In just 47 seconds, Minor Threat set off a chain reaction of a new way of thinking. Realizing there was a whole sub-culture philosophy of punk that went against the grain of the party scene was huge for me. It just made sense, and knowing there were other people who felt the same way validated that interest in being sober instead of feeling like an outcast among my other friends.
When I developed an eating disorder in college, I believe now that if I hadn’t been disinterested in drinking or doing drugs that I would have been a lot worse off, as I would have had one more way to numb myself from how horrible I felt. When anorexia was in control, I hated myself and the entire world. I don’t think I would have found the motivation and will to seek recovery if I had been open to drinking, and I’m eternally grateful for the factors and people in my life that led me to being able to verbalize something I had always felt but never felt welcomed to express among my peers, that I just had no interest in using intoxicants.
Putting this here because I might blog about it at a later point, and thought I’d share it for now to see if anyone else had any interesting thoughts. That, and Facebook has a tendency to have things get buried after awhile, and I spent a lot of time writing this, so I’m archiving it on Tumblr.
Today on Facebook, a good friend of mine posted the following:
I’ve been totally caught up lately in examining how feminism has a history of racism, homophobia, transphobia, classism, cissexism, etc, and I don’t think that the word “feminism” can’t ever be separated from that history…in other words, I think I’m making a conscious decision to not identify as a feminist anymore. Whoa.
This was my response:
I’d say that it had to start somewhere and it’s ever-evolving, just like any other philosophy or movement. If the ideals and foundation are sound, though, then it’s the job of radical thinkers (like yourself!) to call things out when you see them and help advance the issue towards one that reflects its full potential.
To me, feminism is completely incompatible with all the prejudices you identified, but plenty of people get exposed to mainstream feminism and come from sheltered backgrounds where they just haven’t yet connected the dots on how all the issues are connected, or that they may actually have their own prejudices against things they don’t understand because they haven’t been exposed or educated on the subject.
That absolutely doesn’t excuse someone for doing or saying things that are racist, gender biased, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, etc, but that doesn’t mean that those people are inherently those things, either. It’s similar to the eating disorder work I do where, before we earn support for our cause to be supported, we have to go in and educate people to understand the seriousness of the issues we want them to support.
I’ll be the first to admit that it’s… frustrating to ask politely for something that is so self-evident like adequate mental health care for a life-threatening illness, but part of it is just meeting people where they are at. If someone has never heard anything about eating disorders except for what they see on the cover of gossip magazines in the grocery store, I can’t expect them to realize that they effect diverse populations, have the highest mortality rate of any mental health disorder, etc. and I’m willing to educate on that fact.
Especially in the past year, though, as I’ve examined gender as a social construct with regard to my own eating disorder past and the barriers I encountered in getting help and being taken seriously, I’ve decided feminism is undoubtedly the necessary vehicle to bring about the changes required. At it’s heart, I see a vision where people are seen as people first, absent of any assumptions you might make about their personality, character, or interests based on their biological sex, gender identification, sexual orientation, race, etc.
The problems identified within the feminist movement are rooted in patriarchy, NOT feminism, and we are all inevitably severing our own roots to that patriarchal system because with few exceptions, we were all brought up in it no matter how much we fought it. For some people, those roots run much deeper than others, and I think it would be reactionary to turn your back on the movement which fights against patriarchy just because there are people involved who still haven’t fully realized the level of influence patriarchy has had on their life and worldview.
To me, the real question is what can be done to deal with it in a healthy way that isn’t confrontational or exclusionary (because feminism is for everyone!) but is also uncompromising in its intolerance for the pervasive and oppressing mindsets/attitudes that some people still haven’t broken free of.
Nothing starts out as perfect and you’re essentially working towards an ideal. A good foil to it is the idea that the US was founded on the ideals of a democratically free society, but it was flawed from its inception because it included the social systems of capitalism and puritanism, both of which are by their very nature patriarchal. It’s always been the job of more radical thinkers to call to attention the hypocrisy and injustice of outside ideas that allow prejudice to thrive within a system or philosophy who’s foundation shouldn’t allow for that prejudice in the first place (although someone should explain that to people like Bob McDonnell).
