EuroPROFEM - The European Men Profeminist Network http://www.europrofem.org
Sexism & Stoicism
Submitted as partial requirement
for the Degree of Bachelor of Arts (Honours)
In his bachelor´s thesis "Sexism and
stoicism" Ben Mudge explores different kinds of profeminism and
men´s movements. Mudge states his own position as a profeminist.
The focus in his approach is on the relation between men's sexism
and stoicism. By stoicism he means the psychic state of suppression
and control of emotions. Mudge states that while the so called
'men's movement' pays a great deal of attention to men's stoicism -
calling for men to 'get back in touch with their feelings' - and by
doing this usually reinforces patriarchal power, the men who have
acquired a profeminist stance focus on sexism rather than stoicism.
This thesis addresses a theoretical issue which I believe is crucial to the development of gender politics, that is the relation between mens sexism and stoicism. Stoicism is a term I have adapted to describe the psychic state of suppression and control of emotions. The discourses and practices often called the mens movement pay a great deal of attention to mens stoicism, calling for men to get back in touch with their feelings. However the majority of discourses and practices in the mens movement serve to reinforce patriarchal power. The minority of men in the mens movement who adopt an explicitly profeminist stance focus on sexism rather than stoicism. Within profeminism there are two contemporary strategies for eliminating mens sexism, both of which focus exclusively on either morality or emotionality. In the course of a detailed critical analysis, I will argue that each contemporary strategy serves the maintenance of patriarchy in some ways, for different reasons. In response to this situation, I will proceed to develop a theoretical framework for an alternative profeminist strategy designed to avoid the problems encountered by both contemporary strategies. Given that some of the problems with the contemporary strategies are due to their modernist assumptions about subjectivity, the alternative strategy will assume poststructuralist feminist theories of subjectivity instead. It will address morality and emotionality simultaneously, while taking into consideration the relationship between power and resistance, a particular notion of self-interests, and mens differences. I hope that the alternative strategy will be effective in resisting patriarchy.
Many people have supported and assisted me in a variety of ways in the course of writing this thesis, and I would like to thank all of you: Jonathon Hawtin, Anne Mudge, Craig Mudge, Maureen Mudge, Tim Rogers, Caroline Sage, Barbara Triffett.
I am deeply appreciative to the following people who, in addition to being supportive in a variety of ways, have provided valuable theoretical perspectives which have helped shape this thesis: Krystie Edwards, Steve Golding, Michael Flood, Rohnda Hawtin, Christopher McLean, Kylie OConnell, Lara Palombo, Bob Pease, Susan Sheridan, David Tully, Ben Wadham.
Special thanks to Lyndall Ryan, my wonderful supervisor, who has not only provided theoretical and technical guidance thoroughly, but has also supported me on many levels, in ways which I value deeply.:-)
Except where reference is made in the text of the thesis, this thesis contains no material published elsewhere or extracted in whole or part from a thesis by which I have qualified or been awarded another degree or diploma.
No other persons work has been used without due acknowledgement in the main text of the thesis.
This thesis has not been submitted for the award of any degree or diploma in any other tertiary institution.
MASA Men Against Sexual Assault,
a network of Australian profeminist activist groups.
In recent years the so-called mens movement has gained in popularity and attracted significant attention in the media. The mens movement includes a wide diversity of beliefs, and some fundamentally opposed approaches to gender. Moreover, it has few members and is neither unified nor organised. In Australia, there is no national network, and those men actively participating number between two and three thousand. (I am here defining active participation as more than just buying a book about masculinity. The definition includes educating, campaigning and publishing about issues of masculinity; and attending or facilitating mens workshops, support groups or programs). Most of these men are men are white, middle-class, middle-aged and heterosexual. (Flood 1996a, pp. 14-15; Orkin 1993, p. 23) While there has been no quantitative study of the membership of the mens movement in Australia, these estimations represent a consensus understanding among prominent mens movement activists, which I discovered in personal correspondence with Michael Flood, Bob Pease and Peter Vogel, Paul Whyte and others.
There are three main agendas running through the mens movement. The illustration on page 3 represents my understanding of the various discourses operating in the Australian mens movement. I name some central texts in each discourse, the relative ideological positioning of each discourse and text, and the relative numbers of men actively participating in each of them. Most of the men in the mens movement adopt the agenda of mens liberation, and this agenda is what the media and most people mean when they refer to the mens movement. This discourse attempts to be an apolitical personal growth movement, but reinforces patriarchal power in subtle ways. The gender justice agenda aims to work in solidarity with the womens movement while the backlash agenda is openly anti-feminist.
The mens rights discourse claims that feminism is a misandrist conspiracy which has now dominates this society, such that men are systematically and structurally oppressed. Its followers deny that men have social power, and campaign for fathers custody of their children (whether or not the fathers are abusive) and against affirmative action and allegedly false accusations of rape. (Farrell 1993; Alexander 1997, pp. 25-6; Flood 1996b, pp. 22-23)
Mythopoetry is so-called because of its foundation in Jungian psychology and consequent concern with mythical archetypes, and also because the author who popularised the discourse, Robert Bly, employed a poetic writing style. Mythopoetic workshops are for men and boys only, and they involve rituals of male bonding, getting in touch with feelings, finding the Warrior Within, developing an earthy spirituality, and initiations into Real Manhood. The result of these workshops is what I call New Age Machismo. Male violence and male suicide are blamed on mothers, the lack of fathering, and the crisis of masculinity brought on by feminism. (Flood 1996b, p. 22; Biddulph 1995, pp. 3-5)
There are many mens support groups which draw on elements of Re-evaluation Co-counselling, the mythopoetic discourse, Twelve Step programs, and various other personal growth discourses, while having no particular affiliation. They focus on men getting in touch with their feelings and communicating them effectively, boosting their self-esteem and developing intimacy. Although they might address physical violence, most issues of patriarchal power are ignored. Because they are ignored, they usually continue uninhibited.
Re-evaluation Co-counselling (RC) is a personal growth movement with members from most social groups, and which is politicised by some members more than others. Some RC men have a gender justice agenda in that they use RC techniques explicitly for the purpose of eliminating mens sexism. I include these men in my discussion of profeminist strategies, although they would not normally be labelled profeminist. RC support groups and workshops take power relations into consideration, while focussing on the process of emotional expression. While most RC men appear to be genuinely concerned with gender justice, I believe that the lack of focus on issues of power in RC techniques leads to significant reinforcements of patriarchal power.
Those men who identify as profeminist attempt to work in solidarity with feminist women against patriarchy. Their theories and practices owe a great deal to feminists. They attempt to educate men about alternatives to sexism and violence, and lobby men to take them on. They attempt to support the womens movement and many attempt to hold themselves accountable to feminist women. They are far from being a homogeneous group, and profeminism is being constantly deconstructed and redefined. Some consider themselves as separate from the mens movement. I locate my stance within profeminist discourse, given that I draw heavily on the work of feminist theorists and that I do activist work intended to eliminate mens sexism. I am particularly influenced by poststructuralist feminist theorists such as Chris Weedon (Weedon 1987) and Jana Sawicki (Sawicki 1991); I also draw upon selected aspects of texts by socialist feminists such as Lynne Segal (Segal 1989; 1990; 1993) and radical feminists such as Marilyn French (French 1991) and Andrea Dworkin (Dworkin 1979). While I agree that it is important to clearly affirm profeminism and critique the other discourses the mens movement, I do not agree with the separatist tactics of some profeminist men, because I think it is more productive to keep the doors open for engaging with men of different agendas.
The problem which I want to stress is that, after twenty years of profeminist discourse and the many struggles of the womens movements, less than ten percent of men actively questioning masculinity take an explicitly profeminist approach. Moreover many feminist women who have examined the mens movement, such as those in Kay Leigh Hagans collection Women Respond to the Mens Movement (Hagan 1992), have demonstrated that its overwhelming tendency is to reinforce patriarchy. Furthermore, even contemporary profeminist strategies have limited effect on the sexism of those men they engage. For these three reasons, the contemporary strategies being used to eliminate mens sexism are simply not satisfactory. Unless women opt for separatism or violent revolution, the dismantling of patriarchy will require the cooperation of much larger numbers of men than profeminism currently includes. Given that we are talking about a primary axis of oppression in our society, recruiting men into the profeminist cause is a matter of life and death: a matter of urgency. It is therefore crucial to develop and implement new strategies which are more effective in eliminating mens sexism, as well as recruiting men into profeminism.
The term stoicism has traditionally referred to the school of philosophy founded by ancient Greeks. For the purpose of this thesis, I have adapted the term to refer to the psychic state of suppressed and controlled emotionality, which is often a norm of masculinity. (Middleton 1992, p. 224; Pease 1997, p. 40) Quantitative studies have indicated that
Men in most Western cultures are not supposed to show any emotion in public other than anger, except in certain ritually defined circumstances, because anger is masculine power at its most impressive. Otherwise men should control themselves, and maintain a firm jaw in the face of trouble. (Middleton 1992, p. 212)
This thesis will critically evaluate the theoretical foundations of contemporary strategies for eliminating mens sexism, particularly where they refer to the issue of mens stoicism. While the theoretical foundations of these strategies are rarely articulated by their exponents, theoretical assumptions are always being made nonetheless. It follows that, if the theoretical foundations of a strategy are problematic, then the strategy itself will have problematic effects. Therefore I will be using feminist deconstruction methods to expose problems in the strategies foundations. Through this process I will demonstrate that each of the currently prevalent strategies for eliminating mens sexism is theoretically problematic, and therefore fails to adequately fulfil its purpose.
The purpose of this thesis, in response to the stagnant state of affairs above, is to develop an alternative theoretical framework upon which a new strategy for eliminating mens sexism can be built. The alternative framework I will develop attempts to transcend the problems associated with contemporary strategies. I will apply poststructuralist feminist theories of subjectivity to the question of the relation between mens sexism and stoicism. I hope that my theory will be more effective when applied in the project of eliminating mens sexism.
I have had a passion for social justice issues since childhood. In the process of social activism in the areas of class and racism, I became aware that gender is another primary axis of oppression operating in this society. My awareness increased through studying feminist theory, and through feminist theory I also learned a great deal about myself and the social construction of masculinity generally. Meanwhile, my personal growth journey led me to Re-evaluation Co-counselling, which attempts to supersede peoples stoicism with a more expressive emotionality. My quality of life has been enhanced by my particular relationship to RC, and I believe that my particular interpretations of RC discourse have also amplified my ability to adopt profeminist ways of being a man. However, I became increasingly disturbed about the ways masculinity was discussed at RC mens gatherings and in RC literature: it became clear to me that this discourse was reinforcing numerous patriarchal ideologies and practices, often in others and sometimes in myself. I therefore decided to stop attending RC mens gatherings (at least until I work out a strategy for addressing these concerns in an environment where the teachers knowledges are privileged), because I did not want to further reinforce my own sexism. However this decision, while I do not regret it, does mean that I am missing out on an environment where emotionality is valued in ways that I have not found anywhere else. This process has led me to consider ways in which emotionality can be politically progressive.
Another motivation comes from my experience in profeminist mens research and activism. There is a general tendency among profeminist men to be more stoic than those men with a mens liberation agenda. While profeminist men clearly have a more progressive politics in most respects, I believe that their relative stoicism hinders their profeminist politics as a personal practice. Furthermore, their relative stoicism hinders profeminist mens ability to support each other in their activism, and makes their gatherings less passionate than their potential. In response to these experiences, I am considering ways in which profeminist politics can be enhanced with more consideration of emotionality.
Hence I have both personal and political motivations for undertaking this thesis.
