Here’s What Is (And Isn’t) Working in Men’s Work on College Campuses

istock_000037932394_mediumOriginally published at Everyday Feminism.


As a kid, I secretly loved to dress up in my sister’s dresses and wear makeup, and even though I pretended to hate it, I loved playing Barbies. In time, though, bullying and intimidation taught me how I was “supposed to act.”

By high school, I tried to exude the stereotypes of what a man is supposed to be: I acted like a tough guy (once punching my best friend and nearly ruining a friendship simply because I didn’t want to show emotional vulnerability), and I constantly expressed toxic heteronormativity, objectifying and treating women like garbage.

Once I got to college, though, two important things changed the way I think about masculinity and my relationship to it.

First, women in my life shared with me the ways they’d been directly hurt by toxic masculinitythough sexual violence. Second, male mentors in my life reached out to me and helped me understand different ways of being a man.

These revelations were important for helping me find a path toward cultivating a different kind of masculinity. And it’s important for me to think of this as a path – because I’m still very much traveling in the direction of healthier masculinity while often losing my way, screwing up, and needing to do better moving forward.

As I reflect on my own learning, though, it’s notable that it took leaving my home environment and immersing myself in different ways of thinking to shift my reality.

This isn’t true for every man who embarks on the path toward healthier masculinity, but for those men who go to college, we find a unique opportunity to engage men.

Hence, “men’s work” and male-engagement programming are becoming more and more common on college campuses. Full-time positions are being created to focus on men’s engagement in creating positive community and ending sexual violence, and some schools are going as far as to create Men’s Centers (more on that later).

Unfortunately, though, while men’s engagement programs and positions offer unique opportunities for reducing sexual violence and promoting healthier ways of being men, there are a lot of dangers and pitfalls in doing this work as well.

As a result, I’ve compiled five dangers to consider and four suggestions for effectively engaging men on college campuses in hopes of offering some important considerations for students and professionals on college and university campuses who are taking up “men’s work.”

1. Men’s Work Lacking Intersectional Anti-Oppression Analysis Reinforces Oppression

Probably the single most significant issue with work on men and masculinities is also somewhat of an umbrella for the other four dangers: When we do men’s work without careful attention to intersectional feminism, we can recreate the very problems we’re working against.

A perfect example of this is the movement to create “Men’s Centers” on college campuses because of declines in net enrollment among men.

It’s notable that the cesspool of Men’s Rights Activism known as A Voice for Men has published content lauding the movement to create more “Men’s Centers” on college campuses. Historically, identity-based centers have been spaces for marginalized and oppressed people to find community and safe space in otherwise hostile college environments. But men are neither oppressed nor marginalized for their gender on college campuses.

Continue Reading

Advertisements

Purity, Slut Shaming, and Virtue Policing – On “Virtue Makes You Beautiful”

I’m always one for a good remake of a pop song.  Hell, I even worked with friends to create a consent-based version of “Call Me Maybe” a few years ago.

So when I saw someone post a remake of a song I absolutely hate for its really messed up, sexist message to young women, I thought to myself, “Hey, it can’t be worse than the original!”

Wow, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

In short, I hate “What Makes You Beautiful” because this group of “heart-throb” teen pop-stars tell young women over and over through a myriad of cheesy lyrics that  what makes them beautiful is having no self esteem and not actually finding themselves beautiful.

Just what we need! Another song telling women that it’s “hot” for them to hate themselves!

And what’s worse, it’s a bunch of men telling women what they should think about themselves!

So when I saw that there was a remake out there, I was intrigued, hoping that maybe it would put some subversive spin on the terrible message.  And this is what I found.

In case you can’t bring yourself to rage watch the whole thing, it’s a bunch of high school boys with the help of superstar (within a certain world) Mormon musician Alex Boye signing about how women are far more attractive when they have the “self respect” not to wear “short skirts or low cut shirts” and that they are most beautiful when they are “modest” and “virtuous.”

Oh, and with the line “girls with integrity are hard to find these days,” they basically say that women who don’t “respect themselves” by dressing “modestly” have no integrity and only would dress the way they do to attract the attention of “a guy that only cares what he sees with his eyes.”

Ugh.

Okay. So it’s hard to know what all to say about this, and I can’t help but think that I’m being trolled with this entire thing, but it’s really popular!  It has a total of probably 500,000 hits in various copies on the internet!

While it may seem that I’ve taken to my blog just to complain about this nastiness, I actually do want to do more than just rage out about this purity policing.

