Monday, May 12, 2008

What Is One Sexist Thing You Are Trying To Unlearn?

Hey peoples. Thought I would write something that called for some real dialogue and participation. I am psyched to see that i am getting 20-50 hits a day from all over the world (officially at least one person from every continent as of last week! glad to see my Caribbean fambly deh bout too), but would really love to get some of those global perspectives down into some real talk! And this includes everyone, cuz no matter what gender or sex we are, we all have sexism to unlearn.

I'll start.

One thing that I have been noticing during some of my "dry spells" of dating, is that I have been known to start grumbling about how all the non-communicative, insensitive and misogynist guys seem to have girlfriends, but ain't nobody interested in my ass. Don't women want to date a sensitive, communicative, guy with feminist principles? a blah blah blah? I would say this to women too. Its kinda come to my consciousness that this is actually some "cookie seeking" of the most icky kind. It reminds me of a creepier version of Adam Sandler's SNL character who has ideas for cheap Halloween costumes- "Look! I have a sneaker on my hand! I'm crazy sneaker hand man! Gimme some candy!" (the link will give you more than enough examples) Except in my case, its more like "Look at me! I'm all feminist and stuff! I can communicate my feelings! And listen to yours too! Gimme some ass!" (altogether now, ewwwwww.)

I strongly believe that everyone deserves love. But no one "deserves" sex. Granted, sometimes I am missing the love more than the sex, and vice versa. But I can see that I can subconsciously and consciously start believing that i "should" be hooking up for various reasons. Which teeters very close to the very problematic idea that a woman owes sex to a man. Personally, I don't care if y'all are married, nobody has rights to anyone's body. The institution that built this empire and gave some people rights to other people's bodies was abolished over 100 years ago. And basically, No Means No (as once quoted by a construction worker dude :) .

So yes, when I am lonely and/or not gettin' any, I plan to not complain about that specifically in relation to my sensitivity and politics. As it is, there are a gazillion other ways to complain about these issues without bringing those factors in.

Your turn!!

In closing, i wanted to post a video. Jackson Katz has a good short video called Tough Guise: Violence, Media & The Crisis In Masculinity. I find that when I hear him speak that i appreciate 90% of what he has to say, but feel wierdish when he starts talking about the experience of men of color (he is white, most likely Jewish), and that he also basically calls for women to support feministically inclined men by rejecting men who put on the "tough guise" and dating us instead. hmm. I mean, i'm all for building conscious community, and unions that would raise conscious children, but its just weird to hear a guy tell women to to date him "for the struggle". you know? thots?


Anonymous said...

"its just weird to hear a guy tell women to to date him "for the struggle". "

Some of us have heard it to our faces.

This is so complicated. Thank you for even braving to dive in here. I'm real curious as to which of my sistas are going to join in.

I want to start with a disclaimer (ha!). It's not going to get done in one day. Plus I am sleepy and so some of the intersectional analysis will be beyond me right this minute.

"Don't women want to date a sensitive, communicative, guy with feminist principles?"

Short answer is that some of us REALLY do. (I know I do!) REALLY REALLY REALLY do.

Although you can call them womanist - or even personist, for goodness' sake - instead of feminist, if you want, for reasons I'll allude to below and which you already know about if you followed the Seal Press madness.

I am mad when white folks with no sense of their privilege -- and therefore no sense of the defenses I and my brothers have to assume just to get through the day -- purport to speak for me.

As a result, I would first say that if JK

"wierdish when he starts talking about the experience of men of color (he is white, most likely Jewish)"

doesn't sound like he's really seeing you, and other men of color (and I have a whole other rant on how Jewish folk, IMO, aren't white, not really, but that's for another day) -- then he doesn't speak for you.

(You may be allied, but clearly from your other posts you already know what a can of worms that can be.)

Now on to my sistas.

Some of us don't know better, and some of us are just stupid. When a woman tells me -- or some brother who is going to get his heart crushed by the news -- that he's got 2 Ivy League degrees and the mathematic mind to match but isn't enough "thug" for her, my first thought is to want to lay the smackdown. 'Cause clearly she doesn't know that the real thugs in the 21st century are Gates and Rove. 'knamean?

My second thought is, keep quiet lm -- more for you (me) if you don't mess up.