The methodology I am using for this thesis is predominantly theoretical rather than empirical. I will briefly review a selection of texts from a variety of discourses in the mens movement. Then I will perform a detailed textual analysis of the profeminist writing about mens sexism and stoicism, using techniques developed in feminist deconstruction. The purpose of this deconstruction will be to problematise the assumptions being made in the various approaches, to reveal an explanation for the unsatisfactory outcomes of these approaches. In particular, I will demonstrate that the discussion of sexism and stoicism has, in the various writings to date, assumed modernist definitions of subjectivity. I will demonstrate how these assumptions imply particular conclusions which reinforce patriarchal ideologies and practices. This process will lead me to conclude that modernist assumptions about subjectivity are inappropriate for this application. Consequently, I will examine theories of subjectivity informed by poststructuralist feminism. I will elaborate on the characteristics of this model of subjectivity, then apply the model to reconceptualising the relationship between mens sexism and stoicism. I will conclude with proposals about possible ways in which this reconceptualised analysis can be put into practice when working with men on their sexism.
Throughout the discussion, I will briefly refer to various empirical studies that have been done in relevant areas. However I have chosen to focus my attention on theoretical issues, rather than perform empirical studies myself, because I think this procedure is the most productive approach to take at this point in the debate. The debate about the relationship between mens sexism and stoicism has reached a point of stagnation, with two groups of consensus formed around two dichotomous points of view. There has been much more critique of the statements and practices of the discourses than there has been of their theoretical foundations. However, the theoretical foundations of any discourse surely have a profound impact on its conclusions, therefore the theoretical foundations of these dichotomous points of view are implicated in the stagnant state of affairs. It is on this basis that I believe these theoretical foundations warrant scrutiny. Therefore I have chosen a methodology which I believe best suits the needs of the situation at hand.
Following this introductory chapter, Chapter 2 is a critical review of the texts written on the relationship between mens sexism and stoicism. I will address a wide range of literature, from mens rights texts to profeminism. I will also be referring, in a secondary manner, to feminist womens critiques of the mens liberation agenda. I will give the most space to profeminist literature, by addressing the numerous approaches to the topic found within that discourse.
Chapter 3 will have deconstruction as its central theme. I will refer to congruences found in my literature review and uncover the assumptions made in the texts reviewed. I will then indicate the problems with these assumptions and conclude that poststructuralist feminist theories of subjectivity could be more productive.
Chapter 4 will undertake the application of poststructuralist feminist theories of subjectivity to the issues at hand. I will be explaining these theories and attempting to use them to reconceptualise the relationship between mens sexism and stoicism, and to develop a theoretical framework for an alternative strategy for eliminating mens sexism.
In Chapter 5 I will conclude the thesis with an appraisal of my approach and my findings.
Discourses in the
This chapter surveys some of the discourses in the mens movement, focussing on their analyses of mens emotionality. These analyses will be critically evaluated for their political implications and their ability to engage men into action. I will address those discourses which have a clearly articulated theory about mens emotionality: mens rights, mythopoetry, Re-evaluation Co-counselling, and profeminism. I will not be reviewing other mens support groups referred to on the illustration, because these are not sufficiently articulated to be thoroughly analysed. I believe that this exclusion does not detract from the thoroughness of this review because the excluded discourses draw heavily from other discourses which are reviewed. I will now proceed to review the discourses in the order that they appear on the illustration on page 3, from right to left, and then to review different texts within profeminism.
The mens rights discourse is fundamentally a mechanism of patriarchal backlash against feminism. This discourse is embodied in books like and Warren Farrells The Myth of Male Power: Why Men are the Disposable Sex (Farrell 1993) and Herb Goldbergs The Hazards of Being Male: Surviving the Myth of Masculine Privilege (Goldberg 1976). While many people would argue that matriarchy is a hypothetical possibility, and that misandry does occur occasionally (surely much less so than misogyny), the mens rights discourse claims that Western cultures in the 1990s are matriarchies in the full-blown socio-political sense. In these texts it is claimed that misandry is ubiquitous, having saturated family life, popular culture and social institutions. (Farrell 1993, pp. 180-198) Institutionalised misogyny is acknowledged, but they claim that feminism has turned the tables in recent years. The mens rights discourse claims that men suffer greatly, and they explain this alleged situation as a consequence of the alleged structural oppression of men by women. Farrell, the most popular voice of mens rights, claims that men are oppressed by the expectations placed upon them, by some men but mainly by women, to providers, protectors and fighters. In this analysis, mens stoicism is a mechanism required to fulfil mens alleged obligations to women. (Farrell 1993, p. 39) He articulates some of the pain experienced by men, but attributes the cause of this pain to such allegedly ubiquitous phenomena as date rejection, false rape accusations, or husband-battering by wives. This analysis is a blatant denial of the oppression of women, as well as the oppression of some men by others through class, racism and sexuality, all of which remain prevalent in this society. Farrell does address mens emotionality in a way that many men can relate to, but I think that this is because Farrells explanations are consistent with mens sexist beliefs rather than challenging them. Most importantly, he fails to acknowledge mens sexism, and those references to emotionality are made in such patriarchal terms that I do not think they are useful.
The mythopoetic discourse is the one which most people mean when they refer to the mens movement. (Adair 1992, p. 56) It is less blatantly misogynist than mens rights, but reinforcements of patriarchy - sometimes subtle and other times very dangerous - run through it nonetheless. The discourse became famous with Robert Blys Iron John: A Book About Men (Bly 1990) and has been articulated in an Australian context by Steve Biddulphs Manhood: An Action Plan for Changing Mens Lives (Biddulph 1995; first published 1994) and Raising Boys (Biddulph 1997). Michael Schwalbe, when studying mythopoetic workshops from a profeminist perspective, discovered that mythopoetic men are primarily concerned with their own personal development and not with social justice. They attempt to develop emotional literacy, feel better about being men, and form intimate bonds with other men, but do so without taking political issues into consideration. (Schwalbe 1995, p. 324) The belief is that this personal growth agenda can be fulfilled without political analysis, and that such analysis would be so rational and intellectual that it would hinder mens emotional journeys. (Schwalbe 1995, p. 327) Indeed mythopoetic authors usually came to addressing masculinity from a background in therapy and (especially Jungian) psychology. Biddulph does address a few political issues, such as his call for men not to beat their partners, but he claims that the mythopoetic Mens Movement [in itself] can deliver the changes that women and children have been waiting for. (Biddulph 1995, p. 86; p. 5) He claims that sexism is a consequence of the oppressive socialization of males, and that therefore mythopoetic pursuits will end sexism.
Mythopoetry claims that mens emotional suffering happens because of their relationships with fathers and with feminism. Referring to the father problem, Biddulph claims that
boys in this society are horrendously under-fathered and are not given the processes or the mentor figures to help their growth into mature men. (Italics in original) (Biddulph 1995, p. 3)
Biddulphs solution is for men and boys to find their Deep Manhood through rituals of male-bonding, initiation from boyhood to manhood, and the spiritual worship of Warrior and Wildman archetypes. (Biddulph 1995, p. 84; p. 16; Kimmel & Kaufman 1993, pp. 14-15) Mythopoetry, with its call for father-specific intimacy, and its quest for Deep Manhood, is fundamentally essentialist. Essentialism perpetuates the myth that gender oppression is a consequence of innate, and therefore inevitable, characteristics of the sexes: therefore these mythopoetic claims about masculinity have problematic consequences in terms of strengthening patriarchal norms.
Another favourite target for mythopoetic attack is feminism: Biddulph claims that feminism is not for men and proceeds to blame mens high suicide rates and feelings of powerlessness on the crisis of masculinity caused by feminism and the consequent weakening of men. (Biddulph 1995, p. 22) I strongly disagree with the notion that feminism is anti-male and I am aware of the many invitations made by feminist women for men to join them in creating a more just society for everyone. (Mudge et al 1997, p. 2). Biddulph not only fails to acknowledge these invitations, but also sets feminism up as the enemy of men: this incites anti-feminist backlash. Furthermore, he calls for this weakening to be replaced by the Warrior Within. (Biddulph 1995, p. 84) As feminist critics such as bell hooks and Lynne Segal have shown, the New Age Machismo (as I call it) prescribed by mythopoetry is an aggressive and sexist way of being a man, which can only be distinguished from traditional patriarchal masculinity because it involves more emotional expressiveness and father-son intimacy. (hooks 1992, pp. 111-117; Segal 1993, p. 634)
I do not think it is coincidental that numerous mythopoetic prescriptions happen to reinforce patriarchy. Rather I believe that, despite all their good intentions for enhancing mens lives, the authors allow their patriarchal ideologies to operate through their writing.
It is interesting to note that Farrell, Bly and Biddulph each claim to support womens liberation from traditional gender roles. (Farrell 1993, p. 9; Bly in Biddulph 1995, p. 24; Biddulph 1995, p. 24) Moreover, referring to the United States National Organization of Men Against Sexism (NOMAS), Schwalbes study indicates that
Most mythopoetic men would endorse, in principle, NOMASs goals of ending all forms of violence against women, ending racism, affirming gay relationships, and enhancing mens lives. (Schwalbe 1995, p. 323)
Hence it could be argued that they are profeminist in some sense. But most mythopoetic men, leaders and followers alike, disidentify with profeminism. (Schwalbe 1995, p. 324) The term profeminism, as adopted by NOMAS, Men Against Sexual Assault (MASA), XY: men, sex, politics and other organisations perhaps challenges more sexist beliefs than mythopoetic men are willing to accept. The views which they do accept, as indicated by which womens positions they endorse, are usually only those of conservative liberal feminists.
As well as patriarchal power running through these discourses, racism, capitalism and heterosexism are present. Both movements are almost exclusively populated by white, middle-class heterosexual men; and little attention is paid to the needs of men of colour, of working class, nor of gay/bi sexualities. Furthermore there are many documented situations in which these marginalised groups of men have been actively discriminated against. (hooks 1992, pp. 115-116) These dynamics further invalidate mens rights and mythopoetic discourses.
I was disturbed to learn that the misogynist theories in the mens rights and mythopoetic discourses are the ones which attract the biggest following of men, gain the most attention from popular media, and attract the most funding from mainstream publishers. I believe this situation is due to the patriarchal prejudices of the popular media, as well as the majority of male consumers being unwilling to pay for publications which challenge their sexism. Meanwhile the activism and publications of explicitly profeminist men are marginalised (except in the academy).
For the rest of this thesis, I will be turning the mens movement inside-out, by placing the mainstream discourses of mens rights and mythopoetry on the margins, and locating the discussion within profeminism. I am doing this because I think that these mainstream misogynist discourses are too problematic to be much use in this discussion. I think it is more productive to discuss the diversities within profeminist discourse. The problem with this exercise is that I am marginalising one method of speaking to mens experience in a way that large numbers of men can relate to. I will be taking this situation into consideration and attempting to develop other methods of speaking to mens experience which are just as effective as the mens rights and mythopoetic discourses have been.
Re-evaluation Co-counselling (RC) is a therapeutic practice adopted a large international community, and which influences many mens understanding of masculinity throughout the Australian mens movement. There are numerous practices of co-counselling - peers listening to each others thoughts and feelings - which are variously associated with RC discourse, but I am referring here specifically to the official RC discourse coming from Rational Island Publishers, Seattle. RC theorises the experiences of men in a similar way that it does for various social groups. Instead of searching for an essential masculinity, RC searches for an essential human nature, which it claims is purely good, rational, ethical, intelligent and emotionally expressive - this human nature supposedly transcends categories of sex, culture, age etc. (Re-evaluation Counseling 1991, p. 120) Humans lose touch with their humanity because of harmful experiences which are specified by their positions in relations of racism, gender, class, age, physical ability, etc. But this essential humanity can be regained through emotional catharsis (called discharge in RC): in the form of crying, laughing, trembling, roaring, shaking and yawning. (Re-evaluation Counseling 1991, p. 120; Middleton 1992, p. 181) These processes are understood as a self-healing mechanism which all humans have, and which sets itself in motion without conscious choice. This means that, for example, a person with an angry grievance may instigate physical violence as a release for the anger. (Middleton 1992, p. 182) All abusive behaviour is explained with this trauma-resolution model:
Human beings never hurt each other by choice, only when lost unthinkingly and unawarely in re-enacting an old hurt of their own. (Irwin 1989, p. 14)
RC claims that, if people had other means of emotional catharsis, then their behaviour would be entirely rational, ethical and loving.
