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Having Privilege Is Tough

19 Dec

Having privilege is tough. Not having privilege is tougher. Let me be very clear at the outset, I am in no way equating the problems of privilege with the problems of the privilege-less. The latter is a larger issue and much more important. But privilege makes life easier, not easy. Privilege brings with it burdens. I understand that they are burdens that others would gladly take on as the price for privilege, but they are burdens none the less. Losing privilege is tough too, even when you wholeheartedly agree that you should.

To a very large extent the issues facing men today fall under the #firstworldproblems twitter tag. Are there larger issues that people should care about? Probably, yes. But at the same time people need space sometimes just to vent, or more productively, space to talk about issues specific to them. A mom complaining about how a daycare treated her child doesn’t always need to be reminded at least she has daycare. Just as a dad complaining about how a daycare treats him with his child doesn’t always need to be reminded of how women have it worse, even when that is completely true.

I think The Good Men Project writers do a very good job talking about the issues facing men, some of their commenters less so. But at its best, the Good Men Project is basically discussing how to go about abdicating privilege, how to share the burdens of privilege and expand the traditional definition of manhood. And yes, part of that discussion is what privileges men do not want to hand over. The larger discourse on manhood is an important discussion that needs to take place among men with copious amounts of women’s input. But with some understanding that telling men that the problems they face are nothing compared to the problems faced by women isn’t always the best or most productive response even when it is 100% true.

Even many women’s issues in America today could fall under #firstworldproblems. I say this not to denigrate them, because I think they are vitally important, but just to prove the point about having space to talk. Compare what women had to go through in the 60s or 70s workplace versus today and you can make the same critique. But just because things are getting better doesn’t mean everything is copacetic. Or compare a white American woman’s privilege with an average North Korean man and it isn’t even close. I understand that men have used such arguments to tarnish or attack feminism and I completely and utterly disagree with them and distance myself from their conclusions, that is not what I was doing here, I am just trying to show that people can focus on a whole myriad of important issues, not just the most important issue.

That last sentence is important (and long). It is important that I wrote it so that I am clear about what I am trying to express and it is exemplary of the sentence that has been constantly missing from Tom Matlack’s discourse throughout this kerfuffle. I read his original article Being A Dude Is A Good Thing and understood its main premise about the sterotypes and blame facing men. I felt the article had problems, most of which are proficiently addressed in Amanda Marcotte’s rebuttal. Frankly, I don’t really think that women don’t want men to be emotional. And I believe that today’s society sees emotion as feminine precisely because traditionally men decided masculinity didn’t show emotion, not that women wanted to be the only emotional ones. I understand saying that some women don’t help men show emotion, but that is not the argument I read even though I think it may be what Mr. Matlack was trying to say. Another thing that was missing was any acknowledgement that men blame women at the bare minimum as much as they themselves are blamed. Or any mention of the issues women face daily while blaming women for some of the issues men face.

The blame that men deal with is one of the burden’s of manhood and its privilege. We are told by other men to be stoic, hardnosed, and competitive on one hand and then shown by a male dominated media as incompetent, brash and sophomoric on the other. While I agree with Ms. Marcotte that the latter is done with a wink and approving nod, that only makes it worse from my view because I don’t think it should be how men comport themselves. I think as a person Mr. Matlack is doing a good job trying to break masculinity from both of these restraining definitions. But what isn’t mentioned in his article is the fact that it is our duty as good men to rise above guilt and carry on in much the same way Joanna Schroeder describes in her article The (Quiet) Feminist Revolution. The issues Mr. Matlack discusses are burdens of privilege, and we should acknowledge that as much even when the lines between genders defending and attacking that burden become blurred.

To put it in Mr. Matlack’s terms, men don’t have to be constantly apologizing for being men when other men are assholes. They do have to take into consideration that other men are assholes when talking about gender rights and defending masculinity. It is disingenuous to discount the worst of one gender while calling out the worst of the opposite gender. We have to view our discussions as part of a larger context that includes dudes abusing their privilege even when just talking about people who are just trying to help men be good.

Talking about masculinity and women is a tricky issue because the discourse is at its core how much men should ally themselves to the women’s movement. Some men will be enemies, some men will be allies, and telling them apart can be tough in the middle of the discussion, especially on Twitter. Mr. Matlack’s article and tweet that started it all do a poor job of walking the line on a tricky issue and I think Jenn Pozner and Ms. Marcotte were right to push back on them both with valid criticism.

