Carrie Wooten

Oh, here I go again...

Filed By Carrie Wooten | October 29, 2006 1:29 AM | comments

Filed in: The Movement
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At a party I attended tonight, a commercial came on the TV about HPV (Human papillomavirus) that encouraged women to get see their doctors and get tested. A fellow partier noted the recent increase in ads for the disease and was discussing possible reasons. I decided to offer up the irony of the lack of heart disease PSAs for women, even though heart disease is the #1 killer of women in America. Advertisements instead focus on reproductive and breast diseases such as ovarian and breast cancer. The first comment out of a proudly self-identified male marine's mouth across the room was "Yeah, it's the number one killer of men, too," in a noticeably annoyed and slightly hostile tone. This is when things got interesting. He made several comments about how men are attacked in women's studies classes at Purdue, and began discussing Political Science 222 (Women, Politics, and Public Policy), and how all the men in the class were "victimized" by the male teacher who always sided with the women's opinions and disregarded theirs. Dave, who was sitting right next to me, is taking that very class right now, with the same teacher, and pointed out that he had never experienced such behaviors in the class. "Well, I'm just saying that teacher is the most whipped I've ever seen?" this man says. To which I reply, "What do you mean, whipped?" Another man in the room says, "That means he has no balls, that women are dominant over him." "What's wrong with that?," I say. The room goes quiet for a moment. "Well, that's something that just doesn't happen in my classes," the marine says. "Well, I'm a women's studies major and I've never seen that happen in any of my classes, so I'm prepared to fight you on this." "Well I know it happens and I'm the biggest chauvenist you'll ever meet.," he replies with a smile. He went on to backtrack by saying that he didn't want to force his opinions on anyone, to which I retorted "Well, that's great, but society values your opinion a lot more than mine." And the conversation slowly died down from there. My point with all of this? Men love to provoke the feminist.

I've seen this happen over and over again ever since I began telling people that I switched my major to women's studies. In any situation where I discuss women's issues, I am systematically attacked or rebuffed by a man (except in my women's studies classes... oh the safe haven). What the marine tonight was trying to do was discredit the entire women's studies field, all the while using behavior and language that fuels its necessity. One of my friends the other night was trying to explain to me that all lesbians are feminists, and even when I attempted to rationally reason with him that that simply is not the case, he insisted on telling me that he was correct. Even though men know that I am in women's studies and heavily involved with feminism, I continue to get no credit for the knowledge that I have about those fields. I would never argue with an engineer about fluid mechanics - something I have no formal training in, but when I bring up instances of women's oppression or biases towards women, my thoughts are invalidated as though I am a child who knows nothing.

And the hostility at times with which I am recieved is striking, as I saw in tonight's interactions. Why anyone would admit they are a "chauvenist" is beyond me - though I think it is telling that that term is deemed acceptable to say in such a setting. He would never say "I'm the biggest racist you'll ever meet," but he wears the badge of "chauvenist" with pride. He might as well have said he was proud to beat his girlfriend.

I always get the feeling in certain circles that people are rolling their eyes at me when I present a topic pertaining to the oppression and abuse of women. An "oh here she goes again" scenario, if you will. I am convinced the marine tonight was doing just that - rolling his eyes at what I had to say about women and heart disease, women's studies, and women having the right to be assertive. I fear that feminism has become so stigmatized that these sorts of issues fall on deaf ears - that they are seen as "not that big of a big deal." Clearly the man in the room tonight did not think they were - his percieved victimization by women was much more important and bothersome. But not listening to the issues and concerns that feminism brings to the table, and being aggressive, defensive, and/or hostile about them, promotes the inherent danger of continuing the individual's participation in a violent, patriarchal system.

Tonight's encounter was a perfect example.


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Chris Douglas | October 29, 2006 9:16 AM

Interesting, well-written, poignant, enjoyable, and with a point. Surrounded here by my computer and two newspapers, it seems we might have encountered this piece just as easily on the endpiece of the New York Times Sunday Magazine, were it slightly edited for that purpose.

Carrie,
when the comment was made about the teacher having no balls and that women were dominant over him, your reply was: "whats wrong with that?"

By the same logic then, do you see no problem with a woman who would let men dominate her?

The attitude in the air from these men was that having a man who is not in control of the women in his life is outrageous. So, my response was a quick reaction to that perception. I would never advocate for a matriarchy or a system in which women replicate the power structures and dominating tactics of men. It was simply a reaction in an attempt to get them to realize what they were saying - that it is OK for men to dominate women, but not the other way around, and why is that?

Ellen Andersen | October 30, 2006 1:48 PM

Ah, yes. Good old feminist baiting. A game everyone can play. It goes well hand-in-hand with dumb blonde jokes and is designed to get feminists riled enough that they can be dismissed as angry, man-hating bitches.

The reason folks are willing to discount your knowledge, of course, is not (just) that you are talking about women's issues, it's that you are talking about everyday life, an issue that most people consider themselves self-taught experts on. Teaching about the politics of sex as I do, it's a kind of dismissal I come across frequently. And irritatingly. Anyone who's tried to have a rational conversation about marriage equality has probably also run across it.

I suppose I should consider myself lucky -- I have enormous experience arguing with a father who never let facts get in the way of a good argument. I think it's inured me a little...

i agree with almost everything you're saying, but don't you think you're exaggerating a bit when you make generalizations like "Men love to provoke the feminist"?

while i don't doubt that people who "provoke the feminist" tend overwhelmingly to be male, it seems to me that extrapolating this behavior to all or even most men only serves to reinforce negative stereotypes: 1) that all men are pigs and 2) that feminists hate men.

if you're concerned that men often get defensive when discussing feminism, you should try not to make statements that sound like you're attacking them.

I did not realize the statement "men love to provoke the feminist" was an attack. I merely meant it to be an observation - one that I have not made up, but have rather experienced on a weekly basis throughout the past 6 months or so, both by male friends and strangers.

I find it interesting that it is sometimes demanded that I clarify "some men" in my writing, even though I never say "all men" or "every man." I suppose I expect people who read my writing to look past the semantics and get at the greater issue that is being noted. I wonder if I made a statement such as "women are raped every day in this country," if I would get the same demand? Obviously not every woman is raped every day in the U.S., but would I be asked to clarify with "some women?" Again, I think a defensiveness is being exuded in those types of demands. Maybe a fair one, maybe not.

I also question what is incorrect about attacking such misogynistic behavior, even though that was not my original intent when posting this piece? Shouldn't *some men* have the ability to not get defensive or hostile when the oppressive things they do are brought to their attention?

Carrie,
the irony is (in my opinion) that everything you say is true but read your message again and apply those same standards and practices to yourself.

as a women's studies major, you should understand the power of language better than the average chauvinist. there is a big semantic difference between "men love to provoke..." and "women are raped...": for one thing, the former is active voice while the latter is passive voice. also, the former is a generalization (regardless of whether you write "all men"; the "all" is inferred), while the latter is not.

a semantically equivalent example would be something like "women love to shop". you might insist that you and many other women don't love shoppping, to which i could say that you should "look past the semantics and get at the greater issue": that many women do.

there's nothing wrong with attacking misogynistic behavior. but you should be careful to do it in a way that doesn't sound like an attack on men in general, because then it's easy for chauvinists to simply ignore you as a "man-hater" or the like.