the problem with feminism

In the past several months, whenever the issue of gender equality has come up in conversation, I’ve heard several of my white male twenty-something friends express frustration at the guilt they feel about being white men. A good friend once said to me, “I feel like I have two strikes against me: one for my ethnicity and one for my gender.” I don’t think anyone knowing these men would say that they don’t have something (perhaps rather significant) to contribute in all of this, and yet the question persists: in our attempts to diversify and enrich our churches and organizations, how do we avoid disempowerment? I’m uncomfortable and dismayed whenever feminism is used as an easy scapegoat, but I’ve never really known how to respond. This post, however, touched on something I’ve been trying to articulate for a few years now: “Men are in trouble because of the feminist movement, but it’s not feminism’s fault.” I’m particularly interested in what the men who read and contribute to this blog think. Some of you have put way more time and energy into this topic than I have. Thoughts?

Comments (10)

  1. folknotions

    I at first thought it necessary to go down through my résumé and detail the various anti-oppression work and groups I have been a part of, then I decided to spare you.

    I do, however, identify as a straight white male.

    Men are in crisis and the problem is exactly feminism, and feminism should be proud of it.

    Feminism has not only challenged women to be equals with men economically, socially, and spiritually, but it has questioned (or at least acted as a catalyst of dicussion) the nature of gender construction.

    Often, men feel they have something to “lose” as a result of feminism. If you mean power, domination, and the other forms of sin that Jesus railed against, then yes you absolutely will lose this and all for the better for your soul and spirit.

    Importantly, men also lose the constraints of their own gender. We think that because gender construction has made men dominate and women inferior to men, that men haven’t also been trapped into a system of domination as well. Men become trapped by expectations of gender as well, to be as “macho” as the next guy, with the big muscles, big car, and bloodthirst for meat and violence. For many men, they do not want to live up to this standard of gender construction.

    As a result, feminism has done a great deal of good for men, whether it recognizes it or not. Now, it is becoming more ok if you aren’t the macho guy.

    So, I don’t think feminism/feminists should feel guilty that they have put men in crisis. It was at the core of the feminist project and it was good!

    I will, however, state the following. I’m not sure if the poll question on the side of the blog is meant as a joke, but I find it very inappropriate. Even if we are targeting those who hold a majority in our pastoral ministries, it is discriminatory to say they are no longer fit for ordination.

    But again, could be a joke that I don’t know about.

    I hope some more people contribute to this discussion.

    Reply
  2. Katie

    Lora – ever since Eric posted Blog Against Sexism Day, I’ve been keeping up, to some extent, with I Blame the Patriarchy and Ilyka Damen. I must say I’m with Twisty, Ilyka, and Mr. Shakes (especially Ilyka) on the issue of progressive men and guilt and feminism. I think what sticks out to me in the post you linked to is the idea that power is a zero-sum game. If women gain power, somehow men have to lose power. I guess this is trueish – but is that power that men “lose” really theirs or was it just an unfair advantage from the beginning.

    I keep hearing that men have it really hard these days and they’re struggling with feeling good about themselves in school and work and life in general. I have a probably-biased and completely unscientific theory about that. My theory is that women played the game of life with the disadvantage of sexism for so long that now, when the playing field is more or less even, we have the advantage of being better suited for a fair world. Men find it hard to deal with fair competition when, for an awful lot of history, they have had an unmerited advantage. I think of it as sort of an evolutionary thing. But who am I to say, I’m just one of those “militant, man-hating, bra-burners.”

    I don’t have any good ideas for how to respond to your friends. I’d send them to Ilyka and tell them it’s not all about them and they need to do their own work instead of whining to you. I’m sure they would be able to hear that. I guess I’m not as likely to be asked if I’m going to respond like that.

    Folknotions – I like where you are going with the whole sexism/patriarchy-hurts-men-too. I maybe have repeated a little of what you said but I drafted this before I went out tonight and didn’t get around to posting it until now. I’m kinda lazy and don’t feel like rewriting.

    As far as the poll –  it is referring to a situation in the Lancaster Conference of the Mennonite Church USA. You can read about it herehere, here, here, and here. It is a joke and it is meant to offend. We were hoping folks would read it and, like you, say “hey, that sucks,” and then get what we were talking about and say “oh, I get it, yeah, that does suck.”

    Alas, it has been up for a month now and I think all context is gone so we should come up with something new.

    Reply
  3. eric

    Been out for a while and can’t stay long, but thought this one was worth touching on. Thanks for the post Lora, and great responses from Folknotions and Katie.

