Okay here's something I wrote some months back trying to capture some of the struggles I've had with feminist/rape-culture ideas, particularly how being a man can make it difficult to understand and also gives you a really uphill battle when it comes to discussing the stuff with women.
This piece is designed to provoke responses, there's a lot of questionable definitions of feminism that arise in it and I don't fully agree with it myself, also it's a bit outdated as an expression of my stance (there's a lot of stuff I didn't really talk enough about like the natural propensity to rape). Anyway I'm going to put it here because obviously some men could use a bit of an example for just how their ideas may be way missing the mark.
warning it's pretty long and if you're ignorant of basic philosophical principles it'll probably be nonsense.
I'm the sort of person who reacts violently and defensively to alien dogma. Or at least that’s how I’d like to describe it. I actually tend to deal rather cool-headedly with familiar ideas I disagree with, it’s new ideas and new uses of words I’ve only learned colloquially that really tend to set me off. Even as recently as the last two years there have been many conversations I wish I could take back; times where I lashed out at what felt like an attack, or even worse, times where I criticized more relevantly educated people for what I perceived as philosophical ignorance. I'm going to focus right now on my developing understanding of gender issues and feminism; a field in which I am still very much a novice but so much better off than I was a year or so ago.
In my late teens and early 20s I considered myself a relatively enlightened man in the realm of gender relations. My personal definition of feminism was "The project of integrating feminine elements into society". The over-sexualization of women was the issue most obvious to me. The sexual values of society seemed to me inextricably destructive. Being a scarce resource, sexually attractive women were systematically managed by the “masculine” elite. The girls were kept stupid because teaching them anything was counter productive for a man trying to acquire them. I shouldn't say teaching them anything, the real trick was to teach them superficially important things that would cause them to evaluate the teacher as better than the competition. It's not that all the girls were unaware of their own ignorance, but that they didn't have the tools necessary to critically evaluate the specially tailored men/products that were coming at them from all directions. They might have wanted to improve themselves, but there wasn't even a way for them to connect with an idea of what an improved self might be. I guess in some ways the internet has helped with that problem, though I think trendy dogma is probably just as shallow, and how effectively well grounded ideas translate into tumblr fame is for you to judge.
Anyway you can see that my stance on "feminism" was spiteful, jealous, and incredibly self serving, but nonetheless it was enough to satisfy me that I was progressive.
So when I was confronted with the idea of “rape culture” (the idea that I was responsible for the continuation of female subjugation simply by my sexual objectification of women, because of the effects of that objectification on its subjects) which bunched me together with the men whom I saw as the beneficiaries of society, whose negative opinion of me I had considered vindication from their (unknowingly our) sins, I was immediately defensive and arrogantly dismissive. I wasn’t able to move my consideration from myself to the women. All I could focus on was my inalienable right to feel attracted to exposed tits and contoured asses. I still don’t think I’ll be able to overcome that entitlement this decade, and won’t even set its removal as a goal yet. However, I have since been brought around to (presumably only) some of the utopian and pragmatic (both selfish) benefits of suppressing those urges. The utopian benefits being the disempowerment of machismo and the pragmatic benefits being a more direct connection with my social objects.
Now in the interest of the inclusivity which will guide this entire project, I will have to explain briefly in which ways I am now aware that my old perspective was flawed. It’s not that I think it isn’t true, but that I failed to push deeper to find the actual disease my perceived systems were symptomatic of. I may not have squarely put the blame on women, however by leaving the cause of their condition up to the sheer mechanics of their social interactions with sexually predatory men I might as well have. I thought that women needed only to assert themselves more powerfully as agents of change, and be more courageous in their pursuit of self interest. I did not consider the form that their identity as women had taken, and the incongruity of that identity with what I was demanding of them. Really, I was putting the blame on women and women only because my empathy to male sexual desire caused me to totally ignore the possibility of male abstinence from predatory behavior as a plausible option. In my mind the male side of the relationship was a matter of nature while the female was a matter of free agency. To an extent, I still believe this; I still chastise my girlfriend for inadequate respect for the crafty, single minded, manipulative tactics of men she encounters, who treat her with a systematic approach. I still think women should exercise judgment on how they dress themselves in public. An exploration of culpability in these sort of situations deserves its own place, so I’ll leave it alone for now. These sort of things should be understood only as survival tips in the hazardous world we inhabit, not as solutions to the problem.
