Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Big Reveal.

So-- This is the part where I explain why I haven't been blogging, and what I'm going to do about it.

I chose to blog anonymously for a couple of reasons. First, because I occasionally discussed issues and people from real life, and didn't necessarily want them to know. Second, because I wasn't yet ready to announce myself to everyone as a feminist. And, third, because I was afraid that I might later be embarrassed by what I had written. Setting aside ordinary embarrassment, I'm considering becoming a career politician, and wasn't sure how much I wanted "out there." I'm *already* embarrassed by some of my early posts.

More and more, though, I wanted to blog about me -- my hobbies, my interests, my life. And the more I talked, the less secret it became. Almost anyone I knew who found this blog would probably recognize me. And I can't count on anonymity in the other direction. If I were ever to run for president, I'm sure someone would find this blog.

I didn't blog because I couldn't figure out what I wanted to do-- continue as-is, abandon this and blog under my own name, keep two blogs, or what. Ultimately I've decided that I should have the courage of my convictions and be a public feminist. I'm still worried about potential embarrassment, but have to hope that, 20 years in the future, people won't pieces I wrote naively at 16 against me. Regardless, I'm not living my life in fear.

So! I have two announcements:

1: I am no longer going by Malachi. You may now call me Orion. That is, as improbably as it may seem, my actual name. I'm am, as mentioned, a homeschooler form Massachusetts. I will be a freshman at the University of Chicago this fall.

2: Although I will cross-post feminist-relevant content here, I will be moving my day-to-day blogging to a new blog, http://orionsnebula.blogspot.com/

Thank you.

Monday, May 28, 2007

"The China Shop Syndrome"

I think that as men who may have some feminist consciousness it is often easy to get stuck in a rut. We may, for example, say something to a female friend or acquaintance that we think is complimentary. She may respond criticizing what we have said as being sexist, condescending, and/or simply insensitive.

We may initially respond defensively or recognize how we were wrong from the beginning.

Over time we may learn a very bad lesson! We learn to simply Not say anything that we think might faintly, faintly be controversial. We mask our actions saying to ourselves that as Men we shouldn't oppress others and that this is our way to avoid doing it.

What we are doing when we do this is in a sense using our privilige to escape reality and our responsibilities as men. An important part of our "maleness" is tearing at the layers within us that keep us from being fully "human" and becoming better people. We can't do this unless we are willing and able to take risks and be "out there".

We can take positive lessons from the criticism of others. We can listen more carefully. Where we are unclear particularly we can ask questions. We can read more in areas we are weak in. We can work on our own _hit particularly within ourselves and with other men who may have similar issues. We can take risks and confront what we see as sexist and racist statements of others.

We can be aware of how silence and passivity don't help! Being allies requires us to do some things that are hard for us. That is good!

Thanks!

Saturday, May 26, 2007

I'm not dead

Just wanted to let you all know that I'm not dead, and that I have quite a bit of blogging planned for the immediate future.

Friday, May 25, 2007

More on Books

Given our recent discussion of reading up on the relationships between men, feminism and masculinity, I was wondering if anybody out there would like to read bell hooks' The Will to Change with me, as sort of an online reading group. If you're interested, email me at jpjesus at speakeasy dot net.

I was thinking we could read a chapter a week or something like that, and perhaps discuss it through IM or maybe even in some bloggy way...

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Much to Think About: A Bit of a Rant

The last few days have brought some revelations for me, as a man who identifies as a feminist. Mostly, I'm recognizing how complex feminism really can be, and how intersectionality, while an easily thrown-around buzzword (with some great meaning) is really a conceptual puzzle all to itself. How do we talk about gender without talking about race, class, sexuality, able-bodied-ness, and the like? I mean, we do manage to talk about these things as sorta-separate, with a nod to the fact that (as I see it), they are all intertwined, but it remains true that we are always already leaving something out. How can we be inclusive, rather than just paying lip service to various people and viewpoints? Where do we start, and how do we go on, this way?

I know, I know, there is no other place to start but from where we are, but at the moment if feels overwhelming. I have a harder and harder time writing anything about gender because I don't want to leave out anything else. Maybe that's good. But it means I'm writing less and less.

I'm curious if anybody else feels this way, and what are some ways of going on to do good work regardless? My intuition is that perhaps I've been living within the words of it all for too long, and that maybe I need to get myself to some meetings and interact with other people in the world in other ways, that doing so would help me to bear the complexities. But that seems even more overwhelming, because it's sometimes hard to even have a conversation with people who haven't begun to grasp the ways in which all of these things are interrelated.

Any other suggestions would be much appreciated.

Reading Up on Masculinity

Andrew, over at Man in Self-Arrest has a nice little list of books on men and masculinity. While this list is not exhaustive of the possible books, it's a great starting point, I think. (Maybe at some point we here at Feminist Allies can make some more suggestions about books on men and feminism?) He's also got some interesting ideas as to the lack of books on masculinity and the struggle that some men go through when they first find out about feminism. He says:
It seems when men first come to feminism, they begin a series of laments about the absolute lack of information about guys, about how no one notices how they suffer. This goes on for an indeterminate period of time, and the guy either A) decides feminism is "wrong" for "excluding" him and he becomes an MRA or B) he opens his eyes and realizes there are already more books and blogs about men than he can read. I took route B, after quite an overdose of complaining.


