“Words are not fists”: on male strategies to defuse feminist anger

From May 2006.

I’ve been thinking about men in women’s studies classes, and jokes about "male-bashing."

This semester’s women’s studies class is like most: overwhelmingly female.  I’ve got 32 women and 6 men in the class.  I met individually last Thursday with the women for "all-female day"; I met with my guys on Tuesday for "all-male day."  This morning, we all got back together in the classroom for the first time as a full group in nine days.

Most of the guys hadn’t spoken in class all semester; today, all did.  A number of the women in class were eager to ask questions and create dialogue; up until this week, mine has been the only consistent male voice in the classroom.  The guys did a great job of sharing about many topics (we spent a lot of time on the "myth of male weakness")  But two of the guys did something that I see over and over again from men in women’s studies classes.  They prefaced their remarks by joking "I know I’m going to get killed for saying this, but…"  One of them, even pretended to rise from his desk to position himself by the door, saying that "Once I say this, I know I’m going to have to make a run for it."   Most of the women laughed indulgently, and I even found myself grinning along.

When men find themselves in feminist settings (like a women’s studies class) they are almost always in the minority.  When I was taking women’s studies classes at Berkeley in the 1980s, I was usually one of only two or three men in the room.  In my women’s history classes over the past decade, men average 10-20% of the students, never more.  Even when they make up as much as a fifth of the class, they generally do less than a tenth of the talking. That isn’t surprising, given the subject matter — I was often fairly quiet in my own undergraduate days.

But one thing I remember from my own college days that I see played out over and over again is this male habit of making nervous jokes about being attacked by feminists.  In my undergrad days, I often prefaced a comment by saying "I know I’ll catch hell for this".  I’ve seen male students do as they did today and pretend to run; I’ve seen them deliberately sit near the door, and I once had one young man make an elaborate show (I kid you not) of putting on a football helmet before speaking up!

All of this behavior reflects two things: men’s genuine fear of being challenged and confronted, and the persistence of the stereotype of feminists as being aggressive "man-bashers."  The painful thing about all this, of course, is that no man is in any real physical danger in the classroom — or even outside of it — from feminists.  Name one incident where an irate women’s studies major physically assaulted a male classmate for something he said?  Women are regularly beaten and raped — even on college campuses — but I know of no instance where a man found himself a victim of violence for making a sexist remark in a college feminist setting!  "Male-bashing" doesn’t literally happen, in other words, at least not on campus.   But that doesn’t stop men from using (usually half in jest) their own exaggerated fear of physical violence to make a subtle point about feminists.

There’s a conscious purpose to this sort of behavior.  Joking about getting beaten up (or putting on the football helmet) sends a message to young women in the classroom: "Tone it down.  Take care of the men and their feelings.  Don’t scare them off, because too much impassioned feminism is scary for guys."  And you know, as silly as it is, the joking about man-bashing almost always works! Time and again, I’ve seen it work to silence women in the classroom, or at least cause them to worry about how to phrase things "just right" so as to protect the guys and their feelings.  It’s a key anti-feminist strategy, even if that isn’t the actual intent of the young man doing it — it forces women students to become conscious caretakers of their male peers by subduing their own frustration and anger.   It reminds young women that they should strive to avoid being one of those "angry feminists" who (literally) scares men off and drives them away.

Here’s where I need to issue a big ol’ mea culpa.  Until today, I don’t think I fully realized how common this strategy of joking about male-bashing really is.  I didn’t realize how I, as a teacher, permit and thus encourage it.  Too often, I’ve been so eager to make sure that my small minority of men feels "safe" in the classroom that I’ve allowed their insecurities to function to silence the female majority — in what is supposed to be a feminist setting!  Though I haven’t made such remarks myself, I’ve laughed indulgently at them without stopping to consider their function.

Part of being a pro-feminist man, I’ve come to realize in recent years, is being willing to face the real anger of real women.  Far too many men spend a great deal of time trying to talk women out of their anger, or by creating social pressures that remind women of the consequences of expressing that anger.  Many men, frankly, are profoundly frightened by women who will directly challenge them.  In a classroom, they don’t really fear being struck or hit.  But by comparing a verbal attack on their own sexist attitudes towards physical violence, they hope to defuse the verbal expression of very real female pain and frustration.   I know that it’s hard to be a young man in a feminist setting for the first time, and I know, (oh, how I know) how difficult it is to sit and listen to someone challenge you on your most basic beliefs about your identity, your sexuality, your behavior, and your beliefs about gender.  It’s difficult to take the risk to speak up and push back a bit, and it’s scary to realize just how infuriating your views really are to other people, especially women.

The first task of the pro-feminist male in this situation is to accept the reality and the legitimacy of the frustration and disappointment and anger that so many women have with men, and to accept it without making light of it or trying to defuse it or trying to soothe it.  Pro-feminist men must work to confront their own fears about being the target of those feelings.  Above all, we cannot ever compare — even in jest — verbal expressions of strong emotion to actual physical violence or man-bashing.

After all, one of the pernicious aspects of the "myth of male weakness" is that men can’t handle being confronted with women’s anger.  We either run away literally or figuratively, disconnecting with the television, the bottle, the computer screen.  But we’re not little boys who will physically lash out in rage when challenged, nor can we be so fearful that we dodge and defuse and check out.  That’s not what an adult does in the face of the very real emotion of another human being.

I’ve allowed this kind of joking and defusing to go on too long in my classes. It’s going to stop now.

UPDATE:

Please don’t get into thread drift here.  This is not a forum to question the basic tenets of feminism, or issues of domestic violence and abuse, or why I’ve banned anyone in the past.  I’m going to be much more careful about monitoring what is posted here.  This is not a free speech zone, nor need it be.  It’s my blog, and y’all have other forums for discussing gender issues.

If you want to see the original (now closed) 2006 comments section, click here. Any new comments can be put below this post.

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85 thoughts on ““Words are not fists”: on male strategies to defuse feminist anger

  1. One day in winter when many students were absent for health reasons, I ended up with an all female classroom for the first time in that course. I immediately noticed how much easier it was for women to participate in discussions, insist on their opinions and argue when no male students were present. One of the students who almost never spoke in class before kept talking and expressing very interesting opinions. At the end of the class, she exclaimed: “Wow, it’s so good when boys are not around!” We started to discuss this and many women expressed their frustration at how often they were shot down, ignored and interrupted by their male colleagues. And this wasn’t a gender studies class. It was a literature course. So I can only imagine how hard it is to keep the sense of male entitlement in check among the gender studies students.

  2. “All of this behavior reflects two things: men’s genuine fear of being challenged and confronted, and the persistence of the stereotype of feminists as being aggressive “man-bashers.” ”

    I think there is a third dynamic here as well–at least, it’s a dynamic I’ve seen when my current significant other and I are having a discussion about some issue that is difficult for one or the other of us. The person initiating the discussion of the point that is difficult for the other person often says something like, “Please don’t get angry when I say this, because I’m not downplaying you or trying to hurt you–” And that statement is true. It’s a signal that what that person is about to say is in no way motivated by a desire to hurt or silence, but that the person knows it’s a difficult subject matter due to suffering that the listener has endured related to it. It’s a signal that the genuine intent is to communicate, not harm or enrage, and it works very well to enable the listener to know that it’s a “safe space” conversation, where truly difficult topics are being aired for the sole reason of constructive solutions and the speaker honestly regrets any pain he or she may cause in discussing the topic at all.

    Unless I’m giving your male students too much credit. But it seems worthwhile to at least speculate that this might play a role as well.

  3. I’ve noticed this phenomenon at church, too. In my congregation, we have a Sunday school class that is mixed gender, followed by a class that is gender segregated. Both classes are conducted in a discussion format. In the Sunday school class, I’m one of the few women who speaks up, and I often directly (but politely) challenge the assumptions and interpretations of others. It makes for good discussion. In the class of all women, the same women who sat silent for the previous hour suddenly speak up with insightful things to say. I hadn’t figured out why there was such a difference, but I think you’ve gotten to the bottom of it here.

  4. If you cant try to sooth or diffuse it, then what is the proper response to make when a woman expresses their “frustration and disappointment and anger that so many women have with men”? (is it a response that will still let you say what you want too?).

  5. To be the object of female anger is far more uncomfortable than to be called outside to fight a guy. Why is that? You’d think I would have gotten used to it by now.
    As a feral male, in my youth I met anger with anger, or retreated. Having matured a little, I notice that I now stay, and hear her out, and either admit my fault, or attempt to explain my position.
    A woman’s anger feels so immediate, like having a gun pointed at you. It’s extremely serious. No man could strike me with the gravity which a woman can. When you leave us, all hope is gone; there is no reason for our existence.
    I abhor the way we’ve treated you, and I’m glad you’re free(er) to speak out and rise to equality.
    The satisfaction of surviving an angry encounter, having talked it through as equals, is one of the most moving experiences there is.

