Shake it up!

The blog formerly known as Shakespeare’s Sister has an interesting post from Mr Shakes on why men should get over the idea that feminism constitutes a threat to them, and embrace it as, well, just humanism.

If men were smart, they wouldn’t fight against feminism. They would embrace it for what it really is: Humanism. (And stop fretting over whether the term “feminismâ€? is exclusory; its principles aren’t.) They would incorporate the principles of all civil rights movements and collaborate with their proponents on the genesis of a vast humanist movement. Instead of feeling threatened by or put upon by these movements, instead of feeling they somehow denigrate straight, white men’s lives or their ability to be who they are, men would apply these ideas in an effort to improve their own lives, along with everyone else’s. What we need to do is confer all the rights and privileges that these men have traditionally enjoyed upon everyone else, and then, once we’ve done that, we can start thinking about what new rights, obligations, responsibilities we can confer on everyone, in order to make our society a more egalitarian and fair place to live.

Men need to get it through their heads that they, too, are under the heel of power structures that have no interest in promoting their welfare. They must understand that the rights and privileges that they have hitherto been enjoying fall far short of the privileges they could enjoy were they to try and achieve them. The internecine warfare that occurs between women and men, people of color and white people, straights and gays, as they all squabble like schoolchildren in an attempt to gain or deny rights, is exactly what those in power want. They promote it, they foment it, they do everything they can to aggravate it, because they know that if we were all ever to get our fucking shit together, and demand that the society we all live in and contribute to should be fair and decent to everyone, then the egregious wealth and power that they enjoy would finally meet its end.

I could quibble with this argument, a little, but I’m not inclined to. One thing I was reflecting on with regard to tigtog’s two posts on cyberbullying and Jill Filipovic was the masculinism a number of commenters (rightly, on the whole, I think) observed shapes blogosphere norms. Could one useful way of countering this be for pro-feminist male bloggers to, as it were, out themselves?

Update: Amanda’s take on Mr Shakes’ post from Pandagon.

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Posted in culture, feminism, politics, sociology
43 comments on “Shake it up!
  1. observa says:

    “Could one useful way of countering this be for pro-feminist male bloggers to, as it were, out themselves?”

    A forlorn hope I would have thought, given that they’re blokes who don’t really comprehend that they’re really victims themselves of the current power structure anyway. I really don’t know how you get through to the real me under the circumstances. Perhaps being sorry and offering some compensation would help?

  2. Adam Gall says:

    Humanism! No thanks…

    (ducks for cover)

  3. Fiasco da Gama says:

    I’ll out myself as a humanist, certainly of the Desiderius Erasmus kind. Elevation of human reason, contempt for hard-set scholastic dogma, appreciation of rhetoric—there’s something in Humanism for everyone.

  4. Adam Gall says:

    Well, if we’re talking Erasmus, then sure. I’m on board with that kind of playful humanist approach.

  5. anthony says:

    I was feeling all Martin Luther King and then you had to get all Malcolm X on us at the end

  6. Kim says:

    This is why I could have got a bit picky – I’m not sure that Mr Shakes means “humanism” as in a philosophical position – I think he’s just making a point that feminism benefits all. The broader argument is the classic observation that a lot of these “cultural” divisions or social cleavages benefit those with more power because they set people arguing who could otherwise agree.

    But I’m with Montaigne! 🙂

  7. Adam Gall says:

    “The broader argument is the classic observation that a lot of these “culturalâ€? divisions or social cleavages benefit those with more power because they set people arguing who could otherwise agree.”

    That is the substance of it, I think, and it’s worth keeping in mind when Howard brings out the inevitable ‘cultural’ wedge issues in the next six months. On the other hand, arguing amongst ourselves doesn’t necessarily prevent us from uniting elsewhere does it? I mean, as an example, I could criticise the union campaign against Workchoices until the cows come home, and I will, but I will march and I will vote it down.

  8. Kim says:

    Yes, agreed, but, I think what he’s getting at is more irreconcilable arguments – ie between feminists and anti-feminists.

  9. Fiasco da Gama says:

    Well I’m more with Stokely Carmichael than Malcolm or Dr King, anthony and Kim, when it comes to institutions and privilege.
    The flipside of the ‘classic’ argument for unity and against “internecine warfare” is that some arguments about understanding society and the world are really important, hardly matters for leaving until, y’know, until after the Revolution, to be sorted out once The Man is deposed. I know I’ve read this argument above before, though it’s usually more explicitly anti-radical feminist.
    Valerie Solanas would have swiftly smacked Mr. Shakes upside the head, I think, and told him that for a just world, men might require the gains of feminism, but feminism definitely does not require the participation of men.

