Thursday, December 29, 2011

No Seriously, What About the Other Sexists?

In the comment threads here in Fannie's Room, Brian linked to this book:

Dave Barry's Complete Guide to Guys

Description: "For thousands of years, women have asked themselves: What is the deal with guys, anyway? What are they thinking? The answer, of course, is: virtually nothing. But that has not stopped Dave Barry from writing an entire book about them, dealing frankly and semi-thoroughly with such important guy issues as:

- Scratching
- Why the average guy can remember who won the 1960 World Series but not necessarily the names of all his children
- Why guys cannot simultaneously think and look at breasts
- Secret guy orgasm-delaying techniques, including the Margaret Thatcher Method
- Why guys prefer to believe that there is no such thing as a 'prostate'"

Brian's point, if I'm interpreting correctly, was that this book is a prevailing cultural narrative about what constitutes manhood.

My point, which I did not get into with Brian in our conversation, is that this Dave Barry narrative is not the most flattering to men. What are guys thinking? Why, nothing of course! Har har har.


These books piss me off. Not only because they portray men as bumbling morons, but because inevitably it's feminists, rather than Dave Barry, who end up getting the primary blame for these narratives.

Indeed, what is always curious to me is why men's rights activists let books like these almost completely off the hook in their criticisms of prevailing cultural narratives of manhood, opting instead to fixate almost entirely on feminists. It is bizarre to me. This Dave Barry book is not exactly published by a feminist press and I reckon that Dave Barry's writings are approximately 503 times more popular than the writings of, say, Andrea Dworkin.

Relatedly, I recently asked a similar question over at the No Seriously What About Teh Menz (NSWATM) blog. There, Ozy had written a post about the CDC's recently-released statistics on intimate partner violence. These statistics acknowledged that men too can be victims, and women perpetrators, of such violence. I think this acknowledgement is significant, and a good thing, because mainstream narratives on such violence often invisibilize male victims and female perpetrators.

Yet, judging by many of the (mostly male-authored?) comments, this invisibilization is 100% due to the efforts of feminists. One commenter discussed how (imaginary?) feminists viewed the rape of men as a "hilarious joke." He didn't say which feminists, naturally. Another brought up the idea of tracking how and which feminists were contributing to the female-victim/male-perpetrator model of violence. Another discussed how the fun feminists were "glossing over" what the "political radicals" were doing in the name of feminism.

Entirely absent from the conversation was how mainstream narratives and rightwing, male-dominated "traditionalist" narratives were contributing to this problem.

Strange, no?

Now, I certainly wouldn't deny that some feminists have helped perpetuate the female-victim/male-perpetrator model of intimate partner violence. Those voices should be countered and critiqued, but the entirety of feminism and feminist thought shouldn't be rejected as irredeemable either. And, if there are additional purveyors of this narrative, shouldn't they be called out as well?

After all, other voices contribute, and have historically contributed, to that narrative as well. But you would never know that by reading many men's rights/men's issues blogs. Which implies two things:

One, it implies that some people's desire to eradicate this narrative might be insincere, and instead might be a vendetta to discredit feminism.

And two, it suggests that while some men can handle other men spreading unfair narratives about men, they see it as extra special bad (or uppity?) if it is women or feminists who are spreading unfair narratives about men. Because while men are entitled to publicly air their views no matter their problematic nature, women's views, if they are not 100% perfect and acceptable to all people, must be completely silenced, suppressed, and eradicated.

Or, as I noted at NSWATM:

"I see a lot of talk here about feminist groups’ influence on the 'male perpetrator, female victim' view. Are folks here also concerned about tracking and opposing mainstream and rightwing non-feminist narratives that contribute to that view as well?

It’s not like the mainstream media is exactly all over the fact that men can be raped too. When they remember, it tends to be in the context of big scandals like Penn State, and then everyone is all, 'OMG, little boys can be raped. Who knew?!' which seems to perpetuate the view that the rape of boys and men is extremely rare.

Rightwing commentators tend to be worse. I believe it was Ann Althouse who linked to this blog (or maybe it was the Good Men Project?), and the vast majority of the commenters there mocked sites like this, implying that issues like the rape of men weren’t serious issues and that men caring about these issues are 'manginas.'

So, when I see people here only take issue with 'feminists,' for their complicity in invisibilizing the rape of men, I see people letting others who are also complicit off the hook really easily. Frankly, that tactic is going to alienate you from potential feminist allies. I am more than willing to advocate for better and more accurate tracking of rape statistics, but I wouldn’t be a part of a movement that is only critical of feminists and lets non-feminists voices who perpetuate rape myths go unchallenged.”

Hugh Ristick, who runs a blog critical of feminism, was the only commenter at NSWATM who seriously engaged my question. His theory was that "When mainstream and traditionalist groups propagate the male perpetrator, female victim model, it’s not a surprise. It’s old news."

It's an interesting idea, but I don't buy it. It might explain the criticism that some level against feminists, but I'm not sure it explains the majority of the "men's rights," non-feminist, and anti-feminist fixation on blaming feminism for, in particular, this violence narrative and, in general, almost every other social ill facing men.

I read multiple men's rights blogs and blogs that focus on gender issues from a male/men's perspective, and from this reading I would have never fathomed that it's "old news" to most commentators and commenters that "mainstream and traditionalist groups propagate the male perpetrator, female victim model."

Because it's just not brought up or acknowledged.

To argue that it's "old news" for mainstream and traditionalist groups to propagate the male perpetrator/female victim model, implies that it's "new news" for feminists to. And, well, that doesn't really resonate. After all, one of the big criticisms of second-wave feminism (which many critics of feminism treat as the monolithic entirety of feminism) has, for decades now, been that feminism propagates a "man-hating" male perpetrator/female victim model that isn't true to reality.

What Hugh is essentially saying is that feminism, unlike mainstream and traditionalist groups, isn't really known for portraying men in an unfair, negative light, and so critics of feminism have to be extra sure that everyone knows that feminists contribute to portraying men in an unfair, negative light.

And that, honestly, makes me just LOL in bitter disbelief.

For, it is a truth almost-universally acknowledged among many (most?) anti-feminist, non-feminist, mainstream, and traditionalist commentators (which, as a whole, constitute, what, 80-90% of the rest of society?) that feminism paints men in an unfair, negative light. It is furthermore universally acknowledged by these same groups that their own musings on men, while perhaps a little unflattering, are Just Telling It Like It Is commonsensical truths about sex and gender.

I therefore contend that many (most?) critics of feminism who single out feminism do so, not because it's some startling revelation to the fan base that some feminists create problematic narratives, but because it is not as politically risky to single out feminism for such criticism. Namely, because feminism is coded "female," criticizing it involves no breaking of ranks with male-dominated narratives or with the narratives that also privilege men, manhood, and masculinity.

I further contend that it is, in fact, cheap and easy to single out feminism as the number one cause of men's problems, because feminism is already viewed by many (most?) anti-feminists, non-feminists, mainstream, and traditionalist commentators as marginal, hysterical, man-hating, subjective, emotional, and utterly lacking in credibility (and yet- bizarrely- also extremely powerful. Unlike anti-feminist, non-feminist, mainstream, and traditional narratives which, as the silence of these critics would have us believe, are utterly powerless to shape cultural narratives).

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