  6. @ Chris P

    Your entire comment rubs me the wrong way, but this in particular:

    The satisfaction of surviving an angry encounter, having talked it through as equals, is one of the most moving experiences there is.

    is literally what this post is talking about. You feel good for having SURVIVED a conversation with a woman? Stop conflating violence with women’s righteous anger, anger is not violence. If someone told me that my anger was like having a gun pointed at them I’d count it as the millionth lesson I’ve had in keeping my mouth shut and making sure men feel safe.

  7. What bothers a lot of people, Hugo, is that you don’t seem to understand how men think at all, or have any empathy for them, and you misattribute motives to men, always seemingly choosing the most evil explanation, in much the same way that female feminists do.

  8. Every time I have a debate with both men and women about feminism and gender issues it has been the same scenario:
    I was the only male who opened his mouth, and all the women would attack me at the same time using insults and shaming, calling me names and not giving me a chance to even answer to their attacks.
    The only way those discussions could ever work is me nodding and bowing my head to anything the women were saying.

    Because of that, I fully understand what you describe. I have no fear whatsoever of a proper, civil debate and invite ANYONE to debate me on my blog. But I refuse to debate under the circumstances you describe. You even admit yourself that the women in these classes are not rational but driven by anger and frustration and, worse, you think it’s fine to allow those emotions to color the arguments.

    “Blame the men” is your standard response to anything it seems. You do realize that you’re demeaning women by not holding them accountable for anything. Women’s liberation wanted women to be treated on equal terms with men. Perhaps you should go back to the roots.

  9. You even admit yourself that the women in these classes are not rational but driven by anger and frustration

    Claiming that women have no legitimate reasons for anger and thus all women’s anger is irrational is a key anti-feminist silencing tactic.

  10. Fan, meet feces.
    Equal terms–that happens when each side is seen acting the same towards the other. According to Hugo, who has spent a lot more time with people than I have, it hasn’t happened yet.
    Have occasionally observed the joking phenomenon he mentions, where a member of the ruling caste finds self surrounded by members of the lower caste, finds this uncomfortable (rightly or not) and turns this predicament into humor. Wouldn’t happen the same way if lower-caste member was minority in group of upper caste, unless the former was extremely bold and confident.
    Thought experiment–swap the genders in this scenario with races or classes. Would the dynamics play out the same way?
    I’m just as annoyed by men making a joke out of an uncomfortable situation that actually challenges their (general, though not all profit from it) hegemony as by women standing around bashing men and not realizing how feminism could help them get into a position of not-needing-to-bash.
    For example of oppressors using humor to defuse/divert serious questioning of their behavior, look at any parent who finds a way to laugh off a child’s legitimate complaint about something by making some sort of joke and getting the kid laughing too even when the kid doesn’t really feel like it and the basic issue, whatever it is, goes unadressed.
    It sounds like the same thing is happening in your classes where the students are supposed to be equals with each other. Props for trying to take it apart. Perhaps some anger and frustration needs to be let out, but a good moderator or teacher can keep it under control.
    Are not holding someone accountable for anything, and holding them accountable for everything, the only 2 choices we have?

  11. Angiportus,

    Your seething resentment against men for all the privilege and other things they unfairly get in life comes through loud and clear.

    I think if you lived life as an average man, some of the unfair advantages you think men have wouldn’t be quite as available, and you would have some unexpected pressures and responsibilities that you hadn’t thought about.

    It doesn’t sound like the young men here are making a joke out of an uncomfortable situation that challenges their hegemony (hegemony and mastery of the world at age 19 or 20 no less!), they are probably still inching their ways towards an identity of themselves and may be unsure of the right thing to say. That may just be their way of trying to lighten things up.

    And look at the response from people like you. You are going to rage at them until their behavior doesn’t diverge one millimeter from the way you think they should behave. While you behave any way you damn well please.

    Selfish, no empathy at all and extremely judgmental without a need for it – why?

  12. Comrade Svilova,

    “Claiming that women have no legitimate reasons for anger and thus all women’s anger is irrational is a key anti-feminist silencing tactic.”

    Maybe sometimes they do have a legitimate reason for anger. Maybe sometimes they don’t. But treating well meaning BOYS (who are not fully cooked yet) with such hostility for nothing THEY have done is ridiculous and it doesn’t help the discussion any.

  13. Okay, folks, reread my note about comments. This is a feminist blog designed for a feminist audience; comments hostile towards feminism are no more appropriate here than say, rantings of a fundamentalist on a blog designed by atheists for atheists.

    My students are adults, all over 18, and thus no longer boys or girls, unless we buy the lie that adolescence is a decades-long project.

    Find a way to frame your words in a way that is respectful of other commenters and this blog’s basic purpose. Thanks.

  14. Hugo:

    I like the analysis you present here of jokes about “man-bashing” and the effects they can have. Nicely done, especially with tying that in to the myths of male weakness.

    However, I find it interesting that you note the harmful effects of certain kinds of speech as silencing (in this case, jokes about “man-bashing”), but also argue that “words are not fists”. I wonder if your argument would not be stronger if you did not say something like “Actually, words *are* fists, sometimes. But so-called man-bashing is not one of those times. On the other hand, jokes about ‘man-bashing’ does do real harm. The difference between the two situations is to do with systemic power dynamics in each situation.”

    (I’m not sure one could argue that jokes about “man-bashing” are themselves fists, but I think one could legitimately argue that these jokes *do* harm, in the JL Austin performative sense, rather than just communicate *about* harm.)

    –IP

  15. @Comrade Svilova:
    I’m not the one who’s silencing people. But I also won’t be made to take part in a shouting match full of insults and name calling. That isn’t a debate at all and won’t do anything but shame those who are less versed at insulting and have a quieter voice. Surely nobody wants that?

    @Angiportus
    It is utterly ridiculous to take some 18/19 year old boys who are massively outnumbered and call them a ruling caste of any sorts. Today’s young generation (male or female) have it so hard to find their feet and get off the ground professionally. Much harder than older generations had it.

    @Hugo
    First of all, 18 year old boys are not even fully grown and usually don’t have their own family and more often than not, don’t earn their own bread. Many gay and transgender people have not even begun to understand their identity at that age let alone had the chance to find their place in such a hostile society. So, yes, I definitely would tend to call them boys at that age.

    Since you’re very clear about not allowing criticism of feminism, why don’t you give us your definition of feminism please? Feminism is a very diverse ideology. I’ve met some with whom I agree on everything, and others with whom I agree on almost nothing. Ask ten different feminists what feminism stands for and you get ten different answers.

    I also find it interesting that you implement a silencing/censoring policy in the very same post in which you criticize a minority for voicing their opinion defensively. Do you also implement that policy in your classes? If so, then that explains why they start defensively. Anyone would.

    Anyone care to debate with me on a level playing field, without censorship or banning?

  16. I suppose if old posts can be reprised, then my responses can, as well. Hugo, I’m not sure why you take phenomena displayed by such a wide variety of people and respond as though only men do it in the presence of women. Take any situation in which a minority is in the presence of a majority — whether it be race, gender, politics, or religion (when that is also the subject being discussed) — and you might find him/her making a similar sort of joke. And sometimes it’s a thinly veiled expression of reluctance to speak out in the face of the majority, and sometimes it’s a joke and nothing more.

    If you have found many men prefacing their remarks in this way, then perhaps we should try to get at the crux behind WHY so many men in these classrooms worry that they will be shot down or silenced. It’s interesting that, after a conversation, both “sides” can believe that the other person “kept interrupting me and monopolizing the conversation.”

  17. IrrationalPoint: [Hugo should argue that] “Actually, words *are* fists, sometimes. But so-called man-bashing is not one of those times. On the other hand, jokes about ‘man-bashing’ does do real harm.”

    Are you arguing here that sexism against one gender isn’t harmful, but pointing out said sexism IS harmful?

  18. Bmmg39:

    Are you arguing here that sexism against one gender isn’t harmful, but pointing out said sexism IS harmful?

    Not at all. I’m sorry: I should have been more clear. By “jokes about man-bashing”, I meant the sorts of comments that Hugo was reacting to, eg “I know I’m going to get killed for saying this”. It’s not actual man-bashing, it’s a joking reference to man-bashing.]

    In other words: I am arguing that sexism *is* very harmful, and that part of the way that harm is “done” is through language. That is, some kinds of speech can *do* (sexist) harm, not just be *about* harm.

