Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Anti-Patriarchal Men Unite!

Another great post from Darkdaughta. This one is called "Anti-patriarchal movement yet to find its stride...". She talks insightfully and compassionately about the ways in which patriarchy damages men, and relentlessy about the responsibilities that we (men) have for acting to undermine patriarchy.

The comment thread has some interesting stuff too. Here is my contribution to the discussion:

Amazing post, Darkdaughta. Like Hugo said, "powerful and compassionate."

I've been aware on a certain level that dealing with the ways in which patriarchy has damaged me is inseparable from whatever personal/political responsibilities I have towards people whose oppression gives me (damaging) privilege. But the masculine tendency that you mention to deny or downplay our own experiences of hurt -- to follow the path of that knight in Monty Python's Quest for the Holy Grail who insists "It's just a flesh wound!" no matter how many limbs have been hacked off -- tends to nudge me towards treating considerations of my responsibilities towards others as the "real" political work, but dealing with my own damage as somehow less real, less political, less important. And shameful to have to do, of course. And probably scarier, if I'm being honest with myself.

I know intellectually that really it is one integrated kind of work, not discrete "inside" and "outside" responsibilities, of course, but often enough that recognition of unity doesn't make the trip from my head to my gut. I think the radical compassion in your post has, at least for now, given me a jolt in the right direction. Thanks.

And now back to talking theory... ;)

At least on an intial read through, my biggest question about the post is around the idea of a movement, and what that might mean. I mean, I definitely agree that the idea of politicized pro-feminist men supporting each other and acting collectively to oppose patriarchy is a good one -- that isolation you talk about is very real, and I think it's important (though still scary...thank-you, masculinity!) to support each other instead of depending entirely on the feminist women in our lives.

But how would those needs and possible activities turn into a movement? Mostly when that word is used unadorned, people with politics that go beyond liberal in some sense tend to think of liberation movements -- people unified based on some shared experience of oppression who work together to oppose that oppression. Movements based on ideas of "worker" or "woman" or "queer" or whatever have all tended to replicate other oppressions within their own functioning, of course, so even that model isn't as simple as the more privileged proponents of each like to think. But negotiating that complexity is not the same as trying to create a movement that is centred on an identity that, while it may be damaging, is a source of privilege.

What would that look like? How would it function in ways that maintained accountability to women? How could we be sure it would not end up sucking energy from feminist spaces rather than supporting them, or making itself the centre of attention and talking when it should be listening, or keeping safely quiet when it should be raising a ruckus?

Answering those kinds of question is essential, as you say. And obviously I'm not asking you to answer you say, we need to start figuring some of that stuff out for ourselves.

A few years ago I read a book by an academic whose name escapes me at the moment -- an Australian guy, I think -- who talked about some of the history of pro-feminist men's movements. He was very pessimistic about the possibility of such a thing being effective, based on the ways in which most attempts by men to do that sort of thing coming out of the second wave of feminist movement eventually degenerated into apolitical self-help groups, which can be helpful to individual men but are not a movement, or into entities that are actually passively or actively anti-feminist. His attempt at an answer was based on the idea that men coming together as men was not a good idea, but that men gathered as, say, workers or as gay should seek to form alliance with collectives of feminist women, and that in the context of that alliance (and as a condition for it) there might be the possibility of men working on their experience of patriarchy at an individual level and beginning to work to end it at a collective level. Not sure I entirely bought that...just judging by the tone, I'm not sure the guy who wrote it entirely bought it either...but he was at least taking a stab at figuring some of this stuff out. And, like you say, it is essential work to begin. The world needs it.

And, personally, I wouldn't mind having a well to draw from.

That last line is based on something she says in the original post:

This is not to say that individual men or small groups of men aren't trying for something different. But they function as independent misunderstood and oftimes harried cells with no massive anti-patriarchal resources collectively studied and shared so as to sharpen critiques of masculinity, maleness, gender, sex, sexuality, relationships to self and familiy and whatever else impacts on their lives.

They don't draw from a well in ways that even the youngest girl child may be able to at some point in her life at this herstorical moment in time.

Give it a read!


Dark Daughta said...

You ask some crucial questions. Here. Mind if I point folks in your direction? Also, have you been to see Creek Running North? He has some interesting and timely things to say about why he's not a feminist.

Scott said...

Feel free to point people here. I haven't seen that post at Creek Running North, but I'll just go over and take a look now...

Scott said...

The comment I left at Creek Running North:

Thanks for this post.

I’m not sure I’ve ever identified as “feminist” either. When I first started getting politicized, both in general and around gender issues, that choice was because of a vague feeling of not wanting to look like a poser, not wanting to presume, but without any real rationale I could’ve defended. I think that was put on more solid intellectual footing after getting to spend a couple of hours interviewing an amazing woman who comes out of the “radical feminist” strain of modern feminism’s second wave and is still relentlessly vocal and active today. It wasn’t that she addressed this issue directly...rather, it was that everything she talked about was structured around what is now to me a fairly obvious point: experience (or standpoint) matters. Experience shapes our gut, our instinct, our automatic and triggerable responses, what we see and don’t see as a matter of course, and twenty or fifty or eighty years of having that shaped by being on the receiving end of gender (or some other) oppression is going to do different things than the same period of time experiencing privilege from the oppression of others.

So it’s politically essential for men to acquire analysis of gender oppression or patriarchy or whatever term you want to use. And it is politically essential for men to devote effort to the always-in-progress process of decolonizing our gut-level selves from that experience of being socialized into privilege. But that is not the same as growing up and living on the receiving end of the oppression. Therefore, whatever actual words end up getting used, it is politically essential to have terms that distinguish between those who experience a particular oppression and struggle against it, and those who do not experience it but still support the struggle against it (and suppot those who struggle against it).

When in situations that require providing a label—and I tend to shy away from labels, for both good and bad reasons—I’ve generally used “pro-feminist man” or sometimes language around being an “ally,” though for no good reason the language of “ally” tends to be associated in my head more with racial and sexual oppressions than with trying to be anti-patriarchal...probably something to do with my timing of learning various things.

Anyway, speaking as one of the “male bloggers who [tries to] write thoughtful stuff about feminist issues, on non-single-issue blogs,” thanks for this post, which has helped crystallize some things in my mind.

(And thanks also to Darkdaughta for pointing me over here.)