I’d like to give thanks to feminism.
That comes after i, grudgingly, reluctantly, finally came to accept that i am not, and should not be, a feminist. For most of my life i, a man, had been more of a riot grrrrl than mos of my girlfriends. I’d been enraged again and again for what i saw as submissive attitudes of them, even ones that could equally well be read as submission to me. In more than one way, i wanted the role of the girl: I wanted to be approached instead of to approach, i wanted to be seduced instead of seducing, i wanted to accommodate to their lives instead of providing a grand narrative for them to accommodate to. I actually felt that the two people in a relationship should do a bit of each, and it pissed me to no end that no woman at all accepted to. Lazy, prideless girls, i thought. But i came to realize it does not make any sense for them to do any of that, and it came together with me realizing feminism is not an answer to anything.
But feminism has been useful to me, in very personal ways, and i want to give thanks.
First of all, feminist has allowed me to understand that circumcision is mutilation. That the most sensitive part of my body has been cut off, that true sexual pleasure has been denied to me in an irreversible manner by a society that will have me as a stud, but not as a lover.
So, ironically, feminism has allowed me to perceive the frailty of the human male in our world.
But this is not so surprising. As any exercise of relativism, feminism assumes a given point-of-view in order to enhance comprehension. It assumes the p.o.v. of the woman to reveal things about society. And it has been exceedingly successful in that. But this society is the same for man and woman, and it would be foolish to assume man had nothing to learn from it.
Feminism, though, risks taking the p.o.v. of the female as normative, as unquestionably normal. In that, feminism devolves from relativism into ideology. Which is very, very different from being anti-male: Feminism does not want to fight males, it just puts itself in a position where the male perspective is incommensurable. Still, the confusion is very, very understandable.
For example, people talk about how female artists have to struggle to be recognized, and fail to see all the male artists that are never recognized at all. One book even went so far as to compare Claudel with Van Gogh, as if the man had not died in poverty and anonymity. In fact the same book insisted that some women were persecuted, even when these women affirmed in interviews that they were not. But once the ideology of feminism takes hold, it seems you can’t see things differently.
Subjected populations are forced to pay more attention to their rulers than the other way around. The maid has to pay attention to the chief, but not necessarily the other way around. So supposedly every woman must know out of necessity how it is to be a male, but no male ever stops to wonder how it is to be a woman. I believed on that for quite some time. But i’m not so sure any more.
I was born rich and a man. Being rich is mostly good, there are downsides but very minor in the overall scheme of things. Being a man is not so good. It has good sides, but it also has bad ones. It is mostly neutral. It does not at all seem to be a privilege. There is a lot of suck to it. Being male in a family mostly dominated by strong female personalities had a lot of suck. Nevertheless, for the longest time i accepted as a basic fact that traditional family was organized with man as ruler and woman as ruled upon. For a child this seems to make some sense. But as usual things are way more complicated. Living life is messy, and most couples do share the basic uncertainty of finding their way through life without an instructions manual. That means that most everyone most of the time was trying to do stuff that were agreeable to everyone. When the woman was “constrained to the kitchen” (so to say) that was something that seemed to make sense to most of the people around. It seemed to be a sensible arrangement. My grandmother, for example, left most of the money decisions to my grandfather, though she made some very important ones by herself, like turning his scientific discoveries into a family business that basically is the reason i’m rich. When she wanted to do something with money she could, but it was more comfortable to leave it to granddad. The point being that these arrangements were basically flexible. Males and females were not enemies, they were just individuals trapped into a society with a lot of weirdness and awkward to it. Society sucks in many, basically, to be straight. So it is very easy to find ways that women are being put down and repressed, but this also happens to the men, and it happens in ways that we can’t really compare, and that we could never really balance. That’s just how things are. And even more, this whole «society» thing sucks in ways that are hard to understand. Like people are slaves to their jobs but they at the same time fear losing their jobs more than anything else. The «man × woman» tension is there, somewhere, for sure, but it is certainly not a conspiracy against females. It is more like a fractal power game, where every force that becomes too predominant can be tricked. So we must not ask ourselves “what is right” in the relationship between the genders, what is the “right way” for women or man, “what do people really want”, and so on. Instead, i prefer to wonder whether there could be happier ways to play this game.
