I can't take my eyes off of her.
March 12, 2009 7:57 AM   Subscribe

"Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves." Also: male gaze on the Gender Ads Project. Laura Mulvey's original 1975 essay on Male Gaze in cinema.
posted by Optimus Chyme (248 comments total) 57 users marked this as a favorite

 
I love that BBC miniseries. Now that was some good television.
posted by ocherdraco at 8:07 AM on March 12, 2009


sure is deep stuff...stay on the surface and, as Lenny Bruce said: just think T & A.

While men looking at women and women looking at men looking at them I could not help but notice the narrator: wow. Shirt from Jamaica or some other vacation spot? what happened to ties? Ok. back to women now.
posted by Postroad at 8:16 AM on March 12, 2009


I have noticed that as men look at women, women watch men looking at women (usually not the woman being looked at but someone else around). But had never thought of this "looking at looking" as a type of gaze itself. Which of course brings up the question, is looking at women who are looking at men who are looking at women also a type of gaze?
posted by stbalbach at 8:18 AM on March 12, 2009


Music to Watch Girls By
posted by The Whelk at 8:22 AM on March 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


It's like you posted a page of my notes from the first year of film school.
Also, 70's guy needs to work on his R's.
posted by chococat at 8:24 AM on March 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


The Whelk beat me to the reference I was going to make.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:30 AM on March 12, 2009


I have noticed that as men look at women, women watch men looking at women (usually not the woman being looked at but someone else around). But had never thought of this "looking at looking" as a type of gaze itself. Which of course brings up the question, is looking at women who are looking at men who are looking at women also a type of gaze?

Double vision.
posted by zoomorphic at 8:32 AM on March 12, 2009


It's like you posted a page of my notes from the first year of film school.

Looks like my Body Politics textbook to me.
posted by riane at 8:39 AM on March 12, 2009


I’m the dude looking at the dudette who’s looking at the dudette who’s being looked at by the dude.
posted by Artw at 8:44 AM on March 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Ah, Laura Mulvey... I always imagined her looking like Rita Hayworth in Gilda.
posted by condour75 at 8:45 AM on March 12, 2009


Mulvey's essay is brilliant but more useful today as a historic landmark of early 70s feminist film theory than as a heuristic for discerning power frameworks. Still, anyone interested in the discourse needs to read it to be conversant.

Also, 70's guy needs to work on his R's.

I don't know British accents well, but Berger's is very similar to Rik Mayall's.
posted by hpliferaft at 8:49 AM on March 12, 2009


Which of course brings up the question, is looking at women who are looking at men who are looking at women also a type of gaze?

I think the term for this is bohnenstudie.
posted by jquinby at 9:00 AM on March 12, 2009


/looks at his gender/sexuality/identity/power books, articles, and anthologies.

Yup, my gaze is brave.
posted by mrmojoflying at 9:05 AM on March 12, 2009


Am I supposed to be enjoying the Gender Ads project or not?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:05 AM on March 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm enjoying watching you wonder about enjoying it, Brandon Blatcher.
posted by notyou at 9:10 AM on March 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


But in psychoanalytic terms, the female figure poses a deeper problem. She also connotes something that the look continually circles around but disavows: her lack of a penis, implying a threat of castration and hence unpleasure

In modern psychoanalytic theory, castration anxiety is not about losing one's penis. It is about masculine identity as a source of power. The reason the female object is threatening is because, in more modern representations, sexuality=power. In this context, men derive pleasure from their dominiant sexual role. If the female is stealing the power, that is what is threatening. Therein lies the castration anxiety. It has nothing to do with the organ itself.

In my personal theory, I believe that men subconsciously think during a moment of anxiety that they have lost their penis already, and need to be reminded that it is there.

There is another 'gaze' that is ignored, which is one of my personal favorite cafe pastimes: men, as a guy, watching men watch women. There really isn't any better way to see frustration and impotence manifest themselves as facial features than in this setting. You watch some scruffy hipster tool gazing at a woman, and there is always this moment when he realizes that he can never so much as talk to her, let alone have her. It flashes across his face as a pouty lower lip, a clenched jaw, and a slight bowing of the head. (On second thought, maybe the castration anxiety really is about men feeling they've lost their penis. More study is warranted. Off to Starbucks!)

Women don't realize the power they have to remind men of their utter uselessness. I would like to see them abuse this power more.
posted by Pastabagel at 9:12 AM on March 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


Once took a course from a genius named Norman Bryson who knows a thing or two about human perception and and art. ....And an excuse to post a Robert Williams picture. heh heh
posted by celerystick at 9:12 AM on March 12, 2009


Am I supposed to be enjoying the Gender Ads project or not?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:05 AM on March 12


I guess it depends on the way in which you enjoy it. It you can look at the majority of these images without disgust or revulsion or sadness, I don't know what to tell you.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 9:14 AM on March 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Bonerfruede?
posted by YoBananaBoy at 9:16 AM on March 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


I see a lot of people in various states of undress, and one thing I can tell you for sure is that no matter how bored or jaded my cortex gets by the same old poses, lighting, poor posture, lousy camera work and trite situations in most nude and glamour photography (not in my own, of course heh-hem), every time -- every single time -- a female figure passes into view, a little bell goes off -- ting-a-ting-a-ting -- in my hindbrain and the sound of that little bell is pleasing and I am glad for having looked.

Yes, we are all made of meat; meat that would like to make more meat, yes please very much, and that meat over there that you are looking at right now would be an excellent choice of companion for the key task of making more meat ting-a-ling-a-ling. So go say "Hi."
posted by seanmpuckett at 9:17 AM on March 12, 2009 [8 favorites]


It you can look at the majority of these images without disgust or revulsion or sadness, I don't know what to tell you.

Let's be honest, you know exactly what to tell anyone who likes those images.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:22 AM on March 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


I always find it hard to talk about this shit because it's so fucking depressing to sit around thinking about how easily I can be reduced to some bullshit object. But those of you enjoying these ads go on and enjoy your privilege of not having to deal with such pesky thoughts, it's easier for you that way.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 9:24 AM on March 12, 2009 [5 favorites]


God, I totally remember my last two years of undergrad. Come spring, me and my buddy Lance would get in his '80's Cutlass with a white brougham top, get a 12 of Budwiser and have a few other things with us, and just spend two hours driving around campus, looking at women.

That was the best. Everything was ahead of us, we had unlimited potential.

I think we can look too much into these things in a way. There's a real desire in people to somehow make their everyday experiences a guide to the larger world and its larger structures around us. It makes it easy to understand and allows for us to morally condemn others for our personal difficulties that originate from the vast forces that do impact us. Sometimes we are just driving around in a car with an open tall boy and passing one while enjoying the good feelings we get when looking at women.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:25 AM on March 12, 2009


I always find it hard to talk about this shit because it's so fucking depressing to sit around thinking about how easily I can be reduced to some bullshit object. But those of you enjoying these ads go on and enjoy your privilege of not having to deal with such pesky thoughts, it's easier for you that way.

I'm always curious about these formulations. What is it that you think men are doing when they look at women?
posted by Ironmouth at 9:29 AM on March 12, 2009


I believe that men subconsciously think during a moment of anxiety that they have lost their penis already, and need to be reminded that it is there.

I find that it helps to hang it next to the front door with your keys.
posted by octobersurprise at 9:33 AM on March 12, 2009


Who knew Joe Namath could do such a convincing accent?
posted by iconjack at 9:34 AM on March 12, 2009


But those of you enjoying these ads go on and enjoy your privilege of not having to deal with such pesky thoughts, it's easier for you that way.

In a general sense I can find points of agree with what's being presented here, but in my experience things get different on an individual level, both for the better and worst, so the implied generalization that all men are alike gets a bit tiring. These sort of studies and thoughts are important to getting the society on a more equal footing between men and women, I just don't think they're the final stop.

Ironmouth asks an excellent question and I'll extend it: "What would you like or what do you think men to should be thinking when they look at a woman?"
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:35 AM on March 12, 2009


You think you're watching men watching a woman walk by.
posted by carsonb at 9:36 AM on March 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


Let's be honest, you know exactly what to tell anyone who likes those images.

You're right; I guess the topical, synecdochal response would be "you're a prick."

This is not an attack on you, by the way, as you never indicated whether or not you found those images non-hideous. But why is "you're a prick" insulting? What does it feel like to be represented by a disembodied part? Now imagine that you're a woman and in magazines that are supposedly by and for women, a good chunk of the ads are based on photos of women, but disassembled, with only the "important" or "provocative" parts highlighted. The rest of the woman, the useless parts, are cast aside.

And now: "you're a prick." A person reduced to a part.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 9:38 AM on March 12, 2009 [13 favorites]


In my personal theory, I believe that men subconsciously like breasts.
posted by Benjy at 9:40 AM on March 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


I always find it hard to talk about this shit because it's so fucking depressing to sit around thinking about how easily I can be reduced to some bullshit object. But those of you enjoying these ads go on and enjoy your privilege of not having to deal with such pesky thoughts, it's easier for you that way.

Come on. Really? People look at the opposite sex. It's not a fucking mystery. Don't demonize it. Don't fill it with guilt, and then feel smug about pointing a finger at someone else.

Although, one interesting thought the post raised for me was: If only we could put eye-trackers on men and women during social interaction without it seeming staged. During one of those interactions where both parties know they are being "checked out." To see where they were looking while playing a little game of I-know-you're-watching-me-watch-you.
posted by Avelwood at 9:41 AM on March 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Mulvey's essay is brilliant but more useful today as a historic landmark of early 70s feminist film theory than as a heuristic for discerning power frameworks.

For me, the essay is totally emblematic of the film studies course I took at Brown University in the early 1990s. The course was called "Cinematic Coding and Narrativity," but campus wags called it "Clapping for Credit." On its own merits, the essay makes some good points about how cinema is quintessentially voyeuristic and, therefore, bound up with male/female power relations, but the way the essay was taught back then had some major problems. As David Bordwell argued in the anthology, Post-Theory: Reconstructing Film Studies, film studies in the 1990s was totally bogged down in a paradigm Bordwell called SLAB: Saussurean linguistics, Lacanian psychoanalysis, Althusserian Marxism, and Barthesian semiotics. Instead of using theories to help interpret films, the films in class were massaged and twisted to prove the brilliance of SLAB theory. So, while I think Mulvey's essay is quite smart and influential, it shouldn't be taken as gospel, but as a springboard for new discussions.

By the way, Mulvey's little volume on Citizen Kane in the BFI Film Classics series is actually a more accessible and convincing explication of some of her theories than the essay that made her famous.
posted by jonp72 at 9:44 AM on March 12, 2009 [5 favorites]


To be fair, my previous post should read: "People look at other people of both sexes. It's not a fucking mystery."
posted by Avelwood at 9:44 AM on March 12, 2009


Women don't realize the power they have to remind men of their utter uselessness. I would like to see them abuse this power more. (emphasis mine)

The vast majority, if not all of the work on the of hardware, operating system, web browser, server software and switches that got your post on to this MeFi thread was done by men.
posted by Scoo at 9:45 AM on March 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


I kinda go out of my way not to buy products that advertise like this, because, y'know, I don't need to be pandered to. I'm an adult, not a 13-year-old. (I also try not to buy products that advertise with the "Men are so dumb that they need this, right guys?" tack.) It's like they're trying too hard and it comes off as desperate. I also try to avoid anything that mentions "Guy code."

I will say that as an amateur photographer, this sort of shit is really hard to get around, at least for me. Maybe it'll get easier as I shoot more and stop having to think of everything in frame as an object just to make sure that I'm thinking about how it should be lit and where in the frame it should go. But I know that makes my girlfriend uncomfortable when I'm just like, Move your hand here and turn ten degrees counterclockwise.
posted by klangklangston at 9:49 AM on March 12, 2009


"Come on. Really? People look at the opposite sex. It's not a fucking mystery. Don't demonize it. Don't fill it with guilt, and then feel smug about pointing a finger at someone else."

People masturbate. It's not a mystery. Don't demonize the guy on the bus masturbating! It's natural! Don't make him feel guilty about spooging on the seats!
posted by klangklangston at 9:52 AM on March 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


Women don't realize the power they have to remind men of their utter uselessness. I would like to see them abuse this power more. (emphasis mine)
posted by Pastabagel at 12:12 PM on March 12 [1 favorite +] [!]

The vast majority, if not all of the work on the of hardware, operating system, web browser, server software and switches that got your post on to this MeFi thread was done by men.
posted by Scoo at 12:45 PM on March 12 [+] [!]

Fellas, fellas, relax. I don't think anyone here is arguing that men are actually emasculated in an effective and powerful way by the occasional embarrassment of a dismissive female gaze, or that women can wreak revenge on the constant, hilariously egregious onslaught of visual, cultural, and interpersonal misogyny, both obvious and oblique.

Are you? Because I have shit to do today and I can't sit around exerting unnecessary emotional energy trying to convince two more men that the ability to be sexy in no way countervails against inequality at large.
posted by zoomorphic at 9:53 AM on March 12, 2009 [27 favorites]


From the Gender in Ads PRoject page:
What films like Disclosure or works like Mamet’s Oleanna inaccurately portray is the idea that the male harassment of females has declined or that females are equally harassing men in society.
So you're trying to tell me that men are harassing women just as much as we did back in the bad old days? All that sensitivity training was a waste? Bullshit. We're getting better, but the definition of harassment keeps changing.
posted by cosmicbandito at 9:55 AM on March 12, 2009


People masturbate. It's not a mystery. Don't demonize the guy on the bus masturbating! It's natural! Don't make him feel guilty about spooging on the seats!

Well, I wasn't exactly advocating masturbating all over the bus about it...
posted by Avelwood at 9:58 AM on March 12, 2009


i can't watch the vids right now, but as for the gender ads project:

the issue isn't with the aesthetic or sexual pleasure of looking at women. it is the act of using that pleasure for the commodification of women. i agree that seeing an attractive member of the opposite sex and saying (hopefully to oneself) 'ring-a-ding-ding!' is natural. but capitalizing on that impulse by photographically dismembering a women in order to sell shit to people? yes, that is offensive. and it is ubiquitous. it deserves critique.
posted by barrett caulk at 10:03 AM on March 12, 2009 [8 favorites]


Why not? Do you feel guilty about masturbating?
posted by klangklangston at 10:03 AM on March 12, 2009


I'm just calling bullshit on Pastabagel's patently offensive assertion regarding the "utter uselessness" of men.
posted by Scoo at 10:03 AM on March 12, 2009


Also, hey, thanks OC, I hadn't seen those Beeb pieces before, and I'm sorry that every discussion of the male gaze inevitably turns to "It's natural to look at chicks, man!"
posted by klangklangston at 10:04 AM on March 12, 2009


As an interesting aside, the introduction to the pictures in the second link claims that men have more ways to harass women than vice versa. Is this really the case, or is it more that men are conditioned to ignore offense? Men are told to "suck it up," "man up," "don't be a whiner/pansy/etc." rather than lodging complaint with behavior short of physical abuse. Even in the case of domestic abuse, if a woman hits a man, a man may hide it for fear of being emasculated or mocked, even by authorities, to say nothing of psychological abuse.

This is not to say that women don't have it hard in society, but I think that women's ability to harass and objectify men is woefully underestimated by the sort of projects and essays like these.
posted by explosion at 10:07 AM on March 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm always curious about these formulations. What is it that you think men are doing when they look at women?

Okay, if you want a perfectly honest answer, I'll bite.

Considering the number of times I've been groped on the train and catcalled and called "sexy" (among other inappropriate things) over the phone at my workplace, not to mention sexual assaults on friends (and me personally), I pretty much assume that every man is thinking he has some right to my body and will treat me accordingly. This applies to every man except ones who have proven over and over that they will not treat me like shit. And sometimes I'm still kind of nervous to be alone with a guy I think I know pretty well.

I basically don't trust women either, considering no one did a damn thing a couple weeks ago when some guy grabbed my thigh on the train and I screamed bloody murder.

I know I'm probably an extreme case, but I also know that my experiences are not uncommon.

What men should be thinking when they look at me? "That is another human being who has every single right that I have."

The way a straight woman looks at a man and objectifies him does not carry the weight of a man objectifying a woman.
posted by giraffe at 10:09 AM on March 12, 2009 [20 favorites]


Why not? Do you feel guilty about masturbating?

On the bus, I suppose I would.
posted by Avelwood at 10:09 AM on March 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


I've long thought about creating a community blog with a few friends who have backgrounds in marketing and advertising about the insultingly stupid advertising marketed at woman, clearly invented by men. My particular bent would be the pesudo-science bullshit that they expect woman to accept; "Oooh, a hair dryer with IONS?!?" "Face cream with super co-q 10 enzyme!" "Drinking more milk will make me loose weight? OK!"

Every time I see that cadillac commercial where the "powerful" woman is driving a giant SUV, talking about dark chocolate and showing quick flashes of her stiletto-heeled long legs on the gas pedal-- I just about scream at the TV.

Thanks for the links Optimus. I've enjoyed 2D art, that fucks with the male gaze, and now enjoying learning about film that does the same.

Hannah Wilke, S.O.S Starification Object Series

Barbara Kruger, Your Gaze Hits the Side of my Face

Yasumasa Morimura, Portrait (Futago). Deals with gaze from a heterosexual, western european male perspective.

And while, not exactly art, The Lovers from the Rider-Waite Tarot Deck. The woman gazes at the angel. The man stares at the woman. Just about says it all doesn't it?
posted by fontophilic at 10:10 AM on March 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


I'm sorry that every discussion of the male gaze inevitably turns to "It's natural to look at chicks, man!"

I think what is being asked is what exactly is the issue? Are there problems with the way that individual men look at individual women? (obviously sometimes yes). If so, where does that line get drawn.

I don't think anyone here is arguing that men are actually emasculated in an effective and powerful way by the occasional embarrassment of a dismissive female gaze.

I think that a couple of people actually did. I think that some people do feel hurt in an effective and powerful way by the occasional embarrasment of a dismissive female gaze. Getting over that usually is the way to actually being a lot better in romantic interactions in my experience.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:10 AM on March 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


An open post to women who may be uncomfortable when I glance at their chest when they're asking me a question at work: I'm just looking at your ID badge to see what department and/or profession you're in, which will help me decide which resource will best answer your question. I do the same thing with the guys.

Honest.

P.S. Please don't attach your ID to your belt or waist; sometimes I have to squint to read it, and frankly, it makes me as uncomfortable to do so as it makes you.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:12 AM on March 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Certainly men "check out" women; women also "check out" men. It may not be quite so algorithmic, or quite so frankly biological, but it certainly happens. I'm pretty confident that if you did the sort of eye-tracking study Avelwood mentions above, and gave the results to an evolutionary psychologist, you'd find that the things women check out when they're sizing up men are derived from the same sort of mating strategies that lead men to look at and judge breasts, hips, legs, etc.

That the male gaze is regarded as more powerful or objectifying than the female one is probably less a result of any specific behavioral difference than due to the gender power imbalance more generally. Because men have the dominant position in most Western societies, their prospective-mate-evaluation criteria get weighted more heavily than women's, and thus the gaze -- the act of evaluating or being evaluated against those criteria -- is a more powerful act.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:13 AM on March 12, 2009 [10 favorites]


Women don't realize the power they have to remind men of their utter uselessness. I would like to see them abuse this power more.

Is fear of this the explanation for the single-minded and prudish repression of women in some cultures (and to some extent in all cultures)? E.g., burqas, role restrictions, and the like?
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:17 AM on March 12, 2009


well put, kadin2048.
posted by barrett caulk at 10:18 AM on March 12, 2009


I pretty much assume that every man is thinking he has some right to my body and will treat me accordingly. . .

What men should be thinking when they look at me? "That is another human being who has every single right that I have."


I don't think women think that when they look at men.

Either we are all equal as human beings or we are not. I'm voting for the we are equal part. Some of the frustration seen on threads like this is that we often see a sort of negative objectification of all men in threads like this and in popular culture. It gets confusing, because many times men who do not act like that feel pigeonholed and also feel like they are somehow being made to feel responsible for the acts of others which they never committed.

I'm fascinated by these dynamics. A few years back, a random woman (who I found unattractive) exposed her breasts to me while I was on a run in a public park around my home. She made a comment requesting that I "do her." It was the strangest encounter with another human I think I have ever had. I laughed and ran right by.

But unlike most women, I was not traumatized by this experience. I'm not sure why. The woman was significantly larger than me, yet I did not feel like I was ever in any danger of being forced to do something I did not like.

The way a straight woman looks at a man and objectifies him does not carry the weight of a man objectifying a woman.

