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  1. Myca
    Myca November 3, 2006 at 6:09 pm |

    No useful comment, just a quick ‘you kick ass.’ Great topic, and I’m really looking forward to hearing what’s said.

  2. orange
    orange November 3, 2006 at 6:38 pm |

    This is a really great thought. So many times women’s solidarity is trivialized- women’s homosocial activities are slang-termed hen parties, or else we’re knitting and maybe having too many candy bars and margaritas. It’s seen as an indulgence. Because women’s true allegiance isn’t supposed to be to other women, it’s supposed to be to their families- married or single. Unlike men, for whom loyalty and fraternity are supposed to be the crowning virtues.

    But all of this, of course, is a construct of culture. I loved an article that I found here on feministe about the female-only subway cars in Cairo, and how an underground women’s culture started to emerge on a small scale.

    I think that feminist culture, to some extent, needs to check itself, but not in a negative, exclusionist way. I think the answer lies in examining your choices; as a bad example, to apply makeup every morning, never asking why, in order to feel socially acceptable (or, in fact, to do anything in order to feel socially acceptable) has a kind of different feel to me than putting on makeup because you’ve thought about it, you like doing it, and it gives you a positive feeling. It’s a matter of looking at your motivations and being honest with yourself.

    The man-checking relies too much on shaming the members who step out of line. I can’t agree with that. But maybe there’s something else there we can use.

    I don’t know if any of this made sense. But this is definitely something I think we should be talking about, so thank you.

  3. gennimcmahon
    gennimcmahon November 3, 2006 at 6:45 pm |

    I got my ass handed to me for saying this somewheres else, but, to a certain degree, I find the “checking” of one another’s feminism to frequently become an exercise in “oh, look, as long as we fight over lipstick, we aren’t doing anything important, so the patriarchy can carry on its merry way.” The problem, for me, is that the point at which I draw the line is subjective. I don’t draw the line at make up or hair removal. That doesn’t make me right, or wrong. But, I’ve found that thinking about the debate has been very formative. I at least have to consider WHY I do something; I may keep doing it, I may not, but my brain gets a little bigger once I’ve done some soul searching. When I think of bigger activities that women undertake for feminist causes, I can’t imagine that in the middle of, say, a march to bring attention to all the murdered women in Juarez, Mexico, one feminist would stop to argue about another feminist’s eye shadow. In that sense, the intellectual debate and “checking” is useful, providing it doesn’t turn into a true test of club membership that prevents us from doing the truly necessary work to change the status quo and transform the world. As always, Ilyka, you are intellectual head and shoulders above me and I am deeply impressed.

  4. Ilyka Damen
    Ilyka Damen November 3, 2006 at 7:13 pm |

    The man-checking relies too much on shaming the members who step out of line. I can’t agree with that. But maybe there’s something else there we can use.

    Right on. In the comments to Lauren’s post, belledame dropped a link to this post at Tiny Cat Pants that I should also have credited with getting me started on this:

    I know we talked about this before, a long time ago, about how certain types of feminism rely heavily on the notion that women are more moral than men, which, of course, is no different than how non-feminists often view women. Viewing women as more moral than men, even if you want to use that argument to get women something more than they have*, doesn’t actually change the underlying framework that belief rests on.

    And that reflects a perception and a fear I used to get a lot from right-wing women particularly (though not exclusively): That the dismantling of patriarchy will just result in matriarchy, patriarchy in drag, so to speak; meet the new boss, same as the old boss, except with lipstick–and how could that possibly be any better? Hell, it might be worse! And I think that it would be the same as or worse, if all it did was model patriarchy right down the line except with women in charge.

    So yeah, I can’t agree with shaming or ostracism as an appropriate feminist method either. I think what I do envy men is their relative security in the knowledge that such criticisms aren’t necessarily personal and don’t always need to be taken as such. Now that part I’d like to co-opt if I could.

  5. Amanda Marcotte
    Amanda Marcotte November 3, 2006 at 7:18 pm |

    Ilyka, you are the shit. Thanks for this.

  6. piny
    piny November 3, 2006 at 7:24 pm |

    So yeah, I can’t agree with shaming or ostracism as an appropriate feminist method either. I think what I do envy men is their relative security in the knowledge that such criticisms aren’t necessarily personal and don’t always need to be taken as such. Now that part I’d like to co-opt if I could.

    Do you mean in terms of progressive movements and/or healthy male self-perception, or in terms of the watercooler-shaming you described above? Because if it’s the latter, I think that the men who care about them do take them to heart, and are insecure as a result. It’s just that their insecurity manifests as hypermasculine brashness, because exploiting male insecurity in the name of conformity means exploiting male fears of weakness. When the woman is introduced as site of vulnerability, that doesn’t actually create a strong construct of manhood–only a paranoiac one. The resulting entitlement may seem like real confidence, but it’s almost as fragile as conventional femininity.

  7. Jill
    Jill November 3, 2006 at 7:32 pm | *

    I have nothing to add, except to say that my blog-crush on you has just reached epic proportions.

  8. Amanda Marcotte
    Amanda Marcotte November 3, 2006 at 7:34 pm |

    That said, I don’t have time to really think about your other questions, but the notion that men are more unified as a sex is often established, like a lot of masculinities, as a negative—in other words, we believe in male unity because we perceive women as especially divisive. I’ve had men tell me straight up that women can’t really be friends. There’s no male equivalent to the concept of “cattiness”. Men are seen as more aggressive, sure, but it’s in a depersonalized way that doesn’t affect our perception of male unity.

    Cattiness as a stereotype of women is a HUGE issue for feminism. First of all, it’s real enough—cattiness is simply the way that women compete with each other in a patriarchy, and it gets personal and all too often it’s in regards to a male dictated standard. Cattiness fascinates me—part of a big paper I wrote in college was about the cattiness in “Snow White”—hell, at this point I think I should probably write a whole post on the phenomenon. Anyway, my point is that cattiness is a double-edged sword. Attempts to “check” each other in a feminist movement don’t read like male reinforcement of patriarchy; they end up reading as catty.

