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led astray

January 2013

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part 1: getting out of hand

Spending time with and talking to sylvanstargazer makes me think too much, and I love her for it.  She is calcium for my feminist bones.  I can be irate about things sometimes on my own, but she has this way of focusing my thoughts and setting them out into something cohesive.  And it makes me think more and try to bring cohesion to my own thoughts.  This process, I am starting to believe, irritates the shit out of the non-females around me.  An example: I watch a movie with my roommies and complain how in the end, the strong female lead still needs to be protected/saved by the dominant male.  They scoff and tell me it's not like that and I'm exagerrrating the point.  But I don't think I am.  Why did the father figure need to help her in the end?  Why was HellBoy 2 even a movie?  It's no big deal to them because the man wasn't the one needing to be rescued.  It's almost always the female.  Even strong heroins can't seem to be strong anymore once a male enters the scene.  (Big applause for the Resident Evil series for specifically NOT doing that!)  But it seems to be getting out of hand in my brainpan.  The people I live with I love dearly, but they don't see this the same way I do, and they never will.  No matter how many times and ways I try to explain that chivalry is chauvenism, they will always be more protective of females than males.  Men at the office don't know what to make of me racing them to the door so they can't hold it open for me.  At what point do I allow complacency to quell the ire?  I'm not wrong, but at what point do I become an asshole?

Comments

From my view, the line gets crossed from aware to asshole when/if the people around you become punished. I don't think you cross that line.

What Druid and I do in similar situations is I'll say, "Right... because she totally couldn't do it herself!" and he'll respond with, "Well of course, and dontcha know we guys are supposed to miraculously know exactly what needs to be done in case the little lady needs help!" Because it's about the only way we can both mock the different sides of the situation.

I most firmly object to the idea of women needing a man in order to kick butt, and he most firmly objects to the idea that men need to fill that role at all times in order for the women around them to feel loved.

In the general public, if someone offers me an act of kindness - like a door being opened for me - I accept it. No amount of it being a chauvinistic act negates that it's how they've learned to show kindness. I'm happy to accept kindness from others, and I offer it back in return. I love breaking people's minds when I hold the door open for a guy. I will sometimes say - mostly with acquaintances, "I could have done it on my own, but the offer of help is appreciated."
I agree with sistahraven's definition of assholeness. And that you ever think about things in these terms sets you head and shoulders above many; there is no responsibility to be on all the time. That said, I certainly sometimes have the "I wish I'd taken the blue pill" moments.

I do think it is easy for people to get defensive and interpret deconstruction as "being an asshole" before you actually are. It's easier to not think about things, especially not about how we think or the privilege we have, and these kinds of observations make people uncomfortable. We have been taught explicitly that making people uncomfortable is Bad, Dangerous, or, in some ways worst of all, Not Nice. It turns out, though, that sometimes people *should* be uncomfortable.

I've found that pointing out the ways in which hegemonic masculinity affects the men around me helps them start to see the chauvinistic and misogynistic under and over-tones in our culture, in ways that pointing out how it oppresses women doesn't, at least as long as it is never personalized or directly threatening to them. People are less defensive if something could be done to them, rather than done by them. But basically that is me finding ways to stay Nice while making people uncomfortable.

It also helps me to remember that society, as messed up as it is, was built in a different time when this structure made some sense. In the 19th century maternal mortality in one hospital was 40% (this is when we start having good records). Chauvinism is how western masculinity coped with the mortality of women and the helplessness of men to stop it. Even when it did make sense there were those who fought against it, but what I see as absolutely obviously unfair was not necessarily always so.

We are only three or four generations out from that, from when there was a literal choice between having a child and having a career (or anything else, for that matter). We need to reshape society, but I'm coming to believe that as powerful as deconstruction is, we must come up with positive, constructivist ideas to replace it. It also isn't something that women are going to be able to fix, because women aren't the ones with the power in this relationship. Women are doing our absolute best to grab what power we can (often using our other privileges to get it, which is a *whole* 'nother discussion), but fundamentally until men realize that treating women as an Other to define themselves against is unacceptable and stop doing it, society isn't going to shift. There are people and social forces working against that shift; power will do all it can to perpetuate its structure, with violence, with alienation and with mockery of men *and* women who question the current structure. It offers major carrots for those who play along. It can be very hard to convince people to risk their carrots and accept the possibility of punishment, even if they aren't consciously thinking in those terms, but that is exactly what the various feministisms are trying to do.

Even if we don't say these things to the people we are with, we can still think them and share them with those who are interested. I will call out people's own behavior more often than I will discuss pop cultural instances, since they aren't responsible for and may not be interested in the latter. Just like how I won't discuss politics with someone I respect who might be a Republican (not that there are many of those these days...), I can work with those who don't share my desire to reshape gender relations. It doesn't mean I have to vote for Bush, though, or let comments about the deficit go unanswered ;-)

I just watched a surprisingly good movie off Netflix, called "Ironjawed Angels", about the suffergets who finally got the national right to vote. Diagonti found it watchable too, as opposed to most of the feminist ire movies I get. I recommend it when you might need to know that not only aren't you the only one, this has been going on for the last 100 years and the women thinking these things were pretty awesome back then too.
Well considering the entire movie was the woman rescuing her father, I'm not sure your argument holds complete validity. I do see what you're saying and how you saw that, but...meh.

Besides, it's not guys fault that women are less capable at everything and need men to pick up the slack. :P

(Anonymous)

Not to challenge your intentions . . .

but do those men hold the door for each other? I've been accused of chauvenism so many times for holding doors (and lots of similar activities--I know your post isn't just about door-holding) even though I do the same for other men that I do for women. None of the men have ever accused me of treating them as helpless, yet some women do. What's next--do I need to leave the toilet seat up, too? Of course, if they treat you differently than they treat men, that's chauvenism.

On the movie front, I'd make a similar argument. Some directors are consistently anti-feminist, and they should be called out for it. However, while the body of Joss Whedon's work is feminist, he's done his share of 'helpless woman' episodes as well. As long as he balances them out with 'helpless man' episodes, I don't think there's a problem. Otherwise, every woman is Wonder Woman and every man needs her to rescue him, and how boring is that?

Also, feminist critiques do not apply to The Princess Bride or Casablanca. Perfect movies are exempt from all forms of criticism. You could argue, of course, that the anti-feminist notions in The Princess Bride are satire, but I think that's an over- simplification. No matter, because it's a perfect movie. But there's nothing wrong with complaining about anti-feminism in non-perfect movies, and I suspect that Hellboy 2 is one.

To answer your last question, racing them to the door is an asshole move only if you don't hold it open for them.

Anonymously,
Zac

Re: Not to challenge your intentions . . .

I totally hold it open for them. That's part of the joke.

I do not at all think all movies should uphold the Wonder Woman standard. I do think some should though. All one extreme is just as bad as all the oposite extreme. Not all women are Wonder Woman, and not all men are Superman. After a while, the same old thing does get boring, and I'm kinda sick of watching Superman.

I have never seen Casablanca. The Princess Bride is good. I don't know about perfect. But I don't know that I've critiqued it from a feminist standpoint. Most comedies, I figure that's part of the joke.