I'd have to disagree. Either we are equal, and what an individual does is wrong or not, or collective guilt is a true phenomenon. I'm voting against collective guilt.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:29 AM on March 12, 2009 [4 favorites]


Now imagine that you're a woman and in magazines that are supposedly by and for women, a good chunk of the ads are based on photos of women, but disassembled, with only the "important" or "provocative" parts highlighted. The rest of the woman, the useless parts, are cast aside.
posted by zoomorphic at 10:32 AM on March 12, 2009


And while, not exactly art, The Lovers from the Rider-Waite Tarot Deck. The woman gazes at the angel. The man stares at the woman. Just about says it all doesn't it?

No, I really don't think this example applies. The card siginfies relationships. Is a man in a relationship not supposed to look at the woman? If you want to get all tarot-y about it, many people interpret this card as man seeing the divine through woman, or the connection to the cosmos or supernatural or what have you through partnership. I wouldn't take tarot cards as the be-all and end-all of gender issues, frankly; though the Rider-Waite deck was inked and painted by a totally kickass (IMO) woman- Pamela Colman-Smith. She rocks, and I really can't imagine her designing a card representative of what you'r thinking. But hey, it's a tarot card, you should read what seems right to you.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:32 AM on March 12, 2009


The vast majority, if not all of the work on the of hardware, operating system, web browser, server software and switches that got your post on to this MeFi thread was done by men.
posted by Scoo at 12:45 PM on March 12


First, I was sort of joking when I said men were utterly useless. And I realize that the ability of women to assert some control over a given situation in no way changes the overall dynamic in which women are objectified by men and in the media. I was simply trying to be funny, and in my own special way I failed miserably.

But scoo's response is kind of funny in its impotence. So what if those things are true? They don't at all improve the mens' posture in the sexual power dynamic being discussed here. You're good at computers? That's nice. Come over and fix mine, would you please, sweetie? But hurry, my ex-con boyfriend is picking me up for a date shortly.

For the same reason you gaze at women and don't care at all about the person you are staring at renders all these accomplishments meaningless. They aren't primary sexual characteristics, as we say. You get to objectify her as she passes by on the street, but she should be reminded of how great a guy you really are deep down inside before she dismisses you (your penis) as inadequate?
posted by Pastabagel at 10:34 AM on March 12, 2009


Everyone is just an object to most people almost all the time. I see a homeless person on the street or a business man or a father walking a baby in a fancy stroller and I am incurious about their inner life. It isn't just women. So baby, don't worry your pretty little head about it.
posted by I Foody at 10:35 AM on March 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


See, I looked at that tarot card, and thought the man was looking out at the viewer, rather than to the side at the woman. So much for that one, eh?

Fontophiliac, you should check out Target: Women. A comedian named Sarah Haskins has a weekly video segment where she skewers advertising that is specifically targetted at women, such as beauty products or yogurt.
posted by explosion at 10:35 AM on March 12, 2009 [7 favorites]


when I glance at their chest... I'm just looking at your ID badge to see what department and/or profession you're in

Please don't attach your ID to your belt or waist; sometimes I have to squint to read it, and frankly, it makes me as uncomfortable to do so as it makes you.


Might be one of those situations where you should just actually ask a question or two.
posted by naju at 10:37 AM on March 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


I'm just going to stop looking at everybody.
posted by vibrotronica at 10:38 AM on March 12, 2009


It isn't just women. So baby, don't worry your pretty little head about it.

Not helping.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:43 AM on March 12, 2009


Explosion. I lover her, watch it on Current whenever I can. The little theme song "Doot dee doo doot doo!" is so perfect. Also, to almost totally get off topic, New Texas-Style Yogurt To Feed Man-Size Hunger For Yogurt.
posted by fontophilic at 10:44 AM on March 12, 2009


Focusing on ads as espousing culturally approved gender dynamics is pretty lame; they are specifically designed to gain attention through any means necessary, and showing women as the lesser in power dynamics is a sure winner, especially if you want to quickly arouse interest.

Most of the bad ad images are for especially sexual products (lingerie, "fashion" spreads, men's lad mags) so it's not totally surprising they're going for the cheap shot. Also (through sociobiology?) men and women approach images and signifiers differently ("men want her, women want to be her") so misinterpreting these kinds of things is probably inevitable. Quick test for (hetero) men: open a gay magazine, do you feel objectified?
posted by sandking at 10:45 AM on March 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


I'm sorry, I just can't see it that way.
posted by RussHy at 10:48 AM on March 12, 2009


*sigh* Why does Pastabagel always seem to find some neo-freudian, misogynistic message wrapped up in the world?

Not to be offensive, really. You sound like a very interesting person.

You get to objectify her as she passes by on the street

Can I just say (I'm male) that I have "checked out" women; women I have been in relationships with; women whom I have known and valued as human beings. If the physical is all you see, then you should probably raise your standards. I just can't see how "Wow, she really has nice legs" necessarily equals not viewing someone as a human being. Can't I just appreciate a particular feature of a person because I like to? Put another way, does appreciating someone as smart or funny somehow mean you see them as an object? If I say, "Nice hair" when I see you on the street, does that mean I don't (or won't be able to) necessarily see the rest of your person too?
posted by Avelwood at 10:52 AM on March 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


yes, sandking, a little. but, being a man, there is not the same imbalance of economic and political power behind the objectification to warrant much concern. (also not a culture more-than-just-a-little-too-dismissive of systematic violence targeted specifically against my sex.)
posted by barrett caulk at 10:55 AM on March 12, 2009


The problem I have right off the bat with the Gender Ads Project -- which claims to be all about the "male gaze" -- is that a substantial number of the ads presented are from women's magazines, and thus intended to be consumed by women. Women are significantly involved in the process of producing the ads and the magazines in which they run. And women voluntarily buy these magazines... and look at the ads. I've been told by more than one woman that looking at the ads is in fact a large part of why women buy fashion magazines.

We can posit that this is purely a patriarchal conspiracy, in which the women involved in producing, editing, and consuming these magazines have no responsibility for their roles, because they're simply mindless pawns in a scheme devised and controlled by men. But doesn't this basically eliminate the moral agency -- and even the capacity for moral agency -- of women?

It reduces women to easily brainwashed dupes -- eternal helpless victims. If women are so easily manipulated, it actually suggests that they really are mentally inferior to men. (PLEASE NOTE: I don't actually believe any of this! I am married to a proud feminist, who is in many ways smarter and more capable than I am.)

If the Gender Ads Project explored these images in a more complex way, which included not only the male gaze, but also women's active, deliberate involvement in the production and consumption of these images, I could take it more seriously.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 10:57 AM on March 12, 2009 [7 favorites]


Can I just say (I'm male) that I have "checked out" women; women I have been in relationships with; women whom I have known and valued as human beings.

I will never forget--my first really feminist gf was coming out of the shower one day and she just looked so tremendous. I couldn't help it and blurted out "do you mind if I objectify you?" The biggest smile I think I've ever seen came over her face. She said no, she didn't mind at all.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:57 AM on March 12, 2009 [4 favorites]


But scoo's response is kind of funny in its impotence. So what if those things are true? They don't at all improve the mens' posture in the sexual power dynamic being discussed here.

You are flailing.
posted by Scoo at 10:59 AM on March 12, 2009


But unlike most women, I was not traumatized by this experience. I'm not sure why. The woman was significantly larger than me, yet I did not feel like I was ever in any danger of being forced to do something I did not like.

Because you usually aren't. Because women almost never rape men, and kill them in much smaller numbers than the reverse. Women grow up in a world where acts of violence by men against women are both in the news constantly, in the entertainment constantly, and have probably happened in some form to a woman they know.

In other words, the "mystery element" that gives power/adds a threat to the male gaze but not the female is the history of violence of men against women.

Having to even say this...having to, one more time, explain what it's like to be the gender that is commonly attacked, versus the one that does most of the attacking, and why that might make women skittish/paranoid/untrustful/depressed, makes me so frikking tired.

Google "rape culture" and read some feminist writings about that, ok? Or think about Darfur. Or rape camps in Serbia. Or any episode of Law and Order....
posted by emjaybee at 10:59 AM on March 12, 2009 [24 favorites]


What is it that you think men are doing when they look at women?

To be honest, I'm hoping they think I'm pretty. (I hope that's what they're thinking. Recently I've been entertaining the idea that they think I'm an immigrant stealing their job or a terrorist. That's unpleasant, so I'm hoping they're just thinking I'm pretty). I like being looked at, and I like looking at men. I usually daydream that they're my soulmate, and if I wasn't married, we would go to Italy and live in a castle (unicorns sold separately).

When they're looking at me, they're probably thinking something disgusting that I don't want to know about. Or the terrorist/immigrant thing. That's what dh tells me anyway.
posted by anniecat at 11:00 AM on March 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


I had always wondered why women gaze into shop windows as they walk past, until recently: what they are actually doing is looking at the reflection of whose behind them and whether that person is gazing at their ass.
posted by Samuel Farrow at 11:00 AM on March 12, 2009


"And now: "you're a prick." A person reduced to a part."

We have negative terminology for both male as well as female parts, and both are condescending. We also have words to refer to other body parts, some condescending, some not. Maybe its intuitive to think of many things as analgous organs that "do a job". In other words, I don't think its limited to namecalling, but definitely a big part of namecalling.

"John is a brain".. "Mary is an asshole".. "Right hand man" ... "Stacy is the mouth of the organization" " Doug is the face of the organization" "this is the 'guts' of the machine"

Reducing something to a part is often times a useful tool for communicating a point.

So lets make it clear... are we criticizing the message rather than the technique?
posted by 5imian at 11:03 AM on March 12, 2009


"I'd have to disagree. Either we are equal, and what an individual does is wrong or not, or collective guilt is a true phenomenon. I'm voting against collective guilt."

You misunderstand equality the same way that folks who think that eliminating affirmative action is the way to make sure that minorities succeed do.

First off, it starts from a normative position, which is itself a privilege and a power: my conception of equality is the normal one, and the one by which moral and ethical behavior is judged. Second, it ignores the practicality of power. A rich man and a poor man are equal under the law, they have the same rights guaranteed and defended. that doesn't mean that they have equal opportunity or power, or that they are practical social equals. In fact, for guys having a hard time getting this, that may be an easier way to think about it: Rich people are more likely to have opportunities to succeed and consolidate power than poor people. Similarly, attractive people are more likely to be taken seriously when they voice an opinion. Are their actual opinions a dependent variable of their attractiveness or wealth? No. Their opinions are "equal" to those of others, but they're received with more credence. Now, I understand that the easy response there is, well, the world isn't fair, whatchagonnado, but can you understand why that would be galling? I know when I was stuck in meetings with a charismatic dumbass whom everyone listened to despite his being wrong, it was pretty annoying. Imagine if that dumbass then controlled the vast majority of economic power in the world, along with physical power, and both of those influenced sexual power. Despite the fact that intellectually, you're his equal (or better). (In fact, at my last job, the problem was far less charisma and far more nepotism. Having my work fucked up by an asshole who only had his job above me because he was the boss's wife's brother was endlessly galling, despite the fact that we're "equals").

This is, similarly, the problem with calls for "meritocracy." That's a great idea in theory, where everyone is equal before objective measurements, but thems that decide what to measure are always gonna assume that the ideal result of the measurement is folks like them.

So, for women, that objectifying look, those ads, they're a constant reminder that they didn't set up the rules of the game, and that despite being equal as individuals, they lack the power to defend their rights to equality. It has very little to do with individualism or collective guilt, that's all a bit of a red herring.
posted by klangklangston at 11:03 AM on March 12, 2009 [21 favorites]


Ironmouth,

But unlike most women, I was not traumatized by this experience. I'm not sure why. The woman was significantly larger than me, yet I did not feel like I was ever in any danger of being forced to do something I did not like.

Without getting hysterical, I'd say it comes down to anxiety of rape, or more correctly the perceived threat of rape. You've got a penis. For a woman to coerce you in to sex, she's got to seduce you. Men just have to be brutal. You weren't threatened by her.

Women have been taught to believe that they are threatened, dis-empowered, and constantly under threat of rape. They're not safe alone at night, not safe without a husband/father, etc. More on that was said a few weeks ago in Yes means Yes.
posted by fontophilic at 11:05 AM on March 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


A rich man and a poor man are equal under the law

You have obviously never lived in California.
posted by Avelwood at 11:05 AM on March 12, 2009


But why is "you're a prick" insulting?

In the context you're using it, to describe someone who would enjoy those ads, it isn't, it's silly. To express anger(frustration ?) at someone enjoying generalized versions of women, they are lumped into generalized categories of men. That doesn't really solve anything.

You say "It you can look at the majority of these images without disgust or revulsion or sadness, I don't know what to tell you." If there are 60 ads, what does it mean if a person likes a 10 of them? 29 of them? 31 of them? I personally work in print design and production, what does it mean if I like the ads on that level? What does it mean or matter if man looks at women as an object, what harm is there?

a good chunk of the ads are based on photos of women, but disassembled, with only the "important" or "provocative" parts highlighted

We're visual creatures and that's what we react to at first, right or wrong. You're not going to sell many things by saying so so is smart or has a good personality.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:06 AM on March 12, 2009


Oh and scoo? Are you implying that, if there were no men/no sexism that privileged men in technical fields, women could not be capable of inventing all those things? That only men could do that?

Apparently, you haven't heard of Ada Lovelace and many other women involved in the invention of computers and computer science?
posted by emjaybee at 11:06 AM on March 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


But unlike most women, I was not traumatized by this experience. I'm not sure why. The woman was significantly larger than me, yet I did not feel like I was ever in any danger of being forced to do something I did not like.

Ironmouth, I don't want to speak for you or otherwise make assumptions about you, but the discrepancy could be a result of the different expectations we have for each gender. Lots of women are told over and over as they're growing up that they have something special that they need to protect and any sexual contact (outside of marriage, of course) will spoil them. That has been the experience my closest female friends and I have grown up with. And Wanda Sykes did a funny bit about it.

Whether it's deliberate or not, a lot of girls grow into women with subtle cues that they do not have equal standing with men and that they are supposed to submit to men (things that have come up for me recently: father "giving me away" at my wedding, no thanks; taking a husband's name, being Mrs. HisFirstName HisSurname"). For every woman who fought for equality, another woman has told her daughter that men don't like women who speak up.

Men have all sorts of societal expectations as well (Susan Bordo's The Male Body is a great read and I learned a lot from reading it) and I don't mean to belittle them, but I still believe that the male gaze is more hostile than the average woman's objectification of a man. It's nothing personal and I'm sure there are a lot of great feminist men out there and it is unfair for me to be prejudiced against all men because of a few bad ones. It's a defense mechanism.

Sorry it took me roughly a thousand years to reply. On preview, exactly what fontophilic said.
posted by giraffe at 11:08 AM on March 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


The way a straight woman looks at a man and objectifies him sexually does not carry the weight of a man objectifying a woman's body.

Beyond those bounds, that statement loses a lot of its punch and accuracy.

There exist men who for whatever reason seem to have a short in their brains that turns "I want her" into "I'm entitled to do whatever I like to get that." That's true, and that's a problem, and that's the kind of problem you work on. The idea that there's meaning behind and dynamics set in motion by "the gaze" may be more or less valid, but the idea that it's a tool of patriarchal oppression or some other kind of similar problem to be solved is pretty dubious, and there seems to be some confusion about that here.
posted by namespan at 11:11 AM on March 12, 2009


It's all about social value. People are attracted, on a lizard-brain emotional level, to other people of higher social value. For women, it's mostly tied to looks -- an attractive woman has high social value. For men, it's mostly tied to behavior -- women infer your social value from how you interact with other people and by how they interact with you.

Had a weird thought the other day: Is it possible to tell whether a guy is cool vs. creepy without watching him interact socially?

Wanna try something crazy? As a guy, go out to a club with a bunch of cool guys who respect you regard you as their leader and a bunch of attractive girls who all want to get you into bed and are vying for your attention.... EVERY woman in there will be checking you out. If you, the SAME GUY, walked into the same club by yourself, acting all insecure, not talking with anybody, staring at all the women... women will avoid you like the plague. (I want to set up these two scenarios and go all hidden-camera on them.)

If you regard yourself as a 9, you're not interested in 6s. But if see yourself as a 6, you'll do about anything to win the approval of a 9. "Oh god, I'm just a lowly 6... if I could have a 9 in my life, everything would be so wonderful..." And you will stare, reflexively so. Lizard brain goes WANT. WANT! WANT!! The more attractive the woman, the more uncontrollable the urge will be.

So, guys: When you gawk at a woman, you'll telling her very clearly, on a deep, emotional level, that you're not in her league. And you're telling the same to any woman watching from afar. "Hey, everybody -- I'm not in her league! I'm a crappy, insecure guy!!" Way to announce your inadequacy to the entire room! By the time you finally work up the courage to talk to her (or anybody else on her level), you're already sunk.

Just food for thought the next time you catch yourself staring...
posted by LordSludge at 11:15 AM on March 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


I don't think anyone here is arguing that men are actually emasculated in an effective and powerful way by the occasional embarrassment of a dismissive female gaze, or that women can wreak revenge on the constant, hilariously egregious onslaught of visual, cultural, and interpersonal misogyny, both obvious and oblique.

Actually, I would argue exactly that, and I don't think it's hard to observe at work if you're looking.

Because I have shit to do today and I can't sit around exerting unnecessary emotional energy trying to convince two more men that the ability to be sexy in no way countervails against inequality at large.

If you're arguing that no power dynamic is a better solution than working for an equitable society, or even that certain specific advantages women have may not outweigh some of the shit they get, I'm behind that.

If you're arguing that women do not, via "sexiness" among other things, have real advantages, then I'm glad you have other things to do today, because you certainly weren't going to say anything enlightening on the topic.
posted by namespan at 11:16 AM on March 12, 2009


Just food for thought the next time you catch yourself staring...

I can't say that I agree with that across the board, but it's nice food for thought. Nice point.
posted by Avelwood at 11:21 AM on March 12, 2009


who peeps the peeper?
posted by snofoam at 11:22 AM on March 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


"What men should be thinking when they look at me? 'That is another human being who has every single right that I have.'"

I don't know if we'll ever get to that point, but it would be good enough if people could keep their impulses under control. If there's enough social pressure for men to keep it in their pants, particularly if that pressure comes from other men they consider peers, they probably will. But it starts with how mothers and fathers teach their kids.
posted by krinklyfig at 11:23 AM on March 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


What men should be thinking when they look at me? "That is another human being who has every single right that I have."

Thanks for tackling this question directly and honestly. But isn't that more of a principle we wish everyone maintained at all times, rather than a natural human reaction to looking at a cute person?

The way a straight woman looks at a man and objectifies him does not carry the weight of a man objectifying a woman.

That's true. But this may be because women assign it more weight, as much as it might be due to male privilege/dominance/oppression.

I think it's also safe to generalize that men are not concerned with concealing their looking as much as women are, and/or men aren't as good at concealing.
posted by msalt at 11:27 AM on March 12, 2009


But this may be because women assign it more weight, as much as it might be due to male privilege/dominance/oppression.

expound, please, on why women assign it more weight, if not for male privilege/dominance/opression.
posted by barrett caulk at 11:31 AM on March 12, 2009


the idea that it's a tool of patriarchal oppression or some other kind of similar problem to be solved is pretty dubious

When men publicly objectify women it validates misogynists. What people do privately is their business, but when you create an ad that reduces a woman to T&A, you are telling every woman hater out there that it's okay to not see women as equals. You are telling people that it's okay to see women as mere vehicles to sell vodka and cars.

Okay, so a man doesn't beat his wife because he saw an ad in a magazine, but it certainly doesn't create any forward momentum for the women's movement either.

But this may be because women assign it more weight, as much as it might be due to male privilege/dominance/oppression.

I think we assign the weight because of the history of male privilege/dominance/oppression. Does that make sense? I hate trying to make a statement on behalf of my entire gender.
posted by giraffe at 11:34 AM on March 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


Actually, I would argue exactly that, and I don't think it's hard to observe at work if you're looking.

LA JOLLA, CA - The birds are singing again. Children weep in the street. A man looked at a woman; she dismissed him with a terrible countenance and the sprawling edifice of the patriarchy crumbled. Once I had eyes but they are gone and where they were the skin is taut and fine and new. All the reporters are like this now. Thank you nameless woman. We will carve what we remember of your face into the chests of the men who lie lifeless in the street.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 11:35 AM on March 12, 2009 [4 favorites]


Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to imply that only men objectify women. Women who make ads who objectify women are just as guilty.
posted by giraffe at 11:40 AM on March 12, 2009


In other words, the "mystery element" that gives power/adds a threat to the male gaze but not the female is the history of violence of men against women.

