Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Explaining feminism

Work friends ask about my being a "hardcore feminist." It is easy to explain: Feminism means you acknowledge that injustice happens against women because they are women; you think injustice is wrong and want to position yourself in opposition to it.

Always remember your audience. If they are working class men, you have to account for this. People in blue collar settings don't use the same concepts or vocabulary that you're going to find in a graduate seminar. In my experience, it's best to start with other's concerns, not your own. If they are primarily concerned with getting laid, you may have some work to do before you get around to the idea of justice for women.

The fortunate thing about working with people is that you see them everyday. You don't have to resolve everything in a single conversation -- or, put differently, a single confrontation. Many activists are too quick to condemn anyone who doesn't see things their way. But if feminism stands in acknowledgment of the injustice women face, activism should stand in acknowledgment of the ignorance that stems naturally from the status quo. Rather than be surprised by it in every instance, we'd do better to be prepared.

In an important sense, you have to love other people enough to listen to them, especially when much of what they say is ugly or hateful. I'm speaking in this case of activists in the same category of power as those they interact with; in other words, as a man I have to have a measure of patience with other working class men I can't stand, at least if my long term goal is to persuade. They won't listen to women, but it's possible they will listen to another man. You always want to be pushing the possibilities in this regard, but it isn't easy; a strong sense of class consciousness helps, as well as concern for the women these men inevitably interact with.


Anonymous said...

Why American men should boycott American women

I am an American man, and I have decided to boycott American women. In a nutshell, American women are the most likely to cheat on you, to divorce you, to get fat, to steal half of your money in the divorce courts, don’t know how to cook or clean, don’t want to have children, etc. Therefore, what intelligent man would want to get involved with American women?

American women are generally immature, selfish, extremely arrogant and self-centered, mentally unstable, irresponsible, and highly unchaste. The behavior of most American women is utterly disgusting, to say the least.

This blog is my attempt to explain why I feel American women are inferior to foreign women (non-American women), and why American men should boycott American women, and date/marry only foreign (non-American) women.


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JRB said...

Dear dude,

I've thought a lot about this, and my opinion is that the strategy suffers from a presumption that American women want your "business."

As for the blog, it might be more persuasive if the "contributors" didn't write with identical English language deficiencies in every post.

Anonymous said...

Unrelated to the spammer above--

(A lot more could really be said about the content of the spam in the sense of "wifery as socially-condoned form of sexwork, and "home-making and wifely duties as labor.")

But what I wanted to share my thoughts about is this:

Is it true that the working class men you are spending time among won't listen to women?

I wonder if there is some research about the level of sexism that men express to other men, vs the level they express to women.

I have spent a LOT of time around working class men, both rural and urban.

I have found them to be just as human-hearted as any other class of men, just as human-hearted as activist men, as academics, and at least as much as captains of industry. I have found them to be sensitive and respectful in many different contexts in my life. Unless they have actual emotional problems empathizing with other people, a quality which cuts across every category/class/gender/etc.

This is just my personal experience, as yours is your personal experience. My experience is not proper research, but I wonder if there is some research about the special kind of sexism that men express about women when in the company of other men.

I suspect an "audience" of other men significantly changes the purpose for expressing sexism, as well as the meaning of it.

I wonder what to make of the phenomena that men who can be genuinely humane to women in private feel the need to be sexist toward women in front of other men.

I wonder if this is true of the men around you, and what it means for your efforts to make a stand for/with womens' rights among these men.

As usual I have more questions than answers.


JRB said...

Hi Katie,

When you ask whether it's true that the working class men I'm spending time among won't listen to women, it depends which men you mean.

In the post I'm referring to specific men (namely, "the ones I can't stand") whose behavior includes not listening to specific women. In other words, I talk to these women, and they say, "John won't stop asking me out on dates, even though he has a girlfriend and I've told him I'm not interested"; or, "Ron won't stop talking to me on the bus ride to work, so I bring my headphones to block him out, or catch a later bus which makes me late to work."

I don't draw from this any conclusion about working class men vs. other categories of men, or working class men "in general." I'm just saying this is a problem within the working class, and it's right in front of me.

You raise several interesting questions here, like how men are around other men vs. in the company of women, that I'd like to think more about.


Anonymous said...

