Monday, December 03, 2007

Regarding Criticism of Feminism...

There's a site called Feminist Critics that, a few months back, linked to an article I wrote. I found the discussion that followed really interesting. While the authors of the site and I disagree about some pretty major things, the conversation between myself, Bari, TS, and Infra was one of the few I've had with people who were openly critical of feminism that didn't devolve into name-calling (not that there wasn't any of that coming from other sources). Still, I found myself disinclined to return, for a variety of reasons. It's been a couple of months, though, and browsing through the archives has piqued my interest.

It's not infrequently said (including by me) that men shouldn't distract from or highjack threads on feminist spaces. This is usually said in response to someone who tries to divert a thread about FGM into a conversation about male circumcision, for example. Instead, we say, if men have issues about the ways that men are treated in our society, we men should create our own spaces to talk about those things. Feminist Critics would seem to be, in part, that kind of space. The primary authors are ballgame, Daran, HughRistik, RenegadeEvolution, and TS. They are "a single issue, narrow viewpoint blog. The issue is gender and gender politics. The viewpoint is what we call “Feminist Critical”, that is to say we look at feminism and other positions and belief systems about gender from a critical point of view."

You'll notice that one of their missions, stated explicitly, is:

We believe that ideas and belief-systems benefit from critical and in some cases adversarial discussion. That includes ours, so we want to encourage intelligent, courteous, evidence-based discussion and debate in the comments from a variety of viewpoint. In particular, we wish to attract feminists to defend their position. And if we’re unable to persuade each other of the error of our respective ways, we want to feel that we have gained from the experience anyway, and for them to feel that they have gained from it.


They also make it explicit that they will not tolerate or accept ignorant behavior, and that "this applies to all viewpoints including, in fact especially. to antifeminist and feminist critical viewpoints. We are not interested in opinions based on ignorance, faith, stupidity, or value systems which don’t respect human life. We want the discussions to be courteous and respectful."

I'm not one to shy away from debate or criticism, as long as it's made in good faith. It's clear that I disagree with a number of things that I've read there, but it's also true that I disagree with things that I read on feminist blogs sometimes, too. Despite my disagreement, my current impression is that the authors at FC appear to be genuinely interested in engaging with feminists about the issues they're having.

One of my last comments in that thread:

Regarding the interaction between feminists and feminist critics/men's rights activists, I think that part of the problem is that there's a lot of assumption of bad faith on both sides (again, speaking generally).

There are absolutely feminists who will decry your efforts to, for example, get better representation in court when it comes to custody battles, or whatever. That can't feel good. On the other hand, feminists have been dealing with people trying to reinforce inequality for a long time, too. They deal with men writing articles about how feminists and women are responsible for everything from educational problems, to divorce rates, to bad economy, to STDs, to... well, just about anything. I think that it makes sense (the lack of trust between the two sides), but it's not helpful. Both sides assume the worst going in- I mean, in this very thread, during which I think we've been mostly civil and I think we've been pretty honest about our feelings, there are comments to the effect of: feminists are a bunch of idiots who are best compared to cultists and conspiracy theorists, and all they care about is blaming men for stuff, not actually solving problems.

Afterwards, I was told that feminists are a group of bigots who hate and oppress men, and that we belong in jail.

I'm not sure if there's really a way to bridge the gap that exists. After all, I don't agree that feminists, as a group, engage in abject discrimination against men. If I believed that, I wouldn't consider myself a feminist. Of course, I don't believe that all men are out to oppress women, either.

A good point was raised, though; Feminism isn't monolith, and it's difficult- maybe impossible- to determine what the "average" feminist is, which does make a discussion like this difficult. It also means that any input I can give is limited in scope- I can tell you about my experiences as a male feminist, but that's not going to really be representative of feminism in general, for any number of reasons.


I stand by this. I'm not really sure how to overcome the assumption of bad faith on the parts of feminists and men who are doing advocacy for the issues that men face, except to be aware of it, and try to make sure that I'm engaging with what is actually being said, and not my assumptions of meaning. And just like I know that feminism isn't a monolith, and that the opinions of any particular feminist blogger may or may not line up with mine, I remind myself that the bloggers at Feminist Critics aren't part of a monolith, either- the fact that there are PUAs or MRAs that troll blogs I read doesn't mean that the criticisms at FC are without substance, or that the authors aren't interested in having real discussions.

