What a book! To sketch it out briefly: the book's structure is that of a main narrative following Anna, with her written notebooks interspersed as a sort of series of interwoven vignettes. Anna writes in many of the notebooks as a sort of alter-ego, Ella. Anna lived in (then) Rhodesia, was a communist in the early post-War era, becomes disaffected, and also writes a well-received book on an interracial relationship in Rhodesia in the context of nationalist, socialist freedom movements there. It's a story about post-Stalin communism, mental illness, relationships, writing, and much more. More than I can certainly do justice to.
In many (most?) ways, I found it a very painful book to read. Anna's/Ella's constant unhappiness, seeking selfhood, the struggle of the artist/writer, and attempts at finding happiness and selfhood in men is incredibly frustrating to read about. I wanted to put the book down a great many times, and it took me a couple weeks to read it (note: 600+ pages). Also, after reading it, I read a great many reviews of it. None professional, mostly just amateurs on Good Reads and Amazon. I was struck by how even though the novel is deeply mired in so many issues that are far-removed from present day white, middle class America, such as anti-colonialism, the Cold War, and the psychoanalyses themes, the book still seems profoundly relevant in its explorations of relationships and how society socializes men and women. Of course here, I'm speaking as a man, and not as an upper middle-class post-War British woman.
What was most striking was how she sketched out these horribly abusive relationships, and how her character so eagerly embraced them. I don't know that I've ever read a work of fiction (though Lessing writes that the book is strongly autobiographical) that so poignantly sketches so many different types of abusive relationships with the horrid fascination that makes you want to simultaneously look away and soldier onward. That aspect of the book -- the relationships between people -- most struck a cord with me, far more than the now-uncontroversial splinterings of the Western Communist Parties over the Soviet Union's atrocities in the wake of Stalin's death and Khrushchev's Secret Speech to the 20th Congress.
Perhaps it's how the notebooks are used to express the different voices, the different personalities we all have inside us, that makes these books so seminal and important. After all, in 1962, so few women's voices had ever been heard in literature, and rarer still with the complexity and multiplicities of thought that Lessing writes into Anna. But more than for its historical import, what I liked most about the book (though I hated reading it) was the process of the struggle that Anna goes through. For however mired in history and politics the work may be, women are still socialized to seek self and find strength in men. It was, however, exhausting to read. Every man Anna/Ella seems to meet is cut from the same mold, married, with children, preying on Anna as a "free woman" (unmarried), available for sex, and intriguing as an artist and well-read Communist.
In a lot of ways, the fixation on sex, the inability to form "true" relationships with men, struck me as almost juvenile. But that's of course coming from me and my perspective, as a man in the 21st century. The trope of "woman looking for love and finding it in the wrong places" is well-worn at this point, and was well-worn when the work was written. Anna is painfully self-aware of her self-destructive impulses, and the tropes she falls into, and that makes it far more poignant -- Anna's honesty and self-awareness of her struggle.
I suppose I'll end this rambling review of a book hailed by many feminists (though not Lessing herself) as a seminal feminist work with this: it is a painfully honest book. Its beauty, or its value, is not that it necessarily treads on ground that will be unfamiliar to a 21st century progressive reader, but that it deals with it so honestly.
Hey all. I have recently had some ludicrously levels of user registration spam. I've installed some new things that should minimize this. (There were a lot). If I accidentally removed you by mistake or if you're getting caught in spam, email me at jeff [at] mendaredo.com
(h/t to friend GSL for inspiring this post)
I've had a post in me on men and violence for a while, ever since I went to a great conference sponsored by Boston University Law called "Evaluating Claims about “the End of Men”: Legal and Other Perspectives." Apologies if it's a little rambly.
Men and violence. Whenever there's a tragedy the kind of which we've seen far too many times in the past year, from the Tsarnaevas, to Adam Lanza, to Virginia Tech, to so many others, the question always comes up: why is it mostly men who commit these atrocities?
I think a lot of it has to do with how men are taught conflict resolution. Men aren't given a very wide spectrum of emotions that we can articulate. That is, men are socialized to be pretty unemotional. Men are supposed to be "logical" and "rational." Pretty much the spectrum of emotions that men are permitted to express are anger and lust. Men aren't taught to be able to talk about their feeling in constructive ways. Men aren't taught ways of non-violent conflict resolution. If a little girls hit another girl, that's not "lady-like," but if two boys get into a fight, that's just "boys being boys." We socialize our children at a very young age on the appropriate ways each gender should resolve their conflicts.
A lot of the anger and frustration that I think a lot of men seem to exhibit has to do with how they perform their masculinity. There's a very specific way to perform a white, middle-class masculinity: men are the breadwinners. They go to high school, maybe college if they're lucky. They'll get a good job for sure, and they can support a family on that. That kind of "Leave it to Beaver" style of masculinity has been something that has permeated our culture for decades, and though it does not (and perhaps never did) reflect reality, it's how a lot of men choose to perform their masculinity.