    –IP

  19. Take any situation in which a minority is in the presence of a majority — whether it be race, gender, politics, or religion (when that is also the subject being discussed) — and you might find him/her making a similar sort of joke.

    But the whole point of interest is that you don’t find similar remarks made in similar tones in all such situations. You don’t find the one black guy in a class of white students preface a contrary point about race with “ha ha, I know you’re going to want to string me up for saying this.” (I mean, that’s a mini Dave Chappelle-esque skit in itself.) You don’t see the lonely Jew in a German history class putting on the martyred face to declare she knows she might get killed for saying this, but darn it she’s just got to.

    Hugo’s describing a very particular kind of attitude struck only by those minorities who are accustomed to being in the majority and find it weird and unsettling and defensive-making that suddenly they’re not.

    People who are in minorities or otherwise disadvantaged groups most of the time have their own fears and anxieties and their own attendant rhetorical strategies and defenses for when they want to speak to a potentially hostile group of majority members, but they aren’t the same strategies. They don’t sound anything like this.

  20. If you have found many men prefacing their remarks in this way, then perhaps we should try to get at the crux behind WHY so many men in these classrooms worry that they will be shot down or silenced.

    They don’t worry about that, and I can prove it thusly: If they were afraid, instead of playing cutsey fake-afraid for feminine aww-ing and sympathy, when they ventured to speak, they wouldn’t play the room for laughs and reassurance, they would do what genuinely worried people do. You know the lines:

    “I’m not sure if this is right, but…Um, this is just my opinion, but…Maybe…Do you think…Does anybody else feel that…I was just wondering, I mean, maybe this is stupid, but…I’m sorry to ask such a dumb question, but…This is probably wrong, but….”

    THAT is what fear and worry and shame sounds like. And odds are really good that if you’ve ever been in a college classroom with women, you’ve heard it. Intimidated people go for self-deprecation, not scattershot insults.

  21. @sophonisba
    “You don’t see the lonely Jew in a German history class putting on the martyred face to declare she knows she might get killed for saying this, but darn it she’s just got to.”

    Bad analogy. Jews are (rightfully) not held responsible for the holocaust and are therefore not on the defensive as it is the case with men and gender issues.

    “Hugo’s describing a very particular kind of attitude struck only by those minorities who are accustomed to being in the majority …”

    So where are men in the majority that makes them “accustomed” to being in the majority? Not in college, that much is certain. Not in employment either as women outnumber men in employment too. Or do you mean UNemployment or homelessness or victims of violence or suicide or incarceration? Yep, men are in the majority of all of those.

    ” Intimidated people go for self-deprecation, not scattershot insults.”

    Wrong again. Fear can manifest itself in many forms – one of which is the preemptive attack.

  22. sophonisba: “But the whole point of interest is that you don’t find similar remarks made in similar tones in all such situations. You don’t find the one black guy in a class of white students preface a contrary point about race with ‘ha ha, I know you’re going to want to string me up for saying this.’”

    I don’t think he’d specifically say “string me up.” But could he say something general, like “I know I’m gonna get killed for saying this, but…”? Of course he could. And a woman might make that comment in a group of men. The only example we have here is of a man saying that in a group of women, and that’s because our host teaches a women’s-studies class.

    “You don’t see the lonely Jew in a German history class putting on the martyred face to declare she knows she might get killed for saying this, but darn it she’s just got to.”

    “Jew” is not the opposite of “German,” and I seriously doubt a German-history class would include anything hostile to Jews. Most modern-day Germans are horrified by the Holocaust; there wouldn’t be a lot of disagreement within the class.

    “Hugo’s describing a very particular kind of attitude struck only by those minorities who are accustomed to being in the majority…”

    Being in the majority? Have there been several times as many men as women in this nation? Or do you mean that men are used to being more around large groups of other men? If that’s the case, then every group is in that same boat. Women tend to associate with other women, and people tend to associate with members of the same group.

    “THAT is what fear and worry and shame sounds like. And odds are really good that if you’ve ever been in a college classroom with women, you’ve heard it. Intimidated people go for self-deprecation, not scattershot insults.”

    …well, we weren’t talking about scattershot insults; we were talking about the “I’ll be killed” “joke,” which is really just a different form of the introductions you just listed here.

  23. I’m sure that Hugo will ban me in a heartbeat, but I find it interesting that present-day feminism involves milking male chivalry for all it can produce, while simultaneously denying that. And simultaneously pointing that out as the “Patriarchy”.

    Men are getting used. Wake up.

    Hugo has a woman’s brain, more or less, so he will never get it.

  24. Let’s not be obtuse about what was meant. Sophonisba was clearly referring to a ‘Majority,’ as the dominant/powerful group. I mean, at several points in time (maybe even today, I’m not sure?) black people were the majority, population wise, in certain areas–noteably the south–but it wouldn’t have made sense to say that they were the dominant/powerful group.

    Sophonisba’s point–that those from the dominant group, unused to being at a disadvantage in group situation, react differently than those from the subordinate group who find themselves in that position all the time— stands.

    “I don’t think he’d specifically say “string me up.” But could he say something general, like “I know I’m gonna get killed for saying this, but…”? Of course he could.”
    You’re missing the point. Yeah, he *could*. But *would* he? No, he likely would not use that phrasing, which is characteristic of a member of the dominant group who finds themselves among and outnumbered by the subordinate group. It is wholly different in quality from the kind of qualifier a member of the subordinate group would make in a similar situation.

  25. All right, I don’t mean to imply that men have an entirely easier time in this culture–and I don’t believe for a minute that teenage boys really have a hold on that legended male privilege. Sorry I confused anyone. But I get rankled at anyone using humor to keep real injustices from being properly questioned and fixed, instead of helping in that project, which it can do so well, in the right hands.
    Someone else can pull out the stats as to which sex has the majority in the seats of power–executive, legislative, judicial–and in the power seats of industry as well–not to mention the religious venues where so many go to get answers about the unknown.
    The hestiant questioning style quoted by Sophonisba is one I have heard from both genders in a variety of contexts. And yes, I have heard people use a humorous approach when they are nervous. But it sounds different from when they are not so nervous–well, sometimes anyway. I wasn’t present in Hugo’s classes, so I don’t know just what went on–but I suspect those boys/young men came there to learn, and came out eventually having learned some good things.
    Let’s leave the question of the gender of Hugo’s brain to him and his doctor(s).

  26. Cactuar: “Let’s not be obtuse about what was meant. Sophonisba was clearly referring to a ‘Majority,’ as the dominant/powerful group.”

    Okay, so the use of the word stems from an assumption about men that can be contested.

    bmmg39: “I don’t think he’d specifically say “string me up.” But could he say something general, like “I know I’m gonna get killed for saying this, but…”? Of course he could.”

    Cactuar: “You’re missing the point. Yeah, he *could*. But *would* he? No, he likely would not use that phrasing.”

    YOU’RE missing MY point, which is that, yes, the African-American is JUST as likely to say such a thing as the man in the company of women or the women in the company of men.

    I’m not telling Hugo how to do his job, as I’m sure he’s a fine professor, but if I were moderating a class and the few males kept prefacing their comments in that way, I’d ask them why they think they’ll “get in trouble” if they make their thoughts known. I’d also hope to assure them that all views in the classroom are acceptable, so long as they are respectful to all other people in the room.

  27. In a feminist classroom, avowedly anti-feminist views are not acceptable, any more than the defense of slavery would be in a class on African-American history.

  28. …well, we weren’t talking about scattershot insults; we were talking about the “I’ll be killed” “joke,

    Are you kidding? “You angry chicks are gonna kill me” is an insult directed at every woman within earshot.

  29. “Jew” is not the opposite of “German,”

    Um, holy crap, no kidding. In other breaking news, “man” isn’t the opposite of “woman.”

    Re: majority/minority, you’ll note I specified minorities or other disadvantaged groups, and I did so precisely because women’s trained classroom deference is such a persistent issue even where they are the numerical majority.

    Oh, who am I kidding? You won’t note it. But I did say it.

  30. Hugo: “In a feminist classroom, avowedly anti-feminist views are not acceptable, any more than the defense of slavery would be in a class on African-American history.”

    That would likely qualify as “not respectful” to others in the room. I don’t think staunchly anti-feminist men would even be IN a women’s-studies class. I am speaking of mere differences of opinion on specific topics. I would imagine that you encourage your students to speak up even if they disagree with the majority of viewpoints in the room on a specific matter.

    sophonisba: “Are you kidding? ‘You angry chicks are gonna kill me’ is an insult directed at every woman within earshot.”

    Looks to me as though the person who says that has himself/herself as the main target of the “humor.” I’m not saying it’s all that funny or that it doesn’t get old after even a few times. I just don’t see how so much can be read into another person’s comment. I guess I didn’t major in clairvoyance.

