Wednesday, June 13, 2007

With Us or Against Us?

A long time ago on a site far, far away, I began a series on the forms of extremism present on the left. We all know what happened with that, but the important point here is that one of the forms I was going to discuss was the more extreme stances taken by some members of the feminist community.

Of course, before I “go off” on what some may interpret as a broad attack on feminism, let me point out that I’m a proud member of the feminist movement and have been active in a variety of feminist groups and causes. What I’m attacking here is not feminism but an attitude held by a small but vocal minority of my “sisters” who insist on parroting the “with us or against us” rhetoric best suited for ignorant, cowboy presidents.

Rob Knop of Galactic Interactions has a great post that illustrates the problems with this rhetoric, not the least of which is that it discourages many men from fully participating in the feminist cause. Rob has been an ally of women in science, often using his blog as a platform to bring attention to the problems of discrimination that affect women in a male-dominated field.

However, the attitude amongst many feminists is that this is not enough, that no matter one’s personal circumstances, you are either willing to risk everything and do anything for the cause or you’re part of the problem. Strangely, if a woman is a victim of or witness to discrimination, we carefully consider her personal circumstances before condemning her for not fighting hard enough. There is sympathy for her plight.

Men in the same situation do not get the same consideration. They have to be balls out for the cause, taking every imaginable risk without complaint, or they’re “part of the problem,” especially since they are the supposed recipients of privilege purchased at the cost of discrimination. Unfortunately, this makes people like Rob, who haven’t chosen privilege and are going out of there way to surrender it, feel like giving up.

Some of you will probably say that people like Rob should just bite the bullet and stop whining. I couldn’t disagree more. Taking guff from the powers that be should be expected when one fights against the status quo. Each person should determine how much he can risk and adjust his activism accordingly. No one should have to accept being treated like dirt by the very people for whom they risk so much. No one should have his “duty to the cause” dictated to him without consideration for his personal circumstances and individual capacity. No man should be held to a higher standard than that which we set for women. (This is supposed to be about gender equality, right?)

Finally, let us all remember a few very important facts before we go off half-cocked with the heavy rhetoric. Men are not equally privileged anymore than women are equally oppressed. Even some white men have reason to claim victimhood due to their own private experiences. Some of them can claim victimhood for suffering endured in the struggle for equality that will benefit others more than it will benefit them. Some women benefit from a patriarchal class structure that offers them power over others, like racial minorities and the poor. We women can also claim the privilege of being exempted from selective service registration and the draft. Sadly, I haven’t heard many women making a ruckus to get rid of that particular privilege.

Surrendering privilege, however limited, is a tremendous task and perhaps, a far greater thing than fighting to eradicate our own oppression. I, for one, hope to offer men all that I ask for myself: equal rights, equal responsibility and equal dignity regardless of gender. I hope to surrender the privilege granted me due to my gender in addition to gaining the rights and freedoms denied me due to my gender. I have the utmost respect and gratitude for men like Rob who fight in our name, whatever the limitations of their abilities and capacities, whatever their particular form of activism may be. Of course, I’m a man-loving militant lesbian feminist, so what do I know?

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