You took a job away from a woman: a preliminary response to “factcheckme”

Eight days ago, I wrote a post about what I saw as one right way for men to work in feminist communities. In that post,I quoted from this piece by Amelia at Feministe, and I responded in particular to this comment by Factcheckme.

Factcheckme wrote a response to my response to her: On Credibility. By her own description a radical feminist (a term she uses to distinguish herself from what she calls “fun fems”), FCM rejects the case I made for responsible male participation in feminist groups. Her post is short, and she and her commenters develop the thesis at greater length in the thread that follows below it.

There’s a lot to unpack about Factcheckme’s views. She’s particularly concerned (some might say obsessed) with the problem of heterosexual intercourse (which she, like so many these days, abbreviates PIV for penis-in-vagina.) She cites Dworkin’s Intercourse a lot, though FCM’s conclusions seem more radical than the late great writer and theorist. (I’d like to address the PIV intercourse issue in another post.) What I wanted to deal with here is this comment she makes in the thread:

it bothers me very much that so-called “feminist men” are teaching womens studies. there is something so fundamentally wrong with that, its creepy, disgusting, its a violation and they fucking well know it. it also takes work away from women, who are going to be infinitely more qualified to teach it. and thats fucking inexcusable, it really is.

That’s a criticism I’ve heard many times over the years, and it’s a serious one that deserves a serious response. There are three parts to FCM’s critique of men teaching women’s studies, and it may be helpful to answer them in turn:

1. It’s a violation of feminist principles
2. It takes work away from women
3. Women are infinitely more qualified to teach women’s studies than are men

The answer to the first charge is, obviously, that it all depends on whose feminism we’re talking about. Feminism is a patchwork quilt, not a seamless garment; we speak rightly of feminisms. As FCM makes clear, the gulf between radical feminism and what she calls “fun fems” (what others might call classically liberal feminists) is a vast one; the gulf is equally vast at times between both groups and the womanist tradition with which so many non-white activists identify. For some feminists, encouraging men to live out feminist principles (not just in lip service, but in action) is an essential part of transforming society along egalitarian lines.

I’ve written before that the number of men in my women’s studies classes continues to rise. The number of men who claim the name of feminist (or pro-feminist, or feminist ally) has gone up as well. I was very isolated when I started taking women’s studies courses a quarter century ago; the young men in my courses today are not nearly so alone. This isn’t just because I’m a male professor; my female colleagues who teach their own sections of the same courses report a similar rise in male interest over the past decade or so. FCM will have her own conclusions as to why this rise is occurring (she might say that academic feminism has lost its bite, and “sold out”); my feeling is that we’re raising a generation of young people more committed than ever to the principle that biology is not identity. To at least one large bloc of feminists, the success of the movement lies in the adoption of uncompromising egalitarian principles by the broadest possible section of society. That “big tent” feminism can mean, of course, the cynical manipulation of feminist rhetoric by the decidedly anti-feminist likes of Sarah Palin. But it can also mean an increasing acceptance of feminist ideals. And one unimportant sign among many more significant ones of the success of those ideals is the willingness to hire men to teach women’s studies courses.

As for taking away work from women, that’s a very real issue to consider. When I was hired full-time in 1994, after a year of teaching as an adjunct, I was hired to teach a variety of different subjects. Community colleges need generalists, and I made it clear when I was hired that I was ready and eager to teach courses in Western Civilization, British History, the History of Religion, and Women’s Studies. I was not hired solely to teach women’s history, but to teach virtually anything and everything. When I did start teaching women’s history, my appointment divided my four more senior female colleagues who also taught women’s studies courses. All four were self-described feminists, but two were pleased that I’d be tackling the task, and two offered versions of the same criticisms FCM offers. Though women had composed a majority of my hiring committee, two of my colleagues thought my job should have gone to a woman, and were incensed that a man was hired to do this work. I heard the “you took this job away from a better-qualified woman” remark more than once.

I don’t know who the other applicants were for my post; I don’t know anything about the other finalists, save that two were indeed women. And it’s absolutely true that if I hadn’t been hired, a woman might very well have been hired, and based upon the job posting, that woman might well have had a degree in women’s studies. So did I take a job (or did the hiring committee take a job) that ought to have been a woman’s away from her to give it to a man? Perhaps. If they did, was that a fundamental betrayal of feminist principles? After all, men still make up the majority of faculty on college campuses — until genuine parity is achieved, shouldn’t women get a hiring preference for any position, much less one teaching women’s studies?

Frankly, I think the answer to that question may be “yes.” But that’s a question for hiring committees to consider, not applicants. I realize that may sound like a cowardly dodge, but it isn’t. I showed up to the interview and did my best, knowing that the outcome was not really in my hands. Male privilege is powerful, but I knew it wouldn’t be powerful enough to sway a hiring committee made up largely of women looking to hire a professor whose duties would include but not be limited to teaching feminist-themed courses. I believed I could do the job and do it well, but had no idea whether I was the “best” candidate for the job; I had no idea who my competition was. I trusted the committee to sort that out, knowing only that I could do my best. And they chose me.

How nice for you, folks say. But besides abdicating responsibility to the hiring committee, isn’t there still a very real sense that I’ve appropriated something that wasn’t mine to take? The honest answer is that I struggle with that, and have for years. I know I bring something valuable to the classroom. I know that it’s important to have diversity of voices within the feminist movement, and that that diversity doesn’t just include race or class or religion or perceived gender, it also includes sex. Men do have a role to play, as I wrote in the post that started this little debate, by stepping up and stepping back. But how is teaching a course and taking a very public role as a feminist “stepping back”, particularly when my job could be filled by a woman instead?

I think I have a special responsibility as a male professor teaching women’s studies to seek out guidance and counsel from feminist colleagues. That doesn’t mean asking them to do my work for me. That means being particularly willing to hear their critiques. My male acculturation can be both an asset and an impediment, and where it is the latter, I need to be very aware that others (including those who are junior to me in years and experience) may have much to suggest. That willingness to hear and to implement is part and parcel of my work.

There are a number of men who have taught women’s studies across the country; the departments at the University of Washington and USC are headed by male scholars (David Allen and Michael Messner respectively). Though I’ve never seen a census done of men who teach women’s studies at the post-secondary level, anecdotally I know of at least two dozen. Each of us could be said to have taken a job from a qualified woman; each of us could just as easily be said to be doing important work in living out the universality of feminist scholarship and feminist practice.

