Today, March 8, is International Women's Day. Appropriately, the latest Carnival of the Feminists is up with many good things to read. It's also been declared "Blog Against Sexism" day, and I intend to do my part this morning; let me first also recommend the "grid blog" against sexism at Thursday PM.
I've been getting a lot of queries recently about my use of the term "pro-feminist", as well as other terms from the broad men's movement. I tried to post a summary of the various strands of the men's movement back in June 2004, and I still think it's a fairly good thumbnail sketch of what I believe to be the "four branches".
As a man who teaches women's studies as well as courses on men and masculinity, I have a personal and professional interest in the struggle against sexism. As I was thinking about what topic to blog on for today, I thought about a general re-hashing of my oft-repeated views on the role of men in the broader struggle for gender justice. Somehow, everything that popped into my head seemed hackneyed; I didn't want to write another long post in which I called once again upon my brothers to be "visible allies" in the fight against sexism. I'm sure I'll write such a post again in the future, just because I tend (like most teachers) to repeat myself every term! But I'm not in the mood on this Wednesday.
Years and years in what is generally called "recovery", combined with many years in countless Christian small groups as well as many wonderful spiritual retreats, have led me to always frame discussions about sexism (or any other social evil) in terms of what I -- and other individuals -- can do. Maybe it's just what my Marxist friends would call "bourgeois navel-gazing" (a charge to which I have gleefully plead guilty lo these many years!) Useful or no, I want to ask two questions this morning of my readers, and of myself:
1. What are three ways in which I (you) am (are) working to end sexism in your personal life and in the broader world?
2. What are three ways in which I (you) am (are) continuing to "fall short of the mark" in terms of embodying your ideals?
You can have a go in the comments section.
I could answer the first question by proudly trumpeting the number of courses I teach from a pro-feminist perspective; I could boast of my volunteer work with boys and girls at All Saints Pasadena, and the anti-sexist lessons I teach 'em. But that would be too easy to write about, and y'all have heard it all before. Here's what comes to mind for me in terms of the steps I'm actively taking today:
1. In my marriage, I'm constantly thinking of ways to push myself out of my culturally determined comfort zone. Like so many men, I have to fight the overwhelming cultural and psychological forces that want me to treat my wife like my mother. I am convinced that one of the most essential things that heterosexual men can do -- as part of anti-sexist work as well as just plain growin' up -- is not play any part in creating a mother-son dynamic within their relationships with their lovers and wives. One of the nastiest things about sexism is that it teaches us to see men and women largely in terms of specific, prescribed roles that they fulfill. Wives must resist the urge to mother their husbands, because when they do so, they rob their husbands of the chance to develop the vital skill of learning to soothe themselves; husbands must resist the urge to defer and accept the lie that men are "domestically incompetent". Even after years and years of counseling and study and work, after several marriages and a couple of conversions, I still must be vigilant not to give into the temptation to play the part of a little boy who wants his mommy. And from what I hear from the women in my life, I know damned well I'm not the only guy who has to fight this tendency -- but fight it I am. My credentials -- indeed, my usefulness to the struggle -- hinges on it.
2. I am living out my commitment to stay away from pornography and the rest of the sex industry. We've debated porn many times on this blog; I remain firmly in the anti-porn camp. I don't believe that one can simultaneously fight against sexism in one's public life while commoditizing women's bodies in one's private fantasies. None of us compartmentalize as well as we imagine; no man can, I believe, seamlessly transition from masturbating in front of his computer to images of "exploited teens" to seeing his female co-workers, students, bosses, friends, and lovers as full and complete human beings with needs and desires of their own. Most of the men I know use Internet porn, or have used it in the past and given it up. Some of those who still use it do so openly and proudly; a few even insist that lusting over images of the young and the economically vulnerable is not inconsistent with pro-feminist commitments! One of my goals is to not only continue to stay away from pornography myself, but to couch an anti-porn message in a way that will more effectively resonate with the young men and women with whom I work.
3. I'm committed to expanding the network of people to whom I am accountable for my spiritual growth and my anti-sexist actions. Yes, I'm an extrovert. But regardless of our personalities, I think we all need other folks to inspire us, to encourage us, to challenge us. My wife is a tremendous resource in my life, and I have many other men and women to whom I turn with a variety of issues and concerns. But I've slipped a little bit recently. I learned years ago that healthy growth required that I talk to three types of people a week: older and more experienced folks who could role model for me what I hoped to become: peers who are going through my same set of experiences; younger people for whom I can be a role model. This is a good practice in recovery, in Christian community -- and in anti-sexist work. I'm great at working with peers and kids -- I need to recruit some solid older advisers into my camp to kick my butt a bit.
Whew. Still reading?
Three ways in which I'm falling short of the mark:
1. I have the most remarkable difficulty controlling my mouth. I don't use sexist profanity, but dang it all, I often find myself calling every man "buddy" and every woman "darlin'" or "sweetie." (Yesterday, I did it to one of my female colleagues in the hallway: "Hey, babe, what's up?" This colleague and I are good friends and both tenured as equals, but to use that kind of familiar language in front of our students was, well, unacceptable.) I've never had a complaint, and no, I don't do it in the classroom; but honestly, it still comes out in some whoppingly inappropriate places. I do it, of course, as a shortcut to good-humored intimacy. I need to work on some more lovingly gender-neutral ways of creating that!
2. I'm still struggling with my tendency to protect women. I've posted about this habit before; many men come to pro-feminism because they see anti-sexist work as a modern and enlightened way of living out a "knight-in-shining armor" fantasy! Even though I know that's the number one classic pitfall for pro-feminist men, darn it all, I still find myself thinking in ways that are more chivalrous than egalitarian. As a result, I end up minimizing women's agency and autonomy -- the exact opposite of my intentions!
3. In my classes and in my assigned readings, I still tend to teach women's studies from a white middle-class perspective. That doesn't mean I don't talk more and more each year about issues affecting non-white women; it does mean however that I still see those issues as additions to the curriculum rather than the foundations of the curriculum. I still focus the contemporary portions of my course on issues of body image, the media, sexuality, and the struggle to balance career and motherhood. Too often, what we read and discuss about these issues is overwhelmingly from a white, middle-class female perspective. I need to do more than just throw in some token readings from the perspective of radical women of color; I need to rebuild my syllabus from the ground up. I've been saying I'm gonna do it for years, and I haven't done it yet. Now, I'm letting you all know I need to get off my butt and get crackin' on creating a more inclusive course.
So there they are: three things I'm doing, and three things I need to work on still, not just in the fight for women's equality, but in the even larger struggle to build a kinder, more just, more loving world. If you feel inspired, share your lists.