Friday, September 22, 2006

Feminism Indeed is Family Values

I had intended to write this post yesterday, but found myself swamped with work this past week. In any case, I wanted to point my readers to Steve G's piece, "Feminist Family Values." To my readers who are feminists or committed to progressive politics, nothing that he says here is shocking or surprising. However, I have come to realize that it is important for these things to be said often. Awhile ago, I talked to a friend of mine from graduate school about the struggles I was having writing my book. My problem was that I thought what I was saying was obvious. His wise response to me was that some of the most important work we can and should do is continue to articulate what is true, obvious, and needs to be said. Steve has done this well.

It is in fact true that feminism was and is good for men. It does make men better fathers. And, it makes for better families. It is utterly confusing to me that anyone would think that feminism harms men. This is a fabrication of the Heritage Foundation and folks like Christina Hoff Sommers. I have never in my years teaching favored female students over males students. And, frankly the idea that feminism was about a power grab says far more about its critics than the proponents of feminism. Feminism is humanism; it is about recognizing that women are as valuable as any other human. But more importantly, it is about challenging systems of domination, which unfortunately, gender is.

We do not distinguish between the sexes in order to celebrate those difference. We make distinctions, historically and presently, among masculine and feminine traits in order to justify inequalities. Let me give two examples of how we use gender as a system of domination: (1) we can use stereotypes about femininity in order to injure others: "you're such a pussy!" or "don't be such a girl!" Men use these sort of statements on each other to keep each other in line, which means to beat any sensitivity or vulnerability out of them. Being a man means being aggressive and tough. Women use these same statements on men, usually their younger brothers or even sons. And, women use these statements to harm other women, as in the case of hazing.

But, we also distinguish between the sexes in order to justify inequalities institutionally, such as "women can't do math" or "women don't have the cognitive abilities to make it in the higher echelons of science."

Feminism challenges using gender as system of domination. Men should not be penalized for exhibiting the all-too-human traits of tenderness, emotional vulnerability and sensitivity. Feminism frees men from that gender straight jacket when it asks us to dismantle these oppressive gender stereotypes. Feminism asks us to celebrate, for the first time, gender differences rather than use them to justify inequality.

More importantly, feminism might just be crucial for helping men avoid what Lynn Weber calls the "costs of domination." Perpetuating a system of gender inequality--by trying to kill off any hint of "feminine" traits quite concretely threatens men's health. Men are far more likely to die sooner than women are. Men commit, particularly white Men, commit suicide at far higher rates. Why? Because to fail is to become worthless. Feminism, when embraced by men, actually improves their physical well-being since their entire identity need not be tied up with dominance any longer.

Anyone--man or woman--who believes that feminism is a system of domination, is someone for whom domination is an abiding preoccupation. They are viewing feminism from their own lens, for their own assumptions that any social movement is about domination. If they could free themselves from this agonistic worldview, they might find, for the first time, they can breathe.