Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Kroicher and Julian Discuss Sexism and Male Privilege

image is from here
Greetings, A.R.P. readers and other visitors.

A commenter named Kroicher has offered some remarks that I accepted under an old blog post. As the exchange between us is getting somewhat involved, I wanted to share it as a new post for anyone who might be interested.

Here's the link to where our exchange began, in this post "Defining Misandry". Kroicher's latest comment has been broken up by me and is presented below in pieces, in italics and bold, with my responses in between. To read it whole, I invite you to go to the post linked to just above and scroll down to the comments section.

Kroicher, it's very rare for me to meet a male who actually wants to discuss some of these issues. So, thanks for that. :)

My issue with what you posted here is that the link's contents participates in a very over-used, tired pattern of patriarchally conservative men/misogynists/antifeminists posting quotes by a few women--a dozen or so usually, sometimes less--and making a case that there's some kind of serious problem in the world with women hating men when the actual social problem is woman-hating men. That you linked us to such a place here on a pro-feminist blog didn't feel respectful of radical feminism to me, and I don't experience it as respectful to the radical feminists and other women (not all of them would self-identify as radical) whose quotes are made to represent all of who they are, or all of what they each have to offer through their work.

So while you state that you "haven't attacked any author personally, nor have I gone against any particular train of thought" you deliberately linked us to a page that does exactly that. The people on such sites do it quite maliciously, with no regard for the significance and importance of radical feminist thought, analysis, and activism.

I'll respond more to a few points you make, and welcome you to respond.

You wrote: 
I was merely pointing out the convenience there is in any trend or fashion (for some or many social and political movements become fashionable for some people) to personally or needlessly belittling people.

For me, Kroicher, that statement participates in privileged abstractionism. It's something I see men and whites do all the time--by-pass something atrocious, like violence against women and girls, or patriarchal and racist destruction of humanity, and focus on the matter of needlessly belittling people. The social world is filled with things like slavery--millions of girls sexually enslaved, battery, rape, hunger, loss of homeland, trafficking, and poverty. In such a world, few people I know, who experience and study oppression, would name "needless belittling" as what is most painful in their lives. Do you see that? That you also state what you're doing is done "merely", is a strategy I often see males and whites engage in: downplay our words, while over-stating or over-emphasising the allegedly negative effects of the speech of people we oppress.

For me, I try and approach any radically feminist writing with the attitude that there's something in there I need to learn, to more deeply understand. Men dismissing (at best, and dissing at worst) feminist text for its tone, or for some of its content, is anti-intellectual and an anti-feminist practice, I'd say. This leads me to wonder exactly what, in class, you're objecting to.

You wrote: 
As I said, and alas this may sound pure rhetoric ... what angers me is dogmatism and ignorance

It's a privilege to be irritated by such things to the point of speaking out against them publicly. What is perhaps difficult for you to appreciate is that for many women around the world, objecting to dogmatism and ignorance is met with violence from men. Objecting to a husband's or boyfriend's or pimp's dogmatism and ignorance may be met with rape and other forms of sexual assault. Sometimes women are killed for objecting to the tone or content in a man's hostile, dogmatic, and ignorant words.

You and I get to be put off by having our feelings hurt--to register it as "an offence", because you and I don't live in a world where our adult bodies are targeted for gross violation, dehumanising objectification and threatening approach by sexually violent aggressors. Given that most of the time we will find our voices relatively valued and appreciated, when our opinions and views are met with objection, or--heaven forbid--a request to speak less, it is indeed a challenge to our presumed power to do as we wish, including saying what we want, when we want to.

More than one woman of color I know can't get employment because their humanity isn't synonymous with "competence" in a White Man's World. Even though the two women I'm now thinking of are at least as smart and competent as any white man I know, they will not generally be considered "appropriate for the job"--for many jobs they are over-skilled for. What can they do about patriarchal and racist dogmatism and ignorance? What they can do--and actually do--is fear homelessness and hunger. Complaining isn't really much of an option, or it won't get them anywhere if they do it publicly. Can they complain to the interviewer who they know is treating them with condescension or contempt? Can they describe it to a white psychotherapist and trust that the therapist won't assume they are exaggerating or overreacting?

You and I do get to complain publicly about any perceived insult, any experienced mistreatment. We won't suffer many consequences for airing them. And there will always--always--be lots of men around to say, "Wow, man. That sucks!" (And often enough they'll add something misogynist about any woman who unintentionally hurt you.)

You wrote:
when it comes to cultural studies, my opinions have been aggressively cast aside more than once for not agreeing with my radical feminist teacher's regular agenda.

What does "aggressive" mean exactly? What was done? Were you threatened? Did women put a fist in your face? Did someone grab you?

