At Meeting yesterday, the subject of raising children found its way into the messages of many. Prompted perhaps by the presence of happy children singing Christmas carols early into worship, vocal ministry focused on the dual blessing and challenges of parenthood. Many moving, emotionally rich stories were shared. Each of them had a common thread, but each also stood separately by themselves as their own unique offering. Much wisdom and humor was present as well, and I am a fan of both. As some contemplated the fragility of the infant Jesus, it seemed fitting that this would be the unofficial subject of the day. When it works well, the exercise in instantaneous revelation that is most Quaker worship is a rich, multi-layered experience, one that, in this instance, left several in tears.
Tag: gender roles
Dec 20 2010
Freedom of Choice Requires Freedom to Choose
Apr 17 2010
When the Personal and the Political Don’t Mix
An internet advice column responded to the question of a man who was uncomfortable with the idea that, assuming the two of them would marry, his girlfriend would not agree to take his last name. The columnist deftly turns his original question around in her reply, suggesting that perhaps he should agree to take her name or that the two of them could form a new surname unique to the both of them. Inherent in the whole of the reply is the assertion that the soon-to-be husband in question isn’t nearly as open and accepting of a woman’s right to individual choice as he thinks he is. The major issues expressed in the column are an articulation that men who place demands upon women, especially in situations like these are speaking from a place of privilege and in so doing need to rethink their attitudes. When politically problematic and personal choice butt heads, the two almost always clash.
A particularly popular line of thinking states that, should a woman make a conscious decision to participate in what would at its face be a restrictive, oppressive custom, she should be allowed to do so without being criticized as somehow violating the aims of women’s rights. Up to a point, I think this statement is justified but if one expands the application, it becomes more and more problematic. It should be noted that not all oppressions are the same, but in an earlier post this week, I tried to draw a parallel between all systematic injustices. If, for example, an African-American chooses consciously to dress in blackface and to participate a minstrel show, offensive and demeaning though it is, is the practice any less evil and reprehensible if it is justified by deliberate personal choice?
Mar 26 2010
Re-enacting the Past to Serve the Future
The stereotypical definition of Feminists held by many is that they are frigid, miserable, depressed, angry, and obsessed with finding systemic fault in every man and under every rock. I find evidence of this sentiment no matter who I ask or where I search. In response, I will say only that every activist movement has a tendency at times to let anger at the status quo threaten to overshadow its altruistic policies predicated on compassion. However, this characterization isn’t exactly justified for a variety of reasons. With the passage of time the radical, reactive voices within Feminism have been held up to highest scrutiny—the implication being that they must surely speak for the whole. The ultimate fault in why this assumption has been allowed to thrive and grow is not easily assigned, but a drop off in active involvement within the movement as a whole is regrettably a big part of the problem.
Institutional memory in American liberalism is often in short supply. We frequently forget the trailblazers and fostering mothers and fathers that guided us because so many of the rank-and-file have left or devoted their attention toward other things. Feminism once was quite fashionable, as was participation and proud membership within groups like NOW, along with the omnipresent subscription to Ms. magazine. Looking specifically at membership in a wide cross-section of left-wing movements, I note with some trepidation that we are now neither losing, neither are we gaining. As one person leaves, another springs up to take his/her place. But when this happens, the newcomers find themselves severely challenged by the ability to use the breakthroughs and lessons of the past and put them in their proper context.
Every ideological movement or group based on common identity feels a compulsion to look back into the past to find both a means of pointing to supreme authority or for help in its own discernment of ideas. As much as we embrace the future as the bellwether of the needed systemic changes to advance our agenda, we also rely heavily upon the past to grant us guidance and underscore our values. This is not a paradox in terms, but it nonetheless is a facet of Progressive thought that often times goes overlooked. Speaking specifically to the Feminist movement, this is accomplished for some by constantly alluding back to Feminist history. However, without a common memory, these names and accomplishments seem like ghostly apparitions pulled from the shadows. Without a collective sense of continuity, the most abrasive, strident voices easily rise to the top and end up dominating the entire message.
