Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Living a Public and Private Life as a Profeminist

image is from photobucket here
With my next post being my 1700th, I thought it was about time I shared with my readers a few thoughts about being a socially advantaged white male and an anti-racist pro-feminist.

I've been blogging for coming up on four years (well, three and a half at this point, although to be honest it feels like seven or eight). Few of my posts are about me... I mean really ABOUT ME. There are several reasons for this. One is that I feel and think there's far too much "white males talking about ourselves" happening habitually offline and on. Also, this blog, increasingly, has become woman of color-centered and woman of color-focused, with some posts about white women's work and men of color's work, and a few tossed in about work being done by white men.

I've seen so many white males develop political agendas and perspectives that assume that what happens to white males is happening to everyone--the way it happens to white men. Not only is this false on many levels, but something happens when we make men and whites the center of our viewpoints and political agendas. What happens is, by effect or by intent, women of color's lives get invisibilised, distorted, or subsumed in the assumptions about humanity that go along with centering white men as the standard of being human.

Also, though, there's the issue of what happens when white males speak out about anything at all. People listen to us differently, often enough. And the way that white males insinuate ourselves into history books and academic journals, in Western religious teachings and secular law-making, in global affairs and sports, in medicine and music, as the heroes", "the great ones", "the experts" and "the geniuses", I am left feeling a bit reluctant to promote or communicate much about myself here.

I won't publish photos of myself for many reasons but one reason is that once a white male has a public face, that face may then be associated with all the things that are typically and habitually afforded white men in racist patriarchal societies. I also won't appear on radio or television even though I've been asked. I won't become a public figure "in person" because I think doing so ends up promoting the person at least as much as the things the person is addressing in media. I've gotten into some trouble with this. Some people think I should be far more "out there" and "public" about myself.

I've also been asked to co-lead some feminist groups. Not gonna happen. I don't believe males should do so. I've seen it happen and the way it usually works is this: white women work with white men to promote feminist practices, or men of color work with white men to promote anti-racist political perspectives. What happens time and again ad nauseam is that women of color are left out and left behind, in the work of whites and men.

What also happens a lot is that white men earn money for promoting feminist ideas and for teaching Women's Studies courses (I am on record as believing that under no circumstances should white men teach Women's Studies courses--there are too many out-of-work women of all colors with the training and education to do so). And there are white men who earn a living on their anti-racist views while people of color--especially women of color--generally earn nothing at all for promoting and advocating anti-racist practice and political work. Enough members of the liberal and progressive side of society adores the white men who do this work and public and private institutions rewards them much more than they reward women of color who do this work--far longer than the white men have been doing it. It is also the case that I can do my work not-for-money and still pay my bills. So I acknowledge that economic privilege being a factor in my refusal to be paid for any political work I do.

My whiteness and maleness shows up in my work, hopefully in self-critical, transparent, and responsible ways. That's my objective. Along with all the other readers, I want white males to read this work and see what it means to value the work of women of color--to witness an example of that happening. The fact that I know of no other white males who do this alerts me to the emergency of white males ignoring the lives and theories of politically active women of color. Not that we're surprised.

I have an emotional life. I have a private life. Each is shaped by my social and structural advantages and disadvantages. My life straddles many hierarchies. Most of my political work, by far, is done offline and most of my readers don't know about that work because that's how I've organised my life. I live privately while also fully accountable to all the women in my private life. I've welcomed the women who know me well (meaning: not just someone who I've exchanged a few emails with) to make public anything that they experience as misogynistic or a form of mistreatment. My friendships with women go back a long time from over twenty-five years to just a couple of years; thus far no woman in my personal life has found it necessary to publicly report on my behaviors as being harmful to them personally or to women generally.

This certainly doesn't mean I haven't triggered or upset women in my private life. I have--far too often. While I believe there's no way to be emotionally involved with someone without that happening, I'd add that I've also taken way too long to "get it" about some of the ways I've been emotionally triggering, to one woman in particular. Our friendship has survived my too-slow pace and fortunately that triggering hasn't happened for many months. I work hard at being accountable, which for me means being present, empathic, caring, responsible, and responsive. I don't value mind games and emotional coercion. I detest meanness and cruelty. I'm not a physically aggressive person, I suspect because I didn't grow up in homes that were that way: I didn't learn how to be physically aggressive and when picked on and bullied, I never fought back. I'm glad I've never punched or hit anyone, not that the bullies didn't deserve to be stopped. But I doubt my punches would have stopped them.

