Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Men and Laurie Penny and PAIN OW PAIN (30 days of blogging day 29)

Hello world! I'm still on barely-acceptable amounts of pain medication, as well as several days of antibiotics, copious amounts of corsodyl and worst of all a period of enforced sobriety right at the moment when my parents restocked the beer fridge with delicious raspberry cider. I've actually started a couple of proper articles, got a paragraph through them, and then had my face start paining so hard I actually just want to take a pair of scissors to the inside of my mouth and see if stabbing it might make it hurt less. At this point I'm going with "maybe"!

 I am so extraordinarily impressed by anyone who does pain management on a regular basis. I know usually people have more resources than just paracetamol and ibuprofen but still ‒ I consider myself a relatively hardy person and having this for just three days has already left me so behind and up in the air on all the things I have to do. Anybody who copes with something like this for longer- you're incredible. Coping with your body pulling this on you is incredible, doing anything on top of it is superhuman. Wow, you.

Anyway, this was going to be a lead-in to a bitesize article, but I actually ended up writing something reasonably long about one single topic so I'm seamlessly integrating now. Here is my seamless integration, isn't it great? Oh boy my mouth hurts. It's about half an hour until I can have another painkiller.

So Laurie Penny's article about men has been doing the rounds on my Facebook, and it's got me thinking about dudes again. I know, lame right? If you haven't read that article, go and do so, because it's a thought-provoking read both for its content (which I pretty much agree with) and for its tactics. The discourse has been concentrating so much on the minds of men who do seem to hate women recently, it seems like a good time to point out that most individual men don't hate women (although the ones that tell you they're good to women because they have sisters are probably lying). But it's also important to figure out how to reconcile the fact that, yes, most men are good people who want equality with the fact that no, we don't actually have equality and few people even realise what it would look like and derailing the few strands of discussion we have going really doesn't help anyone.

So enter Laurie Penny, to point out that there's a difference between woman hating individuals and a woman hating culture, and we accept that most men are not the former but all belong to the latter, whether they like it or not, and it's quite right to be angry about that but not right to direct this anger at women. So far so good, although more so than with any other feminist article, for the love of god do not read the comments here. Based on what I've seen around though, this article doesn't have quite the universally enlightening effect that you might have hoped.

What has been missing from the discussions I've seen so far (and hey, I have a paragraph, but OH GOD OH GOD PLEASE PLEASE STOP HURTING AHH WHAT CAN I DO TO MAKE YOU STOP I'LL DO ANYTHING I'LL CLOSE THIS WINDOW JUST ARGH NO OW OW OW you get the point) is an understanding of the difference between discrimination and sexism, and about how we can talk about the inequalities men see in a way that helps the general equality debate. Because, yes, a lot of the time those discussions are about how men are seen when caring for children, or worrying about being seen to be a bad person when you don't feel like you've done any of the things you're being accused of, or why nobody seems to care that there are women-only sports in the olympics but not men-only ones, isn't that sexism too? Sometimes this sort of stuff is derailing can't-win nonsense from uninteresting weirdos, but more often it's meant genuinely, and it's unfortunate that the existence of the former can make us a lot less amenable to dealing with the latter.

Discrimination and sexism are two different things, because sexism requires a power structure. This does rely on a bit more of an academic definition of sexism than is often understood, but at heart it's a simple point and it's one that bears repeating again and again and again when we talk about men in feminism. Men do deal with discrimination for being men, sometimes - and sometimes, the big example being with fathers, it's in very big, obvious areas of their lives! But these discriminatory experiences don't actually harm the overall superiority of men in society, and here's the important bit: they're usually because men are trying to do something feminine, and getting ridiculed for it. They face discrimination because being coded feminine is considered inherently negative for men, and therefore doing one of the relatively few femimine coded activities is dubious at best, taboo at worst.

Penny's article is a powerful argument for the difference between cultures and individuals which is important in underpinning why feminist discourse needs to discuss generalisations about systemic sexism without having every  decent man have to individually note they are an exception. Next up I hope is the powerful argument about why if men want to tackle this inequality (as most do, because as much as we are driven to despair by them sometimes, most men do believe in equality and want it to be true in the world they live in) the way to start tearing down barriers for both women and men is to confront why we devalue femininity so much.

It's the old "sexism hurts men too!" chestnut in a different form, I know. I'm not saying we hand over space to endless postulating about why men are portrayed as stupid in adverts or what would happen if the draft came back. But if talking about feminine-coded activities is the gateway drug to getting men to confront the systemic sexism which makes those activities "wrong" for men, then fine, I'll have that conversation as many times as I can stomach.

This is not the powerful argument article. Not yet. Maybe later. Time for mouthwash.