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Deconstructing Masculinity #1: Privilege and Performance

3-13-13 - drag ball

(Ryan Arnold)– When I was 15, a friend burned me a copy of Sleater-Kinney’s brilliant record, The Woods (youtube). My closest point of reference was Nirvana, having discovered In Utero the summer before. Sleater-Kinney was definitely as confrontational as Nirvana, as unapologetically melodic, as loud; they’re even from the same part of the country. But this was different: this wall of noise was made by women, Corin Tucker’s absurd vibrato, Carrie Brownstein’s six-stringed assault, Janet Weiss pounding the everloving shit out of the drums. I was in love, but I didn’t really understand why.

I fell in love with feminism for many of the same reasons that I fell in love with Sleater-Kinney – it spoke to some part of me that had longed to be called into action, a part that has never quite understood the prescription of gender that we are expected to fulfill. I could hear feminism’s question to me: “Are you happy with the way things are?” I realized I wasn’t.

This is the first article in a series that will examine what masculinity is, how it is constructed, and what its function is in society. My interest here is to explore what I can do, as a white heterosexual cisgendered man, to put feminist theory into praxis. My intention is not to prescribe or to preach, but simply to offer this exploration of my own gender as a model for others.

What is male privilege? The concept is simple: masculinity is favored by society, and is therefore given unearned advantages; the flipside is that men are insulated from certain experiences that women are not. However, the idea remained an abstraction to me, as it does for a lot of men – because it’s difficult (if not impossible) to fully grasp the implications of societal privilege while feeling its benefits, any consideration of privilege is framed largely around the hypothetical imagined life of someone outside of privilege.

Male privilege is frequently summarized as “stranger danger” – because of the way violence is gendered in society, women face a constant threat of physical harm that men do not; consequently, women are hyperaware of their surroundings. But what else is absent from the experience of masculinity? Media bombards women with messages about how they ought to look, act, feel, and relate; this debases self-esteem and creates a hypercritical relationship between the self and its embodiment. Further, women are under constant scrutiny as sexual objects: men evaluate women based on their attractiveness; women police each other’s looks and behavior. All eyes are on the girls.

Current theories of gender are slightly more complex: feminist discourse has internalized the poststructural dictum that gender is a socially constructed performance of acts that follow cultural scripts, unrelated to biological factors (i.e. the sex one is assigned at birth, hormone levels, etc.) This sounds awesome, but, like male privilege, it is an abstraction. I was curious to see what would happen to my own gender if I bent the dividing lines, if I troubled the difference between masculine and feminine. What if I just ignored cultural expectations of masculinity? What impact would this have on my privilege? How much agency do I have over my gender? At what point does the gender binary begin to collapse?

Last Saturday, I shaved my legs, put on a dress, and went to Mount Holyoke’s Drag Ball, to try to answer some of these questions.

Iggy Pop hates the gender binary.

It’s important to acknowledge the potential problematics of my experiment; namely, that it comes dangerously close to appropriating parts of the trans* identity. There is a world of difference between cross-dressing and transsexuality, although the two are often conflated by society. My intention was never to embody a different gender, but to see how far I could stretch the limits of my own.

Leg shaving isn’t a behavior entirely absent from masculinity (e.g. competitive swimmers). However, the beauty and hygiene expected of femininity are far more exacting than those expected of masculinity. I wanted to emulate this expectation as best as I could, and shaving seemed like a great place to start. Beyond this, I thought it was important to take this experience seriously – cross-dressing is a common joke within male communities, and I wanted to distinguish myself through my commitment.

An hour and a lot of blood later, my legs were bare. I put on my zebra-striped dress and walked along Route 9 to Garman. As I walked, two men were heading in the opposite direction; I could hear them talking as they approached me, but they went silent as soon as they passed. I continued up the street, carrying a case of beer and a lit cigarette. I felt rebellious.

