Saturday, August 13, 2005

Big Tent Feminism - Just how big is this tent, anyway?

I've been thinking a lot about differences between feminists recently. Differences in how we approach gender identity issues, differences in how we relate to men, differences between women of different races and classes. Part of what set me off on this path was the comments of the ever-perceptive Sydney at Alas on the ways in which white feminists marginalise women of color, which set me off on a quest to find non-Western feminist blogs (I found a few good ones if anyone wants links). The other thing that prompted my excursion into ideological self-criticism was reading a news article about Mary Daly, which prompted me to re-read some of her work.
So, the first thing to come out of my self-criticism exercise - I agree that mainstream feminism does indeed marginalise women of color. Not only that, it also tends to marginalise poor women. I don't think that this is the result of any kind of deliberate attempt to exclude these women, I think it's a combination of selfishness (ie I'm going to focus on the issues that affect me) and laziness (it's easier not to have to think about how other women's experiences may be different. Reaching out to others is work. Understanding is work). I think that this is a real weakness within the movement. It has become particularly apparent with the increasing dangers faced by women in Iraq. There are established feminist groups in Iraq that are trying to fight against the imposition of Sharia law and the erosion of Iraqui women's civil rights. There are feminist women in the West who want to help, and who have far more of the resources to be able to do so (money, access to the media) than the Iraqi women do. The problem is that there are no established connections between the two groups. Western feminists can't even send messages of support and solidarity, because we don't know who to send them to. This is a problem. There are also many women in Africa facing huge problems, frankly much bigger problems than women are facing here in the USA, and what are we doing to help and support them? Not much. That is also a problem. In fact, to my mind it's not just a problem, it's a betrayal of what feminism is supposed to stand for. If we believe in freedom and justice for women that needs to mean ALL women, not just the women who look like us.
The issue of how we deal with men is also a divisive one. This is where the work of Mary Daly comes in. I'm about to say something that will probably make a lot of other feminists very angry, but I think it needs to be said.
Reading Mary Daly makes me feel profoundly depressed. On some basic level I find her philosophies morally and ethically unacceptable. Part of what she says sound reasonable, even uplifting, and then we get to stuff like this.
"I think it's not a bad idea at all. If life is to survive on this planet, there must be a decontamination of the Earth. I think this will be accompanied by an evolutionary process that will result in a drastic reduction of the population of males. People are afraid to say that kind of stuff anymore."
It's not that I'm afraid to say that kind of stuff, it's that I don't agree with it (and I don't appreciate the implication that other feminists feel the same way she does and are just afraid to admit it, by the way). Why in the hell would anyone think that a "drastic reduction" in the number of men would be a good idea? This isn't feminism, it's eugenics. Eugenics is a deeply evil idea, an appeal to the twisted underbelly of the human psyche, and I don't much care what anyone's justifications are for why it's OK to be promoting it in their special set of circumstances. I think that at some point Daly took a wrong turn. She seems to have lost sight of the fact that patriarchy is a social system and has instead decided that patriarchy is men. Patriarchy is not men. It favors men, certainly, it hurts women in a far more direct and limiting way than it hurts men, but men are trapped in its web just as certainly as women are. She's oversimplifying, and when has that ever been a good idea?
This ties in to a number of experiences I had at university. I was a psych major but took a number of feminism classes. I loved the actual lectures, devoured the reading material, but there was always an undercurrent of gender essentialism among certain of the texts, certain members of each seminar group, that made me deeply uncomfortable. Anyone who's ever had any exposure to gender studies knows what I'm talking about. Woman as all-nurturing earth mother, man as warrior and destroyer of worlds. Gender as a dichotomy, with men and women as binary opposites, forever destined to misunderstand and conflict with each other.
I'm going to be frank here. This model is bullshit. It doesn't reflect my life, it doesn't reflect the lives of anyone I know. What about the soft, femmey men? What about the stone butches? What about the women like me who feel no particular inclination to be nurturing and earth-mothery? What about the vast majority of human beings who each have a unique combinatiion of traditionally "masculine" and "feminine" traits? Where do they fit in the binary theory?
Don't misunderstand me. The vast majority of feminists completely get that gender is a fluid thing, hard to pin down and subject to almost infinite variations. But what about the essentialists in our midst? What do we do about them?
Arwen started me thinking about this in a new way and gave me a word for what I do when I encounter essentialist theories. I matronize them. I don't take them seriously. In the back of my own mind I'm patting them on the head and saying "yes dear, I know, you're upset". I tuck them into bed with a nice cup of tea and a chocolate biscuit. I assume that something, some bad experience in their past, has hurt these women so deeply that withdrawal from men is the only answer for them. I don't mean withdrawal in the sense of lesbianism, I mean complete withdrawal, a drastic alienation from anything with the slightest tinge of maleness. And honestly, if they wish to withdraw themselves I have no issue whatsoever with that choice. It's not my decision to make. The problem is that they're advocting separatism as the only acceptable feminist option, and I'm not willing to accept that.
In spite of my overall respect for Dworkin there are bits and pieces of her theory that provoke this same reaction in me. I recognise the fact that what she's saying is true for her, and is true for millions of women all over the world, but it's not true for me. It doesn't reflect my life experiences.
This is where a bit of background might come in handy. From the age of 2 till 8 I lived in Libya. In our little expat community there were only a few families and a much larger number of men on what was called "bachelor status", men who worked there alone while their families stayed home, who only saw their wife and kids for perhaps a month out of every year. Whenever my parents would go to a party these men were my babysitters. My Mom threw frequent dinner parties at which there were always at least a few of these men - indeed a large part of the reason that she threw the parties was because she felt sorry for these men who were separated from their families for so much of the time. The reason I have never been able to swallow the "women are naturally nurturing and men are not" idea is that I spent my childhood surrounded by extremely nurturing men. They read me stories, they helped me take me baths, they kissed skinned knees and tended colds, they told me jokes when I was sad, they took me swimming and answered my incessant questions about how and why and what and where and dammit I need to know how everything works! In a way I was an incredibly fortunate child. These men lavished upon me all the affection that circumstances prevented them from lavishing upon their own children who were so far away. I loved every one of my "uncles", and I always knew that they loved me.
This is why the essentialist, separatist part of feminism is completely anathema to me. I love men. Not all men, obviously. I don't really love all women either. All human beings have the potential to be nasty and selfish and cruel, and all too many don't even try to be any better. Some try and fail, eaten up by their own personal demons. But there is nothing wrong with "men" in the abstract that the demolition of the patriarchy couldn't potentially fix, and I simply cannot accept the idea that some people cannot separate the social and political system that grinds us all down from the individuals who live within that system. To do so would be to deny my own life experience, and I'm not willing to do that.
I've been chewing this over in one way and another ever since university, hell probably since long before that, and for a long time I've just kept my mouth shut out of fear of angering and alienating my fellow feminists, and I'm not willing to do that any more. This is my movement too, and I demand the right to have a say in how it works. I'm not willing to write off half the human race, and I'm not willing to lend my support to those who do. I would also like to remind my sisters that in promoting essentialist arguments they are acually letting the men who behave badly off the hook. If we set up a binary in which men simply are "that way", if we "other" them, then are we not conceding that they are incapable of change, of being people whom we can work with rather than against? Does anyone really think that that's a good strategy? Furthermore, if we don't speak out against those of our sisters who are promoting deeply misguided philosophies, we are allowing their arguments to shape the public image of what the word "feminist" means. That's a very bad idea. Feminism is in serious need of a PR makeover.
In a way I suppose what's coming through here is the Second Wave vs Third Wave divide. I can understand why the women who came before thought differently. I respect their right to their opinions. I don't think that means that I, or any other younger feminists, need to defer to them when I think they're wrong. I think that if we ever want to gain any traction for the movement in the court of public opinion we need to make it crystal clear that the movement has progressed, that most people abandoned essentialist thinking long ago. That may mean speaking out against our sisters when they say things we disagree with. It may mean agreeing to disagree.
I think that we need to move towards a new vision of what feminism means. That new visions needs to be much more inclusive than the one it's replacing. We need to open up the conversation to include the voices of women of color, and when they start talking the rest of us need to shut up and listen. We need to reach out to poor women in language they can understand, and take their concerns seriously. We need to reach out to women in the Third World, and we need to recognise that their lives matter every bit as much as ours do. We need to embrace and work with men who share our basic philosophy.
How big is that tent anyway? Is it big enough for all of us? I suspect it is. If it isn't it's time to built a bigger tent.


