The NWSA Executive Committee sent the following letter by email to its members earlier today. It does a good job (especially the third paragraph) of showing how different forms of violence and seemingly disparate attacks, though not to be conflated, are interconnected through broader cultural currents.
Dear NWSA members,
As members of the Executive Committee, we write to express our collective outrage over the attack at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub during its Latinx-themed night. We recognize this heinous act for the hate crime it is against LGBTQ people, people of color, and those who live at the intersection of these communities. In this difficult time, we urge our community of scholars, educators, and activists to draw on the insights of feminist/anti-racist/queer activists and thinkers to address hatred and violence, imagine alternatives to domination, and foster community.
We draw on an intersectional political framework to call for the collective liberation of all. Given that systemic racism, misogyny, ableism, colonialism, and homophobia are deeply interconnected, we condemn the Islamophobia that has emerged in the wake of the attack and urge you, our members, to find ways to contest the widespread culture of violence that surrounds us, including histories of violence against queer and trans people of color. This culture of domination is local and global, intimate and structural, and is pervasive. It includes: harassment and discrimination; gender violence, rape culture, and murder; the criminalization of divergent lives/bodies/loves and the violence of the carceral state; silencing, dispossession, and erasure; eugenic and genocidal practices; colonial gendered violence against Indigenous people; and militarization and war.
Diverse forms of brutality must be understood as distinct and yet interconnected. It is essential to think through how the Pulse nightclub shooting, the church shootings in Charleston, the murder of Indigenous women in Canada, and the murder of transgender sex workers in Brazil and elsewhere are interrelated without collapsing the important differences in each of these, and many other, contexts. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but one that should highlight the role we all can play in refusing and resisting a culture of violence wherever we find it.
In this time of mourning and remembrance, we call on you, our NWSA members, to confront domination, intolerance, and hatred—in the intimacies of everyday life and on a wider, macro-political scale. We also underscore the importance of supporting each other and being mindful of the impact of myriad violences on ourselves, each other, our students, and our scholarship. Though the work at hand may be difficult, our collective labors to understand how systems of oppression are interlaced and must be thought through and addressed together are pivotal and deeply relevant.
Vivian M. May, President
Nana Osei-Kofi, Vice President
Diane Harriford, Treasurer
Carrie Baker, Secretary
Most of my choice to not self-identify as trans* has resulted from what I now know to be clinically-derived and perhaps unfairly “psychological” conditions (or, according to psychology, “symptoms”), primarily gender dysmorphia, which by most people’s definition usually includes body dysmorphia. I will not claim to never experience ‘dysmorphia’: I have, at various times, been uncomfortable with and even resentful of aspects of my gendered self, particularly my physical self, including my breasts and much more frequently my hips, butt and thighs. No, male-identifying friends, your comments that my figure is womanly, that I have a nice butt, that it is only natural for a woman to have hips [like mine?], that certain clothes are flattering in a feminine way, etc. do not improve my self-image or make me feel better about my body. Feel me? Female-identifying friends who assure me I’m not fat, I know you mean well, but we are trapped in this constant-body-analysis thing together, the thing where we worry about our bodies more for how they translate in the eyes of others than for our own Selves. And it’s because we are trapped in this together that leads me to my next reason for not self-identifying as trans*.
By being myself but also associating my Self with that category Woman, I think I (and others like me) are consciously doing two things: 1) we are decisively stating that Woman is not something to fear, resent, or despise. ‘Woman’, whatever that is (and I’ll get to that) deserves recognition, deserves to be loved and embodied. Woman is not Lesser Than, Woman should not be shied away from. Woman should be confronted, thought about, challenged, forwarded. 2) We are demonstrating, with our bodies, minds and spirits, that there are many ways to do Woman, many ways to be It. There are so many ways to do and be It that one must wonder what the necessity is of having the category Man, at all. All of those things which can be done, embodied in Man can be also be done in Woman. Maybe Woman/Man are too essentialist, universalist, generalized, specified to be useful anymore. Maybe we need a different way of understanding, thinking about, talking about and being human. These categories feel spent, outdated and inaccurate.
Yet. They still shape our realities in unwelcome and harmful ways. So while we are working towards a new conceptualization of Human, I will choose to associate my Self with Woman. This is not to say that I do not value trans*; I consider Trans* extremely important. Trans* is transcendent. But let me clarify my feelings about Woman.
Culture is not finished shaming and hating Woman. I think a huge difference between Woman and Trans* is that the latter is much more Self-aware, much more politically conscious, and much more active in terms of that consciousness. Their ball is picking up speed fast. Woman’s ball, however, will sometimes gain momentum and then be kicked in a different direction, hit walls, keep going, roll to a stop. Women who self-identify as such (as Woman) are still invested in hating and confining Woman. Woman hates ItSelf, and unlike Trans* does not understand why this does not need to be.
Thus it is a conscious decision for me to associate myself with Woman. Do I self-identify as female? Not particularly. Do I call myself cisgender? Absolutely not. But is an embrace of Woman necessary to end Its Self-hatred? I believe so.