When the song first started, I had hope.  After all, a message telling young women that they are more than sexual objects and that confidence and self respect and intelligence are all beautiful qualities could be a good one.

But this remake doesn’t do that. It sends girls and women some really terrible messages, but as an educator who works primarily in engaging men in feminist work, I am concerned with the messages it sends to men:

1. Whether by valuing only a woman’s sexuality or “virtue,” men still get to decide what’s beautiful. What girls and women think doesn’t really matter.

In reality, though, we as men should have absolutely no right to tell a woman (or any person for that matter) “that’s what makes you beautiful.”  Sure, we can be attracted to certain things like confidence and even particular styles of dress (though we should definitely interrogate that attraction for underlying sexism and paternalism), but women are the only ones who get to decide what’s beautiful.  If a woman feels beautiful in a niqab or in daisy dukes, her opinion is the only one that matters.  And by publicly putting out messages like this one, we are basically shaming any woman who doesn’t act in the way we deem “beautiful” as somehow the opposite.

2.  There is a dichotomy (a false one) between women who “respect themselves” by dressing “modestly” and slutty slut sluts who have no “virtue.”

Young men (well, men in general) get some pretty terrible messages about how they should think about women, but this false dichotomy not only hurts women for obvious reasons (I hope they’re obvious…), but it forces men to lie about our attractions so as not to appear “without virtue” ourselves.  After all, yes, we may be attracted to people who dress in what these dudes consider “modest clothing,” but we are also likely attracted to all sorts of people and styles of dress and ways of being (and not just women, but I’ll get to that later).

When we claim that we think it’s wrong for women to be anything but “virtuous” in this strict construction of virtue, we end up shaming women while casting ourselves into guilt and shame when we find women attractive who don’t fit the “virtuous” profile. It’s just unhealthy, repressed sexuality mixed in with some good, old-fashioned slut shaming!

The reality is that a person can dress modestly and be a terrible, mean, downright nasty person, and another person can have all the integrity in the world and love to show their beautiful thighs to everyone while riding their cruiser bike.  How we as humans dress says nothing about our character!

3.  Men have the right to body police and slut shame women so long as we do it through positive language like “modesty” and “virtue.”

I would guess that if I asked most of these guys if they think it’s wrong to yell “SLUT” at a woman on the street who is wearing a low-cut top, they would say yes (even if, in practice, they might do it).  Yet that’s exactly what they are doing, only in reverse.

They are yelling singing publicly that women who dress “modestly” are “virtuous” and “beautiful,” they are slut shaming without ever yelling impolite words.  This allows us as men to feel like we’re being honorable when we’re really no different than the men on the street who harass women for what they wear.

4.  Guys are and should only be attracted to women.

Finally, I know without a shadow of a doubt that they meant it to be this way, but watching this video, you would think that men only are ever attracted to women.  Why is this hurtful?  Well, LGBTQQAAI young people who grow up in “purity cultures” like that pushed by this video live in worlds founded on guilt, shame, hurt, and violence, and they take their lives in staggering numbers.  Thus, though it’s not the focus of the video, the heterosexism present also hurts.  Who knows, maybe it’s hurting one of the people acting in the video!

In essence, this was a bit of a rant.  But it was meant to be more than that!  It was meant to be a call to consider how “purity” and “virtue” messages like this one are actually really damaging, and we need more adult men (I’m looking at you, Alex Boye) to call young men to consider why this hurts everyone.

The Holiday Family Freakout: Calling Family In to Dialogue About Justice

Few things give me more anxiety than thinking about spending the holidays with my entire extended family.  Don’t get me wrong; I love them! And much of our time together each year is joyful and loving.

But inevitably someone is going to say something idiotic (read: racist, sexist, heterosexist/homophobic, anti-immigrant, anti-choice, religiously bigoted, or otherwise infuriatingly offensive).  And for years, I’ve struggled with how to navigate these family spaces.

After all, confronting the bigotry directly has been known to lead to all-out Christmas or Thanksgiving verbal brawls with shouting and crying and people walking out.

And I know full well that calling my anti-immigrant uncle out and starting verbal wrestlemania isn’t going to change his mind.  He revels in pissing people off with his political beliefs.  He’s the ultimate internet troll (except that he’s sitting on my grandmother’s couch).

Yet as I walk the precarious path in trying to be an accountable ally, I feel a calling and responsibility to address this stuff.  It’s tough to know what to do.

When talking with a friend the other night about whether or not to engage, I couldn’t help but think of a quote from the controversial but surely-quotable Tim Wise:

“The power of resistance is to set an example: not necessarily to change the person with whom you disagree, but to empower the one who is watching and whose growth is not yet completed, whose path is not at all clear, whose direction is still very much up in the proverbial air.”

