Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Safe Light's Full On Men's Movement Rant

We're at the late 80s in the comments on Johnny's gender fiction post, and folks are getting a little tired of scrolling down that far. The suggestion came up to start a new top-level thread, and so, without askin' anyone's permission, here's the full men's movement rant that I didn't go on there. If it's not interesting to y'all, blow it off.

So, first off, we don't have a men's movement. We've had a couple stabs at it by Bly and Keen and the Promise Keepers, but all those are reactionary impulses. They're trying to reinforce an idea of masculinity that's already the default -- reclaiming inner warriors, blaming mothers for making us soft, becoming the kind of stand-up patriarch God wants and so on. (By comparison, imagine a woman's movement that involved the suffragettes demanding that women get more barefoot and pregnant, lower their wages as is only appropriate, reclaim their inner second-class citizen status and push for the days when they were valuable property. The "men's movement" we have now is about that surreal.)

Point made. We don't have one.

Next point, there are some reasons we don't have one.

The women's movement had a real boost in that its initial emotional center was justified outrage. Rage is a great community building emotion, and especially good when you and a bunch of folks like you have damn good reason to be pissed off. It promotes organization and political action, and all in all, it's worked well as an organizing force. (See my caveats about it as a rhetorical device.)

The emotion that men have in common isn't rage. It's despair. We are, after all, putatively the top of the sexual food chain. We get paid more, we hold most of the positions of power in government and business, we live a lives of unearned deference etc. etc. There's very little that inspires righteous anger in the male experience. There's no lightning rod that can take the blame for our pain and alienation and emptiness. And so, despair.

And despair really sucks as an organizing principle. The one thing about despair is, if you can see a way out of it, it's not despair. Hopelessness is one of the hallmarks of the feeling. Getting a bunch of men together saying:

"Hi, I'm Tom. I'm in despair."
"Hi, I'm Dave. I'm in despair."
"Hi, I'm Mike. After talking to my girlfriend about her experience, I feel vaguely guilty for all the rapes that have ever occurred even though I didn't perpatrate any of them, and vaguely resentful of her for bringing it up."

It's not such a good start.

Another reason we don't have a righteous men's movement is that we haven't figured out homophobia yet.

One of the interesting things about the women's movement was its relationship with birth control. The suffragettes were going way before the pill. Wary Wollstoncraft, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, etc. etc. Lots of folks doing lots of work. But in the general perception (it's been my experience) folks conflate the women's movement with the 60s and 70s, and the sexual revolution.

I'm going to draw a parallel here. I suggest that the worst insults you can level against a woman are slut and whore. A woman with an aggressive, open sexuality is, rhetorically, the lowest of the low. (As opposed to the virgin or the mother, who we're all supposed to like and respect. "Good girls," right?) The women's movement is associated with the sexual revolution because that's when women started undermining that insult. By seriously considering sexual desire and power roles, we got to have the sort of conversation that grounds out the charge from that particular tool of control.

Now, call a man a whore or a slut, it's really no big deal. We are, after all, supposed to be screwing everything in a skirt, our Brobdingnagian phalli preceding us into the room, right? Sexual promiscuity is a sort of left-handed virtue for men. It's not symmetrical.

If you want to insult a man, you call him a faggot or a sissy. Fear of being thought homosexual is the threat that's most nearly parallel to a woman being called a slut. And the things that are prohibited to men -- vulnerability, need for nurturance, emotional connections to other men, etc -- are ascribed to homosexuals.

The first thing a men's movement would need to have is straight men insisting that queers were real men too. *That* would require a radical reworking of the ideas and definitions of masculinity.

So that's we don't have one yet.

If we did, it would be an interesting thing. The quasi-men's movements we've had have all been in an adversarial relationship with women. My guess is that a genuine one would be a compliment to a legitimate women's movement. There would be some real points of contention (the use of sexual desire to control behavior, for instance, looks like an *ugly* conversation to me -- useful, but ugly).

But a men's movement wouldn't be a women's movement for guys. It would be a new conversation. And yes, I think speculative fiction would be one of the only places in our culture where that conversation could start.

Anyway, that's how it seems to me.

50 Comments:

Anonymous Zoe Selengut said...

Re: slut & whore being the equivalent of fag & sissy:

I understand that you choose these examples to make your particular point, but it's inaccurate (& not just in the way of a loose generalization) to say that these are the worst insults. For women, 'bitch' is the most common, but 'cunt' is by far the worst - I've never seen anyone actually unwilling to spell out the word slut in a public forum for fear of giving offense, as I have countless times with 'cunt'.

Not at all unrelated to this is the fact that I have never heard an adult man talk about 'sissies' with a straight face (I expect it does happens, but it seems rare.) What one does hear, all the time, even if one is a woman and thus not privy to male-only conversations, is 'pussy'.

Having, sure, all those connotations of emotion you talked about, but primarily denoting passivity and cowardice. Pussy, of course, means the same thing cunt does.

You probably see where I'm going with this.

A refusal to discuss the firm grounding homophobia has in misogyny may be done for the noblest of motives - if the desire to have a conversation about men's anxieties that doesn't touch on their feelings about women is noble - but it doesn't seem very reality-based.

And the things that are prohibited to men -- vulnerability, need for nurturance, emotional connections to other men, etc -- are ascribed to homosexuals.

And to, you know, women. Some say they're ascribed to gay men by bigots precisely because they've been ascribed to women.

A "new conversation for guys" is a terrific idea, but if you gloss over lots of the things feminists have already worked out and written down, just to be able to have a conversation that's not about women, what's the point?

I wonder also what you mean by a "need for nurturance." Is this supposed to be synonymous with a "need to nurture" (in which case I have no disagreement)? Because in a model that situates women as the emotional caregivers and nurturers, it's children and men who get to be the objects of that care and nurturance. That's not new.

4:39 PM  
Blogger Safe Light said...

You know, I see what you mean, zoe, and I'm really resistant to it. Not because I think you're wrong -- there are a lot of feminizing insults. But as a man, I can't really *be* a cunt or a pussy. I *can* be a fag. (Just the way you can't *be* a bitch unless you're a dog with really amazing typing skills, but you could be a slut or a whore). So I think there's an insult-as-identity thing going on there.

Also, I don't think we can create a critique of mesculinity by starting with women, where I think we can with queers. By saying a gay man is, b'god, a Real Man, we're calling the question on Real Masculinity. If we say women are Real Men, we aren't actually making much sense.

You say:

A "new conversation for guys" is a terrific idea, but if you gloss over lots of the things feminists have already worked out and written down, just to be able to have a conversation that's not about women, what's the point?