RC therefore explains mens sexism in terms of their oppression: men behave in oppressive ways because they have been oppressed in similar ways, and because they have not been able to resolve their trauma through emotional catharsis. RC has described many ways in which men and boys are oppressed, and one of the central themes described is enforced stoicism. Moreover, RC claims that mens stoicism is a primary causal factor for mens sexism. Some RC men use RC techniques for the direct purpose of eliminating mens sexism. Charlie Kreiner, in The nuts and bolts of giving up sexism, proposes that the way to eliminate sexism is to through emotional catharsis and healing from mens oppression. (Kreiner 1991, pp. 49-50) I agree with Michael Flood that, while some men are oppressed because of their class, race, sexuality etc., the term oppression is inappropriate for describing the experience of men as men. This is because men are the dominant group in gender relations, and the term oppression implies that men are systematically subordinated and exploited by another group. (Flood 1991, pp. 4-5) I will expand on this point in Chapter 3.
It is an unfortunate reality that oppressive dynamics are sometimes reiterated even where precautions against them are taken: but RC has no response to this situation, so they continue uninhibited. Indeed I have observed RC workshop leaders allowing such dynamics to continue because they were determined to follow RC policies.
Many Australian RC men express that they are genuinely concerned about ending sexism (and other oppressive systems), and that they believe that the process of emotional catharsis is the best way to do this. One of the admirable qualities of RC is that it has an articulated strategy for social change, which can be realistically applied. RC can be distinguished from mens rights and mythopoetic discourses because it does acknowledge oppressive systems such as patriarchy, and incorporates them into its theory and practice. RC also speaks to mens emotional suffering in a way that its members find engaging, and which attempts to be thorough. Moreover RC focuses on the importance of emotional catharsis for healing, while all the other discourses being reviewed here pay it little attention. However the way in which RC does these things is highly problematic.
A second criticism I have is of RCs linear and determinist model of behaviour. The reductive explanation of abusive behaviour - as simply an attempt to resolve trauma - ignores the choices and conscious intentions usually involved with abusive behaviour. Behavioural choices are influenced by beliefs, ideologies, values and ethics: RC needs to incorporate these factors in its analysis. I will argue this point in much greater detail in Chapter 3.
Profeminist men come to adopt this approach from a variety of backgrounds: many from a background in political activism or academic study in Politics, Sociology or Womens Studies departments; many from social work or therapeutic work; and many others from an awareness of the struggles of women in their personal lives. Profeminist discourse was founded in the 1970s and was inspired by the socialist and radical feminisms prevalent at the time. By this time a mens liberation discourse was gaining some momentum, and had developed many of the ideas now found in RC, mythopoetic and mens rights discourses. The substance of early profeminist discourse is captured in Jon Snodgrass 1977 collection of essays For Men Against Sexism. (Snodgrass 1977) This book defines anti-sexist consciousness-raising groups (as they were known at the time) in direct contrast to mens liberation consciousness-raising groups. (Hornacek 1997, p. 124) Their agenda places prioritises sexism:
Men of anti-sexist C-R groups see the need for men to meet together to discuss the ways in which sexism pervades their daily lives, and how their conscious and unconscious sexist behaviours limit and alienate themselves and oppress women, gay people, and children. (Hornacek 1997, p. 124)
There is little articulation of the limitations and alienation of sexist masculinity in this early profeminism, and focussing on these issues is considered to be reinforcing sexism. There is room for men to support each other with their fears about violent responses when challenging sexism, but supporting each other in different kinds of ways is rejected as patriarchal male bonding. (Schein 1977, p. 134; Hornacek 1977, p. 124) In this analysis, stoicism is simply a limiting consequence of sexist behaviour. The problem with this analysis is that it fails to address the ways in which stoicism is a coerced way of being. Similarly, the strict definition of mens emotional growth, as simply patriarchal, is too rigid and denies the possibility of particular kinds of mens emotional growth being profeminist. This critique will be explored in more depth in Chapter 3.
John Stoltenbergs publications Refusing to Be a Man: Essays on Sex and Justice (Stoltenberg 1990) and The End of Manhood: A Book for Men of Conscience (Stoltenberg 1993) have developed the profeminism found in A Book of Readings: For Men Against Sexism (Snodgrass 1977) further along the same path. Stoltenberg is especially influenced by the anti-pornography radical feminism of theorists like (his partner) Andrea Dworkin. Stoltenberg claims that every aspect of manhood - the dominant gender paradigm of masculinity - is constructed to be oppressive to women. This irredeemability is why he calls for the end of manhood, and suggests replacing manhood with selfhood - a subjectivity founded on full humanity and a love for justice.
Stoltenbergs second book examines the ways in which sexism is acted out in relationships between individual men and women, and explains how mens emotionality is often formed through loyalty to the manhood act. He does acknowledge that boys and men experience significant pressures to conform with sexist masculinity. (Stoltenberg 1993, p. 109) Nonetheless, he claims that readers of his book can simply choose to give up loyalty to the manhood act and instead choose loyalty to the selfhood act. (Stoltenberg 1993, pp. 11-15; p. 18) When men do this, Stoltenberg claims that they will have more intimate relationships with friends, lovers and children, have better sex, and come to feel as real as a human being can be. (Stoltenberg 1993, p. 14)
According to Stoltenberg, mens stoicism is caused by their choice (under pressure) to conform to sexist masculinity. Therefore the way for men to end both sexism and stoicism is just practical, everyday attention to the matter of justice in ones interpersonal relating. (Stoltenberg 1993, p. 14) This voluntarist perspective is too simplistic because it assumes that all men have the resources and ability to always be loyal to the selfhood act, and that they can have total control over this process. His universalist approach also neglects considerations of the different between men. A different problem with Stoltenbergs work is his claim that manhood is totally irredeemable. By calling for the end of manhood, Stoltenberg is using terminology that is too alienating for many men to engage with. While I agree with Stoltenbergs point that masculinity - the gender construction - is thoroughly sexist, the term manhood is too often interpreted as meaning biological maleness, therefore many men switch off before learning anything. Nonetheless, Stoltenberg has provided some very valuable insights, and a way of understanding masculinity that could be very productive with some further development.
The Australian sociologist Robert W. Connell has adapted the concept of hegemony from the Antonio Gramscis Marxist analysis of capitalism to describe the mechanisms of patriarchy. Patriarchy is enforced, perpetuated and normalized through a gendered system of socialization, in conjunction with the organization of social institutions, which inform us that males are naturally masculine and females are naturally feminine. (Connell 1995, p. 71; p. 77) Like the bourgeoisie is the ruling class in capitalism, those men who most closely conform with hegemonic masculinity are the ruling class in patriarchy. Hegemonic masculinity is way of being male which is defined in contrast to femininities and to other masculinities: it involves being wealthy, white and heterosexual, as well as having those characteristics necessary to dominate women, men of colour, working class men, and men who have sex with men. (Connell 1995, pp. 77-79) The irony of this state of affairs is that the ideal construction of hegemonic masculinity is impossible for any man to maintain all the time, and most aspects of the construction are beyond the abilities of most men. (Connell 1995, p. 79). However, many men are complicit with the system because they benefit from the patriarchal dividend, the advantage men in general gain from the overall subordination of women. (Connell 1995, p. 79) Meanwhile other men are marginalised or subordinated because of their nonconformity with the hegemonic ideal.
While Connells theory is brilliant in what it says about the social construction of masculinity, it is limited by what it does not say. Connells discussion focuses on sociological concepts and is highly intellectual, while it pays very little attention to the inner realm of subjectivities. Ironically, this type of analysis is the normal hegemonic-masculine academic practice. Apart from the suffering experienced by men who are marginalised or subordinated because of their sexuality, class or race, Connell barely mentions the suffering experienced by men in relation to hegemonic masculinity. He claims that dismantling hegemonic masculinity is against mens collective interests, and implies that men have nothing to gain by relinquishing patriarchal power and privilege. (Connell 1983, pp. 234-276) This claim, and Connells assumed definition of interests, is complicit with patriarchy in two ways. One way is that his definition of interests values only those qualities represented as masculine in patriarchal culture, such as institutional power, and does not value those qualities represented as feminine, such as nurturance and intimacy. Thereby Connell is undervaluing those qualities traditionally associated with women. The other way Connells definition is problematic is that it fails to give any reason for men to dismantle hegemonic masculinity apart from ethical considerations. While ethical considerations would ideally be sufficient reason for change, the past three decades of feminist struggle have indicated that few men can be persuaded with ethics. Going as far as mythopoetic and mens rights discourses do, in claiming that normative masculinity is totally against mens interests, would also be complicit with patriarchal power relations. Nonetheless the self-interested reasons for men to give up sexism (by an alternative set of values) could be explained alongside the altruistic reasons (by the patriarchal set of values). This could prove to be a productive strategy because it would probably engage larger numbers of men into profeminist struggle.
Lynne Segal, in publications such as Slow Motion: Changing Masculinities, Changing Men (Segal 1990), develops strategies for getting men to give up their sexism. She draws on Connells theory of hegemonic masculinity and argues that, because masculinities are able to change according to context, pressures from the womens movement are slowly dismantling mens sexism. Some mens experiences, through increased participation in childcare and nurturing jobs, increase their sensitivity and thereby contribute to less oppressive ways of being. However, this second process is lacking without the first because Sensitive New Age Guys often get
the Best of Both Worlds: sharing in some of the joys of traditional femininity, while ... retaining the privileges and powers of masculinity. (Segal, 1993, p. 634)
In order to accelerate this slow progress, Segal suggests (as well as stepping up the two processes above) that feminism understand its contradictions and strains and exert pressure where men are most vulnerable. (Segal 1990, p. xi) She argues for feminism to form alliances with those men oppressed by hegemonic masculinity because of their race, class or sexuality. (Segal 1993, pp. 633-637) Indeed some such alliances have already been developed, especially with gay and bisexual men. (Carrigan, Connell & Lee 1987, p. 83) Another vulnerability is the physical and emotional costs of conformity with hegemonic masculinity. (Segal 1993, p. 635) While Segal does not articulate these costs very much, Bob Pease and Christopher McLean go into more detail.
Pease, in Men & Sexual Politics: Towards a Profeminist Practice (Pease 1997) and McLean, in his article The Politics of Mens Pain (McLean 1996), develop Segals arguments further:
Institutions that make men out of boys involve brutalisation, physical and emotional abuse, emphasis on hardness and strength, contempt for sensitivity, delicacy and emotional intimacy. Not all boys experience such treatment, but they are all aware of its existence. (McLean 1996, p. 16)
McLean argues that mens pain needs to be addressed and validated in any profeminist strategy because of the need to engage with mens actual experience of themselves. (McLean 1996, pp. 11-12) I strongly agree with him on this point. Pease redefines phenomena which the mens movement usually calls oppression - such as physical ill-health and stoicism - as costs of dominance. (Pease 1997, pp. 35-41) McLean clearly states that mens pain should not be understood as oppression, and explains the relationship between sexism and stoicism in the following way:
Mens pain is not the cause of their abuse of power, but that the structured abuse of power, requires men to be emotionally abused and desensitized. Masculinity consists of those personality traits that are necessary for the preservation and perpetuation of an unjust and oppressive system. (McLean 1996, p. 24)
The strategy for eliminating mens sexism, as articulated in the texts by these three theorists, emphasises men understanding how patriarchal power influences their beliefs. Men doing personal work is acknowledged as important in limited ways: to own the pain they feel and are inflicting on others (McLean 1996, p. 24) and to subvert the competition and distrust that is fundamental to patriarchy. (McLean 1996, p. 26) However, therapeutic practices in mens personal work are undervalued in these texts by Segal, Pease and McLean, I think because they are associated with the mens liberation avoidance of responsibility. (Pease 1997, pp. 98-99; McLean 1996, p. 25) The practices they endorse are found Men Against Sexual Assault (MASA) groups in Australia. (Pease 1997, pp. 77-89) While I think Peases and McLeans analysis of the relationship between sexism and stoicism is the most accurate and thorough that I have reviewed here, I think that the undervaluing of therapeutic practices limits the effectiveness of their strategy. I will be expanding on this point in Chapter 3.
