"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

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Men in Feminist Spaces

“Men who want to be feminists do not need to be given a space in feminism. They need to take the space they have in society & make it feminist.”

—Kelley Temple, National Union of Students UK Women’s Officer
Here's a quote that's been floating around various online spheres of mine--it's one that I love, but at the same time, it also shows the limits of slogans (even good slogans).  Inasmuch as it addresses the persistent problem of feminist men barging in and attempting to take over feminist spaces to various degrees, it's fantastic.  And as a beginning of a plan for feminist men, "go out and make the spaces you're already in feminist" is quite a fine start. It was partly in that spirit that I originally started this blog--while I had recognized that men would often take over comments sections of various feminist posts ("what about the menz!?!!1!"), I also recognized that some of the stuff that men were bringing up in comments were legitimate issues that just weren't being brought up in the right context. I wanted Feminist Allies to provide some of that context, to provide a place where men who were feminists could talk about feminist movement, including their concerns about their place(s) within feminism.  

Thing is, "go out and make your spaces feminist" can only be the start of what feminist men can (and ought) to go out and do--it can't be the start and end of what we can do. Imagining that men can do feminist work without having a community backing them up, that men can do feminist work without support from other men, women, and folks of all genders, is to partly buy in to the notion of traditional masculinity, buying in to the notion of hyper-individuality which is really specifically harmful to men, even though it of course affects folks of all genders.  

Feminist men don't "deserve" a place in all feminist spaces. But there have to be some feminist spaces that men are allowed into; even if the majority of those spaces are created and maintained by other feminist men, I suspect that there is a real, necessary need for some feminist spaces created and maintained by women to make some space for feminist men.  Luckily, there are lots of such spaces, actually, which is why I can still embrace the above slogan, even though I think it's way more complex than it implies.  

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

Monday, September 10, 2012

Appeals to Humanity, not Masculinity

There's something of a feminist revolution happening in the gaming world, thanks largely to the response of lots of great folks to the hating on Anita Sarkeesian's project, Tropes vs. Women in Video Games.  If you're not aware of the whole issue, Sarkeesian has a great roundup of the whole thing here, and I like this article in particular as a summation/commentary.

And, luckily, lots of men who are gamers are getting involved (though more involvement earlier would have been nice, I suppose).  I'm really glad men are doing some of the work here, so it's with mixed feelings that I point out that I think some of the help is less useful than other of the help. In particular, responses which focus on enforcing traditional masculinity as a way of encouraging guys to move away from misogyny are, to my mind, not taking the problem of misogyny on in a way that keeps an eye on long-term changes.  Earnest W. Adams' recent piece on Jezebel is a great example of a well-meaning piece that emphasizes traditional masculinity in such a way so as to sort of defeat its own purpose.

I like much of what Adams has to say, and I'm glad he has said it. He frames his point by basically saying that men who are misogynist gamers are victims of their own arrested development--they somehow got stuck in the "eww...girls!" phase of adolescence, rather than going through that phase and then maturing into adulthood. Even this analysis has its problems (he never asks why there is an "eww....girls!" phase to begin with; I suspect if our culture wasn't steeped in misogyny, there wouldn't be), but the basics make a lot of sense, as does his basic advice to the misogynist male gamers:  Grow up!

I really do think that Adams is on to something here (please read his whole article, because it has lots to offer), but he undermines his own points by confusing "grown up" with "real man". Early on he notes that
"What distinguishes a real man from a boy is that a man takes responsibility for his actions and does not abuse this power." The "real man vs. boy" distinction could just be about "young'uns vs. adults", but in using the "real man" terminology, Adams is invoking enforcement of traditional masculinity, and "real man" has so long been so synonymous with "don't be a pussy/woman/little boy!" that it doesn't take us in the direction we really want to go. Instead, we end up back at square one, with "real men" telling "little boys" how to be "real men".  Adams goes on to say:  Say these words into your headset: "I'm disappointed in you. I thought you were a man, not a whiny, insecure little boy." The "whiny, insecure little boy" language depends on emasculating, and really sounds bullying, which in the long range just reinforces misogyny, on my view. I'd like the "grow up!" approach more if it focused more clearly on appealing to guys' humanity rather than their masculinity.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Complex Masculinity Policing