Part of the point is that it's not all symmetrical. Part of a converstaion between men about masculinity is going to involve re-inventing some wheels. A man's view on, for example, sexual violence is coming from a very different experience if only because it's not something we're taught to fear. And an awful lot of the perps are guys, and while I may loathe them, they are Real Men too. (To generalize, rape is a men's issue because it's a men's activity.)

To a certain degree, we have to work from first principles and see what parts of our experience dovetails with y'all's.

You also say:

I wonder also what you mean by a "need for nurturance." Is this supposed to be synonymous with a "need to nurture" (in which case I have no disagreement)?

Both are accurate. I was thinking specifically about the stoic ideal in which we're supposed to be more or less without emotional needs. Your idea of needing to provide nurturance is also to the point.

5:15 PM  
Anonymous Tacky said...

I think that a man's movement can happen, but I think that in order to be tenable, it's got to get some other points set up first. Homophobia is certainly one of them. Reacting to feminism is another one. When you have some feminists saying that guys are just glorified sperm donors, that’s understandable and important in terms of them taking control of their bodies, but not so great for the guys who weren’t assholes to begin with, and who were interested in working together with their wives and girlfriends to come to a decision about something that affects both of them.

So coming up with a platform that is allied with feminism but doesn’t turn into a self-hatred group would be important. Otherwise, the only people you attract are the men interested in saying that yes, they are responsible for all the ills currently afflicting modern women, and I’m not signing up for that group. Not when I’m voting and marching and quitting my job to be a stay-at-home dad (which then ended up not happening, as I got the dream job offer and my wife quit HER job so that we could move – which left both of us feeling odd). This isn’t the fault of the feminist movement, mind you. This is due to a lack of any real movement that allows men to declare that society has locked them into roles that they resent, and that they want to ally with the feminist movement in fighting these social pressures as a team.

Because honestly, I see any movement in this regard as having to deal with women as much as men. It would be silly not to do so. Right now, many feminists are trying to get women to act masculine in order to succeed in the world, and as somebody in there on the masculine side, I want to have a forum that says, “We hear you, and we’d love to share the strengths of that position, but it’s not all milk and honey on our side, either.” If feminism succeeds in making women acting masculine, that doesn’t solve the problems inherent in the situation. That just shifts the balance. It might work for some women, who will feel better acting in such a manner, but if you tell a sensitive, compassionate woman who is also a feminist that she has to stop caring about other people’s feelings, shout over people at meetings, bully her officemates to get her way, and generally act like an asshole, that’s not going to make her happy. She might do better in the workplace, but the situation would be vastly improved by creating a workplace where assholes weren’t the ones who succeeded.

I’d like to see men able to serve as primary caregivers without feeling like they have to justify it. I’d like to see the balance of power in relationships not rest on who brings in the most income, so that men don’t feel that they are “losing” when their wife makes as much or more money than they do. I’d like to see Ikea setup instructions be gender-neutral, since my wife is the one who puts everything together. I’d like to see idiot men stop declaring that men don’t change diapers or rock the baby to sleep, because I change diapers just as well as my wife and I’m better at rocking the baby to sleep than she is (not a slam on her; different strengths). I’d like to see the average guy make dinner when he gets home from work about half the time, regardless of whether his wife also works or whether she “just” stays at home and takes care of the baby and does housework and keeps the home running and probably pays the bills and gets laundry folded and feeds the baby and entertains the baby and makes sure that the baby is getting adequate emotional care while doing all that other stuff.

I’d like to get past the either/or mentality of men as emotionally dead lumberjacks who only cry when they drink and think talking about their feelings makes them sissies OR modern-day girlie men who are so in touch with their feelings that they natter around uselessly and don’t actually get anything done because they’re so busy actualizing. I am, generally speaking, a sensitive but mostly normal guy. Sometimes I want to talk about my feelings. Sometimes I just want to blow crap up on the computer and not talk about it for awhile. I hate being defined by having to be just one or the other, and I know for a fact that my wife doesn’t always feel like nurturing or actualizing either – there are times when it’d do her good to blow crap up on the computer.

The solution isn’t for men to become more feminine. The solution isn’t for women to become more masculine. Either one of those things could happen, and it would solve the problem for some people and make it worse for others. The solution is to knock down a few walls on both sides and make the goal “don’t let the assholes win”.

5:51 PM  
Anonymous Zoe Selengut said...

"Safe Light":

Ok, just so you know, I don't see anything more ludicrous about a woman getting to be a Real Man (& I think it does a lot more to 'call the question' on it) than a man worrying about who is and is not a RM, since it has historically been used and you seem presently to be using it as a kind of gender, not a sex - you say gay men are Real Men, other people say wife-beaters aren't Real Men - clearly this isn't just about genitals and chromosomes. Unless it is -

- because then you seem to be saying that all men are Real Men, but if so, why hang on to the phrase? since it seems to me like one of the dumbest relics of traditional masculinity, and to be irretrievably associated with the concept that a woman is born, but a man builds himself. Perhaps I am misunderstanding and this is exactly your point, but still: stupid phrase.

Regardless - what I'm trying to say about homophobia & misogyny is that yes, of course, a man can be (or be afraid of being) a homosexual, while he can't 'be' the female genitals, but this ignores the fact that 'fag' is itself a "feminizing insult." If I may descend into egregious stereotype for a moment, the boy with long hair and a pretty face who hangs around the art room with the girls is going to be called a fag long before the muscular jock who hangs around the locker room with other half-naked men. Not because he runs around expressing his feelings and nurturing people, but because he looks like a girl and finds his friends among the girls. And when homophobes sneer, "Which one of you is the woman?" they don't mean, which one of you does the shopping and the cooking; still less do they mean, which one of you worries about the state of the relationship and talks about his feelings: they mean, which one of you gets fucked?

I was afraid I was being slightly condescending in my first comment w/regard to the symbiotic relationship between homophobia and misogyny, because it's so obvious, but I take it it's not something you accept as a basic assumption?

A men's movement isn't symmetrical to a women's movement, no, but it appeared that you'd already done some looking at where the women's movement went wrong, so as not to replicate its errors: homophobia, embarrassment about being identified as lesbians, plus varying levels of classism were and to a lesser degree still are the great shames of many organized feminist groups. If you can avoid that without floundering messily through it like we did, which would be great, why stop there? Because the other great problem of feminism is its habit of having to reinvent the wheel every other generation, because young women always balk at accepting the lessons of their mothers. I'd hope a men's movement wouldn't want to ape that weakness. Especially with the express intention of not blindly following feminism - o, the bitter irony.

5:58 PM  
Blogger Safe Light said...

tacky sez:

So coming up with a platform that is allied with feminism but doesn’t turn into a self-hatred group would be important. Otherwise, the only people you attract are the men interested in saying that yes, they are responsible for all the ills currently afflicting modern women, and I’m not signing up for that group.

Testify, brother.