StealthBadger said...

Though you may not agree with everything she says, bell hooks' Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center is a definite wake-up call for any movement whose direction has been overwhelmingly guided by a single cultural viewpoint. I disagree with her assertion that people on the margins can understand the viewpoint of the people in the center, but I agree with her that the view of the marginalized is not only necessary, it provides a vital critique of the ideology at the center. I sincerely hope I'm making sense.

Arwen said...

Holer Mothy, Brit Girl; I just poured some thought into my critique of Mary Daly - inspired by your idea that matronizing is an inappropriate response, which I'm getting the courage up to agree with - and then I come by and start nodding: you've hit the nail on the head for me.
What I find interesting is that you've stated a little bit of hesitance to make these judgements, too.

Cassandra Says said...

Arwen, the hesitancy is interesting in that I'm typically a very no-bullshit kind of person. It's unusual for me to be so hesitant, but then it's hard to say things that you think might make your own little subcultural group reject you. What was making you hesitate?
Also interesting that most of my usual commenters haven't weighed in on this one. I fear that I may indeed have offended a few people, which is what as making me hesitate in the first place.

Cassandra Says said...

StealthBadger, thanks for the link, I will check it out. And you're making complete sense to me.

Arwen said...

I noted that there's no commenting on my Daly essay - although that's a more specific topic. I almost want to invite some women over.

Maybe it's that some people don't want to critique other feminists because they want us to appear to be holding a strong front line? Or maybe I'm being roundly disagreed with, but people don't want to get into it. Dunno.

I'm hesitant because I don't want to be ungrateful sounding: I know how much those before have won me. I'm hesitant because some people I respect are very clear about encompassing radicalism but I've never totally understood WHY - I feel like I'm missing something that I'm not able to piece together in the argument. I'm also hesitant because I don't want the rejection; there are some truly radical people whose comments about me I can slough off (sleeping with the enemy comments), but there are other women that I have a harder time just shrugging... It's my background, I think. This is *my* philosophical background.

Actually, when I was talking with John about it he asked me why it mattered whether or not other people saw me as feminist. What was in the label? It's hard to define for me. I feel that I am feminist. I'm NOT scared off by the femi-nazi labels. I don't believe in being pushed around by those who'd like women to return to a more subservient role. So I don't know...