I wrote a post back in 2005 in response to similar criticism, and I’ll finish by quoting from it:

I know that I have male privilege in the classroom. Because I am a man, few of my students assume that my course will be a “man-bashing” course. (Some of my men’s rights advocate critics are convinced it is, but none of them, to my knowledge, have sat through a single lecture.) Where my female colleagues are assumed by students to be “pushing an agenda”, I, as a supposedly objective man, am considered more “fair.” I’ve heard these comments over and over again, and I am saddened by them. But what should I do with this privilege? I can acknowledge it and withdraw from the classroom, leaving women’s studies to female professors. But how, exactly, does that help things? How would my quitting further the legitimization of gender work? I think it’s better to stay in the classroom, while openly calling attention to that unmerited assumption of objectivity that so many students have about male professors.

I’m convinced that feminists and pro-feminists can, in good conscience, continue to disagree about the role of men in the women’s movement. But after a decade of instructing dozens of sections of women’s history at PCC, I do believe that neither my biology nor my acculturation are bars to effective teaching of historical and contemporary feminist issues. But as always, I welcome alternative views.

61 thoughts on “You took a job away from a woman: a preliminary response to “factcheckme”

  1. There’s about as much point in you giving any attention or thought at all to what factcheckme has to say about you and anything you do, say or are as there is to me giving any attention or thought at all to the particularly misogynist variety of MRAs. Seriously. The bottom line is that you are a man and therefore the enemy and really, that’s it, just as it’s the case for me and the above-described MRA subtype that I am a woman and therefore the enemy and really, that’s it. There are other people, lots of ’em I bet, who have legitimate concerns about men’s role in feminism. Factcheckme doesn’t have any legitimate concerns about men’s role in feminism. She’s only concerned with men’s existence and the sheer evil that existence in of itself perpetrates against women. There is no starter ground upon which to begin even a constructive disagreement, see what I mean..?

  2. From a student perspective, if Women’s Studies is a legitimate academic subject, then the gender of the instructor brings with it all the pluses and minuses that gender brings to other academic subjects. I am not taking a course from a set of genitalia, but from a teacher and the quality of my experience in the course is directly tied to the quality of the instructor. All female instructors with an appropriate subject degree are not inherently more qualified to teach Women’s Studies than all male instructors with an appropriate subject degree because all of the applicants will have different teaching philosophies and abilities. A vagina does not make one more qualified to teach Women’s Studies, any more than a penis makes a man more qualified to teach Women’s Studies.

  3. How appropriate would it be for a White person to teach a Black studies course?

    I’m not saying that as if there is an obvious answer. But it’s going to be very difficult to do well. A member of a privileged group teaching about a non-privileged group is likely to fail in ways that are not clear to the teacher or the student.

    It’s not that women can’t fail at it, too, because they have patriarchy imbedded in their subconscious from an early age. But we feel the burn; you mostly only see it.

    I think you’re as well equipped as just about any White man I know of to try, but I don’t know how wise it is for you to try it at all. It’s not clear to me that you’re in any group that isn’t privileged, so you’re more likely to be speaking from sympathy than empathy.

  4. Hugo, I have to commend you for responding to factcheckme’s bigoted, illogical tirade in a civil manner. It’s sure as hell more than she deserves. But then again, you’re an unusually tolerant blogger and human being, as can be seen by some of the people whom you have allowed to comment here over the years.

    Honestly, though, I wonder what the point is, you know? What can be changed? Much of your work is devoted to fostering discussion among people who may disagree, but who are all civil human beings without overt malice, and who are open to different viewpoints. To any reasonable person- male or female, feminist or non-feminist- Factcheckme and her rant are ludicrous to the point of being funny. You can read much of her blog as an unintentional comedy show. She and her lapdog commentators are set in their ways. They will never engage you on more than a superficial level because they are so convinced of their own warped version of reality that they will not allow themselves to even attempt to broaden their understanding, to question themselves. It’s sad, actually.

    It’s really amazing to me how similar so-called “radfems” and MRAs really are. Oh, they hold diametrically opposed viewpoints, but the anger, the bigotry, the illogical hatred- and this warped, paranoid conviction that the world is out to get them, the deck is stacked irreversibly against them- it’s all identical. Factcheckme is no better than the likes of and should be given the same amount of attention and courtesy- that is, none.

    To oldfeminist: You really aren’t qualified to tell Hugo that he “isn’t in any group that isn’t privileged”. Very few people are not disadvantaged in at least some way that most of us aren’t. Even if you want to believe Hugo is- physically- an absolutely perfect example of society’s norm (which I doubt), he has placed himself under fire for his strongly held feminist beliefs. Most of us lack that kind of courage- I know I do- and he has likely been disadvantaged in many ways.

  5. Exactly Waxley!!! The immense amount of blinding that goes on in SOME feminist circles leaves me shaking my head. To me, it’s not about separating men and women, it’s throwing those gender notions aside and saying we are human, we have feelings, we get our feelings hurt, let’s work this out…I can validate your emotions, you can validate my emotions…I mean really, isn’t that what all our issues really are? When we say we are being de-humanized, what is the BIG picture here…the sum of all the smaller disagreements? For men, I’m pretty sure it relates to their emotions (whether or not they recognize and are in touch with them), and for women we LONG for men to realize we have feelings and aren’t just sperm receptacles…isn’t that what humanity is about? Shouldn’t we as women share our knowledge of how to feel something other than anger, I strongly believe if that were to happen men would automatically be able to be empathetic…they could put themselves in our shoes, because they would be all too familiar with that experience and truly OWN it. The only way to truly own your emotions is to bear that discomfort, speak of your discomfort, and have someone acknowledge that it’s okay, and share their discomfort that comes from the other party’s discomfort…how else would you connect the two…you have no choice but to realize cause and effect on a deeper level than just physical.

  6. I think Oldfeminist has a fair point. I am very privileged: white, male, able-bodied, cis-gendered and ostensibly straight, from a middle-class background. I’ve also been a mental patient, so have suffered (if that’s the word) the judgment associated with that. But for the rest, it IS sympathy — and the directed use of compassionate listening and the imagination that have helped me.

  7. First off Hugo I have to offer my condolences for crossing paths with factcheckme. I wouldn’t wish her presence on anyone.

