So recently I have encountered two things that deal with questions of masculinity and the oppressions that men suffer a blog entry by Pris Killingly @R]Evolutionary Witticisms in 4/4 Time entitled Our Boys Are Being Failed – A Primer and an awesome masculinist blog called No, Seriously, What About Teh Menz? – which I mentioned yesterday or the day before. And after reading these things I felt that I needed to clarify my position regarding men and feminism. Or rather that a conversation about where I stand regarding questions like do men belong in the feminist movement might clarify for some of you just what kind of feminist I am and also what I actually hope for in terms of social justice.
If you read my blog regularly you’ll remember a post I made a few weeks ago about inequalities in social justice. With reference to these ideas, I have often become enraged in women’s studies and feminist classrooms when people mention “women’s spaces” – or rather events that exclude or ban the presence of men. I feel that banning or eliminating the presence of men from the feminist discussion not only repeats the oppressions of a patriarchal culture but also underscores the male/female difference – creating no room for healing this false cultural divide.
As the bloggers @ What about the Menz? and Pris Killingly make clear the constructions of masculinity have created cultural oppressions for some men in ways that are similar to the oppressions that many women have felt and feel. That said – like with all norms – the enactment of the norm for men, i.e. sterotypical masculinity results in certain privileges, and in the case of men – those privileges are extensive. BUT still what if you’re not heteronormative or white or sporty or strong or whatever… What then? – Honestly, if you are not a man’s man who can easily enact the role of masculinity , then the ridicule that comes with failing at masculinity is vast and plentiful. Apparently, there are some feminists out there that seem to feel male privilege creates a un-sealable rift between the sexes and therefore they look down of masculinist identities by arguing that men have the privileges so they can’t complain. As far as I am concerned, I don’t need to compare suffering – if you tell me your suffering, I believe you and support you desire to escape the state you interpret as oppressive. To be fair, I’m pretty well versed in terms of feminists and I don’t know any who feel 100% anti-men but I do know MANY who feel the sexes need to remain divided particularly with regard to these “women’s spaces” which allow women to “heal” from the abuses they have suffered at the hands of men. To be clear, the abuses I am discussing are of a philosophical nature. Sexual assault and/or physical abuse clearly require healing, and it is understandable why a woman/man who has suffered from this kind of abuse would want to avoid all types that represented her/his abuser. I am not talking about this. I am talking about women’s conferences and meetings and politics, which exclude men. I am talking about the complexities of oppression that come along when we truly understand how race, sex, class, religion, sexuality and other aspects of culture converge to define us in relation to an unobtainable norm – and the need to stop seeing the world as an abstract farce of oppositions.
That said, I believe that we all – every plant, animal and mineral – suffer under the construct of masculinity and the understanding of “masculinity” as the penultimate state of perfection. The element or concept associated with masculinity that makes this true is reason. Reason is currently used to justify male mastery or rather the human understanding of ourselves as the master consciousness on the planet and the enforcement of this mastery through violence of all kinds – physical, political, verbal, sexual, fiscal etc. I have formed this opinion by reading books and articles – amongst others – Val Plumwood’s Feminism and the Mastery of Nature, Micheal Kimmel’s Guyland (see point five of Popculture Smörgåsbord) and James Gilligan’s Preventing Violence.
In particular Plumwood enabled me to understand that we see the world through a dualistic framework. Culturally we formulate our understanding of the world and cultures by defining things in opposition to each other and this opposition implies a hierarchy of dominance and submission. For example, if we look at dualisms such as male/female, civilized/savage, mind (spirit)/body, culture (human reason)/nature, master/slave etc., we recognize that traditions of western philosophic thought and practice have often defined these concepts as in opposition to each other and rendered one dominate over the other: male over female; civilized over savage; mind over body; culture over nature; and master over slave. Plumwood calls the philosophical practice of constructing reality in terms of hierarchical dualisms, the “master” consciousness or the “master model,” highlighting the oppressive nature of this kind of thinking (Plumwood 3, 23).From this perspective, at the core of continued oppression of all material beings is the assumption that human reason dominates all, particularly the corporal, natural or material.
The underlying oppression of dualism is not a concept of Plumwood’s conception; it has been explained and employed by many philosophical and feminist scholars (Derrida 1981; Beauvoir 1952; Bordo 1993, Collins 2000, etc.). Plumwood recognizes the deeper theoretical construct of “privileged domain of the master,” and subsequent subjects (Plumwood 3). She explains, “much of feminist theory has detected a masculine presence in the officially gender-neutral concept of reason…it is not a masculine identity pure and simple, but the multiple, complex cultural identity of the master formed in the context of class, race, species and gender domination” (Plumwood 5). In other words, rather than recognize the world in terms of male domination and female subordination, Plumwood views dualism as the enabling force behind power and domination, which is not inherently male but rather dependant upon a deeply more complex and ecumenically political culture, which is currently dominated by the masculine.
I tell you all of this to make a point you may have heard me make before – acting out the role most often associated with masculinity – i.e. the role of mastery helps no one. It doesn’t help men or women who are suffering from the homophopic/violent tendencies of a heteronormative masculine culture; it also plays a role in how we view nature and animals and everything else. So, a feminist acting like the patriarchy by being exclusionary and ostracizing themselves from men doesn’t genuinely understand the meaning of the word equality. Nor does she understand the philosophical framework which allows us to construct oppression, and in doing so she leaves herself open to the possibility of being THE OPPRESOR!!! This is not a solution. We need to overturn our culture of perfection and mastery – WE NEED A SHIFT IN CONSCIOUSNESS.
and honestly, that shift cannot – will not happen – unless we genuinely recognize that hierarchy stinks – nothing is black and white and no one way is the best way – or rather it’s more complicated than male/female or any other false opposition you want to throw my way.