Cassandra Says said...

The thing is, I'd say that on most issues I'd be considered fairly radical, although I'd typically classify myself as more socialist feminist than radical feminist. What do we mean by "radical" anyway? What does it mean to you?
I guess that my radicalism on any issue stops at the point at which a person is advocating potential or actual harm to others. So, I support Greenpeace and CND but not Earth First, I'm kind of a "fag hag" and very pro-gay-rights in general but I loathe the very idea of outing celebrities regardless of how much good anyone thinks it might do, I'm strongly socialist (maybe even Marxist) by inclination but deeply uncomfortable with many things that have been done in the name of communism. At the center of all my personal beliefs is a rather Buddhist conception of compassion and doing no harm, and any time a philosophy seems to be crossing that line I instinctively want to reject it.
So yeah, I'm torn too. I know exactly where I stand on all this but I'm a bit worried that by saying so I'm going to alienate some people who I would prefer to retain a good working relationship with. I'm also tempted to try to drag more women into this discussion (and some of the men too, which might also upset some people). I kind of feel like the movement's hit a brick wall and that this conversation needs to happen, and the men issue in particular needs to be hashed out, in order for us all to move on. I'm also becoming more and more aware of how distorted the public image of feminists is (to the point that people in my own life have refused to believe that I actually consider myself to be one because they're so fixated on the image of Dworkin in her overalls)), and that concerns me.
The thing is, I suspect that you and I aren't actually a minority at all. I think we're the mainstream within the movement, but for some reason that's just not coming across to most people. Of course I could be wrong...but I'd love to figure out a way to open up this conversation to more people.
Here's another random thought. I've been thinking about starting some kind of a magazine designed to appeal to young feminist women, kind of a glossy but without all the "15 way to please your man in bed, plus horoscopes!" crap that Cosmo and its ilk peddle. Something that's halfway between a normal glossy and Ms, but with snappier writing and more general cultural commentary. Something more like what one can find in the blogosphere, to be precise. I just don't have the publishing experience to know where to start. There must be people who do, though. Ideas, anyone?

Anonymous said...

There's a place for radicals in every movement. People way out on the edge serve lots of functions. They enable speech closer to the center. They are often the most motivated, so they provide the driving force. And they constantly challenge folks to reassess their own biases. For those reasons, even when I don't agree with some radical feminists, I respect their energy and their right to speak their mind. Even when they are angry at men, and even when they don't want me around.

But respecting someone's views does not mean abdicating my own and adopting their judgment. Ultimately, I think men have a place in both society and the feminist movement. I think patriarchy is not just a male construct imposed on women, but a gender construct that oppresses women but is bad for all people, and that we all participate in to some extent. Ultimately, I do not think that the solution is to reduce the population of men.

I also think there's a difference between feminists who are angry at men, and feminists who have adopted the view that there's nothing to be done about men. The latter is an essentialism that ultimately demands nothing of men- it lets them off the hook, in fact, by accepting that the worst of patriarchal behavior is simply in their nature. That is so much like an ev psych just so story that women who take this position generally might as well agree with the worst of anti-feminist essentialists.

As for women who are angry with men, I can handle that anger. I do not think it is unfair to demand that men work for change, nor do I think it is unreasonable to be angry when men drag their heels. There are plenty of feminists that blame all men, not for being rapists, but for participating in a culture that condones rape. I think men have to accept this blame and work to change it, instead of getting defensive. Calling these women "man hating" is neither accurate nor productive. I don't need radical feminists to pat me on the head and tell me that I'm "one of the good ones." I take their criticisms under advisement, and I try to make change where I can. I don't need a cookie.

I'm always hesitant, too, to criticize any feminist in public, especially the radicals. Men can't be in the front rank telling women when the feminist movement is going too far, and I have no tolerance for men saying they feel excluded. But when the subject comes up, I guess I should be willing to say that I also think the essentialist model is wrong and that no good can come of it.


FoolishOwl said...

Just because they call themselves radical feminists, doesn't mean they're really all that radical. Some of them are; some of them are outright reactionaries.

I'm also a little tired of the idea that radicals are all coming from Mars and will scare people off if they're honest about their opinions. Radical leftists favor US withdrawal from Iraq, as do the majority of US citizens but as neither major party does. Radical leftists support universal healthcare, as the majority of US citizens do but neither major party does. Radical leftists support abortion rights, as most US citizens do but neither major party does. Who's really out of touch?

Cassandra, you really should try to make it to the next BACORR meeting. I believe you'd find that most of the people present have views similar to yours, and you could find a home in one of the Marxist or socialist feminist groups that were represented.

FoolishOwl said...

In particular, Prop 73, about parental notification for abortions, will affect youth the most, so we'd definitely be discussing how to bring youth into activism on the issue.

Arwen said...

Being radical is relative, isn't it? I have a hard time seeing socialism as "radical", since right now our Canadian socialist party is at 30% (and hovers around there a lot of the time). Socialism seems to me the essence of reflection. The critiques of our NDP don't tend to be that they're radicals so much as bumbleheaded idealists who'll spend all the money and then get us all killed. *g*. War in Iraq = not good, Universal Health = good, are both majority viewpoints...