    Now as to whether you have any place teaching Women’s Studies I supposed it comes down to how effective you are. Perhaps you are helping by example to encourage other men to take up feminism or in some other capacity. If so then I would think you do have a place.

  8. I like Oldfeminist’s point too, it was one that occurred to me when you first started talking about being a man teaching women’s studies–the White vs. Black issue. Here, though, we run into the problem of me not really understanding women’s studies (or African-American studies courses, either–also Jewish-American studies, men’s studies, etc. and so forth) as a *course of study.* I took only one women’s studies class in college–at my university, you had to complete a “theme” that was outside your major that consisted of one 100 or 200 level course in something and then another 300 or 400 level course that was obviously related to the first course. I had taken History of the US post-Civil War (based on my usual criteria for non-major courses I was required to take, that it fit into my schedule–generally there are few enough chemical engineering majors that a lot of our classes are only offered in one time and day slot, so everything else has to be flexible around those). To complete my theme I slapped “Women of the United States 1900-1950” onto that a year or two later, which was a women’s studies course. A woman taught that course, but it’s hard for me to imagine a man teaching it much differently–it was basically a history course, focused specifically on the accomplishments of twenty or so women in America in that time frame, which was fifty to one hundred years removed from the one we students were inhabiting. It was a fairly impersonal class (though interesting! I did find it very pleasant to be studying women from a historical standpoint rather than men, which is most history classes–a few token chicks and tons o’ sausage, usually).

    But I am aware that there are women’s studies classes that are much more intimate, much more philosophical, and I can see where Oldfeminist’s question is definitely relevant in terms of the richness of experience as an example of the individuals being studied that you, as a man, would simply not be able to bring to the class. However, I don’t know how significant a part of a women’s studies *course,* as opposed to a single class here and there in an entirely differently focused major, that experience would be. I wish I had any real basis to evaluate that impact, really.

    Long post, sorry!

  9. Hmmm… so the topic seems to include men in the big tent of feminism so I have a question I’ll ask.

    Here’s a conversation I would like to have. Is it possible under “feminism” and in a feminist space? If so, where?

    You talk about the problem with PHMT and WATM, **when the topic is womens experience**. Got it.

    Can the topic be, men’s experience? So that, how women are hurt by this, bringing up women’s experience is off topic? That topic is great, important, fine, it’s just not really the current topic?

    I would like to talk about men’s violence amongst other things. All about men’s upbringing with that. And, how do I say this? I’m profeminist and I agree with the mainstream of feminism when the topic is how this effects women, but there is a lot to say about men’s experiences. I want to talk about how we men get to the places feminists don’t like.

    For example, violence was such a part of my childhood and all the boys around me. It’s viewed as just “boys will be boys” and totally natural but I think it was really kind of a forced training, indoctrination even psychological trauma at times. It starts with getting pushed to the ground at age 5 and every day gets a little more. By age 10 it’s fists, bloody noses, arranged fights after school and at age 15 it’s about knives, throwing stars, sling shots and every weapon imaginable. I feel I was absolutely forced, shamed into this. You could not as a boy avoid playing this game, or you’d be a target. I could elaborate on punishment for being a wus, a fag, a sissy but you get the subject here.

    This is no small subject. I think it has everything to do with male violence on women which I abhor. But trust me, I could go on for 100 pages at least with psychological studies, sociology, etc as documentation. Not a personal diary or a rant. A serious discussion.

    I just have all kinds of trouble doing this with feminists. It’s kind of the opposite problem. PHWT, WATWs. And I don’t want MRA’s and antifeminists in there bashing feminism because that absolutely is off topic as well.

    How do I do this?

  10. As a person of color, I love it when white people want to teach about the existence of white privilege and what we can do about it. I’m sure LGBT folks appreciate straight people standing up for injustice against gay people. It’s not that much of a stretch to think women might appreciate it if men want to teach about feminism.

    The problem you run into when only people of color point out racism and only gay people challenge heteronormativity or only women teach about sexism is the perception that these teachings about injustices are really just an us v. them with angry people wanting to claim “victim” status.

    Of course, there’s always a danger of men co-opting feminist leadership and not listening to women any more, but given Hugo’s earlier post about stepping up and stepping back, I would be inclined to think Hugo is aware of that danger.

    We are all in this together. If there are female feminists who do not want men to teach feminism or participate in the feminist movement, the movement will fail. You can’t get rid of racism without white people. You can’t get rid of homophobia without straight people. And you can’t get rid of sexism without men. It’s very important women be at the forefront of feminist leadership, but to say men cannot offer anything and that no man can teach a women’s studies class does feminism no favors.

  11. I find myself thinking of an experience I had a few years ago. I was at a glbt retreat and one participant began her (obviously) well-rehearsed tale of pain and suffering – her struggles as a child, her growing awareness of herself as a lesbian, her sense of being dismissed because she wasn’t a typically beautiful woman, her profound alienation and marginalization and on and on with a saga of drama and trauma. She was working herself into a real lather when someone said, “But isn’t there something about your experience that was positive?”

    Suddenly her demeanor changed and she opened up to the group – sharing what were uproarious tales (including a surreal experience of finding herself crowned Miss Leather Lesbian 2000). Freed of the need to prove her suffering bonafides, she actually opened up and shared her real self with the group. Later, as discussion evolved, she talked about feeling she needed to “sit” in her pain, to rehash and rehearse it again and again, the idea that the way to be taken seriously was to have suffered. Then she talked about the sense of being liberated by being given permission to talk about the joys of her experiences. Often unspoken is the idea that unless you’ve suffered your dedication to “the movement whether it is feminism or gay rights of whatever is inauthentic. The measure of your suffering is as often as not the depth and passion of your anger.

    I read FCM’s blog. I heard the same arguments (endlessly) when I was in college and grad school. I am sympathetic with the anger and hurt behind them but I can’t help but feel the suggested solution is utterly unconnected to reality. The “men” created in that world are unconnected, unrelated to real men living in the world.

    I was also struck by factcheckme’s argument – it sounded much like the standard MRA analysis – the only reason a man might call himself a feminist is to get him some sex. You mentioned Andrea Dworkin – a powerful author and thinker, yes, but also a limited one; she was trapped in univocation where all meaning was one meaning. But if you take Dworkin as your starting point and push the theory as far as you can . . . well, then you find yourself arguing exactly what you can read at femonade. Like conservative men fighting against pornography but never actually relating to real live women, the absence of real men makes possible the theorizing you can read in that thread.

