Thursday, April 27, 2006

"Before you point your finger..."

Several years ago, my wife and I attended a performance of "The Vagina Monologues" on our local university campus. I enjoyed it immensely. I thought it was well-written, well-acted, and just an all-around important piece of theater.

As I've said before, both my wife and I consider ourselves staunch feminists. We have helped campaign for women's rights issues, and frequently contact our congressional representatives regarding such issues that crop up. I believe in equal rights for all people, regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation, and ideally I long to see a society where all people can live free from fear of prejudice or inequality. I think that this is a noble goal, and one that all citizens should strive for.

However, when I attended the performance, I noticed several very disturbing trends practiced among my peers. Specifically, I noted on several occasions instances of behavior that seemed prejudicial toward my presence there, and indeed my status as white, heterosexual male. I frequently received scathing looks, and overheard whispered comments such as "What's HE doing here?" At the time, I was very offended by this, and to certain degree I still am.

Unfortunately, I've also noticed similar behaviors elsewhere. For example, there was a local coffeehouse in my town, of which I was a frequent patron. This coffeehouse was located near campus, and was a hotbed of progressive counterculture. Murals of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and George Orwell adorned the walls, and the bookshelves featured titles from such distinguished authors as Abbey Hoffman and Noam Chomsky. It was the meeting place of the local Campus Green Party, of whose ranks I was a proud member, and I fondly recall spending many a Sunday afternoon, lingering over a copy of Desmond Morris' "The Naked Ape," and enjoying a tall cup of fair-trade Colombian. All in all, it was a great place, and I was sad to see it close down several years ago. I still miss it.

But I have to admit, I absolutely hated the reactions of some of the other patrons to my presence there. At the time, I sported a shaven head and chinbeard, and was known to dress in jeans, combat boots, and a beaten-up black leather jacket. My features have always been slim and angular, and so I suppose that my attire imparted me with a look of lean aggressiveness. All the same, however, I quickly became accustomed to scorning glances from dreadlocked fellow patrons, one of whom actually had the gall to criticize my manner of dress one day while attempting to order a cup of coffee.

During my years as a proud progressive, I've noticed a tendency among people whose causes I support to criticize me for not being sufficiently liberated from the mainstream. I'm heterosexual. I'm white. I'm male. I eat meat. I enjoy viewing pornography now and then. I even went so far as to join the military. You should have seen the looks I received after Basic, when I came back sporting a harsh military fade. And because of all this, for all the action I've devoted to supporting various causes, I still get treated, as one friend jokingly put it, "[l]ike some evil emissary of the Patriarchy." I hate it. I can't fucking stand it.

Most recently, I patronized a blog on feminist issues, known as I Blame the Patriarchy. I've patronized many such similar blogs recently, among them Feministe and Echidne of the Snakes, both of which are truly excellent. I find these latter to be first-class sources of feminist debate and discussions of women's rights news. But upon my visit to IBTP, I contributed my thoughts to a debate on the effects of pornography upon the performance of the male brain. As a porn-viewing male, I thought that such a contribution was apropos. My post was polite, considered, and in my opinion very reasonable, if slightly "Devil's Advocate." Almost immediately, however, I was openly insulted and derided for mounting what they believed to be a "defense of pornography." I was told that, as a man, I could only be a feminist out of purely sexual motivations, and that I and my ideas "weren't worth" considering. I tried to appeal for a more serious discussion, free of personal attacks, but all attempts at reasonable discourse soon went out the window, as even I lost my patience and temper. In the words of a gay friend of mine, I was jumped on for being "too white, too straight, and too male" for my opinions to really matter.

It occurs to me now that such bigotry on the part of any group, struggling to be heard, is inappropriate. So when I have to endure ad hominem attacks just because I happen to be a member of the majority demographic in America, I get angry. I didn't ask to be born white. I didn't ask to be born straight. I didn't ask to be born with a Y chromosome. But I'm happy to be who I am, and I'm happy with who I am as a human being, NOT because I was born into a world of majority entitlement.

What entitlement? I grew up in a household that couldn't afford health or day care, put myself through college on student loans, and spent the better part of my twentieth year homeless. In my life, I've seen that inequality and poverty affect ALL people, of ALL different backgrounds, and that the only way for us to grow as a society is to work together.

I believe in gender equality.

I believe in gay rights.

I believe that pre-emptive war is NOT a means of enforcing policy.

I believe in equal opportunity.