Packed into the cramped PVTA bus, I was acutely aware at all times of the attention I was attracting. My perception split: I saw things through my own eyes, but I began to see myself through the eyes of the people around me. This is not the same flavor of scrutiny that women are subjected to, but the attention made me uncomfortable nonetheless – for most of my life, I have felt anonymous in public. I was breaking a rule, a big rule, and I had allowed no room for the comfort of irony. I was totally serious in my dress, my bare knees knocking together.

Throughout the night I felt no significant loss of privilege – I did not pass as a woman, and it was not my goal to do so. I did reach a clearer understanding of the privileges I have as a cisgendered man. I challenged the criteria for manhood, and was met with consequent scrutiny and disapproval, if not sheer confusion. Interestingly, at no point did anyone tell me to stop. No one yelled at me. However disapproving the people around me may have been, they gave me implicit permission to do my thing. I recognize that the degree of disapproval and scrutiny I faced is not typical; that people have been killed over lesser transgressions. Perhaps my privilege sheltered me from any true outrage. Perhaps I would have had a different experience if this were not just one night.

Incorporating parts of a feminine script into my performance gave me a different relationship to my body. I was more aware of my physical movements; I felt attractive in a way that was strange and empowering. I still felt like a man, but I felt beautiful. Perhaps this is the lesson to take away from the experience: we ought to measure our agency over gender based on internal, and not external, approval. If we start to do that, maybe we’ll be a bit gentler with ourselves.

About Ryan Arnold

This isn't shoegaze - this is suicide.

13 comments on “Deconstructing Masculinity #1: Privilege and Performance

  1. zm91
    March 14, 2013

    There are a lot of problems with your article, but let’s just take one example:
    “women face a constant threat of physical harm that men do not”
    Easily disproven. Men are more likely than women to be victims of a violent crime, even if you count rape. You can try digging up the stats yourself: http://bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/cvus08.pdf.

    And don’t even try bringing up the “But those crimes are mostly perpetrated by men!” objection. It’s irrelevant.

    • Ryan Arnold
      March 14, 2013

      This is my fault — I was referring to the available stats on rates of sexual violence, which are astronomically higher for women than for me (source: http://www.rainn.org/get-information/statistics/sexual-assault-victims). I should have been more specific. I think that this is an issue of semantics that misses the point of the article. I’m curious what other problems you found.

      • zm91
        March 14, 2013

        You are probably right with regards to the rates of sexual violence. Yet if we take into account prison rapes, which are often ignored, the disparity is probably significantly reduced.

        Back to the point about men being assaulted at a higher rate – don’t you think that’s a problem? That partially undermines your narrative that it is just women who are at a danger of violence. In fact, men are much more likely to be victims of every violent crime except rape. That shows that being a male doesn’t always confer privileges.

        As for other problems I see, let’s take this sentence, ” the beauty and hygiene expected of femininity are far more exacting than those expected of masculinity.”
        This is undoubtedly true. But you’re not looking at the full picture. In society, women have been traditionally valued based on their perceived physical beauty (and to a large extent, still are), but men have been traditionally valued based on their ability to make money/provide for a family. If a woman doesn’t have many accomplishments outside of being reasonably “beautiful” (according to societal standards) – i.e. she isn’t educated, doesn’t have a job, hasn’t achieved much, etc. – that is still OK, compared to a man in a similar situation. A man without accomplishments we call a “loser” or a “failure”. Notice that such a word has rarely been applied to women. In other words, men are not valued as human beings – they’re valued based on how much they can produce. In today’s modern society, this difference of expectations has narrowed down somewhat, but it still is significant.

        In short, there are male and female privileges, and emphasizing one while neglecting the other is not truly egalitarianism.

      • Ryan Arnold
        March 14, 2013

        I think that violence is a problem, but it’s important to make a distinction between gendered and non-gendered violence, i.e. violence that targets someone because of their gender. incidences of non-gendered violence are definitely problems in our society, and there is value in exploring their relationship to masculinity, but they fall outside of the purview of the present article. additionally, i would note that the majority of sexual violence goes unreported, which makes the argument over the disparity moot. all we have is what is reported; we have to guess at the rest.

