Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Beginning of a Long-Term Project Here at the Guide

I came up with the idea for starting this blog when one day this summer I Googled something like 'preventing violence against women.' I scrolled down and read everything that came up in that search for over thirty pages. What I found were plenty of organizations that were women preventing violence against women, but only two organizations that were men preventing violence against women. Considering that men are the most common perpetrators of violence against women, the results of the search seemed unbalanced to me. I heard loud and clear women calling out, "Stop doing this!" but men had no such voice. If we're going to achieve the goal of preventing (and ultimately ending) violence against women, men have to be in on it, too. A stronger male presence in this struggle means the difference between doing something because someone told you to versus doing something because it's the right thing to do. It means that non-violence and respect for women's rights is not a front men put on while women are around and then drop as soon as they turn around. It means changing the context in which violence and the attitudes that support it occur.

In her book Understanding Sexual Violence, Diana Sculley posited that a way we can prevent rape is to change the cultural context in which it is excused. We need to change the cultural context to no longer allow for excuses for rape like slut-shaming, not putting up a physical fight, or impairment. I suggest we take that thinking exercise and apply it to all forms of violence against women and women's rights. I am saying that our work here at the Guide (work that can always be applied to our everyday lives) is to change the context in which violence and the attitudes that support it are excused so that they are no longer excused. This means that respect for women is not a front, it's a choice we own in public and in private. This means that men-only spaces cannot create contexts in which these attitudes and actions are allowed, and only men can change the context of men's spaces.

So I thought of the man who introduced me to feminism, Tyler. (That's right ladies and gentlemen, it was a guy who brought a woman to feminism.) At a time when I wasn't so sure of how I fit into feminism and lacked an education in it, the effect of a man feeling so passionate and at ease with feminism was an unexpected and life-changing inspiration. I thought, "How is it that a guy feels more at home here than I do? If there is space for him within feminism, there has to be space for me." After I did my Google search, I told Tyler how much a guy's voice is needed here. I told him, "You're the perfect person to show men (and women like I was) that there are guys who are committed to these issues. You'd be the perfect person to start balancing that call to stop violence against women through your perspective as a man navigating feminism."

To begin our long-term project of creating a guide for exploring these issues, I will be putting together a running archive of resources for men to explore feminism and what role they can play in the fight against violence against women. Below are just a few such discussions of these issues. If you have more to add, link them or reference them in the comments.

For some reading, consider:
Male Feminists March On by Natalie Hanman for a discussion of the emergence of male feminists.
My Black Male Feminist Heroes by Mark Anthony Neal for a discussion of male feminism from a black perspective. It also references numerous other reads both in black feminism and Womanism and black male feminism and Womanism.
Men! Feminism Needs You! (Not Your Privilege...) by Anne Onne at The F-Word for some thoughts on how men can approach feminism and feminists.
Check out another brand new blog, Step Up, for thoughts and a chance to comment on how men can end violence against women and some links to organizations dedicated to that cause.
And, for some more links to anti-violence organizations and a guy's reaction to 'Men's Rights Activists', check out this post at youth4change by Joseph.

And, don't forget, we want your links! Let's start building a discourse, a community, and a new context.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Case of Athletes and Rape

Reactions to the civil suit recently brought against Ben Roethlisberger by a former employee of Harrah’s hotel-casino in Lake Tahoe illustrate perfectly the inherent biases men and women have towards cases of sexual assault. These biases, and the copious amounts of baggage they carry, too often turn rape cases into exercises in futility—‘he said, she said’ arguments that devolve into hardcore character assassinations (usually it’s the victim’s character that’s annihilated) and, oddly enough, out-of-court settlements. This perverse form of due process becomes magnified when the case involves a professional sports star. Beloved professional athletes possess the double-whammy of seemingly endless means (money, top-notch lawyers, image consultants, spin doctors, publicists, etc.) and the benefits that come with large-scale public opinion. It’s not just the athlete’s family, friends and co-workers that think he is a great guy; the fan-base of an entire professional sports franchise (maybe even the fan-base of the sport itself) loves the guy as well, this includes fans and members of the media.

Interestingly, it’s the athlete’s endless supply of means to defend himself against rape allegations—not the athlete himself—that creates the average fan’s bias against the accuser. As our culture has elevated professional athletes to the status of iconic celebrity, the notion that rich athletes are now targets of exploitation and extortion has been canonized. Of course, there is plenty truth to this idea. Wealthy members of our society have always been and will always be the targets of desperate people. However, professional athletes, because of the attachments they engender amongst legions of people throughout the world, elicit an exceptionalism that isn’t afforded to other members of the high-income tax bracket. If a managing director at Goldman Sachs becomes a victim of identity theft, most people shrug their shoulders. Who cares? In fact, this day and age, a lot of people may even chuckle at the thought of some rich banker having to go through such an agonizing process. If the same situation occurs to a professional athlete, often there is an uproar, outrage, an entire SportsCenter segment devoted to the story. Fans will sympathize and give the athlete the benefit of the doubt (e.g. “Damn, that really sucks for him. All this hard work to get to where he is, and all some people want to do is tear him down.”) A fan’s defense of their favorite athlete is also directly proportional to nastiness of the crime. The more discomforting the accusation, the more staunch the fan’s unwavering support (unless, of course, the crime involves obviously innocent dogs).