So I looked it up: radical seems just to mean willing to go to the extreme. I suppose what's radical is based on where you start. The fact that Americans have been sold a bill of goods that being against the war is "radical" is sort of sad - if it's a majority opinion, it's not radical.

Now, if the majority believes in owning slaves, I would say that the "radical" idea that people are equal is right and utterly to be embraced, stood for, and loudly demanded. So, radicalism - the ability to be extreme, step outside the hegemony - is vital.

Ditto the fact that NO ONE should be held in prison without trial: that seems to be a "radical" concept in the US right now, which is confusing to me given American history.

On the other hand, anything that supports the killing, imprisonment, torture, or dehumanization of any class/race/sexual-orientation/gender, etc, to me is repugnant regardless of whether or not it's radical in a given cultural context. Racial profiling of Arabs right now seems not to be radical - but it's repugnant. Other forms of racism are radical, and are still repugnant.

What you define as radical, Brian, I define as mildly leftist! Of course, it's what FOX News defines as radical. God, they're idiots.

Anyway, all that to say that I'm coming to the idea that "radical" is probably subjective to the point of being muddying. I can embrace some forms of radicalism and not others: to me, the essence of human rights is that we are all to be treated equally. Further, (and more radically?), I don't believe in violence as a medium for positive change.

In that context I can't say I disagree with all radical anythings.

So, what I have problems with is not radical feminists, but essentialist feminists, seperatists, and those who would replace patriarchy with some sort of laundry list matriarchy... No system should tells me who to be based on my genitals, skin colour, class, orientation, or disability. Same goes for everyone else.

In this way, I am beginning to have a serious problem with the exclusion of men. Not at some events or in some spaces: women's centers dealing with violence specifically against women, and take back the night marches where the POINT is that women shouldn't have to be escorted by men to be safe... But in a lot of places, I think men are just as oppressed by the patriarchy. I can't feel truly liberated if the essentialism continues: because where men are excluded, you've carved a gender barrier. Are men being kept out? Or women kept in?

I get Thomas' point about men not raising voices too much in terms of critiquing the Women's Movement. I sort of agree that in the 60s and 70s there was a lot of patronizing that various civil movements did towards women. Man, in the communes there was the "if you were liberated you'd sleep with me" bullshit ad nauseum, and the women were always changing the tofu water while the guys discussed where Atlantis had gotten to in the living room. Yuck. When the women talked feminism, sometimes the guys' voices would just override: naw, it SHOULD go this way little ladies, and now that we've solved that little problem, let's get back to REAL issues. The Pie Fight on Kos was just that all over again.

So, I understand and support that some guys, to be supportive, shut the hell up. I do the same with racial issues much of the time - I am really aware that I'm of the white middle class and what the fuck do I know?

But at some point I think that all that needs to change. As we become more equal. I feel a lot more able to tell people where to get off with more confidence than those commune chicks did. I'm not going to be changing that tofu water all the time: it's not going to be a big deal up for discussion, either. I just am not. (Okay, tofu doesn't come in cans of water anymore. Still.)

So, if a guy wants to state a criticism, I'd rather hear it out on the table (where I can agree, learn, or argue it), than have it lurking unchallenged, unseen, and unheard at the back of the room. I guess that's true of why I think it's important for ME to be able to criticize feminists I don't agree with, too. Silence is deadly.

Anonymous said...

On the term "radical" ... I used it in two senses, and I think confusingly so. I think the compound noun "radical feminist," ought to be used distinctly from the adjective "radical." Conservatives generally preface "feminism" with "radical" in its adjectival (and pejorative) sense, and I always hear this, and it always annoys me as incorrect. I know most conservatives just mean feminism they don't like; they couldn't state the difference between liberal and radical feminism.


Anonymous said...

i think thomas's comment explains why a lot of feminists don't feel that they should criticize other feminists: because people "on the outside" can take these criticisms to use against the group as a whole. this is unproductive, of course, but a lot of people in various groups have this instinct. i've heard queer people complain about drag queens, wanting them to "act straight" and not give ammunition to straights who want to paint all queer people as abnormal.

the abortion issue suffers from this, too. i recently had an abortion, and it was a crazy experience. i don't think the people at the clinic lied to me, but they definitely did not warn me adequately about what would be happening to my body. no-one wants to talk about chunks of meat coming out of a cervix a week after the abortion, because it sounds so awful; it sounds like pro-life propaganda. so no-one warned me. i couldn't find any stories about women's use of ru-486, at least nothing that sounded even remotely like my experience. i am fine with explicit details- the biology doesn't bother me- but others don't seem to divorce "feelings" from the biology, even the pro-choicers.

when i was in the abortion clinic i told the woman doing the ultrasound that i almost felt guilty for NOT feeling guilty or ashamed. because then i seemed like the remorseless baby-killer the pro-life side talks about. she told me she hears that comment a lot.

and in discussions on blogs and in other places, the situation that always comes up as a defense for the pro-choice position is a woman who is raped, who doesn't have access to birth control, whose bc failed, who only had access to abstinence-only sex ed, etc. however, that wasn't my case at all. i have a masters degree (in the biological sciences, so no excuses there), i have enough money for bc, i could support a child if i had to; in short, i was stupid. i miscalculated. and i aborted because i don't want kids, not because i'm poor, or any other "good" reason. but i don't make a good poster-girl for abortion, because the pregnancy was totally my fault. i'm the case the pro-choice people don't want to talk about. it's hard to support people that you feel will harm your cause or whose actions could be used against you, even if they're ostensibly on your side.

anyway, that's my long, tangential explanation about criticism and feminism, or any movement.

p.s.- earth first! is certainly radical, but ef!does not want to harm any living things- including humans- any more than greenpeace. gp action has caused death, also. (another dirty secret that enviros don't want to admit.)