I realized this at the same time I realized I do not clinically want to be seen as trans*; I do not want to feel shame and hatred towards my body, I do not want to look at my body and say it is Not Woman (because I will not look at it and say it is Man– or Not Man). This is the only body I’ve got; culture has attempted, as it will, to shape it in terms of its conception of binary sex/gender, but I have moved beyond this. Culture’s binary sex/gender construct is inadequate for describing me and other people I know (and others I don’t know). I do not need to alter my body to more closely align with this construct, or even to move away from it (eg towards Trans*).
The body is a terrific, awesome vessel for transversing this reality. It holds my Me-ness, in many ways it is my Me-ness. Without it, I couldn’t fathom my Self, and probably neither could anyone else. We are living in a very interesting and pivotal time in which binary sex is being confronted and it cannot withstand the pressure of this. Gender is all kinds of confused. Yet we’ve not thus far reached a point where we can even begin to dream of calling our culture ‘postgender’. Gender is still very relevant and meaningful. Can I do both: can I stand inside of Woman but also self-identify as not a woman (or as a man, or as trans*)?
I think we can, and in fact I think they compliment each other. We can simultaneously embody something that we feel is other-than-Woman, but we can also tell our Selves as Woman. If you self-identify as a man and have a penis and have never had a period, will you suddenly, by telling your Self as Woman, know what it feels like to shed the lining of your non-existent uterus every month? Will you suddenly know how it is to carry a baby to term, or to be fired from a job because you are pregnant? Standing within Woman is not the same as being Woman. I will never carry a baby to term and when I dress as a boy I am relieve of being sexually harassed on the street, but I can and do choose to stand within Woman. Many women do not have breasts or uteri or ‘typical’ levels of estrogen or even xx chromosomes, yet they self-identify as women and culturally ‘read’ as women. And I promise you, if you read as male but tell others you’re Woman (are Woman, as a distinction from ‘are a woman’), you will know not only know some of the feelings of being Woman, but also some of the feelings of being Trans*.
Why is this good, or useful? I believe empathy is a powerful tool, an element which is not just human but which shapes Human at its core. Maybe we are interesting, naked social hominids who we need empathy to survive within human culture, and to survive, at all. Let’s take empathy and extend it beyond survival, into cultural transformation.
Addendum: This ‘Statement‘ was recently brought to my attention, and it illumined another aspect of ‘standing inside of Woman’, for me. I take it as further evidence of the validity of Woman as a subversive, radical and activist identity in that trans* people are also firmly included inside this ‘category’. Self-identifying trans* women and men can both comfortably assume a place within Woman, should they choose to. I imagine there are those who are concerned with this conception of Woman: how generalized can it become before it loses all meaning? I would argue that I am not attempting to broaden or generalize Woman out of existence, in fact I am not broadening Woman in an unproductive way. The way in which Woman has traditionally been used within whitestream feminisms implies a unity and universality that is pure fiction, and (as pointed out in the aforementioned ‘Statement’) remains incredibly transphobic and queer-phobic. Such a category has long been discussed, forwarded and reconstructed always within the Binary and ever in opposition to Man. How subversive is it to critique, deconstruct, reconstruct inside the Binary? We are always operating on the Binary’s terms if we continue to determine eligibility for entrance into Woman based solely on a traditional, whitestream, or oppositional view of Woman. Thus, I am more interested in the capacity of Woman to turn the criteria for eligibility on its head, and through this, to expand our gendered consciousness beyond Binary thinking, (perhaps idealistically) gendered and otherwise. In the same vein of the Statement, I question the stability of the identity known as “woman”, and wondered what new paradigm awaits us as our consciousness transforms.
Humanity has reached an incredible and transformative period in its life, one in which those of us who question, reject or simply do not “qualify” for membership in the oppositional Binary (or even Binary spectrum) are feeling the pushback of those who are invested in its maintenance and propagation– or should I say survival? Some of this pushback has even come from my fellow feminists (“feminists”? [Feminism only serves to aid women?]*). Some feminists seem to be highly invested in Binary (e.g. sex binary, race binary, etc.) for its ability to distinguish between oppressed/oppressor, but as intersectional feminists like Kimberlé Crenshaw and Patricia Hill Collins have argued, identity is not simply black/white, literally or figuratively. If we really want to make progress on issues that matter before it’s too late, we are going to need to overcome the false sense of security and comfort we derive from the Binary, and one stepping stone along the many paths to accomplishing this is a rethink of Woman.
*One might also argue that investment in the Binary has long appeared in a seemingly unlikely place: parts of the trans* community.
Most of what I want to say about this has been said elsewhere.
