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hrm. Problems boys have.

I've been over-caffeinated and bored. Therefore, my brain has been racing and trying to work on not-work.

Specifically, I find I've been ruminating on feminist issues a fair - privilege, the role of women's sexuality in society, how the patriarchy affects that, etc. I feel a bit weird talking about it, though. I mean, I'm a guy. I am implicitly party to the patriarchy. I benefit, daily from my male privilege, and don't necessarily cast that off when I might. I haven't read most of the basic books of feminist theory. So, really, I'm probably talking out of my ass and expecting everyone to think my opinions are important because I'm a white male, and I'm used to people thinking what I say is important. I dunno. I feel sometimes like I'm not qualified to have opinions about this stuff, and should just shut up.

While pondering this, I was struck by the fact that despite my good intentions and attempts to have dependable sexual politics, I find I am easily swayed when a pretty girl asks me to do something. There's something in the neighbourhood of "sad" or "ironic" in there.

I have no answers. I'm not going to stop trying to understand gender/sexual politics, but sometimes I wonder if I ever really can.


( 17 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 3rd, 2008 02:40 am (UTC)
FWIW, I can be swayed when a pretty boy asks me to do something. So it isn't just a guy thing. :)
Apr. 3rd, 2008 02:44 am (UTC)
There is a link to a man doing feminism on my lj right now. You just stay a feminist. You talk through it. You're just as entitled to wanting to feel important as we are.

And recognizing that beauty motivates you is the first step toward fairness. Strangely enough, beautiful people de-motivate me. I don't trust them.
Apr. 3rd, 2008 03:15 am (UTC)
Strangely enough, beautiful people de-motivate me. I don't trust them.

nakedvillainy has the same reaction.
Apr. 3rd, 2008 03:16 am (UTC)
I know your frustration.
Apr. 3rd, 2008 03:43 am (UTC)
(Deleted comment)
Apr. 3rd, 2008 11:31 am (UTC)
Yep, I know what you mean. Like you, I haven't read much in the way of feminist theory. Neither have most men. Neither have most women. I'd be willing to bet that the majority of people have never read a single book on feminist theory. Or literary theory. Or cultural theory. I read the work of a lot of feminists, and certainly learn a lot from the people with whom I spend time. It is, perhaps, because we both spend a lot of time with people who are well versed in feminism and tend to analyze the world from a particular perspective that we are more acutely aware of our own shortcomings in this area -- both academically and in terms of our own behaviour.

But it is also because we have no choice but to approach it as part of the dominant (or oppressing) group. It's a bit of a paradoxical situation. Do you participate in the discourse, risking being patriarchal by applying your views to the oppressed group, or stay out of it and let the oppressed group find its own way without you, which again would be patriarchal. The challenge is to find a place in the discussion where you and the other participants feel comfortable. Personally, I learn through discussion, so it would be helpful to have that place neatly labelled. Maybe in a chair with a sign taped to the back that reads "Unwitting Oppressor." A comfy chair. But not a Lazyboy.

I think we're doing okay as long as we're aware of our position and try to recognize how it affects our interactions. We're not going to always recognize it, as I've become increasingly aware in recent months.

Oh, and if it's any comfort, Zingerella says she hereby grants you permission to talk about feminism, in her capacity as official feminist mouthpiece and person with ovaries.
Apr. 3rd, 2008 11:31 am (UTC)
On the "Am I qualified to have an opinion?" front: Thinking is never bad.

On the "Am I qualified to express an opinion?" issue: I understand what you're saying about being a man talking about feminism. One of the keys, from my perspective, is being aware of that issue when you talk, and trying to focus on listening first, before speaking, whenever the subject comes up with women. (This doesn't mean you can't start the discussion. But when you hear something you disagree with, spend a goodly chunk of time trying to understand the speaker's point of view before you respond.) Engage in discussion, yes, and as long as you're actively listening to learn more about how women actually experience the world, and then try to fit your comments to what they actually experience, you probably can't go too far wrong.

I benefit, daily from my male privilege, and don't necessarily cast that off when I might.

