I have mixed feelings about identifying myself as feminist, similar to my ambivalence around calling myself an anarchist, pagan, or polyamorous. Feminism means many things to many people, and for the most part I prefer to avoid having people project their judgments and associations onto me. But in some cases claiming that kind of identity is important. In this situation the cmty had heard a lot from mild to moderately charged feminist women, and a lot from confused and defensive men, and very little from men speaking from an empowered, feminist perspective. It felt important to me to break up the gender split that seemed to be developing.
How I dismantle and perpetuate sexism and traditional gender roles:
While these statements use unqualified and hypothetical phrasing each one was born of my personal experience. Said another way, I do all of these sometimes and do none of them all the time. I chose this phrasing because the lists are meant to describe my experience as well as reflect the experience of others. In reading this I hope you will either recognize these behaviors in yourself or others or will recognize corresponding or complimentary behaviors in yourself or others.
As a man, I dismantle sexism and traditional gender roles when...
...I pass someone else (esp. a woman) on the street or in a work area, and one of us must step aside, and I don't assume I have the right-of-way.
...I'm speaking to more than one person and make sure to look at all people an equal amount of the time while speaking.
...someone is speaking to me and a woman, and the person speaking is speaking to me more than the woman, and I repeatedly glance at the woman while the person is speaking to encourage them to speak to both of us.
...I don't assume that my idea is the best or that what I have to say is more important than what others have to say.
...I don't assume that other people don't have the ideas or information that I have.
...I make sure not to take more than my share of the air-time, even if this means sitting in silence.
...I spend time listening to others before speaking, and when I leave space for others to say things that I might have said.
...I encourage Willow to express all his feelings.
...I am cuddly and affectionate with Willow.
...someone asks me a question to which I don't know the answer or have no information on the topic, and I say "I don't know."
...I seek emotional support from other men.
...a woman tells me about an experience of sexism she's had and I just listen and learn.
...I let myself be small and scared, and when I let myself be held.
...I pay attention to the impacts of my words and actions, acknowledge any negative impacts, and make commitments to myself to shift my behavior.
...I feel my feelings and express them in constructive ways.
...I slow down and try to understand what's going on around me rather than trying to exert influence or control.
As a man, I perpetuate sexism and traditional gender roles when...
...I act like I've got it all under control and will take care of everything.
...I make it sound like I know what I'm talking about even when I don't, or that I'm sure about something when I'm not.
...I seek intimacy primarily from sexual/romantic relationships with women.
...I prioritize sexual/romantic relationships over platonic relationships.
...a woman is having difficulty with a task involving physical strength or dexterity, or that is technically complex, and I try to help without asking if help is wanted (rarely do I do this with men.)
...I unconsciously infuse my interactions with women with sexual energy.
...I assess a social situation in terms of which women I might be able to have sex with and which men might get in the way of that.
...I give Willow a hard time for feeling scared to do something.
...I engage in escapist behavior to avoid feeling my feelings.
...I side with women against other men.
...I put pressure on my lover(s) to be sexual.
...I damage an inanimate object during an interpersonal conflict as a way of getting attention or gaining power.
...I fail to take into account the larger social context of sexism and gender issues during conflicts with women (even if they are in a more powerful position at the time.)
...I don't allow women, or other men to be more powerful than me.
Reflections on my gender socialization:
I remember being 6 years old, standing on the playground next to another boy. "You're standing like a girl," he said. "Huh?" I responded. I looked down. My right foot was pointed forward, my left cocked to the side with my knee bent. "That's how girls stand. Boys stand with both their feet forward." He said it good-naturedly enough, clearly trying to help me out. And I looked around - he was right. I started standing "like a boy."
When I was 8 years old two male friends of mine and I experimented sexually with each other. As we walked back to our apartment complex one of them said, "I hope this doesn't mean we're gay." My stomach lurched. I was almost sure it meant we were gay, and I was terrified at the prospect. Two of my father's best friends were a gay couple. I'd never felt negatively towards gays, but I knew how other people felt about them. I was already made fun of a lot at school.