  10. Adam Gall says:

    Self-identifying anti-feminists already see themselves as victims, or potential victims, of feminists. I mean, this is a great way to refocus on the shared democratic orientations within these movements, but do anti-feminists already have a strong victim narrative that precludes other understandings of victimhood?

  11. tigtog says:

    do anti-feminists already have a strong victim narrative that precludes other understandings of victimhood?

    Sadly, I think they do. A mailing list I’ve belonged two for 10 years has just had people leave over a discussion of feminist precepts, because some felt that the feminists were getting “religious” in their arguments, and some felt that the anti-feminists(1) were doing the same.

    1. these were otherwise progressive men who have a history of supporting individual women they know in their feminist pursuit of equality but who revealed themselves as deeply suspicious of feminism as a movement

  12. Adam Gall says:

    That’s such a shame tigtog.

    Maybe those guys – the progressive ones – need to be introduced to some of the ways in which feminists already disagree. I mean, you don’t have to agree with the specific strategies and arguments of Catharine MacKinnon or Andrea Dworkin to be pro-feminist. I’ve had no trouble finding arguments within feminism that speak to my suspicions over particular feminist arguments.

  13. tigtog says:

    I mean, you don’t have to agree with the specific strategies and arguments of Catharine MacKinnon or Andrea Dworkin to be pro-feminist.

    Quite. And to the extent that McKinnon and Dworkin are honoured as feminist theorists, it’s largely despite their most infamous extremist statements (which were in any case parts of conveniently overlooked rhetorical structures), not because of them.

  14. dj says:

    I am not really sure how anyone identifying themselves as a ‘progressive’ male could have avoided the myriad streams of feminist thought. I would have thought that anyone doing a bit of reading and listening would be aware that feminism does not merely consist of the lesbian separatist caricature that is usually trotted out in public debate.

  15. Adam Gall says:

    Definitely despite rather than because of in my experience. In general, I agree with Wendy Brown’s critique of MacKinnon, though. Actually, Brown speaks well to this whole thread with her use of ‘ressentiment’ (from Nietzsche). Anti-feminist victim narratives might be a classic example.

  16. Pavlov's Cat says:

    feminism does not merely consist of the lesbian separatist caricature that is usually trotted out in public debate.

    dj, you are so right. It’s usually because they’re the only ones they’ve heard of.

    What I find intensely frustrating is that the sort of men who have a knee-jerk hostile reaction to anything to do with feminism (see first comment on thread, for example) tend if they know anything at all to trot out names like Dworkin and Greer (fewer of them have heard of Solanas, or McKinnon) as a “reason” why feminism per se just must be a crock, rather in the way they think, or pretend that they think, that the very name of Stalin is enough to justify rushing off to the right of Genghis Khan.

    When one examines their tokenistic use of these names, it usually turns out that they despise these women because they do not find them sexually attractive, which is the only criterion they have.

  17. John Greenfield says:

    Pavlov’s Cat

    Your dreary stereotype of what men (and women who do not identify as “feminist”) do and do not know about “feminism” says a lot about your own understanding of the world. Personally I think it is a lame excuse that serves as a form of denial.

    I can bell hooks, Judith Butler, Naomi Wolf, Ann Curthoys, David Halperin, Amy Richlin, Sophie Rophie, Lucy Irigary with the best of you until the cows come home.

    The point is that most men and women under the age of 40 consider feminism to be a passe idea. The worst thing that happened to feminism was when it morphed from a vibrant and essential political movement into the common room wankery of luvvies that it is in 2007.

  18. dj says:

    You know, the only ppl that I know who use the word luvvie are middle or upper-class educated ppl, generally employed as knowledge workers.

    I am just 30 and male and believe that feminism remains relevant, particularly to working class women. I have seen first hand how misogyny and entrenched sexism can drastically reduce the capability of women to lead lives that they were capable of but either lacked the confidence or ability to make what they could have of their lives. This is not to say women are powerless, but if you think women, particularly those who are in the lower percentiles of economic wealth have an equal footing to men, then you must send me the number of your dealer.

  19. anthony says:

    Valerie Solanas would have swiftly smacked Mr. Shakes upside the head

    or shot Andy Warhol in the chest.

