fearing they may be thought of as 'less than' in some way.
  • Also, patriarchy keeps us locked into traditional conceptions of women, too, as regards this video--after all, it might even be more cathartic for her to beat the crap out of the guy herself (and given the actual people in the video, I think she could take him, size and weight and all that).


Thanks for letting me get all of that off of my chest.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Mama's Boy: Accidentally Raised as a Feminist Man, part II

Once again, I'm sharing with y'all something I wrote for Shira Tarrant's upcoming book, though my piece didn't make it in the book. Last time I talked about some of the very first smatterings of feminism in my life. In this installment, I talk a bit more about where my feminism comes from:

Fertile Ground

I suppose my life was sort of fertile ground for feminism to take root in, though the choice of ground can also be attributed to my mother, and the way she chose to live her life, the way she chose for us to live our lives. I was born out of wedlock, a fact that likely bothered my grandparents-but if it did, I never picked up on it. My mother was young, but not very young, when I was born. Being young, however, she wasn't particularly financially secure at the time. And I have a lot of respect for her that she managed to raise me in such a way that I don't have strong memories of being poor, though we were, for a time. I remember living in 'government housing' for a short while, but I mostly remember it because I remember moving in and then moving out, remember the friends I made and then had to move away from. I think I knew we were poor, but I don't have many memories of wanting. But I think being a 'single mother' in the first years of the 70's meant that my mother made her way through the world in the way she did in part because of the feminist movement. And yet, at the time she found herself pregnant, society--and perhaps her family--was pressuring her to, if she couldn't marry my father, find somebody, at least, to marry.

My mother both resisted and embraced this pressure, I think, marrying several times as I was growing up--but divorcing several times, too, when she recognized that the price to be paid for relative financial and emotional security was too great--though she might not appreciate the reference, my mother was very much set on having a room of her own. The time was perhaps ripe for her to find her way in the world in the way that she chose--if I had been born in 1950 instead of 1970, who's to say if she would have more easily (yet still grudgingly!) chosen to get married and stay that way, whatever may have come. But it was always important to my mother that she stand independently; my mother worked hard, took care of me, endured financial hardship in a way that will forever make me proud to be her son. And, whether she considers herself a feminist or not, she stood up for herself in ways that I probably only saw glimpses of, and in ways that I consider indicative of feminism.

But I do remember seeing glimpses. The Lego Incident, as I like to call it, was one of those times when she came straight out and showed me something that I needed to know, something that shaped me. I'm not sure how much of it she knew she was doing, but she gave me a lens with which to see the world. My mom and I remember the whole thing very strongly, and likely it gets embellished each time it gets talked about--but the fact is, even if she only had a few words to say about it to me, they stuck with me. From then on out, I not only noticed that the woman held the broom on the box but that all too often, women held the broom out there in real life, too--and that there was no good reason why.

Father Figures

My mom, even with a kid who didn't make it easy for her, got married twice while I was still a kid. And I didn't make it easy. By the time I was 7 and she married for the second time, I was something of a brat to my step dad and my poor stepbrother. She was in love, so in love that we moved from where I was pretty darn happy in Colorado, to what I considered to be a podunk rural town in California--Livermore. I was pretty angry, for a short time. I had met the guy, but didn't like him much. He tried way too hard, I thought. And he didn't try hard enough. Plus, the first night I met him, my lips were windburned and chapped from the cold, and yet he took us to an Italian restaurant, where I proceeded to order spaghetti in red sauce which, of course, burnt my chapped lips. And all of that, was, in no uncertain terms to my seven year old mind, absolutely his fault. So was taking me from my best friend Jason out to California where I was to start behind in school (California had the 2nd best school system in the country at that time--it was a long time ago), have to make new friends, and deal with not only a new stepbrother, but also a neighborhood bully. All my stepfather's fault, of course, in my mind.

