Friday, October 1, 2010

Knowing the authority that works through us

Ruth Rosen, The World Split Open:

"[W]e have to admit that SDS [Students for a Democratic Society] was extraordinary precisely because of those brilliant men. Many of us were seduced by their great minds and ambitious visions. And yet that very same talent was what intimidated us." A brief period of silence followed. "We are angry at ourselves," one former SDSer said quietly. "How could those men be so smart and still so sexist?" wondered another woman, half-laughing and half-crying.

Men can be "so smart" and still so sexist because we can see very clearly that authority which is imposed on us without seeing that authority which, through us, is imposed on others. It often follows that our noble intentions will be pointed in one direction and not the other.

I recognize this in myself: I can see what the boss does to me very well, and I will read every volume of Capital in pursuit of an understanding as to why this is so. I fall into every stereotype of what you would expect from a straight white dude middle class anarchist: I can talk to other men of that type at length before I realize that my partner and everyone else in the room are having a separate conversation elsewhere.

One of the reasons why I like the above quote is because in spite of how SDS men behaved, women never questioned the legitimacy of their concerns. And this is a very consistent theme among women within activist circles -- that raising their own concerns isn't designed to exclude anybody else's: it's the only way to include their own. But as men I think we have a hard time hearing criticism from others if we haven't already done the work of self-criticism ourselves.

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