After having been a feminist for a while, I started being interested in men and masculinity and how they related to feminist theory and action, and I, too, found myself a bit frustrated at the lack of interesting theory of masculinity. But then, slowly, one recognizes that there plenty of theory to get started with.

Update: Michael Flood of xyonline notes in the comments that he has created a fairly comprehensive reading list for matters of men and masculinity, indexed in various ways. This list is very welcome, thanks Michael.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Resisting Traditional (Religious) Masculinities

One of the silver linings of the 'discussion' (such as it is) of Jessica Valenti's Full Frontal Feminism for me is the rediscovery of brownfemipower at Women of Color Blog. I don't always agree with what she has to say (erm...who do I agree with all of the time?), but she has some really powerful things to say, and often deals with issues without trying to mask their complexity. One fine example of this is her follow-up post to a post about la familia, and the ways that strong belief in family life for Chicanas can be a strong anti-woman force, sometimes. She says:
For a long time, I didn’t realize that what we were talking about was abuse. This wasn’t what we saw on Oprah or the Burning Bed–this wasn’t submissive white woman with down cast eyes and forlorn face. This was a bunch of lively and fierce mamitas figuring out how to live with something they didn’t know how to get out of. Something they didn’t know how to get out of because there was no place to escape to, no place to run to, no place to hide. My friend’s family were all back in Washington State–they had migrated here when she was in high school, and she had stayed behind when she got married. There was one homeless shelter in the city, and it was run by hard line Christian Evangelicals that wouldn’t even let husbands and wives sleep together on the same floor and required you to go to services every night (Christian, not Catholic). And if you can’t go to your family and you won’t go to a shelter, which neighborhood family do you turn to that isn’t yours? The one that is currently living in their car or a hotel? The one whose father just lost the only job in the family? The one with four kids (and another on the way) living in a one bedroom house? Or the one whose mami was also getting her ass kicked? Because there was no one to turn to, these women, (myself included), learned how to “take it”. How to live with abuse in a way that made them feel that they still had control of their lives, that they still had some say.


In one section of one post, brownfemipower brings together so many factors of oppression, and recognizing how they intersect, and how that intersection plays out in real life, for many women, that I'm pretty amazed at her writing. This is exactly the sort of thing that sometimes keeps me from writing about where oppressions intersect, because it's difficult to do justice to any one aspect while talking about as many as possible. I think she manages to do it very well, and you should read the whole darn thing.

The reason I bring her post up here is twofold: First off, it's apparent to me having read a bunch of the stuff around Valenti's book, that, whatever the truth of accusations leveled against her (I'm holding off commenting too much about it until the dust settles, mostly because it's too overwhelming at the moment, and I don't think I can analyze it at all objectively), everybody who calls themselves a feminist can do more to be inclusive of everybody. I think I do an ok job when it comes to gender inclusiveness (i.e. I get lots of emails saying, "What do you mean by 'people of all genders'?); I think I manage to bring class into discussions quite often as well; I am getting better at including queer perspectives. But I am shitty at inclusiveness when it comes to race. And age. And Ableism. There are lots of good reasons as to why, but none of them mean that I can avoid trying harder, and still be a good person. So I'm trying harder. So that's one reason I'm bringing in brownfemipower's ideas, as they relate to some of the stuff I want to say. Even as I say this I feel the spectre of tokenism, I look around for where I'm acting like a privileged jackass, I fear that I'm not being inclusive of lots of different other groups of people, that I'm 'stealing' her ideas without adding to them or doing justice to them. But y'know, I have to start somewhere, and this is where I'm starting at.

The second reason I bring up brownfemipower's post is that I think the point about the religious-based shelter being a place that reinforces the very roles that are part of the problem a good deal of the time is an important point, and one that's related to men and masculinity. Religions are not gender-neutral, and I haven't run into a popular religion yet that isn't at bottom incredibly sexist. This is something to be discussed, of course, because lots of people think that, while some religions are like that, their version of their religion isn't. And that may well be the case--but I want to have those discussions with people, but as I do I will keep pointing out that organized religion tends to reinforce patriarchy, that it is one of the main forces for keeping traditional masculinity and femininity alive. And, to bring in some of what brownfemipower has to say--it may be the case that traditional conceptions of family can't help but reinforce patriarchy as well (though, of course, she doesn't say that, exactly--those are my words). And I want to claim that traditional conceptions of family are often based in traditional religious views, which are quite sexist, so we ought not be surprised that the conceptions of family that come with them are, as well.

