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May 25, 2006

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» Why it's nigh-impossible to have a rational discussion about feminism from Ego! Ego! Ego!
So I've been thinking - prompted largely by this post here (by Hugo Schwyzer, a male Women's Studies professor) - about why it is that discussing feminism is nigh-impossible to do in a rational way when the crowd is co-ed.... [Read More]

Comments

z

Great post. It would be interesting to hear about your early experiences.

The Gonzman

It's my experience, rather, that far too many women know that they can get in the face of a man, thump fingers in their chests, slap, smack, kick and the like that would get their butts kicked if they were men - and often it is done deliberately to put men in the fight or flight mode, and since they are programmed to never, ever, hit a woman back, that they will run, or shut up and take it.

I've been teaching and counselling men for a long time that it is right to be offended at such things, and right to demand to not be subjected to disrespect and verbal bullying, even if it is by a woman; that to hide behind tears, or an expectation of deference based on sex is cowardly no matter who it comes from.

If I had a grievance with a woman I would be expected to become calm and rational, speak my piece in such tones, and to sit and listen to "her side" without becoming defensive or invalidating it. And - at least according to the rhetoric I hear - I would think it would be "anti-feminist" to hold women to a different standard - just because they are women.

Totally overlooked in your theory - and I used overlook because I don't think it ever really hits the radar, not because it is purposefully ignored, mind you - is the application of Occam's Razor: that these men may very well be leery about being shouted down without being heard , or having something chucked at them, or getting smacked - precisely because that has been their experience.

There's no conscious purpose - there's not a great male conspiracy to keep "da woman" down. There's no fear of confrontation, there's an exasperation at being drawn into yet another fruitless argument that is going to end in tears, and him looking like a big bully no matter what happens. Far to often are demands for "dialogue" code for "You shut up and let me talk" and demands for "growth" code for "You abandon your convictions and embrace mine."

Let me posit something - if I took one of your classes, and participated in the class was good, but consisted of questioning a priori assumptions, if my papers were critical of the assigned reading, or reached a counter to accepted wisdom conclusion, if my essays took the "disagree" tack, and if at the end of the class I said "I am more convinced of my original POV now than I was when I started," then what grade could I look forward to?

Well - *you* might still grade me well, I'll give you that. But, what grade do you think the average women's studies instructor would give me? And how many do you think would ask me to drop the class?

Yeah, I can hear it; "If you get insulting and refuse to grow..." As in, like I said, "Abandon my convictions and embrace someone elses?" And, why is it that "disagree" is automatically assumed I'd be hostile, unless, of course, the whole notion that I'd go somewhere else besides that same conclusion to be prima facie evidence of bad faith? And if that is why - who is it showing "bad faith?"

James

As usual, a provocative post. First, I have to apologize for offering comment knowing beforehand I don't have the time to really do it justice. But I have to (at least partially) contest one of your premises:

"All of this behavior reflects two things: men's genuine fear of being challenged and confronted, and the persistence of the stereotype of feminists as being aggressive "man-bashers."

In my own college days, one of my classes included about 50% minority students, which was somewhat unusual in my field at that school. During one session in particular, discussion centered on opportunities and race. The discussion included a fair assessment of "reality", as well as talk about sources of the current status of things and possible remedies. As a "suburban white boy" (TM), I found it difficult to comfortably join the discussion (especially when I disagreed with a statement made by a minority classmate) without prefacing my comment with something to lighten the tension.

I didn't do this because I was a white man worried about being challenged or confronted. Rather I felt the need to do this to lessen the possiblity of my remarks seeming insensitive or bigoted when compared to the view of a minority student much closer to the topic at hand.

I use this example to suggest that the men in your class might have been using humor as a way to make themselves feel more comfortable joining in a class discussion where the subject matter and class ratio might tend to make things less comfortable.

Rayven

I'll second the "great post" comment, but I am not convinced that this sort of defusing is necessarily a bad thing. I think it's fairly common -- and extremely valuable -- whenever people representing two opposing viewpoints are conversing and one side is numerically much larger than the other.

For instance, most of my family is religious, but not me; nevertheless we still frequently, and civilly, discuss religion and its impacts on society. I find myself often making little joking asides much like the men in your class do -- "I have a feeling you all are going to kill me for this, but.." Of course they never do, and I never feel in actual danger.

