Thursday, June 28, 2007

On Ogling and Appreciation

[This is cross-posted to my blog]

There was an article today in the Toronto Star about Hollaback Canada, and about the wider issue of when it is and is not appropriate to ogle people on the street1. The article was titled "When does looking become a leer?", and touches on something I started writing months ago, and never finished. First, though, if you are a woman in Canada, I would recommend that you bookmark Hollaback Canada, and next time you're sexually harassed send in a submission to shame your harasser. If you're in New York City, visit Hollaback NYC, and if you're elsewhere look for a Hollaback site linked from there. If there is no Hollaback site for your city or region, start your own!




One of the difficulties many men have with feminism seems to be a perceived attack on their sexuality. For instance, men who consider pornography an intrinsic part of male sexuality are likely to get pissed off when someone asserts that porn is wrong as a rule. On an even more extreme angle, some believe that fantasies involving rape, pedophilia or bestiality are perfectly okay, and that anyone who tries to suppress these "perfectly normal" urges is denying them an essential part of their sexuality.

What I want to examine is a milder, but similar, issue. The question I want to ask is: where is the line between sexual objectification and aesthetic appreciation? Somewhere along the continuum from sexual repression to sexual overtness, I feel, there must be an acceptable middle ground. It should be obvious that, at one extreme, externalizing every little sexual impulse we have by yelling "hey baby" at women we pass on the street is wrong. At the other extreme, completely denying our own sexualities2 by refusing to look directly at women is unhealthy. Is there some middle ground where we can acknowledge our own sexualities without contributing to the environment of oppression and abuse of women that we live in? Is this continuum perhaps flawed in some meaningful way?

Here's where I'm coming from: I am sexually active, in a committed relationship, and I enjoy looking at people I consider beautiful. However, I have a great dislike of making others uncomfortable, and I know that being checked out by a stranger does make many people uncomfortable. When I do look at someone in a sexual way I don't (I think) do it in an objectifying way: I take care to not look at them as a sexual object, there for my enjoyment, but I do take advantage of the fact that they have certain sexual characteristics that happen to be where I can (visually) enjoy them.

So whenever I do feel like taking an eyeful of someone I am conscious not only of how I look at them and what I am thinking, but also of how I might be making them feel. I generally wait until they will not notice me looking, or else look away quickly. I also make an effort to keep other people in the area from feeling uncomfortable at having an ogler in their midst: I don't want someone to think "ugh, that creep is staring at that person over there -- will he be staring at me if I turn my back?"

So I go to all this trouble to reassure myself that my looking at someone isn't misinterpreted as lechery and objectification. One might ask: is it really wrong to look at someone one finds attractive, intriguing or whatever? Well, yes and no. Or rather, it can be. The important thing is, as it often is, to take into account the feelings and reactions of everyone involved and to remember that, as in any social interaction, both parties are participating.

I spend a fair amount of time watching people watching people3, and a few things occur to me as ways to differentiate looking and leering, ogling and appreciation. I find it least offensive when the observer:

  1. engages the other person. Rather than staring at a woman's chest or rear as she walks by, it can be less threatening -- and certainly less gross -- when a guy looks her in the eyes and smiles a bit. This acknowledges her part as a conscious participant in the interaction (note that saying or doing something for the sole purpose of getting a reaction is not engaging someone meaningfully). Where this gets a little creepy is if the smile is too intense, or lasts too long (see point 2). The observer has to use his discretion and remain aware that the other person has feelings about the interaction, too.

  2. doesn't linger. Without reciprocation, a short glance is about the limit of respectfulness in most of North America. Beyond that we're in the realm of staring, which is not only rude, but can send an "I might be dangerous" signal. I've seen people give a quick little smile, and I've seen people grin uncontrolledly. The second is creepy. The first can be kinda hot.

  3. makes no imposition. In general, any speech falls into the category of imposition. Really, there's no way to verbalize "I find you attractive" to a stranger that doesn't come across as creepy or worse. This is doubly true of actions such as standing in someone's way and forcing them to walk around you, and actually having the nerve to touch them is right off the chart.