    “Re: majority/minority, you’ll note I specified minorities or other disadvantaged groups…”

    See my comment about contestable assumptions.

  31. Hugo,

    Many thanks for this fantastic post. I was just referred to your blog today, and I have a lot of back-reading to do.

    I am a Soil Scientist and work in a male dominated industry. I am 27 years old and completing a PhD. Since I started working in the industry at 22, I have struggled with individual men in the workplace. These men are usually aged between 35-50. Problems included: backstabbing, lying, yelling, refusing to communicate with me, refusing to help, not undertaking things I have asked for etc. In one case, I have asked a male colleague 5 times to send me records of a bank account which I am Treasurer for, and he just won’t. I believe this is because I challenged some of his research, which I said (and rightly) would not be appropriate to use in my own case. I never really understood why I was having these problems, apart from knowing there was a gender and youth problem, until I read your post.

    After reading this post, I realised it has a lot to do with me challenging my older male peers. I am a strong, scientific woman, and have strong sense of logic and truth prevails. If I think something is not right, I will say so. However, this has caused me so many issues in the workplace, but only with specific men. When I have brought these problems up with my managers/bosses etc, it has been seen as a non-issue. I then have to resign (why I left my last 3 jobs).

    I have been scouring the internet to better understand this issue. Is there anywhere you can point me? Your own work? Do you have any ideas about how to guide (young) women through these problems?

    Many thanks!

    Jess

  32. Hugo,

    I find it rather interesting how you’re basically saying that feminism’s axiomatic base is actually a matter of faith…

    “comments hostile towards feminism are no more appropriate here than say, rantings of a fundamentalist on a blog designed by atheists for atheists.”

    Also – Godwin’s law, anyone?

  33. I was also going to add, that this is not the case with ALL men I have worked with. Many men (and women) are accepting of my thoughts and ideas, and challenges. In my studies, I have had no problems with male counterparts.

  34. “After reading this post, I realised it has a lot to do with me challenging my older male peers.”

    Everything you listed (and much more) has happened to me in the workplace. I’ve also been treated like sh!t occasionally. And I’m a man.

    It’s called “work sucks” and not everyone plays fair out there, women or men, and thinking that you are being subjected to especially bad treatment because you are a woman may be misguided. There is a reason that most lotto winners quit their jobs.

  35. Soilduck–it might be both an attitude/presentation and a gender problem. I say take it as far up the chain of command as you can until you get justice.
    And Mark is right, work sucks. By not giving up, and making sure you yourself are dealing respect, you might be able to help un-suckulate your corner of it. That doesn’t guarantee that someone you don’t even suspect won’t make up something to hang you with, like they did to me, but it still seems worth a try.

  36. I’ve turned on comment moderation, as we’re getting swamped by the MRAs again.

    And saying a class on women’s history has a feminist perspective is identical to saying a class on African-American history has an anti-racist bias. The views of those who regard women as less than fully equal are equivalent to those who regarded African Americans as less than fully equal. The fact that the latter is now less socially respectable than the former doesn’t obviate its noxiousness. Nowhere in academia do we demand we give the Klan a voice during Martin Luther King Week for the sake of balance. And that’s not Godwin’s Law, which refers to Nazis, that’s common sense. Feel free to go elsewhere if that leaves you spluttering with fury or exasperation.

  37. No. The problem is that you’re equating criticism of feminism with sexism and misogyny. That’s just name calling.

    Oh and thanks for deleting my comment but still attempting to argue with it. Like I said, come and debate me on equal terms and I’ll show the world the hypocrisy in your reasoning.

  38. Hugo,

    “Nowhere in academia do we demand we give the Klan a voice during Martin Luther King Week for the sake of balance.”

    No, of course not. And certainly not for the sake of “balance”. “Balance” is not a scientific entity. If it were, we’d probably still look for a westward seaway to India. “Balance” is a political aspect – and that’s the appropriate level of addressing it (or not addressing it). You seem to conflate these two dimensions, and I believe it is this kind of thinking that makes it so difficult for not just a few people to consider normative sociology as predominantly scientific and not predominantly political/activist.

  39. This is interesting. When I started taking classes again after the birth of our third son (I was roughly 24), I certainly did notice that I was deferred to by the young men in whatever class I was taking….community college, early eighties.

    I figured, at the time…that my age and traditional path cleared the way for my attitude and “outspokeness”…but I’m just now understanding how I was insulated from challenges and charges of “man-hating feminism.”

    I was older, a wife and a mother…IOW…unassailable, way back when.

  40. In any venue, regarding any subject, characterizing yourself as a victim of attack for your soon-to-be-spoken views is a pre-emptive move to forestall and undercut criticism. Equating argument with attack (or “taking offense” or “getting your panties in a bunch” or “flaming”) even before the offending words are spoken puts anyone who disagrees with you at a disadvantage.

    It may be the case that certain classes of people, under certain circumstances, are less or more likely to use certain kinds of rhetorical strategies to shape classroom discussions. It is usually considered funny or charming when a member of a dominant group takes a submissive or one-down posture in relation to members of a lower-ranked group, as long as it’s clear this is a temporary subversion of the norm. But it’s super-confrontational or kind of confusing when a member of a subject group either takes a power position or makes a big show of their powerlessness.

    So you have someone who’s used to being deferred to by a certain class of people “deferring” to that class of people as a strategy to defuse hostility and forestall criticism (but you don’t get the black guy in the white classroom doing *exactly* the same thing, because it’s not a clearly humorous posture).

    Hell, if I had that option in class, I’d use it, too.

    Whatever the boys in question may feel about confrontation, this is an illegitimate rhetorical device to employ in an honest discussion. It’s about winning points, when presenting ideas should be the goal. Likewise, shouting people down isn’t cool, even if it makes lots of sense in relation to out-of-classroom power dynamics. I guess the challenge is to create a space where equality really does reign. Very slippery thing.

  41. @Mark and @Angiportus

    Many thanks for your replies. Someone else also mentioned respect to me, and I make sure I do respect my peers/elders. I also agree than men and women can both cause problems in the workplace, and men can also have problems with men and women. And that work can be hell. However, I am merely pointing out a particular pattern in my own life, and seeing if anyone else has noticed a similar phenomenon: Research available?

    I also wanted to point out that I have extensively looked into my own behaviour, including psychotherapy, regarding my interactions with men in the workplace.

    Mark, in some of these cases I am almost certain it has been a problem of gender. In other ways, I believe it has more to do with my scientific questioning of things: ‘why’, ‘how’, ‘does it have to be that way’. I try to mediate my questioning, whilst still maintaining respect. However, quite often by simply (scientifically) questioning something, I have had problems. Perhaps it is because this person expects to be respected and that by ‘questioning’ them, they feel I am not doing so. In other ways, their reactions are similar to those that Hugo has discussed in his blog, and I am wondering if the two correlate or if anyone has done research in this area. (???)

    My (male) partner also didn’t think there was a gender issue until I pointed out to him: men (including friends) were more willing to discuss science with him, even on occasions when it was something I knew more about. This is an ongoing and well documented phenomenon for women in science: http://chronicle.com/article/Why-Female-Science/65922/, ‘She is Such a Geek’ by Analee Newitz… etc etc.

    All in all, I think it is a combination of gender, respect (some people expected to be treated in a hierarchical nature more than others), ego, and the fact I am a scientist and have a questioning nature. If anyone has anything I can read which is along these lines, or may answer some of my questions, it would be appreciated.

  42. Hugo, you are a brave one. Some of the most stalwart male feminists I know will occasionally get defensive when I talk about gender issues, as if my criticism of a system is a criticism of them personally. Although some of them have known me and been my friends for years, they will occasionally forget that I can be furious with the ways in which I and other women have been oppressed in a male-dominated society and yet not have contempt for men as a gender or individually. Thanks for remembering that, for not taking our anger personally or trying to fix it.

  43. In a feminist classroom, avowedly anti-feminist views are not acceptable, any more than the defense of slavery would be in a class on African-American history.

    Then you are not an educator, but a propagandist.

    Certainly, there is room in education for the educator to provide structure, to shape discussion and limit conversations at certain times. The Klan should not be allowed to start marching and burning crosses every time you bring up Dr. King.

    A class on African-American history which does not examine the defense of slavery, which does not attempt to engage the ideas of all the people being studied rather than a politically-favored subset, will not be much of a class.

    Feminism does not have such a strong fundamental grasp on reality that it can afford this type of epistemic closure.

