This week’s post comes from a powerful poet and teacher that I met while speaking on the “Harlem Shake as Blackface” panel at Hamline University.
Ryan Williams-Virden is an artist and educator from Northeast Minneapolis. He began writing after graduating from Hamline University in 2005 when he joined The Poetic Assassins and Sai Werd Ink as BUGS (Better Under Gods Supervision). As a member of Poetic Assassins, he toured the country performing, lecturing, and facilitating workshops on social justice issues at colleges, universities, high schools, and community organizations. Poetic Assassins won the VERVE Grant in 2009. Also in 2009, Poetic Assassins won the Best Spoken Word Production and were nominated for Best Collective at the Minnesota Spoken Word Awards. In 2011 Poetic Assassins was featured at the legendary NuYorican Poets Cafe as well as won the Morrill Hall Rachel Tilsen Social Justice Grant from the University of Minnesota.
Ryan believes in the power of art and education. Since Poetic Assassins, Ryan completed his Master’s Degree in Liberal Studies culminating in his thesis “Keeping it Real: discourses on privilege in mainstream hip hop.” He has dedicated his academic energies and career to understanding the intersections of race, class, and gender in order to effect change and help foster a different reality for his community.
He bases all of his work, academic and artistic, in his personal experience. Growing up in the densely immigrant working class neighborhood of Northeast Minneapolis Ryan has intimately experienced these systems of domination at work on a daily basis.
You can keep up with him and contact Ryan at www.ryanwilliamsvirden.com.
Undermining the Social Order? Yes Please!!
Recently Lou Dobbs and an all-male conservative panel freaked out.
Normally this wouldn’t inspire me to dedicate any more time or effort than it took to laugh. Today, though, it did.
Lou and his panel were up in arms about the new Pew study that shows 4 out of 10 households have women as the primary moneymakers. They pontificated about the erosion of society and how this country’s families are being torn apart. Juan Williams even declared it was “devastating Minority families” worse. Erik Erickson claimed the natural world and science support the dominance of males, and Doug Schoen ended the segment by claiming “bottom line it could undermine our social order.”
To that I say, Good!
Dobbs and crew want me, a White working class male, to feel threatened by this statistic. They are relying on my worth being tied up in my ability to be a “real man” and “bring home the bacon.” They also want me to know it’s not my fault. It’s feminism’s fault. Feminism is emasculating me.
This is because to them, and many others, masculinity is about power. Power, in shape or form, is the birthright of men. Or so the line of thought goes. If you don’t have economic or political power, at least you can have physical power.
This is a violent, narrow minded, misogynist understanding of manhood and one that I, and the rest of us men out here, must reject out of hand.
Manhood is limited in their definition to the protector and provider, it requires no weakness and demands a certain hardness. It requires men to be the dominating force in any given arena; it leaves no room for compassion, empathy, or the myriad other emotions that make us human. It leaves men a shell of our actual selves. This is evidenced in the very social order these pundits are so concerned about protecting.
Let’s speak to the most obvious first: the social order they are protecting relegates women to roles of support for their male partners. It reeks of the separate spheres philosophy of the 50’s. It is oppressive on the face of it. But let’s look a bit deeper.
What these men are missing is this: our social order, which these conservatives correctly place masculinity at the center of, is in desperate need of undermining. Domestically, police forces use the same tactics of force and posturing that marks masculinity to control and terrorize communities across the country. Internationally the scene is no better; the idea that the United States’ military is the world’s police force and as such needs to utilize its military might has been openly used as a rationale for American imperialism.
Not only is this paternalistic, condescending, and disrespectful to the rest of the world, it is rooted in a certain understanding of masculinity: men control their circumstances and surroundings, through force if necessary.
President Obama, by even considering a less obvious bully strategy, has been labeled weak by the right. Still, perhaps the pinnacle of this masculinity manifesting in our mainstream culture is the spectacle of Arnold Schwarzenegger. The hyper-masculine action hero, who made millions of dollars off this brand of masculinity via Hollywood, elevated to the governorship of California, not an inconsequential feat. As governor Schwarzenegger relied on this masculinity often, but never more obviously than when he would refer to his opponents as “girlie men.”
Beyond hindering and limiting the humanity of men, this definition also leads to misogyny by elevating masculinity above anything feminine. As Schwarzenegger, and the millions of young boys on playgrounds across the country, can illustrate, the number one way to insult a man is by calling them something related to women: a bitch, sissy, pussy, etc. Whether aware of it or not those of us, men and women, who buy into this definition of masculinity are also buying into the subordination of women.
Something else they are missing: This would not be the first time our social order has been in danger of being undermined.
Abolition threatened to undermine the social order.
Civil Rights undermined the social order.
The labor movement undermined the social order.
And in all of these cases, the country is better for all of it.
This is no different. Our social order can use the undermining. Then, perhaps, Juan Williams, instead of blaming the rise of women for the damage to black families, could turn his attention to the real cause: Racism, ie. Reagan’s “war on drugs,” mass incarceration, or the fact that slave families were torn apart to help guarantee the survival of the institution and that social order.
Erick Erickson could actually study biology and learn about the matriarchal societies across the animal kingdom including several human societies. Perhaps then we could learn to solve our problems through compassion and empathy as opposed to force.
Maybe, just maybe, we would know some semblance of peace in our world. It’s certainly worth a try because this social order is not working. So please . . .
Bring on the undermining!