Michael Kaufmans Cracking the Armour: Power, Pain and the Lives of Men (Kaufman 1993) argues that masculinity is a paradoxical mixture of power and pain. Kaufman acknowledges that patriarchal power defines masculinity, and calls for men to develop a profeminist political awareness. Then argues that
We perpetuate our power, perform and stay in control, stay on top of things and call the shots, tough it out and achieve by learning to beat back our feelings, hide our emotions, suppress our needs. (Kaufman 1993, p. 47)
So Kaufman is here claiming that sexism causes stoicism.
Kaufman then proceeds to make another quite different claim. He argues that mens stoicism (as constructed through hegemonic masculinity) causes men to act in sexist ways, such as being violent to their partners:
We ask ourselves to continually deny, or at least hold down, the many emotions, feelings and actions men associate with passivity - fear, pain, openness, sadness, embarrassment... The dampening of these emotions is compounded by the blocking of emotional release. The expression of fear, hurt and sadness, for example, through crying or trembling, is physiologically and psychologically necessary because these painful emotions fester, especially if they are not consciously felt. Men become pressure cookers. The failure to find safe avenues of emotional expression and release means that a whole range of emotions are transformed into aggression and hostility. (Kaufman 1993, p. 169)
So Kaufmans strategy for men eliminating sexism has two aspects: firstly for men to understand and challenge the ways that sexism constitutes their beliefs and behaviours; secondly for men to acknowledge and express all of their emotions. Kaufmans second claim is similar to the RC theory critiqued above. He has adapted the common pressure cooker theory of violence and emotions, by claiming that mens stoicism is a result of their sexism, as opposed to being a result of their oppression. However, Kaufmans second claim is essentially a pressure cooker theory nonetheless, and has the same problematic consequences: it implies that behaviours such as physical violence are the inevitable consequence of stoicism. This deterministic argument denies individual agency in their behaviour, and thereby invites men to avoid taking personal responsibility for their own behaviour. Without men taking personal responsibility for their own sexist behaviours, the behaviours are much more likely to continue uninterrupted. (Jenkins 1990, p. 12) One strength of Kaufmans book is that he makes a passionate and engaging call for men to develop a profeminist awareness. Moreover, while his claim about stoicism causing sexism is too deterministic as it stands, he presents an interesting theory about the festering of emotions which is worth further consideration.
With mens rights and mythopoetic discourses aside, it is possible to find themes running through the other theories discussed in this chapter. I have identified two themes, which I will refer to as the emotional-causation strategy and the ethical-causation strategy.
The emotional-causation strategy for ending mens sexism is the one that is most influenced by the discourses of mens liberation. This strategy is found in Charlie Kreiners application of Re-evaluation Co-counselling, as well in aspects of Michael Kaufmans text. It claims that mens stoicism causes some types of mens sexist behaviour because festering emotions have inevitable consequences. Therefore this strategy for eliminating mens sexism involves eliminating mens stoicism as a first step, because it claims that a healthier emotionality inevitably leads to more respectful behaviours.
The ethical-causation strategy for ending mens sexism is founded on traditional profeminist theory. It is found in Jon Snodgrass collection of essays, and in the texts by Robert W. Connell, John Stoltenberg, Lynne Segal, Bob Pease, Christopher McLean, and aspects of Michael Kaufmans work. It claims that mens sexist ethics not only cause their sexist behaviour, but also cause their stoicism. This strategy prioritises the development of a profeminist ethics in men through educational processes. It claims that when mens behaviour becomes more ethical their stoicism will consequently subside.
I have pointed out problematic aspects of each theory discussed in this chapter, and that the emotional-causation and ethical-causation strategies are limited in their effectiveness as they are currently articulated. In the next chapter I will critique these two strategies and conclude that, while each has some very useful insights, both are in need of substantial reworking. Given this situation, I will proceed to use feminist deconstruction techniques to uncover the theoretical assumptions of each strategy. Modernist assumptions about subjectivity will be exposed and I will demonstrate how these assumptions lead each strategy to problematic implications.
Deconstructing contemporary profeminist strategies
The emotional-causation strategy and the ethical-causation strategy are two alternatives found in those discourses explicitly intending men to develop less sexist and more profeminist ways of being. In this chapter I will argue that these two strategies have established themselves in a dichotomous relationship which is complicit with the maintenance of patriarchal power relations. Having elaborated the details of each strategy, I will expose their problematic aspects. Furthermore, each strategys assumption about subjectivity will be exposed. I will argue that a more productive strategy would incorporate aspects of both the emotional-causation strategy and the ethical-causation strategy, in ways which transcend the current dichotomy.
While the emotional-causation strategy and the ethical-causation strategy are in a dichotomous relationship, they are not entirely discrete. Rather they share numerous assumptions and conclusions as well as being opposed in important respects. Both acknowledge, and are committed to dismantling, patriarchal power relations. Both agree that this agenda requires men addressing the ways in which sexism pervades their own beliefs and behaviours in all aspects of their lives. For these reasons, both strategies can be distinguished the mens liberation and backlash agendas. The differences between the emotional-causation strategy and the ethical-causation strategy are to do with their understandings of the causes of mens sexism and their consequent strategies for change.
The crucial point of contention between the emotional-causation strategy and the ethical-causation strategy is the relationship between the emotional costs of traditional masculinities and mens sexist behaviour. The two discourses have diametrically opposed views on the nature of this relationship:
The emotional-causation analysis is that mens sexism is caused by emotional states. Mens stoicism means that they do not have the ability to heal from trauma in a healthy way, and that their emotions cause them to behave in oppressive ways. Emotions are understood as being able to control behaviour. The common systematic oppression of women by men is explained in terms of the supposed systematic abuse of men along with their supposed common ways of dealing with their emotions. (Irwin 1989, pp. 8-11; Kreiner 1991, pp. 49-50; Kaufman 1993, p. 169)
In contrast, the ethical-causation analysis is that mens sexism is caused by choices, that ultimately men are responsible for their own behaviour. These choices are made in negotiation with patriarchal structures and ideologies, but ultimately depend on the ethics of individual men. Stoicism is caused by the choice and practice of being sexist, with men choosing to suppress and control their emotions to enable them to oppress women. Therefore behaviours and ethical thought processes are understood as being able to control emotions. The systematic oppression of women by men is explained by mens collective power and mens collective complicity with it. Mens common experience of stoicism is explained as the common requirement of being sexist. (McLean 1996, p. 16; Stoltenberg 1993, p. 14; Segal 1993, p. 635)
The two strategies which follow on from the above analyses employ different practices for eliminating mens sexism. Although they share a common goal, each claims that the other strategy prevents that goal from being realised. The emotional-causation strategy engages with mens stoicism, believing that this will cause them to change their behaviour. In contrast, the ethical-causation strategy engages mens ethics, believing that changes in choices will not only cause changes in behaviour but also cause men to have be more emotionally literate.
The emotional-causation strategy challenges mens stoicism as a means to challenging mens sexism. Therapeutic practices are employed to heal mens accumulated trauma, with emotional catharsis given a central role in the healing process. Given that unhealthy emotional processes are understood as the cause of mens sexism, re-emerged emotional literacy is supposed to cause changes in mens ethical choices. It is claimed that to focus on mens ethical choices instead of their emotional healing is a distraction from the true root of the problem, and can also make things worse. Because abusive behaviour is caused by emotional processes which overwhelm mens ability to choose their actions, to hark on choices is irrelevant. Moreover, the focus on choices is likely to make men feel guilty about something that they had no choice over. This is counterproductive because the guilt becomes another distressed feeling which needs to healed from, which could lead to further abuse if not cathartically resolved. Some educational practices are relevant so that men can develop an understanding of the operations of patriarchy in social institutions, culture and their own lives. However when men become aware of a particular sexist behaviour or belief, the strategy is to address its emotional cause, rather than address the ethics associated with it. Therefore emotions are paramount for the emotional-causation strategy.
Alternatively, the ethical-causation strategy claims that the appropriate avenue for changing gender power structures is for men to learn about the various ways they are sexist, to take responsibility for their behaviour and to choose less sexist and more profeminist ways of being. A welcome consequence of developing a more profeminist ethics will be that mens lives will be enhanced in particular ways: men will become more emotionally literate, be able to have more intimate and fulfilling relationships, will become more spiritual, will become more embodied and have better physical health, etc. An important part of this process is for men to set up mechanisms of accountability to women, who play the role of critiquing this process and pointing out ways in which men are maintaining their sexism. Therapeutic practices are deemed both irrelevant and strategically dangerous, because they reinforce mens justifications for their own behaviour and prevent men from the crucial task of taking responsibility for their sexism. (Pease 1997, p. 99; McLean 1996, p. 25) For the ethical-causation strategy, ethics is the locus of change.
Clearly these two strategies have a dichotomous relationship with each other. While each strategy is a logical conclusion of its analysis, both analyses are highly problematic and therefore have problematic consequences. I will now proceed to critique each strategy in detail, and I will argue that each strategys total exclusion of the other is the source of their problems.
By focussing on emotional issues, the emotional-causation strategy fails to consider numerous power issues to do with mens sexism. By failing to address them, this strategy leads to the reproduction of patriarchal power relations. This strategy tends to share many of the problems of the mens liberation agenda, because the strategic avoidance of power issues is almost as problematic as the mens liberation ignorance of them. To reduce mens sexism to a collection of individual psychological problems is to deny that patriarchal power is exercised through institutional, cultural and personal practices. The privileges attained at the expense of women, through the exercise of this power, are concrete phenomena. This power maintains itself by keeping attention away.
When, for example, domestic violence is attributed to a mans unhealthy expression of anger, there is no explanation of why the violence is selectively targeted at women. The use of violence as a means of controlling the woman is ignored. Without considering these issues, the man can stop using physical violence, but develop other controlling methods instead. This sort of situation is commonly reported by women whose partners attend domestic violence perpetrators programs based on the anger management model. (Pease 1997, p. 100)
There is a need for men to be constantly reminded of the power issues involved when addressing their sexism. Without being reminded, men are likely to avoid confronting their own privileges, especially if this process becomes painful. (Schein 1977, p. 134; Pease 1993, p. 8) Emotional healing and developing more intimate ways of relating, if done without consideration of patriarchal power, can create a Sensitive New Age Guy who retains the privileges of hegemonic masculinity while augmenting them with the privileges traditionally unavailable in that subject position. (Segal 1993, p. 634) Michael Messner has observed an increase in the frequency of powerful men crying in public, and suggests that this emotional expressiveness is now becoming a cultural symbol of patriarchal power and privilege. (Messner 1995, p. 105) The nurturing environment suggested by the emotional-causation strategy is one without criticism, because criticism is thought to break the safety required for emotional healing. (Kreiner 1991, p. 44) However patriarchal power is very resistant to change, and will not do so without pressure. Therefore some form of criticism is necessary to point out those ways in which men are maintaining their sexism. Some feminists have pointed out that men will not change simply because women want them to, and that they will not relinquish power and privilege on request (Segal 1989, p. 12) Indeed there are times when people in powerful positions are unconscious of their powers and privileges. (McLean 1996, p. 26) This makes the process of giving them up especially difficult, despite the best of intentions. Without being conscious of their own patriarchal approaches to a situation, profeminist men often reproduce sexism in what they do, even if they are attempting to do the opposite. With these considerations, it makes sense for men to develop a mechanism of accountability to feminist women in reference to their actions and beliefs. Accountability involves critical feedback about the ways oppressive beliefs and actions are being maintained, with the feedback coming from those who are most aware of the dynamics of the oppression: members of the oppressed group. Such a process has the potential of addressing the points where men are unconscious of their sexism, and also where they are conscious of their sexism but resistant to change. However, the emotional-causation strategy of avoiding criticism altogether considers none of these issues and therefore is subject to all of these problems.