Monday, May 21, 2007

bell hooks Monday: Talking About Men

More from bell hooks' The Will to Change:

Acknowledging that there needed to be more feminist focus on men did not lead to the production of a body of writing by women about men. The lack of such writing intensifies my sense that women cannot fully talk about men because we have been so well socialized in patriarchal culture to be silent on the subject of men. But more than silenced, we have been socialized to be the keepers of grave and serious secrets—especially those that could reveal the everyday strategies of male domination, how male power is enacted and maintained in our private lives. Indeed, even the radical feminist labeling of all men as oppressors and all women as victims was a way to deflect attention away from the reality of men and our ignorance about them. To simply label them as oppressors and dismiss them meant we never had to give voice to the gaps in our understanding or to talk about maleness in complex ways. We did not have to talk about the ways our fear of men distorted our perspectives and blocked our understanding. Hating men was just another way to not take men and masculinity seriously. It was simply easier for feminist women to talk about challenging and changing patriarchy than it was for us to talk about men—what we knew and did not know, about the ways we wanted men to change. Better to just express our desire to have men disappear, to see them dead and gone.(pp xiii)


I'd be curious what everybody thinks about the historical accuracy of bell's statements here--how much of early feminism included simply labeling men as oppressors and dismissing them? Certainly feminists are sometimes accused of this now, but when they are it's most often an oversimplification of somebody's views. And who's to say that it was (or is?) the job of women to do the work required to take male masculinity seriously?

That said, I love that bell hooks says all of this, and that she's not afraid to talk about masculinity, even in the face of being shot down by other feminists for doing so.

(On a side note, despite all of the stuff flying around about Jessica Valenti's book, Full Frontal Feminism, I'm thankful that she included an entire chapter about men and feminism. Hopefully I'll be able to write something more about that in a later post, because I think some of the criticism being lobbed about at Jessica is similar to criticism that bell has suffered through--especially as regards language and writing style, and including discussions that some see as 'not feminist enough'.)

Carnival!

Lots of good reads over at the 38th Carnival of Feminists, hosted by Team Rainbow (though I have to say I feel like and old, old man because I can't read the freaking purple-on-black font over there, which is the link color...sigh...).

Friday, May 18, 2007

Bill Hicks and Michael Richards

Racism and Sexism: Old News
I know that in a lot of ways, the racist comments that Michael Richards made not so long ago have been forgotten, to a great degree. Maybe that's for the best--a conversation about racism for which Richards was one catalyst can continue without invoking Richards (or Imus, for that matter). And yet, one of the things that I found interesting about the clip of Richards' racist rant, was that the audience, who seemed to 'go along' for a few moments, eventually turned on him. Of course, it took the men who were the objects of Richards' vitriol standing up for themselves for things to turn around, and it sucks that the audience played along at all, but eventually Richards has to leave the stage (and what was left of his career, likely) in shame:

Michael Richards, Racist:


I ran across another comedian losing it because of a heckler. This happened a while ago--I can't figure out exactly how long ago, but because Bill Hicks has been dead since 1994, it's got to be at least 12 years old.

Bill Hicks, Sexist:



I was pretty disappointed to see Hicks act this way, frankly. He had some great material, could rant about the military industrial complex, about fundamentalist Christians and corporate rule in ways that would make one laugh and cry (he was the one who asked whether or not Christ would be happy if he came back and all of his followers were wearing crosses, and likened that to going up to Jackie Kennedy with a long-distance rifle lapel pin). But the more I watch of him, the more I see that he definitely had this weird conservative/misogynist streak when it comes to women, even when he wasn't being a jerk in the particular way he is in the above clip. But more than that, I'm disappointed that the audience not only went along with his rant, but egged him on. When he starts calling his heckler a cunt and a a bitch, pretty much the whole audience starts cheering. And, though this was a while ago, I wonder if things would be much different today--people are more likely to call out blatant racism than they are to call out blatant sexism, I think. (f Imus had said, "Those ho's" instead of what he did say, would there have been as much outrage? I think it's hard to say. Still it's disappointing to see a very funny, intelligent guy like Hicks was (in some ways) not only going on a misogynistic rant, and not only not being called on it, but being encouraged.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Listening to Boys, Men and Each Other

More from Peggy Drexler's Raising Boys Without Men:

One of the strongest weapons we have against violence in our neighborhoods and schools, as well as ultimately in the larger world, is our ability to communicate with boys about what is going on in their lives. Simply put, we must talk to them, and listen to them. This book is rooted in the many, many hours I spend having these conversations.

When I speak around the country about raising boys without men, people want to know how I was able to get the information I did from the boys. Why were they so open with me? The question implies that I must have a special trick that made it possible for notoriously taciturn young males to reveal their true selves to me. I laugh and tell my questioners the truth. Although I do have special training, it's simpler than that. I was curious and eager to know these boys—and still am. They inspire me and give me hope. In a world that sometimes disappoints, scares, and hurts them, they still want to connect.

One of the reasons that men may not communicate with others as well as women do (if this is true, really) is that they are not communicated with as boys. (pp xvi)


I have some problems with some of what Drexler says throughout her book--she has a strain of gender essentialism that bugs me, for instance, but I think here she's right on (and I like her qualifications in that last sentence, because it's not a forgone conclusion in my mind that men don't communicate with others as well as women do). It's interesting to see my nephew's parents interact with him, and continually ask him what he is trying to say, what he means, what he wants. He's almost three now; I hope that trend keeps up as long as he's alive, because I think he and those around him will be better for it.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

What Men Want

There is still a daily "Archie" strip, believe it or not (click to enlarge).



