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February 27, 2006

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» Men's studies? from air pollution
The overall point is that one can not talk about masculinity without talking about feminity; it's a binary, just like hetero/homo, public/private, in which each term depends upon the other for meaning. Regulating the study of masculinity to men's stu... [Read More]

Comments

The Happy Feminist

The apology part of the post rubbed me the wrong way too, but I should point out that in the comments section of the post (in comment 14, I couldn't seem to cut and past it here), the author admits that she worded the portion about the apology very badly and that it didn't exactly convey what she meant. She says she didn't mean that men owe women an apology; she meant to say that she wouldn't mind hearing a man say,"Oh my god. I am so sorry guys act like that!"

I am not sure exactly what distinction she is drawing but I think she is trying to say that she does not expect individual men to accept fault or blame for the acts of other men, but she wouldn't mind hearing them express sympathy or an aknowledgment of whatever it is she is complaining about.

I definitely think that the word "apology" with its implications of accepting personal fault and blame should be kept out of the discourse, unless someone actually does need to apologize for a wrong he or she personally committed.

air

Hi Hugo. I really liked your post, but was concerned by this:

Men do need to do the vital work of coping with their own very real issues, but we can't do that by introducing them into a feminist setting. What we need to do is create specific spaces -- like men's studies classes -- for focusing in on the myths, structures, and social obligations that create the "masculine mystique."

I think this proposal risks continuing to perpetuate the myth that feminist techniques, whether it be in activism or scholarship, can't tell us anything about men, both straight and GLBTQ. To talk about gender is to talk about both men and women, not one or the other. Toby Dietz, in a 2004 article in Gender and History has pointed to a trend in "The New Men's History" to ellude discussions of power and women. This depressing fact, of course, leads us to risk of going back to the same type of histories that existed before women's history.

It seems to me that the best way to avoid falling into this trap is to force discussions of men within feminism, rather than attempting to create a new divide. This, however, is not the same thing as saying that men participating in feminist discussions should not be careful to not derail discussions of women into "me, me, me" free-for-alls and start playing the opression olympics.

Hugo

Air, I don't disagree -- but I do want to make sure that those discussions about men don't distract from other vital feminist tasks. Men's studies, at least in the academic world, is largely informed and shaped by feminist scholarship (my class on the subject certainly is), and in that sense, it is part of a larger feminist/pro-feminist struggle. But for the sake of adequate discussion time and so forth, I think a separate forum is helpful.

The Gonzman

to force discussions of men within feminism,

How about forcing discussions of women in Masculism?

The Gonzman

Yeah, I know it sounded horrible. It was intended to, just to show how it sounds from the other side.

badteeth

Well that is one way to win an argument, not let the other side speak.

Vacula

badteeth: Why assume she's talking about arguments, much less winning an argument? Usually, when people speak of "discussions" there's no need for anyone to win. She's frustrated by habits that derail a discussion because they prevent communication and understanding, not because they make her "lose".

djw

Nice post. Where's the Hmmmm?

I largely agree with your "yes" especially, w/r/t as you put it the "suffering olympics" or the harms we suffer from sexism and patriarchy. I do think however, that in discussions of the benefits feminism has brought society, the benefits feminism has brought to men (I tried to write about this in the form of an obit for my Grandfather a while back here, but the short version is that traditional configurations of masculinity and femininity leave us all tragically incomplete. The loss of illegitimate power can be difficult but liberating, and the opening up of what is socially acceptable for men in at least some parts of our culture is precisely that.

I have to dissent a little bit on this:

Men do need to do the vital work of coping with their own very real issues, but we can't do that by introducing them into a feminist setting. What we need to do is create specific spaces -- like men's studies classes -- for focusing in on the myths, structures, and social obligations that create the "masculine mystique."

I think I'm more old-fashioned than you about the function of the classroom, but I think that's not the space to focus on the difficulties of cultural configurations of womanhood and femininity and leave masculinity aside (or vice versa). This is why I prefer "Gender studies" as a name for the discipline. In various activist and movement circles I think this quasi-separation is appropriate and necessary. But given the puzzling ways in which configurations of masculinity and femininity mirror each other--and shed light on their mutual incompleteness--it seems intellectually impovershing to insist on different classes geared primarily toward different genders. But my teaching of this stuff has never been from a Women's/Gender Studies department, so I imagine this is something you've already considered.

badteeth

---badteeth: Why assume she's talking about arguments, much less winning an argument?

Here's part that Hugo didn't quote from the article

5. I hate that I even have to disclaim that, sure, okay, “not all men are actually like this”. I’m sure in some hypothetical world my sweeping generalizations are grossly inaccurate. But, realistically? In the world I live in and with the men that I know and love and interact with on a daily basis?