The funny thing was, my mother never really corrected me on that point. It was all of his fault, in a way, and she didn't try to fight me on it. She set down some strict guidelines for both him and me--he wasn't allowed to discipline me in the ways that he wanted to; he wasn't allowed to spank me, for instance. Fact was, I hardly needed spanking. I was already such a straight arrow--already such a mama's boy, perhaps--that the worst I could do, really, was take advantage of the fact that my mother was protecting me from my stepfather, without, perhaps, there being an explicit need for it. And take advantage of it I did. I teased my stepbrother mercilessly, and when he would retaliate, he would get spanked while I would get a stern reprimand for driving him to violence. I didn't understand it at the time, but I certainly was being the shittiest little step kid that one could ask for, really.

But I have a lot of respect for the way my mother treated me. She treated me like a person--a person who meant as much to her as her new husband did. And she made it known that she wouldn't settle for him treating me any less, either. Being seven, of course, I wasn't expected to come to the table with quite as much, but she also encouraged me to treat him better, and for the most part, I did. As an adult, hearing some of my friends' stepfather (and father!) experiences, I lucked out quite a bit. But it wasn't all luck--it was my mother standing up for what she believed in, beliefs which included the belief that, while I may have needed discipline, I didn't need a spanking; that, though I was seven, she had raised me well enough to that point to work things out; that he and I should both behave...well, like adults, really.

And, eventually, when my stepfather started to treat her like she was not a person, like she was not an adult, she did something for which I will forever be thankful. She kicked the jerk to the curb. It couldn't have been an easy decision to make. Sure, it was bound to please nine year old me, but I didn't really understand the ramifications. She would be giving up a fairly stable financial situation, present and future, for...the unknown. But my mother, my mother the planner, had already put her plan into action years before, when she went back to work, after not working outside the home for a few years into the marriage. And Talking with her now about those years of marriage, the move from being a working outside the home single mom to a working at home married mom, to being a working outside the home married mom, I am struck by how much I didn't understand, consciously, at the time. My mother, faced with the prospect for the first time in her life of having the option to not work outside the home, decided to try it out.

Turns out, she hated it. She felt isolated from the world; she felt intellectually stifled (I was a smart nine-year old, sure, but I still preferred long, languorous conversations about Star Wars than much else); she felt, in a word, trapped. So she went back to work--without the emotional support of my stepfather at the time. And that brought her some happiness that she had been lacking. Her decision to go back to working outside the home couldn't have been an easy one, either. She had to fight my step dad's traditional patriarchal ideals (and her own internalized ones, likely), she had to reenter the job market after several years out of it. She had to leave behind what she knew to go back into a world that had likely changed quite a bit, into the unknown.

And I think that this propensity to jump back into the unknown in order to create a better life for herself (and for me!)also reflects some feminism. The feminisms that I tend to embrace avoid essentialisms, avoid doctrines that purport to be absolute, challenge traditional assumptions, not only about gender, but about how we all ought to live our lives. And I think, in the mid- to late-seventies when my mom decided to go back to work, she was embracing all of these ideas. She rejected my stepfather's (and to some extent, all of society's) notions of gender--the idea that all women are alike in wanting/needing to work in the home, the idea that women are 'natural nurturers', the idea that only one person ought to be financially and emotionally independent in a marriage. And, while these things may seem no-brainers to a lot of people these days, I think my mother had an early strong sense of a general need for financial and emotional equality across genders. And she passed this along to me.

Next Time: Fighting Bullies

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Killing and Men (often White Men)

In Seattle earlier this week a 41 year old British-American man killed his 26 year old ex-girlfriend after stalking her. She made Many efforts to protect herself against him.

In Seattle a little over a year ago a young man who had been invited to a party after a rave left the party and came back with multiple guns and killed others at the party.

In Seattle close to 1 1/2 years ago a disturbed Arab-American young man who had lived his entire life in the U.S. forcibly entered the Jewish Federation Office killing one woman and injuring several other women there. He indicated his anger at Israel and clearly tied "Jews" and "Jewish Organization" with Israel.

Across the United States there have been a number of killings by young White Males of multiple fellow students, often directed at young women (only).

I can not in my deepest imagination envision - at any time in my life having heard similar stories told about one or more Female Persons killing others. Commonly where women kill men seems limited to battered women killing their batterers in apparent self-defense efforts and occasionally fights between partners where a man is injured or killed by his partner.

Obviously women tend to turn their anger onto themselves, rather than outward while we men tend often to turn our anger outward.