Which brings me back to athletes and rape. When Ben Roethlisberger was first charged with rape earlier this summer, I remember discussing the initial reactions (or lack thereof) with Marie. Blogs and news outlets that chose to report the story (ESPN, the largest sports media empire in the history of the world, did not report the story for almost a good week after the story broke) harped on the fact that the plaintiff had filed civil as opposed to criminal charges. Additionally, speculation was already being made about the plaintiff’s past. Marie and I both knew that this was going to play out as predicted. Over the last month, the plaintiff’s mental state has been called into question, she’s been accused of extortion and pretty much all media outlets have written her off as unstable or, of course, vindictive, because ‘she really wanted it all along.’ Meanwhile, Roethlisberger has never been cast in any sort of negative light. He is too busy preparing for the upcoming season and how dare anyone try and distract him from working his job and living his life.

Let me be clear: I am not taking a side here. Like all people not directly involved with the case, I do not know all of the facts. And I have no stake in the outcome whatsoever. I am not writing off Roethlisberger as a rapist and the plaintiff a victim, and vice versa. What I’m pointing out here is the massive hole that comes part and parcel with both investigations of athlete rape cases and media accounts of these cases. As the lives of the accusers in these cases are dissected, deconstructed and judged (the judgment is almost unanimously: she’s crazy), the lives and mindsets of the athletes are not only not dissected, deconstructed and judged, they are always considered ideal. Roethlisberger is just “Big Ben,” the heart and soul of the Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers. Kobe Bryant is just a quiet family man who had a momentary lapse in judgment—hey, we all make those.

These idealizations are ironic when one considers the well-documented ego and hubris professional athletes. Ego is the one vital element never considered by fans in cases of athletes and rape. To people like Kobe Bryant and Ben Roethlisberger, they seriously doubt that a woman would ever say no to them. And if she did, she really didn’t mean it, right? She was just playing hard to get. Never once is an athlete’s potential for developing a pathological mental state due to meteoric rises in their fame, money earned and ego—their seeming endless set of means—mentioned or questioned. Never. Women would never say no to the advances of a star athlete, just as fans would never question the star athlete’s word.

The lesson here is that in cases of rape, what we must always call into question are our initial reactions. As cases involving athletes prove time and again, we all have serious biases when it comes to dealing with issues as unsettling as sexual assault. And so rather than deal with these issues, we just write them off in favor of the person we like best. We’ll simply side with the athlete we so know and love, scorching the reputation and credibility of any accuser who comes in the athlete’s path. Rape is no joke. And to treat it in such a flippant fashion is irresponsible and harmful. The moment biases like this creep up in your mind, stop yourself and ask simply, “What about the athlete’s state of mind; what about his credibility?” It’s that simple. More often than not, you know what you’ll realize? Despite your knowledge and passion as a fan, you really don’t know the athlete as a person at all, just as you don’t know the accuser. If we are going to demand that the Justices of our highest court approach each case without bias, shouldn’t we do the same?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Emotional Roller Coaster That is a Guy Watching the Game

Willis McGahee

The Date: Saturday – October 12, 2002

The Place: Hanover, NH

The Game: (9) Florida State Seminoles at (1) Miami Hurricanes (live on ABC)

Until I met my beautiful wife, I’ll readily admit that the game of football (American football, for our international readers) was my life’s primary passion. It’s a product of where I grew up. Beginning in 1970s, the state of Florida evolved into a (some would say “the”) hotbed of football talent. As the game moved from one of bulky players and slow, ball-control offenses to one of speed and athleticism and wide-open play, Florida high schools began producing the fastest, most talented and most sought-after players. As a result, the state’s three largest college football programs—Florida, Florida State, Miami—outgrew their regional status and stormed the national scene, becoming household names (the Big 3 have won 10 of the last 25 national championships). At the professional level, the game grew to a level where Florida now boasts three NFL franchises. In lockstep with this tremendous growth in the game itself, of course, has been the growth in the amount of football fans throughout the state. Sure, there’s plenty of golf, basketball, baseball, horse and auto racing, - even hockey - all across the state, but, make no mistake, Florida puts football first. Everything else is a distant second.

I was born in Florida in 1981 and lived there until I left for college in the fall of 1999. During my childhood, I became an avid fan of both the University of Miami Hurricanes and the Miami Dolphins of the National Football League (see, in Florida, all kids choose, usually at birth, a college and pro team to which they swear, often for life, their unwavering support). But I was more than just your average rabid fan. I was also a football player: a good one, too. After seven years at the youth-level, I played three solid years of high school football (the missing season coming during my tenth-grade year, when I suffered a torn ACL in my right knee; said injury occurring, you guessed it, during football practice). My success at the high school level prompted me to travel 1500 miles north to the state of New Hampshire to play two ill-fated seasons at Dartmouth College. A myriad of factors—most notably, mounting injuries and dissatisfactions with the team’s coaches and system—contributed to my decision to quit the team after only two years. The unfortunate end of my playing days, however, allowed me to spend my last two years in college purely as a fan. Together with my best friends (two of which also shared the same ‘this isn’t really how I planned it’ end to their lives as football players), I was able to enjoy football as I had when I was a precocious, stat-memorizing, favorite-player-emulating kid: emphatically. This involved lots reading, watching, arguing, the whole gamut. As fate would have it, my final two years of college also coincided with the resurgence of my beloved Miami Hurricanes.

This is where our story really begins…

By the time Florida State Seminoles traveled to the Orange Bowl in Miami in October 2002, the Hurricanes were in the midst of a 27-game winning streak. Winners of the 2001 national championship, the ’02 version of the Canes was nothing short of dominant. The team featured a roster full of future NFL stars like Andre Johnson, Vince Wilfork, D.J. Williams, Kellen Winslow, Jr., Jon Vilma and the late Sean Taylor. And they had swagger!

