August 11, 2007

Acknowledgement and praise

By the way, I'm back from California. In case the long-ass post below wasn't a clue. I also finished my SYP and have some more pictures for the photologue, and both of those will go up whenever I feel like it, punk.

jeff at feminist allies has a nice post up on the status of men in feminism. Here are his conclusions:

1. Doing the basic work of feminism doesn't earn men a cookie. (Which is a toned-down version of something akin to what Janis is saying.)
2. Doing the basic work of feminism isn't easy, and as feminist men we have to take the valued opinions of people like Jaclyn to heart, to keep our hearts alive while struggling.
3. Back to something like what Janis is saying, we ought not expect reactions like Jaclyn's, to look to women who have similar views to motivate us--we must be prepared to do feminist work even in the face of never getting such encouragement. We must work to encourage each other to fill in gaps, as well.

I think that's all in order, and they're important things to remember. Feminist work is hard for anyone, especially in our backlash culture, and men shouldn't expect it to be easy.

But what does he mean by saying that doing feminist work `doesn't earn men a cookie'? Here's the comment from Janis, which was posted on another thread at another blog:

So AFAIC, if men can be feminist, if want WANT to be feminist, they’re going to do it with no acknowledgement from me. None. I will nto engage them. If they really are, they shouldn’t need me to kiss their asses and tell them how wonderful they are. No engagement on my end, at all. IF that keeps them from being feminist, then so goddamned be it. They shouldn’t need to have their asses kissed to acknowledge that 2+2=4, either.

I agree with some of the things Janis says here -- `If [any men] really are [feminists], they shouldn't need [women] to kiss their asses and tell them how wonderful they are'. That's right. I think that doing feminist work is a fairly basic part of our ethical obligations. There are problems with comparing it to picking up garbage blowing down the street as you walk by and not going around randomly punching people, but in each case you shouldn't expect a medal for being minimally decent. (There's an additional wrinkle here -- I don't believe in supererogatory acts -- but let's just bracket that for now.)

But Janis doesn't just say that she's not going to kiss men's asses and give them high praise for doing feminist work. She also just doesn't say that she's going to be on the lookout for male feminists claiming male privilege (either wittingly or un-). She's not even going to `acknowledge' or `engage' with male feminists. Even men who are deeply committed and involved in exactly the same political struggle she is are persona non grata. (NB: Not the same personal struggle. Obviously her daily experiences living in sexist society will differ dramatically from, say, mine. But part of the same political movement, possibly even doing the same political work, eg, blogging.) This doesn't just sound like not standing in awe of the benevolence of the minimally decent human being. This sounds like actively alienating men from the feminist movement.

Let's look at her argument. From earlier in the same comment:

Basically, we’re so badly crushed down, we’re so used to being flat-out hated and treated as the designated, god-given into which one dumps the repulsive turds of human sexuality, that we can sometimes get pretty fucking pathetic over the slightest indication that a man might NOT jerk off for a half-hour solid after watching “Captivity.” We fawn, we praise, we fall the hell over ourselves going, “Oh, but I don’t mean men like (insert male blogger name here)! Oh, he’s just FANTASTIC! Oh kissy-kissy on his ass, if ONLY ALL MEN EVERYWHERE WERE AS FABULOUS AND WONDERFUL AS HIM!” while Male Blogger sits back and rakes in oceans of ass-kissing merely for not being the worst asshole they’ve ever known.

There are two ways of reading this, I think. The first way is to place the blame on women, for fawning over men who don't deserve it. The second, more accurate and vastly better, reading is to place the blame on the system that trains women to fawn over men who don't deserve it in general.

What's to be done about this state of affairs? Well, obviously, get rid of the system. Of course, that amounts to building a truly gender-neutral society, which is probably at least a couple months away. More immediately, feminists of all sexes and genders can resist this form of male privilege within our own ranks. Men can actively deny that being a feminist is anything more than a basic commitment to justice, as part of constantly examining our own behaviour and situation for male privilege. Women can actively check any tendencies to praise men when we don't deserve it, and calling men out when we do start to expect being praised undeservingly.

But none of this amounts to not acknowledging male feminists, and the last point is most effective when women actively engage men as fellow feminists. Acknowledging a person's good actions and habits isn't the same thing as praising them for those same actions and habits. Recognising my commitment to feminism doesn't require falling to my feet in awe. It just means I'm referred to as a feminist (rather than marginalised as a `pro-feminist' or `feminist ally') and, just like any other feminist, recognised as an imperfect human being who's willing to contribute to the movement and genuinely welcomes criticism, but also really doesn't like being blamed for the ethical failings of other penis-equipped individuals.

1 comment:

geo said...

The sad fact of life is that women can often do incredible amounts of important feminist work and get little or no recognition for it.

When we men do work related to Feminism we Should be seeking and getting the support of Other Men.

Women who've Done a lot of important work often will wait with Men to see IF we really do A Lot - and then acknowledge us - not falling either for the "false promise" of work not done or overly praising what isn't that much.

Men such as John Stoltenberg and Steven Botkin (strong leadership in the past - see: - in Western Massachusetts and beyond)have deservedly gotten support.

I would readily acknowledge that in the Blog World - I and most of us - disproportionately get the support of women.

The fact that some women are angry about this is understandable!