"The women of Bikini Kill let guitarist Billy Karren be in their feminist punk band, but only if he's willing to just "do some shit." Being a feminist dude is like that. We may ask you to "do some shit" for the band, but you don't get to be Kathleen Hannah."--@heatherurehere

Friday, November 30, 2007

16 Days, Day 6 -- Men Doing Feminist Work: A Call to Men

In the spirit of 16 Days of Action Against Gender Violence, this week's Men Doing Feminist Work focuses on a group of men doing work on men's violence against women. I discovered this group because of Melissa over at Shakesville. She's got their great 10 Things Men Can Do To End Men's Violence Against Women list up over there (which she got via Kevin, who got it via Donna Darko), but the site is full of other good information as well, like this list of places to get statistics about men's violence against women.

In addition to all of that, they have a freakin' Hip Hop CD. (Sure, it's done with what is -- to me, the atheist that I am -- a creepy "Christian" slant, but the world needs more socially conscious music in general, so I'm not complaining.)

Go check 'em out.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Intersectionality: Conversations We (Still) Need to Be Having

Yet another reason that y'all should be reading Slant Truth: Kevin just knows how to find good posts by others that may otherwise have slipped under the radar of those of us who are not diligent as he is about keeping the intersections of race and gender in mind. This time he points us to a great post by Vox of Vox ex Machina which makes it very clear that we need many more in-depth, open discussions about the intersections of race and gender while we go about doing feminist work.

From Vox:
My patriarchy looks a lot different from theirs. My patriarchy has propped itself up with sexism, yes, but also with racism, homophobia, classism, ablism, organized religion (just because I’m Catholic doesn’t mean I can’t criticize the Church and organized Christianity in general — oh no, circular firing squad!). My patriarchy keeps anyone who isn’t a wealthy, able-bodied, straight, white, Christian male down by turning them against each other — not via “circular firing squads” but by teaching them that the world is, excuse the pun, “black and white.” That there are hard definitions to movements, and that solidarity is presenting a united front and hiding the tensions and turmoils within. It’s not.
Please go read the whole post, which also serves as a good roundup about one particular discussion around race and feminism, while pointing to the larger discussion that needs to be happening.

16 Days, Day 5: Men Against Sexual Violence

Another great resource to consider, in the spirit of 16 Days of Action Against Gender Violence is the group Men Against Sexual Violence. Based in Pennsylvania and put forth as a resource for Pennsylvanians, I still find their site to be full of great information and support. They also focus not only on violence against women but violence against men, as well as focusing on what men can do to help prevent such violence. From their site:
It is estimated that 876,064 rapes of adult American women, and 111,298 rapes of adult American men occur each year. Traditionally, participants in the anti-sexual violence movement have focused efforts on treating those individuals whose lives have been permanently altered by perpetrators of sexual violence, and much progress has been made toward helping survivors, convicting perpetrators, and raising awareness of this horrible epidemic. However, the number of sexual assaults has not declined since the anti-sexual violence movement was begun in earnest in the 1970’s. Children, women, and men still fall victim to an unimaginable number of sexual crimes in our state and across the United States daily. Therefore, a new strategy must be utilized in order to address the issue of sexual violence. It is necessary that we as males of all ages recognize that we need to take part in the struggle to end sexual violence. We need to become aware that there is a problem. We need to talk to our friends, our children, our wives, our mothers, and our peers in order to spread the message that rape and sexual violence are problems that will not go away without a collective commitment to end the problem.
I would add that we need to seek out multiple strategies for dealing with these myriad problems, and I'm always happy to find men doing feminist work to help do so.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

16 Days, Day 4: What Men Can Do: Recognize Violence by Men Against Men as a Feminst Issue

I try to do a regular Wednesday thing about "What Men Can Do" as feminist allies. This week, we'll focus on something that I think men can do to engage in feminist practices around gendered violence, in the spirit of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence. The subject of men's violence against men is, for me, a feminist issue, and is also something that often get overlooked, even among people working on recognizing and fighting gender violence.

Gender Violence Also Means Violence Against Men by other Men
While I think that violence against women by men is rightly the primary focus of much feminist work to be done around violence, and I don't think that claims about violence by men against women ought to be responded to by noting other ways that violence happens (men cause violence against other men, women cause violence against men, people on the transgender spectrum are also harmed,violence by women against women is too-often ignored by feminists and queer communities, etc.), I do think that all of the various kinds of violence warrant some of our attention. As men who are feminist allies, we have a responsibility to address violence committed by men, including violence against women, but also including (but not limited to) violence against other men.

Men's violence against other men often gets overlooked as some sort of grownup version of boys-will-be-boys. Men police their own gender by beating up men who are seen as less than manly (which usually means 'feminine' in some way). Men get raped by other men, and when this fact isn't overlooked, it is often treated as a joke (heard any good 'don't-drop-the-soap-in-prison jokes, lately?). And, though some may argue for or against feminists spending more or less time on this issue, it's always important to recognize that a good deal of violence by men against men has some of the same causal roots that men's violence against women has: The policing of traditional masculinity. To 'be a man' has come to mean, at many times and in many ways, dominating others--and this can include dominating people of all genders through violence. Lots of this dominating/policing takes the form of simple, brutal physical violence. To the extent that we ignore this, we risk continuing various cycles of violence by men, against people of all genders. And one of the best tools we have for rooting out this sort of policing is feminism.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

16 Days, Day 3: Engender Health's Men As Partners Program

Hopefully by now everybody has been made aware of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence. As we tend to talk about gender violence a lot in the land of feminist blogs, it may be more helpful if more people who write primarily personal or political blogs, which may or may not be feminist, to be talking about gender violence, but that, of course, doesn't mean we should avoid talking about it for these 16 days.

For my part, during the 16 Days, I'd like to point people to various resources for men around the issue of gender violence. The 16 Days site has a good list of resources for men, which I'm working from.

Engender Health's Men As Partners Program
From their site:
Around the world, women carry disproportionate responsibility for reproductive health and family size. And while women receive the bulk of reproductive health education, including family planning information, gender dynamics can render women powerless to make decisions. Men often hold decision-making power over matters as basic as sexual relations and when and whether to have a child or even seek health care. But most reproductive health programs focus exclusively on women. EngenderHealth recognizes the importance of partnership between women and men, as well as the crucial need to reach out to men with services and education that enable them to share in the responsibility for reproductive health.
To address this, EngenderHealth established its Men As Partners® (MAP) program in 1996. Through its groundbreaking work, this program works with men to play constructive roles in promoting gender equity and health in their families and communities.
Another great thing about Men As Partners is it's international focus, which is often lacking in feminist discussions (though I see this slowly changing), even on this very blog. And, like any good feminist organization which gives some focus to men, Engender Health and Men As Partners recognize that men are harmed by traditional conceptions of masculinity, as pointed out in an article on the site, Transforming Male Gender Norms to Address the Roots of HIV/AIDS:
It is widely recognized that gender norms—societal expectations of men’s and women’s roles and behaviors—fuel the global HIV epidemic. Women’s low status in many societies contributes to limiting the social, educational and economic opportunities that would help protect them from infection. At the same time, traditional male gender norms encourage men to equate a range of risky behaviors—the use of violence, substance abuse, the pursuit of multiple sexual partners, the domination of women—with being manly. Rigid constructs of masculinity also lead men to view health-seeking behaviors as a sign of weakness. These gender dynamics all play a critical role in increasing both men and women’s vulnerability to HIV.
It's great to see an interesting organization of international feminists helping to reach out to men. Go check 'em out.