    I find the whole thing wearyingly like the culture of personal crisis Max Blumenthal documented among religious conservatives. Even the hostility to intercourse is the same. There’s something in both worldviews which seems to block empathy and compassion.

  12. In my experience there are some feminist circles that will not bash you if you are absolutely open to express your shame, which unfortunately by the indoctrination of men would be seen as groveling… to me it is not groveling, it is owning the fact that you are a man, that you were raised to not express your shame, and you are being absolutely vulnerable…there are some feminists however who will take advantage of this because it makes them uncomfortable to feel a man’s shame, this is how they exploit men.
    I do have a blog Allan one that I just started so it doesn’t have much material, and some of it is old (meaning before I had this realization of treating men as human might actually help more than harm.) If you are open to contribute to it, tell me and I’ll start all over again because I would not want to put anyone off and have to explain the whole process of how I’ve changed my views.
    All I can tell you is to how you would do it is very difficult…but if you like we can do this together in a blog and show everyone how feminism is supposed to be, we can discover it together. just drop me a line at my blog, please ignore the writing already there..I plan on starting fresh. just click my name here, go to view my complete profile on the right and click on email.

  13. A feminist shaming a man for being vulnerable with shame. I would call that keeping him in his gender role, which obviously isn’t a feminist goal.

    Why, thank you Kristina. I’ll talk to you over there.

  14. Just for the record, I teach a variety of gender-themed courses at the college. I teach GLBTQ history (I developed the class, as it had never been taught before), even though I am a man who is in a monogamous sexual relationship with a woman. I developed and taught a Men and Masculinity course, and this semester am teaching my “Beauty and the Body” course. This last class deals heavily with issues of sexuality, identity, body image, autonomy, and so forth. I talk about both male and female bodies, acknowledging that I have indeed only inhabited one of these.

    My women’s history course is not just a women’s history course; the official name is “Women in American Society”, and it is an interdisciplinary look at women in the American past. As readers know from my frequent posts about my lectures, I teach about sexuality as well as suffrage, about menstruation as much as the Lowell mill girls. I do it with a mix of fearlessness and humility. You can listen to some podcasts of my lectures by clicking:

  15. “So you made another post mansplaining to her again, about how she’s wrong, and you’re right.”

    Once the term “mansplaining” started showing up on these blogs I knew it would soon get applied by some to just about any disagreement a man might express, no matter what was actually said. And … here we are.

  16. Folks, can I suggest that my readers who feel inclined to go over to FCM do so with tact and with an understanding that FCM and I operate in two very different parts of the feminist world. There are many different feminisms, and occasionally, the gap between different approaches to sexual justice is so vast that it simply cannot be breached. I don’t think FCM and I have much to say one another, I wish her and her readership well. I wasn’t trying to pick a fight, but rather, responding here to a single point she made about men teaching women’s studies.

    Whatever her views on PIV intercourse, FCM’s views about men doing what I do are not unique to her or even to radical feminists, and those views deserved a response. I appreciate that she raised the issue, and perhaps we can limit the discussion to the topic of the post, and not the broader issue of radical feminism vs. liberal feminism.

  17. “As a person of color, I love it when white people want to teach about the existence of white privilege and what we can do about it. I’m sure LGBT folks appreciate straight people standing up for injustice against gay people. It’s not that much of a stretch to think women might appreciate it if men want to teach about feminism.”

    Yes, A. Y. Siu, and this is a situation I’ve lived myself, uncomfortably. I have confronted people who, because I’m older and quite visibly white, think that I’ll appreciate racist jokes and characterizations. I’m seriously disappointed in myself every time I don’t, but I do not have a perfect track record by any means.

    (There’s a special double bind — seems if you defend a group you’re a member of, you’re just being oversensitive, and if you defend a group you’re not a member of, you’re a victim of liberal guilt. No way out!)

    I think it’s a very good thing that Hugo is being feminist *while* teaching. I’m not sure that it’s best that teaching feminism _qua_ feminism is best taught by a man, but then I’m not sure it’s a bad thing.

    In other words, as a feminist, Hugo teaching history or science or literature or sports is grand. Having him as one of many feminist sources is grand.

    Having him as your only feminist teacher? I am not as sure.

    I frankly do not know Hugo’s environment, knowing him only via the net. His presentation as a white male who doesn’t have to tell anyone he’s been a mental patient is of privilege. That doesn’t make him the enemy, but it does mean he probably can’t “get” everything about feminism easily.

    I don’t want to judge him harshly, or at all. There are woman feminism teachers who fail in myriad ways, too, so I’m not saying he’s the worst and should die.

    I’m just airing my thoughts, and I appreciate that Hugo is listening.

    Allan, I believe that discussion is very valuable, because in it are the seeds of male violence against men and women.

    This post is probably not the place.

    I understand the difficulty in finding a place for it that’s not filled with resentful MRA types who only want to say that everyone has it tough so tough shit shut up you stupid weak women.

    Maybe Hugo would like to post separately on it. I would be interested in the responses.

  18. glendenb..I personally find Andrea Dworkin an absolutely AMAZING writer..the fact that it was so poetic left it open for interpretation, to me she presented the facts and expressed her emotion and worldview in a poetic way, a way I think was purposely done so if it sounded blaming, it could only be perceived as the blame you felt in yourself, and not one she was perpetuating. She never really openly blamed men, she allowed an openness to claim your own shame, and after I read her I did claim my shame, I owned it.

  19. I think it’s a real benefit to have a few men among the feminists, and a few whites among the blacks too. Anything we do that breaks down the walls of the ghetto is a good thing (ghetto meaning, you people stay inside these walls and nobody’s allowed out, you others stay outside and nobody’s allowed in). Radicals might say that detracts from the ability of oppressed groups to define their own roles, but I like the idea that groups of people aren’t sealed off, that we’re going to have links that unite us.

    Yay for liberal idealism. And I’m glad that most of the students agree. Mary Daly was wrong wrong wrong.

