Last week I read the “Perspectives on Feminism” by Sarah Hofkamp and Peter Meyer-Reimer. There were many points from both Sarah and Peter’s writing that I believe are true, such as the problematic areas of confusion of non-violence with passivity, socialization of women to be less assertive, the problems misogyny creates for all people (not just women) and the problem of imposing socially constructed notions of gender binary. Overall, I agreed with Sarah’s writing while in comparison from my worldview, but many of the ideas Peter expressed cannot be seen as truly progressive once informed by knowledge.
If our college is to be true to its mission of “culture for service” we must embrace what it means to be a student in a fast-changing world: to search hard and long for connections and understanding of relations between things, ultimately searching for answers that speak to the world’s problems as a whole, this taking the integration of many ideas. Thus, this article is meant not as an attack on Peter but a gift I want to share. One of our greatest resources is that “my thoughts are not your thoughts” (Isaiah 55).
Speaking these things, I hope to inspire others to take leadership in world and to surpass the errors and limits of past leaders.
Having said these things, I will now address what I believe are major problems of some common mindsets around gender on this campus as reflected in Peter’s writing. Just naming these problems can be a substantial part of solutions. These problems are an authoritarian ethos, options in opposition to the forming of campus collective male identity, and last, the dismissal of the legitimacy of social issues for males in society.
In saying these things, I believe that what is needed for progress in gender issues is ultimately a gender transition movement, by which women’s liberation movements, men’s liberation movements and LGBT movements would come together. The men’s movement definitely owes much to the women’s movement—male gender liberation is dependent on women’s gender liberation. I believe that ultimately the progress of these movements is codependent.
One large issue on this campus, which I believe is a challenge to progressive thought, is an authoritarian mindset as described prophetically in Ericc Fromm’s “Escape from Freedom.” It is a mindset grounded in insecurity from which a person wants to escape free will by surrendering their will to a power such as group thought, an authority or an ideology.
By this mindset also is meanness toward people who one believes are inferior to them in some way. The lie of the authoritarian mindset blocks one from encountering truth outside of what one believes, and devalues the gift of an individual’s voice. Certainly some people have been very mistreated, and understandingly do feel quite insecure. We can be advocates for them by encouraging them to speak their voices.
However, regardless of who the subject is, this authoritarian ethos has very bad things to say to them; things in their minds that seek to justify violence towards and disrespect of “weaker” people and encourage conformity to authorities. With men, this can sometimes lead them to justify sexual violence. To women, this ethos might say that they are morally superior to men—in many Latino cultures where there is machismo there is also the idea of the “Earth Mother” wife who puts up with her bad man, suffering his abuse while morally nurturing him (The New Male, Herb Goldberg).
Ultimately when the gender liberation movements fight each other, the Powers that Be win—
not the common people of any particular group. Believing in the importance of both men’s and women’s gender liberation I call myself an egalitarian. The solution to the negativity of the authoritarian ethos is the breaking down of fear by unity and acts of spontaneous creativity, love, truth and courage of all peoples.
An issue that Peter addresses directly which blocks gender progress is the portrayal of male gender collective identity as a bad thing. Such an identity I want to help create on this campus in a men’s group would include all masculinities—all people who identify on a spectrum as more male than female, with or without a penis. By such a group we would seek to “to hear our inner voices, validate them, and share them constructively with other men.” By doing so we will lose homophobic fear of bonding with other men. We will also lose the artificial manner of negatively competing with other men, and of loving them less than women while respecting them more women.
In a New Male Studies Journal article “Misogyny vs. Misandry” by Paul Nathanson and Katherine Young, these authors describe how the popular academic writer Michael Kimmel believes young men are preoccupied with a sense of “aggrieved entitlement” for privileges not granted to women. Young and Nathanson argue that young men are preoccupied not with illegitimate “aggrieved entitlement” but with legitimate entitlement. Everyone is surely entitled to some things, not privilege but to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” This “happiness” is perhaps impossible without a healthy collective identity. In response, schools and the helping professions should not ignore issues for men such as in comparison to women.
If we are to have gender transition, I believe—in addition to women who want to break out of the systems of patriarchal rule—we must listen to men to want to do the same. When we listen to men this way, men will become better able to help women in this same area. If we are to break from these systems we have to consider not only the areas in which men have greater power than women, but also, with caution, areas where women have greater power than men, such as more reproductive options or greater ability to elicit empathy. If we respect women, this means we can encourage them and offer equity while still holding them accountable. By this, we can break out of the patriarchal-begun cycle of lack of respect for women, followed by less accountability, leading to more disrespect.
By listening to men where they feel less empathy offered them, or where they feel held to unequal levels of accountability, we can balance these factors out. As we work together on both men’s and women’s issues we will become collectively empowered. Let us listen to everyone.