This. This is the problem. Not the gaze, the violence.

Having to even say this...having to, one more time, explain what it's like to be the gender that is commonly attacked, versus the one that does most of the attacking, and why that might make women skittish/paranoid/untrustful/depressed, makes me so frikking tired.

You have a chance to explain a good point to someone like Ironmouth who, while he doesn't have your perspective, is being fairly reasonably about the conversation, and probably is well-informed by your point. It's an opportunity.

It'd be nice if you could explain something like this once and for all and if everybody was so well practiced in seeing things from other people's perspectives that this all just went without saying, but until somebody figures that problem out, we're all going to have to explain things that are obvious from our own perspectives that may not be immediately apparent to someone else. I didn't get this either until I had a good conversation with a girlfriend about it a decade ago.
posted by namespan at 11:40 AM on March 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


The way a straight woman looks at a man and objectifies him does not carry the weight of a man objectifying a woman.

That's true. But this may be because women assign it more weight, as much as it might be due to male privilege/dominance/oppression.


These are not separate.

Women don’t assign the male gaze more weight out of some quirky perversity. They assign it more weight because, in almost all of history until very very recently, men had more power, vastly more power, over women. And if you are in a subordinate relation to another person, it behooves you to be aware of their possible moods and actions at all times.

The media culture we have now is the result of thousands of years of inequal relations; which does not mean that there can’t be any “natural” non-socialized reasons to look at a woman lustfully, just that that “natural” action has been linked for several centuries with oppression and violence for many many women, and so it is not experienced as a pleasant, non-threatening event.

And yeah, “being sexy” is not a power. It is a strategy designed to make you appeal to a more powerful group so that they will give you approval and/or protection. It is also a fear-grin strategy—and if you as a woman don’t do it, if you dare to be “ugly” or “unsexy” in public, then the amount of rage you generate in men who don’t even know you is astonishing. Because you are not fear-grinning, not posturing, not attempting to please; and therefore, not acting the subordinate ego stroker. Men who are rejected by women are caught in this bind; she is trying to attract, but not trying to attract you. But she is still playing the game, still striking the necessary posture.
posted by emjaybee at 11:42 AM on March 12, 2009 [26 favorites]


You know, just to toss this into the conversation, according to this study (PDF warning), when you track the eye movements of men and women when viewing sexual/pornographic images:
Men spent more time, and had a higher probability of, looking at female faces. NC [normal menstrual cycle] Women had more first looks towards, spent more time, and had a higher probability of, looking at genitals.
posted by LooseFilter at 11:44 AM on March 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh and scoo? Are you implying that, if there were no men/no sexism that privileged men in technical fields, women could not be capable of inventing all those things? That only men could do that?

No I was not. Personally I think a lack of interest, rather than aptitude is why there are relatively few techie gals.

It would be reasonable to infer that I think Pastabagel is kind of a drag to hang out with though.
posted by Scoo at 11:44 AM on March 12, 2009


Okay -- I have this stuck in my head now.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:45 AM on March 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Me: But this may be because women assign it more weight, as much as it might be due to male privilege/dominance/oppression.

bc: expound, please, on why women assign it more weight, if not for male privilege/dominance/opression.

I don't claim to understand or know why humans do every thing they do. In fact, I think one of the biggest problems with gender studies is the perceived need to explain everything. The explanations are never completely right and lead to dumb arguments.

If we start by carefully observing what is happening, without jumping ahead to theoretical constructs about why and whose fault it is, it might be easier to make progress.

An important point though is that if women have a role in assigning more or less weight to men's glares, they have the power to change the effect of those glares regardless of what men do or think.
posted by msalt at 11:47 AM on March 12, 2009


Men have all sorts of societal expectations as well (Susan Bordo's The Male Body is a great read and I learned a lot from reading it) and I don't mean to belittle them, but I still believe that the male gaze is more hostile than the average woman's objectification of a man. It's nothing personal and I'm sure there are a lot of great feminist men out there and it is unfair for me to be prejudiced against all men because of a few bad ones. It's a defense mechanism.

That's exactly what I'm getting at. First, I think that women are taught not to fight when things go wrong, which is a lot of what I said in the earlier thread, yes means yes. I had an enlightenting talk with a woman friend right after reading that thread. According to her, women are often taught (by other women) that what the man says is right, etc. That is bad.

I also understand it is a defense mechanism. I have similar defense mechanisms against women from the times that I have been hurt. The problem is that our emotional defense mechanisms seem incapable of nuance and fall more into the "stove hot don't touch!" variety. I struggle with it daily.

For me the problem is when people put other persons' every day activities into the mix. There's a constant push-pull here. Men are expected in romantic interactions to make the major steps (asking out, initiating first sexual contact etc.), yet often see others castigated for doing just that. Not easy.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:49 AM on March 12, 2009


When men publicly objectify women it validates misogynists. What people do privately is their business, but when you create an ad that reduces a woman to T&A, you are telling every woman hater out there that it's okay to not see women as equals. You are telling people that it's okay to see women as mere vehicles to sell vodka and cars.

Umm... I agree?

To highlight that moment, that excitement, that thrill of new things. That is advertising. It is designed to catch your eye. It wants you to revel in that moment. Is that wrong?

If you spend your entire life thinking you're at a beach party, then, sure, I would argue that there is a problem. But movies, television, and books all involve taking yourself out of the world and focusing on something that is not going on around you. Advertising asks you to do that because they want you to associate that moment on the beach or in a club when someone was looking at you with their product. Such things catch the attention of us humans. Such is the nature of the beast. Could we do without it? Sure. Does it drive people to believe some of us are less than human? Maybe. Will it go away? Probably not. It's done purposefully, but not for the reasons you think.

patriarchy crumbled
Ahh... If only...
posted by Avelwood at 11:51 AM on March 12, 2009


"But unlike most women, I was not traumatized by this experience. I'm not sure why. The woman was significantly larger than me, yet I did not feel like I was ever in any danger of being forced to do something I did not like."

You don't know why it didn't bother you, but you don't understand why women can feel victimized as a group? Why does this not surprise me?
posted by krinklyfig at 11:55 AM on March 12, 2009


And yeah, “being sexy” is not a power.

Having anything other people want is one form of power. Especially if they have no way to get it from you other than your assent.

If you have no choice but to trade it for something else you need more that someone else has and you have no other way to get, then there's still a power imbalance. But that doesn't make it not power.
posted by namespan at 11:58 AM on March 12, 2009


It's not really power if it makes you feel powerless. I can't just hang my tits up next to my coat when I get home.
posted by giraffe at 12:03 PM on March 12, 2009 [4 favorites]


An important point though is that if women have a role in assigning more or less weight to men's glares, they have the power to change the effect of those glares regardless of what men do or think.

feeling you, msalt. but i would submit that parsing probable motives, decoding mass imagery, creating theoretical constructs, and the like are part of the process by which women can gain the power you describe. gender studies are a means to that end.
posted by barrett caulk at 12:06 PM on March 12, 2009


and what is the ultimate value of a 'power' whose nature and limits are defined for you, not by you? it may be 'power' in some sense, but who wouldn't prefer to define and create their own power?
posted by barrett caulk at 12:11 PM on March 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


*ahem* the above, of course, directed to the exchange between namespan and giraffe.
posted by barrett caulk at 12:12 PM on March 12, 2009


Okay.

Look. People of both genders are going to check out people of both genders. And This is okay. Yes, empirically there has been greater social weight behind the male looking at the female, or a greater power struggle or what have you, but -- on an individual basis, your average schlub checking out your average girl is not thinking "lo, for I am man and I have this privilege behind me and I am endowed with a greater right." No, he's an average schlub, whose entire thought process -- if it can even BE verbalized -- is nothing more than, "hey, she's kinda hot."

And depending on how he comports himself during the looking, that is okay. It's not the guys checking me out that feels icky, it's the guys that do so with the full-on locked-in intense stare that does so. But that's more of a basic courtesy thing in my opinion -- looking at anyone with that kind of naked and aggressive covetousness is just...creepy. But just the quick glance, or a double-take? I don't see anything wrong with that, personally, and I don't see that your average schlub doing a double-take at a woman going by is striking any kind of blow for the patriarchy or anything. It's just a guy checking someone out, and the fact that he's just glancing means he's also being respectful not to totally creep her out, and that's...a good thing.

As for the objectification of ads...well, yes, it's tacky. But there are bigger issues to tackle first, I think, and so I find it hard to get very incensed about those kinds of ads when there is still domestic abuse, female genital mutilation, and other more severe ills in the world. Yes, yes, I know about the arguments about creating-a-culture-of-misogyny-and-yadda-yadda-yadda, but I find it hard to take those kinds of arguments seriously when the tools in question can be so easily dismissed with an eyeroll and a shrug and the comment that, "whatever, that's just tacky."

It's an interesting philosophical discussion, this, but on a hands-on practical level, we've got bigger fish to fry. In my opinion.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:13 PM on March 12, 2009 [4 favorites]


You don't know why it didn't bother you, but you don't understand why women can feel victimized as a group? Why does this not surprise me?

I don't understand how men can get blamed as a group. Either we believe in individual responsibility or not. Either collective guilt exists or it does not. I oppose collective blame while understanding its origins. Your argumentless snark aside, not all men threaten women or act in the ways which have been laid out in this thread. Does that mean that all men should be castigated for what some men do? Or for finding themselves looking at women while feeling attracted to them? I say no.

feeling you, msalt. but i would submit that parsing probable motives, decoding mass imagery, creating theoretical constructs, and the like are part of the process by which women can gain the power you describe.

Aaah that would be the what's good for the goose is what's good for the gander. Parsing probable motives, decoding mass imagery and creating theoretical constructs are doing the exact thing that white men have done for centuries--reducing individual human beings to mere thoughts--objectifying them, if you will.

The answer to stereotyping by dominant groups isn't the stereotyping of the dominant group in an attempt to "even the score." Theoretical constructs which attempt to tell us exactly what all men are thinking when they gaze at women are the exact same thing as what male culture has done for centuries.

We can't get off easy by blaming all men or women for this or any other problem. Whether we like it or not, the answer is more knowledge about individuals and less assumptions about them. Certainly not the easy answer, but the one with the most possibility of change.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:21 PM on March 12, 2009


Having anything other people want is one form of power. Especially if they have no way to get it from you other than your assent.

But, see, they do have other ways to 'get it' from you, if by that you mean sex. That's kind of the problem, isn't it?
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 12:22 PM on March 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


I will point out it goes both ways.

look at this ad from the list.

There a woman in a bikini. Yes she is objectified. Now, whats the ad about? Its about male insecurity. Look at the car, its a sexy sportscar. Its even closer to the camera than the woman.

Many men judge women by appearance, much like many women judge men by wallets, and this admittedly superficial ad has a little bit of bitterness for both sexes.

Want the rich man? better have the body,and the face. The only solution is to buy!

Want the woman? better have the car (and tires). If you don't have these things, you're "unselectable". The only solution is to buy!

Get what i'm saying?
posted by 5imian at 12:23 PM on March 12, 2009


and what is the ultimate value of a 'power' whose nature and limits are defined for you, not by you?

I can't think of any kind of power off the top of my head that doesn't fit this description.

It's not really power if it makes you feel powerless.

This isn't anymore true than the idea that something is power if it makes you feel powerful. That is to say, there is a kind of power in feeling powerful, but it is so far from the whole story that it's problematic at best to make any kind of strict equivalence or even dependency about it.

I can't just hang my tits up next to my coat when I get home.

Objectification indeed.
posted by namespan at 12:27 PM on March 12, 2009


I will follow up by saying I really hope we don't exclusively determine what the other sex thinks of us from advertisements, because that would just leave me depressed.

Advertisements. Fuck em.
posted by 5imian at 12:28 PM on March 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


abstracting concrete behaviors is a form of objectification, sure. but i believe intent is worth consideration: if the intent is to critique perceived oppressive power structures, this is a worthy endeavor. the same process used to subjugate a population is a horse of a different color.
posted by barrett caulk at 12:30 PM on March 12, 2009


There a woman in a bikini. Yes she is objectified. Now, whats the ad about? Its about male insecurity. Look at the car, its a sexy sportscar. Its even closer to the camera than the woman.

What is ironic about all of this is that it took women speaking up about this for men to notice that it is being done to them too. I'm looking at you Axe hair team!
posted by Ironmouth at 12:31 PM on March 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


msalt: An important point though is that if women have a role in assigning more or less weight to men's glares, they have the power to change the effect of those glares regardless of what men do or think.

Women may have a certain amount of power to alter how they as individuals feel or behave in response to the male gaze, but no, they do not have the power to change the effect of those glares upon all women as a group "regardless of what men do or think." Why? Because the reasons that women assign the male gaze more weight are driven by the long-term, systemic effects of living under patriarchy*. It's a survival strategy. They learn to assign it more weight, because it is linked with the ever-present threat of violence.

As emjaybee writes:

...if you are in a subordinate relation to another person, it behooves you to be aware of their possible moods and actions at all times.

The power of expectations to shape human behavior is enormous and should not be underestimated. (See Marilyn Frye's essay "In and Out of Harm's Way/The Arrogant Eye" in The Politics of Reality: Essays in Feminist Theory for an interesting take on this). When you grow up in a culture where sexual meanings are imposed upon your every movement without your consent, backed up by the implicit and ubiquitous threat of rape, harassment, or other violence, you learn to exercise extreme vigilance, lest you become one of the statistics.

*patriarchy =! "men". Criticism of gender oppression does not mean "all men - each and every one of them - are at fault because they are oppressive people." Patriarchy is a social system, which can't be reduced to the individual behaviors of the people who participate in it. Don't lose sight of the forest for the trees.
posted by velvet winter at 12:34 PM on March 12, 2009 [5 favorites]


abstracting concrete behaviors is a form of objectification, sure. but i believe intent is worth consideration: if the intent is to critique perceived oppressive power structures, this is a worthy endeavor. the same process used to subjugate a population is a horse of a different color.

There's no such thing as measurable sex-wide intent. Indeed, there is no such thing as sex-wide intent, because there is no massive "male brain" on the far side of the moon directing objectification for every man on Earth. It does not exist. I suppose all black men want to sleep with white women and all Jewish men are looking for their shiska. Hardly.

Weak scholarship attempts to rely on generalizations.

Either it is wrong to make an assumption about someone based on their sex, gender or appearance or it is not. As soon as we travel down that path, we are on the way to distortions that make it impossible to find common ground.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:37 PM on March 12, 2009


backed up by the implicit and ubiquitous threat of rape, harassment, or other violence, you learn to exercise extreme vigilance, lest you become one of the statistics.

The idea of an "implicit" threat of rape is based on a stereotype. Not only that but such scattershot and stereotypical ways of looking at people make it harder for people to develop effective, targetted responses to the problem of sexual violence. Believing every man to be a rapist encourages giving up trying to change things.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:41 PM on March 12, 2009


*patriarchy =! "men". Criticism of gender oppression does not mean "all men - each and every one of them - are at fault because they are oppressive people."

Overanalyzing the fact that guys look at women and finding oppression within the average person checking someone out is exactly what you say it is not.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:44 PM on March 12, 2009


natch, ironmouth. but there are patterns that can be surmised from repeated actions of different groups of human beings. i think your examples above a bit of a distortion of the argument. we agree that you cannot make an assumption about an individual based on the criteria you listed, but it's fair to make assumptions about how historically men have used media to define women's role in society. that doesn't condemn any individual man, it merely describes a social dynamic.
posted by barrett caulk at 12:47 PM on March 12, 2009


The idea of an "implicit" threat of rape is based on a stereotype.

I agree with this one one level, but not on another. My understanding of the female perspective is that it's not so much assigning a gender-wide stereotype as it is a level of risk analysis: what are the chances that someone is going to cross my boundaries without my permission or even harm me? They're probably not even that high, but they're high enough that being cautious and prepared makes sense.

Men have to do this kind of risk analysis too. In fact, I've read some studies that suggest that until about age 25, twice the number men are victims of violence. The factors behind it are probably pretty different, and if I recall correctly, more focused towards poorer people... which is one reason why run-down neighborhoods might have you wary, despite the fact that most poor people aren't interested in mugging you.
posted by namespan at 12:54 PM on March 12, 2009


we agree that you cannot make an assumption about an individual based on the criteria you listed, but it's fair to make assumptions about how historically men have used media to define women's role in society. that doesn't condemn any individual man, it merely describes a social dynamic.

But you fail to see your own assumptions behind all of that--that, for example the key issue for why this all occurs is the "maleness" of those creators of things. Why is it not their social class, or their color of skin or anything else? At the bottom of all of these theories is that somehow it is to the benefit of the "men" that this is done and that therefore, "men" are responsible.

That's a very debatable point, especially when it appears that women do most of the enforcing of these oppressive rules. Instead of this being a men v. women problem, why not see it as a systemic one, where both men and women react in certain ways to things, to the detriment of both? These are complex social rituals and the like and frankly, they don't necessarily always benefit men. In fact I think that some of the elements of our system benefit women in a short-term, personal sense and they stick to that view because it helps them short term, while hurting women over all. There is no examination of how women's decisions play into this. Because there are some advantages that the system gives women in a short term, individual sense which hurt women in a collective sense.

Take, for example, the idea that men are supposed to be the person asking a woman out and supposed to be the person initiating sexual contact. Overall, this hurts women because men who are attracted to women often assert themselves in situations where the woman does not want it. This hurts society a lot.

But it also forces the man to make the first move in a negotiation, which is an excellent position of personal power in an individual situation. I think that people make these sorts of short-term trade offs all the time without thinking about what the long-term effects are.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:57 PM on March 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


This isn't anymore true than the idea that something is power if it makes you feel powerful. That is to say, there is a kind of power in feeling powerful, but it is so far from the whole story that it's problematic at best to make any kind of strict equivalence or even dependency about it.

Power by definition is having control. So yes, some women can control men with their bodies. Other women find that their bodies work against them.

And if you can come up with a better body part that immediately identifies femaleness and can be seen in public, I'd like to hear it. I don't like saying "oh well you don't understand because you're not a woman!!!1!!" but it's very difficult to understand until you walk a mile in a woman's double D's. And by "walk a mile," I really mean "walk down the street and not get leered at."

Some women feel good about this attention. Some women do not. Neither way is the "correct" way to feel. The woman who feels good finds power within herself. The woman who does not feel good finds herself powerless to control the situation.

My understanding of the female perspective is that it's not so much assigning a gender-wide stereotype as it is a level of risk analysis...

This exactly. Nothing personal, guys, but paranoid vigilance makes me feel like I have greater control over my situation.
posted by giraffe at 12:58 PM on March 12, 2009


why characterize it as overanalyzing? if a significant number of women find being stared at threatening, or even merely distasteful, it is fair and socially valuable to try to determine the reasons behind that.
posted by barrett caulk at 1:00 PM on March 12, 2009 [5 favorites]


"Either it is wrong to make an assumption about someone based on their sex, gender or appearance or it is not. As soon as we travel down that path, we are on the way to distortions that make it impossible to find common ground."

Your argument assumes we exist in a vacuum, without any history, societal pressures or social mores. It's sort of like when people claim that racism is the same no matter who it is; that racism against Anglos, for instance, is the same as racism against African-Americans. No, sorry, it's not. Only when you remove all context.
posted by krinklyfig at 1:01 PM on March 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


golly, i am just to slow at this . . .
posted by barrett caulk at 1:01 PM on March 12, 2009


Overanalyzing the fact that guys look at women and finding oppression within the average person checking someone out is exactly what you say it is not.

I do not locate oppression within an individual person - that's the whole point I was trying to make, in fact. I am pointing to the overall systemic patterns in a patriarchal culture, rather than pointing fingers at individuals and blaming men as a group. That's a critical distinction.

Most men aren't rapists. Lots of men are warm and loving, in fact. That doesn't change the fact that women grow up in a culture where the threat of rape and other violence shapes their behavior.
posted by velvet winter at 1:03 PM on March 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


I know what you mean, barrett caulk. The one day I actually have something arguably decent to contribute is the one day where I have actual work to do.

If only I could somehow pin the blame on the patriarchy.
posted by giraffe at 1:04 PM on March 12, 2009


The idea of an "implicit" threat of rape is based on a stereotype.

No, my friend, it is based on experience and statistics. I don't stereotype men as rapists; but I am told, in no uncertain terms, by my culture, by history, by the crime statistics, and by my friends who are survivors, that some men are. That you can't tell who is who by looking. That most rapists are known to their victims, and most people outside the relationship have trouble believing he would do something like that. That when it happens to you, if you have been drinking, if you were wearing something remotely "sexy" if you had no witnesses, he may never see the inside of a jail or pay any penalty.