Haha! Men want food and money and women, and all three of these are commodities, apparently! It's funny because it's true an outdated conception of traditional masculinity!

And, on some non-gender-issues-related notes, what's stopping the two boys on the left from simply reaching out and grabbing the thing that is 'motivating' them? The sticks are way too short. Also, Archie is about to step on a puppy. Or perhaps that is supposed to buttress traditional masculinity as well? Heh.

Monday, May 14, 2007

bell hooks Mondays

Othering Gender and The Will to Change
I find myself inspired by several posts over on OtherBeyondRealMen to write a bit about bell hooks. In some ways I was brought to feminism indirectly by hooks' Teaching to Transgress. And, while Teaching wasn't a book on feminism per se, hooks' ideas about pedogogy incorporated her feminism to a large degree. This is no surprise, of course, because hooks conceptions of feminist movement are infused throughout her other conceptions--on love, on philosophy and the like. The influence I've felt from hooks, along with some of her more recent work in particular being influential, makes me think perhaps a series of bell-related posts is in order. I think I'll give it a try, giving y'all a dose of bell on Mondays.

One of hooks' recent works is The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love. It's a hard book to put down if you're a fan of hooks' ideas and of her writing style; it's even harder to put it down if you're a feminist man, I think, because it (so far, but maybe not for long) is rare to get a great books directed at the various problems of masculinity.

In her familiar style, hooks frames her introduction in terms of giving some personal motivation for investigating men and masculinity. She begins her book with this:
When Phyllis Chesler's book About Men was first published more than ten years ago, I was excited. At last, I thought then, a feminist thinker will explain this mystery—men. Back then I had never shared with anyone the feelings I had about men. I had not been able to confess that not only did I not understand men, I feared them. Chesler, with her usual “take no prisoners” daring, I was certain, would not simply name this fear, explain it, she would do much more: she would make men real to me. Men would become people I could talk to, work with, love.(pp xi)


The first thing that strikes me about this introductory paragraph is the degree to which we seem to 'other' each other as men and women. While women are traditionally more likely to be referred to as 'mysterious' and such, part of what hooks is doing in this preface is to give a voice to the fact that women can feel that men are mysterious--that men can be othered by women because, in part, of their feelings of fear.

But why does 'mysterious' come out of that fear, exactly? Why do both men and women 'other' other genders? Why, in fact, do we tend to 'other' any gender that we don't identify as? Part of the reason we do, I think, is because of some deeply-ingrained set of concepts around binary conceptions of gender that sometimes, perhaps oftentimes, lead us astray. It's a lot easier to get into an us/them mentality when there are supposedly easily recognizable ways to distinguish between 'us' and 'them'. So, it seems to me that conceptualizations of gender as a strict binary help to reinforce othering, and to reinforce fear.

And, though I don't really know much about the process of 'othering' as a theorhetical sort of thing, it seems to me that othering is both created by imagined differences and perpetuated by fear of those differences, which is why I bring this up as regards hooks' motivation for examining men and masculinity.

hooks continues:
Her book was disappointing. Filled with quotes from numerous sources, newspaper clippings of male violence, it offered bits and pieces of information; there was little or no explanation, no interpretation. From that time on I began to think that women were afraid to speak openly about men, afraid to explore deeply our connections to them—what we have witnessed as daughters, sisters, grandmothers, mothers, aunts, lovers, occasional sex objects---and afraid even to acknowledge our ignorance, how much we really do not know about men.

Here, it seems at first to me that perhaps hooks is buying into traditional conceptions of gender in order to investigate the "mysterious nature" of men—a "mysterious nature" which many flavors of feminism would note isn't a nature at all, but something constructed by adherence to strict gender binaries (and perpetuated by fear of the "other", I'd say). If men are simply mysterious in some way, then lots of questions are begged, seems to me: Are feminine men less mysterious than masculine ones? What about masculine women? Once we see gender along a continuum, it becomes easier to recongize that there are mysteries enough without utilizing rigid binary categories.

Of course, to say that current conceptions of gender don't reflect the entire reality of the situation but, rather, part of current views based in social epistemology, isn't to dismiss 'the differences between men and women' with a wave of one's hand. Most of us live in a world where the traditional gender binary is thought of as a basic building block of social reality, and we all have to deal with the facts of living in that world. We don't will socially constructed truths in and out of existence on a whim. Money is a construct, too, but that doesn't mean we don't sometimes need it to survive, for instance. So, in this way, men are mysterious to women and women are mysterious to men, and there is some truth there to be told, some problems to be dealt with. As such I think hooks' investigations are worthwhile, valuable and useful, but I also think that the first step to better unraveling these 'mysteries' is to recognize and acknowledge the degree to which they are self-perpetuating social creations.

Carnival of Radical Feminists

There is so much good stuff over at the first edition of the Carnival of Radical Feminists, that I am at a loss as to what to mention. Please read the introduction to the Carnival, to get a sense for where everybody is coming from over there, and I implore y'all to respect the space. Not only is there an amazing depth and breadth of topics, but the women at Women's Space/The Margins obviously worked hard on selecting the pieces and presenting the carnival.

