Saturday 18 April 2015

Sex, Gender and Feminism survey.

I should have been working this morning, but give me a survey about gender (and my relationship thereto) and I'll almost always take time out to answer it, even if I've answered a previous version of the same survey the evening before. “Sex, Gender and Feminism: a survey for men” was another one from journalist, author and feminist activist, Laurie Penny (see here for her earlier survey on masculinity), who described it as follows:

This survey is for men of all ages and backgrounds, gay and straight, trans and cis, feminist and not-feminist. I will use your answers as part of a larger project I'm working on about men and feminism. All your information will be kept confidential. This is a safe place to ask questions without being judged. I may use some of your answers for the project - if you don't want a particular thing quoted, please signal that. Answer whichever questions speak most to you, as fully as you can, and feel free to ask questions that aren't on the list. I really, really appreciate your help. Thanks! Laurie xx

No worries. And since I always like to document these things, here are my answers to her nineteen questions (in italics). Subsequent additions are given in square brackets.

1. Please give your name/pseudonym, your age, what work you do, and any other relevant information you're happy to share (e.g. marital status).
— Jonathan (twitter handle: @malefemme), 51, editor, single, genderqueer.

2. If there are any burning questions about sex, politics and gender you've always wanted to ask a feminist woman, however silly, this is your box to put them in. No judgements.
— None. There are discussions (or arguments) I might have with certain feminists if the situation arose and if I felt up to it, but you generally seem pretty sound.

3. What does 'being a man' mean to you today?
— It means nothing to me. But I'd answer your earlier question (“What does masculinity mean to you today?”) as follows: Masculinity is the set of human attributes assumed (falsely) to correlate with maleness.

4. What is the hardest thing about being a man, for you?
— Our (Western) cultural prohibitions on male femininity. Otherwise I'd probably be even more feminine than I already am, at least as regards gender expression.

5. When do you feel BEST about yourself as a man?
— I don't know what “as a man” means. I suppose “best” (about myself as a person) applies when I feel I've achieved something. Such as: finishing a long and difficult edit, and hearing (preferably second-hand) that the author(s) was (were) pleased with it; or completing a well-written (as it seems to me) blogpost. Or recently: winning a lot of games of chess this season; and scoring 158 in an official Mensa test (Cattell III B).

6. Have you ever suffered from mental health problems? How has being a man impacted your mental health?
— I was going to say “no” straight away. But, looking back (my past has been resurfacing quite a bit lately), I think “possibly” (or even “probably”) might be a better answer. I never sought any professional help though, and it's likely that culturally influenced gender-based reticence [as in “we don't talk about this stuff”] is part of the reason.

7. Do you think 'being a man' is different now compared to when you were a kid? What have been the biggest changes?
— When I was a child it was very clear to me that femininity was off limits (though I can't remember anyone actually saying so). Nowadays (leaving aside the dreary excesses of heteronormative celebrity/pop culture), there seems to be more gender freedom. At least, I'm far more inclined just to do what I like (albeit not without some restraint).

8. How do work, employment and money affect your sense of manhood? Have you ever felt like more or less of a man because of how much money you made, or how work was going?
— Work (as in achievement) is important for self-esteem – it's not good to feel useless. But I wouldn't call it my “sense of manhood”, since I don't regard those feelings as gendered. Beyond a fairly low subsistence level, I'm not all that interested in money.

9. Do you ever feel frightened of being 'weak'?
— Not really, no. I'm emotionally quite reserved, if that's what you meant at all, but I don't regard being emotional as weakness.

10. Do you believe in 'rape culture'? Are you ever confused about violence and consent? Do you think other men are confused?
— In general terms, yes; in that sexual harassment and assault are endemic in a society which perpetuates them. No and no. I don't think men are confused, rather that (some) men feel (falsely) entitled [to sex] and have the power and will to act on that. I think people mostly do [bad] things because they (feel they) can.

11. How do sex and dating affect the way you think about women? Do you ever run into problems?
— They don't. I don't date, and I've never enjoyed partnered sex enough to feel much urge to seek it out. Gender issues mostly get in the way anyway: I'm non-normatively gendered (which seems to be a problem for a lot of people) and I rarely find normatively gendered people (i.e. most people) attractive either.

12. How has sex affected the way you feel about yourself as a man? Have you ever worried about being 'creepy'?
— It hasn't. But the “creepy” question is quite pertinent. As a transvestite, I'm very interested in clothing and in how clothes fit bodies, so I look at how people are dressed quite a lot. This seems to make some people uneasy, presumably because they think the "male gaze" is inevitably sexual. So men think I'm cruising them, and women think I'm mentally undressing them or generally being creepy. As I answered in one of your earlier surveys, what I need is a big sign that says: “I'm looking at your clothes not your body. No, really!”

13. What about physical affection and care? Do you ever wish you were hugged more?
— I'm not big on physical contact or even physical closeness. I have a rather wide sense of "personal space" and don't usually like that being invaded. But a hug is sometimes nice, of course.

14. Have you ever been sexist, either by accident or on purpose? Can you talk about some of those times, and how you felt about it?
— Probably, but I can't remember any specific instances, and no one has ever told me I'm sexist or that I'm being sexist.

15. What scares you most about the way gender relations are changing right now? What excites you most? What do you hope will change more, and what do you hope will stay the same?
— Nothing about changing gender relations scares me. Gender normativity is a huge trap as far as I'm concerned, so anything that breaks it open is a good thing. What I'd most like is for gender restrictions (based on binary sex) to be eliminated altogether.

16. Are there any questions you wish you could ask women, but you don't because worry about being judged? What are they?
— No and none.

17. How does patriarchy hurt men? How has it hurt you?
— Given that patriarchy is an oppressive gender system, it hurts everyone to some degree. Patriarchal restrictions on (and assumptions of) how a man is supposed to be and act and feel (etc) have certainly hurt me and continue to do so, in that I hardly ever feel able to be completely myself.

18. Where do the greatest pressures to 'be a man' come from? Your friends, family, the media, something else?
— From the prevailing (patriarchal) culture. I always feel at least vaguely oppressed by it, even though it grants me (male) privilege to a substantial degree.

19. Is there anything I've left off this survey that I should have asked?
— Nothing I can think of right now.