Sunday, 21 June 2009

There are few undergraduates in the arts and humanities in the last twenty-five years or so who have not become interested in power and oppression. I was no different, and found myself very interested in questions of gender. I struggled with feminism; as a man I felt like an outsider, one who didn't really belong in the discussion in the first place. I know I wasn't the only man who felt like this, but I also know that to a large extent my feeling of exclusion was somewhat self-imposed; my lecturers certainly never made me feel like my contribution was unwelcome. So if you want to speak about power-relations, does a position of privilege undermine the extent to which you can say anything meaningful? Not an uncommon question, but I recently read Bob Connell's attempt to explain why he feels he can talk about gender theory, when he is a self-described "heterosexual man, married, middle-aged, with a tenured academic job in an affluent country". His five point argument is clear and it is important that it has been said. None of these points may come as a shock to any of us (especially twenty years or so after they were made), but it is nice to see them in writing, and to remember why heterosexual men can and should worry about gender theory:

(1) Even the benificiaries of an oppressive system can come to see its oppressiveness, especially the way it poisons areas of life they share.
(2) Heterosexual men are often committed in important ways to women - their wives and lovers, mothers and sisters, daughters and neices, co-workers - and may desire better lives for them. Especially they may see the point of creating more civilised and peaceable sexual arrangements for their children, even at the cost of their own priveleges.
(3) Heterosexual men are not all the same or all united, and many do suffer come injury from the present system. The oppression of gays, for instance, has a back-wash damaging to effeminate or unassertive heterosexuals.
(4)Change in gender relations is happening anyway, and on a lage scale. A good many heterosexual men recognize that they cannot cling to the past and want some new directions.
(5) Heterosexual me are not excluded from the basic human capacity to share experiences, feelings and hopes. This ability is often blunted, but the capacity for caring and identification is not necessarily killed. The question is what circumstances might call it out. Being a father often does; some political movements, notably the environmental and peace movements, seem to; sexual politics may do so too.
Connell, R.W. Gender and Power. Cambridge: Blackwell. 1987. p.xiii

Connell's final point seems almost apologetic, and his attitude does seem one of the 1980's. Later in the book he questions notions of innate capacity for violence or caring in men or women, yet hear he seems to make the assumption that such innate qualities are present (albeit through social production). His last point is an apology of sorts, reaching towards opportunities for men to escape their oppressive selves. Do we need special circumastances to 'call out' our capacity for caring and identification today?


mere said...

Reconsider your stance on Bob Connell (who is now Raewyn by the way)-- I think Raewyn was quite well situated to speak on marginalised versions of masculinity, and even more so now!

Your boss said...

Do some work and stop talking about blogs!!!!!