Gender in Comics: Ain't Violence Funny?

This week's theme is Ain't Violence Funny? (especially if it's associated with gender roles!).

Because She Asked for It
Here's part of what Wikipedia has to say about Anne Boleyn:
Anne Boleyn, Queen Consort of England, 1st Marchioness of Pembroke[1] (ca. 1501/1507 – 19 May 1536)[2] was the second wife of King Henry VIII and the mother of Queen Elizabeth I. Henry's marriage to Anne, and her subsequent execution, were part of the complex beginning of the considerable political and religious upheaval which was the English Reformation, with Anne herself actively promoting the cause of Church reform. She has been called "the most influential and important queen consort England has ever had".[3]
Silly Wikipedia, she was executed because she called Henry a name, and damaged his fragile ego:

Shouldn't It Be the Bride of Frankenstein's Monster, Anyway?
I quibble. One more from Mr. Boffo:
It's funny 'cuz he would beat the shit out of her if she didn't lock him up! Ha!

Bat = Not Funny. Open Hand = Funny!
In the boys-will-be-boys stereotyping category, Boondocks gives us the ultimate in funny: Riley smacking his older brother upside the head:
I sure am glad he didn't use the bat, or I would have laughed until milk came out of my nose! And I'm not even drinking milk!

Also: Grandpa Still a Tool of the Patriarchy
I've talked about grandpa's sexist stereotyping before, and he's up to his old antics again:

His grandkids are bruising and battering each other, but it's just boys playing, so that's ok! And funny! And, if you think Aaron McGruder's just making fun of boys-being-boys, then maybe you haven't seen the hi-larious cartoon he created with the funny pimp! Don't get me wrong: I love so much about Boondocks. I think The Adventures of Flagee and Ribbon were genuine brilliance. I guess I feel the way Mikhaela Reid feels about it.

Monday, November 26, 2007

bell hooks Monday: Race, Class and Feminism

I am always fascinated when I discover yet another way that feminist concerns intersect with concerns of racism and of class. Continuing our look at Teaching to Transgress, we find hooks giving us some of her students' insights around some of the difficulties with being a black feminist, including some of the difficulties specific to being a black man who is also a feminist:
"Throughout the semester, there was more laughter in our discussions--as well as more concern about negative fall-out exploring feminist concerns--than in any feminist course I have taught. There were also ongoing attempts to relate material to the concrete realities they face as young black women. All the students were heterosexual and particularly concerned about the possibility that choosing to support feminist politics would alter their relationship with black men. They were concerned about the ways feminism might change how they relate to fathers, lovers, friends. Most everyone agreed that the men they knew were grappling with feminist issues were either gay or involved with women who were 'pushing them.' Brett, a close partner of one of the women, was taking another class with me. Since he was named by black women in the group as one of the black males who was concerned about gender issues, I talked with him specifically about feminism. He responded by calling attention to the reasons it is difficult for black men to deal with sexism, the primary one being that they are accustomed to thinking of themselves in terms of racism, being exploited and oppressed. Speaking of his efforts to develop feminist awareness, he stressed limitations: "I've tried to understand but then I'm a man. Sometimes I don't understand and it hurts, 'cause I think I'm the epitome of everything that's oppressed." Since it is difficult for many black men to give voice to the ways they are hurt and wounded by racism, it is also understandable that it is more difficult for them to 'own up to' sexism, to be accountable."

Some similar blinders are in place, I think, as regards some of my peers, who aren't burdened by racism the way hooks' student is, but who are burdened by class issues--once one begins to understand issues of class, and one's own position within those issues, it's sometimes hard to see things through a race-theory lens, or through a feminist-theory lens. My intuition (and it's just an intuition) is that this is one of the reasons that there are often conflicts within, say, liberal politics, between men in power and those of us with feminist interests at the forefront of our goals. (I wonder how much of The Pie Fight Incident over at DailyKos is to blame for this tendency, for instance.)

The lesson isn't that one frame of reference is better than the others, but that movements need to understand intersectionality. Kos may think that ignoring feminist concerns won't matter to his cause(s) in the long run, but I think that's doubtful, given that class issues, feminism and race issues (among others) are inextricably intertwined.

Bonus Poetry on Intersectionality: Stacyann Chin

Sunday, November 25, 2007

16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence

Feministe has a great overview of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, which begins with today, November 25th, the The International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and ends with International Human Rights Day on December 10th. Go check out Cara's excellent overview at Feministe.

Men Matter: Lashes for Everyone

From time to time, when some feminists point out something that shows that misogyny has deep cultural roots, some anti-feminist, MRA, or genuinely concerned person will put forth their opinion that feminists tend to give short shrift to the ways in which men are harmed by other men. These men (and women, sometimes) think that, because many feminists focus a good deal of their attention on the hardships of women, that said feminists are somehow slighting men, saying that the hardships men face aren't worth talking about at all. Many of the people commenting in this way think that men deserve 'equal time'.

I don't think it's the case that men deserve equal time from feminist women in general. This is a controversial point, probably, but I tend to think that it's feminist men who need to better articulate the harms that traditional gender roles sometimes have on men. And yet, I also disagree with the aforementioned commentors on a factual matter: They tend to claim that feminist women don't value the well-being of men--that men are completely left out of feminist analysis, except when noting the patriarchy. I disagree. Most of the feminisms that I find myself engaging in acknowledge the harm men face as regards rigid gender roles, and most of the feminists I interact with do more than acknowledge these harms. So, while I don't think that women feminists in any way need to prove themselves to these commentors, I find myself wanting to simply note a few counterexamples that I find through my daily perusal of feminist blogs and literature, as well as through my conversations with other feminists. I hope this will become a resource, over time, for people to recognize and remember that the lives of men are, indeed, important to feminists.

First up, Jill from Feministe notes that most media outlets are picking up a story about a woman in Saudi Arabia being punished with 200 lashes for being raped, but these same media outlets are generally playing down (or ignoring all together) the fact that a man who was with her was also raped, and is also being punished (though it's unclear for what at the moment) by lashing. And why might the media be doing this? Because it helps to reify the idea that women are treated so badly within "other" cultures, without addressing the fact that men and women are often treated horribly. Jill says:
This is a women’s rights issue, and it’s a human rights issue. But the erasure of the male rape survivor serves a variety of purposes, of which highlighting women’s rights abuses is only one. It lets us separate us from them; when we highlight the atrocity of a rape victim being put on trial, we allow ourselves to ignore all the other ways that our own systemic human rights abuses reflect those of Saudi Arabia: the death penalty, secret prisons, harsh punishments for juvenile offenders, lack of due process rights, disproportionate prosecution of minorities, and on and on. We position ourselves as the enlightened saviors, the ones who speak truth in the face of a nation of backwards Muslims. Of course, the people who were initially outraged over this case and who publicized the woman’s cause are Saudi — the lawyer, human rights activists, the media. And while that gets a mention, it’s only to further highlight the backwardness of Saudis.