I believe in helping disadvantaged minorities improve their quality of life.

I believe in separation of church and state.

I believe in affordable health care.

I believe in the essential goodness of ALL people, whatever their flaws or beliefs, and their rights to be able to live, think, and love as they choose, without fear of violence or discrimination.

Say what you will about my beliefs, or my arguments. But don't EVER denigrate what I have to say on the basis of where I come from, or what I look like, or whom I fuck. Bigotry is bigotry, no matter who projects it, or for what reason. If you can't respect the views of other human beings, then you can't demand your views be respected in kind. You're only making things worse.

To quote a lyric from Tool:

If I'm the fucking Man, then you're the fucking Man as well.

So you can point that fucking finger up your ass.








20 Comments:

Anonymous Perinteger said...

Freeman,

I posted a response to one of your questions on Twisty's blog, but her moderation system has been holding it because of the external link I provided. If experience is any indication, she'll moderate my post by about 11am CDT. That, unfortunately, means my post is liable to be buried.

With that in mind, I thought I'd pass the link here, since it seems like you may find it useful and you're obviously a bit frustrated. It's not some sort of dogma that must be obeyed, but I stumbled accross it while I was trying to understand people's responses during a discussion in which I was viewed as the entitled person:

http://blog.shrub.com/archives/tekanji/2006-03-08_146

3:16 PM  
Anonymous Perinteger said...

Ug. Mornings - meant to say I stumbled accross it when I was trying to understand people's responses ... and I found it useful at the time.

3:19 PM  
Blogger cinnabari said...

I've never really understood the whole Let's Hate Men aspect of some forms of second-wave feminism. Do they think that by enacting sexism (use the master's tools!) they can give (white het) men a taste of what sexism is like? Because no, they can't... and since sexism's enactment is tied up with economics and race and a hundred other things that complicate beyond Boy Vs. Girl, it's kinda pointless to try.

On the other hand, I can wrap my brain around the need to have a sorta clubhouse environment, in which a group is excluded. One could argue that much of Western Euro-American sexism is based on just such a club, specifically for straight white males, and that when other groups of whatever color or gender wanna make their own spaces, after they've fought so damned hard to get into the boys' clubs... well, they want to enjoy a little privacy. I get that... but I don't think it's helpful in the longterm.

My husband, also white, spent his childhood very poor. He is assumed, by most everyone, to have come from Privilege(tm) anyway. That said, he and I both know he'll have an easier time breaking into a new job market being those things than, say, I will, all other things being equal. It sucks, but that's the way it is. For now. And it won't change until more people on the side of the privilege stand up and work for equality, too.

(Shut. Up. Cinnabari. And go drink your damned coffee.)

7:18 PM  
Blogger Joolya said...

"All the same, however, I quickly became accustomed to scorning glances from ... fellow patrons"

That totally sucks, and I'm glad it didn't make you bitter and disillusioned. But it doesn't just suck for you - it just happened to suck for you at that place at that time. Fifty years ago the dreadlocked patrons would have gotten sneered at in the coffee shop while you would have been treated to service with a smile.

The Dalai Lama writes that we should not just forgive but thank those who antagonize us. What the fuck?!? I thought, when I first read that. I should thank the man who broke my heart and left me bleeding on the floor? The DL says that enemies as much of a gift as friends - more, even, because a friend would not help you by hurting you.

Yes, I realized on further reflection, I should. Because that experience made me know, viscerally, what it was like to have my heart broken. It made me a lot more sensitive and understanding.

You can choose accept those sneers as a learning and growing experience - now you can empathize, rather than just sympatize, with people who get sneered at (your gay friends, for example, or the hippies when they go into the Red Lands).

11:17 PM  
Anonymous Mrs Smith said...

Freeman,

I'm a long-time lurker on IBTP and the reason my head is still well below the parapet over there is because I've read the FAQ, I've read Twisty's archives in their entirety and I respect that my level of understanding of feminism - and commas, for that matter - are still way below the standard of most of the regulars. When I read your first comment on her post it was immediately obvious to me that you were going to be flamed out of there - IQ of 160 notwithstanding. My only surprise was your persistence in your wrong-headedness.