Men tend to view women's disagreements and objections, stated firmly and without apology, as acts of "aggression". Do you recognise that as being the case?

Also, I find your use of the word "agenda" to be sexist. Do you call what it is men teach--from their own biases or just from a standard patriarchal perspective, "an agenda"? This is an assumption on my part: I bet you've heard many sexist perspectives from male teachers, many assumptions about how the world works, and what constitutes "great" literature, art, or music, that is steeped in many patriarchal biases. I'd bet those male professors who teach such patriarchal perspectives--without ever naming them as such, without ever saying it is a bias--have, as a regular agenda, the invisibilisation and denigration of women's contributions to those disciplines.

I'm glad you realise "I wasn't a victim of misandry, and I didn't 'suffer' due to a biased opinion on men -- these are far too strong concepts for what happens there."

It's not just that it would overstate it to call it misandry. It's that calling it misandry doesn't properly appreciate what is going on, politically, in that room, every time you speak--no matter what you say. More on this in a moment.

You wrote: 
I have, however, been belittled by dogmatism and ignorance, deemed inadequate even to comment because of my supposedly biased and privileged condition.

I'd say it's because of your privileged position that you can speak about it as a serious wrong, as a personal injustice.

I'm sorry you've been belittled in your life. I get how that's painful, hurtful, and can feel diminishing. And in a classroom of mostly women, there's plenty for you to learn about the social over-valuation of your male voice; it may be experienced by at least some of the women there as hurtful or harmful or needlessly belittling, or maybe they experience you as casting aside views that they deeply value.

You wrote:
I'm sure you'd agree: whether I'm a male or not has nothing to do with having a voice in such a discussion. My arguments should suffice (or not, if that's the case).

I strongly--but not aggressively--disagree with that. Such a view pretends something that this blog tries to make very clear--that many radical feminist writings try and make very clear: wherever you go, Kroicher, and whatever you do, your male privileges and entitlements--and the power to oppress that backs them up--arrives with you and cannot be removed or set aside. Well, unless we want to deny structural political reality, which is sometimes what a liberal academy tries to do. But the denial of structural political reality is exactly what people do who complain about the problem of women's 'misandry' against white, wealthy, heterosexual men.

Often enough and far too often, male privileges are expressed in ways we don't take responsibility for or even recognise as problematic.

As someone who has seen plenty of feminists speak in academic settings, I'll share with you this sociological observation: When the audience is 80% or 90% or 98% female, the questions asked of the guest feminist will be disproportionately asked by the males in the room. Why? Because males learn from an early age to feel entitled to speak our minds, to ask questions, to challenge others intellectually or physically.

Imagine that every woman in your classroom, including your professor, has seen this play out dozens to hundreds of times: men dominating social space, taking up women's intellectual time and energy, all the while expecting to be very carefully listened to and always humanely responded to. Add to that this: the women, since childhood, have seen how their voices and opinions are dismissed or denigrated. They have seen how their their views, when not to a man's liking, results in her being insulted or degraded. Do you get how outrageous it might be to see a male in a classroom of females be upset he isn't being treated appropriately?

It's not that your upset doesn't matter. It's that the dynamic in the classroom, as you describe it thus far, can feel a lot like this: Very rich men complaining about losing $100,000 dollars in the stock market in a week, but complaining to a room of men who have only ever lived in poverty. And the rich men wanting the sympathy and comfort of the poor men. And expecting it. And being hurt when they don't get that sympathy and comfort.

You wrote:
Maybe I'm just complaining, I know. But it's frustrating. I am trying to have a better, broader understanding of the world, to be fair and respectful as I always did. But I had fingers pointed at me before I could speak my mind.

Could you please give me a couple of examples from your classroom experience of what was said to you, and what you said first that they were responding to? Because it doesn't quite make sense that people were pointing fingers at you before you spoke at all. Did you ask what they were pointing out? Did you take time to hear what they had to say? Is it possible that what you present as respectful and fair, isn't received that way?

You wrote: 
It's true that there are many men obsessed with misandry. Man who'd like nothing better than to complain about any kind of nuisance in their lives (do I fit here?). 

Probably. But not "any kind of nuisance" exactly. What I hear you complaining about is a perceived mistreatment by people who you structurally and perhaps also interpersonally oppress, people you may be belittling and harming in ways you likely won't see or name as mistreatment. I'm not presuming you're rude and don't know it. I'm suggesting that maybe you opening your mouth to critique something that is intensely valuable to many women, in a classroom in which you're one of the only males, might be seen as obnoxious and oppressive, for good reasons.

You wrote: 
But also to deny it completely as a "made-up" word-thing, pure jest and jokes, I find it hard to believe. I won't be turned to a cynic.

