August 01, 2005

More on autonomy and men talking about feminism

Another great post by Hugo . One of his ongoing themes is exploring what it means to be both feminist and male.

Regardless of whether or not I am pro-choice or pro-life, I am incapable of truly understanding -- on a visceral and emotional level -- what it means to live as a woman in a body that many believe ought to have its natural processes regulated by the state. That's not a personal failure on my part, and it's not something for which I feel compelled to apologize. But while men can be deeply interested in women's issues (I am) we cannot claim personal expertise in what it means to live as an embodied woman.

Of course, there's more to feminism and women's studies than personal experience.[...] Personal experience is not a vital qualification for effective teaching, even in gender studies, but humility is. What is the essence of that humility? A willingness to recognize that male biology grants us the freedom from being pregnant, and that privilege inevitably blinds even the most sensitive and compassionate among us to the reality of what it means to carry a child inside of us -- particularly an unwanted one. [...]

Hence, I must always be scrupulous about acknowledging my maleness. That doesn't mean apologizing for having a penis! But it does mean recognizing that biology does shape our world view, and those of us who are biologically protected from the reality of an unwanted pregnancy must be very, very careful when we share our thoughts with those for whom that unwanted pregnancy is a real possibility.

(His emphasis suppressed because I = lazy.)

I think this also parallels the sort of moral relativism I've talked about (or tried to, but no-one seems to find it that interesting) in a few recent posts. I don't think Hugo would call himself a relativist in any strong sense, but the kernel, that one's point of view informs one's moral judgements, is definitely there. 'Care ethics' is considered 'feminist ethics' because this key feature -- the emphasis on the particularity of an agent's situation when she makes a decision -- was one of the defining intellectual touchstones of second-wave feminism. The Second Sex and The Feminine Mystique are both, essentially, about how women are denied (or deny) agency by ethical standards grounded in 'universal' (male) experience.

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