A related problem is the emotional-causation strategys requirement of a male-positive environment. This is supposed to be a requirement for emotional expression, and consequently for behavioural change. I certainly agree with having an environment which asserts mens potential for just relationships, and does not personally attack men nor imply that they are inherently defective. NOMAS and XY: men, sex, politics have used the term male-positive in the past, intending to mean just these three things, but erased the term from their policy statements in 1991 and 1997 respectively. This is because the concept of being male-positive has the additional connotation of being supportive of everything to do with being male. This idea has essentialist tendencies, implying that all of mens behaviour is intrinsically due to them being biologically male. Essentialism is a fundamental tenet of patriarchal ideology and therefore the requirement of being male-positive is dubious. Furthermore, by being male-positive and proud of being male, the emotional-causation strategy cannot comprehend the radical critiques of maleness. Stoltenberg and others have powerful insights into how the whole concept of being a man is itself a construction of hegemonic masculinity. (Stoltenberg 1993, pp. 303-308) The most straighforward problem is that insisting on everyone being male-positive allows for a convenient dismissal of feminist critiques of mens behaviour as being male-negative, male-bashing or anti-male. This tactic ignores the point that these feminist critiques very rarely state that men are inherently oppressive. Thereby mens sexism is protected behind the doors of male-positivity.
The claim that emotional processes cause sexist behaviour is a determinist theory that totally ignores mens ability to choose non-sexist and non-violent behaviours in any given situation. Pease cites numerous studies which demonstrate that, while many perpetrators of domestic violence suffer from emotional problems, many other men with very similar problems are not violent, and that some men with relatively few emotional problems are violent anyway. (Pease 1997, p. 101) These indeterminacies demonstrate that personal agency plays a fundamental role in sexism, but the emotional-causation strategy ignores it. Furthermore any attribution of responsibility is labelled blaming and thereby dismissed as irrelevant and harmful. While no formal distinction between blame and responsibility is made, adherents to this strategy often reduce the two concepts to blame. Blame has negative connotations which enable the dismissal of acts named as blaming. The claim is that mens sexist behaviour is beyond their personal control, so they are not responsible. However men taking personal responsibility for their own sexism is a crucial step in the process of giving it up. Therapists such as Alan Jenkins have found that the turning point for men who are violent and/or sexually abusive is when they take personal responsibility for their actions. Cessation then involves fully acknowledging the consequences of their actions and taking full responsibility for changing themselves. (Jenkins 1990, p. 12) The most successful violence intervention programs are based on this model. By totally dismissing this process, the emotional-causation strategy is being complicit with the perpetuation of sexism.
Discursively-constructed belief systems play a further role in mens sexism, but the emotional-causation strategy ignores these as well. For example, domestic violence perpetrators hold at least these two sexist beliefs: that it is acceptable to dominate and control a female partner, and that violence is an acceptable means to maintain control. (Pease 1997, p. 101) However neither these beliefs, nor the discursive practices which encourage them, are acknowledged by the emotional-causation strategy. There is a denial that these beliefs and thought processes occur in the heat of the moment of violence: apparently the mind is just overwhelmed with emotions. Given that they are a necessary component in sexist behaviour, inviting men to critique their belief systems and their sources in patriarchal discourses can be an effective strategy for intervention.
The emotional-causation strategys terminology of oppression tends to comply with the denial of patriarchal power relations. To be fair, RC uses the term with a different definition than the conventional one involving an oppressor group who are privileged by the system: mens oppression supposedly has no such oppressor group. (Irwin 1989, p. 8) RC uses the same terminology to describe the harmful experiences of all social groups, whether male or female, rich or poor, white or of colour, etc. While placing all groups experiences on a par may contribute to building a intimate community, it ignores the different positions of power that groups bring to the community, and denies the possibility of power relations being acted out within the community. It is an unfortunate reality that oppressive dynamics are sometimes reiterated even where precautions against them are taken: but this strategy has no response to this situation, so they continue uninhibited. Moreover, I think dont think it is possible to use the term oppression in a way that is totally divorced from the conventional definition. I think that some meanings of oppression infiltrate the emotional-causation strategy such that, for example, women are set up to be privileged at the expense of mens suffering. The strategy therefore needs to adopt different terminology which does not imply subordination to an oppressor group, such as repression, restriction or malaise.
The emotional-causation strategy has rigid conceptions of emotional processes themselves. It claims that specific experiences cause determinable emotional responses (perhaps more than one), and that specific emotions have fixed means of cathartic expression. For example, a physical injury may cause both anger and fear; the anger gets cathartically expressed through vigorous physical movement and hot perspiration; the fear gets cathartically expressed at a different time through trembling, laughing and cold perspiration. As well as the problems this claim has concerning agency and responsibility, it also has problems concerning difference. Firstly, it questionable whether people ever have one clear emotional response to a particular experience: rather, there can be different means of expression within a complex myriad of interacting emotions and thoughts. (Middleton 1992, p. 182) Furthermore there are different cultural meanings and values assigned to particular cathartic practices, and different people may have culturally-specific cathartic practices for expressing the same emotion. Therefore the emotional-causation strategy needs to affirm different ways of negotiating and expressing emotions.
With all of the above limitations, it is clear that the emotional-causation strategy for eliminating mens sexism has many effects which contradict its intentions. This strategy is therefore not acceptable as it is currently articulated. I think that the ethical-causation strategy was developed with an awareness of many of the problems with the emotional-causation strategy. (Pease 1997, p. 18) With this awareness, the ethical-causation strategy takes the opposite position on many points of contention. However, the opposite extreme has significant problems of its own.
With its focus on ethical and power issues rather than addressing emotions directly, the ethical-causation strategy has problems concerning emotional issues. These problems involve the role of stoicism in mens sexism, the relevance of emotional therapy for men for other reasons, and the requirements for engaging men in profeminist movement.
The clearest problem with avoiding emotional issues is that some aspects of mens sexism can remain hidden despite men making more ethical choices. The ethical-causation strategy may be very effective in facilitating a mans changing ethics, and he may thereby adopt less sexist and more profeminist ways of being in every aspect of his life that he can think of. However, if the man remains stoic, then his emotional reactions to situations may be sexist in ways that he is not aware of. (Middleton 1992, p. 116) The ethical-causation strategy argues that stoicism disappears along with sexism, but this is a highly questionable claim. There are no studies which indicate changes in ethics necessarily causing changes in emotional literacy. While I agree that the two processes interact, I dispute that the connection is as total and inevitable as the ethical-causation strategy claims. Patriarchal power infiltrates so many aspects of mens subjectivities that some may not be reached in the course of ethical deliberation. For example, as Timothy Benekes studies indicate, men who do not commit sexual assault have nonetheless been taught to experience sex with women in terms of dominance and possession. (Beneke 1982, p. 16) It is possible that emotions such as jealousy, fear, pride and lust pressure behaviour in ways that stoic men are not aware of. It is necessary to be aware of the processes in operation in order to retain personal agency and make ethical choices. This means that being ethical in emotionally-motivated processes requires emotional literacy.
However emotional literacy is not something that can be had just by making a conscious choice. While the ethical-causation strategy claims that choice is all that is required, I argue that it is much more complicated because of the ways stoicism is initiated. The ethical-causation strategy claims that stoicism is chosen by men as a means of exercising patriarchal power. While this may be true in some situations, there are many other situations where stoicism is enforced rather than chosen. As a general rule, I think that stoicism has to be enforced in boys, but by adulthood stoicism has become such a central way of being that men can choose it as a means of exercising patriarchal power. Stoicism is enforced upon boys through systematic physical and verbal abuse, with the deliberate intention to replace sensitivity with insensitivity, and emotional literacy with illiteracy. (Middleton 1992, p. 119; McLean 1996, p. 16; Segal 1993, p. 635) These abuses are sometimes perpetrated by women, but predominantly by other men. (McLean 1996, p. 17) This leaves men without a language for comprehending their emotional processes, such that they just dont understand what goes on. (Middleton 1992, p. 3) Those men who have attempted to regain their emotional literacy have often found this a very difficult process. Consequently, a mans conscious decision to adopt less sexist and more profeminist ways of being may not carry over into their emotional processes. The intellectual practices suggested by the ethical-causation strategy may not be enough. Therapeutic processes of some kind may be required to facilitate men developing their emotional literacy, such that they can make ethical choices in their emotional processes.
Emotional processes may also play a role in sexist behaviours that men are aware of. While it is important not to excuse sexist behaviour when addressing these processes, addressing it in other ways may be productive. Interviews with perpetrators of violence indicate that most of them were suffering from emotional trauma when they were violent. When Kaufman interviewed a man called Hal, Hal said
I felt very inferior to others ... I felt rotten about myself, and by committing rape I took this out on someone I thought was weaker than me, someone I could control. (Kaufman 1993, p. 180)
It seems that men often dominate women so that they can gain a momentary sense of power and self-worth, and that they are doing so in response to their feeling of powerlessness or self-hatred. (Kaufman 1993, p. 55; p. 163) While it would be denying personal agency to claim (as the emotional-causation strategy does) that men are sexist because of their feelings, it is fair to say that they are responding to their feelings. Given that emotional trauma contributes in some way to sexism, perhaps therapeutic practices which addressed that trauma may be an effective preventative strategy. But addressing the feelings of self-hatred and powerlessness experienced by abusive people is a highly problematic and emotive issue. To do so seems to be portraying these people as victims, when in fact they are perpetrators of abuse. It seems to be avoiding the issue of their responsibility for their behaviour, and appears to be condoning it. It seems that pandering to their pain distracts them from the crucial issue: it is irrelevant to the ethical status of a perpetrators behaviour how much the perpetrator has been abused themselves, because abuse is never justifiable nor excusable. However it may well be relevant to the project of interrupting abuse to consider and engage with perpetrators experience, for practical reasons, however uncomfortable and ethically risky it feels to do so. Many perpetrators are just not willing to listen to ethical persuasion about their own behaviour because they are entirely focussed on their own pain at this time. The ethical-causation strategy of focussing on ethical persuasion without therapeutic practices therefore fails to engage with those men focussed exclusively on their own pain. Given that many men are in this situation, the ethical-causation strategy has limited benefit.
There are ways in which mens stoicism has a direct impact on mens sexism. Insensitivity, numbness or indifference to the suffering of others are prerequisites for mens domination of women. (Middleton 1992, p. 194) Mens stoicism prevents them from being fully aware of their own suffering and also the suffering of others. Without being fully aware of the consequences of their actions, men can act in sexist ways without question. Moreover mens stoicism facilitates a tough appearance, because it prevents others from having access to information which might make men vulnerable. (Middleton 1992, p. 121) This toughness increases mens patriarchal power. Compassion for womens experience of sexism is a primary motivation for many men who have developed profeminist ways of being. But when men are not connected with their own pain it is much more difficult to have compassion for the pain of others. (Pease 1993, p. 9) In these ways mens stoicism enables their sexism and hinders their motivation for developing more profeminist ways of being. Therefore directly addressing mens stoicism could disable their sexism and increase their profeminist motivations. However the ethical-causation strategy does not take these avenues for change into consideration.