Feb 24 2010
Understanding Comes With Initial Discomfort and Eventual Unity
In deciding what I could write about today, I acknowledge I could go in any number of directions. I could strongly express support of President Obama’s health care reform guidelines while being sure to note my extreme displeasure with the lack of a public option. Or, I might chart a different course altogether and add some new wrinkle about the blame game currently raging inside the Obama Administration and the Democratic caucus as to how a supposedly sure thing all began to slip away. I could take a populist angle about how the scourge of big business and monied interests that have a concerted interest in making a profit at all cost leaves the rest of us in the poorhouse. Each of these would likely be received well and be in good company to what others have already written.
But what I’ve chosen to write instead about are the times that working together towards a common purpose succeeds. My decision to enter a woman-centric space gave me an understanding of what minorities often feel like when they set foot inside spaces reserved for usually white men. I would not describe what I experienced in negative terms, but I would classify the experience as uncomfortable and uncertain in the beginning. I would not seek to blame anyone, including myself for what I felt up front. Adjustment to any challenging situation requires dexterity and an open mind and I tried as best I could do keep those two life skills close at hand as I stumbled through deeply unfamiliar subjects while keeping in mind the responses of some, not all, who may have been just as uncomfortable with my being there as I was. Challenges need not be negative or unfortunate, after all.
Over the past nine months or so, I’ve begun to take an active role in contributing to the group discussions and controversial issues which are always in debate within young Feminist circles. Finding my footing at first, as I’ve noted, was difficult, since I was instantly aware upon arrival of the fact that I was in unfamiliar territory. This was predicated purely upon the fact that I am male and most of the contributors and regular readers are not. Still, my desire to learn and then to make my thoughts known superseded any reservations I might have held at the beginning. Male allies within the movement as a whole have never been plentiful and I recognized going in that I was going to have to be a bit of a trailblazer, whether I wanted to or not. A part of me, whether motivated by romance or noble purpose has always wanted to be a leader, especially in circumstances where role models or models of any kind at all are often minimal or altogether nonexistent.
Months of absorbing content and the opinions of others has led to a greater understanding on my part not of how we are different, but how we are very similar. Moreover, I recognize that all of these supposed truisms regarding gender identity and strict delineation between that which is “male” and that which is “female” has given me the ability to recognize that aside from a few undeniably biological differences, men and women are really not all that dissimilar. Even so, I can understand the skepticism many women feel about any male who claims the label “feminist” for himself. The implication is “How can you really understand?” My answer is, and will always be, “I listen and I try to draw parallels to my own very human experience”.
Whether wrongly or rightly, anyone who is different within any movement or group ends up drawing some fire. I recognize that within Feminist spaces my ideas and commentary are more heavily scrutinized then they would be if I were a woman. I am also aware that anything I say in a public forum is going to seen by many as the Official Male Response™. This could make me angry, resentful, or both, but I have made a concerted effort to remove those sorts of instant responses from my canon of emotions. Anger has done nothing but make me miserable and keep me there. Indeed, if the situation was reversed, I’d probably make the same assumption myself.
That few of us are willing to brave this sort of often uncomfortable transition period of acclimation and discovery is what often keeps us separate. In an ideal world, we would have no massive barriers in place that stifle communication and dissemination of information, but this is the world in which we live. For better or for worse, we are are need of more trailblazers, more allies, more brave souls willing to clear the path for those who would follow after them. I have discovered in my own admittedly limited experience that once the hard part subsides, true growth and true unity follows, and with it comes friends, allies, and supporters beyond one’s wildest dreams. Once we begin to trust and not fear each other, there is no limit to what we can accomplish. Until we do so, however, we should expect little beyond what we have now.
