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Archive for the ‘Musing’ Category

A Bit About Male Priviledge

Posted by A birch tree on June 5, 2008

A few days ago, my blog was mentioned over at Women’s Space, in a very kind way, but a way that made me uncomfortable. I posted in the comments, but thought maybe I should put my feelings down here as well, with some elaboration.

I would like to say, for the record, that I’m really uncomfortable being the subject of phrases like “men who actually get it”, and “men who have earned safe passage through Women’s Land”, because I don’t think I have. I really only get much attention at all, I believe, because I am male, and the bar for males is so low that all I have to do is write about some relatively elementary “Well, duh!” things I discover about myself and the world I live in as I walk down the road of becoming a halfway decent human being, and I can be a relative shining star in a sea of dirtbags.

The only reason I can write about what I do is because of all the women I’ve learned from, who have sacrificed their time and energy to perform a task I should have been doing for myself all along.

My wife, Aria, has put herself on the limb for me time and time again, not because it was something she enjoyed doing; she’s sacrificed emotionally and spiritually and has spent many sleepless nights because of my obstenance, entitlement, priviledge, and misogyny. She’s done it because she’s more or less stuck with me, and desperately wanted me to be safer for her to be around in every sense.

Feminist bloggers, like Heart, The Biting Beaver (of whom I was a great fan, and miss sorely), Twisty, Red State Feminist, Polly Styrene, Sparkle*matrix, and countless others, are the foundation upon which all my ideas and writing stand. Behind this halfway mediocre, sexist man stands a hundred amazing, intelligent, women. I stand upon the shoulders of giants, and that imagery is, I feel, very apt, in that standing on women’s shoulders to receive recognition is pretty much the definition of the Patriarchy. It is only my priviledge in this society that allows me to do so, and it is certainly my priviledge that would allow me to accept any sort of accolade whatsoever for ascending an inch or two above the bar of male expectation by riding on the coattails of great women.

I do strive to one day truly earn the praise I’ve been given, but I haven’t yet. I’m not that good of a feminist out in the real world. I have priviledge, and sexism, and misogyny, and entitlement suspended like cholesterol in my very blood; the part of me everyone sees on the internet is not the whole me. My past is a testament to Patriachy in action, and my present is rife with episodes of silent cowardice and resistance, silent and otherwise, against some very basic Feminist principles, and that I feel shamed by all of them is cold comfort to the women who must interact with me.

I write to catalogue a journey I should have embarked on long, long ago and should be much, much further along with; a journey I should have begun by myself rather than by being driven along from behind by women whose options were to either teach me or put up with me. I don’t feel that any of my ideas are new, or novel, and I only get what hits I do because of the very male priviledge I’m ashamed of using: a male who, even the tiniest bit, “gets it”, is to be esteemed regardless of how recycled his words are or how shallow his observations.

Part and parcel of that is the fact that I feel a pressing need to address the fact that I have not earned any praise. I am not a good man. I am not a decent man. I am, at best, a slightly-less-neolithic man, and I cringe at giving myself even that much credit.

The whole point is that no, I don’t “get it”. Not yet. I am very uncomfortable with that kind of description because it makes me feel like I’m setting out to fool people. When those words come up, I feel fraudulent. Here, on the internet, I put forth a persona that I strive to live up to in reality, not a snapshot of who I am in reality.

I will say things that offend. I will say things that are stupid. I will fail to grasp concepts that are elementary. Even though I can say that, and even though I can see them coming in a vague, misty sort of way over the horizon, I won’t see them in specific until they’re right on top of me, and I will fuck up. I do not ask for anyone’s slack, nor will you ever hear me say “I’m still learning!” as if the beginning point of my learning was a marker in the river of destiny that I could not have moved or avoided. I just don’t want anyone to have to choose between defending my fuckups, or eating crow and feeling cheated, and in both cases having their judgement questioned because of my actions. That’s the very definition of male priviledge; men do ignorant, shitty, apathetic, and/or outright malicious things which hurt women, and women have to bat cleanup for them.

There may be other male pro-feminist bloggers out there who use the women who read and usually like their blogs as shields against valid criticism from other women who were rightly offended. If such men exist, I want to avoid them like an old cliche.