    The most troubling part is sometimes they ARE catty. Althouse was pretending to be “concerned” about feminism when she went after Jessica for having boobs in front of the President, but in reality she was being an unvarnished cat, envying another woman and trying to make her feel small.

  9. Rockit
    Rockit November 3, 2006 at 8:30 pm |

    I can see what you’re getting at with the whole water cooler thing but part of male bonding involves mutual light-hearted teasing over everything from relationships to tastes, clothes, the state of various favourite sports teams. Unless they’re especially sensitive, it’s understood by most guys that these cracks are for the most part tongue-in-cheek and aren’t meant to be taken seriously; they’re just banter. If jason ended up dumping his wife, or changing his opinion of the relationship, because of some gentle ribbing, that would tend to be taken as a far worse sign of ‘male weakness’ by greg and andy than simply helping out with housework. Obviously there are more intense forms of social pressure in some friendships but I don’t think what you were describing here can fall under the banner of gender checking.

  10. evil fizz
    evil fizz November 3, 2006 at 8:32 pm | *

    Part of me feels that the mere labeling of “cat fights” and “cattiness” as such is a method of enforcing patriarchial norms. It’s trivializing, which, of course, is a main motif of the patriarchy.

  11. Ilyka Damen
    Ilyka Damen November 3, 2006 at 8:40 pm |

    Part of me feels that the mere labeling of “cat fights” and “cattiness” as such is a method of enforcing patriarchial norms. It’s trivializing, which, of course, is a main motif of the patriarchy.

    It does have that effect. I prefer “fighting over crumbs,” which I think explains the motivations underlying a lot of what we term cattiness anyhow. In any case some term is needed–plain jealousy will do–to describe your Althouses and so forth. I’m not particularly fussy about which one we use.

    If jason ended up dumping his wife, or changing his opinion of the relationship, because of some gentle ribbing, that would tend to be taken as a far worse sign of ‘male weakness’ by greg and andy than simply helping out with housework.

    Oh definitely. I’m not implying it’s that simple or direct, though; obviously Jason would be an overly sensitive freak to take such drastic action on the basis of banter. I’m looking at this more as a subtle effect over time, to where Jason knows that next time, even if “doing chores” IS how he spent his weekend, it’d be better not to say so.

  12. JackGoff
    JackGoff November 3, 2006 at 8:49 pm |

    “Pleasing your wife makes the rest of us look bad.” “Pleasing your wife won’t bring you any happiness.” “Real men don’t aim to please their wives; real men find new wives who are pleased with them already.” Etc

    [Nods vigorously] Anytime I step in on the misogyny I hear around me on a day to day basis to say something, I get the attack/smackdown that basically uses societal slang for “woman” in an attempt to make me feel bad about my “whipped” status. Mix in subtle hints that question my sexuality. Mass laughter. The message is not-so-subtly broadcast that I either prop up my male friends to the detriment of the women around me, or I get derision. I often get the phrase “Whose side are you on, anyway?” Goody, I have to choose a “side” now.

    The fact that I clean a lot and do work around my apartment gets me laughed at. The fact that I don’t feel that, when some asshat calls me a pussy, I am being insulted gets me laughed at.

    “Ha, what are you, gay?”

    “And would there be a problem if I was?”

    “Whoa, dude’s gay!”

    [walks away shaking head]

    It’s enough to make a boy lose hope hope.

  13. JackGoff
    JackGoff November 3, 2006 at 8:49 pm |

    It’s enough to make a boy lose hope hope.

    Or just regular hope.

  14. piny
    piny November 3, 2006 at 8:54 pm |

    Or just regular hope.

    Which should be good enough for any real man.

    What Ilyka said. It’s kidding, but kidding on the square.

  15. Mark S.
    Mark S. November 3, 2006 at 9:14 pm |

    In what ways, subtle and overt, do men urge each other to behave for the overall good of men as a sex?

    This question makes me think of two things that happened in the last week in sports. Brian Kinchen, a commenter for ESPN, got suspended for saying this during a game:

    You can’t use your shoulder to catch a football. You’ve got to learn to catch you’re your hands…your shoulder pads are hard and stiff, your hands are smooth and tender, they can move and caress the football…that’s kind of, that’s kind of gay, but hey…

    A couple of days later, according to blogger Jonathon Weiler, Mike Greenberg, a popular ESPN radio host, had this to say:

    Greenberg was discussing the suspension yesterday of Guillermo Mota, the hard-throwing former Mets’ reliever, for violating MLB’s steroid policy. Mota is automatically subject to a fifty game suspension and issued a statement taking full responsibility for what he had done. Greenberg expressed shock that a modern athlete would simply accept responsibility for what he had done, and not try to make excuses for having failed a drug test. By contrast, Shawne Merriman and Rafael Palmeiro, for example, insisted that if they ingested banned substances, they did so unwittingly.
    I heard this while driving my daughter to school, so I don’t have the full quote, but Greenberg did positively say that Mota “manned up” by coming clean, as opposed to all of these other athletes who “womaned down.”

    Greenberg, of course didn’t get suspended. Who really said the worse thing? Kinchen, in the course of describing the simple proposition that it is easier to catch a ball with your hands than your shoulder pads, realized he was using a lot of homoerotic imagery to explain it, and made a joke about it. Greenberg basically denigrated an entire sex as cowardly and deceitful.

    What Greenberg wanted to say was that athletes that refuse to admit they got caught are pussies, but he couldn’t say pussy on the radio. Paradoxically, he ended up sounding even more sexist, since pussy (at least I think) doesn’t denigrate all women, just as if I call someone a dick it doesn’t denigrate all men. I’m not saying calling someone a pussy is right (there are a lot of other ways to call someone weak and cowardly), but by cleaning it up for radio, he really ended up insulting women.

    So, in answer to the question, no, I don’t think men do a great job of encouraging others in their sex of behaving better.

  16. Ilyka Damen
    Ilyka Damen November 3, 2006 at 9:18 pm |

    So, in answer to the question, no, I don’t think men do a great job of encouraging others in their sex of behaving better.

    I didn’t ask whether they did a great job of encouraging others in their sex to behave better. I KNOW they suck at that. I do think they encourage other members of their sex to reinforce patriarchal norms. Your stories do back that up some.