  4. has no expectations. Here's the punchline, which a lot of people seem to ignore. Nobody is going to sleep with you because you looked them up and down on the street. No woman has ever been suddenly filled with a desire to sleep with a man who leaned out of his car and yelled something incoherent at her. And, perhaps barring the stupidest of the stupid, no man has ever thought she would. When it comes down to it, this sort of behaviour is not an expression of sexual desire, but of dominance. The only times I've seen people act respectfully while looking at others like this is when there is no implied expectation that something more might, or ought to, happen.



It is true that when someone gets dressed up to look nice, they are often pleased when they get some attention in exchange. Even if they haven't put any effort into it (or perhaps especially so!) it can be nice to notice that someone has checked you out. But at some point when the checking out is persistent, lewd or otherwise inappropriate, it crosses the line to harassment.

So here's where I'd like to hear from people. What, to you, is the line between looking and leering? What should one bear in mind, what should one take into consideration?


1 Thanks to HBCanada for the tip-off. You can also read some asshole's response, sent anonymously from a throwaway Hotmail account. I really don't feel like going through this email line by line and pointing out exactly what's wrong with its "if women don't want to be harassed they shouldn't dress like sluts" rape-apologist reasoning. Perhaps another time.

2 Note that here I am specifically referring to men who are sexually attracted to women; the dynamics of objectification among gay men are very different.

3 I used to like sitting in public places and watching people go by. At some point I discovered that it could be much more amusing to watch other people as they watch people go by.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Lio vs. Domestic Violence

Though I'm pretty easy when it comes to comics (I even still read Garfield once in a while), I've never liked The Lockhorns, from the time I was a kid right up until now. The 'humor' of people who live in a loveless relationship just never seemed funny to me, somehow.

Now I understand the truth of it all, thanks to Lio:

Monday, June 25, 2007

An "It's Still Officially Monday, Even If It Is Almost 10PM" bell hooks Monday -- SeeingLove, and a Revolution of Values

"Only a revolution of values in our nation will end male violence, and that revolution will necessarily be based on a love ethic. To create loving men, we must love males. Loving maleness is different from praising and rewarding males for living up to sexist-defined notions of male identity. Caring about men because of what they do for us is not the same as loving males for simply being. When we love maleness, we extend our love whether males are performing or not. Performance is different from simply being. In patriarchal culture males are not allowed simply to be who they are and to glory in their unique identity. Their value is always determined by what they do. In an antipatriarchal culture males do not have to prove their value and worth. They know from birth that simply being gives them value, the right to be cherished and loved." --bell hooks, The Will to Change, pp11

I have to say both that I love it when hooks gets all utopian (with a plan!), and also I cringe, because I can't stop worrying about the devil hiding in the details. But for a moment, let's revel in the utopian idea of creating an antipatriarchal culture. (Not that I think such a culture is impossible, just that there is so far to go, and we've got so few ideas about which paths to take, that it feels like it might be impossible.) I want to suggest that, though hooks is generally aiming her book at women as an audience, let's start thinking about more and more ways that we can create loving, caring men by caring and loving men. (And, of course, it's probably important at some point to learn to love masculinity, positive masculinity, whether we find it in somebody who identifies as a man, as a woman, or as somebody of another gender.)

Lately I've had some very personal examples of this in my friend who is the parent of a three year old little boy. There are lots of times where he (and I, as an honorary uncle) reinforce traditional gender roles in negative ways, I'm sure, though it's something I guard against in myself. But there are times when my friend is just so darn good with his son, so loving with his son, that I love him for it. When he patiently gives his son a couple of time-outs in a row—and on some days patience of that sort doesn't come easily for anybody—it makes me love him more. Sure, he roughhouses with the kid in a way that makes me wonder if he would treat a daughter the same (I think he would), but the fact that he also has a gentleness with his son at times, a patience, makes me notice how different that he is from the men of my childhood, and how different he is from many of the men I see interacting with their kids today.

And, lest I be accused of judging my friend based on what he is doing, rather than because of some intrinsic value--well, I don't really believe in intrinsic values. But because I'm just going (for the moment) with what hooks is suggesting, my point is that my friend could be performing traditional masculinity at every turn--instead of giving his son a time-out, he could be beating him, as fathers often do, asserting his power over the kid through physical and emotional violence, and at the same time 'making a man out of him'. Instead, he choses to treat his son like he has value (intrinsic?) as a human being, and as such gets treated like one. The kid needs discipline, sure, but that doesn't mean he needs for his father to make a man out of him, in the traditional sense.

