One Man’s Feminine Discomfort

How my Readings In Feminist Theory are Challenging me

The scenario: At some point in the last year I decided that I would fill a gaping hole in my education by spending this summer studying feminist theory and women’s spirituality. This is a full-blown independent study, not a grad student’s typical “oh-yeah-I-think-I’ll-do-that”-and-then-not-really-do-it passing summer fancy (of which I have had my share).

My reasons: My dissertation research will require me to use tools that I do not yet have (assessing the leader of a women’s movement as a woman and, potentially, as a feminist, after having defined “what is a feminist?” and “on what basis can I make that assertion?”). To boot, I was becoming increasingly convinced that, as a responsible theologian hoping to dialog with the broader culture and the discipline of religious studies, I simply needed to know this stuff. Bonus: it looks good on my resumĂ©.

External results: strange looks from my classmates, including one member of a women’s religious order; stranger looks from right-leaning Bible study members; and heated debates raging on my FaceBook status comments sparked between my most left- and right-leaning acquaintances responding to a simple status update: “I feel like I’m eavesdropping as I continue to catch up on feminist theory.”

Internal results: I really do feel like I’m listening in on someone else’s conversation. I am an outsider. I do not belong. For a man who essentially reads for a living, this is an unaccustomed feeling when behind a book. My concepts, my language, my faith in every form of its expression — all are subject to question and to suspicion. Any why not? A deep hurt runs through the world. In all likelihood, I am both part of the problem and part of the solution. I cannot take the status quo for granted as a manifest good. There is a big f-ing difference between Biblical gender ideals and 1950s roles.

Conclusion: Feminism challenges me, if not in my masculinity, in how I see the world. A lot of people have been hurt by men wielding their power and authority as men. We who are men should listen, whether we understand ourselves to be directly culpable or not.

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  1. Hi,
    I’ve been meaning to catch up with you for some time now. Hope all is well.
    Wanted to respond to your thoughtful, excellent post. This is an issue I have strong feelings about and thought I’d profess some of my insights towards for perusal or debate (I believe I probably was one of the left- handed people flinging debate on your facebook post too).

    The Scenario: I hold you up as a model of the Graduate Archetype: you study, but not just for filler, or simple lifestyle, or to get ever more bragging rights. I’ve always admired and to some small extent shared your nature in this. Knowledge is joyous, discovery is exciting, and knowing is sacred.

    Your Reasons: Recognizing that you may need to expand your understanding already trumps you into succeeding in the feminist march. The worst sign of a culture lacking balance is that a studied male individual would be happy to evaluate a feminist-ish history completely from the male perspective. To boot, every individual benefits from this stuff. Balance is balance, wherever it’s found.

    External Results: Ignore most of these, except those you find positively compelling in some way (regardless of status of message-sender).

    Internal Results: You stand at a unique crossroads my friend. On balance, Christiandom has done a lot of harm to the sacred feminine role in our culture, however, it also stands poised as the greatest hope to correct such injustices (I admit that when saying this, I’m in a camp that pays credence to “The Woman Of the Alabaster Jar” and other such analyses of how the Romans kept women out of the bible). As a philosopher, you have nothing to lose by embracing a perspective not shared by many of your peers. The perspective is this: though you often find it in nueveau-semi-Eastern religions and philosophies, the idea that we were all once other beings (i.e. boys were once girls and vice-versa), there is a very practical benefit to this thought – I’ll try to put it in more scientific terms. Culture tries to keep man-ness and woman-ness very separate – emphasize the differences, and if society pressures men in any way, it is to pressure men to not get caught being woman-like. Personally I think the perception of increase in gay people in the U.S. is in part a backlash from this football-machismo pressure – but that’s a whole other thing. But I think, when viewed from above, that psychologically healthy women often act manly and healthy men aren’t afraid of their feminine side. More importantly, two axioms are very powerful to me which also speak to this eradication of disparate genders: the more we get together the happier we’ll be, and empathy is the root of all good (the empathy thing is key since our conscious thoughts create our reality to some extent, so the more you believe you are completely unlike women, the less you are able to successfully put yourself in their shoes).
    Additionally, I really believe in feminism and consider myself a feminist, because part of my liberal nature is to open myself to the intuition within by putting myself in as many shoes as possible – which seems more feminine (nurturing, consensus based, etc.), and if nothing else seems feminist because feminism is currently an underdog, and being sympathetic to the underdog is the most efficient form of societal paradigm shifting since it directly challenges the correctness of the status quo (so above all, Subvert the Dominant Paradigm).
    You are part of the solution, and on balance you cause relatively few problems – I’m quite confidant of this. I probably ’cause more problems’ than you do.

    Conclusion: Listen to Dar Williams’ song, “When I Was A Boy.” The lyrics follow just in case you don’t (writer of one of my other favorite songs: “The Christians and the Pagans”). Listen to “The Origin Of Love” from the movie/show “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” though I’m not sure you’re ready to watch the movie itself-very powerful images and commentary about the idea of gender and sexuality. Lastly, let the process and vectors of your becoming empathetic to the feminist cause become mirrored in other eye-opening activities: read Gil Scott Heron with the same eye (in honor of MLK day – maybe you already have), receive the wisdom of newer or really new religions with the same detachment, nod and smile when others tell you about ‘this really awesome TV show you just HAVE to start watching regularly’ just like they do – using the same power to nod and smile convincingly.

  2. I won’t forget when Peter Pan came to my house, took my hand
    I said I was a boy; I’m glad he didn’t check.
    I learned to fly, I learned to fight
    I lived a whole life in one night
    We saved each other’s lives out on the pirate’s deck.

    And I remember that night
    When I’m leaving a late night with some friends
    And I hear somebody tell me it’s not safe,
    someone should help me
    I need to find a nice man to walk me home.

    When I was a boy, I scared the pants off of my mom,
    Climbed what I could climb upon
    And I don’t know how I survived,
    I guess I knew the tricks that all boys knew.

    And you can walk me home, but I was a boy, too.

    I was a kid that you would like, just a small boy on her bike
    Riding topless, yeah, I never cared who saw.
    My neighbor come outside to say, “Get your shirt,”
    I said “No way, it’s the last time I’m not breaking any law.”

    And now I’m in this clothing store, and the signs say less is more
    More that’s tight means more to see, more for them, not more for me
    That can’t help me climb a tree in ten seconds flat

    When I was a boy, See that picture? That was me
    Grass-stained shirt and dusty knees
    And I know things have gotta change,
    They got pills to sell, they’ve got implants to put in,
    they’ve got implants to remove

    But I am not forgetting…that I was a boy too

    And like the woods where I would creep, it’s a secret I can keep
    Except when I’m tired, ‘cept when I’m being caught off guard
    And I’ve had a lonesome awful day, the conversation finds its way
    To catching fire-flies out in the backyard.

    And so I tell the man I’m with about the other life I lived
    And I say, “Now you’re top gun, I have lost and you have won”
    And he says, “Oh no, no, can’t you see

    When I was a girl, my mom and I we always talked
    And I picked flowers everywhere that I walked.
    And I could always cry, now even when I’m alone I seldom do
    And I have lost some kindness
    But I was a girl too.
    And you were just like me, and I was just like you”

  3. Origin of Love – video and song:

  4. It may be some time before I can offer the sort of response your comment merits, but for now: thank you.


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