Of seminal importance to my present interest in gender was my first piece of non scientific vaginal literature: Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues, discovered while rummaging through my sister’s room. I was 13 then and it was seven years later when I saw the monologues live on stage. I saw that performance with a whole new knowledge, both carnal and intellectual. I was shellshocked by the the visceral portrayal of gender based sexism and began to doubt the legitimacy of calling myself a feminist. This is one of the many questions that my status as a male supporter of feminism brings up. I never come to meaningful conclusions on them. It’s these endlessly circular issues that characterize a man and his feminism.
The legitimacy of gender exclusive spaces are a similar prompt for this deliberation. There seems a friction between my own fundamental interpretation of feminism and gender binary based exclusion. Surely it’s a binary that we have no confidence in? It seems an implicit, if not explicit exclamation that regardless of personal feeling, this is an insurmountable divide. It’s also problematic when faced with people who identify beyond those two categories. We could intellectually deconstruct that divide into oblivion, whereas it’s an unpleasant environment for people who identify as queer, transgender and others who see themselves as not subscribing to the divide.
But I can see the point, I really can. Dismantling patriarchy and sexism takes two steps: acknowledgement and then the creation of new discourses. I’m completely willing to accept that women only spaces are essential as a means of creating new discourses outside of the inherently masculine institutions that we’re surrounded by. New institutions and discourses need to be conceived and galvanized in an environment independent of the hegemonic masculinity of society. Maybe it’s like leaving a new goldfish in the bag when you put it in the bowl, just to let it acclimatize instead of just dumping it straight in. In real terms one cannot deny the huge symbolic power of ‘women only’ events. “Reclaim the Night” is an annual night time march of women through city streets. Men aren’t allowed on the march and from what I heard, this made it a demonstration in the literal sense. There was the symbolism of a women only march along with the acknowledgement of the unique threat that women face at night on the street. I heard about an incredible an unique atmosphere of solidarity too which was completely dependent on its status as a women only event.
The clumsily termed “man hating” is yet another thought provoking topic. Now I’ve never met extreme misandry. I’m sure it exists somewhere, but often people don’t distinguish between feminism and its caricature. For that reason that I find the more casual misandry problematic. It’s not uncommon to hear reference to “men” as a homogenous group who as men have man interests, man desires and man thoughts. Speaking to my sister about the film Sleeping Beauty, she told me “We do need to address this desire that men have…”. Woah, hold on a second. Do you mean to say that I’m not a man if I don’t harbor these submissive rape fantasies? Or are you telling me with metaphysical certainty my own inner desires? How bad would that be if I said it about women? Then however we’ve got to acknowledge the asymmetry of man and woman. They’ve been rendered by gender constructs so as to preclude simple interchanging. Moreover, a friend pointed out that I wouldn’t take issue talking of “white oppression” during South African apartheid (more on hypocrisy later…). Also maybe I should just suck it up due to the 21 years of gender based privilege I’ve enjoyed.
It’s difficult to conclude things that never reach conclusion in my mind. If this article comes across as disordered and circular, then it’s an accurate portrait of how these things rattle around my head. I’ll end by explaining a frustration and sadness I get when thinking about feminism. There’s the frustration that comes from confusion, of really not knowing the answer. Then, if I were to be brutally honest, I think there’s a jealousy in there too. I’ve seen such impressive solidarity, support and spirit among women that having not suffered the prerequisite gender discrimination, I can’t sincerely claim to share. Our society fetishizes struggle and adversity which leaves the privileged in a reality gap. It’s an envy of struggle through an ignorance of struggle. It made me so damn angry when my sister told me “because you’re a straight, white male there’s just things you’ll never understand”. Maybe she’s right, but what can I do with that? I hate being told I’ll never understand something.
I find I get more frustrated the more I learn. And that’s a problem, as feminism’s all about learning. The issue is: as a man, the more you learn, the more you realize you’re a part of the problem. As a woman, the more you learn, the more you realize you’re part of the solution. I imagine that as a woman it must feel like you’re extricating yourself bit by bit from the patriarchy, building bit by bit that alternative discourse. I often feel like I’m just learning how deeply my own privilege goes. If you’re a man and want to consider yourself a feminist you need to get used to being a hypocrite. It’s the catholic shame of my own lust, it’s the embarrassing companionship of my sexist friends, it’s the guilty pleasure of watching StaceyAnn Chin and it’s the niggling uncertainty at the back of my mind as I think of myself as a feminist.