In the comments of my earlier post on the idea of alpha males jeffliveshere asks:
What would be an example of a man calling another man on sexism that doesnâ€™t also fall into the problem of domination hierarchiesâ€“if, indeed, we (men, women and those of other genders) find ourselves steeped in them like fish swim in water?
The Problem of Domination Hierarchies
Feminist men calling other men out on sexism are invariably going to be employing forms of privilege. Simply by virtue of being male, they are going to provoke a different reaction than women would – often this is going to mean that they are paid more attention to, either because their audience is prone to dismissing women or because it’s not seen to be in a man’s self-interest to call out sexism. This privilege is, in fact, one of the main reasons why it’s so important that men as well as women call out sexism.
When fighting sexism, is there a difference between using one’s status as a man to be listened to and using one’s status in a dominance hierarchy? Should we consider it acceptable to use forms of persuasion that we would otherwise consider abusive, because they’re being used for subversive ends? I’m not sure on this one – I can’t decide whether some uses of patriarchal institutions to fight sexism do more good than harm.
Confrontation and Personality
And then there’s the other obvious issue, one which Jeff and others have addressed, of personality differences. Not all feminist men are the same! To use Myers-Briggs language, those of us who are Es (extroverts, I’m ENFP) are going to meet challenges differently than I’s (introverts). I doubt anyone has done a typology of feminist men to discover if those of us active in the movement have personality characteristics different from the population at large! I’m certain, and indeed, I know from experience that feminist men have widely varying degrees of comfort with issues like public speaking, leadership, and confrontation.
Somehow, feminist men have to be committed to putting that belief into action. But the actions we take, particularly in our relationships with others, are going to be largely congruent not only with our politics but with our personalities.
I’m pleased to hear this coming from Hugo, who in the past has failed to acknowledge that we’re not all as gregarious as he. And I concur completely, and disagree with the argument that “beta males” can’t be feminist because their personalities and their politics would conflict. I think there are plenty ways to tailor one’s fighting of patriarchy to one’s personality without compromising effectiveness.
So, getting back to jeffliveshere’s question: what are ways that feminist men can confront sexism that (a) don’t reinforce a domination hierarchy; and (b) don’t rely on a feminist man being strongly extroverted and confrontational?
One way to fight sexism (and racism, classism, or any abuse of privilege) without resorting to is through the use of “frown power.” The idea is credited to Stetson Kennedy, and it’s a simple one – pointedly frown at people who are being sexist. I usually say something as well along the lines of “dude, not cool” (in my best Jorge Garcia impression). The idea is to express social disapproval of the act (not the person, which is another reason to add the vocal component). This doesn’t reinforce a dominance hierarchy because the message is one of peer disapproval rather than of asserting dominance, and it’s a lot less taxing on the introvert than a long tirade.
Not relying on a hierarchy of dominance also means that I can call out sexism in situations that would otherwise raise some troubling intersection problems. One of the places I encounter overt sexism most often (or am at least most aware of it) is when I’m riding on the bus. Most of the time it’s coming from either kids on their way to the mall, or factory workers returning from a shift. Neither group is going to listen to a lecture from the white guy in dress shirt and slacks, but if I react as their peer, the message might not be so easily dismissed.
The other advantage of “frown power” is that there’s really no way to fight it without looking like a fool. If I’ve expressed myself with merely a frown and and a “not cool” in psst-your-fly-is-open tones, what response is there? Arguments, threats, etc. make them the one who’s overreacting. If they argue that their sexism “is too cool,” they look dumb – as we all know, coolness is like humor in that if you have to explain it, it’s not there.
The Temptation of Passivity
Returning to Hugo’s post:
Feminist men must avoid several temptations: the temptation to passivity as well as the temptation to play the role of the “white knight” chief among them! Based on personality traits, some men will find it difficult to summon the courage to speak out; others will find it difficult not to fall into traditional masculine roles like that of the Hero or the Rescuer. Most of us will make mistakes along the way, but learning to be as gentle and harmless as doves — while retaining “serpent wisdom” — is a good place to start.
There is certainly a potential criticism in “frown power” that it creates the “temptation of passivity” – that because it’s easier for some of us to simply frown at people, we’ll forgo more direct confrontation even when it’s called for. I don’t believe this is a big problem – I think it’ll encourage more people to act for equality, and that in turn will encourage the people to more directly confront these issues, knowing that society’s got their back.
What ways do you all call out sexism in your life? What have you found works (for whatever definition of “works” you care to use), and what doesn’t?