I'm interested - in what ways are you thinking that you could cast off privilege? Are you talking specifically about male privilege here, or other sorts? Because I'm having a hard time seeing how you could "cast off" male privilege; it seems pretty sticky to me.

Edited at 2008-04-03 11:49 am (UTC)
Apr. 3rd, 2008 02:43 pm (UTC)
"One of the keys, from my perspective, is being aware of that issue when you talk, and trying to focus on listening first, before speaking, whenever the subject comes up with women."

I need to keep writing that a hundred times on my mental blackboard, I really really do.
Apr. 3rd, 2008 03:24 pm (UTC)
Well, that bit about casting off privilege came from ponder on different flavours of privilege. Some privilege is sharable, some isn't. That is to say, some forms of privilege can be enjoyed by everyone if we as a society make it so. To choose a silly example, wearing pants; once a male privilege, now everyone can enjoy wearing pants. No one loses out by everyone have pants privileges. Some kinds of privilege can't be shared. Like "When I ask to see 'the person in charge,' odds are I will face a person of my own sex. The higher-up in the organization the person is, the surer I can be." If society becomes more equitable, I lose that privilege, and it's not something that can be enjoyed by everyone.

If I'm not willing to let go of the second kind of privileges, then I'm standing in the way. It's easy to say "No, everyone should be able to wear pants if they want to!", but the hard ones are the advantages that have to be abandoned to build a fairer society.

It seems to me that there are places where I can do something about that, but I can't come up with any good examples off-hand.
Apr. 3rd, 2008 05:34 pm (UTC)
It seems to me that there are places where I can do something about that, but I can't come up with any good examples off-hand.

Here's one (and I'm not saying you don't already know this, but it's a really common example):

Affirmative action and programmes intended to redress gender or racial inequities in the workplace. In order to have women or members of other underrepresented groups in certain professions, members of the better represented groups may wish to support such programmes, and accept that doing so means more competition for the same jobs, accepting that some programmes may seem to "favour" members of less represented groups, and that, eventually, they may not be able to do things the way they've always done them.

For example, people who take parental leave may not have this adversely affect their suitability for promotion (as it does now, on the grounds that other people were slogging away in the salt mines proving themselves while new parents were living lives of idleness and luxury, rocking the cradle and eating bonbons, so clearly those who stayed around are more worthy of promotion.)

In the post-feminist, post-gender-essentialist, post-racist society, the playing field may well be level, and people will be evaluated for jobs on the basis of their suitability for those jobs alone. Right now, how things are done tends to favour men, and people who have no dependents, and no responsibilities outside their workplaces. It tends to favour those who have backgrounds that permit them access to higher education, and that give them the cultural tools to "pass" in the dominant culture. Redressing this inequity means accepting that people who may not have "done their time," may seem to receive help that members of the dominant groups don't have access to (because, as members of the dominant groups, they've always had access to help).

but the hard ones are the advantages that have to be abandoned to build a fairer society.

This? Is spot on.
Apr. 3rd, 2008 11:33 am (UTC)
I'm sure it will shock you to hear I've had similar noodlings. I have, as you know, a tendency to talk over other people to make certain my own brilliant inisghts are heard and appreciated by all. When I was last in school, we had a very seminar-based classroom style, and I found I had to actively sit on myself in order to get everyone's PoV heard. To my horror, I noticed that I was more likely to talk over women than men. So I sat on myself extra hard -- and noticed that not only do guys tend to talk over girls, but women were more likely to stop talking to let a man make a point.

As for the beautiful people, well, on some level there's biological conditioning, but since beauty is a social construct, it can be deconstructed the same way as the Patriarchy.

Sometimes I wonder if, as a penis-carrying member of the patriarchy (a white one at that!) I'm not loftily dispensing favours on the less fortunate below my station... but then, it's not as though I associate with women who have any truck with the Patriarchy, either. There are plenty who do, and who work within that system.

I think that it's impossible to "make reparations" or anything -- but "white man's guilt" is not entirely a bad thing -- so long as one does something about it. You (and I) actively engage gender awareness; I think that challenging the norms is the best way to bring about change.

