Thursday, January 31, 2008

Absence

I've been away. Not literally. Wait--can you be away literally from a blog? There are various reasons, not completely unlike Roy's reasons at No Cookie for Me and legions of other bloggers everywhere, I suppose. Issues of relevancy, of utility, and of being just plain burnt out. And then, of course, as a male feminist blogger, there are added issues of privilege--the idea that men can more easily take a break from understanding sexism does tend to pop into my head, though I know it's more complex than that.

And now I am going to be out of town for a week or so, back The second full week of February. So I'm going to let my road trip help me percolate up some of the ideas I have for change here at Feminist Allies into ideas worth writing about. Something clearly has to change so that I can feel not only like I'm creating some interesting ideas in people's heads, but also that I'm not setting myself up for another burnout.

My original conception of this blog was for 4 or 5 men (and women) to post middle-length posts about men, masculinity, and feminism. When the groupblog didn't work out, I resolved to do short little posts on a 5-a-day basis, with perhaps a long-ish post thrown in once or twice a week. This appears to be too much for me--I just haven't felt like I've had enough to say that often. So I'm working on some other ideas, which I'll hopefully start up when I get back from my trip.

Count me as down, but not out.

See you in a week or so!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Roe v. Wade

On this, the 35th Anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, I'm digging Courtney Martin's take on things, which includes complex analysis and inclusion of the opinions of many:
As we celebrate the 35th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade this week, I hope we can remember a bit of the spirit at the Women's March for Choice in Washington, D.C. -- a gathering of over a million people according to some estimates -- back in 2004. Surrounded by men, women and children of all ages, I felt empowered to stand up for every woman's legal right to reproductive choice (not to mention health), but also free to disclose my complicated feelings over the issue. There was space for transformational dialogue as we lay in the grass, listening to the diverse speakers. There was time to look women of all ages in the eyes and say, "This is where I'm coming from. How about you?"

Gender in Comics: How Soft is Your World?

I was probably one of the last people to discover A Softer World, an interesting 'comic' that utilizes pictures of the real world, but sticks to a three-panel daily comic form. Usually the third panel has some sort of turn-around in thought. Mostly they are charming, funny, and full of bleak humor--and the bleakness is certainly part of the humor. One often finds oneself thinking, "Ouch!" while chuckling all the same. For a good example, check out this one. But sometimes, not so much. After reading through a bunch of their archives, I've found way too many references to violence against women than one would have expected from such a witty source.

As is par for the course with a lot of the comics I detail here, I actually really like this comic, generally. So, once again, this is tough love.

There Is Always More 'Humor' About Stalking, It Seems
Am I an old feminist curmudgeon? Perhaps. But this sort of thing still doesn't touch my funny bone at all:


I Said Peanuts
Poisoning Somebody? Not funny. Thinking About Poisoning Somebody? Funny...?


See What I Did There?
Another reference to domestic violence that's not really happening, so it can be funny, right?


The Cat's Out of the Bag, Hopefully
And finally, just out and out 'humorous' misogyny!
Because fantasizing about killing all of your ex-girlfriends and then playing video games is hilarious.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Gender in Comics: The Women As Objects Edition

I'm going to pick on F-Minus a bit this week, but that's not because I think it's more of a problem regarding gender stereotypes than any other comics. In fact, it's often better around gender and race. I love F-Minus. So think of this as tough love.

What Better Present Than a "Secretary"?
The root of this joke is pretty funny, actually--the idea that somebody would employ somebody around their home for writing daily emails or whatever (though how a secretary would do that with a steno pad isn't clear--I think the steno is there in lieu of a nametag that says "secretary", as an identifier). Thing is, as it stands, it's just creepy, what with the short-ish skirt and the fact that, by default, the secretary is a woman.

Even Creepier: A Womb as a View
Or is my title for this comic even creepier? Probably.
I think what bothers me most about this is that this represents at least a couple of things going on here that are only very slightly magnified for so-called comic effect--things that people do and experience daily. The sign isn't far from how some men talk and think about women. And the experience of having to walk by such a sign, as a woman, isn't far from the general harassment many women go through daily.