  44. You misunderstand me, Robert. Of course we explore sexism and its defenses, just as a course on African-American history would explore racism. We look at texts that justify treating women as inferior to men, just as we would look at texts defending slavery. But for a student in an African-American studies class to defend slavery (or to defend the idea that African Americans were genetically inferior to European-Americans) would be unacceptable, yes? Feminism is essentially equivalent to anti-racism — it is an ideology in as much as it believes in equality, and that it claims supremacy over anti-egalitarian or reactionary views in the classroom.

    If that’s indoctrination, then I am a proud propagandist from a long line of propagandists. And I’ve never met an educator who wasn’t.

  45. I doubt it Hugo, you are so one-sided you can’t even fathom that anyone thinks differently than you.

    I’ve recently had an idea that people should start protesting the waste of taxpayer money outside of classrooms like yours. If that movement picked up, maybe some colleges would finally get rid of the likes of you, the sort of people who actually teach.

  46. You misunderstand me, Robert. Of course we explore sexism and its defenses, just as a course on African-American history would explore racism. We look at texts that justify treating women as inferior to men, just as we would look at texts defending slavery. But for a student in an African-American studies class to defend slavery (or to defend the idea that African Americans were genetically inferior to European-Americans) would be unacceptable, yes?

    No, unless you’re running an indoctrination mill instead of a college classroom.

    It is not acceptable or unacceptable to defend an idea. An idea may be wrong or right. It may be provable or ineffable. The right and wrong of slavery falls into the ineffable category; I know I’m right that slavery is morally appalling, but I can’t prove it – and to decide that I get to talk in college, while Frank who disagrees with me doesn’t, is simple exercise of power.

    Other questions are questions of inquiry. If there is some metric for determining genetic optimality or fitness, then that metric may be applicable to African Americans and European Americans and it may have differential outcomes. Maybe European Americans are “genetically superior”. I doubt it, but I am not God and do not possess the sum totality of wisdom.

    Either way, people who talk about what ideas it’s “unacceptable” to hold or defend are a bit scary. In a personal context, fine. If you don’t want to be friends with Joe the Genetic-science Racist, fine, don’t be; me either. If Joe isn’t allowed to bring up legitimate research on athletic performance among racial groupings when that’s appropriate to what’s being studied or discussed, not fine.

    Feminism is essentially equivalent to anti-racism — it is an ideology in as much as it believes in equality, and that it claims supremacy over anti-egalitarian or reactionary views in the classroom.

    Well, it claims to believe in equality. I haven’t seen much evidence of egalitarianism among feminists, other than the socialist everybody-gets-the-same-shitty-doctor kind of egalitarianism.

    Claiming supremacy over other political views, however, is not a neutral or pedagogical act. It’s a political one, and it puts your teaching squarely in the realm of the political.

  47. Why do instructors fear those with opposing viewpoints? I knew some English and European students who were horrified at how upset certain American professors were with those who challenged them in class. Is this an American professor thing? Challenging the faith during a church service is one thing, but challenging the faith in an academic setting seems to be very appropriate me. Isn’t that what the academic realm is for?

    It seems to me that a competent expert in feminism would welcome a challenge from someone in class. Feminism is not a science. It is an arational belief like racial egalitarianism and religion.
    Science is MOR (measurable, observable, repeatable) and subject to rejection by the viewer.

    Science: . . . I believe that the bowling ball will fall faster than the tennis ball when I drop them both from the tower. They hit the ground at the same time? I then reject my belief that the bowling ball will fall faster than the tennis ball.

    (Just because something is an arational belief does not mean that it is a bad thing. I’m a Christian. I can’t prove that God exists. I know that he exists because of my own personal experience. I can’t prove that the races are all equal or that women are equal to men. I can’t prove that dog fighting is wrong. What I believe and what I can PROVE are two different things.)

  48. Robert, what would you do if some legitimate research found out that a group *you* belonged to was inferior?
    And if someone decides to defend slavery, shouldn’t they willing to defend it if the group in danger of enslavement includes them, instead of the people they are talking to?
    Hugo’s students, and his readers here, exist in a culture still reeking with misogynist crap, with a pathetic reaction of misandry on the side. Same thing with racism. So it’s not like someone saying otherwise therein is being any sort of minority hero. The equality that would help real minds to flourish is hard-won, a struggle not yet finished. Examining the texts and other media that support sexism, racism and other vile isms is needful, but defending those isms in the classroom is a waste of everyone’s time, when they are still so pervasive outside. Talented people are still seeing their skills wasted and their lives diminished by cultural assumptions about them based on anatomy, and we are all the poorer for it.
    There’s a zillion bars, bathroom walls, and so on where people can spew harmful words–but a place where someone is making an effort to learn deserves better. Questioning the methods by which equality is sought is one thing, but questioning the goal of equality itself, in an institution which anyone can attend, doesn’t quite fit. Do you want to go back in time and make education itself avaiable only to certain physical types?
    The joking tactics which Hugo described show that some students may not be taking seriously the experience of others. Sometimes they may be just nervous and not know what to say, but other times they really might be attacking what they wrongly feel is an attack on them, rather than an attack on a system which tells them they are the ruling caste yet lets only a few of them actually rule, and which hurts everyone.
    Examining the defense of inequity is one thing, and needful; actually supporting that inequity is another.

  49. Robert, what would you do if some legitimate research found out that a group *you* belonged to was inferior?

    Get on with life?

    For the record, I’m partially of Italian heritage, and much early IQ testing indicated that Italians – and especially Sicilians – had lower IQs than other Europeans, sometimes exceptionally lower.

    So it’s already happened, and as for what I’d do, it’s what I’ve done: lived my life.

    I don’t think that spouting defenses of inequity is some holy thing that must be valorized above everyone’s desire to learn etc. But I’m also extremely suspicious of anyone whose learning process must be so pristine that viewpoints must not be heard. Are some arguments so venomous that they must be apprehended only through the safety of a veil of ink and paper and some other scholar’s second or third or fourthhand exposure? I don’t know.

    But I suspect that trying to keep out certain viewpoints will end up causing more harms, most especially to the vigor of the institution itself, than can be justified by any virtues thus produced.

  50. So it’s already happened, and as for what I’d do, it’s what I’ve done: lived my life.

    And that’s as disingenuous as all the white folks claiming to have overcome discrimination based on plowing through in their lives despite the great-grandmother who was a “Cherokee princess”. Robert, you can pass as a person with no Mediterranean ancestry, and that makes a big difference. You have received the Anglo-Saxon benefit of the doubt for “living your life”.

  51. All right, I’m a 1st amendment fan myself. And inimical viewpoints can make good debating practice. Are some arguments really that venomous, that seeing a live human being spouting them instead of a book might make one lose control? I don’t know either. I do know that a teacher has only so much time, which resource is best not wasted, and giving too much of it to the support of ideas that have already been poured into the students’ heads, as opposed to what they might not yet know and could benefit from learning, is counterproductive. How to give courage to intimidated students, that is a whole nother thread to start, but showing up the dynamics, if that is the right word, of behavior like Hugo describes is one part of the cure.
    At different times, I’ve been both the intimidated, silenced student and the disruptive nuisance. In the first instance at least, Hugo’s presence might have helped.
    So far as I can tell, IQ numbers are a pile of crap. We are all smart and dim in different places, at different times, and the idea of getting on with life is a good one. If the results of one study upset you, never mind, another one will be out soon saying the opposite.

  52. …But I must add an agreement with La Lubu, that getting on with your life becomes a lot harder when someone comes up and slaps a label on you–gender myth, race, IQ score, whatever–that makes a lot of other people think less of you. Can anyone really be sure how much of their successes are due to effort, and how much to the good luck of not running into too many people who have mistaken prejudices against them?

  53. Hi Hugo, I just discovered your blog and am enjoying reading through the back issues. A couple of points, from an amateur:

    1-Regarding the “MRAs” and the relevance of the arguments here. The questions are all good and up for debate, but the way I understand it is that in Hugo’s class and from this blog’s perspective, some of those questions are taken as answered. So the issues become what follows on if we grant this perspective. So in this arena, we want to accept them and discuss the downstream issues. This doesn’t mean that the original questions aren’t still worth debating, but just not right here in this post.

