Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Grumpy Feminist

"Feminism is a struggle to end sexist oppression. Therefore, it is necessarily a struggle to eradicate the ideology of domination that permeates Western culture on various levels as well as a commitment to reorganizing society so that the self-development of people can take precedence over imperialism, economic expansion, and material desires.” -bell hooks

This is what I looked like on the inside during REL 601 today.

We were discussing feminist and gender critiques of religion (Rita Gross and Marsha Hewitt) as well as feminist reconstructions of religion.

Jen and I, being the ones to present for the day, were on top of our game and ready to roll. This was our thing, what we're interested in..the sort of thing that really fascinates me.

But then it happened...the same way it always happens. We're literally two sections into Jen's outline on the Rita Gross reading and all of a sudden the men are on the defensive.

One of them starts spouting off about how this feminist propaganda is completely anti-male; another starts some sort of strange rant about how even if we have women's studies, there aren't that many significant women to study and therefore spending 50% of your time on women would take vital time away from the vast array of significant men to study. Oh and then we wasted ten minutes listening to the discussion of how women aren't considered "other", and I quote..."I mean, they may be lesser humans but they're still humans".

I spent most of my time biting my pen, because to me feminism and religious studies are about dialogue, about listening to the others around you and seeking understanding...but how do you seek understanding when those around your are on the defensive?

I'll admit it- I threw away any sort of skillful means I may have been endowed with and just straight up went on the attack. Which, if you know me, means I said one mean thing very politely in a way that no one understood I was being mean. Ha!

If I understand correctly, the main complaint of the "propaganda" guy was that women's studies is just like affirmative action. He offered the metaphor of a pendulum, saying that perhaps it has swung in the direction of androcentrism (male centered) focus, but insisting on women's studies simply pushes it way too far in the other direction.

I couldn't chew on my pen any longer. I calmly offered this-

The problem with the pendulum in our society is that we see it as "normal" and "centered" when in all actuality it is stuck quite far on the androcenterist side. An emphasis on women's studies and gender does not push the pendulum too far the other direction, but rather seeks to bring it back to center. It will take time of course, but a push in the other direction is necessary to bring us back to center.

It is so frustrating to me when men jump to the defensive when it comes to discussing feminism. Feminism is not is all encompassing. Those two particular men in my class made it quite clear the inherent patriarchal fear of losing their position in society.

Ahh well. Boys will be boys eh? I'm not discouraged...just grumpy.


Mark said...

Not all men agree with those guys. I think there are a lot of feminists that are anti-male, and those are the ones that get a majority of the attention (see? Patriarchy at work). More men have heard of the movie The World According to Garp, experiencing that kind of violent hateful feminism, than that of the more sophisticated bell hooks philosophy.

I really do think that it's the name that really turns people off. While I'm on the boat with the movement, I think perhaps that other philosophies like humanism have stronger salvific powers for the entirety of our race and the inequalities therein. That's just my thoughts though.

kourtney said...

That is so interesting, because I'm taking a class on Black Women Authors, and we've been talking a lot about the context of the stories we're reading, and about patriarchy and all the things that have placed black women at the bottom of heirarchy, and the men in my class have also gotten defensive about "man-bashing." My instructor put it this way: We're not attacking individual men here. We're simply taking into account the effect white power and patriarchy has had on women's lives."
I love your frustration here, because there is something kind of beautiful about sharing the same feeling with millions of other women (and men) around the world who feel the same exact frustration at the missed point and defensive behaviors of men and women when it comes to feminism. Frustration is a uniting emotion.