  20. anthony says:

    You know, the only ppl that I know who use the word luvvie are middle or upper-class educated ppl, generally employed as knowledge workers.

    With you there dj. Seriously John, is your intention to redflag yourself as a culture war Furby?

  21. Pavlov's Cat says:

    The point is that most men and women under the age of 40 consider feminism to be a passe idea.

    If this were true, then the more fools them, but frankly I think it’s unlikely, and I’d be interested to know what basis this bizarre claim has in fact.

    Feminism a passe idea, eh? What, as opposed to that vibrant and radical new craze “patriarchy”?

    Claiming that feminism is old-fashioned is just a particularly simplistic way antifeminists have of attempting to silence people who don’t want to live in a world run by masculinist values and practices. Look at the gender stats of who has the most power, money and/or influence in any country in the world and then tell me without developing a facial tic that feminism is a ‘passe idea’.

    What you really mean is that you personally don’t like it, and there are no prizes for guessing why.

  22. Adam Gall says:

    I’m 24 and I don’t think that feminism can be ignored or dismissed. I also think that feminism remains vibrant, and that feminist thought continues to produce new ideas and perspectives, at least within those places where I have encountered it .

  23. j_p_z says:

    “Feminism a passe idea, eh? What, as opposed to that vibrant and radical new craze “patriarchyâ€??â€?

    Viewed from a global perspective (and, depending on how you choose to define “vibrant”), I’d say that at present this is actually more or less the case, at least if fertility rates are any indicator, as I reckon they must be.

    Contrast the moribund birth rates of the feminist-inclined West, with the “vibrantâ€? birth-rates of large swathes of “patriarchalâ€? Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Islamic-sector Europe. Who, indeed, is fated to become “passe”? Now, if I wuz a bettin’ man (sorry, a bettin’ person)…

    A feminism that is focused on general human decency w/r/t women’s issues would be pretty hard to argue with; but a feminism that argues (as I believe we’ve seen in our times) that the role of women is identical or largely similar to the role of men, and that best practice is for both sexes to compete for the same duties, whilst the unique roles of women are either downplayed or ignored, may in the end turn out to be just a civilizational suicide note written in big-sounding words. Maybe not; but I’m not sure the notion can be entirely dismissed out of hand.

    Nations, cultures and peoples go under all the time, often because of the choices they make. Many of those choices can probably be filed under “I dunno, it seemed like a good idea at the time.â€? We will see whether or not the West (and feminism — its current project of, um, choice, as it were) survives the demographic pressures of the coming century in anything like a recognizable form. If not, perhaps its epitaph could be that great line from Stevie Smith, “Not waving, but drowning.â€?

    [sits back, straps in seatbelt, prepares for the coming thumping…] 🙂

  24. Anna Winter says:

    It’s hard to get a thumping from a strawwoman, j_p_z.

  25. Mark says:

    Contrast the moribund birth rates of the feminist-inclined West, with the “vibrantâ€? birth-rates of large swathes of “patriarchalâ€? Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Islamic-sector Europe. Who, indeed, is fated to become “passeâ€?? Now, if I wuz a bettin’ man (sorry, a bettin’ person)…

    Way to go with the strawkiddies, j_p_z.

    Check out the CIA’s birth rate table – things outside Europe are hardly as clear cut as your meme suggests:

    https://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/rankorder/2054rank.html

    And, since there are very strong correlations in all the development and sociological literature (including from research from social scientists with impeccable right wing credentials such as Huntington) between rising levels of education and wealth and a declining fertility rate, what’s to worry about?

  26. j_p_z says:

    Mark — on the matter of statistics, I tend to side with what Mr. Disraeli had to say. But then again, it isn’t my profession, so I suppose it often depends on the level of sophistication. But I daresay the CIA stats are probably not terribly sophisticated, and I suggest that there’s more than one way to read them, never mind what they could or could not imply. As regards charting fertility rates against wealth, I’m sure you’re correct, but it’s only one factor in a very complex equation. I’ve been aware of that phenomenon for quite some time, yet it hasn’t really changed my thinking on the subject — or, for that matter, even many of my observations.

    Like a man said, “Who you gonna believe, honey — me, or your own lyin’ eyes?”

    As to “what’s to worry about?” I didn’t directly say anything about “worry”. (Bit of Alfred E. Neuman there.) But I think there’s matter there, to think about and talk about.

  27. Mark says:

    Well, no doubt there is, j_p_z, but I doubt this is the thread for it!