For some background, see Jezebel‘s video post, the supposed “last video” of the killer. Be warned, it’s…not very exciting. Sounds like a badly scripted Josh Trank film. It’s so utterly mundane that it pisses you off. Only a rich, passing-for-white American male thinks it’s okay to shoot people after not getting what he wants. And possibly fascist dictators. :D
The New Statesmen: “Capitalism commodifies that rage [regarding the conviction that men have been denied a birthright of easy power], monetises it, disseminates it through handbooks and forums and crass mainstream pornography. It does not occur to these men that women might have experienced these very human things, too, because it does not occur to them that women are human, not really…As soon as women began to speak about the massacre, a curious thing happened. Men all over the world – not all men, but enough men – began to push back, to demand that we qualify our anger and mitigate our fear.”
What I disagree with…: “We have seen incontrovertible evidence of real people being shot and killed in the name of that ideology, by a young man barely out of childhood himself who had been seduced into a disturbing cult of woman-hatred. Elliot Rodger was a victim – but not for the reasons he believed.” No. This isn’t a cult. This is a widespread culture of hatred which is openly tolerated, accepted and defended by “normal” people. I know them. You know them. As an example, if you have ever felt that sex was owed to you, you are one of them. This isn’t some bizarre deviance, this is our culture, people. Next time you hear your friend, your parents, your siblings, your teachers or coaches say something racist or sexist or dehumanizing, call them out. At the risk of losing a lot of face and getting called a hypocrite (which we are) and being really unpopular, call them out and don’t let them get away with it. Call out hatred where you see it. You can do it in a loving way. But do not “lovingly” let it go like it’s not your problem.
What really disturbs me having watched “Elliot Rodger’s Final Video” is not how deviant and aberrant he seems, but how much he reminds me of boys and men that I know. It’s not scary because it’s so random and crazy, but because it’s so sickeningly normal. This particular dude is only special because he was materially and ethnically “privileged” enough to kill as many people as he did before killing himself. If you have even the tiniest suspicion that I am talking about you, then you should be disturbed (and I probably am).
But hold up a second. Do I think that people who are angry and outcast and lonely do not deserve to be empathized with? No. In fact, if our society weren’t so cripplingly patriarchal, there is a chance that empathy could have saved the day. There is a chance that by being listened to, the killer might have learned how to listen to others, women in particular, and see them as human with problems and feelings like his own. The suppression of emotions as feminine and negative is a big contributing factor to the mental health problems experienced by a disturbingly large proportion of Americans, which no one seems to want to talk about.
The last thing I want to say….
People. A lot of women like sex. They really really want to have sex. So do a lot of queer people. If you ever feel entitled to sex, stop for ten seconds and think about aaaaaaaaaaalll the other people out there who want sex, too, and aren’t having it. Think about how most people might feel real sorry for themselves but aren’t frequenting misogynist, racist forums to talk about it.
Think about how a feeling of self-entitlement can easily lead to a situation where you rape someone, as in you coerce someone or drug someone or physically use force against someone or pout until someone succumbs to what you want. If you ask once, twice, three times and they finally say yes, is that consent? Women and queer peeps might even feel as entitled to sex as men do. Don’t let this confuse you into think it is anything less than rape if it’s a women or a man or a queer person doing the coercing.
The past couple weeks I’ve been thinking a lot about relationships. About my past relationships, potential future relationships. I’ve been thinking about why the ones in the past went wrong (not all of them did, but most of them), whose “fault” it was, and about why I have a fairly cynical attitude towards future ones. I also hear other women talking about their feelings on similar notions: I don’t want to “settle”, I’d rather be alone; I can’t seem to find a guy that I’m on the same page with; It shouldn’t require so much effort/compromise; When it doesn’t work out, I feel like it’s my fault; and other such sentiments.
There have been some videos circulating recently, about guys as well as girls (not really sure what to think about the “bossy” video, haven’t made up my mind, but that’s another story), that I have felt are really connected to this, but at first wasn’t sure how.
There have also been all these articles lately decrying, or simply commenting on, our depraved and rampant hookup culture in the States, (oddly enough?) pinning most of the blame on women. (Tangent: Doesn’t this tell us something about what happens to decent newspapers when they become private? Give me a break, WP…) Their quotes of women explaining why they would rather hook up in short, apparently meaningless relationships certainly makes the situation look very shallow: “cost-benefit analysis”, really? Seems like we’re in a sorry state.
Rosin talks about this in The End of Men, where hookup culture comes from and why women, in general, are tending to avoid committed relationships more and more often. But her portrayal of women’s side of the story tends to pin the blame on men: they [meaning most men] simply have not caught up to where social gender norms are today. Things have changed very quickly, but [most] men have not changed with the times.
I tend to agree with that, but I think she doesn’t bring the argument full circle: [most] men are able to carry on with their antiquated worldview because we are still raising them to believe in it. Meaning, their fathers and their mothers (and schools, religious institutions, sports organizations and so on).
This is the female version of the men’s activist crowd’s gripe, where they complain about being subject to military draft and losing custody battles, yet refuse to acknowledge their views of masculinity (gender, more broadly) as harmful. Women complain about not being able to find an “emotionally available” man who is willing to commit, yet continue raising their sons with the self-entitlement, masculinity complex and heteronormative ideologies that deprive them of what they’re looking for. Both lines of thinking want to keep their cake and eat it too.