You pretty much all do this shit at least some of the time.

If you are one of the handful of men I have met who actually treat women like people, though, this disclaimer won’t mean anything to you. If you aren’t guilty of the offenses I’ve outlined, you aren’t defensive about it. You’re one of those guys who reads the whole list and nods along and then genuinely apologizes for your gender (while not feeling the need to defend yourself by insisting you do not represent these men). You don’t need the disclaimer because my stinging man-hating feminist barbs don’t really hurt.

The rest of you, though, might have a a few things to think about."

Basically she wants to make generalizations about men's behavior without the annoyance of having men say, "That's bull, not all men do that, I don't do that."


---"She's frustrated by habits that derail a discussion because they prevent communication and understanding, not because they make her "lose".

Can you even call it a discussion if alternate viewpoints are discouraged based on the gender of the person holding that viewpoint? Or on any basis for that matter?

To me it sounds more like preaching to the choir, or a pity party, then a discussion.

To me this whole bit

The Gonzman

Exactly - more of the same old "Treat men as a group, with collective guilt, but treat women as persons and individuals." One standard for men, a different standard for women.

Of course, women are then a collective with a "We've listened to you..." when it suits. Well, maybe such truth isn't so self evident, and it has been listened to - and rejected as a crock of bull; mostly because of people saying things like "traditional configurations of masculinity and femininity leave us all tragically incomplete" which im-ly men have pain and a stake in the discourse - but you guys sit down and have a big steaming cup of STFU. We talk about men wanting a bronze medal in the "Victim Olympics" - well, I'll tell you what, women are sure looking real hard to claim a gold, and arguably trying to claim there should be a platinum one for them.

I got one message for the writer of this - don't want to listen to me? So be it. Don't expect me to listen to you. That meme cuts both ways, sistah.

Hugo

Gonz, remember the letter was written to "liberal" men; I'm quite confident you weren't in the target audience.

DJW, I do think that in both men's and women's studies classes some discussion of gender relationships is vital. But when folks want to get all of this stuff together in one class, I'm reminded of why I refuse to teach "world history" -- it risks trying to take on so much that absolutely nothing gets done.

djw

Gonzman: I understood the part about how you think women whine too much, but perhaps that's because I'm familiar with your oevre. This fun new characterization, however:

im-ly men

went right over my head.

djw

Do you post your syllabi online anywhere? I'd be curious to see what you do in your men/masculinity course.

The Gonzman

More the worse, Doc Hugo - wonder if it might be because I'm seen as the enemy for my libertarian/conservative principles and treated as such that I tend to return the sentiment.

I'll make one observation here - there is a fundamental lack of understanding of what "power" is among far too many women when they talk about the "powerlessness" of women, to wit - if I grant you power, it isn't yours. What the Good Gonz giveth, the Good Gonz, he taketh away - or at least can if the spirit moves him; if you want power that is yours, you have to assume and exercise it.

So I'll make two - the second being that all such power has a cost, in the form of the old saying "It's awfully lonely at the top." A great deal of the angst that is written by women who have worked hard to "have it all" seems to underline their shock and/or resentment at discovering this is so. And I think a large part of this lies in the fact that woman is just a much more social animal than man.

The Gonzman

djw - that should read "imply"

I plead fat fingers.

metamanda

open debate is good, it exposes you to other people's viewpoints.

safe discussion spaces with likeminded individuals are also good, they help you solidify your opinions.

they're not mutually exclusive. each can feed into the other. just because someone wants a "safe" conversation sometimes does not mean they're never open for a real debate, and there's lots of stuff in between.

seriously, if my male friends want to talk about how hard it is to be a single man trying to date in the bay area, that is totally cool with me. I won't turn it into an argument or try to upstage anyone, I promise. It's actually not that hard. I get other chances to talk about me.

I think it's significant that she's largely addressing this to "the men that I know and love and interact with on a daily basis". Part of having a discussion amongst friends is just knowing when to back off and listen.

RJ

When I read "Women trying to have an equal voice seem to be silencing the men," it really reminds me of is something I heard one time from someone who attended an international conference.

Apparently, a day or two into the conferences a rule was passed to the effect that when an American spoke, the next speaker had to be a person from another country. This was echoed in a comment that someone apparently made: "Just because there is a pause in the discussion doesn't mean an American has to begin speaking."

Does this make Americans bad people? No. Is it trying to shut the Americans up? No. Is it refusing to listen to the Americans? No--it's just trying to make it more likely that the discussions would not digress from an international perspective to international-as-seen-from-America perspective, and that the conversation at an international conference would be no more than 50% American.