That (and here's the ironic part) if I, as a woman, for some reason don't scrutinize every action of every man around me all the time, and one of them attacks me when I didn't see it coming, it was somehow my fault, for not paying attention/leaving my house/going down that street/into that bar/into that guy's apartment/trusting the guy who claimed he was a cop/etc. etc. Seriously, follow any high-level rape trial...hey, follow Rhianna's beating media coverage. How many people came out to apologize for Chris Brown even though he gave her visible wounds?

I'm married to a man. I don't think most men are rapists; I understand many men's anger at being seen in that way. At the same time, the injustice of being falsely suspected of being a potential rapist is not equivalent to the injustice of walking around in the world every day worrying about being attacked by an actual one. Or even the injustice of dealing with a media that uses women's bodies as shorthand for "sex" in a way that men's are not, that portrays us as nothing but our body parts.
posted by emjaybee at 1:07 PM on March 12, 2009 [15 favorites]


Ironmouth: not all men threaten women or act in the ways which have been laid out in this thread. Does that mean that all men should be castigated for what some men do?

Have you read Jackson Katz's work? You might be interested in, say, The Macho Paradox: Why Some Men Hurt Women and How All Men Can Help. He agrees that "If the goal is to inspire more men to engage in transformative action, we need to do more than simply tell them to stop behaving badly". And, after having cited many statistics documenting how the primary perpetrators of violence, against girls, women, boys, and other men, are men (but of course, he points out, we hear about these things so often that many of us are now tune them out) - he makes a distinction between guilt and responsibility, "We're not guilty because we're men. We're responsible - because we're men - either for speaking out or for not speaking out about other men's violence."

I realize that many would object that "violence" isn't what this post is about directly, but most women who've had stares, catcalls etc escalate to abusive verbal or body language, consider such gazes, for safety's sake, to be inseparable from the potential for violence.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 1:09 PM on March 12, 2009 [6 favorites]


"I don't understand how men can get blamed as a group. Either we believe in individual responsibility or not. Either collective guilt exists or it does not. I oppose collective blame while understanding its origins. Your argumentless snark aside, not all men threaten women or act in the ways which have been laid out in this thread. Does that mean that all men should be castigated for what some men do? Or for finding themselves looking at women while feeling attracted to them? I say no."

Jesus, did you not read what I said about this already?

"Instead of this being a men v. women problem, why not see it as a systemic one, where both men and women react in certain ways to things, to the detriment of both? These are complex social rituals and the like and frankly, they don't necessarily always benefit men."

FEMINISM ALREADY DOES THIS.

Male power advantages men on the whole while disadvantaging individual men. Just like it works against women on the whole while advantaging some individual women. These advertisements, and the concept of the Male Gaze in general are mechanisms by which that happens.

Systemic thinking requires you to get over your bullshit about "collective guilt." It's like flipping a coin—theoretically, it could come out heads every time if the flips are independent. However, if a coin flip keeps coming up heads, how many times does that need to happen before you wonder if it's rigged?
posted by klangklangston at 1:13 PM on March 12, 2009 [8 favorites]


Your argument assumes we exist in a vacuum, without any history, societal pressures or social mores. It's sort of like when people claim that racism is the same no matter who it is; that racism against Anglos, for instance, is the same as racism against African-Americans. No, sorry, it's not. Only when you remove all context.

For racism to be wrong, it must be the same. Otherwise you get special pleading, which is wrong. Our laws treat racist acts against whites by blacks and hispanics the same as racist acts against blacks by whites. (Disclaimer, I am a civil rights attorney). Our very system is based on the premise that it is exactly the same--that all are created equal. It is very much true that certain groups have been victimized more than others but that does not in any way justify the same behavior by the oppressed against the opressor. If we agree on a basic floor assumption that all persons are equal regardless of sex, race, creed or color, then we must treat those things the same.

That is why any type of stereotyping is essentially wrong. That isn't to say that risk analysis shouldn't be followed by women when dealing with men, but that when looking at the question of individual reactions, men need to be treated as individuals with free will that are doing wrong or right based on their actual actions, not their sex.

What frustrates me is that some of this often seems like a question of boundaries and who is crossing them. Behavior initiated by some individuals is welcomed as normal romantic interaction, where as the same behavior engaged in by others is treated as violating boundaries.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:14 PM on March 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


PS—When your example goes "On the one hand, this hurts women. On the other hand, it advantages men," you should realize that those aren't, you know, opposites.
posted by klangklangston at 1:16 PM on March 12, 2009


We're responsible - because we're men

No. We are responsible because we are human beings and because we owe duties to other human beings. The fact that I have more of one hormone in my body than another is immaterial. There is no difference between "collective guilt" based on one's sex and "collective responsiblity" based on one's sex.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:17 PM on March 12, 2009


IronMouth: At the bottom of all of these theories is that somehow it is to the benefit of the "men" that this is done and that therefore, "men" are responsible.

That is a misreading of the theories - at least a misreading of some of the theories. Not all feminist theories "blame" men. Rather, many blame patriarchal society, and point out that such a society can have negative consequences for both sexes.

Instead of this being a men v. women problem, why not see it as a systemic one, where both men and women react in certain ways to things, to the detriment of both?

I'm pretty sure that's how many feminists see the issues that are being discussed here. This is not about assigning guilt or blame to any individual or collective group. This is a discussion about a systemic "problem" which is rooted in thousands of years of patriarchal society.

I think you're missing the point, ever so slightly. No one's telling you that you're a jerk because some other schlub stares at women, and on one's telling you that you're a jerk because you look at women and find them attractive. No one's saying that all men are jerks for either of these reasons, either. Don't personalize the argument here - it's not about you or "collective guilt".

There are certainly feminists who would agree with you that many of the cultural norms and expectations that sprouted from a patriarchal society are harmful to men, as well as women.
posted by syzygy at 1:17 PM on March 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


feeling you, msalt. but i would submit that parsing probable motives, decoding mass imagery, creating theoretical constructs, and the like are part of the process by which women can gain the power you describe. gender studies are a means to that end.

Well, that's another discussion and an interesting one. I'd argue that the feeling of victimization itself is a powerful cause of oppression. Perhaps the most powerful.

Do gender studies make women feel more victimized, or less?
posted by msalt at 1:19 PM on March 12, 2009


However, if a coin flip keeps coming up heads, how many times does that need to happen before you wonder if it's rigged?

It is not rigged. For there to be rigging, there must be a rigger--someone creating something deliberately to their advantage. Its one thing to agree that it is systemic, but then when every metaphor used describes the language of one individual taking advantage over another, I find it hard to believe that it is a systemic approach that is actually being taken. Your metaphor implies that there is a "male brain" directing all actions somewhere making men take advantage of women by setting up this system.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:20 PM on March 12, 2009


(aside: this is a fine post. rousing conversation. but i got to split. too lazy to favorite every comment that deserves it, let me give props to giraffe, klangklangston, and emjaybee for dropping some heavy shit for us today. and a tip of to everyone who contributed. and of course, to optimus chyme for making my day. everyone so inclined deserves a beer.)
posted by barrett caulk at 1:22 PM on March 12, 2009


(. . . tip of the hat . . . )
posted by barrett caulk at 1:24 PM on March 12, 2009


"For racism to be wrong, it must be the same. Otherwise you get special pleading, which is wrong. Our laws treat racist acts against whites by blacks and hispanics the same as racist acts against blacks by whites. (Disclaimer, I am a civil rights attorney). Our very system is based on the premise that it is exactly the same--that all are created equal. It is very much true that certain groups have been victimized more than others but that does not in any way justify the same behavior by the oppressed against the opressor. If we agree on a basic floor assumption that all persons are equal regardless of sex, race, creed or color, then we must treat those things the same."

No, we musn't. Reread what I wrote upthread regarding normative assumptions. We recognize all sorts of differences under the law, differences that require different emphasis on the defense of rights. This is based on the realization that power begets more power, and that the powerful will actively work toward their interests with their power. Equality is an ideal that must be worked towards and measured based on results, not assumed and reasoned back from.
posted by klangklangston at 1:26 PM on March 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think you're missing the point, ever so slightly.

What I'm saying is that while people are giving lip service to the ideas you are expressing, in practice, it comes out in less generous ways of stereotyping. Ways that make it harder for people making important points in this area to get their point across. Ways that make it easier for mysoginists to distort the point. Ways that activate defense mechanisms that every human possesses.

I believe that we must instill values instilling universal respect for individual humans into our children and our laws. I think that some of the feminist critiques out there go too far and make it impossible to do that.

This of course means that those who belong to groups who have been victimized by social mores will have to behave better than those who were the victimizers. That's unfortunately true, but universal.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:26 PM on March 12, 2009


We recognize all sorts of differences under the law, differences that require different emphasis on the defense of rights.

No, we don't. Blacks are not allowed to discriminate against whites. (It very, very rarely happens and I haven't really seen it personally.) This is the law. As it should be. This is my job. I'm an employment lawyer focusing on employment defense and discrimination. I've done dozens of discrimination cases and I can tell you that a victimized group cannot discriminate against a victimizing group. History must be irrelevant in legal proceedings because it violates the rule of due process. Each case must be decided based on the individuals, not on the history of individuals.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:30 PM on March 12, 2009


for example the key issue for why this all occurs is the "maleness" of those creators of things. Why is it not their social class, or their color of skin or anything else? At the bottom of all of these theories is that somehow it is to the benefit of the "men" that this is done and that therefore, "men" are responsible.


It's very well known among people who look at this stuff for a living that most of the time it's all of those things working in concert, and depending on context, one or the other social trait can be more significant at certain times and places and in certain groups, than others. People have looked at these issues professionally, you know, spent decades researching, eg, historians reading historical documents, and secondary sources to analyze flaws and strengths in their peers' arguments, before coming to conclusions that they write out and publish so that others can analyze and say "Oh yeah this part confirms what some previous researchers have said, but this other part shows that this "fact" we took for gospel truth actually isn't, and here are my own grounds for saying so, take a look, critique my conclusions please".

It's not "somehow" (with its implication of "pulled out of thin air").
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 1:32 PM on March 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Equality is an ideal that must be worked towards and measured based on results, not assumed and reasoned back from.

I take the opposite position. We must assume that all others are equal to us and when we see an exception fight back. Perhaps my day-to-day dealings with this on a real basis give me a different persepctive. We must assume the rule to be no discrimination, no sexual harassment, no rape and then enforce that rule and teach that rule to our children. There can be no exceptions to such a rule. For a law to be effective, we cannot look the other way sometimes.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:33 PM on March 12, 2009


People have looked at these issues professionally, you know, spent decades researching, eg, historians reading historical documents, and secondary sources to analyze flaws and strengths in their peers' arguments, before coming to conclusions that they write out and publish so that others can analyze and say "Oh yeah this part confirms what some previous researchers have said, but this other part shows that this "fact" we took for gospel truth actually isn't, and here are my own grounds for saying so, take a look, critique my conclusions please".

As a former graduate student in history, you give far too much credit to the historical profession. Usually people write their prejudices, and those who agree with them share those prejudices and those who do not agree do not share those prejudices.

I come at this from an everyday perspective. Having seen the "generalizing academic" side and the "real world" side, I have to say the "real world" side is where the change occurs. In that side, equal rights under law, for all, is the only way to go.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:37 PM on March 12, 2009


"We must assume the rule to be no discrimination, no sexual harassment, no rape and then enforce that rule and teach that rule to our children. There can be no exceptions to such a rule. For a law to be effective, we cannot look the other way sometimes."

But that's not how it happens. It's good that you want to teach your children that they shouldn't be racist or sexist. But just because you want it to be that way doesn't mean the world is that way. Trying to talk about racism or sexism as if we're all starting from the same point - all equal, all the same opportunities, all having the same challenges and problems - is not very useful, because that's not at all how the world is.
posted by krinklyfig at 1:40 PM on March 12, 2009


"It is not rigged. For there to be rigging, there must be a rigger--someone creating something deliberately to their advantage."

No, that's not correct. For something to be unfair, which is the crux, it simply has to be biased. If I'm betting against a coin flip, that it wasn't intentionally doctored has nothing to do with the fact that it's biased and unfair.

"Its one thing to agree that it is systemic, but then when every metaphor used describes the language of one individual taking advantage over another, I find it hard to believe that it is a systemic approach that is actually being taken. Your metaphor implies that there is a "male brain" directing all actions somewhere making men take advantage of women by setting up this system."

No, it doesn't. You're implying that, and you're wrong. The system can be the total manifestation of millions of small decisions that all start with a cause. Individual actors acting in their own interest constitute a system. That system assigns more weight to the interests of a group (which happens to be a minority), and that extra weight creates bias which deviates from a random (thus fair) distribution.

And beyond that, I find your argument just amazingly ignorant—there has been a historical, well-documented presumption of female inferiority in Western culture for millennia. There have been folks rigging the system, even if you're not one of them. They've been rigging the system under the assumption that you'll like it and you'll help them. They've been working to give you the power to keep rigging the system. Just waiving your hands and declaring everyone equal is like declaring that because you're not paddling on the same side of the canoe the canoe isn't turning.
posted by klangklangston at 1:41 PM on March 12, 2009 [7 favorites]


Velvet Winter: Women may have a certain amount of power to alter how they as individuals feel or behave in response to the male gaze, but no, they do not have the power to change the effect of those glares upon all women as a group "regardless of what men do or think." Why? Because the reasons that women assign the male gaze more weight are driven by the long-term, systemic effects of living under patriarchy*.

Does Barack Obama have the power to change the effects of racist attitudes in America on ? I think he already has, and primarily by his attitude, which is strikingly devoid of a sense of victimization.

Of course he's the most powerful leader in the world right now, but his change started with him as an individual, and that's a big part of what made him a leader, not vice-versa.
posted by msalt at 1:41 PM on March 12, 2009


msalt: Do gender studies make women feel more victimized, or less?

It makes me feel better able to pin down why certain expectations of me, and behaviours on the part of other people (both sexes), are problems (usually, the expectations and behaviours don't recognize my multidimensionality), actually. I feel neither more nor less victimized as a result of reading what scholars focusing on gender have to say. Just better informed, better able to critique arguments, and better able to ground my own assertions. But then I like reading up on things before making declarative statements about them.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 1:43 PM on March 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


"Does Barack Obama have the power to change the effects of racist attitudes in America on ? I think he already has, and primarily by his attitude, which is strikingly devoid of a sense of victimization."

That's right. And I've also heard some ... well, let's say latent people claim that Obama's election means that there is no more racism, so we can stop talking about it (meaning, they don't want to hear about it anymore as a problem). As if. It's getting better, but the lack of self-reflection as a society was a mark of the last Bush administration, and I don't think it's a very good precedent. We've come a long way, and we have a long way to go.
posted by krinklyfig at 1:45 PM on March 12, 2009


Ironmouth, I'm confused. When you say "a victimized group cannot discriminate against a victimizing group," what does that mean? Are you denoting a legal definition? A physical impossibility? A logical contradiction? I am genuinely not getting it; I'm not trying to bait you in any fashion. That phrase just is not parsing for me, but I suspect it is important.
posted by adipocere at 1:47 PM on March 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


As a former graduate student in history, you give far too much credit to the historical profession. Usually people write their prejudices, and those who agree with them share those prejudices and those who do not agree do not share those prejudices.


You were a former graduate student in history, you mean? Because if so, me too! You make it sound like there's been no forward movement whatsoever across the entire historical discipline. Perhaps (most of) my professors were exceptional, or maybe there's been more exciting forward movement in my specialties than yours. Still, you must know that if the above statement were correct, historians would still be, for example, promulgating ideas like the aboriginal peoples of N America are bloodthirsty primitive savages.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 1:50 PM on March 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Blacks are not allowed to discriminate against whites. (It very, very rarely happens and I haven't really seen it personally.)

Change is coming.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:50 PM on March 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


I take the opposite position. We must assume that all others are equal to us and when we see an exception fight back.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:33 PM on March 12


So one fish turns to the other fish and says, "what the fuck is water?"
posted by Optimus Chyme at 1:55 PM on March 12, 2009 [9 favorites]


No. We are responsible because we are human beings and because we owe duties to other human beings. The fact that I have more of one hormone in my body than another is immaterial.

Yes to "responsible because we are human beings etc," and, the point Katz is making I think (I've just started reading the book), is that other men frequently give men's voices and opinions more weight , than they do women's. Not to mention the boys who look to the men in their lives for clues on how normal men behave and speak. Therefore, there's an additional layer of responsibility which men can choose to think about, or not.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 1:57 PM on March 12, 2009


"No, we don't. Blacks are not allowed to discriminate against whites. (It very, very rarely happens and I haven't really seen it personally.) This is the law. As it should be. This is my job. I'm an employment lawyer focusing on employment defense and discrimination. I've done dozens of discrimination cases and I can tell you that a victimized group cannot discriminate against a victimizing group. History must be irrelevant in legal proceedings because it violates the rule of due process. Each case must be decided based on the individuals, not on the history of individuals."

Uh, yes we do. We recognize that it is legal (in most states) to have scholarships that go to minorities only. Or certainly the law recognizes gradations in property rights—the rich pay higher taxes.

More to the point, I find your argument here analogous to the argument from some conservatives that we don't need to recognize the right of same-sex marriage, since gay men can already marry women, just like gay women can marry men. That's equality without justice.

"History must be irrelevant in legal proceedings because it violates the rule of due process. Each case must be decided based on the individuals, not on the history of individuals."

No, that's not true either, and your professional life is acting to your detriment here. Should each school receive exactly the same funding, across the US? What about exactly the same funding per student? That would mean that places with a higher cost of living would have a harder time attracting teachers. That would be equality without justice. Assuming "equality" as a pure a priori ideal means that you sacrifice the utility of equality.

From the other side, what about a hypothetical public school that is in a high income area and is thus able to hire the best teachers? Anyone can live within the district, assuming they can afford the high cost of property. That leads to an unequal system, where those who have the opportunity to attend that school. By sticking to a strict definition of equality, there's no room for extra funding for the schools in poorer districts.

Public policy is law, as government budgets are laws. They deal (in theory) with systemic allocations of resources and priorities. Does this mean that history and context are immaterial in the crafting of budgets and policies? No, and it would be stupid to hold that they are. Can budgets and policy create unequal results even as all men are bound equally by them? Of course, and it would be stupid to hold otherwise.

By arguing from your job, you miss the forest for the trees.
posted by klangklangston at 2:00 PM on March 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


No, it doesn't. You're implying that, and you're wrong. The system can be the total manifestation of millions of small decisions that all start with a cause. Individual actors acting in their own interest constitute a system. That system assigns more weight to the interests of a group (which happens to be a minority), and that extra weight creates bias which deviates from a random (thus fair) distribution.

You have no method of measuring the millions of small decisions, whose interest they are in, or why they are being taken. You are making assumptions, which has been my entire point. You take end result and extrapolate back, assuming that because one group is favored, the individual decisions of each member of the group are based on your current perception of the system as it is today. Far different assumptions existed back then. Those are the assumptions behind the "rigging" metaphor you use. If your analysis is correct, how is it possible to not condemn each and every male out there, including you and I? If you or I even respond to one of these ads, we are as responsible as others.

Ironmouth, I'm confused. When you say "a victimized group cannot discriminate against a victimizing group," what does that mean? Are you denoting a legal definition? A physical impossibility? A logical contradiction? I am genuinely not getting it; I'm not trying to bait you in any fashion. That phrase just is not parsing for me, but I suspect it is important.

I'm saying that chapter 42 of the U.S. Code makes it illegal. It makes no difference based on whether you are black or white. Take 42 U.S.C. 2000e-2 (2008).

(a) Employer practices
It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer—
(1) to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin; or
(2) to limit, segregate, or classify his employees or applicants for employment in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect his status as an employee, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.


I'm saying that, from an everyday perspective, we must look at these questions this way. We must operate on the assumption that all are created equal and that regardless of whether you are a member of a formerly victimized group or a formerly victimizing group, the result is the same--you cannot discriminate. Others argued that there was a difference--I'm saying in the real world, where real people are really discriminated against, we must hold fast to the principles I'm talking about. Which we do. There can be no exceptions. That's why I think that stereotypical thought, whether it be on the side of the angels or the devils is wrong.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:05 PM on March 12, 2009


Scott A. Lukas, Ph.D., curator of the Male Gaze Gallery, includes a snapshot of himself on his wecome page. I wish I could make him stop staring at me.
posted by Hammond Rye at 2:05 PM on March 12, 2009


emjaybee:That (and here's the ironic part) if I, as a woman, for some reason don't scrutinize every action of every man around me all the time, and one of them attacks me when I didn't see it coming, it was somehow my fault, for not paying attention/leaving my house/going down that street/into that bar/into that guy's apartment/trusting the guy who claimed he was a cop/etc. etc.