    2-Gender studies are a difficult academic discipline because we are inside it. It’s unlike a North American class room discussion of village politics in Uganda, or of the consequences of General Relativity. The participants are all living the subject matter, even in the class room! Add to that, that they are all human beings with faults, feelings and preconceived world-views. It’s a social interaction. So this sort of response seems natural. The man is preparing to put forward a view (and whether that view is right or wrong is irrelevant) that will be unpopular or perhaps even offensive to the majority of the audience. So he prefaces it with something that shows that he’s not looking for a fight – “don’t hurt me, but”. Just like a dog bowing before initiating play – I’m about to jump on you but I don’t mean to start a fight. The response of the women in the class is the social equivalent of the partner bowing back – it’s OK we can play and it won’t be a fight. So while you may not like the societal background of these men’s prefaces, you do need to be understanding of them. Being ganged up on by a social group is terrifying for people. I’m not saying that would happen in a women’s studies class, but it’s a similar instinct of the man to nerves in public speaking – what if everyone thinks you’re an idiot. People aren’t going to stand up and boo you from the lectern, but the fear is there. And how many lab chats have you been to that have started with some sort of apology for not having enough time to prepare or using old slides or whatever? I just realised I even did it in this post by prefacing my main points with “from an amateur”! To me it seems the same social function. The difference in your class is that you can make the behaviour relevant to the subject matter.

    Apologies for being so expansive. Nothing like replying to blogs to distract from writing a thesis… I’m really enjoying the discussion, so please feel free to correct me. I won’t even run away.

  54. “And saying a class on women’s history has a feminist perspective is identical to saying a class on African-American history has an anti-racist bias.”

    I do have to take issue with this. Of course an anti-racist bias is an anti-racist bias, but is an anti-mimsogynist bias always a feminist one? It makes sense that a women’s studies class would definitely be anti-misogynist, but why does that automatically mean it must be feminist? Does feminism have a monopoly on anti-misogyny? If I am against misogyny am I a de facto feminist?

    “Why do instructors fear those with opposing viewpoints? I knew some English and European students who were horrified at how upset certain American professors were with those who challenged them in class. Is this an American professor thing? Challenging the faith during a church service is one thing, but challenging the faith in an academic setting seems to be very appropriate me. Isn’t that what the academic realm is for?”

    I am a not a tenured nor tenure-track professor, but I am a lecturer in the social sciences in the States. I love it when students challenge my viewpoints, opinions, or even facts. In my first quarter of teaching I was corrected by a student on a point of fact and I thanked her for doing so. An educator’s job is not to stifle debate. For the record, I’m not convinced that propagandizing is what Hugo is doing, but as someone who doesn’t consider myself a feminist (I shy away from “ists” and “isms” when self-labelling) I do object to the idea that an anti-misogynist classroom is inherently a feminist one.

  55. Feminism is, at its simplest dictionary definition, a belief in the social, political, economic, educational, and sexual equality of women with men. (Look it up, most American dictionaries will give something very close to that.) Misogyny is the belief that men are superior to women, that they are fundamentally not equal. So yes, in my book, misogyny and feminism are opposites. Not all those who shy away from misogyny must claim the name of feminism, but to repudiate misogyny is to embody feminism, even if under another name.

  56. A gentleman’s gentleman–welcome,from another amateur. I get what you are saying about it being like dogs initiating a play-fight. But from Hugo’s description, the women students seem intimidated or not in the mood for such a contest or both. I think he want so make sure everyone engages on equal terms, and that’s why he is concerned. That’s my take on the situation, anyway.
    A quibble–we do live “inside” the consequences of relativity, or else it would have never been proven. That’s how I understand it anyway, something to do with satellite signals and/or GPS, my memory is un-detailed.

  57. Hi Hugo,
    I have two broad questions with regard to your take on equality of the sexes:
    1)
    How do you feel about sexism that affects men negatively? I’m referring to things like misandry in the media, family courts, public health care funding, “women and children first” policy, conscription.

    2)
    How do you feel about gender issues that may not come from sexism but also affect men negatively. Examples: Men are more likely to become victims of violence, 3 times more likely to commit suicide, more likely to be homeless and unemployed.

  58. Uh, Lucy? Conscription is gone from the USA. Haven’t had a draft in nearly 40 years. That’s a classic men’s rights activist red herring, undercutting the other points. And the “women and children first” policy is one of chivalry designed by men, not women.

    And it is men who devised the social rules that leave men choosing suicide, when men are victims of violence, it is almost always at the hands of other men, and men who generally run the economy that has left so many men unemployed and under-employed. If it’s misandry, it’s misandry that’s internalized by men and not foisted on them by women. The suffering is real. But the cause wears a male face.

  59. Thanks for the welcome and explanation, Angiportus.

    Haha, you are of course correct about relativity. What I was trying to get at (and re-reading it I didn’t make it clear) was the personal and emotional investment in the subject. The difference between attending an economics tutorial (dispassionate theory) and meeting with your tax accountant (it matters to you directly). I guess when you are analysing your own society it is a bit like sitting through an economics tutorial about your own money!

  60. Thanks for the answer Hugo,
    As for conscription, I know it is practically gone in the USA but in some western countries it is very real including the home of my bf. But we can leave that out of this if you want but please don’t call it a red herring as it is very real for a number of men in the world and nothing other than their gender is the reason for being conscripted.

    I find it very interesting how you answer by defending women. I never suggested that women were responsible for these. I don’t find it terribly important for the victims to know the gender of those responsible. If somebody shot you in a dark corner of the city, would it matter to you if it was a man or a woman?

    It is somewhat troubling to me that everything you write in your answer comes from an “it’s their own fault” angle. Your last sentence says it all “But it wears a male face”. So what does that mean to you that it wears a male face? I don’t understand the implication of that statement and why it has to be added to the end of the paragraph.

    There are many very decent and innocent men in the world and I was lucky enough to find one who loves me. I can’t for the life of me understand why they need to be reduced to their genitals when something tragic happens to them to justify not caring about them, and then even holding them responsible because of their genitals.

    Isn’t that the kind of sexism and discrimination that we all want to get rid of?

  61. Hugo-

    Conscription isn’t an issue. Seriously ??? Selective Service is alive and well in the United States. The THREAT of conscription is still very much there. The budget for maintaining the system is over 20 million a year. Every guy has to register within 30 days of his 18th birthday. Failure to do that can result in fine/prison. Any man who hasn’t registered can’t get federal financial aid and can’t get a federal job. Many states have additional penalties.

    The federal government keeps a database so that it can use men to kill people and break things if it runs out of volunteers. The reason that there hasn’t been a draft in over 40 years is that we haven’t run out of volunteers. Many conscripts (think Vietnam war as one example) have suffered terrible injuries.

    When you and others belittle this very real cloud hanging over young men, you make it hard for some men to even consider the feminist perspective.

  62. Soilduck,

    I basically agree with Mark—there could also be gender issues, but it’s difficult to tell from what you’ve written. However if that is your gut feeling I would tend to respect that. Aside from that you mentioned that they were more comfortable talking to a male partner about science with him, so that does point to a gender-based problem.

    I have a scientific background as well and it didn’t matter. Why? Because you are still dealing with people whose actions/reactions are governed by emotions. Most people will dismiss that their emotions govern their behaviors. Don’t believe them. Their reactions are emotionally based and driven. It’s very frustrating if you’re career focused.

    It’s good that you’ve sought help with psychotherapy and that you’ve been willing to look at your own behaviors as well. I respect that. I think even if it isn’t helpful in the current situation, it does offer benefits.

    If these men are behaving in ways that are sexual or are deriding you with sexualized comments, then it is definitely gender based. Some gender-based issues are subtle and hard to detect, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. I’ve encountered a lot of these problems in the workplace, along with other issues that are not necessarily gender-based—just problematic people in general.

    Most people I’ve been around say one thing and do another or better yet pay it lip service, such as they welcome ideas, etc., or creativity. In actuality I think it very rare to find an environment conducive to allowing creativity to flourish. Sadly, what is more commonplace are managers and colleagues looking to deride your ideas or dismiss them, or worse yet, people who try to steal or take credit for your ideas. Theoretically a good manager would work in the best interests of their company and in that capacity would be willing to cultivate and advance employees who demonstrate abilities or potential abilities that supersede their own. In actuality this rarely happens—peoples delicate ego’s get in the way. Instead it is far more common practice to have manager’s behaving in ways that keep their workers down or to reward employees who don’t challenge them—the proverbial YES MEN. Why? Well the reasons are endless—because they are afraid of losing their jobs and also their position of authority and control—that is what it is all about. So they will find ways to undermine your work and credibility—if you don’t go along agreeing with them.

    Also it’s rare to find people who react well to change or to being challenged (people will pay it lip service), even if the result is for a valid reason or good purpose.

    I’ve dealt with inappropriate sexual behaviors and sexual harassment as well as just problematic people in general. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that people with degrees or an education will behave any better than people who don’t have them. Don’t expect them to act with fairness or to behave justly. Most people are out for themselves. Read up as much as you can on coping with difficult, manipulative people.