We are taught in so many ways that we are to be violent. We need to be "on top" of others. Many men may not see and feel "superior" to women and "priviliged" because of their fears of other men - without the violence necessarily.

As young boys we learn to defend ourselves and to be aggressive in many ways. Real life and the media blend nicely in such areas! Older boys fight in gangs, as well as "quarterback kills" in football, "respect" in deliberately brushing back and beaning batters in baseball, as well as many other areas of trying to be "Top Dog".

Our relationship skills seem most troubled! The White Teenage Boys often have been bullied by other boys and are frequently "outcasts" when they kill classmates. The various types of male adult killers are emotionally very alone and isolated. It's not clear how many of them have been abused as children.

As men we need to help raise boys to Not be the kinds of Men we know may Fight Other Men and Abuse and potentially kill Women (and men). How we may do this takes much thought and communication amongst us.

Thanks!

Some Questions, Some Answers

Sassywho asks a great series of questions in the comments. I think the questions are worth reprinting in their entirety here:
I would be curious as to your thoughts on, while quite a few men don't denounce feminism, they are indifferent or uninformed. What I mean is as far as the obvious issues, abuse, rape, for some equality in pay there is agreement and even alliance, but when it comes to more of the more intricate threads that even some feminist are not in agreement on many are sorely confused and/or opposed. Then there is the very common pseudo-feminism which is what I like to call the "pedestal" which is just as oppressive as patriarchy but one that many men feel comfortable in calling themselves feminist-friendly. While each of those have their own distinct challenges in having a conversation with men about feminism, I think by far, especially white males is the acknowledgment of privilege. To recognize it seems to bring forth a conviction of guilt, which is not the point and certainly not productive, but it seems to be the largest reason for denial and resistance. How do you see is the best way to address that, on an individual to a much larger scale?


Geo responded with some dead-on answers in the comments, I think, but I'd like to expand on his answers, and give some of my own.

Before I begin, I want to say that I think there are myriad answers to your questions--and that some of those answers are more obvious (though not less important) than others: It's harder to see privilege when you're swimming in it, it's harder to understand conceptual frameworks when they appear 'natural', etc. Any answers I give will be variations on the obvious ones, but I think these are complex issues for men, and therefore there are some complex answers.

In a way, this whole groupblog is dedicated to answering some of these questions--exploring what it means to be a man and a feminist seems to be at the root of most of what we do here, and that leads to answers about the ways in which men (including all of us) stay indifferent and uninformed about feminism. So, there are in some ways an infinite number of answers to your questions--and of course I'll only sketch out a few.

Indifference from Ignorance

I think the indifference about feminism comes from two basic sources. First of all, it comes from the ignorance in general of feminist issues. (This all gets messy and circular, I know, but it's all interrelated.) If you don't know about something at all, you're indifferent--but more importantly, if you really don't understand about something, it's harder to be really concerned about it. I think this is one area where women have a better chance at becoming feminists then men, simply because they have less of a chance of remaining ignorant about it. Just as people of color have a better chance of knowing how racism works than white people, just as poor people have a better chance of knowing the negative effects of class than people who have had wealth their whole lives, women are more often forced to face misogyny in its myriad forms, and are therefore less likely to be indifferent toward it.

But I think that there is a second, related, source of indifference when it comes to feminism and men, and this is the indifference that comes from the same sort of place that Mr. Shakes was talking about in the post Sassywho originally commented on: Men are, in various ways, on the top rung of the ladder, and it's a lot easier to rationalize from the top that feminist principles aren't needed.

And I think, in response to another part of Sassywho's question, it's a lot easier to rationalize on the day-to-day, subtle misogyny than it is to rationalize about the more intricate threads. As things get more complex, it's easier to dismiss them, sometimes.