  20. “I understand the difficulty in finding a place for it that’s not filled with resentful MRA types who only want to say that everyone has it tough so tough shit shut up you stupid weak women.”

    oldfeminist: This is what I’m talking about when I feel MRA’s anger is misguided. They see feminism as ignoring men’s issues yet they fail to see their REAL issues, they are just scratching the surface…yes there are all these things that are unfair, but screaming at each other about how each one has it worse than the other is NOT solving any issue. If we’re all drowning in our sorrows, who the hell will save us?

  21. WTF is this hang-up about penetrative sex? What is with this assumption that any woman who enjoys penetrative sex has Stockholm Syndrome, and that any man who seeks it is an oppressor? Is it really necessary to do the armchair psychologist thing?

  22. Pregnancy, increased likelihood of HPV, increased likelihood of cervical cancer, increased likelihood of UTI’s, increased likelihood of STI’s, increased likelihood fistulas, and it’s still the only sexual activity that’s considered “real” sex.

  23. As a woman of a certain age who was able with her partner (after being told it was impossible) to conceive a child and carry it to term, I am very aware that penis-in-vagina intercourse leads to pregnancy. And the fact that it did so has been a source of tremendous joy in my life. The pain is real but to speak of pregnancy only as a risk to be avoided misses a truth about many women’s lives.

  24. Hugo,
    I know I told you a few months back that I would not comment on your blog anymore, but I have to say that their treatment of you is completely unfair. I know you might dispute the word, “completely,” but that is where you and I disagree on things.

  25. Jut, I too agree that the treatment is completely unfair, and it’s in Hugo’s deference that it really hits home…or should…

  26. What does feminism have to say about holding differences? Seeing others viewpoint without loosing your own? The freedom to speak ones own truth with authority?

  27. I’m not going to suggest that AileenWuornos be banned, because many MRAs with views as extreme as hers have frequented this blog (much as they bother me). But I will point out that Hugo’s post was a long, polite, civil disagreement with a four-sentence condemnation that referred to him as “creepy” and “a violator”. Is Hugo not allowed to express any kind of disagreement, even to the most vile and unfounded personal attacks? Is that the essence of radical feminism- gender essentialism? Don’t answer that question, I already know the answer. Talk about a garbage philosophy.

    Hugo, I disagree in that FCM’s post is worth a response- all reasonable people would be best served to ignore her, as I do with, Holocaust deniers, etc. As long as they stick to their own little world, no harm done, because anyone with half a brain can see for themselves how nuts they are. And it is fruitless to attempt to engage them in any meaningful manner because, as said, they are not interested in broadening their horizons. As Lisa said early on, there may well be legitimate concerns about men teaching women’s studies, but FCM doesn’t share these concerns. Her post is worded in such a way that it is clear she simply has a problem with you as a man, and doesn’t bring up any further reason why men should be barred from WS. You would be better served to respond to a sane person with a more elaborate and reasonable argument against men in women’s studies, rather that a four-sentence post that really doesn’t do anything except insult you. Otherwise, you’re just feeding the trolls, and there is nothing to be gained by it.

    You also don’t really need to worry about people trolling her blog- I’ve never visited, but I’m 100% sure comments are heavily moderated. Whackjobs with nothing to say- such as FCM- have to control the opinions expressed in comments, because otherwise they will be publicly called out and made to look like the imbeciles they are.

  28. “I bet you still expect penetrative sex though.”
    Excuse me, but who were you addressing that to?

  29. Waxley…I do have to say something about FCM’s blog…she has allowed me to comment even though apparently I irritate her to no end…and I don’t always agree…it’s like I have one foot in one foot out, and it seems she blames this on my indoctrination I receive for being born a woman…but I object to that, as it’s essentially dismissing me as a nut-job brainwashed by the patriarchy…which could be true…I never deny that, which is why I say even though I’ve held my feminist beliefs before I even knew what feminism was, that I’m a beginner…I will always be a beginner to the movement because I do NOT know what equality looks like or SHOULD look like…I’m comfortable in that unknown though because it allows me to examine myself critically.

  30. Kristina, I’m sure it’s due to two reasons, namely that a. you’re a woman, and b. you are probably very deferent to her views when you post, even if you might not totally accept them. I can tell you now that if you made a post simply disagreeing outright- even if politely, as Hugo did- it would be deleted.

  31. I have a migraine today so I’m probably a bit sharper-tongued than normal.

    I absolutely reject the notion that men cannot teach women’s studies, just as I reject the notion that straight people can’t teach queer studies or that white people can’t teach African American history. We’re talking about academic subjects which have a defined body of literature with a list of authors and thinkers. That means by definition anyone has access and the ability to master the content. If we accept the notion that the only valid perspective on these topics is from a member of that social group, then we’re inherently limited as human beings.

    On femonade, FCM makes the argument that no matter how valuable or insightful a man’s ideas or opinions on anything she places under the purview of women’s studies, he inherently has no credibility. To my mind, that position is as dangerous and harmful as dismissing what a woman says because she’s a woman.

    I realize this may be ancillary:

    Kristina – I think my point about Andrea Dworkin was unclear. Every time I have delved into Dworkin’s writing, I come away with the same experience – that her analytical range is extremely narrow, set to an extreme pitch; she seems uninterested in anything except the life and death scenario and in her writing every scenario feels life and death. As a result, both the women and men who inhabit the world she presents seem unreal, disconnected from the lived experiences of men and women; she alone emerges as three dimensional, the searing power of her own experience so overwhelming and the force of her prose so clear that the people around her disappear into shadow. When I said in her writing all meaning is reduced to a single meaning, what I was referring to was the framing of experience as life and death at all times. I believe there’s a fundamentalist tendency in her writing, reflected in discussion at femonade. I have to admit, though, when I first read Dworkin, I got a sense of her as one of those people who crashes through life perpetually in a state of disaster and without sufficient self awareness to alter their personal trajectory.

  32. Glendenb, I am a Dworkin fan, because I saw her as a provocateur who knew her job was to raise difficult questions — her rhetoric always struck me as self-consciously over-the-top but at the same time carefully calibrated. She was a radical, but her writing was as much performance art as anything else. But that’s not a universally held view.

  33. I don’t think FCM is trying to argue in good faith at all, but I think these are things that need to be discussed and I’m glad to see Hugo taking them up. It’s so much easier to point out misogyny in our larger culture and in others than to tackle, “Ok, I have privilege: what now?” Women can only do so much to instruct men in that manner; I know what a feminist man is not, but I’m not sure I have good idea what one is. There just aren’t many out there to look to as an example. I think that mostly a journey that men need to work out for themselves. And non-men need men to do this if we’re ever going to have a society were individuals are not held back by their gender, male, female or otherwise.

