Monday, July 23, 2007

The Hope That Keeps My Feet In Feminist Waters.

Today in my social science class I had to perform in a group presentation. We did a skit based on Michael Kimmel's 1999 article "What About the Boys?" which analyzes the debate about boys' performance and behaviours in school. In it, he calls for a feminist analysis of masculinity, an invisible, social privilege, which he feels constrains boys into a small and dangerous box. And causes a whole lot of shit for everyone.

At least that is what he's saying in my understanding of the text, anyhoo.

This article ended up proving to be challenging to analyze as a group of six, due in part to the fact that he outlines a lot of mainstream arguments about the so-called 'feminization' of education (and therefore, boys) and some people end up reading the arguments he is initially presenting as his own. Agreeing to a shared interpretation was hard to come by. For me, however, when Kimmel wrote that "while recent national debates about boys failing in school appear to be concerned with boys' academic performance, they mask a deeper agenda--a critique of feminism", I personally claimed him as on one of our own.

We decided that the way to go was to portray the actual debate, and leave it open for the class to interpret. I, of course, got to be the Feminist. I thought that clearly this was a role I was born to play, but after the presentation, I remembered that I just can't act. For beans. I think I ended up being the most wooden and unfunny in my dialogue in the group. Ah, well, I will choose to attribute this to me being neither an actor nor a comedian. Also, I think my 'feminist' costume, in which I tried to invoke riot grrl, just ended up making me look like Avril Lavigne. And pop-feminism was certainly not something I was going for.

But I digress.

The reason I'm writing this is because of the hope that the end of our presentation left me with. One of my group members, Ram, had started this class, Male and Female Relations, with not a lot of information about what feminism is. And I mean, really, unless you're in a women's studies class or make any outside efforts to find out about it and become involved (like blogging..cough, cough), not many people know how varied and plural that feminism is. Feminism is not monolithic, but carries with it its own thoughtprovoking internal challenges and varied standpoints. Feminism as a movement has had its stumps, but we're working on it. However, during the discussion period of our presentation, I couldn't help but think how what Ram said was so important to impart with our classmates, who didn't really have much experience with that icky f-word either.

In discussing feminist criticisms against those the class determined as a kind of 'masculinist' (whatever that means) opposition, the mentality in the room seemed to be that feminism represented the far left of Kimmel's debate question, and that it was a kind of 'boys against girls' type of arguing. Someone offered the suggestion that perhaps there needs to be a middle ground between the two opposing forces we represented, implying that we didn't perhaps need to be as 'far left' as them feminists are. Then Ram--and not me the Resident Feminist of the group--said that in researching what feminism is, he found that "the opposite of feminism is actually sexism and not anything like 'masculinism'." It is not about opposition to men, but rather finding equality across the board, he continued. Indeed, feminism is not simply about the girls against the boys. Not for me, anyway. Though maybe there's a tad girls against the patriarchy...

(Everyone against the about that?)

My heart just melted then and there. Yes, Ram, yes! We are not just a bunch of overly excited man-haters! I was so happy to hear that out of someone else's mouth, not just mine, and in particular, I was so happy to hear that come out of the mouth of a man. It's not enough for women alone to take up the cause. Men, too, need to be part of this, and understand what's going on, so that we can engage together in the necessary changes in our society. Feminism has to be a group effort across all genders, however many there may be. Otherwise, we are just gonna keep hitting brick walls and glass ceilings. Especially if we are still ruled by traditional patriarchy.

And this is the hope that keeps my head up when I'm getting bogged down in the bullshit that swirls around me some days; that I'm not just banging my head against the wall--that someone is really listening and understanding.


Maaike said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Medea said...

Some philosophy friends of mine were actually talking about the "linguistics" problems of feminism. Masculism, it seems, is often meant to simply mean men-involved-in-feminism, since the title "feminism" disincludes those who are not feminine.

Ironically, I think that very problem hits the problem inherent in our language, since feminism is rarely about femininity (as well as, if what "they" say about masculism is true, masculism being not about masculinity). How can one claim to be for equal rights for all men and women if as a male you cannot associate with "feminity" so deeply that you cannot call yourself a feminist, or vice versa (which is probably a non-issue)? The use of "masculism" for male "feminism" seems slightly ridiculous, as if only reinforcing old stereotypes of women being feminine; men being masculine... Maybe an ungendered word would be appropriate, but would that not be an admission of defeat for feminism? We got our rights, but only in exchange for the use of the feminine?

Maybe I should put together an entire blog on this...

Electric Furr said...

You totally should! And post about whatever else comes to your mind!

Also, my issue with the idea of displacing the word "feminist" for another more gender neutral one is that it implies that our goals have been achieved and that equality has been obtained across the sexes, and that clearly hasn't happened. As well, chucking the f-word and other related linguistics allows people to skip over their discomfort around the word without having to examine why its so problematic to be labeled as feminist for guys, girls or goats.


that's what I think, anyway.