(Although then I wonder about the extent to which I'm "permitted" to lay the smackdown because although I don't care where on the color spectrum the brothers land, I do like them tall and broad -- but why? Because -- and I generalize here -- they seem to like sistas that are me-shaped.)

Because the way I see it, since I don't look like Beyonce offstage -- although I have been mistaken for Ms. Bassett once or twice -- there are brothers who aren't going to want to be seen with me anyway.

Which is all on y'all.

Because a lot of the whining brothas saying "Why can't she see me?" are really not trying to be seen by any woman but the Beyonce or Alicia look-alike.

And some only by the Salma or Heidi look-alike.

(Geek brothers in particular are notorious for that mess.)

Oh -- and one more thing.

If you want to do something today, with regard to this statement

"But I can see that I can subconsciously and consciously start believing that i "should" be hooking up for various reasons"

Ask yourself:

Where am I getting those ideas from??

I will stop here for today.

I am real interested to see what else folks have to say.

richard said...





thank you for bringin it. REALLY bringin it. i've been wondering what i've been doing wrong, seeing hits referred from all of these progressive blogs where people have such great stuff to say, but... just crickets and tumbleweeds out here! so thank you for really bringing some realness.

and dang, if this is what you write when you are "sleepy" then i can't wait to see what you write when you are "on point"!

thanks for the affirmation around women wanting to date "sensitive, communicative guys with feminist principles". wasn't tryin to pull that out of anyone, but of course, its good to hear :) i guess i already know that there are women out there who appreciate these qualities since i... well, since i have had a love life! i just can get cynical at times when there is seemingly more "life" than "love" goin on.

On the quick, yeah, JK doesn't speak for me. but i dig a lot of what he is saying. He just loses me at the points where he has expert perspectives and assignments for people who don't look like him.

your points around sistas not seeing brothas and vice versa... intrigues me. For me, i think it goes beyond me being "bookish". i think that there are few images out there that portray me as a "real black man". not since the 80's anyway! (that's another post :) my steez is somewhat andro. i won't be mistaken for 50 Cent anytime soon. I think that can play into me not being seen, tho of course, not every sista wants a 50 Cent facsimilie, or some other kinda masculinity with serious swagger.

And i will be transparent and admit something around sistas i realize i "see" more than others (which will open up a whole other can of worms). I am really attracted to sistas with natural beauty, a sense of community and social justice, and respect and knowledge for our roots. And of course a lot of other factors, a sense of humor, creativity, i could go on. but just the first three... especially "natural" beauty... i think that's like 5% of sistas out there!! The image that is held up as to what a conventionally beautiful black woman is... is ok for me. i get why it is conventionally attractive. And it is hard for me to look away when Beyonce is on a tv screen. Honestly, these images represent a type of high femme black woman that i don't feel compatible with. And since i am not oozing testosterone, i don't think they feel compatible with me either. don't get me wrong, i am aware that there are plenty black women who have pressed hair, wear lots of make up and pumps and bling- and have the mind and soul of a PhD Black Panther and Yoruba Priestess. there is just something along the lines of how we inhabit gender that can clash a bit.

re: where the idea that i "should be hooking up" comes from... well, i think i pervert the idea that i am a "catch", and then it partners up with cynicism and loneliness, and then something else comes up. A kind of temporary narcissistic entitlement i guess. But i should make clear that I have no problem being celibate, and i value the lessons that a get from celibacy, so its not that i feel i *should* be having sex otherwise i am not a real man, etc. And whatever, lets be real, i can take care of sex all by myself if need be. but when i am missing sex with another person and/or love, and its been a hot minit (or cold one, rather), sometimes there is a stage that moves from "whats wrong with me" to "whats wrong with them"... and then the problematic queries as to why there isn't a 24 hour stampede to my door ensue.

i hope this answers your questions :)

and i too hope others share perspectives!! thanks again for blessing the page Im.

richard said...

oh yes, almost forgot! one more thing.

So, Im.... what is one sexist thing you are trying to unlearn?

to be clear, i am not EVEN trying to bring some "reverse sexism" mess... just trying to create a space where we can all get real about how we all reproduce sexism, internalized, or otherwise.

i look forward to your response :)

Anonymous said...