    Ilyka and Twisty are top-notch if you get the style, but I would strongly suggest starting your reading at Shrub where they have a wonderful essay on privilege and what we can do about it. The list starts with “Accept Your Privilege” and ends with “If You’re Not the Problem, Then You’re Not the Problem.” On the right sidebar at Shrub you can also find loads of good links including an entire Feminism 101 section, and a section on privilege.

    You can also check out some good sites by men, for men who want to be allies. Finally a Feminism 101 Blog is exactly what it sounds like, finally. Carl has also linked to Hugo’s Blog and there are several others.

    All that to land firmly behind Folknotions in saying there is absolutely no reason women should feel they have to take care of our feelings on this one. We’re adults, let’s act like it boys. Women have enough to deal with fighting for their own equality. Don’t go complaining to them how you feel downtrodden for your unwanted privilege over them.

    Feel guilty? It’s about time you did. But guilt won’t do much for anyone until you can move beyond it. Get over feeling bad about/for yourself, and start helping everyone by joining the fight against patriarchy.

    It’s not even fair competition that has men up in arms. Even men who are perfectly happy to work as equals with women balk at the idea that they are in any way responsible for making that (im)possible. Even those of us who don’t feel any need to hoard the power get defensive when it is pointed out that we ARE privileged, and we CAN do something about it. Boy do we feel guilty, because it is SO TRUE.

    As for the poll: A joke? I think it’s fairly serious. Kinda funny in a depressing way, but a very serious critique of the situation over in Lancaster Conference. Anyway, what defines fitness for leadership? Seems to me we might be better off picking our leaders from the bottom of the social hierarchies – and I’m just basing that on some of what Jesus had to say. I’m not even talking about “a taste of our own medicine doing us good” – I’m just saying non-gay white men possibly can’t lead a church full of marginalized people because we don’t (can’t) get it. Don’t kick us out for our good, kick us out for yours.

    We will, of course, benefit. But not from pain or some sort of reverse-oppression character-building. We’ll benefit from your voices finally being heard above our wining and moaning. We just might hear something we hadn’t heard before. You might be able to fix some things we’ve gotten stuck on.

    Beyond that, this poll gives me a much better sense of the odds against the women in Lancaster conference. Definitely a strong plurality for the men here, but at this point not enough (50%). In a vote set up like this, if you are not with the minority, you are very obviously and clearly recorded as against them.

    And we don’t even have a way to keep the men from voting for themselves.

    Reply
  4. Lora (Post author)

    I don’t have much time to respond to all of this — I’m leaving shortly for two weeks on the road — but I hope this conversation will continue. Thanks to all of you for your thoughtful responses. Katie, I think you hit it on the head when you said, “My theory is that women played the game of life with the disadvantage of sexism for so long that now, when the playing field is more or less even, we have the advantage of being better suited for a fair world.”

    I will just say that I don’t feel guilt that my friends are feeling guilt, and in defense of them, I didn’t perceive that any of them were whining, merely that it came up in a space safe enough that they could admit they were struggling with it. For me, as I think about heading back to seminary and with that, pastoring and possibly other leadership roles, I do wonder how to approach this issue with integrity. The painful reality for me is that as more women enter ministry, men seem to become less interested in it. The church needs us all.

    Reply
  5. folknotions

    In response to eric’s comment that the non-gay white men should be kicked out of the church for the good of the marginalized members of the church for Jesus walked with the marginalized, I present the following.

    Indeed, Jesus walked with the marginalized and if there is a discussion of power and privilege within the Mennonite community, alleluia!

    However, Jesus did not practice an exclusionary but an inclusive ministry. He walked with the marginalized in order to demonstrate the privilege of the hypocrites, the Pharisees, but he did not imply that they could not be changed and work toward renouncing their privilege. He spread the message to all people that inclusion, including inclusion of the Gentiles (though this was more Paul’s mission of course), was the true ministry that needed to be practiced.

    As such, I think acknowledgment of privilege and working toward reducing the effect of one’s privilege is necessary and uplifting and is step one towards repentance of sin. However, excluding those of privilege categorically would not have been Jesus’s ministry.

    I invite responses to this, as this is becoming a very interesting discussion.