I've been aware of the not-so-suble policing of masculinity for quite a while now--from adolescence on, men (and women) are taught to police men's masculinity in myriad ways. This sort of policing of masculinity includes anything from being ridiculued for one's haircut by bullies (I'm looking at you, Mitt Romney) to the looks and questions I get about my pink bike. Some of this policing is really overtly violent, either verbally or physically, or both, but much of it is more subtle. A glance, a snicker, folks staring when you don't match up with what they think masculinity should look like. And men are taught to police themselves in this regard almost constantly.

So it was kind of fascinating when I found myself having my masculinity policed in what was a fairly subtle, interesting way the other day. I was having dinner with my partner and some of her friends. Most of us at the table were cisgendered (look it up if you don't know what it means), but as is the case in my social circles recently, not everyone was cisgendered. An acquaintence of mine who is a transguy was there, and he was in a goofy mood; I found myself on the recieving end of some teasing by him--he was teasing me because my sideburns were mismatched. He, of course, had immaculate facial hair, including cute, well-matched sideburns. Little did he know that this version of policing masculinity was/is a button for me, and I wasn't able to play along and take it in the humorous way that I'm pretty sure he intended it. Of course, as with a lot of the more subtle forms of policing masculinity, "jokes" are often a way to make cruel statements socially acceptable, so the grey areas around such comments can be treacherous.

One of the reasons it really got to me, I think, was that I don't tend to hang out with guys who joke in this way--or, at least, I don't hang out with acquaintances who joke in this way. Close friends can tease me like this and it doesn't seem to affect me much, because they know me, know my complex relationship(s) to masculinity, and are often joking "ironically" with me in a way that actually makes me feel accepted. Acquaintances who make jokes about masculinity in this way just don't tend to stay acquaintances with me for long--the spaces I hang out in simply aren't full of men who police masculinity in this way. So when I ran into it, it hit me hard. On the one hand, I have a sort of flip emotional response to it, which can be summed up by something like, "Hey, man, you'll get bored with facial hair after 25 years, too." The same part of me that feels this flip response also wants to say, "Hey, way to go. You can now be recognized as having joined the ranks of men-who-police-other-men's-masculinity!" But I'm also just fascinated by the fact that, clearly, policing masculinity as a man is learned behavior--it's not something that we have to do, it's not something we do because it's "innate"; rather, it's something that we learn to do as we grow into men, just as my acquaintance has learned to do as he has grown into a man.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Really enjoying this album--oddly catchy songs with feminist themes.  It's not easy to make a catchy song that includes rape culture references, but Tati Kalveks manages to do it with her song, "Liberation".

Graceless, by Tati Kalveks

Go listen to it, and then buy it!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Girls With Slingshots (...and Boys with Feelings)

One of my fave webcomics of the moment is Danielle Corsetto's Girls with Slingshots.  It's a sort of ongoing slice-of-life comic about a group of friends (and enemies?), centering around a main character who is a struggling writer.  I enjoy it because it's beautifully drawn, very often full of bawdy humor, and, like most great comic strips, manages to do all of that and still have a lot of insight into the human condition. Add to that the fact that it's got a bunch of queer characters, isn't just white people, and manages to somehow insert into a fairly realistic world a talking, alcoholic cactus and a ghost cat, and, well, it's just a winner.