I'm not happy about that either, but to make the gigantic leap and say that advertising somehow does this is a little outlandish. Your advice would have been good advice five, ten, or twenty centuries ago, too. Society has been like this for a while now -- no ads necessary.

kk, congrats on being responsible for the first blink tag I've seen since '97.
posted by Avelwood at 2:08 PM on March 12, 2009


Uh, yes we do. We recognize that it is legal (in most states) to have scholarships that go to minorities only. Or certainly the law recognizes gradations in property rights—the rich pay higher taxes.

More to the point, I find your argument here analogous to the argument from some conservatives that we don't need to recognize the right of same-sex marriage, since gay men can already marry women, just like gay women can marry men. That's equality without justice.


It is perfectly acceptable to make budgetary and scholarship choices on the basis of race, because we are attempting to redress past discrimination and make our nation stronger by making sure that everyone has equal access to opportunity. However, to transform that into justifying an analysis of the world which says that all the members of one group have been consciously manipulating things to help that group only to the detriment of others is wrong. Instead, human desire to exploit mixed with the ease of exploiting a single, smaller group to make these things happen.

The racism comes afterwards, as a justification for naked human exploitation.

But we are going far afield. What I am arguing is that we err when we stereotype all men, women, blacks, whites, etc. When we discuss the "patriarchy" we are inadvertently, for the ease of understanding, committing the same error our ancestors did. And when I see an insistence that there is no indivdual blaming of men, but see that the theory behind it is an unmeasurable set of systematic choices by individual men to advantage themselves as a group, I see us falling into the very set of errors we condemn in others.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:20 PM on March 12, 2009


Interesting discussion.

It seems these ads are saying, "it is ok for you, as a woman, to use sexiness to its maximum potential in order to get what you want."

You're gonna have women who respond: "yes, of course" because they've clearly made their sexiness a priority in their lives. Believe me, in most careers/vocations outside of the heavily cerebral industries (and even in sometimes those), being sexy or attractive works. In my job (and no, I'm not a stripper), you have the traditionally "sexiest" females easily making three or four times as much as the least "sexiest" female in tips. In a non-sex related field! As many of us realize, attractive people (women in particular) get handed more job opportunities, more chances to step out of their current economic bracket. So for women like these, the ads show a product that may or not help them on their path.

Another segment of women, of course, are justifiably disturbed. Their response is, "no, it's not okay" for a variety of reasons. Because it perpetuates the cycle of looks being more important than anything else about a woman, because it's a way of encouraging unwanted attention from lowest-denominator men, etc. etc.

I think the biggest problem for me is how this kind of advertising affects a third (and perhaps biggest) group of women: women (often young, but not always) who don't even realize there is a choice in how to think about the matter. You look at enough of these things and you start thinking, "well, yeah, that's how I gotta be" or "yes, this is what I really want." There was no point in which you consciously sat down and said, "I choose to think like this, believe in this, want this" or to reject it entirely. When did that moment of conscious acceptance or decision actually arrive for us?

I have no moral here, just that most of us women are happier not looking at fashion magazines or advertising.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 2:21 PM on March 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Okay, so what you mean here is not that it is physically impossible or logically contradictory, but that it is legally disallowed. I get that now.

Do you additionally mean that it would be morally and/or ethically inadvisable? Or is it in a practical sense of, "If we want X, we must not do Y, as that decreases the likelihood of X occurring?"

When I hear "can," I immediately look for physical possibility. Then I realize that it is the Internet, and people often say "can" or "cannot" instead of "should" or "should not." I neglected to look at your role as a speaker, that is, a lawyer.

I'm not splitting hairs here; I have heard argumentation that it is logically contradictory that someone discriminated against would themselves be capable of discriminating against the oppressing group, due to power dynamics. The operational overloading of the word "can" (in addition to the emotional load these topics carry) makes meaning often difficult to suss out.
posted by adipocere at 2:25 PM on March 12, 2009


"You have no method of measuring the millions of small decisions, whose interest they are in, or why they are being taken."

Uh, yeah we do, dude. We can measure them through looking at systemic indicators of bias, like that women are paid less per hour, they make up a disproportionately small percentage of governmental and business leaders, number of academic papers published, proportion of advertisement imagery… In fact, there are myriad ways to assess whether women are discriminated against on the whole, and if you took thirty seconds on jstor you could come up with plenty of papers explicitly quantifying them. It goes like this: Take a huge amount of data (say, salaries of women doing the same job as men), look for a pattern (they make, what, 79¢ on the dollar), extrapolate causes (pervasive discrimination) and make predictions (more standardized jobs makes pay discrimination more apparent) and check experiments (more stringent enforcement does make pay discrepancies decrease).

Not only that, but sex discrimination follows a much broader historical pattern. So, sure, I have assumptions. Why are you assuming that this pattern doesn't hold here?

"You take end result and extrapolate back, assuming that because one group is favored, the individual decisions of each member of the group are based on your current perception of the system as it is today."

No, I'm making the simple claim that the decisions of each actor in a system add up to the overall shape of the system. Have you never played any game of chance at all? Do you not understand how probability works? That the odds in roulette favor the house does not mean that individual spins never result in a win for the player, it means that over time the house will win more often than it loses. This is because of how the rules are set up.

"Far different assumptions existed back then. Those are the assumptions behind the "rigging" metaphor you use. If your analysis is correct, how is it possible to not condemn each and every male out there, including you and I? If you or I even respond to one of these ads, we are as responsible as others."

Far different assumptions existed back when? The '80s? The '90s? Hey, how about the assumption that men are dumb and women are sex objects. That assumption doesn't exist now? Is this one of those "Would I need a TV?" moments?

Look, think about those ads the same way that you would about racist jokes. You don't really hear racist jokes so much anymore, at least I don't. The folks who like 'em have pretty much learned not to tell them, but for reasons totally unrelated to whether or not they're funny. But are they encouraged? Well, not in regular society, and folks who tell them are regarded as assholes. These ads go off the premise that men are dumb and women are sex objects. Forget responding, do you want to encourage that? A system that, as you've pointed out, does neither men nor women any favors? You want to confirm the assumptions of the dudes who made the ads? Why? So you see more of them? If so, yeah, well, you are guilty. Suck it up. You're guilty of helping people think it's OK to stereotype men as stupid and women as a collection of body parts to fuck. There are edge cases, but on the whole? Seriously?
posted by klangklangston at 2:33 PM on March 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


"It is perfectly acceptable to make budgetary and scholarship choices on the basis of race, because we are attempting to redress past discrimination and make our nation stronger by making sure that everyone has equal access to opportunity. However, to transform that into justifying an analysis of the world which says that all the members of one group have been consciously manipulating things to help that group only to the detriment of others is wrong."

Head asplode.
posted by klangklangston at 2:38 PM on March 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


I have heard argumentation that it is logically contradictory that someone discriminated against would themselves be capable of discriminating against the oppressing group, due to power dynamics. The operational overloading of the word "can" (in addition to the emotional load these topics carry) makes meaning often difficult to suss out.

It is exactly that argumentation that I am arguing against. Luckily, I have the law of this country on my side. If we are to believe in universal application of rights and laws, then all must abide by them.

Look, think about those ads the same way that you would about racist jokes. You don't really hear racist jokes so much anymore, at least I don't. The folks who like 'em have pretty much learned not to tell them, but for reasons totally unrelated to whether or not they're funny. But are they encouraged? Well, not in regular society, and folks who tell them are regarded as assholes. These ads go off the premise that men are dumb and women are sex objects. Forget responding, do you want to encourage that? A system that, as you've pointed out, does neither men nor women any favors? You want to confirm the assumptions of the dudes who made the ads? Why? So you see more of them? If so, yeah, well, you are guilty. Suck it up. You're guilty of helping people think it's OK to stereotype men as stupid and women as a collection of body parts to fuck. There are edge cases, but on the whole? Seriously?


My point is this--stereotyping men as thinking these things is wrong. And a lot of the attitudes here do just that. Are you arguing that in the 1780's men were thinking "how can I advantage myself and all other men here?" Because there's no evidence for that.

I'm not a fan of these ads, no do I usually buy based on them (unless I'm unware of what's affecting me). But I think that the way people think about them and about these issues is way, way too sloppy and degenerates into the same thing that caused the problem in the first place.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:41 PM on March 12, 2009


"However, to transform that into justifying an analysis of the world which says that all the members of one group have been consciously manipulating things to help that group only to the detriment of others is wrong."

You are projecting yourself into the situation. It's not about every individual man. It's about the larger context of how men behave in our society, in general. Not every man is guilty of sexism. This doesn't mean sexism doesn't exist, and that it's much more of a problem for women.
posted by krinklyfig at 2:42 PM on March 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


justifying an analysis of the world which says that all the members of one group have been consciously manipulating things to help that group only to the detriment of others is wrong."

Head asplode.


Emphasis on the word ALL.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:50 PM on March 12, 2009


You are projecting yourself into the situation. It's not about every individual man.

What I am saying is that in practice, it often is being applied that way. And that is wrong.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:51 PM on March 12, 2009


"What I am saying is that in practice, it often is being applied that way. And that is wrong."

Forget about that. Having a discussion based on some chip on your shoulder isn't going to bring equality to the sexes, either.

I mean, no offense, but this seems to be more about you than the subject at hand.
posted by krinklyfig at 2:52 PM on March 12, 2009 [5 favorites]


It's sort of like when people claim that racism is the same no matter who it is; that racism against Anglos, for instance, is the same as racism against African-Americans.


Yeah I'll say it. Racism is racism, and its wrong no matter who it comes from.
Your argument is like saying "its okay if a poor person steals because he really needs it". It isn't okay at all! Stealing is wrong as a principle- and we as a society have agreed on this.

Similarly, racism and sexism (and ageism and everything else) isn't allowed (or shouldn't be), no matter what the source. I am not saying in practice things are truly equal, or turning a blind eye myself to the fact that we still have a lot of work to do in society (which is usually the unfair ad hominem assumption for a dissenting opinion of this nature). Yes we still have a lot of work to do... but after reading the thread Ironmouth is being pretty clear.

when he says:
"a victimized group cannot discriminate against a victimizing group,"

He saying basically two wrongs don't make a right, and quite frankly victimization regardless of the source isn't allowed by the system, nor should it be. Much like many other things, we as a society have decided that's not allowed.

Justice IS blind, and, to some degree, that's what you want. Say you were a reformed drug addict and a case came up where you were charged with possession. Assume in this scenario you really didn't have anything. You actually are innocent this time. You want blind justice. You don't want a look at your criminal record, and for the system itself say, oh well once a druggie always a druggie and charge you regardless. Its a new case, a new situation and new evidence. You don't want a bias.

I seriously don't know how to read statements like this:
Blacks are not allowed to discriminate against whites. (It very, very rarely happens and I haven't really seen it personally.)
Change is coming.

So you want a future where conditional discrimination is allowed? Like for revenge? Thats fucked up. If you were beaten as a child are you going to take it out on your children? Do white people born in 1985 deserve the "social justice" that a slave owner from the 1800s shoudl have had? Should you go to jail if your father does drugs?

Does this mean that history and context are immaterial in the crafting of budgets and policies? No, and it would be stupid to hold that they are.

See above example about the -not guilty- former drug addict. Looking at his "historical context" biases you to his CURRENT situation. This is how the law works (or should work). If you are in a murder case, and you killed someone before, and are being accused again you still deserve a fair trial.
posted by 5imian at 3:05 PM on March 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


"My point is this--stereotyping men as thinking these things is wrong. And a lot of the attitudes here do just that. Are you arguing that in the 1780's men were thinking "how can I advantage myself and all other men here?" Because there's no evidence for that."

In America, when did women get the right to vote? Collective attitudes about women DID disadvantage them.

And my point is this—Your concerns about how sexism might make some women assume you're a sexist asshole are totally a fucking order of magnitude below the real deleterious effects that sexism has on women, and simply declaring that they're equal now is myopic bullshit that ignores both the real causes and effects of sexism and turns the discussion into one where you attempt to attack some bizarre straw man just so that you can feel better about having graciously granted women equality. That you seem to have no grasp of the history of inequality here in America or around the world is appalling given your profession, and I no longer feel like there's any real point in lecturing you about it because you're acting like a sniffy whiner and refusing to admit any sort of personal responsibility and instead are arguing from natural fallacies and false dichotomies. You great big baby, not everything is about you! And the Male Gaze is explicitly a way of making everything about YOU! Fuck, it's like you're using the whites only drinking fountain but claiming that you're not racist, just thirsty and what's wrong with being thirsty.
posted by klangklangston at 3:05 PM on March 12, 2009 [8 favorites]


I mean, no offense, but this seems to be more about you than the subject at hand.

Isn't that the danger of talking about "men" and the "patriarchy" in the collective?
posted by Ironmouth at 3:07 PM on March 12, 2009


all the members of one group have been consciously manipulating things

Emphasis on the word ALL.

sorry, where are you getting the "consciously" and the "all" from? The point of "systemic" is that it's not conscious, therefore people can be unwittingly part of it, therefore it takes conscious work to not take part, which some do, and the majority don't (how is the fish to know it's in water, etc).
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 3:10 PM on March 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


you're acting like a sniffy whiner and refusing to admit any sort of personal responsibility and instead are arguing from natural fallacies and false dichotomies

Just because someone doesn't share your opinion doesn't mean you should act like that. Ironmouth shares a minority viewpoint on this thread, indeed but that isn't a go ahead to start making this personal. It makes you sound like a sniffy whiner.
posted by 5imian at 3:16 PM on March 12, 2009


simply declaring that they're equal now is myopic bullshit that ignores both the real causes and effects of sexism and turns the discussion into one where you attempt to attack some bizarre straw man just so that you can feel better about having graciously granted women equality

I never once declared that women were equal now. You misinterpreted what I said. Nor am I concerned that women might think I'm a sexist asshole either. I see that inequality in ways you cannot, because it is my job to do so. What I am saying is that the intellectual framework of academic thought about these issues often engages in the same stereotyping behavior that is the cause of the problem in the first place. Nor have I said that women do not suffer from deleterious effects of sexism. Where you got that I cannot even say. I've represented more than my fair share of women who have been sexually harassed. What I am saying is that much of what passses for analysis in this area is nothing of the sort.

I'm just stating that there is loose argumentation that needs to go beyond the gender of the individuals. I'm particularly appalled by the suggestions that groups who were once victimized cannot victimize others. We are trying to make a society that does not engage in that behavior. That means holding everyone accountable.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:16 PM on March 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


The reason the female object is threatening is because, in more modern representations, sexuality=power. In this context, men derive pleasure from their dominiant sexual role. If the female is stealing the power, that is what is threatening. Therein lies the castration anxiety. It has nothing to do with the organ itself.

I can be reduced to some bullshit object. But those of you enjoying these ads go on and enjoy your privilege of not having to deal with such pesky thoughts, it's easier for you that way.

I believe that men subconsciously think during a moment of anxiety that they have lost their penis already, and need to be reminded that it is there.

I pretty much assume that every man is thinking he has some right to my body and will treat me accordingly.

The rest of the woman, the useless parts, are cast aside.

When men publicly objectify women it validates misogynists. What people do privately is their business, but when you create an ad that reduces a woman to T&A, you are telling every woman hater out there that it's okay to not see women as equals. You are telling people that it's okay to see women as mere vehicles to sell vodka and cars.

It is also a fear-grin strategy—and if you as a woman don’t do it, if you dare to be “ugly” or “unsexy” in public, then the amount of rage you generate in men who don’t even know you is astonishing. Because you are not fear-grinning, not posturing, not attempting to please; and therefore, not acting the subordinate ego stroker.

Because the reasons that women assign the male gaze more weight are driven by the long-term, systemic effects of living under patriarchy*. It's a survival strategy. They learn to assign it more weight, because it is linked with the ever-present threat of violence.

Male power advantages men on the whole while disadvantaging individual men. Just like it works against women on the whole while advantaging some individual women.

The most disturbing thing in this thread to me is just how many educated people see no problem with presenting their own subjective interpretations of Western culture as objective fact. I would be comfortable with these asseverations in an English Lit. response paper on the symbolism in some work of literature. But to apply that process of subjective interpretation to reality and present it as fact is deeply disquieting to me.

the injustice of being falsely suspected of being a potential rapist is not equivalent to the injustice of walking around in the world every day worrying about being attacked by an actual one.

Just so I understand: Your feelings, or women's feelings at large, are worth more than a man's life. That's what you're saying?
posted by Law Talkin' Guy at 3:28 PM on March 12, 2009


"Isn't that the danger of talking about 'men' and the 'patriarchy' in the collective?"

No, not unless you take all discussions about society as if people were discussing you.
posted by krinklyfig at 3:31 PM on March 12, 2009


I've also heard some ... well, let's say latent people claim that Obama's election means that there is no more racism, so we can stop talking about it.

Well, they're big sillies, of course, just as it would be absurd to argue that the progress of women in the workplace proves there are no more gender problems.

But we do need to move the discussion forward to reflect new realities. In an earlier thread, katullus mentioned that in his circle, women are just likely as men to make the first move romantically. I'm 47, about 20 years older than him I guess, and that is earth-shaking news to me. And great progress.

I don't know if this is the new norm, but there is definitely a trend in this direction. Nobody made any big systemic attack on patriarchy that caused this. It was just millions of people evolving individually. And generally I think that's the way effective change happens.
posted by msalt at 3:35 PM on March 12, 2009


Nobody made any big systemic attack on patriarchy that caused this.

Except all these people and the millions who learned from them
posted by hydropsyche at 3:42 PM on March 12, 2009


I thought this objectification argument was pretty much wrung dry twenty years ago.

The only time people seem to have a problem with objectifying people is when it has to do with sexuality. Which to me says more about our duplicitous attitude about sexuality than this theoretical harm of objectifying. This is the tired anti-pornography argument. Which is really an anti-hetero sex on film argument with big words that sound wieghty but do not hold up to philosophical or rhetorical scrutiny for very long.

Look. The waiter who brings you your food? He's a food conveyance object. You don't know him as a human being. We do this — by necessity — every god damned day. But do it in some pornographic sense or with advertising and suddenly you're a frigg'n sexist of Larry Flint proportions. Seriously?

I suppose a better argument can be made for exploitation of sexuality or a specific gender for commercial gain. But again the issue is then with exploitation. And blanket generalization are very hard to draw. In other words not every female form used in a media portrayal that stirs the male gaze in a sexually pleasurable sense counts as exploitation regardless how it's sliced and diced esthetically. Nobody is a dick for finding the female form pleasurable to look at. Even in an ad. If you really believe that it's so wrong I wonder what you feel about the visceral and physically measurable pleasure that hundreds of millions of people, not just men, get from the graphic simulated murders of people in video games or movies. If getting off on seeing asexy pair of tits in an ad is bad then playing Team Fortress must be positively evil.

The fact is most of us CAN separate fact from fantasy no matter how it tickles our endocrine systems. Porn is no different from sci-fi. From Hobbits to characters in romance novels to the plumber who puts in a new sink... these "people" are all reduced to "objects" in the imaginative centers of our brains on one level or another because we don't really know them. If they are real people we don't have the time to know their humanity do we? And the only time doctoral thesis get written about the evil of objectification is when these people-things are naked or all fucking something.
posted by tkchrist at 3:48 PM on March 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


"I don't know if this is the new norm, but there is definitely a trend in this direction. Nobody made any big systemic attack on patriarchy that caused this. It was just millions of people evolving individually. And generally I think that's the way effective change happens."

Did that happen spontaneously, or does it depend on the work that many people did before? Do you think we go straight from suffrage to equality through serendipity? And how did suffrage come about? Just a lot of people doing their own thing?
posted by krinklyfig at 3:51 PM on March 12, 2009


Nobody made any big systemic attack on patriarchy that caused this.

I think someone hasn't been paying attention.
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:53 PM on March 12, 2009


Full Disclosure: I used to work in the Advertising and Film business. So. That certainly colors my perceptions. And I quit because of how I felt Advertising exploits all people. But not in the objectification sense. In the "you greedy fucks don't pay people enough" sense.
posted by tkchrist at 4:08 PM on March 12, 2009


Sorry to stir an already-boiled-over pot, but there is an anti-academic theme happening here that I find unpleasant and more than a bit ironic.

