Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A Fulcrum for Deconstructing Gender

Gloria Steinem was in town recently and I had a chance to go down to campus to see her. I best liked the Q & A at the end. One thing she said is that we (our society) now knows "women can be equal in the world outside the home. We still don't know if men can be equal inside the home." She went on to say, "For men to raise children as women do is not a punishment, it's a gift."

This concisely expresses something that I have felt but haven't been able to put into words. I have followed several different discussions about the next step for men in the transition to gender equality. I have heard a young woman, presumably out of a third wave feminist context, ask older women, presumably from a more second wave feminist background, ask how women should be helping men deal with the ongoing shifts in gender dynamics. And I heard the older women reply, "Nothing," and explain that the men have the privilege, let them use it to figure it out. I have been a part of a Men's Monologues that was inspired by gender equality and the Vagina Monologues, only to see a lot of unexamined privilege undermine what was otherwise a rather profound and funny show. I have read some of the "Men's Movement" books from the 1990s, and I have read a few accounts and critiques of a feminist men's conference that was held last year.

The thought I have is that it is time to unpack the idea of masculinity and what it means to be a man. The feminist movement has done this with femininity and what it means to be a woman, greatly expanding the "definition" to include the spheres of in and out of the home and removing the boxes of assumptions around marital and motherhood status. This has not yet really been done at an effective societal level around masculinity, especially concerning what Gloria Steinem called the "cult of masculinity," which basically encompasses the harmful masculine stereotypes men take on to "prove" their manhood.  

And yet, unpacking something that big takes both a lot of time and dedicated motivation from the relevant population (who, notably, are privileged and therefore less likely to decide the pain of change is less than the pain of staying the same). However, Gloria Steinem's frame of the spheres in and out of the home makes for an excellent applied situation that gives a great starting point. 

One of the most effective ways women unpacked the social construction of "feminine" was by fighting their way into the workforce and up the corporate ladder. The philosophical project of unpacking their gender roles was not the main motivation, of course; far more mundane and practical matters drove the changes. However, applying this to the masculine means that men fighting their way back home and into the diaper bag could and would help effectively unpack the social construction of "masculine." 

I think Gloria is right: working towards reframing "men taking care of children as women do" as a gift instead of a punishment is a fulcrum that could help tip our social philosophies into a wider deconstruction of gender altogether. 

1 comment:

brother martin said...

2 things....first, as a participant in "Stand and Deliver," I would like to hear more about this:
"I have been a part of a Men's Monologues that was inspired by gender equality and the Vagina Monologues, only to see a lot of unexamined privilege undermine what was otherwise a rather profound and funny show."

Second, you said
"One of the most effective ways women unpacked the social construction of "feminine" was by fighting their way into the workforce and up the corporate ladder."
We sure have a different take on that! In my view, feminism loses its radical edge when it trades its critique of the corporate patriarchy for a chance to benefit from corporate exploitation. As somebody I read recently pointed out, this kind of feminism fits extraordinarily well with the neoliberal agenda and results in "feminists" like Hillary Clinton and Condoleeza Rice. Do I make my point?