Guilt raises complicated issues for profeminist activism. Often the mens liberation and mens rights discourses satirise profeminist men as being motivated solely by guilt. (Pease 1993, p. 9) This is problematic on two counts. Firstly, it dismisses the genuine concern for social justice held by profeminist men, and reveals the lack of such concern held by the critics. Secondly, it dismisses the valuable role that guilt can play in shifting mens complacency about patriarchy, and in motivating profeminist activism. (Pease 1997, p. 25) By claiming that guilt is something men should unconditionally avoid, the emotional-causation strategy protects mens sexism. Nonetheless, guilt can also reinforce patriarchal power relations in some situations. Michael Schwalbe makes a distinction between productive guilt and neurotic guilt, the former being what motivates us to change, the latter being what erodes our sense of worth. (Schwalbe 1995, p. 326) If mens reaction to becoming aware of their own sexism is to feel neurotically guilty, then they tend to get paralysed and avoid developing their profeminist awareness. Moreover if men get neurotically guilty simply because of their biology, then they fail to consider the particular ways they are responsible for sexism in their lives. (Pease 1997, pp. 25-26) Furthermore men expressing neurotic guilt can silence womens critiques of their sexism. Many women have learned to caretake and nurture mens emotions through their patriarchal condition. (Middleton 1992, p. 190; Kaufman 1993, p. 53) Therefore many women will be inclined to stop their criticism and reassure men instead if they are getting a guilty response. Many men find the process of addressing their own sexism very challenging and often get swept into neurotic guilt. (Schwalbe 1995, p. 326) The distinction between productive guilt and neurotic guilt is difficult to make, especially for stoic men. Some kind of therapeutic process designed to help men distinguish between productive guilt and neurotic guilt would therefore enhance profeminism. But the ethical-causation strategy prevents this from happening.
There are ways that men in profeminist movement are oppressed, not as men, but in relation to hegemonic masculinity. The ethical-causation strategy does not the provide the emotional support that these men deserve, and which would enhance their profeminism. Many men are oppressed due to the operations of capitalism, racism, heterosexism and other systems which intersect with patriarchy. (McLean 1996, p. 19) Those men oppressed in these ways are often left with significant emotional trauma, as well as material struggles. In addition to the oppression due to other systems, these men will often be stoic because of their gender. This stoicism will hinder their ability to heal from the trauma of their oppression. This in turn will hinder their compassion and leave them with feelings of powerlessness and self-hatred, which contributes to their sexism as explained above. Therapeutic practices which addressed these non-gender oppressions would be beneficial for profeminism, but it is impractical to separate these non-gender oppressions from issues of gender. This is because power relations operate in such complicated and intersecting ways that most men are oppressed by at least one of them. Perhaps the ethical-causation strategy needs to accept that men are oppressed, although through power relations other than patriarchy. Moreover there needs to be some consideration of mens different status in power relations when engaging them in giving up their patriarchal power. For men who are oppressed through capitalism, racism and heterosexism, patriarchal power may provide them with a rare escape from oppression. (Connell 1982, p. 58) For other men giving up sexism may feel less dangerous because they retain their privileges in other power relations. The profeminist mens movement has always been populated predominantly by white, middle-class men with tertiary education. (Flood 1994b, p. 21; Brod 1983, pp. 10-12; Orkin 1993, p. 23) This disproportional representation reflects the presumption of mens homogeneity in some aspects of profeminist theory. With profeminism being founded on radical feminist analyses, it shares with feminism many of the problems that feminists of difference have critiqued in the last decade. Profeminism is now beginning to take difference into account, but has yet to catch up with feminism. While proponents of the ethical-causation strategy would not deny mens different positions in racial, class and heterosexist oppression, they nonetheless call for all men to give up their patriarchal power in the same way. Some men will find this process easier than others, because their different positions in power relations before addressing sexism lead to different positions after giving it up. But the ethical-causation strategy provides no emotional support for men who are oppressed because of their class, race of sexuality. As well as reinforcing their oppression by marginalising their experience, this strategy tends to alienate these men rather than engaging them in profeminist movement. Thereby the ethical-causation strategy is limited to application with a privileged minority of men. While I agree with the principle of all men giving up patriarchal power, there needs to be further strategic consideration of what support will be needed by different groups of men engaged in this process.
Men who develop less sexist and more profeminist ways of being are thereby subordinated in relation to hegemonic masculinity. Michael Flood explains that
Boys growing up are subject to punishments which keep them within the bounds of dominant masculinity, and within which they are pressured to treat girls and women in oppressive ways. (Flood 1994c, p. 24)
These experiences are not enough to justify sexism, but men remain aware of pressures to conform to patriarchal norms. The less oppressive men are of women, the more they tend to get marginalised and subordinated by other men who more closely conform with hegemonic masculinity. (Pease 1996, p. 22) To be a real man means being controlling and oppressive, so not acting in these ways means not being a real man. The consequent pressures and ostracisation by other men (and sometimes by women who have internalised patriarchal values) can be very painful experiences. Some men find this pain too overwhelming to continue developing profeminist ways of being. Therapeutic practices which addressed this pain might enable profeminist men to be more effective. Moreover profeminism can be very isolating. Arguably, acting in particular ways is a lot easier with a community supporting, or at least endorsing, those ways. With profeminist ways of being getting so much disapproval from so many men, developing a supportive and nurturing community could make this process more manageable. It needs to be said that this community support is not necessary: its nonexistence does not provide an ethical justification for sexism. Indeed many men continue to develop profeminist ways of being without much of an emotionally nurturing community, and this is admirable. The point I am making about support with dealing with subordination to hegemonic masculinity concerns means of increased productivity, rather than necessary requirements. The ethical-causation strategy once again is unable to address these issues.
Whatever emotional issues men in profeminist movement address, there are political implications of who provides emotional support. Wendy Hollway, and numerous other feminist theorists, claim that one aspect of womens patriarchal socialisation is that they have been trained to cartake mens emotions in ways that men are not even aware of. (Hollway 1984, p. 252; Middleton 1992, p. 190; Kaufman 1993, p. 53) Moreover men often have a sexist expectation that women around them will provide emotional support and nurturance. Therefore men adopting the ethical-causation strategy may expect women around them to support and nurture them through the emotional difficulties of being profeminist. It is possible that men dedicated to avoiding these dynamics may engage in them regardless, without being aware. Consequently, the way to avoid this patriarchal dynamic is for profeminist men to provide each other with the emotional support and nurturance they require for dealing with their own particular difficulties. Therefore the ethical-causation strategy needs to be augmented with this approach.
My last site of critique refers back to considerations of marketing first raised in Chapter 1. The ethical-causation strategy, being the dominant strategy in the profeminist mens movement, fails to engage men in mass movement. Perhaps profeminism needs a new marketing strategy? In addition to all the above reasons why therapeutic practices of some kind would enhance the effectiveness of the ethical-causation strategy, there is the simple consideration that most men are not engaged by it. I believe that those many men who cannot be engaged with ethical persuasion are concerned with two interdependent points: firstly, they believe that the ethical-causation strategy does not provide them with the emotional support they are looking for; secondly, they believe that adopting the ethical-causation strategy is not in their interests. Narrative therapist Michael White claims that
Those groups of men that are more orientated to personal growth and self-help frequently argue that other groups ignore the extent of mens suffering as well as mens need to develop and engage in processes that are healing of the male psyche; that the politically orientated action groups neglect or do not sufficiently address mens experience of mens culture. (White 1996, p. 165)
While there are many political problems with the mens liberation movement and the emotional-causation strategy, as I have demonstrated above, the men engaged in them have chosen them instead of the ethical-causation strategy. If these men are to be converted, they will need good reasons (according to them) to do so. While it may feel uncomfortable to pander to the requirements of men who have not been converted by ethical persuasion, this is precisely what needs to happen if the profeminist mens movement is going to gain mass popularity. In addition to the including emotional support in its repertoire, the ethical-causation strategy needs to clearly state its definition of interests. While it does not have the same rigid patriarchal definition of interests that I criticised in Connells work above, the emotional-causation strategy underemphasises the self-interested reasons for men to give up sexism. If intimate and egalitarian relationships, emotional literacy, physical health and justice are valued, then there are plenty of reasons why giving up sexism could be represented as in mens interests. Therefore the ethical-causation strategy would be more popular if it represented itself as placing greater emphasis on mens emotional support, and as being in mens interests.
The ethical-causation strategy has proven to reinforce patriarchal power relations in many different ways. Ironically, it is through its attempt to avoid the problems with the emotional-causation strategy that its own problems occur. By focussing exclusively on ethical persuasion as the means to eliminating both mens sexism and stoicism, the ethical-causation strategy many of those aspects of mens sexism that are related to their emotional processes. In contrast, the emotional-causation strategy reinforces many of those aspects of mens sexism that are related to their ethics. With both existing profeminist strategies having unintended consequences, there needs to be some substantial work done to develop new strategies. To gain insights into the source of the problems with each strategy, I will now examine the theories of subjectivity that each assumes.
Both the emotional-causation strategy and the ethical-causation strategy assume a modernist theory of subjectivity. While they focus on different aspects of subjectivity, and therefore have different problems, they both assume modernist theories of subjectivity nonetheless. This is not to say that either strategy is completely modernist, rather that draw from different aspects of both modernism and postmodernism. Neither strategy makes the modernist (and humanist) assumption that men and women have essentially different natures. (Weedon 1987, p. 167) Rather, both assume that men and women develop ways of being in negotiation with institutional and cultural practices, interpersonal relationships, ideologies and so on. Moreover, both strategies adopt poststructuralist insights regarding the multiplicity of power relations, their intersections and contradictions, and the consequent differences in mens experience (although the ethical-causation strategy does not acknowledge these differences when it expects all men to give up sexism in the same way, as indicated above). The assumptions which are modernist refer to the constitution of subjectivity, particularly the assumption of a unified sovereign subject.
Modernist theories of subjectivity claim that there is a single unified subject, a central ego that is capable of full comprehension and total command of conscious mental life. (Weedon 1987, pp. 84-85; Middleton 1992, p. 119) This belief is evident in the ethical-causation strategy claim that, when men make clear ethical choices to dominate women, they choose and are able to control and suppress their emotions in order to facilitate their domination. Moreover, it makes this assumption when claiming that mens conscious choice to give up sexism will automatically eliminate their sexism. Lastly it assumes that conscious choice is sufficient to prevent sexist processes in all aspects of mens lives. For the ethical-causation strategy, ethically persuading the ego is all that matters; however this chapter has demonstrated that this strategy is highly problematic.
The emotional-causation strategy makes different problematic claims which assume this same concept of subjectivity. The claim that emotional processes cause sexist behaviour assumes that unconscious emotions can totally overwhelm the ego, such that the ego becomes the slave of the passions. There is no allowance for contradictions nor resistance in the thought process. Furthermore the emotional-causation strategys claim that cathartic expression of emotions will cause ethical behaviour assumes that there is an essentially ethical ego which can be liberated. The ego is supposedly either a unified slave totally controlled by emotions, or a unified free agent making ethical choices with pure rational thought. Having made these assumptions, the emotional-causation strategy is also highly problematic.
This chapter has demonstrated that both the ethical-causation strategy and the emotional-causation strategy reinforce patriarchal power in many ways. Given that both strategies assume modernist theories of subjectivity, perhaps developing an alternative strategy which makes different assumptions about subjectivity will be more effective in resisting patriarchal power. Therefore I will now explore poststructuralist feminist theories of subjectivity and use them to develop a theoretical framework for a new profeminist strategy.
Towards a profeminist strategy with poststructuralist feminist assumptions
Given all the problems with the ethical-causation strategy exposed in the last chapter, there is good reason for profeminism to strategise emotionality. While many aspects of the ethical-causation strategy are effective in disabling many aspects of mens sexism, it has limited effect because it does not address mens stoicism. Therapeutic practices directed at mens stoicism, with the intention of increasing mens emotional literacy, have the potential to further disable their sexism. However this potential is conditional upon the particular theoretical framework adopted by a particular practice. The emotional-causation strategy is an example of a therapeutic practice which reinforces mens sexism because of its theoretical framework. Therefore there is good reason for profeminism to develop a strategy which addresses mens stoicism, but which adopts a different theoretical framework from the emotional-causation strategy. I will now explore feminist interpretations of Michel Foucaults theory of power and the discursive constitution of subjectivities, then I will use them to create a theoretical framework for a profeminist strategy which incorporates ethical and emotional considerations.
Michel Foucault, in Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (Foucault 1977) and The History of Sexuality (Volume One): An Introduction (Foucault 1978) develops a poststructuralist theory of power and subjectivity which radically departs from modernism. There are four components of his theory which are relevant to this chapter.