Ironmouth, perhaps your graduate history department was not representative of all graduate history departments, or all of academia. That's not to say that there isn't a single self-serving academic that wants to push their own opinion-- but for the most part, academics' charge is to widen or deepen the pool of human knowledge. Maybe that's not the way *you* chose to make a difference. I commend your choice to make a difference, period.

But am I the only one who sees something incongruous in generalizing that all academics are self-serving/generalize to a fault while claiming it's unfair to call all men patriarchs?

For what it's worth, I am a feminist and I don't think all men are patriarchs. I think, as many people have noted in this thread, that we have some seriously fucked up gender issues in our society that will take time and effort to sort out.

The point which I think has not been raised enough in this thread is that gender stereotypes hurt men AND women. They hurt ALL OF US. Pretending it isn't there, or that we can start in 2009 with some sort of tabula rasa, is ridiculous.

Feel free to take in Byron Hurt's Beyond Beats and Rhymes for a view of mens' objectification.
posted by Monsters at 4:14 PM on March 12, 2009 [5 favorites]


Your argument is like saying "its okay if a poor person steals because he really needs it". It isn't okay at all! Stealing is wrong as a principle- and we as a society have agreed on this.

No. Not at all. What we have to agree on is look at WHY people are stealing every god damn time they do. Because if a guy steals becuase his family is starving then our mega-wealthy society at large has done something terribly wrong.

Everything from racism to sexism to crime is intent and context sensitive. That's the problem with this guilt tripping bullshit in the first place as the initial assumption is you are the worst kind of person. Where do you go from there?
posted by tkchrist at 4:29 PM on March 12, 2009


"I don't know if this is the new norm, but there is definitely a trend in this direction. Nobody* made any big systemic attack on patriarchy that caused this. It was just millions of people evolving individually. And generally I think that's the way effective change happens."

* By nobody, you do you just mean nobody that you, personally, would pay any attention to?
posted by stagewhisper at 4:29 PM on March 12, 2009


I think, as many people have noted in this thread, that we have some seriously fucked up gender issues in our society that will take time and effort to sort out.

I agree. But respectfully so-called "objectification" is the least of them.
posted by tkchrist at 4:32 PM on March 12, 2009


ahem. "do you just mean". I would love to be able to ride that editable comment pony right about now.
posted by stagewhisper at 4:33 PM on March 12, 2009


the injustice of being falsely suspected of being a potential rapist is not equivalent to the injustice of walking around in the world every day worrying about being attacked by an actual one.
Just so I understand: Your feelings, or women's feelings at large, are worth more than a man's life. That's what you're saying?

Uhhh... did I miss something here? No one is threatening any man's life. Could you please explain where you got that? Seeing a man as a potential rapist does not take anything away from him. It just makes you keep on your guard.
posted by marble at 4:34 PM on March 12, 2009


Do people still look at ads? When I looked at this link, what I felt most was a sort of nostalgia... ah, the old days, when there were advertisements in magazines, I remember times like that, when I was young... Get yourself out of adspace, people, and just start living.
posted by Meatbomb at 4:43 PM on March 12, 2009


You're guilty of helping people think it's OK to stereotype men as stupid and women as a collection of body parts to fuck.

Whoa. While I don't agree with that dudes argument but I don't think this a good way refute him. And If I'm not mistaken don't you/didn't work for the Porn business and Hustler? Not that I find that at all a problem personally, nor sexist, but it is pretty much at odds with your own line of reasoning here. I mean, not to get Ad homey but if he is guilty my consuming, you're doubly guilty by producing? Right?

I'm confused. Look there is all sorts of potential wrong with manipulating peoples primal sexuality as a commodity and to sell things. But I'm not sure this objectification stereo-typing thing is the way to tackle it. Again we are, many times, still dealing with the realm of fantasy here. Even in advertising. Just like in art. Just like in pornography.
posted by tkchrist at 4:45 PM on March 12, 2009


Seeing a man as a potential rapist does not take anything away from him. It just makes you keep on your guard.

I think he was referring the original comment about accepting the potential innocent guy being CONVICTED of rape - which does literally destroy a mans life.

And I don't know if I buy that "not take anything away from him" thing. Even if, in the literal sense, every man is a "potential" rapist. It's fairly damning and troubling concept for a legal system and society to embrace. Kinda the same as every unemployed black man a potential drug dealer. Or every teenage girl a potential stripper. You know? It may literally be potentially true. But not the kind of world in which we want to live.
posted by tkchrist at 4:52 PM on March 12, 2009


"objectification" is the least of them.

I see your point. Objectification is not as cut and dry as, say, a case of sexual assault. They're not even really in the same class of objects in that sexual assault is an act between individuals in a way that mass market images cannot be by definition. And seeing some tacky ad is in no way as personally upsetting as a sexual assault.

I believe that there is a level at which these two things are related, though.

Until I am convinced that there is no correllation between
A.) sexualized, depersonalized imagery in the name of product sales
and B.) people of both genders being seriously fucked up over body image and gender roles/stereotypes, I will continue to speak against the objectification of either gender.
posted by Monsters at 4:53 PM on March 12, 2009


tkchrist, I respectfully submit the idea that this "so-called 'objectification'" is part and parcel of the larger issues, and certainly a contributer to them. It's important to remain aware of the specific types of imagery that we are submerged in every day and how these lazy short-hand symbols for sexual desire subconsciously affect us all- male, female, and everyone in between. We're all swimming in this together.

Yes, I know, Mulvey's essay is so 1975 and we were well beyond that when I first read it as an undergrad in 1986 ( We will channel objectification and the desire it represents and harness it for our own use! Power suits with short skirts and shoulder pads! Robert Palmer!), as a graduate student in 1993 (We will take control of our own objectification! Sexy self-promotion on the web! Profit!) and even just last month when I read it for a third time in my current grad seminar class (We are no longer just our bodies! We are also our body's potential! No more slave to biology and physics. Implants! Botox! Lipo! YAY!!!1")

I'm not saying that these pervasive images and attitudes should be censored, but rather they should be recognized for what they are. It's troubling just how unremarkable and banal this constant barrage of visual messages has become.

Leering obviously should be socially unacceptable, comments even more so. I am sure it's not an impossible task for those of you in this thread complaining that such social niceties are restrictive to one's true natural impulses. Women learn early on not to openly gawk at attractive men since that only invites all sorts of trouble and often considerable danger, especially if they are only window shopping with no intent to buy. "Don't be a cock tease, that's just asking for it."

Children are able to learn not to openly stare at people with physical deformities or who otherwise look different or unusual at a relatively early age. I therefore have faith in you all.
posted by stagewhisper at 5:10 PM on March 12, 2009


Until I am convinced that there is no correllation between
A.) sexualized, depersonalized imagery in the name of product sales
and B.) people of both genders being seriously fucked up over body image and gender roles/stereotypes, I will continue to speak against the objectification of either gender.


Could there be a connection? Sure there could. It's pretty vain to attempt to argue our perceptions about sex and gender exist in a vacuum.

However you see my original point above, right? The one about sexual objectification getting the most traction in discussions when in essence we objectify people ALL the time for all sorts of reasons. We reduce people down to parts and functions every day all the time.

But if it's about sex? Whoooooo. Watch out. Why is that? Personally I think it's becuase we are fucked up about sex in this country in general.

Other societies seem to be able to have discussion about sexism and gender bias and body image issues WITHOUT bringing up "sexual objectification" or pornography.

In fact in many places in Europe that accept pornography as simply another expressive form seem to have the MOST progressive attitudes towards women and the most egalitarian societies.

I find the sexual objectification thing gets tossed out in discussions not becuase it pulls any serious rhetorical weight in an argument to prove a particular harm but because it sounds like it could.
posted by tkchrist at 5:12 PM on March 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Children are able to learn not to openly stare at people with physical deformities or who otherwise look different or unusual at a relatively early age. I therefore have faith in you all.

Again. Very different things. Looking at sexualized images of women. And leering/staring at live women. It's rude. And it's threatening. Universally. Stare at a dog long enough and you piss it off. Predators stare at things before they attack.

But here we have a very strained attempt to connect imagery with certain behaviors. And we are going to go down that road then we had better examine ALL of it. For sex and violence. Video games. Movies. Novels. Comic books. All of it.

The irony is that studies seem to show that where graphic sexual images are the MOST easily available and least stigmatized there is a precipitous drop in sexual violence.

Again there are distinctions to be drawn between what is literally exploitative and violent and that which merely not of our personal taste.
posted by tkchrist at 5:19 PM on March 12, 2009


Me: Nobody made any big systemic attack on patriarchy that caused (increased sexual assertiveness among women)
hydropsyche: Except all these people and the millions who learned from them

Your post is linked to this thread we're in. WTF? Laura Mulvey did it? I can't be understanding you correctly.

stagewhisper: "By nobody, you do you just mean nobody that you, personally, would pay any attention to?"

No, I mean that IMHO shifting sexual roles among today's 20-somethings had little to do with feminist scholars' academic analyses. Britney Spears and Madonna and Avril Lavigne probably had more to do with any changes than all of them put together, truth be known.

But why don't you two educate me? Spell it out, if the connection is as obvious as you seem to think.
posted by msalt at 5:24 PM on March 12, 2009


2 things-
I was replying to your point which I quoted. You wrote your other response when I was composing my response.

Commodifying peoples' desires- and moreover, their emotions- is precisely the problem, in my view.

You want to know why we're a fucked up nation about sex? I'd wager it's leftover puritan values (idealizing chastity and hard work), combined with a relentless marketing mix that continually conflates sexual desire and material goods (the supposed reward for all our hard work as good little puritans).

As for commodifying waiters as food-bringers, they get paid for that. The commodification of people in the workplace is a wholly different discussion, IMO, than the discussion we are having here. A consensual arrangement trading money for labor is very different from the male gaze. People can decide whether or not to be waiters.
posted by Monsters at 5:24 PM on March 12, 2009


I'm not saying that these pervasive images and attitudes should be censored, but rather they should be recognized for what they are.

What are they? We seem to be dancing around a point here.

I'll tell you what I think they are. Images that are sometimes crass (to my tastes). Undeniably commercial. And pervasive. Pervasive becuase they work.

It's troubling just how unremarkable and banal this constant barrage of visual messages has become.

Why? Why is this troubling? Becuase we live in a hyper-consumer world where literally everything is a commodity? Is that not a result of rampant consumerism? Really, why?

Does it "make" men rape? Does it "make" women want to me sex objects? Is that what you guys think?

The main thing I find troubling is how easily manipulated into over-consuming we are by images. I am far less troubled by some theoretical tangential connection in how those images disrupt or inform sexual behaviors in the aggregate - becuase that case has just not been proven and the implications of using this supposed connection to control peoples sexuality though guilt is far too tempting for those with an agenda (it's been done before by religions world wide).
posted by tkchrist at 5:32 PM on March 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Commodifying peoples' desires- and moreover, their emotions- is precisely the problem, in my view.

A-HAH. But we commodify emotions all the time. And we ALWAYS have. Music does it. Art does it. Literature does it.

But specifically their sexual desires. Right?

See what I'm getting at? Maybe we also need to examine our own bias about sexual desire as well.
posted by tkchrist at 5:35 PM on March 12, 2009


Nobody made any big systemic attack on patriarchy that caused this.
Mental Wimp: I think someone hasn't been paying attention.

Passive aggressive much?
posted by msalt at 5:35 PM on March 12, 2009


As for commodifying waiters as food-bringers, they get paid for that. The commodification of people in the workplace is a wholly different discussion, IMO, than the discussion we are having here. A consensual arrangement trading money for labor is very different from the male gaze. People can decide whether or not to be waiters.

People can decide to be models and porn stars too. People get PAID to be models and porn stars too.

However we don't argue that commodifying waiters makes us objectify all other people that don't get paid into food bring objects. Get it yet?
posted by tkchrist at 5:37 PM on March 12, 2009


Ok tkchrist- allow me to be more specific.

When I say "commodifying peoples' desires" I am referring to marketing. Specifically I am referring to marketing that attempts to sell a product based on something other than the product itself. Marketers don't ask what attribute of their product makes it more worthy of the customer's dollar, they ask what emotional or social need the product can be connected to. Hence we see sex- and more specifically body parts- used to sell products, because marketers know that people like sex. It's just as sad and distressing to see emotions other than desire (fear comes to mind) used in this way.

Going on the waiter analogy, we also don't have a culture that shows us sexualized waiters at all times, or a culture that portrays the abuse of waiters as acceptable. Is this all about sex? Yes, to an extent, it is, for all the reasons previously elucidated in this thread.
posted by Monsters at 5:49 PM on March 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hmmmm. Okay. So this is more about the commercialization aspect of using sex and using technology that can easily saturate society with sexual images - sexuality that is tied closely with abusive imagery - with out filters? To me the problem then is abusive imagery (then we get in the taste discussion and SM and BDSM and... blech).

I guess I only find that crass and annoying but not necessarily destructive.

You know at out root we are simply animals. Pretty complex social animals. Sex is a primal animal thing. And we are always going to use it to manipulate each other. Commercially. Artistically. Any way we can.

I see issues like consumerism, violence, abuse, gender inequality, as wholly separate and infinity more "addressable" issues by society at large since they have much less to do with our animal insticts. Much easier to address than tracking down how to combat the negative things some people think our sex drives do to us.

Anyway. I can't think straight anymore. Like I ever could. Thanks for the discussion. It was good.
posted by tkchrist at 6:08 PM on March 12, 2009


"Isn't that the danger of talking about 'men' and the 'patriarchy' in the collective?"
No, not unless you take all discussions about society as if people were discussing you.


Well, then who is being discussed? All men but me? Seriously. Why wouldn't I think it is me when huge abstractions such as "men" and the "male gaze" are being used? Because I am literally a member of the class of things called "men" and am described as a "male." Somehow, people who are very anxious to avoid stereotypes and stereotypical thinking have no problem using terms like "men" and "male" to describe the source of the problem?

Whoa. While I don't agree with that dudes argument but I don't think this a good way refute him. And If I'm not mistaken don't you/didn't work for the Porn business and Hustler?

Seriously? The dude lecturing me about me pointing out some problems with the way objectification arguments used to work for Hustler?

That shit is rich.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:08 PM on March 12, 2009


That shit is rich.

Well regardless I think his larger point still stands. But yeah he could do with out the lecturing.
posted by tkchrist at 6:13 PM on March 12, 2009


I'm dismayed that a civil rights lawyer seems to have never read The Invisible Backpack.
posted by Toothless Willy at 6:17 PM on March 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Nobody made any big systemic attack on patriarchy that caused this.
Apparently my previous link to a big summary of women's right's leaders and the feminist movement got eaten before and now I look like an idiot because I left the house for a few hours without noticing my mistake in my html.
Check out this About.com link. The history of feminism is a history of "a big systemic attack on patriarchy". The fact that I can vote, wear pants, play sports, have a job, own property, have a bank account, not get married, walk down the street in reasonable comfort whenever I want, etc, is because of the women (and some men) who came before me and fought for my rights.

For that matter the fact that I can, right now, participate in a discussion online and expect that most people will not dismiss me simply because I am a woman, is because of the women who came before me.

No, I mean that IMHO shifting sexual roles among today's 20-somethings had little to do with feminist scholars' academic analyses. Britney Spears and Madonna and Avril Lavigne probably had more to do with any changes than all of them put together, truth be known.

Today's 20-somethings would not be beyond 1950's levels of sexual puritanism without the overthrowing of that in the 60's, which required work of both men and women. Britney Spears and Avril Lavigne owe a ton to Madonna, frankly.

And Madonna was in many ways a pioneer as a woman creating her own music and retaining creative control. Remember, it wasn't that long ago that a married woman couldn't own property. Maybe I'm just not understanding your point, but the vast changes brought about by feminism in our society seem obvious.
posted by hydropsyche at 6:38 PM on March 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


It occurs to me that maybe you're thinking that there should be clear individuals and clear actions that constitute a "big systemic attack on the patriarchy"? But, just as all members of a patriarchal society participate in enforcing the rules of the patriarchy (and thus, as has been said a number of times, individual men alone are not to blame), the actions that are slowly (very slowly) dismantling it are not the large actions of individuals, but a combination of thousands of tiny actions, many of which may be traced to specific leaders, or books, or organizations, but which are done on a small scale and only add up to a big systemic attack when looked at on a very large scale.

Things like: Fewer women automatically assuming they will be responsible for housework, more dads staying home with the kids, programs at universities that make it safer for women to stay out at night, a wider range of contraception options than ever before, even seemingly unrelated things like greater acceptance of gay rights have made it easier for other, less obvious violations of old rules of gender roles.
posted by hydropsyche at 6:51 PM on March 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


Here's the thing, my problem isn't with the idea that women have been and continue be discriminated against, despite what some people think I said. What I'm saying is that when the language used is "men" or the "male" gaze, we are engaging in stereotyping that will get called out by those people who say feminism is evil, etc.

It is important that these arguments get presented in a winning manner, a convincing manner. I know, because I have to actually win real arguments about this. You cannot convince people to agree with you with this language. Are you going to go in there and convince a jury like that? Never. You are going to say this person fired this woman for violating rule X and a man got off with a suspension. Maybe my view is distorted because I actually have to convince people for real that discrimination did occur.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:21 PM on March 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Late to the party. Found the thread annoying for a while but by this point found it a good example of disagreeing people actually talking, for which, whoo, etc. Avoided sappy I-love-metafilter post.
I think one dynamic that can be observed here is that a debate between a historical/materialist gender-conscious critique and a gender-avoiding desire for abstract equality is overshadowing a bit the quite interesting tension among those who are probably mostly "pro sex" (and anti-censorship) but also convinced of connections between media representations and real acts of (in order?) objectification, discrimination, expropriation and violence.
posted by Mngo at 7:37 PM on March 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


Hydropsyche: I'm glad we agree on Madonna. My personal bias is that change does not come from intellectual or ideological texts, much less classes. The best these seem to do is encourage small groups of obnoxious intellectuals to try to seize power (Cheney & neocons, Weather Underground, Randroids, Communists, etc.)

I think individual role models count much more, at least for my daughters, whether it's a big sister or my mom (a prominent lawyer) or Madonna, or Hillary Clinton (who they love) or Hannah Montana (who they hate). And these work best when they are personal, individual, quirky and human, not ideological.

But the real catalysts for changing 1950s sexual puritanism? In chronological order, I'd say 1) cheap cars 2) the Pill 3) discos 4) women joining the workforce en masse 5) cell phones 6) the Internet and 7) texting. Maybe condos, too. Individual choice and mobility.
posted by msalt at 8:29 PM on March 12, 2009


It occurs to me that maybe you're thinking that there should be clear individuals and clear actions that constitute a "big systemic attack on the patriarchy"?

Sort of. I'm saying things have been changing dramatically for decades, and this whole abstraction about "The Patriarchy" seems pretty unrelated to any reality I see.

I mean, if "The Patriarchy" doesn't mean any particular men, and it creates pressures that individuals can give more or less power to, and it's changing sort of but not by any clear individuals or actions, then what's the point of discussing it? How is this concept helping us change the world? It just seems like a provocative yet arid ideological deadend.
posted by msalt at 8:45 PM on March 12, 2009


the quite interesting tension among those who are probably mostly "pro sex" (and anti-censorship) but also convinced of connections between media representations and real acts of (in order?) objectification, discrimination, expropriation and violence.

Yeah. YEAH. You get it. While I'm still doubtful of even the harm supposed objectification does I do see connections between some media representation of women and exploitation. And the dangers of dealing with it all wrong scare the living shit out of me.

Again there are places that seem to strike the balance just fine. Places where women are not raped nearly at as high a rate as the US, have smaller salary disparity, have longstanding security against sexual harassment, get family support, AND they have porn and sexual ads coming out their ears. Not that I want the porn part. But for some reason the US just can't do without becoming a shrill and very un-fun place to be.
posted by tkchrist at 9:26 PM on March 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


msalt: if "The Patriarchy" doesn't mean any particular men, and it creates pressures that individuals can give more or less power to, and it's changing sort of but not by any clear individuals or actions, then what's the point of discussing it? How is this concept helping us change the world?

Okay, I'll bite. I am studying for final exams and won't be able to participate in this thread much longer, but I want to take time to tackle this one since I think it's such a good question. So let me try to unpack what I mean when I assert that "the patriarchy" is not the same thing as "men."

There is a model of social life - and it's one many of us subscribe to, albeit unwittingly - in which everything begins and ends with individual intentions, motivations, and behavior. The explanation goes something like this:

If gender oppression is a problem, it's because there are evil people (such as rapists) who hate women and oppress them. If racism is a problem, it's because some people are racists and oppress people of color. And so on.