Struggling Against Denial and Resistance
As far as how to address the denial and resistance, I think it has to be addressed on lots and lots of fronts--but I think one front that often gets overlooked is that of men encouraging discourse about all of this with other men. Part of why patriarchy keeps on truckin' is because men, even men who are more aware than most about feminism, even men who support feminist tenets, tend to reinforce misogyny and patriarchy in their interactions with other men. We don't do this because it's natural or something, we do it because it's what we have been taught, and because institutionally things are set up so that men punish other men for bucking the traditions. And we do this in amazingly subtle (and not-so-subtle) ways. So, one way to create change is for men to have conversations with other men about feminism. One great way to do this is (often) to just ask somebody who is showing some privilege or misogyny is to simply ask them what they think feminism is. Often a strawfeminist is involved, and people are unaware that there are many flavors of feminism (for instance, Mr. Shakes does have a sort of marxist-feminst take on things in the original post, but not all feminists are marxists).

So, those are some thoughts on what is obviously a large set of topics! We've talked a lot here about privilege and guilt, though more could be said about that, as well, perhaps we can post about that again later. I really appreciate your questions.

What Feminists Want: Unisex Bathrooms

Just thought this was funny...particularly the flashback to 'Cooking with Feminists'.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Mama's Boy: Accidentally Raised as a Feminist Man, part I

A while ago, I heard through some grapevine or another that Shira Tarrant was accepting submissions for a new book, Men Speak Out: ProFeminist Views on Gender, Sex and Power (which will be published by Routledge in November, 2007). These were open submissions, and I went ahead and wrote something up quickly (I was close to the deadline, as I recall, though that may be my procrastinator/rationalizer brain talking) and sent it in. She was asking for first-person accounts from men interacting with feminism, and I provided her with one of mine.

Alas, I didn't make the cut; luckily, you'll be able to judge for yourselves as to why, because I hate all that (albeit quickly jotted down) writing to go to waste. I'll divide it out into a couple of installments, I think. Here's the first.


Mom: "What is it with you and all this feminism stuff?"
Me: Well, you're the one who complained about the little toy broom."


Little Toy Broom
In retrospect, if I had to give a short answer to "Why are you a feminist?" I might say: "Because my mother showed me what a feminist could be." The strangeness around this answer is twofold: First of all, my mother doesn't identify as a feminist, and feels vaguely uncomfortable, I think, with the fact that I do. The second strangeness is that the very fact that, because I recognize that feminism blossomed in me because of my mother's influence, sometimes I buy into one of the most pervasive examples of patriarchy in my life: Sometimes I feel like a mama's boy.

The notion of being a mama's boy (in some negative sense) is quite a sexist notion, along the lines of calling somebody 'faggot' in a derogatory way. Part of the 'logic' behind calling somebody a faggot as an insult goes like this: Gay men are somehow less masculine (huh?--bears,anyone?) and more feminine (huh?? bears, anyone?) than 'normal' men, and being like a woman is somehow a Very Bad Thing. "Mama's boy" follows a similar logic, I think, in that it accuses a person with being somehow less masculine because he has too-close ties to his mother, who is, one assumes, a woman. 'Mama's boy' has other connotations, of course--a mama's boy is a boy who hasn't become a man because he lets his mother take care of him, for instance; but that, too, ties into sexist notions of what a man should be--you don't hear 'daddy's boy' thrown out there as a derogatory remark very often, so the gender of the parent seems to matter here.

So, what do I do about feeling like a 'mama's boy' sometimes? Well, in general I just try to remember that, as much as feminism is embedded deeply within my persona, I am not the sole cause of that: My mother, both on purpose and by accident, taught me how to be a feminist.

Day-to-Day
Mostly my mom taught me feminism by example. Though I had a couple of step dads briefly along the way, I don't think any of them really succeeded in being father figures at all, and my mother shouldered alone almost all of the burdens of raising me. She did so while developing a career, playing in a softball league, making house payments and having various other interests. Even with the constraints of being a single parent, even in the face of having to live a somewhat difficult life in a world chock full of sexism against women, she continued then (and still continues) to live her life by some feminist principles (though she might not want to call them that), including a thirst for equality, and a desire to crush sexist stereotypes. Simply living as she has, day-to-day, she has taught me more about the basics of feminism than anything has since. And, even now that I'm an adult, she still manages to teach me lessons of feminism. So the continued irony that she doesn't herself identify as a feminist, and is still constantly surprised that I do identify as a feminist, is ever-present.