Anonymous said...

i think i was unclear in the previous post- thomas said that conservatives will conflate 'radical' and 'liberal' feminism, and i feel it's this dichotomous view that stifles people. if we let people know there are feminists who hate men, others can say "see, they all hate men!" rather than examining individual contexts and situations, and admitting that there can be different types of feminism. it's much easier to see everything in black-and-white.

FoolishOwl said...

I actually meant to criticize the use of radical as a synonym for extremist. Being radical, as Marx said, means getting to the root of things -- which is what the word is derived from.

When I said that some radical feminists aren't radical at all, what I meant is that they end up accepting essentialist notions of gender, and accepting sexism as something insoluble and eternal. That's not radical -- that's very conservative. This goes along with some radical feminists forming alliances with religious conservatives, expressing extreme hostility towards transgendered people, and so on.

Cassandra Says said...

Hi Brian. I am in all honesty not much of a joiner as far as political groups are concerned - remember my extremely low score for cooperation on the personality test? I tend to end up arguing with people and feeling like we're not accomplishing anything. If they wanted me to help out by writing pamphlets etc I'd be happy to do so, but I hate political meetings. It's a wierd personality quirk (my Dad used to have the same issue when he was in a union, oddly enough - like me he likes the theory but doesn't do well with the reality).

Cassandra Says said...

About the word "radical", I agree that people tend to use it to mean "anything I don't like", which is not at all what it actually means. I actually had a conversation with P this weekend about whether it would be accurate to refer to the wingnuts as radicals. I say it is, since they're trying to make changes to the structure of society that are indeed radical, he tends to think that radical means leftist and that "reactionary" would be a better term.
Arwen's right though - what often gets labelled "radical" in the US is actually pretty mainstream. That they can get away with calling universal healthcare, for example, radical is a sad sign of how completely unhinged from reality the MSM has become.
And Arwen, I hear you on the old hippy "change the tofu water and then come fuck me, baby" tendencies. Have you ever read TC Boyle? He did a brilliant takedown of that aspect of hippy culture.

Indri said...

I think you raise some excellent points, but I want to note that there are quite a few Third Wave writers and thinkers who are addressing these questions.

It's not all Daly and Dworkin anymore. Daly and her whole "all sexual intercourse is rape" rap bothered the crap out of me when I read it in college.

Have you read Manifesta: Young Women and Feminism, edited by Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards? I just started, and I think it might interest you.

I'm in SF too, btw. You sound like someone who would be really interest to sit down and talk with.

Indri said...

"really interesting." Something weird happened there.

Cassandra Says said...

Hi Idri. I know there are SOME third Wavers addressing some of these issue. What bothers me is that the older Second Wave ideas still tend to dominate in the media and form most people's perceptions of what feminism is. I also think that younger feminists often defer to some of the Second Wave out of respect, or politeness, and what I'm arguing is that in certain cases (particularly Daly) that politiness is misplaced.
It's funny that you, me and Brian are all in the Bay Area. Maybe we should all go out for a drink!

Anonymous said...

Hi Cassandra

I hope you don't mind a few comments from a Daly fan.

First off, I don't agree with you about speaking out against a feminist woman (didn't this start out as an exercise in self-criticism ;)). Speaking out against her ideas is one thing, speaking out against her is quite another. Feminism is a big tent and there is room for many different voices, including yours and including Daly's. I'm not really sure why you would think otherwise. There isn't a feminist high command where women who don't toe the party line get thrown out. The existence of the third wave and second wave proves that. There is an ideological divide between them but both groups get to call themselves feminists. Added to the fact that Daly is about as far from mainstream feminism as you can get, I'm wondering why you see her as such a threat to your presence in the feminist movement.

I'm also wondering what of Daly's you have read. Your idea that she says women fit into "feminine earth mother traits" is frankly wrong. Daly's work is all about destroying the mind-bindings that try to force us into such narrow roles. She doesn't promote gender binaries instead she focuses on women and our creative potential. Her description of men and patriarchy is correct. The vast majority of men have done nothing to end the oppression of women instead they have used it and promoted it for their own purposes.

I understand your concern about her talking about reducing the population of men. I'm not sure where I stand on that. However the interesting thing about Daly is that more often than not something she talks about for men is actually happening to women. There are thirty million women missing from the population in India because the patriarchs there think there "should be a drastic reduction in the number of females". Eugenics against women is already happening but I've seen little evidence of an outcry in the West, which is evidence of both sexism and racism.

It seems like Daly is being misunderstood on a grand scale, if someone her can say quite incorrectly, that she argues that all sexual intercourse is rape (a lie that is normally made about Dworkin or Mackinnon).

Cassandra Says said...

