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August 02, 2006


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Interesting to see that no one else has commented on this yet. What seems so amusing to me about the "preference" of aligning signs of "agression" to dominant views of "masculinity" in this (and many other Western) cultures is that this is almost turned on its head in many cultures of Southeast Asia. (I work on the language of one of these groups, btw.) In many SE Asian cultures, overt signs of agression are not to be admired.

In fact, in Balinese and Javanese culture, pinnacles of masculinity are male figures who are "manis" (sweet natured) and "halus" (refined), as exemplified by Arjuna (one of the virtuous princes of the Indian epic Mahabharata) and Panji (a semi-historical figure from an East Javanese kingdom). One trait of these figures is that they are cool-headed most of the time, but like the serpent, they can also dispatch their opponents with relative ease. Most of their opponents, on the other hand, are impulsive and agressive - this is rather "feminine" in this cultural context since it is regarded as "unmasculine" for someone to be governed primarily by personal emotions. Agression appears to be one of the basest manifestations of such an emotion-governed identity.

The funny thing is that when these male characters are acted out during a dance drama or other dramatic context involving human actors, these are often portrayed by female dancers. Is this due to the effects of Western cultures and colonialization by members of those cultures? Of course, most are aware that when people from these SE Asian cultures (or more generally Asian cultures) interact with cultures that align "agression" with "dominant masculinity", they (especially the males) are going to be "feminized" by the "agression-alignment" group primarily because of this cultural mismatch. I don't have any other clear answers to this, but I'm sure other people who have worked specifically in these areas do.

Just my two cents (or 180 rupiah - take your pick).


Ed, that's fascinating -- and I appreciate your introduction of the cross-cultural perspective here, something that is sorely lacking in most of my posts, I'll be the first to admit. Thanks.


To be honest, I've never been able to understand the supposed problem of the status of men in the feminist movement, or the similar problems of, say, white people in anti-racist movements, or straight people in anti-heterosexist movements. We all have the same goals: a society free of sexism, racism, heterosexism, etc. Let's stand side by side, modelling the gender, sexual, and racial equality we want to spread.

Yes, there's lots of disagreement on the details and methods, but those are philosophical differences (in the loose sense of `philosophical'), not differences tied into gender, sex, or race. Yes, we're each going to have a slightly different take on the social status quo, and our gender, sex, and race is going to inform that. But Amanda Marcotte's take looks a lot more like Hugo's than it does Dawn Eden's. My take on things is a lot like my friend Natalia's, and is almost the absolute opposite of Bishop John D'Arcy's. (Targetting Catholics is just because I've been arguing with socially conservative ones for the past week or so. Lefty Catholics rock.)

Yes, feminist men have the peculiar burden of recognizing and checking their privileged position as men -- that is, realizing when we're acting on internalized patriarchy. But feminist women have internalized patriarchy, too, and it's their peculiar burden of recognizing when, say, they're doing all the housework just because the inner patriarch says telling your husband or boyfriend to pick up after himself makes you a bad girlfriend or wife.

To me, feminism -- even before I knew the word -- has been about demolishing the ridiculous notion that the penis-equipped are on this side, and the vagina-equipped are on that side. Requiring some feminists to label themselves with the diminutive `allies' and refrain from doing certain important works just because they happen to be penis-equipped is, I think, as patently contrary to justice and equality as requiring some people to do the same work for less money just because they happen to be vagina-equipped. To quote your earlier quotation, `If you believe in, support, look fondly on, hope for, and/or work towards equality of the sexes, you are a feminist.' Full stop. There's nothing in there about qualifying the label with a `pro-' or `ally' just because of the physiological hand you were dealt.

And now, can we please stop arguing about the precise referent of the term, and get on with the actual movement? Last I checked, the lack of affordable, quality childcare and the wage gap seemed to be much more serious problems than advocates' genitalia.


Hugo, I should invite you to one of the Javanese gamelan and dance performances at CalArts and let you meet Bu Nanik, the primary female Javanese dance teacher there. She's been dancing the roles of Prince Rama, Panji, and Arjuna (and other refined male roles) for at least four decades (!).


"And now, can we please stop arguing about the precise referent of the term, and get on with the actual movement?"--Noumena

I think I might, at times, become frustrated with the amount of discussion of theory that goes on in relation to the amount of 'action' that goes on (of course discussion is also action)--which is at least part of what I read your frustration to be in this passage, Noumena. That said, I think part of any movement is a continuing defining and redefining of the movement. If people of color didn't start to critique what 2nd wave feminism was (and if they didn't continue to take on the burden of making people aware of the limits of 2nd wave feminism), for instance, then we'd still be stuck in purely white-upper-middle-class feminism. The 'actual movement' is a moving target, and as such gets continually redifined to the benefit of all of us.

And, while I'd agree that the movement ought to be more than just defining the movement, I think we equally ought not pretend that there is some one thing that is feminism and everybody should just be quiet and head toward that.


I, too, appreciate your comment. Perhaps the whole idea of tying together 'alpha male' with 'aggressive' is misguided, or at the very least, culture-specific.


jeff -

I certainly agree that feminism is not some one, well-defined goal, and that the critique of the second wave was vital. But the ends and means of the movement are not what's at stake in the debate over whether men can be feminists or must be relegated to The Gentlemen's Auxilliary. That's either silly semantic quibbling or conflating patriarchy turned upside down with the destruction of patriarchy.


