Benjamin Geer on Wed, 11 Oct 2006 21:22:27 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: kaligram: Re: <nettime> Why Isn't There Men's Studies? [2x6]

2006/10/11, Kali Tal <>:
> The topic under question
> was chiefly whether the critic had the right to criticize.

Certainly the critic had the right to criticise, and I think made some
good points, as did other critics who spoke up.

> THEN.... A guy asks a question about a supposed "hole" in feminist
> theory.  The hole, he claims, is that women don't seem to ask men
> what they think or feel.  What happens? Four women respond helpfully
> (three of them with lists of specific readings); one woman concurs
> and uses your question as a point of substantial reflection... and
> one man and one woman tell you politely, "Look it up, buddy; you've
> got eyes and feet." Nobody tears you a new asshole, says you look
> "ridiculous" for asking the question, or challenges your right to speak.
> And in this context, you continue to say a problem with feminism is
> that it doesn't understand how men feel and think? The difference in
> response was invisible to you.

I thanked you for your response, and said I would read the books you
mentioned.  All the other (very helpful) responses arrived in my inbox
afterwards.  So my remarks to you were not a failure to take other
people's suggestions into account; I just hadn't received those
suggestions yet.  In other words, you're jumping the gun a bit here.

I am indeed grateful for all the responses my question raised, and I
will indeed "look it up" as soon as I'm back in a country where
libraries contain those sorts of books.

> You claim in two posts that you had meaningful exposure to feminist
> theory, but in neither post do you name a single feminist thinker
> except Virginia Woolf.

Most of this was many years ago, so my memory is incomplete... I liked
Gerda Lerner and Judith Butler (and gave _Bodies that Matter_ to my
wife), and others whose names I've forgotten, including some who wrote
brilliant feminist critiques of scientific discourse produced by
men... I really tried to read Helene Cixous and Luce Irigaray... I've
read and liked quite a lot of fiction by women, mostly French ones,
ranging from Francoise de Graffigny to Nathalie Sarraute, Marguerite
Yourcenar and Marguerite Duras.  On the other hand, just to take a
small example, I remember things like a collection of short stories by
women writers about what they would do if they had a penis (could it
have been _Dick for a Day?_) in which the premise of one story was
that if the author had one, she'd automatically be filled with hatred
towards women and would go right out and rape one...

More generally, I took a lot of undergraduate and postgraduate
literature courses at American universities, some taught by feminists,
and (if memory serves) a course on Freud also taught by a feminist.
There were many female students in these courses doing research on
feminist topics, and through their presentations in class and
discussions with them, I became familiar with some of the key concepts
they were using, and I read some of the articles they cited.  I had
long discussions with a close female friend who was doing a PhD in
feminist literary criticism.  What struck me was that we could read
the same literary text by a male author, and find such different
meanings in it... she and her female students seemed to be oblivious
to the ordinary male experiences that I found between the lines of
such texts.

>  Your suggestion that feminism would benefit
> from familiarity with sociological and anthropological method only
> underlines your ignorance of more than two generations of feminist
> work in those fields (look it up) and is truly, deeply patronizing.

I know it exists.  Saba Mahmoud's recent book _Politics of Piety_ is a
fine example, I think, and is one of the few books I brought with me
to the Middle East.  I'm happy to hear from you, and others here, that
there's much more.  If you like, take my comment as a reflection on
one man's experience of the feminist discourse that seemed to be "in
the air" in American universities in the 1980s and 90s, rather than on
feminism as a whole, which as you rightly note, I am not qualified to
comment on.

> If, as you say, you accept the fact
> women are oppressed (including being silenced), how is it you can
> reasonably argue that I not only have to overcome the restrictions
> against my speech (and the tendency of men not to listen even when I
> *am* speaking), but that I also have have the responsibility to help
> my oppressors overcome their own communication difficulties?

For me, Feminism 101 was being raised by an educated, divorced lesbian
who struggled to make ends meet, and I came to the academic subject of
feminism with a positive attitude towards it.  I took it for granted
that women were to be respected and listened to, and looked forward to
a real dialogue with my peers and professors about the problems of
gender.  Unfortunately, I often found myself lumped together with the
"oppressors", as you have just done, as if we men were all alike and
all bent on oppressing women.  There seemed to be no place for a
dialogue in which both men and women could try to understand each
other's experiences of gender in an atmosphere of equal respect.  I
was glad to see a generation of ardent young women claiming a space
for their own voices, and took many of their arguments on board, but
was saddened to see that much of what they were saying about men
didn't fit my experience at all or that of other men I knew.  Perhaps
I was wholly mistaken; I hope to find out by reading what you and
others have suggested to me.

> Where,
> in this argument, is the responsibility of *men* outlined? It isn't.
> Not *once* do you suggest, anywhere, that men have an obligation to
> learn to communicate clearly, or to listen to women.

Actually, I did say that.  When you wrote:

| 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.

... I replied:

| I agree wholeheartedly that this is very important, and that, at least
| in the societies I know well, most men need to learn to listen to
| women a lot better.  (This is an area in which I'm personally still
| trying to improve.)

Perhaps "the difference in response was invisible to you", as you put it?

> You're only
> concerned that women don't listen to you. Or that they listen, but
> because you don't state your thoughts and feelings clearly, they
> don't *understand*.

This isn't an issue for me personally.  I've had great dialogues with
women and men about these things.  But I know it's a problem for a lot
of heterosexual men, who feel silenced on certain topics... not by
women, but by expectations about masculinity that both men and women
share.  Yes, it's men's responsibility to overcome this problem, to
rebel against masculinity, and I think a real dialogue about gender
can only take place to the extent that men do rebel.  I'm just saying
that, in my admittedly limited encounters with feminism, I didn't
notice much interest in that sort of dialogue with straight men, even
with the ones who, like me, were trying to learn from feminism and
rebel against masculinity.  I'm very much looking forward to finding
some real dialogue with straight men about gender in the readings that
you and others here have very helpfully suggested.  Maybe there's not
much point in going on with this discussion until I've done so.


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