I suppose it would also be apropos to mention that, regarding a post that details violence against Iranian women simply because they are women, the murder of a man for marrying outside of his caste is also detailed:
S Murugesan: Poisoned and burnt for marrying a woman of a higher caste (D. Kannagi above). I am including a man because men also torture and murder men in the interests of preserving male hierarchies. This is very visible in the caste system, but it happens everywhere.

This is an extreme example of how men police other men as regards gender and, in this case, class; many cases of men policing other men around gender are more subtle, of course, but it's important to acknowledge that many aren't subtle at all.

Go check out the carnival.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Men Are Slobs and Women Nag

Given my recent ideas about men and keeping a clean house, it may be somewhat hypocritical for me to note that in one simple panel, the following comic really latches onto some gender stereotypes to the nth degree: Men are slobs who don't pick up their socks (even if they are physically strong enough to lift the entire world), and women are nags about it. And see, the man exists to hold up the world, and the woman exists to nag him about "unimportant" stuff:

From the Projection Booth

(Note: I originally wrote this for my personal blog, but as I finished it up, it seemed at least moderately appropriate for this forum. Hopefully that explains some of the tone.)

When my buddy Dave and I were in college together, we had a running joke, a joke that I may not even be able to explain. But heck, I've blogged about my exercise routines, about my days at work, and even about my dreams--seems like blogging about an old you-had-to-be-there joke isn't completely out of place.

The joke was this: Take something that you want somebody else to do for you, and then invite them to do it by saying "I may just be projecting here, but..." in front of the thing you want them to do. I think it started with something like, "I may just be projecting here, but shouldn't you shut up?"

Now that I think about it, I think the joke was mostly at my expense, a joke about the fact that I used to say, "I may just be projecting here..." in front of all sorts of things I wanted to say.

All of which is by way of introducing this:

I bought Men in Feminism online, used, and it came in the mail yesterday. (Thanks to Andrew for the recommendation.)This isn't a new book, but I hadn't heard of it until I read about it on Andrew's blog. Seemed like something I ought to read. I opened up my new-to-me-but-used-copy and on the front page was the following, written in pretty, almost cutesy handwriting:
Happy Birthday Justin!
I love you!
Jen
2-9-88


And my first thought was: that is the saddest thing I have ever read. Some woman gave Justin this book about men and feminism, gave it to him for his birthday, and what did he do but give it away? I imagined for a moment that Jen got Justin all wrong, and feminism wasn't for him. I imagined that perhaps Justin was one of those "nice guys" who pretended to be into feminism because they thought they could get some points with feminist women (did guys like that exist in 1988?). I imagined several scenarios involving Justin being hurt, Justin being a jerk, it all ending in tears.

And then I realized. This is a book about men and feminism from 1988. Maybe, just maybe what happened is that both men and feminism have moved on since then. Maybe there is lots of good stuff to be mined from this book, but maybe it's just a foundation, and now feminists of all genders have moved on enough that Justin turned to his good friend/lover/wife/fag hag/whatever Jen and said, "You know, I just bet some feminist guy who isn't as steeped in feminism as I am might appreciate reading this book," and Jen turned to him and said, "I'll just bet you're right. You should put it up on half.com."

But maybe I'm projecting.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

More Gender Policing in Comic Strips

Submitted for your perusal:

See, it's funny because he's wearing a dress. Actually, it is sort of funny, mostly because of the expression of frustration (rather than, say, shame) on his face. When I was very little, and we were very poor, my grandmother bought me a snow jacket on sale because I literally didn't have a jacket, and it was snowing where I lived. The one catch: It was bright pink. I'm still disappointed that my mother didn't save a picture of me in that pink jacket. She says that I didn't care one way or another, and she didn't have much of a choice. I sometimes wonder, though, whether that jacket influenced me unduly--I currently have a pink cell phone, for instance.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Men and Feminist Housework

I've recently started reading Jennifer Baumgardner's Look Both Ways: Bisexual Politics. I picked it up for several reasons. First of all, Baumgardner is something of a feminist icon. But also, I read an article she had written (which I have subsequently not been able to find) and I loved her writing style. Mostly, though, I picked it up because of the experiences I've had given that two of my deepest romantic relationships have been with women who identified as, or came to identify as, bisexual (not to mention the interesting conversations I've had with my current cohort, who is able to problematize straight, gay and bi as identities). I don't really have any interest in giving any kind of general book review, but I will say that in general the book resonated with me--Baumgardner manages to cram a lot into the book, and one of the things I like about it is that it is (seems to me) representative of a lot of beginnings of conversations that people can and perhaps ought to be having--but she isn't out to write the end-all be-all of bisexual politics. At first I was bothered by the lack of much of substance as regards bisexual men (and other bisexual-identified people of genders other than female)--and it still bothers me a little bit that the title doesn't make that clear, as I think that's a little misleading--but it seems to me that enough of what she has to say is, as I say, tentative enough to be the beginnings of conversations, and lots of what she has to say, therefore, might be talked about in terms of people of genders other than female in other forums.

