Friday, 21 March 2014

Friday Feminism: Facebook debates

An interesting thing happened to me recently. I posted a thing on my Facebook page about masculinity, and the role of feminists in discussing masculinity. I had a response to the post that I couldn't decipher as either friendly, or trolling, or downright disagreement. It wasn't particularly clear. So I wrote something back to further clarify my point, and the response to that made it very clear that this person had all kinds of feelings about what was allowed and appropriate for the discussion of masculinity.

Apparently, there is no place for feminists in this discussion. Apparently, feminists should leave the discussion of masculinity, in all its problematic glory, and just stick to shit they know, like girl things including promiscuity and domestic violence. The girls can play on this side and the boys can play on this side.

I think what disturbs me the most about this whole idea is the suggestion that women cannot be a part of a discussion of men and how men view masculinity. That there might be such thing as a men-only area. That the discussion was only relevant to men. 

Women and femininity have never EVER been a women only area. Women have had to work for many years inside of spheres created for them by men. We have been told for years what it means to be a woman. We have been told and shown when we aren't acting the accepted feminine and womanly way. We have been told and shown how to move and act by forces greater than us. By men - the men who took and continue to take on powerful roles in creating consumer culture, the men who wrote and write the histories of the world. 

We, the women, have been beaten. We have been abused - physically and emotionally and mentally. We have suffered merely for being women. We have been yelled at by strangers. We have watched our children be beaten by men. Beyond that, because men can be beaten too, we have hoped and prayed for the safety of our brothers when they're out at night on weekends in country towns. We have loved those that have beaten us, or are beating us. We continue to pray and hope for no violence. No fear. No challenges. No upset.

There is a problem with the culture in Australia. I converse with friends on this issue frequently - headlines lately are full of king hits and deaths and proposed bans and curfews and solutions. It's been pointed out (most recently that I particularly took note of was Leigh Sales on the 7:30 report) that severe penalties put in place for alcohol related violence are well and good, but what of years of history of domestic violence? It's all violence, and it all deserves strict penalties.

The drinking culture of Australia paired with the hyper-masculine culture that exists in our country needs to be talked about. Who is trying to sell this version of masculinity, and why are we all buying it? What are the outcomes for us all in the face of such a mind set?

My feeling is that those men that fall into a hyper-masculine role are men doing their absolute best to fit in. But it does none of us any favours, because the fear of not measuring up to what is understood as an expectation only serves to feed the hypermasculinity. A desperate act to conform to an ideal which is frankly unappealing only perpetuates the constant need to measure up.

I might identify as a woman, but I also know men. I live with men. I love men. I have a father and two brothers, a stepdad and stepbrothers, best friends and family and a circle of male friends whom I love as fiercely as life itself. These men, they are not all one thing. They are not the tallest of men, but they are not the shortest either. They are neither the largest nor the smallest of men. They are not the politest, or the rudest, or the strongest, or the weakest of men. They are not always the bravest, but neither are they the most afraid. They can talk about the tough stuff or the silly stuff. They offer hugs as freely as high-fives and handshakes. 

Goddamn it, they are all just themselves and I love 'em for it, in spite of and because of it all.

These men I love, they are not without their flaws. They often don't realise they might make women uncomfortable. They don't call their friends out on sexist or misogynistic jokes. They have learned how to objectify women from countless experiences handed to them on the silver platter of popular culture, and so they do objectify women. 

This part of our culture, this is why I write my rants. This is the part I want us all to think about. But hey, listen in, and listen good. We're in this shit together, kids. All of us, men and women, live in this world. To think that men and masculinity exist in a bubble from which women and femininity are excluded is laughable, idealistic and short sighted. 

If our culture is problematic, then let's fix it. If traditionally accepted masculinity creates a cultural environment that causes problems for women as well as that we want to change, how is it ever an issue for women to contribute to the conversation? If we're raising a new generation of boys, which I really truly feel we could be - and which will help move us much closer to equality between the sexes - we need the mothers to be speaking and acting the same talk and walk as the fathers. Isn't that clear and obvious? Isn't that a no brainer?

I am fond of the parenting mindset that is encouraging of conversation; to bring up what your sons think it means to be a man, and to show them that being a man is many things. As a parent, male or female, the impact you have upon your kids gets written into them. To say "hey. You don't have to be the most powerful boy in the playground to be a real boy" may have a longer lasting reach than you realise. To say "hey. Even when the ads on TV and the movies and TV shows show the strong, fast, mean guy getting the girl and winning the race, don't forget that in real life you're allowed to pick the things you think are coolest, and that's a better win than any race", and all that message might mean to a young man.

So listen, friends. Feminism is not a dirty word. Don't let it colour your reaction to things people want to think and share with others. I think lowering your hackles and just thinking this through, you'll see what I mean. You'll see that men excluding women from the conversation leaves gaps that equate to a devastating loss for humans in general. I think the give and take of civilised conversation between men and women could be just what these issues need to gain momentum in the larger sphere of the world. And then we can all be the change we want to see.

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