You're not wrong for being male. You're not wrong for being white. You're not wrong for being heterosexual. You're right - these are not choices that you have made, and you needn't hide who and what you are. To the IBTP populus, your original post would appear to be arrogant, immature, and poorly considered. Clearly, you hadn't read the FAQ. Your later defense of pornography (to wit: it's okay because it's been around forever, it's okay because your wife likes it, it's okay because it exploits men too, it's okay because a few people actually consent to it without poverty/drug addiction/childhood abuse/take your pick as an impetus), though clearly reasonable in your opinion and intent, was expressed in just such a way that you exposed yourself as every inch the priviledged patriarch that sites like IBTP seek to, well, blame.

At the coffee shop, at the theatre, and on the internet, you're not necessarily being denigrated for where you come from, what you look like, or who you fuck. Most likely, you're being denigrated for how you project yourself: how you wear a cloak of your privilege, claim to be a nice, sensitive guy who believes in all the 'right' things, and then totally ignore the things that you say/do/wear that fly in the face of every belief you claim to espouse. You got rumbled for being a hypocrite on a site where hypocrisy-watching is a major pastime.

You're entitled to your beliefs and opinions and I don't doubt that you do sincerely believe everything you've said. I've come to your site now to see more of what you have to say. But, as a much more erudite person than myself once said, going into somebody's blog is like sitting in their living room - it's their world, they decide whether you're welcome, and just as you wouldn't shit on someone's coffee table, don't go into a radical feminist's site and tell her she isn't a feminist and should be ashamed of herself. As you yourself have said, "If you can't respect the views of other human beings, then you can't demand your views be respected in kind. You're only making things worse."

12:55 AM  
Anonymous kate said...

Yes you are the Man Freeman and that's the point you can't seem to get your mind around. As one poster put it up there quite well, people who suffer oppression often need a space of their own to regroup and share their war stories from the front.

I strongly disagree that this might be 'bad'. Its good, it works, that's why men have been doing it for hundreds of years. It provides strength and solidarity. That so many women are uncomfortable with the thought of communing with anyone anywhere absent a man's approval shows how far we have to go to reach liberation from patriarchy.

If someone comes in wearing the gear that symbolizes every inch of what we fight against (the patriarchical construct of oppression of not only women, but people of color, poor people and other groups that white men seem to like to use to their advantage), then if they get shredded, all that can be said is, 'you shoulda read the rules'.

Your indifference to the warning, your expectation of automatic approval, your arrogant condesencion (posting your IQ notwithstanding), your assumption that YOU KNOW somehow, through your male superiority I suppose, what it is to be a woman in this culture, set you up and shows you still have a bit of learning to do.

You get enough pats on the back and enough doors to open for you because of your testicles and white skin. Your inability to see that speaks volumes for how far you still need to travel down the road of awareness.

Women are continously pressured to feel that they have to pat men like you on the head and show their approval and support.

Well, I for one am damn sick and tired of having to patronize and sacrifice and bend over backwards for someone who has every social priviledge granted to him that I as a woman, must work around, be stomped out by or compared to (and then scorned and put up as the example that men are really biologically superior).

You are a man, have always been a man and always will be. You are crippled by that when attempting to feel feminist. You will never know what it is to be a woman in this society or any society or planet in any way or form. Live with it, accept it and deal and don't expect us to be so obedient and girly and lend you a hand.

Now give me a damn beer will you and go in the kitchen and cook up dinner, I've worked all day and i'm damn hungry.

Oh shit, I forgot, I'm a woman, I don't get to have a live-in servant for free. Damn.

9:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are either part of the problem or part of the solution.

10:49 AM  
Blogger annelynn said...

I'm with Joolya and Mrs. Smith above - they stated what I so dearly wanted to say to you. I do have some sympathy that you are being "flamed" on Twisty's site (I use quotes because, really, you should have known better, and it isn't your living room)... and I certainly believe that your apology was sincere. You seem like a decent person.

However... the porn is kind of a deal-breaker. Porn is bad. It just is. And also... you did come in wearing your male privelege like a badge, whether or not you knew you had a badge.

All in all, I'm not feeling very eloquent right now, so I'll just say again - right on, Joolya and Mrs. Smith!

8:04 PM  
Blogger cinnabari said...

Kate:

I strongly disagree that this might be 'bad'. Its good, it works, that's why men have been doing it for hundreds of years

And here we are today. It's not bad, in and of itself, to carve out spaces for Us and leave Them over there. But as you yourself pointed out... it works, and that's what men have been doing for a long time. I'd suggest that the success of that practice is not what we want to emulate. ::shrug::

I didn't get the impression, from Freeman's post over there or here, that he's expecting a "pat on the head" for being a feminist. No, of course he's not going to know what it's like to be a woman and deal with the shit and discrimination that comes with that. Whatever. He ain't got my parts, but you know, I don't have his, and besides... part of the point of the whole feminist schtick is to stop using our biology as an evaluator of who's worthy to speak (and about what).

