Tuesday, March 9, 2010

My Forays into Feminism...

I've considered myself a feminist for years. After taking several classes and reading various books that introduced me to the subject, I've been thoroughly inculcated to believe that women deserve reality on their own terms and we all need to be working to rid our lives of patriarchy in whatever way it manifests itself in our lives. As a man, I know that I have a particular perspective on this matter that may or may not always be perfectly in line with some of the more radical readings of feminist thought, but I also believe that doesn't matter. If feminism is about equality and finding solutions to the issues of patriarchy, then we have to see each other as individuals in a society facing an oppressive system which effects ALL of us, not just women.

That being said, yesterday was International Women's Day and when I walked into the building which houses my first class, I was greeted by a cornucopia of signs which were trying to point out male privilege. As a man (and a white one at that), I understand that I benefit from patriarchy in certain ways, so these signs were not necessarily a surprise to me. What really bothered me about these signs was that there perspective was intentionally antagonistic and as a man I felt essentialised, totalized, and moral degraded by them.

In a situation where equality is the goal, totalizing the other and making blanket statements about who they are and what they're like is terribly counter-productive. This is evidenced by the fact that many of the signs, by the end of the day, had graffiti scribbled on them by men claiming ownership over their privilege. You simply cannot expect men to recognize the ways in which patriarchy effects them by antagonizing them about it. It's demoralizing and it creates more injustice.

Further, I was personally offended by the ways in which these signs failed to realize that men are also effected negatively by patriarchy. In a hegemonic system of patriarchy, the only men who truly benefit are those who fit most perfectly into our ideals of patriarchy. Homosexuals, unathletic men, those deeply in touch with their emotions and feelings, and those who display what we might consider feminine characteristics regularly lose in this system. And the men who "win," I believe must do so by sacrificing much of what makes them who they are (i.e. their emotions, their capacity for care, their time spent at the gym maintaining that perfect Greek physique). What we're left with is a system which upon first glance benefits men and oppresses women, but upon further inspection truly demoralizes everyone involved by failing to realize them as individuals and forcing them into pre-conceived notions of what it means to be a man and a women. I would argue that nobody truly fits into these roles as they are conceived of as ideals in our society.

So I was offended yesterday on several levels. I was upset with the organization who put up these signs for 1) attacking me as a "man" and failing to realize my individuality or the complexity that the title "man" involves and 2) doing feminism in general a disservice. Antagonistic rhetoric never serves to build bridges between oppressors and the oppressed. The demonstration yesterday, I believe, only served to push people further into their corners.

Rest assured, I'm teaming up with a fellow feminist (a girl) and we're writing a respectful critique of yesterday's display (which, as it turns out, was perpetrated entirely by female faculty members) and sending it out to those involved and to our local student newspaper. I hope that this will raise awareness of the issues of gender inequality while at the same time build positive relations between men and women in a way that we might be able to work together to curtail oppressive systems at work in our lives.

12 comments:

Yul said...

"The worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal." --Aristotle

Yul said...

Critical theories like feminism consist of applied moralities of ressentiment.

Momma said...

That's exactly how I feel about any radical movement or comments...you hurt others in the process, even those who agree with you. We must be so careful of all people to not hurt them or our cause in the process of declaring our cause.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad to see the version of this argument that is more finalized than what I glimpsed in Senior Sem. :P Many times I prefer writing about issues as opposed to talking about them, mainly because it's so much easier to organize your thoughts and get your whole point across in writing.

That said, I agree with you much more now than I did Monday night. Particularly, I like that you've pointed out how systems that radicalize or "draw a line" can't help but demean, belittle, or oversimplify both sides. Life is more than black or white.

THAT said (and this next point is purely opinion... nothing about your argument!), I still don't feel personally offended by the signs. I think they make for an excellent opportunity to remind people of the exact things you're talking about (and I'm glad you're taking action), but I can't really feel offended because the signs simply don't apply to me. They are the narrow-minded result of some people who thought that a radical approach was necessary. Kind of like Caleb's feelings about _The Fall_, I don't feel particularly aggravated simply because I refuse to buy into the system.

Christine said...

I'm glad I'm not alone in finding fault with those signs. I've been asking around, and plenty of people feel the same way.

Freegg said...

Hey Mark,

I would first like to say that I really agree with a lot of what you have to say here, especially on methodology. Clearly these signs do not promote a positive dialogue within the broader community of people who do not buy into the feminist ideology. This becomes obvious when you see negative graffiti and derogatory responses around campus, which inevitably polarize discussion.

However, I do take issue with the idea that you felt otherized by these signs. For the sake of this discussion, I am assuming you buy into all the ideas and you are a strong ally in the fight against patriarchy and all forms of oppression.

