Saturday, November 13, 2010

Confidence for feminist men

S.R., an Iraqi living in the United States; Color of Violence: The Incite! Anthology:

[M]y yearning for freedom is my own instinct. I do not need to be rescued by anyone, whether their underlying motive is driven by oil or feminism. As such, I have only one unequivocal demand of all "liberators": Leave me alone. The only solidarity I am interested in seeing is the kind that throws a wrench in the war machine which occupies my homeland. That is the most I expect of an American or British citizen. Otherwise, please spare me your lectures on how oppressive you think my hijab is, or how I should follow your lead in fighting patriarchy, or how I should work for achieving democracy in my country. And for your own horizon's sake, do read the history of Iraqi women's contributions to civilization. You may end up finding yourself inspired to follow our example.

What men understand best about patriarchy is what comes out of their own experience of it. That's not the same thing as what comes out of women's experience of it. These are two different things, and we have to focus on the one that we experience directly if we want to be effective as feminists.

Feminism isn't about having any special insight into women's experiences, or knowing lots of theory as it has been articulated by women. Men have their own experiences, and so need their own theory, and their own language to communicate it. Men and women have to do their own work, in some ways independently, at the same time that they are trying to work together.

If there is one criticism women have about male feminists, it is probably that they busy themselves too much with women's affairs, while busying themselves too little with their own. We need to busy ourselves with our own affairs, referencing the ways in which they relate to the struggles of others.

As the solidarity principle shows, the struggles of others can be our struggles, too. As a modality of power, patriarchy affords men a very narrow script by which they are permitted to dominate and subordinate women. But to accept that script is to be immediately confined by it. Even if you are "into" domination and subordination, a consensual model would offer a lot more possibilities!

My experience of patriarchy feels like something imposed on me in exchange for a predictable set of relations, ostensibly for my benefit. Culturally, women seem to be in a perpetual state of undress, for example. Patriarchy presumes I want this, or tells me I should. But does patriarchy let me set the terms by which this occurs? No: it beats me over the head with it constantly, to the point where I can't watch TV or have much commercial exposure to anything. It doesn't respect my relationships with my partner, my friends, or my family. As a man, I want the freedom to determine what my relations with women will be, but patriarchy doesn't allow this.

It is the stupidity of the patriarchal mindset not to see that what patriarchy can't permit, free individuals can. Whatever men think they get out of patriarchy, they are blind to how much more they could get out of feminism. This is one of the reasons why I have confidence in my efforts to promote feminism as a man.

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