Right now, they've been having some discussions about why more feminists don't read and comment on the site. I think that there are a number of reasons why feminists aren't lining up to comment, and certainly part of it is probably, in some cases, related to the assumption of bad faith. And, part of it is probably related to not having the energy or inclination to get into debates about the fundamentals of feminism or in what, in some cases, will end up being a debate where neither side ever budges. Still, it occurs to me that part of it might be that some of you have no idea that the site even exists.

So, I'm posting this because I know a lot of really intelligent people, and I thought that some of you might find the discussions happening over there interesting. Given that all of the authors have been particularly respectful, even if some of the commenters have not, I'd like to request that anyone going there via my link extend them the same courtesy.

18 comments:

Cara said...

Oh, Roy. How I wish that I had the same faith in people as you do :)

Until this moment, it's true that I'd never heard of the site. But I'm not going over now, either. The reason? Well, I've got enough stress in my life right now, for one, and I know that I tend to get angry easily.

Secondly, as you said, there is an assumption of bad faith. Unless there is a basic acknowledgment that the fundamental principles of feminism are correct -- that patriarchy exists, that oppression of women as a subordinate class should end and we are not there, yet -- I don't see the point. And if they are, as you say, a group of people who educate themselves on the subject, I would have to assume that they know this is the most primary aspect of feminist theory. If they can't admit that what feminists are looking for on a most basic level is equality -- and I don't think that anyone ever said that creating equality was going to be tons of fun for the dominant class, because they are in fact going to have to give up lots of privileges -- and agree with that principle, I'd say that we're not even at a starting point.

Jaclyn said...

Word, Cara.

Can you imagine a bunch of white folks writing a blog critiquing people of color's efforts to undo racism? Would we give them props because they acknowledged that only some people of color's methods were "wrong" or "bad"?

If they're really interested in working for gender equality, they should just, y'know, do that. That they devote so much energy (including the garshdarn BLOG TITLE) to telling the oppressed class we're going about it all wrong (or even telling each other how we're going about it all wrong, or even trying to decide when we're doing it wrong and when we're actually, gosh thanks, OK) tells me everything I need to know.

Jaclyn said...

OK, seriously, I woke up still thinking about this, and here's the thing: if these guys are serious about undoing gender inequities, even the ones that negatively impact men, their beef is with PATRIARCHY, not feminism. Patriarchy is the system that creates and maintains and reinscribes gender inequities. (Yes, mens, you can be in the privileged class and sometimes have the system that privileges you work against you. And that doesn't negate your privilege or your responsibility to deal with it, either. Go read Tim Wise if you need help getting that.)

If you think about any of the big MRA issues that have any validity -- male circumcision, the draft, violence, etc. -- it's not feminists who are responsible. It's the government, the military, the medical establishment, the gender essentialist culture that says men are like X and women are like Y -- the institutions of the patriarchy. The very institutions feminist are struggling against in our own work for equality.

Do some feminists blow off men's concerns about these issues, or even criticize men for advocating for change? Sure. But a) "some feminists" do almost anything, and b) we're not the ones in power in this system, so setting yourself up in opposition to us is at best lazy, cowardly and/or ineffective and at worst intellectually dishonest.

If you really want to work for gender equality, feminists should be your allies. If we're not, it's because you're not being good allies to us. (In the system of gender oppression, you have the privilege, so you need to earn our trust first and not the other way around.) Ally work is hard and sometimes feels "unfair" because you get mistrusted or attacked for things that may not be your fault, personally. But if you're serious about being an ally, you have to learn to deal with that mistrust and those attacks in the context of the system you're trying to dismantle. There's a reason the oppressed class in any system of oppression is angry at and mistrustful of the privileged class, and sometimes, if you're in the privileged class and genuinely trying to be an ally to the oppressed class, you're going to catch some of that mistrust and anger. Learning to deal with that in context is a key part of ally work.

If you don't want to ally with us, then fine. But then leave us alone. Don't make a blog dedicated to how you know best what's valid and not about our movement and tactics and opinions. We're still not in control of the changes you seek. We're still not in power. We may piss you off sometimes, but that doesn't change anything. If you're serious about creating gender equality, even on behalf of men, your enemy is patriarchy. Until you get clear about that, we have precious little to say to each other.

jeff said...

Roy--I'm glad you wrote about that site, because I've had similar experiences. I've actually had some good discussions with a few of the writers over there.

I don't think that they deserve responses in any way--and as I often argue, I think a lot of the work that needs to be done regarding responding to anti-feminist men (and women) ought to be done by men--but I think that it's an ok choice for some of us to spend some time over there interacting with people who are, at least on the face of it, trying to be civil and really seem to want to explore ideas. Again, that doesn't mean that I want to try to convince somebody like cara or jaclyn that their time is best spent responding to feminist critics, only that it may be beneficial to everybody if some of us do, some of the time.