Apr. 3rd, 2008 12:32 pm (UTC)
Well said. And thanks for the reminder. I'm a loudmouthed, opinionated white guy. Like you, I find that I have to actively stop myself from dominating conversations with my opinions. It's something that causes me some anguish.

So, if any of my friends read this, here's a plea for help (and an invitation): If ever I talk over you, interrupt you, or otherwise squish out someone's contribution to a discussion or conversation without really good cause, please call me on it. A simple "excuse me, I'd like to finish what I was saying" will do it. You'll be helping to make me a better and happier person.
Apr. 3rd, 2008 12:49 pm (UTC)
I note from a brief scan of your journal that you're also a champeen of environmental causes -- consider yourself friended.
Apr. 3rd, 2008 02:51 pm (UTC)
Y'know, I was just thinking you two would get along.
Apr. 3rd, 2008 11:42 pm (UTC)
Well, the photo is a good sign. I like a man who can sit on a rock and look contemplatively out across the treetops. Not actually contemplate anything or look directly at the trees, mind you...

Apr. 6th, 2008 02:30 am (UTC)
Where you fit in ;)
I am a friend of themusesbitch. At a party last fall we chatted about the logistics of polyamory - I had a friend who was attempting 2 jobs and 3 or so girlfriends.

The difficulty a man faces in understanding gender discrimination is analogous to the difficulty I, a white woman, face when trying to understand race/color discrimination in N. america. I won't necessarily experience it because it isn't really directed at me, so I can be an observant spectator, but that's not the same. Listening and learning are always appreciated, but I think that for the 'oppressed' group to be liberated, they have to figure out how to rescue themselves. I think the unoppressed can first of all not impede progress (ex. not treat women differently in general), and second offer all sorts of support, but ultimately, it isn't their fight.

I think having legislation enshrining equal rights is a good first step. Habituating society is the true change and will take longer, but we're on the way (I think programs to increase female/minority representation in positions of power speed this up - an exception to not treating people differently). I feel kind of bad for Toronto men who grow up feeling guilty for being male amidst fist-swinging feminism, but I think the fist-swinging might be a phase we have to pass through, and hopefully as female equality becomes more established and secure, everyone will calm down about the whole business. I think that will take a while, though.

I find I relatively little trouble with Canadian men of my generation, who are used to having girls do everything they do. Note that my sample pool is largely graduates of U of T, who are relatively bright, have decent social skills and when the job markets tank, they are sophisticated enough to blame things besides the latest immigrant wave. The problems I have are more with (usually older) men who have learned to wear one face for women they perceive to have power, and another face for woman the perceive not to have it. Power is complicated, however, and partly a function of how the woman presents herself. A lot of those kind of people, like most dogs, won't bite you if you don't give them an opening.

Men of my generation are more interested and involved with home-making and child rearing, and these men are also screwing them selves over in terms of promotion by taking pat. leave. That particular problem, I think, is a society that does not value family and community sufficiently. Work culture needs to change. This is the culture that makes us work more hours for less spending power over the last 25 years and has blackberry messages whizzing at 3 a.m. How do people not see this is crazy? The same way they mistake McDonalds for food, I suppose.

For a one-page summary of how gender works, and the HUGE problems that come out of identifying blithely with gender archetypes, check out


It is the most concise and useful thing I have read on the subject. For a more detailed look at how boys and girls are socialized to be men and women, the trauma involved and the coping strategies that people tend to adopt (and how we don't need to be as miserable as we sometimes are), try Carol Gilligan (au): The Birth of Pleasure (ti). She followed people and families from her grad work through to her 50s. It's sociology, lit theory, gender theory and good social science. Very useful things to know about oneself and one's society. Pertinant to the above comments - one of the first things boys learn in day-care/kindergarten, etc, is that they must be able to hold their own in a group. Girls tend to be on a different program, see Gilligan for details, but one sees why, in a university seminar, men are perfectly comfortable dragging attention to their opinion.

Good or bad aside, I think understanding why we are the way we are makes it easier and more effective for us to figure out how to be who we want to be.

( 17 comments — Leave a comment )

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