I get it. I feel scared when I have my worldview rattled, too. I feel stupid and ashamed, at times, when that happens. Sometimes it means giving up some power, which is also scary. But paradigm shifts can also be liberating, and transcendental. I mean, wow, they can feel really good! And it is often they case that they can work out for a win-win situation.
Well, what does this mean for me. What do I have to do. I guess it first means taking a long look at my own short-comings, some of which are the result of my [patriarchal] cultural upbringing. As a for instance, I was twenty-one years old when I finally learned how to talk about my feelings. As in, “I feel sad.” “I feel angry.” Sound strange? To be fair, most American girls/women don’t suffer terribly from an inability to label or express their feelings, because they are told being emotional is feminine and they embrace their emotions as a way to embrace their femininity. I didn’t like the idea of femininity, however, didn’t see myself as feminine, and even deplored it, to a degree. [Patriarchal] American mainstream culture also tells us that that which is deemed feminine is lesser, kind of vapid, a little bit pathetic. So while it was how I was “supposed” to behave, I very much rejected it and modeled myself after male role models.
Many (most?) of the boys/men around me would go through the following succession when confronted with strong negative feelings: 1. Humor: Make them laugh, laugh it off, make light of the situation. Especially good if you can laugh at them so they will not feel safe bringing up negative feelings around you in the future (but you can also laugh at yourself, too). If they persist, try 2. Anger: Lash out, put it back on them, make them feel guilty for bringing up negative feelings, generally yell or get pissed until they stop. Good for multiple uses because it also acts as a deterrent to people bringing up negative feelings around you in the future. If this fails, phase 3: Shutting down: Just stop talking. Stop blinking. Maybe even stop breathing. Don’t respond in any way, shape, or form. Eventually they will feel too stupid/hurt/embarrassed/guilty to continue and will go away. It’s like the No Talking game: whoever can out-silence the other person the longest wins. Now, should this not work, you will need to resort to phase 4…: Running away: That’s right. Literally flee the room. Probably they won’t pursue you, but if they do, get to a place where they can’t find you. You could even get in your car and drive away (later you can pass this off as “blowing off steam” so that you still look like you’re in Phase 3 and will save some masculine face, feel me?). It works via Internet too. Are you having a skype conversation that suddenly turns all negatively feely? Slam! Close the lid, problem solved. :D …Right?
It seemed a fairly successful model. For example, it resulted in me not crying for a span of nearly two years, excepting the occasion of my grandfather’s funeral. I got very good at expressing all my negative feelings as just one: anger.
This all sounds pretty emotionally immature, eh? Agreed. This treatment of emotions stunts one’s ability to label and own emotions, to empathize with others, even to feel. But when it is your cultural worldview, it sure seems like the right/good thing to do. And so I did, for years and years, until I felt bad enough to want to Exit Stage Left. Fortunately, fortuitously for me, I fell into a good crowd, and I literally began to have this value set untrained from me. It was rough. It still is rough. But I am fairly certain I treat people a lot better now, and I absolutely feel better off, myself.
Cambodian mainstream culture has only convinced me further that this way of dealing with emotions is harmful, to individuals, relationships, and communities. I see people here go through a similar set of phases when confronted with strong negative feelings, but in the extreme: when jokes and anger don’t work, violence is an all-too-easy method of next resort. A man fired off his assault rifle at a wedding when folks wouldn’t turn the music back on for him. This admiration of hypermasculine values is hardly an American thing, and it doesn’t just hurt women.
I don’t believe this is the Answer to Everything, but I think this could be a really good jumping-off point for addressing harmful patriarchal values on an individual level. It’s something we can do in our own homes. It can be as simple as not laughing at or mocking someone who is crying– be they male or female. You are probably doing so because it is making you feel uncomfortable, perhaps because you don’t have a clue of what to do– because your culture has utterly deprived you of any tools to deal with strong negative feelings, be they your own or someone else’s.
I am a firm believer that empathy can be learned, but just as important as taking on a new value set is eradicating the old one.
Thoughts on this?
Guest blog by Ellen Ripley.
The Manifestation of the New Age Hippy
I thought that the perfect decade to live in would be the 60’s, so that I could have lived in San Fran, experienced the summer of love, etc. I had always admired the counterculture of the hippies, black panthers, feminists, punks, and others, and how, for the first time in history, minorities were able to impact the world around them. However, let’s fast forward to 2013– what the f happened to these social movements why was peace and love not enough to change the world more concretely? Well, after I had the opportunity to actively do some unintentional field work in Northern Cali (fyi I am not a trained anthropologist but I’m sure you can get over that, haha), I have come to some realizations. Feel free to disagree or downright scream at me for my view points, but it’s just how I saw things go down. Where to start… Well, first off, the hippy movement is still alive and kicking in Northern Cali but the culture or core ideologies have shifted as even they realize that smoking and listening to music, however good, was not going to impact the world in the way they once hoped. In 2013, the street hippies have their own code of ethics, which in many ways is contradictory to what the movement was supposed to be all about.