        I’m having trouble figuring out where we diverge. My interest in this article and in my own life is to explore the pressures placed on men by society. I agree with you that the pressures placed on men to earn and produce are real and exploitative, but I find fault with the notion that “men are not valued as human beings,” because men, not women, control the system of valuation. I also think that this is a unqualified reduction of masculinity — men have power, and they struggle very hard to maintain that power. I think what you’re pointing towards is the fact that masculinity is a frustrating and multifarious identity, comprised of many tensions that pull in contradicting directions.

        Further, I disagree with you on two key points: 1) “Notice that such a word [i.e. loser, failure] has rarely been applied to women.” This is fundamentally not true. I’m not sure which women you’ve been talking to, but this comment does not reflect the reality of the current job market, nor does it consider the emphasis we place on education and subsequent careerism, or the fact that female college enrollment is higher than male (source: http://www.forbes.com/sites/ccap/2012/02/16/the-male-female-ratio-in-college/). Regardless, I’ll go with you into a hypothetical land of the past, where women are only expected to be pretty and are not currently fighting for equal pay. How does your argument account for the shaming of expressions of female sexuality, and the disparity between identical sexual behaviors in women and men? In this imaginary reality, we might not call women “losers” or “failures”, but we call them sluts, whores, tramps, etc. Men who sleep with many women are prolific and celebrated; women who sleep with many men are loose, immoral — “nobody wants a car with mileage.” They are devalued just the same as you say men are. However, slut-shaming is not imaginary; it is a reality, which, combined with the pressures women (along with men) face to produce and earn, illustrate an obvious social disadvantage between the genders.

        2) “There are male and female privileges, and emphasizing one while neglecting the other is not truly egalitarianism”: I’m not sure what social privileges can be attributed to women that don’t fall within the differential diagnosis of another social identity. The right to vote (finally)? The right to not be considered property (so much) anymore? The right to have the government to make decisions about your body so you don’t have to? Regardless of this imaginary female privilege, emphasizing one over another has no bearing on egalitarianism — to the contrary, I argue that to focus solely on male privilege is an equalizing gesture: interrogating the privilege of any group will illuminate the ways that it is constructed on top of other groups, and allow us to pull them up to join us. That’s egalitarian.

  2. zm91
    March 14, 2013

    incidences of non-gendered violence are definitely problems in our society, and there is value in exploring their relationship to masculinity, but they fall outside of the purview of the present article.
    I wonder why you don’t treat the higher incidence of violence on males as an example of violence which is definitely gendered-bias? Sure, it’s probably not mostly female-on-male violence, but it is most likely not completely random either. There is certainly a gendered component to it. I would guess that part of it has to do with the belief that robbing or physically assaulting a woman is perceived as more morally wrong than assaulting a man. This belief is probably held by both sexes. I think you are clearly being gynocentric if you think that this is not a problem for males.

    I find fault with the notion that “men are not valued as human beings,” because men, not women, control the system of valuation.
    Your objection is irrelevant to the argument. Even if it is true that men control the system of valuation, how does that “improve” a man’s situation at all? Say a certain man feels he deserves to be valued as a human being, and not as a means of production. Does the fact that some other men disagree with him ameliorate his condition? If so, why? He is still perceived as a failure by all.

    (And I disagree that it is “men who control the system of valuation”. It is reality far more complex than that, but I think debating that would go too far away).

    men have power, and they struggle very hard to maintain that power.

    This is a generalized, sweeping statement which doesn’t reflect the condition of the majority of men in society. Sure, it is mostly men at the top of the hierarchy, but what significant power does a homeless man have? Or even a single man working a minimum wage job? Any advantage they have of being male is almost negligible. In fact, they might have it worse, since people are more inclined to have pity on a suffering woman than a suffering man, all other things being equal.