    Reply
  6. eric

    I’m not arguing for exclusion of anyone, I’m suggesting it might not be a bad idea for some of us non-gay white guys who have held power (collectively) for the last millenia to step down and make room for some new perspectives. I don’t think there is always room for all of us, as there are a finite number of jobs available in ministry. I also don’t think it is always possible for new perspectives to be heard and given a chance when the millenia-old perspective still holds so much sway. There’s a reason a retiring pastor usually leaves their church for a time while the new one gets settled in. It’s hard to make changes when the old guard is still voting for themselves.

    No one needs to be pushed or excluded or hated or anything. Let’s just step aside and make some good space for new ideas and changes. Otherwise we’re only accepting the women that are willing to play the game on our terms. We have to drop the terms, and that probably means getting out of the way, even for the most aware and conscientious of us.

    I don’t care how open and repentant we are, it’s not easy to let go of the way you’ve done things or the ways you’ve set them up. True change is going to mean change from the bottom of the system on up – you can’t just add ‘equality’ on top of patriarchal assumptions and claim you’re there.

    This is a plea to the patriarchy to step down. I know you think you have something useful to offer, but just save it for a while will you? Come back in a few years and we’ll talk. Maybe it’s time for a non-gay white male universal sabbatical from leadership.

    I find it funny that we become so uptight about even the implication that men might have to give some things up for women to gain true equality. Suddenly we’re yelling about men’s rights, as though we deserve ever bit of privilege we have – let’s just give some power to some women too and call it even.

    I don’t think it works that way. You have to start by giving it back. It was never yours to have in the first place. You don’t need to feel all bad and rejected and hated and excluded, just give it up and stand back for a while.

    From Shrub:

    If You’re Not the Problem, Then You’re Not the Problem
    But if you feel the burning desire to leap to your own defense and declare, “I’m not the problem!” then you just might be. The facts are, people who have followed the steps I’ve outlined will most likely not be the problem. If they are the problem, they accept that and will be working on a way to be less of the problem. If they’re not the problem, then they feel no need to protest the critique by saying that since they aren’t the problem, then the point is obviously invalid. So, whenever you feel an urge to defend yourself against a criticism about your privileged group, think about why you feel that way. Chances are, the more aware of your privilege you are, the more you’ll see it as a knee-jerk reaction about having your privilege challenged (even if you don’t, in fact, engage in the behavior being ranted against).

    Reply
  7. folknotions

    Eric,

    Perhaps I misunderstood your first argument, in which you stated:

    >

    In your second argument, you stated:

    >

    The first statement seems to me to be exclusion by force, the second is voluntarily relinquishing of places of power. I would absolutely concur with you on the second.

    Additionally, you state the following in your 1st argument:

    >

    I have to take issue with you there, especially because such language reminds me too much of George Bush, and too little of Jesus (“He that is not against us is for us”).

    I will submit that perhaps this argument is entirely semantic, but to suggest that non-gay white men are “unfit” for ordination I think is discriminatory. I understand we are addressing privilege here, and that because of privilege they are not fit to represent queer, gender queer, or people of color interests. However, a question such as “Do Non-Gay White Men Have a Responsibility to Step-Down from Leadership?” I think gets your point across just as well. If at that point, someone were to suggest that they did not have that responsibility, that person would be against the minority interest.

    Reply
  8. folknotions

    pardon me, I made a typo. the beginning should read:

    Perhaps I misunderstood your first argument, in which you stated:

    “Don’t kick us out for our good, kick us out for yours.”

    In your second argument, you stated:

    “’m not arguing for exclusion of anyone, I’m suggesting it might not be a bad idea for some of us non-gay white guys who have held power (collectively) for the last millenia to step down and make room for some new perspectives.”

    The first statement seems to me to be exclusion by force, the second is voluntarily relinquishing of places of power. I would absolutely concur with you on the second.

    Additionally, you state the following in your 1st argument:

    “Beyond that, this poll gives me a much better sense of the odds against the women in Lancaster conference. Definitely a strong plurality for the men here, but at this point not enough (50%). In a vote set up like this, if you are not with the minority, you are very obviously and clearly recorded as against them.”

    Reply
  9. eric

    Folknotions,

    You’re missing the point, which is not about how it should happen, but the fact that it’s about time we weren’t in charge any more. I don’t really care how nice or inclusive that sounds, because I hardly think oppression should be addressed nicely. Non-violently, yes. But nicely?

    You are also missing the message of the poll, which is not that non-gay white men should be discriminated against (What horrors!), but that these questions and the voting techniques used to answer them are absurd.

    The poll is satire. Not really a joke, because it’s a very serious critique of the situation, but satire. Bringing to light the absurdity of the Lancaster vote.