Why the hell am I rambling on and on about this long beyond the point of redundancy? Because it’s really important to me that I get across that I am so totally not enlightened. I don’t want anyone to feel, at any time, like I’ve put out a false respresentation of myself for personal gain. As I’ve said before, I’ve done many of the things that were on the Rapist Checklist (thus, I’ve raped). Hell, I’ll call out the numbers for you, since just saying the above without getting specific naturally leads one to conclude that I would be referring to some of the “lesser” numbers, and make no mistake, in spite of the fact that rape is bad and all of those numbers are rape, many people, somehow, consider some of them to be “worse rape” or “more rape” than others, so just saying “I’ve done things on that list” could be pretty misleading. What are my numbers? They are 1, 3, 5, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 33, 34, 36, 37, 45, and 51.

I’m male. I’m part of dude nation. I benefit from Patriarchy and rape and porn and institutionalized sexism and every other nasty, horrible thing that goes on here. It doesn’t matter how much I write, or what I write about, I’m always going to benefit until the revolution comes. I can’t accept kind words from women while still benefitting from their pain.

So, yeah. I think I’ve run out of words. I haven’t run out of thoughts, but I’ve run out of words. I don’t know if anyone will even get what I’m trying to say here. If the “man who gets it” actually does exist, he’s, uh, yeah, like, not me.

I really, really appreciate the praise I’ve been given, and it makes me feel like I’m getting a few small things right, maybe. But I’m afraid I can’t accept that praise, and will have to respectfully return all that praise to the people who have given it, because I haven’t earned it, and I don’t think I ever will. To accept it and keep it would be to embrace the very priviledge I’m supposed to be taking a stand against.

-a birch tree

PS: For crying out loud…. I can’t figure out how to say what I’m thinking without coming across as emo and/or self-loathing and/or fatuous and/or like, what’s the word for being all falsely humble to get pity or attention? I can’t remember and google isn’t helping. Anyway, I guess I’ll just hit the “publish” button here and hope for the best.

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Posted in Feminism, Liberal Men, Musing | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

The role of the Gentlemen’s Auxiliary

Posted by A birch tree on May 24, 2008

A few thoughts on the role of men with relation to the feminist movement

So one thing I’ve had plenty of time to think about is what, exactly, should men be doing in feminism?

Shortly before my broadband went kaput, I found myself violating one of my own rules and arguing with a woman about feminism. Even at the time, it seemed grossly inappropriate, but in hindsight it just confuses me.

On the one hand, a self-identified feminist woman should not have to put up with a man telling her diddly squat, especially not in a confrontational manner. On the other hand, she was arguing that men should be able to just up and walk away from having to pay child support whenever they please if they don’t want to see their kids. That just seems like a recipe for more women to be shoved into poverty by irresponsible dudes more often and more easily than ever before, and how could I stand by and say that was feminist?

While I’m still conflicted on that issue, one thing she said did trouble me, that she was tired of men like me trying to protect women against their will, and that she and other women were not the defenseless, powerless, vulnerable people I was apparently making them out to be and were quite capable of self-determination and take-care-of-themselves-ism.

So now we’re back to me having multiple hands again (OMG A SPIDER!). On one of them, sure, any attempt that a man makes to portray women as lacking in self-determination is inherently unfeminist; women are autonomous human begins. On the other hand, the point of the Patriarchy is to take away that self-determination, and it’s been doing so craftily for a thousand-odd years (give or take). Men, who have been handed all the power and opportunity they could ever dream of as a class, should have a responsibility to use that power to protect the people whose oppression he’s benefitting from whether he likes it or not, from said opression. And letting a dude legally abandon women with a kid or two he helped create, with nothing but a handy “Sucks to be you!” tossed out the driver’s side window, seems a bit opressive.

And the line gets even fuzzier when you add in the fact that a lot of the time, a radical pro-feminist, despite his best intentions, will find himself speaking to women’s experiences, things he has no direct knowledge of. Is it out of bounds to say “Women don’t generally have orgasms from penetrative sex alone” or “Being pregnant and giving birth are highly dangerous for women*”? Even with the links? What if I link to other women who are currently expressing said sentiments? To add in yet more hands, one the left, we have a man saying, essentially, “I know female orgasm/female pregnancy!”, but on the right, he’s also saying things that are more or less objective facts.

So what are my responsibilities? What topics are in line for me? What topics are off-limits? My voice, being male, automatically carries with it a certain amount of power and credibility that a woman’s wouldn’t, all other things being equal, but at the same time, my voice in many areas is substantially less credible, not to mention rather unwelcome, because I don’t share a mutual oppression with women. At best, I’m speaking academically about subjects that are intensely personal to them.