Oh shit, I forgot, I'm a woman, I don't get to have a live-in servant for free. Damn.

Why, did you want one?

8:11 PM  
Anonymous zero said...

heh, was pointed to this post from my dear friend Cin.

I think there is always a certain number of any group who will point, segregate and separate. I've found the desire to divide happens in many groups. I'm a woman. I'm a feminist. For some I will not be feminist enough. I am married - to a man! (I'm from Canada where I'm free to marry a woman if I liked).

It is sad to say you might never be Enough of Whatever to be welcomed by certain elements. I for one find myself agreeing with a lot of your statements. I personally don't see my male friends being patted for their skin color or gender. Maybe I'm just blind. But I doubt it. To make such sweeping statements that all men are Bad/Wrong etc, doesn't allow for the individual choice and experience. It creates damage and belittles you, and I'm sorry to see it continues. This is I think one of the divisions in

I had similar reactions from groups when I self-identified as a Woman of Colour. It might come as no surprise that some people in the group didn't think I was "brown enough" or "coloured" enough to participate. (being mixed and East Indian - India tending to often be discounted for some reason by many places). It didn't matter that I had encountered racism... evidently I was too white for some.

Anyway, the 3rd Wave Feminist movement shall one day evolve even more. I look forward to a time when the bile and diatribes fade into the past.

I prefer this statement: http://www.thirdwavefoundation.org/
"the fight for social justice ignores no one".

9:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would not comment on that sort of feminist blog. There's no margin in it. I couldn't convince myself to take on the sort of self-effacing, guiltily-self-implicating, deeply ironic tone that is required of any (especialy white, straight) male who does more than read and internalize.

I remain their ally because the status quo is deeply fucked and because the gender roles they have been forced into are, while no more fucked than my own, far more institutionally disempowering. So, yeah, they are pissed and in no mood to deal with some sympathetic male with a mouth. And I get why they are pissed. And I've read my Butler and my Fanon and I halfway agree. But I've also read Kuhn, and Foucault and a bunch of systems theory and I know that fucked systems don't get unfucked until you change the paradigm. So I watch what they do and try not to get in the way and try to make changes to the system independent of them, because my presence there is counterproductive.

But, yeah, it sucks when your goals match, but your gender politics don't.

-Nous

6:32 AM  
Blogger Kim said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

1:29 PM  
Anonymous Bitch | Lab said...

Hey Freeman,

I just noticed your posts there at Twisty's. I think you have to understand that there are different kinds of feminism and you'd find a home at Feministe because they embrace was is called sex positive feminism more readily (though not without reservations) than Twisty and her readers do.

I agree, though, that it's always a good idea to read the FAQ -- although I'm not so sure that you would have interepreted youself as NOT an advanced patriarchy blamer. I suspect you think you are pretty advanced. But, I think when Twisty says she's a radical feminist, she means it, and you may not be aware of this disinction between radicals and other kinds of feminists?

I don't know, so just a thought.

And Kate's right: people who are oppressed need their own spaces where they dn't have to deal with people asking Feminist 101 type questions.

there are other blogs that are more open to thm, but not always. That's the way my friend doug Henwood treats his lefty discussion list: when capitalist libertarians show up to teach us a thing a two about how wrong-headed we are, he boots 'em.

On my own blog, I don't mind a lot of different quetions, but if some anti-abortionists shows up I ignore them. I don't have time to have a debate with someone who thinks I'm wrong and will always think that.

I can see why it's hard to understand, from your perspective, sinceyou consider yourself an ally. But the porn issue is one of the biggest issue that divides feminists: the sex wars in the late 70s and early 80s pretty much drew a dividing line between radical feminists and others on the issue. So, you basically stepped into enemy terrirtory by virtue of not really knowing about that little spat.

9:13 PM  
Blogger antiprincess said...

hi, I'm Heidi and I'm The Man...

I am an occasional agree-er and an occasional dissenter in the radfemblogosphere. usually other posters think I'm male when I disagree, for reasons I cannot begin to fathom.

I think you got done dirty over at Twisty's. Further, I think that the automatic internet eyeroll and overdramatic huffy smackdown that greets every basic question or request for clarification is absolutely counterproductive, even considering the fact that answering basic questions repeatedly can get tedious and annoying. A simple redirect (or godforbid an actual answer) would a) move the debate along just fine while b) reducing the level of hostility that many opponents of feminism use as an excuse to continue being rude.