    This is fundamentally not true. I’m not sure which women you’ve been talking to, but this comment does not reflect the reality of the current job market, nor does it consider the emphasis we place on education and subsequent careerism

    That doesn’t change the fact that the majority of males would prioritize looks over career when choosing a potential mate. It doesn’t mean they don’t value the income of a woman; it’s that it’s pretty low on the priority list. Women do not face pressure to earn to the same extent that men do. In fact, I would say that the group of people who pressurize women to achieve the most are actually feminists.

    or the fact that female college enrollment is higher than male
    I find it amusing that you don’t seem to regard this as something wrong, an injustice.

    How does your argument account for the shaming of expressions of female sexuality, and the disparity between identical sexual behaviors in women and men? In this imaginary reality, we might not call women “losers” or “failures”, but we call them sluts, whores, tramps, etc.

    Read my argument again. My argument doesn’t deny what you are saying. The only thing I am pointing out is that while females have the disadvantage of slut-shaming, males have the disadvantage of “loser-shaming”. I’m not even saying they’re completely symmetrical – but the extent to which men are loser-shamed is quite significant. I do not know about your own life experiences, but the pressure is much stronger if you live in a developing country where life just isn’t as great. Males are expected to accomplish something to become a respectable person. As for females, they can choose to accomplish something, or they can just find someone to marry them and “be a good wife”.

    I’m not sure what social privileges can be attributed to women that don’t fall within the differential diagnosis of another social identity.
    There are quite a few, if you actually stop and think about it. Female privileges are quite different from male privileges. Examples would be:
    1. The privilege to commit violence in public without being regarded as a serious threat. E.g. Very troubling example.
    2. The privilege of not having to restrain one’s emotions in public. When was the last time it was socially acceptable for men to cry in public? Seriously. A man crying is regarded as weak and uncool.
    3. The privilege of being incarcerated for less time for the same crime. (Which is a well-known statistic).
    4. The privilege of being able to report domestic violence by a spouse and having the possibility of being taken seriously by the police, instead of either a) being laughed at, or b) being suspected to be the abuser instead of victim and getting arrested yourself.
    5. The privilege of not being sent off to die in meaningless wars which you have no say in. You might think this is irrelevant in America, so perhaps I can give you a pass on this. But in many parts of the world, including where I come from, males are conscripted, while women are not. And historically, the majority of war dead have been men.
    etc.

    • Ryan Arnold
      March 14, 2013

      1) The fact that men encounter more violence than women is overdetermined — there are too many probably causes for this; further, the diffuse nature of the violent acts committed (e.g. armed robbery, murder, assault) suggest that temporal and geographic locations have a greater influence than gender. Further, none of these acts target men for being men; they do not try to take something male away from men. Women are sexually assault by men (9/10 times) because they are women; the men who assault them want to take something from them that only women possess. I acknowledged that the fact that violent crime is perpetrated largely by men against men connotes things about gender, and I maintain that this is valuable, albeit outside of the scope of the present discussion. I think that aggression is a tenet of hegemonic masculinity; I think men are shamed for being passive, not aggressive, not self-assertive, etc. This is also what you are saying. We don’t disagree.

      2) My point is that I think you’re trying to introject the faults of capitalism into a discourse of gender. Some groups of men control the means of production, the labors of some groups of men are exploited alongside some groups of women.
      “It is reality far more complex than that[.]” — If men do not control the system of valuation within patriarchal society, who do you suggest is behind the curtain? I agree that the issue is more complex, which is why my article was concerned with the expectations of gender, and not the gendering of capitalist systems.
      But again, this is missing the point: at any temporal or geographical location within our social history, it has been more culturally advantageous to be a man than to be a woman. I’ve yet to hear a cogent argument from you against this point. Further, it is a statistical reality that single mothers are the largest group employed by minimum wage labor.
      Additionally, you conflate the privileging of different social groups — My interest is in the way gender is prescribed, not the socioeconomical hierarchy of homeless populations. Gender definitely factors into that conversation, as it does with violence. “[S]ince people are more inclined to have pity on a suffering woman than a suffering man, all other things being equal.” The fact is that all other things are not equal. You’re offering a reduction of a complicated issue and undercutting your point; further, you challenged me for a making a “sweeping generalization” — this is perhaps more generalized and broom-like than the suggestion that men have power and defend it. I moved to New York a few years ago, and eventually I stopped paying attention to anyone asking for money. You’re suggesting that homeless women attract more sympathy from pedestrians. Why do you think that is? I think it says a lot about the cultural view of women as a weaker sex, more deserving of pity, more in need of help. You’re sort of unintentionally arguing in my favor.