Toys
Looking back at my childhood for specific ways that my mother taught me feminism, it's only with the benefit of hindsight that I find individual moments that stick out in my memory. I think that this is part of what 'leading by example' is all about--such leading involves teaching without conscious individual lessons, encouraging incremental learning. There is one memory, however, that my mother and I still talk and laugh about. It's my first real memory of having the implicit traditional gender roles that we all swim in made explicit, warts and all. I also learned more explicitly my mother's opinion of these roles. Like a lot of good lessons, this one came out of the blue, sneaking up on me (and on her) from around the corner. It came, like a lot of things in
middle-class suburban America came, from a trip to the mall. I was on my way to spend my hard-earned money (or so I thought at the time) on a set of legos. I was probably around 8 or 9, and I was excited. Not about the feminism, to be sure. Rather, I was excited about something lots of 8 or 9 year olds get pretty excited about: Toys. Being a lower-middle class kid who had saved up his meager allowance to buy some legos, I was really excited to get them home and play. The set of bricks that I had my eye on, the one I had saved for, was some sort of 'home' set, with a little house, and a man and woman to live in it. (That I picked up the 'house' set and not, say, the race car set, may point to how deeply rooted my personality was in feminism and in relatively nontraditional conceptions of masculinity already, at nine years old.)

So there I was building my little lego house. I liked the flexibility of legos, but the compulsive side of me liked to build the set exactly like the directions said, the first time around. After I did that, in my mind, I was free to make my own stuff, which came from and then further encouraged my imagination. But first off, I made it look just like it was on the box. I couldn't even wait to get home. With my mom's permission, I sat in the back of the van (hey, it was suburbia in the early 80's...we sort of had to have a van) and built my set on the way home. I finished as we were pulling into our driveway. Before we even got out of the car, as per usual, I showed it proudly to my mom. Most times she would look, really look at what I built, hold it up, examine it, and then pronounce it a masterful work (even if I was just following the directions). This time, instead of responding with the enthusiasm I expected, she asked me a question: "Why does the woman have the broom?" Sure enough, in front of the little lego house that I had just built, was a little lego man holding a little lego wrench and a little lego woman holding a little lego broom. Just like on the box. I looked at my mom, looked at my masterwork, and then game my nine year old answer: "Because she's the girl."

I knew the moment it was out of my mouth that my answer certainly wasn't the one she had wanted to hear, though it may have been the one she expected. his answer did not sit well with mom, who spent a good deal of time explaining to me that, in fact, lego-dad needs to sweep a lot, and that lego-mom could handle a wrench quite effectively, thank you very much. She asked me to put the wrench in the hand of the woman, and to hand over the sweeping duties to the dad. I did so, a little disturbed at first at the fact that my little lego set was now not exactly like it was on the box, and my mother stomped into the house, the non-lego house that we lived in. I got the feeling then, and I still feel now, that she had much more to say to me, but exercised some restraint in the way that a parent sometimes thinks she ought to. She left me to consider the change, probably wondering just how much it might sink in. Or perhaps she was just trying to avoid her own version of a 9-year old temper tantrum? Her shift in emotions did bother me--I remember that fairly distinctly, but I wasn't bothered for long, and I quickly went inside and dismantled the entire set. I started building something else, something of my own devising. I may have quickly forgotten the little lego house that I had built, but I didn't seem to forget that lego-woman with the wrench. Or the lego-man with the broom. It stuck with me.

Next time: Fertile Ground

Feminism Helps Men

Great post over at Shakesville by Mr. Shakes about why men ought to be feminist allies:
One of the greatest bulwarks against men accepting the feminist movement is that they seem to think that women gaining power must necessarily dilute their own exclusive powers and status. But in so holding onto this erroneous notion, they forget that they themselves are powerless in the face of the corporate plutocracy that now weighs down so heavily upon all of us. If they could get their heads around the fact that they too are powerless and insignificant and ignored, they would stop trying to beat up on the kids they perceive to be weaker and instead acknowledge their own weakness, ally themselves with them, and move forward with them in a new movement that would grant greater freedoms for all of us. It shouldn’t be about trying to maintain some illusory advantage over others. It should be about trying to create concrete advantages for all of us.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Romeo & Juliet Part 5: The End

