Posts Tagged ‘feminist theory


Kimmel (first of many)

“Of course, you will point out, rightly, that these violent ethnic nationalists and white supremacists receive significant support from women.” (Kimmel 104)

What is of interest to me in both this quote and in the article (which Kimmel fails to mention) is that women experience this same power loss of which he speaks. I believe that is why women support these men. Just as men lose the entitlement to their class rank, so do the women that are, or have potential to be the males’ mates.
Women emotionally and politically support men in every socioeconomic status, but the higher the class the more the women have to lose if that class ranking fails. I engaged in a discussion the other day that women in the upper classes have an even stronger dependence on men than do poor women. Thus, if a woman who supports the ideologies that attribute to the perception of power gain, then she also would reap the benefits of any economic gain.
While I was reading this article a friend called, frustrated about the theories of ecological racism. Between the two of us, we came to the conclusion that (for both his purposes and mine) it is all about power. Power through economics. Sexism stems from a belief that the “other” causes the problems, as do classism, ethnocentrism, and racism. The power (or as Kimmel proposes, the entitlement to power) is based solely on economic and material wealth. It is the loss of class status in which violence and hate set their roots.


Gendered Borders

            The term “border” has become synonymous with the edging of a main area or group, generally referring to property or geographical region.  Many think of borders as physical markers such as a fence or wall, but most geographical borders are open, allowing people to cross unhindered.  While many (or even most) geographic borders are crossed with a measure of ease, social borders are not so easily traversed. 

            Social borders present a different sort of bind from physical borders, though they are often intertwined.  An individual may be outside of the majority in both race and class, thus also placing them within a geographic placement associated with both class and race.  Difficult as race and class borders are, perhaps one of the most dominate borders in both the US and globally is that of gender identity.

            For some, the duality of gender is a given.  Man and woman, male and female, and the masculine and the feminine are simple fact.  Reality shows us this is simply not so.  The biological dualism of man and woman blurs as we examine the variants of genetics, the general appearance of genital development, and the surgical advances that allow for both sex assignment and reassignment (Wiegman, 49).  Male and female blend as culture drifts from the once rigid gender roles to a more fluid representation of the definitive male or female (though it is important to note that the female drift is more extreme).  Masculinity and femininity change as certainly as the man/woman and the male/female.  But despite these blurs, drifts, and shifts, the borders remain.  There are simply many areas in which the female is not allowed to tread or where the male is forbidden.

            This border of gender disallows people, in particular men, from expressing their individualism, their true nature, and often their identity (Kimmel & Kaufman, 17).  The constraints placed on men to define their masculinity, their manhood, and their maleness, prevents the expression of emotion, nurturance, and weaknesses based solely on the borders defining gender.  Men must be strong (both emotionally and physically) in order to maintain the privilege associated with patriarchy.  Men must not show that they are capable of the same emotions and capabilities associated with “the feminine”.  To show these qualities is to show weakness, allowing for social and often physical sanctions that are potentially dangerous at best.

            For women, the gender borders are less constraining to a point, however they still exist.  Women run the risk of appearing too pushy, too opinionated, and too abrasive.  Women who cross the gendered borders are labeled “whores”, “dykes”, and “bitches” (Frances, 216).  Social sanctions for women are lesser than those for men, however the physical sanctions are just as damaging.  For a woman to cross too far into the domain of men places her at risk for physical harm, just as crossing for a man does for him.

            While gender borders are often unreasonable to the individual and the group as a whole, they find their basis not only in social constructionism but also in biological necessity.  Whether or not third wave feminism or masculinity theorists want to recognize the importance of biological contributions, they still exist.  Women alone give birth.  Women alone have the unique ability of nutritionally sustaining infants without the aid of modern technology.  Because of these factors, women (and men) must recognize that some borders are just not possible to cross at this time.  There are, however things that can be changed to eliminate many areas of the gender border.

            In many nations, men are granted paternity leave after the birth of a child.  This allows for a more inclusive role for fathers in the child rearing process.  In addition to increasing the presence of fathers in early infancy, many nations also acknowledge the financial contributions women make to the home, understanding the cost associated with the need for childcare, meal preparation, and household management.  These acknowledgements allow for a greater level of nurturance from men and recognition of the support given by women.

            Encouraging the breakdown of gender borders in early childhood works to allow the breakdown in adulthood.  In young boys, supporting the development of emotional response, discouraging violence as a solution to conflict, and encouraging bonding with other males based on love (as opposed to modeling) holds the potential to reverse the punishing sanctions that currently exist.  For girls, allowing greater development of skills outside of the home, such as offering toys that do not center around childcare, house work, or subservience, would exemplify the potential for a greater number of choices in adulthood.