    My reference to Bush’s phrase was to associate the absurdity of the two, not to defend them. When you are looking for a 67% super-majority as in this poll (and the vote in Lancaster conference), any vote that isn’t “yes” is counted against that percentage. It makes the 67% mark very hard to reach.

    I also think it’s absurd to be arguing over the potential discrimination against non-gay white men of a satirical poll, when non-gay white men hold all the power in our culture while women, homosexuals, and other marginalized groups face much worse violence on a daily basis because of our privilege. Which do you think should be the priority?

    Reply
  10. folknotions

    Eric,

    Thank you for explaining more about the poll, as I did not understand and was missing the point.

    I’m not suggesting that this is priority one; clearly there are bigger fish to fry. This is not the only dialogue happening on oppression. As such, I am going to submit my point.

    Under the premise that this poll was made in all seriousness to prove a particular point, I still submit that stating if they are unfit for ordination is discriminatory.

    Under the premise that it is satire, I think my argument still stands, as it would not be satire if it did not obviously demonstrate discrimination, just as the Lancaster vote demonstrated discrimination against the women there.

    If I understand you correctly, there is no seriousness in suggesting that discrimination against “non-gay white men” is possible, as non-gay white men hold a place of privilege. Please correct me if I have words in your mouth.

    What I am suggesting is that if the rhetoric of oppression and privilege sacrifices the possibility of discrimination against “non-gay white men”, then it either loses its power or subverts itself entirely. Yoder even identifies, in his final chapter of Politics of Jesus, that sacrificing the interest of anyone’s life for the efficacy of a particular goal, no matter what it is, is contrary to Jesus’s teaching. I acknowledge, for the sake of clarity, that he was addressing violent ideological battles.

    I don’t suggest that we should get hung up on possible discrimination against those of privilege . However, this conversation started with addressing the possible disempowerment of non-gay white men as a result of feminism. As such, I am addressing that particular issue. Like I said, there are many other discussions happening on oppression issues.

    If for the sake of toppling oppression we sacrifice anyone’s rights, we miss the point. Black power had to address its sexism, feminism had to address its classism and heterosexism. Particular ideologies are not perfect in addressing all issues of society and everyone’s interests. And much of the anti-oppression ideology and rhetoric as it currently is framed (though taking its cue from past civil rights movements)is still relatively new and it isn’t perfect. I have spent several years working in the student anti-sweatshop movement. I have sat in conference-wide discussions on the issues of “oppression” that were entirely dominated by people of color interests and entirely overlooked queer and gender queer issues, in a room where many identified as queer or gender queer. All because there is a notion that people of color interests are privileged above queer and gender queer interests, under what premise I will not assume, as possibilities are endless. This was an attempt made by the people of color to break free from the “minority spaces” and caucus system, which implies that anti-oppression discussions should be cloistered in rooms somewhere and not for public debate.

    Additionally, queer anti-oppression activists haven’t adequately addressed the privileging of homosexual interests over bisexual interests.

    Finally, I don’t think straight white males should be crying at the edge of their bed every night bemoaning their privilege (I don’t think you’re suggesting that either, I’m being extreme). I have to disagree with your first comment in which you said “Boy, do we feel guilty”. Maybe some do, I don’t. Being consumed by guilt doesn’t get much done. Additionally, I don’t think one necessarily has to revoke all of one’s rights because one is given privilege. That is not the point of accepting privilege. I don’t feel guilt all the time about my privilege. I just try to do something about it. Guilt isn’t the point, action is the point. It’s like kindergarten, we have to learn to share and at a certain point be joyful in our sharing (the latter being the spiritual acceptance of privilege).

    I hope to some day run an NGO. I hope to some day be a pastor of a Mennonite church (maybe that will have to be a white suburban church…who knows). That is something my parents have always dreamed for me and something I have dreamed for as well. I’m not giving it up because I want to be an amazing “anti-oppression” person. I think it’s clearly demonstrating privilege when you make it impossible for women to have that chance by voting them out. We can’t put that on the same level as my personal pursuit of my dreams.

    Not all of, but part of the work has to be dialogue among straight white males about their privilege and how to frame it among their peers. Additionally, there will have to be different privilege discussions there, as privilege will take on a much different context among middle-class and working class straight white males.

    Nothing about what I am suggesting is meant to be “nice”. I’m not singing “Why Can’t We Be Friends” over here. It’s meant to challenge “anti-oppression” proponents to fully follow through with their claims.

    This is going to be my last post on this but I invite you to respond.

    Reply

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