  17. Carpenter
    Carpenter November 3, 2006 at 9:23 pm |

    Along the lines of male bonding…
    I have been thinking about how much of mens cluelessness about women is motivated by woman-hating vs plain old ignorance or possibly some other form of idiocy. I was talking to a guy friend about this. He told me he didn’t think hating women was motivating much of the male stupidiy but that, along the lines of the water cooler, men really worried about coming off badly to other men and said stupid shit to impress them- that some forms of borishness had nothing to do with women. But it seems to me that before you decide that you care soooo much about what other men alone think of you, you must have aready decided that women dont count at all, that you dont need to impress or worry about womens perceptions of you because they dont count- by not counting they must not be as good as men and so on some level you must hate them.
    I am left to conclude that male cohesion requires some level of woman hating to even exist.

  18. Heraclitus
    Heraclitus November 3, 2006 at 9:26 pm |

    Hi, Ilyka, this is a really good post. (By the way, it might amuse you to know that it took me some time to figure out how your blogging name is supposed to be pronounced. For a while I thought you were Eastern European or something.) One difference between the guys at the water cooler and feminists that jumps out at me: the men you described are trying to preserve their more or less irrational and unjustifiable privilege. Therefore they have to use “shaming” techniques (which I, at least, would describe as catty). Feminists, however, have principles to which they can appeal when questioning each others’ actions or words. I know you weren’t unquestioningly presenting the guys at the water cooler as a model, but it may be a whole different thing. The problem seems to me to be less that women or feminists can’t exert pressure on each other and more that feminists just don’t always share the same set of principles, or don’t always agree on where to draw the line where one’s private life begins.

    By the way, Jack, you probably already know this, but it’s fairly easy to deal with such situations with some version of the “I fucked your mom/you like dick/your Johnson is miniscule” put-down. I realize such things don’t do much good in the grand scheme of things, but it will at least shut a douchebag up.

  19. Jenny Dreadful
    Jenny Dreadful November 3, 2006 at 9:34 pm |

    Wow, this is a fantastic post. I was all over Lauren’s post, but your takeoff is great, Ilyka.

    Men are seen as a more united sex in no small part because of the way they enforce gender norms with water cooler banter like the scene you described. There are even huge advertising campaigns that use that situation–there’s one for TGI Friday’s, I think, where a group of men derides one of their friends for eating broccoli or something instead of meat, which is “manly.” Or the Old Milwaukee commercials, where cans of beer fall from the sky and crush men who diverge from gender norms. It’s interesting, and I think what you say is right, that women are generally less likely to deride others about what’s best for the sex because in our society, our responsibilities are to our husbands and families and not to our sex. And this cuts to the core of WHY I’m a feminist: I don’t want to owe allegiance to hearth and home OR to my sex, I think it’s a false dichotomy and we (should) have more lifestyle options and more gender options than that.

  20. Thomas
    Thomas November 3, 2006 at 9:56 pm |

    Jack, the other way to deal with it is the bushido of the Totally Serious Insufferable Douche. Nothing sucks the air out of a room like a good deadpan “I’m on their side. I’m a feminist. I think you’re reprehensible.”

    Of course, it’s easier to do that if you’re in a position in your job where your skills will get you support even if the office frat boys don’t like you.

    It also works as part of a larger ideological package if you work in an environment where progressive politics go with the territory. Being feminist and not playing along with misogyny, in an environment where there is a general progressive leaning, can make you the office True Believer. That comes with its own mocking, but IME, it really gets a certain grudging respect.

  21. Carpenter
    Carpenter November 3, 2006 at 9:57 pm |

    Heraclitus
    I totally agre with the watercooler=cattyness. I guess I never thought about it before but guys very oftern seem to use little snipes and at eachother playing manlier than thou, this is the totally the sorority firl stereotype of destroying your opponent with a thousand tiny cuts. HA!

  22. Heraclitus
    Heraclitus November 3, 2006 at 10:00 pm |

    By the way, and despite my advocacy of school-yard put-downs above, I wonder how common exchanges like the water cooler one are now. I’m really sorry if this is derailing the thread, but if the idea is men are better at acting as a group to defend their interests, so how do they do it, then saying a bit more about what they do might be useful. I don’t know, because I’m in a profession where sexism or misogyny is mostly not tolerated (unless its very subtle or very private), and in any case where pretensions to manly manliness are not exactly prized.

    It seems to me that if a guy responds to “what did you do this weekend” with, “Well, I just wanted to lay on the couch and watch football, but my wife ran my ass all over the place doing chores,” he’s already in a pretty dysfunctional marriage. If he replies with, “We cleaned out the attic and the garage, and I did some yard work,” would he still be mocked? Aren’t most men pragmatic enough to realize that most dudes have to do some housework, and if another guy presents it as working in tandem with his wife, rather than submitting to her hen-pecking rule, will he be mocked? Is male privileged reinforced in more subtle ways? And, again, if this is too far off topic, I’m sorry, and people can just ignore it (or delete it).

  23. williamx
    williamx November 3, 2006 at 10:34 pm |

    Men, in general, are constantly in competition with one another, on just about every level you might care to mention. Men compete for women, above all. This is the key ‘check’, I believe. Nobody wants to be demonstrated as loser, and men who are not into the competition are targets for unchecked abuse, up to and including physical violence and being deprived of life. This is maybe a reason why being called gay is offered up as an insult, and why actual gay people are marginalized as much as possible.
    Among the consequences of this competition is the objectification of women, since women are prizes to be won or lost. Women participate in this, to some greater or lesser degree, for whatever reasons. (survival being the most obvious).
    I guess I am sort of leading into a ‘people are animals and all animals fiercly compete for limited resources and opportunities to reproduce’ as the reason all this competition goes down. The patriarchy came about to regulate all this competition so we can live together, after a fashion. Everyone in their place and a place for everyone . . . it works for the ‘winners’ and everyone else needs to adapt to the way the winners organize things.
    The definition of winning seems to possibly be oh so slowly changing, but as long as people see life as a competition, any culture is going to be some variation on this theme. Can’t have a competition without winners and losers. It sucks to be a loser . . . that will never change.
    As far as men being thicker skinned taking thing less personally . . . maybe that is so, but for myself (short, not so rich, not the most handsome) it seems we’re hugely insecure all of us. Men laugh at themselves when they are hurting from one thing or another, ignore it and file it away “My feelings can’t hurt me because they are over there and I am all cool over here, laughing.” So we get some disconnection going on and it gets easier and maybe even necessary to objectify women as prizes, gays as losers etc . . .
    I think I’ve wondered pretty far off topic so ta ta for now.