Dating Women as a Class of Things
There's an interesting storyline going on in Monty over the past few weeks, which I'll probably talk more about, because it's relatively nuanced for a comic. But some of the first strips are great examples of what men sometimes do: They attempt to date a gender, rather than a person:
Single? Check. Woman? Check. And that's all it takes, because they're interchangeable objects!

Monday, January 14, 2008

bell hooks Monday: God and Love and All That Good Stuff

Since I haven't responded yet in detail regarding a bunch of comments from my post Can God Be a Feminist?, I thought I would at least offer up a different point of view (than my own) from one of my favorite feminists on god and worship. For bell hooks, what is central to the necessity of a spiritual life is the need to keep our focus on love. It's interesting to note that she moved from being a Christian, to becoming interested in Buddhism and Islamic mysticism, to just keeping in mind that love is where we often find truth.

From Wounds of Passion:
"When I come to college, it does not take me long to realize that the really hip people do not believe in god, that no one talks about religion expect the boring born against. My relationship to god is the most private union. I learn not to speak of it. Although in classes it is always I who can name a scriptural reference. I konw the bible and am not ashamed of this knowing. In fact, it surprises me that everyone in my classes is so ignorant, mostly though they brag about being atheist. That's what is really cool--to not believe in the existence of god. I believe."(pp 152)


I had a moderately different experience in college. I did meet some self-professed atheists in college, but mostly I meet people who claim agnosticism, or a generalized 'spirituality' not unlike what hooks tells us she ends up with. Of course, the atheists I did run across there (some of whom became friends!) were relatively vocal in their atheism not unlike the people hooks seems to be talking about. Hooks, for her part, moves along from her Christianity to look around for other paths:

"Mack finds my devotion to religion strange. I have moved away from the conventional church but I have kept in me the love of the inner life, the need to be one with the divine. I search for the meaning of religious life everywhere. I study Buddhism and Islamic mysticism. In town there is a Sufi meeting. I go there to dance in the circle of love. And that I am learning about the mystical dimensions of religious faith takes me back to the heart, to loving. To be with god is to love. It is required and understood that a man be found faithful. The ethics of being that govern my life are grounded in spiritual life.(pp152-153)"


Who can argue with love, or paying attention to one's inner life? I find it interesting that hooks doesn't seem to explicitly talk about the misogynist aspects of various religions--though I haven't read everything she has written. She does, however, express various ways in which religion has left her wanting--the white Buddhists who say race doesn't matter because we all choose our race, those who try to force their beliefs on others, the difficulties of letting go of the things in this world in order to be more spiritual. In the end, she likes the seeking--seeking seems to be her religion:
"I contemplate my work. I pray for divine guidance. It comes between me and Mack that I am turning from poetry to writing critical essays, on subjects that are more political. He feels I am abandoning the aesthetics of the artists life for the mundane realm of social theory. I am trying to invent a world that can sustain me as a writer, as a woman dedicated to the life of the mind. I want to remain a seeker on the path."(pp160)

I sometimes feel this way about feminism itself, actually. The infighting just kills me sometimes. And, the need for the infighting--there are real problems that need to be addressed--kills me too. When I start feeling like abandoning feminism for, say, humanism or some such, one thing that helps me is to understand the ways in which my relationship to feminism has developed, and the ways in which feminism itself has changed and grown, is to look at it in a similar way to the way that hooks is looking at religion. Seeking a better and better feminism seems to be the way to go--still seeking, even while unhappy with the current path. (Of course, I feel this way about humanism, and anti-racism, and lots of other ways of framing the world.)

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Shorter Gloria Steinem:

Systems of oppression involving gender and race can only be uprooted together, but gender is way more important than race.

Early on in her latest op-ed piece, she says:
Gender is probably the most restricting force in American life, whether the question is who must be in the kitchen or who could be in the White House.

