SDS Womyn's Caucus Blog

Men, Their Literary Prowess and the Movement

Posted on: November 23, 2009

by Amber, Rochester SDS

So I’ve been thinking a lot about Robin’s post about men and their literary prowess and this is a result of what came out of my brain. Hopefully it all makes sense.

I know full well the idea of it seeming that men are the ones doing all the reading of books about radical politics, (i.e. anarchism, racism, and histories in general). I can remember numerous times where I have been with my radical male friends and almost every single time they tell me about this book they found or this new book that they just read and suggest I read it. Or even being at SDS meetings, thinking back to all the meetings I’ve attended I know for a fact that the majority if not every single time someone recommends a book to read or offers up a book for someone to borrow it’s a male doing that. The one thing that is a huge issue for me is when a male says “Oh you should read this book. It’s a short read, I read it in a day.” Someone told me that about Chomsky on Anarchism, it took me around a week to get through the first ten or so pages and I remember eventually giving up on it because it was taking so long for me to read it.

In relation to myself, I also identify with the fact that I find it hard to get through all these books on various different ideologies, issues, or histories. I swear I have like nearly ten books that I’ve gotten over the past year that I need to read/finish reading. And for me that’s something that’s always made me think and wonder because I have always been one of those people who absolutely loves reading. I was the kid that everyone expected to read thirty books in a summer, I read Harry Potter in a day. So for me to attempt reading these books to educate myself about the history of my views, to educate myself about the issues that I’m fighting for I get disillusioned when I find myself having a hard time reading or even finding the time to read these books and look to see that all my friends who are men are churning out reading book after book and I’m still stuck on chapter three. I sit there and envy, how the heck do they manage to do that when that exact thing is something I’m used to doing.

Then they proceed to engage in these conversations throwing around terms and names of ideologies that I’ve never even heard of and I feel completely lost and left out. You try to follow them but eventually you just find yourself zoning out and completely losing yourself in whatever conversation they’re having despite your attempts to pay attention in the hopes of learning something and not feeling completely clueless.

Then there’s also the fact that males who have done all this reading, who are well educated on the various different subjects (or at least like to think that they’re well educated on the subject) think that they hold the authority over whether or not we know what we’re talking about, whether we know the specifics of what we’re allowed to believe. I remember when I first began thinking and reading about anarchism, identifying as an anarchist I had a male friend tell me “Well do you really know enough to call yourself one? Have you read any books? Have you done any research?” The way he presented himself and questioned me gave across the impression that with my very basic idea of anarchy I wasn’t allowed to identify as an anarchist simply because I hadn’t done my research, I didn’t know enough about it. He constantly questioned me about this until, sadly to say, I stopped doing any of the research and reading I had been doing on anarchy as well refrained from identifying as an anarchist simply because of the idea that had been pounded into my head that I hadn’t read enough about it so therefore I couldn’t be one.  Later I came to realize that whole was a bunch of bullshit and proudly identified as an anarchist despite my friend’s comments because how the fuck did he think that he had the authority to tell me what I was allowed to believe, what to identify as and I certainly wasn’t going to let him determine my beliefs in any way, shape or form. Last spring this same friend when I had been talking to a friend about anti-capitalism he butted in saying “Well I would really like to have a discussion with you about that sometime because I feel you could learn something.” And to me it’s people like this who contribute to the fact that the anarchist movement is dominated by males. It’s perfectly all right if they just identify as an anarchist or align with some sort of radical left politics without knowing too much about it. No one calls them on their shit. But if a female identifies as one, there are those who feel that they have to make sure they know enough about the movement, the history, the issues that are being fought for before they can be “allowed” to identify as such. And to me that’s a load of bullshit that we need to prove ourselves before we can actually fully identify, without criticism, with what we truly believe.

So,  I guess what I’m saying, wondering is if anyone has had similar experiences or ideas on how to work towards resolving these issues. Have you seen this in what’s going on around you?

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14 Responses to "Men, Their Literary Prowess and the Movement"

Wow! Thanks Amber! I definitely relate to a lot of what you are saying. I tear through fiction books like no other, but when it comes to theory I have to force myself to read some of it.

Thanks for adding to Robin’s post!

