I am lucky, (if you can call it that, as I am fairly sure I can claim some credit for its creation) to spend much of my life surrounded by feminist men. I was raised by one, and have friends and colleagues who are very happy identifying as a (male) feminist. They can deconstruct the patriarchy, discuss oppression and understand intersectionality. They constantly and consistently ‘check their privilege’. And maybe this is why a recent article; ‘20 tools for men to further feminist revolution’ struck such a chord with me. It is written from one male feminist to the rest, pointing out that it is not enough simply just to identify as being feminist. Fighting patriarchy, (whatever your sex or gender) cannot be done apathetically or without actually doing anything.
["White Ribbon". Source: MesserWoland [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]
In response to the horrific murders at UC Santa Barbara two weeks ago, many commentators have pointed out the perpetrator’s connection to so-called Anti-Pickup Artist
online communities and to the misogynist
motivations of the shooting. Whereas the Pick-Up Artist fad has received some media attention and academic study
in the past, the so-called Anti-Pick-Up artist scene has received much less attention – with notable exceptions well worth reading
– and has probably been completely off the radar even for those of us studying gender. Even though the name suggests an oppositional stance on the idea of PickUp artistry, in reality, these Anti-Pick-Up Artists share in the very same gender ideology as those being drawn to Pick-Up Artist message boards and websites. Add in the frustration with the ineffectiveness of the Pick-Up Artists’ tips and strategies, and the Anti-Pick-Up Artist scene reveals itself as promoting an equally – if note more – toxic gender ideology.
Source: Nathan Rupert (SD) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.
Finally, it’s almost summer. And as the weather gets better, more and more social life in my neighborhood shifts outside to the street. As I was sitting at my desk the other day, I noticed two kids playing in the street, a boy of maybe 10 years and a girl, maybe 8. The boy was practicing his basketball skills, dribbling the ball between his legs, moving backwards, sidewards, spinning around, all while keeping perfect control over the ball. The girl on the other hand was listening to music and practicing dance moves from the latest music video (needles to say, both kids were far more skillful in their respective activity than I ever will be). Then something interesting happened: The kids started teaching each other their respective activities. And while the boy did quite a good job of learning the girl’s dance moves, the girl struggled when it came to dribbling the basketball: Whereas before as she was dancing, she was able to move extremely smoothly and elegantly, now her body became stiff. Her eyes fixated on the ball so as not to lose control, her upper body moved up and down parallel to her hand awkwardly and in a very choppy way; and she kept losing the ball repeatedly after every dozen or so dribbles. Is this little anecdote proof then that girls are just naturally less adept at ball games than boys [spoiler alert: it's not]?
By Richard Smith from Bowen Island, Canada (Chicago Marathon – the start) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.
Last week marked the first installment of the Boston Marathon after the horrible terrorist acts of 2013. Although the world-renowned event will forever be linked to these atrocities, there are also acts of positive social change linked to its. Most famously, the 1967 Boston Marathon saw Kathrine Switzer become the first woman to enter the race as a numbered runner (there had actually been other women run the race unofficially before) by registering as “KV Switzer”. Her run and the attempt by a race official to remove her from the race show how sports can become an arena of progressive social change. Moreover, the history of marathon running over the past half century can also serve as a teaching tool to challenge myths about the supposed fundamental differences between men and women.
Source: Ms. Magazine. 2009.
For many people, the “feminist label” is a problem. For some, the term is stigmatized. For others, the phrase is outdated. And many young people reject being identified as a feminist, fearing the label is so dominating it will minimize the multiplicity of their other social identities. Thus, despite the support film stars, musicians, and even the President of the United States, feminism is still problematic for many men and women today.
In a previous posting, I described my surprise in interviewing female artists (who all produced work that critiqued and challenged gender expectations and asymmetry) when these women refused to label themselves or their work as feminist. As I concluded that project I found myself left with more questions than answers. I asked if there was a possibility that the fight for gender equality could exist on a feminist continuum as some scholars in women’s and gender studies have suggested? And would allowing those who do not identify as feminists to be recognized under the umbrella of feminist ideology improve the fight for an egalitarian society or would it further stigmatize those who work for gender equality across the globe?