    I would take your complaints as far as you can up the chain of command, but you should be fully aware that there are no guarantees that this will matter or that you will get the results that you hope for. That is why Mark made the comment that “work sucks”. I don’t wish to sound pessimistic–I’ve just been there. I’ve just been around men who view women as sexual objects and their working contributions as expendable.

  63. “Feminism is, at its simplest dictionary definition, a belief in the social, political, economic, educational, and sexual equality of women with men. (Look it up, most American dictionaries will give something very close to that.) Misogyny is the belief that men are superior to women, that they are fundamentally not equal. So yes, in my book, misogyny and feminism are opposites. Not all those who shy away from misogyny must claim the name of feminism, but to repudiate misogyny is to embody feminism, even if under another name.”

    Thanks for this, this is kinda what I assumed you were talking about. I didn’t want to split hairs, but I wasn’t positive what you meant so I wanted to make sure.

  64. Hi again Hugo,
    I take it that you have nothing to add to my concerns over your position on men’s issues? Your dictionary definition of feminism doesn’t suit your view very well then I’m afraid. I just took a look at the Wikipedia definition on radical feminism and that is far more accurate in describing your views.

    I have one more question.
    Do you think that women as a gender have no responsibility at all in anything bad that has ever happened in the world, not even a tiny part, say 1% of the blame? From a woman’s perspective that just sounds too satisfying and pleasing for me to trust. My experience has taught me that the truth is usually very hard and uncomfortable to accept. But when someone tells me something about society and it make me feel good about myself at the expense of another part of the population, then I’m very skeptical. That is after all what the oppressing classes have always done to the oppressed. Eg. I often heard the phrase “They are slaves because that’s all they want” and the Nazis often blamed the Jews for practically everything that’s bad.

    Guess what Hugo, women are PEOPLE. THAT is all that we really wanted with emancipation. Not to be treated like some infantile princesses who can’t take on any responsibility. Your views are going to attract and nurture those kind of women who crave sympathy and pity and like to be told that whatever is wrong in life “is not their fault”. While it might be very inviting to many to sit back and be patted on the shoulder like that, it also has a price attached to it. You cannot succeed professionally with that attitude. This perpetuates the feeling of helplessness even further. Women who attend your class will always have a little feminist voice in the back of their heads. Whenever they have a setback, that little voice will come out and tell them “see? I told you that women are oppressed and can’t make it to the top”. They will despair and get angry rather than keep at it and be strong.

    See now how your views, although they sound nice to women, are actually weakening them. Feminism was never supposed to be about that. I wonder how many women are out there who could have made it but didn’t because they gave in to the temptation of pity parties like this one. I mean, seriously. Someone starting their argument with “I’m gonna get killed for this but…” is so not preventing anyone from saying their opinion. I’d NEVER let that stop me from saying what I think and if anyone does, then that really is their own fault.

    Besides, if you blame men collectively for ills of society, then you can’t be surprised if they talk defensively. They’re in the guilty chair anyway as far as you’re concerned. They’re expecting punishment from the high court of gender studies and many of the girls in your class are longing for some retribution – because that is another consequence of teaching them that they’re helpless victims: They’ll want revenge.

  65. And thanks for the blog posts, Hugo. I have been lurking it for months after I Googled a particular topic – I’m probably not the only lecturer/prof/grad student that breathed a sigh of relief when I realized that my crush on a student was only an academic crush after reading your blog!

  66. Oh wow Lucy, I don’t want to put words in Hugo’s mouth but I have to disagree with you! All the women I’ve met who self-described as feminists are tough as nails. They universally acknowledge that women come into the world with a bunch of unfair disadvantages, so they rolled up their sleeves and got to work fighting this discrimination through education and activism. I’m sure there are some feminists who use the reality of discrimination as a self-soothing mechanism when they can’t hack it, but to concentrate on these women is to miss the forest for the trees.

  67. seems like my comment disappeared so I’ll just post again. Hope you don’t see two of them now:

    @PM
    There’s discrimination against everything:
    short people, fat people, old people, women, men, transgendered people, colored people, tall people, old people, long haired men, bald men, countless religious groups, sensitive men, dyslexic people, shy people…..
    and I can think of dozens more.

    Important is that under the law, there is no discrimination left and that is what 1st wave feminism was about. Today we have it better under the law than men in some cases and never worse.
    Focusing on the left over social discrimination and hand picking certain groups to rally for is not fair on those groups that we leave out. And we’re ALL responsible for that discrimination. Not just men.

    If we’re really for equality, then we should start a movement called “Equality Movement” or something like that which takes EVERYONE under its wing. And that means, , that it must also include men as potential victims of discrimination. If you can’t handle that, then you aren’t really for equality.

    I for one am sick of people treating women as helpless little girls who can’t do anything without help from the oh so chivalrous men. Really am I the only one who notices that most male feminists are just a newer version of the old patriarchs, the knights in shining armor who protect women from whatever they can find? In the past they would fight for women’s honor and today they fight against women’s discrimination. It’s EXACTLY the same game only with different labels. Even if you think it’s different, to THEM it is the same. Why do you think Hugo is so quick to judge and blame men while never holding women accountable? Because he is a picture book example of an old fashioned chivalrous knight who will protect women from men. They NEVER draw their sword against women. It’s a MALE fantasy that is being lived out here (yet again).

    You’re being fooled ladies and if you really want true emancipation then you will have realized that by now.

  68. Lucy, you’re very right that socially-sanctioned discrimination (or de facto discrimination, as opposed to legally-sanctioned de jure discrimination) affects a wide variety of groups. You should check out Shakesville, a blog that is dedicated to addressing a really wide variety of discriminations and oppressions under a feminist umbrella. Being a feminist by no means prevents someone from also working to end racism, able-ism, classism, etc. In fact, for many feminists, their awareness of the reality of oppression and privilege makes it easier for them to jump into activism for other oppressed groups (and of course many women belong to those “other” groups, so the interests of women and men who are members of oppressed groups intersect).

    Important is that under the law, there is no discrimination left

    That’s not very helpful to someone who finds themselves in a situation in which bigoted humans are the ones who are supposed to apply a color-blind, gender-blind law. Laws are broken, sometimes even by those are are charged with enforcing the anti-discrimination laws. The ERA has never been passed. PoC face institutional discrimination that is no less powerful because it is technically against the law. ENDA faced strong resistance from people who want to continue to have legal permission to discriminate against trans and gender queer people. Discrimination has not been made completely illegal, and even in cases where the law is clearly against oppression, the reality is that our social and cultural world remains extremely misogynistic, racist, etc. And sometimes social and cultural forces are more powerful than laws.

    For every “male disadvantage” in our society and in our laws, there is a sexist genesis. For example, male conscription and “women and children first” are founded on the belief that women are weak and need more protection than men. It is definitely in the interests of men to join with women to eliminate misogyny — and all of the problems that come with the belief that men are more powerful, responsible, and important than women. When men are no longer held to a standard of repressive masculinity, when men are no longer expected to be the sole breadwinners, strong, silent, non-crying towers of strength (because women are SO weak!), then women and men will be able to function as equals.

    But in order to be freed from repressive masculinity myths, etc., men have to also relinquish the myth that they are in any way, shape, or form, better than — or even categorically different from — women. As long as we preserve a gender binary in which men and women are believed to be fundamentally different, different rules and laws will apply, different social roles will be expected, and that hurts both men and women (and of course people who don’t fit into a two-gender binary in the first place).

    Ultimately, Lucy, the women you describe who decide to use feminism as a way to disclaim responsibility for anything are not women I have personally encountered. You might find it to be more congenial if you surround yourself with feminists like those PM described, who are angry but turning that anger into action. And often that anger and that action is on behalf of groups in which women are only a part; groups that include many men as well. Individual men are not the problem; it is institutions and social structures that are the problem, and it is in the interests of men to join feminists in dismantling these institutions which confer some privileges on men — but ultimately damage us all.

  69. I’m very disappointed in this post.

    Having been in the very situation addressed, I don’t think this has as much to do with privilage/oppression than it does with people being people. It’s missing the trees for the forest. Ideas like patriarchy aren’t fractal or uniform.

    Why do these guys say and do the things that they do in class?
    Because they’re scared and intimidated.

    And, as a guy myself, talking about gender issues through a feminist lens can be scary and intimidating. If they knew both emotionally and rationally that nothing painful would happen due to their speaking their mind, they wouldn’t be defensive. This goes for all of us. We don’t like pain, no matter where it comes from, and so we do our best to defend against it and avoid it.

    “The first task of the pro-feminist male in this situation is to accept the reality and the legitimacy of the frustration and disappointment and anger that so many women have with men, and to accept it without making light of it or trying to defuse it or trying to soothe it.”
    So help them.
    This post itself is an example the kind of dynamics that pro-feminist guys might feel defensive about.