Having taken you all through a list of what I consider feminist moments in Romeo and Juliet, I must undertake the difficult task of justifying the entire enterprise. This is where I lay all my cards on the table and explain why I believe it makes sense to treat R&J as a work of feminist fiction.
I am not arguing that Shakespeare was as a person, particularly feminist. Indeed, although he has written some gratifyingly strong women, his plays are often rife with blatant sexism. I do not believe that he consciously aimed for a feminist sensibility when writing R&J. He was, however, reacting to basically feminist changes in society—changes that make Romeo & Juliet the most modern-seeming of all Shakespeare plays.
Many of his works reveal attitudes toward love and marriage that seem starkly anachronistic. In Much Ado About Nothing and King Lear, marriage is portrayed as a business deal and a political alliance. In Much Ado, when Claudio has settled on Hero for his bride, it is to her father, not to her, that he must make his case—a clear case of woman-as-property.
R&J is different in that Juliet affirmatively chooses her husband, but it’s not only Juliet’s agency that is extraordinary. Romeo, too, is censured for daring to marry whom he loves. Thus we see marriage as institution whereby patriarchs buy and sell their children (of both genders) for financial and political gain to an institution about the individual choices of the married. It is of course imperfect-- men still have far more freedom and agency than women-- but it is a step forward.
If I had to guess at authorial intent, I would guess that Shakespeare was not consciously pro-feminist when he wrote R&J. Rather, he was pro-freedom, which turns out, in practice, to be essentially the same thing. Individual freedom must include freedom to defy gender roles and gender norms, freedom to escape the hierarchy and thwart the patriarchs, or it is no freedom at all. By including Juliet in his implied moral, that society should respect the romantic choices of humans, he automatically takes what we, today, would call a feminist stance.
One could challenge my assertion that Shakespeare is so radically pro-freedom. After all, many of his plays look back nostalgically to the time of absolute monarchs. But if you consider the structure of a Shakespearian tragedy, I believe my assertion can be defended. Shakespeare’s tragedies generally concern themselves with not merely the destruction, but the self-destruction of one or more families. Othello is done in by jealousy, Lear by vanity, Macbeth by ambition. What fatal flaw is the source of Romeo and Juliet’s undoing? I believe it is complicity. Throughout the play, whenever anyone compromises their ideals and does what is expected of them, bad things happen.
Romeo begins the play alienated from his place in society. And yet, He meets Juliet, is married, all seems well. His downfall comes not from his rebelliousness; on the contrary, disaster strikes when he does what is expected of him, murdering Tybalt to avenge his friend and defend his honor. In that moment, when his self-control lapses and he allows himself to do what he is told, things begin to go bad.
There’s a lot of fatalistic language in R&J – form the priest’s lectures to Romeo’s premonitions to the Chorus and more, the end is heavily foreshadowed. Undefeatable forces sweep us inexorably toward death and disaster, they say, and nothing can be done about it.
They’re wrong. If Romeo hadn’t killed Tybalt, he and Juliet would have survived. In fact, there are countless opportunities by which someone could have prevented the disaster. Tybalt could have accepted Romeo’s apology, the priest could have insisted on a public marriage, the nurse could have revealed the secret marriage rather than allow the betrothal to Tybalt, Lord Capulet could have accepted his daughter’s refusal to marry Paris, Juliet herself could have confessed she was already married. Any of the conspirators could have revealed the secret marriage, ended the charade, and tried to put things right.
What all these things have in common is that someone would have been required to think outside the box, to make waves, to do the unexpected. Instead every character chooses to go with the flow, even when that flow leaves them dashed on the rocks.
If I were to summarize the message of R&J as I see it, it would be “Find out what you truly want and fight for it. Don’t surrender your life by going along with what is expected.”
In the end, it doesn’t get much more feminist than that.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

An Update

Hello, all--

I'm sorry to have been absent for so long. I have been buried under ltos fo reading and writing lately without enouhg energy to do any blogging. The last part of the Romeo series should be coming soon, though.

The good news is, I've been busy with all good things. My production of Romeo and Juliet is coming up. I finally got a paying job as a writer, and I got into some great colleges.

Talk to y'all later.