For a fan, it’s amazing how important a role things like attitude and demeanor play into one’s level of attachment to a team or a player. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, as the team grew into a national power, the Hurricanes became famous (or infamous, depending on who you ask) for their brash, ‘I don’t give a fuck’ nature: wild celebrations after big plays, arriving at opposing stadiums dressed in army fatigues, t-shirts emblazoned with ‘Catholics versus Convicts’ the week leading up to a game against Notre Dame. Off the field, the team always seemed to match the larger than life presence they imposed on opponents on the field. For a white, middle-class aspiring football star growing up in one of the more redneck parts of the state, I found this type of attitude appealing at a young age because, for me, the Canes exhibited an outspoken confidence (an arrogance that didn’t take itself too seriously) that I just couldn’t recreate in myself on or off the field. I was a fairly quiet kid, and I was always very good at sports. I’d like to think I had room for a bit unserious arrogance. However, trash talking never came naturally to me. But being a Canes fan sure did. So, in a sense, the Canes became a proxy. I could wear my Canes shirt to school, talk shit to friends who followed Alabama or Florida State, talk up the Canes and their successes, run the ball like Edge James; just proclaiming my fandom for the Canes allowed me to co-opt some of their attitude, their swagger. The Canes really became a part of my personality and life in a very rational way.

So what’s with the seemingly irrational and unhealthy emotional investment in a single game?

The Miami-FSU showdown began with the great Willis McGahee scoring on the Canes first possession, capping off a 90+ yard drive. I was sitting on a couch in my buddy Bob’s dorm room. A group of five of us watched the Canes march down the field and score the way they had for almost two full seasons. It all seemed so easy and preordained. Another friend of mine, Joe, quickly proclaimed, “Well this game is over.” Then why did I have a knot in my stomach? In fact, why had the knot in my stomach grown larger with each passing game? I watched the Canes throttle teams each week with sweaty palms. After a half decade of attrition—for a variety of reasons, the Hurricanes had it rough in the late ’90s—my team was finally at the pinnacle, back on top. And I mean way on top. People were already calling the ’01 squad the best college football team ever. My team was back on top. But as the winning streak grew, I grew as a basket case.

The Canes, of course, stall. Before I know it, the score is 17-7 in favor of FSU in the second quarter. It’s an early game, a noon kickoff, but I’m already a couple beers deep—anything to calm my nerves. The Canes get their shit together, scoring a touchdown just before the half, but they were still down 17-14 and, for the first time all year, a truly ominous feeling overcame me. I couldn’t even be in the same room as the game.

Across the street from our dorm the Dartmouth Big Green, the team I had unceremoniously quit a season before, were taking on the Yale Bulldogs at Memorial Field. Nothing better to take your mind off of the annual UM-FSU showdown than watching a couple Ivy League cupcakes square off. At the time, I was pretty bitter towards Dartmouth football. As I mentioned earlier, things didn’t really go as planned between me and the team. And when a person is driven to hate something that they have participated in and dedicated themselves to and loved every year for thirteen years straight, one holds on to a bit of anger in the aftermath. Long story short, the absolute last place I ever wanted to be on an autumn Saturday in Hanover, New Hampshire was a fucking Dartmouth football game. But there we were. My friends indulged me enough to make the trek to the stadium and together we watched Dartmouth pull out a rare win.

This little sojourn was only temporary and offered little respite from the stresses that awaited back at the dorm. We returned to the room just as the Miami-FSU game entered the fourth quarter. The first play of the fourth quarter: an FSU touchdown. The Seminoles were now up 27-14. The Canes just didn’t look like they had it. Around this point, I began pacing endlessly, from couch to bed to desk chair to hallway and back. I’m not a loud screamer, not one of those assholes who rants and raves with each play. I know football. I know it well. So as a game progresses, my emotions and feelings slowly build to match what I feel the outcome of the game will be. It’s a unique elation when things go well. It’s a terrible torture when it goes bad. No amount of beer or consoling words from my friends (who had their own teams to think about—this was, after all, an early game) could stop me from turning my hairs gray. By the time Kevin Beard caught a Ken Dorsey touchdown pass about halfway through the fourth quarter, cutting the Seminoles lead to 27-21, I knew it was too little too late. I wasn’t hopeless—I didn’t proclaim the game lost (again, I’m not one of those assholes). But in my heart, I felt the weight of that 27-game win streak. Just as I know the Canes players did. It took so much effort to get those 21 points on the board. And now there was just over seven minutes left. I just didn’t think they had enough time or energy.

But the defense quickly stopped the Florida State offense. Suddenly, the Canes had the ball with plenty of time. Sure, they were 70+ yards away from the end zone, but at least they didn’t have to throw up junk passes or run a two-minute drill. What followed on the first play this Miami possession was something I’ll always remember. Dorsey drops back, lets the pass rush come at him; he drops a perfectly placed screen pass to Willis McGahee. McGahee turns up field and, in a flash, he’s gained 68 yards! (please see the photo above) I was leaping up and down and screaming so hard that even my friends, who were fully attuned to my emotional state, shot annoying glances in my direction. A play later, the Canes score and it’s all of a sudden Miami leading 28-27.

Then the Canes defense held again! And now the blood rushed to another part of my head. I felt dizzy. This team was not going to lose! All they needed to do was run out the clock by getting a couple first downs. But, as life sadistically loves to have it, the Canes could not manage a first down and had to punt, giving the Seminoles one last opportunity to take the game. No problem—Miami has one of the best punters in the country. The Canes would pin them deep, make a couple tackles and call it a day. But our punter, Freddie Capshaw, shanked the punt. “Are you fucking kidding me,” I screamed, absolutely dumbfounded. The guy who could nail 40+ yard punts in his sleep kicked the ball three yards, giving the Seminoles the ball practically in field goal range. This roller coaster ride was about the end with me getting sick. Four plays later, there’s one second left on the clock and the Seminoles were lining up for a 43-yard field goal.

