Men and Feminism

“I am writing this essay sitting beside an anonymous white male that I long to murder.”

Those are the first words from Killing Rage, a book by bell hooks.

killing rage bell hooks image
(Image from Google)

That was my first legit introduction to feminism. Of course, I was exposed to learning about women in history, and acknowledging gender (to a degree) during earlier classes in high-school and college. And I was taught to understand that the world is a sexist place.

Yet, my understanding of feminism, at the time, was complicated, and to put in better terms: fucking dumb.

I was a man. Am a man. Cis-gender. Penis attached to body. Etc.

Also, I am of color. The main problem I perceived was racism, and how it interacted with class. I definitely had my Marxist phase, wearing Che shirts like a college stereotype around campus, regurgitating lines I heard from Rage Against the Machine to friends. Okay. Maybe I’m exaggerating (I hope). And to be fair, I remain a socialist and my own family don’t play. Grandfather and father were communists back in India. Rest of us have always played a part in revolutionary thought.

But, gender wasn’t on my radar.

Reading bell hooks didn’t automatically wake me up. In fact, what I took from it was that white supremacy fucking sucks, and we need to crush it. Somehow, my mind omitted the stuff specifically on women. Call it socialization. Call it me being a dumbass. Either way, I managed to keep my world intact.

Still, the seeds were planted and as I was graduating Rutgers (where I did my undergrad), I began to think about combating oppression and doing something worthwhile with my life. I ended up working as a journalist, meeting new and unique people wherever I went. I also began to talk more with friends about issues important to us, including sex. It was friends who’d tell me all the crazy shit they’d have to put up with regarding men. It was friends who share weird and frustrating stories, ranging from not getting the promotion they wanted and watching some unqualified man get it to harassment while taking a stroll, something that I never experienced or faced.

I did what any idiot-turned-ally would do. Which is read all the books on feminism I could find, including re-reading Killing Rage. To also, sharing info with my male friends on the problem of sex/gender prejudice.

According to the recent Global Gender Gap Report, the “global average full-time salary for a working woman currently stands at $11,102 a year, just over half of the working man’s average salary of $20,554.” The United States ranked 28th in the world in terms of equal pay.[1] Women are barely represented in the upper echelons of the corporate hierarchy. In fact, there has been focus on this lack of diversity by business leaders such as Sandberg, who’s promoted research that shows this gender-gap that seems to expand as employees are promoted from entry-level positions onto executive. [2] Oftentimes, women are simply left behind and not given the same opportunities to move up.

According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network), which is an anti-sexual violence organization, 1 out of 6 U.S. women have “been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime.”[3] In fact, “27.2 percent of female college seniors reported that, since entering college, they had experienced some kind of unwanted sexual contact — anything from touching to rape — carried out by incapacitation, usually due to alcohol or drugs, or by force. Nearly half of those, 13.5 percent, had experienced penetration, attempted penetration or oral sex.”[4]

In terms of political power, the 114th Congress is 80 percent male in both the house and the senate.[5] And after the Republicans took over, fewer women were leading committees.[6]

Reproductive rights, including the access to safe abortions and birth-control, has also been a victim of what I’d like to describe as the “one-step forward, two steps back” approach that’s been a part of the American social and political climate since its founding. Yes, having an abortion s might be more accepted than decades ago, when Roe v. Wade was even decided. And of course, younger women and more men understand the importance of having more than just one abortion clinic in a state, and for health insurance to cover expenses for birth control, despite condemnation from right-leaning religious institutions. Still, abortion rights remain a contentious issue and one that is perceived by conservatives as morally wrong and which requires stringent regulation and condemnation. Men on the political right are often the ones who have led the attack on reproductive rights, from bombing abortion clinics to even murdering doctors. Conservative men in power continue to make organizations like Planned Parenthood, who provide affordable access to birth control and healthcare for lower-income women, the target of their rage (I could go Freudian on the reasons why but I resist).