Another great facet of the book is Baumgardner's ability to delve into feminism throughout, doing something of a compare and contrast between feminist movement and, say, GLBTQ movements. It's hard for me to talk about any important aspect of life without bringing feminism into it (once you see through the lens of feminism, it's hard to not see the things it reveals), and that idea is reflected in Look Both Ways, as she touches on feminism throughout.

Something she said about what some bi women want reminded me of some conversations I've had around men and housework, and that's something that is often on my brain's back burner. Keep in mind that this is not representative of Baumgardner's entire book, and that she is most definitely not making blanket claims about what women want, what bi-identified women want, or anything of the sort--and I'm sort of taking her out of context anyway, taking something she's said and running with it. She says:
I remember very clearly the day I knew, just knew beyond the shadow of a doubt, that I would never live with the father of my child. It was months before I got pregnant. I was staying at his Brooklyn apartment for a week because a friend had relatives in town who were staying at my place. After a few days of calmly living among th eruins, I snapped. As he was off jogging one morning, I skated around shoeless on wet Swifter pads trying to clean his uncleanable floors. I threw some bleach on the cumbly, coroded tile in the bathroom and began vacuuming the rest of the apartment like a madwoman. He walked in as I was trying to free the assorted bottle caps that had already jammed the vacuum (one false move under the couch yielded a bounty of recycling) and demanded to know what I was doing. I froze, caught in the act. As I put away the vacuum, my socks crunched over a fine scattering of debris. “As God is my witness,” I hissed to myself, “I will not stand in cat litter again!”

...

Soon after my son was born, my mother asked me if I thought the next person I dated would be a man or a woman. My instinct was a man....[h]owever, when I actually thought about what I wanted from a partner, the person I pictured changed. Not all women want this, of course, but I want someone who knows how to make a bed and who agrees with me that even though it will just get messed up that night, it makes sense to straighten it anyway. I want someone who doesn't fear they are a “pussy” if I ask them to help me with an errand. I want someone who will go to the Seneca Falls museum with me. I want someone with whom I can discuss my writing and who will be an intellectual muse. I want someone who will gossip about feminists with me. Apparently, I want a girlfriend. Or a wife. And I'm not the only one.(Pp132)


Housework as Feminism
I don't keep a particularly clean house. Clutter finds me (it seems) no matter how vigilant I am that it won't find me. I'm getting better, but I still have a stack of newspapers, piles of comics, and various empty drinking glasses hanging out around my place. I've worked and worked and worked to try to rid myself of this stuff, and I haven't yet been able to accomplish that to a degree that I'm happy with. Part of what's going on here is straight-up neurosis, I'm convinced: being a packrat could be just a 'quirk', but for me, and for some of the people in my family (thanks for the genes!), it's not a quirk, but rather is an expression of some of the odd ways that my brain deals with being in the world.

Still, part of what's going on with my packrat-ness, I think, is the fact of having been raised a man. When men and women live together, men tend to not do their share of the cleaning, even when both people work outside of the home. Women tend to work a 'second shift' at home in a way that men don't. This is the case even when egalitarianism is something people are interested in and aiming at. Perhaps the trend is slowly shifting, but that still implies that it has to shift—and that means that men tend to not be as interested in cleaning up their living spaces as women are. Or, to put it slightly differently, it may be the case that men don't want or need their spaces to be as clean as women want or need their spaces to be. (But of course, to add this last little bit is to begin to open up the bigger can of worms, because saying that men don't want as much cleanliness isn't the same as saying that men don't tend to do as much cleaning when living with other people. These two ideas are related, but not the same.)

I wonder about the complexities involved in even describing the problem. Let's say just for a moment that the stereotypes tend to hold true. If they do, what are the causes? One cause almost certainly is that men have often grown up in environments where they didn't have to clean as much—the complaints some women have about not wanting to date a guy who needs a mother come into play here. I was raised (mostly) by my mother alone, and even she cleaned up around me. She didn't want to, of course, but she sometimes just got tired of encouraging me and or threatening me, in whatever ways, to do my share. I didn't have any role models of men who cleaned, and I had plenty of media telling me that women did (commercials for cleaning products alone probably did that for me). Well, there was that one Mr. Clean guy, but he seemed to just deliver the cleaners to the girls, and didn't so much actually go out and do the cleaning.

So it may be the case that men and women tend to learn different standards of cleanliness because of sexism—that is, both learn that women should do the bulk of the cleaning, and men, when they find themselves alone, just don't do as much as would be necessary to keep a clean place. And, conversely, women probably keep a cleaner living space than may really be 'necessary', because they are taught that cleaning is their job.

These are all (over)generalizations, of course, but there seems to be some basis of truth in it. I can think of lots of counterexamples from my own life--the cleanest person I ever knew was a guy who was my roommate for a while. Still, I've heard enough times anecdotally about women friends who have troubles getting their partners who are men to do their share, or about having to have conversations about how clean people want things to be that I think there is something to be addressed here. It may be that, for men, keeping a clean house is something of a feminist goal.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Feminist Masculinities

Sara over at F-Words had something interesting to say recently regarding the fact that Andrew Sullivan thinks our modern culture is a"male loathing" culture. Sara's main point here is this:
Are there really enough - and influential enough - feminists who dismiss "maleness as such" that they have created a whole male-loathing culture?
I tend to agree with Sara here, and I think her question speaks volumes as to where Sullivan gets things wrong. More specifically, I think Sullivan is laying the blame for complex and changing conceptions of masculinity at the feet of feminists. It's understandable on some levels as to why he would do this: Feminist critique is one of the central ways in which we all started to question traditional male masculinity. Implicit in Sullivan's line of thinking, though, is the idea that, because feminists helped to start the ball rolling, they are responsible for giving us some 'positive' conceptions of masculinity as well. He says:
The point I was trying to make is that some feminists have tried to problematize maleness as such, without making the significant distinctions my reader rightly highlights. The choice is not "real men" or "metrosexuals." It's more complicated and interesting than that.


