ashwednesday: (Ticktock)
Yesterday's journey to work featured some guys calling "vous ĂȘtes belle!" and blowing kisses at me; yesterday's journey from work featured a guy exposing his penis to me. I could write a nice little blog post linking these two events, and coming to the conclusion that they are both signs of our patriarchal heritage. But that would be glib. I see quite a lot of glib writing on the internet lately. There's a strong human desire to draw patterns between events, to draw them together in the narrative of our lives, and that makes sense. But doing that simplifies complexities, which does nobody any good.

I was looking rather fetching yesterday, I think. It was a beautiful spring day, temperatures soaring, and my fitted dress was complemented by a jaunty silk scarf ("men loves scarves" says Joan Holloway, and who am I to disagree with The Joan?) and espadrilles. The guys calling out to me from their van didn't upset me. I know plenty of women dislike men doing things like that, and I understand why. For me, though, there's a difference between kinds of catcalling. "Good morning," one of them called, to get me to look round, and then they said "you're beautiful" and blew extravagant kisses to me before the traffic lights changed. I laughed pretty hard, and I felt flattered. They didn't make any overtures, or make any explicit remarks, and as such I have no problem with people marking their appreciation of people they find attractive. I have had plenty of things shouted at me that are offensive - you'll be unsurprised there are a lot of references to my boobs - or being reasonably aggressive in making an approach in a public place, and for me there's a difference between men encroaching on my personal space and trying to appropriate the way I look for a coarse kind of gratification without caring how that makes me feel, and with receiving a straightforward compliment. I'm aware that some of you may disagree, though, and if you feel like sharing your views, please do so! I'm aware that my views on what's acceptable to say in public is shaped by my extrovert nature, for one thing.

The only issue I have with getting a comment like the above is that socially this is acceptable for men to do but not for women to do. Because I think that IS linked to men thinking it's ok to shout more explicit and offensive things, to focus on a part of your anatomy in a way that is objectifying, to make you feel potentially unsafe when you walk down the street, to not think hey, going up to this lone girl in the street at night may seem kind of sketchy. Because that's a case of men having power and either not realising they have the privileged position or just not caring.

Obviously the metro guy didn't care how I felt about what he was doing. It was a pretty gross experience, frankly. The metro was very crowded - it was about 6.30pm, so not late at night - and people were crushed together. I felt a guy pressing up against me, and I wasn't sure if it was just because it was so busy. But I looked round to see that he had his erect penis out, hidden behind his jacket so it wasn't visible to the rest of the train. Nothing quite like knowing someone's getting their kicks from rubbing against you. Ugh. And I did have the brief moment of thinking: this WOULD happen on a day I feel pretty and stylish! But I put that thought aside, because I am not responsible for whatever some disturbed loser thinks about me, and he could just as easily have tried to molest some sweet old lady. Anyway, I got off the metro. I felt vaguely guilty for not reporting it, but it would have involved spending lots of time using my non-native language to no great effect, since I doubt anyone would find the guy. That does make me angry, that men can get away with doing things like that, because so often it's more trouble than it's worth to try to take action.

I dunno where I'm going with this. There are clearly lots of questions around gendered power and the public ways we express our sexualities here, but I am seeing a tendency in gender studies to answer any questions like this with a glib response of patriarchy/kyriarchy - as if we actually know what those words mean. (Trust me, we really don't.) That's almost - though not quite - as annoying as the kind of people who, in well-meaning earnestness, honestly don't see the immense amount of privilege they show by saying "I don't see gender/race; I don't care about sexuality/ethnicity/religion", often followed with a plaintive "why don't we all just get aloooooong."