Also: If you check out the various personal sites of the authors from Feminist Critics, you'll find a lot more 'positive' stuff where the men (and women) are fighting against patriarchy, though they wouldn't call it that. TS has a lot of stuff about resources for men who are victims of violence, for instance.

So I think there is some stuff of value over there, though I don't always find it worth my time to sift through everything to find those things of value.

Also, in response to jaclyn's 'just leave us alone' point, I think that the men and women over there are doing a better job than most anti-feminists in doing so--correct me if I'm wrong, but when they respond on my site they usually just try to point back to their site for the discussion, if they think the discussion isn't appropriate on a feminist site, which it often isn't. Maybe this is a case of giving them a cookie(!), but I think it's something to be recognized.

Jaclyn said...

I'm sorry, Jeff, but I don't think that members of a privileged class creating a blog dedicated to critiquing the politics and strategies of the oppressed class, in a way that may be nuanced but is still largely oppositional and not at all alliance-building, does not count as "leaving us alone."

Daran said...

Thanks for your kind and fair review of our site.

jeff said...

I attempted to post a response to jaclyn, and it seems to have gone awry. I'd try positing it again, now, 8 or so hours later, but I don't want to do trollish things--perhaps it just got eaten by the internets?

Sweating Through fog said...

I read many feminist blogs, but I don't comment much. I read them because I do profit from opinions different from my own, and I have learned a great deal. Commenting on my part is futile. I am not hostile to feminism as a movement, or feminists in general. But I do not accept the ideology: that over billions of lives and thousands of years, someone has determined finally and absolutely that woman have things worse. And I don't accept the privilege epistemology that says I have no valid standpoint from which I can make moral judgments. In other words, since I disagree with some (not all) of Feminism 101, I'm generally not welcome.

So I am a critic of the ideology, but I am not hostile to the movement or all the issues feminists advocate for. So I find Feminist Critics a useful site to read, and one I can comment on. Ampersand is another.

jeff said...

stf--Of course, you must realize that your take on 'feminist ideology' is but one among many (and I would add a either a gross misinterpretation or simply disingenuous one); on your own blog you tend to be critical of 'ideology' in general (though you, of course, have an ideology of your own).

There is a also something like a law of diminishing returns when it comes to reading/responding to opinions that vary in some fundamental-ish ways from your own--I do think it's valuable to some, some of the time, but I understand those who don't find it valuable at all (like jaclyn, at least in this one specific case)--we all just have different 'deal breakers' when it comes to this sort of thing.

johndoe said...

Jaclyn,

If they're really interested in working for gender equality, they should just, y'know, do that.

if these guys are serious about undoing gender inequities, even the ones that negatively impact men, their beef is with PATRIARCHY, not feminism.

Well, I suppose the problem is that you perceive "feminism" (as a generalization) to be an all-encompassing gender-justice movement, while they don't. Academic (and partly political) feminism does rely on a couple of problematic assumptions about the way the world works. So it is quite possible to agree about the existence of a problem without agreeing about a) the scope and scale of the problem, b) the reasons for its existence and c) the theoretical possibilty and practical mechanisms to address and mitigate the problem.

It is quite possible to be interested (and work for) gender justice without being self-declared feminist.

Jaclyn said...

Maybe it is, johndoe, but it's not possible to work effectively for gender justice while spending your energy working against feminism. Feminism is not the institution that enacts or upholds gender inequality.

johndoe said...

Jaclyn,

Feminism is not the institution that enacts or upholds gender inequality.

As I see it, feminism's most important contribution is the concept of "gender" itself. Apart from that, I would submit that your assessment is correct for most, but hardly all of "feminism" (and at the same time, that the loony feminism is getting more attention than the reasonable one because of the way people work). Seriously, there are feminists who are arguing for quite radical solutions to the issue that cannot really be considered "gender equal". Have a look at a recent discussion on the feminist critics blog where a separatist feminist discusses the possible need to kill all men to achieve "gender justice". Now that'S emasculation on a different level... It would be funny if it weren't so sad.

I agree that feminism (as a generalisation) has an important part in creating "gender justice". But just as "gender equality" is only (as I see it) a necessary, not a sufficient condition for "gender justice" (as equality is different from SAMEness). Feminism isn't the complete solution, and parts of feminism are even part of the problem, as I see it. I think it is important to point out where and to which extent. Moreover, it seems important to me that not just women are allowed to engange or criticize in this area without being told to be dishonest or have illegitimate reasons for participation. Even without calling themselves feminist and self-flagellating themselves for their alleged innate complicity in female suffering. Problem is, if you take feminism's assumptions seriously, they cannot. It seems quite consequential to me that those who want to talk will become "feminist critics".