  28. Katz says:

    There are at least two elements to japerz’ propagation of a very persistent meme.

    Japerz is trying to get Spenglerian with our collective decadent arses. In the long run, he may have a point, if one associates the success of a collectivity like western civilisation with the continuation of certain genetic lines, or perhaps more crudely, skin colours. Would a US that maintains its institutional and cultural structures, though populated almost entirely by black and brown persons seem to Japerz to be too much like The Planet of the Apes? Japerz’ argument is almost word-for-word the anti-Irish rhetoric that bloomed in England in the latter years of the 19th century.

    Funny thing. Irish immigrants adapted and assimilated to English ways. Who gets in a swivet about the Irish in England nowadays?

    The other element worth noting is that by implication japerz seems to imply that feminism is to blame for the west’s flirtation with “race suicide”. Historical reality: birthrates in the west plummeted long before Betty Friedan or the incineration of the first bra, or whatever iconic moment signifies the advent of feminism as a movement with any discernible cultural profile. To a large degree mainstream, second wave feminism arose to describe changes that had already happened in the lives of women. These changes were driven by economics and by a change in male cultures whose origins are very complex, but may be associated with the persistent martial cultures of total war.

    Patriarchy is a very old phenomenon. But I believe it can be argued that patriarchy received an enormous fillip 1914-1918, 1939-1945, during the long emergency of the Cold War and in the vast corporations of the post WWII era.

    This is the cultural baggage carried by western men. It has pervaded everything, including feminism. It’s the new patriarchy that has harnessed old rhetoric, includingreligious rhetoric, to secular, instrumental and exploitative ends.

  29. j_p_z says:

    Katz: “Would a US that maintains its institutional and cultural structures, though populated almost entirely by black and brown persons seem to Japerz to be too much like The Planet of the Apes?”

    Don’t think so. But it might seem an awful lot like ‘a country populated almost entirely by black and brown persons.’ How you make the imaginative leap to the… well, Planet of the Apes (?!) is rather beyond me. Some day you simply *must* tell me where you get your classy ideas.

    Still… “maintains its institutional and cultural structures” in the face of massive, or to take your hypothetical example, near-absolute, population changeover. Yes, that seems rather likely, since it’s what always happens, without fail. No need to even consider it. F’rinstance, we all know how Alaric, the Vandals and the Carolingians were, –how did they say it in Old Gothic?– the spitting image of Cicero and Galen. Funny how life goes on, eh wot.

    “anti-Irish rhetoric, yadda yadda yadda”

    Shorter Katz: You seen one historical example, eh, you seen ’em all. I’m quite inclined to agree. Ah, I remember the sunny New York State of my youth: growing up in the longhouse, paying for things with wampum and animal pelts, doing the Medicine Dance. Those were the days. And they still are! As Katz well knows!

    “But I believe it can be argued that patriarchy received an enormous fillip &c. &c …”

    I believe all manner of things can be argued. But if Katz continues to make implied slurs about me, then I doubt I shall be doing very much more arguing with Katz.

    See you at the Hagia Sophia on Sunday, for the Easter liturgy they got there. Oh, wait…

  30. Kim says:

    Way off topic, dudes.

  31. Katz says:

    Japerz can’t see population change without seeing invasion. Yep, a lot of folks have been invaded, including Native Americans, Byzantine Christians and Australian Aborigines.

    But ya see, Japerz, these folks were weak and they succumbed to invasion and military occupation from folk who had malign ambitions for savages who got in their way.

    Now whose going to invade and occupy New York? Outsiders who arrive in your city and your country, like in my city and my country arrive to take their place towards the bottom of the social and economic heap. That is the price they are willing to pay to live in a free and ordered society.

    The host society (yours and mine) is strong and is made stronger by the voluntary arrival of industrious and ambitious immigrants.

    Let me know when your friendly neighbourhood immigrant Visigoths begin insisting that you all worship trees, and maybe I’ll change my mind about the difference between invasion and immigration.

    [Please excuse this thread sidetrack. This isn’t where I’d prefer my comments about patriarchy to lead.]

  32. Kim says:

    Aarrgghhh! Katz! I just posted another thread for the sidetrack. Take it over there, or the next comment disappears into the ether, please!

  33. Anna Winter says:

    So basically the idea is that we can’t let women be equal and free to do as they want because they might not do what we want them to do.