And I think it's important to note explicitly that it isn't feminists who are ignoring the plight of this man; rather, those who have it as part of their interests a hyper-masculine sort of patriotism (i.e. Americuh needs to go save those women!) are the ones creating the silence around this poor man. In fact, if it weren't for Jill and Feministe, I wouldn't have known about the man in the story at all, even though I've ready many accounts from mainstream media about it.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Men Doing Feminsit Work: Ahmad Ghashmary

Hopefully you're all already reading Diary of a Black Male Feminist, but just in case you're not, you may not have seen the video of Ahmad Ghashmary, posted over at DoaBMF last week. Ghashmary is an interesting guy, doing feminist work in Jordan, where his views seem to be often met with either apathy or aggression.
First, check out the video:

A good deal of his blog is in English, and well worth reading. In a post about so-called honor killings, he says:
But the question remains, why are people doing so and thinking in such a backward way? Regardless of these accidents there are many indications that people in Arab societies are beginning to be more aware of the danger and barbarity of these rituals that say that whoever tends to defame the reputation of the family deserves to die. In a referendum done on the internet by www.alarabiya.net the results were hopeful. 62.96 % of the voters think that this crime is not justified, and it is not supported by any religion or law, but is another example of the domination of rituals and customs in our daily life. A minority of 12.36% think that it is the only resort to eradicate bad people from our society. 24.68% were neutral. What we are aiming at is to leave no single person in our society who might believe that killing innocent people might be a remedy to any problem.

And, when confronted by a friend about his feminism, Ghashmary has a succinct, practical approach to explaining his motivations:
I spent almost two years looking around me for men who might share me the same views, but it was all in vain; everyone believed I'm wasting my time. A friend of mine has recently blamed me for dedicating my efforts to fight for women's equality, and he called that "Lunacy"; I answered him saying, "The best person in my life is my sweetheart and she's a woman, my favorite Arab singer is Fayyrouz and she is a woman, my favorite non-Arab singer is Celine Dion and she is a woman, my favorite professor is called Fadia and she is a woman, my favorite athelet is Maria Sharapova and she is a woman, my favorite movie star is Julia Roberts and she is a woman, my favorite talk show presenter is Oprah Winfrey and she is a woman, my favorite novelist is Jane Austen and she is a woman, and so on. And still you wonder why I am fighting for their rights.
I like this guy so much that I'm willing to forgive him for the Celine Dion thing.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

What Men Can Do: Support Other Men

One of the things that has struck me as I've begun to enter middle age (I'm thirty-seven, I'm not old!) is that several of my male friends are experiencing some intense worry and stress over being the 'primary breadwinner' in their families. These are fairly socially conscious, intelligent men who are mindful enough about traditional gender roles to know that conversations must be had around who ought to be the primary breadwinner, if anybody--and they are nontraditional fathers in the sense that they are extremely conscious of being partners in raising kids in various ways.

And yet, having taken on the 'primary breadwinner' mantle, they see themselves as carrying the burden independent of the fact that they have support from their partners. They feel like they are carrying the burden alone, even though they are being supported emotionally (and financially, to some degree) by their partners--even though their partners 'have their backs'. The mortgage payment, while paid with money that both partners earn, feels to him like it's his alone; he feels that if he doesn't produce, then the entire family will fall.

Conceptions of traditional masculinity help to shape men's identities so they feel that their main contribution to any relationship is what they can provide financially. There are infinite complexities involved that I won't go into, but it's relatively clear that men's self-value is inextricably intertwined with doing work that provides financial security, not just for themselves, but for any family they are a part of. Add to this conceptions of traditional masculinity which limit the other ways that men may be important to others, which limit the ways in which men may relate emotionally to other people, and you end up with men who value having a job more than they value having the family which they think they must work to provide for.

Susan Faludi, in Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man, points us to one logical conclusion of this conception of masculinity when she discusses a man who has been part of a large group of layoffs from McDonald Douglass. He spends most of his time at McDonald Douglass' 'job placement' center, with the only community he knows, that of other men who have been laid off and haven't found work. Then, one day, he gets into a car accident that he has caused, and is arrested. Thing is, he prefers prison to looking for work, as Faludi reveals when she and Don's friend Steve go to prison to visit him:
"The phones by which we were to communicate didn't work for five minutes, and so we held up signs, telling Don that he was missed at the center. He smiled and nodded serenely. For once, there were no tears behind the smile. The phones were finally switched on and I asked Don about the accident. But the accident was old news for Don; he was far more eager to tell me about his life in jail, especially his position as a prison trusty. He was working in the clinic and in the cafeteria. He wore a different-colored shirt as a trusty, a cut above the inmate masses. "The deputies say to me, 'We don't know why you're here!': They "respected" him, he said. "It's not all bad here."

I reluctantly handed the phone over to Steve Williams, who even more reluctantly took it. He peered at his friend through the smudged glass barrier. "Since you saw me last, I have not had a position," Steve began hurriedly. "In fact, I'm looking at poverty in January." Then he hastened onto the common ground of news about the center moving, about who hadn't found a job, and what changes had been made to the decor. "Were you there since they put the new wall in?" Steve asked Don. The inmate shook his head. "Yeah, well," Steve said, "It's a pretty good arrangement. It makes it more like an office.

By the time Steve finished recounting the details of the center's home improvements, our twenty minutes were up and the phone went dead. I scribbled down a last question on a piece of paper and held it up to the window. "Is going to jail worse or better than being laid off from McDonnell Douglas?" Don pointed at "better," smiled, and then vanished.

Later, Don's wife, Gayle, told me that he could have applied for release two months earlier for time served but had declined. "He wants to stay in jail, " she said, marveling."(pp100-101)

Again, there's a lot going on here--I think people in general like to work, like to feel like they are contributing to their own lives, the lives of their families and friends, and to society at large, and these desires exist across all gender lines. But I also think that men are taught that there are only certain ways that they can contribute--and financially supporting a family is one of the few. What men can do is remind ourselves, our friends, our family, and our fellow men in general that we bring a lot to the world aside from financial security.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Gender in Comics: Reversals

As much as I talk about the ways in which comic strips help to solidify and perpetuate traditionally conceived gender roles, it's probably a good thing to note that they also sometimes manage to confound these stereotypes to some degree, or at least to allow gender to be slightly more complex than it is often thought to be.