For those of you unaware of the history of the Miami-FSU football rivalry and the unique place game-ending field goals play in the series, please take two minutes and watch the video here.

It sounds almost anticlimactic, but the field goal was no good. The Hurricanes won. I immediately jumped into the air and hugged my friends. They were smiling and laughing, happy (as funny as it sounds) for me.

The remaining part of that day and weekend are to this day a blur. No, this isn’t due to a drunken celebratory haze. I was hungover from the game. I was so involved, heart and soul, in each play that only a couple hours after that field goal sailed wide left I was back in my room, taking aspirin and trying to sleep. Ironically, at a time when I should have felt absolutely elated—the Canes had just beaten the Noles, their biggest rival!—I felt emotionally drained and physically like garbage.

Men’s propensity to place sports at the center of their lives, to read the up-and-downs of their team into the up-and-downs of their own day-to-day isn’t a recent phenomenon. It’s practically cliché. Nick Hornby managed a whole memoir out of the idea. What often gets lost in all this talk of men and their sports obsessions is how the roller coaster that is a guy watching his team play a big game mirrors the way women are often charged with reacting irrationally to situations that supposedly don’t merit such responses. You know, stuff like getting intensely angry because another woman wore the same dress. Guys like to stereotype women as too emotional because of things like this, label them drama queens. But, really, how different are a woman’s outbursts or internal angers at supposedly benign events from my incredibly tumultuous adventures watching football games? It’s a simple question—a real ‘no shit’ one—but still important.

As men continue to stereotype women and their supposed emotional irrationality, and some women choose to stereotype men and their overblown attachments to sports, it’s easy to forget that these emotions are both two sides of the same coin. In sharing a little bit of my own personal history, by showing the foundation of my attachment to a football team I care about dearly, I want to get your minds working. I want you to search for the rational basis in your “irrational” emotional roller coasters. And, more importantly, I want you to consider the rational bases in the seemingly “irrational” emotions of others.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

What Does The Birdcage Have to do With Michael Vick?

What does The Birdcage have to do with Michael Vick? Think back to the movie for a moment. Think back to the story: the well-meaning parents of a young man want to make a good impression on the parents of his new fiancée. Where’s the conflict? The well-meaning boy’s parents are gay men (Robin Williams and Nathan Lane) who run a drag cabaret and the fiancée’s parents are conservative politicians. At their son’s request, the gay couple reluctantly decides to pretend to have a traditional home. Nathan Lane, the club’s star performer, needs to appear in drag for a whole new audience for a whole new reason: to play the part of the loving housewife. Of course the charade can’t go on forever, and toward the end of the movie Nathan Lane finally reveals that he is indeed a man in drag and half of a loving gay couple. The conservative politician’s reaction is priceless: “You can’t be Jewish?!” The real concern is their queerness. Classic misdirection of concern; classic understatement of importance.

Are you getting deja vu yet?

On August 17, 2009 Public Policy Polling asked a sample of 909 American voters whether or not they supported Michael Vick’s reinstatement into the NFL. Overall, 49% of Americans supported his reinstatement while 34% did not and 17% were unsure. Take a closer look:
There is an even stronger divide along racial lines with African Americans supporting reinstatement 80-9 but whites by only a 42-29 margin.
Here are some more numbers for you: the team that prosecuted Vick recommended that he serve 12 months in prison. The man was sentenced to 23 months and served 18 of them. Really? What else did Vick do wrong to warrant all those extra months added to a recommended 12 month sentence?

There’s your quantitative data.

Here’s some qualitative data: People are still making a gigantic deal out of the dog abuse. I mean protesting and boycotting across the country in person and in print. I mean a Michael Vick chew toy (because there’s a market for people who want the man torn apart and devoured in effigy). I mean three billboards worth of hatred on the roads leading to Lincoln Financial Field where Vick will play with the Philadelphia Eagles.

I’m not saying it’s okay to abuse animals – of course it’s not – but that’s beside the point I’m making here.

My point is, in light of the above information, the reactions to Vick’s reinstatement do not seem to fit a crime worth only a 12 recommended months of federal time. There has to be something else going on here to account for the discrepancy between the crime he committed and the societal punishment the man’s been dealt. And what’s with that racial divide Public Policy Polling pointed out?

Don’t pull a Birdcage, people. Don’t misdirect your more substantial concerns – the ones that really bother you, that are the most uncomfortable to talk about and to recognize in yourself – to the dog issue. The disproportionate importance given to the dog issue gives the lie here. If your issue is with race, come out and own it. Don’t blame it on the dog.

If what is underneath this absurd reaction against Vick is resentment that a young black man has an amazing God-given talent, that he was the #1 draft pick in 2001, that he enjoyed being the top-earning athlete in his sport, that he did something fantastic with his life while you fettered away in a cubicle somewhere compelled to spread your misery far and wide, own it. Come out and say it. If you’re complicit in the epidemic of young black men (Vick’s still in his 20’s, he counts as young) being disproportionately sent to prison for disproportionately severe sentences, own it. If you can’t be honest with yourself, who else can you be honest with?

People should not give in to the temptation to use dog abuse as a cover for their race issues. They shouldn’t pounce on the dog issue as their proof positive that they were right all along, that “Vick didn’t deserve any of his success.” The people who determine whether Vick ‘deserves’ to be in the NFL are in the judicial system and the NFL itself as his employer. No one never screws up, no matter how fantastic his job is. And the dog issue is weak compared to the race issue.

What makes the dog issue weak is that it’s too easy. Everyone loves their pets, and the attachment people have to them is part of what puts pet ownership so close to our hearts. That’s easy to agree on. Everyone can agree that hurting animals is bad. (Sure, there are a precious few outliers with the dog issue agreement, but that’s spit in the ocean.) It’s also easy to speak for animals that can’t speak for themselves and contradict what we say. That (among other things, some of which I will return to below) makes the dog issue, one that legitimately and understandably bothers and makes uncomfortable tons of people an easy one to tackle by comparison to race.