I'm a big fan of Jackson Katz, and I didn't get that he was saying women should date guys like him for the struggle. It seemed to me that he was just acknowledging the role women's choices play in perpetuating sexism. If he made the video all about what men could do to "rescue" women from sexism, I'd say that would be problematic. He needed to mention something about what women could do to address the problem, even if women weren't his primary focus.

richard said...

Ashley, i hear what you are saying, and see that he was covering all of his bases around the issue. It is still loaded for me personally though... i would have been able to receive it better (even though its not for me to receive technically) if he worked with a woman who asserted such ideas.

In my history of doing anti-oppression work, I usually take care to work with people who can speak to the various privileges and oppressions that i do not experience. I appreciate the direction that JK is going, but everytime i see him, he is commenting on the reality of people he is not, as if he were an insider. It doesn't feel humble. And humility is necessary for me for an ally who embodies so much privilege.

I appreciate that he is drawing a picture that is inclusive of experiences besides his own, which is important. but for me, more care is needed, and/or he should work with/defer to someone else to make certain statements and claims.

Anonymous said...

word richard! i've learned a lot from you about how to relate to women as i started to come into my own dating and being with women. i was like, "hey, i'm a woman, i get the sexist, homophobic bullshit. i'm not down with that, now give me some!" whoah!!! whoah! whoah! it reminds me of the movements in the 60's where AIM men had children with different women from different tribes to perpetuate the native race, but they were just taking advantage of their status as AIM "leaders" and their sexist notions of being the ones to put their DNA out there since they were the "shit" at the time. now we have a lot of AIM babies running around with only a name to link their unavailable parent to with mothers who struggled with raising them. not cool dude.
i learned from my partner the other day that "virginity" means when you are not owned by anyone, so to "lose your virginity" is to be owned by someone.
i wonder how people would think about the behavior of sex, the tradition of slavery and male supremacy, and marriage when they speak about losing their virginity. i don't think people would be about it once they learn about the origin of this word.

Anonymous said...

There's this way in which self-esteem is tied directly to sex in this society. That is, part of being successful is getting some as a reaffirmation of self worth. It's pretty much what defines a lot of the teenage years in terms of who is looked at as being sucessful vs. who is a "loser".

There is also the issue of macktivists- "saving the world one pair of panties at a time". Actually, these folks work my last nerve the most, if only because they play off the antioppression movement as a way to play out their fucked up behavior.

For me, personally, the sexist thing which I am trying to knock out the box is just the way in which I approportion attention based on attraction.

richard said...

hey "anonymous" i tink i know who you are, its great to see you up in my blog :) and thanks for the kind words, thats a lot for me to take in! I feel very honored. i guess we are all teachers and students at the same time. And i am thankful for the ways you have
influenced my growth as well.

could you ask your partner (and say hi :) where she got the info about the roots of the word "virginity"? i went through a bunch of old dictionaries, couldn't find, and i am intrigued! is this specifically from the lexicon of slavery?

have a glorious weekend! ;)

bankuei, the self-esteem and sex thing is interesting. i can see how it plays out, and is reproduced by the media daily. I would take it a little further and to say that these messages are quite gendered, telling boys they need to "score" to be "cool" or "a man", while girls seem to get somewhat conflicting messages around that.

i wonder... question: did any women out there feel uncool or have low self image because they weren't having sex as pre/teenagers?

so yes. thanks for sharing about one of your struggles with sexism. lookism is a toughie. i catch myself selecting which female store clerk i want to help me, etc. lookism and sexism intersect in complicated ways, cuz we all do it, even to the point of choosing to interact with people of perceived attractiveness who are members of a sex we aren't attracted to.

lastly: thanks for explaining what a "macktivist" is! you dropped that term with ire before, didn't get it- but now it seems obvious. mack-tivist. got it. :) luckily, i don't have people like this in my circles. another thing, the quote you give seems gendered in a particular way; "saving the world one pair of panties at a time". would you also include white female anti-racists who specifically want to bed men of color? or anyone of color? or is it just the men in particular who bug you?

Anonymous said...

I definitely think it goes all ways with gender and macktivism, though I do think specifically a lot of examples I've seen involved men placing themselves at the center of organizations or networks almost hand in hand with macktivism.

