Privilege, Man Hating and History

Since I began this blog I have received plenty of trollish comments, abusive emails and so forth. By and large the biggest thing I am accused of is ‘man hating’. Of course, every feminist has most likely been the target of this accusation more times than they can count so it comes as no surprise that a very vocal feminist gets this accusation leveled at her more than any other.

I’ve noted that most of the vitriol tends to come on the heels of those posts in which I refer to ‘men’ or ‘mankind’ or some such collective term that refers to groups of men or men as a whole. A little more recently this post brought me some staunch criticism. Indeed, most people were fine with the post in which I speak about how badly I was made to feel over the EC thing. Most people had no problems with me beating myself up and questioning myself. However, at the end of the post I outlined ways in which mankind has collectively caused so many problems in this big old world.

At the end of that post I purposefully bolded the man part of ‘mankind’ in an effort to make a point. Of course, this was a perfect formula for people (namely men, although I think there may have been a few women involved as well) to complain and send me emails. Time after time the emails said:

“Sure, I know that men may not have been the greatest in the past but your present use of the word is just wrong. We have changed the laws and now women have just as many rights as men do!”

Or some twist on this theme, indeed, I tackled this issue a little bit in the comments on the individual post but, as usual, I want to explore this a bit further. In the comments I was accused several times of going into an ‘anti-male rant’, I allowed a few of the comments through moderation but most I simply held back.

The consensus among those who disagreed seemed to be this (paraphrased):

“Women also denied you EC on that day. Therefore women are just as much to blame as men and the history of the world really has very little to do with it.”

To be blunt I’m calling bullshit on this and I’ll try to explain why. Societies, whether they are global, national or local, are not based upon an individual day. Rather, societies tend to evolve, they grow upon foundations that were laid out at the beginning of the society.

Now, changes can and do come to societies but because they are generally built upon tradition rather than a snapshot of an individual day that change will likely come slower. As a general rule the longer a given tradition has been coveted and held as truth the longer it will take to change a particular mindset.

Take for example the way this society views homosexuals. Sure, laws are on the books but just because a law has been created doesn’t mean that it will protect homosexuals. The true change will come when we have dug up the foundations upon which homophobia is built.

It is ludicrous as well as deceptive to take a snapshot of a given incident and not put it into a larger perspective. This tendency to do just that allows for a skewed picture of the actual problem. Feminism is an area in which we absolutely must look at the history beneath all incidents.

Now, I will not argue when someone says that a woman denied me EC when I needed it, this is a fact. My doctor (who is female) was the first in a long chain of people who treated me like shit. However, it’s important that we look at history, as well as the foundations upon which her decision was based. The individual doctor was at fault and I am in the process of finding another doctor. But to lay the blame solely upon her shoulders is also a cop out to neglect the role that society has played in her decision is also misleading. We must look a bit deeper to determine what her actions were based upon and it is there that we find the unsettling truth that I alluded to in the second post (linked above).

 

When we begin to look at her actions within a frame of reference we find that it’s likely she acted as she did out of moral compunctions. Indeed, most of these folks are of a decidedly religious bent and here in America that is code for Christian. Christianity is a religion made by and for men and its ideals are much the same as the woman-hating ideals of nearly every large, institutionalized religion.

It is imperative that we understand that women’s decisions are not made in a vacuum. Does this mean that we give them a ‘Get Out Of Jail Free’ card? Hell no, what means is that we must remember the history of women in this society when we decide just how much blame she should receive.

Societies are not built in a day, they are built over a long period of time and they are built on traditions. This society (as nearly every society in the world) was built upon the traditions that men found important. Women had little say in the traditions that men found to be important but it’s critical to understand that women also do not live separate and apart from those traditions. Was my doctor wrong? You bet your ass she was and I’ll be finding a new doctor as well as spreading the word about what she will and won’t prescribe. However, her decision to prescribe medication or not was not made in a vacuum. It was a decision that she came to after many years of living in this society and absorbing its traditions, expectations and so forth.

To suddenly say that women are just as responsible as men is a hollow argument. To suddenly say that women are suddenly, after thousands of years of living as second class citizens, just as responsible as those who created those traditions and beliefs is ridiculous almost beyond belief.

The practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is a good example. In most of the places that practice this horrific tradition it is women who are actually performing the brutal procedure on girl children. Women are the ones who are wielding the knife and chopping up the genitalia of other women. However, I can’t think of any feminist who would hold the women who are engaging in this practice up to the same standard of responsibility as the men of that culture.

“But BB,” you say, “it’s the WOMEN who are doing it!”

Yes, you’re right. But why are they doing it? Why are they upholding this barbaric practice so faithfully?

And it is there that we find the problem, the practice is what men want and the women in these areas have been exposed to systematic abuse for thousands of years. Indeed, in some areas a woman who hasn’t had the procedure done will be outcast by all the males around her. She will be seen as dirty or promiscuous and no man will want to marry her, at the worst she can be cast from the village because she is seen as dangerous.

So while men themselves are not doing the actual cutting they are the driving force behind the procedure. When we step back and look at the history of these cultures we see a very clear picture emerge. The women are little more than the foot soldiers of the powerful males, and while their actions are individually wrong they are simply the vehicle by which men continue to exert their power and control over the women in the area.

