So many things about gender

#1 The Man Box

Readers of my previous blog entries may recall that I attempt to define feminism in terms of balance rather than competition.  I was delighted by an interview Dr. Shira Tarrant gave about the second edition of her book Men Speak Out.

Sandra:  “Especially as a woman, how did it this come about that you wanted to create this book [of men’s first-person accounts of their gender, their masculinity issues, and sexuality]?”

Dr. Tarrant: “I was teaching at a liberal arts college back East, and was in the women’s studies department there.  I started getting more and more young men in my classes.

“I realized that I didn’t have a book that I could give my male students that spoke to their experience, that reflected their hopes or dreams, or questions, things that maybe they wanted to change, or they wanted to bust out of what is known as the man box….that narrow box that people try to shove men into….When I realized that I had books that had those sorts of first-person essays written by women…that I didn’t have one for men…’Wait a minute, there’s a huge problem here.'”

“And so, the book started literally by me sitting in the grass with a bunch of the guys from my class and saying:  ‘I don’t have a book to give you.  If there was a book, what would you want to see in it?'”

Sandra:  “You saw a need and you filled it.”

Dr. Tarrant:  “A lot of times men are a lot less shy about taking the floor…about speaking with authority, whether they really know what they’re talking about or not, so some people have said: ‘Why Men Speak Out?  They’ve been talking.  Isn’t it time for them to be quiet and step back?'”

Sandra:  “I think of myself as a feminist in that I would like women and men and everyone to be on equal footing….How do you define ‘feminist’?  Especially since you are also talking about how men can be feminists as well.  What is a feminist? That almost sounds emasculating, in a way, for a man to be a feminist.  It’s almost like he has to give up part of his masculinity, which I don’t think is necessarily the case…”

Dr. Tarrant:  “One of the million dollar questions.  If people don’t want to call themselves feminists, but they’re committed to progressive or positive social change…great.  We can hash out the ‘what you call yourself’ issue later.  To me it’s more important what we’re doing.”

“The way I look at feminism is it’s about power.  Who has it, who gets it, who systematically is x-ed out of it, who has access to it…..My feminism is not a feminism that says: ‘women good, men bad.’  That is not, repeat, not feminism.”

(You can hear the entire fascinating interview in the “Man Box” episode from Sex Nerd Sandra.  Other topics include the friend zone, bullying, gender roles, consent, porn, and the misuse of “gay” as a pejorative term.)

#2 “Shrinking Woman”

Lily Myers’s poem “Shrinking Woman” resonates.

#3 “Piñata”

So does this slam poem by Pages Matam.

#4 City of Brotherly Love

Hannah Price did a powerful series of photographs about catcalling.

#5 Saudi Arabia’s ban on women driving and what they did about it on Oct. 26th.

#6 “Because you’re still asking me that question.”

You can watch a shorter version of Joss Whedon’s Equality Now speech (or read a transcript).

But does the jargon really need an upgrade? Some people are on the fenceOthers have some major objections to Whedon’s suggestion.

#7 Visibility

Geena Davis has important things to say as well.

#8  Hysteria

I recently watched the 2011 movie Hysteria, which portrays Victorian era advances in the understanding of “women’s troubles.”  It’s a light depiction of what Rachel P. Maines examined in The Technology of Orgasm:  “Hysteria,” the Vibrator, and Women’s Sexual Satisfaction.  The first chapter, titled “The Job Nobody Wanted,” is available to read online.

Maines first published this book in 1998, but it continues to be relevant.  She shows a 2,000 year convention of describing female sexuality as irrelevant unless inconvenient (in which cases it was pathological).  As she points out, the term hysteria was listed as a mental illness until a mere fifty years ago.  Women’s sexuality was so unimportant that consistent nomenclature was unnecessary until the 18th century.  It was inconsistently defined and hysteria was pandemic for almost all of the common era.  While some reviewers have pointed out flaws and bias in this book, I have on several occasions noticed that women are far more likely than even well-educated men to know the ironic origins of vibrators as a medical treatment.

I connect this book to the current notion of rape culture because of how this hysteria was rationalized by male authorities.  As Maines puts it, “A not uncommon resolution of the conflict of medical philosophies over women’s sexuality was the compromise position that women ardently desired maternity, not orgasm.”  Women were strongly discouraged from masturbation on specious ethical grounds, but it was the male physicians’ discomfort that led to solutions.

This topic also relates to the question of what exactly counts as sex.  Modern audiences are amused by the doctors in the movie Hysteria when they defend the propriety of building a practice around genital massage.  These characters were by no means unusual for their time.  As Maines tells us “Since no penetration was involved, believers in the hypothesis that only penetration was sexually gratifying to women could argue that nothing sexual could be occurring when their patients experienced the hysterical paroxysm during treatment.”  This issue comes up in more urgent ways during debates about non-penetrative sex or the assumption that only men can be rapists (and only women can be raped).

#9 Normal Barbie

On a lighter note, there’s also Nickolay Lamm’s Normal Barbie.

#10 Aftermath of the Merida redesign

Consider David Trumble’s intentionally ironic presentation of feminist heroes.