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Thursday, September 02, 2004

Men and feminism and homophobia

Hugo Schwyzer has a great post on the subject I'd like to point out. He makes some fantastic points about practical things men can do as feminists, things he's learned from actually duking it out as a women's history teacher. This quote got me to thinking:

I wish it were not so, but I know that my sex immunizes me against the charge of being a "frustrated, angry, man-hating feminazi." (I know full well those words have been used against my fine female colleagues who also teach women's history). Rather than take advantage of this unearned legitimacy, I try and use it to explore my students' attitudes towards feminism, challenging them to look at their own overt and subliminal assumptions about women in authority.

Of course, some of my students are convinced I'm as gay as a bunny.

That made me laugh, I have to admit. I didn't ever think much on the gayness of bunnies, but it's funny.

But I find it interesting that our culture's automatic reaction to a man who expresses interest in advancing women's rights is to assume that he would not like to have a woman in his bed, to put it bluntly. Sometimes I forget that most people think that a man's sexual interest in women is entirely dependent on his ability to dominate, since that kind of principle just isn't really much of a factor in my life. Sure, I know men who are attracted to submissive women, but I also know men who are attracted to brassy, opinionated women. It's easy to forget that to the culture at large, homophobic as it is, it's still easier to grasp that a man could be gay than to grasp that he might be disinterested in dominating a female sex partner.

Of course, people don't think it that through like that. I think the knee-jerk reaction comes out of the hodge-podge, illogical, prejudice-driven thinking that dominates discourse on gender and sexuality. In our culture, "gay" is everything that is not strapped into the me Tarzan you Jane gender role-playing. Sexism and homophobia are the same urge, the desire to make everyone stick to strict gender roles, the ones that are best adapted to keeping men dominant over women. Obviously, it's not just feminist straight men that our culture cannot comprehend, but as any outspoken feminist knows, some people cannot conceive that a woman will want to be equal to a man and still sleep with men.

Because sexism and sexual orientation are seen as dependent on each other in our culture, we have some really odd stereotypes of gays and lesbians, too. For instance, it's well-believed that lesbians "choose" their sexual orientation as an explicit rejection of men. I continue to meet people who seem to be under the impression that two women together in bed are getting it on with one thing on their minds--men and how they aren't there. And since, for men at least, dominating women and fucking them are considered one and the same thing, gay men are seen as exempt from sexism. As much as I enjoy "Queer Eye", for instance, I am always perplexed that one of the premises is that the Fab Five know better how to please a woman than the straight man that lives with her, just because they are gay. (In reality, if they pull the trick off it's because they cleaned and decorated, something any sentient being would appreciate.)

21 Comments:

Blogger The News Writer said...

Sadly, some of the most sexist men I know have been gay ... but the point there is that nobody has a lock on any kind of behaviour/philosophy or whatever. There are women who want to play nice and make the guys feel good, there are women who want to be equal and still sleep with the guys, women who like guys just fine but don't want to sleep with them, and on and on and on, same on the men's end.

I don't know if you've ever read Kate Bornstein, who was once Arthur, I think, but Kate has written extensively about gender issues, and proposes that gender probably shouldn't be limited to male and female (although precisely how that works I'm not sure -- it just makes for some provocative thought).

I find it easier to wrap my sometimes stiff and difficult to shift mind around seeing gender as more fluid than we've been taught, something I've believed for as long as I can remember. But that brings me back to wondering how I got that way -- growing up in a tiny Appalachian town? Well, it doesn't make a lot of sense.

After that, I start thinking about which "beliefs" are taught and which are innate ... if a woman feels its important not to be assertive and stand her ground, is that natural? If I feel like standing my ground and speaking my piece are perfectly natural things to do, is that learned behaviour?

And if I think it's one way and someone else thinks it's another, what does that mean?

But y'know, bunnies are really soft. They're cuddly. I could be gay as a bunny. But I'm not sure the bunny would like the idea. Then again ....

9/02/2004

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"But I find it interesting that our culture's automatic reaction to a man who expresses interest in advancing women's rights is to assume that he would not like to have a woman in his bed, to put it bluntly."

Instead of "he would not like", write "he would like" and this sentence becomes true.


Ilkka Kokkarinen

9/02/2004

 
Blogger Hugo said...

Ilkka, it's funny. Folks tend to think I teach feminist theory and women's history for two divergent reasons:

1. I'm gay as a bunny
2. I'm a sexual predator, trying to sleep with my female students.

Both are used to discourage men from doing this work; in the case of the majority of us who do this, they aren't accurate.

9/02/2004

 
Blogger Amanda said...

Depends on what he's wearing, I guess.

9/02/2004

 
Blogger Hugo said...

What I wear tends to reinforce the "gay" bit -- today it's a bright paisley shirt, Lucky jeans, David Yurman jewelry and Hugo Boss sneakers.

9/02/2004

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"In our culture, "gay" is everything that is not strapped into the me Tarzan you Jane gender role-playing."

Yes. That's why conservatives have that reaction to gay people, because it screws up the gender hierarchy. The Vatican even said as much recently--connected same-sex marriages with feminism. And that's why people keep trying to impose the hierarchical paradigm onto gay relationships--asking who's the "man" and who's the "woman" and so on.

-Linnet

9/02/2004

 
Blogger Elayne said...

Wow, thanks Amanda! I never realized how much I'd internalized the "if he's this sensitive toward/interested in feminism, there's a good chance he's probably gay 'cause most straight guys don't think that much about women's oppression" attitude until I read your line about "our culture's automatic reaction."

9/04/2004

 
Blogger Maureen said...

I really don't get the "feminist men must be gay" meme; I've always thought that men who embraced feminism recognized not only the rightness of the philosophical stance, but the fact that participating in a majority-female movement would be a good way to meet women. (Apparently Gloria Steinem was really hot back in the day.)

9/06/2004

 
Blogger Amanda said...

In the day? She's still a striking woman at her age...

9/06/2004

 
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