Hey Anon. First off, where did you get the idea that I'm speaking out against Daly herself rather than her ideas? Her ideas are precisely what I'm complaining about, specifically her ideas about men.
The whole tone of your comment puzzles me. Why exactly is it a problem for me to criticise Daly's theories? I'm not suggesting attacking her personally, I'm not suggesting throwing her to the wolves, I am merely saying that I don't agree with her ideas. How does that contradict the big tent theory? I don't see her as a threat, I see her ideas as incorrect. Why is it such a terrible thing for me to say that? Why are you threatened by my saying it? I'm not sure if you completely misread my point or if you're just trying to tell me to STFU for the sake of the movement.
I think the core of the divide here is how we see men. If I'm reading you correctly you seem to think that patriarchy=men. I don't agree. Patriarchy is a social system, men are merely cogs in the wheel. Some of them actively try to defend the system, certainly, but I think that writing off men as a whole is a mistake. If you accept the idea that men are the problem in and of themselves then how is the system to be fixed? I refuse to accept Daly's "let's reduce the male population" theory, so what then?
I've read Gyn/Ecology and the Wickedary. I tried I do agree with some of what Daly says but A. I can't agree with the idea of focusing only on women and simply ignoring men because firstly, there are men in my life who I love and I'm not about to write them off and secondly, men are almost half the population, and thus rather hard to ignore. I just don't think her philosophy works in practise.
I agree with you that there is currently eugenics happening against women (you forgot to mention China, by the way, where the one child per couple policy has resulted in massive abortion of female fetuses and female infanticide). Bu do you really think the solution is to do the same thing to men that is currently being done to women?
For me, ANYONE who advocates reducing the population of any group is off the list of theorists who I can support with a clean conscience. I just don't see how anyone can get past that part of Daly's philosophy. What if an African American academic suggested the elimination of the majority of white people? Would you be willing to support that, or ambivalent? I'm not seeing Daly's theory is any different.
I'm not sure who you're referring to who mixed up Daly with Dworkin but, for the record, the "all heterosexual intercourse is rape" statement was A. not made by Daly and B. is not what Dworkin actually said.

Cassandra Says said...

Oops, I'm missing a sentence fragment there. What I meant to say is that I tried to read Quintessance and found it so muddled and philiosophically unappealing that I didn't finish it. I'm actually a big fan of feminist sci-fi, but think that Sherri Tepper does a much better job of tackling some of the same issues.

Tuomas said...

I agree with the original post, I think it's quite on target. What I do respect about essentialists is that they dare to question to ages-old, often subtly or not so so subtly repeated principle of male>female (and "masculine" traits>"feminine" traits).

I've thought about the gender roles, and I have to say that the whole "male role is more restrictive" -meme that is sometimes talked about in PHMT-issues doesn't hold that much water (I'm not saying it's outright wrong, but male role seems still to be the easier one even for atypical men). I think that until very recently with the strong focus on physical masculinity and physical differences there has been great allowance in different male roles (while women essentially have the role of well, a woman). The smart man, the artistic man, the liberal professor man... But I do think are much more repressed in expressing emotions (conversely, women are dismissed because of this) and intimacy, and of course a bisexual man probably faces more discrimination than a woman who identifies as a bisexual (the whole "of course you are bisexual, dear" -thing on bisexual women).

I'm not sure if I ventured into off-topic area there... But i suppose the point is that for majority of men the patriarchy isn't really that bad, even if many in that said majority aren't the prototypes of "manly man". There has to be a reason why patriarchy has persisted, after all. Your nurturing "uncles", awesome as they were (from the description) were doing what all women are supposed to be capable of, and wanting of, and demonized if they are not. (I suppose the point here is that a man earns special "points" for assuming the role of a woman).

But again, there should be room for all kinds of feminists. Certainly I like liberal/socialist feminism much more than essentialist feminism (but it is not my place to dictate proper feminism, especially since I am a man, after all). Is Dworkin considered an essentialist? I think some of her observations and ideas are perfectly fine and good, and I had respect for her. Daly, not so much (granted, I haven't read her much).

Cassandra Says said...

See, my problem with the essentialists is that I actually feel that they're reinforcing the old male/female dichotomy. I know this is harder to see when your own gender is being kindly described (which I suspect is why it's so hard for other women to see my issue with Daly), but ultimately I think that the whole idea of men being one way, and women another is something that we really need to abandon and start over again.
On the subject of bisexuals I'm pretty well qualified to comment as I'm bi, and so is my former fiance. He definately took a lot more criticism, and was more at risk of gay-bashing than I was. On the other hand I think the reason for that is that when he said he was bi people actually believed him, they didn't think it was just a phase he was going through. Wonderful how many layers of patronising bullshit our culture maintains, isn't it?
About my lovely uncles...I agree that if they were female their nurturing behaviour would be considered not only normal, but required. What it actually says to me is that most of our cultural ideas about "masculine" and "feminine" traits are entirely socially determined. Remove the brainwashing and everyone of either gender has the potential to manifest either "masculine" or "feminine" traits.
On a personal note, I tend to prefer the company of people who have a balance of what would traditionally considered "male" or "female" traits. People who tend towards either extreme generally bore me. I often wonder how common this is. Anyone else care to weigh in?

FoolishOwl said...

People keep bringing up patriarchy theory. The trouble with PHMT is that it contradicts the basic thesis of patriarchy theory: that men rule over women. Suggesting that patriarchy hurts men is saying that there really isn't such a thing as patriarchy.

What there is, is sexism and the oppression of women. This doesn't benefit men, but it hurts women more than it hurts men.

FoolishOwl said...