  24. Carpenter
    Carpenter November 3, 2006 at 10:54 pm |

    Men, in general, are constantly in competition with one another, on just about every level you might care to mention.

    See this is the thing about guys wo subscribe to the competition defense…. before you can decide to compete for women, you must already have come to the conclusion that they are things, not people. Men are people against people for things. However before this competeing over women hing happens, one has to decide if women are people-whom men will be competing against, or things to be competed over. So they must already hate women and put them in the things category. Thus the woman hated is the source/cause of the competition and thingifying and not the reverse.

    Of course I simply dont buy that there is an ev-psych motivation for patriarchy.

  25. kate
    kate November 3, 2006 at 10:57 pm |

    This conversation about women working together to reinforce feminist goals versus men working together to reinforce the patriarchy is quite interesting.

    I work in the trades, as a woman I run my own construction company. Granted, the men who work for me as subs (I haven’t found any women yet) probably already have no issues with taking orders from a woman. That being said, I am surprised at the number of men who are willing to work with/under me. According to the reported status quo, I should be having a hell of a time finding men to work for me, but I don’t. In fact, I have to say that often men seem eager to work for me and I’ve concluded that many men are happy to get away from the Rule of the Machismo.

    Once on a job, among many tradesman who were doing a rough-in, an electrician, who had demonstrated repeatedly that he had woman issues(making lurid ‘joking’ comments to me in private) blurted out his frustration at his wife’s refusal to get him dinner on time the night before and the stress this caused him. He insinuated quite clearly by saying, “And if I had a few more beers in me than I did, I don’t know what would have happened…” that he might have become violent toward her. He was loud and quite clear in his tone about what he meant. I was shocked he’d say that in front of me, a woman.

    All the men around the area stopped what they were doing and looked at him, caught in the moment, foolishly I laughed it off and moved off the subject, anxious to get him off his negative string. The men then turned and went back to their work. The couple of remaining hours during this guy’s presence were quiet, business like and tense. The jocular atmosphere had disappeared.

    After he left, the mood loosened up and much conversation ensued about the guy’s comments, all of the men saying that they don’t order their wives to cook dinner and also would expect their wives to respond not so kindly to such treatment. It was almost a “my wife is no whimp, what do you think I’m married to anyway?” kind of response.

    Maybe it was all a staging just for me, but I saw a glimmer of hope for men. But then, I guess my group is a select grouping of the men who, although they won’t show up for a NOW meeting or stand in with a pro-choice rally, would by and large respect a woman’s right to be a person and be treated with dignity.

  26. williamx
    williamx November 3, 2006 at 11:04 pm |

    I’m not sure hate comes into it . . .
    I’m not sure you have to hate someone to malnipulate and control them.
    On the other hand the evidence of peoples actions seems to sort of indicate otherwise.
    I’m not defending anything, only trying to think about how men ‘check’ each other.

  27. belledame222
    belledame222 November 3, 2006 at 11:04 pm |

    shrug. i think women are just as competitive (and men are just as capable of being cooperative); it’s just that the socialization we get to -not- be competitive (comes with being a “nice girl,” and sometimes only redoubled with the political consciousness-raising crap) makes us stuff the urge into the shadow, where it festers and gets nasty.

  28. Ilyka Damen
    Ilyka Damen November 3, 2006 at 11:09 pm |

    Heraclitus
    I totally agre with the watercooler=cattyness. I guess I never thought about it before but guys very oftern seem to use little snipes and at eachother playing manlier than thou

    True. I never thought to call it catty before either, though.

    One of the other things that shocked me when I first went to work in a mostly-male environment was how much they all loved GOSSIP. That stereotype about gossip being the exclusive province of women or otherwise femme-identified people? Total bullshit. Even the most macho frat guy enjoys talking about other people’s business; he just won’t call it gossip when he does it. He’s not gossiping! He’s just staying abreast of office politics, or some other euphemism.

    Do you mean in terms of progressive movements and/or healthy male self-perception, or in terms of the watercooler-shaming you described above?

    Oh hell. I hadn’t thought about this as much as I should have before I wrote anything. Let me see if I can get my brain to catch up to my fingers here.

    I guess, as much as I’d like to take the out offered in the first example (“in terms of progressive movements and/or healthy male self-perception”–yes, that’s exactly what I meant! I rule!), I can’t honestly. I was just thinking that in general, I wish women would roll with things better; like, I wish certain feminists would realize that Go Fug Yourself is just entertainment, it’s fine, it’s not misogynist, blah blah.

    But now I’m wondering how much of that is (1) me arguing that everyone should approach everything the exact way I do, and (2) me internalizing the idea that I have to disprove some stereotype of the delicate, sensitive, fainting-flower feminine woman in order to have any validity as a human being, and, well, none of that’s coming from an enlightened place at all.

    If you had any hope hope you’d never ask such tricky questions, piny.

    Because if it’s the latter, I think that the men who care about them do take them to heart, and are insecure as a result. It’s just that their insecurity manifests as hypermasculine brashness, because exploiting male insecurity in the name of conformity means exploiting male fears of weakness.

    Big heh-indeezy to that, and I think JackGoff backed that up nicely.

  29. kate
    kate November 3, 2006 at 11:23 pm |

    white middle- and upper-middle-class feminists are going to be left with “a small and comfortable movement.” Other small-and-comfortable movements that have changed the world:

    . . .

    That’s because those movements are motivated by patronage coming from a standing of priviledge. They are not movements at all. When the real movement comes close, when the ‘empowerment’ really starts to empower, the forces who hold the dollar; the ones who rented the hall, who paid for the flashy brochures and the phone lines, all pack up and go home and retreat to their places of comfort, leaving confusion and a deep sense of betrayal (once again) behind them.