And then a bit later:
I’m not advocating a competition for who has it toughest. The caste systems of sex and race are interdependent and can only be uprooted together.
Um, yeah, you know, you sort of are advocating a competition, what with claims of what is the most restricting force in American life. And then you offer 'evidence' for this view by noting that black men got the vote before any woman did, ignoring (just off the top of my head) lots of other facts, like the fact that white women weren't literally slaves as black men and women were. Just as a for-instance. Sheesh.

I'm disappointed in the extreme with Steinem's writing here, which feels for all the world to me like Steinem hasn't heard a word that has been said in the past three or so decades from those who have been rightly critical of feminism for being stupid about race.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

What Men Can Do Wednesday: Get Some Help with Being an Ally

There is a great discussion going on over at Creek Running North on an 'Ally 101' thread started by Theriomorph around how to be a good feminist ally, and how to keep one's privilege and racism in check as much one can. I encourage everybody who isn't already reading it to check it out.

Some of the comments are simply put, but full of good advice. From commentor Christina, of Say Nothing Charmingly, in particular sticks with me:
I really just think that listening, leavened with a touch of empathy, is what is needed. Since historically, white folks haven’t had to listen to others much, nor feel empathy for others much, it’s not as easy as it sounds to learn it.

Hat tip to BlueAlto.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Tuesday Gender in Comics: Stereotypes and Double-Standards

MmmmMm...Canned Soup and Waffles...
First up, Calvin's dad provides the model for the supposed 'typical' dad, when faced with preparing dinner:
Gender stereotypes are interesting, especially when they feel sort of rooted in reality. Men aren't encouraged to learn to cook as much as women are (unless you get to the 'chef' level of cooking, and then there are more jobs for male chefs than female chefs, and a lot of sexism from higher-ups, apparently). But of course lots of men do love to cook, and lots of women are happier making soup and waffles. My stepfather loves to cook, and my mother (like me) doesn't like it so much. It works out great for both of them, because she often cleans up (and enjoys his meals!), and he gets to do what he thinks is pretty fun (I don't get it), and make meals.

Growing Fat and Love Handles
A 'classic' For Better or For Worse spells out a double-standard pretty clearly:
It's interesting to note that this 'classic' strip is probably 15 years old, at least (rather than just retire outright, Lynn Johnston has opted to do some new strips and some 'flashback' strips), so it may be slightly dated, but still mostly holds true. I think things are changing in this regard, at least in the realm of the pressures of advertising. Men are more and more encouraged to buy products that help them appear/feel younger-looking, thinner, hairless and the like. I would be happy that things are evening out if it weren't for the fact that they are evening out in the 'wrong' direction; instead of people of all genders being happier and healthier at various sizes, men are becoming (to some degree, anyway) objectified in ways that will likely not be good for their self-value.

It's Just That Simple
Mutt 'n' Jeff sum it up:

Men like to read. Women like to shop. Enough said!

Monday, January 07, 2008

bell hooks Monday: Men Who Change

Sorry, only enough time for some insightful words from bell herself this morning. Back to more regular posting soon.

From The Will to Change:
"It is not easy for males, young or old, to reject the codes of patriarchal masculinity. Men who choose against violence ar esimultaneously choosing against patriarchy, wherther they can articulate that choice or not." (pp73)
"Ultimately, the men who choose agaisnt violence, against death, do so because they want to live fully and well, because they want to know love. These men who are true heroes, the men whose lives we need to know about, honor and remember." (pp74)

Friday, January 04, 2008

Men Who Do Feminist Work -- The Men of the Movie "Protagonist":Mark Pierpont, Joe Loya, Mark Salzman and Hans-Joachim Klein

I recently had the great pleasure of watching Jessica Yu's film, Protagonist. I am sometimes a bit of a documentary film junkie, and I was looking around for something to watch on ye old online-dvd-in-the-mail service's webpage, and ran into this film. Yu has several other prior films to her credit, and I haven't seen any of them, though I hope to see them all, now that I've seen this one.