5:59 PM  
Blogger Safe Light said...

zoe asks:

because then you seem to be saying that all men are Real Men, but if so, why hang on to the phrase?

I'm saying all men are Real Men -- faggots, assholes, nice guys, snags, rapists, all of 'em (but most importantly faggots). And I'm hold on to the phrase "Real Men" because it's the one I'm attacking.

I was afraid I was being slightly condescending in my first comment w/regard to the symbiotic relationship between homophobia and misogyny, because it's so obvious, but I take it it's not something you accept as a basic assumption?

Not as a perfect identity, no. I don't think misogyny is equivalent to homophobia. I certainly see a relationship between them, but I think the fears that drive them are fears of different things.

I'm thinking on my feet here, but misogyny seems fueled much more by resentment and fear of rejection and homophobia by insecurity and fear of being one. Sure, both classes of folks are hated and denigrated, but I think they're denigrated for different reasons.

Does that make sense?

6:12 PM  
Anonymous Tacky said...

"I'm thinking on my feet here, but misogyny seems fueled much more by resentment and fear of rejection and homophobia by insecurity and fear of being one. Sure, both classes of folks are hated and denigrated, but I think they're denigrated for different reasons.

Does that make sense?"

It makes sense to me as what I've felt emanating from the guys in the locker room. The anti-gay comments come from fear of being gay, while the anti-woman comments come from guys not getting any or feeling like they have to prove their dominance.

That said, both of them boil down to insecurity in the end, and I think it'd be hard to make meaningful changes in the area of one without getting to the underlying cause, which would like cause changes in the other as well.

Think about it -- how many egalitarian, pro-women's rights, women are real human beings who deserve an equal voice men have you met who turned out to be rabidly homophobic? How many religions say that gay people are just peachy but women are property (or that gay folks are abominations but women should be equal under the law in all respects)?

The two are not the same thing, but I don't think we're talking Dog versus Cat. I think we're talking Poodle versus Labrador. You can identify them as two different things, but they're related closely enough to breed.

6:28 PM  
Blogger Safe Light said...

tacky sez:

You can identify them as two different things, but they're related closely enough to breed.

I'm comfortable with that. Just right now, I'm more interested in the Poodle. (And nice subtle way to bring it back to Sgt. Chip.)

6:45 PM  
Blogger David Moles said...

Hi, I'm Dave and I'm not in despair.

7:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, Dave!

This really, really reminds me of the whole debate about a "white movement" and "white priveledge." Anyone who'd like to create a movement where people who benefit from a power structure try to fight that power structure should look seriously at those viewpoints and debates.

Here's my question. It's good that you want a men's movement. But it seems to be a movement mostly about changing social perceptions in very nebulous ways. What about the institutional structures that keep those men in power and women, not so much? Underfunded abuse shelters, the wage gap, poor childcare support for working people, the attacks on the distribution of birth control, pro-choice, child support (or lack thereof), supporting products and entertainment that reinforces stereotypes and biases -- it seems to me that the baseline for a men's movement should be helping women win those battles.

I have to say, in the "what can I do category?" to me, the main thing feminism can't accomplish on its own is parity in the bedroom. Sorry to make anyone blush, but if you're a straight guy, you need to seriously examine how you fuck (or make love), and how much you know. It's astonishing the things I've had to explain to guys -- no, I can't chose to have an orgasm in, like, two minutes, neither can most women, we average out to more like 20-45. no, I never come during intercourse, most women don't, yes, it's great, don't get worried, we'd just appreciate if you'd do some other stuff first. Boy, yes, it is more work, but you want me to enjoy masturbation more than sex with you? The idea of a simultaneous hetrosexual orgasm as the apex of all good sex is one of the most damaging lies out there about sex, and hoo-wee, there are a lot.

So. You want to be a Real Man? Start by looking beyond your manhood. Straight women are always going to be attracted to straight men, that's not going to change, but they shouldn't be less satisfied because of it.

Please, everyone, no testimonials. Don't tell me how much you like eating pussy. I believe you. And, um, trust me when I say I understand. But there is a huge knowledge gap, even with perfect intelligent men. So. A men's movement, in my mind, is just as much about doing that as it is about not hating fags no more.

--Meghan

8:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Or perhaps, it's about acknowledging that male sexuality might be just as complicated, but men feel unable to say anything to that effect because of internalized social expectations.

Just because he came doesn't mean he enjoyed it.

8:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, I'm Jeff VanderMeer and I'm not in despair, either.

Jeff

P.S. Nor do I feel the need to identify anyone as a "Real Man", gay or otherwise. Nor do I feel the need for a men's movement. I think I can bear the unimaginably intolerable burden of being a white male in this society a little longer without being overwhelmed by the unfairness of it all. I'm happy to just keeep trying to treat everybody fairly and equally in my own life--except for the assholes (who can be of any race, creed, gender, etc.).

9:23 PM  
Anonymous Zoe Selengut said...

To a certain degree, we have to work from first principles and see what parts of our experience dovetails with y'all's.

It could just be the vicodin, but I'm having some difficulty percieving the reasoning here, obvious as it clearly is to you.

The very asymmetry of men's and women's social positions is what leads me to conclude that men who want to change societal expectations for men, for the benefit of men, will figure out that being feminist and pro-gay will do more to that end than a hundred men's groups.

There's no reason a men's group can't be feminist and pro-gay, and therefore useful, but the proud & lonely refusal to start out with the all the rhetorical and philosophical luggage feminists have painfully and painstakingly accumulated, because We have to do it ourselves! is not promising.

I could say that because women have historically been discouraged from exploring mathematics, women should reinvent that wheel, too - let's don't learn the formula for a quadratic equation, ladies; we'll work out our own way!

But that would be dumb.

Tacky - I would like to respond to the second half of your first paragraph, but it is far too oblique for me to know what you're talking about. The opinions you ascribe to feminists are not ones I immediately recognize. If you wouldn't mind clarifying, that'd be great.

11:11 PM  
Blogger Safe Light said...

David & Jeff say:

Hi, I'm Dave and I'm not in despair.

and

Hi, I'm Jeff VanderMeer and I'm not in despair, either.

And you know, I just gotta respect that. I am absolutely generalizing, and maybe my axioms are wrong. My experience and the smaple of guys I'm pulling from may just be a lousy representation of men generally. I can live with that.

And yet. . .

What I'm hearing here is basically two objections --

1) feminism has already coverd all this stuff, and the conclusions already reached can be accepted as recieved wisdom. There's room for a critique of masculinity as long as it accepts feminist theory as its basis.

2) Men are just fine the way they are and there's no reason to talk about masculinity or the roles of men apart from their roles as human beings.

I respectfully disagree with these positions.

12:07 AM  
Anonymous Zoe Selengut said...