In short when we see an individual woman acting in a despicable way we must, must, must look at the big picture and ask ourselves ‘why?’ It is at this point that I start to lose men and they start getting angry because the answers to the question of ‘why’ implicate them in something so large and awful that individual men wish to distance themselves as far as possible from it.

When we start asking ‘why’ we start seeing the foundations that men have built for this and almost every other society on the planet. Saying that men have been the instrumental force in the woman hating that happens in this country is no more dishonest than saying that white people are an instrumental force in the slavery of people of color.

When we look at racism we cannot get a clear picture until we look at the history of this country. By that reasoning when we look at sexism and the role that women play in it, we cannot get a clear picture without looking at the people who built, legislated for and actively promoted the culture of misogyny we now live in. To do anything but is to ignore history and the role that was played by the given sexes.

Feminists aren’t trying to excuse behavior of women who do shitty things; instead what they are attempting to do is show folks the basis of many of the behaviors that women may be engaging in. Only then can we begin to see the severe and I dare say, institutionalized phenomenon of the oppression of women. We must look at the entire picture to see the entire picture. And to do that, we must look at who wields the power.

Worldwide men have been at the helm; for the most part it is men who built the institutions and the laws upon which so many injustices have been committed. Historically speaking men have been at the forefront of the wars, death and destruction of this natural world, as well as at the forefront of woman hating, rape and rampant misogyny.

If we ignore that then we ignore the thousands of years of history that men have, by and large, controlled and created. These institutions do not die easily, particularly when there are still many who wish for them to be upheld and many more who derive very real benefit from them. When we have folks blaming prostitutes for prostitution rather than Johns we will never right the huge injustices before us.

 

The beauty of this worldwide system of oppression of women is that women have been recruited as being the ‘bad guys’. Women are often used as the foot soldiers of the men in power; they are used as the tools by which men can continue to live with unquestioned privilege and authority. Society grooms these women from birth, depending on where they live, it tells them that their genitalia is shameful, that they are worthless, that their importance lay in how many sons they can produce or how well they fake an orgasm. Are these women responsible for their deeds? Yes, of course they are, but so are the men in power who are pulling the strings behind all of it.

It’s a dirty truth to hear your gender be fingered for the state of affairs we have here but just because it’s painful to hear doesn’t mean that it’s not true. The urge to distance oneself from this macabre movie is strong but to do so is to deny the facts of history.

When I am accused of white privilege it’s frightening and the first thing I want to say is “No, not ME!” and become defensive. But the truth of the matter is that this accusation doesn’t come from an alternate dimension, it doesn’t just appear out of nowhere. When I look at the destruction that white people have foisted upon people of color around the world I am sickened to belong to that group. When I see the destruction we have wrought in Iraq and I look back to the destruction upon so many races throughout history I am sick to my stomach but to deny that history exists is pompous beyond anything I can even articulate.

Saying that actions and events of today have nothing to do with history is to deny that the history even existed. We cannot minimize the roles we have played even if it makes us feel like shit to own them. This lens works across the board. It does no good to take a singular incident and analyze it without also analyzing the culture and history that the incident was born in.

It’s very easy for a privileged class to look at the deeds of their forefathers and say, “Well, it wasn’t me who did that!” and then dismiss everything out of hand and accuse someone of just hating them for no reason. Privilege has a way of blinding one to the role that one has played and this also has the affect of alienating the oppressed class even further. It also renders the defensive person’s personal privilege and the benefits that come with that, completely invisible.

 

When we look at someone and level an accusation of ‘man hating’ at them because they are saying things that make us feel bad we also allow ourselves to not notice or forget the privilege that we are engaging in. Hell, the act of nullifying thousands of years of oppression is the HEIGHT of privilege. You don’t have to give it any weight because it’s not important to YOU.

Do any of you believe that women are happy about effectively being written out of the history books? Do any of you believe that women are thrilled about being kept out of lawmaking and politics? When someone levels a valid complaint against the powerful class they are seeking recognition to the harms done to their people, to deny that is to exist in a state of privilege that has never been afforded to the oppressed class. This same truth applies across the board; wherever oppression rears its head. Whether we’re talking about racism, sexism or homophobia this understanding is crucial.

So the next time I begin talking about the fact that women were written out of history, literature, politics, sciences (and many other fields!) I’m not ‘ranting against men’ I’m noting that there is a very real history of misogyny, fear and oppression that this society was built upon. To understand feminist theory we must also understand the roots of oppression that it is built upon.

Am I angry at the way men have kept women out of almost every powerful role? You bet your ass I am. Am I angry that women have been forced to be passive observers, their voices and protestations rendered invisible while men destroyed this planet, waged wars and committed atrocities that go beyond anything I can even imagine? Yes I am. What I want is this: I want for men to recognize their privilege and the roles that they and their forefathers played in creating this society, only then will we be able to attack the foundations of it and eradicate it.

Look behind the veil and understand that people don’t act in a vacuum. People act and react based upon roles, institutions and beliefs that are often ingrained for hundreds, if not thousands of years. Understanding is the key to making it stop; sticking your head in the sand and looking at one piece of a puzzle will simply allow the cycles to continue undimmed.

~BB

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