And I guess I'm also saying: it's ok for me to feel flattered by a compliment from a stranger. It doesn't make me Part of the Problem - at least, not any more than we're all Part of the Problem (whatever the hell "the problem" is). And it sure doesn't mean it's ok for a guy to molest me. The thing is, I reckon everyone who reads this will be on board with thinking the metro guy crossed a major line. But I think people will be divided over whether men making any sorts of comments to women is ok - whether some comments are ok but not others, whether it's an offensive use of privilege to make any sort of comment about a woman's attractiveness, and so on. Which is sort of my point, I suppose: when you're talking about "patriarchy", you're talking about something embedded so deep into our culture that deciding where lines should be drawn varies enormously over time, space and for individuals. There's nothing simple about it at all.
ashwednesday: blossoms (Spring has sprung)
Interesting article on a man who chose to take his wife's surname when he married.

I never suspected that as a man I had been given an extra portion of power in the global allotment.

I did it because any form of power comes with duties. I'm obliged to take responsibility for my power, to learn its effects - even unintentional ones - to see what it does to others when I'm not watching, to use it in the best way possible. Sometimes to relinquish it.

So far the name change hasn't cost me more than a few hours of paperwork, some explanations to public officials and a few strained conversations with brittle relatives who think I've joined a matrilineal cult. I still feel like myself. My identity remains intact. Marriage will demand larger sacrifices than this, I expect.


I have no strong feelings on way or another about women taking their husbands' names. I don't think there's anything wrong with it, and I think that assuming it's an old fashioned harking-back to a woman becoming a man's "property" is a facile reading of the historical context. I would not think any woman who doesn't take on her husband's name is failing as a feminist, and nor would I think her husband was trying to lay some kind of archaic claim to her. However, Neufeld's act, and the popular reaction to it, does say interesting things about how hardwired our sense of - hm, what can we call it? - "patriarchal propriety" is. If Neufeld's gesture was shaking his fist in the face of male oppressors omgz I would probably not be interested. What is interesting about his decision is that it seems to be based on him coming to terms with the existence of male privilege, and is, in my opinion, a relatively graceful way of addressing it.

If I marry, which I hope I do, I won't be changing my surname - the idea of it is strange to me - and I wouldn't expect, or even want, my husband to change his. But it's always fascinating to see how people negotiate the terms of their new identities as married people.
ashwednesday: Marilyn Monroe (Happiness)
[personal profile] snakey showed me this link to a "feminist cookie" project. Whilst the food porn fan in me can't help wishing they were a little more elegant in their execution, the concept is pretty fun. The creator explains:
"we talk about feminist cookies all the time, that idea that sometimes people expect to be rewarded for doing the the things that, really, when examined, come down to meeting the minimum standards of decent behavior anyway. but some times a metaphorical cookie is not enough--so I made a batch of real ones."



In other news, I've changed my layout. I'm liking this new style - very different to what I have over on eljay, but it seems to fit with the style of what I'm trying to do with this journal.
ashwednesday: (Academic at work)
For those of you not familiar with my research, my PhD thesis (soon to be submitted, Deo volente - though I've been saying that for a good five months now...) is on late medieval English fatherhood. In general, then, I am interested in patriarchy and its parameters, as well as conceptualising masculinities. I thought the following quotation on modern fatherhood was quite nice - not in that it's saying anything new, but because it concisely and clearly makes a good starting point for studying masculine identity.

In most of the situations that have been closely studied, there is some hegemonic form of masculinity - the most honoured or desired... The hegemonic form need not be the most common form of masculinity, let alone the most comfortable. Indeed many men live in a state of some tension with, or distance from, the hegemonic masculinity of their culture or comunity.

R.W. Connell, The Men and the Boys (Cambridge, 2000), pp. 11-12.


Something also worth considering is that this "hegemonic masculinity" has not remained the same over the centuries; something that should be obvious to academics, but apparently is not always. Similarly, whilst the institution of patriarchy has remained in place for most of the history of Western civilisation, its parameters have changed a great deal over time. I got to thinking about this today because I got to read an interesting article on the topic of Ancient Greek pederasty that is forthcoming in 2010, and then I re-read Ruth Mazo Karras' article on sex and single women which talks about how historians conflate illicit sex with prostitution, and put together the two made me think about the assumptions that scholars make about "being male". At least now it seems like these are questions more people are asking.

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ashwednesday

January 2013

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