But I think the ability to make such an aside has two salutory effects: (a) it makes me more comfortable raising something that I feel sure they are going to strongly disagree with, if I preface it by some acknowledgement that I know how much they are going to disagree with it; and (b) the joking air reminds people that we are in a civil, informative conversation; that what I say isn't intended as an attack, and that whatever they say in response isn't either. And because it's joking and deliberately humorous, it makes people laugh and thus defuses any potential tension much more than just saying "I know you might disagree with this..." would.

I just worry that by prohibiting your guys from making these type of comments, you would stifle discussion and also create an environment where it's harder to use levity as a tension-breaker.

Of course, your concerns are legitimate: perhaps you could discuss this with your classes and see what they think? I have a hunch that if you just raise the issue, people will still be able to use this sort of aside (and thus have all the good effects of it) but everyone will also be much more conscious of what negative messages it might be sending, each time (and thus you'll mitigate the bad ones).

z

Maybe you could suggest to them a different phrase with which to convey their discomfort, desire for civility, willingness to accept disagreement, etc.. I don't know what that might be, but they might feel more comfortable having a phrase they can confidently use.

Little Lion

I am grateful to Dr. Schwyzer, for providing an example (that I could link to in my own blog) of differential treatment by male feminists of ad hominem remarks by men and women.

jah

I'm 50 and female. I don't even know how to be angry; it was beaten out of me at an early age. The best I can do is cry when those feelings overcome me, so subsequently I have become very, very good at anger avoidance because tears only make one look foolish.

I don't know who these women are that Gonzman is talking about, but I sure haven't seen a lot of them in my lifetime (and yes, I've also worked in mental health for 20 years). I'm sure there are a few; there are far more men who not only don't want to listen, they don't want to hear anything that might disturb their view of the world.

Those men in Hugo's class are simply doing what I (and many other women who are afraid to anger men) have done every day of my adult life.

Hugo

I certainly have no intention of banning certain comments -- I'm just going to be better about talking to the entire class about the whole red herring of "male bashing."

Gonz, you're conflating violence against men off campus with violence on it (and in the classroom). I'll grant that women do physically assault men, just as I'll grant that people sometimes bite their dogs. But as with dogs and biting, the reverse is far more common (and know, I'm setting the rule here, this is not a thread to revisit DV statistics). No male student could possibly have a reasonable expectation of physical violence for making a sexist statement in a women's studies class.

Carol

I know I've used phrases like, "You all are going to jump all over me for saying this, but . . " or "I hate to say this, but . . . ." Thinking back, I think I use them when I think that my opinion is going contrary to the vast majority of people that I'm conversing with. Following Rayven's suggestion of an alternate phrase, for me, if I were going to be honest, it would be something like, "I'm worried about saying this because . . . " or "I feel like this isn't going to be a popular idea," or "I feel like I'm the only person who thinks this, but . . ."

Now, what exactly I'm afraid is going to happen is a good question. I think it boils down to worry over what people will think about me if I say it. But I think the next time I feel the impulse to say it, I think I'll ask myself, "What, exactly, am I afraid of?"

Rayven

Good point, Carol, but I don't think it's simply a matter of being afraid for no good reason. (Which may or may not be what you meant; I'm using you as a springboard for a general comment).

Someone might legitimately be afraid of shutting down the discussion (by being misinterpreted as being antagonistic) or of accidentally giving offense (similar to what James said: if you hold a minority view but aren't sure if it's because you're wrong about something or just different, it can be scary to speak up, especially if the consequences of being wrong could offend a lot of the people you are speaking to). The "don't kill me but" phrase is very useful in both of those situations.

In short, I think sometimes there are good reasons to consider what other people will think: not because it's important to have them like you, but because part of being in a conversation is doing your best as speaker to make sure you are interpreted as you intended, which involves getting in the listener's heads and caring about their response to some extent.

Dr E

Oh my.

