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Re: <nettime> Why Isn't There Men's Studies? [2x]
nettime's_digestive_system on Tue, 10 Oct 2006 22:47:53 +0200 (CEST)


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Re: <nettime> Why Isn't There Men's Studies? [2x]


Table of Contents:

   Re: <nettime> Gender and Us [10x]                                               
     "Benjamin Geer" <benjamin.geer {AT} gmail.com>                                       

   Re: <nettime> Why Isn't There Men's Studies?                                    
     Kali Tal <kali {AT} kalital.com>                                                     



------------------------------

Date: Tue, 10 Oct 2006 13:28:04 +0200
From: "Benjamin Geer" <benjamin.geer {AT} gmail.com>
Subject: Re: <nettime> Gender and Us [10x]

Kali Tal <kali {AT} kalital.com> wrote:
> If white, heterosexual men want to know what it's like to be a women, ASK US.

Katherine Dodds <kdodds {AT} hellocoolworld.com> wrote:
> One possible source of the "man problem" is that the male gender
> continues to spend almost time problematizing masculinity, certainly
> less time than both men and women spend gazing with fascination and
> horror on femininity,

I agree that asking people what it's like to be them is a good idea,
and I'd like to know whether there's any feminist theory that's
based on asking men what it's like to be men, rather than on women's
impressions of what men want or feel. I don't mean this sarcastically
or rhetorically: I was exposed to a fair amount of feminist theory at
university, some of it excellent in my opinion, but unfortunately I
never came across anything like this. If it exists, I'd like to know.

Ben



------------------------------

Date: Tue, 10 Oct 2006 05:23:34 -0700
From: Kali Tal <kali {AT} kalital.com>
Subject: Re: <nettime> Why Isn't There Men's Studies?

Hi, Benjamin...

Let me first answer your question under a different header. Keeping
all of this "women's talk" stuck under one "Gender" label is part of
the problem. I'd prefer to integrate it and allow the discussion to
become less exceptional.

>  agree that asking people what it's like to be them is a good idea,
> and I'd like to know whether there's any feminist theory that's based
> on asking men what it's like to be men, rather than on women's
> impressions of what men want or feel.  I don't mean this sarcastically
> or rhetorically: I was exposed to a fair amount of feminist theory at
> university, some of it excellent in my opinion, but unfortunately I
> never came across anything like this.  If it exists, I'd like to know.

One thing women have been schooled in almost since birth is what men
want and feel. We're inundated with masculine opinions, perspectives
and beliefs. Culturally, women are raised to listen respectfully to
men whenever they are talking (unless they are disqualified by class
or race, but that's another whole discussion). We grow up listening to
men, reading books by men, learning the history of men, and accepting
the aesthetic principles of men. This is empirically evident:
simply look at male domination in every "opinion-setting" field:
art, politics, scholarship, religion, and so on. That men dominate
discourse is not a peculiar belief on my part, but a foundation of
feminist critique and infinitely measurable.

Most feminists have gone through very difficult years struggling first
to accept that we had as much right to speak and feel and think as
men do, and -- once we *could* talk -- struggling to have our voices
heard above those of the multitude of men who tend to talk through
or over us when they're not ignoring us. (Nettime is an environment
that illustrates this problem.) It's very telling that an oft-repeated
exercise in feminist psychology classes is to measure the difference
between reality and perception in male/female conversation. Every time
you try it, you'll get the same result: when women talk one-third of
the time, men perceive them as dominating the conversation. Try to
understand what that means: women can't even get within arm's length
of equality without men thinking that they're being oppressed.

This is sort of like the old (and oft-answered) complaint that it's
not fair if there's "Women's History" (or Black History, etc.; add
your favorite flavor of oppression) if there isn't "Men's History."
But... history as it has been taught in the West has always been men's
history. That's why Women's History appears: as a reaction to women
being omitted. Yet men frequently feel that the mere introduction of
Women's History somehow disadvantages them, even though they are still
the main topic and generators of discussion in all other historical
venues. My very declaration of existence is a threat.

The basic problem here is that men often presume an even playing field
("it's not fair that they can have Women's Studies if I can't have
Men's Studies") when in fact there is a steep inequality between the
groups. It's similar to the complaint of individual men that "I'm not
a sexist so why are you saying I'm privileged by being male?" Or, "I'm
not a rich man so I don't *have* privileges." What men who say that
fail to take into account is the structural/ institutional character
of sexism/racism/homophobia/etc. I tend to illustrate the problem with
my own whiteness. I'm an antiracist activist -- obviously I don't
*want* to contribute to the oppressive structure within which black
Americans are forced to live. But... every time I go to a store, a
restaurant, a bank, I am ("naturally") treated like a white person. To
me this is "normal"... or at least it was normal until I learned to
always measure my normality by the normality of my black peers. Only
then did I find that I was advantaged. That's the problem with Alan's
critique: he wants to pretend he's not privileged because he's not the
MOST privileged of the privileged. But a woman in the same position
(or a black person) would be more restricted and even less privileged
than he.

This is Feminism 101. That women must outline these ideas and go over
them (and defend them) on a list as sophisticated and progressive as
nettime is truly telling. Despite its demonization (and the ubiquity
of the belief in PC), feminism has made disappointingly few inroads
in academia, on the net, or in the "real world." Women constitute
an oppressed class, and those levels of oppression are moderated or
exacerbated by other oppressions including class, race, and sexual
orientation. This is not so hard to understand, and it is not at all
hard to prove to anyone willing to consider the evidence.

It's extremely tiring to have to both live with oppression on a  
continuous basis AND to be responsible for proving one is oppressed  
over and over again to an audience with a vested interest in not  
believing the truth.  Individual men could make it easier on us by  
taking responsibility for educating themselves about gender  
oppression and not relying on us to give them private lessons on our  
own time, for no pay. We've done the studies, written the books, made  
the films, posted the posts, created the art: it's all there for you.  
That you often don't bother to pick them up before you speak -- that  
you don't, in fact, feel you have to be informed to speak -- simply  
illustrates the problem.

Feminist theory is not a virus that somehow propagates through your  
system after "exposure."  It's a field, like any other field, and  
acquires attentive study and inquiry to understand. A hundred or more  
feminist texts address exactly your question. If you want a real  
answer you could start with Dale Spender's and Joanna Russ's work  
(it's over 25 years old). Take a look at writing by Mary Helen  
Washington, bell hooks (especially "Talking Back") and Audre Lorde.   
Essential reading is the Sadkers' famous long-term study of  
educational practices, _Failing at Fairness_.  Try also Carol  
Gilligan's classic, _In a Different Voice_.  I could go on for hours.  
That you can't is proof that your exposure to feminist theory didn't  
cause you to catch it.  I think you have to get close enough to rub  
minds.

Kali






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