I'm not exactly sure what you mean by "a cynic". Am I correct in assuming that it means you won't accept reality being denied?

What I think is "made up" is this, Kroicher: a world in which men are systematically insulted and degraded by women. What I think is actually the case is this: a world in which women are terrorised, brutalised, and degraded in every conceivable way, by men, and a world in which men are very rarely insulted and degraded by one or a few women. It happens so rarely, in fact, that when it does occur, very privileged men collect the comments, the quotes, and pass them around on the internet as evidence that feminists (meaning, in this instance, women who speak out for justice for women, without apology) are hateful. Is isn't possible to collect in one place the comments men make about women, about feminists, that are hateful and dehumanising. I don't mean the comments men have made across the centuries. I mean just the comments men are making only in one hour of any one day across the globe.

I'll share a story with you:
When I first read Valerie Solanas's SCUM Manifesto--not named by her, but by a man, by the way--I was fascinated by it. It was unlike anything I had ever written. It shocked and stunned me. Years later, I read some of it to a group of women friends who weren't familiar with it and asked if I'd read it out loud. When I did so, it felt really different to me. Less enthalling and more mean-spirited. Several years after that, a pro-feminist male friend from another country, for whom English was a second language, asked me what I thought of it. I told him it had been important to me but lately I found it to be unconstructively mean at times. He then told me how significant that text was to him, to his understanding of the social psychology of patriarchal, Western, European-descended masculinity. So I put my feelings aside to consider that, and to remember what effect it first had on me. And to find what was of value in it and not use its tone--as I experienced it--or some of the characterisations, as a reason to distance myself from it. Because a question few men ask is this: What would have to happen to a woman, that is done to women routinely, that would produce a text like that?

Here are some of my favorite radical feminist quotes--and you can note how none of them are ever quoted by the men who love to hate feminism:
Forget about the fact that capitalism requires the existence of a mass underclass of surplus labor. Lying takes the form of mass media creating the myth that [the] feminist movement has completely transformed society, so much so that the politics of patriarchal power have been inverted and that men, particularly white men, just like emasculated black men, have become the victims of dominating women...When this collective cultural consumption of and attachment to misinformation couples with the layers of lying individuals do in their personal lives, our capacity to face reality is severely diminished as is our will to intervene and change unjust circumstances. -- bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom, p. 27-29

'[T]hose who point out that women are being victimized are said to victimize women. Those who resist the reduction of women to sex are said to reduce women to sex. Subordinating women harms no one when pornographers do it, but when feminists see women being subordinated in pornography and say so, they are harming women. Words do nothing except when feminists use them. Go figure.' -- Catharine A. MacKinnon, Women's Lives, Men's Laws, page 350.

If I hated men, I would treat men the way that men treat women! -- Beth Chamblin

Men who want to support women in our struggle for freedom and justice should understand that it is not terrifically important to us that they learn to cry; it is important to us that they stop the crimes of violence against us. -- Andrea Dworkin, ‘The Rape Atrocity and the Boy Next Door’, speech at State University of New York, 1 March 1975. In Our Blood, chapter 4 (1976)

(For the rest of my favorite radical feminist quotes, see *here*.)

I'm wondering, Kroicher, when you're feeling hurt or ignored, do you usually turn to women or to men for solace and comfort? It is likely you turn to women because most men learn it is women's job to take care of men emotionally and spiritually, and sexually, and in most other ways. As I'm sure you know, men tend to assume women exist to comfort us when we're hurt.

In classes where there are at least as many males and females, and a male challenges you or dismisses something you've said, do you feel the same way as when women do it in your cultural studies class?

Would you please send me, or post as a comment, the required readings for that cultural studies class, as well as the name of the course? I'm especially interested to know which radical feminists your professor is suggesting you to study and learn from.

I await your reply.

Post script:
While I was composing this, and after I posted it, Kroicher submitted another comment, which addresses some of what I am speaking about above. So I want to include that here.
Again I say: what angers me isn't feminism (be it radical or not) -- it never was. Dogmatism, chauvinism, ignorance. I took a step into ignorance by linking this comment to quotations with no context. I think I owe you an apology. I did take the quotations at face value. I never do this, and I shouldn't have done it this time.

I believe in feminism. Or rather, to be more sincere, I believe in equality and respect at the core of social relations. I understand what it is to be privileged, and I try my best never to use that privilege. Some things pass us by unnoticed, however -- I am not a hypocrite.

As a white heterosexual male I've learned to be silent with many topics regarding prejudice and privilege (mostly because of my experience in such discussions), but I refuse to become a cynic. Fortunately, this has proved to be an enriching experience.

Thank you.

Thank you, Kroicher. Apology accepted.