As the title of the strip might indicate, it also delves into gender stereotypes quite often, mostly in funny, subtle, and positive ways. Lately part of the storyline has included Hazel, one of the central characters, having to "grow up" a little, as folks around her are doing some growing, and she's beginning to be left behind.  And one of the most fascinating things to come out of this plot, for me, has to do with seeing men in the strip behave in ways that we don't often see in pop culture--Corsetto shows us that there are men who are working on growing up, and looking for partners who are ready to grow up as well:

Compare this with the ubiquitous trope of men-who-won't-grow-up that we see so often, and you have a refreshing view of men as (gasp!) mufti-faceted human beings.  The cherry on top of all of this is that Corsetto has a real handle on the fact that men are currently dealing with shifting ideas of masculinity--men are more often recognizing that they can have emotions, and express them, but we also exist in a world where we're not quite comfortable with all of that yet.  So, when Zach heads to the bar, hoping he'll see his buddy there so he can talk about his life, he gets some friendly ribbing for it, first from the bartender:
...and then from his friend:

But then he does get to talk about his feelings, like, y'know, a person:

 It's realistic, and refreshing, and I wish more folks explored this stuff in comic strips. Go check out Girls with Slingshots.  Heck, go buy some stuff from Corsetto!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Everyday (Subtle) Sexism

As I go through my day, I often run up against some sort of subtle sexism.  Sometimes it's not so subtle, of course, but oftentimes it's not the in-your-face-angry types of sexism that get under my skin; rather, it's the more insidious kinds of sexism that gets to me.  Of course, as a guy, I'm often not suffering directly because of this sexism--but I would add that a lot of women don't suffer directly from subtle forms of sexism.  Instead these kinds of everyday sexism create a kind of  conceptual background within which we all live, and, to the degree that the background is sexist, we have to live within it. To the degree that it is subtle, it's difficult to call people out about it. 

This picture was put up as a "joke" by a guy that I know to be a smart, worldly man who has done a lot of thinking about (among other things) gender.  It's part of a basic trope that I hear echoes of all the time:  "Women are complex.  Men are simple."  I think it's pretty sexist--it's part of the whole "Mars vs. Venus" line of thinking which oversimplifies sex and gender is so many ways that it's difficult to know where to begin when criticizing it. (Ok, a beginning: There is more variation between individual men and between individual women as regards behavior than there is between women and men. )

I think it's often a good idea to point out this kind of everyday, subtle sexism, because it's exactly the kind of sexism that well-meaning people want pointed out to them--I try to appreciate it when folks point out that I'm using sexist (or racist, or homophobic, or whatever) ideas especially when I'm just not aware of them. Unfortunately, this sort of thing doesn't always play out so well for me; when I pointed out the sexism involved in the picture, it was not well-received, even by a guy who has a lot of experience with social justice issues and oppression.

So what do you folks do when you run into everyday, subtle sexism? 

Monday, June 04, 2012

About Men Documentary

This looks like it will be a fascinating documentary about a men's group in Idaho. I'm kind of suspicious of men's groups, as I think the idea of  "raising up" masculinity, even alternative masculinities, as a central goal for men, can be misguided. That said:  Men creating alternative, less-harmful masculinities? All good.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Either/Or vs. Both/And

I read comic books. I have both a nostalgic connection to them from my youth, and a love of the medium here and now--I enjoy watching the medium grow, shift and change, even as I (sometimes) still wish for the days when comics were printed on crappy paper and cost 75 cents. (For those not in the know: They are no longer 75 cents.)  Because comics-as-media exist in the larger world of media, there are many more comics made by and about men than there are comics made by and about women. This is especially true when it comes to superhero comics (which is still most comics, though that seems to be shifting somewhat).  Is this changing? Sure. But slooooowly. Way too slowly, for many of us. 

Because there are so many more men than women making comics, I do seek out women creators--and one such up-and-coming creator is Kelly Sue DeConnick. I originally heard of DeConnick years and years ago, because she was good friends with one of my favorite artists, Lauren McCubbin.  Recently I started following her work, embarrassingly, simply because she has a really good tumblr. I decided to check out her work on a comic callsed Osborne, and I was hooked. She's great. 