That is, my understanding is that patriarchy theory assumes that men, as a class, oppress women, as a class.

If you assume, as I do, that sexism oppresses both women and men (although it clearly hurts women more) and that both women and men have a direct interest in overcoming sexism, and that therefore sexism is best fought by women and men together, then talking about patriarchy doesn't make any sense.

Arwen said...

I define patriarchy as men being the dominant group: the passing of rule of women's life from father to husband, honour and obey, and all that jazz. That original system is very sex based.

Within that sex based system - which is falling apart legally, but not entirely socially, in much of the "western" world - there is a gender construction that lays out traits and roles to conform to.

This gender construction is ESSENTIAL to patriarchy - how else can you spend 40 years in the most intimate contact with someone and not get the niggling feeling that the way things work aren't entirely fair? The gender construction has to be somewhat based on things that are real (women getting pregnant), and then extend, so that even if you're passionately in love with your husband/wife, you can force fit yourselves into roles in which male domination makes sense. Now, obviously there are some men that enjoy the domination, (and who wouldn't enjoy entitlement, really)?

BUT: Most of those men have had far more contact with women than they're going to have of people of different races and classes. So the gender constrictions have to be that much more ... entrenched.

I'd argue that the gender construction of masculine & feminine roles are based on the original patriarchy, and I would argue that gender construction (fundamentally, an essentialism), is hurtful to men and women - perhaps not equally, but in talking to other moms about our sons vs. our daughters, it feels like the boys are getting more gender specific messages. The number of things that little boys aren't supposed to do is amazing: girls have pink and princesses crammed down their throats, but they *can* show an interest in dinosaurs and cars and bugs, too.

That the role or the privilege that we've traditionally afforded men is obviously male beneficial: but those benefits are dying. When's the last time your dad had the opportunity to buy you a beautiful wife to rape and beat? In many western nations, women are equal under the law - although I (who've worked in Rape Crisis Centres) know very well that individual judges don't actually pay attention to that kind of tripe, should they be of a misogynist bent.

Anyway, as women become more sexually liberated (and can therefore expect more than lying back and thinking of England), and as women become more financially liberated, and as women become more socially confident, the benefits of simply being a man are becoming lesser. In order to be a chauvinist with benefits, you've got to find the right cultural subpocket. That's why all the Men's Rights guys out there: they want their entitlement back and they're workin' hard for it. However, any power issues between my husband and I are negotiated: he can't tell me to shut it because he's the patriarch and expect anything but laughter, followed by divorce papers. In our cultural context, he'd have to get a new group of friends to date again, too.

All that said:

1) There are still struggles against remaining patriarchal constructs.
2) There is always the fear and possibility of things reversing: it happened in Iran.
3) There are individual men - and possibly a lot of them - that still truly believe in their patriarchal rights.

However, to some of us - like me - the way to deal with these things is to deal with the gender constructions: if you put down the penis and vagina when defining a person, it'd be really hard to justify ANY holdouts to patriarchal rule. And then, yes, it'd be ridiculous to talk about patriarchy.

Wage disparity? Women doing more housework? Women de-valuing their sex drives? Rapists walking away 'cuz "she was asking for it?"

I believe most of these cultural holdouts to patriarchy are based on our internalized gender roles, male and female. I could be wrong, but there's no proof that can show me I am one way or t'other - because we've always been in a patriarchy...

FoolishOwl said...

I checked Wikipedia's article on patriarchy, and I guess I've got little to disagree with if that's the normal usage of the term.

Anonymous said...

Brian, I posted this on the Lindros thread:

"But as anyone who has studied game theory will tell you, there is a version of the classic "prisoner's dilemma" where the outcome possible from cooperation is better for both sides than the outcome from competition provides to either.

We're trapped in this gender structure, this walled castle that men defend. We man the battlements and try to keep the women from getting at our privilege, we keep the gate barred and we can't leave. The castle is a prison.

In the classic prisoner's dilemma, if the prisoners trust each other and say nothing, they both get released. If they can only trust each other."

I think you raise the question of whether partirachy is "men as a class dominating women," or "a system of rigid gender roles that limits all people but particularly disadvantages women." (The latter phraseology is one I've used for about 10 years.)

I think most feminists, when they start unpacking it, come to the latter conclusion. However, I think most of us (and I include myself) tend for working purposes to conflate that with the former. Some of the consequences of patriarchy for women are so bad that it's easy without reflection to view it as entirely benign for men.

As a matter of game theory, like I said, the fact that one side makes out better in a grossly unequal system than the other side, does not mean that either side is making out optimally. The view that patriarchy is an absolute good for men is a view that this is a zero-sum game: a view I reject. Rather, if the game is not zero-sum, women can do much much much better, and men can do much better, without these stifling and dangerous reductive gender constructs that are the substance of patriarchy.


Tuomas said...

Hmm... This is a great thread.

It really seems that the ways rigid gender roles hurt men are directly linked to male privilege - it is both a privilege, and incredibly repressing to be thought out as "the rational one", to name one example. It seems then that giving up privilege is necessary to get more fluid gender roles.