    Nothing changes because nothing is supposed to. Many ‘movements’ per se, when supported and funded by the uppers and middles serve as nothing more than a balm to soothe the guilt-sores of the priviledged. In the interim, the ‘others’ are told once again, that they can’t do a damn thing on their own and that they need the Enlightens to lead the way. Thanks for the DISempowerment.

    Rooted deep in classism and racism is the idea that the ‘other’ cannot be trusted; that the white folks and middles and uppers have the moral authority to run the show. Feminism grew out of and thrives within a white middle and upper middle class construct. It runs on a thrives on that construct which drives it with capital, like so many other ‘grassroots’ organizations.

    As long as capital is seen as the panacea for organizational strength (which it is not), then only capital shall have the podium, the bell horn and drive the bus. Capital will steer the bus, while the ‘others’ patiently and obediently await the next Big Event to parade for, protest at or make ‘sharing stories’ spectacle for purient delight of all attending. Get an assuring pat on the back and leave the rest to them the ‘other’ is told at the end of the day. And nothing changes.

    And I admit, by making the sacrifice long ago to not live in the area where my income is most represented makes me a hypocrite as well. By giving up activism on the level I did it because I didn’t want to co-opt to the powers that be (capital) pressuring to ‘absorb’ my organization, I copped out. But I don’t see that co-opt as permanent, nor do I think that posting on blogs is all for nothing.

  30. Thom
    Thom November 4, 2006 at 12:38 am |

    In what ways, subtle and overt, do men urge each other to behave for the overall good of men as a sex?

    I realize this isn’t precisely what you meant by good of men as a sex, but, I think men really interested in the overall good of men as a sex should be encouraging the dismantling of traditional gender norms, which only benefit a subset of men (gay and bisexual men, for example, are not well served by traditional masculinity even if they retain some benefits of the patriarchy). Feminism: It’s good for women and other living things!

  31. Andreas
    Andreas November 4, 2006 at 1:40 am |

    Frankly, I think that a lot of the “differences” in the behavior of men and women can be explained by the gendering of the words used to describe that behavior. Having been part of homosocial male groups, the goal-directed unity you’re describing just seems entirely alien to my expeience — there’s an extrordinary amount of what, if one were describing women, would be described as “cattyness.”

    — ACS

  32. Reb
    Reb November 4, 2006 at 2:41 am |

    4. Does the fact that men routinely check each other in order to preserve male power make any variation of the practice inherently antifeminist? Is the whole process too corrupt for feminists to emulate ever? Does it mean that an observation of the form, “When one woman adheres to feminine beauty practices, she helps to make it more difficult for other women to shun them,” is always inherently antifeminist?

    I think it is, but my reasoning is based on a lot of speculation and things that just occurred to me while reading the post and pondering it. Your watercooler example, while depressingly still plausible today, made me think of images of the traditional old boys’ club, something like the 1950s “ideal” wherein husbands go to work and earn money, women stay home and raise kids. If that’s where the male patriarchy check in this form began (or the modern version developed from whatever came before it), then the opposite would be that pre-modern feminism (I’m pretty new to the feminist blogosphere and a lot of terms, so if I’ve got my eras/terminology wrong, please forgive and correct me), the feminine side of culture might well have had its own checks and reinforcements. But they would have been reinforcing the ideas of women in the home, raising kids. So feminism was turning away from those checks, and opening up new choices and possibilties for women. Which would mean trying to recreate those reinforcements would have to be anti-feminist. (Or they’d have to be some kind of entirely new checks and reinforcements, but then I don’t think they’d be a female equivalent of the watercooler talk.)

  33. maatnofret
    maatnofret November 4, 2006 at 4:20 am |

    re: comment #25 by kate

    “…although they won’t show up for a NOW meeting or stand in with a pro-choice rally…”

    I don’t know about the NOW meeting. However, I do remember a story that a friend told me about a prochoice rally she went to some time ago here in Minnesota. She said that there was a sizable union contingent at the rally. When their rep got up to speak, he said that women had played a big role in the success of the labor movement and that they were returning the favor.

    As I’m writing this, though, I realize that, for the union, that was a politically smart move. A lot of service industry workers are female, and it doesn’t hurt their image for recruitment, etc.

    To bring this back on topic–a lot of jobs, for a long time, were seen as the exclusive bastion of men. Women are still scarce in a lot of careers–the trades and high tech come to mind. There’s a certain type of atmosphere that comes with being in an all-male space. Women who break these barriers are often seen by the men as spoilsports that ruin all the fun–can’t tell jokes anymore, can’t have porn up in the shop, and so on. I know that a woman’s sudden presence in an all-male space can really sabotage this whole “males shaming other males for stepping out of line” practice. Perhaps this is one of the many reasons why some men continue to resent a woman’s presence.

    (I think about this a lot. I am trying to find a way to deal with this garden variety sexism. If I object, I’m a humorless prude or a weakling. If I say nothing, I passively participate in my own oppression. Damned if I do, damned if I don’t.)

  34. Raging Moderate
    Raging Moderate November 4, 2006 at 6:31 am |

    Men checking each other, making sure no guy gets too far outside the norms that help preserve male privilege, that whole business?

    I guess I hang around with a different type of crowd, because I’ve only seen this on tv and in the movies. I’ve never experienced it firsthand.

  35. Kali
    Kali November 4, 2006 at 10:56 am |

    Awesome post, though the writers of the Simpsons got there before you I think. It’s not a dynamic that had ever occurred to me before I saw this episode, but it really makes the subtext into text.
    http://www.tv.com/episode/1502/summary.html
    Anyway, does shaming other men for being attracted to/dating “ugly” women fit in to this dynamic? I think it does but I’m a bit slow today and I can’t join the dots properly to spell out how.

  36. Alecto
    Alecto November 4, 2006 at 1:11 pm |

    maatnofret, you remind me of a story my best friend told me when we were in high school: she was the only female in a computer science class, including the teacher. Said teacher once mentioned that he had a joke that he would only tell to his all-male classes, which prompted much whinging on her classmates’ part. They even asked if she could leave the room so that the teacher could tell his joke. Even as budding feminists, we were still all WTF? over this behavior. She didn’t complain to anyone, being young and the only female.