When social life is viewed through an individualistic lens like this, it's easy to overlook or minimize the fact that we all participate in something much larger than ourselves or any specific collection of us as individuals: a social system. We didn't create this system (patriarchy, in this case), and we don't have the power to opt out, but we do have the power to affect it through the daily choices we make about how we participate.

To see this, think about what happens when you go to work in a large corporation, which is a kind of system. When you walk into the door, your behavior and experience is being shaped by something other than just the interactions among you and your co-workers. You are stepping into an arrangement of pre-existing relationships and shared understandings that connect people to one another and set expectations for what kind of behavior is and is not acceptable. This system shapes your behavior just as surely as the air you breathe does, even if you consciously reject it or rebel against it. When you leave at the end of the working day, there is a shift: the constraints imposed by your participation in that system (whether these constraints were consciously accepted or not) fall away temporarily, until the next time you walk through that door.

You aren't the corporation. Neither are your co-workers. All of you could quit your jobs, and the corporation would continue to exist - not just as a legal entity, but as something that shapes social behavior. Presumably, a new group of workers would be hired, and the corporation would continue as before.

Patriarchy, likewise, is a social system, organized around certain relationships and expectations. A large group of people can (and do!) consciously choose to reject it and/or resist the expectations it places upon them, but that doesn't make patriarchy cease to exist. (Oh, if only it were that simple!) We participate in it whether we like it or not.

Patriarchy, like any social system, can exist without individual men having oppressive intentions or consciously conspiring with one another to oppress women. People who grow up in a patriarchal culture and never ask why things are the way they are just perceive it as "normal". Unremarkable. To those who are unaware of its existence, it's not even identifiable as a social system or an influence on behavior at all; it's just the way things are. For patriarchy to continue to exist, it's not necessary for all men to be rapists, or for all women to be victims. Good-hearted and well-intentioned people participate in systems that produce oppressive consequences all the time, despite their good intentions.

But therein lies the power and responsibility we have as individuals and collectively. No, we can't eradicate patriarchy (nor racism, nor GLBTQ oppression, etc.) all by our lonesome. But we are not powerless. We can learn about how it operates - especially about the paths of least resistance it lays out for us - and to a certain extent, we can choose to behave in ways that resist or oppose it instead of ways that perpetuate it.

Don't underestimate this power of opposition. Paths of least resistance are very effective behavior-shapers, all the more so because they are not obvious to so many people. Think about what might happen if, say, a group of young men were leering at a woman in a way that made her feel threatened and uncomfortable, and a couple of their peers made a point of refusing to go along with it, objected to it vociferously, ostracized the guys who did it, or otherwise confronted the others and asserted that such behavior was just not acceptable. What might happen next? The path of least resistance in a patriarchal culture - the path that allows the status quo to continue - would be for the dissenters to remain silent. The social unrest that the dissenters would face if they did object is a measure of how strong and ingrained these paths of least resistance actually are.

To get back to my original point: patriarchy is not the same thing as "men". Blaming men for patriarchy simply because they are men doesn't do any good. Blaming women for colluding with their own oppression or being victims doesn't help either. Worse still, all of this blaming, guilt-tripping and fault-finding makes the task of fighting patriarchy that much more difficult. Why? Because men are too busy feeling accused or guilty and defending themselves (or on the other hand, apologizing on behalf of their entire gender), and women are too busy trying to reassure individual men that they're one of the good guys, or attempting to extricate themselves from the maddening double-binds placed upon them by living in a patriarchal culture.

I'd love to see us get out of the blame-and-defend cycle entirely, and devote more attention to things such as discussing what individual or group actions might be most effective for resisting patriarchy and all other oppressions. Understanding the "male gaze" and how it may influence perception and behavior could be useful for this purpose. But we can't make much sense of this as long as we remain unaware of the ways social systems work, or worse, refuse to acknowledge that they even exist.
posted by velvet winter at 11:53 PM on March 12, 2009 [16 favorites]


P.S. I want to acknowledge my gratitude to Allan G. Johnson, whose lucid and eye-opening writings have so profoundly shaped my thinking about social systems. I am paraphrasing him in the comment above; the corporation example and the notion of "paths of least resistance" are from his book The Gender Knot: Unraveling our Patriarchal Legacy. Highly recommended.
posted by velvet winter at 12:06 AM on March 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Seeing a man as a potential rapist does not take anything away from him.

Yes, it does.
posted by 5imian at 12:38 AM on March 13, 2009


What we have to agree on is look at WHY people are stealing every god damn time they do.

Sure, we do... but sometimes people steal just because they want something for nothing. Looking to hard for a cause is often times a red herring. If that were the case rich people would never steal, right? Yes, motive is important... but the job of a court or legal system is not

"why did they steal?" but "did they or did they not steal?".
posted by 5imian at 12:42 AM on March 13, 2009


IronMouth: Isn't that the danger of talking about "men" and the "patriarchy" in the collective?

It is possible to to condemn the detriments of a patriarchal society without condemning patriarchs collectively.
posted by syzygy at 2:55 AM on March 13, 2009


I'm kind of shocked how quickly metafilter has turned from hostile towards women to hostile towards men.
posted by tehloki at 4:39 AM on March 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


My personal bias is that change does not come from intellectual or ideological texts, much less classes.

They've actually been incredibly helpful for me, as a woman to whom being a woman was never that important, and before that a girl to whom being a girl was never that important. I thought because I didn't feel "feminine" and didn't act like a stereotypical tv woman that I would be immune from the pressures and discrimination women face.

But then I found out that wasn't true, and that no matter what I did both women and men treated me in a stereotyped way, that I still faced catcalls on the street and people telling me I couldn't do math and people assuming I would want to have kids and simply being told a lot that something I was doing wasn't feminine.

So for me, reading about the sociological theories behind this, and understanding that I'm not crazy or weird really helped. In particular, understanding that the patriarchy is a system we all live under and all contribute to mostly unconsciously has made it easier for me to live in my own skin. I needed to realize that while all of our individual actions over time can slowly change things over time, I by myself can not choose to opt out of how things are, no matter how hard I try.

For example, it's very easy to attempt to oppose the system and actually find myself reinforcing it. If I say "I personally want to be a firefighter" that's awesome, and the progress of feminism has made that possible. If I say "I want to be a firefighter to get away from the shallow, boring, weak women who work traditionally feminine jobs", I am actually strengthening the system I'm trying to oppose.

It's a difficult minefield to walk, and it's easy to screw up. I find examining from the academic frames helpful in my daily life. Maybe this analytic approach isn't for everybody. But, for me if I want the world to change, it helps to understand what it is I'm trying to change.
posted by hydropsyche at 5:10 AM on March 13, 2009 [4 favorites]


I'm kind of shocked how quickly metafilter has turned from hostile towards women to hostile towards men.

There seem to be a lot of men participating in this discussion. What in particular do you find hostile here?
posted by hydropsyche at 5:11 AM on March 13, 2009


For example, it's very easy to attempt to oppose the system and actually find myself reinforcing it. If I say "I personally want to be a firefighter" that's awesome, and the progress of feminism has made that possible. If I say "I want to be a firefighter to get away from the shallow, boring, weak women who work traditionally feminine jobs", I am actually strengthening the system I'm trying to oppose.
That's a shockingly good point. I will add that while it makes perfect sense to me why a woman would want to be ,say, a football player, it still bewilders me why one would want to be a cheerleader.
"your job is not to do... it is instead to cheer for the doers..isn't that a great job?" The fact that cheer leading is a traditionally feminine role seems kind of a strange cultural norm to me, and its reinforced at such a vulnerable age.
the dominant male at school? Quarterback. The dominant female? Head cheerleader. Cheers for the man. WTF?
Even to the point that the assumption that most people have that a male cheerleader is "obviously" gay... hes lacking a certain "man-ness". Even male professionals in (for example) the nursing or elementary education career paths deal with this kind of silliness, long after high school.
I think that is the gift of feminism, to both genders in a lot of ways. The patriarchal model of looking at things really does screw over both genders.
The patriarchal cultural zeitgeist can be is certainly ruinous for both sexes:
  • Men? you aren't allowed to show emotion ever. You gotta 'have balls'. You're a fighter, not a nurse. Did you spend the day at home caring for your children? Pfft. Wuss. You have no social value. its a wonder you ever attracted mate.

  • Women? Your job is to cheer for men. You're a baby machine. Better pick the best silverback! Men are the doers, you are here to simply look beautiful, and if you can't you're useless.
  • I mean its all bullshit! For everyone!

    I think some of the opinions in this thread are a little bitter (not all, just some)... we gotta keep our eye on the prize. Trying to quantify whose "getting hurt more" is a waste. We know there's a problem. We all do. The goal is cultural freedom, and lets not forget we're all on the same team. At least that's the way I see it.

    Also, i'm not knocking cheer leading, or cheerleaders... just questioning its social function and gender stereotype as an example of one of the "gifts" patriarchal society has to give us.
    posted by 5imian at 7:04 AM on March 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


    That's actually a great example, 5imian, because it brings us back around to the original post. Cheerleaders as they were originally conceived were entirely about the male gaze.
    In their defense, cheerleading now is much more about acrobatics and dance and many schools and colleges now have teams solely devoted to competition that don't even show up to cheer for male athletes).
    posted by hydropsyche at 7:38 AM on March 13, 2009


    Velvet Winter, I definitely hear you and understand the appeal of a systems approach as a possible way to get past individual blame and defensiveness. But I just don't think "patriarchy" works as a concept. It's too loaded with associations.

    It sounds like a Mafia council of old guys who run society for the benefit of all men. And this naturally makes men defensive.

    Frankly, IMHO it's outdated ideological shorthand (like "phallocentric") from the 1970s. I'm not sure it ever described American society in a way that helps us understand problems and fix them, but it certainly doesn't now.

    (BTW I bought The Gender Knot on your recommendation but didn't get very far. Johnson starts by assuming a priori that there is something called patriarchy which he defines a structure of systematic oppression of women. He's already lost me there because he's not starting from reality, he starts from ideology and looks for examples in reality.)
    posted by msalt at 10:34 AM on March 13, 2009


    Cheerleaders as they were originally conceived were entirely about the male gaze.

    Says who? Cheerleading (and beauty pageants, for another good example) are female dominated institutions with mostly female audiences. It's possible that men cooked up them up for purposes of ogling, but it's also possible that they appeal to women in some way that isn't easily explained by the ideology taught in Women's Studies courses.

    I don't know a single guy who watches beauty pageants. But I know several strong, smart, feminist women who do. And many of them were some kind of cheerleader, at least at the junior high or middle school level. I sure don't understand the appeal (any more than I understand the whole stuffed animal thing) but that doesn't make it wrong or a symptom of oppression.
    posted by msalt at 10:41 AM on March 13, 2009


    I just don't think "patriarchy" works as a concept. It's too loaded with associations.

    Yeah, I'm leaning strongly towards using kyriarchy instead in my formal writing, because the binary conceptualization of "patriarchy" doesn't get at the flexibility and multidimensionality of the power relations I'm looking at. As the linked blog explains it, kyriarchy is

    about the human tendency for everyone trying to take the role of lord/master within a pyramid. At it best heights, studying kyriarchy displays that it's more than just rich, white Christian men at the tip top and, personally, they're not the ones I find most dangerous. There's a helluva lot more people a few levels down the pyramid who are more interested in keeping their place in the structure than to turning the pyramid upside down. . . . the pyramid stratifies itself from top to bottom. And before you start making a checklist of who is at the top and bottom - here's my advice: don't bother. The pyramid shifts with context.
    posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 11:59 AM on March 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


    Says who? Cheerleading (and beauty pageants, for another good example) are female dominated institutions with mostly female audiences.

    Cite for "mostly female audiences," please? If you're talking about competitive cheerleading, ok. For cheerleading attached to football, basketball, etc, games, which I would think would be how most people are exposed to it, it's nonsensical.

    There's actually a good history of cheerleading in the US (Mary Ellen Hanson, Go! Fight! Win!) that some in this thread might find interesting. Preview at Google Books.

    Summary: At the collegiate level, cheerleaders were originally (late 1800s, when the idea of letting women into colleges was still, if done at all, rather avant-garde) male, respected for athletic ability ("tumbling skills"), aesthetics (check out the 1924 NYT quote on p. 2, rhapsodizing about "lithe, white-sweatered and flannel-trousered youth"), and extroversion;

    p. 16, women started to cheerlead too by the 1920s, meeting "some resistance" from establishment cheerleading Powers That Be who preferred to maintain male-only participation; by 1940s, co-ed, all-male and all-female teams were common.

    Hanson attributes the greater acceptance of women cheerleaders to, among other factors, increasingly common incidences beginning in the 1920s of "female display as mass entertainment" via movies and beauty pageants - which readers may or may not agree with, but it's only logical to suggest that opinions on this from people who don't know much about major push-pull factors of the decades in question are probably worth less than those of people who do.

    All of which is to say, cheerleading didn't start out as an example of male gaze, but today it's inseparable from displays of teasing barely-legal female sexuality. Yes, it's female-dominated, the female cheerleaders get a lot of positives out of it like camaraderie, aesthetic athleticism, popularity, all that, and none of that neutralizes the fact that as currently practiced, titillation of largely male spectators is one of its indispensable functions.
    posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 1:57 PM on March 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


    Very interesting concept, though I can't see kyriarchy catching on as a popular term. How about "Everybody's playing King of the Hill" (EPKOTH?)
    posted by msalt at 2:00 PM on March 13, 2009


    Cite for "mostly female audiences," please? ...For cheerleading attached to football, basketball, etc, games, ... it's nonsensical.

    Only if you assume that women don't like watching other women be sexy. Says who?

    Beauty pageants are clearly aimed at women viewers. "Female display as mass entertainment" grew in the 1920s -- an era of women's liberation -- but why do you assume women weren't watching? Why is it nonsensical that women would enjoy watching cheerleaders do dance routines?

    BTW: Samuel Jackson, Jr., President Eisenhower, Steve Martin and President Bush, Jr. were all cheerleaders.
    posted by msalt at 3:08 PM on March 13, 2009


    Mulvey's essay is brilliant but more useful today as a historic landmark of early 70s feminist film theory than as a heuristic for discerning power frameworks. Still, anyone interested in the discourse needs to read it to be conversant.

    Can you suggest some stepping stones someone new to the subject might use to access the paper?

    I started reading the paper, moments later I was reading the words:

    "To summarise briefly: the function of woman in forming the patriarchal unconscious is two-fold. She first symbolises the castration threat by her real absence of a penis, and second thereby raises her child into the symbolic. Once this has been achieved, her meaning in the process is at an end, it does not last into the world of law and language except as a memory which oscillates between memory of maternal plenitude and memory of lack. Both are posited on nature (or on anatomy in Freud's famous phrase). Woman's desire is subjected to her image as bearer of the bleeding wound, she can exist only in relation to castration and cannot transcend it. She turns her child into the signifier of her own desire to possess a penis (the condition, she imagines, of entry into the symbolic)."

    I'm having difficulty understanding what the author is trying to express here. I can parse the words, but I'm having difficulty extracting a meaning which makes any sense.
    posted by Mike1024 at 3:43 PM on March 13, 2009


    msalt, perhaps there was a miscommunication.

    When i said cheerleader, i didn't mean this. I meant this.

    Calling bush a cheerleader, is a bit of a misnomer... perhaps pep rally leader? i am referring to a very specific social function, and please tell me you aren't so ignorant as to have no goddamn clue what i meant. No offence, but really... id you go to highschool in America?

    If not, I'm TELLING you.
    If yes, was your head up your ass?
    posted by 5imian at 4:13 PM on March 13, 2009


    msalt: I bought The Gender Knot on your recommendation but didn't get very far. Johnson starts by assuming a priori that there is something called patriarchy which he defines a structure of systematic oppression of women. He's already lost me there because he's not starting from reality, he starts from ideology and looks for examples in reality.

    I'm sorry to hear that you didn't find the book useful. I wholeheartedly stand behind the recommendation, however; I found it very illuminating. My experience with materials like these is similar to what hydropsyche mentioned above - they've helped me to name and understand things I once struggled with for years without success.

    FWIW, I don't think you and I are operating from within the same ontological frame of reference at all. I'm 41, only slightly younger than you, but I find the term "patriarchy" to be perfectly appropriate, and in my mind it is not at all outdated or "ideological" in the sense you seem to be using that term.

    In order to address this difference adequately (by my own standards, at least), I'd have to delve much deeper into feminist theory and epistemology, exploring questions of how most people - and in particular, members of dominant groups - tend to perceive the underlying assumptions of their own worldview as "established fact" or "reality" and anything that contradicts those assumptions as "ideological". That would give me a good excuse to re-read some of my undergrad philosophy texts, which I'm sure I would enjoy...but unfortunately, I don't have sufficient time to do that right now, and I suspect it wouldn't make a whole lot of difference in threads like these anyway. Most people, no matter how fair-minded, aren't particularly interested in seriously questioning the foundational assumptions underlying their own worldviews, and in a way I can't say I blame them. It's not easy work at all.

    Anyway, about the book...perhaps you could donate your unread copy to the Multnomah County Library, so others might read it? I think I recall you telling me at the last meetup that the library didn't have a copy available.

    Thanks for checking it out on my recommendation, though, and giving it a chance. I do appreciate that quite a bit.

    This big ol' academic nerd needs to study for final exams now, so it's time to bow out of this thread.
    posted by velvet winter at 4:21 PM on March 13, 2009


    I will also add.. if you even comprehended my post, that women as well as men perpetuate the gender roles in society. Often times the most critical sources of an adventurous career minded woman is not other men, but other women.
    Really, just ask a woman doctor or lawyer.
    My stepmother (a doctor) got more passive aggressive shit from her female friends that grew up to be homemakers than men, on average. Just because women watch beauty pageants does not in any way invalidate the point. It doesn't mean its not reinforcing a stereotype.

    ...I admit i don't like the term "male gaze" it sounds accusatory... but the actual points that people pointing this stuff out are often dead on. REally, once you realise that "male gaze" is equally enforced by both sexes..you'll get it. Makeup is sold to women who buy it. Men don't buy makeup. Women do . But they buy it for the male gaze. Theoretically if all women simultaneously SUDDENLY decided to stop wearing makeup..the industry would just...die. But in this scenario men are guilty too (quite guilty..JUST as guilty), I'm not absolving men of guilt.. or women. There is an expectation to live up to, often times an unreal one.

    The unreal expectation of what? The male gaze. Do you get it yet?

    Do women REALLY look like women in beauty pageants? I mean REALLY!

    Patriarchal does not mean "man bashing". Sure, sometimes it turns into that and I am the first guy to be like, hey now "we are definitely on the same team here". (i did say that right?) Just..do you reallyreallyreallyreally get what you are arguing AGAINST?
    posted by 5imian at 4:29 PM on March 13, 2009


    why do you assume women weren't watching? Why is it nonsensical that women would enjoy watching cheerleaders do dance routines?

    I don't assume either of those, nor did I assume that women don't find watching other women to be sexy. I was questioning your inclusion of cheerleading among institutions that have "mostly female audiences." Again, if we're talking competitive cheerleading, ok, but cheerleading at football/basketball/etc games, the idea that those gawking at the cheerleaders are "mostly female"?

    Also, I'll grant you this, EPKOTH is much catchier than kyriarchy. All the meaning with only half the syllables! Maybe we can make it go viral if we drop it into enough conversations.
    posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 4:38 PM on March 13, 2009


    I was questioning your inclusion of cheerleading among institutions that have "mostly female audiences."

    even if hes 100% right about the audience, it doesn't invalidate the point of its social function. Who watches pageants is a red herring. Why do they exist? That's the question.
    posted by 5imian at 4:40 PM on March 13, 2009


    Pageants.
    Pageants.
    Pageants.
    Pageants.
    Pageants.
    Pageants.
    Pageants.
    Pageants.
    Pageants.
    Pageants.
    Pageants.
    Pageants.

    How is this point not self evident?
    posted by 5imian at 4:48 PM on March 13, 2009


    5imian: I have no problem understanding your point about male gaze. But how do you know that women aren't posing for the female gaze? Instead of being desperate to please men, perhaps a lot of women just enjoy dancing, fashion, dressing up -- and watching other women do the same? Cause it's fun for them? Or because they care what other women think about them?

    Cybercoitus: Point taken about the pro sports audience. But even those teams are constantly trying to attract more women (and kids) with team mascots, clubs for women, etc. Can't find any stats, but my experience here in Portland (NBA Trailblazers, significant female audience) is that when the dancers come out, women tend to watch and men tend to go get beers. Women don't gawk, generally; they admire dance moves and critique clothes and makeup.