Because she's got a new book coming out that stars a female character, and in part because there are so few superhero books that star female characters, she's getting asked a lot about her take on women-in-comics.  (Ok, let's be honest: Because she's a woman in a male-dominated industry, she's getting asked a lot about her take on women in comics.  But the new book adds to it.)  During a recent interview, she makes it perfectly clear that she is both a straight-up comic book writer and a feminist:
I am outspoken, have always been so and I very much unapologetically consider myself to be a feminist. I don't think that's a bad word. I resent how that has been taken away from me, how I'm supposed to be, "Well I'm not a feminist..." No! Yes I am! I have a daughter. I want my daughter to have every opportunity in this world that my son has, and for that reason I am a feminist. Before I had Tallulah, I was much more concerned with being liked, and now for her sake I don't give a shit if you like me. I will fight so that she does not have to. I will try to handle with grace things that make me want to put my fist through the wall because I want her to have a better world. I want her to have more opportunities.

I knew my great-grandmother. She lived until I was in college, I knew her very well. I knew her as a woman. My great-grandmother was young when we got the vote. This is recent history, you know? I was a young Wonder Woman reading girl during the ERA movement. I remember all of that! We still don't have equal pay, my son is still safer walking around in the world than my daughter is. I'm more comfortable with the idea of him driving at night than I am my daughter. They're 2 and 4 so, happily, this is not an issue just yet, but still. This is a thing that I'm outspoken about, so thus, because that is part of my personality, that has become part of my “brand” or whatever -- and now I'm writing a female lead book.

It's pretty easy to get wrapped up in feminist identity--after all, once you start seeing stuff through feminist lenses, it's difficult to unsee all of it, and there are lots of fights to be fought; identifying as a feminist (or pro-feminist) helps buttress oneself during these struggles. It gives one a place to stand, and sometimes a community to stand with one. But it's also important to recognize that no person is that easily summed up. I'm starting to realize this as regards folks that I disagree with, as well as those I agree with--and it gives one a lot more room to exist in the world.  Either/or is not a healthy place to exist for very long. It's exhausting. Both/and represents growth, and allows one to interact with others in a way that doesn't demonize, and perhaps (perhaps!) gets more good work done. 

Some of what DeConnick says later on in the interview (I think) oversimplifies the relationship between "the business of comics" and the dearth of female comic creators ("dearth" here doesn't mean there are no women creating comics, but that there are So. Many. Men. by comparison), but I like how DeConnick is responding to the folks who are "branding" her as a woman who writes comics.  

Men Doing Feminist Work: Adam Yauch (MCA of the Beastie Boys)

I had vaguely known that the Beastie Boys had shifted their music over the years from "party hard" to something more socially responsible, but I didn't know just how much until I read Jessica Valenti's article.  It's worth a read, for sure.  A snippet:

And that’s what was so remarkable and emotional about the Beastie Boys’ feminist turnaround. Maybe your father says sexism doesn’t exist and your boyfriend disrespects you. Maybe you have to deal with assholes on the subway who rub up against you every day and laugh when you yell at them. But listening to this band that you love so much say that your pain is real, that the world is fucked up and that they are not going to participate in actions that hurt you anymore because they care about you—it was the overwhelming feeling of being made visible. They were sending a clear message to their female fans: this isn’t okay, we have your back, we’re sorry.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


I love this video. There are, of course, some complexities to calling other men out right-then-right-there: Can it be done in a way that doesn't perpetuate conflict and violence between men, for example? There are also complexities around race that need to be taken into account--as a white guy, calling out a black guy on street harassment means something different than if another black guy does it. And yet, despite all of the complexities, I can't help but think that the world would be better off if we just heard more men like the men in this video...

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Men Doing Feminist Work: Si Spurrier and Paul Cornell

Seems there's a bit of a wave of allies in comics these days.  Recently, Paul Cornell, a celebrated comic (and television) writer, decided that he's not going to be on comic book panels that don't have some gender parity:

 If I'm on, at any convention this year, a panel that doesn't have a 50/50 gender split (I'll settle for two out of five), I'll hop off that panel, and find a woman to take my place.