Just a follow-up:

Even more paradoxically (at least from Western eyes), refined male figures such as Arjuna, Panji, et al., are also known as ladies' men with lots of descendants.

Arjuna ends up marrying numerous times (including to a couple of heavenly nymphs), but he doesn't have to chase the ladies - the ladies flock to him. They even try to tempt him while he meditates on Mt. Indrakila, his main goal being to attain a boon from the gods. He ignores them (after all, he is meditating) and receives the boon. He also kills his rival cousin Buriswara, who lusts after Arjuna's first wife Sumbadra (one of the ideal models of a Javanese woman). Buriswara, whose life has been controlled by his lust for Sumbadra, ends up dying without a wife or child - not the most "masculine" outcome.

As for Panji, his wife mysteriously disappears the night of their wedding, which sends him on a long journey to find her. During a leg of a trip, Panji (assuming the name Inu Kertapati) and his crew rest in a big forest and set up camp. They depart the following day, but neglect to put out their campfire, which burns a major part of the forest. Meanwhile, the king in charge of the forest, Tarate Bang, has a dream regarding his lament of not having a single child. The dream informs him that in order for him to have a child, he must kill a prince named Inu Kertapati. He then notices that his forest is burning out of control, so he goes there to put out the fire and find its cause. He runs into Panji and his group. After some questions, Tarate Bang finds out that Panji is the one he needs to kill. They fight, and Tarate Bang is killed. So, the impulsive and aggressive (didn't forget the extra [g] this time, ha ha!) Tarate Bang also dies without an heir.

That's it for storytime, folks ;)...


Sorry - I feel like I'm hogging up a lot of commenting space for this particular post. And let's be clear about this: I'm not being apologetic or non-assertive - I'm just actively maintaining interpersonal harmony here ;)

Anyway, I don't want anyone to think that the "refined male" model is the only desired mode of "masculinity" in Java and Bali. There are competing modes of desired masculinities.

There is a tough (but not excessively aggressive) model exemplified by Arjuna's brother Bima: he's extremely strong and tough, but inarticulate at times. (He also has sharp thumbnails, which can eviscerate almost anyone.) He is extremely stubborn, as shown by his disdain for royal niceties. He uses rough low-level language (like what we would call "slang", but it's more entrenched in Balinese and Javanese grammar) with almost everyone, even the gods (with the exception of his personal spiritual guardian, Dewa Ruci). He is also forthright, brutally honest, and loyal. So, more athletic types can look to Bima as a desirable model. However, Bima does not take "normal" human spouses - he has relations with a giantess, a daughter of the serpentine god of earthquakes Antaboga, and others. In other words, a minor drawback.

At the other extreme is the ultra-refined, "passive" male model, as represented by Yudhistira, Arjuna's eldest brother. He is the leader of the Pandawas (i.e. Arjuna's family), and yet he does not fight at all - he is the god-king figure. He is so pure, even his blood runs white (severly anemic? Maybe that's why he's quite "passive"). He battles one of his magically powerful uncles, King Salya, who has a spell which kills anyone who provides any resistance. But Yudhistira does not fight, so the spell is useless. He then unleashes his heirloom weapon of unfathomable power, the Jamus Kalimasada, and kills Salya. His drawback - a predilection for gambling, which cost him, his brothers, their mother, and their wives their freedom. They were forced to live in exile for 12 years from their own kingdom and an extra year incognito. If anyone were to expose them during their 13th year of exile, the cycle would start over again. What a gambling debt!


Arjuna is first and foremost a warrior, as destined from his birth. Pandu his father first asks for a son to follow the path of dharma (Yudhishtra), then for a son who has great physical strength (Bhima) and then for a son who will be a master in the use of all weapons (an ideal for an kshatriya- the warrior class). Even at the time of his meditation, he meditates in order to obtain a weapon from agni (the god of fire).

I agree though that he provides an interesting, nuanced model of masculinity since he possesses strength and skill in arms but is also a ladies man, has discipline, and even experiences life for a year as a eunuch teaching dance (during his year of exile). He's also very contemplative- and the Bhagwad Gita is essentially the dialogue between him and Lord Krishna.



- Yes, Arjuna is indeed a genuine warrior. What surprises most people here is that being an accomplished "warrior" does not automatically entail that one should have to take a generally "aggressive" persona. The popular images here, especially with the military, include boot camp instructors showing aggression to and "cultivating" aggression within their recruits in order to break the weakest of wills and "develop" discipline. Discipline is necessary, of course - being aggressive with reckless abandon in order to develop it (just because "you can" as head of the unit) is not. That's almost a paradox, no?

- Hmm, he gets the weapon from Agni? In the Indonesian tradition, it's Betara Guru (Shiva) who gives him the magic arrow Pasupati. Also, does the Indian version of Bhima have the killer thumbnails (called "kuku Pancanaka" in Java and Bali)?


Ed and N2 -- this is now heading for thread drift. Acknowledging Eastern culture is one thing, but this is a post about American feminist men, and let's try and get back on topic. Thanks for your contributions, they have been interesting!


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