Hugo, if you were teaching a men's studies course with only 5-6 women attending and the rest men and the women prefaced their comments by saying something similar to what has been described in your post would you assume that their reasons for doing so were anti-masculine? Would you treat them in the same manner you plan to treat these young men? Would you say something like this:

switcheroo:

Too often, in this men's studies class, I've been so eager to make sure that my small minority of women feels "safe" in the classroom that I've allowed their insecurities to function to silence the male majority -- in what is supposed to be a masculinist setting!

or how about one like this:

It's a key feminist strategy, even if that isn't the actual intent of the young woman doing it -- it forces male students to become conscious caretakers of their female peers by subduing their own frustration and anger. It reminds young men that they should strive to avoid being one of those "angry masculinists" who (literally) scares women off and drives them away.


Would you be telling the women that they really needed to listen attentively to men's anger? Something tells me you wouldn't be treating the ladies quite the same. I will be curious to hear your response.


tekanji

Great post, Hugo. I could never really explain to my male friends who did this shit to me why it bothered me so much. I think you've hit the nail on the head on this issue.

Hugo

Dr. E, men are not regularly the victims of rape and sexual assault outside of prison settings. Men are not socialized, as women are, to endlessly soothe and care-take the feelings of the other sex.

I don't intend to rebuke anyone. I intend to call attention to the way that this joking reference to "getting killed" or "male-bashing" serves an anti-feminist purpose. We're all on a journey together here.

Rayven, I do think we need to be attentive to how our words will be perceived. But joking about "getting killed" is clearly different than an honest admission that one is worried about how what one says will go over. At least, it seems so to me.

Another Jeff

The preface happens a lot, and what it does is make a large segment of people apologetic for wanting to disagree and hurt the speaker's feelings.

I think the thing to do is call people on this language. If they say "I know I'm going to get attacked for this, but..." then ask them why (a) they feel they're going to be attacked; (b) they decide to say it anyway; and (c) they feel the need to tack on the disclaimer. I think that while some people who use this disclaimer may be actively trying to put their respondents on the defensive, most of them are just unconsciously falling back on conversational habits that have worked in the past.

The Gonzman

Dr. E, men are not regularly the victims of rape and sexual assault outside of prison settings. Men are not socialized, as women are, to endlessly soothe and care-take the feelings of the other sex.

You're right, we're no socialized to soothe or anything like that - we are socialized to surrender, to give in, to apologize even when we are right whever there is an angry or upset woman. Be chivalrous. Ladies first. Let the girl win.

Occam's Razor, again: The simplest explanation that fits all the facts is not that there is some great male conspiracy to put women down, to shame them, to silence them - it's that these guys, from disparate and disconnected backgrounds acting the same way are doing so because their experience shows them that they will be ganged up on and verbally bullied, and if they resist at all, fault will be laid at their feet.

Point blank question: Does it even hit the radar that there might be a degree of that? That these guys do get jumped on by deviating from party line, that they are jumped on in an uncivil and disrespectful fashion, and that it is condoned? That they might feel that speaking their mind and defending their position, however civilly and rationally they do it will be rubricized as somehow being from a position of bad faith and mean-spiritedness, while all but the farthest extreme of the most uncivil attacks on them will be excused, justified, and rationalized away?

Or are they, again, just evil and broken males who need fixing, while the women are once again totally and completely justified, sugar and spice, etc. etc. etc.?

Rayven

Rayven, I do think we need to be attentive to how our words will be perceived. But joking about "getting killed" is clearly different than an honest admission that one is worried about how what one says will go over. At least, it seems so to me.

I guess this is something where YMMV, then, cos I honestly don't have the same impression -- maybe if it were delivered in tones of fear, then yes; but when it's deliberately exaggerated and caricatured for effect, part of what makes it funny is the realization by everyone in the room that the guys in question are in no actual danger. In other words, it's only funny if male-bashing is not a real danger and everyone knows it. (By contrast, imagine the same scenario but for a woman in a roomful of men: if she pretended to don a football helmet and beat a path to the door it would be far less funny, and that's because of the looming spectre of all those women who do get beaten for having contrary opinions).

But this might just be personal opinion, and we can be free to disagree here. I'm curious about what your students think when you broach the subject.

Hugo

Well, one student who reads the blog constantly stopped me in the hall on the way off campus today to say she totally agrees. But she also thought that some of the guys might NOT see things the same way.

I agree, Rayven, that it is different when the guys do it -- which is why I want to call them on it and ask the exact same question you do, which is what it would be like if a woman did it.

