An update on where things stand.
I am still very much in the process of listening to many voices about how to respond to the multi-faceted controversy about my past. Over the past few weeks, issues around my pre-sobriety past as well as my present writing have attracted intense attention and sparked considerable debate. I have not been able to keep up with the sheer volume of emails, much less follow all of the blog commentary about me, my role in feminism, my personal history, and my work. But I’ve followed enough to have a good sense of what at least the main criticisms are.
There are three main issues: my past, my writing, and my positioning in the feminist movement. In turn, those issues raise three main questions:
1. Should my pre-sobriety history disqualify me from teaching the courses I teach, from speaking about the topics I speak about, and from writing where I write? Do I need to make further amends or participate more extensively in restorative justice? My take has always been that the work I do is part and parcel of that amends. But some detect self-aggrandizement rather than atonement. What’s the way forward?
2. Are there problems with my writing today? I’ve got eight years worth of blog archives and thousands of posts on this site; I’ve also written extensively elsewhere. I’ve written things I regret, and I’ve changed my position on some issues (like pornography, for example) in recent years. Yes, I am regularly quoted out of context. But even allowing for the universal but lamentable habit of “cherry-picking”, are there still elements of my work that are deeply problematic?
3. Does my modest fame/notoriety block or create opportunities for others? Do the speaking gigs and interviews I get mean that I’m taking what wasn’t mine to take? Should I give up teaching women’s history, working in positions of leadership in organizations that focus on women’s rights — not just because of my particular past, but because it’s fundamentally wrong for a man to hold these roles?
I don’t have final answers for myself to any of these questions. I know many people who do have certainty about what I should do. I hear from them daily. Some want me to step down; some want me to step back up and stay where I am. I’m on the receiving end of a lot of praise and vitriol. I’m trying my best to process what I’m hearing, remembering the truth that one is never as bad as one’s detractors suggest, nor as good as one’s admirers insist. But it’s difficult work, and it will take more time.
The fact that I haven’t reached clarity yet about what my future holds doesn’t mean I can’t share certain decisions I’ve made about myself, my work, and my public presence.
As I wrote yesterday, Healthy is the New Skinny/Perfectly Unperfected and I have parted ways. My presence threatened to become a dangerous distraction to the good work that HNS and PUP are doing. Resigning was the only viable course of action.
I’ve also resigned from my role as faculty adviser to the Pasadena City College Feminist Club for much the same reason.
As for my writing and speaking, I will for now continue to do both. The editors at Jezebel, who are aware of this controversy, have asked me to continue to write for the site. I am pleased to do so. I will continue to explore writing opportunities outside of explicitly feminist spaces, recognizing that my presence in those spaces is controversial, divisive, and unhelpful. I will continue to explore speaking opportunities as well, but will be adapting my lectures so that I am focusing primarily on issues around men and masculinity.
I teach a variety of gender-themed courses at Pasadena City College. The one women’s studies’ course we have at PCC in the Social Sciences Division is History 25B, Women in American Society. I’ve taught it every semester for nearly two decades. The syllabus does include the history of feminism. PCC plans its offering nine months in advance; I’m already booked to teach 25B this spring semester and in the coming autumn term. But I will be talking with my colleagues on campus and elsewhere about asking for a change in assignment for spring 2013, the earliest term for which a shift can be made. I haven’t made a final decision yet, but as of now, am leaning towards not returning to women’s history.
I will continue to teach my rotating courses in the Humanities department, including my “Men and Masculinity”course. But those courses do not include feminist theory or feminist history on their syllabi.
Continuing the Conversation
A conversation about some of these issues began in a moderated space last week. The Feminism and Religion blog reprinted my “response post” from earlier this month, and invited comments. A dialogue has begun there, and will continue.
I will continue to listen. I’m receiving an average of 50-60 emails a day, equally split between detractors and supporters. I’m trying to read at least some of the web commentary. The difficult part is separating what is legitimate criticism (and there is legitimate criticism) from unfair personal attacks. By the same token, I’m trying to separate what is thoughtful and wise encouragement from what is unhelpful, ego-aggrandizing flattery. Given the tremendous volume and speed of all of this input, that’s difficult work and will take a considerable amount of time. The end result, however, is likely to be my departure from explicitly feminist spaces.