For one, let’s talk about the legalization of marijuana, which you would think would be supported in full since most of the people I talked to on the streets and at the music festivals believe this drug will save the world, has healing power and so forth and so on. With this concept in mind you would think they’d say, yeah, legalize it. Not so, however, because most of the people growing make a shit-ton of money and are small farmers. If it just got legalized, they would lose profits– yes, that’s right, this drug that they seemingly full-heartedly believe will heal many diseases is better kept restricted so they can keep their capitalist scheme going. Speaking of capitalism, I have never met a group of people more prone to capitalist ideology– and I grew up in the Big Apple, so that’s saying something. Anyways, I’ll stick with their profits from growing medical marijuana as an example. They could easily figure out their costs and what a reasonable profit would be for the risk, etc., keeping in mind the Feds still can come in and chop down the crops even though Cali has legalized it (America has not). Instead of doing this, they apparently see no incentive to make sure that it’s affordable to the masses. Rather, they make somewhere in the range of about 500 percent profit– yeah, really that high. Once again I must question their claim that this is a drug that can really heal; I can tell you, if I had a drug that I thought could really heal in Cambodia, I would be trying to find a way to make it affordable for the masses while being able to sustain my livelihood, but 500 percent profit is not what I had in mind.
This is just it though, it does not stop at farm products. Much of their livelihood comes from going to festivals around the country, selling things like shirts, crystals, herbal remedies, jewelry, art, beer and food, etc. Why I bring this up is that while spending a weekend at one of these festivals I realized how quickly they price gouge each other and I am not sure why that is, as they will talk about corporate greed and supporting local people. For example, I was with a group of people who bought beer from a big liquor distributer thus making the beer cheaper than if you buy it at a convenient store somewhere. Never did they sit down and talk about what a fair profit for the work would be. Instead they wanted to get the most they could for said beer, once again at a range of 500 percent profit (cha-ching– capitalism!) at one point someone in the group was thinking 5 dollars for a beer which only cost them about 70 cents. That was one of the few times I could not control myself and had to say, well, you could, but should you? I get it: maybe it’s human nature that we want to get the most resources we can for our own survival, but according to the hippies’ code of ethics, this goes against half the shit they are always talking about.
More ironically is that they do this to each other but then they talk about a Utopian world of peace and love to me, and how human nature is inherently good, and if the world was to end and restart with them things would be different despite history proving otherwise. But that’s pointless to bring up to a majority of people who are already abusing their own system for greed and profit. The system is another hot topic I heard brought up a lot but they are so out of touch with how much they depend on the system that they are no better than the people who started the exploitation of people in the first place.
I should mention what form of currency they use, which will explain a lot about their persona and overall appearance to the rest of society. Instead of hard cash or dollars, experience is their currency. For instance, that whole look of “dirty hippy” is actually a form of power dynamics that creates yet another hierarchy in society. How does this yield them power? The dirty look means they are coming off the streets or out of the forest and this makes them more real, and it’s assumed that they also have more experiences and stories to tell other people. Thus the thrift store look, which they say is a statement and doesn’t make them materialistic, is actually the same as some soccer mom buying her Chanel bag: it gives them power over other people in their social circle. Another staple of being a “true hippy” is having a dog at their side, but it can’t be just any dog, no, it has to be a wolf-looking dog which some of them have specially bred. Yeah, no lie, they let dogs at the pound die so they can wield power in the subculture if hippyism. A wolf-dog, which they will often try to pass off as having been found in the woods or in the street somewhere out of sheer luck, is another sign of their “amazing” life experience, but once you get them talking about said dog, more often than not it was no lost dog on the street or the forest, but came from a dog breeder and cost lots of money.
My main point being is that every system has a currency and the commodification of experience is used as a form of security to gain and wield power in this subculture. This had me wondering: why are most of them still in America, why not move to another country that is extremely impoverished? For one, they don’t want to acknowledge their own privilege or have to deal with anything negative at all. They justify said behavior by reverting to very neoliberal perspectives, eg tend to your own garden and I’ll tend to mine, that we ought to all have the same level of responsibility for ourselves, thus the the world will be a better place. This ideology is often extremely Amero-centric and when someone such as myself comes along asking them to defend this ideology outside the American context, they often could not and would seem pretty annoyed at me. This reminds me, though: when they do leave the great US of A, they often head down South of the border to South America. They seem to place a lot of value on those cultures, specifically Peruvian culture. I am not quite sure why this is, but this is my best guess: it’s a safe place to go and “rough it” enough to come back with stories, but not enough to shatter their views. Plus, often times they already know someone who has gone there so there is less to figure out for one’s self. It also seems that if said hippy has made it to South America, the power they gain from this will often allow them to have some sort of superiority complex. It was from this that I first realized that experience is currency.