Racial issues also bother tons of people and make them uncomfortable, but our relationships to race are not as rosy as those of pet ownership. In dealing with race, we’re no longer dealing with a voiceless group in need of someone to speak for them. We’re dealing with people who can speak for themselves, and do. There’s a reason race has achieved the monumental institutional status it’s achieved in this country. To compare dog abuse to race in size and importance would be like comparing the Washington Monument to a thimble. It takes some serious denial to turn away from race and say, “No, I think the dog issue is more important than my fellow human beings. I don’t have as complicated a history with dogs. I consider myself their benevolent master. Good thing there’s no racial undertone in that last sentence or I’d have a tough problem to deal with!”

Don’t pull a Birdcage on Vick. And while you’re at it, don’t pull one on anyone else either.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Why I Hate the Jonas Brothers

The Jonas Brothers

This is a look inside the experience of a young woman. This is a story about doing what guys do when approaching feminism for the first time—stepping outside your comfort zone—told through my very feminine experience of having a teenage crush. But instead of starting by telling you whom I liked, I’ll start with—

I hate the Jonas Brothers. I also hate the rest of the Disney manufactured teen/tween heartthrobs. Virginity rings? Do they enforce curfews as well? It wasn’t that long ago when I myself was a teenage girl with a throbbing heart, but the big-ticket item that made my idols worth my while was that they scared the crap out of my parents. What’s the point in longing for someone who panders to your parents? who’s sold with a child safety device?

I know much has been said of Gen-Y’s puny need for rebellion, but this takes the cake. I am a Gen-Yer and I find the appeal of such celebrities disturbing. Teenagerdom is one’s movement from child to adult. Thus, a legitimate teen heartthrob is supposed to exist outside the normal purview of a teenage girl. He’s supposed to represent a life apart from the one you have, a more unsheltered adult life. He’s got an undeniable magnetism, some sort of talent (usually something entertaining), and he’s fucking badass. He’s the type of guy that gives your parents full body shivers merely at the thought that their daughter finds him and, more importantly, what he represents, appealing. They raised you ‘better’ than that. They raised you to cross your legs, to say no to drugs, to do well in school and to want nothing more from a boy than to hold his hand. But this ain’t no twelve-year-old boy; this is a motherfucking rock star and he doesn’t hold hands.

Then there’s the obsession. It’s not a teenage crush unless there’s obsession. You start imagining what your life would be like if you actually had access to this person. You start dreaming of a life away from your annoying parents’ house, where no one tells you when to come home and people take you seriously because you’re mature enough to hang out with your crush and his crew. No one in these daydreams asks what a thirteen-year-old girl is doing at this party or on this tour because, on some level, you’re not thirteen anymore. You’re grown up just enough to suit your dreams, and everyone in them seems to know this.

So you get inspired. You take up guitar, singing, acting, fashion, painting (because you know only you can deliver the perfect album cover) because he invokes desire in you, and, often for the first time, a palpable aspiration to be great at something because, if you achieve it, you know great people inevitably brush elbows with one another. And, of course, by elbows I mean tongues and genitalia because rock stars like you aren’t interested in anyone’s elbow.

Crushes fade eventually, but the dream of a life of your own in which you achieve greatness outside your childhood home and without anyone’s permission stays with you. The rush that accompanies your intense desire to accomplish something impressive and fulfilling stays with you. All this was jump-started by your teenage crush because he challenges you to grow as a person, to explore what talents you have that could match or exceed his, to become independent, to leave your parents’ comfort zones in order to explore your own possibilities, which, in your still thirteen-year-old mind, you really believe are infinite.

Later on, when you look back at these crushes and wonder, as an adult, what the appeal was you realize that you’re still challenged by this person. Maybe they made you think about whether, how, and why your attitude might have change toward them when they came out as gay (George Michael and Lance Bass). Maybe they put your patriotism in perspective when they started mouthing off against the country you shared (Johnny Depp). Maybe your old crush, like mine, challenged you to consider that drug addicts and people who suffer from depression and mood disorders (Kurt Cobain) might actually contribute something important to society because the experience of your earliest and most earnest pursuit of personal growth is part of the risk-taking, dynamic individual you’ve become. You’re a person that can now appreciate the safety your parents gave you without throwing anything in their faces. Your parents realize that, despite how scary your growing process was, you are exactly what they raised you to be: a self-sufficient adult. Something not exemplified by a bunch of children who tour with their parents and mislead kids into believing that a career comes with someone to hold your hand (the Jonas Brothers).

Where is the challenge to anyone in the Jonas Brothers? Where is the opportunity to leave your comfort zone and dream of a fantastic grown-up life? There seems to be only a pat on the head and the reassurance that you never have to grow up or take risks, especially those risks that jeopardize other people’s willingness to like you. They teach that likability is one’s most important asset because celebrities like the Jonas Brothers are meant to be liked by everyone. What real teen idols teach you is that not everything is meant to be liked all the time, and that some things are more important in life than pleasing everyone around you.

I didn’t realize I was growing at the time I had my crush; I don’t think a lot of girls do. But I can look back and see how far I’ve come as a result of it. I guess the most surprising thing about stepping out of one’s comfort zone is that sometimes you don’t even know you’ve done it until you realize you’ve outgrown your old perspective. I can articulate this now the same way some of the guys I know can describe coming to feminism. “What’s the big deal,” they say. “I just took a class, just talked to my daughter, just became friends with someone different from me.”