Men, in a sense are in a double-bind about gender roles, as the things that aren't "masculine" are not supposed to be of any interest to men, men are supposed to be happy if they can just compete and succeed and whatever, without affection, close friendships etc. (I don't think the reverse [for women] is true so much, as women are often maligned of being "selfish" to want things like a career etc. this selfishness -meme is an indication that even the ones maligning women in a such way don't believe that all women are happy as little housewife -types. They are asking women to sacrifice, in essence). That may be one reason why feminism and fighting to dismantle gender roles seems more common on women's part. Also, the issue about right-wing (for the lack of a better word) values such as competitiveness and aggressiveness being valued keeps men manning the castle walls, so to speak.

Both women and men could do better, but the value system of society needs to change. (Regrettably zero-sum logic is something that many people buy into in hard capitalist value system).

Cassandra Says said...

The T Twins (Thomas and Tuomas) should really be evangelising for the movement to other guys. Can we send you two on a tour of high schools? The benefits to men of giving up privilege are not that hard to see once someone points them out. What's funny is how attached MRAs always seem to be to the macho man stereotype. I frequently run into one on Hugo's blog who boasts constantly about his ability to beat up other guys with rattan swords - he does medieval recreations. I have so far been too nice to point out how fundamentally geeky this is.
On an emotional level I really find it hard to grasp the whole threatened masculinity thing, and why men insist on imposing this frame on each other. The fact that it's harmful seems to obvious that I don't see how anyone doesn't see it. It's the flip side of the "princess" thing.
There's a dude over at Hugo's who is insisting that Hugo define what he likes about "men". What the hell does that mean? He wouldn't accept "kind, intelligent, pursuit of sporting excellence" etc as these are apparently not sufficiently "masculine" traits. It's as if all men are to be required to worhip the stereotype and if they don't and instead chose to treat other people as individuals then they're seen as betraying their gender. I see the same thing from some conservative women too. Is the human race ever going to outgrow this particular form of adolescent posturing?
Also, on Tuomas's comment, I think that the stereotype of "femininity" is completely tied up with the idea of self sacrifice. Almost any decision a woman makes can be deemed selfish at will. It seems that some people don't only equate woman with selfless, they also equate woman with suffering, and think that this is a positive thing. That idea is so deeply fucked up it makes my head hurt.
I don't think we'll ever outgrow this without dismantling capitalism though. The idea of I-win-you-lose is too deeply embedded in the system.

Anonymous said...

I only occasionally read Hugo's comment threads because of the surplus of MRAs and Christian conservatives. I don't have a problem with deeply held religious beliefs (for five years I dated a woman who is about to be ordained as a minister, and she was deeply religious when we were together). But the particular species of American religious conservative I find odious. And the MRAs are just too transparently defending a status quo that they see as beneficial to them, and they _really_hate_women_.

(Hugo himself I kind of like. I don't agree with him on, well, most things, but he has a deep streak of intellectual honesty that I respect. Recently, some MRA accused Hugo of kissing feminist ass to get laid. How totally unfounded, and how telling!)

I do not mean to make it sound like giving up male privilege is easy. Beneficial, hell yes -- but not easy. Like you noted with Lindros, as the individual steps away from the ramparts, other men attack him to keep him in line. Being a defector means being a target.

Not only that, patriarchy has created a war between the sexes, and being a defector from patriarchal gender roles, for either men or women, makes the radical a target from both sides.

One could envision a mutiny, of course, where lots of men just declare, "this is bullshit. I'm going to stay home with my children and wear skirts if I want." I don't see it happening -- first one in the door gets two in the chest, as they say, and the rest of the mutineers get back in line.

So the other alternative, and this is the way I see people dismantling patriarchy, is to disengage slowly. We have to keep examining gender and making more and more areas that can be "demilitarized," that are not gender-polarized with masculinity and femininity.

Some things are easy because they can be done with a spin on traditional masculinity. I often pitch sex-positiveness to men as enlightened self-interest for straight guys: "never make a woman feel bad for wanting sex."

Opposition to rape maps onto older norms about protection. Sure, that raises the spectre of paternalism, but it gets men moving in the right direction.

Some things are easy because men feel the cost of their privilege. I know lots of men in my generation that love being parents. Because they feel the cost of being away from home and working, they are willing to apply pressure for a better balance between work and home.

It's all time and pressure, and men and women both must keep probing for weaknesses in the patriarchal structure, questioning the received wisdom of dichotomous gender and de-gendering pieces of our lives where possible.

The commenter who asked Hugo what he liked about men makes an interesting point, but also demonstrates the limits of his frame of reference. He takes for granted that there must be things Hugo "likes about men" and different things Hugo "likes about women." (and actually, I thought Hugo dropped the ball on this one).

I can't think of things I like about "men." There are plenty of men I like, but what I like about them is nothing intrinsic to maleness. But then, except for sexual attraction, I can say the same about women. I like lots of women, but the things I like are not about being female.


Cassandra Says said...

I tried to make the same point on Hugo's thread and was treated to a great disply of sulking by the MRAs in response. I once posted a comment to the effect that there are many men in my life who adore (husband, Dad, friends, relatives) and got "OK, so yoy like some men. but do you really like MEN" as a response. To me that's sort of a meaningless question - I don't know all men, so how do I know if I like them or not? I can think of plenty of women I don't like at all - does that make me anti-woman? It's a dumb question that is very revealing as to the state of mind of the person asking the question.
I am consistently puzzled by the MRA committment to gender kabuki. Why the resistance to the idea that people can diverge from the model, and that's OK? Look at the way they attack Hugo for his percieved lack of masculinity. What are they so afraid of?

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