Saturday, December 6, 2008

Learning from Women: a Note to Men

In my experience, there is a great deal that men refuse to know about each other and ourselves.

Over the last many years, ever since studying feminism and Womanism, and befriending feminists, mostly but not entirely radical feminists, I have had many things pointed out to me by individual women, and by Womanist and feminist writings about men. What I have appreciated about these women is their seemingly tireless faith that men can be better: more humane, more compassionate, more empathic towards women, less harsh and more loving to women, men, and children, more concerned about social and economic justice and human rights.

Lorde knows, this faith is grounded in little more than the occasional, anecdotal success. Overall, men remain resistant to learning about ourselves as women see and experience us. When men do listen, and learn, women are called all sorts of names by more "manly" men, eager to instill in all men the notion that "you are the master of your own domain". When men speak out against men's sexism, we too encounter the misogynist terms usually reserved for women. I've been called them all, including fa**ot and c*nt. This is to be expected, of course. And I am well aware that what I get from men (in anti-woman hostility) is a drop in the misogynists' ocean compared to what men do to the women who attempt to succeed in holding men fully accountable. To all the women who strive to do this: good luck, and may you, miraculously, be spared men's abuses in the process of doing so.

Men assume the many ways we (mis)perceive and (mis)interpret women's actions are Truth--get out the chisels and stone as the words leave men's tongues-. We enjoy the delusion that our speech, like the white male sky-god's words-sent-directly-from-heaven, is infallible, incapable of being seriously biased, distorted and skewed, only subjective. Our words are--sorry fellas--never immortal truth, and often are not even mundanely truthful or, sadly, even honest.

Men have historically and cross-culturally, if not universally, possessed the power to name reality, including the power to define what is meant by "woman" (in many languages). Given this power, men, collectively, have ensured that there are several variations of misogynist men's fantasies of what "woman" is. This is accomplished with mythology, the apparent Word from that supernatural male sky-god, and, more commonly, with actual force either sufficient and excessive enough to ensure that at least some women will accommodate (read: be socially manipulated and intimately coerced by, or forced under fear of death) men's wishes for what woman is to be, for man(un)kind.

I have had many hundreds of occasions to be in the presence of allegedly "loving husbands" who speak to the women who are married to them with an annoying, habituated condescension or a gross, ugly passion to subordinate the women these men once upon a time promised to honor and cherish.

Consciously or not, these interruptions and corrections of women's speech is usually quite effective in humiliating and subordinating her to him. There are many variations of such misogynist verbal insults. On the most kind and considerate end, I hear husbands remind their wives, "No, honey: that's not how it went." "No it didn't happen like that, sweetie. Let me tell the story correctly." "No, darling, you keep getting that part wrong. It couldn't have happened in the winter. I'm certain it was summer."

When the wife responds, if the wive responds, with such comments as "Honey, I believe it WAS wintertime because I was the one who had to drive our child to the hospital and the roads were very icy that day" the put-off husband hurrumphs or stews, pissed off not only that he was wrong (again) but that his incorrect memory was exposed to another man (me). Any exposure of a man's ego as fallible or flawed is considered to be a serious offense by men. And men do react. Sometimes they scowl and pout, passive-aggressively demanding "their" woman's caring attention resume at once. At other times they immediately shame the wives. Sometimes husbands beat the shit out of their wives. Sometimes husbands kill them.

Note: these husbands habitually and chronically cut down women by "correcting" their wives' versions of reality. This is "how it should be". This is not to be commented on, by me, by her, or by anyone else. He is supposed to be entitled to do this, among many other things, that demonstrate his dominance inside the household. (So much for that perennial misogynist myth that "men control the public realm, while women control the private realm".) Wives and mothers being in charge of clothing the children, doing the dishes, vacuuming, and washing hubby's underwear and other laundry doesn't constitute a form of "control" that I consider to be meaningfully liberating for women.

I do consider this work admirable and important, however, and I know from helping women with children do this work, all day long, that it is exhausting. I see the exhaustion on the women's faces, often only four hours into the day that began at 6:00am. I see how they collapse on a couch at the end of a very long day, in which so many things have had to be done, all in a certain order, while "the man of the house" is out working for pay, oblivious as to what being a home-maker is. My mother and my grandmothers were all home-makers. And both grandmothers worked outside of the house as well. The men in my family have benefited greatly from this "arrangement": food was served to us, our clothes were cleaned, our home environments were not filthy. To say home-makers, disproportionately female, do not get the respect they deserve--let alone a living wage for services rendered--is one among many understatements of any given year.

Over the years, I've had my consciousness directed, almost always by a woman, to what I'm doing that is oppressive to women or politically/personally hurtful to a woman. Often, this insight is one that I have either been utterly clueless about, or willfully didn't want to have brought to my attention. Women have remained my friends after witnessing me do some of the same shit over and over. Eventually I get it enough to give those women reason to continue on in the friendship. I will own that have less patience with men, and often think women who experience the same shit over and over should just dump men's asses onto the street, or road, or into the hills, including my own ass. The reason I believe this is because implicit in the dynamic of being called out, is the assumption that it is women, not men, who must call out this misogynist behavior. If women want a deeper level of humanity from men, they will have to at least three-quarters of the work in getting him to see that being more humane is good not only for her (because, Lorde knows, that's not enough of a motivator!), but also for him and their relationship.

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