And, of course, it is more complicated and interesting than that, oftentimes. But that doesn't draw away from Sara's criticism (that saying "some feminists" is question-begging); nor does it dissuade me from wanting to ask: Who should be redefining masculinity, and how should it be gone about?

Who Should Define Masculinity?
In some ways, this question in something of a non sequitur, or something of a category mistake. What masculinity means is defined, implicitly and explicitly, by all of us, all of the time. This is part of the fallout of what I think is a very strong force in feminism: The dissolution of essentialist perspectives. That is, we don't find masculinity here in the world--we create it. (Actually, it's a combination of both finding and creating, with the caveat that there was no original point at which we found masculinity before we also acted on the concept. The point still stands that any one take on masculinity isn't The Essential Masculinity.) Perhaps more directly to the point, the fact that Sullivan has to talk about what masculinity is at all is in part a result of feminist critique around whether or not it makes sense to think of facets of identity like 'feminine' and 'masculine' as somehow essentially defined, or whether it makes better sense to see these facets of identity as constructed, though pervasive.

Even though feminists may have been instrumental in getting people to understand that traditional masculinity wasn't writ on high, foreverandeveramen, that doesn't mean that feminists alone are responsible for coming up with alternative masculinities. It seems reasonable that feminists could and would have some good things to contribute to a discussion of alternative masculinities (and, it turns out, they sure do!), but there's no reason to believe that it's up to them alone.

That said, I do think that men who identify as feminists have a responsibility to investigate and create alternative masculinities. I don't think they can do it alone, and I don't think they ought to try. Still, from a practical perspective, it makes sense for men to think deeply about traditional masculinity, and to come up with possible alternatives to it (among which might be something like and abandonment of the concept). Given that masculinity isn't just for men, people of all genders will have something important to say about masculinity: But that doesn't leave men off the hook.

Do We Need Alternative Masculinities?
Still, I think that Sullivan stumbles onto something that does need to be addressed, something which has been addressed here on Feminist Allies and other places: Given the critique of traditional masculinities--and given one's own acceptance of that critique as justified in various ways--what are we to look toward as alternatives? Sullivan says:
Masculinity comes in many forms; and it's a sign of our culture's weakness that we tend to see it only in terms of violence, machismo, homophobia, disrespect for women, and so on.
Now, while I certainly don't by any BS about "our culture's weakness", I do think that we need to make alternative masculinities more explicit, and that we have to address the fact that a lot of men who come to dig feminism find themselves struggling with the concept of masculinity, and with their changing feelings of self-worth. In the comments on Sara's original post, Amanda Marcotte notes that only male feminists struggling with their own internalized misogyny have negative things to say about traditional conceptions of maleness:
The only feminists I know who tend to deride maleness are male feminists who are uncomfortable with their own internalized misogyny. I don't think that's "maleness", but it can feel like maleness if you are the trained male in question.
And while I think that Amanda has a point that misogyny can feel equated with maleness when you first start thinking about this stuff, I think that more needs to be said about it. One of the reasons that it can feel like maleness=misogyny is because of a lack of talk about what masculinity ought to be. There's lots of talk about what it shouldn't be, of course, but less about what it should be. Also, I think it's important that when men first do start to recognize their internalized misogyny, if they find feminism to be something worthwhile, they are going to feel uncomfortable with their own internalized misogyny. They had better, at least at first, or they're probably not understanding at least the facets of feminism that reveal misogyny. And, without some positive nontraditional masculinities to learn, feminist men can come to be stuck with feelings of self-loathing, and the sort of misunderstanding about what it means to be a man that Sullivan is trying to point out. So, even if Amanda's implicit point that it's mostly feminist men who are responsible for equating 'maleness' with 'misogyny', we can see where feminist men might come to do this, and why. And again, the reasons point to the fact that feminist men (and other feminists) have some work to do to create alternative masculinities.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Molly Ivins, I Hardly Knew You

Zuzu reminds us that Camille Paglia is still spouting crap, this time making claims which seem to amount to something like: if those teasing women had just had sex with Seung-Hui Cho, we wouldn't find ourselves in the aftermath of a massacre. Echidne has a similar take on things. But it's Clio's comment on the Feministe thread that led me to an article slamming Paglia (written long ago) by Molly Ivins which interested me the most, really. I came late to the party as regards Ivins. Wow, is she scathing, insightful and funny:

The noise is about her oeuvre, as we always say in Lubbock: Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson. In very brief, for those of you who have been playing hooky from the New York Review of Books, Ms. Paglia's contention is that "the history of western civilization has been a constant struggle between two impulses,an unending tennis match between cold, Apollonian categorization and Dionysian lust and chaos." Jeez, me too. I always thought the world was divided into only two kinds of people—those who think the world is divided into only two kinds of people, and those who don't.