Vanity, Thy Name Is Pirate Guy
Whereas women are more often portrayed as absurdly vain, this Overboard strip shows a pirate who is perhaps a little more interested in his image than perhaps he ought to be:

Susie + Lacrosse = Calvin On His Ass
This is one reason why Calvin can be more of a jerk than, say Dennis the Menace. He freaking throws rocks at people. Sure, Dennis had his slingshot, but did he use it to just sling rocks at people? I don't think so. Calvin can be more menacing, for sure. Ok, maybe it's a pinecone. In the first frame, it looks a lot like a caterpillar, which is a lot less menacing in some ways, more menacing in others (getting smacked in the face with a caterpillar? Not pleasant, I would guess.)

And, of course, if you're often the target of Calvin's thinly repressed rage, your Lacrosse training comes in handy from time to time:
I think it's the smug, happy, almost zen-like peacefulness on Susie's face that makes me love this one.

Monday, November 19, 2007

bell hooks Monday: Teaching, Learning and Safe Spaces

From Teaching to Transgress:
"The unwillingness to approach teaching from a standpoint that includes awareness of race, sex, and class is often rooted in the fear that classrooms will be uncontrollable, that emotions and passions will not be contained. To some extent, we all know that whenever we address in the classroom subjects that students are passionate about there is always a possibility of confrontation, forceful expression of ideas, or even conflict. In much of my writing about pedagogy, particularly in classroom settings with great diversity, I have talked about the need to examine critically the way we as teachers conceptualize what the space for learning should be liked. Many professors have conveyed to me their feeling that the classroom should be a "safe" place; that usually translates to mean that the professor lectures to a group of quiet students who respond only when they are called on. The experience of professors who educate for critical consciousness indicates that many students, especially students of color, may not feel at all "safe" in what appears to be a neutral setting. It is the absence of a feeling of safety that often promotes prolonged silence or lack of student engagement." (pp 39, Teaching to Transgress).
All through grade school, high school and college (at least while I was an undergrad), I loved the sort of 'safe' classrooms that hooks describes above. I loved lectures, I loved answering questions when called upon, and I would get frustrated when students would interrupt that by asking questions out of turn, or bringing up information I thought tangential to the conversation (and pretty much, anything the teacher thought was tangential, I thought was tangential). I tended to not like group work for various reasons, most of which revolved around the sort of psuedo-safety ideas hooks is talking about.

In college, my major was philosophy, and despite the preponderance of individualistic, opinionated people in that discipline, most classrooms were still 'safe' in the way hooks describes. From time to time, somebody would point out the lack of diversity in the discipline, but generally, arguments of that sort were seen as ignoring the 'universal' knowledge that philosophy often purported to reveal--"Yeah, yeah, yeah, women philosophers aren't talked about much, but that doesn't matter because 'critical thinking' is genderless," was the basic line of thought, which ignores the need to 'think critically' about, say, the fact that Socrates (and/or Plato, depending on your viewpoint) thought that women were not only inferior to men, but also sprung into being as former men who were cowards.

When people brought up such subjects, they were often quickly shut down. Of course, there are volumes to be said about the complexities of teaching and learning--'safety' is just one of many goals, for instance. But I think that hooks is right to point out that 'safety' isn't obviously safe for everybody, and is often masking something more like 'safe-for-some' through the shroud of 'normal'.

And this doesn't only apply to the classroom, of course. In fact, one runs into problems of deciding whether or not to rock the boat, which will be seen by some as violating the safety of others, on almost a daily basis. And it's often a fine line to walk, because one does want to limit the parameters of discussion to some degree--no forum is completely "open", and for good reasons. So it's a constant sort of decision-making process, where one is always having to choose in order to create a space where ideas can flourish (and compete?)--allowing in as many new ideas as possible without letting a few people (or ideas) distract from the overall conversation. Anybody who has taught in a classroom or tried to moderate blog comments knows that these decisions aren't always easy, but that they are pretty much constant.

Still, I like to err on the side of not promoting so much 'safety', a good deal of the time, both in classrooms I might find myself in and in conversations with people in general, while in a place like this blog, I find myself policing what I see as not apropos views (anti-feminist talking points, racism, and the like) more than I would in other public forums, partly because of the lack of social pressure to be kind to others, and respectful, on The Interweb. Luckily, there is not just one idea space which can be safe or unsafe--there are lots of communities where various opinions can be explored.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Men Doing Feminsit Work: Michael Messner

This week we'll take a look at Michael Messner, a sociologist who specializes in the relationship between masculinity and organized sports.

From his bio on the University of Souther California site, where he is a professor:
Michael Messner's most recent books are Politics of Masculinities: Men in Movements (1997), Men's Lives (2004); Paradoxes of Youth and Sport (2002), and Taking the Field: Women, Men, and Sports (2002). His articles have appeared in Gender & Society, Theory & Society, Men and Masculinities, and Sociology of Sport Journal. He is a past president of the North American Society for the Sociology of Sport, and has conducted several studies of gender in sports media for the Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles, and for Children Now.

His 1992 book, Power at Play: Sports and the Problem of Masculinity, takes a critical look at how masculinity is shaped by organized sports, but it is his complex analysis of the impact of traditional masculinities on women's sports (and the effects of Title IX) that I find the most intriguing. In a review of Welch Suggs' book, A Place on the Team: The Triumph and Tragedy of Title IX, Messner brings his analysis to bear:

Yet, herein lies a tension in the public debates about Title IX, and to a certain extent in Suggs's narrative. Suggs is right to raise questions about women's sports' uncritical adoption of "the male model" of sports. Sport sociologists have documented the many ways that men's college sports reflect and perpetuate many of the most negative aspects of narrow conceptions of masculinity (including violence to self and others) and promote values of commercialization that are antithetical to what many see as the mission of university life. Suggs points out that women athletes now face a rising rate of serious injury (especially to the knees) and other health-related problems; that their higher graduation rates, compared with those of men athletes, might now tumble; and that the "club" system of youth sports, as a feeder system to the university, has favored white middle-class kids, thus making it difficult for African American women to benefit from Title IX to the extent that white women have.

These are all important issues, but since Suggs falls short of a radical critique of men's sports, two unsatisfactory alternatives remain: women's sports should use Title IX to "go for the money" and mimic men's sports as much as possible, including taking on all of the costs and negative consequences of men's sports; or women's sports should return to the pre-Title-IX ethic of healthy noncompetitive sports and games. This latter will not happen, of course. As Suggs points out, Tide IX and women's sports are here to stay.