That is to say, women do it too, though I haven't seen them taking it to the level of subverting the orgs for the purpose of making it their personal dating (or date rape) service. (But this is my limited experience).

What's especially frustrating, is at the point where the person has made themselves core to an organization is that it becomes harder to basically call them on their shit. ("Oh, but he has done XYZ for the movement, you're just a hater." etc.)

richard said...

whoa. for the level you are talking about "macktivism" seems to be a minimizing, playful term! people placing themselves at the center of progressive orgs and then possibly date raping colleagues? to say that these folks are just mackin' is a lettin' em off easy! practically a compliment. in my opinion.

a friend of mine is working on designing a feminist zine, and the feature article is how sexual harassment in progressive orgs actual tend to be more about covering up and silencing than corporations! utilizing the same dynamics you mentioned- "oh s/he has done so much for the struggle, and taking them down will take down the whole org." whew. crazy.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I mean, I use the term macktivism for the low-level "I came to the rally to flirt", but it easily rides it's way up into (and, supports a culture and atmosphere where) people going full out bullshit.

I don't consider it a compliment, the whole affair really pisses me off. I've had a lot of friends hurt by it, and the problem is, that much like larger society, certain voices are silenced because they challenge the power structure.

The irony of it happening in orgs designed to "get us free" is the horrifying part for me.

It's a part of the reason I'm pretty wary about what orgs and groups I want to roll with.

Anonymous said...

"I appreciate that he is drawing a picture that is inclusive of experiences besides his own, which is important. but for me, more care is needed, and/or he should work with/defer to someone else to make certain statements and claims."

Hmmm. I also hear what you're saying, but my feeling about JK has always been "thank god a white guy is saying this stuff, because no one will listen to us when we say it."

As a woman who has done the same kind of anti-violence education with average dudes that JK focuses on, I really feel like the role of men in the feminist movement is very often just to say the same things we've been saying for years, but to be heard when they say it. The more conscious they are of that role, the better (and I think JK is very conscious of it).

Maybe that's a depressing way of looking at the world, but I think it's just practical in the current situation. I daydream about a "rent a privileged ally" service, where oppressed people could just feed privileged people words to say, so other privileged people would finally listen.

As for bringing in someone to "speak for" various oppressed groups--if he did that we'd be accusing him of tokenism! Jackson does work with people of various identities, and has a PhD in cultural studies, and actually personally talks to a larger volume of people than most of us ever will... But if he said that to qualify his statements, he'd be tokenizing and essentializing.

I dunno. In some ways, being an ally is harder than organizing from within an oppressed group. I've had such bad experiences with male "allies" who never really get anything done that I give JK a lot of credit for effectiveness. Maybe that makes me reluctant to criticize him.

But I see what you're saying... How do you think it could be accomplished without tokenizing or creating the likelihood that our points wouldn't be heard by privileged people?

richard said...

hey Ashley

wassup! i am hoping that we can remain in the space that it is ok for both of us to gave our own opinions around JK without trying to convince the other to accept our point of view :)

i am also really glad to see a white guy step up like this. and i also completely hear you on the unfortunate dynamics where people of privilege usually can only really hear and absorb these messages from people who share their privilege. definitely. and i reiterate that i agree with 90% of what he has to say.

My experience of him *also* includes that his tone can seem like he has a level of comfort, expertise and ownership around other peoples experiences, that it doubles back around to his male and white privilege. Two other women of color felt it too, one who commented on this blog.

I think we can agree that no matter how conscious and active a personal of privilege is, that their conditioning can still emerge. this is my experience with JK. Which just means... he is a human being doing the best he can, which is real, and awesome.

I think it can be dangerous to make leaders in our communities above scrutiny and criticism. And scrutiny and criticism doesn't mean that the person is bad. It is clear to me that JK is an exceptional man, and i am glad that he is doing his work, and i would love to meet him and work with him! But i am just also being real with how some of his words impacted me, which is valid, and not really going to change.

