Crossing Masculinities 2

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Crossing Masculinities 2

 

Point # 1:

From the very beginning, men’s groups had a problem of legitimacy: Identity politics by members of privileged groups just is something completely different from identity politics by underprivileged/oppressed people. It was never possible to base men’s group politics on an emphatic sense of one’s own suffering and you were always confronted with the legitimate misgivings of women/lesbians towards this practice. You were always having to deal with the question of what exactly the difference between antisexist men’s group and a “normal” league of males was supposed to be. Similarly, suspicions that the main intention of “men’s group-men” was really to obtain an antisexist “clean record” by means of public penitence, or that the whole project was in fact a subtle or less-than-subtle attempt to usurp feminist positions, and in this way regain a dominant speaking position, now in the “field” of antisexism as well, could never be so easily dismissed. All this was reason enough for many men to give up on men’s group politics or not even get started doing it.

 

Point # 2:

As social movements developed and differentiated – in a climate marked, but not simply determined, by the political defeat of emancipatory projects – the critique of certain types of identity politics (as it would later be called) intensified:

In the United States, Black and Latina women questioned the collective subject “women” as it had been constructed by the USAmerican women’s movement in the seventies.

Divers struggles by lesbians within the women’s movements of various countries for visibility and appreciation of their existence also worked to destabilize the category “woman”.

As far as antisexist men’s groups in the FRG are concerned, there was, for example, a wave of differentiation at the end of the eighties, beginning of the nineties, in which radical left gay men increasingly separated from radical left heterosexual men with antisexist ideas; many, especially the heterosexuals, only now began to realize and criticize the widespread and unwitting equation of “men” with “heterosexual men” in “men’s movement” discourse[7].

Point # 3:

With the belated (compared to France, Britain or the USA, for example) reception of poststructuralism in the FRG, which by the nineties had increasingly filtered through the universities into the activist radical left, the feminist debates around J.Butler’s “Gender Trouble” and the interest in queer theory that began to appear by the mid- to late nineties in parts of what was left of the left[8] …, a general scepticism concerning any kind of identity politics spread among many of those interested in “gender relations” – that’s how it was called now, the term “patriarchy” being deemed “too monolithic” by many.

Although I do claim that there has been an extension and consolidation of a “sexist consensus” within the mixed left and that the decline of antisexist men’s groups is somehow connected to this, I don’t want to reduce this development to the effect of an antifeminist backlash (especially not if this concept is understood one-dimensionally). I take the fundamental problem of legitimacy of a politics of identity by privileged groups seriously (point # 1), as well as the critique of identity politics in general (point # 2 & 3).

I found attempts by men at antisexist politics back in the eighties pretty wretched already; therefore, I have no reason at all for any kind of political nostalgia. Still, I find the situation today, as far as men and antisexism in this country are concerned, even worse than it was 15 years ago. I do not believe antisexist politics by men should be the same today as it was 10 or 15 years ago. But it should be.

[7] Of course I don’t want to equate these social phenomena – feminist movement on the one hand, men’s group scene on the other - or place them in a common category: given the small numbers and the political/theoretical feebleness of the mini-sub-scene “radical left men’s groups”, and the fundamental problem of legitimacy of an identity politics by members of privileged groups, this would indeed be truly bizarre. What I am trying to do is locate a politics I feel personally connected to in a larger political context.

[8] Even the left German weekly “Jungle World”, which until now had not exactly made its mark as a champion of radical, feminist critiques, has recently produced a “queer-debate”…

 


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