      3) Why is it “something wrong, an injustice” that more women than men are in college? Amherst College was all-male for most of its existence. 1 in 4 college women are survivors of sexual assault. I think it’s pretty awesome that, despite the androcentric history of higher education and the epidemic misogyny on college campuses (i.e. Yale), women show up in class more than men.

      4) “Males are expected to accomplish something to become a respectable person. As for females, they can choose to accomplish something, or they can just find someone to marry them and “be a good wife”.” Dude stop talking about Mad Men.

      5) Simply because I don’t think you and I disagree as much as you’re convinced that we do, I want to acknowledge to really important things that you just said:
      -“The privilege of being able to report domestic violence by a spouse and having the possibility of being taken seriously by the police, instead of either a) being laughed at, or b) being suspected to be the abuser instead of victim and getting arrested yourself.”
      You are right. Men are disadvantaged when it comes to reporting abuse, either by other men or by women. It’s a sad reality that our discourse re: sexual assault is as heteronormative and androcentric as it is. However, I think it’s ridiculous to imply that men have a more difficult time with abuse and assault than women, considering the unimaginably low rate of conviction for rape cases, the way that law enforcement views women (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/30/nypd-to-women-of-south-park-dont-wear-shorts-or-dresses_n_989539.html), and the pressure placed on survivors of abuse and assault to remain silent about their experience. ESPECIALLY on college campuses.

      -“The privilege of not being sent off to die in meaningless wars which you have no say in. You might think this is irrelevant in America, so perhaps I can give you a pass on this. But in many parts of the world, including where I come from, males are conscripted, while women are not. And historically, the majority of war dead have been men.”
      You get this one. War is definitely men’s work. I do not discredit this one bit, despite the fact that I am in America. However, I think it’s worth mentioning that women were, for the longest time, treated as baby factories. The rate of mortality during childbirth used to be much higher than it is now. Am I suggesting that the casualties of childbirth are equal to the casualties of US wars? Don’t be absurd — of course casualties from childbirth are greater than the casualties from US wars. I am here emphasizing the idea of conscripted duty that you point out — dying for something that you “have no say in.” Women may not get conscripted into battle, but they live in a country whose government tries to legislate their right to their own body (I think it’s strange that I have to make this point twice), for which there is no true male parallel.

    • Ryan Arnold
      March 14, 2013

      I think the most interesting aspect of this conversation is that you’ve yet to offer an argument contrary to the thesis of my article: the performance of masculinity that is normalized and enforced by society is oppressive in its refusal to embrace difference, ambiguity, and opposition. In fact, many of the plights you’ve mentioned serve as evidence to my point. Unless there is some point of contention that you harbor but have not expressed here, it appears that we are in favor of the same thing and merely debating whether women are as subjugated as I believe them to be. What does this have to do with the strictures of masculinity? What does this have to do with my experiment at transcending the boundaries of masculinity? Your arguments read like a defense of male privilege, not a response to the article.

  3. zm91
    March 15, 2013

    Finally I have the time to respond to this.