I can tell you, from this side of it: learning is huge.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Staring Down the Barrel of Masculine Privilege

The phrase “masculine privilege,” and all the ideas and traditions it suggests, is probably the single most daunting obstacle awaiting any guy tackling feminism for the first time. For any man—be they the open-minded, liberal thinking sort; the close-minded, misogynist variety; or anything between—it’s tough not to take as an insult notions that their biological sex buys them any sort of advantage in our society. It’s easier to just point at a successful woman and give the requisite, “See!?! Clearly, if women can be CEOs of multinational corporations, heads of state, or Justices on the US Supreme Court, then this whole masculine privilege idea is no longer relevant.”

The mistake some guys make is that they confuse a large cultural norm with a critique of their own personal behavior. This confusion tends to occur in a knee-jerk sort of way to guys who’d like to consider themselves (often rightfully so) sensitive and bright. Men that care and respect women don’t like to hear about masculine privilege, at least not in accusatory fashion. The topic is unsettling in ways all discussions of exploitation and unequal privilege are unsettling. Beyond that, though, bright guys often breeze over or outright avoid talking about masculine privilege because of the inescapable levels of introspection involved: you may see something in there that you wished you hadn’t. The fact is, no matter how forward thinking a guy may be, no matter how outspoken or active he is in feminist venues or other such causes, all men benefit from their masculinity. Whether they willingly accept or openly decry these benefits does not change the fact that the benefits exist to begin with.

A year ago, I married this blog’s editor. In the months leading up to our wedding, Marie decided to keep her name (or, rather, she decided not to change her last name to mine). It was a decision she discussed with me; and, as the sensitive, forward thinking guy I believe I am, it was a decision I accepted. So the wedding passes, as do multiple holidays and family events—you know, occasions in which a couple receives only one card or invitation. In nearly all cases, an envelope arrived addressed, annoyingly, to a Mr. and Mrs. Tyler Haney. At first, Marie would only say, “That’s not my name.” But as time passed, and this scenario continued to repeat itself, her annoyance grew. “Mr. and Mrs. Tyler Haney” became more than just a case of misidentification; it became an outright sign of disrespect. Now, we know our friends and family do not hold Marie in such low regard that they enjoy taking jabs at her whenever the holidays roll around. To them, “Mr. and Mrs. Tyler Haney” is just convenient shorthand. (This is patriarchal hegemony at its finest…Patriarchal what-y what?—don’t worry, we’ll discuss those topics and more down the road.) Nonetheless, the pain and annoyance is there regardless of intention. Her name is not Mrs. Tyler Haney: never has been or will be.

It was when these cards began arriving that I truly realized that the use of this traditional name conflation caused in Marie a pain that I could never feel. See, we will never for the life of our marriage receive in the mail an envelope addressed to Ms. and Mr. Marie Chesaniuk. In other words, my name will never be erased or ignored. What’s more, looking back to our pre-marriage months, I never had to deliberate and discuss whether or not I would have to give up my last name. I never had to hope that my future spouse would accept my decision to do so. I never had to constantly explain… fuck it, let’s be real, I never had to justify to more “traditional” folks why keeping my own last name wouldn’t be weird or detrimental to our non-existent children. I didn’t have to go through any of this. And, for the foreseeable future, no guy ever will. This is masculine privilege. And for most guys (and many women, really), sticking with tradition is a whole lot easier than confronting it.

So how does a guy go about facing down masculine privilege? I’m no doctor, but developing a sharper awareness and an explicit recognition of the advantages masculinity provides is good first step. In recognizing and confronting the pain Marie feels as a result of this last name ordeal, I’ve approached an understanding with her that helps us feel less cut-off from one another. That’s a good feeling.

What are some other first steps?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

I Miss Sarah Connor

Linda Hamilton

Since Jaws’ original theatrical release in June 1975, summertime at the box office has been synonymous with Hollywood event films. And in addition to bloated budgets, high grosses and often sophomoric scripts, a common thread among most studios’ summer entries is a pretty blatant sexism. Like the opening scene in Jaws, when a beautiful young woman is quite literally eaten alive, the modern action movie has relegated women (with few exceptions) to variations of the damsel-in-distress or hyper-sexed sidekick stock characters. (Think Megan Fox in this summer’s highest grossing monstrosity, Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen.) The most commanding and vital stock role—the action star—is practically always saved for the Harrison Fords and Will Smiths of the world.

But this isn’t a post about the lack female action stars. What I want to talk about is the uniquely sexist way most Hollywood films often depict the female heroines that have been able to break the glass ceiling and become action stars.

At this point, before I go any further, allow me to politely interject that I’m not out to ruin summer action movies for anyone. I know there are plenty of Tomb Raider and Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle fans out there. Hell, there are probably just as many, if not more, fans of the Transformers series, some of which probably see Megan Fox’s character as anything but mere eye-candy (after all, she is a motorcycle repairwoman!). Point is, I’m not trying to tell anyone how or what to like. What I’m talking about is a different perspective.

In nearly all female-driven action movies, like the two mentioned above, one of the most common and pervasive feminine stereotypes is always at the forefront: sex appeal. Now before you roll your eyes, I’d like to point out that I know how obvious this is. In fact, it’s this very obviousness that makes the truly sexist elements of the modern female action star so easy to miss.

To clarify, let’s talk about the one thing most of today’s movie stars, men and women, share: looks. Strong, sexy, drop-dead good looks. A common and easy feminist argument (and, not coincidentally, one that turns a lot of guys off of any sort of feminist ways of thinking) against the depiction of women in Hollywood films is, simply, that many female stars are just too damn attractive. You know the company line: these beautiful women create impossible standards for young girls and influence women in general in ways more negative than positive. This is all well tread territory. And while there is truth to this argument, it’s becoming more and more apparent that the physical beauty of stars of both sexes affects viewers of both sexes. In the age of Photoshop and performance-enhancing drugs, young men, too, are falling under the spell of the chiseled action star or stud athlete.