But what happens what that performance is denied to them? For the sake of argument, let's pretend that that kind of white, middle class dream existed in America and it was achievable once. It's much less achievable now. Real wages have gone down since World War Two. Student debt is skyrocketing. So for a man who's masculinity is tied to this notion of being a breadwinner, being able to support a family, getting a good job out of college, that's just possible anymore. A college degree doesn't get you a job; you come out of school with tons of debt; and you often need two incomes to support a family.
So you get this group of men, again, mostly white, mostly middle class, who feel that they're deserved something that has been denied to them. And what's being denied to them isn't just the job, the wife, the kids, supporting a family, but their masculinity itself. Because that's how they perform it.
So what does a man do? Well, I think he turns to these other hyper-masculine methods of performance. And one of the few acceptably masculine ways to perform is violence. It's gun culture. It's lashing out. All of these things are encouraged as acceptable ways for men to express their masculinity.
Another question: why don't women do it? Women just aren't socialized that way. Women are socialized to resolve conflicts without violence. Women aren't socialized that they're "owed" the same things by society. They're not "owed" good jobs, they're not "owed" being the breadwinner to support a family. Certainly society places different kinds of expectations on women, but white, female sexuality seems a lot more flexible in how it can be performed. There's a broader range of emotions that women are permitted to experience, besides say, violence and lust, which seem to be two of the ones society limits men mostly to.
This way of expressing masculinity does not just express itself in these (thankfully few) mass shootings, but also in other tragic ways. As the MRA crowd is always swift to point out, men are overwhelming the victims of suicide compared to women. I wonder if the same type of hypermasculine violent impulses don't influence that highly asymmetric statistic. Rather than lash out at others, men turn their violence on themselves. Although, I would note, women attempt suicides at higher rates, and part of that is explained by the methods used. Perhaps the gender differences influence the methods chosen.
Where do we go from here? Well, as I and many others have been advocating for more positive and broader masculinities. If men are allowed to have a broader masculine experience, then maybe fewer of us will feel compelled to perform these hypermasculinities that hurt ourselves and others. I hope!
So, for those of you don't know, I'm on Reddit, and I post occasionally in the comments over at reddit.com/r/feminism. There's a thread over there that's led to some interesting discussion. You can probably figure out who I am.
It discussed the now defunct "Nice Guys of OKCupid" blog. You can find an archive of that blog here.
Pretty much the discussion point is this: is "shaming" misogynist men an effective tactic? Is it feminist? Is it something we, as feminists, should promote? I'm torn, but not that much. From the comment thread, a lot of people (I'm going to presume men) take offense to the blog because it's shaming men. A couple comments have pointed out that it's like slut-shaming.
My responses have mostly been that I think shaming can be an effective tactic to get men to change their behavior. It shouldn't be your only tactic, but it can definitely be one of them. Different men will respond to different thing. As I've written before, I think one of the most effective tactics is for people in the misogynist's life to call them out on it. Tell them that their statements are hurtful towards women, towards specific women (maybe you! maybe your mother, sister, daughter, significant other, friend). But I recognize that not everyone feels comfortable (for physical, emotional, other reasons) calling men out like that. But what do we have? The anonymity of the internet. Certainly not as effective, but it can reach more people.
So we have to move on to other tactics. I certainly support education, and I think reaching out to men and trying to educate them about feminism is worthwhile. But I don't think that tactic is going to reach all men. Some men are going to respond to shaming. Some men will respond to shaming because they might be genuinely surprised or come to a realization that their behavior hurts women, and they might engage in the kind of careful self-examination that most (if not all) male feminists eventually have to go through. I think, however, that of the ones who stop their behavior because of the shaming, most of them will do it simply because they don't want to risk society's disapproval.
Will this embitter some men and make them angrier towards women? Undoubtedly yes. But were these men you were going to reach through other means? I don't know. I'm all for bringing feminism to as many men as possible, and I've tried to write a lot about tactics to reach men. I think that at this stage in the feminist movement, and in the movement to bring bem into feminism, we need to try to get the low-hanging fruit. We need to find the men who are sympathetic to our ideas but aren't quite there yet, and bring them in. And then bring in the next most-sympathetic group, and so on. I don't know that we can afford to tailor our messages to the lowest common denominator, with the goal of not further embittering men we were never going to reach in the first place.
Thoughts on this? I'm going to post this on the reddit/r/feminism section, and see if any redditors and my normal commentariat can get a discussion going. (If there's any normal commentariat left, given the lack of posting on this blog).