    I haven’t thought about this in awhile, and I’m again all WTF? I mean, really, a grown-ass teacher should not be acting that way; if he knows it’s wrong to tell the joke in the company of women, then it’s wrong to tell, period. Especially to high-school boys, to whom he is a role-model.

  37. KnifeGhost
    KnifeGhost November 4, 2006 at 4:16 pm |

    On the general point that men are in competition with each other, I will only comment that men _aren’t_ in competition with each other, but see themselves as such because the patriarchy, through homosocial reinforcement (and a whole stack of other cultural beliefs that I won’t get into), makes them believe they are.

    5. If checking each other does serve some useful feminist purpose (and I have not concluded definitively that it does), how should it be done to avoid winding up with “a small and comfortable movement?” I am of course assuming that none of us wants a small and comfortable movement. Me myself, I want a strong, diverse, wide-reaching, raging movement.

    IF there is a way to check each other in the kind of Feminism I identify with (the kind that believe everyone has expertise in their own experiences, gives people grace to be where they are on the scale of “awareness” while showing them other perspectives, recognizes that there is no one right way to live a feminist life, so on) it lies in the ongoing encouragement for women (and everyone) to live their lives honestly according to their own feelings of who they are and who they want to be. The check should be in prompting (not pushing) women (and everyone generally) to recognize and account for for beliefs and behaviours.

  38. Bolo
    Bolo November 5, 2006 at 8:43 am |

    “Unless they’re especially sensitive, it’s understood by most guys that these cracks are for the most part tongue-in-cheek and aren’t meant to be taken seriously; they’re just banter.”

    Yeah, but the next time someone asks you what you did over the weekend, you aren’t going to say “cleaning and laundry” again. Even if it is light-hearted banter, it still has an effect. If you responded that you worked on your car and played a game of football, you would have had a completely different reaction–no tongue-in-cheek cracks.

    It’s easier to just make something up than to have to endure the same inane “whipped” and “pussy” comments again and again. It gets really old really fast. And I do believe that this can and does have some effect on some level.

    One more observation: Though this is probably just related to my occupation and location, not caring about sports, cars, the newest computer games, and TV really tends to limit my available non-work-related conversation topics with male co-workers. I know that those categories themselves are pretty broad and can limit conversations with just about anyone, but it seems more pronounced when talking to guys. I’ve been party to countless discussions where the topic has been some mix of those categories–and I literally have nothing to contribute.

    I think that is another way that “male culture” keeps its members in check. There’s a short list of topics that most men are expected to keep up on. Not doing so means you are at a disadvantage in social situations.

  39. philosophizer
    philosophizer November 5, 2006 at 3:02 pm |

    I’ve got to take a poke at kate at #29: so if you’re white and middle-class or more, you can’t really be part of the movement?

    I spent four years dating a man who was ashamed of his middle-class background, and tried to convince me to join him in his idolization of the blue-collar man. He even told me that because I was an honors student, I didn’t know how to talk to real people (exact quote). I was sick of it then, and I’m sick of it now.

    It kind of makes me think about how it’s ‘OK’ to rip on skinny girls.

  40. Ilyka Damen
    Ilyka Damen November 5, 2006 at 3:08 pm |

    his idolization of the blue-collar man

    Did that involve listening to John Cougar Mellencamp? Because that is never okay.

  41. philosophizer
    philosophizer November 5, 2006 at 5:31 pm |

    I wish that’s all it was – I can deal with The Coog.

  42. Jill
    Jill November 5, 2006 at 6:06 pm | *

    I’ve got to take a poke at kate at #29: so if you’re white and middle-class or more, you can’t really be part of the movement?

    I don’t think this was what Kate was saying. Not to put words in her mouth, but I understood her comment as being critical of movements that are run by white upper middle-class people, for the benefit of white upper middle-class people, under the guise of “helping” others who they don’t trust enough to actually listen to or allow to be leaders in the movement.

    I’m not sure there are hard-and-fast rules within progressive movements about who can be a part of those movements, but the trouble comes with the traditionally more powerful people re-create dominant power structures within those movements.

  43. Frumious B.
    Frumious B. November 5, 2006 at 10:19 pm |

    does shaming other men for being attracted to/dating “ugly” women fit in to this dynamic?

    oh god yes. it enforces not just male norms, but female norms, too. it enforces male norms of what look to be attracted to, and females norms of what look to attempt to achieve in order to attract men. there are certainly standards of attractiveness for men, but women don’t shame each other the way men do. a woman can be friends with or speak to an unattractive men without her girlfriends teasing her. if a woman does date an unattractive men, there is usually an (extremely unflattering) assumption that the guy must have something else going for him – money, a nice car, power, etc.

  44. kate
    kate November 5, 2006 at 11:50 pm |

    I’ve got to take a poke at kate at #29: so if you’re white and middle-class or more, you can’t really be part of the movement?

    Jill outlined what I meant, but I’ll also respond.

    If ‘the movement’ involves taking down existing power structures which rely on a heirarchical system of class and capital, then yes, being middle class or better most definately puts you at a disadvantage.

    I spent four years dating a man who was ashamed of his middle-class background, and tried to convince me to join him in his idolization of the blue-collar man.

    Man, see that word? Man. Blue collar means tradesman, blue collar has no place for me, or many other people who haven’t had the opportunity to get a cush job with the telephone worker’s union or the city maintenance worker’s union. Mostly run by and dominated by men, I have not been convinced that whatever is left of the ‘blue collar man’ has any interest in the struggles of the wal-mart worker, the grocery store clerk or the single mother. In fact, I’ve had plenty of experience first hand to confirm that they don’t.

    In my experience, union workers have their interests narrowly focused on their own welfare, the rest be damned. And opening up the ranks to new workers just isn’t in the cards since around here at least, they can hardly keep their own core of good ole boys working steady.

    Also popular culture has done nothing but solidify stereotypes that mean nothing and work against the interests of working class people, the Cable Guy comes to mind, who straight from his upper middle private school and ivy league upbringing, dons his ‘working class’ attire and makes millions appealing to the most banal stereotypes of working class people.