    Maybe instead of invalidating and blaming them for their feelings you should try to understand why they feel the way they do.

    Maybe they have some weird idea of what feminism means.
    Maybe there’s a painful social dynamic that you don’t see. There’s a huge rift of experience between you as an adult and as a professor, and them as adolescent students.

    If your students feel threatened in your classroom, it’s your responsibility to remedy it, not theirs.

    The answer isn’t: “There’s no monster in the closet, stop whining and go back to sleep”
    You open the door. And if there is a monster there, it’s your problem, not theirs.

    I know this post is angry, but it’s extremely frustrating that you’re not willing to extend some good will and understanding in this situation.

  70. MER, I’m assuming you’re not a troll. Help me stay in that assumption.

    Do you not think I can empathize with young men? I’ve dedicated my life and my career to young people, thank you, of both sexes with equal devotion and commitment. Helping young men and women unlearn their sexist programming means challenging them — they are college students, legal adults, who need to be pushed and encouraged to abandon old ways of thinking. That’s what education is all about.

    Believe me, I went through the exact same process, said the exact same things that these lads have said. And I got called on it, learned from it, and was liberated as a consequence.

  71. No, I’m not a troll, I disagree and am hurt in good faith, and I just feel you’re analysis is unfair. I think I disagree with you in the motives you ascribe:

    “All of this behavior reflects two things: men’s genuine fear of being challenged and confronted, and the persistence of the stereotype of feminists as being aggressive “man-bashers.””

    Here, I don’t think this is reflective of men’s fear of being challenged anymore than women’s, and that it’s unfair and perhaps dishonest to imply otherwise.

    I don’t think it’s fair to attack them for being afraid, even if their behavior isn’t acceptable in your classroom.

  72. Now I wonder how long MER will be allowed to comment before he gets banned?

    I say he’ll not even get 5 comments posted.
    Anyone want to bet against that?

  73. That wasn’t very kind. I’m in good faith.
    My posts are more emotional than they should be, that’s clear looking back now, but that realization doesn’t make me feel any less wounded.

    I think Hugo was out of line with the tone of this post, and isn’t treating these students fairly.

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  75. This post has been going around Tumblr and Reddit all week, and deservedly so.

    More men need to realize that women’s anger at men as a class of humans is not the same as rage at each and every individual man. I’m a W/S major at UM, and if you want to give this talk in Ann Arbor, you’d be very welcome.

  76. Mer, I can see your concern, and it is tricky especially in a classroom setting in which you have limited time to deal with those issues that are personal and still have time to deal with issues that are broader.

    “I don’t think it’s fair to attack them for being afraid, even if their behavior isn’t acceptable in your classroom.”

    It’s not fair, but it’s also not fair that women should have to step on eggshells when discussing feminism…so what would be a fair way to handle both of those situations preferably at the same time so the issues encompassed aren’t given any more time than the other? We can point out what’s wrong until we pass out, but once we point it out it’s much more productive to find as fair a solution as possible, is there anything you would suggest MER?

  77. I’ve read the first couple of dozen or so comments, and wanted to respond only to a few portions of a couple above, and I admit to not reading a whole lot that followed.

    aHuman wrote on July 10th:
    “I have no fear whatsoever of a proper, civil debate and invite ANYONE to debate me on my blog. But I refuse to debate under the circumstances you describe. You even admit yourself that the women in these classes are not rational but driven by anger and frustration and, worse, you think it’s fine to allow those emotions to color the arguments.”

    As a white non-poor man, I’ve witnessed time and again how white men try and control the tone of discourse, as well as the terms, as well as the characterisations of respondents’ responses. So, while some people learn how to express a great deal of hostility in “civil tones”, and this gets a pass in the classroom, among other places, one “angry-sounding” remark from a woman of any color is declared “uncivil”.

    Guess who gets targeted inside and outside the classroom as “too angry” most of the time? People who are women and people who are not white. There are economic-class dimensions to this as well, and I’ve seen it all play out in and beyond the classroom in ways that reinforce white male supremacy; in ways that have a tremendously silencing impact on people oppressed by and in such a system.

    There’s an idea out there that “non-emotional” responses are “better” than emotional ones, as if “cool” responses are non-emotional; callous and sarcastic and condescending remarks are loaded with emotion and are, in this sense, “very emotional”.

    I’d argue that some of the most hostile stuff appears in very “civilised” societies. Genocide, slavery, and mass terroristic rape of women are all products of Western Civilisation that purports to value civility and humane engagement above most other things, while mass murdering and mass raping people abroad and here. Hypocrisy is a core value here and Dr. Marimba Ani writes about it well in her brilliant book Yurugu. I’ve seen exactly that type of hypocrisy and double/triple standard-speak occurring in classrooms and beyond.

    @Chris P (July 9th),

    First, I agree fully with frency’s July 9th reply.

    You also wrote:
    “To be the object of female anger is far more uncomfortable than to be called outside to fight a guy. Why is that?”

    and

    “A woman’s anger feels so immediate, like having a gun pointed at you. It’s extremely serious. No man could strike me with the gravity which a woman can. When you leave us, all hope is gone; there is no reason for our existence.”

    I’d prefer to see these comments owned as your own, and while I can see that you mean for them to be expressed as yours rooted only in your own experience, they come across as generalisations that I find problematic and misogynistic.

    Women I know carry their varied and many experiences of physical violence against women–violence which is usually accompanied by verbal violence, into their interactions with males inside and outside the classroom. I wish more men could feel what it is like to know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that a man’s verbal abuse can escalate to physical abuse, and to often experience one as a precursor to the other.

    Men rarely have this experience from women, in my life experience. Women do not, generally, yell and men and then sexually assault them. Or physically assault men while calling them horrid names that are entirely gender-specific.

    So in the classroom, when men make statements as if women are as violent (in many ways) to men as men are to women (in relatively few ways), or as if the pain men feel is “worse” than the pain women feel, I have a problem with that. And Chris P., I see you do that in your comment. I assume you’ve never been a battered woman. And that you have little to no idea what it feels like to watch a man’s facial expressions to try and determine if he’s about to explode in violence. The way you talk, men’s behavior is predictable and women’s is out of control and scary. That’s not my experience of women, relative to men, at all. No woman has sexually assaulted me and threatened me to never speak of it to anyone, for example. And boys, not girls, bullied me for many years. And men, not women, have been the worst abusers of authority, interpersonally and internationally.

    So, to approach your question about why it is that you’d experience a woman’s anger as more threatening than a man’s, I’d wager a guess that you’ve learned how to negotiate men’s anger or aggression directed at you, a kind of anger and aggression that is gender specific. And what women experience is men’s unpredictable and erratic violence as well as inevitable more controlled violence, with all of it fused to men’s beliefs that women are inferior, that women exist to service and please men, that women are “for” men, generally.

    I encourage you to read books by women survivors of intimate relationship violence from men, to read a piece online called “Everyday Male Chauvinism”, and to begin to build empathy with those abused women. I encourage you to realise that men point the guns, at men and at women. And women, generally aren’t pointing any guns anywhere, unless they are in the military and are armed. And there they are expected to “act like men” if allowed into combat at all.

  78. aHuman: “I have no fear whatsoever of a proper, civil debate and invite ANYONE to debate me on my blog. But I refuse to debate under the circumstances you describe. You even admit yourself that the women in these classes are not rational but driven by anger and frustration and, worse, you think it’s fine to allow those emotions to color the arguments.”

    Julian Real: “As a white non-poor man, I’ve witnessed time and again how white men try and control the tone of discourse, as well as the terms, as well as the characterisations of respondents’ responses.”

    aHuman wasn’t doing that in the least. From what I see, (s)he is looking for equal footing and a level playing field, not to “control the tone and terms.”

    “Guess who gets targeted inside and outside the classroom as ‘too angry’ most of the time? People who are women and people who are not white.”

    I suppose that’s the case in some places. In others, it’s the exact opposite. In many places, referring to someone as an “angry” woman or “angry” person of color is intended as a badge of honor: you’re admiring someone for standing up. Calling someone an “angry white man” is rarely, if ever, meant in any way except as a pejorative term.

    “The way you talk, men’s behavior is predictable and women’s is out of control and scary. That’s not my experience of women, relative to men, at all. No woman has sexually assaulted me and threatened me to never speak of it to anyone, for example…I encourage you to realise that men point the guns, at men and at women. And women, generally aren’t pointing any guns anywhere, unless they are in the military and are armed.”

    As people say (and as I’ve said already), Your Results Will Vary. I’m glad no woman has sexually assaulted you (for example). That’s not everyone’s experience, however.

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