Yay for Paul.

And now, Si Spurrier has followed Paul's example, and given up his seat on a panel to Tammy Taylor.  I hope this trend continues!

Friday, March 02, 2012

Feminist Reading: Battling Pornography

There is little that tends to polarize feminist communities more than discussions about pornography.  Carolyn Bronstein has written a fantastic book, Battling Pornography, which gives us an in-depth look at how various feminist movements in the 60's and 70's helped to move pornography "...to the forefront of the American women's movement in the 1980s, singled out by some leading feminists as a key agent of female oppression and celebrated by others as an essential ingredient of sexual liberation."  

My favorite part of Bronstein's book is that it doesn't shy away from the complexities of the issues.  It's a great read; I urge you to go buy it:

Bronstein was kind enough to do a pretty in-depth interview with me, below, about some of the issues that I thought would be of particular interest to readers of this blog.

FA:  First of all, thank you so much for doing this interview, and thank you for writing such a fascinating book. I've done a bit of reading about feminism and pornography, and I had no idea about a lot of the history involved.  Who is the intended audience for this book?

I hope that Battling Pornography will appeal to both academic and popular audiences.  Among academics, I think that American historians and sociologists, especially those specializing in women’s history, the history of gender and sexuality, social movements and popular culture will find the book useful and insightful, and will provide a new context for understanding anti-pornography organizing.  Media studies scholars are also a primary audience for the book, as it emphasizes the representation of women in advertising, television and film, and examines how radical feminists in the 1970s and 1980s tried to challenge the dominant constructions of femininity and masculinity created and reinforced by popular media.  Pornography is of interest to most academic disciplines: psychologists try to elucidate the potential for harmful effects on users; political scientists and legal scholars are interested in citizen and government attempts to restrict its free flow and the scope of the First Amendment in terms of protecting  this type of expression; philosophers debate the moral and ethical questions surrounding exploitation and consent among sex workers, which includes the live actors who appear in adult films and magazines, and on adult websites.  To the extent that pornography has implications for many academic disciplines, I hope that a wide range of scholars will find Battling Pornography to be an informative and engaging resource. 

In terms of a general audience, I expect that the book will draw readership from people with interests in feminism, sexuality, popular media and American history.  I hope that today’s young feminists—the third wavers—will pick up Battling Pornography and will come away with a deeper understanding of the unflagging campaign against sexism in media that the anti-pornography feminists led, and how hard they worked to illuminate and contest a culture of male violence against women, especially rape and battering.  Too many young women have been exposed to caricatures of anti-pornography feminists as anti-sexual manhaters who sought to eradicate all forms of sexual expression, and this stereotype has helped create barriers between older and younger feminists, with the latter coming to perceive themselves as rejecting and overthrowing the sexual puritanism of their foremothers.  One lesson that I hope that readers of Battling Pornography will learn is that the vast majority of anti-pornography feminists opposed violence, not sex.  They saw their work against sexualized media violence as a means of reducing women’s vulnerability to assault by eradicating gender stereotypes of woman as passive victim and man as lustful brute.  They did so in hopes that women might achieve the authentic sexual liberation that the sexual revolution had promised, but had failed to deliver. 

I also hope that feminists who were active in the debate, in either the anti-pornography or pro-sex camp, will read the book and perhaps come away with a better understanding of how those on the other side of the fence interpreted the pornography problem.  Some 30 years after the famous 1982 Barnard Conference that I discuss in the book, the mention of this event (famous for its bitter and public clash between anti-pornography and pro-sex feminists) continues to ignite passion, anger and resentment.  The writer Dorothy Allison has identified Barnard as the place where many feminists “lost our religion,” meaning that the women’s movement ceased to be a safe space where diverse voices and opinions could be heard and respected.  I suppose it’s too much to even hope that Battling Pornography could help heal some of those divisions by giving readers greater insight and context for understanding both sides of the movement, but somehow I do still wish that could happen. 

