Category Archives: deconstruction
I came across a debate over the differences between radical and contemporary feminism the other day, triggered by a specific call for submissions for a feminist text. The post itself was interesting and well worth a read, as, in my experience has been anything by this author, and can be found here. The catalyst for this post though, was my response to a specific comment which said that women failed to realise that men hate women. I sat stunned and thought, ”God, is that what it comes down to? Is that the conclusion I’ve been fighting off, but secretly know to be true?”. So I went for a walk and I thought about it…and I decided that even when I feel like it’s an inescapable conclusion if we look at the stats and the stories…that I don’t believe it. That I won’t believe it. So the following is my attempt to explain why. People might want to have a go at me for saying I don’t want to disrespect the belief that men hate women…fine. Have a go at me, don’t harrass the woman who said it . The reason I say I don’t want to disrespect the view, is because I can see how a person could come to that conclusion – there is a fair amount of evidence to support it. Please, if you’re reading it here, direct any criticisms of this view to me and not to her (also: harrasment ain’t cool, no matter how much you disagree, so keep it civil). There is a lot of empirical data which would seem to back it up. My rebuttal comes not from saying there’s no *evidence* to support that view, but rather from an objection to the generalisation it requires and from the violence I see inherent in this kind of generalising, categorising and defining. Not least because I see the power of destructive manifestations of masculinity as in part operating from the same logic.
I am not trying to disrespect your belief that men hate women. I just wonder whether that belief gives us any way “out”. Masculinity is constructed in opposition to the construction of femininity, bred to fear and loathe it. However saying all men *anything* is of concern for me, if for no other reason than if we can posit that “all men x”, then equally it can be posited that “all women y, and all “gays”z and all “blacks” a, and all “whites” c”.
Whenever we generalise and categorise and attribute certain characteristics to a “class” of people, violence seems certain to follow. Indeed I think there can be violence in the very act of categorising and defining.
There are times, when I look at the statistics of violence, abuse and disrespect directed at women by men that I feel like this is *true*, like MEN HATE WOMEN. And yet…I am raising a boy child. I am sleeping with, laughing with, loving a man – not a saviour, not a saint, just a human being…and the *fact* that this man listens to, learns from and loves me (and here I mean love in the very best sense, yes, love as a feeling, but also love as a verb, as a choice, as a gifting, showing love in many ways with acts and words and with kindness and laughter) doesn’t *disprove* the fact that masculinity is violent and oppressive, that masculinity has produced a culture where rape is used to silence, to belittle, to humiliate…that it has produced individuals and societies which disrespect and harm women…I just wonder…if we believe that men *hate* women, because they are men, and because we are women…are we not throwing our hands in the air and saying nothing can be done? Where are our options, our ways out?
If on the other hand, gender constructions damage all of us (and yes, definately to greater and lesser degrees and in vastly different ways) and language and discourse, and *masculinity* and *femininity* are problems that produce violence and individuals and structures who disregard the autonomy, rights and needs of other humans, this at least gives us the room to work on challenging and deconstructing gender, gives us some hope for making changes. I dunno. Maybe I sound like a naive, ignorant git. But…as an atheist this is the faith I have to have, my choice to embrace “messianism without a messiah”- that there are changes that can be made, that it is discourse, culture, religion and science that fuck us up, that being born with a penis doesn’t mean that you are biologically destined to hate everyone with a vagina, or everyone you deem “unworthy” to *have* a penis, or homosexual men, or anyone who transgresses the boundaries of gender.
I struggle with this, as I often panic over the *fact* that since a penis can (and so often is) used as a weapon, that every where I look there are human beings equipped with a weapon that they could, if they so chose, use against others to harm, to humiliate, to degrade, to assert power. I feel desperate over the state of the world knowing this. It makes me ill that there are many areas of the world in which this *weapon* is deployed coldly, callously, en masse, as a tool of war, and in every part of the world, that there are family homes in which it is wielded in secret, relationships where it goes from being a part of a body which gives and recieves pleasure, to a tool of pain, times where it is used against strangers not as a command in war, but for “fun”, for punishment, for violence for the sake of violence… I despair over this, and I fear for us all, myself, my friends, the women I don’t know, women trapped in civil wars, and boys growing into men that could be corrupted to a point of such revolting callousness and disrespect – and I don’t understand it. But I can’t bring myself to say that ownership of the penis=biologically inescapable hatred for women.
I don’t know…maybe this does make me a fool. And perhaps it is true that all *deconstructing gender* won’t make a licking difference to the use of rape as a tool of war. However, I can’t see how (and I am willing to listen to an explanation of how it might) taking the view that men hate women will make a difference here either. Sadly I am only a hair’s breadth from agreeing with the view that men hate women when I ponder what the hell *will* make a difference to the many and varied ways in which rape is utilised to punish, to keep scared, to violate, to overpower, to hurt, to humiliate…
I just know that I am uncomfortable with the ramifications of enforcing categories of people, and effacing the differences between people in that category, then ascribing certain attributes to “all” of the people *within* that group. This, it would appear, is the way that so much of the violence of modernity has worked.
So perhaps we need to acknowledge the specificities of rape(s). That rape as a tool of war, as a *command* which must be obeyed, is linked to, but differs from rape in other scenarios, in that it requires its specificity to be acknowledged if we are to even begin thinking through how we might possibly protect people from it. We will need to acknowledge issues of race in rape, for example the perception in Australia, that men from certain cultures are more ready to rape *our girls*, which cause hostility to certain members of our society, ignores the many gang rapes committed by *anglo aussies*, and does little if nothing to actually keep women safe, prevent rapes or intervene in the violence inherent in the ways we *do* masculinity. Also, what of other issues of race involved in rape? Where white men raped/rape Aboriginal women not only because they are women, but because they are Aboriginal, to degrade on the basis of race as well as gender?
In mentioning some of the complexities inherent in any discussion of rape and how to begin even thinking through *undoing* “rape culture”, I am not for a second holding myself up as someone having the answers. I don’t even know all the complexities, being that the privileges of my life have sheltered me from having to know some of them. It’s just immensely complex and I don’t want to reduce the problems of rape to only those I know about/understand, or position myself as some “expert”, some neutral, objective “authority” who gets to make bold blanket statements – because I see the danger inherent in that…
I just don’t see how the conclusion that men hate women will help us to resolve these issues. Even when I am at my most down, most vulnerable to this belief – I can’t believe it. I choose not to believe it. If I believe it, then I see no way forward. If I believe it, then I can see no good in men. If I believe it, then given the power men have in society, we’re all doomed. If I believe it I think I really will go crazy. If I believe it, then stretching on forever, all I can see is hate, punishment, violence, retribution, no escape, no options, no possibilities. I look at my son, I look at my lover, I look at my male friends, and I see that while masculinity has a powerful hold over men, while masculinity pressures men to devalue and disrespect women, that men make choices, that men are human beings, capable of civil and respectful behaviour, capable of loving, capable of kindness, capable of good no less than women. Sure, many men continue to choose hate. But to categorise them as *all the same* and to attribute a hatred of women to them all is bleak…and not only is it bleak, but the act of categorising and attributing is defeatest, disrespectful, devoid of hope and buys into the very violence masculinity operates by, thus disabling us from deconstructing and debunking this violence.