You’re welcome 🙂
It really does suck sometimes especially when I find myself getting a good start on a book but then all of the sudden the language changes up and it’s like “wait….what did they just write?” and I spend five minutes rereading the same sentence over and over.
I’m attempting to read a book on the Greek uprisings…I’m gonna finish this one!

Thanks for the post Amber, it made me think a lot about some of this.

So yea, I guess I wanted to explore how these things your talking about play out in my life, cause I do a ton of this. Like, whats goin on inside a guy when this shit plays out.

So last night I got over to my partner’s house and within about 1 minute of getting upstairs(where people were at) we were engaged in a conversation about whether Marxism has space for feminism, and autonomist marxism, and shit. Its a conversation that I’m interested in a whole lot on a practical and ideological level, but I also think that I wanted to have it for another reason. I enjoy these intellectual tussels(with whomever, but generally they are with men) in a way thats sorta like play fighting, its like dogs that nip at each other. Like, aggressive playing, that at the end of the day, is mostly about the debate/argument/conversation itself, and not the content of it. It fulfills that dude constructed need of competing with others(particularly men) to prove myself. But at heart, its like, Im to old to punch people in the arm, or scuffle with dudes for the fun of it, so I do those things with ideas and thoughts and shit.

Another thing this made me think of was, men correcting women about theory, history, whatever. The way men communicate with each other is so competitive, that if I were to make a simple correction of something a guy said, it could easily become a heated argument, or at best, it’d devolve into us both explaining what we said for 10 minutes to show how we were correct at least on some level. Its the competitive way we were socialized to communicate, and its that our masculinity is so tied up with intellectual prowess, admitting I’m wrong is like saying I’m not that manly.

On the flip end, its really easy to correct womyn all the time, cause I’ve been taught that its my role in society, and womyn have been taught that they should await the approval of men, and except their corrections.

I think men gotta learn to communicate in constructive ways, adding ideas and acknowledging where people are right when they feel the need to comment, rather than pitting their thoughts against what was said.

I think we also need to push academia to write things that most people can understand. I’m a pretty slow reader when it comes to history and theory, but thats mostly cause authors(generally men) construct these ridiculous sentences that you gotta read over and over again. I think this shit really intersects with race and class a whole lot. those in power have created an academia that communicates in the language of those in power, and everyone else is straightup gonna have trouble understanding it. Patricia Hill Collins is a great feminist writer who shows that you can talk about some really intense, theoretical shit in a language that’s easy to understand. So we should find ways to push academia in that direction maybe?

awesome post! Its cool to hear a new voice on the womyns caucus blog!!!

As an overeducated male from the first SDS, this article and thread make me sad and glad. Sad that it all still needs saying, but glad that you all are saying it.

I have a piece on my personal website (http://www.user.shentel.net/llyates/60s.htm) about the 60s as they were rather than as they are now imagined. One of the points I make there (certainly not original to me) is that in the 1970s “women, both key leaders and those seen as ‘the troops,’ moved from male-dominated radicalism to their own movement, then known as Women’s Liberation. In other words, the movement did not stop, it transformed itself.”

This should be a warning to men in the new SDS and anti-capitalist movement. Last time around, the male-dominated paradigm of the movement faltered, even arguably collapsed. The women in the movement pushed on, and made major accomplishments.

I also love books and intellectual argument. But I have learned, the hard way, that these things are not central to movement-building and to winning fights for social justice. What is central is building a real and sustainable movement, and for many reasons, this is something women generally do better than men in this society. In my 40odd years of organizing, I have found that it is far more critical that radical men learn from radical women than vice versa.

Please keep this conversation going, for your sakes and for all of our sakes.

Thank you so much for saying all of this. As a woman in my mid-thirties, I wish I could say that it gets better, but it hasn’t, in my experience. It’s almost more often now that I have young men talking down to me, as if I need to be schooled in something. I definitely still get the attitude, as you say ““Well I would really like to have a discussion with you about that sometime because I feel you could learn something.” That’s kind of HARD to take when you’ve been in the trenches for years, raising your kids and keeping shit together, and they’ve been busy in grad school bankrolled by daddy. Not fun, let me tell you. But you can’t talk sense to them, there’s just too much of a wall there.They KNOW too much. The ego is impenetrable. That’s why the scene ends up being so white-male-straight identified–all of those who are not just find it tiresome after a while. You have to have so much patience to deal with it, you know?