Finally, I think that the book covers significant ground for anyone who is interested in understanding the contemporary pornography scene, and how and why pornography has become a ubiquitous feature of modern life.  When attempts to control its spread through public education and consciousness raising and new legal approaches failed in the mid-1980s, at the same moment that changes in technology made it possible to pipe unlimited adult material into American homes through video and cable television, the stage was set for a seemingly unstoppable proliferation of pornography in American life.   

Battling Pornography takes a nuanced, complex look at the history of anti-pornography movements, indicating a progression of ideas and how those movements and ideas have led us to the places we are today regarding pornography, popular culture, and feminism.  I take a lot of what you wrote partly as a response to overly-simple critiques on all sides of the issue.  Why do you think we keep finding ourselves continually coming back to critiques that (to oversimplify!) complain that anti-porn folks are prudes and pro-porn folks are pimps/sluts/etc.?  Can knowledge of the history of progression of feminist thought and movements around porn help?

Binary categories are appealing.  They provide a mental shortcut that enables us to organize our thoughts about the social world in predictable and easily accessible ways:  Male or female.  Democrat or Republican.  Anti-porn or pro-sex.  A fellow academic demanded just the other day that I identify myself as one or the other: stand and shoot!  This made me realize how badly we need some new terminology to describe feminists like me who see value in both sets of arguments, and would prefer to weave the positions together in ways that encourage and embrace sexual freedom and pleasure while recognizing that not every sexual act or exchange is transgressive or liberatory just because someone insists that it is.  There is always potential for exploitation in human relationships, and the feminist anti-pornography analysis has much to offer in terms of thinking through global problems like sex trafficking.  I do believe that new histories of anti-pornography and pro-sex organizing like Battling Pornography will reveal the existence of more complex issue positions among feminists, and will point us toward new ways of critiquing sexual harm without abandoning the right of individuals to pursue a diverse, satisfying and unfettered sexual life.

The tone of the book is one of neutrality on the issues, to some extent.  As a feminist, is it harder to be a sociologist/historicist around these issues than it would be around any others?  Did you have any concerns around the "objective" framework, given that there are numerous feminist critiques of such frameworks as patriarchal?

When I began researching the history of the grassroots feminist groups that the book discusses—WAVAW, WAVPM, and WAP—I was surprised at how little had been published about their origins, members and campaigns.  The majority of what I found dealt with WAP from about 1982 onward, and with the MacKinnon-Dworkin anti-pornography ordinances.  So, one purpose in writing Battling Pornography was to document the extraordinary work that these groups did around media violence in the late 1970s and early 1980s, to preserve their achievements and enrich the history of late twentieth century American feminism.  But, I wouldn’t necessarily agree that the framework is objective because the very nature of my reading and interpreting the groups’ unpublished manuscript collections transforms it into a subjective account.  I  had to make decisions about what events to describe, which activists to highlight, and which ideas to foreground, and in so doing, I brought my own biases and beliefs to the table.  recognize that it was not possible to create an objective account. 

As one reads deeper into the book, I do let my position on the issues be known.  In short, I think that WAVAW had it right:  focus on popular media; subsume pornography under violence, not the other way around; recognize that men and women are both victims of gender stereotypes that glamorize violence, and above all, stick with public education, consciousness raising and consumer action techniques rather than seeking protection from the state.  I write in the book that the movement only became controversial when feminists began emphasizing pornography as the target and started to look at creating new laws.  Countering fierce opposition from free speech advocates, liberals and pro-sex feminists drained movement energy and resources, and hampered activists’ ability to achieve concrete goals. 