    If having children is such a terrible thing that women have to be “forced” socially to do it, then perhaps – given all the West’s focus on liberty, happiness and the like – we could do something about making it not terrible. You know, making it so that having kids is not incompatible with having a fulfilling life. If only there was a movement demanding that very thing…

    But really – do you think it is? Do you believe that women by and large hate child-rearing? But yet you’re willing to impose a social order that forces ’em to – just so we can bring about a whole new generation of little girls to birth a whole new generation and so on… all so that the menfolk can enjoy themselves? Perhaps you may argue that none of us enjoy ourselves – that we’re all doing it to save a civilisation that no-one enjoys very much?

    Or are you suggesting that a bunch of deluded women who only thought they hated child-rearing got together to create a movement that sneakily convinced a bunch of other women that they also hated child-rearing? That it’s really better for them if they just forgot all that nonsense and got back to protecting civilisation?

    And speaking of civilisation – do you mean that one that has continued completely unchanged since we all first started birthing future generations? Or do you mean that all the developments that happened until now (except feminism, obviously): good. Any changes that happen from now on: bad?

    And that this particular illness/ insanity/ selfishness is limited to the west, and that all other civilisations – which are otherwise not as good as ours – are full of completely selfless individuals who would never demand personal satisfaction at the risk of their culture being “infiltrated”?

    Yes, this is a very sketchy mess of a comment. It’s hard to completely unpack ideas that make very little sense. But I would suggest that the argument that feminism would lead to the downfall of the west says a whole lot more about the person making it than anyone else.

  34. Kim says:

    Anna! Anna! Please take the demography/decline of the West thingo to the new thread I started for it!

    Am I invisible?

  35. steve says:

    Don’t see a lot of feminism around these days with the whole conservative experience of the last eleven years dragging all manner of social justice issues back to the dark ages of the fifties.

    I contend that what we have had a complete right wing regressive social revolution where not only feminism but workers rights, union membership, rights of refugees and asylum seekers, reconciliation, Prison reform, and most other forms of caring have been weeded out of the Australian psyche to a greater or lesser extent.

    General rights have also been curtailed with the introduction of sedition laws and the use of Capsicum spray, dogs, water cannon and stun guns will make it much more difficult to organise people for activism in the future.

    There is another major problem working against feminism in that people just do not have much time to themselves these days.Now the golden Standard being persued by Howard seems to be working longer each day and with the prospect of an extended working life in years as well.

    Values that were considered proudly Australian are now in the endangered category. I also detest the amount of money spent on defence at the expense of more needy areas of Australian society such as child care. Pay rates still do not reflect equal pay for equal work. Maternity leave is still very basic.

    The failure of the Federal Government to renegotiate the Commonwealth State Disability Agreement in Brisbane today must place a huge strain on women who either have a disability or are carers.

    Feminism has been so abused as a term by right wing trolls, media commentators as well as men and women who oppose the cause that it is misunderstood or has a perverse meaning to probably a substantial part of the population these days.

  36. Anna Winter says:

    Sorry, Kim, my original point got lost in the writing of it.

    My point was mostly that this demonstrates the idea that Mr Shakes raised: the idea that we can’t fight for freedom, for self-actualisation, for our own happiness – if there’s a risk we may put at risk the existence of our culture.

    But if we’re forced to suppress our needs and desires in order to protect a civilisation only so that we can bring a new generation that must do likewise – then what’s it all for? Who benefits? Why do we need to protect a civilisation that so limits us?

    Obviously the fact is that it doesn’t – our freedoms won’t destroy our culture. They’ll usually create a new and better one. But if allowing people to live good lives is a danger to our culture then why would we want to protect it?

  37. Kim says:

    Ok, Anna, thanks, understand your point and agree.

  38. Pavlov's Cat says:

    Top comment, steve. Every point a winner.

  39. Kim says:

    Update: Amanda’s take on Mr Shakes’ post from Pandagon.

  40. Kim says:

    Btw – link well worth following – fabulous post from Amanda.

  41. tigtog says:

    That’s twice youve beaten me to it, Kim: first on Mr Shakes’ post and then on Amanda’s!

    I’m in a very agreeable mood today: Pav called Steve’s comment on it’s topness most judiciously as well.

  42. REMARQUE says:

    The two famous quotes most quoted by Dworkin and Mackinnon are … misquotes.

    Is it allowed to ask ourselves if pornographic imagery and its regular consumption reinforces machism, without being called a fascist?

    To give an example, many men would agree that the images used in advertising do influence behaviours.

    Could not it be so with pornography?

    Sorry for the formulation : English is my second language.

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