There's room for a critique of masculinity as long as it accepts feminist theory as its basis.

This half, more or less, although I would, and did, phrase it differently. I'm a bit more concerned with feminist history, and the gaping void of knowledge thereof.

But if you intend that your new, exciting masculine conversation is not going to have anything to do with how men treat women, how women treat men, the protocols of heterosexual romance, sharing parenting responsibilities with a woman, raising daughters, or anything else about women, then no, there's no special need for the people having that conversation to be feminist, apart from the need for any decent person to be feminist to maintain a certain basic level of self-respect.

This: 2) Men are just fine the way they are

contradicts this:

and there's no reason to talk about masculinity or the roles of men apart from their roles as human beings.

because many men 'the way they are' are quite accustomed to talking about masculinity and manhood as though those things are special roles above and beyond common humanity, e.g. the whole Real Man, be a man, what is a man thing. I'm pretty sure you can reject or ignore this line without falling into the pits of despair, and I'd even guess that this might be something like what Jeff V. and David M. meant. Not that I know for sure.

12:52 AM  
Blogger gabe said...

Do any of you have daughters?

I've got three.

Raising three girls? That's worthwhile feminism. And I sure don't need a "Men's movement" to reinforce the fact that I'm fine with being the guy I am.

2:11 AM  
Blogger David Moles said...

1) feminism has already coverd all this stuff, and the conclusions already reached can be accepted as recieved wisdom. There's room for a critique of masculinity as long as it accepts feminist theory as its basis.

Nah, to hell with theory, really. (Especially Theory.) In practical terms, the women's movement's done a lot of good solid work on economics and power that it would be stupid to do over again for purely psychological or ideological reasons. It's figured out a lot of stuff about women that's almost certainly true, and a lot of stuff about men that might or might not all be true but certainly bears thinking about. And most importantly, it's already there, part of the world that any men's movement has to deal with. So no men's movement is ever going to be a perfect analogue to the women's movement, because the women's movement started under totally different initial conditions.

2) Men are just fine the way they are and there's no reason to talk about masculinity or the roles of men apart from their roles as human beings.

Not at all. But that's a discussion, not a movement. I think it's clear that we need to have the discussion; it's less clear that we need to have the movement.

You're onto something when you say that men's problem is despair, but when you make an analogy between that and women's anger, it's not a very good analogy. Women have a lot to be angry about in absolute terms. The women's movement had, and has, plenty of practical, objective, tangible problems to solve. Men's problems, on the other hand, to the extent they're different from people's problems, are largely psychological. Like Ian Hagemann pointed out at the
Why men hate sex panel: “The standard sort of redneck white guy response to feminism: They’re taking my power away — is correct.” It's natural that this bothers people. It's natural that the erosion of privilege, the erosion of traditional roles and hierarchies, makes a lot of men feel rudderless and adrift. Those feelings are real problems (as Ian also said, feelings are facts) and need to be dealt with, because they're going to express themselves one way or another, and that could be constructive, destructive, or self-destructive.

But the underlying fact — that, yes, it's true, men's power relative to women is being taken away — is not a real problem. It's a good thing.

And that's why talking about a men's movement as an analogue to the women's movement is dopey. Of course it looks dumb to women who look at the practical situation and want to know what the hell you're bitching about. It's not apples to apples or even apples to oranges, it's apples to metaphysics.

11:10 AM  
Blogger Safe Light said...

zoe sez:

This half, more or less, although I would, and did, phrase it differently. I'm a bit more concerned with feminist history, and the gaping void of knowledge thereof.

Let me go into a little more depth, then, about what my concerns are.

Feminism has produced a *huge* body of knowledge, analysis, and theory. Off the top of my head, I've read Gilman, hooks, McKinnon, Wolfe (Naomi & Virginia), Hofstaeder's Person Paper on Purity in Language, and some other works whose authors I don't recall. This is barely scratching the surface, and still puts me ahead of most (possibly all) of the men in my office.

A "new conversation" is a rough thing to have when there's already a previous, closely related conversation that's that far advanced, and an understanding of gender that allows for a woman being a Real Man is a pretty sophisticated one.

Certainly I expect the relationship and treatment of women to be a part of any kind of masculine critique, and I expect issues of justice and equity to come up. But since the conversation hasn't happened yet, I don't really want to say what conclusions it would by neccesity reach.

But all this assumes I'm not just a crank. Lookin' at the response to my rant, it's not exactly a thought that's taking fire. It's possible that, as you suggest, there's already a constructive, useful conversation going on about "the whole Real Man, be a man, what is a man" thing.

Or maybe guys just don't see a need for it. It could be that we're actually well-served by the gender roles open to us, and masculinity is really a non-issue.

I mean, I don't see it that way, but that's what you can say about cranks; they don't see their personal soapboxes as irrelevant.

[grin]

11:17 AM  
Blogger Safe Light said...

David sez: (and actually said it *as* I typed in my last message)

Not at all. But that's a discussion, not a movement. I think it's clear that we need to have the discussion; it's less clear that we need to have the movement.

Yeah, okay, I'll cop to that. "Movement" is a loaded term that I picked up from the Bly/Keen crowd.

Men's problems, on the other hand, to the extent they're different from people's problems, are largely psychological.

I think they'll turn out to have policy implications once you pry 'em open, though.

And that's why talking about a men's movement as an analogue to the women's movement is dopey. Of course it looks dumb to women who look at the practical situation and want to know what the hell you're bitching about. It's not apples to apples or even apples to oranges, it's apples to metaphysics.

Hrm. Would calling it a critique of masculine gender identity analogous to existing critiques of feminine gender identity be better? Seems kinda clunky...

11:28 AM  
Anonymous Tacky said...

So, Gabe, you've got no interest in seeing a movement to give you a better chance of getting equal custody of your daughters? I recall you being unhappy about how fathers are treated during divorce proceedings.

Zoe, I at least fully agree that it should happen in alliance with feminism, using many of the arguments that feminist studies have created to attack the gender barrier from the other side, for the benefit of both.

Meghan: Completely agree that altering the power structure that puts men in charge is an important thing to do. I have absolutely no disagreement with this. To be nebulous and wish-washy, though, I'd also note that most of these power structures are built in with dominance/subservience assumptions, and while getting woman through the glass ceiling is vital, in the long run, it would also be helpful to make some of those nebulous social changes so that being at the top of the corporate pyramid isn't seen as the epitome of dominance and success.

