(The Humanitarian Social Network)
When engaging on the issue of gender with my many female colleagues I very frequently come away from those discussions with the distinct impression that I basically am allowed two options:
1) Total agreement, without reservation or caveat. No exceptions.
2) Accept that I am The Devil. Or perhaps part of the cast of "Mad Men."
Are those really my only two options? Someone please enlighten...
In the scope of activism, anyone not actively working for a cause you are the devil. Gender doesn't matter - or at least in the "if you aren't part of the solution, you are part of the problem" school of thought.
There is lots of thinking about how these stories/conversations are designed to make people "do the work" (that dirty internal privilege facing stuff) And you *can* by all means do it. It can be highly rewarding and even get you laid. But know that its hard. And sometimes you will feel like you are the devil simply for being born in the skin you are in. And so the option number three is, knowing these things, if you consent to examine further, or listen deeper, what are you going to/can you do about it/ learn from all this?
For me, I think I will think that a simple acknowledgment that the dice are loaded, will do... maybe talking to the guys in whatever lockeroom who won't listen, that would be nice (and I'll try to do the same). But the kind of generalizations about total agreement and you are some sort of cocksure swaggering so and so points to some hurt feelings and resistance... I might assume, not knowing the man behind the mask, that you might like to continue feeling like a good person, and feeling like the devil doesn't point to that need. And total agreement, well, maybe you might want to find the exceptions that do the same, or similar, or give yourself a break from the twisted muck of this manner of thinking.
So option 4 is give yourself a break from thinking about your privilege. Come back to it when you are stronger or when you are ready or look in a different direction that doesn't quite trigger the ultimatums above - forced confessions lack truths and broken healers are useless creatures. Or you can think about it differently, in a way that is more proactive, what little things can you do to catch yourself in the less shiny moments? I'm sure there are more... support and challenge, yourself, and others as you can, and as they might consent to.
And I'm sure there are lots of other folks here who have some options :-) Then again, maybe you are the devil. ;-)
So, Sarah –
Yes, of course I freely acknowledge that, as you say, the dice are loaded. Clearly there are those who disagree with me (or us, rather) on this, but from where I sit it seems like an obvious self-evident truth.
As an individual human man, it’s easy enough to navigate relationships amicably.
But where I truly do struggle, and would sincerely value the input of people like yourself, is in the question of how, in a position of some power, as a representative of the global privileged demographic (white, male), I and those others like me can *truly* be good allies to the women with whom we work.
How to be an ally is a slippery thing. There are some spectrums of ally-ness that you will find in various social justice tests that basically imply that "if you ain't doing _the work_, you suck and fail as a human being."
Some women/folks of whatever minority there is, may need to visibly see this effort to feel as if you are a steadfast ally. I've seen some communities where you just sleep with the right people and write a blog and you are an awesome ally.
This moment - asking how to be a good ally is a perfect first step. Some more general resources here point you to " derailingfordummies.com/ " or " http://theangryblackwoman.com/2009/10/01/the-dos-and-donts-of-being... "
Some of that stuff -- I don't care about personally. I have a laissez-faire variety of feminism at this point. I also cut folks a lot of slack, because once you skid into one corner of privilege you will likely find other things that are systemic and related (no fat chicks? that going native post needing a note at the top about the tone? having more money? easy time finding a bathroom? the list goes on -- and I've got my own to hash out.)
And, if you were to ask me how you could be a good ally *to me* -- because I know and respect what you are writing, I would say "keep up the good work." And think about how some of these tacit dominant moments, and simply be aware of it, catch yourself, and share those moments when you caught yourself with others... bonus points for those others being someone I normally wouldn't get to talk to, in the language they speak. If its is a dark locker room, say "Hey dude, that not cool." in the darker halls of the UN, use data and life saving reports and persuade them.
In the physical work place - diversify your team-work, HR schemes, and pay grades, have a training/session that is facilitated brilliantly, identify the benefits of this advocacy and share the benefits with others who are on the fence or firmly planted on the other side. Or you can create the space and ask the women you work with directly how you can be a better ally to them... they might have all the answers you need.
Great to see the good discussions happening here!
Since you mentioned not knowing the man behind the mask... from what I know of J....
1) He is definitely the devil and he's only into gender so he can get laid...(kidding!)
2) He doesn't actually hang out much in locker rooms... dark or otherwise (for realz!)
But in all seriousness, I think having male allies is super important, and as you said Sarah, being an ally may look different to each and every one of us women, so it can be slippery.
And gender isn't only about women as others have said. It's about men having freedom to be who they are, and not having to fulfill stereotypes (eg, hanging out in locker rooms).
I think your your point on how important it is to contextualize the women's movement is really important. Women in different places want different things, and also different women within the same place may want different things. (Same for men).
It IS a totally slippery slope. And often I think some people spoil it for other people. Those certain asshole men put women on edge. And at the same time the asshole women put men on the defense or make them feel justified for unhealthy attitudes about women. So it's always going to be hard to navigate. Being aware and open to listening and asking questions, having a real dialogue about it where people's points are taken at equal weight is one important thing.
Thanks for all the good insights you and the other commenters are bringing to the group!
1) admitting is the the first step! (kidding!, sort of)
2) this doesn't matter much to me, but there may be places where factory-direct-penis-owners can go, that I cannot -- or rather, without causing a scene, getting arrested, etc. (In fact, that he doesn't go to the gym, would probably result in positive discrimination)
And you are right about the lockerroom -- while it was intended to mean "a place I can't/don't go" and there is a stereotype there that holds folks to a specific body-image/attitude. Sorry about that J!
