Julian, who blogs at Radical Profeminist, commenting beneath this post that concluded a series of responses to Factcheckme (FCM), asked this:
Iâ€™d prefer to know from the male-men contributors here what you do that is sex and oppressive: and what values get expressed when you do what you do that you call â€œsexâ€, because in my experience, men talk a good line about everything, and then when I speak with the women in their lives, I find out a whole other realityâ€“one that becomes entirely apparent, yet is unowned by the men who proclaim themselves sensitive to this or that matter. So the oppressive behaviors hide behind the platitudes and proclamations.
We’d been discussing heterosexual intercourse, you’ll recall, and its feminist implications. The split between those of us who are classic liberal feminists (convinced that individual agency can be exercised even in the face of huge social pressures) and those who are radical feminists (who are far more suspicious of such claims) was on display for all to see. There was the usual name-calling, which went both ways and was uniformly unhelpful. There was the usual misunderstanding of what the name-calling meant, which compounded the unhelpfulness. And despite that, there were some very good comments. Perhaps it’s male privilege, perhaps it’s the nearly indissoluble bond of tenure, or perhaps it’s just that I’ve been having these discussions for 25 years, but I appreciated all the heat, even if it shed only a little light.
As the name of his blog implies, Julian embraces a line of inquiry and an intellectual tradition several steps to the left of my own. I don’t need to agree with his radical analysis to find much that is useful and provocative in his writing. I am not a radical, but as a liberal am made better and more thoughtful by engaging with interlocutors whose views are sharply opposed to mine. Radicals like Julian, Factcheckme, Andrea Dworkin, Robert Jensen, and Andrea Smith are great “cover-pullers”, rousing from slumber those of us who sometimes like to hide from the reality of the oppression all around us. That doesn’t mean that their criticisms are always right, or that their solutions are wise. It does mean that their perspective is useful and deserves to be taken seriously.
I’ve said it many times: part of living out a commitment to justice is consistency between one’s private behavior and one’s public pronouncements. That doesn’t mean that we share every intimate detail of our lives in order to prove that we aren’t hypocrites (we’re all hypocrites to one extent or another). It does mean that we work towards wholeness, where what we say and do and think matches up more often than not.
For feminist men in sexual relationships with women, this commitment to integrating justice and egalitarianism into one’s private life is especially important. We’ve got to make sure we’re not hiding behind “platitudes and proclamations”; Julian is quite right that “talking a good line” and living it out are, sadly, often two very different things. I’ve been candid about my own massive failings in this regard in the past, most obviously about my pattern of sleeping with students enrolled in my classes early on in my teaching career. Of course, at the time I was engaged in this unethical and decidedly un-feminist behavior, I wasn’t also opining that teachers shouldn’t sleep with their students. I wasn’t an out-and-out liar, but I was still abusing my position.
I also have been open about my use of pornography in my younger years, a use that probably met the standard for “addiction.” (I am beyond grateful that the worst of that addiction was prior to the coming of the Internet, which I’m confident would have made recovery harder.) Staying away from pornography and not sleeping (or flirting with) anyone other than my wife are obviously important commitments to me and to those who place their trust in me.
But virtue, including feminist virtue, is as much about what one does as one doesn’t. And Julian is right to suggest that heterosexual feminist men in particular integrate their principles into their sexual lives with their partners. Regarding heterosexual intercourse (PIV), that means more than assuming a degree of responsibility for contraception. Willingness to wear a condom is certainly commendable, but that’s not quite enough. Given that penis-in-vagina intercourse poses a host of risks to women that it doesn’t to men (ranging from pregnancy to a greater chance of contracting STIs to the genuine physical trauma of childbirth), feminist men need to be particularly careful that they aren’t prioritizing intercourse over all other possible sexual activities. Continue reading