Most of my friendships are with women and I've arranged, with sufficient health care coverage in place, to bring most of my own inner and difficult emotional work to a health care professional not to my women friends: we all know how rapidly and readily men and males use women as their emotional care-takers.

I've let most of my friendships with men lapse. But there are a few that are in place and are meaningful to me. (That means you, Katlego.) One of the reasons I'm not just asexual but also celibate and non-romantic is because I know that were I to get involved with a man it would steer too much of my life towards him and away from women. It's also the case that PTSD and other personal struggles rule out me being intimate (not meaning 'sexual') with men. There's nothing especially self-effacing, altruistic, self-negating, or noble going on here in my life, just to be clear. And, also for the record: I'm gay and am not bisexual; I do not get romantically or sexually involved with women. Another reason for me being celibate (which is not a given for asexuals--we are conditioned, after all, to believe we ought to be sexually active in some way, shape, or form), is that I've seen how pro-feminist males fuck up other people's lives in fleeting or longer-term sexual relationships, heterosexually and homosexually. I won't be "that guy".

The deep and long-term friendships I have with radical and feminist women serve me well and I hope serve them well too. I am grateful for each one of them.


Christina said...

Sadly your point about white males talking about themselves is very true as in my experience with strait white males is that they are extremely arrogant. They firmly believe in their superiority over women and people of colour. When they do claim to support feminist ideology it still seems to revolve around them.

Sometimes I think they believe they are doing the rest of us a huge favour by embracing feminist ideology and then they go and re-interpret it in terms of WHM beliefs as clearly our logic and understanding are not nearly as superior as that of the WHM.

But sometimes they only embrace feminism as a form of manipulation in that they simply want something from the people whom they are pretending to care about.

And yes Julian, when the mighty WHM speak out everyone listens. This is why the MRAs and Fathers for Justice are becoming stronger. People listen to them and believe that the WHM is now the most oppressed group of people on our planet.
They worry me quite a bit as many feminist don’t seem to be taking enough notice of them and they are sneaking up on us like a snake that silently sneaks up on its prey. The snake’s prey only realizes that the snake is there after the snake strikes and injects its poison into its victim.

I really hope feminists start noticing MRAs and FfJ before they inject us with their venom.

MRAs claim white males are oppressed. I suppose in the mind of the WHM, if been told that he is not allowed to rape or oppress then he feels you are threatening his rights and are thus oppressing him.
So I guess the rights that MRAs are standing up for are the rights for the WHM to have the right to oppress women and people of colour.

And I would certainly like to see more of those who are oppressed by WHMs, be they women of colour, men of colour, white women or gay white men been more vocal and more strongly opposing WHM supremacy.

Christina said...

White males control everything and yes we feminists do need to take ownership of this revolution:

"Let's run it on down. White males are most responsible for the destruction of human life and environment on the planet today. Yet who is controlling the supposed revolution to change all that? White males (yes, yes, even with their pasty fingers back in black and brown pies again). It just could make one a bit uneasy. It seems obvious that a legitimate revolution must be led by, made by those who have been most oppressed: black, brown, and white women–with men relating to that as best they can. A genuine Left doesn't consider anyone's suffering irrelevant, or titillating; nor does it function as a microcosm of capitalist economy, with men competing for power and status at the top, and women doing all the work at the bottom (and functioning as objectified prizes or "coin" as well). Goodbye to all that."

"Goodbye to All That", 1970 in Going Too Far: The Personal Chronicle of a Feminist, p 123.

Despite what the MRAs and fathers rights group state, white males are not oppresed:

"And let's put one lie to rest for all time: the lie that men are oppressed, too, by sexism--the lie that there can be such a thing as 'men's liberation groups.' Oppression is something that one group of people commits against another group specifically because of a 'threatening' characteristic shared by the latter group--skin color or sex or age, etc. The oppressors are indeed FUCKED UP by being masters (racism hurts whites, sexual stereotypes are harmful to men) but those masters are not OPPRESSED. Any master has the alternative of divesting himself of sexism or racism—the oppressed have no alternative—for they have no power—but to fight. In the long run, Women's Liberation will of course free men—but in the short run it's going to COST men a lot of privilege, which no one gives up willingly or easily. Sexism is NOT the fault of women—kill your fathers, not your mothers."
"Goodbye to All That", 1970 in Going Too Far: The Personal Chronicle of a Feminist, p 126

Julian Real said...

Thanks so much for the comment and quotes, Christina. I'd not read those by Robin Morgan. Here is a link to that book: