Friday, August 27, 2010

Which Male Crisis?

No matter where I go, every time I tell a group of men that I'm a feminist I hear the same plaintive cry: today the real minority is men. And not just men in general. No, the real victims of prejudice and discrimination are middle class white men. Proponents of this viewpoint are yet to show me any solid evidence that this is the case, and yet they cling to this argument like barnacles to a boat. 

Now, I don't want to downplay the problems that face American men today. Heaven knows the problems that face them are pretty severe, as our own Mickey pointed out last month. But I worry that when feminists and womanists say, "Men in general are struggling, and a lot of them are being left in the dust," they mean something very different from what middle class white men mean when they say the same thing. In any case, I'm worried that both feminists and middle class white men are looking at everything from a Eurocentric viewpoint. Why else would anyone think that men facing discrimination is new ? Aren't men of color, gay men, and poor men all men too?

And to tell you the truth, concerned as I am about white men who feel pressure to bulk up and act tough, I'm more concerned about generational cycles in inner cities that cut the lifespans of inner city men down to an age at which most middle class white men are still in school. Don't get me wrong - I'm not saying that the social problems so many middle class white men face aren't a huge problem. I just think it's an even bigger problem when our discourse about masculinity skips over men of color.

When I was in high school in New Hampshire, I took a current events course that happened to coincide with the democratic primary of 2004. In the Fall of 2003, politicians poured into New Hampshire, and our class decided to focus on the election. At one point one of Kerry's representatives came to our class to talk to us. He was a college-aged white man, and he was already adept at feeding us the lines he thought we'd want to hear. When I asked, "What will Kerry do to address inner city poverty cycles?" he gave me some line about how repealing NCLB would save the world.

I was irate, and after he left I commented on it in class. My teacher gave me a cynical look and said, "Emily, you weren't really naive enough to think a politician would answer your question, were you?"

And Ms. Perry was right. Today I would never expect a politician to answer one of my questions. Good Heavens, I can't even get BYU administrators to do that! But he should have answered that question. And Kerry should have included ideas about how to address inner city violence in his platform. As all the other candidates should have too. 

But sadly, issues that affect anyone in a lower class income bracket don't matter to most politicians. It probably doesn't help that so many middle class white Americans dismiss inner city problems by saying "Those people need to change their priorities and get their lives in order," without considering any of the empirical research behind poverty. For instance, did you ever consider that a poverty-stricken neighborhood isn't going to offer any jobs to all those people who "should just pull their acts together and get a job"? Research into concentrations of poverty suggests that breaking out of generational cycles is a heck of a lot harder when everyone you know has inherited the same generational problems from their parents.

This issue of whom we take to represent all men has been on my mind for awhile, and then I read a post by Honorée Fenonne Jeffers, a black woman who revealed some of the darker truths about Women's Equality Day and about the women's suffrage movement in general. Now, I'll admit that I'm often not sure how best to break out of my white woman perspective. I try, but I'm always wary of falling into a To Kill a Mockingbird kind of benevolent racism. "Oh, you poor helpless people of color! Let me as a wise white woman help you out!" is a racist attitude. But I know that the feminist community as a whole needs to do something more to reach out to our brothers and sisters who don't share our various levels of privilege. 

So, my fellow bloggers... any ideas?

1 comment:

  1. I don't feel up to the task. I wish I could write about minorities and champion there cause but the fact is that I don't have enough knowledge, exposure, and perspective to write about those issues. I can only write about issues in which I have some credibility. I am a middle class white man and 90 percent of my life is exceptionally wonderful and although I have experienced depression, clinical anxiety, and poor health, I have been blessed with much opportunity. I feel like it would be disrespectful of me to assume that I could write about and narrate the life of a black man or a homosexual. It is just impossible for me. You are right to say that the plights of men within minorities are difficult. Middle class white males have more entitlement issues than they have social discriminating issues. The middle class man that cries wolf is simply feckless.