    1) further, the diffuse nature of the violent acts committed (e.g. armed robbery, murder, assault) suggest that temporal and geographic locations have a greater influence than gender.
    Please explain to me how this is a cogent rebuttal to what I’ve said. The fact is that men are disproportionately the victims of ALL kinds of physical violence with the exception of rape. There is no reference to geographic or temporal locations here.

    Further, none of these acts target men for being men; they do not try to take something male away from men. Women are sexually assault by men (9/10 times) because they are women; the men who assault them want to take something from them that only women possess.

    How does it matter whether the “something taken away” is “male” or not? The fact is, one half of the population is at a much greater risk of a whole list of physical assault. It doesn’t matter, really, whether the crime “takes away” some abstract notion of maleness or femaleness. Frankly speaking, the language you are using of “taking something that only a woman posesses” sounds weird to me, it’s as if you’re talking about “taking away a woman’s honor”. And it seems disrespectful to male rape victims.

    And it’s highly unlikely this is a coincidence of some sort, especially knowing the fact that “Don’t hit girls” is an age-old patriarchal meme which is still instilled into many young men today. It’s very probable that many people, even ones with criminal intentions, have a stronger moral compunction against assaulting women, leading men to become more likely targets.

    I think men are shamed for being passive, not aggressive, not self-assertive, etc. This is also what you are saying. We don’t disagree.
    And yet, you choose to ignore the consequences of such shaming for men. Ryan, the majority of men have been shamed throughout their whole lives for not being aggressive enough. Demanding that they “realize” their “male privilege” only shames them further.

    2)But again, this is missing the point: at any temporal or geographical location within our social history, it has been more culturally advantageous to be a man than to be a woman. I’ve yet to hear a cogent argument from you against this point.

    How about being a male in Britain in 1915? America in 1942? Or perhaps South Korea, today? And your term of “culturally advantageous” is ill-defined and possibly irrelevant. It may be “culturally” advantageous to be a male, but is it truly advantageous when you are expected to work harder, sacrifice more, suffer more, and take way more risks than females?

    Additionally, you conflate the privileging of different social groups — My interest is in the way gender is prescribed, not the socioeconomical hierarchy of homeless populations.

    Nope. I’m simply pointing out that a homeless woman will elicit more sympathy from the general public than a homeless man. This has nothing to do with the socioeconomical hierarchy of homeless populations; we’re talking about interaction between a single homeless person and random strangers.

    I think it says a lot about the cultural view of women as a weaker sex, more deserving of pity, more in need of help. You’re sort of unintentionally arguing in my favor.

    You know Ryan, we’re not really in that much disagreement over some basic facts, but what bewilders me is your interpretation of them. This point you’re saying, that people view women as “the weaker sex” – yes, indeed, and what I am arguing is that such a moniker actually confers quite a few privileges to women in society. It gives certain advantages to women that men don’t have, and also certain disadvantages. You seem to focus on the disadvantages of women (i.e.,advantages of men), but never the disadvantages of men (i.e., advantages of women). In fact, what makes it difficult for me to accept that most of feminism is “fighting for equality” is that by focusing on the needs of women, a feminist just keeps proving the age-old cultural meme that “women are more deserving of pity and more in need of help”.

    3)Why is it “something wrong, an injustice” that more women than men are in college? Amherst College was all-male for most of its existence.

    And Amherst College, even when it was all-male, has historically only catered to perhaps only 5-10% of the male population. To put it simply: your objection is completely irrelevant, because I’m not talking about only Amherst College. When we see women underrepresented in certain fields, such as the sciences, many programs are made to reduce that inequality. And yet we have inequality in the number of men vs. women, nationwide, who go to college. It means that there is something wrong in the education system since it seems to result in fewer males being successful. Why aren’t we alarmed by that?

    I think it’s pretty awesome that, despite the androcentric history of higher education and the epidemic misogyny on college campuses (i.e. Yale), women show up in class more than men.
    Really? So men can’t go to college simply because they “don’t show up in class”? Maybe I should start arguing that people become poor because they “don’t show up to work”.