Every month, there’s a hearing in Congress about how abortion equates to murder and that the women who go to clinics are tricked. When I was a reporter in D.C., I also had the dubious honor of sitting in for one of these hearings. This time, it was about Congress deciding to limit abortions in the nation’s capital. Locals were upset because A) D.C. doesn’t have any real representation and so these politicians are from outside the region, and B) D.C. is a more liberal area and access to abortion is synonymous with healthcare and dignity. I was placed in the section reserved for journalists, and jotted down notes for my article, as one by one, opinions were delivered on how awful abortion were and how risky it can be for the fetus, which to them, was alive and able to feel pain. The person in charge of the hearing was Trent Franks, a representative from Arizona. He and his colleagues were all men.[7]

Since 2010, over 280 restrictive laws on abortion were passed, reducing the number of clinics available to women who need them. In Texas, for instance, half of its abortion clinics were shut down since 2012, decreasing from 41 to only 20. [8] Even in states where abortion is legal, there are limits on the number of months or weeks when a woman can decide to have one, and places where it’s actively discouraged. [9]

 

The more I’ve learned, the more I’ve realized that sexism and gender discrimination isn’t just something to reform, but has been built into our institutions and way of life. If we do away with capitalism, there will still be gender roles. If we end racism, women of color will continue to be neglected. Sex/gender oppression functions as a major pillar of American life. And to be truly revolutionary one must get rid of it, not perform a half-measure.

So, consider this my year of feminist consciousness.

Now, if the story ended here, it’d be safe to assume that you, as the genuine reader, would nod, think, ponder for a sec, and move on. And especially for the men, there are among you who have seen the light as I have.

But, as you can guess because there are more words to follow, the story doesn’t end here. Not at all.

If fact, if it did, I think the story wouldn’t be much to share or talk about. It’d be just another hollow trope.

This is what I mean:

As mentioned, I am cis-gendered man. Of color. Yes. But a man nonetheless. I am socialist. Leftist. Got my anarchist tendencies. Protested. Reporter with the long hair. Jeans. Khakis. I like to watch football on weekends. I like to talk about my favorite authors. I believe that Kendrick Lamar’s ability to be “vulnerable” is something I can connect with. Yet. I am a man. Cis-gendered. With a feminist consciousness. True. But penis attached. Got two hands. Two feet. Listen to songs with the word “bitch” in them. Called other men “punk-ass bitch” too. Feminist consciousness. And yet (and this is what I’ve learned more recently), I am the problem too.

See the truth is, as much as I want to quote bell hooks. As much as I want to call out male friends on their sexism. As much as I do the “right” things. I remain privileged. Based on my gender, and all it affords me.

Currently, I am in a PhD program and one of my main interests is in Women and Politics. Part of the reason of why that’s the case is that race is discussed more so in Women and Politics than in the rest of Political Science. And the other reason is because I want to arm myself with more knowledge.

While taking classes, I’ve been introduced to writers like Patricia Hill Collins and Donna Haraway, both of whom are instrumental in standpoint theory.

black feminist thought image
(Image from Google)

A quick summary on standpoint: Basically, it’s important to have the perspective of the group you are writing about or researching.

For Hill Collins, she feels that only black women can be effective voices for other black women in the social sciences.

As she’s stated in The Social Construction of Black Feminist Thought:

“Such thought can encourage collective identity by offering Black women a different view of themselves and their world than that offered by the established social order. This different view encourages African-American women to value their own subjective knowledge base. By taking elements and themes of Black women’s culture and traditions and infusing them with new meaning, Black feminist thought rearticulates a consciousness that already exists.’8 More important, this rearticulated consciousness gives African-American women another tool of resistance to all forms of their subordination.”

It’s important for the actual people with the actual experiences to express themselves, according to Hill Collins.