Because if we succeed in bringing women equality in the workplace but don't change anything else, then all we do is get women fully into the mix of messed-up marriages, health problems, long-term self-destructive stress, and "looking up at forty to realize that you've been striving for something that you now hate" that is currently still mostly the domain of men. The women will now be the ones having the heart attacks at fifty instead of the spouse watching helplessly from the sidelines, and yeah, that's better than nothing -- at least she'll be able to pay for her own medical coverage if her husband runs off -- but as Holy Grails go, I think we can do better. Having women make up an equal part of that workforce AND having the workforce cut some of the masculine pissing-contest ego-dominance bullshit would work out better for everyone. Except the assholes who thrive in that arena, and I'm really okay with the assholes not being as happy.

(As a side note, I totally agree with your comments in the bedroom. My wife and I occasionally roll through the Canadian equivalent of Skinemax and comment on how that portrayal of sex, so amazingly titillating to 13-year-old me, is laughable at this point. It takes a lot of open and honest communication to get to the point of having both partners actually be happy -- and that's tough to do when the locker-room conversation with the guys reinforces the notion that the woman is going to have one orgasm just from looking at your hard-on and another six or seven from intercourse (missionary or doggie-style being the only two acceptable-to-men positions), or else there's something wrong with your woman... or your dick. But it's gotta be something wrong with your woman, right? 'Cause otherwise, there's something wrong with your dick, and you don't want to go there.)

Zoe, in re my oblique second paragraph, I'm referring to something I've heard in several feminist arenas, the notion that the desire by men to take power away from women comes from the fact that women can create life, and men are merely donors in that process. It's a natural response to some of the more oppressive "women, be dutiful to your husbands" arguments, but when taken to that extreme, it's not exactly the kind of dialogue that invites men to come in and participate in removing the gender barriers.

I'm not saying that all feminists use that particular line of argument, and I'm not saying that you personally agree with it, but it IS one that I've heard. Multiple times. From multiple people.

11:46 AM  
Blogger David Moles said...

Zoe, in re my oblique second paragraph, I'm referring to something I've heard in several feminist arenas, the notion that the desire by men to take power away from women comes from the fact that women can create life, and men are merely donors in that process.

Like I said, the women's movement's conclusions about women are probably pretty good, but the conclusions some parts of it reach about men maybe should be taken with a grain of salt. :)

12:19 PM  
Blogger David Moles said...

So, Gabe, you've got no interest in seeing a movement to give you a better chance of getting equal custody of your daughters? I recall you being unhappy about how fathers are treated during divorce proceedings.

Side note: As a single non-parent I don't yet have a horse in this race, but I've seen enough divorcé(e)s use custody and child support as a way to get back at their exes that I can't help but be deeply suspicious of this sort of thing. What's needed here isn't a men's movement or a women's movement, it's a kids' movement.

12:23 PM  
Blogger Safe Light said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

12:30 PM  
Blogger Safe Light said...

David says:

What's needed here isn't a men's movement or a women's movement, it's a kids' movement.

I have a store of bitterness on this particular issue deeper than some oceans. I'll leave it with agreeing with you: kids are mostly voiceless, mostly powerless, and as a culture, we really hate 'em.

But that's another rant...

12:31 PM  
Anonymous Zoe Selengut said...

desire by men to take power away from women comes from the fact that women can create life

They're presumably talking about paternity anxiety and the 'power' they mean is the power of women to make autonomous sexual decisions, not be denied freedom of movement for fear of adultery, not be killed for adultery, etc. etc.? Because it may be facile & simplistic, but it's not patently untrue. If they meant that this is the root of all sexism all the time, they'd be batty, yes.

I certainly agree that feminists who get sidetracked into endlessly asking 'why do men oppress us when we're not evil? Are they just jealous?' are playing a sucker's game. But the whole thing about men hating women for our childbearing capacity isn't entirely crazy and doesn't come from nowhere - often it comes from things men have said and done, not just out of our wacky imaginations. On the other hand, it's certainly an insufficient explanation (as well as being easy to mock) because if it weren't, available contraception & reliable paternity testing would do away with sexism for good, and they haven't. Though they have helped.

12:50 PM  
Blogger Hal Duncan said...

Zoe: Re: slut & whore being the equivalent of fag & sissy…

Cunt is more powerful, but it's a different type of insult entirely. It can be applied to men as well as women (here in Scotland, actually, I'd say it's more commonly applied to men). And regardless of the biological meaning, it's used without any sense that you're calling the recipient "feminine". It's just the most extreme of a whole set of labels which play mainly on connotations rather than denotations -- asshole, shit, dick, bastard, motherfucker. There's no great link between the properties of these things and the type of people they're applied to, I'd say, other than "something to be ashamed of"; largely these are just the big taboo words thrown at someone who breaks the laws of common decency, who has, through their selfish transgressions, proven themselves to be a git. Obviously, it says something about the Freudian fuck-ups we are that cunt is so much more taboo than dick, but essentially these are both insults for the same reason and, in the context of use, meaning the same thing.

I think you're right, however, to pick out bitch as up there with slut & whore, the inability to have four legs and a tail notwithstanding. Bitch is a verb as well -- to nag, to scold, to complain without cause and with selfish resentment. Why this canine term? Probably because dogs bark and whine and growl when they don't get what they want immediately, and they can be vicious if you get them mad. Call a woman a bitch and you're not saying she chases frisbees in the park; you're saying she's nasty, bitter and vicious, even if (maybe especially if?) she doesn't look it -- sa bitch is a young hag, a pretty harridan. Along with slut & whore, it's revealing of the implicit assumptions of what a woman should be (chaste and demure, basically). Unlike cunt, asshole, shit, dick, etc. the denotation of the term is central to the insult.

Fag, sissy, queer, fruit, homo and, yes, pussy are the male equivalents -- and they're revealing in the same way. Again it's partly about sex and partly about submission/dominance, but -- funny enough -- I wonder if pussy isn't the feline equivalent of the canine bitch in this context, as refined and genteel as a bitch is coarse and vulgar. Pussies do what they're told; they might complain about it but ultimately they're the soft and fluffiest of pet cats, not your hissing spitting variety but the mollycoddled, infantilised widdle puddytats, padding happily to the food bowl after their owner, running up trees to get away from dogs. Maybe that's reading too much into the term. Just running with the thought.

Anyway, the point I would make here is it's misleading and reductive, I think, to assume that the key reason these are insults is because they're feminising, to found the implicit assumptions of what a man should be (straight and assertive, basically) on misogyny, assuming that what's at at the heart of this is a hatred of women and a concommitent fear of being-like-a-woman. Maybe I'm reading you wrong but that's what I pick up in the idea of a "firm grounding of homophobia in misogyny" -- not so much symbiosis as dependency -- and I think that's a base assumption which does need to be challenged. Hey, I'm gay; I'm not about to be trumped in my victimhood, honey. :)

To be serious, we might equally well argue, by this logic, that the implicit assumptions of what a woman should be are founded on a hatred of men and a concommitent fear of being-like-a-man. If the power of fag & queer as insults is founded on fear and shame in being-like-the-despicable-Woman, why shouldn't the power of slut & whore as insults be founded on fear and shame in being-like-the-despicable-Man? It seems just as logical to say that slut & whore are insulting because they ascribe male characteristics (promiscuity, the whole sowing of wild oats thing) to a woman and this is, after all, the ultimate insult you can level at a woman, driven as she is by a deep-seated hatred of men and machismo. That's the flipside of any theory that "grounds" homophobia in misogyny, but I suspect that in both cases to subscribe to these views is putting the cart before the horse.