The premise of the documentary is simple: Yu interlaces the stories of four men who, on the face of it, only seem to have a few things in common. As the film goes on, the relationships between the men's stories begin to come into focus, and it turns out that all four men have been struggling with various strains of traditional masculinity, and, though self-analyzing struggle, have found different sorts of masculinities to embrace.

I'm being extremely heavy-handed in my analysis, but the film itself has a pretty light touch. It wasn't until the last third of the movie that I realized that masculinity was really at the center of things for these men--and recognizing the ways in which they could reject rigid gender roles helped them to overcome some of the central difficulties of their lives. Feminism isn't mentioned by name here, and it's pretty clear that the men involved might not characterize themselves as doing feminist work, but, since feminist theory has done so much of the heavy lifting as regards railing against traditionally rigid gender roles, I say they are doing feminist work nonetheless.

I encourage everybody who is interested in documentary storytelling, men who are struggling with traditional conceptions of masculinity, and pro-feminist men in general to check out the film. And I don't think I can encourage you to do so more than by giving a bit of background on these four men. From the movie's site:
The Stories At the heart of each man's story is the quest to transcend his imperfections. While each man's motivations are highly personal, the stories demonstrate how the individual struggle between fate and character can have far-reaching consequences.

HANS-JOACHIM KLEIN suffers through a cruel childhood in a working class neighborhood near Frankfurt, Germany. When Klein joins the leftist movement in the 1970s, he is driven as much by idealism as by the desire to rebel against his authoritarian father, a cop. As Klein's activism evolves from radicalism to terrorism, he becomes a trusted comrade in the Revolutionary Cells (RZ), an offshoot of the notorious Baader-Meinhof gang. With the RZ he joins Carlos the Jackal in the violent kidnapping of eleven OPEC ministers, which leaves three people dead and Klein with a near-fatal gunshot wound.

MARK PIERPONT has a strict religious upbringing in New Jersey. The "black sheep" of the family, he realizes his attraction to other men, but desperately wants to avoid this sentence to "eternal hell." Pierpont's drive to suppress his homosexuality leads him to become a missionary, preaching abroad to crowds of thousands. Back in the states he infiltrates gay bars to spread the word of Jesus, convincing himself that his "homosexual problem" has been cured.

JOE LOYA also comes from a home steeped in both love and fear of God, as enforced by his zealous father. At age seven, Loya's mother dies, and his father's grief explodes into violence against Joe and his brother. When Loya finally fights back against years of abuse, the act of dethroning his father ignites a sense of intense power, of triumph over hypocrisy and brutality. Loya's determination to recapture that thrill leads him to his own life of brutality, in which he eventually robs over thirty banks.

MARK SALZMAN comes from suburban Connecticut. The smallest boy in his class, he is the subject of relentless torment from his peers and his mild-mannered parents offer little guidance. Upon seeing the show "Kung Fu" on television, Salzman is convinced that he can achieve personal transformation through the study of martial arts. Though he becomes best friends with the chief bully in his school, Salzman's quest to become a man of physical and spiritual strength is warped by his allegiance to a sadistic master.

PROTAGONIST seeks not to judge its subjects or make political pronouncements, but rather to use these stories as a window into human nature. Though our subjects' backgrounds are diverse, their shared experience points to a universal conflict: the conflict between the desire to control our world, and to accept our fundamental limitations.


What these descriptions don't tell you is that all four men were able to creating something of a reversal of their own fortunes, even though there was still a cost associated with how they were before the reversal.

Thanks for Jessica Yu, and to these four men, for creating such an interesting window into the inner lives of men and their relationship to traditionally rigid conceptions of masculinity.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

New Book!

Y'all should check out Shira Tarrant 's new anthology by/about/for pro-feminist men:
Men Speak Out: Views on Gender, Sex, and Power.

I can't hide that I'm jealous as heck that the piece I submitted didn't make it into this anthology, because it looks pretty neato. I'll be buying it in spite of my bitter heart, and I'll enjoy it, dammit!