On the other hand, Haraway believes that a person who is not a member of a group can still do an effective job at writing for and about them. For example, let’s say someone who is white decides to publish material on South Asian Americans. He or she can go about as the humble observer and engage in South Asian American culture without appearing fake, condescending, or pretending that they know everything, i.e. giving advice about what South Asian Americans can do to improve themselves, etc. The proper way of doing such research, as explained by Haraway, would be to write on South Asian Americans with the constant awareness that you are not one of them.

“So, with many other feminists, I want to argue for a doctrine and practice of objectivity that privileges contestation, deconstruction, passionate construction, webbed connections, and hope for transformation of systems of knowledge and ways of seeing,” Haraway states, “But not just any partial perspective will do; we must be hostile to easy relativisms and holisms built out of summing and subsuming parts. “Passionate detachment” requires more than acknowledged and self-critical partiality. We are also bound to seek perspective from those points of view, which can never be known in advance, that promise something quite extraordinary, that is, knowledge potent for constructing worlds less organized by axes of domination.”

I do want to speak on issues about gender. But, doing so exclusively can come at the risk of drowning out the voices of women who are experiencing what I can only be describing in my work.

 

As men, we also have to do more than just “talk.” Like white allies for POC, we have to listen to women, and those who are trans, and hear what they want and need from us. We cannot feel so secure in our bubble of liberal empathy.

This should be an ongoing evolution for many of us.

I don’t have an easy answer on what to do, for those of us in academia and activist circles. Personally, I at least will incorporate gender into my analysis of race in the U.S. and do my best not to subsume it under layers of jargon and data points.

Ultimately, I must keep challenging myself to do more. To end that part of me wedded to notions of roles and hierarchy.

“I am writing this essay sitting beside an anonymous white male that I long to murder.”

 

 

[1] Nicole Spector, “Gender Pay Gap Will Be Erased, But It Will Take 118 Years: Report,” NBC News, Nov. 19 2015, accessed Nov. 27, 2015, http://www.nbcnews.com/business/economy/gender-pay-gap-will-be-erased-it-will-take-118-n466631.

[2] “Women in the Workplace,” The Wall Street Journal, accessed Nov. 27, 2015, http://graphics.wsj.com/women-in-the-workplace/.

[3] “Who are the Victims?” RAINN, accessed Nov. 27, 2015, https://rainn.org/get-information/statistics/sexual-assault-victims.

[4] Richard Perez-Pena, “1 in 4 Women Experience Sex Assault on Campus,” The New York Times, Sept. 21 2015, accessed Nov. 27, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/22/us/a-third-of-college-women-experience-unwanted-sexual-contact-study-finds.html?_r=0.

[5] Philip Bump, “The new Congress is 80 percent white, 80 percent male and 92 percent Christian,” The Washington Post, Jan. 5 2015, accessed Nov. 27, 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2015/01/05/the-new-congress-is-80-percent-white-80-percent-male-and-92-percent-christian/.

[6] Sheryl Gay Stolberg, “More Women Than Ever in Congress, but With Less Power Than Before,” The New York Times, Feb. 2 2015, accessed Nov. 27 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/03/us/politics/republican-takeover-of-senate-pushes-women-out-of-powerful-committee-posts.html.

[7] Sudip Bhattacharya, “Trent Franks on Abortion Bill: ‘D.C. is Not the Issue,’” The Washington City Paper, May 18, 2012 accessed Nov. 27, 2015, http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/citydesk/2012/05/18/trent-franks-on-abortion-bill-d-c-is-not-the-issue/.

[8] The Editorial Board, “States’ abortion limits erode right to choose: Our View.” USA Today, Sept. 7, 2015, accessed Nov. 27, 2015, http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2015/09/07/abortion-texas-supreme-court-editorials-debates/71415468/.

[9] “Abortion laws in the United States,” The Austin American-Statesman. 2015, accessed Nov. 27, 2015, http://www.statesman.com/interactive/map/abortion-laws/.

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