    I can’t say if Hugo took a job from a woman who would have done a better job (and I agree the responsibility of answering that falls to the hiring committee. I think institutions ought to be held more accountable for perpetuating inequity rather than blaming an individual trying to advocate for their own life.), but I think the work of figuring out the role of men within feminism is just beginning. And it’s going to be a long a bumpy road for sure, but it’s going to be worth it.

  34. …it’s still the only activity that’s considered “real” sex

    That would be because sex is biologically defined as a part of the reproductive cycle. Since no other sexual activity can result in pregnancy, said definition is hardly surprising. Get the picture, Aileen?

    What a dumbass.

  35. If I may, I’d like to express my perspective. I was mansplaining before and I hope I’m not doing that again. I don’t think I’m right or in any way better than others here. This is just how I respond.
    I see the personal attack, and when that’s directed at me, I try to consider if I want to take up the gauntlet. Most of the time, I choose not to. What’s the point? I admire that Hugo didn’t attack back. It’s taken me a lot of personal growth to have the skills to do this. Much of my life, I would respond rather automatically with an angry counter-attack.
    I see the complete and utter disagreement. Hugo chose to respond in a lengthy and very civil manner. I too question what’s the point? I have no hope that FCM will “hear it”. Appreciate his POV. But, to me, it does by example, demonstrate respect and willingness to dialog with someone “on the other side”. The “other”. I admire that too. I’m idealistic to believe there’s “goodness” in everyone and perhaps someday, more people will come together even in their differences. Is that silly of me?
    Perhaps there’s no hope of dialog. Perhaps the best defense is a strong offense. But I don’t like the shouting at each other that’s so prevalent and it doesn’t seem to be getting us anywhere in terms of create a place we both want to inhabit.

  36. glendenb- “and the force of her prose so clear that the people around her disappear into shadow”
    This strikes me as a good thing and a bad thing… To me, all you can really do is share your experiences and thoughts and hope and pray that people are able to associate and use it in a positive manner to join together, rather than continue the man vs. woman stereotype…the whole key to that is empathy, to place yourself in that situation and realize that garnering hate towards a particular world view would be in essence continuing the cycle…but that is my experience, one that is vastly different from FCM’s.. I think Dworkin puts people in a place of anger in order to connect, not disassociate..unfortunately when met with uncomfortable emotional situations the common response is to disassociate with the “invading” party…whatever “invading” party is defined as is based on your world views (feminists view “some” men as hating, men view “some” feminists as hating)…hence the disassociation, and lack of critical self-analysis… The problem is not in the writing if it is only talking about one’s experiences…it is in the person interpreting it, and internalizing something that is not theirs, it is a cop out to not have to own your own emotions and experiences, no matter how similar the context is ALWAYS different…simply because as humans each individual is complexly different, no matter what stereotypical behaviors they display…that is the notion of feminism isn’t it…if not, I guess I’m doing it all wrong.

  37. FCM, in my experience, considers all people who have ever been called male to be traitors, evil, oppressors – inherently so. Trans women are no friends of hers, to her they are trying to take over the movement and she thinks transphobia is some made-up thing that is only used to shame feminists into agreeing with trans women’s demands. Asking for the right pronoun when being addressed is a male privilege. Figure that out.

    If feminism is truly about bringing about equality of gender and dismantling the associations made with genital = something inherent about yourself, then I’m all for it. Feminism is sorely needed in certain countries (most non-industrialized for one) where abuse and pain are seen as totally normal parts of life, for anyone male or female.

    Though saying women are unequivocally and always unilaterally disadvantaged over all aspects of life or “on the balance” (even if there is no way to measure oppression), compared to men, is stretching it. Historically it was more or less true, even if men were not in much enviable positions in general, maybe except aristocracy…those not beheaded anyways (what with being forced to participate in unterminable wars, or killed for treason – there was a “War of 100 years” no? Closer to home, there was the War of 7 years 1756-1763, where our ancestors fought each other – New France (what is now Quebec province, but used to stretch down to Louisiana) vs New England). Back then, women having no voice, no right to complain and being forced to be baby-making machines for all their lives, was more oppressive, especially considering the death in childbirth rate. I bet outside war time, the life expectancy favored men then. must’ve been closer to 45-50 than the current 75-80, but it was probably higher than women’s.

    Nowadays, some attitudes are leftover from those days, but the oppression level is not cut-and-dry like white vs black or straight vs gay, cis vs trans. In industrialized countries who don’t have Sharia Law (some of those countries might be industrialized, so I’m excluding those). The privileges according to gender are more “balanced”. All contingent on being gender normative (for the genitals at birth), positive and negative in different areas depending on where on the divide you were born (some you might appreciate and some not care about – advantages are not equal for everyone, since not everyone has the same ambitions – for example, I like having the option of staying at home and high-status careers are not something I ever sought).

    All this to say that, nowadays, male privilege still exists, but female privilege is a serious contender. We can’t qualify or quantify them (comparing them is an endeavor that is impossible except from an individual point of view – which is pointless in politics), but certainly happiness is not distributed only on one side nowadays, with half the population faking it.

    Note: I can’t have PIV due to lack of equipment, the concept of me penetrating anyone is laughable too. And I consider what sex I have with my boyfriend to be “real sex” regardless. Heterosexual sex (regardless of equipment, both of us consider me female). I don’t consider myself oppressed by his penetration, since I consent.

    So if the goal is for gender to have no prescribed meaning with regards to what you are or do, and that privileges are more balanced nowadays, I see no problem with a man teaching women’s studies. I would see merit and competency as the only needed criteria there.

  38. Lisa…LOL! me too… My poor husband is definitely oppressed by me in that sense because I demand it way more than he wants has negative effects on me actually..I take it personally when he doesn’t want it..I realize though that that problem lies in me and my socialization, which in essence is me discounting his individuality.

  39. ‘How appropriate would it be for a White person to teach a Black studies course?”

    In the end this is a question of competence, and the question always has to be asked. Then again the same quaetuion should be asked of a Balck person teaching a European history course, or an English literature course – or even an Italian-American or Polich-American in the last instance. It’s a question immersed in the culture the teacher needs to be.