In lieu of him working with a co-facilitator, I think if he changed some of his language where when he mentions oppressed experiences he doesn't have, its sounds more like "he has been informed" than "he is going to inform ME" then i would have less of this feeling. White men believing they are the authority of my experience as a person of African descent is a very very very old and tired dynamic that continues today in many forms. And i am not a woman, but i was triggered by his suggestion around how women should reward/ally with feminist men. It made sense to me, but in my opinion that is stepping up "too much", and i wouldn't be receptive of a white ally informing me on what i could do to further my own liberation.

i guess for me, it comes down to: do we want men to listen to him speak and a) have insight in themselves how they can be anti-sexist and more in touch with a healthier masculinity or b) be amped around what they can tell women on how they can be more feminist?

so in closing, I will say that i am glad that he is out there, doing the work, learning and growing (like we all are), and that i would appreciate more conscuiousness around his languaging and tones of "ownership" and "authority" in respects to how it intersects with his white male privilege.

Anonymous said...

hi richard, "anonymous" was me only cuz I didn't know how to put on there that it was me, nazbah. suzanne says hi. we're trying to figure out where she got the information for the origin of virginity. we'll back to you with that. i'm loving the dialogue and cross pollination of ideas.
have a good weekend. i'm sending love to you and your grandma. it sounds like she was a great woman!
love and hugs-

Anonymous said...

Hey Richard,

Well, although I've never personally felt particularly set off by anything JK has done in terms of gender, it seems like it would be fairly high on the pointless meter for me to try to say that the way you feel isn't legit. If you feel your experience is being co-opted, then it is. It is yours, after all.

Your comments reminded me of an experience I had a while ago... Some well-known feminist guy (I actually don't remember which one) corrected me when I called women "girls." At the time I was just out of college, and hadn't adjusted to adult vernacular yet... The irony of being "put in my place" by an older, established man in the service of feminism was not lost on me.

On the other hand, the guy had a legitimate point.

One could say that given their privilege, allies should just keep their mouth shut in cases like this women/girls correction... And maybe that's right. It does point to, at the very least, a need for allies to be very thoughtful in how they "tell" the oppressed group they're allied with how to be.

Cinnacism said...

Hey, found your blog from the AngryBlackWoman blog, which I also JUST found tonight. I really liked your thoughts in this post.

I've been contemplating sexism more and more these days (stemming from a brief dating experience last fall), and I can definitely say that the vast majority of the sexism I am trying to unlearn has been aimed at myself. I have been adapting to male ideals of femininity, sexuality, and general good-girlfriend behavior for as long as I can remember. I've only recently realized that my self-imposed standards are ridiculous, damaging to my psyche, and kind of unfair to boyfriends who are just getting the superficially "perfect" version of me.

One thing I'm trying to learn is that if I decline sex (or any particular sexual activity) with my boyfriend, it doesn't mean I'm a wet blanket, a letdown, a tease, or (most terrifyingly) just one of those girls who isn't all that into sex and just does it to keep a guy happy. It has been really hard for me to let go of the goal of being a perfect, always available sex kitten (in addition to all the other "perfectness" I strive to bring to a relationship). In turn, it's rather sexist toward the guy: that all he wants from me is sex, that his ego is too fragile to weather a sexual rejection, that he doesn't have the intelligence and depth to accept me and care about me if I'm not in the mood now and then.

So that's what I'm working on now. It's difficult! Every time I assert a boundary to my (amazing and loving) boyfriend, I feel as if he loves me a little less, I'm pushing him away a little more, our relationship is becoming ever so slightly mundane or mediocre. And believe me, this is ALL in my head...he has never implied that he feels any of this.

I feel odd about getting all sex-talky in my first comment, but it's a fascinating topic for me (aspiring sex therapist here) and something that is clearly a far-reaching issue.

By the way, I'm in a psych grad program and we show Tough Guise to our sex offender and batterer groups! He loses me at some points too, but I wish more men were as progressive as he is.

richard said...

Nazbah: hey you! good to see you here :) thanks for the love to grandma, and congrats on gettin all gradjamatated!! give suzanne a big hug for me and keep one for yourself too :)

Ashley: I agree with you that at the very least, allies need to be thoughtful around how they tell people in oppressed groups "how to be." The man who corrected you was being real, and it's good that worked for you. it is still possible one or several more women in the room who overheard may have left from there feeling differently. Did he say it thoughtfully? Directively?

perhaps where you and i miss each other is that a) i am not a woman b) i automatically translate into my oppressed status, and therefore would be outraged if someone white was correcting me around how i "need to be." at least where i am at right now. i wonder... we all have men and women in our lives, but not everybody has people of different "races" in their lives. perhaps the proximity and familiarity factor can make some interactions easier in some respects? i don't know.

