Thursday, April 23, 2009

Something I'd Like to See Feminism Address

I agree with the commentary advanced by the author of this book excerpt. Ms. Valenti is a thoughtful, articulate young woman with much to say. She is also, scarily enough, my age. I have nothing of note to add to the link provided other than to concur that I too believe that the ideal of female sexual purity is a social construct that does far more harm than good. It's a concept I have simply never understood, since I take a practical eye towards virginity. It reminds me of clumsy, awkward sex among two teenagers barely out of puberty, not some desired state, itself a romanticized conception based on wishful thinking.

Valenti is the founder of a third-wave feminist site called Feministing that showcases a variety of different feminist-related content and commentary. I have had problems not with the daily posts themselves or their writers, but I have taken some issue with a few regular visitors to the site who leave frequent comments. It annoys me when certain women make assumptions that I benefit from unconscious male privilege by my very being and, as a result, somehow the deck is stacked in my favor from the beginning. For men who want to be allies in the movement itself, it's tough to not interpret this to mean that we're automatically a part of the problem from the outset. What some feminists simply don't understand is that we find the conduct of many men equally as off-putting and resent being summarily lumped into the same category as the offenders.

My mother is a feminist. Much to the chagrin of my conservative father, she espoused a variety of strong opinions around the house when I was growing up. Cheerleaders, for example, were routinely criticized for being air headed and stupid, when they should be aspiring instead to be educated and articulate. Most of these beliefs I agreed with on principle and eagerly incorporated them into my own system of values. However, what always got under my skin were the times when my mother uttered a phrase that often seemed to sum up her attitude towards masculinity as a whole. If a prominent male figure was ensnared in a sex scandal or called to the carpet for letting his hormones get the better of him, Mom would quite cavalierly diagnose the situation by saying simply, Men are weak.

The implication was that a woman would never find herself in such a situation. What was further implied in that statement was a kind of smug, self-righteousness which indicated that although men thought they were in control and more powerful than women in every situation, they were secretly weaker than females. The statement might say more about my mother than feminism itself, but it's a viewpoint that I have discovered isn't strictly relegated to my mother. To be fair, I have also known women who have cheated on their significant others or have acted foolishly in sexual situations in which they themselves were purely at fault. Philandering is hardly a male problem.

If I take offense to anything addressed by feminism it's that it tacitly assumes, much like my mother, that men behave badly based on willful ignorance or some kind of deficit of moral fiber. As this line of thinking goes, these men know better and choose to act like chauvinist pigs or impulsive users. It has been my experience that painting all men with a broad brush isn't particularly fair, just as it is unfair to paint all women with the same broad brush. Among some men, I do see a kind of unapologetic misogyny, but there are also many men who genuinely make an attempt to respect women and treat them with common decency.

Furthermore, summarily dismissing the offensive male might be an exercise in catharsis or self-satisfied condemnation, but I would recommend instead digging deeper into the past of those with whom we disagree. That is, of course, if understanding is that which we desire. Confronting such factors as to whether the offending male grew up with beneficial male role models, taking into account the father's influence, or discerning whether or not a father was even present at all during childhood I think are fairer ways to form an well-reasoned opinion. This is not to say that I recommend letting the behavior or conduct of offenders go unchallenged, merely to suggest that to write off a male or all men without taking into account the whole story is not especially helpful to the cause of feminism itself or to one's own method of addressing the problems of gender inequality. Our own past shapes our present, regardless of what our gender might be. Looking within ourselves and examining the variety of elements that have shaped how we respond to the opposite gender may very well be a beneficial exercise for each of us, rather than lashing out with views shaped by misunderstanding or limited understanding, no matter how justified we think we might be in doing so.


Gail said...

Hi Kev-

wow, what a complicated and charged topic, huh? Well, my Mom always told me that when you get married I should never send my husband off to work with curlers in my hair and a flannel night gown but I should be up before him and dressed nicely, hair and makeup done with a nice breakfast ready for him so the last thing he remembers as he goes off to work is how lucky he is and then he wont wander or look at other women AND when you know your husband will be home from work soon make sure you have the dinner table set, and that you apply fresh make up and a nice out fit on too - so he feels welcome. How's that for feminism? Oh the 50's, gee - :-)

Times have changed, huh?

Love Gail

joshhill1021 said...

Amen, Brother. As a fellow male who is trying to be an aid in the feminists' fight, I agree with your thoughts. I would also add that women who are that dismissive of all men are like fake feminists, IMHO. Again, IMHO, feminism is about equality for all, it is not about making women the dominate gender or seeing women as superior, but about allowing all peoples to be seen as equals.

Utah Savage said...

I'm a very old feminist. The first book on the subject of this particular subject of unconscious male entitlement and other interesting things about sexual politics was written by Germaine Greer, and the book was The Female Eunuch. It's so funny and witty and well written. She is in your face with the things you take for granted and the things you never face because you're male. After three marriages to three very different men in different times, the one common feature that no matter how long we knew each other before we got married, the moment we were married, he expected me to wait on him, do the shopping, laundry toilet scrubbing, and on and on. I worked and went to school and still was EXPECTED to do all the other shit as well. But I'm not every woman and I don't speak for all women.

Remember when I first started commenting at your place and assumed you were a woman because of the avatar? I spoke to you differently. I treated you differently, and what you said struck me differently. I now cut you less "slack" than I did when I thought you were a woman. I am admitting my own sexism. I do have a bias in favor of women unless you're Tengrain. But women who aren't strong and smart and honest, bore the hell out of me. I haven't seen the site you mentioned since the new feminism has so little to do with me. My mother's feminist hobbyhorse was language and she had a very good point; it finally gained favor and now is the norm. But when I was young, language was used differently. The student, he... The teacher, she... The doctor, he... The lawyer, he... The secretary, she... It took decades to change the assumption that only men are professionals and that the pronoun he was the only pronoun in need of use when refering to any group or class of people, since it was man- kind, hu-man-ity. It got silly sometimes, but women like my mother and Germaine Greer changed the way we view gender and power. Before Germaine Greer the was no sexual politics, the term had not been coined. We have a long way yet to go, baby. :)