Jaclyn said...

johndoe, you can find "some feminists" who'll say anything. "Some feminists" are in favor of legislating forced birth -- but surely no one mistakes that as a central principle of feminism, just as no one who has studied feminism at all mistakes "let's kill men" with anything remotely resembling a central principle of feminism. It's either lazy or intellectually dishonest to focus on the few examples that excuse you from doing the hard work of actually engaging with us and examining your own privilege.

And if you refuse to recognize that as a cisgender man in this culture you have unearned privilege respective to cisgender women -- whether or not there are some ways in which the unfair systems of gender cut against you -- then you're really just interested in complaining about how bad Teh Menz have it and we really have nothing more to say to each other. You're also never going to achieve the equality you seek, because you're not addressing the systems that create and support the inequalities, you're just randomly swatting and symptoms.

johndoe said...

Jaclyn,

It's either lazy or intellectually dishonest to focus on the few examples that excuse you from doing the hard work of actually engaging with us and examining your own privilege.

And if you refuse to recognize that as a cisgender man in this culture you have unearned privilege respective to cisgender women -- whether or not there are some ways in which the unfair systems of gender cut against you -- then you're really just interested in complaining about how bad Teh Menz have it and we really have nothing more to say to each other. You're also never going to achieve the equality you seek, because you're not addressing the systems that create and support the inequalities, you're just randomly swatting and symptoms.


You do realize how you are framing our little exchange in feminist terminology, don't you? "Privilege", "oppression", "teh menz". That's the point I was trying to make. I can believe that there is a problem and still not think that the answer lies in the concepts and discourse framing devices ("if you're not willing to accept your privilege and my premises of how the world works I won't talk!") you're using right here. If you don't want to talk unless I believe what you believe, that would be unfortunate. Agreement *can* be the result of an interchange, but if there is agreement in the first place, there is no need to talk. What is needed to talk are "rules of engagement", and a basic sense of mutual respect, acceptance of the possibilty of disagreement, the off-chance that the other might actually be right about something and I may actually be wrong.

If that's not given, then we really wouldn't have to say much to each other...

Jaclyn said...

You do realize how you are framing our little exchange in feminist terminology, don't you?

Yes, I sure do. I live in a structure of gender oppression every day. I don't get to escape the frame, even when I want to, even for a second. You may have the privilege to pretend it's not there, but I don't.

We're done here. I'm sure you'll decide that's because I don't want to hear from anyone who doesn't fully agree with me. I don't care, because I know that's a load of crap, and so do the many people I debate and struggle with respectfully, because we know and acknowledge that we have a common goal and can discuss and be responsible for our respective roles in achieving that goal.

Maybe Roy or Jeff want to try and help you see your role in all this, maybe they don't. I'm not sure you're interested, anyhow, and I'm not sure that engaging with you doesn't legitimize your "project" in ways that I'm not really in favor of. But either way, I've got real, actual allies to work with and a ginormous system of oppression to figure out how to dismantle. You can work with me, or you can get the fuck out of my way.

jeff said...

Ack. 'johndoe' seems to find it important to prove the point that, while there are lots of people who disagree with me who I think are worth engaging, not all of them are. For instance, I'm less likely to continue to engage somebody who is commenting completely anonymously--with Toy Soldier on Feminist Critics (with whom I disagree with about a lot of things), I can at least go to his other site and see that he does have some interesting ideas, some contributions to make. With completely anonymous commenting, it gets harder to know how much benefit of the doubt to give to people, etc.

So, on not bothering to continue to have a discussion along the one that johndoe is having, you and I can finally agree, jaclyn.

johndoe said...

Jaclyn,

We're done here. I'm sure you'll decide that's because I don't want to hear from anyone who doesn't fully agree with me.

Not exactly. I believe you have reasons to believe that such an exchange will be fruitless. If correct, this is, I believe, both a consequence of a) fruitless similar discussions about this in the past and b) the categories you use to describe the world we both live in. It's a feedback slope - the more a) is true the more you'll take b) for granted. Same here of course, only with different categories.

You can work with me, or you can get the fuck out of my way.

Good luck. I'll choose the latter.

Beste said...

"You can work with me, or you can get the fuck out of my way."

I choose to stand my ground and fight.