For whatever reason, I came off as threating to certain people in the hippy community I was around and I could not figure out why, as I mostly stayed quiet, followed them around, and just sort of went with whatever. It was not until I realized all of the above that I understood that it was not what I was saying, but the very fact of my presence and that I had exceeded their limited time in South American culture by living in Cambodia. The ironic part about this is that, once I realized that experience was currency, I did not really feel they were “worthy” of my currency, so to speak. I did not feel the need to use power over them, so I decided early on to keep my day to day life quiet, as I did not want to feed into their system.
One would expect the idea of gender roles in hippy culture to be questioned and long gone, but in fact this is pretty far from the truth. The days of free love and sex seemed to be long gone, maybe it was the HIV or STI rates, but nevertheless it seemed monogamy has taken its place. Most of the people I met who were, let’s say, over the age of 23 where all in a serious relationship but the dynamics of them were not of a romantic type but more of some sort of partnership in a business-sense, as most of these relationships support a livelihood of selling that require two people to support it. Moreover, the males seem to believe they need to play a protector role. I brought up gender roles with them, and it did not seem to register, as this once again would make them question things and they don’t like to be critically aware of their habits and behaviors.
It seems rather questionable when white people* say America is a post-racial society, when rich people claim that class is non-existent, or when a wealthy, educated and otherwise privileged person claims that “the patriarchy is dead”.
I was disappointed to read those very words on Hanna Rosin’s Slate column, though I’m not sure how surprised I should be. Rosin’s book The End of Men never insisted that the “end” of men equated to the end of patriarchy. In fact, she didn’t talk overmuch about patriarchy. This was an oversight, I think. Her case studies and statistics did not so much translate as a transition away from patriarchal worldview– not in the least. But actually women can and are adopting and exerting patriarchal values to a much greater degree than ever before. The end of men is hardly the end of patriarchy, when women are adapting to a new environment of greater freedoms and more opportunities. If this sounds like a good thing, let’s clarify that patriarchy functions on principles of inequality and oppression. The really new thing that Rosin’s book captures is women’s transition from mainly the Oppressed to now being Oppressors, themselves.
If inequality and oppression ceased to exist, then we could declare, “patriarchy is dead!” And we could throw a big party.
This pronouncement from Rosin would imply that she doesn’t know what patriarchy is. But wait! “I suppose the patriarchy was lurking somewhere in my subconscious, tricking me into believing that it was more my duty to stay home with our new baby than my husband’s,” she writes. Hmm, maybe she kind of gets it… “But I didn’t see it as a “duty.” I wanted to stay home with her, and I also wanted to work like a fiend. It was complicated and confusing, a combination of my personal choices, the realities of a deadline-driven newsroom, and the lack of a broader infrastructure to support working parents—certainly too complicated to pin on a single enemy.” Oh boy. Seems like she’s not ready to admit that she is not conscious of her acculturation into a patriarchal worldview, a lifelong process. This would include her apparent belief that careers cannot or should not accommodate women (or men?) who want children/want to spend time with their children. She seems unconscious of the effects of the inequality induced by patriarchal values even as she reports on them:
“…many of those women who pick up [my] trash yearn to bring back at least some aspects of the patriarchy. They generally appreciate their new economic independence and feel pride at holding their families together, at working and studying and doing things on their own, but sometimes they long to have a man around who would pay the bills and take care of them and make a life for them in which they could work less.” Would they still feel that way if they made a living wage, got paid maternity leave– Rosin’s idea!–, had reasonable working hours and paid vacation?
This was a deflective response Rosin gave to someone who questioned her about the choices of the “woman who picks up your trash after you leave at five.” Rosin scoffed this off as an “irrational attachment to the concept of unfair”. She must have been asking herself the question, Isn’t this why some women desire the return of certain patriarchal values? when the question she should have asked was, Why doesn’t this woman have the opportunity to get a different, more self-fulfilling job? (Unless, by chance, that particular woman finds cleaning up the trash of others to be meaningful and fulfilling.) She could also have asked, Why is the woman’s husband out of work when he, too, could be picking up trash? Perhaps that job is beneath his perception of himself? But that couldn’t be possible, since patriarchy is dead…
And a word about this whole irrationally-attached-to-unfair bit: when the privileged, wealthy, highly “educated” career-mom with the supportive husband (who also happens to be her boss) tsk tsks someone for complaining that sociocultural realities that are so far removed from her own are unfair, is she really in a position to be like “Oh, stop obsessing already, would you?” (No. No she’s not.)
She also cites growing numbers of single mothers as evidence that women are less “beleaguered”. That seems quite simplistic, and she does say she isn’t sure if this should be taken as “feminist progress”. What does it say of a society that vast numbers of women would rather be on their own than attempt to negotiate a traditionally patriarchal institution like marriage? Could it imply that women are fed up with attempting to wrest control from husbands? This should not necessarily be seen as a step towards equality.