The first is that discourses are the vehicles of power relations. This means that that power relations run through discourses of knowledge, creating hegemonic and marginalised knowledges. The knowledges that are most consistent with power relations are given the social status of truth and common sense. Feminists such as Chris Weedon and Wendy Hollway have demonstrated how patriarchal power defines common-sensical gender norms while marginalising feminist knowledges. (Weedon 1987, pp. 76-77; Hollway 1984, pp. 37-38)
Secondly, Foucault claims that the effects of power on subjectivity are primarily creative and productive, rather than repressive. Peoples subjectivities are constituted in relation to discourses of knowledge, because it is in relation to discourses that subjects give meaning to their experiences and shape their ways of being. Power relations constitute subject positions within discourses, preferring and pressuring subjects to adopt particular positions more than others. Therefore power creates subjectivities through discourse. (Foucault in Bordo 1988, p. 87-88) Feminists have used this model of power to explain, for example, the ways that womens bodies are sculpted and produced as sexual objects in through exercising patriarchal power. (Bordo 1988, pp. 87-89; Sawicki 1991, p. 22; p. 95)
Thirdly, Foucault claims that subjectivities are sites where power is both exercised and resisted. All discourses, and therefore all subjectivities, are influenced by power, but there is always the opportunity of resisting power in some way or other. (Sawicki 1991, pp. 24-25; Hollway 1984, p. 260; Weedon 1987, p. 106) This claim is especially appealing for feminist theory, because extreme representations of women in relation to patriarchy, as either completely free agents or as complete victims, reinforce womens oppression either way. (Sawicki 1991, p. 104)
Fourthly, a subject is an unstable configuration of multiple aspects rather than a single homogeneous unit. (Weedon 1987, p. 88) These aspects are named rationality, emotionality, morality, drives, consciousness, unconsciousness, physicality, spirituality etc. To say that they are multiple aspects does not mean that they are separate entities or broken pieces: each depends on the others to some degree. However, because subjects are constituted by discourses which divide these aspects, they will often experience themselves as being divided. This means that changing one aspect will not necessarily change the others. Subjectivity is constituted in a variety of languages: a variety of orders of meaning and symbolic systems. (Weedon 1987, p. 93) Different aspects of subjectivity are therefore differently constituted because of their relations to different discourses or different languages within one discourse. Subjectivity is unstable, constantly in the process of renegotiating its positions in various discourses, with different aspects dominant at different times. (Weedon 1987, p. 88) Moreover, subject positions sometimes reinforce the power relations constituting each other, and other times they contradict each others power. Consequently, different aspects of subjectivity will at some times be consistent and at other times be contradictory. Feminists of difference have attempted to theorise complex situations such as when women of colour align themselves with men of colour in relation to racism, despite their different experience in relation to sexism. (Sawicki 1991, pp. 25-32)
While Foucault had little to say about patriarchy in particular, feminists have been able to utilise his theories of power and the discursive constitution of subjectivity without significant departure from the original (with the exception of one point which is explained below). Now the question is whether these interpretations can be applied to the development of a profeminist strategy which is more effective than the ethical-causation or the emotional-caustion strategy.
Bob Pease, in Reforming Men: Masculine Subjectivities and the Politics and Practices of Profeminism (Pease 1996), develops the idea of a profeminist subject position being available for men to adopt. He explains how the poststructuralist feminist theory of multiple subjectivities implies that men can adopt various subject positions in relation to patriarchal power. (Pease 1996, p. 19; pp. 121-122) Given that articulated subject positions are needed in order for subjects to adopt them, the act of articulating a profeminist subject position is a political one. (Weedon 1987, p. 97) Therefore Pease studies the ways that some men have refused to adopt sexist subject positions in relation to patriarchal power, and the ways that their profeminism is practiced in their everyday life. (Pease 1996, p. 123) He produces profeminist knowledge, a discourse which constitutes the profeminist subject position. Furthermore, Pease theorises interests in a way that supports their ethical choice to adopt profeminist subject positions. He claims that once the choice is made, subjects reconstitute their self-interests to conform with their newly chosen ways of being. (Pease 1996, p. 264) While I greatly admire the work that Pease has done, his theory is limited to some extent because it is basically the ethical-causation strategy with some added encouragement for men to make ethical choices. I believe that, in addition to Peases strategy, a strategy directed at mens stoicism is needed. How can poststructuralist feminist theories of subjectivity be utilised in this project?
Consider the fictional character Jack: nothing is known about him yet, other than that he is biologically male (although, in some cases, even this is not determinable). Adopting the idea that Jacks subjectivity has multiple aspects, I argue that his emotionality (the emotional aspect of his subjectivity) is different to his morality (the ethical aspect of his subjectivity) because they are constituted in relation to different discourses and to different languages within particular discourses. Jacks emotionality is constituted in relation to emotional discourses, terms and meanings, while his morality is constituted in relation to ethical discourses, terms and meanings. Within emotional discourses, Jack is offered a stoic subject position alongside an emotionally expressive subject position. Simultaneously, Jack is offered sexist and profeminist definitions of appropriate behaviour in relation to women. (In each case, there are possibly additional subject positions) What a sexist morality has in common with a stoic emotionality is that they are both vehicles of patriarchal power. Patriarchal power prefers and pressures Jack to adopt a sexist subject position in ethical discourses, and prefers and pressures him to adopt a stoic subject position in emotional discourses: Jack is rewarded when he meets these preferences. Jacks ethical beliefs that women should obey his commands and that violence is a valid method of gaining control, as well as his emotional illiteracy, insensitivity and numbness, are each constituted by patriarchal power through discourses. These two subject positions are consistent with each other, reinforce each other and have a degree of interdependence. However this does not mean that they are completely interdependent and thus have a causal relationship. By adopting a profeminist subject position in one discourse, he will not necessarily adopt a profeminist subject position in the other discourse. Indeed it is possible that the different subject positions Jack adopts will contradict each other. This explains why the ethical-causation strategy and the emotional-causation strategy have so many problems: both assume that the subject is unified and that therefore partial change means total change. In contrast, a strategy which assumes a poststructuralist feminist theory of subjectivity would not claim necessary discursive interdependence nor necessary subjective interdependence. Instead it would claim that some discourses are independent of others, and that some aspects of subjectivity are experienced as being independent of others.
As I have demonstrated in Chapter 3, both morality and emotionality can exercise patriarchal power and, consequently, profeminism needs to engage with both. Therefore I suggest a symbiosis strategy: one which takes into consideration the symbiotic relationship between morality and emotionality, as well as the symbiotic relationship between power and resistance. A symbiotic relationship involves two systems being both partially independent from, and partially dependent upon each other. The symbiotic strategy involves engaging with both morality and emotionality in relation to each other, while utilising different methods of engagement because of their different constitutions through different discourses. Simultaneously, this complex and risky process is kept in check with the constant consideration of the symbiotic relationship between power and resistance: within mens subjectivites, resistance to patriarchal power is always possible and patriarchal power is always present. (Sawicki 1991, p. 104)
Morality requires engagement within ethical discourses, utilising techniques of ethical persuasion and ethical meanings and terms. This would involve critique of the sexist subject position in terms of power relations, oppression, values, and the effects of patriarchal power on women, etc.; as well as the articulation of the profeminist subject position and invitation to adopt it. I think the most effective methods would be those suggested by Pease in Reforming Men: Masculine Subjectivities and the Politics and Practices of Profeminism (Pease 1996) and Men & Sexual Politics: Towards a Profeminist Practice (Pease 1997). The differences with the symbiosis strategy are firstly that it would stress the need create an emotionality that is consistent with a profeminist ethics; secondly that it would advocate some kind of therapeutic process to do so; and thirdly that it would retain an awareness of the symbiotic relationship between power and resistance in an attempt to avoid the problems encountered by the ethical-causation strategy.
By exclusively focussing on mens ability to refuse to exercise patriarchal power, the ethical-causation strategy runs into problems associated with voluntarism. These problems are avoided by the symbiosis strategy because it acknowledges that patriarchal power constitutes mens subjectivity, while not entirely determining it. Jacks domination of particular women is understood in the context of the social conventions, institutionalised practices and cultural norms which are vehicles of patriarchal power. (Kaufman 1993, pp. 162-163) Furthermore, Jacks choice to adopt a sexist subject position within ethical discourses is understood in the context of the expectations upon him to do so and the threats of punishments in case he refuses. (Flood 1994, p. 24) The ethical-causation strategy ignores the pressures on men to be sexist in an attempt to subvert mens avoidance of personal responsibility. However I follow Sawickis claim that
To focus on the ways in which the subject is in fact constituted, and on the broader social and political forces that determine the parameters and possibilities of rational agency is not to deny agency. (Sawicki 1991, p. 103)
The symbiosis strategy on morality is therefore to implore resistance to patriarchal power while acknowledging the social context of that resistance.
Changing subject positions in a discourse requires the awareness of alternative subject positions. (Weedon 1987, p. 97) Men who have adopted a stoic subject position in emotional discourses cannot simply adopt a literate and expressive subject positions because they have lost the language of emotion and therefore cannot comprehend what an expressive subject position would be like. (Middleton 1992, p. 3; p. 168) Therefore, in order for men to develop emotional literacy, they need to be engaged in emotional discursive practices which create knowledges about emotional literacy, particularly what emotional literacy would be like in their own lives. Therefore the symbiosis strategy engages with emotionality in these ways, in addition to engaging with morality.
If Jack is feeling powerless and self-hating, then he might be tempted to dominate the women around him in order to achieve a temporary sense of status and self-worth. The ethical-causation strategy for intervention would be to appeal to Jacks morality, to persuade him not to dominate the women around him for ethical reasons. This is an admirable method, but what if it does not work because Jack, at this time, is not willing to listen? The emotional-causation strategy for intervention would be to give Jack the therapy he needs to stop feeling powerless and self-hating. This may work in a particular context, but it is complicit with Jacks sexism by condoning sexism at those times when he does not have emotional support. The symbiosis strategy would engage with Jacks emotionality and his morality simultaneously. This would involve therapeutic practices with emotional discourses, terms and meanings, and may include cathartic expression. Meanwhile, in order to avoid the problems of the emotional causation strategy, these practices would be kept in check with constant reference to the symbiotic relationship between power and resistance. Jack would be constantly reminded by the facilitator/therapist that, while he may be suffering greatly, he can choose how to respond to his suffering. The response involving the domination of women is the response preferred and pressured by patriarchal power. Jack is reminded that he can resist patriarchal power by responding differently: he can choose the response involving the cathartic expression of his feelings in a therapeutic setting (or possibly other responses). Therefore the symbiosis strategy intervenes in Jacks sexism, even when he is not willing to listen to ethical persuasion, in a way that resists his sexism rather than complies with it.
The symbiosis strategy appears to be effective in eliminating mens sexism in ways that neither the ethical-causation strategy nor the emotional-causation strategy have been. But I think that it could be more effective if it incorporated an approach to interests and an approach to difference. The problems in relation to these two issues were discussed in Chapter 3. How can the symbiosis strategy address interests and difference in ways that enhance its effectiveness?
Pease suggests that redefining mens interests is a means of persuading them to adopt a profeminist subject position. (Pease 1996, p. 264) Weedon explains that self-interest is defined through the act of adopting subject positions particular discourses. (Weedon 1987, p. 97) Patriarchal power constitutes mens understanding of their self-interest through discourses about social status, material possessions, etc. Ironically, Connell complies with patriarchal power, despite his profeminist intentions, by defining interests only within this discourse. (Connell 1983, pp. 234-276) The symbiosis strategy would define interests through multiple discourses, and articulate the self-interested subject position in each discourse. It would claim that adopting the sexist subject position is in mens self-interest in terms of materialism, social status, some aspects of health, power and self-worth, etc. But it would also claim that adopting the sexist subject position is against mens self-interest in terms of intimacy, nurturance, a sense of justice, and other aspects of physical health, power and self-worth, etc. (Kaufman 1993, p. 274) By creating knowledges about the self-interested gains for men who adopt a profeminist subjectivity, the symbiosis strategy exposes contradictions which can incite contention within mens subjectivities. Different discourses then compete for primacy, and men are encouraged to move towards profeminist subject positions. By incorporating reconceived interests, the symbiosis strategy can reach men who, at this time, will only consider profeminism if they perceive it to be in their interests.