To bring it back to a personal (real) dimension, another example: Often women justify their lack of initiative as fear of being seen as sluts. Girls must be good and feminism takes this to be a kind of cage. But lets see the other side. The man does not fear being taken as a dickhead if he initiates. He knows he will be taken as a dickhead. He just hopes that the girl will like him despite it, because that is his only chance, since of course no woman will approach him anyway.
The name-calling cuts both ways. Feminism tells us it is seen as good for man to be womanizers. That a promiscuous men is well regarded. But “you’re thinking with your balls” sounds very aggressive to me. If some guy wants something with a girl he will never try to convince her that he’s had plenty of cases before, this is not something that enhances his chances, and if the issue comes up it will most certainly be in the form of him apologizing to her and saying something like he is changed.
My own perspective, as a very shy, fatherless boy, that simply couldn’t be rude to a girl even if i wanted. People didn’t go so far as to tell me i should be a dick, and in fact the only time someone actually did (urged by my mother) it sounded very, very weird.
The thing is, in a game where no one wants to take the first step, for fear of looking desperate, the side that is forced is the one that can less afford to lose. And that is boys. Boys need girls more than girls need boys. And not in the sense that boys are desperate for sex (all adolescents are), but in the sense that a man without a woman is more screwed than a woman without a man. That sounds stupid, maybe. Basically, everyone needs someone. But boys are the ones who need to make a move. And everyone hates to go begging for love. For some reason, women can force men to do so.
This is something that only feminism can show you, because of course the power play in this case, if you are a boy, is to pretend that you have everything you need. As is, for that matter, for a girl.
I’ve tried to say something along these lines to feminist friends and they responded very rudely. In their view man is the powerful side, and that’s that.
Back in 1975 a gay man named Oliver Sipple avoided an assassination attempt at the president of the USA. His sexuality was up till then a secret to his family and work. He asked reporters to keep it off-the-record, but (supposedly) gay-rights activist Harvey Milk tried to use the event to show gays could also be heros, thus changing public perception and stereotyping. But actually, in doing so, Harvey Milk screwed Oliver Sipple. It basically destroyed his life. The problem was not that he was gay, or how gay people were treated, it was the way his own personal choices became entangled with and used for other purposes. To politicize sexuality is always extremely dangerous, and hardly ever goes the way that is expected.
In turn, this is why i now fear feminism is very bad for women: I believe feminism creates an antagonism that didn’t exist before, and in such a way that can’t be good for women.
Imagine a girl that likes art, in a small farm village, in the middle of nowhere, before feminism. Her art would be despised and repressed, not because she’s a woman, but because art is not something this community can afford. And the same goes if she wants to be an engineer and inventor.
Feminism wasn’t a challenge on men. It was a challenge to the whole society. It wanted to force, in a large scale, a kind of development that was hard even for the individual. It wanted women to develop as full human beings. To develop into a full human being is hard, both for males and females. It is good but difficult. Society at large is more focused into making people survive, the full development thing is bound to create some tension. But this is not a tension against women, it is a general trend. But out of this, feminism creates the scapegoat of the cruel chauvinist conspiracy of the male who wants no woman as human. In fact, both traditional men and traditional women reacted to feminism as a challenge to society. It was never about man × woman, it was something like tradition × post-modernism. But if you stick to the labels, to the boxes people are supposed to fit in, it is way too easy to believe women is the victim, as the losing side of the struggle. To hold too tightly to the label of «woman» or «feminist» in fact amounts to creating an opposition, it is exactly the strategy of dislocating the tension into identity politics, in order to activate «US against THEM» behaviour in people. And then it creates the illusion of the opposition, that there is such a thing as a hard-liner old-stile «Chauvinist Man» who feels threatened by a fully developed woman. He does not, he feels challenged by the idea that society ought to be more than just feeding people, that people should be grown into this full human beings thing. This is only so natural, since it is indeed a very tall order. It is a much harder and riskier task than most acknowledge, certainly more than the typical riot grrrrl does acknowledge. But once this opposition is created, once this tension is present, a girl with a taste for art becomes more than just frivolity, it becomes rebellion, and once you divert a woman’s normal life and aspirations into a kind of rebellion you also creates the chance her choices will get her into a cage — not because Man is against Woman, just because deviant behaviour is deviant behaviour.
