Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A Freshly-Hatched Tone Argument

If a man who is critical of feminism writes a flippant post at his "menz" blog that plays right into stereotypes about Angry Feminists, it should be a statement of the obvious to say that many feminists will view him as walking on extremely thin ice.

So, it was with trepidation that I read Noah's post at No Seriously, What About Teh Menz (NSWATM) on "Freshly-Hatched Gynocratic Rage." He begins:

"The title of this post, 'freshly-hatched gynocratic rage' ["FHGR"], is a phrase I came across in an issue of Bitch magazine, lo these many years ago, and I apologize for not being able to dig up the name of the author who originally coined it.

She described it, more or less, as the phase every feminist woman goes through where she takes her first women’s studies course, suddenly sees and understands the pervasiveness of the damage and unfairness our society subjects women to, and spends a year or two completely pissed off" (emphasis added).

In explaining this phenomenon of FHGR, Noah suggests:

"Discovery of the incredibly pervasive nature of gendered injustice combines the power of novelty with the power of legitimate outrage at something profoundly wrong, and it’s easy to overshoot."

He then proceeded to invite his audience that is predominately comprised of men (presumably, since it's a men's issues blog), and is certainly dominated by men's voices (since many commenters shared their experiences as men), to share their stories of "gynocratic rage" and how they were able to move beyond this phase of feminism.

Aside from the problematically vague diagnosis criteria for FHGR, notice how the author who coined the term did so in the context of women discussing their own anger upon perceiving the vast nature of gendered oppression against women.

Let me share a story.

In June of 2010, I posted the following quote from Sarah Sentilles, a feminist scholar of religion:

"It was only when I heard a prayer that said 'she' instead of 'he,' when I heard God called 'mother' instead of 'father,' that I realized how much translating I had to do when I sat in church, how much energy I spent wondering if I was included, how much I longed for theological language I could see myself in."

No matter how allied, sympathetic, feminist, or gender-egalitarian a man is, I'm not sure an experience like that is going to resonate with him in the way it resonates with many women. Now consider a man who is predisposed to be critical of feminism or is not allied or sympathetic, and well, I can quickly imagine him minimizing women's anger at religious institution's alienating us from god.

Some Zen Buddhists say that in order to really know something, one has to experience it.

Along with that idea, even if men may have their own experiences of oppression as men, I'm not sure the sense of alienation that many women feel within male-centric religions, and the consequent anger at how such religions dominate many societies, is something many men can truly fathom. I think it is, in fact, understandable for many men not to be as angry as women might be upon first learning about feminism and first hearing the oppression of women articulated.

Indeed, my point here isn't to spark a conversation about male-centric religions, for that is but one example among many, but rather to question an assumption Noah seemed to be relying on in opening the floor to his audience predominately comprised of men: that they would have experienced FHGR at all upon first learning about feminism.

While some commenters did seem to discuss their own experiences, others... not so much. Instead of sharing their own experiences of having gone through FHGR themselves, some interpreted the post as a call to talk about how feminists with FHGR have Turned Them Away From Feminism (aka- The trusty "They'll catch more flies with honey than vinegar" excuse for not taking feminism seriously).

A sample:

"When I first discovered feminism, I felt very guilty about the bad things men have done."

"I was expressly told that as an egalitarian, I had no part in feminism. For the most part 99% of feminists I meet are pure shit, but hey isn’t that a law somewhere?"

"I’d had my fair share of crazies screaming at me for being a man, but they were just that: crazy. After reading a lot of feminist material on the internet, however, I started to feel really bad about the whole patriarchy thing."

My issue with the above commentary, aside from a suspect and ableist interpretation of feminist "crazies," the above commentary wasn't FHGR at all, but rather, a sharing of Freshly-Hatched Male-Centric Guilt and Defensiveness.

See, a qualification of having had FHGR, is that a person has, at some point discovered the pervasive nature of gendered injustice against women, has had that injustice resonate, and has consequently felt angry about it. The above comments seemed to have missed basically all of those components.

The thing is, many men won't feel the same sense of "ragey"-ness about the oppression of women, because they simply don't experience the oppression of women in the way that women do. And because they're not going to understand feminist anger, they're going to be more likely to trivialize it, exaggerate it, or use it as a reason to not take feminism and feminist women seriously.

If men are the beneficiaries of certain institutions and belief systems that are sexist against women, I would garner that some of them might even see a vested interest in not understanding or appreciating the legitimacy of a woman's anger about such systems. In fact, some men might see their own defensiveness and guilt as more legitimate, important, and central than women's oppression.

And that's the crux of my criticism of Noah's piece, really.

Is there really a shortage of people who think feminism and feminist women have an anger problem? Is there a shortage of male "allies" or "egalitarians" who will only support feminism if their hands are held, their defensiveness coddled, and we assure them that we know, we really really know, that they're not personally responsible for every bad thing men have ever done?

[Note: Cross-posted at Alas, A Blog, where, I am happy to report, I'm now a guest blogger.]

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