And lastly -- this ain't easy. Gender/Sex is one of the first things you are told when you are born (and held, or left on a hill to die) And it being that's first thing -- there is lots of stuff to dig through to figure it out... I fully expect to screw it up at some point and get called the devil too.
Love it! FDPOs. ha. (am stealing it).
Masculinity Workshops for FDPOs will take place in the 3rd month of the project....
This was one of the terms we used to describe "Bio-men" in the transgender/transsexual diaspora. It allowed folks to mean "men" and talk about the biology without tripping up into gender, and pissing off and alienating your friend over there who may or may not have been a FDPO (as if it was your business to ask what his P looks like) by using the term "real man" or "real woman" (because what the heck is that anyway?)
Anyway, enjoy! And I wonder what would be the agenda for a Masculinity workshop for FDPOs?
[Warning: this is totally off-base from the very serious and excellent discussion being had here... but I just couldn't help myself...]
Option 3) Deflect!
Say: "I agree, but how do you think that would apply to transgendered people?"
Option 4) Too much information
Say something like "I'm not really clear what you mean by 'gender' in this context. Are you referring to the nexus of social and cultural attributes that attribute specific roles and characteristics to members of a particular biological sex? Or maybe you're talking about the locus of societal norms with an individual's psychological identification - or lack thereof - with a particular biological sex and the social attributes that go with that? Or maybe by 'gender' you actually are referring to the complex web of power relationships and imbalances between individuals of different sexes within the household? Or, do you just mean 'women'?”
Option 5) Quote wikipedia
Say: “Isn’t it fascinating that in Modern French, the word genre (type, kind, also genre sexuel) is related to the Greek root gen- (to produce), appearing in gene, genesis, and oxygen? Like, how cool is that?
Which makes me totally uncomfortable using it as a word in my professional life… How about you?”
Option 6) Act French (works best if you actually are French of course, or can at least fake it)
Say "O! You eenglish people and your talk of 'gender'... when you do not eeven 'ave a masculine and feminine in your own language.... Zis is so confusing to me... In French, everytheeng 'as a gender, it is clear, c'est normale, it is not a cause for zese long discussions, you know? (take a long drag of cigarette and shrug)"
[Caveat here: I am a woman and a feminist... But I really dislike the way 'gender' is used in development without really having any clarity on what it means half of the time. Or how to translate it into local languages. Also, I'm not French but I grew up there so I feel French enough to take the piss.]
" Or how to translate it into local languages. "
Shiny! Because the binary is still binary there. Even the 5th gender folks in Indonesia ( http://www.yawningbread.org/apdx_2004/imp-139.htm ) often lauded as a massive gender challenge can only play with 2-3 of the 4 aspects of sensual identity (sex, gender, presentation, orientation) -- They have to marry/bear children with their biological opposite, despite presentation/identity, and if they choose to manifest a shift in 3-4, they end up in the special "priest class" where sex/desire doesn't happen (afaik.)
And I think also this level of feminist discourse is a privilege that local folks may or may not want to have. As I understand it, there might be a need not to question it - like the calabai and that chalalai and bissu, something about identity must always remain unquestioned.
(PS: Option 3 is awesome)
Good question J.
Haha, of course there must be a third, or fourth, or even infinite options. But I do think that women are, out of necessity, often prompted to think, and to think more deeply, about the issue of gender than many men. Simply because many of us women, particularly when working in the field (in my experience) are openly and visibly discriminated against on a daily basis, if not more often!
Therefore I find myself, and perhaps the other women you are speaking with have the same experience, frustrated and impatient when speaking to some men who sometimes haven't thought about it as much as I/we have. Their opinions then seem simple, two-dimensional and under-developed. Of course I'm not implying yours are, I'm sure you're much more enlightened than that!
Also, discussing the nuances of gendered discrimination with a woman is like discussing the nuances of 'racial' discrimination with a black person if you are white. Needless to say, you're entitled to a thoughtful evidence-based opinion, but you can imagine how frustrating and kind of patronising it is to have to stand and listen to a man and his ill-considered and slightly (or very) sexist opinions. I know many black people express the same kind of frustration - white people speaking to them like they know what its like to be black, and then question some of the lived experiences of black people.
From Shotgunshack’s description of you though, none of this is you, and you certainly sound much more enlightened!
One thing that has been raised here is the issue of stereotypical masculinities (the locker room analogy). That is one issue that serves to marginalise men who don't do stereotypical masculinity, as well as women. It is a reasonably long argument but something that may interest you - google it and you'll find plenty of scholarly articles on the topic. One thing you could do is not do stereotypical masculinity. That's a big help, it helps to break the down the myth that there are two biologically distinct genders, which supports the belief that men and women are inherently different in predetermined ways, which in turn supports their differential treatment.
Of course the other thing you could do is advocate for women when they’re not there or back them up when they are. For example speak up when you are in a meeting and they are discussing not promoting someone because she may have a baby soon, or because she is pregnant. Stuff like that really helps.
I am surprised that you so often come away with this impression. Maybe you need to ask your colleagues one on one when a conversation is going in this direction as to why they are on the defensive with you? As others have commented here women need male partners to move forward an equality agenda. From the exchanges we have had, it seems to me you would be one of those partners.