I don’t think Mr. Matlack realized how much his post sounded like the commonplace complaints of enemies of feminism rather than allies. Even though he was trying to critique from an ally position, without any mention of the issues women face it came across as an attack rather than constructive criticism. He compounded this problem by defending himself using his own history of writing and publishing articles to prove he was a feminist instead of effectively responding to the specific critiques of his article. As part of this defense he said the MRA men hate him too and call him a mangina. This is not really helpful. The best way to defend oneself from the charge of racism isn’t to claim your history of helping or loving black people but to talk about the specific reasons why someone leveled that charge and try to change their mind. Even though I know Mr. Matlack has a history of supporting women’s issues and saw where he was trying to come from his defense reminded me of more of Steven Colbert’s one black friend than the measured response I know he is capable of producing.

Mr. Matlack was acting like his feminist critics were attacking him personally rather than what he specifically tweeted or wrote in his article. This view is exemplified in his second article about the twitter discussion. But neither Ms. Marcotte and Ms. Pozner’s attacked him personally; notice how neither are quoted as attacking him. They called out specific issues they had with either his tweets or his article, issues that he still hasn’t responded to even after writing that second article. Mr. Matlack’s basic defense of his history did not work he got upset and started saying feminists were attacking him. Basically, Mr. Matlack was demanding to be seen as an individual with a long history of doing good at the same time he started lumping feminists together. Ms. Pozner explicitly called him out on this to no avail.

The best example of this victim claim is his more or less indefensible tweet to Ms. Pozner:

interesting “feedback.” I really thought the MRA guys were crazy until I engaged the wrath of the feminists. Insane.

Mr. Matlack tries to use wrath in its original sense of anger but is apparently is completely oblivious to the fact that the MRA guys continually use it to denigrate women’s opinions. I understand that is not what he meant, but the ignorance of context is galling. Later Mr. Matlack retweets a tweet from an MRA guy calling him a mangina, I guess to prove that he is on the right side and is still being attacked for being feminist.

The same MRA guy tweeted me and called me a mangina. This made me laugh as the term will be indellibly linked in my mind to my frat brother’s “patented penis tricks.” He usually started off with the tuck/mangina before moving on to harder feats such as the helicopter or hamburger. I clicked on the MRA guy’s profile to see what type of asshat thought he was insulting me. That is when I saw that the same MRA guy had tweeted at one of the main female discussion participants that she should be raped by an entire football team.

This is an instructive example of male priviledge, even when we argue the same thing as our women counterparts we aren’t subjected to rape threats. It’s not like it would be hard, to suggest corrective rape. Examples are easy to think of…such as…”You should be ass raped by a pool cue. Treat you like the bitch you are.” I would note here that even this vast escalation of rhetoric is still less violent than the suggestion the MRA guy made above. Frankly I was upset, at how easily my own made up threat rolled off my tongue but it is telling that they never even think to say it. It is vital to notice and acknowledge that even our most virulent enemies are exponentially more violent in thier speech to women than to men.

With that as context lets look back at Mr. Matlack’s most tweet:

interesting “feedback.” I really thought the MRA guys were crazy until I engaged the wrath of the feminists. Insane.

From Mr. Matlack’s point of view he is right. Tough criticism is worse than being called a mangina. Who the fuck cares about being called a mangina? But, what he thinks he is saying and what every feminist woman took him to be saying are completely different because of what they have to deal with every day. Tough criticism is no where near equal to rape threats, I think Mr. Matlack would agree with me on that. It is unfortunate then, that while specifially arguing the differences between men and women Mr. Matlack fails to empathize with how his comment would be interpreted by women. Again, the lack of context is galling. It is troubling that when presented with this he blithely claims that isn’t what he meant but doesn’t walk it back or explicitly explain how he didn’t mean it that way. It is perplexing that he doesn’t do these things while still attacking the MRA guy back for the rape tweets, taking down his retweet of him, and expressing sorrow to others that they have to deal with men like that.

It seems that Mr. Matlack doesn’t want to be taken in context of other men behaving abominably but still wants his own article to be taken in context of his own history. An article must stand on its own. I urge Mr. Matlack go back and read his original article, not from his point of view with his history but from a woman’s point of view. I am not suggesting he take a woman’s point of view as fact but instead to re-read it to see how his words could be interpreted in the larger context of  gender discussions. I don’t think Mr. Matlack meant to do it, but by trying to talk about just men’s issues while not effectively acknowledging any outside context he comes to close for comfort to advocating MRA views. He relies on some of the same tropes, without explicitly distancing himself from those views in his piece.