    I speak of upper and middle class persons such as large funders for organizers who, in their quest to be seen as ‘part of’ the ‘movement’ don the garb and attempt the speech in order to assuage their class guilt. Working off the priviledge of their status as owning capital, they gain an automatic authority and an automatic audience.

    Their capital drives the organizing community. Don’t offend, or you won’t get any money. Find a cause that appeals to them, that will open their wallets. Because they must approve first.

    I remember distinctly sitting in one of these funding groups during which a panel was invited to explain how welfare reform will hurt poor women and also how hard it is to live in poverty. A woman stood up, white and upper middle and asked, “But how does all this have anything to do with what we’re trying to do?”

    No one spoke. Not even myself. I wanted to rip into the woman, but how could I? She had already established by that very question that my concerns were nothing, that she had no empathy whatsoever for what women like myself were going through or how the lies in the media were just that — lies. Why did this woman not care?

    Because she didn’t live it. Because she had internalized so deeply her class hatred of and blaming of poor people and had effectively distanced herself so much from the struggles of people like me that if I died or my children ended up in a life of crime, she saw no connection to it at all, even to the point of dismissing my experience altogether as a diversion on the course toward a just society.

    I saw the same experience in racism training seminars, where white people who’ve never seen the gore and the horror of racism firsthand, who’ve been so distanced from people of color all their lives, that they could not free themselves of their singular perspective for one friggin’ minute. “I still don’t get it, why don’t they just stop being so damn angry?” or “I don’t have to know black people to get it, I understand, how dare she[the trainer] say I don’t get it, I’m poor, I know what discrimination is! Why are they so angry all the time anyway, I don’t have to listen when they are angry!” and on and on.

    I’m white, I have skin priviledge. I have been raised in white priviledge and acculturated to adjust to assume that white priviledge. No one will call me ‘n____r’ to my face, I will never have to fear where I go, how I stand or what neighborhood I’m in. Hell, even being poor, I still can don the middle class costume and talk and fake it. Being a POC, I wouldn’t be able to slip so easily in and out would I? I’ll never know, no matter how I try, what that is. I have white ignorance and white priviledge. So it is my obligation and duty as someone who claims to want social justice, to shut up and let those who have the power of that knowledge, let them have the podium and design what needs to change to end racism. Give up the power that I naturally assume is mine, to those from whom I traditionally, by social construct, take it without asking.

    Likewise, those who’ve never stood in line at the grocery store and had to hand the clerk foodstamps or had a teacher tell you your kids aren’t worth all the trouble because they aren’t going to go to college anyway, or have people ask you (once they know your income source) where you got the money for this or that, then you don’t know. IF you’ve never had anyone call you a welfare whore, then you don’t know. If you’ve never had to wipe the tears from your child’s eyes because they were told to go home from what they thought was a friend’s house because they don’t want ‘your types’ there, then you don’t know.

    Its priviledge of which I speak and its priviledge that holds the current system of injustice in its place.

  45. exangelena
    exangelena November 6, 2006 at 10:05 am |

    kate – awesome post. And here I’ve been thinking you’re a POC. Heh :)
    I don’t think that people in the privileged categories can’t have an opinion – but I also don’t think that they should act like a supreme authority on identity issues or appropriate the issue without acknowledging their viewpoint. That’s why, because I’m a vanilla straight girl, I’m sort of uncomfortable discussing gay/lesbian/trans etc issues, and never say “queer”, because it’s not really my struggle and I don’t want to pretend that it is (although I do support gay rights and vote accordingly). And although I’m nonwhite, I’m of light-skinned northeast Asian descent, from a group stereotyped as law-abiding, hard-working, middle-class and that has been in this country for the better part of the 20th century. There are probably some people who still blame me for Pearl Harbor or would mistake me for a Chinese/North Korean agent, but because of some of the privilege that I have – I’m also reluctant to jump on a soapbox about the black or Latino experience, or even that of Hmong-Americans in, say, Minnesota. I’m lower middle class and I know a lot of people who can do the whole beauty culture lifestyle, but the fun feminist debate has always irritated me because the maintenance involved in it would break the bank in my case. But at the same time, my perspective is much different from someone who’s actually poor or blue collar.
    I’m also annoyed when (usually white, middle class) feminists in the Sex Wars start accusing the people who disagree with them of being racist or having some white bourgeois viewpoint, just because they disagree with them. I don’t like seeing POC or working class people used as some sort of blogosphere political football – it reminds me of pro-war neocons who claim that because feminists don’t support Bush, then they don’t care about the poor Iraqi/Afghan women.
    That being said, it’s always nice to have allies :)

  46. Alexandra Lynch
    Alexandra Lynch November 6, 2006 at 11:57 am |

    There’s definitely pressure of that kind going on. My husband is firmly blue-collar…he drives a tow truck, makes us a decent living doing it. But he finds that there are things that he is “supposed” to do and or “not supposed to do”. It did cause some tension between he and I when we were first dating.

    He doesn’t have any problem admitting he spent the weekend helping clean BECAUSE everyone already knows that his wife can’t move the furniture on her own. But if we spend his day off at the art museum, he won’t mention it at work because he’ll get an absolutely uncomprehending, “Dude, why would you want to go there?!” from his coworkers. He’s processed this now, and doesn’t care what the hell they think about it, if he likes looking at art, he should go to the art museum, but it was a source of great tension at first. He lost some friends who weren’t flexible enough to deal with him enjoying bookstores and art museums with me and riding a motorcycle with them.

    And, of course, all this doesn’t get into where the male bonding between the guys at the shop happens…after work they all go to the strip bar together. (No, I don’t mind him going.) And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that there aren’t any women working there.

  47. Ron O.
    Ron O. November 6, 2006 at 3:06 pm |

    I haven’t had time to read all the comments so sorry if someone made this point before.

    Men do enforce gender roles on each other, and it does work. I spent a long time getting to the point where I was basically surrounded by sympathetic men and women. But through most of my teens and twenties I was ridiculed often enough for admitting I like to bake, keep a clean house, play with babies, etc. One way this has profoundly changed my life is in career choice. I don’t play the old-boys network and my earnings reflect that. I bounced around for a decade before I found a niche good for me at the ripe age of 30. My shoes were bought new; I’m doing OK, just not as well as many of my classmates have done.