As I think about whether to engage, I should consider less whether I want to fight with my trolling uncle than about who is listening.

Christmas_fight

Because I’m not going to change his mind, but I very well may plant the seeds of resistance in the minds of my young nieces and nephews.  They are listening.  And at 3, 5, and 7, few times of their lives will be more formative in their development of self and in their construction of “other.”

Further, I might empower someone else in the family to speak up.  Maybe they’ve been just as fed up with the nastiness and bigotry but felt alone at family gatherings.

Inclusiveness CAN Be a Family Value

And while a resistance to bigotry and a commitment to seeking justice are currently not family traditions or ethics, but they certainly can be.

When I saw Cornel West speak at the 2013 CIRCLE Conference, one of the many parts of his talk that stuck with me came in the Q&A.  I can’t remember exactly what question was asked, but he spoke to the need for an ethic of allyship and solidarity as a value.  He talked of needing to highlight more White allies in history, and he talked of needing more vocal allies working with others who share their identity to shift tides of oppression.

But that doesn’t just happen by buying our kids gender-neutral toys or books with fantastic messages.  Instilling inclusiveness as a family value requires some tough conversations.  Yes, these conversations should be respectful and carried out with love, but they need to happen, and they need to be public so that everyone in the family can understand that it is okay and encouraged to challenge someone on a statement that furthers oppression and marginalization.

But it’s also about timing.  If my uncle corners me alone in the kitchen to goad me into a a debate about how Phil Robertson is a perfect example of how Christians are the oppressed minority in the United States today, I’m probably not going to take the trolling bait.

But if during the meal, someone makes a statement about how immigrants are ruining our country, I need to find a way to challenge it and call them in to a discussion.

And while doing so might cause a collective family meltdown, the risk is worth it if we manage to have a powerful conversation that sets the precedent that we can talk through the tough things in our family. After all, doing so makes it clear to those little ones that our family is one that engages, not disengages, with the harsh realities that are the context both inside and outside the walls of our family celebration.

On Listening, Lily Allen, and Satire

I’ve been reading a lot about Lily Allen in the last few days, and I’m troubled to say the least.

In case you’re unaware, Lily Allen recently released a “feminist anthem” called “Hard Out Here.”  A friend posted it on Facebook with the question, “Is this clever feminist satire or just a recreation of the same racist commodification of the bodies of Women of Color?”  A rousing debate ensued.

Hard Out Here

Screenshot from Lily Allen’s “Hard Out Here”

In this debate, as well as in a few others I’ve seen on Twitter and Facebook in the last 24 hours, there was one thing that was pretty obvious: White people were FAR more likely to defend Lily Allen than people of Color, and there wasn’t a whole lot of listening going on from those of identity privilege.

And it’s not just my random White Facebook friends that are having trouble hearing the critiques.  Lily Allen herself responded to the criticism defensively, claiming it’s just a “lighthearted satirical video” that “has nothing to do with race, at all.”

When I hear her respond, though, I just want to scream, “Why do you get to decide if it’s not about race?!?”

And therein lies my point.  As people of privilege, it is our responsibility to listen and reflect when we are called out for the ways that our privilege impacts oppressed and marginalized people, even if we are oppressed and marginalized in other aspects of our identity.

In short, if we are striving to be “allies” or to fight for social justice, we need to step back and do a better job of listening.  In this case, White people – even White women – need to step back and listen to the myriad of voices of Color who are saying that if this video is “feminist,” then they want nothing to do with “feminism.”

So here are a few powerful voices.  There are all sorts of others out there, but these are a few criticisms/critiques that helped me to grow.  Hopefully they can do the same for you.

Easy Out There For A (White) Bitch: A Few Words On Lily Allen and the Continued Use of Black Women’s Bodies As Props

By Mia Mckenzie of Black Girl Dangerous

Continue Reading

On Defensiveness: Breathe, Listen, Reflect

I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to write about this week, especially since a lot of the topics I really care about are being covered by really awesome authors elsewhere.  But this one thing keeps coming up for me in my discussions with friends and family.

Defensiveness.

So I figure now’s as good a time to write about it as any.

Last week I got into a rather silly facebook argument about the level of snark and pretentiousness in a film review article that my friend wrote.  I thought the people who read the article as dead serious were missing his point, and, especially knowing the author, I feel strongly that he’s using pretension to mock pretentiousness in film criticism.  I found it hilarious.

