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:"...to 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: "...men, (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:"...men, 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.

4 comments:

Fatale said...

I think your Elephant has a very tough hide. It might take more than a poke but goodluck. Enough poking may engender a reaction and eventually a shift in conditioning.
Let baby Brian wear a tutu.... why not?

Donna said...

Hey LC! I love Elephants, and did you know they live in a Matriarchal society, they turn out the teenage males, and only interact with the bulls for the sperm donation. Smart animals.
Men can't think like women, rationally, forgivingly or otherwise, I commend your efforts to change the way society thinks, but it's their genetic makeup, they are wired to be satisfied by sex, power & food. Deprive them of any of those needs & they feel like they are being punished, and display the victim behaviour crap. Provide those needs in plentiful supply & they think they are getting what they rightfully deserve, and that everyone else in the world should be happy because they're fulfilled...how can any woman think she's going to change that thinking???
The trick is to get on with your life, and not waste time trying to sort them out, just stick together as women..our genetic fault is we are "made" to nurture, fix.
As for men having a tough hide..phht!!! They are as weak as! Never confuse ego with resiliance. Men are born with a huge sense of entitlement, women are born to withstand as much as you can heap on them....and they do.
Things going well here Lynn, having said that...extended family also. xoxo

Lynn said...

Donna, lovely to hear from you. I'm so glad that things are going well. Thank you very much for your comment, and just a couple of quick points, I have no aspirations to "change the way society thinks", my aspiration is to more fully understand how society thinks, and hence operates. Your comment has contained within it some insight that shows my points exactly. To exclaim that men are 'hard-wired' to be satisfied with sex, power and food (love the food bit...BTW) is to absolve men of all their responsibility in their roles. Blaming genetics for these things is a long-held stereotypical belief that easily explains the power differences between the genders. There is no proof that genetics plays a major part. Even testosterone, long held up to be some sort of magical masculine hormone that explains any, if not all, of men's behaviour (especially if it is anti-social) has now proven to be well, not quite so potent as originally thought. To say, "men can't help it", is to diminish the role of women as well. On the 2nd point, I don't subscribe to the notion that men are born with a huge sense of self-entitlement, my last few posts are to explain that they are encultured to believe they have it. Why do we think that men are born that way and women are born nurturers? Perhaps we are encultured to consider this, I mean, after all, it does provide a very easy solution, no? There's enough examples in our society to prove that men can, and are good nurturers. They are encultured, from childhood by parents and schools and wider societal pressures to dispense with their nurturing side, indeed, it is even viewed as a weakness in men. And could I even add, that I have known, and probably still do know, some men who are not at all satisfied with (just) sex. Perhaps they don't speak up, for fear of their masculinity being ridiculed, and perhaps they've been taught and reinforced to not show it? And of course, women will withstand the amount of crap that is heaped on them, after all, what is the alternative? Death? And while women do play a very much needed nurturing role in our community, in both the paid and unpaid sector, the cost they bear is very high indeed. All of the issues of masculinity versus femininity highlighted in your post amounts to the fact that at the end of the lifetimes of both genders, the holding of power and resources is very lop-sided.

Just to finish up, here's a quick quote that I've had in my head for years. "Any woman that thinks the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, is aiming too high." Your post reminded me of it....:-)))

Lynn said...

Oh, just one further observation. I consider the "trick" to be gaining understanding of how the dynamics of the genders plays out in our society, once that is understood, the art of living becomes much more enhanced. It's not so much about figuring out men, per se, but seeing how our society and culture views most things through the male lens. Having stereotype thoughts of placing responsibility on genetics is something that was devised by some bloke, and has been taken for granted by everyone since - well, almost.