Although I periodically introduce my opinion, I purposefully did not make it a central feature of the book.  Most of what is published on the anti-pornography movement has been written by participants or their pro-sex challengers, and takes an explicit position with regard to the correctness (or not) of anti-pornography theory and politics.  I thought the greatest contribution I could make at this time would be to use my critical distance as a non-participant to offer a factual, insightful and empathic account of the movement that shows how the grassroots groups formed and changed over time, why they made certain strategic decisions that led to the anti-pornography emphasis, and how external political, cultural and social factors affected their trajectories.  There is no other book available at this time that gives you a thorough view of the development of the feminist anti-pornography movement.  Given the movement’s lasting impact on American society and American feminism, I thought such a book needed to be written. 

Since this is an "ally" site, I also want to ask: Is there anything in particular that you think men ought to get out of this book, in addition to or different from what women will get out of it?

      One of the most surprising aspects of my research was the discovery that members of the earliest grassroots anti-media violence group, WAVAW, were critically concerned about the well-being of men.  They argued that the glorified images of sexual violence presented in popular media taught men that women secretly liked to be raped, and instilled in them the dangerous idea that a real man was a brute.  Instead of vilifying men, which is something that anti-pornography feminists are uniformly charged with, members of WAVAW believed that men were victims too, systematically warped by media images of maleness.  They decried such images as “crippling” and “maiming” and insisted that they were devastating for both sexes.  This belief in the artificial nature of gender was consistent with radical feminism and the belief that heterosexuality was an institution designed to ensure the continued subordination of women.  Nonetheless, I was surprised by the empathy that members of WAVAW showed for men and the pressure they face even today to conform to social expectations for traditionally masculine behavior.  I think that men who read Battling Pornography might realize that many of these feminists were not anti-male at all.  They opposed depictions of men that normalized violent behavior as expected and desirable. 

Do you have any plans to do another book that leads us up to the present day around these movements, or even makes more analysis of what should/will come next?

This question brought to mind an experience I had in 2004 when I heard John D’Emilio, an outstanding historian of sexuality, give a talk about his book Lost Prophet: Bayard Rustin and the Quest for Peace and Justice in America, which had been published the year prior.  When he finished his talk, he opened the floor for Q&A, and as it was ending I asked him to tell us what his next book project might cover.  He gave me a quizzical look and responded that he was still working on Lost Prophet, and that he was not ready to think beyond the book because there was still so much that remained to be done with it.  It is only now, years later, having finished Battling Pornography, that I truly understand what he meant.  Will I write a subsequent book that deals with the pornography problem from 1986 to the present?  Maybe.  First, I have to see where this book takes me.  I won’t know for sure what is next until I see how Battling Pornography is received, how it factors into both academic and popular discussions of the pornography problem, and whether it raises a new set of questions about pornography and society that I had not previously considered.  I can tell you that questions around media representation and women are an enduring intellectual interest for me, and the issue of pornography will remain central to that subject.  

How have pro-porn (or pro-sex-work) feminist folks responded to the book?

The feedback I have had thus far has primarily been from the women’s history and gender studies communities, and has been quite positive.  The book is so new that word is just getting out about its publication, and I might have a more interesting answer for you several months from now.  I think that I make a good case for the pro-sex feminists in Battling Pornography and offer a fair account of their intent to challenge the unremitting focus on sexual danger that they saw in the anti-pornography movement, and their wish to speak about sexuality as a positive force for women in terms of pleasure, agency and self-discovery. 

I hope that feminists who support pornography and sex work will come to understand that the core movement objection was to violence, not sexuality.  I think that some of the modern day adult entertainment that is created with a feminist sensibility in mind would not raise the same set of concerns as mass market male-oriented pornography that is said to exploit women’s bodies and dehumanize both actor and viewer. 

One of the interesting things about the book is that I can see various "sides" choosing to cherry pick from the histories of the movements in order to bolster their causes (I'm thinking here of a thread you point out describing how anti-violence-against-women leaders decided that being anti-porn would help get the word out, for instance--a move that might be characterized by some as taking a cue from Mad Men style of advertising).

