Thursday, May 19, 2011

Three Mike-Checks with Feminism

I wrote a first draft for this post, and it was stiff, dry, boring, essay’ish.  

I do like writing essays, but I also like saying stuff that is on my mind without running it through some structured filter.   

Why do I plan every little thing I am going to say?   

I barely understand most of the theoretical nomenclature I use, so why do I insist on using it?   

At this moment, I feel like a cheesy morning news anchor who gets to work, takes one look at a lame joke on the teleprompter and says, “Fuck it.”   

Lol, it feels good saying that.  

 So rather than trying to sound like someone who knows what he is talking about I’ll be totally honest and say that I am just trying to figure things out.   

There's been a shift in my feminism that I want to explore.  For a long time I thought I was really cool and progressive because I was a feminist, but the title isn't enough.  

A lot of my performance (by that I mean my actions, gestures, etc) still need to be interrogated.  And the reason for this post is not to guilt trip myself; I guess the reason for writing this down is that I want to add to the conversation about male feminism.  

The ideas, thoughts and challenges of other male feminists have helped me, so I want to give something back.  These are some of my experiences, mistakes, and lessons.  

 I want to talk about some moments that exist in my mind as flash backs.  These moments all went down after I started learning about feminism, and...... they're kind of embarrassing.   

I try not to think back and feel guilty; the feeling is more in line with that wave of awkwardness that comes from thinking about a bad date, or a sloppy first kiss.  

I took my first Women’s Studies class last summer, and I have a TON of positive memories about the experience.  But, when I reflect I also distinctly remember feeling very smug about being one of the only guys.  I would sort of half listen to the class discussion, and while I was listening I would carefully formulate these really verbose responses.  

Then I would put my hand up, consciously kind of drop my voice a bit to give it an “air of western rationality”, and I would recite this nicely memorized contribution.  In reality, they were pretty simple talking points; I just dressed them up in a bunch of fancy words.   

Oh man, talk about intellectual vanity!  I also distinctly remember hanging out with a classmate on the last day of summer school, and she started telling me about how she was going to treat herself to a $30 pedicure.  I said, “Why?  You know guys don’t even notice that stuff, right?”  She (in a friendly, joking tone) responded, “Why do you think I am doing this for men?  Haven’t you learned anything in this class?”   

That reallllly dragged my self-righteousness down to earth.  It made me realize that taking a women’s studies class does not give me license to start saying, “Guys are problems, but I’m different!”  (I also now realize that saying “guys are problems” is a crazy oversimplification, but these lessons came much later)  

So those are my sloppy first date memories, but feminism called me back! 
After my summer class ended I was fortunate enough to meet an amazing team running a campus feminist group – Scary thought: if it wasn’t for Melanie, Alyssa and Raisa I would be a marketing major this year :/ .  

I remember seeing everyone for the first time at a campus safety meeting just before the school year kicked off.  So I am sitting in this meeting, listening to everyone speak, and I started thinking to myself, “You’re just passively sitting here, say something!  Take control and say something smart.  This is your first impression, don’t screw it up.”  So I came up with something simple and redundant, dressed it up nicely, and said it.   

After the meeting we were walking towards the bus lanes at York and someone suggested going for beers at the campus pub.  At that moment I wanted to go very badly, but this is exactly what ran through my mind; “Ok, you made a solid first impression! They think you know your stuff, you have successfully hidden your suburban lameness.  Evacuate before you screw up!”   

So what did I do?  
I walked away...  

The final club flash back I want to share involves a person with whom I had a tiny bit of a crush. I liked this person, and as I do with everything in life, I made this plan in my mind.  It wasn’t anything elaborate, more or less a faint sketch of the boundaries for my actions, all so that I would look cool, confident, in control, etc.   

Anyway, I get to this Halloween party which we are both attending, and I have this mini-meltdown. I was so concerned with how my performance and I was so scared of screwing up in front of my friends in the club and my crush that I ended up just retreating into myself.  

 I threw away a chance to talk to a person I liked all because I was afraid of appearing less than ideal.  I guess that is the night I started to think about throwing away the teleprompter.  (side note: Today, I am very fortunate to consider this person a friend).

I think these flashbacks show that I have, and continue to struggle with an element of cognitive dissonance.   

My actions aren’t always in alignment with my feminist values.   

When I speak in class, and I chose to dress things up in all of these fancy words, I am using language like a weapon.  I am calling forth the language of privilege, and by doing so who am I silencing?   

This is a single social gesture which I must pay more attention to.  And sometimes my actions produce a weird dynamic that I am only now beginning to understand -- me oppressing me.    

When I act the way I think people want me to act (whether this is as a man, as a student etc) I am burying the conditions for great experiences and relationships.  These flashbacks are not dramatic turning points, but they are markers that I can use to know that I am on the right path.  

Today, I am going for beers after the committee meeting.  Today, I am going to ditch the posturing, and I am going to talk to the girl (or guy) at the party.  

Feminism is opening up the world to me – after all, would I have ever had the courage to write this post a year ago? Absolutely not!  Feminism is telling me that I don’t have to carefully plan everything I say, sometimes I can just be.  



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