Oh, I can imagine what you are talking about better now. I thought these were things that were happening in front of other men, potentially as a display kind of thing directed at the guys as well as at the women.

I am definitely all too familiar with the disrespectful/oppressive things that go on privately, which I now understand you are talking about.

Yeah, I've done a lot of thinking about what is going on in those moments where a guy is behaving that way, --trying to grock the whole picture of what is going on or not going on in his mind, what social/historic conditions have made it permissible, etc.

And yeah, while I've experienced most men listening to boundaries, I've also experienced many pushing boundaries or putting me or other women down in various ways.

Personally, I think that sexual harassment is just a really weird kind of sexism. It seems to have different factors or rules operating, and I don't have a comprehensive understanding of it even after experiencing it and seeing it for so long. I think it is complicated by lots of nuanced gender and sexuality themes.

More thoughts on the source of the problem:

-Lack of public sex education in schools that teaches about consent and communication.

-Guys feeling that their worth is dependent on female interest/approval to the extent they "other" women out of wanting to "get" them for self esteem reasons?

-Bullying helps people be less bored at work?

-Some people are just mildly sociopathic?

-The inequality in the world brings on feelings of aggression, and since it is hard to direct those "up" the hierarchy, anyone below you is a convenient target?

-Gender role socialization (so many ways this effects harassment.)

Other people tolerating the harassment, -no social penalty for doing it.

Actual social kudos for harassing.

Harassing so other guys won't think you are gay or a wimp (ie, feminine)

Most of us "other" people in certain situations. Do we tend to "other" people more if our pride has been offended by their rejection?

Ok, those are some of my thoughts. Maybe it is not useful to try to analyze the motivations of harassers, but I find myself interested.

Maybe next time I experience it I'll ask the dude "why exactly are you doing this?" and after I've researched that question ask "What would actually make you stop, or make it not worthwhile to begin with?"

I'll let you know what I find out.


Anonymous said...

I found this resource recently:

It has a good overview of some of the research on sexual harassment.

It is very academic and oriented toward creating policy, not so much oriented toward how one might deal with the issue on an individual level in the workplace, especially if one is an ally rather than someone receiving the harassment.

Still, I think it has a good collection of research findings all in one place, which can be hard to find.

This article is more useful for understanding harassment than for taking action on it in a labor solidarity sense, but I think understanding it is probably a pretty important starting point for male allies to women in the labor movement. And also useful for women in general.

My subjective experience talking with my female friends is that most of us have been harassed repeatedly on the job, although not by the majority of men.

It does impact our lives quite a lot. I think most of us try to find ways to deal with it as individuals, using all kinds of strategies consciously or unconsciously. It is much easier for me to figure out how to prevent myself from being harassed than to figure out how to prevent someone else from being harassed. The individualistic solutions are always easier for me than the systemic or community level solutions.

Of course, the problem with individualistic solutions is always that they might work for the least vulnerable people, but there will still be people suffering, and they will be the more vulnerable ones.

Just some more nebulous thoughts brought up by your post.

It's a very interesting question about how to effectively intervene or participate as an ally in general. I would like to understand it better for when I participate in being an ally to people facing kinds of oppression I personally do not face.

JRB, I wonder if you and other male allies to women have experienced anyone being an ally to you, someone who has social privilege you do not have. I wonder what has been helpful or not helpful in those cases, and what has been effective participation from others as allies to you.


Anonymous said...

Ok, now I'm probably seeming like an obsessive blog spammer again. The topic just engaged me, that's all.

Interesting web page on being an ally at work by GLBTQ organization:

And here is their book: (appears to be based on some actual research)

Maybe these will have some useful ideas?


JRB said...

Hi Katie,

Thanks so much.

As far as someone being an ally to me, I'm always open to the possibility that there will be likeminded types in management, for example. That's a very real possibility in my view, given that this is where most of my peers ended up, and most of them hate it.

The question of what I would want from them is a very good one; I often use it to inform how I pursue feminist goals. What I would want from an ally would fall into three parts: 1) caring, 2) listening, and 3) discovering how I might best help out. As a worker, 3) is not something I am going know about any given manager in advance; I can tell them what my needs are but only they know what they can offer. That's why I think allies have to do their work to figure this out.

Anonymous said...

That is very interesting to think about. Thanks.