So this kills the obvious sexist argument, right? I mean, if the beauty of both male and female action stars is exploited, this is no longer a uniquely feminist issue, right?


Like many issues across the feminist landscape, this is a case where an obvious point (no matter how true) actually obscures a more malignant problem. Think for a second about the modern action film from a directorial perspective (as oxymoronic as it may sound, the artistic perspective). Like all movies, the stars of actions films are presented to viewers through a series of camera shots. A commonly overlooked element of these individual shots is their subjective nature.

I know, I know, this sounds like a bunch of film school mumbo-jumbo. So let me put it another way. Like pictures in a magazine, each camera shot in a film suggests something about the character being photographed. When we see a man constructing a suit containing jet packs and missile launchers (Robert Downey, Jr. in Ironman), it’s clear the director suggests ingenuity, brilliance. When we see a grown woman waking up, taking out her retainer, and dancing across her bedroom in a t-shirt and underwear not unlike that worn by adolescent boys (Cameron Diaz in Charlie’s Angels), it’s clear the director suggests a playful, girlish sexiness.

The stereotypical ways directors choose to present their action stars often goes unnoticed in modern action films. The sex appeal, the allure that frames both male and female action stars, is a product of these presentations, these directorial suggestions. For male action heroes, the sex appeal comes first and foremost from his actions. We see Ironman destroy the villain; we see Spider-Man stop the train before it careens off the tracks. We see, in other words, the acts of a heroic man and thus find him appealing; his body comes second. For the female action hero, we first and foremost see her body—beautiful and deeply sexualized—captured lustily by the camera. Think of Angelina Jolie as Fox in Wanted or Lara Croft in the Tomb Raider films. Think of any of Charlie’s Angels. The bodies of most of our female action stars are subjected to the same exploitative directorial shots that practically define the Megan Fox’s of the world; only a veil of heroism shrouds this exploitation. For female action stars, the body comes first; their acts come second.

This is why I miss Sarah Connor so much.

I’m talking about the most emphatically feminist action star of the past few decades, that’s who. As anyone who has seen Terminator 2: Judgment Day can attest, Sarah Connor (as portrayed by Linda Hamilton) is probably the most physically intimidating—badass—female presence to grace the screen since the heyday of Pam Grier. But unlike Grier’s blaxploitation films, and most of female-driven action films of today, Hamilton’s body is never, not for a moment, the subject of the camera’s gaze. In fact, the only time the film shows-off her physique is when we see her doing pull-ups, a typically “masculine” exercise, in her hospital room.

Sarah’s dress and appearance also go against the grain of the stereotypical hyper-sexed action heroine. At the start of the film, she appears seemingly without make-up, wearing only nondescript hospital sweats. Later, Sarah dons black cargo pants and a black tank top (see the above picture). Does she look good? You bet your ass she does: cigarette in one hand, semi-automatic rifle in the other; sunglasses on and a holstered knife adorning her belt. She looks like… she is an action star. Her wardrobe works in conjunction with the development of her character and the arc of the film’s story. Sarah Connor is as tortured and flawed as she is heroic. She exhibits true pathos. So to see this hardened figure preparing for battle, a viewer cannot help but think of the events that led her to this point and the badass fight she’s about to enter. In other words, Sarah’s actions come to mind first. Any sex appeal she gives off derives from these actions.

Take a look now at Lara Croft as portrayed by Angelina Jolie.

Angelina Jolie

What we have here is not a female action hero but a male fantasy. In the Tomb Raider films, Lara Croft is a sexist caricature of a female heroine—beautiful almost beyond words, wealthy, and completely one-dimensional. It’s easy to focus on her solely on her looks because, really, there’s not much else to her character. Look at her short shorts, the accentuation of her breasts; see the garter-like weapons holsters and her pouty lips. Lara Croft’s appeal is exclusively sexual and not limited only to her classic outfit. All of clothes she wears in both films highlight Lara Croft’s otherworldly beauty. Even her movements, whether she’s walking, working out or fighting, are smooth and seductive. Any feelings of empowerment Lara Croft provides are partly empty because the character remains solely a male sexual fantasy masquerading as an action hero.

This sort of viewing perspective is useful for guys approaching feminism because it brings attention to one of the most common exploitations that feminism speaks out against: objectification of the female body. I’ll be the first to admit that, as a guy, female objectification is not always the easiest thing to catch. After all, guys are a primary audience for badasses like Sarah Connor and hyper-sexed icons like Lara Croft. We’re supposed to like them both, a lot. So it’s easy to get suckered into the false conclusion that all of today’s female action heroes represent greater parity—in quantity and quality—among women in action films simply because they exist at all. Like I mentioned in the last post, it’s no longer enough for a woman to simply play the role of action hero; now the question becomes, ‘How well does she do the job?’

An action hero’s true authenticity is a product of how the hero is presented. So the next time you watch a female action hero command the screen, ask yourself what are the camera shots are suggesting about the heroine. What does her wardrobe suggest? Remember, feminism and physical beauty are not mutually exclusive. But as the Sarah Connor/Lara Croft comparison proves, the presentation of an image often demands just as much attention as the image itself.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Death of Who?

