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Feb 26 2013

Special Feature: Real Men Don’t Talk About Misogyny

This past weekend I convened an all-star panel to discuss a topic whose time has definitely come: masculinity and misogyny. Our discourse within the atheist community has hit a sticking point (for many) in the form of the role that feminism plays in understanding not only our own internal community dynamics, but the world around us in general. This ‘internal’ debate is happening alongside a similar discussion happening in our society at large, where the role that women play in our democracy and our day-to-day lives is under particular scrutiny.

The issue before the panel was the statement “Real men don’t talk about misogyny” – not a direct quotation, but certainly a paraphrase of a general dismissive attitude of feminism as something that only women can and should talk about or participate in. The discussion centred around 5 general questions:

  • What is a “real man”?
  • How can we define “misogyny”? How does misogyny manifest itself in online discussion?
  • What role does religion play in gender roles?
  • Is misogyny similar to or different from other forms of bigotry (racism, homophobia, transphobia, etc.)? How?
  • Do parents have a role to play in the discussion?
  • What do/can/should men contribute to discussions of misogyny?

The discussion (which clocks in at just under 90 minutes), a description of the panelists, and some of my own thoughts are after the fold.

Appearing on the panel (in order from left to right)

I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have been able to get such a diverse and expert panel together, let alone for a full 90 minutes. We were able to explore most of the topic, or at least dip our toes in most of the places where I felt toes needed to be dipped. Obviously I would have loved to have this go on indefinitely, but there’s a point in time where things stretch out too long and I felt like 90 minutes was that point.

The title of the panel is not accidental, and I think there is a useful double meaning within it. There’s the obvious way of reading it – “if you talk about misogyny then you are not a real man”, but there’s also a way of parsing it that suggests that hyper-masculine “real” men are unequipped to talk about or deal with misogyny. The first is dismissive, but the second one also reflects reality in my opinion – there’s a need for men to unpack these gender issues, but pressure to conform to an arbitrary standard of “manliness” prevents us from doing that.

One thing we didn’t get to explore as much as I might have liked to is the idea that Robert raised of black hypermasculinity, and what kind of effects that has on the way black men are seen under casual scrutiny (and particularly how that leads to violence against black men). I was also hoping to talk about the consequences of failing to model ‘proper’ masculinity and how that informs bullying and victimization of men, but the conversation didn’t quite get there. Finally, I was hoping we would address the “Men’s Rights” arguments, but that may be a subject suitable for another panel.

All in all, I am very pleased with how the panel turned out, and I am looking forward to putting another one together. I am certainly open to topic suggestions.

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13 comments

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  1. 1
    Scr... Archivist

    I saw this conversation shortly after you posted it, and would like to thank you for organizing it. The variety of perspectives were enlightening. Also, it was good to hear more from Natalie after she started closing up shop here at FTB.

    Looking forward to future discussions….

  2. 2
    Natalie Reed

    Yeah, the “black hypermasculinity, asian hypomasculinity” was something that would have been awesome to get into more. Not just in terms of the race aspects alone (which are very interesting; I had a very “wow, that’s way too depressingly true” reaction to Robert’s point of how white standards of maleness are used as THE “perfect” balance of masculinity against which all others are measured, something that reflects some stuff I’ve been thinking lately about how in trans space things like “facial feminization surgery” and the concept of “passability” SPECIFICALLY position caucasian features as the defining standard for “female facial features”), but also I was interested in how it’s a very good example of how the “spectrum” concepts of gender (which, at their worst, frame ALL variables of gender, sex and sexuality as just being aspects of this ONE “spectrum”) can very very quickly lead to extremely destructive, problematic views. Also something that didn’t get mentioned: the correlary idea in our culture that black and latina women are seen as “more masculine” and therefore less desirable than white women, and that asian women are seen as especially “feminine” and “submissive” and how that plays into the “I’m into Asian chicks” fetishization problem. And to bring it back to problematic aspects of trans communities: there’s a related idea that Asian trans women are “more passable” and black trans women are “less passable”. It’s alllll kinds of gross.

    Anyway, yeah, there was SO much cool stuff in that panel I would have been happy to go on for, like, five hours! Sorry if I was too talky and took up more than my fair share of time, tho. :-/

  3. 3
    Crommunist

    The “Asian hypomasculinity” actually was part of the subject matter for one of my Black History Month posts, where there was this weird exploration of whether white women were more at risk or less at risk of sexual assault working for Chinese employers.

    I’m not sure what anyone’s “fair share” of time was, but I did occasionally step in to move the convo along. I’m really glad you could make it back from your trip in time to participate – your contribution was particularly important for me.

  4. 4
    SallyStrange

    Can’t wait to get home so I can watch this.

  5. 5
    lydia

    wow, thanks! so interesting.

    Since none of you said it, I will: The hyper/hypo/just right masculinization of race strikes me as a fairy tale Goldilocks analogy, which is just delicious on several levels.

    Natalie, thanks for the conversation on intersectionality of privilege, which really is a new line of thought for me.

  6. 6
    Brandon

    I wish it wasn’t too late for me to watch tonight! Thanks for the work put in, I’ll be looking forward to hearing it out.

    On the topic of race and masculinity/femininity, it’s something I feel like I really should learn more about. I’m a white man that’s dated quite a few Asian women, and I don’t know how to wrap my head around whether I’m doing that for some sort of subconscious reason or not. My wonderful Asian-American girlfriend sure doesn’t fit any of submissive stereotypes, but I’m not sure that’s relevant. I’m just not really sure how to think about the whole thing; it makes me a bit uncomfortable, and I suppose it should.

  7. 7
    johnradke

    @Natalie:

    Listening now and holy cow, intersectionality* just clicked for me from your explanation (and the alarmingly illustrative anecdote). Like I previously thought it was just an academic “let’s compare/contrast the characteristics of, e.g., racism and misogyny,” but shamefully did not really think about the whole synergistic mixing of such things, which, y’know, impacts real people’s real lives.

    Thanks for shining light.

    * Which Google Chrome didn’t think was a word but IT DOES NOW

  8. 8
    Crommunist

    * Which Google Chrome didn’t think was a word but IT DOES NOW

    SUBVERSIVE HACKTIVISM!

  9. 9
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    Raising kids as a conscious feminist is exhausting. Because you notice every little shit. Yeah the amount of pink in the wardrobe (and then the day when your daughter declares that she can’t wear grey leggins because grey is for boys), the 51679451th Hello Kitty Disney Princess article you didn’t buy but somebody else did, the fact that strange people will simply touch a cute girl and comment on how pretty she is…

    BTW, dinosaurs. Who the fuck gendered dinosaurs? My daughters both love, love, love dinosaurs. Last summer I took them to see the dinosaurs in Berlin and there isn’t a week they let go by without asking to go back there again…

  10. 10
    Crommunist

    Yeah, the dinosaurs thing made me raise my eyebrow too. I’m hereby proclaiming: everyone from whatever gender gets to claim dinos.

  11. 11
    SallyStrange

    Fantastic. I would just add that being “gender-blind” and “race-blind” effectively precludes those who claim to be so from having discussions as interesting and useful as these. How can you possible talk about the different levels of masculinity and sexual prowess assigned to men of various races if you can’t “see” gender” and you can’t “see” race? It’s just silly.

  12. 12
    gjoh

    That was one of the most enlightening 84 minutes I’ve spent in front of my PC. Please do this again.

  13. 13
    Jake Hamby

    Yes, amazing all-star panel and awesome discussion. Like Goldilocks, I think you got the “just right” number of guests and questions / subtopics and video length.

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