    Believe me, I'm as surprised about the pageants/cheerleading thing as anybody, but I see it consistently year after year.
    posted by msalt at 5:08 PM on March 13, 2009


    Women don't gawk, generally; they admire dance moves and critique clothes and makeup.

    Again, I'm not saying this isn't true, or that women tend to run beauty pageants.

    But why critique makeup? Why even wear it?

    You're arguing an objected-oriented point in an assembly level argument. (geeky analogy, sure..but i hope you get what i'm saying)
    posted by 5imian at 5:20 PM on March 13, 2009


    I'm kind of shocked how quickly metafilter has turned from hostile towards women to hostile towards men.

    I should never have come in here; I promised myself I wouldn't... but come on, please. It's sadly predictable any discussion about feminism on Metafilter will eventually end in somebody saying "what about the menz"? In fact the longer the discussion is, the probability approaches one, just like the Godwin rule or law or whatever.

    To quote Ursula Le Guin, who lost her temper (or very nearly) during a Writer's Conference panel: "Why is it that whenever women try to talk about misogyny, they're accused of hating men?"

    And tkchrist:

    But if it's about sex? Whoooooo. Watch out. Why is that? Personally I think it's becuase we are fucked up about sex in this country in general.

    How are we fucked up in ways that other countries aren't?

    Other societies seem to be able to have discussion about sexism and gender bias and body image issues WITHOUT bringing up "sexual objectification" or pornography.

    Oh really? Citations, please.

    In fact in many places in Europe that accept pornography as simply another expressive form seem to have the MOST progressive attitudes towards women and the most egalitarian societies.

    Citations, again. I know that there's this stereotype of Scandanavia as being some kind of free-thinking sexual paradise, but it's a very old one-- from the 70s-- and could use some updating. You might have read that Amsterdam has been cracking down on sex shops and the red light district.
    posted by jokeefe at 5:43 PM on March 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


    5imian: You're arguing an objected-oriented point in an assembly level argument. (geeky analogy, sure..but i hope you get what i'm saying)
    No, this time I really DON'T have any idea what you're talking about. But let me put it this way.

    When I was just out of college, I found myself in an argument where I was passionately (and rather convincingly, I must say) pointing out
    how sexist the song "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" is. Reductive, written by a man, etc.

    And then I noticed that everyone I was arguing with was female. And I realized I was being an idiot.
    I can't explain exactly how, but I think that's kind of what you're doing here.
    posted by msalt at 6:23 PM on March 13, 2009


    Johnson starts by assuming a priori that there is something called patriarchy which he defines a structure of systematic oppression of women. He's already lost me there because he's not starting from reality, he starts from ideology and looks for examples in reality.

    Our understanding of "reality" starts with personal experience. Yes?
    Our understanding of "reality" can be added to by reading stuff that we evaluate for strengths and weaknesses and we jettison the parts that are badly grounded and incorporate those that are well-grounded. Yes?
    Therefore, the more we know/read about a topic, the more our understanding of "reality" has sa chance of expanding, deepening, becoming more complicated. Possibly even changing. Yes?

    So, consider someone who's made a point of reading about changes in what "femininity" and "masculinity" have meant across time and cultures, how that relates to the lived experiences of men, women, boys, girls, etc, and how conventions of male/female interaction, and our understanding of what it means to be a "man" or a "woman", that we take for granted today, has changed, and what has stayed the same. The understanding of "reality" that such a person has is likely to be different from that held by someone who's not so familiar with as much as there is to know about this topic. Yes?

    However, different does not mean "everything's relative, one person's opinion is as good as another's". Yes?

    Is the understanding of "reality" held by someone who, in addition to personal experience, is deeply and broadly informed in this way about how women of various backgrounds have lived, and live today - is this person's understanding likely to be more or less well-grounded compared to the understanding of "reality" held by someone whose understanding is informed solely by personal experience?

    I'm not arguing that everyone who's familiar with substantial portions of that body of knowledge agrees. I am arguing that these discussions would be much more productive if we were working from something resembling the same - "page" is inaccurate, but the same general section of the library would be helpful.

    To wit: the assumption that "patriarchy" = exclusively ideology (exclusive of the possibility that it's a term used to encompass that body of knowledge whose various parts have in common the documentation of male-oriented societies in their seemingly infinite permutations), might be better have a chance of being grounded if there was some demonstrable familiarity with the peer-reviewed/argued over/triangulated on from multiple perspectives, established facts leading so many to conclude that our society and many others are structured on the systematic oppression of women.
    posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 7:01 PM on March 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


    CI: I must be coming off stupider than I perceive I am, but I have no trouble following you either. I'm certainly not assuming that societal oppression of women is a fiction of certain ideologies. And I couldn't agree more on the importance of starting from the same -- "page", or set of assumptions. I would love to collaborate on a new, reality-based starting point for gender discussions, whether it's rooted in a blog, book, manifesto or whatever.

    But I don't think the ideology championed by Laura Mulvey, Allan Johnson, etc. is anywhere near being a good starting point. It's jargony, self-justifying, poorly defined, and rooted in a worldview that was too abstract 34 years ago and hasn't aged well. It's not clear their writing is rooted in either personal experience or how women of various backgrounds live.

    If the term "patriarchy" describes the U.S., (today as well as 1953), Saudi Arabia AND Afghanistan under the Taliban, what insight does the term really give us? It's been used in this thread to encompass laws against women owning property, rape, and guys looking at women or not doing as much housework. That makes it kind of hard to strategize against.

    Also: I think for most college kids (including me), our sense of reality actually started with book learning and is slowly enriched by real life experience, not vice versa as you suggest.
    posted by msalt at 1:19 AM on March 14, 2009


    And then I noticed that everyone I was arguing with was female. And I realized I was being an idiot.
    I can't explain exactly how, but I think that's kind of what you're doing here.


    I appreciate your disagreement, but I don't think these situations are analogous. So i guess i 'can't explain exactly how' either. I'm not arguing about a pop song, and as far as i can tell (they haven't told me otherwise) I am not arguing against the women in this thread.

    Unless of course that was just a fancy way to call me an idiot. If, so - try dismantling my argument rather than quasi-cleverly embedded ad hominem attacks.

    As for my earlier incomprehensible statement (assembly level problem blah blah blah) ... allow me to clarify. I just meant that maybe if women themselves are telling us that these (according to you) female run institutions of cheerleading/ pageants are actually a little misogynist, maybe we should listen rather than say well women run it, so obviously you like it. Saying "well women watch cheerleaders" is a really topical and superficial comeback to the point, and almost dismissive.. Heroin addicts like heroin. Right? But i bet they hate actually being addicted. In both situations, we are being asked to look at a deeper problem. We don't dismiss the addict by saying "oh well he likes it". Your argument is that maybe most of this female behavior is the female gaze... but even if you're right could that be a surface level detail rather than the heart of the problem?

    I don't know about you, and your life but I really am speaking from personal experience here, but none of the women I know and spend time with really have ever wanted to be in beauty pageants or honestly even be a cheerleader. The women I hang out with, and again- this is just me, want to be graphic designers, musicians and programmers. I honestly didn't think this way until THEY told ME what they thought about he social institutions i meantioned earlier in the thread (mainly cheerleading). Sure, I have shared some of the issues of the male plight with them too, and there was no disagreement. If anything we often found that the same forces we at work to make social problems for both genders. So yeah, noone looked like an idiot. Everyone was listening. All i am saying is that's what we should try to do. To me, the results are worth it.

    Just in the remote case that wasn't obvious: For the record, I am not calling women heroin addicts that was purely conceptual.
    posted by 5imian at 4:56 AM on March 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


    You people are silly. Male gayz look at MEN. It's female gayz that look at women.
    [/YouTube]
    posted by Artw at 7:31 AM on March 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


    5imian -- I very much appreciate your personal angle, as I have tried to give mine. the hardest thing about gender is that no one is a true outsider, we all have a stake that colors our perception. Humility about our own understanding -- conspicuously absent from Mulvey's essay -- is crucial.

    In the song example, I found myself arguing -- against a bunch of women -- that they shouldn't like this song because it's sexist etc. But their reality trumped my theory, esp. because they are women and I'm not.

    I'm saying, you might consider beauty pageants the same way. Yes, lots of women don't like them, but millions of women do. Women run, join and watch them - do you really know any guys who do? It's a fact - a puzzling, even discomfiting fact, but there it is. And discounting the experience of so many women because they don't fit your theory is a dangerous business, esp. since as a male we will never quite share their experience.
    posted by msalt at 10:52 AM on March 14, 2009


    I'm certainly not assuming that societal oppression of women is a fiction of certain ideologies.

    No? What meaning other than "Societal oppression of women is a fiction of certain ideologies [namely, patriarchy]" is it possible to get out of
    "Johnson starts by assuming a priori that there is something called patriarchy which he defines a structure of systematic oppression of women. He's already lost me there because he's not starting from reality, he starts from ideology and looks for examples in reality."

    ?

    Did you misspeak? If not, perhaps you could spell out how else those two sentences can be interpreted?

    I notice you didn't address this question:

    "Is the understanding of "reality" held by someone who, in addition to personal experience, is deeply and broadly informed in this way about how women of various backgrounds have lived, and live today - is this person's understanding likely to be more or less well-grounded compared to the understanding of "reality" held by someone whose understanding is informed solely by personal experience?"

    Since you didn't object to it, does that mean you agree?

    I think for most college kids (including me), our sense of reality actually started with book learning and is slowly enriched by real life experience, not vice versa as you suggest.

    I meant from early childhood on, actually. Most of the people I know tried to make sense of the world from when we first became aware of ourselves as individuals. It was an ongoing process through childhood and teens. By the time college started we had already formed strong opinions about how the world worked. Then, with college (or, for self-starters, independent study), the serious book learning modified those opinions.

    I don't think the ideology championed by Laura Mulvey, Allan Johnson, etc. is anywhere near being a good starting point. It's jargony, self-justifying, poorly defined, and rooted in a worldview that was too abstract 34 years ago and hasn't aged well. It's not clear their writing is rooted in either personal experience or how women of various backgrounds live.


    The Mulvey essay is jargony, yes. I haven't done more than skim it, once, so I won't presume to comment further on it.

    I just read what's available of The Gender Knot through Google Books. "Patriarchy" is the only word that could qualify as "jargony". The rest of it's plain English. It was first published in 1997. Its latest edition is from 2005. He devotes the whole of Chapter 2 to explaining what he means by "patriarchy".

    The Gender Knot (p. ix) is "based on more than thirty years of work around issues of gender inequality, from reading and teaching and research to giving speeches at rallies to testifying before legislative committees to writing op-ed pieces to working in corporations and schools with men and women . . . it has been shaped by my experience growing up and living as a male in the United States. As a boy who liked literature more than football, I often felt on the outside of the young-boy macho in-crowd . . . I've had to navigate the aggressive ritual of status competition among boys and men..."

    If you don't think that that societal oppression of women is a fiction, perhaps you could give the book another try, substituting EPKOTH in your head for when he uses "patriarchy".

    If the term "patriarchy" describes the U.S., (today as well as 1953), Saudi Arabia AND Afghanistan under the Taliban, what insight does the term really give us? It's been used in this thread to encompass laws against women owning property, rape, and guys looking at women or not doing as much housework. That makes it kind of hard to strategize against.

    It calls these societies male-oriented. Consequently, it makes it harder for people to take their society's workings for granted (if thought of at all) as "just the way things are...how can I play it well enough to do well for myself?" Simply naming it opens up the possibility of thinking about how societies could work differently, more humanely, more justly, so that as few people as possible are pigeonholed. Like in The Matrix, Neo swallows the red pill, which takes him outside of the world that he'd taken for granted as just the way things were. Getting people to stop taking it for granted, that's the crucial starting point. Without that, further thinking about it, much less action, is impossible. (Johnson discusses this on p. 35.)

    And I couldn't agree more on the importance of starting from the same -- "page", or set of assumptions.

    What I meant by "page" is not "assumptions" (because assumptions are often based on nothing). I meant "grasp of inarguably established sets of facts about the reality of women's and men's lives in the past and present".

    If you mean "assumptions" in the sense of "set of things taken for granted," that's got zero chance of happening. Between two parties, one taking for granted that established facts about a certain topic are, in fact, facts (a conclusion based on having made a point of searching out, digesting, and evaluating a wide array of sources that address various facets of the topic),

    while the other 1. takes for granted that personal experience alone confers a breadth/depth of knowledge sufficient to entitle him/her to put quote marks around the other party's "facts", and 2. is so unthinkingly, unquestioningly confident about the sufficiency of their knowledge that that confidence aborts potential thoughts like "I wonder if it would enrich my perspective to take a look at some of what thousands of people, who've spent their working lives researching this topic, have had to say about it?"

    ...connections will continue to fail. And people wonder why we get cranky.

    You've been putting forward your views in good faith, so thanks for that. I don't mean to single you out as the sole target of the above couple of paragraphs, because this happens in every thread about gender (and race, among others). That's another reason we get cranky. We have to explain these things over and over again. To people who obviously think their personal experience is all they need to know about a subject, to authoritatively argue about it. "Obviously", because otherwise, they'd bother to check out a few of the hundreds of relevant books or articles available in libraries and online, and the information they'd find there would, in most cases, cut the legs out from under the points they bring up over and over again in threads like this.
    posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 6:37 PM on March 15, 2009


    CI: Thanks for a long and thoughtful post. It would be too long to reply to all, but please feel free to memail if you like.

    No? What meaning other than "Societal oppression of women is a fiction of certain ideologies [namely, patriarchy]" is it possible to get out of
    "Johnson starts by assuming a priori that there is something called patriarchy which he defines a structure of systematic oppression of women. He's already lost me there because he's not starting from reality, he starts from ideology and looks for examples in reality."


    There is a big difference between agreeing that women are harmed in many ways by our current society's gender structure (my position) and saying, as Johnson does, that oppression of women is the heart of our patriarchial society (p11) or that our patriarchy is organized around the principal of male control (p. 27). I trust that's clear? To my eye, he is starting with a tightly-wound ideology, not accepting the messy and complex reality of gender relations, cross-winds from class, ethnicity, religion and urbanization, etc.

    Me: If the term "patriarchy" describes the U.S., (today as well as 1953), Saudi Arabia AND Afghanistan under the Taliban, what insight does the term really give us?
    CI: It calls these societies male-oriented. Consequently, it makes it harder for people to take their society's workings for granted (if thought of at all) as "just the way things are...how can I play it well enough to do well for myself?"

    To me, lumping together societies where women can't drive or attend school with America in 2009 does not encourage change. Quite the opposite -- if all the progress we've made in the US, from suffrage to sexual harassment laws to female majority law schools leaves us mired in patriarchy along with Saudi Arabia, how can that not discourage reform?

    Let's be clear -- I'm objecting to the WORD "patriarchy" because of its associations. At its root, it means "a family, clan or society ruled by the eldest male" however writers might attempt to spin it. In the U.S. today, it immediately situates the person who uses it in feminist ideology. Are you arguing that no one who does not embrace the academic feminist tradition is entitled to discuss gender? Why can't we find a less loaded term? Who says one single term can accurately describe US society's gender structure anyway, from fundamentalist Mormons to Manhattan to Cuban communities in Florida?

    people who obviously think their personal experience is all they need to know about a subject

    Well, it is tricky. We all have data from our personal lives, which is why I think these discussions get personal so quickly (on all sides). Ironically the credentials you cite for "The Gender Knot" are pretty much Johnson's personal experience, most of which I share. I'm not an activist and I don't teach gender studies, but "Hartford College for Women" is not a major institution either.

    I would love to work toward a common agreed reality on which to have these discussions, statistical if possible. But look how much resistance I got just for pointing out that women are the audience for beauty pageants -- even after I presented ratings data to back up some pretty obvious anecdotal experience. And unfortunately, at least some of the academic work out there (such as the Grindstaff paper I linked to) don't hesitate to discard their data when it contradicts the findings that the author is looking for ("regardless of the actual demographics of viewers").
    posted by msalt at 11:46 PM on March 15, 2009


    perhaps you could give The Gender Knot another try, substituting EPKOTH in your head for when he uses "patriarchy"

    I've been poking around the book to answer your comments, and I don't think he can survive that leap. "A society where everybody plays king of the hill has at its heart the oppression of women"? Much of his argument is about the "denial" of people who don't agree with him about patriarchy, based on his personal psychotherapy (a good example of his ironically triumphalist tone that I can't stand). I don't think many people would deny EPKOTH in our freewheeling capitalist society.

    And that's what I love about kyriarchy/EPKOTH. It has its (more careful) assumption worn openly on its sleeve and leaves it to the reader (or the researcher) to draw conclusions about who is "winning" or how they try to reach the top and keep others away from it. I think that's a much better conceptual starting point, which is what I'm looking for.

    As for the research, I'm guessing you're an academic. I've made various stabs into the Gender Studies literature with discouraging results. Can you recommend a couple of large, statistical studies that found intriguing and surprising results that shifted the field's discourse? The equivalent of Durkheim's "Suicide", say? I admit to a bias that the field is not really open to contradictory data, and I would love to stand corrected (and edumacated).
    posted by msalt at 7:45 AM on March 16, 2009


    oppression of women is the heart of our patriarchial society (p11) or that our patriarchy is organized around the principal of male control

    1. these are different from how you originally paraphrased him, which was "which he defines [as] a structure of systematic oppression of women". This latter paraphrasing does not prioritize gender over race, class, etc. in the least ("a structure") and it is what I originally responded to.
    Regardless, 2. To my eye, he is starting with a tightly-wound ideology, not accepting the messy and complex reality of gender relations, cross-winds from class, ethnicity, religion and urbanization, etc.

    Having read only the first 33 pages, I can't contradict this assertion with certainty. Still, if it's a well-substantiated charge, then yes, his next edition could do with addressing those cross-winds, and at the same time, if he improved his argument by arguing that "oppression of women is a key structure of our society, along with race, class, etc", it wouldn't mean that a previous overemphasis on gender "the heart / the principle of male control" negated his entire argument. If you don't know the history of women or historical conceptualizations of femininity/masculinity in our society, and how it has both changed and carries on into the present, then you're in no position to judge the accuracy of statements asserting that a key structure of our society was and continues to be the systematic oppression of women.

    Ironically the credentials you cite for "The Gender Knot" are pretty much Johnson's personal experience, most of which I share. I'm not an activist and I don't teach gender studies, but "Hartford College for Women" is not a major institution either.


    I didn't mean them as "credentials" but as points rebutting your inaccurate characterization of Johnson's work as jargony poorly defined and rooted in a worldview that was too abstract 34 years ago [and not] rooted in personal experience. Also, automatically rejecting work because the author's not teaching at what you consider a major institution, rather than on its own merits is lazy, oh wait, you're also rejecting the work itself on what you consider its lack of merit despite lacking familiarity with the fundamentals of the topic being discussed...This confirms my sense of how you judge what you read, and sincerely & without snark I'm doubting that further exchanges will be a constructive use of my time.

    Are you arguing that no one who does not embrace the academic feminist tradition is entitled to discuss gender?

    What? No. You're equating reading stuff about women/femininity/masculinity with embracing the academic feminist tradition. There's a ginormous difference between reading stuff (articles/books = facts + authors' points of view about those facts) about a particular topic, and uncritically embracing the authors' points of view. Ginormous.

    I'm done here. I'll try to send you MeMail later in the week to address your last question, and what you sent me privately. Thanks for the discussion. I do appreciate your last sentence.
    posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 1:12 AM on March 17, 2009


    Fair enough. I didn't give up on The Gender Knot lightly, since it was strongly recommended by Velvet Winter who I respect a lot in these discussions.

    The key ? is, what gives Allan Johnson (or any of us) the authority to write on gender? Academic credentials? He doesn't rely on social science (either his own studies, or others), and Metafilter is all about intelligent people trading ideas in good faith without the need for formal qualifications. I have some credentials myself but people who brandish them always look like idiots or assholes, IMHO.

    Is it his personal experience? Fine by me. I think we are all qualified to share our experiences, if we stay specific and personal and admit the limits of our knowledge. But Johnson avoids sharing his personal story (in the first part of the book anyway) and fires off ringing, absolute generalizations about American society as a whole.

    No, he bases his work on ideology and the opinions of writers who are not social scientists either, just strongly opinionated and often colorful polemicists, and dismisses people who don't share his personal canon. Which is exactly what it feels like you are doing to me and have done elsewhere on Metafilter.

    You're right, there are hundreds of books like that, both conservative and feminist. I doubt you've read many of the conservative ones; I'm not that interested in either kind of polemic. I'm open to any original, reality based book based on either personal experience or social science though.
    posted by msalt at 6:58 AM on March 18, 2009


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