    I think glendenb has the answer here:
    ” We’re talking about academic subjects which have a defined body of literature with a list of authors and thinkers.”

    This applies to academic subjects. This is what differentiates a university from a seminary. In a seminary it may be inappropriate to have a Jew or a Muslim teaching about the Incarnation – although quite appropriate for a Hindu, obviously – but different standards apply in truly academic situations. A westerner can teach Tang poetry, even in China, if he has put in the same years of study as his Chinese counterpart.

  40. One of the things that I love about Hugo (while we disagree on some major things) is that he understands that, as pro-feminist men, we sometimes have to respond to criticism which feels so far out in left field as to feel like it’s coming at us in another language (to mix metaphors). One reason we have to respond to such criticism has to do with the reality of the process of becoming men who are feminists–many of us, unless we were raised as conscious feminists by feminist parents, come from a place where we have had multiple realizations/revelations about patriarchy, and some of these realizations were about things that used to feel like they came totally out of left field. As an important but hopefully uncontroversial example: When I was a teenager and was told that calling adult women “girls” was sometimes a problem, that just sounded so…odd. I didn’t have the framework, at first, to understand why that could be a problem. So, something that sounded so foreign, something that sounded sort of ridiculous to me on the face of it, needed to be unpacked and understood. In part, this is because of the ignorance that privilege causes–and as feminist men, we will always have to work to overcome that ignorance. And this is how so-called “radical” positions sometimes work. They seem beyond the pale, at first, but then, sometimes, they aren’t. So we (sometimes) need to address criticism like FCM’s criticism, and I appreciate Hugo doing some of that work, despite FCM’s obvious disregard for some of the realities of being a human being trying to change things.

    Of course, we all draw different lines as to what is beyond the pale and what isn’t–I’m not about to have a discussion with FCM about her opinion that transwomen are “really men”, for instance, though I appreciate some folks might want to. But she has got me thinking a bit about the privilege behind PIV sex. Not that I agree with her as far as she goes–but she has got me to thinking, and I’ll roll that by my feminist friends of various genders to get their take on it, and I’ll use her points to further examine some of the stuff I’ve thought about regarding how *men* are expected to think that only PIV sex is “real” sex, when my personal experience has been…different. So here’s something that seems beyond the pale (the idea, expressed in the comments on the post you link to, that women can never freely choose PIV sex still seems based on an oddly fundamentalist reading of Dworkin), but now I’m reconsidering it, thinking about it, wanting to ask my feminist circles about it. So thanks to you, Hugo, for addressing this stuff, and thanks to FCM for bringing it all up.

  41. I feel as though FCM is saying that PIV sex will NEVER be a choice, even if equality is achieved, this is where I think she goes too far (that is if that is her actual view)… When I asked her if it could ever be a choice she clearly stated to me a resounding no…but I don’t know if that’s because she was only considering our current overall situation, or if she was applying it to my own personal paradigm in which I was discussing. This is where we can see things start to get problematic…much of which I attribute to bad communication on my part…you see, to avoid another bashing of my point of view I simply didn’t ask…selfish of me, I know…and I accept that responsibility.

  42. “In the end this is a question of competence, and the question always has to be asked. Then again the same quaetuion should be asked of a Balck person teaching a European history course, or an English literature course – or even an Italian-American or Polich-American in the last instance. It’s a question immersed in the culture the teacher needs to be.”

    That’s two different levels of knowledge — cultural knowledge and study. You need both to be a real scholar. Study alone makes you just a fact collector.

    And this is where a Black person or a woman has a huge advantage over a white male in studying, respectively, Black history or feminism, while being a white male doesn’t give you a leg up in European history or English literature.

    Privilege means your culture is assumed to represent culture in general, “mainstream” culture. European history and English literature are considered part of the mainstream. As a result, everyone in the US studies them, everyone’s exposed to them. Being a white male doesn’t really expose you to them more than being a Black female. All of us must learn that culture.

    Black history and Feminism are considered niche studies. A person who is considered well-educated in the US may be totally ignorant of Black history and Feminism. One might be very interested, anyway, as Hugo is, but it’s not in any way required to succeed in US culture.

  43. Oldfeminist, your premise ultimately collapses because you seem to be making the case that everyone in the US studies them, everyone’s exposed to them, and therefore, apparently, we are all qualified to teach it. Is this not true in regards to Hugo (specifically) and women’s studies? Off the top of my head I can’t name a single person more interested in gender. If all it takes to teach a women’s class is “exposure”, and it is possible to “learn” it, I’d say Hugo’s perfectly qualified.

    If your argument is that a white male can never understand women’s studies or black studies as well as a woman or a black person (a reasonable assertion), than this statement is faulty:

    being a white male doesn’t give you a leg up in European history or English literature.

    Yes, I would agree, but only because not all white men are European. According to your logic, only those with European ancestry should be qualified to teach Euro history. And if there were to be a hypothetical study of white culture (spare me the “History of US” jokes, please), obviously, black candidates should be excluded. That seems fairly rigid, fairly limiting, to me.

    My own opinion: If a “black history” class is treated like most “European history” classes (not to say this is always the case) it is an academic discipline with facts and figures. A white man who is interested in the subject would thus be as qualified to teach it as a black person, male or female. Perhaps a black person would be more desirable but that should not eliminate white candidates out of hand.

  44. That’s two different levels of knowledge — cultural knowledge and study. You need both to be a real scholar. Study alone makes you just a fact collector.

    I don’t buy that argument – that’s a special pleading, maybe well intentioned but still a special pleading that is a logical fallacy. That’s akin to saying I can’t understand the experience of living at Topaz during WWII unless I actually did it – my ability to read first hand accounts and understand them is dismissed as meaningless. It suggests we shouldn’t bother studying history at all because we didn’t live it we can’t understand it. It says I can’t be validly opposed to discrimination unless I have personally been discriminated against. It’s an argument which privileges personal experience, which sees personal experience as inherently superior. But just because one has first hand experience does not translate into that ability to educate others.

  45. “Privilege means your culture is assumed to represent culture in general, “mainstream” culture.”


    “European history and English literature are considered part of the mainstream. ”

    Which does not make them actually mainstream. Americans are usually quite proud of their cultural distance from Europe and make an effort to be quite ignorant of European history. If I had a pingin for every American who has expressed blank disbelief that Ireland has a language of its own quite unlike English, I could but the whole couontry. Try telling most of us that the American Civil War was in many ways the second act of the English Civil War. See how far you get.