Clarity is part of a writers job, and it is especially important when talking about sensitive subjects like gender issues and rights. Mr. Matlack needs to be more clear about exactly what he was trying to say in his article, maybe to the extent of re-writing it for a larger audience. He needs to respond directly to Ms. Marcotte and Ms. Pozner’s questions and critiques of his article instead of claiming they are attacking him personally. He does this to such an extent that his second post doesn’t even link back to his first post. The main issue of this twitter debate is that so far Mr. Matlack hasn’t defended his article with specifics, only himself.

It is tough having privilege, and one of the burdens of privilege should be dealing with arguments based on one’s own privilege constructively rather than defensively. Yes, this is sometimes galling. But as men we need to rise above our own anger and look at it within the context of what those accusing us based on our privilege have to go through that we do not. Empathy is of the utmost importance to being a good man. It is even more important when we are talking about  being a good man within the context of privilege.


A Discourse On Manning Up

14 Dec

Jeff Perera has a great article on The Good Man Project entitled The Invisible Gun of Manhood about how traditional definitions of being manly hinder and hurt all men. I recommend everyone read it and wholeheartedly endorse its main premise. There is one niggling problem I have with it though, and it is the following sentence.

What I am suggesting is that we can no longer ignore or minimize the searing impact that taunting and reinforcing “Man Up” philosophy has on men.

Mr. Perera is conflating two issues here. The idea of manning up and the notions of what being a man entail. Men need to “man up” to be men. Yes, we need to embrace our whole humanity but at the end of the day we will still be men. Manning up is part and parcel boys of growing into adulthood. They need to be accountable for their actions, take on the responsibilities of being an adult and knuckle down and accomplish things. Unfortunately, “Man Up” philosophy is very much entwined with traditional and cultural notions of what constitutes manly, and even worse, increasingly conflated with the adult boy culture exemplified by the atrocious “man card” Miller Light commercials.

As men, we need not discard “man up.” Instead we need to expand the definition of manly. All of the issues that Mr. Perera talks about are important and very much on the minds of every man whom I talked with at length. I have the same issue as he does with any sort of automotive issue. I understand where he is coming from. I also can’t cook worth a lick. These two are equivalent to me. Actually, that’s wrong. I would rather learn how to cook than learn to care for my car. It would be more useful to me and my family.

The traditional distinctions of men’s and women’s realms are increasingly illogical. As men we are supposed to toil away all day so that our children will be provided for but then do nothing to provide for their emotional growth at home. We are supposed to ensure our wife’s safety and happiness while we sit on the couch and watch the game as she cooks, cleans and cares for the children, frazzled and exhausted. We are supposed to love our wife but never say it, show it, or in any way communicate that bedrock fact.

Are we really supposed to do next to nothing at home and still call ourselves men? No, we are not, we cannot. As traditional definitions incoherently clash with what we know our responsibilities to be, we need to take responsibility in nontraditional ways. And when we do take on these responsibilities we need to claim them with pride. We need “man up” and cook dinner. We need to “man up” and change the diaper. We need to “man up” an vacuum. We need to “man up” and fully express ourselves and our emotions.

The Subjection of Women by J.S. Mill

11 Jul

“The object of this Essay is to explain as clearly as I am able grounds of an opinion which I have held from the very earliest period when I had formed any opinions at all on social political matters, and which, instead of being weakened or modified, has been constantly growing stronger by the progress of reflection and the experience of life. That the principle which regulates the existing social relations between the two sexes — the legal subordination of one sex to the other — is wrong itself, and now one of the chief hindrances to human improvement; and that it ought to be replaced by a principle of perfect equality, admitting no power or privilege on the one side, nor disability on the other.”

Read more…

Abu Muqawama Speaks Truth

8 Jul

“Speaking of PTSD, if a U.S. soldier wrote a difficult, painful-to-read, searingly honest essay on his or her struggle with PTSD, no one would tell that soldier that he or she does not have the right to write such an essay because they failed to also consider the effect of the war on innocent civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan. People would just accept that everyone has the right to share his or her own personal narrative, and that when people are brave enough to open up about their personal experiences, we should all give them the space to do so. Which is just one of the reasons why the outrage over Mac McLelland’s essay annoys me.”  –  Andrew Exum

Spellchecking Women’s Rights

12 Apr

I noticed when I was writing about my lack of knowledge on the women’s rights movement that “women’s” shows up as misspelled in WordPress’ spellchecker.  I just don’t understand. Women’s is deemed correct by both Microsoft Word and Google spellcheckers.

Why is “women’s” considered misspelled in WordPress? Is it some anachronism from when the plural was always masculine in old English? Was that ever even the case in old English? Are women just not allowed to possess anything?

This may be an infinitesimally small problem but it needs to be corrected.