So are we stuck with the unsatisfactory dynamic of liberal, equalopportunity feminism fighting against the backlash of an anti-Title-IX conservatism that claims to fight for fairness for men? I think not. Although Suggs does not become a critic or an advocate-preferring to stay, I believe, in the middle space of the reporter-I think it's consistent with his reporting to suggest that women's sports activists need to proceed simultaneously on two fronts. First, continue to use Tide IX to fight for equal opportunities (still far from achieved, as Suggs points out with ample statistics on recruiting, coaching, and funding in women's college sports). second, wage a critical analysis of the negative aspects of the dominant men's sports-especially football, I would argue, which stands at the center of the sport-media-commercial complex. Far from being the goose that lays the golden egg (as its advocates like to suggest), institutionalized football is a major reason for the perpetuation of gender inequity in sports, for the ramping up of commercialization processes, and for a disproportionate number of the problems generally associated with college sports. And football's monopoly over resources, as economist Andrew Zimbalist's work has so clearly shown, is one of the main reasons that the "marginal" ("nonrevenue") men's sports are so vulnerable today when university athletics departments need to trim their budgets. Playing sports is good for girls and women-that has now been established by research, is accepted in public opinion, and is supported by the law. But the question of how we organize our sports-both for women and for men-needs to be put at the center of the table. Until we ask those more radical questions, we will be stuck in the quandary that Welch Suggs so nicely describes.
Messner is utilizing the feminist conceptual took of intersectionality, noting where gender, race, sexual orientation and class contribute to organized sport in order to take a critical look at male masculinity.

Messner has continued to broaden his study from men's organized sports to the ways in which men organize with each other in general, as the title of his Politics of Masculinities: Men in Movements suggests.

You can't help liking a guy who says it like it is, even when he's liable to ruffle more than a few feathers. In an article about Chico State Alumni, Messner is quoted talking about the way some men use gang rape not only as a way to control women, but as a way to bond with each other sexually:
"Gang rape is not about sex as far as the victim is concerned, it's a brutal assault, and a stripping away of dignity, but when it comes to the group dynamic of the guys I think there is something sexual going on in gang rape, and it's not necessarily sex with a woman, because in gang rape the woman is really not there as a human being -- she is the vessel through which men are having sex with each other," said Messner.

More on Messner:
Other books by Messner.
Messner's Wikipedia entry.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Theory Thursday: Lenses and Malleability

After posting about Armchair Feminism, it's probably not a fantastic idea to do a post that is theory-heavy, but here it is.

In the comments from a recent post, Eric notes some problems with the idea of understanding the world through a feminist lens:
See, I sometimes think the "lens" is the problem itself. I am cautious about adopting lenses that produce rigorous conceptual models; I would prefer to gain some insights into the world from various philosophies and political movements and literatures and ideas and worldviews and religions by keeping an open mind. Thus the eclectic part, I grab bits and piece from all over the place and rethink things. Now, of course, that's what works for me at this point in my life.
I admit a lot of this is also very intellectual/academic for me. I'd rather understand and be able to teach/explain/discuss/lecture rather than necessarily agree with/internalize a particular viewpoint. My problem with framing it as a "lens" is that it implies your applying them a priori to reading something or looking at something or watching something. I find this problematic because it then prevents you from developing other possible lens, of opening other possible world-views, or ways of looking at the world or experiencing the world gained from those works.

I agree that the conceptual tool of 'lenses' is problematic in some of the ways Eric points out--though I find it useful to quite a large degree, when people think I mean something apart from, and prior to, experience, problems can arise. The main weakness of the 'lenses' metaphor is that it can imply that a person can pick and choose lenses prior to experience, when in fact even the very choice of which lenses we choose from is given by our current world-view. But one strength of the 'lenses' metaphor is that it allows for, I think, one of the things that Eric also values: Malleability of a world-view. I can choose to look at something through the lens of feminism. And then I can look at it through lenses of race theory, and atheism, and class theory--and even where these conceptual frameworks don't intersect, I can gain more insight into the world as a whole.

On a related note, I'm all for malleability. In fact, that's central to my truck with traditional gender roles (which is one basis of my interest in feminism): I don't have a problem that there are roles. My problems begin to arise when the roles are seen as forever-and-ever-amen, writ in stone, and very not-malleable. (Not that I believe they are infinitely malleable, either, of course, which becomes important rather quickly.) And many varieties of feminism focus on anti-essientialist conceptions of gender roles (among other things), which is one of the things I like about feminism.

I think I get Eric's take on an eclectic world-view, using concepts he's chosen from various other world-views--and I tend to do that more than most as well.

I do think there is a danger of letting the malleability of one's thoughts provide an excuse to stay on the sidelines regarding the world. I start wondering if this happens to Eric as often as it happens to me, when he says this:
I'd rather understand and be able to teach/explain/discuss/lecture rather than necessarily agree with/internalize a particular viewpoint.

For me, one place that I come to feel ok with identifying as a feminist is as regards real violence done by what I see as a patriarchal dominance hierarchy; when I look at my mother's life, and the hurdles she had to overcome, the violence she faced by virtue of being a woman, it makes me want to get off the sidelines and take to the streets (so to speak) more, even if I may be subscribing, for however long, to a set of concepts that I may not agree with at some point in the future. When I see men suffering violence at the hands of other men over what amount to traditional conceptions of masculinity, when I see women going through something like what my mother has gone through, I want to do more than teach/explain/discuss/understand/lecture, and I think that's a good thing--and I think internalizing a viewpoint, if one recognizes that such a viewpoint is often just a starting-point, and that the viewpoint itself is malleable, isn't such a bad thing. In fact, It's doubtful to me that we can avoid internalizing viewpoints to some degree in order to better understand them. And I think using the conceptual tool of 'lenses'--as long as we do recognize the limits of conceptual tools in general--can be powerful.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

What Men Can Do Wednesday: Armchair Feminist, Part Two

Months ago now, I wrote about the idea that men who identify as feminists or feminist allies have to watch out that they don't get caught up in too much 'armchair feminism'--that is, we have to keep in mind that we may too often slip into a detached sort of conceptualizing of feminism, in part because we don't as often or as easily find ourselves face-to-face with the harms that patriarchy and misogyny can cause.

But the more I read and think about the conceptual frameworks that help create our relationship to gender and to power, the more I think that men can gain some motivation for better understanding feminism by paying attention to the ways in which patriarchy harms boys and men. This is not to take away from how these things harm people of other genders, of course--and for many people, avoiding harm to others is a pretty powerful motivation. But for many of us, avoiding harms to ourselves is also a powerful motivator, and I think feminist men should better understand this.

Thing is, the harms that men experience as a result of rigid gender roles, rigid hierarchical societal structures, and the like, are sometimes more subtle than the harms that women often face, or harder for men to see. Some of this just has to do with the way that men are harmed by rigid gender roles, and some of it flows pretty directly from men being at the top of the dominance hierarchy--it's tough to see the water that we're swimming in.

In addition, because of the very way that masculinity is envisioned and enforced, often these harms go unclaimed by men themselves, for fear of being seen as unmanly. Rather than, for instance, feeling the immediate, visceral effects of being verbally accosted while doing something like trying to buy some gas, men have to face the stress of being thought of as, and being taught to think of themselves as, protectors and providers, even in contexts where such things are impossible (as one example). Which is not to say that women don't face subtle forms of harm, or that men don't face visceral, physical and obvious harm in part by virtue of conceptions of masculinity--but it may be that men need to more often look harder to find a harm that exists.

Part of the risk of armchair feminism for feminist men comes from not recognizing these harms--once recognized, we might better feel the passion of our ideals.