I suggest that the symbiosis strategy incorporates difference by using identification as a political tool. Feminists such as Nancy Hartsock have criticised poststructuralism for it apparently nihilist politics. (Hartsock 1990) Because Foucault claims that the process of identifying oneself against a power system will inevitably be incorporated by that power system, he is pessimistic about the effectiveness of identity politics. (Sawicki 1991, pp. 24-25; pp. 96-97) Taking on these considerations, poststructuralist feminist theorists such as Sawicki value identification as a political strategy. In contrast to the modernist identity politics of Marxism and radical feminism, poststructuralist feminism claims that identity is discursively constituted, rather than something essential awaiting recovery. Because women are oppressed in relation to the identities assigned to them through discourses on gender, identifying themselves as members of an oppressed group is a means to resisting that oppression. This can become an organising principle for womens consciousness-raising groups, public rallies, legal reform, etc. Although identification is a risky business (as Foucault warns), Sawicki recommends it as a political strategy:
Identity formation is both strategically necessary and dangerous. And, as feminists we must live within the tension and uncertainty produced by our oppressive situations. (Sawicki 1991, p. 108)
I maintain that Sawickis suggestion is also applicable to profeminist strategy. Within any group of profeminist men there will be many different identities in relation to the myriad of different power relations, and there will also be the common identities as men and as profeminists. Incorporating these differences and commonalities has the potential to enhance the effectiveness of the symbiosis strategy. This would happen through the specification of particular practices for particular identities.
Early profeminist men claimed that there is an inherent contradiction in men getting together and forming supportive groups in our society which is already dominated by powerful privileged male groups. (Hornacek 1977, p. 124)
I argue that there is no such inherent contradiction, but rather that the potential problems depend on what the support is for and about. I suggest that profeminist mens groups support men where they identify as members of oppressed groups, and challenge men where they identify as members of dominant groups. Just as there is a myriad of power relations, profeminist mens groups will comprise of a myriad of different identities, with men identifying as members of dominant groups in relation to one power system while identifying as members of opppressed groups in relation to another power system. For example, a workshop on class issues will involve specific sets of men getting either supported or challenged, and then a workshop on sexuality issues will involve different specific sets of men getting either supported or challenged. Supporting would involve consciousness-raising, therapeutic and nurturing practices intended to heal from the trauma of oppression and to enhance resistance. Challenging would involve understanding the ways that power is exercised through subjectivity, and encouraging resistance. These different practices are valuable in and of themselves, because it is important to dismantle injustice in all its forms. Moreover these practices would enhance mens ability to adopt profeminist subjectivities because it deals with mens different locations in other power relations and the consequent context of their choices.
Considering profeminist mens common identities, I suggest that their identities as men be challenged, while their identities as profeminists be supported. Mens support groups, as employed in the mens liberation movement and in the emotional-causation strategy, reinforce patriarchal power relations because their common organising principle of the group is that everyone identifies as a man. Consequently, they encourage men to understand their problems and traumatic experiences as things which happen to men as men, and perhaps only to men, and they support men as men. The therapeutic practices intended to liberate men from their oppression have the effects of denying their power and privilege in relation to patriarchy, setting feminist women up as enemies, and reinforcing essentialist concepts of masculinity. However these problems would not arise if their problems and traumatic experiences were given different meanings. Many feelings of powerlessness and self-hatred can be understood as being constituted by racist, heterosexist, capitalist and other power relations, instead of as symptoms of mens oppression. Therefore deconstructing feelings and tracing their relationship to various power systems is another component of the symbiosis strategy. Still, some of mens problems and traumatic experiences are primarily constituted through their masculinity: these might be stoicism, isolation, anxiety, etc. In such cases, rather than understanding them as mens oppression, the symbiosis strategy follows McLean by encouraging men to understand them as constituted in relation to patriarchal power. (McLean 1996, p. 24) They are both constituted by patriarchal power and vehicles of its transmission. Understood in this way, these problems and traumatic experiences provide further motivation for men to resist patriarchal power.
A profeminist mens groups other commonality is their identity as profeminists. The symbiosis strategy would support these men as profeminists: to deal with the expectations, pressures and punishments which need to be faced when men adopt a profeminist subjectivity. (Pease 1996, p. 22) Further support would be provided for men attempting to distinguish between productive guilt and neurotic guilt, such that their guilt becomes a vehicle for resisting, rather than exercising, patriarchal power. (Schwalbe 1995, p. 326; Pease 1997, pp. 25-26; Middleton 1992, p. 190; Kaufman 1993, p. 53) Practiced in this context, nurturance and support become resources which assist profeminist mens resistance to patriarchal power.
It is important to state that, when applying the symbiosis strategy, there is a crucial need to be clear about which identity particular practices are directed at. Without this precaution, the meanings of one practice could be mistakenly attributed to the wrong identity. If this happened then power relations could be reinforced through an understanding of, for example, mens oppression. Nonetheless, with precautions taken, the symbiosis strategy appears to be a highly effective means of getting those men engaged by it to adopt profeminist subjectivities. The last point to consider is its effect on those men not yet engaged by it.
With only about ten percent of men actively involved in the mens movement currently attempting to adopt a profeminist subjectivity, profeminism needs to develop ways of engaging larger numbers. I believe that the symbiosis strategy is likely to be more appealing to those men who are currently focussed exclusively on their pain, and who perceive the ethical-causation strategy as having nothing to offer them. This is because it involves nurturing and emotional practices like those that are so popular the mens liberation movement; and because it has created knowledges of how it is in mens interests. Once engaged by the strategy, men are encouraged in many ways to adopt profeminist subjectivities. Therefore I believe that, overall, the symbiosis strategy will be more effective in eliminating mens sexism than either the ethical-causation strategy or the emotional-causation strategy.
The primary aim of this thesis has been to develop profeminist theory in ways that will hopefully facilitate the resolution of its current crisis. While profeminism has been effective in challenging patriarchy in some ways, it is in crisis because its current strategies have reached their points of limitation. Both the ethical-causation strategy and the emotional-causation strategy reinforce patriarchal power in their own particular ways, and profeminism as a whole has failed to gain popular allegiance despite so many men questioning masculinity. My response to this crisis has been to thoroughly critique both strategies, in order to expose precisely where their problems arise, and then to theorise an alternative strategy designed to avoid these problems. I argued that each of the current strategies has its own complex set of problems related to their exclusive focus on either morality or emotionality. Then I exposed their modernist assumptions about subjectivity. In response to this analysis, an alternative strategy was developed using poststructuralist feminist theories of subjectivity. The resulting symbiosis strategy appears to avoid all of the problems encountered by the ethical-causation strategy and the emotional-causation strategy.
My methodology has been more philosophical than empirical and more metaphysical than practical. Furthermore, I have been creative when using theory, inventing terminology and adapting theories to new contexts. I believe that this approach is entirely valid, and is useful for developing alternatives when current theories have reached their points of limitation. However this methodology has its own limitations.
Having taken a philosophical approach to developing strategy, it remains questionable if, and how, the symbiosis strategy can be practically implemented. The symbiosis strategy would engage with Jacks morality and his emotionality simultaneously, as well as keeping each process in check with reference to the symbiotic relationship between power and resistance. But how can a group facilitator or individual therapist do all of these things, especially in a complicated and unpredictable environment of living men? How can men be engaged to radically reconstitute their subjectivity without being turned off or patronised by the facilitator/therapist? In order for the symbiosis strategy to be implemented, it probably needs a template script: a suggested dialogue which could occur between Jack and the facilitator/therapist, and which could be adapted to each scenario. One of the reasons that Alan Jenkins Invitations to Responsibility: The Therapeutic Engagement of Men Who are Violent and Abusive (Jenkins 1990) is so useful is because it provides template scripts alongside theoretical discussion. Narrative therapy, a technique developed and practiced at the Dulwich Centre in Adelaide, could provide some ideas. Narrative therapy utilises some aspects of Foucaults theory of the discursive constitution of subjectivity: including the idea of power operating through knowledge, and the possibility of reconstituting the meanings of experience. However, as far as I understand, narrative therapy does not directly engage emotionality: if this is the case then I would argue that narrative therapy, in its current form, is limited in similar ways to the ethical-causation strategy. While this thesis is not the place to articulate these practicalities, they need to be articulated nonetheless. The symbiosis strategy cannot be implemented, nor tested, nor refined, without this work being done. Therefore articulating the practicalities and testing them in the field are areas where further research is suggested.
In addition to the limitations of its chosen methodology, this thesis is limited by not having applied this methodogy as thoroughly as possible. It does not take into consideration numerous theoretical explorations of issues surrounding those focussed on here. Feminist theorists continue to spell out more problems with the mens movements. I believe that John Southgate and Rosemary Randall have written a book called The Barefoot Psychoanalyst which, I believe, attempts to develop a more politicised model of Re-evaluation Co-counselling. (Southgate & Randall 1976) David Tacey has just published Remaking Men: The Revolution in Masculinity, which attempts to politicise mythopoetry. (Tacey 1997) Queer theory has developed very interesting ideas about identification as a political strategy. (Jagose 1996) Critical studies of masculinity in the academy, by both feminist women and profeminist men, are continually developing knowledges which draw on a range of theories, including poststructuralist feminism. While it has not been possible for this thesis to incorporate all of this work, it will doubtless include some ideas which would enhance both the critique of existing strategies and the development of the symbiosis strategy. Therefore the symbiosis strategy could benefit from further theoretical development in consideration of these unaddressed texts. I suggest that this is another valuable topic for further research.
Any profeminist strategy finds itself in the paradoxical situation that, in the process of attempting to resist patriarchal power, it will unintentionally reinforce it in some ways. This thesis has been produced by a white, middle-class man, and will therefore be partially constituted by racial, class and patriarchal power. The knowledge in this thesis will be both resisting these power relations as well as reinforcing them to different degrees, although the reinforcements may or may not be obvious to the reader at this point. They will probably become clearer if the strategy is practically implemented, because the concrete effects of the problematic aspects of the strategy will be felt by members of oppressed groups, and perhaps noticed by their allies. Therefore the symbiosis strategy should be a work in progress, constantly adapting to new understandings of its constitution by power relations. In order to adapt to the concrete effects of itself, the symbiosis strategy needs to be accountable to the experiences and critiques of women and other oppressed groups, not just profeminist men. I think accountability is crucial for the profeminist mens movement, as well as for anti-racist white people and other similar groups. But accountability is a process which is complicated, misunderstood and disputed by different groups. For example, if a facilitator is implementing the symbiosis strategy: which feminists should s/he be accountable to? How can the critique occur in practical terms? How can the interaction avoid oppressing feminist critics? What should happen when the facilitator disagrees with the critique? I think it is crucial to theorise responses to these sorts of questions about accountability, and researching them is a process that I recommend.
In the process of researching the topic and theorising the relevant issues, my thinking has been profoundly reconstituted. My opinions about the mens liberation agenda and the emotional-causation strategy have changed radically, from wary endorsement to strong rejection. I have learned and adopted a great deal more profeminist knowledge than I had before, and this has enabled me to resist patriarchal power in my own life in new ways. Furthermore, a more sophisticated understanding of poststructuralist feminist theories of subjectivity now informs my sense of self. Most significantly, I have become passionately committed to the symbiosis strategy for eliminating mens sexism. Now I am interested in theorising accountability and developing ways of practically implementing the symbiosis strategy, in ways that further resist patriarchy.
Tacey, David 1997, Remaking Men: The Revolution in Masculinity, Viking, Melbourne.