Thursday, April 8, 2010

Pelle Billing - Individuals and Structures

http://web.uconn.edu/joneil/images/Jimpic41.jpg
[Image from the Gender Role Conflict Research Program at U Conn]

Pelle takes a look in this post at how the failure to look at structures in addressing the most radical versions of feminism is a failure to address the real issues. This is complex because, certainly, there are implicit structures within culture (culture = collective, internal beliefs) that oppress women.

On the other hand, many of these same structures, including current definitions of masculinity, oppress men. And this is Pelle's point. One of his examples is in how the current educational system sends more women than men to university - yet the flip side of this is that in the workforce, men with equal or lesser education make more money than women.

These are Pelle's core beliefs, as posted at his blog:
- Gender liberation is a good thing
- Feminism is too one-sided to ever achieve gender liberation
- Men’s voices need to become part of the gender debate
- Both sexes have been oppressed by their gender role, not only women
- Gender roles have developed as a functional fit to historical circumstances
My take on his positions regrading feminism:

In the standard models of gender identity, feminism has been stuck in the middle stages of identity development. Using Janet Helms racial identity model (1990) as a reference point (adapting it to feminist identity, which others have already done), feminism has been either in the Reintegration stage (3), pro-women and anti-male, the Pseudo-independence stage (4), positive female identity, or the Immersion/Emersion stage (5), replacing false conceptions about gender with more accurate information.

Unfortunately, not enough feminist theorists have reached (or maybe, expressed) the sixth and final stage of Autonomy, in which they can express a positive female identity and still appreciate the differences and similarities with men. The same is true of many men who are now trying to conceptualize a mature masculinity - there tends to be a lot of anger toward feminism, which may be a valid experience, but it will do nothing to make men more autonomous.

On the bright side, however, people are talking about these issues on both sides, so there is the hope that some real progress can be made.

Individuals and Structures

March 12th, 2010 by Pelle Billing

If you know anything about contemporary feminism, you know that the word “structure” is popular. Structures in culture and society explain why men and women behave the way they do. Oppressive structures keep women down, and maintain the integrity of the patriarchy. Free will barely exists, since we are all programmed by the structures surrounding us. The only time that individuals are emphasized in this kind of feminism, is when it comes to rebelling against these structures or to illuminate how individuals are hurt by said structures.

People who take issue with the radical feminist description of the world, usually want to switch the focus from cultural and societal structures to talking about individuals. After all, rights and responsibilities are individual, and therefore it doesn’t make much sense to talk about collective rights or identity politics. This is the argument usually put forward in Sweden when discussing whether to implement gender quotas in corporate boards of directors. The argument is that if we prioritize gender quotas instead of each individual’s right to be considered a candidate on his or her own merits, then we are putting identity politics ahead of basic individual rights.

While I agree with the view that rights are first and foremost connected to the individual, and not to groups, I think that anybody opposing feminism and feminist ideas without addressing structures ends up with fairly weak set of arguments. If the radical feminists are talking about individuals and structures, and the opposing side is only talking about individuals, then the feminist view of structures is the prevailing one by default.

At the moment, this is exactly what has happened around the Western World, and beyond. Whenever gender equality and structures are discussed, the seemingly self-evident assumption is that the current structures oppress women and favor men, meaning that women are the group we need to help. This in turn shapes everything from media coverage of gender issues, to policy making domestically and in Third World countries.

Denying the impact of structures is not only ineffective, it is fairly silly too. Whenever you meet someone from a different country you immediately notice that they speak a different language, and have different customs and traditions. How can we explain this without acknowledging the importance of cultural and societal structures?

In the field of gender issues, this means that the only way to combat misandry and the prevailing perception that men are a privileged group that willfully oppresses women, is to describe how cultural and societal structures keep men stuck in their own kind of straitjacket:

  • It is a man’s job to keep society safe. This cultural expectation means that men are expendable in wars and in dangerous jobs.
  • Cultural expectations of men are narrow. Be successful. If you have a family make sure you support it. If you fail at these tasks, there’s no place for you in society. This in turn leads to men being 3-5 times as likely as women to be homeless or commit suicide.
  • The societal structure that is our educational system produces far more women than men who go to college and university.
  • Men’s harsh reality under the current structures leads large amounts of random street violence between men.

I could list more examples but you get the point. It is only when we dare to describe men’s situation in terms of being exposed to unhealthy structures that we can hold our own in a discussion with a radical feminist (or in a discussion with virtually anybody, since the basic views of radical feminism are embraced by almost everyone nowadays, without knowing where they got those views).

Many men are reluctant to talk about themselves in this way. Men don’t like being victims or abandoning their sense of self-reliance. In my opinion this is a good thing, and the strength of the men’s movement rests on this very attitude.

However, it is perfectly possible to describe the facts of men’s situation in neutral terms, without whining or abandoning individual responsibility for one’s own life. In fact, I believe that the only way to ever have men’s issues reach the political agenda is by daring to describe how men are hurt and suffer in the face of cultural and societal structures.

It is very hard for a politician, or for anyone wanting to come across as a decent person, to say that they don’t care about male suicides and male homelessness. Consequently, the very moment a critical mass of individuals start talking about structures hurting men, that is the moment radical feminism crumbles, once and for all.

Reference:
Helms, J.E. (1990). In Black and White: racial identity theory. Westport, CT: Praeger Press.


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