These insults -- slut & whore on the one hand, fag & queer on the other -- are intended to shame and hurt by saying "You do not fit the role prescribed to you by your gender". For both men and women taboos about dominance and submission form the basis of these prescriptions, and men and women each have their specific, unforgivable sins of sexual appetite, the acts which render them morally repugnant. Women must *never* desire multiple partners. Men must *never* desire men. Maybe part of the way these taboos work is by playing on a hatred for the other gender -- "only women desire men, faggot"; "only men sleep around, slut" -- but I see that hatred more as a symptom than as a cause. Let's assume that the prescription of gender roles requires taboos governing behaviour, governing what you as a woman should and should not be, or what you as a man should and should not be. If it is these taboos which instill in men a primarily homophobic revulsion for the submissive, the weak, the soft, might one element of misogyny not be better understood as a transference of that revulsion to women on the (sexist, stereotyping) basis that these are innate female characteristics?

Misogyny is a slapdash term; I don't wonder that feminism has a lot of different theories on "why men hate women". But I think you can make more sense of it if you break it up.

Seems to me there's a classic form of misogyny which condemns woman when they don't fit the gender role; that's when they become, according to the gossiping guys and gals, sluts, whores or bitches. Exactly the same thing goes on with homophobia, which condemns men when they don't fit the gender role; that's when they become, according to the gossiping guys and gals, fags, queers and pussies. Guys and gals alike will level snide innuendo or straightforward insults at those who transgress the gender roles, and in this respect homophobia and misogyny go hand-in-hand.

But I think there's a separate and distinct form of misogyny which condemns women when they *do* fit the gender roles, a misogyny which reviles weakness, softness, vulnerability, all the qualities woman are *supposed* to have. Strange self-contradiction for a male chauvinist pig, one might say. I'd suggest that what's going on there is actually a crisis of manhood, a gay panic which has its roots in homophobia but which extends, at its most fucked-up, to anything remotely weak, soft or vulnerable. That's not me, it insists. I hate anything like that. I despise anything like that. I'm strong. I'm hard. I'm invulnerable. "I don't like girl's minds" is so much more acceptable for a man than "I don't like girl's bodies". If you look at that type of misogyny as a sort of transferred homophobia it might go a way towards explaining why some of the most deeply misogynist writers, artists, philosophers, etc. have been homosexual. William Burroughs is just one example of notorious misogyny; I'm sure there's a whole lot more. Hell, who's more likely to hate the weak, the soft, the vulnerable, than the closeted gay guy feverishly denying to himself that he's exactly that?

Hell, maybe this is what Zoe meant by symbiosis. Alternatively, maybe I'm just projecting personal experience. But I'd say I've been there, done that and bought the fucking t-shirt. Despite being a serious sissy-boy as a child and an openly queer man now, I don't tend to have a lot of time for fem-boys or fem-bots, what with their giggling and their flouncing and their razzafrazzin schickenfricken soul-leeching over-dependency. That's not a matter of rabid misogyny though, I'm sure; rather it's a sleight-of-mind trick that combines a redirection of the homophobia drilled into me growing up in the small town of Shithole, Scotland with a mule-headed refusal to play the gay cliche. I'll be damned if I'll live my life by the dumb-ass metaphor whereby sexual "submission" equals emotional vulnerabilty, where men don't desire men and women don't desire multiple partners. Fuck that shit. I like cock.

Upside? I don't tend to see those "feminine" characteristics of weakness, softness or vulnerability as particularly female or gay at all. Half the straight men I know are pretty damn weak, soft and vulnerable, I'd say. Downside? Weak, soft and vulnerable tends to equate automatically with childish, spineless and manipulative for me. Like all the great Muscle Marys of history, Alexander et al, I feel a terrible urge to conquer the known world. Hey ho.

Thing is, the point I've been trying to get to (in an incredibly verbose way… sorry) is that homophobia is, I think, way, way more about how guys define guyhood in relation to other guys. It's a terror that "You might wanna fuck me? Eek! You might wanna be fucked by me? Double eek! I might wanna fuck you? Treble eek with sugar on it! I might wanna be fucked by you? Eek to the power of I'm gonna bash yer fuckin head in, faggot!" The shame and disgust is tied up with the sybolism of submission, but I think the "my cock, your ass, breeder boy" combo inspires dread as a taboo in its own right and for its own reasons rather than being just a misogynistic fear of being-like-a-woman.

Actually, to say homophobia has a "firm grounding" in misogyny implies, I'd say, a gynocentric focus which privileges the female as the underlying hate-figure, the "true victim"; and this strikes me as dangerously divisive. It may well be a misperception but I'd guess it's a common misperception of feminism -- that it focuses on male misogyny as a root cause in this way, seeing the gender politics as manifestations of hatred rather than treating the hatred as symptomatic of the gender politics. At worst, this can, I think, feed into the self-serving excuses of anti-feminists who reject the notion that they're "responsible for all the ills currently afflicting modern women", as Tacky puts it, or not-quite-feminists who are neurotically conflicted, recognising their privileged position but resenting the "all men are bastards" vibe… "It's all just women whining on about how men treat them like shit, innit, mate? I mean, I believe in equality and all, but the way they speak you'd think we're all rapists." And so on.

Is this is at the heart of Safe Light's attempt to jettison the "rhetorical and philosophical luggage" of feminism? In fact, if we forget the "philosophical" there and just talk about rhetorical luggage, it seems to me it's precisely this -- the rhetoric of misogyny, the galvanising fighting talk, the cant and rhetoric that puts the situation in terms of victims, oppression, patriarchy, etc. -- which was (and probably still is) essential to the feminist cause, but which *has* to be dumped by men who want to redefine their own gender roles. It's not patriarchal misogynist oppression that straight men have to overcome but fraternal homophobic competition. So why the hell should a straight white male with all the privileges that entails use the rhetoric of rebellion? It seems a bit absurd to characterise this men's movement malarkey as a fierce struggle for, um, disempowerment. To that extent, I agree that "men who want to change societal expectations for men, for the benefit of men, will figure out that being feminist and pro-gay will do more to that end than a hundred men's groups" but I think a part of that figuring out process may well require a pretty thorough redefinition of terms from the ground up.