The post doesn't say "I don't want to hear about men's problems." It says that when "discussing sexism or the unique difficulties women face" it would be nice if the conversation could stay on the topic of sexism or the unique problems women face. It's as if you felt discussing the Dallas Cowboys was a politically urgent task (because the Cowboys were getting stomped every game while the Steelers were Conference Champions), and you had a lot of discussions with lots of people who also felt discussing the Dallas Cowboys was a politically urgent task, and you'd like to have a discussion with me, but every time I enter the discussion, I say something like, "OK, but what about the Pittsburgh Steelers?"

Every once in a while, the Steelers might be relevant. But if I brought up the Steelers again and again and again when you were trying to discuss the Cowboys, you'd probably get really tired of it and say something along the lines of "Resist the urge to assert yourself in defense of the Steelers. We’ve already heard it, and doubtless we will hear it again. Save it until we’re finished. Do it somewhere else."

In other words, if you want to talk about the Cowboys, come talk about the Cowboys. But if we're talking about the Cowboys, please don't start off on the Steelers again. We may at some later point have a conversation about the Steelers. That would be nice. But right now, we are talking about the Cowboys.

Last point: I think the part that is being missed is that this was not "An Open Letter to All the Anti-Feminist Men." This was not intended as rules of engagement for people who reject basic feminist ideas. If you don't agree that women's voices are systematically marginalized, trivialized, and drowned out in our culture (thus creating the need for ground rules to protect the spaces that are carved out for women's voices) then, No, of course you won't agree with any part of the letter. Why would you?

badteeth

RJ,

but when you start talking about how much the Steelers suck...

breadfish

And I think a large part of this lies in the fact that woman is just a much more social animal than man.

I'm not an animal at all, thank you very much.

And throw a man in solitary confinement, he won't do much better than a woman and you know it. Human beings are social by nature. ALL human beings. The particular interactions may differ from one individual to the next, but there is a very small minority of people who are truly happiest when they are isolated.

djw

imply--should have been obvious from the context.

Gonzman, if a libertarian who favors Ayn Rand writes an open letter to libertarians who fancy Hayek, I wouldn't feel compelled to respond, nor would I feel that the fact that they're have a conversation amongst themselves is about me in any way, or how I'm some sort of enemy. Of course, to them, a dirty socialist like me *is* the enemy, but that's a conversation for another time. Just because it's on the interwebs and I can read it doesn't make it about me.

Mr. Bad

Three quick comments:

The author writes: ”When attempting to give women equal time, and an equal voice, the fifty-fifty split (or, since this doesn’t exist yet in reality, even the attempt to approach it) seems unbalanced and skewed to the minds of many men. Women trying to have an equal voice seem to be silencing the men, simply because the men are not the ones currently talking about the current topic.”

The thesis that women’s voices in our society aren’t heard, or aren’t heard in proportion to their relative numbers, is a complete crock of bullshit. This is especially true when it comes to the topic of sexism; discussing sexism against men is a taboo subject in our society. We hear women’s voices all the time, to the point of it being ad nauseum. Thus, the fundamental premise that she bases her entire missive on is false, and therefore, everything that flows from it is false.

This is even more irrational because right above it she writes ”This is symptomatic of a greater issue: the fact that men are trained to keep the focus on themselves. It’s not the conscious insecurity of the male ego which causes this to happen, but rather, the result in living in a culture which focuses on men the majority of the time.”

She is truly living in La La Land.

Hugo writes: ”That's right on. (Actually, what she wrote is complete nonsense) ”Many well-intentioned "liberal and straight" (and some not-so-liberal or straight) fellas I know do tend to enter a discussion about sexism as if it's an Olympic competition. If women are to be awarded a "gold medal" for suffering, some men want to ensure that they at least make it on to the podium. They change the subject of the discussion to the various hardships that straight white men face, and while perhaps acknowledging that these aren't as severe as those faced by their sisters, these guys still demand at least a bronze or a silver medal in the "suffering Olympics." It's an understandable, but tedious strategy.”

I think that this has nothing to do with men trying to hijack the conversation, prove their liberal, feminist, etc., bona fides, etc., and everything to do with the mode of communication amongst feminists and women in general, who tend to speak from the first person. Gonz noted this in another thread as (paraphrasing) ‘…the three most common words coming from their mouths are “me,” “my” and “mine.”’ I would add the word “I” to that list. Just look at the discussions- it’s quite clear. But it’s not just women, but men like Hugo who embrace feminism and feminist characteristics too. Thus, I think that the reason “liberal, straight” men who hang out with feminists and discuss issues like sexism bring up their own personal experiences with sexism is simply due to the MO of the conversation, i.e., the first person perspective. You know, "the personal is political" and all that.