What I am really trying to get at is how all of these social dynamics are going on within the framework of women as women and men as men. The very idea that women or men deserve certain rights will always be felt as aggression by the other side. Really though, no matter of legislation or education that is based in the sexual binary is going to solve the problem of dishonesty and objectification that permeates all human interaction, not only sexual interaction.
Okay enough of my own dogma, how has my understanding of feminism/gender really developed?
Being shown the instances of female suffering, being told over and over by women how uncomfortable, devalued, frustrated, attacked they felt along with any of the other emotional or physical traumas they endured; This had no effect on me. Sure, I might have felt bad for them briefly but life is suffering and I had suffered conditions I could have described similarly were I to express them hyperbolically. I harboured no small suspicion that the majority of these cases were exaggerated or attributable in part to a feminine tendency to thin skin. So, the fact that women were suffering didn’t prove to me that there was something inherently wrong with the concept of femininity. I imagined, if covertly, that women suffered intentionally, somehow enjoyably, as a way to deal with their laziness. Identifying with their suffering, enforcing on themselves the submissiveness of femininity as an excuse to defer the blame to others. “Submission was their lot as women, whatever should come of that submission, and of the domination it welcomed, was not their responsibility or fault.” More important to be guiltless than happy.
One stumbling block in my independent theorizing on the subject was the almost unanimous idealization of femininity practiced by women I interacted with. The problems of society were attributed to men and many women felt that the world would be a better place if only women were in charge. Furthermore, many women were VERY proud to be women (pride needs to be explored, is it a sensation of superiority? is it a healthy expression of identity?), and some identified so strongly with their womanhood that I could scarcely perceive any value or attribute they had (shown me) which could not be reduced to it. I am not sure exactly why I respected this instance of identification when I ridiculed and attacked similar examples like nationality. Whether I have education or unguided experience to thank for my ability to see through the superficial differentiations of race and homeland (superficial as in irrelevant to essential value, must redescribe essential value as personal pleasure utility), or if the mystique of these constructs is weaker than that of the feminine is unclear (weaker in the subject’s affection of/for it). One likely source of the sacredness femininity commanded was its association to life generation, and to my own mother (which is a good moment to consider the likely biological aspect, how can a human be inclined [socially or biologically] to treat someone and how do social/biological inclinations interact with one another? eg. can one be acting on a biological imperative to treat a person some way and be deciding which person they treat in such a way based on social condition?). Anyway, the result of all this (and other intellectual shortcomings) was that the idea of separating women from their beloved femininity never entered into my mind.
So all thanks to Judith Butler for opening my eyes to gender’s constructedness. Ironically, her verbose work (more honestly a few pages of it) put things in terms I could understand (lol). The wall that was keeping relativism out of gender was finally breached! Sweet nihilism poured in, suffocating the sacred garden of feminine virtues.
But this doesn’t mean a woman can’t essentially be any or all of the ways women have been characterized, only that if she truly is close to it then she is quite a singular creature.
So what’s changed? Instead of sacred characters being preyed upon and desecrated by disrespectful cretins, we’ve got people being conditioned to consider themselves as such. The feminine mystique is an illusion which describes itself into the role of sufferer, an affinity to the “natural” condition, the comfort and happiness that comes before destructive, selfish, male ambition.
So am I just as off base as before, only updated to a further complexity of BS?
It seems like I have totally failed to satisfy my first characterization of feminism. I have avoided taking any of those feminine virtues into myself by characterizing them as false in their association to femininity. I’m totally ignoring whether those things are valuable and by doing that am only looking down at their champions, women! So my own need of liberation from gender coercion is now obvious.
Nihilistic deconstructive stoic hedonism. I am the pinnacle of masculinity in my shameless intellectual incarnation, and so far have only been able to acknowledge femininity as something that would be nice (theoretically) to generate in myself, but without any understanding of what that would be like. Was I conditioned this way?