    4) Dude stop talking about Mad Men.
    I’m sorry, I don’t understand the cultural reference you put there, not being American. I’ve never seen the show, and what I’ve said is based on my own observed experiences.

    5)I think it’s ridiculous to imply that men have a more difficult time with abuse and assault than women,
    I would like to just add a comment, as there’s nothing really wrong with this sentence. Because it’s really true that men have less of a difficult time dealing with abuse and assault. But do you know why? Because men have been conditioned to complain less when they are abused or assaulted. Male stoicism in the face of suffering has been the norm throughout history, and I don’t see that changing with feminism.

    However, I think it’s worth mentioning that women were, for the longest time, treated as baby factories.
    And men were treated like what? Kings? The fact is that men have been treated for the longest time as beasts of burden.

    Am I suggesting that the casualties of childbirth are equal to the casualties of US wars? Don’t be absurd — of course casualties from childbirth are greater than the casualties from US wars.
    I highly doubt this has been true throughout history. And women’s deaths by childbirth is more than offset by the fact that men have always regularly performed more dangerous and risky work, and die in greater numbers as a result.

    And at least when one dies in childbirth, one is dying in giving birth to one’s own offspring, which one cares about and loves. It’s different compared to the futile and meaningless deaths demanded of men who have had no say, and no interest, in fighting for whatever is the cause du jour.

    Women may not get conscripted into battle, but they live in a country whose government tries to legislate their right to their own body (I think it’s strange that I have to make this point twice), for which there is no true male parallel.
    Conscription actually legislates and controls male bodies to a greater extent than whatever control the government has attempted to take over female bodies.

  4. zm91
    March 15, 2013

    In fact, many of the plights you’ve mentioned serve as evidence to my point. Unless there is some point of contention that you harbor but have not expressed here, it appears that we are in favor of the same thing and merely debating whether women are as subjugated as I believe them to be. What does this have to do with the strictures of masculinity? What does this have to do with my experiment at transcending the boundaries of masculinity? Your arguments read like a defense of male privilege, not a response to the article.

    And as I’ve mentioned at the start, I’m merely pointing out some problems with your article, not necessarily the major thrust of it. In fact, reading your article again, I seem to agree with some parts of it. My only bewilderment is the conclusions you draw from that.

    Take this example,
    I felt attractive in a way that was strange and empowering. I still felt like a man, but I felt beautiful
    Why did you feel attractive in an empowering way? Did your maleness have anything to do with it? You see, the thing I would draw from this feeling of being empowered is that being aware of your physical movements, i.e., going along with the “feminine script”, is not always a “bad thing” – in fact, it can be empowering – and indeed, throughout history this has been the way women could exert power within a patriarchal society, that is, by simply being and acting like women.

    In other words, I don’t understand why you are still talking about male privilege when conforming to the feminine script gives its own advantages, i.e., female privileges.

    And finally, what do I think of the experiment itself? If this is simply an experiment to see what happens when you transcend certain boundaries of masculinity, it’s fine. But if it’s meant to “capture a feel of what it means like being a woman, without the cover of male privilege”, or something along that lines, I think it fails. A cross-dressing male naturally elicits completely opposite reactions compared to a “normal” woman. But I don’t know if this was ever your intentions.

    • Ryan Arnold
      March 26, 2013

      I am going to concede this argument to you, because I recognize that I won’t win it — on a very fundamental level, you’ve misunderstood what the aim of this piece was. You telegraph this fact in the last paragraph of your comment: “But if it’s meant to “capture a feel of what it means like being a woman, without the cover of male privilege”, or something along that lines, I think it fails.” If you had bothered to even read the article, instead of just gazing at the words, you would have seen that I make explicitly clear: “My intention was never to embody a different gender, but to see how far I could stretch the limits of my own.” I don’t have the time to continue to repeat myself to you. Gotta move on.