And of course, apropos of hooks' point, above, one of the lovely things about how my friend treats his son is that, in treating his son this way, he increases the likelihood that his son will, in turn, become a loving man, a man who is capable of both accepting and giving love. A man who will, perhaps, raise some loving kids of his own, boys and girls who have a better chance at creating and/or living in an antipatriarchal culture.

It's all much more complex than that, of course, but still—one has to begin somewhere, and loving my friend for loving his son so well is one good place to start.

In the Great Blogging Tradition...

...I hereby apologize for the lack of posting. I've been sick. Hope to get things back on track this week!

Monday, June 18, 2007

bell hooks Monday: Who Is Responsible for Change?

More from bell hooks' The Will to Change:
"Women and men alike in our culture spend very little time encouraging males to learn to love. Even the women who are pissed off at men, women most of whom are not and maybe never will be feminist, use their anger to avoid being truly committed to helping to create a world where males of all ages can know love. And there remains a small strain of feminist thinkers who feel strongly that they have given all they want to give to men; they are concerned solely with improving the collective welfare of women. Yet life has shown me that any time a single male dares to transgress patriarchal boundaries in order to love, the lives of women, men and children are fundamentally changed for the better."(pp10)


I applaud hooks for encouraging men to learn to change--to learn to love others, to be loved, and to love themselves. I applaud her for recognizing that sometimes women don't give much encouragement to men in order for them to change--I think it's important for we men to recognize this and to talk about it. I don't think I agree with some of her conclusions, however: Just because if women gave men more encouragement to change it would make changing easier for men doesn't mean that that is the job of women.

That things get better when men learn to love doesn't entail that it is the job of all women everywhere to encourage men to learn—that is, there is room enough for groups of women, I think, even large groups of women, who spend their time and emotional energy on improving the lives of women through avenues other than helping men learn how to love. I think that helping men learn to love and be loved is worth the time and energy, my time and energy, and I think that it's likely necessary in order to have the sort of egalitarianism that I want the world to have along gender lines. But that doesn't mean that I think everybody ought to be spending all of their time doing it—in fact, I think more of the burden remains on men; to the extent that men benefit from patriarchal culture,the burden remains mostly on men to change culture in such a way that patriarchal norms that don't allow men to love and be loved in more ways are left behind. And while I think it is important to note that somewhere along the way, men of course need women to help them understand and accomplish these changes, that doesn't mean that we have to wait for women to embrace us, to 'give us a cookie' for making these changes; we can make a start, and include the women who want to be included, as they come.

Is it tough to make these changes in the face of not getting encouraged by (some)women (some of the time)? Sure. One wants one's efforts to bear fruit, and to be recognized. But it seems to me that making just about any change away from the status quo is going to be painful for those who have been reaping the rewards--that's part of why it's a freakin' challenge to change the status quo.

So, while I'm all for noting that both men and women embrace patriarchy at various times, and that men who are willing to change oftentimes get less-than-encouraging results from other men, from women, from society at large, I think it's important to recognize that men can still make a lot of good change happen, and that it is their responsibility to do so. When we have women support those changes, that is fantastic; I don't think that it's their job to do so.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Happy Birthday to Us

It's gone by so quickly, I don't think any of us noticed that this groupblog is over a year old last May.

I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you to anybody who has ever read this blog, to my other contributers, but most of all to those of you who have taken the time to comment (even you, Daran!). I enjoy the discussion that blogs can sometimes engender quite a bit, so that part of this blog is the best part for me.

I would also like to take this opportunity to ask all y'all: What would make this blog better? What topics do y'all want to hear about? Aside from our crappy blogger design and basic functionality, what would you change about the blog? Would you prefer fewer, but longer posts?

And, considering we're still having trouble (in my opinion) getting enough posts from enough different people, and we are lacking diversity on some fronts, is there anybody else out there who might like to talk to us about joining up?