Gonz, I agree that men in a women's studies class take a considerable risk when speaking up. And yes, I have heard some cruel remarks directed from female students to their male peers. Far be it from me to endorse the "sugar and spice"/"snips and snails" theory of gender relations! It is risky and scary to speak up. But it isn't helpful to try and posit yourself as the potential victim when you're a member of the dominant group.

I certainly don't think most young men (I was in their shoes once) sit and think "I'm going to joke about male-bashing in order to disarm those who might find my remarks outrageous". But that does seem to be, at least at times, the consequence, intended or not.

Xrlq
Dr. E, men are not regularly the victims of rape and sexual assault outside of prison settings.

Rape and sexual assault, no. Every other category of violent crime, yes.

Men are not socialized, as women are, to endlessly soothe and care-take the feelings of the other sex.

Maybe not on Planet Hugo, but just about everywhere else, hell yeah. That's one of two reasons why we're having this conversation about men in feminist classes, rather than vice-versa. The other is that "masculist" classes do not exist.

evil_fizz

Men are not socialized, as women are, to endlessly soothe and care-take the feelings of the other sex.

Maybe not on Planet Hugo, but just about everywhere else, hell yeah.

My corner of the world is a heck of a lot more like Planet Hugo. The "don't upset people," "don't rock the boat," "don't hurt other people's feelings," "be nice" sentiments are directed overwhelmingly at women vis a vis men *and* the group as a whole.

Dr E

Dr. E, men are not regularly the victims of rape and sexual assault outside of prison settings. Men are not socialized, as women are, to endlessly soothe and care-take the feelings of the other sex.

Why would the location of a rape matter? As you have said men are also victims of rape. Gonzo has given you a good sampling of how men and boys are socialized to sacrifice for women and girls. Men have been dying by the hundreds of thousands in wars while women have sat safely at home. Yes there are women who die in wars but not even close to the number of men. Men have been deprived for decades of the loving experience of raising children due to societal expectations of being the sole breadwinner. Boys and girls, men and women have both had some hard knocks. One is not an oppressor and the other the oppressed. Treating one group as if they have been victims and the other as if they have been the perps is missing the mark by a long shot. All people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect and you seem to be saying that you feel it is okay to give women special treatment and not the men. This is called bigotry.

unPCdad

Second try at an approved post.... my earlier one must have experienced a technical glitch.

"But it isn't helpful to try and posit yourself as the potential victim when you're a member of the dominant group."

I completely agree!

Women now constitute what --- 57% of all college and university students?

And approximately 85% of women's studies class enrollments?

Which group comprises the dominant voice in a women’s studies classroom?

Oh, I know...

Their situational power is suppressed by the ubiquitous Evil Patriarchy.

The argument continues to be at its most basically irrational --- "women cannot experience power, because men still have some.... somewhere."

Right?

Even women’s studies majors would be in hysterics about this silly reductionist notion of power.

So, to paraphrase Carol Gilligan –

When women "speak in a different voice," does it possibly silence men who want to speak in their own?

Hugo

X, I would welcome you to my courses on "Men, Masculinity, and the American Tradition." Join me in Spring 2007...

Hugo

UNPCDad and Dr. E I'm letting your recent comments stand.  Your previous one was deleted for tenor and tone; this blog is for civil discussion of feminism and faith.  Please be mindful that MRAs have countless forums (fora?), and while I welcome those who are willing to engage the specific issue, constantly telling me over and over again that I'm a mindless misandrist perpetuating a double standard that hurts men and boys is, frankly, getting old. Stand Your Ground is the place for you.

Tara

I agree! It's a plea for undeserved sympathy. If you have something to say that you think is worthwhile saying, say it and stand behind it and let people respond to it how they will.

unPCdad

Hugo,

You might be intrigued to know that I have come to actually "listen" to you on more than a few occasions.

My deleted post was (perhaps poorly worded) about logic.

It was actually more about what I perceived as illogic.

It was about how women can claim that non-physical expressions are "violent" if performed by men.

While even "non-expressive expressions" by men (i.e. "ignoring her needs") are currently grounds for arrest.

I will temper my language, if you will tolerate my veiled anger.

You already said you do it all the time in your classroom.

I wish I could enroll and pay full tuition! (I'm on the wrong coast...)

Then, you could not ban me, right?

Dr. Hugo, your friends may be in unlikely places.

Consider it....

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