When we examine the signs as a whole (or as they appeared in the Mirror), they are presented as descriptions of male-privilege. So the "enemy" is not men, it's male privilege; not individuals, but systemic categories.

However, it is easy to understand why anyone, ally or not, would feel threatened, rejected, or otherized by statements that talke about men being willing and/or unwilling supporters of oppression because we take our identities seriously. Even though we may know that they are not attack us, we feel attacked because we closely identify with that gender category and it means something to us. It is part of the deeper "who I am" idea. To have maleness equated with oppression strikes a chord with all of us, especially those who reject systems of domination, because we do not want to be associated with the "bad men". But male-privilege is not about individuals being oppressive, it's about oppressive gender role construction, which no individual should feel responsible for entirely because it is so much bigger than any one person's actions or ideas.

So when we are critiquing male-privilege, we really are trying to reimagine two things: a gender role for women that is empowering, and a gender role for men that is not defined in terms of dominance. Therefore, when we are critiquing male-privilege we are addressing the oppressive confines of the binary gender structure in a patriarchal society. So even though you and I both identify as male, we should not be offended by a male-privilege critique because it is going after the systemically oppressive nature of patriarchal gender norms, which we both see as constrictive. In this discussion, we are given a chance to redefine maleness that does not accept, in fact actively rejects, these "freebies" we get.

So it's sort of like the other guilts that you and I have (white, male, middle-class, Christian, heterosexual). We can either feel bad about our privilege, or we can reject the premises and our privilege. But feeling otherized misses the point, I think. It is not offensive to be male, nor is it glorious to be female. Getting caught up in the "holier-than-thou" notion about being part of the oppressor or the oppressed class is ultimately fruitless and self-defeating. There is little value in defining yourself as the oppressed, just as there is little value is feeling guilty for being part of the oppressor class. Male-privilege is an invisible cultural reality that no one should feel guilty for, but once we become aware of it, we must do what we can to change it.

This really only addresses part of your argument, but that's because I agree with you for the most part. This also may be just rehashing what you had implied by your comments, but I felt like it needed to be stated. Good luck with your editorial, and I would love to know how that works out. Look forward to chatting about this tomorrow and in the days to come :)

Mark said...

Yul-
Great to have a new face around! I'll be sure to have a look around your blog, and thanks for stopping in!

Freegg-
Thank you so much for your thoughtful input. Seriously awesome stuff. I like what you have to say, and I agree. I suppose I have difficulty with the rhetoric being used on the signs. They don't differentiate between "men" and the system of patriarchy. It seems rather clear on a lot of the signs that they were being provocative and intentionally implicating all men, not just those who participate in the system, which leaves little ground for cooperation. All in all, I think we agree though. But as I've stated on this blog several times, for some reason I have a difficult time distancing myself from these systems. I'm a white male, and often times I feel nothing but guilt about that.

Mozart said...

I'm assuming that you and I are talking about the same signs, but I only saw the ones in the TSC. I have to say, I honestly don't know how the particular ones I read could have been remotely offensive to anyone, even stepping into the "white male" shoes. If I'm correct, they were an adaptation of another "unpacking the invisible knapsack of racism" work. I didn't see them as blaming anyone, just pointing out the obvious (and not-so-obvious) ways in which males are privileged in a patriarical society.

I did, however, happen to see another sign in the CX. It was an image compilation of the black power fist and the female gender symbol, surrounded and crossed by a circle with a line through it. How's that for offensive and intolerant? Let me tell you, it took quite a bit of self-restraint to keep from tearing it down (and, hmmmm....urinating on it given the events of last year).

Mark said...

Mozart-
Great to see you on the ole blog again! You've always got great thoughts for me.
Like I said, I totally agree with much of what they said, and yes, it was based off of the book. Most of it, anyway. Apparently when they were planning this event, they began with the ideas from the book and then some of the faculty brainstormed from there and came up with some much more radical statements. They also WERE intended to be inflammatory and make people feel uncomfortable, hence the wording on many of them which left little to no room for discussion. The ones about sex especially peeved me off, implying that all men have a particular kind of sex drive and we're almost criminals at all times int he boudoir. Again, the points may have been valid at times, but it was the way they were set up to be so...well...I want to say vindictive that made me angry.
Still, I understand completely what's going on and I love the fact that all of this has shed some light on some serious injustice that is going on on Drury's campus between the genders. Good stuff.

Mozart said...

All right, you've got me interested now--what did the particularly inflammatory ones say?

Jon said...

The list can be found here. I'm guessing that Mark is talking about these two:

"I (as a man) can have sex with a partner and fully expect to orgasm with that partner."

"I (as a man) can have sex knowing that my pleasure is important to my partner."

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