I'm going to go blow out the candle now -- Happy Birthday (Late) Feminist Allies!

It's a Good Day

Turns out that Amanda Marcotte (of Pandagon Fame) and Lauren Bruce (founder of Feministe and Faux Real) are blogging together at Unsprung, a blog whose subject is "political writing for parents that don't suck". It's full of good stuff already, including Lauren's views on the intricacies of the issues surrounding people who don't want kids and those who have 'em. She dexterously avoids any "mommy-war" talk, and gets to some of the heart of the matter.

But of course, I'm mostly just happy that she'll be blogging regularly again. And I hope to hear more wisdom from her 7 year old, Ethan, who has already figured out the truth about Santa.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Allies Listen

Over at Woman of Color Blog, brownfemipower has an absolutely fantastic post up--it's a terribly comprehensive response to how some men of color who are fighting for equality don't understand (and/or don't care about) the ways in which they harm some women of color along the way. You really should go read the whole thing, but for our purposes, I want to comment on a couple of specific passages:

And yet it is something I rarely hear men of color activists talk about–and when they do, more times than not, it’s in a very specific sense–women as hyper victims of European colonization, or women as loyal supporters of national liberation. Specifically, women have been brutalized beyond all sense of the word by white people, and therefore that brutalization stands as proof of the ultimate evil of white people. OR, we are all comrades in the fight–we are all working together for the common goal of “liberation”–liberation that happens to require women reinforce a certain gender role that many women may not want to reinforce.


and

We know the little boy that was raped by priests until he killed himself with alcohol or drugs. We know the little boy that had his penis cut off because he whistled at a white woman. We know his father who had his own genitals ripped off and shoved in his mouth right before he was set on fire. We know how your (not work safe)painful history is appropriated (just like ours) by people that would do you harm and revel in it[...]And why don’t you all position yourselves as the sexualized victim of white men? Is it because you do not want to be defined by your violation? Is it because you don’t want to use the pain of your brother to make a political point? Is it because you don’t want to be a victim, like a woman? Why do you think we want to be defined by ours? Why do you think it’s ok to make a political point with our pain? And why don’t you want to be like a woman? Is there something wrong with women?


I think that, as men who strive for social justice, we all have to take special care to check our male privilege, to have others around us who will help us to check it, and to not subjugate anybody's goals for justice beneath our own. I bring this in to Feminist Allies primarily because of the power of brownfemipower's words, but also because I want to draw attention to the somewhat ad hoc lines that I (and others) sometimes draw around feminism, as if struggles against patriarchy and struggles against racism were two totally different things. They aren't, of course, and as feminist men, we also need to be men who are anti-racist, anti-classist, anti-heterosexist and the like.

And we can certainly learn some of what it means to be/become all of these things by continuing to listen and interact with women who have such powerful things to say.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Places of Men in Feminism

Stealing Jeff's topic for a moment I'd like to try to address what I see as Men's Places in Feminism and some related issues. Men's work to end rape, domestic violence, child abuse and indeed male violence directed at other males has been generally limited to a few strong groups and a few more short-term efforts.

One example of a wonderful men's group has been the Men's Resource Center of Western Massachusetts (http://www.mrcforchange.org/) which had the leadership of a wonderful man Steven Botkin and others around him starting in 1982 and continues to this day. The MRC has dealt with racism (also) and other issues connecting them with sexism most effectively. Far more common than the MRC have been efforts mostly of several years or less often on college campuses in the U.S. which often flounder when their initial leadership graduates or otherwise moves on.

Individual men also do wonderful things! John Stoltenberg has done a variety of wonderful things focussing on pornography and other parts of "maleness".

Underneath these types of efforts women have largely created the modern feminist movement and done the work to push things forward with minimal male support and almost no parallel work done by men.

I don't see this changing significantly until a lot more men start seeing traditional masculinity as problematic and seriously work towards change. I believe that to do serious work most men are going to need to do work with other men initially. As we learn to work with other men we can begin to become real allies of women and build coalitions with groups that are predominantly female.

Where we try to jump into women's groups and work with women we often have problems. Most men have a lot to work out within ourselves related to our masculinity and how we relate to women as well as other men. When we try to work out our issues within women's groups we repeat the pattern of women needing to educate men about our feelings and many other related issues.