One of her latest efforts at playing enfant terrible in intellectual circles was a peppy essay for Newsday, claiming that either there is no such thing as date rape or, if there is, it's women's fault because we dress so provocatively. Thanks, Camille, I've got some Texas fraternity boys I want you to meet.


That's completely harsh, and utterly appropriate, I think.

I will say, however, that I think Paglia reminds me of something that is perhaps tangential to her "point": Whatever the myriad reasons that we can look to by way of explanation for Cho's violent actions, it may be the case that at least some of what he was going through was the difficulty of living up to traditional standards of masculinity. It is of course not the fault of any of the women he knew (or "knew")--to suggest that, as Paglia seems to, would be criminal. By all accounts he was a creepy bastard, and nobody ought to blame the women around him (or the men!) for not wanting to interact with him more. But we might want to ask: why was he a creepy bastard? Additionally, there are lots of creepy bastards out there--why is that?

I'd like to add one more factor to the array of possible reasons why he went off the way he did: a sense of alienation caused by being a man in our society. Just a guess, sure--and any feelings of alienation he was feeling were in turn fueled by lots of complex stuff in his life, depression was apparently a factor, for instance. But I think it's important to recognize that men are taught to be violent--they are taught that violence is a good solution to one's problems, that one can even be righteous in one's violence (which Cho seemed to think correct in his case). This isn't, of course, the only thing that men are taught; but violent solutions are to be found left and right, from one's dad telling one to kick the bully in the balls to one's president invading other countries willy-nilly (and in so doing killing off lots of men and women). So, we start with a culture wherein violence is offered up as a solution.

And then we give men some standards to live up to, many of which are vague and implicit, often only made explicit when men bully other men. Men are put into various pressure-cooker situations, where they aren't given many avenues to express their emotions, their stress. Add to that my earlier point that within certain conceptions of traditional masculinity, violence is considered, in some contexts and against some people, a viable option for dealing with problems--especially if one is a man--it become snot so surprising as we might like it to be that boys and men go around shooting people from time to time.

Which isn't to say that Paglia is right in any way, or that I think some simple explanation/solution is available to us here--but I do think that traditional conceptions of masculinity have a part to play, both in possibly helping to explain Cho's motivations and actions.

Naming Femininity

Marc over at Feminist Dad points to an interesting article that describes briefly a study purported to show that the more 'feminine' a woman's name is, the less likely she will have gone into the sciences:
Scientists have discovered that the 'femininity' of the names given to daughters could decide what career she does in future life and heavily influence what sort of person she eventually becomes. They have shown that those christened 'Isabella' or 'Anna' are not likely to study science because their 'more feminine' first names means they are not encouraged to do so.


I'd be curious to know: Armed with this information, will more people use 'less feminine' names, in order to increase the chances their daughters will be scientists?

(I'd also be curious to know if women with 'more feminine' names are less likely to get hired as scientists--there may be scads of Isabella's out there with PhD's in physics who don't get the jobs.)

(Also: Apropos of nothing, "Alex" is one of the 'least feminine' names. ;)

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Happy May Day!

If you benefit from an 8-hour workday, then you should be celebrating today!

Also, I'm glad to see that modern socialists are better at recognizing the diverse sorts of oppression that people of various genders may experience:
Marxism seeks not to separate exploitation from issues of oppression, but to show how they are connected, and how the solution to one cannot be separated from the solution to the other. It is not Marxism, but its critics, who tend to put the working class over on one side and the oppressed over on the other. But workers are men, women, gay, straight, Black, white, brown, speaking many different languages and coming from many different nationalities. If the working class is to successfully challenge capitalism, it must overcome these divisions. On this basis alone, it is essential to recognize the sources of division and inequality inside the working class if a strategy is to be devised to overcome them. Socialism is not only a theory of the liberation of the working class. It is a theory of the liberation of the working class as the foundation for the liberation of all of humanity--and not only from class exploitation, but all forms of oppression. As Lenin writes in his book What is to Be Done, “Working-class consciousness cannot be genuine political consciousness unless the workers are trained to respond to all cases of tyranny, oppression, violence, and abuse, no matter what class is affected.” The working class can only lead a popular revolution if it is capable of fighting not only around economic demands, but for the interests of all the oppressed. It would be a strange if this were not the case.


And:
Sexism, national oppression and racism affect people of all classes in the oppressed group--but it affects them in very different ways. The wealthy experience oppression far more lightly than do the poor and working class. Rich women can get abortions even if they are illegal, whereas poor women cannot. Only poor Black men are given the death penalty. Wealthy African Americans can afford good lawyers. Moreover, Black and women capitalists actually benefit from the way racism and sexism divide the working class and keeps them down. They may chafe an the inequality they face, but they defend the system that depends on oppression in the first place, and therefore are only willing to accept limited changes that do not alter capitalist social relations.