(Part one.)

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Gender in Comics: Girlfight

This week, we follow one comic for a week, and the comics almost speak for themselves. That won't stop me from writing something anyway, of course. Also, because of our new format, we can finally show the comics at a readable size!

I really like Non-Sequitur a good deal of the time. For one thing, it's got a single dad raising two girls, which isn't a family situation we see all that often in pop culture. Also, the comic isn't afraid of getting political from time to time, which I like on the comics page. But Non-Sequitur is often fodder for these Gender in Comics pieces, mostly because of the way Danae, who is more often than not the center of the strip, is painted. There's lots to like about Danae--she is a bit of a rascal, with bits of Calvin (sans Hobbes) and Dennis (she's more menacing, really) and a touch of Doonesbury thrown in (Danae aspires to get away with stuff the way politicians often do). But she's also often the vehicle for putting forward gender stereotypes, and this past week took the cake.

First off, we rarely see Danae interacting with other girls. This isn't so different from a lot of comics--Danae has her friend the horse, who plays a similar role the Hobbes does in C&H. But of course, when we do see her interact with a girl, it's all about conflict over a boy:

Girls Are So Mysterious
Jeffrey (!) just can't figger them girls out! They're so wacky! And completely in control of him and his brain, in their quest to outdo each other:

Get the "Leash"
Plus, befuddled boys are just lead around by girls, on a (metaphorical, of course) leash, subject to the whims of girls. If these were adults, you get the idea that the leash would be replaced by...something more intimate:

Also: Men LOVE to Be Objectified!
Because that's so cool, if you're a guy. Men like to be treated like meat because...it makes them more manly...or something:

No Competition, No Interaction
Because girls have nothing better to do than to fight with each other over boys, and because boys have no say in the matter. Oh, except that girls are mean:

It's so cute! The girls are fighting over the boy, but just because they like to fight with each other! And poor boys! Women are way too mysterious for them to ever understand...they'll only get hurt.

Monday, November 12, 2007

bell hooks Monday: Little Conversations Go a Long Way

As I've mentioned before, I came to feminist theory through philosophy, and one of the first explicitly feminist texts I read was bell hooks' Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. We read the book for a class called Democracy and Eduction, and while a lot of the books had a lasting effect on me, Teaching to Transgress is the one I still go back to from time to time. And, like all of hooks' books (at least the one's I've read), it's not just about it's central subject matter--she infuses her ideas about race, class and gender (among other things) throughout the work, even though it is technically a work on pedagogy.

One simple thing that I've taken away from the book is that teaching and learning happen every day, and that, given an approach that opens the minds of others, people tend to be very interested in talking about feminist issues. hooks describes this phenomena early on in Teaching to Transgress:
"I am grateful that I can stand here and testify that if we hold fast to our beliefs that feminist thinking must be shared with everyone, whether through talking or writing, and create theory with this agenda in mind we can advance feminist movement that folks will long--yes, yearn--to be a part of. I share feminist thinking and practice wherever I am. When asked to talk in university settings, I search out other setting or respond to those who search me out so that I can give the riches of feminist thinking to anyone. Sometimes setting emerge spontaneously. At a black-owned restaurant in the South, for instance, I sat for hours with a diverse group of black women and men from various class backgrounds discussing issues of race, gender and class. Some of us were college-educated, others were not. We had a heated discussion of abortion, discussing whether black women should have the right to choose."--pp 72-73, Teaching to Transgress.
The more one gets exposed to the ideas within feminism, the more one sees that lessons to be learned (and taught) are everywhere, and that one has a sort of embarrassment of riches as far as being able to show, for example, that pop culture tends to encourage misogyny. And one has a chance to talk with people about this stuff almost every day.

The other day I was on a conference call with a few of the people I work with often, two men around my age, when one started teasing the other about having worn a pink shirt. I eventually asked the person doing the teasing what colors he though men should wear, and what colors they shouldn't. In high school during the late 80's, we all wore pink shirts for at least a short while, after all, I pointed out. We ended up having a nice little discussion about it, and about how it's ok for men to wear 'salmon' but not 'pink', even if they are the same color. I'm not so naive so as to think that these men are now feminists, having had such a discussion--but we managed to have a discussion about traditional gender roles and their place in society, which I consider a feminist issue. A few days later, I had a conversation with a 5-year old daughter of a friend, who wanted to show me her 'princess' shoes. I told her they were nice, but that I didn't really like princesses. "Why not?" she asked. "They're kind of boring." She looked at me like I was crazy, and I simply said: It's ok for you to like princesses, but not everybody likes princesses. Again, I don't kid myself about countering the massive tide-of-princess-iness that this girl has been inundated with since the time she could consume media--but sometimes one little voice sticks in one's head. So you never know.

Maybe when she's older I can loan her my bell hooks books.

Saturday, November 10, 2007


The 47th Carnival of Feminists is up over at Ornamenting Away and dizzy does a great job walking us through a lot of great posts, including one from Hugo about some reasons (good and bad) that men sometimes identify with feminism.

Go check it out.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Men Doing Feminist Work: Kenneth Clatterbaugh

As a person who has a BA in Philosophy and never finished his master's thesis, I still have a soft spot in my heart for professional philosophers, and when they do work on examining masculinity, all the better. And anyone who can write both Contemporary Perspectives on Masculinity: Men, Women, and Politics in Modern Society and The Causation Debate in Modern Philosophy deserves success and happiness in everything he does. Also, the guy deserves a lot of thanks for hanging out with The Promise Keepers so that none of us had to.

Because much of my feminism is wrapped up in blogging, I oftentimes wonder about the notion of doing good work here, that working with ideas here is worthwhile, and I also think about how much of that eventually translates into a better world (and how much of it doesn't). In the end I think professional theorists like Clatterbaugh can and do make a difference (as, I would argue, do some bloggers), though it can be more subtle and cause changes over longer periods of time than traditional activism. Anybody who is unsure about the effects of theory on the world can look to Descartes--without him it's questionable whether we'd have traditional conceptions of the division between mind and body, for instance (and Xtians would have a different conception of the soul).

As I begin to unpack the last few decades of theory around men and masculinity, I'm starting to recognize how much work has already been done, even if so much more is still to come, regarding reshaping traditional masculinity into something better. Theorists like Clatterbaugh do a lot of that work.

He certainly is ready to ask some of the right questions. From his Contemporary Perspectives on Masculinity: Men, Women, and Politics in Modern Society:
1. What is the social reality for men in modern society?
2. What maintains or explains this social reality?
3. What would be a better social reality?
4. How can we achieve this better reality?