One could simply cite case studies and figures about women in government, gendered violence, the existence of practices like dieting to be ultra thin or getting cosmetic surgery done, double standards for women in academics, politics, the family, careers, and so on (and this is only with America in mind!). I have a feeling that Rosin would dismiss these, too, as “irrational”; are we just obsessed with the notion of our own oppression? Will feminists be out of a job if there is no oppression? Please, I invite you to put us out of a job.
What I think Rosin fails to understand is that the oppression doesn’t work unless the oppressed party believes, at least to some degree, in their own inferiority. Oppression is reinforced through education and socialization, and if that fails, social stigma, and if that fails, violence. Rinse, wash, repeat as needed. Over time, these practices become normalized.
Just because inequality, oppression, or violence are normalized does not make them right. This was Dickens’ argument against the Victorian idea that poor people were poor and rich people rich because God made them as such; poor people could not help their lazy, immoral, deviant nature. Similarly, just because the woman who picks up Rosin’s trash in her office at Slate has any job, at all, does not mean that she is fulfilled and satisfied as a human being, and doesn’t have the right to question or complain about the mechanisms that have landed her there.
Rosin seems to have discounted classism and racism in her assessment that Patriarchy is Dead. Er, sorry, “the Patriarchy.” She still seems to think that The Patriarchy is some identifiable, yet amorphous, entity, perhaps “the enemy” she mentioned before, whose sole goal is to Oppress Womyn. She detaches race and class dynamics by centering on gender. She doesn’t seem to understand that when she makes such remarks like u r so lame when u talk about unfair, she is patriarchy. And she benefits directly from it, even as she is a victim of it. Her oppression (such as having to choose between a fulfilling career and being close with her children) must be very normalized that she doesn’t see an alternative to it. Rather than believing societal norms could change to improve her life circumstances (providing daycare services at the workplace, for example, so she can spend extra time with them if she wants to), she seems to see as immutable truths some aspects of mainstream American [gendered] culture. On some level, perhaps she believes that she is undeserving, choosing not to confront what are for many American women questions of “conflicting” desires– which might serve as a basis for empathizing with all those she deems to be preoccupied with “unfair”.
I really want to like you, Hanna Rosin. Better be careful, before you go the way of Naomi Wolf.
*Really anybody, but especially the dominant ethnic group.
The 1980 Italian film Cannibal Holocaust includes an extended rape scene in which two white Western men rape a young indigenous-Amazonian (Yanomamo) woman in a muddy field while their white Western female counterpart films them.
The film is supposed to be a commentary on the state of modern “civilization”, wherein wealthy, white privileged Westerners manipulate, abuse, and exploit the “uncivilized” of the so-called developing world/Third World/Global South/etc.
While the film fails on multiple levels to sincerely translate its theme of “who are the real savages, anyway?”, that scene has always stuck with me. Similarly in The Last King of Scotland, the terrifying Idi Amin calls out his Scottish physician as only having come to Africa “to fuck and to take away”.
The global hierarchy is sort of a large-scale parallel of the social human hierarchy composed of individuals. The patriarchal hierarchy tells us who is allowed to rape whom, and where, and when, and to what extent they can get away with it. In the global patriarchal scheme, the “West” is at the top of this hierarchy. America can rape nearly whoever it likes, whenever it likes, and never stand to account for its actions.
Why should I be surprised, then, when its individual parts, its people, behave the same way. White Westerns (men particularly) come to Southeast Asia feeling completely entitled to buy other human beings. They have little or no shame in it. They sit across from me at a hang bai (rice shop) eating their loc lac with one emotionally detached, casual arm draped over the shoulders of a girl half, a third their age. We can talk more about that girl later (a whole post unto herself, she is), but for now let’s look closer at that man.
He might be British, Australian, American, New Zealander, or from somewhere in Europe. He doesn’t need to be wealthy where he’s from; being white makes him wealthy enough here. He could be 20, or 40, or 75; it’s inconsequential in determining the age of the girls, boys, women he will purchase.
He probably feels like he’s doing nothing wrong (yeah, yeah, it’s a crime, it’s illegal, but he was driven to this!); he justifies to himself that “a man’s got needs” and he only flew halfway around the world to satisfy those needs because there wasn’t a cheaper, easier source accessible in his own country. Besides, the real perk of Cambodia is that being here makes him feel like a god. All the locals seem to revere his white skin, his pocketbook. He is taller, richer, whiter, smarter, better than everyone in this godforsakencountry.
He might not be a backpacker or a sex tourist. He might be a teacher at a nearby school. He might be in charge of classes of children aged 6 to 18. He might friend some of them on Facebook and meet some of them off school grounds, after school hours.
He might establish himself as a member of the community by marrying– purchasing– a Khmer woman (not legally, necessarily, but only ceremonially) and having children with her.