Feministing reports on a CNN news story that women in the armed services received diagnoses of personality disorders, which got them discharged from their respective branches, after reporting that they had been sexually assaulted.
The gist of it is this, a woman reports a sexual assault. Shortly thereafter, when she tries to get medical and mental health treatment, she gets diagnosed with a personality disorder and administratively separated from whatever branch they're in. Now, to explain a bit of the military and mental health terminology: a personality disorder is viewed by the military and the medical profession as something that pre-exists before the time that someone is old enough to enter the military. Generally, these types of disorder develop early on. So the military views this as pre-existing, and says that you shouldn't have signed up for the military in the first place. That means you forfeit benefits under the G.I. Bill, have to give up any recruitment bonuses, and because these personality disorder are "pre-existing" conditions and not related to injuries sustained during the time the women are in the military, they don't get VA (Veterans Affairs) benefits for them.
So, in case you can't tell, this is a particularly pernicious form of discrimination. You have people who complain, kick them out! It's an extremely effective way of getting rid of the original "problem" of the woman who reported the rape and discouraged future reports. And while Feministing and CNN are reporting ably on it, I wanted to comment a bit about what I think it reflects in society.
We, as a society, don't like the idea that women can be raped. It's scary, it's horrible, and we like to forget that it happens. There's a lot of ways we do this. One, is that we overly stress the frequency of "stranger rape" as opposed to acquaintance rape. And then we push towards women these ideas that they can "prevent" rape by taking safe practices when walking home at night and things like that. And while I'm not saying those are necessary bad practices, they are not practices that will protect you from the overwhelming majority of sexual assaults, which are committed by persons who know the victims. Other ways we do this is by saying that women were "asking for it" by dressing certain ways, having certain body parts, and things like that. The message we try to say is that women whom are raped aren't "normal" -- they did something wrong.
It's comforting in many ways. If I check so-and-so boxes, do certain things, dress a certain way, I (woman) will be alright.
This is the same thing that the military seems to be doing. Maybe it's not the "you shouldn't dress a certain way," or act a certain way (though I bet that's part of it), but they're pathologizing rape victims. "You were raped, so there was something wrong with you before this happened." And moreover, something that should have kept them out of the military to begin with!
That's comforting in the same way some other rape prevention strategies are. It's a way to get women to think, "I don't have this disorder, so rape can't happen to me" in the same way that prevention strategies like "If I don't dress a certain way, I won't be raped." Of course, that's not true: women are raped because someone raped them, not because of something they did. And the military, by not only abrogating their responsibility to help these women and prosecute their attacks, commits a horrific injustice against them and society, but also actively hurts these women, by destroying their careers, denying them adequate care, and pathologizing them as victims of crimes.
So, some of you may remember a post of mine from a while ago about Sheriff Joe Arpaio. He's the Sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona (where Phoenix is), and he forces all inmates who enter the County prison system to wear pink underwear. He's made a lot of statements about why he does it over the years, but it all more or less boils down to "showing them who's boss." "Sheriff Joe" as he likes to call himself, has been castigated by all sorts of civil rights groups over the years for a lot of things, including the pink underwear, but mostly due to his actions on immigration. But today, let's talk about pink underwear.
There's a lot to unpack there of course, about masculinity, control, and such. Why pink underwear on these alledged criminals? Well, it emasculates them, makes them seem less like men and more like women. And women are the weaker sex, meant to be controlled. And what does a Sheriff want to do with inmates? Control them of course!
So Sheriff Joe had a huge blow against this policy, I think, in the form of an opinion from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Eric Vogel, born 1964, was a man who showed signs of some sort of mental illness. On November 12, 2001, he left his home for no apparent reason. After running in to police officers and demanding to see the President, he was put under arrest for assaulting a police officer. Upon intake into a prison run by Sheriff Joe, he completed a mental health assessment and met with a psychiatric counselor, who put a psychiatric hold on him, suggesting he needed further treatment. Upon further evaluation, he was recommended to get treatment in the psychiatric ward.
But before being transferred, he had to "dress out" or put on the pink underwear. When he refused, officers forced undressed and re-dressed him, all while Vogel was screaming that he was being raped. During this period, he allegedly spit on a police officer during the "dress out." After a week's treatment, he was released upon being bailed. On December 6, while in a minor traffic accident in his mother's car, he was informed that there was a warrant for spitting on the officer. He fled his home, beliving the police were coming, ran 4-5 miles until he died acute cardiac arrhythmia. His family sued, believing that the trauma Vogel had endured in the prison was the cause of his feeling.
The 9th Circuit Court's (the 9th Circuit hears appeals from Federal District Courts, including the District Court of Arizona) opinion, focuses mostly on excluding testimony about Eric Vogel's belief that he was being raped during the "dress out," which was why, according to his family, he fled.
