Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Poking the Elephant in the Room

I think my blog is long overdue for another post. I finished the first semester of Uni with some good results. High Distinction for Women's Studies which I absolutely loved, Distinction for Human Social Development and a Credit for Access and Equity. I enjoyed all of them but it doesn't look like Semester 2 will shape up to quite as interesting. Still, it's early yet.

I've come across a great book by Stephen M Whitehead that I'm trying to get myself stuck into, but have unfortunately, not managed past page 20! That is so sad, but I'm afraid that recreational reading takes 2nd priority to all of the reading that Uni forces us to do. Most of which, I find quite interesting. Anyway, onto Whitehead's book, called Men and Masculinites to which is promising to be totally fascinating. The opening of the introduction goes:

"It is not possible to critically engage with men and masculinities without recognising two factors influencing the lives of every person on this planet. First, the relationship between women and men is not now nor ever has been, in most societies, an equitable one. Second, whatever is spoken of, by and about men, hides other agendas, other philosophies. There are no core truths to men. Once these understandings are established and acknowledged then it is far easier to move on to the harder part, which is to understand how many males come to believe in their innate superiority over women."

And this:" write of men in a critical or questioning sense is to be inevitably aligned with a larger desire for gender equality - feminism. Such scholarship recognises that men, for the most part, remain the privileged gender category so succinctly names by John Stuart Mill nearly one-and-a-half-centuries ago. While much progress has been made towards gender equity, especially in Western countries, a lot remains to be done. To be sure, feminist thinking is having an enormous influence on the subjectivities of millions of women, and a lot of men. But anyone who believes that a few decades of feminist thought and action is about to overturn centuries of ingrained prejudice, stereotype and discrimination against women is not living in the real world. Certainly, any talk of a post feminist era is decidedly premature. Perhaps we will move to such an age sometime during this millennium. If so, we will know its appearance by one assessment: that is, the question will be asked to what extent women are valued, worldwide; not just as sexual objects, domestic labour, or less costly industrial labour, but as individuals exercising power across the public and private spheres. If the answer is, from every country and cultural site, 'equal to men', then we will have postfeminism. One does not need to read this book to know that we are a long way from that scenario."

Then onto this: ", (particularly white, heterosexual, Anglo-saxon men) control, directly or indirectly, most of the world's resources, capital, media, political parties and corporations. It is difficult to imagine this group in crisis. Though the idea of a crisis can, paradoxically, be quite attractive for such men. For it posits them as victims, thus offering them a new form of validation and identity - as wounded and now under threat. In fact, a crisis of masculinity (if there could be such a thing) that challenged dominant ways of being male, resulting in men ceasing to behave violently and abusively towards women, children, other men, animals, the earth itself, would be very welcome. However, unfortunately, that particular crisis of masculinity is less visible and barely talked of."

Which leads to this:", as a gender group, are omnipresent across the social world. Are not men the very centre, the core, the drive, the universal 'mankind'? Certainly, many men have been prone to seeing themselves as such. But is being at the 'centre' the same as being 'visible'? No, for paradoxically, being at the centre can serve to hide, obfuscate, confuse, obscure. Often we do not see, through any critical lens, that which is most obvious."

And this is where I got the "Elephant in the Room" metaphor from. What this book is saying, is that the dealings of the male culture are so central to the way our society and thus our lives are arranged, that we don't view it through a critical lens. Men and (some) women, simply accept that mens' ways of being as the truth. This explains why so much responsibility is always tended to be put on women, it explains why we have victim blaming statements, it explains why our culture upholds myths and stereotypes even when they go against the results of research. It explains some long-held and ingrained beliefs about rape and that women who dress and act "provocatively" apparently "ask for it", or the more subtle, "what was she doing there (out at night) anyway?" What a sweet cop-out that is for not holding the masculinity in our society up to the critical gaze. We automatically assume that men will be violent towards women, hence, therefore, women must learn to live in fear, not go out at night, should dress and act demurely, and while we are concentrating on what women are (not) doing, we aren't holding the male behaviour in our society up for scrutiny. This attitude is pervasive and subtle throughout our culture. Once it's seen and recognised, then one can see it at work in all places at differing levels of obviousness.

Men's ways of being is the Elephant in the Room. And my motto for this year is to poke the Elephant in the Room, and see what I come up with. It should prove to be fun, and quite eye-opening I would think.