When I was 9 years old we moved and I went to a new school. "What do you do at recess here?" I asked one boy during my first recess there. At my previous school, with my old friends, we would bring various toys to school and play elaborate games around the roots of the giant trees bordering one side of the school field. "We play sports." "Is that it?" "Yeah." He said it like there wasn't anything else one would do. I started playing sports.
All through junior high it was all I could do to keep myself out of the way of the violent interactions of other boys in my school. Miraculously, I think by staying quiet, looking stoic, and simply being larger than most other kids, I never got beat up, but I watched quite a few boys who looked more nerdy and who had slighter frames become the focus of some very unpleasant attention.
Also in junior high was when I realized that I was suppose to be having sex. Or, at least, I was suppose to be talking about how I was having sex. And I wasn't suppose to be masturbating - that was bad, for some reason I never quite figured out.
When I was 18 years old a chiropractor pointed out how most men, myself included at the time, tend to walk like toy soldiers. He pointed out that twisting the lower back and swinging the hips as one walks is much better for the body. So he had me walk across the room and moved my hips for me as I walked. I continued practicing. I started receiving comments about how my gait appeared feminine or queer. But mostly these were actually said as compliments or appreciations, and I found myself beginning to feel my body more.
Thoughts on the creation of an empowered, non-misogynistic male identity:
Very early in life it was pointed out to me that neither did I want to conform to traditional male gender roles, nor did I want to embrace the wishy-washy, insecure version of masculinity (a SNAG, or sensitive new age guy) that formed in reaction to feminism (this approach has seemed satisfying to neither feminist women nor to the men trying to please them.) And I certainly didn't want to become an unintentional, confused mixture of the two, which is what I saw and continue to see in many men in alternative cultures. I wanted to be powerful, but not in a way that took power from or over others, and role models seemed to be in scarce supply.
How do I empower myself in a way that empowers others, and vice versa? I think most men have the idea that they're not suppose to be angry or aggressive. I think learning how to express those feelings in constructive ways (i.e. not at others, and not in ways that fuel resentment, bitterness or animosity) is important. But there's a deeper level. Taking the energy behind those emotions and expressing it in creative, passionate, positive ways that make the world a better place. And I'm not talking about the angry anarchist activist. I'm talking about having a vision of how you want the world to look, and how people behave and treat each other in that world, and living into it, making it happen by being it. This applies to a lot more than sexism or gender identity.
Recently Ivy asked me, "have you ever felt like you had to apologize for your maleness at Twin Oaks?" My first response was "no." Then I said, "I don't think I'm a good person to ask." Why? I've spent a lot of time feeling guilty about being a man in world where men commit so much violence towards women, as well as other men (yes, there are instances of violence and oppression by women towards men, but few in comparison to the reverse, and nothing as systemic and institutionalized over the course of millennia.) I've spent plenty of time fearing and hating myself and other men. No one could have made me feel worse about myself than I made myself feel. But I got through it. How? Basically I realized that feeling bad wasn't doing anyone any good. What I needed to do was acknowledge my behavior, determine how I wanted to do things differently, and persistently practice the new behavior. I've come along way, I know I'm doing my best, and I know I'm continually trying to do better. I feel good about who I am. I may do things that I see the need to apologize for, but I see no reason to apologize for who I am.
Men don't just oppress women. Men oppress other men. And the men who oppress other men were oppressed by other men. Many men are emotional cripples. Men are taught to hate and fear each other. Men are taught that they are only worth what they can accomplish and provide.
Many men are so starved for intimacy and connection. Men are taught that the only way to get intimacy is through sexual/romantic relationships with women. It's very easy for emotional dependency to develop, which can lead to obsessive/possessive behavior, resentment, domineering behavior, violence, etc.
If there is nothing else that's been important for me to learn on my path it's to have compassion for men, including myself. Men don't just victimize women and other men, they are victims of their own behavior. This doesn't mean they aren't responsible for their behavior - they most certainly are. They must muster the courage to face the oppressor within themselves, and the fear and pain that lies underneath. And they must do this with the support of other men. Women can help, but they cannot be expected to help nor can they really understand and be there for men in the way that other men can. Women figured this out decades ago. It's time for men to step up.