    Lucky for me I have several cool, accomplished sisters, so part of me never thought being a woman was such a bad thing. It took a long time for that self-confidence to grow though.

    Some of the lines I use when I occassionally have to deal with the misogynists:

    {blank} hasn’t made my dick any smaller.
    I’m so much of a man that {blank} just brings me down in line with the rest of you. Otherwise you’d be overwhelmed with my manliness.
    I’m comfortable with my female side. Got a fucking problem with that?
    Why should I care if I ruin it for you? (These people are not my friends.)

  48. Cranefly
    Cranefly November 6, 2006 at 5:31 pm |

    Men checking each other, making sure no guy gets too far outside the norms that help preserve male privilege, that whole business? It WORKS.

    It works because the policing is just a “useful” side effect of the main activity there: maneuvering for rank over other men, which is its own reward.

    In the hypothetical, Greg and Andy aren’t concerned that Jason is making things harder for men as a class, they’re scoring points off of him*. If Jason changes his behavior, it’s not because he’s seen the error of his ways due to their gentle correction, it’s because if he doesn’t, they’ll continue to take advantage of his weakness in this context to pump their status by pushing him down.

    So, no, I don’t see that an emphasis on checking each other’s transgressions has anything in common with developing an egalitarian movement. Even if checking doesn’t start out as a hierarchichal battle, it can’t not have that effect.

    *this is why I don’t think that coming back with retorts about manhood is a good idea in those situations: even if you come out ahead against the asshole, it’s playing the same game, and the patriarchy still takes its cut.

  49. philosophizer
    philosophizer November 6, 2006 at 6:31 pm |

    sorry for the poking, kate, but i guess it was worth it since it got you to write that excellent post. i guess i’m just self-conscious – i was told once by someone that since i was white and middle-class (and that was all they knew about me) that the only thing i could do to help any progressive movement was to kill myself, because at least that way there’d be one less oppressor. it really stuck with me, and i’ve been trying to establish the truth of it ever since – is this a ‘legit’ viewpoint, or was this person a little off? am i allowed to live?

    it sounds absurd, but i suppose i should explain that i spent some time ashamed of myself because i didn’t have the nerve to kill myself and felt that i ought not to live, so the question isn’t as snarky as it sounds.

  50. X. Trapnel
    X. Trapnel November 6, 2006 at 7:50 pm |

    Cranefly:

    It works because the policing is just a “useful” side effect of the main activity there: maneuvering for rank over other men, which is its own reward.

    This seems a wonderfully important point. If I had any problem with the original post, it was in the implicit functionalism of “men routinely check each other in order to preserve male power”; I think it’s important to disentangle the effects of the behavior from the motivations for it. I think Cranefly is right that most of this kind of cultural reinforcement isn’t driven by patriarchy-loving as such, but rather more immediate goals and motives. I think recognizing this is important, because it means that change is more possible: if patriarchal norms were reinforced *for the sake* of the patriarchy, there really would be much less hope for changing them.

  51. Linnaeus
    Linnaeus November 6, 2006 at 7:55 pm |

    i was told once by someone that since i was white and middle-class (and that was all they knew about me) that the only thing i could do to help any progressive movement was to kill myself, because at least that way there’d be one less oppressor.

    This is clearly an extreme (and unrepresentative) view; I don’t know of anyone genuinely committed to positive social change who would subscribe to idea that people should commit suicide for the greater good, which is a pretty quixotic notion anyway.

    I think the broader point has been pretty well articulated by previous posters. It’s not about whether or not you’re a “good” or “bad” person, but whether or not you’re willing to examine your own privilege and its implications.

  52. exangelena
    exangelena November 6, 2006 at 9:38 pm |

    Philosophizer – that was ONE person, and if it was on the internet, he/she could have been a troll. One person who’s crazy (I’m not even going to associate that person with the progressive movement by giving him the extremist or fringe label) doesn’t represent the views of a large and diverse movement. That being said, there are nonwhite people, some with lefitst leanings, who are supremacists of their ethnic group or race and I don’t think any progressive would support their goals.

  53. belledame222
    belledame222 November 6, 2006 at 10:44 pm |

    I’m not even sure it boils down to “examining your own privilege” per se; if only because i’ve seen that “examine yourself” business so distorted (i think) wrt other issues in the feminist blogosphere. Examine the system; examine your place in the system; but mostly i think, -listen to other people.-

    actually: you know what, yeah. i mean, i get what “examine your privilege” means; but i think i’d like to start maybe reframing that, turning the focus away from “yourself” in this context, -period.-

    because ime it’s way too easy for it to devolve into “oh i’m such a bad person, mea culpa;” and the thing is: that’s not helpful. To anyone. first of all because making yourself feel like crap for something that you -are- and can’t really fundamentally change (i.e. the skin/gender/even class privilege you were born with) is bound to lead to depression and fester and explode back out one way or another eventually. Take responsibility on the individual level for individual behavior, sure; but while it’s important to become -aware- of, again, your place in the system (“oh, i have nothing to do with that, leave me alone” isn’t so useful either, obviously), there’s no point in sackcloth and ashes, i don’t think. Because, actually that’s still making it all about you, really; this does not actually tend to lend itself to actual empathy, much less useful action, as i am seeing it.

    i mean i guess part of what i’m saying here is: it shouldn’t have to be an exercise in misery, this “consciousness-raising;” there’s enough crap already, you know? There’s joy in learning for its own sake, even if that knowledge is also painful. but that’s where the real growth happens, istm.

    and if you’re going to live for others, as Orwell once observed, astutely, then live -for others,- not as a roundabout way of meeting obscure needs of your own. (“Lear, Tolstoy and the Fool,” a terrific essay). and, or, but, you can acknowledge your own “belly to earth” selfishness and just accept that this, too, is part (but not all) of being human, and of this little adventure.

    anyway, back to class: Black Amazon’s latest piece is timely here. “Cover the basics.”

    http://guyaneseterror.blogspot.com/2006/11/cover-basics.html

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