Discussions about the decline (or outright demise) of the male-dominated workplace have been a side effect of the current recession. Just take a look at the July/August 2009 issue of Foreign Policy. In it you’ll find a feature by Reihan Salam titled—cue the orchestra—“The Death of Macho.” Salam, a writer with a penchant for the dramatic, begins with, “The era of male dominance is coming to an end.” Apparently, the recent failures of finance capitalism are only harbingers of something more ominous. Sure, the economy will eventually recover; housing bubbles will once again emerge and grow. But the modern male? He has no such luck:
What will not survive is macho. And the choice men will have to make, whether to accept or fight this new fact of history, will have seismic effects for all of humanity—women as well as men.
If you sift through these grand pronouncements (seriously, where is the line separating ‘grabbing a reader’s attention’ from ‘argument-killing hyperbole’?), Salam indirectly makes a great point about the static nature of masculinity. In the age of late capitalism (translation: the modern, post-Industrial Revolution economy we all know and love), a man’s role in society—what Salam calls “macho”—has not changed much or at all. I’ll spare you the laundry list of examples that prove this point (stuff like men’s roles as primary income earner; men making up the vast majority of power positions, government and corporate; etc.). Suffice it to say, it’s a fact that men have dragged their feet or outright fought to stop efforts towards sexual and racial equality in the workplace, even when it is an ultimate detriment to success.

Contrast this against the fluid nature of feminism. Over the last century or so, one of the most impressive features of feminism has been and continues to be its adaptability. When a newbie glances at the history of Western feminism, the first things they’ll likely notice are terms like ‘first wave,’ ‘second wave,’ and ‘third wave.’ These waves each revolve around different set of concerns (e.g. voting rights, workplace equality, gender identity). Feminism, in other words, evolves; it’s principal concerns shift to match the major issues of the era. Rather than fight change, feminism embraces and thrives on it.

Feminism’s fluidity presents a great lesson to men and masculinity in general. Returning to Salam, he has no problem pinning the current economic crisis on men and their “macho” ways. But rather than announce that these men are now in their “death throes,” I’d rather ask the old guard to take a look at feminism, and not just its messages but its method. “Macho” does not have to die. Men can still be men. To invoke the cliché, “macho” men just need to evolve. As feminism proves, especially in comparison to the masculine ways that killed the economy, this sort evolution is not only realistic and possible in theory; it is vital and effective in practice.

Switching gears for a second, I want to point out that while there’s a lot of truth in Salam’s article, his doomsday scenario for men drowns out the very important fact that men and women are already working across job sectors in more equal ways. Across industries (even the “macho” world of finance capitalism) women hold positions of all levels. All Salam’s article, as well as a companion piece by Valerie Hudson (which pretty much only buttresses Salam’s main points), does is state the obvious: that women’s influence in the workplace is growing in size and scope.

This workplace co-existence, and the meritocracy that is emerging, highlights for me one of the key emotions involved in any sort of male approach to feminism: empathy. Things—emotions, facts, food, whatever—are much easier to appreciate and understand not when they are simply pointed out to you but, rather, when they are experienced. Empathy provides the most effective bridge to understanding for those moments when we cannot experience something directly. It is easier for guys to warm up to and engage with feminism once they can identify something that allows them to relate to the struggles women face. The workplace is a common ground we both share. We share the same offices, the same positions; we share the same nagging bosses and the same paths of advancement.

In the American workplace today, men must understand that their sex does not guarantee them the same lifetime career security it may once have just as women must accept the fruits of the labor of nearly a century of feminists. Granted, the sexual politics of the American economy are still not completely level for women. Still, the possibilities, realities and responsibilities of high-level positions do exist for and are already being met by talented women across America. The expectations for modern women extend beyond merely getting the job and into how far they take the job. On-the-job expectations, in other words, are as equal as they’ve ever been; and they represent a shared experience that is so easy to overlook yet, at the moment, is so helpful. By recognizing that there is a common ground on which we both deal with the same shit, guys gain a degree of understanding with women and the struggles they face that may have otherwise remained invisible.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Guy's Guide Takes on Void!

The absence of any sort of guy’s voice in today’s feminism is staggering. This is a problem. Men need to understand feminism. Feminism needs sincere male understanding in order to effect the changes it ultimately hopes to gain. Guys and feminism are practically always portrayed as being at odds or in conflict. And judging by the feminist blogs and websites from around the world, the lines of communication between men and women are still not open. Still, the fact remains that there is a vital place within broad discussions of feminism and the women’s movement for a genuine male perspective, one that sets aside the snarky male takes on the subject and enters into something a little more honest.

The Guy’s Guide to Feminism takes on this void. The blog is not a masculine critique of feminism, just as it does not subscribe to the satirical, insecure, and often downright hateful approaches of most men’s magazines and blogs on the subject. Grounded in the belief that anyone who can benefit from open thought on feminism should benefit, The Guy’s Guide is just that, a guide promoting male understanding of feminism in a way that supersedes the stereotypical images and lessons our culture passes down to us. After all, superseding stereotypes is a big reason why guys benefit from understanding feminism. By putting traditional ideas and expectations of themselves into new contexts, guys can develop new ideas and understandings of what it really means to be a man.

The Guide looks at feminism from the inside out:
  • Where do guys fit within feminism?
  • How can guys better understand their place in a world where feminism is a matter of fact?
These are valuable questions worth discussing not just because they carry cultural significance. Feminism is so much more than a catalogue of historical events or a series of arcane theories left to academics; it is one of our time’s most visceral and exciting movements. It’s in action across our entire landscape. From our home and work lives, what we watch and read, all the way down to the way we think and interpret the world in front of us, feminism is at work. And it involves everyone, men and women. Too often have discussions of feminism centered on men’s relationships towards women. The Guy’s Guide considers men’s relationships with women, with feminism.

While our blog’s title mentions guys specifically, The Guy’s Guide works in and promotes a spirit of inclusiveness. We encourage and hope that men and women of all ages, backgrounds and levels of interest read, comment on, and push each discussion further.

Welcome to The Guy’s Guide to Feminism!