"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

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Empathy and Working on Alternative Masculinities

 Interesting read over at rosiesays, as a guy responds to her piece on street harassment.  He spells out how he has felt as the guy doing the harassing:

Here is something you should know about me. I intentionally hurt people sometimes to make myself feel better.    Being in the presence of a woman can be anguish. It’s loneliness (and sometimes horniness), and all that other Freudian bullshit rolled up into mundane moments. Just walking down the street can make me feel helpless when I pass a woman sometimes. I can’t shake it. If I could shake it, I would. Trust me. It’s no fun. But this is the hand I’m dealt, so I roll with it. 
I have a lot of empathy for men, in part because I have experienced the alienation that can come in a culture where traditional masculinity is so important.  I also think what I call the supply-and-demand model of dating is pretty broken, for all involved.  But I think striving against traditional masculinity is one of the ways that feminism can help men.

Despite my predilection toward empathy, it's difficult for me to respond with compassion for this guy. Even though he is suffering (and I think that he is--suffering within the shackles of bs masculinity), lines like "If I could shake it, I would. Trust me," just don't ring true for me. There's this thing called the internet.  Take a look around, search for alternative masculinities. Let me google that for you.

Yes, the masculinity we are given and trained in is bullshit. So let's create another one, rather than harass women.

Emily, like many feminist women, understands that traditional masculinity harms men, as well as women, and she expresses some empathy for this guy:
Without minimizing the overwhelming perfect storm of body hating, slut-shaming, victim-blaming, mixed messaging media bullshittery that women face on a daily basis, I do think there’s a void for young men about what modern masculinity really means. This is a conversation we’ve sorta kinda maybe a little bit started in this country, but for guys like this writer, already in their twenties, there are few role models of “manliness” that don’t involve killing the bad guy and getting the girl.
 Yes, men (and folks of all genders!) are having to reconstruct masculinity in a way that is hopefully not harmful. Yes, this task is difficult. Yes, men are alienated because of (in part) traditional masculinity. (As far as role models go, there are many to be found, if you look for them.) But I respectfully disagree with her when she notes that women should do something about this day-to-day: Be nicer:
And this is not unidirectional. Ladies (in this imaginary all-hetero world I’m writing in at the moment), don’t be jerks to guys that try to talk to you (assuming they are civil), whether you’re interested or not. You can politely move on without rolling your eyes, turning away, sighing in disgust, or being a generally uninterested pretentious douchface.   

People, be nice to each other. Niceness is a awesome. Niceness doesn’t mean I want to bone you, and it doesn’t mean you deserve a date or a drink or anything of the sort. It means that shit is hard out there, son, and a little kindness goes a long way.

Compassion and niceness is great, in general (of course!), but this line of thinking tends to ignore the lived experience of so many women--politely moving on is something that isn't "allowed" oftentimes, inasmuch as men so often respond to it with aggression and anger. The more empathy people can have toward men who are caught up in bogus masculinity, the better, but I think the onus is mostly upon men to do lots more work in this area before we can ask for or expect women to take on even more in this regard.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Men, Depression and Anger

Men, regardless of age group, often don't recognise when they are depressed. Depression in men is likely to be signalled by anger, so won't be recognised either by men themselves or by women as depression. Ironically, they may end up in jail rather than a GP's surgery. For a man to ask for help is seen as failure, because by convention men are supposed to be in control at all times. -- The UK Guardian

The past few weeks I've been inordinately quick-to-anger.  Mostly it's been people in cars cutting me off while I'm on my bicycle, but I've also been grumpy with my partner and just in general easily frustrated.  I've had this sort of mood before, throughout my life (in fact, I think I basically spent my 30s in that mood), but it's been a while since I felt it so strongly.  And the thing is, it's not the world "out there" that is creating this anger in me--not directly, anyway.  There are lots of reasons to be angry in the world, but those reasons haven't just popped up in the past few weeks, while my anger has.  I'm not (just) angry: I'm having some depression. 

Without going into the history of my relationship with depression, I just want to put it out there that I wish I had recognized the relationship between depression and anger, my relationship between depression and anger, years ago.  Recognizing it isn't any sort of cure, but it sure is a nice little clue when trying to figure out how to be less angry in the world. 

One thing that has helped me deal with this type of anger and depression is using meditation and Buddhist-ish authors to cope.  Part of that coping is letting myself feel the depression, instead of trying to push it away (which is pretty much how, exactly, it so easily translates into anger).  I'm also using some tools of 12-step recovery programs--in particular, focusing on recognizing, consciously, what I can't control.  

Here's an example:  The cars cutting me off in traffic are really more like the weather than individual people doing bad things--it's like the weather because it's ubiquitous.  Any one person I get angry at for cutting me off (this morning a guy made a u-turn right in front of me, and it was a close call) doesn't really matter, because tomorrow, there will be a different person doing similar stuff--it's how driving works in Oakland (at least for now!).  I'm convinced getting angry does absolutely nothing.  I can't communicate thoughtfully or forcefully with a driver when I'm that angry.  People who do really harmful driving things don't care what an angry cyclist has to say. Changing the way this works will have to be indirect (teaching people about bicycle safety, etc.).   In short, I can't control this. And I (sometimes) desperately want to. So I get depressed, and angry.