And, in beginning to answer these questions, I think he takes a straightforward, yet intricate, approach:

Certain masculinities are favored socially or come closer to the gender ideal. Boys are taught to adopt these social roles and ideals. Certain collections of behaviors, attitudes, and conditions (certain masculinities) are favored and rewarded, others are ignored, and stil others are punished. Masculinities may vary from subculture to subculture, but they are dominant in the sense that htey are favored and actively promoted thorughout society, and those who appear to exemplify them are most likely to be placed in positions of power and trust. Thus, there is a strong set of similarities among the powerful men who sit in boardrooms, in legislatures, and in other responsible positions. And there are strong similarities among men who are excluded from positions of power and prestige. Of course, there are exceptions and there are changes, but there are also rules of thumb that favor certain sets of behaviors, attitudes, and conditions: For example, to be articulate, loyal, heterosexual, white, and wealthy are favored characteristics of hegemonic masculinities.
Clatterbaugh ties together conceptions of masculinity, paying attention to the intersectionality of gender, class, race and sexuality. Plus, y'know, he has that book on philosophical conceptions of causality, if you feel like a bit more light reading.

For more information, check out his wikipedia entry and his site.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Picking A Fight

Some recent comments have led me to do more thinking about what I want to get out of this blogging-feminism-as-a-guy thing, and what I want other people to get out of my writing. Some of my goals: Find some ways for men who don't identify with feminism per se to see how feminism may help them. Find some ways for men who do identify with feminism to better understand the difficulties involved in being a man while being a feminist, and to find and develop a community of feminists, as well as a community of feminist men. And, while I fail or succeed in these goals to various degrees, I seem to be giving non-feminist men the impression that I really, really want them to be converted in some way, that I want them to come over to our side of things or some such. Jim W says in the comments:
I can assure you, though, that if male feminists insist in adapting wholesale all the rhetoric and assumptions of radical feminism, we will convince very, very few of our fellow men.

Leaving aside the idea that I somehow espouse 'radical' feminist ideals (erm...have you checked out Women's Space/The Margins lately?--if you think I'm radical, then perhaps you haven't), I suppose on some level I am trying to 'convince' my 'fellow men'. I put forth ideas and arguments and paint a picture of my own world-view--implicitly I'm asking people who don't share my world-view to consider it. But changing the minds of men isn't my primary goal, though it is part of the larger picture; mostly, I want to have discussions with men. I want to discuss things with other feminist men (which is one of the sadder parts of this 'groupblog' being not so group-y at the moment). And I want to discuss things with other men who don't identify as feminist. And I want to discuss things with other men who share some of my own feminist ideals (Jim W. is a stay-at-home dad: Some antifeminists would consider this a feminist act) even if they don't share all of them. I'm up for discussion--and with that some minds may change (even mine!), but I don't think changing minds is my central goal here. In a good discussion of ideas, mind-changing may happen, but it may not: everybody may simply achieve a better level of understanding about their own beliefs and the beliefs of others.

'Good discussion' doesn't mean the same thing to everybody of course, and by 'good discussion' I don't mean 'any discussion'. I've enjoyed conversations with people here who disagree vehemently with some feminist ideals, and, yes, some of my ideas have changed as a result (I'm thinking here in particular of discussions around the invisibility of man-on-man violence in discussions of male violence through a feminist lens, for instance). I draw lines though, I pick my fights, and I sometimes chose to not put time into some potential discussions. If there is some common ground, if people are civil, I tend to be more interested in discussion.

Ultimately, I do hope that minds get changed, mostly because I see the ways in which feminism helps men and people of all genders. But this isn't a conversion blog. It's not my aim to create born-again-feminists. I just want to put my ideas out there, and let them be part of the larger realm of ideas. As such, appeals to change the way I'm saying things to make my ideas more palatable to the greater number of men will largely not do much good. There are men out there who will really listen and discuss (and when and if I think this is not so, I'll likely not continue this blog)--and on the whole, I'd rather spend my time discussing things with them--whether we agree on something or not.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

What Men Can Do: Build Better Boxes

I've (still) been (slowly) reading Susan Faludi's 1999 book, Stiffed, after having seen some interviews with her regarding her newest book, The Terror Dream. Again I am amazed that there really are many more resources for feminist men than I had previously thought possible, and I've been ignorant of a good deal of it. Perhaps it's just my own level of general ignorance(!), or perhaps I've bought too much into the antifeminist notion that feminism is 'all about women' for way too long.

Stiffed seems to be one long, reasoned examination (with examples!) of how traditional conceptions of masculinity and femininity may harm men, together with the threads of several interrelated questions that run through the book: Why have men not revolted, in the way that some women have, against the bogus demands of traditional gender roles? And some corollary questions: Why do so many men appear to blame feminism for the ills that feminism has gone a long way toward explaining?--Why do so many men want to kill the messenger?

So far I think Faludi gives us lots of good questions, and I'll be curious to see what her answers are. But the questions themselves, and the background of the questions she illuminates for us, are intriguing. She gives us a quick summation of one way of looking at the growth of the feminist movement:

More than a quarter century ago, women began to suspect in their own lives "a problem with no name." Even the most fortunate woman in postwar, suburban American, maneuvering her gleaming Hoovermatic across an expansive rec room, sensed that she'd been had. Eventually, this suspicious would be expressed in books--most notably Betty Friedan's The feminine Mystique--that traced this uneasiness back to its source: the cultural forces of the mass media, advertising, pop psychology, and all the other "helpful" advice industries. Women began to free themselves from the box in which they were trapped by feeling their way along its contours, figuring out how it had been constructed around them, how it was shaped and how it shaped them, how their reflections on its mirrored walls distorted who they were or might be. Women were able to take action, paradoxically, by understanding how they were acted upon. "women have been largely man-made," Eva Figes wrote in 1970 in Patriarchal Attitudes What had been made by others women themselves could unmake. Once their problems could be traced to external forces generated by a male society and culture, they could see them more clearly and so challenge them.(pp13)

As women began to recognize the social forces that shaped them, and to recognize that these social forces were more often than not both institutional and also shaped by men more than they were shaped by women, they began to form a movement. But, Faludi tells us, the ways in which men were harmed by these social forces weren't examined enough--partly because of the perception that it was men who had contributed more to the creation of said social forces:

Men feel the contours of a box, too, but they are told that box is of their own manufacture, designed to their specifications. Who are they to complain? The box is there to showcase the man, not to confine him. After all, didn't he build it--and can't he destroy it if he pleases, if he is a man? For men to say they feel boxed in is regarded not as laudable political protest but as childish and indecent whining. How dare the kings complain about their castles?(pp13)

I'm not sure that Faludi is encapsulating actual feminist thought about things here, or just giving us a psychological picture of how things were and are for some. Still, as a feminist man, I sometimes struggle with this very notion--there's no doubt (in my mind) that in some senses, I have 'more power' than many women have, by virtue of being a man--but of course this generalization doesn't immediately get me outside of the box that traditional conceptions of masculinity place me in. I didn't build the box, even if men-in-general are the main contributers to the box. No matter who built it, I still have to live within it, and I still have to find ways of breaking it up--and having some privilege as a man doesn't make that easy.