So let’s define sympathy as a positive trait associated to femininity. I feel sympathy, I do, but I criticize the shit out of it in myself and others. Despite being a straight white male Canadian, I still feel that I have suffered. My suffering can’t be attributed to those designators, and I feel great jealousy for those who are allowed to suffer together by virtue of their suffering being caused by their race or gender. Now maybe it’s this feeling that I have never been able to share my suffering that has lead me to glorify the individual sufferer, and see suffering as an opportunity and source of individual strength. But I can’t help but see the group suffering behaviour as a temporary pain-killer. Totally warranted in some cases, totally avoiding the problem in others! Black Women for example, totally warranted, they will be Black Women their whole lives and unification can help them take ownership of that. Bullied ugly high school chicks turned isolationist punx... how the fuck is that going to get you to a place of self ownership?! Identification with a group that will coddle you and accept you more and more the more and more you learn to walk and talk like them... It’s fucked.
So being sympathetic, reaching out to the person in distress and trying to make them forget the pain by bringing them into your world (or changing their world to be more like yours) is not helping them. It becomes helping them once it’s a part of their reintroduction to themselves. Pulling them into your crusade is bullshit. But this isn’t pure “femininity” either because it’s got ambition.
I feel that I’ve come off track here. As you can see it’s hard to keep myself from attacking! And in attacking to say pretty ridiculous things.
Is it possible to perform masculine and feminine virtues simultaneously?
It’s all stuff that a human can do, and its success is always going to be a matter of opinion. Cold reasoning couldn’t be a masculine quality, it’s an act of repression and discipline. If we’re going to find any natural qualities peculiar to a sex then it’s going to be impulsive behaviours, not intentional ones. For example my impulse to strike out at others, not because they have done anything to hurt me or disregard me, but because I find their power insulting and demeaning to my own. Our sexual virtues can’t be anything but vices.
Which way is my male virtue denying me routes of personality? The fixation with individuality and personal power ends up ironic, in my measuring of myself I am always measuring against another man. I postulate an idea of excellence that’s individual, but am clinging to that idea against all reason and experience which shows me quite clearly that effectiveness is a matter of properly seizing the object; which is most often a social fabrication (sometimes it’s a physical one). My individual excellence couldn’t far exceed a well disciplined pragmatism, but has to find expression in so many other and external forms of excellence. To know myself is a truly pointless venture, I should only control myself.
The more masculine person, in effect, is the one whose self is given and unconsidered. He lives outside himself, does not doubt himself, concerns himself with his objects and satisfies himself in their language. He is what he does, and his personality can be abstracted from this only into what seem to be his natural aptitudes.
He’s selfish because he cares only for his personal gain, but he’s not self involved. He struggles to control the world and to overcome its resistance.
In contrast: a person whose self is always in question and who rejects the intrusion of the external world. The language they use is their own, they deal clumsily with the external world. He feels as an object; who is manipulated when his own substance is invoked, who belongs to the world physically and can be manipulated if understood and is too easily touched accidentally.
He’s selfish because he refuses to participate. He struggles to resist the world, to accept it into himself on his own terms.
Is the second man feminine? He isolates himself tries to discover his true self. He focuses on the genetic, the predescriptive.
Neither of these men are feminine. Active/passive is not male/female. The symbolic power of the masculine/feminine must be left in the realm of symbols, useful only as a linguistic tool for occult understandings that find their mark and utility far removed from prescriptive science. I won’t abandon these tools in my inner realm because I can’t forget them, but they’re totally meaningless externally. My feminine side will always be a male object, a contradiction the expression of which can only serve to confuse!
There’s no place for men in feminism except to support it. I’ve got to stop considering Feminism as something I can become part of and progress, because it’s really a matter of female empowerment. Because sexism describes and propagates women as ineffective, it’s the movement of developing and proving the ability of women. No matter how far a male goes in delineating the struggle of women or the complexities of their subjugation, his work will only prove more the powers of men! To call myself a feminist because I acknowledge sexism and attempt to remove it from myself and others seems inaccurate. At best I am opening doors for women to prove themselves, but a theoretical anti-sexism doesn’t change the reality of women’s behaviour in itself.
The scary thing about feminism is how it does so little to separate women from their identification as women. In many cases it enforces it.
I will continue to engage with feminist theory because it deals with so many very interesting topics. I will continue to battle my own prejudices about women and treat each as an individual totally capable of living unlike any others I have encountered. For the time being at least, I will not identify as a feminist.