More power to you~

11

I come across the exact same problem — I am not a wonk, and get tripped up when people quote all these pomo writers who are simply too much trouble to slog through and, frankly, I don’t think are worth the trouble. I must say that Ashley Renner at MTSU is as much a movement wonk as anyone I know, and often fills me in on the fine points about certain political issues I have read about less fully.

Academism is something to be countered rather than feared (though at some point in my life found myself tainted w/anti-intellectualism, which is something else). I noticed that men greatly outnumbered women at much of the recent anarchist conference in Hartford, and in one instance, every questioner of a panel (all-male) were males. Any politics like that is suffering from a profound imbalance

Much of the practice and philosophy of energy-based spiritual healing is one avenue I have found for countering a lot of this problem.

This was an awesome post! I love this idea that Robin and Amber are writing about. I agree with a lot of what you both are saying! But I am noticing that a lot of posts on this blog (mine included!!!) start with a disclaimer about how the author is unsure of whether or not they are going to make sense or whether the entry will sound jumbled or not. And the fact is, the entries are all fucking badass. I am awed by reading them! I’m wondering if it’s just not coming off as arrogant? But I don’t think the tone of the entries is anything close to arrogant. This isn’t an attack on anyone who feels uncomfortable with what they’re writing (I almost said righting and I think it was a Freudian slip) because like I said, I feel super uncomfortable putting myself out there. I guess this comment would even be a prime example of how uncomfortable I feel just stating things. What I’m trying to say is, the women who post on this blog are amazing…I want to do away with disclaimers that are proven wrong in the first sentence!

Is it internalized patriarchy? Or a legitimate humbleness? I suppose this is more me posing a question than anything else.

Love always!!!
Ellen
Drew SDS

In response to your question, I said that because for me this was the first time that I had ever written something that related so personally to me and published on such a public forum so I was kind of nervous about publishing it plus a lot of times when I write things they make a whole lot more sense in my head and to me written out but I don’t know if they’d make sense to anyone else.

Thanks for posting this! I have, and continue to have similar experiences. It takes me from 2 weeks to a month to finish a 250-350 page non-fiction book, while I see those around me (often males) polish off these sorts of books in a day or a weekend. And at times it has made me feel inadequate, but I’ve come to the realization that reading and absorption of knowledge is not about quantity, but quality. When I read a book, I’m not trying to zip through it so I can move onto the next one, but I’m underlining passages that stick with me, making notes in the margins, looking up new ideas and concepts I encounter on the internet, talking to friends about it, incorporating it into my daily life and activism, etc.

I’ve said this before but I’ll say it again- there’s no problem with being educated, well-read, and knowledgeable about the political causes and theories you advocate and organize around (if this is possible, which it is not for everyone and that’s okay). But elitism is bullshit- it is sexist, classist, racist, and quite unfair. Acting like you are better than someone because you’ve read a ton of books on a subject and they haven’t is bullshit. It hurts the unity and cohesion of communities and political organizations, and it is damaging to people’s self-esteem. Make conversations accessible to everyone involved, introduce people to new ideas and theories and so on in a way that makes them comfortable and at ease, and establish a space where people feel okay about asking questions and admitting they don’t understand what’s being discussed.

Only in America, among those who never had to scrape by to pay for their own education and for whom “radicalism” = a nice lifestyle, do student radicals put each other down for… studying radical books.

Are we opposed to patriarchy, or are we opposed to literacy?

Phoolan, I don’t see where Amber even comes close to promoting an anti-literacy stance.

I DO think she articulates how patriarchy is reproduced when radical books are most accessible to men.

Patriarchy exists in many (I would venture to say most) cultures, countries, and economic classes. I don’t think anyone should be told that the particular ways that patriarchy affects them don’t matter because someone in some other culture or economic class experiences it different or more harshly, (if it were even quantifiable.)

[…] problem is, by reducing it to a formulaic theory (we’ve talked about the link between theory and patriarchy on here before), he is putting his ideology before the desires of actual people in his life. He is […]

[…] problem is, by reducing it to a formulaic theory (we’ve talked about the link between theory and patriarchy on here before), he is putting his ideology before the desires of actual people in his life. He is […]

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