            While it is important to acknowledge the origins, functionality, and problems with gender borders, it is most important to understand and recognize that gender borders (like physical borders) can be changed.  But, it is also important to note that, as is also the case with physical borders, with change comes initial (and sometimes long term) opposition to the redefinition of borders.


Power Struggles

During recent conversation, my viewing of a related movie, and readings and comments on other blogs; I have been contemplating power.  Not political power so much as the power and possibilities of social structures as a whole.

Durkheim said the whole is more than the sum of its parts.  Mead theorized that people become societies in miniature.   These are both correct in their own theory and in interaction with each other.

Durkheim’s theory can show us a great deal about negative reactions to modern feminism (as can each of these).  Many men see modern feminism as an attack on masculinity and on men as a whole.  I think this is partially true.  True because the social structure that allows men (or any empowered group) privilege will also draw much of that privilege away as the margins begin to blur or change completely.  Point being, while the parts may seem at times to be targeting the individual, in reality they are targeting the larger social structure (the whole vs the parts).

As far as Mead, as the whole begins to change, the individual may feel the same stress that the social structure is experiencing.  As the structure begins to shift, so do the thoughts and feelings of the individual.  While to many, this may seem a good thing, to others it is not.  Again, there is a growing sense of disempowerment among men.  Masculinity is attacked and thus feminism is vilified.  As perhaps, it should be.  Feminism as a theory is not bad, but many feminists push their political agendas to the breaking point, forcing others to agree with their opinions or be damned.  Really, this is against the basis of feminist theory.  Equality does not include knocking the “other” down a few pegs.  (Stay with my, there is a point here.)  People are indeed the society in miniature.  As masculinity and masculine men are attacked, many (again) feel a loss of power, once again feeling the need to regain it, whether through physical violence or vocal opposition.

And (finally) my point.  As feminists, we can NOT discount the feelings many men have that they are experiencing a loss of power.  We can NOT pretend that all feminists have the best interests of equality for all (as opposed to an unfair balance in the other direction).  We as feminists need to recognize that with the backlash comes some truth.


Suffering of men

“…whatever assaults and harassments he is subject to, being male is not what selects him for victimization;  being male is not a factor which would make his anger impotent-quite the opposite.  If a man has little material or political power, or achieves little of what he wants to achieve, his being male is no part of the explanation.”  (Italics added) ~ Marilyn Frye

                This quote pinpoints the aim of Frye’s piece.  She describes oppression as something that men cannot experience as men.  Oppression through race, class, or socioeconomic status exists, but it is inherently not based on being male.  Oppression cannot be experienced by the oppressors.  I completely disagree with Frey’s position.

                I fully understand that I am viewing an article written in 1983, when the third wave of feminism was in its infancy.  I fully understand that the concepts of intersectionality in oppression were still relatively new.  I know this, but the article makes my skin crawl all the same. 

                Frye talks of the theoretical cage in which women are placed, the binds that are maintained because of group and group alone.  While I agree that (in particular in the early 1980’s) many of these binds were placed on women, they were placed on men as well.  Not as she mentions, white middle class men, but on an entire population of gay and trans men around the world. 

                Oppression toward men for being male is something that exists across time and culture.  While Frye acknowledges that men have challenges, she argues that the challenges or “discomfort” that they face is not because of their maleness.  This simply is not true.

                In a 1990 study of sexual violence conducted by David Duncan, comparisons were made between heterosexuals and LGBT individuals.  While Duncan did not offer a statistical analysis of the gendered data, he did offer the raw numbers (in percentages).  A log-linear statistical analysis of Duncan’s numbers showed an interesting significance.  Not only did LGBT individuals suffer an increased risk of rape as compared their heterosexual counterparts, but homosexual men suffered a disproportionate increased risk (Duncan, 1990).  Translation, gay men are more likely to be raped because they are gay men

                If we are to believe Frye’s claims, gay men should not have an increased risk of rape over that of lesbians, but they do.  While lesbians’ risk increases by approximately 72%, gay men’s risk increases nearly 228%.  (Statistically speaking, this is at a level of p<.001)

                Again, I do recognize that Frey’s article is somewhat outdated and pre masculinity theory, I still think it is important to note that men can be and are victims of oppression, not only as homosexuals, but as homosexual men.

Duncan, David F., (1990). Prevalence of Sexual Assault Victimization Among Heterosexual and   Gay/Lesbian University Students.  Psychological Reports 66: 65-66.

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