4:11 PM  
Blogger belledame222 said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

5:09 PM  
Blogger belledame222 said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

5:11 PM  
Blogger belledame222 said...

Mrs. Smith, annelynn, others: you know what, though, it's also worthwhile to do one's own research and decide whether or not there is truth in the self-advertising that IBTP and its satellites really do espouse a more "advanced" or difficult form of feminism. (and yes, research includes reading the FAQ at any given blog. we all take our lickings and keep on ticking, tho'). Rigid!=advanced, in my book. And a lot of this is seriously dated shit, frankly.

I am a feminist. I like porn. I like BDSM. I used to like Twisty's blog (she's funny, she's smart, she's said a lot of things I agree with). I have major issues with her take on this stuff, and have gone into some detail as to why on by own blog and elsewhere. lately other problems with that form of feminism have been surfacing in the form of thrashes 'round the blogosphere as well (the notion that the primary oppression is men-over-women, as opposed to the notion that there are a number of institutionalized oppressions and power structures which insersect in complex ways, and there are a number of valid frameworks from which to examine them, may or may not be the source of the trouble, but at minimum it don't help, I think).

The really short version of my issue with Twisty's Sexxx stuff:

The problem is exploitation/abuse, *not* sexuality per se, yes? So why the emphasis on sex work and certain forms of sexuality per se? Why be so quick to sweepingly proclaim, as I believe Twisty does, that *all* expressions of porn are inherently patriarchal--everything from Larry Flynt and indentured underage Thai girls to people taking photos of themselves and their sweeties doin' the nasty and sticking it up on the Web for people to see (whether for profit or no?) How can you claim to understand the patriarchy and claim, as Twisty seems to do, that its hallmark, historically (and even now, yes) is excessive sexualization and lustiness? How can you not see the deeply-rooted erotophobia for the thin "raunch" overlay? How can you not understand the profound importance of "Yes means Yes" as well as "No means No?"

Mostly that POV pisses me off because it denies women (hell, men and other genders, too) who don't fit into the ideological procrustean bed their agency. Objectification comes in many forms. I don't appreciate people telling me, effectively, that they know better than I what (and why) i think and feel, especially when they don't take the trouble to listen to me in return; I find *that* objectifying, much more so than some random guy's aesthetic and erotic enjoyment of Dita Von Teese, say.

and anyway, if one find the whole subject so distasteful, as Twisty seems to, why keep bringing it up? It's not as though there aren't plenty of other ways in which the Patriarchy manifests. Would the discussion be as interesting to everybody, self-styled radfems included, if there was as much emphasis on say sweatshop labor as there is on p0rn and other iffy expressions of S-E-X?

"But doc, you're the one showing me all the dirty pictures!"

At least when I talk about this stuff I do it because I *like* it, and yes, find it empowering (as a queer woman I found reclaiming of my body and desires in all their messy forms profoundly empowering). Hey, you don't have to be "sex-positive," but it sure would help to be positive about *something.* It's easy to be against shit; what are you *for?

5:21 PM  
Blogger belledame222 said...

that said: yes, I agree with the general notion that people need a safe space. or at any rate: they're certainly entitled to creating their own clubhouse and making any damn rules they want, especially here on the Internets. no use getting upset over it; plenty of frontier territory still left to claim, pard.

what grates my cheese--and this is as much my personal shit as anything else, I freely admit it--is when people stake out positions I find personally inimical in the name of something I care deeply about. also the general dismissing of my sexuality as unimportant or wrong somehow: pushes a lot of deep, old buttons.

and just, I have often found it ironic that the very people who shout the loudest for a "safe space" are the ones who inspire feelings of profound *un*safeness in me.

personally I've found that there's no such thing as a 100% safe space, but you can go a long way through certain protocols and even rituals, ones that ultimately have very little to do with ideology (at least beyond a certain *very* basic framework) or experience.

5:35 PM  
Blogger belledame222 said...

>when people stake out positions I find personally inimical in the name of something I care deeply about

...and a lot of other people, pro or con, seem to buy their interpretation as gospel, I meant to finish that.

5:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah Kate,

Thanks for reminding us that some people define themselves by the difficulties they face in life, whether they are real or not.

Here's your feminazi merit badge.

10:50 AM  

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