The important difference, of course, is that democracy is a system of government and feminism runs far deeper than that. But similarly, if you live in the US there’s a good chance that you have been exposed to the same capitalistic, puritanical bullshit. Some of us see through it really easily and feminism doesn’t seem so radical. Other people need to be completely re-educated and be exposed to new ways of thinking about the very basic nature of how we regard ourselves, our bodies, and what it means to be a diverse population.
This of course does not excuse prejudice and injustice. It just means we need to shout louder and more often.
“Yes of course, I’m scared of getting hurt, and yes of course I’m scared of being wrong. But at the same time my silence will convict me and the evil will carry on.” -Ian Mackaye, ‘Do Not Consider Yourself Free’
(below is what I wrote after reading the above passage, which is also posted on my main blog)
It makes so much sense that I’m surprised it’s never been spoken with such clarity before now. Most of the men I’ve known who were homophobic were also more likely to engage in womanizing, catcalling, or other macho type stuff (although I realize that kind of behavior isn’t limited to the stereotypical frat boy). Turning the tables on that isn’t just about “eww that’s gross”, it runs way deeper than that.
I see this as worth talking about on here because these things are a part of how we think about ourselves in a roundabout way. Sexuality is such a pervasive force in our lives, and all the sexual thoughts and feelings (and acts!) we have are obviously linked to bodies – ain’t no way around it. This can get complicated when it comes to things like unwanted sexual advances.
If you’ve been keeping up with my writing, you’ve heard me talk about gender inclusivity being a necessary part of advancing the cause of eating disorders. Usually, I’m saying that in an effort to make sure that discussions aren’t strictly focused on the female experience. Here’s a perfect example, though, of it going in the other direction. It is imperative that this horrible aspect of our culture be understood by everyone, because how we regard ourselves and speak to ourselves is often influenced by how others regard us and speak to us, and the fact of the matter is that women by and large are regarded and spoken to in belittling, objectifying, and sexist ways so frequently that we expect it and often disregard it. And that’s a problem.
I readily acknowledge that just being a cis-male (read this if you don’t know what that means) has granted me a ton of privilege in the form of not having to worry about my physical safety in nearly the same capacity as many other people do, as I’m sure is the case for likely the majority of cis-males. This disconnect in the understanding of what it’s like for so many other people (which, interestingly enough, is the majority of our population, since generally speaking women make up 51% of the U.S.) is central to the way that the human body is commodified, from sexed up advertising which places women in submissive roles to all of the anti-abortion legislation being argued all over the country by, without exception, lawmaking bodies which are disproportionately made up of men. Often it seems the case that no one wants to deal with the reality of the situation, that the autonomy and dignity of women is frequently compromised, sometimes on an institutionalized basis, usually justified by shoulder-shrug excuses and antiquated notions of gender that are leftover from the pre-1950s.
I see it as a product of the patriarchal gender binary that is forced upon us from birth. Biological sex predicates many assumptions in our culture about who we should be and how we should act. The notion of masculinity produced by those assumptions is one of domination. Threats to that notion of dominance and superiority are met with hostility.
Feminist author bell hooks talks about this in her book, The Will to Change:
“Our work of love should be to reclaim masculinity and not allow it to be held hostage to patriarchal domination. There is a creative, life-sustaining, life-enhancing place for the masculine in a non-dominator culture. And those of us committed to ending patriarchy can touch the hearts of real men where they live, not by demanding that they give up manhood or maleness, but by asking that they allow its meaning to be transformed, that they become disloyal to patriarchal masculinity in order to find a place for the masculine that does not make it synonymous with domination or the will to do violence.”
And I think that that work begins with insights like what one reader submitted to Sullivan’s blog. When put in such plain terms, it can’t be ignored. Whether we’re talking about eating disorders or sexual assault, we have to be willing to look at these issues directly and be willing to hear the testimonies from people who have experienced them first-hand. Anything less does a disservice to their pain and suffering, and perpetuates the very problems that need to be fixed.