A couple quotes from the opinion struck me (brackets are mine):
[Vogtel's] mind was focused on the implications of being dressed in pink. That he had been dressed in pink was not a delusion. But what was essential to the plaintiff’s case was [his mother's] testimony that the shock and humiliation of the “dress-out” in pink was preying on his mind."
When a color of such symbolic significance is selected for jail underwear, it is difficult to believe that the choice of color was random. The County offers no penalogical reason, indeed no explanation whatsoever for its jail’s odd choice. Given the cultural context, it is a fair inference that the color is chosen to symbolize a loss of masculine identity and power, to stigmatize the male prisoners as feminine.
The Court also added:
Unexplained and undefended, the dress-out in pink appears to be punishment without legal justification.
What is, of course, so striking about this opinion and this set of facts is the power that gender and its constructions have on people. Now, Eric Vogel undoubtedly had a mental illness, which clearly affected his perception of the "dress out" that was happening to him. However, the fact remains that the underlying dress out had a purpose: to humiliate and emasculate men by having them dress in women's clothing. While Vogel's tragic death is certainly the outlier, it demonstrates the power that the State can wield when it chooses to use gender norms as a tool of control.
I am currently transferring my domain registration from the ludicrously sexist godaddy.com (yes, I know I should have done this a while ago) to my fine hosting provider, Lithium. The site might be down for 24 hours as the DNS resets.
This also might indicate I'll be posting more. We'll see.
I want to give Hugo Schwyzer a quick shout out for resigning from The Good Men Project. It's a good article and Hugo explains a lot of the problems with Tom Matlack's behavior, both in his original article and in the ensuing twitter battle afterwards.
I might be a tad late on this bandwagon, but a friend pointed this out to me (h/t to Lindsey!) and I had to write something.
So I have to disagree with Tom Matlock. Being a "dude" is not a good thing. Tom Matlock's article talks about a lot about being a dude, and being blamed for being a dude, and not liking it when women blame him for being a dude, but he never really says what a "dude" is. He claims he doesn't want to look at the "macro," but look to at the "micro" instead. He doesn't really look at either.
Well, listen here: I think we all know what a "dude" is. If Tom simply meant "dude" to mean "human who identifies as male" or "human whose sex is male," I suspect if he would have said so. But by using the term "dude" to describe men, he uses a word rich with meaning and one inextricably linked with the kyriarchy and it's very fucked up sense of gender.
Tom asks "why men are blamed for everything?" I'll give him two answers. Firstly, they're not. Plenty of things happen that are the fault of women. The world is replete with women who buy into all sorts of fucked up gender things, and willingly or not, perpetuate it. There's also plenty of women who quite knowingly advocate for policies that I think leads to all sorts of fucked up ideas about gender. So, I'm going to call shenanigans on the premise of the question. But secondly, on the other hand: let's really examine the premise of the question. Ultimately, who has had power in this nation (and in most of the world), since the beginning? Men. So if you think there's a problem in this country, chances are, a man made it. Did he make the problem because he's a man? Probably not. But a man he was, and a problem he made. I don't think "men are blamed for everything" because they're men; I think men can get blamed for a lot of things, because we made just about all the things.
Tom's theory is that men and women are "quite different," and that women want men to be more like them. Thus, men must be resigned to the fact that they are unacceptable at some level to a woman in their life.
Well, that's pretty fucked up, so let's unpack that. I, for one, don't believe men and women "are" different. I think we're socialized differently; I think we're taught very different norms and practices about what is acceptable for us to do, to think, to be; but I don't think we have profound and innate differences. Tom again eschews any sort of macro analysis that might lead to these conclusions and thus to doubt his own theory, again pointing out that men and women "think differently, [...] express emotion differently, [...] are motivated by differen things, [...] think about sex differently, and [...] use a very different vocabulary."
These are all things that are taught. The Good Men Project, and I will give them credit for it, does point out how so many of these things are socialized. There's certainly many articles about how men are taught that they can't express emotions, except base ones like rage and lust, certainly not sadness. And there's been many articles about how women and men are taught wildly different things about sex. What's puzzling is that underlying all of Tom's "theory" and his post is that whatever differences there are between men and women, and Tom does say that they are "basic instincts," women should pretty much just shut up and accept men for how they are.
And the fact is, they shouldn't. There's not a whole lot redeeming about the stereotypical way that a cis, het man is socialized. Cherishing fatherhood? Sure. Being a provider? That's okay. But oh, the challenges, the obstacles, the travesties we men heap on our sons, our brothers, our fathers, I want so little of that for myself, or my unborn sons, or my male friends. And I certainly wouldn't want to be with a woman who would accept those things in me.