"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, May 02, 2008

One More Thing Feminism Can Do: Critique Traditional (White) Masculinity

I've been thinking some more about why I think the tragedy that is Sean Bell's death is a feminist issue. Holly pointed out at Feministe that part of the reason why it's a feminist issue is because it's difficult to take in the situation without also taking in the women that Bell's death has left behind, and the anguish his fiance, Nicole Paultre-Bell, must live with. Holly also notes:
The problem here, as Delores Jones-Brown points out, is that there is a systemic pattern of police officers shooting unarmed suspects. The problem is that this disproportionately affects communities of color. The black men who are most often slaughtered by such violence, and all the women and children in their lives too, their loved ones, friends and relatives. A system that is all too eager to exonerate “the thin blue line” and continue business as usual. All of these are feminist issues. Racism must be a feminist issue, for any kind of feminism that counts. Police brutality must be; the biases of the criminal justice system must be.

There is another aspect of this, which was revealed to me in a comment by donna darko, who said:
Sean Bell and Jena 6 are not feminist issues although feminists are interested in them and post about them. For example, what is the feminist solution to the Sean Bell and Jena 6 case? There are feminist solutions to incidents of police brutality involving women. This is feminism’s worst nightmare: IT’S NOW ABOUT TEH MENZ!

I think I see Donna's point. To take it to an extreme, we ought to be concerned about the ways in which feminism and feminists may lose focus to the point of making everything a feminist issue. But I also think that it can be worth our time to look at most problems through a feminist lens. In the case of the Sean Bell tragedy, feminism can offer up an analysis of the force of traditional masculinity, for example.

First off, I think that what happened to Sean Bell is at least partly the result of the enforcement of traditional masculinity, a masculinity based on fear-of-other-men, on might-makes-right. Mixed up in all of this is also the way in which traditional conceptions of masculinity revolve around traditional conceptions of white masculinity, where men of color aren't 'real' men, but rather, animalistic, and dangerous. And traditional white masculinity is so entrenched in various institutions that it affects all of the people in those institutions--even to the point of men of color reinforcing such masculinity themselves, as (I think) is the case with the two men of color who shot Sean Bell.

And where do we find critiques of this type of masculinity? Well, one place we find it is within the frameworks of feminism. This isn't the only place we might find it, but it's where I see a consistent critique of it. Which is not to say that anti-racist analysis, for instance, isn't just as viable a lens through which to see this tragedy--but so is the feminist lens, inasmuch as traditional masculinity has had a hand in such tragedies, and inasmuch as feminism offers us ways of critiquing and changing masculinity.

So, in part to speak to Donna's point, I want to say that while there may not be a feminist solution to what happened to Sean Bell, there is a feminist analysis that can be done, that needs to be done, on how traditional conceptions of masculinity helped to cause Sean Bell's death (not to exonerate any of his killers from their individual responsibility, to be clear). Feminism isn't the only tool to use in order to do this, but it's a good one.

Also: Sudy makes a similar point regarding a feminist analysis of the Iraq war:
The question is not what makes the issue feminist, but has a feminist perspective been applied to the issue? Many perceive the Iraq war not to be a feminist issue. I don't give two shits if it's a "feminist issue," I care if feminists have applied their analytical skills, intelligence, resources, and insight to the Iraq war.

Also: If you don't think that some of the problems of police abuse of power don't revolve around conceptions of traditional masculinity, you might watch this, courtesy of Lauren:
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