My friends didn’t.  They found it snarky and rude.  So we went round and round about what we thought the tone of the article actually was and what the article accomplishes in turn.

And we were assholes.  I found the ways that I was being talked to demeaning and frustrating, but to be fair, I started it.  In my frustration, I was incredibly rude.

Then one of the folks I was arguing with said this to me in a private message: “You sounded very ‘mansplainy’ like we just weren’t smart enough to get it and that’s why we were offended by something we shouldn’t be offended by.”

DefensivenessIf I wasn’t defensive before, I got SUPER defensive in that moment.

I’m thinking, “Wait, WHAT?  So now I’m just a sexist, mansplainey asshole?  What a copout!”

I couldn’t help but feel like useless rhetoric about male sexism was being used because it would hit me, a man who tries to be pro-feminist, harder.

But then something simple happened.

The mail carrier knocked on the door, and my dog went bonkers.  I got her in control, and answered the door, signed for something, and came back.

That time allowed me to step back.  Then I took a deep breath, and I looked back over my comments.

I was being a jerk.

Continue Reading

“That’s Racist Against White People!” A Discussion on Power and Privilege

Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot of White people screaming about racism.

I wish these were anti-racist ally White people who were speaking about the prison industrial complex or about systems of privilege and oppression, but no.

These are White folks who are claiming that the Obamacare tax on tanning beds is “racist” against White people. These are White folks who are claiming thataffirmative action is racist against them. These are the White folks who honestly believe they suffer more racism than people of Color.

And every time I hear these folks cry racism, I can’t help but think:

And it’s not just people of racial privilege who are doing this!

Certain Christians claim they are being religiously oppressed because the rights of Lesbian and Gay people are now being recognized at federal and state levels. The entire Men’s Rights Movement is basically predicated on the idea that men are far more oppressed than women (or transgender people or genderqueer people or really anyone who isn’t a cisgender man).

Now aside from the mountains of evidence that makes someone look a little silly when they claim that those with seemingly endless identity privilege are widely oppressed in society, I am realizing more and more that we have a problem of language precision.

Too often, when people are talking about racism or sexism or heterosexism or any other form of oppression, they’re simply referring to when a person was made to feel bad for or about their identity.

There is absolutely no acknowledgement of wider systems of oppression and power.

And this is no accident.

There has been a concerted effort made by a small but loud group (like theLimbaughsZimmermans, or Robertsonsto coopt language and shift the discussion so that things stay just the way they are.

But whenever we say things like “Well, sometimes women can be just as sexist as men,” we are contributing to the problem.

Precision of Language

Yes. Any person of any identity can be an asshole to any person of any other identity. But that doesn’t make it oppression. It doesn’t even make it racism or sexism or heterosexim or any other -ism.

There is a profound danger in watering down our discussion of identity by removing any mention of societal power, oppression, and privilege.

Doing so ensures that the conversation remains about interpersonal slights rather than about the larger systems of oppression that are the true problem.

Racism is Prejudice plus Social PowerRead the rest at Everyday Feminism.

 

Coming Out of the Woods: On Hugo Schwyzer and Accountability

Last Friday, I was getting ready to unplug from technology for a week in preparation for a busy end to summer and beginning of fall, and I got a few messages from people about how Hugo Schwyzer was melting down on Twitter.  I didn’t click any of their links, not having the energy.  Instead, I turned off my phone and headed to a wedding and then to the woods of Northern Minnesota for a week.

When I came out of the woods, this is what I found.  And I’ve spent the last 18 hours or so reading things like the #solidarityisforwhitewomen twitter stream and this piece from Mikki Kendall and others.  And I’ve been reflecting.

For those readers of mine who are not followers of this whole mess (good for you in many ways), here’s a very brief summary: Hugo Schwyzer is a professor who has for some time championed himself as a feminist (and also, strangely, a bad boy?) and who has been championed by many prominent, mostly White feminists as a good guy and an example of redemption.  He is an abuser who claimed to have gotten past his addiction that “caused him to abuse” and boasted a “redemption” narrative about turning one’s life around to work for good, all the while quietly (and not so quietly) continuing his patterns of abuse, particularly toward women of Color who he admits he could abuse without facing consequences because of his privilege and power relative to theirs.  For years, women (but particularly women of Color) have been calling him what he is, but too many of us didn’t listen.  It took him melting down and admitting his abuses for too many of us to pay attention.

As I’ve reflected upon all of this since coming back into the world of internet yesterday afternoon, I’ve know that there are a few things that I need to say.

First and foremost, I need to apologize.

Continue Reading