Feb 08 2010
Contrary to Some Voices, Masculinity is Not Under Attack
I write this post in response to a handful of Super Bowl commercials that I write this post in response to two or three Super Bowl commercials that aired last night. The implication in each of them, to some degree or another, was that masculinity was under attack, the ravages of femininity were destroying machismo, or that marriage was an emasculating process that turned male virility into weak-kneed passivity. These views are nothing new, but when they are emphasized so heavily, the general implication is quite clear. Some must believe that men are losing control of the game and being transformed into, if not women, some hybrid form which is itself a cheap imitation to the rough and tough masculinity of the past. Knee-jerk responses neglect to understand that in the process of achieving equality for everyone, masculinity will change in direct proportion to the way femininity has changed. The truth is that nothing is being lost and everything is being gained, but some confuse the cause of reform with tragic destruction of the tried-and-true.
If I didn’t know better, I might buy into these wrong-headed assertions myself. However, I happen to recognize that while an older incarnation of masculinity might have been less compelled towards public displays of sensitivity or equal deference to relationship partners, this kind of supposed supreme self-reliance also meant that men were often incapable of sharing vulnerability and thus expressing the fullest range of human expression. Problems best talked out and shared with others were frequently kept inside, often disguised or numbed away by alcohol or other drugs. I suppose having had a grandfather who likely struggled with bipolar himself, one who, I might add, never really ever came to terms with what he considered a shameful weakness, does makes me understand his struggle without rushing to judgment as some might do. I don’t romanticize the masculinity of another age. I pity it. To me it is supremely limiting and heavily stunted. Why anyone would wish to reinforce masculinity in such rigid, lonely terms is beyond me.
When we talk about a Patriarchal society, we mean a societal framework designed by (usually white) men for other (usually white) men. The scope of Patriarchy is vast and at times so invasive and omnipresent that one has a difficult time adequately stating its fullest impact upon all. Feminist voices for years have taken much time pointing out Patriarchy’s shortcomings, especially how it callously disenfranchised women by forcing them to play by the parameters and rules of a system for which they were often ill-suited. Their criticism, which is quite valid, states that if men were capable of designing such a fantastic system, why then does it produce so many unresolved problems? More recently, Feminists have fought for the inclusion and incorporation of people of color, LGBTs, and other minority voices into the discussion. It is my opinion, based on what I have observed, that any system which does not take into account multiple points of view and the unique concerns of a wide swath of people across the board will always remain imperfect and inequal. The deepest irony of all is that the Paternalistic system as it exists now works for the well-heeled, powerful, and well-connected at the expense of almost everyone else imaginable, so many men now terrified at its supposed demise are the very same who are ground underfoot by it.
The radical Feminists of a generation prior envisioned a superior, alternate system designed by women, but the failing in that point of view is that by being just as exclusionary as their male brethren, they managed to perpetuate only a brand new spin on the same problems. Though I am a man, I do not find any discomfort whatsoever in spaces dominated by women, because unlike some of my same gender, I do not see gender equality as a zero sum game. Inherent in each of those Super Bowl commercials was that belief—that in surrendering to the desires of women, they would be losing their masculinity and freedom in the process. My hope is that other men will come to understand, as I have, that everyone’s liberation depends on maximum participation by everyone. This includes participation in spaces, circles, and movements not often populated by white men, or, for that matter, men at all. Still, so long as the way things have always been finds itself threatened, the same old appeals to some standard of masculine purity will be invoked. The paradoxically unifying feature of gender inequality is that both male and female gender roles are defined as the pursuit of a kind of perfect balance that is beyond the grasp of everyone, regardless of gender identification. Still, it is invoked frequently to chide or to lecture people to get back in line, else some kind of anarchic chaos result from it.
We know where we’re headed, and we also know that every age presents its own challenges and its own problems. It is easier to declare a war and invoke a moral panic than to calmly examine the reality of the situation before us. Whether it’s sexting or some perceived attack on masculine strength and independence, we ought to expect the same sorts of attacks until the end. Names change, context differs, the sales pitch is modified slightly, but in the end, it’s really no different. The goal is to plan for the inevitable, hope for the best, and make sure to never relinquish control of the framing. Reform and the need for reform of any sort and in any context is ceaseless. Let us cogently articulate our reservations, discuss our strategies, put them into action, and then wait for the next volley from the other side. In the meantime, I fight alongside my sisters as well as my brothers and do so happily and with great purpose.