Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Feminism and Power

Yes, we're back on the question of just what kind of feminist I am. Not because anyone else has been asking, but because I've been kind of shook down to my feminist foundations lately. One was seeing the Wayward Boy Scout refer to his spouse as "the missus." It hurt my heart. Being someone's wife? Eh, whatever. You bake some cookies. You get the kids to school. You clip coupons. You sit around all day pretending like you give a shit about vacuuming. "The Missus?" She's out drinking Tom Collines. She's going on road trips. She's an art thief and at the center of international intrigue. She's well-versed in poetry and poker. She drives a vintage Jag. "I've got to get home to the little wife."? Fuck you, buddy. "I've got to get home to the missus."? Sign me up. See, god, what the fuck is wrong with me? And the other is my growing, sneaking suspicion that the problem with the patriarchy* is two-fold. It's not just that men have power over women; it's that they wield it so poorly. I've been thinking a lot about this. Remember when we talked about how men rape women and so, if we want to stop rape, it's pointless (and misandrous) to insist women change their behavior; men have to stop raping women? And some of you rightfully raised a stink and said that it wasn't all men who were raping women, so please refer to them as rapists and don't lump them in with y'all? Here's what I've been thinking, though. They are men--the men who rape or beat or kill women. But I think, as much as I've been arguing that feminism is not a moral position, I've failed to internalize that power is not inherently evil. Having power over someone is not inherently a bad thing. As the Professor keeps saying, one can use one's power for the betterment of the people you care about. Being powerful is not always to be the victimizer and being vulnerable is not always to be the victim**. But people who don't understand how to wield power can do a lot of damage. It's not just the rapists and the wife-beaters, it's also the mother who takes the electrical cord to her kids. But it's the same thing: a belief that the most effective way to wield power is through violent oppression of the vulnerable. But clearly, that's based on a mistaken understanding of what power is and how to exercise it effectively. Insisting that men give up their power is stupid and short-sighted. Why would they do that? No, what we have to do is two-fold. One, we've got to become aware and comfortable with our own power. (Of course, we're going to have to move some folks out of the way to achieve this.) And the other is to insist upon the same thing from men. They need to be aware and comfortable with the ways they are powerful. * Now that the children are asleep, the adults can talk. ** Though, of course, as must be pointed out--linking power to maleness and vulnerability exclusively to femaleness is utter bullshit.


Blogger the Professor said...

Where does trust lie? Is it only necessary when you have less power (that you must trust others to weild their power well, carefully, and for good not bad)? Or, does one with significant power also have to trust? What or whom? If we wanted to make generalizations, despite all the trouble frought thereing, would you say that one gender is more trusting and/or more trustworthy than another? Are our trusts warranted?

12/06/2005 06:05:00 PM  
Blogger Aunt B said...

Is this the point when we can finally talk about S&M? And the assumption that the bottom's experience is what's really happening? I mean, yes, it takes tremendous trust to say "I trust you not to hurt me more than what we've agreed upon is okay." But doesn't it also take tremendous trust to reveal yourself as a top? To ask someone to recognize you standing before them nakedly powerful? If it's easy, why does it require special clothes?

Let's say that that crazy heathen is right and that "The Scene is a place where inner monsters are honored." For the bottom, clearly it's about confronting and purging those demons through the catharsis of pain. But, again, I think Kaldera is right--that for the top, it's about recognizing those demons and giving them the respect they deserve.

Clearly, it doesn't take a sociologist to see how this is applicable to how heterosexual men and women in the U.S. relate. How often do you see that dynamic play out--"I'm going to provoke you into hurting me" coupled with "I'm going to hurt you until I feel better."--?

The problem is not necessarily in relating that way. The problem is in refusing to acknowledge that that's how we're relating--that what we want is the catharsis of S&M without being willing to do the honest work of letting each other know what we're up to and establishing ground rules to keep each other safe.

(Whoo, the comments are better than the post.)

12/06/2005 06:21:00 PM  
Blogger Short and Fat said...

I stop by to say hi, and again with the sex talk?

You women are only about 1 thing. What happened to cuddling?

12/06/2005 08:37:00 PM  
Blogger Exador said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

12/06/2005 08:46:00 PM  
Blogger Exador said...

You raise some interesting what ifs.

There is an implied power structure whenever a larger man is on top of a smaller woman. But there is no violence, or thought of violence. Just the opposite. Ouside of the S&M context, there is still a top and bottom, but it's not as if the bottom is thinking about forking over all this trust that the top isn't going to start beating her.

Real men are aware and comfortable with the ways they are powerful, and therefore, are also aware of the responsibility that goes with it. (Wow, I sound like Jor-El)
Perhaps that's why we feel offended being lumped with rapists, because we feel it is our responsibility, more than others, to protect our loved ones from them.

12/06/2005 08:49:00 PM  
Blogger the Professor said...

But, Exador, tere are regular thoughts of violence for the women. We are MUCH more consciously aware of the fear we have of you than you seem willing to acknowledge. And, don't let me even start about the not-so-conscious thoughts about it.

There's something facinating in thinking about the ways that the sexual dynamics and the political dynamic mimic each other - and also the ways they influece and reflect each other. I just keep thinking about Bill Clinton's Oval Office antics and Jack Nicholson's character from A Few Good Men, when he wanted a blow job from someone higher up than him.

12/06/2005 09:03:00 PM  
Blogger Exador said...

So you're telling me that women, in general, while making love, are thinking of the violence of men?

Maybe it's just the ones in the Womyns' studies department?

If you get to hold up Bill Clinton or any of Jack Nicholson's characters as generalisations of my gender, I get to start assuming all you women think like porn stars.

12/07/2005 08:05:00 AM  
Blogger Aunt B said...

No, I think what she's saying (and correct me if I'm wrong, Professor) is that most of us do a lot of negotiations with ourselves and subtly with y'all to try to figure out if you're dangerous, even before we're fucking you.

Granted, not everyone is sending you emails asking if you are a psycho killer before she meets you alone in a strange city.

But, and it's a big one, how can you not see how far you go to make the women around you feel safe?

Granted, I've only seen you twice, but we spent a lot of time in a lot of different situations and I saw you interact with women that range from me to waitresses to strippers, and I experienced you as profoundly careful to make sure that everyone was having a good time and that no one felt uncomfortable.

I mean, come on! You went to great lengths to make sure that even Violet was at ease around you.

So, for you on the one hand, to claim that only we feminists are concerned about male violence, and on the other hand, to present yourself in a way that makes you seem confident and powerful and careful of the women around you, well, I call bullshit.

You wouldn't be so good to women you don't know if you didn't know that women you don't know might be afraid of you.

12/07/2005 08:22:00 AM  
Blogger Sharon Cobb said...

Aunt B,
I admire your openess. I think, though, talking about BDSM play here is something most people aren't going to "get" because they're going to think women (or men who bottom) want to be abused, when that is NOT the psycho-dynamic. The top and bottom are exactly the same...same coin just different sides. However, relative to feminists, they will tell you that is deplorable and violence against women.
Here's my advice. Well, it's what I do, so take that for what it's worth.
I don't have any men in my life telling me what to do and say, so I'm not going to have a group of women in my life telling me what to do or say either.
In other words, the hell with who approves, just do what you believe is true to your own nature.

12/07/2005 04:58:00 PM  
Blogger Aunt B said...

Sharon, you kick so much ass. I should say, though, that when I'm lucky enough to find a willing partner, I'm having pretty ordinary sex. I just appreciate that BSDM, when done well, stresses open communication and making sure that everyone is on the same page. I can't stress enough how admirable I think this is and that, if people who perform sex acts perceived as this far out of the mainstream can communicate in open and erotic ways their expectations for each other, there's no reason that the rest of us can't as well.

12/07/2005 05:27:00 PM  

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