Apparently the author much prefers the “shut up, listen and agree with me” approach for men, as evidence by her arrogant statement: ”If you aren’t guilty of the offenses I’ve outlined, you aren’t defensive about it. You’re one of those guys who reads the whole list and nods along and then genuinely apologizes for your gender (while not feeling the need to defend yourself by insisting you do not represent these men).”

However, she apparently is unwilling to return the courtesy of even allowing men to speak of their experiences, let alone listen to them. ‘Tis a shame, but typical of her ilk.

Hugo, you said that ”In my opinion, men don't ever need to be made to feel ashamed merely for being men.” but right before stated: ”Though as men we experience privilege collectively by virtue of being men, we must accept responsibility for changing our lives individually.” However, the entire concept of “male privilege” (white or otherwise) is nothing more than a tool to shame men into feeling guilty for being male and thus granting women even more special privilege than they already have enjoyed.

Conversations are two-way streets (or at least should be) and we need more conversations, but what this writer and other feminists - including apparently you – are advocating is a one-sided interaction when women lecture and men not only listen, but her case ”nod along” and agree with everything she says.

Screw that.

badteeth

---Last point: I think the part that is being missed is that this was not "An Open Letter to All the Anti-Feminist Men." This was not intended as rules of engagement for people who reject basic feminist ideas. If you don't agree that women's voices are systematically marginalized, trivialized, and drowned out in our culture (thus creating the need for ground rules to protect the spaces that are carved out for women's voices) then, No, of course you won't agree with any part of the letter. Why would you?"

What about those in between the two extremes? Those that don't necessarily reject basic feminists ideas, but don't necessarily think feminist=inerrant either?

I mean is this part

--If you don't agree that women's voices are systematically marginalized, trivialized, and drowned out in our culture (thus creating the need for ground rules to protect the spaces that are carved out for women's voices"--

something that all feminists agreee defines all feminists? I've heard much more soft-sell definitions of feminism in the past.

bmmg39

RJ: "In other words, if you want to talk about the Cowboys, come talk about the Cowboys. But if we're talking about the Cowboys, please don't start off on the Steelers again. We may at some later point have a conversation about the Steelers."

THAT THERE IS NO GUARANTEE of a conversation about "the Steelers" is WHY "Steeler fans" do bring up "the Steelers" when others are discussing "the Cowboys." We clear?

RJ
THAT THERE IS NO GUARANTEE of a conversation about "the Steelers" is WHY "Steeler fans" do bring up "the Steelers" when others are discussing "the Cowboys." We clear?

No. The basic presumption here, without which the "Open Letter" will make no sense is that the Steelers, being conference champions, are getting the majority of the press. Their T-shirts are everywhere, talk about them is ubiquitous, their way of looking at the world is the "natural" way of looking at the world. In fact, talking about the Steelers is usually called "talking about football." If I bring up the Cowboys, people ask "Why do you have to drag the Cowboys into this? Can't we just talk about football?"

Yes, conversations about feminism--among women--do tend to discuss what the author calls "the unique difficulties women face." That's because they're feminist conversations. The reason they are that way is that they are spaces which have been deliberately and at great effort carved out for women's voices.

It's kind of like storming into a women's bookstore and demanding that they stock more books by men--it's a two way street, after all. But the very reason, the only reason that women's bookstores came to exist is to be spaces deliberately and at great effort carved out for women's voices. Before women's bookstores existed (say, circa 1970) what percentage of books in mainstream bookstores addressed feminist concerns? Women's bookstores came into being partially because of that gross disparity. Women's bookstores wouldn't exist today if I could walk into B. Dalton or Borders and find a comparably wide selection of books that addressed feminist concerns.

When the two-way street really is two-ways, with the same number of lanes in both directions, then we won't need to have this conversation, and Open Letters like that one won't be necessary.

RJ


what this writer and other feminists - including apparently you – are advocating is a one-sided interaction when women lecture and men not only listen, but her case ”nod along” and agree with everything she says.

The author is not asking me to shut up. She's not asking me to nod along, or even agree. She's asking men who join women's conversations about women and feminism to talk about women and feminism. That's all. It's about the topic of conversation: "We're talking about the Cowboys over here, not the Steelers. We'd really like to hear your opinions about the Cowboys." Does not equal "STFU."

By the way: the Cowboys and the Steelers are both agents of Satan. I'm an Oilers fan.

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