Our girl in the small farm village is no more a quirky dreamy girl, she is a girl being actually repressed.
But, you say, what if she wanted to be a cow-girl? That wasn’t a frivolity. Well, my old aunts, who lived in the farm, they certainly knew how to do all the manly chores of a cowboy, that is their husbands’ chores. That was not seen as a bad thing. Without the ideology, a woman trying for greatness is just a problem of over-qualification, a problem, of course, but not something to be repressed.
But i fall to the same flaw of feminism, making woman the victim, saying feminism is bad because it hurts women.
My goal now is to understand what does heal men. I’m a man, so it stands to reason. Women need healing, but so do men. Feminists may do whatever they please.
I want to, but i don’t know how.
Though i’m very convinced SlutWalks and feminist theory wont help much. Because, in spite of their self-styled rebellion, their naive radicalism, those trends reinforce the current MO of gender relations. In other words, feminism (both the old-style one and the po-mo SlutWalker one) works from inside gender stereotypes. It wants to destroy said stereotypes, but since it can’t simply destroy the old thought-habits (even if it was to take power), it works as an alternative. Feminism never stands out by itself, it is always something extra, something that stands by the side of, a complement. And being so, it makes the stereotypes more defined. Exactly because it makes those stereotypes easier to unfollow it also makes them easier to follow.
And yes, the current status-quo does suck. Relationships today are forms of mutual exploitation. They also happen to be passionate mutual exploitation, as opposed to past relationships of bland collaboration. Somehow we as a society decided we needed to feel, that simply going on with life was not enough. That we wanted burning love instead of boring companionship. That means basically feminism won, that it’s request for “full human beings” basically got accepted as normal and as normative. That also means that the mechanisms regulating relationships between people were all thrown away. Supposedly new ones just took their places, but: Really? We boast of being a liberal society, well acquainted to sex and the things of life, but at the end of the day we still get spooked by any kind of unfamiliar behaviour. Even ones that unfamiliarly mild! We are all bound and gagged, tighter than we know, and in ways whose importance we can not escape. Like in forming families. Every girl at her 20 somethings goes crazy about having children, because her body wants it but her head tells her that her life is still not stable enough to adequately support these kids. And she is right! Because having kids was the first and foremost reason for family in the boring old ways, but now we must have passion and kids. Not works. Just doesn’t. And of course, the boys also do get crazy, but they tend to end up so straddled by the girls’ paranoia that they mostly coast along, any chance that their added pair of eyeballs would expand the couple’s perspective totally destroyed by his (justified) fear of being left alone without the kids, which he loves as much as her but are definitely her property. Because in the end man can’t do kids by himself. And this makes men vulnerable. What you need can be used against you. And since we are all balls of meat, we do need kids. But this whole society thing gets on the way. Because the basal human biology is very much at odds with the whole arrangement, nuclear families are a strategy to deal with war-time Europe, not with peaceful African savannah. Minus society, we all do have sex with everyone, and no one makes a lot of fuss over it, but if you try to apply this where society has already arrived, society will just destroy you. No hard feelings, you see, this is just what society needs to do in order to survive. And we, inside society, must act social. Which means being bitches each other.