When we've done serious work with other men we may become able to work with women's groups either as a part of them or as their ally from outside.

Undoubtedly there are individual men who can work with women without going through the necessity of working with men. Since many of the problems related to feminism require work with men it would seem logical for most men supportive of feminism to try to work with other men.

Whether women and women's groups should let men in depends greatly on many factors. There are situations like women's health clubs where men intrude upon women's space and make it much harder for women to focus on their physical and emotional health.

"Separatism" can be many different things. It can be a way for oppressed people to deal with their oppression in a safe environment. It can be an escape from one's past - hurts and pain - which may not make one well, but allow one to survive and cope.

For men being apart from women can be good in some circumstances and bad in others. Where we work on our issues and confront and support each other moving forward to the point where we can more effectively work towards positive change being apart from women can be helpful. Where we take male privilige, particularly where combined with White Privilige and the priviliges of Wealth, we can oppress others and help perpetrate sexism, racism and classism.

Often people have both privilige and oppression within themselves. White Women have White Privilige. Black Men have (some) privilige by being Male in a culture where Maleness is valued. We should not presume to know which oppressions are more hurting to others.

As men I believe that we need to build a movement or a set of movements amongst ourselves to help allow us to be better allies of women, children and other men. While it would be nice if we could move in a "feminist" direction out of concern for women and girls, I think it far more likely that we will find paths towards our successful future looking initially at men and boys and how we are hurting. Until we can see how we as Males are hurt by our "Maleness" and understand the desirability of making changes in our own lives, it is difficult to see how we will en masse support women and girls in important and necessary ways.

Boys and men - hurt and kill each other fighting in many ways, both physically and psychologically. We have attention deficit problems as young children. We have other problems as we grow up and become men. We don't seek medical attention often, shortening our lives and making the quality of our lives less than it could easily be.

When we see how "Maleness" hurts us we often can appreciate others much more easily. Then we can be better allies of the women in our lives as well as other women we may want to work with.

I also think that as men we learn far too often to see the world Only through our immediate lives. We become concerned about children when we approach fatherhood, but not when we aren't fathers. We become concerned about the elderly when we have an elderly parent or approach old age ourselves.

To become true allies we will need to learn to be more holistic in our priorities. I know I've been myopic in these ways far too often in my life.

I wouldn't want to discourage women's groups from seeking men to join them however they can do so. I would be pleasantly surprised where they will have significant successes, but small successes can help bring about positive change.

I hope that I will do better. I hope that we as men will do better.

I have only addressed a little in what I've written above. Others may also see things very differently. That's fine!

Thanks!

If Yer In New York City This Weekend...

sassywho helpfully points us to an interesting gathering of men: Black and Male in America, A 3-Day Conference

C.D. Knight, of Other and Beyond Real Men, organized the event. If you're around, go show your support. (Note, apropos of an ongoing discussion about women's and men's only spaces, that Saturday is men-only.)

Michael Eric Dyson is the closing night speaker. Sigh. Here I am stuck on the left coast.

Places for Men within Feminism

In the comments, Mona asks:
in the context of "bla bla bla" I'd like to hear your thoughts on this: http://dinahproject.com/articles_view_details.asp?id=117
do men have a place in every female struggle? Is it not just soft patriarchy?


Mona, I apologize. I have worked and reworked a post about what I think about the place of men in feminism, of female-only spaces and the like, but I must admit that the whole damn thing is just way too complex for me at the moment. I mean, I have done some thinking on it, and have some intuitions about it all (which basically boil down to 'people who self-identify should be the ones to decide who gets included'--but this has the problem of being self-referential, because there are self-identified feminists out there who I hesitate to include in my flavors of feminism, so it doesn't really get me very far). I realized the limits of my thinking on all of this when I came across a lot of angry, anti-trans vitriol in what can often be a fantastic space for women, Women's Space/The Margins:
The next thing that we’ll hear is that as women, before we ask a woman to perform for, or speak to us, we will need to submit a bio and an outline of her political views and activism to local transgender activists for their approval, otherwise we will be boycotted, attacked, harrassed, and lied about. I sued the Religious Right for this kind of behavior 13 years ago. And I won. This is colonizing behavior. It is cultural imperialism. The members of a community themselves, when we are talking about a marginalized, oppressed, people group, as lesbians are, as women are, have a right to autonomy, self-definition and the defining of our own in-group/out-group boundaries.