      Deeper than your unwillingness or inability to understand this piece and my subsequent defenses of it, however, is the fact that you want to quantify and measure the suffering of men and women. The initial flaw that you found with this piece is that it paid no [explicit] attention to the societal burdens placed on men; that I offered no consideration of alleged “female privilege”; in a sense, you accused me of some sort of bizarre reverse-sexism. I am not a woman, and so I have no access to the experiences of womanhood; hence why my article focused on masculinity.

      I’ll leave you with this quote I stumbled on earlier today, which better articulates why I think you’re wrong about the equation between the pressures placed on men vs. on women:
      “In the great majority of cases today, at least in the possessing classes, the husband is obliged to earn a living and support his family, and that in itself gives him a position of supremacy, without any need for special legal titles and privileges. Within the family he is the bourgeois and the wife represents the proletariat. In the industrial world, the specific character of the economic oppression burdening the proletariat is visible in all its sharpness only when all special legal privileges of the capitalist class have been abolished and complete legal equality of both classes established. The democratic republic does not do away with the opposition of the two classes; on the contrary, it provides the clear field on which the fight can be fought out. And in the same way, the peculiar character of the supremacy of the husband over the wife in the modern family, the necessity of creating real social equality between them, and the way to do it, will only be seen in the clear light of day when both possess legally complete equality of rights. Then it will be plain that the first condition for the liberation of the wife is to bring the whole female sex back into public industry, and that this in turn demands the abolition of the monogamous family as the economic unit of society.”
      -F. Engels, “The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State” (1884).

    • August Wissmath
      October 25, 2013

      @Zm91

      I respect and value your voice and assertion, but I think your approach to this article was militant. Maybe its the difference in life experience but you seem to have been “talking at” Ryan instead of “talking with” him.

      Check yourself. Check and see if you misread or distorted his words to match your agenda. Many of your claims are not compelling responses to this article.

      My refutation stands on your interpretation of the following line:

      “I felt attractive in a way that was strange and empowering. I still felt like a man, but I felt beautiful”

      Your interrogation of Ryan’s gendered categories was sharp and on point.

      But from your viewpoint the words seem more insidious than they need to be. I’ll let your argument stand, since I have heard it before and do not wish to deconstruct it. Instead I’ll offer a counter-interpretation for your consideration.

      Before I begin I want to assert that I take the position that gender identity is fluid and non-essential, but gendered categories are essential. I mean to say that male-bodies and female-bodies are free to perform masculinity and femininity as they wish. However, masculinity and femininity are “scripts” which we were given and they are “scripts” which seem to endure across generations. The masculine is not equivalent to the male-bodied and the feminine is not equivalent to the female-bodied. The two gender categories act through our bodies–they manifest themselves in our bodies, our art, and our performances. From this position I will defend Ryan’s words.

      I’ll start with the words “felt beautiful”. When I perform my gender as a man, when I live my life as man in America, I do not “feel beautiful”. My culture genders beauty and reserves that life experience for the “feminine”. For whatever reason “feeling beautiful” does not belong to the domain of the masculine.

      Feeling beautiful is similar to feeling desirable. But it is not the same “to desire the masculine” as it is “to desire the feminine”.

      When I gaze upon a body (male or female) that exhibits masculinity the desire I feel is not what I feel when I gaze upon the “feminized” body.

      I assume that as someone who presents as male, Ryan has experienced what is like to be desired as a man. But he has never felt what is to be desired as a woman. Because he has never known what is to be desired as a woman, he has never known the vulnerability a woman feels under the “male gaze”. Nor has he ever know the empowerment a woman feels when she is desired.

      Only a feminized body (male or female) can know these two experiences–vulnerability and empowerment beneath the desiring gaze of another.

      For one who has lived as a man, as Ryan has, the feminine is a “strange”, “foreign”, or “exotic” culture. Yes, Ryan experiences the power and privilege of being male bodied. But I think it was presumptive to dismiss his experience as a “feminized body”.

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This entry was posted on March 13, 2013 by in Academic, Gender, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , .
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