Anyway, apologies for the screed. Shee-it.

1:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Zoe:

Re this:

"whole Real Man, be a man, what is a man thing. I'm pretty sure you can reject or ignore this line without falling into the pits of despair, and I'd even guess that this might be something like what Jeff V. and David M. meant. Not that I know for sure."

That's more or less what I meant. And I'm perfectly happy to have the debate framed by the feminists, for example, and to explore masculinity in those terms. (Especially because I don't think most men have really read or encountered feminist theory or general ideas/arguments, so it's still a vast and interesting territory to read in and experience.)

Sure, some % of it devolves into just man-hating based on a woman's own anecdotal evidence/experience (re extremism without proper context existing in any movement), but I have found much more revealing and interesting and helpful what women say about men than what men say about each other. I don't generally trust what men say about each other. And I feel a little weird about the idea of a movement that involves a privileged class. A dialogue, yes, but not a movement.

JeffV

2:24 PM  
Blogger Safe Light said...

Jeff says:

A dialogue, yes, but not a movement.

I never stop discovering holes in my symantic sets. Righto, then. Men's Dialogue.

I'm curious what issues you (well, and everyone) thinks are germain to that dialogue?

3:18 PM  
Blogger Hal Duncan said...

The women's movement had, and has, plenty of practical, objective, tangible problems to solve. Men's problems, on the other hand, to the extent they're different from people's problems, are largely psychological.

Generally, I say, yup, absolutely, but I can think of one practical, objective, tangible "men's issue" for a "man's movement", to tackle. Had such a movement existed in the US at the same time as the women's movement of the 1960s and 1970s, and devoted itself to redefining what's acceptable for men with the same rigour and conviction feminism applied in redefining what's acceptable for women, I think it would have (or at least should have) run into this full-on -- the draft. There may only be a few issues of any real seriousness where a straight man's "duty" isn't just a noblesse oblige smokescreen for privilege and power, but I'd say this is a doozy. Sure, you can argue against war in general, or against this or that war in particular; but I'd like to see a serious challenge to the conscription of young men of fighting age which took it on as a gender issue. Why the fuck should men be automatically expected to play Daddy's Little Soldier on society's battlefields? Isn't that like automatically expecting women to play Mother's Little Helper in society's households? Shut up and do what you're told. You have no choice. This is what men do. This is what women do. Fuck that fer a game of sodjies.

If feminism pivoted on women's liberation from the kitchen sink, should "masculinism" (God, that is such an ugly coinage) pivot on men's liberation from the machine gun?

4:09 PM  
Blogger David Moles said...

Yeah, but as long as they're not drafting anyone, that one doesn't really resonate. And in the US military, at any rate, current events have clearly overtaken the theoretical debates about women in combat.

6:13 PM  
Anonymous widmanstatten said...

Something completely different.

Does anybody have any offhand examples of SF authors experimenting with these?

(I don't know why they're picking on "per" -- it's my favorite of the bunch. "Zie" and "sie" sound too Germanic, "ey" and "em" sound like slang, and "hir" reminds me of "hirsute.")

9:07 PM  
Anonymous widmanstatten said...

Thank you for posting your "rant," Safe Light. (I do recall egging you on at one point.)

9:12 PM  
Blogger Hal Duncan said...

True for the US and UK, and probably most liberal democracies in this day and age, where no politician in their right mind would even think of such a vote-killer. But I do have a mate who had to basically get the fuck out of Serbia rather than be drafted, and there's plenty of places round the world where male identity is still tied up in the rhetoric of "dulce et decorum est pro patria mori". The draft is a theoretical for ye and me though, yes.

Widening it out then, would others see the same link I do between individual male identity and national, tribal or racial identity? Because that seems more pressing to me than, say, being called a wuss for expressing emotion in public, or not matching yer rival salesman in the annual pissing-contest. Seems to me conventional models of male gender roles have a strong component of martial duty, requiring men -- if they are to consider themselves Real Men -- to defend their nation, tribe, race or street-gang, to fight for King & Country, for Democracy, for "the freedom of small nations", or just for turf. Does that count as a practical, objective and tangible problem in its own right? Or are there practical, objective and tangible problems that derive from it? To what extent does gang culture depend on a sort of conscription of young men into that "dutiful soldier" gender role, for example?

9:27 PM  
Blogger Safe Light said...

Well, if you look at reactionary, failed Men's Movements, one of the big things that comes out is connection to an idealized warrior.

And to be a gentleman or a Real Man or wahtever also has a component of agreeing that you're expendable. Women & children first wasn't the ideology of preserving property.

We are absolutely a privilaged class, and I don't want anything I say here to be taken as a denial of that. But we're a privilaged class whose members are constantly told that individually they're inadequate and expendable. That's toxic kind of privilage.

I think the draft is a legitimate talking point in the conversation, though it won't *really* hit the fan until a draft is actually enstated, and then only if it's still sex-based. There's a fair chunk of american women dying in Iraq.

9:54 PM  
Blogger Brickworks said...

There's a fair chunk of american women dying in Iraq.

And getting medals for valor under fire. When people bring up the "women don't belong in combat" skreed now I just fall over laughing.

I was always sad and angry that I wasn't required to register for the draft. I'm like, "what, I'm not good enough or something?"

Sorry for the interruption. Carry on.

1:00 PM  
Blogger Johnny Dark said...

So how is this embodied in science fiction? (William Tenn, "The Masculinist Revolt," comes to mind, but I'm not sure that's exactly what SL had in mind...) How should it be embodied in SF? What in this conversation would make interesting reading; is it anything other than just "a character who treats other people like they were all human beings"?

On a different topic, Widmanstatten links a discussion on gender-neutral pronouns and asks Does anybody have any offhand examples of SF authors experimenting with these?

Marge Piercy, of course, used "per" for a non-gendered pronoun in Woman On The Edge Of Time. There's been a handful of others; it's not terribly common, because invented projouns tend to be either unreadable, or else to attract so much attention to themselves that the story suffers. A couple of other writers have written stories in which the gender of one or all characters have been concealed by constructing sentences to avoid pronouns completely, this tends to lead to slightly awkward sentences.

6:25 PM  
Blogger Qwui said...

The women's movement came from women organizing to gain the rights and privileges that had been reserved hithertofore only for men. Logically, then, the men's movement that SafeLight describes would organize men to gain the privileges that had been reserved for women.

It is the central mythos of the women's movement that there aren't any rights or privileges that women had, prior to the womens movement, which men didn't; that in the pre-consciousness-raised days, men held all the power and arranged the world to suit them. Thus, the necessary start to the Safe Light men's movement must be to fight this myth.

8:31 PM  
Blogger David Moles said...