And pragmatism begs us to ask not what should be, but what can we do. There is no right™ way to solve this, no natural™ way to have relationships. But any choice we could possibly make will be influenced by the world around us. This messy complicated world i was talking about.
So, of course, girls will keep on exploiting their biological superiority. Which means they will continue to be exploitative bitches, will continue to treat boys as cattle, will continue to act shallow, will continue to prefer to not talk about their feelings, will keep the real game undercover and impervious to negotiation, and will generally keep on thinking with their balls (or with their ovaries, if you prefer, but those are probably balls too). Basically, women will not give up their upper hand. And why should they? It’s much easier to pretend they are flowers, waiting to be plucked, and keep with their sly deceitful ways.
It’s even worse than that. They are usually quite unable to admit they have an upper hand.
Women will actually panic when told they have any influence over their destiny. As exemplified by the SlutWalk: A policeman tells girls they are dressing provocatively and that in his view this makes them more likely to be targets for rape. Consequence? They create a parade (which turns into a global movement, no less!) to assert once and for all that no, their behaviour is not able to influence guys, that their fate is not their fault, that they refuse at all costs to take responsibility for their lives. And they want to push blame into rapists, a class of people that was already considered the worst of the worst, a class of people that even in prisons risk being murdered because other criminals think rape is too gross, a class of people that is already over-prosecuted as shown by 19 year-olds who get stigmatized for life as sex-predators for having consensual sex with their 17 year girlfriends.
That is the height of current po-mo feminism: SlutWalk, a clean farewell to all the complexities of the feminist theory, an embrace of moralism. All the relativism that feminism ever conjured gets thrown in the garbage.
But even then, the big question is actually: Is it sex-positive? Does the SlutWalk take sex as a good thing? Because, at the end of the day, if we focus on consequences, even a shallow ideology that allowed us to abandon all the posing and cruelty of current relationships could be a good thing. So if you have women walking topless in a parade it had to be a good thing, right? I’m not so sure. It keeps on saying no to rape, but it never once says that if sex was easier to get there would be less reason to rape. Exactly as the easing of prudishness in the 60s made prostitutes cheaper.
Also, even if we can say that sex is good, and thus fall to a weird kind of pro-sex moralism, we can not pretend that this would be any more peaceful or open or free. There is a secret wish for a idealized kind of «nature™» that could lead us even as we give up (or fail) control, but that is another kind of control, just as problematic, and less responsible.
No solutions are being offered here, to be sure. But once we give up on the strategy of solving thing, we can focus on tactics. Namely the tactics of turning the whole mess to our benefit. Stepping out of the carrot-and-stick arrangement might just give us the required leverage.
The trick is to try to see why we are in this particular mess. Of course it didn’t happen by itself, out of nothing. There are reasons there.
Namely: slavery and violence. Red lipstick is not meant to resemble an apple, but blood. The veiled cruelty of everyday relations comes out of a society whose basic business is to use and abuse human beings and suck out of them the raw power of violence. We are not toiling to fight the soil into giving us dinner, we are fighting other human beings, and we want their blood and tears, we want to turn their lives into energy for our own, in a big game where no one really wins, where the 1% actually die sooner from excess stress, having travelled the whole world over never seeing anything but hotel lobbies. And i’m not talking about capitalism, or money, or religion. Those are intermediaries. Exploitation is older and more subtle then any of that. Human beings are just the most magical things in this planet, and this means they are the ones more valuable too. The whole cruelty just comes from who we are, in a very deep sense.
And gender is part of it, not because it is good, but because it is a technique. Learning to play with our sexuality, learning the spells of our inner fluids, learning to sail our inner currents, learning to focus our desire, learning to soothe our aching hearts, learning to make our brains burn with passion, learning to make our muscles smart. All this we can do.
Those are techniques. Body technology. The magic of our very selves.
Feminism didn’t give me any of that. I didn’t learn to dance in a gender studies group. I didn’t even learn self-defence there. But feminism did help me to prepare to learn these things.
So: Thanks. And: goodbie.