These questions have returned to the forefront of my mind as I’ve transitioned from a student of sociology of gender to an instructor. Recently, I have had the opportunity to speak in depth with undergraduate students about gender and feminism in the United States today. Similar to my discussions with female artists, I found undergraduate women, even those deeply committed to social justice and universal equality, were hesitant to identify as feminists, frequently arguing that the label was too limiting in contemporary society.
By mariselise derivative work: Steffaville [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.
The NBA has its first openly gay player in Jason Collins, and the NFL will follow soon, as former college player Michael Sam is expected to join a team this summer. This might indicate that we are seeing a radical shift in society’s stereotypes about gay men. At the same time, it remains to be seen, as Dave Zirin asks at The Nation
whether gay male athletes like Sam can help shift our definitions of masculinity more broadly or whether they might paradoxically reinforce gender norms and notions of hyper-masculinity at the same time.
Genderqueer Pride Flag (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
Last year, as I completed my fieldwork, I was unexpectedly reminded of the continuing contention around gender identity. Interviewing dozens of people involved in social movement actions around austerity and economic inequality, I anticipated that there would be some emotional responses, moments of hesitation, perhaps even discomfort around some of my inquiries. I did not expect to elicit these reactions during the demographics section of the interviews. Yet, about a third of the time, when I asked the respondent to disclose a gender identity, there would be silence. Sometimes after the long pause the respondent would cautiously clarify whether I was seeking to categorize them as either male or female (I wasn’t). Other times the interviewee would go into a longer explanation of their opposition to the gender binary before identifying with a gender non-conforming label or declaring gender irrelevant and declining to provide an identity at all. (more…)
This post was borne out of a recent discussion with a good friend of mine, Harriet, who is a self-identified lesbian. (I include the phrase self-identified here deliberately: I realise her propensity to prefer the company and sex of woman does not categorise her as a lesbian, but it is a term she very comfortably uses herself). She was talking about going to a sex party, and I, in what I perceived to be ignorance, asked her what her interest could be in going. “Would it not be far too full of men?” I asked naively.
I had expected her to laugh at me, which she did. My question displayed an assumption that I hadn’t realised I held, that lesbian women must only be interested in seeing women have sex with other women. Being the tolerant and long-suffering woman she is, she challenged my assumption. Sex parties often include lesbian sex, she pointed out, and just because she is a lesbian doesn’t mean she is repulsed by men or their sex, any more than a straight person should be repulsed by lesbians. Heterophobia is no more acceptable than homophobia. However, she went on to explain that actually lesbians quite often found men sexually attractive, and, slightly more unusually, they are often interested in watching men have sex with men, in the form of gay male pornography. (more…)
Source: Wikimedia Commons
You may have noticed that a photo of a Black man doing his daughter’s hair was plastered all over Facebook and Twitter newsfeeds last month. That man, Doyin Richards, runs a blog, Daddy Doin’ Work, about his experiences raising his two daughters. But, unlike most of the posts from his blog, this photo went viral. When the photo appeared all over social media, it was paired with a quote from his blog. “I have a dream that people will view a picture like this and not think it’s such a big deal.” Despite his desire for the photo to be seen as not a big deal, Richards continues to receive a great deal of attention simply for being a Black father. (more…)
(Source: Canadian2006 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0/r GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons.
My colleague Cliff Leek elsewhere has recently
talked about the tension, struggles and challenges of being an ally. Those of us located on the ‘privilege’ side of different axes of inequality and oppression (like race, class and gender) face the challenge of how to become (and stay) active and effective allies without reinforcing the very inequalities we are trying to fight, and trying to speak truth to power without claiming to speak for
the movements we are aligned with. As Mia McKenzie points out in her critique of the term ‘ally’
: “actions count; labels don’t”. We don’t become ‘allies’ just by some act of will or by declaring us as such. Instead, being
an ally means a continuous process of becoming
one. This call for action and constant reflection has, of course, implications for those of us who are male-identified but teach about gender in the classroom (or those of us who are white and teach about race etc.). We face unique challenges that we need to find pedagogical answers to if we are to stay true our feminist and anti-racist commitments.