(BTW, S.L.: Privilege: two Is, two Es, no As -- it was one of my bêtes noires in high school. -lege comes from the same root as legal.)

9:25 PM  
Blogger David Moles said...

Thus, the necessary start to the Safe Light men's movement must be to fight this myth.

And that's where you risk turning into a movement for assholes. I've got a better idea: Instead of focusing on how those evil women in the women's movement have unfairly suppressed discussion of the privileges enjoyed by women in patriarchal societies, how about we focus on what society is today and what we want out of it?

9:25 PM  
Blogger David Moles said...

J.D. asks: So how is this embodied in science fiction?

Well, I'm still not convinced of the idea that conscription, nationalism, and patriotism are gendered issues, but:

Christopher "Worldcon 2005 GoH" Priest's The Separation comes to mind: The story of two twin brothers, Olympic athletes together in the 30s, one of whom becomes a bomber pilot during WW2 and the other of whom becomes a conscientious objector. (Then things get really weird.) It makes a more coherent argument for pacifism than any work of fiction (SF or mainstream) I've ever read, and it does so by going straight to the heart of the last "just war".

9:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Safe Light said "But as a man, I can't really *be* a cunt or a pussy. I *can* be a fag. (Just the way you can't *be* a bitch unless you're a dog with really amazing typing skills, but you could be a slut or a whore). So I think there's an insult-as-identity thing going on there."

Being wilfully obtuse isn't helpful. The word "bitch" was long ago coopted into the language beyond that original meaning. Let's look at the dictionary:

Bitch:

1.A female canine animal, especially a dog.
Offensive.
2. A woman considered to be spiteful or overbearing.
A lewd woman.
A man considered to be weak or contemptible.
Slang. A complaint.
Slang. Something very unpleasant or difficult.

If someone is calling you a bitch, they've jumped to meaning #2. If I were to call you an "asshole" just because you can't literally transform into an anus doesn't mean you weren't insulted.

I love an etymological arugument as much as the next person, but that kind of twisting and turning of words doesn't further a discussion, it turns people away.

Shades Of Gray

12:32 PM  
Blogger Safe Light said...

qwui says:

the men's movement that SafeLight describes would organize men to gain the privileges that had been reserved for women

Not so much, no.

The project I'm calling for isn't really about men's relationship to women. It's about men's relationship to masculinity and the cultural assumptions put on and internalized by us.

The idea that a men's movement must be primarily in relationship to women is a misconception, and part of why the Bly/Keen/Promise Keeper crowd got it so wrong.

2:07 PM  
Blogger Safe Light said...

Shades of Grey says:

Being wilfully obtuse isn't helpful. The word "bitch" was long ago coopted into the language beyond that original meaning.

Okay. There's all kinds of mean things to call women. I'll drop the point.

What I was trying to get at is the way that fear of homosexuality or percieved homosexuality is used as a tool to keep men invested in mainline, unconsidered masculinity.

Accepting homosexual men as belonging inside a more comprehensive definition of masculinity would remove that tool of social control.

2:13 PM  
Anonymous Benjamin Rosenbaum said...

Interesting thread.

I have a number of perhaps mutually contradictory reactions.

I don't think I'm quite as allergic to the drum-beating men's movementists, or the idealization of the warrior, as you are. I don't necessarily take them all that seriously; I also think that the rhetoric is potentially dangerous; but in practice, I often see men who like to beat drums, dress up as premodern warriors, and fight with sticks getting along very happily in feminist, matriarchal subcultures -- blissfully, even. And I think there may be something useful about interrogating, rather than demonizing, the notion of "warrior". Because the thing is, many many men like to hit things, like it when things blow up, like loud noises and fast motion. Of course, many women do too -- indeed that kind of violence, smash-bam violence, can fill a deep need for women as well as for men. So I'm not sure it's really about a critique of gender -- it's maybe about a critique of, a response to, modernity. As much about reclaiming the body, and its capacity for rash swift collisions, etc., as about gender.

The connection with gender, though, is the myth of the warrior as sold to men. But maybe sometimes, for some people, the myth is best unpacked not by opposing it ("war is bad! fighting is bad! let us be gentle!") but rather by playing with it ("bad violence is overriding the boundaries of consent -- good violence, which perhaps deserves another name, is when things go smash and everyone is glad").

Another reaction I have is that there already is a men's movement, and it's called feminism. That's my personal experience, anyway. Some things feminists have said can be hard for men to hear. But they are important to hear, if you want to have real strength, and not fake strength that arises from fear. Feminism is the name of that conversation among men and women which is designed to help us survive, escape, and remediate the damage done by our society's fucked-up rules about gender and power.

Of course, said damage is highly unequal -- more done to women than men. That's one reason why way more women than men speak, and need to speak, as feminists. Another is that the default mode of patriarchy is men talking and women shutting up and listening, so that women talking, and men shutting up and listening, is in and of itself subversive and salutary.

That doesn't make feminism none of men's business, or men's lives none of feminism's business though.

Life in a gendered world is not a zero-sum game -- profoundly not. Not in bed, certainly (as Meghan observes), not in family, and not even in the workplace. Sure, what Ian said at the panel is true: “The standard sort of redneck white guy response to feminism: They’re taking my power away — is correct.” But that leaves out the other half of the equation: "... and that power, ultimately, is poison." Ultimately, power-over is a very cheap and lousy substitute for power-with.

The 70s wave of feminism did a hell of a lot of good. Where it failed was not in the women talking part; it was in the men shutting up and listening part. It failed when women demanded in droves to go out to work, and men resoundingly did not demand in droves to stay home with the kids -- so that the going wage for nurturing a child in this society fell way below five dollars an hour.

Nonetheless. John Stuart Mill and Samuel R. Delany and Rosie Greer were not dupes or idiots. They knew freedom when they saw it, and they went after it.

If there's a men's movement, it should not be defined as something counter to feminism, or even separate from feminism, but as men finally wising up and doing the work that feminism (at least those feminisms whose adherents do not entirely despair for their sons) needs them to do.

5:24 PM  
Blogger Safe Light said...

I quibble with some semantic points, but at base our minds run in harness. (I'll take the incredibly rude step of quoting myself from way back in the original rant -- "The quasi-men's movements we've had have all been in an adversarial relationship with women. My guess is that a genuine one would be a compliment to a legitimate women's movement.")

Perhaps semantically we could meet halfway by saying men need to accept some ownership, responsibility, and involvement with the cultural critique begun by feminism. (and yes, some level of shutting up and listening to women is a great and good thing, but it's not a whole agenda -- talking sense and addressing the damage sustained by men is part of our job too. Ya can't liberate half of something.)

And yes, I am glibly dismissive of the inner warrior crowd. I recognize that as a failure of compassion on my part, and yet, they piss me off. Just can't help it.

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