Taking a long, close look at this man helps me understand myself, my own hypocrisy. Our familiarity ends at the point where I realize we don’t deal in the same currency. This man, like the men in Cannibal Holocaust, see Cambodians (Africans, South Americans) as subhuman. They are purchasable, expendable, replaceable items. They are like animals. Sometimes I fixate on the way Khmer people occasionally treat me like an animal, like the Other, and the way they do it to other Cambodians. But in the hierarchical scheme of things, their Othering will never be as sinister, never as dehumanizing, and never inflict the same level of damage as That Man’s will. He has too much power to compare with them. He’s out of our league. He can get away with almost Anything.
And I’m making it a point to find a way to stop him.
Who decides what the rules are when it comes to gender and sex?
The short answer is, the People at the Top. You may not be surprised to discovered that, in patriarchal cultures (which describes most cultures), this is men. We can be more specific, however: bottom-to-top position in this hierarchy is determined by many things, and the closer one gets to the top, the richer, more educated, and lighter-skinned these men get. Upon discovering that the People at the Top are predominantly wealthy, white, Western males, understanding gendered rules and expectations becomes a lot easier. Patriarchal hierarchies of dominance vary from place to place (and even time to time), but the patterns of wealth, education, skin colour, ability, age, sexual orientation, and so on are fairly consistent.
As many people have discussed, not only in terms of gender but also in terms of race and other categories, the People at the Top do not actively and consciously determine and define gendered rules, necessarily; rather, it is largely through their mere existence as Normal and Best (or Default, as some say– I like that) that definitions of other persons are shaped relative to them. Male equals normal, female equals abnormal or deviant; male equals default, female equals Other.
That’s the short answer, but it’s not whole answer. The more accurate, complete, and much longer answer is: everybody. We all decide what gendered rules and expectations will be, by following them. And perhaps even more importantly, by punishing those who deviate. It comes so naturally to us it seems biologically innate to call the boy in your eighth grade class who was caught wearing toe nail polish a fag. Hatred and fear of deviance, however, is not innate; it is learned. We are taught early and often that deviation is bad, most appreciably by being punished, ourselves. Normal/good little boys do not play with dolls; they pretend to shoot each other. Normal/good little girls do not pretend to shoot each other; they sweetly and passively care for their dolls. Full-grown men do not cry. Full-grown women do not have double mastectomies. Et cetera. This is reinforced to us all our lives. We witness what happens to those who deviate, and we learn to participate in their persecution, be it in the comments section of Youtube or NPR, or on sports teams, or in ballet class, or in our classrooms, or within our own families (this is often referred to as gender policing). If you are not doing the persecuting, chances are you might be persecuted– so which side would you want to be on? This is the question faced by every single person who lives within the confines of patriarchal culture.
The next time you hear someone tell a young man “boys don’t cry” (or “you throw like a girl”, or whatever), call to mind the question: Who decides what the rules are when it comes to gender and sex? You do. Either through your inaction or by validating that young man’s feelings, you are helping to decide what the rules are.
In order to contemplate the rules and think about how you’d like them defined, they first have to be recognizable. For most people, gender rules are normative and it would never occur to them to question them. Those who do are said to be “challenging Nature” and pushing “unnatural ideas”. Challenging our conceptions of “natural” is a good place to start.
A friend got me Hanna Rosin’s The End of Men a couple of months ago (thanks, E!); here (at last) is a review.
Rosin’s book has a rather pejorative title, no? But don’t fear, penis-bearers, she doesn’t intend it in as antagonistic a manner as it sounds. Rather, this book could serve as a warning for those stuck in antediluvian concepts of gender, family, and work. The most pitiful “characters” in TEoM are those guys who have lost– wives, jobs, hope for the furture– because they refused to adapt to a new and different kind of gendered environment.
Rosin suggests that there is a shift taking place in American society, one that finally puts ‘feminine’ concepts in a positive light, particularly in the workplace. It would behoove men, she says, to adopt more traditionally (and stereotypically)-feminine traits and qualities in order to move ahead in the workplace, as their traditionally-masculine traits and qualities are no longer so beneficial– and, indeed, may be hindering them.
She points to this shift as the reason for Women’s Rise, which presumably means more money-making and keeping capacity, and associated benefits: more power in family decision-making, higher status in the sociocultural realm. I enjoyed her in-depth analysis and interviews of women in managerial positions, as well as her observations of women on other up-and-coming career paths, like the pharmacy business.
The most important and provoking lesson that I took from this book, though, is that this may be the End of Men, but it is certainly not the End of Patriarchy: I was struck by how patriarchal the “successful” women featured in this book truly were. Their competitiveness, desire to achieve status and status-lending commodities, aggression and even violence– yes, women of the past were “kept down” by the Patriachy, but our liberation from It does not signal the demise of It. No, we have only obtained more power to participate in the system in a different way… And participate we do.
Nor does the End of Men free women from the oppression of Patriarchy, as the “career women” feature in Rosin’s book still very much adhere to culturally-dictated norms of sexuality and gender.
Nevertheless, TEoM provides hope, too– for women, and for men. It’s a fast read and inspires fun discussion; read it!