(*to be clear, not saying "racism is worse than sexism" or any other useless oppression olympics deelie... i am just pondering my ignorance of the female experience)

But yes, i agree with you, that thoughtfulness is important as an ally. I don't know how the man corrected you, but if i was in the same situation, i would probably phrase my response as a question, asking about the choice of the word "girl" instead of "woman".

Cinnacism: Wow. welcome to the blog, and thank you for getting so real here! much appreciated, much respect.

that sounds like quite a balancing act, desires, self perception, projections, expectations, society, etc etc. i hope you keep on communicating your reality to your partner!! and that he can hear you and hold this, and be a good ally AND good lover at the same time (yeah, i went to psych grad school too ;)

its clear to me that these messages around "acceptable" femininity and masculinity are damaging. On the flipside of your experience, men aren't taught that they can say no to sex (since you got real, so will i). In my early 20's, i found myself in emotionally effed up situations, such as having sex with a woman i really didn't want to have sex with- all because i had no idea how to tell a woman that you aren't interested in having sex. where are the models for that? my mind spun... won't it be devastating to tell a woman that i don't wanna have sex, since guys supposedly ALWAYS wanna have sex? What does it mean that i am sexually aroused, but not feeling this? yeah it was rough. and in some ways, i now look back at that as date rape, but it is complex because i never said no. its so complex! in any case, i am much more clear about my boundaries now, and it was a wake up call around issues of societal expectations of masculinity.

thanks again for sharing your process! Your self awareness is impressive. blessings.

richard said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Hey Richard,

Heh. I WAS pissed!

I don't know if there is a way he could have done it that wouldn't have pissed me off, given his position and mine.

Translating one kind of oppression to another is hard... I think what does translate is the sense of unfairness and pervasiveness. I don't think that this situation is one of those that highlights the differences between sexism and racism. How you say you would feel sounds about the same as how I felt...

As for your other q, I think that the proximity/partnering factor makes it easier for some white women to have power through the 'generosity' of white men than it is for many women or men of color (though men of color can sometimes tap into male friendship and solidarity). However, in my experience, having power through access to someone powerful doesn't make for easier interactions than not having access to them. The trouble, of course, is that the power can be taken at any time--which means having to be very careful about saying things they won't like.

richard said...

oh, you were pissed!

ohhhhhh. :)

i didn't get that the first time. ok, we are on the same page! heh. no real need to compare oppressions, i was just REALLY trying to understand you :)

good points on the proximity/frequency factors. again, i was just trying to relate and find a meeting ground.

thanks for your comments in the catcalling/street harassment post by the way! definitely appreciating your views, and simultaneously saddened to hear what strategies you have to resort to just to walk down the street relatively less harassed. sigh. i hope the next generations of boys will evolve further from this behavior, delegating these stories to something you can share with grandchildren (or someone elses grandchildren) who will listen in jaw dropped disbelief.

aboxofcarrots said...

i just came across your blog from crunkfeministcollective. I've been reading your entries and just thought i had to tell you that as a woman of color, a graduate student, a feminist, and a class and race-conscious scholar, i'd date you in a heartbeat.
i feel the same way about men too. Why is it that most men i know - even those who supposedly identify with feminism, often pick the "less threatening" feminists to date and have a positive long-term committed sexual relationship with? How come there isn't a long queue of feminist men fighting for this sexy ass? Non-feminist men however, seem to adore me. And then i start feeling awful for hypersexualizing my own body especially in relation to the politics of desirability and the affirmative male gaze.

richard said...

@aboxofcarrots: haha! you are truly awesome. thanks for your words. makin my night over here :)

the non-feminist men adore you, huh? i guess that's the majority of men tho, yeah...? i suspect that truly feminist identified men may be losing out because they may be too busy being respectful of your space while non-feminist types are probably gonna walk right up and be persistent. a hetero woman of color friend of mine made up her mind to become the one doing the approaching, just so the pool of men she dates isn't simply comprised of all the men (knuckleheads included) that approach her. it worked, i'm deejaying her wedding this weekend :)