It's well and good to say that being who 'are lesbians' have a right to self-definition, but it begs the question: who 'are lesbians'. MTF trans women sometimes identify as lesbians. Do they have a right to self-definition? If so, then why don't some of the women in radical feminist circles consider them lesbians, much less women? If not, why not?

But I'll write more about it later, because, obviously, my thoughts are evolving on it all.

What counts as a women's only space? Who counts as women? What counts as a feminist space? Who counts as feminists? I'm only beginning to understand the situation, I think, and probably should frame anything I say about it in those terms--that I'm learning. Only within the past few years did I come to understand the usefulness/need for women's only spaces (heck, and men's only spaces, too). But I'll think some more on it, and perhaps get some help from my groupblog friends and commentors as well (hint, hint).

Monday, June 11, 2007

bell hooks Monday -- Talking About Men's Pain

I've missed a few weeks of bell hooks Mondays but seeing as the last two bell hooks Mondays posts haven't garnered much in the way of comments (no offense to Hugh, the lone commenter), I suppose it hasn't been missed!

Still, I've missed it, so here's some more commentary about The Will to Change. (And, depending on how it all plays out, y'all may hear about this book from Andrew over at Man in Self-Arrest about The Will to Change as well.)

In chapter one, hooks plunges headfirst into what I see as both a necessary and extremely problematic subject as regards feminism: Speaking to the pain that patriarchy causes men, and speaking about it in feminist circles. Early on, hooks notes:
“The reality is that men are hurting and that the whole culture responds to them by saying, “Please do not tell us what you feel.” I have always been a fan of the Sylvia cartoon where two women sit, one looking into a crystal ball as the other woman says, “He never talks about his feelings.” And the woman who can see the future says, “At two P.M. All over the world men will begin to talk about their feelings—and woman all over the world will be sorry.”


Seeing as I love comic strips, I wish I could find this particular Sylvia comic, but I have searched a bit to no avail.

A few words about the idea that the 'whole culture' is telling men "please do not tell us what you feel" are in order, I think. There are plenty of counterexamples to this, individual examples in my own life and in the culture at large which go against what hooks is saying here. That said, I think it's hard to argue against the idea that the general tone of most cultures is to stifle men as regards expressing their emotions. The strong, silent type is often thought of as the pinnacle of manhood. I would love to hear that hooks is wrong in some general sense here, but I have not yet run into many examples which would show us that she is. And even exceptions to this general rule in my own life--times and places where good friends have encouraged me to express myself, to cry, to let them help me bear my pain (even though bearing pain alone is what men are taught they're supposed to do)--even these exceptions tend to be exceptions in a larger sense, too; that is, even in the flow of my life, with friends who are aware of the trappings of traditional masculinity, it isn't the norm for me, as a man, to express my feelings to a great degree.

hooks goes on to lament the role that women have played in helping to encourage men to keep their feelings bottled up, and I do want to talk about that because I think it's important, but I think it may be more important that men talk to other men about this, that men encourage other men to speak their feelings. Sure, it's important that men and women be able to encourage each other to live full, rich, emotional lives--but I place a good deal of the burden of changing men's attitudes toward this among men themselves.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Street Politics, Redux

I am a sort of a kindness junky. One of my biggest guilty pleasures is the feeling of of having brightened someone's day. This isn't always a virtue; first of all, my urge to perform random acts of kindness is sometimes actually a disguised urge to avoid the work in front of me. Second, It exacerbates my pre-exisitng tendency to be a backseat driver. I haven't been perfect about making sure my help is appreciated, or even particularly helpful. It also leads me, on occasion, to get in over my head, as when I promise to teach someone something I don't actually understand myself.

Nevertheless, I persevere. Never is my campaign of minor charity so evident as when I'm traveling the city. It's one of the few times in my life I am really on my own (homeschooling will do that). Thus, I can go out of my way without inconveniencing anyone else. Further, it doesn't take long for me to get bored and lonely. Keeping an eye out for travelers in need keeps me busy, and actual intervention presents an opportunity for human contact.