I think most feminists recognize men get ambushed by bogus conceptions of traditional gender roles, though I also think helping men understand all of this isn't on the top of most feminist to-do lists; many feminists simply have plenty of other work to do. And I don't have a problem with that: I think that men who identify as pro-feminist or feminist need to do the work involved--we need to talk with other men, we need to resist some traditional conceptions of male masculinity (and femininity), we need to listen to women and work with them. We don't need to place the problems that traditional conceptions of masculinity cause us at their feet (or worse, blame them for the problems).

And, of course, many men are doing this. This is exactly the sort of things that are being done by the men we profile on Fridays: Groups like Men Can Stop Rape and Men's Resources International are working to redefine masculinity, in part, so that this box we're in starts to go away, or at least is built differently. But it's important for us to recognize that it's too easy to 'explain away' the work that men have to do--to simply point to patriarchy and imply that men can just leave the shackles of traditional masculinity behind because in whatever sense they are the patriarchy, is to ignore the realities of the situation, the complexities of the interactions between institutional conceptions of masculinity and individual men. Faludi's book goes a long way toward reminding us of the difficulties that we, as men who are pro-feminist and feminist, have to overcome.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Tuesday: Gender in the Comics, the What Men Are Like Edition

As always, click on the comic for a slightly larger version.

Violence is Funny When It's Man-On-Man
They're violent, and they show each other love by beating the crap out of each other. Oh, and it's funny:
Beatle Bailey is actually pretty disturbing in its use of violence, I think. Not only is this a 'running joke' in the comic, but really this is state-sanctioned violence to boot, with the drill sargent beating the private to a pulp.

Men Are So Lazy...
...even their cats call them out on it:
And yet, this still sort of makes me giggle. Must be the talking cat.

Men Love Power Hierarchies
There's nothing other men respond better to then pure, unbridled status:

In my experience, the people who try to manage this way end up really, really successful for a time--sometimes for a very long time--and really, really unhappy along the way. But that's just my experience.

bell hooks Monday: Strong, Feminist Women

More from hooks' Wounds of Passion: A Writing Life:

"I remember when mama wanted to know way back when we first started to live together why aren't you marrying him. I was just nineteen but I had enough sense to say Mama, I don't know who I am really, I can't be marrying nobody. I am over thirty now. I know who I am. And I understand what's happening here. The therapist explained it too. That Mack is engaged in change--back to the way you were behavior. He wants me to be the innocent needy child-woman he fell in love with, not the powerful adult feminist woman. He reminds me more and more of mama and daddy. It just seems that all the time he's trying to break my spirit, not so I will leave him, but so I will become the child-woman he fell in love with."--pp191-192

I love this passage for a couple of reasons. First of all, I love that bell-at-19 knows herself well enough to know that she doesn't want to get married at 19, before (for her) she figures out who she is. I love that she uses that reason with her mother. And then later, when she's 30, she knows, as does her therapist, that who she is at 30 isn't who she was at 19--and who she is at 30 isn't who Mack wants her to be, on some level.

We only know about Mack what hooks tells us about him, but what she tells us about him through the book shows that he's a fairly complex person as well. And, while it would be a gross over generalization to say that men (even feminist men) 'have a problem' with strong, feminist women, it would be equally as absurd to ignore the fact that there are some things going on there, in the friendships and romantic relationships between strong feminist women and the men in their lives...even the men who identify on whatever level as feminists.

I find myself having to be quite conscious of my own reactions during conversations with feminist friends and lovers. Of course, each relationship has its own dynamics, so I'm painting with too broad a brush here (no pun intended), but I notice various ways of interacting that I have to pay attention to--some of my feminist friends like a good argument where voices are raised (the kind of argument I like less and less, actually); some like quiet, reasoned discussion over a period of weeks. Some feel inclined to disagree with me on almost everything--in part because they think I'm wrong, but in part because of some newfound strength and happiness they get having realized that they can disagree. And in all cases, my mode of arguing/discussing needs to shift and flow differently, depending on my own needs and the needs of my friend, and I have to deal with my own internalized difficulties when interacting with strong women--after all, much of what I've been taught as I was growing up suggests that such women aren't worth interacting with (even though strong men are worthwhile), and I still struggle pretty much every day with what I learned growing up.

Reading bell hooks, in a way especially when reading her autobiographical work, helps me to feel less alone in this struggle.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Men Doing Feminist Work: John Stoltenberg

Y'all have probably already heard of John Stoltenberg, one of the founders of Men Can Stop Rape and life partner to Andrea Dworkin. But this guy has been doing feminist work for decades, and it's worth taking a look at his work.

While I have some problems with MCSR's "My Strength" campaign (I think that it, unfortunately, plays on traditional male masculinity--i.e. 'men must be strong', and the images used in the various media of the campaign reinforce traditional male masculinity as well), I think that Stoltenberg's basic take on the ways that feminism can help men is right on. Feminism can help men realize that traditional conceptions of masculinity can be harmful to men. In "Why I Stopped Trying to Be a Real Man" he says:

As I watched guys trying to prove their fantasy of manhood--by doing dirt to women, making fun of queers, putting down people of other religions and races--I realized they were doing something really negative to me too, because their fear and hatred of everything "nonmanly" was killing off something in me that I valued.

That's why I feel a connection to feminism. I want a humanity that is not measured against the cult of masculinity. I want a selfhood that does not reject fine parts of myself just because they are not "manly." I want courage to confront the things men have done in the world that are damaging to women and that are also leaving no safe space for the self I hope to be.

Go check out Men Can Stop Rape. Some of Stoltenberg's writings can be found here.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Pop Culture Influence of Comic Strips

Last week there was some talk about the following comic on various blogs:

It's sort of strange, I suppose, that I haven't posted about it yet, given that I do regular posts on gender and comic strips every Tuesday. Thing is, sometimes something happens that is just so beyond the pale that one is sort of speechless. And that's how I felt about this comic.

Having had a few more days to reflect on it, I'm struck by two things that I haven't yet seen floating around the feminist blogs around this comic. First of all, this comic is a great example of authors who are blind to their own male privilege (although men might do well to carry mace to protect themselves from violence, they don't tend to, and they don't do so with rape in mind)--and it's not just a great example because of this comic, but because one of the authors who does Crankshaft (Tom Batiuk) also does Funky Winkerbean, which is often a heartfelt, semi-complex little comic. And for me, this just goes to show how much privilege can blind us...I think that Batiuk can be pretty progressive and smart, and yet he still somehow thinks jokes revolving around being attractive enough for rape (as if rape was all about attractiveness) is fair game.

Secondly, I think it's interesting that such an obviously horrible comic brings out ire in us, but some of us make light of some of the less egregious examples of gender stereotyping and reinforcement of traditional gender roles that go on in comics every day. Of course, there's plenty of all of that going around in pop culture in general--but I think that's why things like comic strips are a good example of how ingrained in our culture this stuff can be. So ingrained that it doesn't seem harmful until somebody steps over some line. For me, the comic above is no more or less a good example of policing traditional gender stereotypes than any others that I tend to post here on Tuesdays. It's more explicit, it's worse in its level of ignorance, perhaps, but it's the same sort of animal.