Well, I expect that’s always the case with a book published on a hotly contested topic, and pornography certainly qualifies as such.  As an author, I think that you have to write a narrative that makes the best possible case for your point of view, present your evidence clearly, offer what you see as the most logical and persuasive conclusions…and then understand that no two people are going to interpret your text or use it for their own purposes in exactly the same way.  I assume that some readers will come away from Battling Pornography thinking that I am a staunch anti-pornography feminist and that the book proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that we need to mobilize new efforts to pass legislation.  Others will read it and determine that I am a card-carrying member of Samois, a Bay Area lesbian feminist S/M rights organization active in the late 1970s and early 1980s which was a major foe of anti-porn groups.  Given how strongly people feel about the topic, it’s fair to predict that the evidence and arguments in the book may get misrepresented at times to serve other people’s academic or political purposes.  But, if you choose to write a book about pornography, you have to be prepared to enter the fray and live with the consequences.  It’s not a neutral issue.  

Wednesday, January 04, 2012


For folks who read Feministe, Alas or Hugo Schwyzer's blog, it's been a kind of trying time. (I'm not going to replay the entire situation--some handy links are at the bottom of this post, for those unfamiliar with the situation.) Even though I haven't been posting much lately, I thought it is perhaps appropriate for me to say something, given this blog is still called Feminist Allies and all. But, while the whole thing has mostly got me thinking about survivors of violence, the nature of the problem also includes reviewing men's place in feminism(s), as well as my own place in feminism(s).  So, it's sort of an open question (for me) as to how I should write about all of this.  So my thoughts are still forming, and I'm trying to listen, and reflect.

Mostly I'm just sad about it all--people have suffered a lot of emotional pain, in addition to any physical pain, around all of this. 

Some things I'm pretty sure of:
  • One silver lining will be that The Revolution Starts at Home will sell a bazillion more copies, as some of us try to fill in huge gaps in our worldviews (thanks, privilege!).  
  • A lot of us will have a better understanding of how centering survivors of violence can be done.
  • Survivors will be centered more often when talking about violence. 
  • I will be more careful when talking about personal experiences, in all kinds of ways.
  • Some feminist and pro-feminist men will rethink what they ought to be contributing to feminism.
  • Some folks will stop reading Feministe, Alas, and/or Hugo's blog.
  • Suspicions around feminist and pro-feminist men, already pretty high (often justifiably) will increase.
  • Feministe, one of the feminist blogs that kept the ideas of how feminism also helps men in the mix, will likely do less of that.

Some questions I'm struggling with:
  • How can I center survivors when discussing violence?
  • When is it ok to call out violent words when they're used against men who have done violence, if ever?
  • What happens when perpetrators of violence are also survivors of violence?
  • If men shouldn't be "leaders" in feminist movement, what practical roles ought they take on? 
  • Is having an "ally" blog (like Feminist Allies!) harmful? Is it helpful?
  • Men are socialized to be sexist; this includes being socialized toward thinking violence is ok, or that certain kinds of violence aren't violent at all, etc. Any men who are doing feminist work have had to work to recognize and begin to overcome that socialization--I do worry that we can all be thought of as "former abusers" by some folks, and as such our voices don't matter, or aren't welcome, in any feminist spaces.  

Hopefully more later, as things evolve.  I'm going to work on reading The Revolution Begins at Home, and some other works...

The original interview:  http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2011/12/17/sex-drugs-theology-men-feminism-interview-with-hugo-schwyzer/
Thorn's response post: http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2011/12/23/on-change-and-accountability/
Feministe's Apology Post: http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2011/12/24/a-different-take-on-accountability/
Response to Thorn, on Feministe: http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2011/12/31/on-change-and-accountability-a-response-to-clarisse-thorn/
Response to Thorn, on Alas: http://www.amptoons.com/blog/2011/12/28/on-change-and-accountability-a-response-to-clarisse-thorn/#comments