Thus, in the span of the last few months, I have carried bags for an elderly passenger, narrowly saved a South Asian traveler from missing a train, walked someone to a station, interpreted subway, and otherwise assisted at least a half-dozen harried travelers.

I've been doing this since at least last year. Last year, it occurred to me that it might be interesting to keep some statistics on the identities of those I helped. I soon forgot about it, and never finished my analysis.

I do remember quite clearly, though, that an overwhelming majority have been female-- perhaps a 2- or 3- to 1 ratio. I also know that virtually none have been black.

I haven't worked out quite what I feel about that.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Talking with Strangers about Feminist Men

Snippet of a conversation I had with a woman who was sitting next to me, while we waited for the play to begin:

(We talked for a bit about what we each did for a living--she's a teacher and a director of plays, I explained I had sold-out and was doing technical writing stuff.)
Her: So, you don't do philosophy anymore?
Me: Not in any official capacity. I tend to be more interested these days in feminist theory.
Her: Oh. (long pause) I'm not sure I like it when men get involved in feminist theory. I dated this guy who was very into feminist theory, and it turned out that he just had issues with women in general.
Me: Yeah, it's something that I'm constantly second-guessing myself on, questioning my actions and my motives. A lot of men come to understand feminism because of their own issues with interacting with women.
Her: ...yeah.


At that point the woman on the other side of me began talking with me, briefly, and the original conversation was ended--it's too bad in a way, because that's exactly the point where some great follow-up could have been had. But it was also the point at which I felt a wall go up, and I'm often torn about what to do about walls like that.

Thing is, I completely understand her reaction. I've met men like the one she mentioned again and again. I've met that sort of man in myself, from time to time. As much as I'd like to believe that I'm not one of those guys, the truth of the matter is that any of us men who are interested in justice along the lines that feminism is involved with it, we're never going to be one or the other: Enlightened Male Feminists or Hypocritical Nice Guys. Rather, we're likely to always be a mix of the two, jumping back and forth due to our upbringing, the complexities of feminism itself, and our own blind spots.

How does one deal with the skepticism, right off the bat, that one might find out in the world, talking to strangers about being a feminist man? How does one deal with one's own skepticism about one's own motives? For me, the partial answer is: Conversation with others, and with myself. And then more conversation. Another piece of the answer is: doing rather than talking about. If I spend a good deal of my time trying to educate myself and others (especially other men) about feminism, then that really ought to be all I have to say about the matter, in some ways.

But I'm curious to hear what other feminist (or pro-feminist) men have done in similar situations...

Valenti vs. Colbert

Everybody wins:

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Carnival Alert

Lots of good stuff over at the 2nd Carnival of Radical Feminists. Go check it out.

Standing Up to Bullies

In general, I tend to love Tom Tomorrow. At times his strip, This Modern World, oversimplifies and gets a big lefty-preachy, but sometimes I like lefty-preachy, at least as a change of pace from right-ish-preachy. But mostly he just has great biting satire, like this strip about an election on another planet that closely mirrors our own.

And I also like that he's not afraid to take on the Dems when they screw up, as in this strip:


However, I do think that Tomorrow is buying into the false 'tough guy/wimp' dichotomy here in a way that really undermines his point. He's suggesting that Bush Jr. is a bully, and I think that characterization tends to stand, and is shown in his actions. But then at the same time he's also characterizing Reid as a wimp. Sure, Bush Jr. likely does see himself as a tough-guy, and he has gone to great lengths to paint himself that way, but, angry as I am at Reid and other Dems for backing down on timetables for withdrawing troops from Iraq, I don't want to buy into the tough-guy/wimp idea. Reid, one hopes, isn't worried about being construed as a tough guy or a wimp when he makes his decisions--hopefully he's making political decisions based on political expediency, and on some, dare I say it, philosophical foundations (useless war is bad, mmmmkay?). I'm all for taking Reid to task for not standing up to the bully that is Bush Jr.--I'm just not interested in calling him a wimp because of it. I'm interested in calling him the ex-Senate Majority leader.