    And the same goes for mainstream awareness of other aspects of English or British Isles. People know what they see on TV. It’s that superficial. i about gagged onetime hearing a Latina woman going on about how diffenrent Dia de los Muertos was form halloween, and it was clwear her whole awareness of Halloween was …commercial. That is about typical. hankfully no one was rude enough to ask her about Samhain.

    This is how mainstream English anything is in the US – when I want suet for a pudding at Christmas, i have to go to a store that caters to a Chinese clientele. Safeway and other mainstream stores don’t even know that anyone would want that stuff.

    And this has implications for academic study. An American black man is as much at sea reading Pride and Prejudice as he is reading Dream of the Red Chamber. An American of English ancestry may have a better grip on Jane Austen. May.

    “One might be very interested, anyway, as Hugo is, but it’s not in any way required to succeed in US culture.”

    Absolutely true, but then too, this is totally true for any literature and almost all history, in this society.

  46. I didn’t argue that men can never understand feminism, or whites can never teach African-American history. Just that privilege is a huge handicap in learning what it’s like to be not privileged.

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  48. ‘Just that privilege is a huge handicap in learning what it’s like to be not privileged.”

    Exactly. We agree there. It’s a question of competence; privilege is a barrier to developing competence in these areas.

    This goes to preferential hiring in jobs that deal with specific communities. Language and cultural competence are core competences in these jobs. Yes theoretically someone from outslde the community can achieve that elvel of competence, but since some of this stuff take a lifetime to learn, practically it’s not really possible.

  49. You know, the more I think about it, the more FCM’s post about credibility is one large logical fallacy in itself, she’s questioning credibility of men in feminist spaces with an assumption that men are guilty until proven innocent…our court system prevents begging the question by the innocent until proven guilty model…while our court system has flaws (much of it residing in preconceived notions of people who are participating in a trial)it is designed to employ proper logic.

  50. So I’m late to the thread. :) Why do you think that the question of a white person teaching Black History should be limited to criteria of your choosing? From what base of white privilege are you assuming that only the white voice or those that appreciate the white voice is entitled to restrict the criteria to that of your own choosing?

    “Because I said so” is not a reason.
    “Because my girlfriend thinks it’s okay” is not a reason.
    “Because lots of white people agree with me” is not a reason.
    “Because I don’t have a problem with my definition” is not a reason.
    “Because I said opposing definitions of anti-racism are fine” is not a reason.
    “Because my criteria makes me feel good” is not a reason.
    “Because you’re being too picky and can’t we all just get along” is not a reason.
    “Because in my own little world I see interest increasing and of course that automagically means every type of anti-racism tactic is a positive tool and no tactic could possibly be enabling racism” is not a reason.
    “Because other white people would have done the same thing and anyway it’s not my fault it’s her fault she made me no wait look over there while I develope lots more excuses maybe one of them will work and gosh you made me sad so you must be wrong” is not a reason.

    Keep in mind, I personally am not arguing with your conclusion. I am however questioning the process by which this conclusion is supposedly validated. Because the “reasons” appear to be nothing more than serial justifications all proudly asserting white privilege while at the same time pretending to be authentically pro-Black. Which besides displaying gross amounts of hypocrisy also invalidates the conclusion.

    If anyone responds to anything at all which I’ve written first I’d like an actual reason which explains why any white person is entitled to choose the criteria for a teacher of Black History.

    No offense at all but it appears you are so desperate to be one of the good white people that in your haste you appropriate choices which are better respectfully left to Blacks. To be trusted with such a responsibility by a divergent group of Black people is indeed an honor while to take it by force is something else entirely. I thought you were able to recognize consent?

    FCM was quite astute in choosing this topic… But also keep in mind that it is well known at this point that men listen to other men’s opinions about women better than they listen to women themselves, so personally I feel it is not a terrible thing that you are teaching this course… and yet, if I ever had any doubt that even the best of men could never relinquish their male privilege, your response to FCM has nailed the coffin.

  51. Sheesh! The elephant in the room appears to be the assumption that there’s no benefit in feminism for men… that there’s nothing to be learned, that there’s nothing to be gained, that there’s only something to be lost or given up or taken away or something.

    The whole notion that gender is a zero-sum game is part of the fucking patriarchy Jill at Savage Death Island talks about being inescapable. It’s not.

    As for PIV intercourse and Andrea Dworkin, the most important contribution she made to heterosexuality was (what should have been) the bogglingly obvious point that without the right to an authentic “no” there can be no meaningful “yes.” And the reason her writing seems so peculiar today is not that she was crazy or deluded but because her world view has become substantially the dominant world view… exceptions being the Maggie Gallaghers, the MRAs, the various fundamentalists, and the FactCheckMes of the world.

    The world Dworkin began her work in was in fact a genuine Orwellian nightmare for women: a wife didn’t have the legal or social right to refuse her husband, a man who raped an intoxicated couldn’t be prosecuted, a woman who’d once said yes to sex couldn’t expect her decision to say no to be respected, again, either socially and (most often) legally. And so however willingly a woman agreed to have sex, or even initiated it, from a social and legal perspective it really was indistinguishable from rape. Again, without the prospect of having one’s decision to say no respected one’s decision to say yes was irrelevant.

    In fact, prior to Dworkin the entire notion was inconceivable. After Dworkin, even though the notion hasn’t fully saturated, the notion is becoming inevitable.


  52. ‘ the bogglingly obvious point that without the right to an authentic “no” there can be no meaningful “yes.”

    Someone made this point over at Feministe in a thread on feamle rape of men. She said that given the gay-shaming that goes on, and the institutional reluctance to take male victims of rape seriously, that this means that there is really no recognition at a system level that men can be victims of date rape, that it is simply defined out of existence by social norms.

  53. Why do you think that the question of a white person teaching Black History should be limited to criteria of your choosing?

    Er, well, by what other criteria do you suggest? I don’t draw my conclusions in a vacuum, but at the same time I don’t accept that men need to unequivocally bow to women in gender studies, or whites to blacks in regards to black history. Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t listen (step up and step back), but that is not mutually exclusive with having an opinion. Case in point: radical feminists. They’re women (mostly), and they talk about women, but they’re full of shit. And I feel no guilt in saying so.

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