I know that this sort of issue isn't only happening to men--but I do know that, at least in my experience, traditional male masculinity says men can control it all.  It shouldn't be a huge surprise that this negatively affects men.  Add to that the culture in the United States that says that we are each the creators of our own destiny, and it's no wonder that suicide kills twice as many people here as homicide.

And like I said, noticing the relationship between depression and anger doesn't solve the problems that are created, but it does help me to let go of the need to control, just a bit. I don't believe I've ever had a conversation with another man about how depression turns to anger.  What's up with that?

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Guest Post: Nicole Louise Melleby and Rape Culture

What follows is a guest post by filmaker Nicole Louise Melleby, outlining her documentary film, Trigger Warning. Among other things, the film shows real folks sharing their ideas about rape culture through discussions about "rape jokes" in particular.  She and her team are trying to keep the conversations going by getting the film into film festivals, which costs money; head over to their donation page and show them some love. 

For readers of this blog, of particular interest may be the voices of the men in this film.  In my eyes, it's a brave decision on the filmmakers' parts to seriously include men in this discussion.  We all need to talk about rape culture more; it's my hope and belief that the more men have these sorts of discussions, the less of a rape culture we will eventually have.

Here's Nicole:

“A man walks into a bar…”
Every joke can be a setup for a rape joke. When rape victims turn on their TVs, they face a strong possibility of being confronted with reminders of one of the worst experiences of their lives. What’s worse, these experiences are likely to be laughed at.

Rape jokes are abundant in a variety of media forms, and they don’t exist in a vacuum. They are accepted as the norm within a rape culture, a society wherein male sexual aggression is encouraged and violence against women is supported. Trigger Warning aims to bring awareness of this issue and to encourage an ongoing conversation about the topic.

My Name is Nicole Louise Melleby and I am a filmmaker seeking to raise awareness of the consequences of rape jokes in popular media with my documentary Trigger Warning. Only by opening up dialogues can we ever hope that people will come to recognize the issue and then be able to take an informed stance on it. Trigger Warning does exactly that. It is more than a film – it is a conversation that I hope to encourage others to have. 

Presently, my team and I are in need of funds in order to get the film out there and seen. We have over 30 films festivals we’d like to submit to. Any and all contributions are greatly appreciated. We need your help to make this happen. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to email us at filmmakers@triggerwarningfilm.com
You can also check out our Facebook.

Monday, January 14, 2013

All-Women X-Men

I love Brian Wood. He has written some of my favorite comic books of all time (Northlanders, for example).  He's also got a pretty fantastic track record for writing female characters (he's even BUST magazine-approved).  And I suspect his new book, simply titled X-Men, featuring an all-female cast of characters, will be a really good read.  I have high hopes, and I also appreciate that the cover, at least, includes a lot less skin and a lot more badass than many comic covers including women characters have. Also, it looks like half the team (so far) are women of color.  So, lots to look forward to, lots to be appreciative of.  A wait-and-see attitude is probably a good one.

And yet, it's tough to ignore that this is an all-female book named X-MEN.  Which is not to say that anybody wants the book to be called X-WOMEN, really. It's just a stark contrast, seeing all of the women on the cover, standing behind the X-Men logo. It's easy to see it as a fine example of the concept of men-as-default-women-as-secondary/other.  (Yeah, yeah, it's "just" a comic--but if you're taking that line of thought, you're reading the wrong blog.)  

Of course, folks are calling out Wood on this (even though it's unlikely it's really his decision).  I'm not on board with Wood's response, however: 
No reason to change that?  As I tweeted back, if we keep following that sort of logic, we'll always have female firemen and congressmen.  It's a dismissive response to something that I'm pretty sure has more nuance, and I'm pretty sure Wood knows that.  A response like "hey, yeah, it's a complex issue, and we'll deal with that sort of stuff with these characters in the book" would have been welcomed.  And I admit that's a lot to ask--it is a comic book, after all--but I'm also pretty sure Wood is savvy enough to write this book well, keeping the complexities in mind, so I will wait and see.

Still, would it have been so difficult to find a woman writer for the book? Or a woman artist?  Would women who write and draw professionally have wanted to do this book?  I'll be interested to see what folks say, and I can't wait to read the book.

Brain Wood points to this, which is something of a rehash of what he's said before:
Everyone certainly acknowledges they are women. But what they also are, are X-Men, and have been forever - these are classic characters. If several of them congregate in the absence of a penis, it doesn't change them into something else. They are entitled to the name and they've earned it, and this is what they ARE. "X-Women" suggest a sub-category, or at least a group to one side, and that's doing all these characters a disservice.   
 I get what he's saying and thinking here (and we'll leave aside the "penis" comment--though is it too much to ask him to be aware that some women have penises?), but I just disagree. "X-Women" doesn't *have* to suggest a sub-category, any more than than "congresswoman" has to. Also: They're entitled to be called men? They earned that? Meh.