I mean, for example: I have the opportunity to close my browser and play Crysis or Oblivion, then read The Lord of the Rings for a while, and maybe around midnight go out to a smoke a cigarette in the deserted, more-or-less-unlit smoke pit outside, without ever having to think about the sexism, mysogyny, and male priviledge that pretty much soaks each one of those activities if I don’t choose to. I can stop thinking about rape and the slandering of women in popular culture (when they appear in popular culture at all), because it doesn’t personally affect me. Too many men claim to be radical allies when it suits them, then choose to “turn off” that awareness when they’re done playing their internet D&D game where they Fight the Forces of the Evil Patriarchy and their Servants, the MRA for a few hours like some sort of perverted MMORPG. And don’t think I’m saying I haven’t done that myself!

The idea that male pro-feminists should be talking mostly to other men, using their increased credibility among males to try and sway them to a more whole view of the opposite gender assumes that such a thing is possible via enlightened reasoning (or at all). Do I believe that? Well, I’m here, aren’t I? Isn’t that some kind of evidence? Then again, while I am here rambling on incoherently about this topic, I’m also not exactly the best example of male pro-feminism. I have flaws I can’t blame on hereditary pre-determinism, and I do the wrong things at least as often as I do the right things without acting like I deserve a cookie. Does that make me evolving, or a hypocrite? I’ve done a lot of the things in my life that are on the Rapist Checklist that’s been floating around for a couple years now. I’ve used pornography in the past; and to be perfectly honest, “past” means “less than a year ago”. I argue with my wife in a way I would never argue with another male; hell, I get angry with my wife over things I’d never get angry at another male over! I don’t distance myself from racist or misogynist comments made by men in my general vicinity nearly often enough to make me feel clean about it. I can only blame so much of that on “Well, I am in the military, that that man significantly outranks me, and those men over there I have to deal with every single day, and what the hell am I supposed to say or do??” I am changing, have changed, and will continue to change in the future, but is it enough? And if it is, is it fast enough, or complete enough? Or will I always be a dickhead, just less and less of a dickhead asymptotically approaching 0 as time approaches infinity?

Are my hands clean enough to be talking about feminism at all, much less to another woman, regardless of how wrong her ideas feel to me? Or should I just stick to environmentalism, while linking to brilliant women on the sidebar and letting them speak about feminism? Or does that put feminism on the sidebar while I focus my energies, not on trying to raise awareness of and help end the oppression I have been a part of perpetuating against women, but instead on ending a similar oppression against those with whom I fail to share not only a mutual oppression, but even a mutual species?

Well maybe that helped out a bit. Is being a man advocating radical feminist goals and ideals in any way anagolous to being a human and advocating radical environmentalist goals and ideals? Or is such a comparison just offensive? I could see how it might be offensive to feminism to be likend to the animal rights movement, but since I’m just looney enough to see animals as sentient and autonomous beings too, does that help? Or does my individual context have no bearing on the more generalized issue?

I could go on, and when I do, I come out with a ton of questions, no answers, and more hands than a mutated centipede. I suppose, in the end, when you’ve got all those hands holding all those scales with a thousand different ways they could balance out, you just have to throw away all the scales and complexities and do whatever makes you feel less dirty in the morning.

Unfortunately, I have no idea what that entails. Like I said, these aren’t questions I have answers to. I suppose that at the end of the day, I’m going to be trudging on in roughly the same direction I’m currently trudging, with an open mind to correction and criticism, and while reading everything I can get my hands on, and inspecting my actions, both present, past, and future planned, for hurtful flaws born of priviledge and sexism. When it doubt, I greatly prefer to do something with common sense and good intententions and a balanced spirit, rather than nothing at all out of not knowing what the right thing is to do. Mostly I just assume that whatever I’m going to do will be wrong in spite of myself, but whoever tears me a new one for doing it might also reveal to me what I’m actually supposed to be doing. And plus, if I’m right, than I’ve done something good. If I just stand around doing nothing, however, nobody will notice one more guy standing around doing nothing in a whole world of guys standing around doing nothing, and there’s absolutely no chance of doing anything right or good.

-a birch tree

(*US Maternal Mortality rate: 12 per 100,000, compared to: Average US Firearm Death Rate: 10 per 100,000 and Average US Occupation-Related Fatality Rate: 4 per 100,000. Also, homicide is the number one cause of death in the US for pregnant women. That’s not figured into maternal mortality rates, but it certainly figures into objective calculations for how dangerous childbirth actually is in the US!)

Posted in Feminism, Musing | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »