Founded in 1974, the Women’s Center was established to:
Dismantle, from a feminist perspective, all forms of oppression, including but not limited to those based on ability, age, class, ethnicity, gender, race, and sexual orientation.
Advocate for an equitable environment free from violence and harassment based on gender, race, and sexual orientation.
Create an anti-racist, non-sexist, queer-affirmative space where all people can feel valued and safe.
Facilitate and strengthen connections among people across lines of difference through programming and educational campaigns.
Integrate an appreciation of Women's Gender and Multicultural Studies across the disciplines.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

One Feminist’s Search for Masculinity

After reading about the recent sexual assault/rape (reports differ) of CBS correspondent Lara Logan during her coverage of the popular uprising in Egypt, as reported by CBS and commented on by Jim C. Hines – a male-identified, extremely feminist-friendly author and outspoken critic of America’s “rape culture”– there are so many things I want to say. Partly in an attempt to keep my anger in check and thus increase the chances that this will be coherent, I’ll begin with a few quick tangents.

First tangent: Jim C. Hines. This guy is fantastic. I am a huge fan of his Princesses series, which features a number of strong female/women-identified heroes, and strongly recommend this series for all fans of fantasy and anyone looking for books with good role models for teenage girls. There’s a million other things I want to say about these books (especially about Talia – one of the main characters), but I want everyone to read them and not spoil any part of the ongoing storylines. So – read them, call me, and we’ll talk.

Jim maintains his own website and part of it is dedicated, as are a number of his blog posts, to combating America’s “rape culture” and the pervasive norms of victim blaming and sexualizing assault cases in our media. In short: he’s amazing, he’s my friend on Facebook and I get a geeky, fan-boy thrill out of talking to him online.

Second tangent: I am a trans-man. Understanding gender identity both on a personal level and on an abstract I-am-a-sociology-major-and-a-feminist-LGBTQ-activist level continues to be an ongoing, difficult process for me. I am at a point now where I am comfortable with people knowing that I identify as transgendered, but only somewhat. I would probably be mortified if people in my family read this rant/blog post, for a complicated host of interconnected reasons. However, I feel like I really have something to say and my personal comfort level tends to take a backseat when the activist in my head starts poking me to do something.

So now that I’ve made clear who Jim is, since I reference him both for information and as a role model; and pointed out the fact that you’re reading about American culture and media coverage concerning sexual assault and rape victims as written by a trans-guy, let’s go.

America’s “rape culture” is disgusting. The end. No exceptions. Typically, I subscribe to the idea that just because your kink isn’t my kink doesn’t mean it’s wrong, but when it comes to rape fantasies and the glorification of sexual assault in the name of arousal, I draw a line. What you do in your bedroom is not my business, but when something permeates our culture and influences the ways in which media covers highly sensitive issues, I start to feel justified in saying that, yeah, it’s sick and wrong.

The problem here is not individuals. I honestly don’t care if you play out rape fantasies with your significant other, your current hook-up, or your own hand. Really, I don’t. What I care about is the fact that a rather large segment of Americans seem to think that it’s No Big Deal to treat victims of sexual crimes as if being brutalized is somehow their fault and how media works off this thinking when detailing sexual crimes. I care about the excuses made by and for rapists and other perpetrators of sexual crimes. I care about the messages being sent to our generation and to young kids.

There have been countless articulate academic and media articles, blog posts, etc. written about this “rape culture” – where No doesn’t always mean No; perceived moral or character flaws can be used to not only rob victims of justice, but to make a mockery of our justice system; rape jokes are an acceptable form of humor; and the word “rape” can acceptably be used in reference to nearly anything in order to add negativity to a statement, while simultaneously distorting our collective understanding of the gravity of this life-altering act of dominance and abuse.

Those counter-culture voices, though, don’t seem to be having much success in battling the insanity of currently popular ideas about rape, sexual violence, and victim’s rights. As a man, it makes me… Well, a lot of things: angry, baffled, disgusted, horrified and just damn confused. Confused because, as a trans-guy, my attempts to understand and claim my own masculinity are increasingly important to me. I pay close attention to how male-bodied men dress, walk, sit, stand and talk. I listen to what they say, how they say it, what their opinions are rooted in and the ways in which they express those opinions.

I pay such close attention because I want to better understand what makes a man. Obviously, at least for me, a penis does not make a man. Neither does a beard, or a tie, or wearing predominately dark and neutral colors. Men don’t need to have or do those things in order to be men, but as a trans-man I struggle with wanting to be true to myself and wanting to have my masculinity externally validated on a daily basis – something many male-bodied men take for granted. For example, if I wear women’s jeans, does that make me less of a man? No. Would it make a male-bodied man less of a man? No. Does it make me feel like, somehow, I’m failing myself in my quest for masculine expression – depends on the day.

I also pay close attention to male-bodied men because, as a feminist, I’m having a lot of trouble reconciling my beliefs about gender equality and many notions of “being a man” that our culture and society promote. Part of me wants so badly to internalize gentlemanly behavior. I want to hold doors for women more than I do for other men. I want to be in a position financially so that the next time I start dating someone, I can pay for dinner (or whatever) on the first date – because I’m the guy and I’m supposed to pay for my date. I want to be chivalrous. I want to find the woman of my dreams and be her champion. I want these things, but the feminist in me hates me for it. In a society that regularly allows (if not promotes) victim blaming in cases of sexual violence against women, I find myself lost – because I know so many of the things I associate with being a “real man” are based in patriarchal ideas about gender inequality. I fear that if I reject normative ideals about manhood and about gender relations, I risk being seen as an imposter, a dude-impersonator, instead of the man I know I am.

Then things like this happen, and I remember that being true to my beliefs is more important than being validated by people around me, even those people whose opinions I put so much stock in. Following LA Weekly’s initial coverage of Logan’s assault (and the resulting backlash that led to a “rape is awful” post-script), I feel more confident in my identity as a feminist. Victim blaming is wrong – there is no question in my mind about that. Mainstream, persistently discriminatory views on women and on gender relations perpetuate this and a multitude of other problems. If less people validate my gender identity because I’m a feminist and I refuse to compromise gender equality in some misguided attempt to prove myself as a man, so be it. America’s “rape culture” is a bigger problem than my confusion over how to “be a man.” If there is a right way to be a man, I think it needs to include recognizing that standing on the sidelines or using “it’s just a joke” excuses for trivializing the seriousness of rape, means being part of the problem. Life is not a multiple choice exam, there is no partial credit, and the only right choice is to be part of the solution. If continually striving to be part of that solution doesn’t make me a “real man,” nothing will.

Blog by Women's Center Volunteer Riles Partick Murphy!

No comments:

Post a Comment