01: Conspiracy, Problem, Solution cont’d

with 10 comments

This point is a useful bridge to that second goal of The Problem sections: critical thinking. You may remember that towards the end of the movie The Wizard of Oz, when the “Wizard” is exposed from behind the curtain as a mere man he shouts, “pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!” Well, I’m suggesting you pull back the curtain and pay attention to the man behind it. Expose the machinations of everything around you.

Note, for example, the familiarity you’ll start to feel with the structure of this book’s chapters (The Conspiracy, The Problem, The Solution), with the rhythm of the sentences. Everything is there for a reason: a gentle repetition that suggests a subtle feeling of order and plausibility. Now think about why I’m telling you this, exposing my authorial intention to lull you into a receptive mood. Is it for the sake of transparency, or does it serve some deeper cause? Perhaps it’s the old magician’s trick of misdirection? By chipping away at the different levels of meaning behind everything around us, we can slowly expose the conspiracy for what it is. In fancy terms, it’s called a “hermeneutic of suspicion.” A hermeneutic is a way-of-understanding-lens through which to view stuff when figuring it out. In short, assume you’re being bullshitted in some way. Ask how. More importantly, ask why. Nine times out of ten you’ll realize you are being bullshitted. On the tenth time, you might find a gem, just like this book :).

There’s another thing we need to get out of the way before we start. Because I am very critical of a lot of things to do with masculinity, some people jump to the conclusion that I am anti-masculinity, or even anti-men. I have been called a man-hater, mangina, pussy-whipped, femi-Nazi, queer and all manner of other things by folks who believe I’m out to diss regular men. However, if you remember the sex/gender distinction, even if I were anti-masculinity, this is not the same thing as being anti-men, as masculinity is a gender performance that shifts in space and time, whereas men are biological realities.

But the thing is, I like men. Some of my best friends are men. I’m a male myself, as are my two sons: I like us. There’s a reasonable probability that my daughter will one day marry a male: I hope to like him too. This book is not anti-men, it is anti-a certain way of defining masculinity. It is anti-a certain way of being a man that has been playing out since the dawn of humanity. Let’s say it again from the other direction: this book is pro-man because it is pro-people, but in order to be pro-people we have to stop problematic ways of doing masculinity. (Of course, there are problematic ways of being feminine too, but masculinity happens to have a bigger footprint on the world. But you’re most welcome to write The Femininity Conspiracy when you have a free moment.)



Written by Joseph Gelfer

April 25, 2010 at 1:38 pm

10 Responses

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  1. I take it a step further to a sex/gender/expression distinction, sex being body, gender being identity, expression being what it sounds like. This addresses situations that sex/gender alone can’t, such as when you mentioned earlier about masculine women and feminine men. What happens when a woman is more masculine than a man? Is she more of a man than he? By no means! Masculinity and femininity are expressions, but gender identity still holds its own regardless.

    This becomes even more essential as we let go of our fear of stepping away from the binary. I have a rag-tag group of friends who are a bundle of combinations. One is a feminine intersex man, that is, his sex is intersex, his gender is man, but his expression is feminine. He is considering transitioning to woman, but still hasn’t decided if it’s right for him. I am an androgynous female genderqueer, which means my body is female, I express myself androgynously (but have picked up habits that comes from being raised to be a girl), and my gender is neither man nor woman. I have a friend who is an androgynous male genderqueer, who identifies as I do but has a different body type. And of course I have plenty of friends who are masculine male men and feminine female women and everything else.

    I can definitely relate to your experience of being accused of hating men. Sometimes when people consider those who are transgender such as myself, they think we’re scoffing our former gender. My mother asked me what’s so wrong about being a girl, why can’t I be proud? My friends ask me why I can’t just be a masculine woman instead of complicating things. The government won’t even recognize my gender, only caring about the shape of my body and nothing else. There is nothing necessarily wrong with being a girl or being masculine or even changing one’s body. Those things are simply not who I am.

    The Nerd

    October 13, 2011 at 1:21 am

    • That’s an interesting way of thinking about it. I agree, the sex/gender distinction doesn’t tell the whole story: the further we go, no doubt the further distinctions that will be revealed.


      October 13, 2011 at 8:09 am

      • Eventually we’ll be splitting as many categories as their are people. 🙂

        The Nerd

        October 13, 2011 at 8:12 am

        • That is exactly how I see it: such categories being unique, like fingerprints.


          October 13, 2011 at 8:30 am

  2. I’m enjoying your book, and I appreciate that it’s available for free online. Incorporating commenter feedback where you see fit is also a neat idea.

    This one sentence gave me pause:
    “Of course, there are problematic ways of being feminine too, but masculinity happens to have a bigger footprint on the world.”

    I think I can see where you’re going with this, but as it stands it’s a debatable if not dubious claim. Women living out the “femininity conspiracy” have arguably just as great an impact on the world as men living out the masculinity conspiracy. I infer that you are trying to say that because so many public domains (business, economics, government, academia, etc.) are still dominated by a preference for men and traditionally masculine norms/qualities, redefining masculinity in particular will have a big impact on how these systems operate and thus how our world operates (correct me if I infer wrong and disregard what follows).

    But a femininity conspiracy that prevents women from participating in the public domain has just as great an impact on it: how much more effectively would public domains operate if they didn’t exclude, ignore, and devalue the voices and the realities, both biological and social, of women, or roughly half the population of humanity? I suppose the footprint of the “femininity conspiracy” is less visible, then, but I don’t think it is any smaller than the footprint of the masculinity conspiracy. And you might think that the exclusion/devaluation of women and traditionally feminine norms/qualities in public domains is in fact part of the masculinity conspiracy, but that’s my point: the masculinity conspiracy is so intimately related to the “femininity conspiracy” in our binary gender system that it’s silly to try to separate the impact of them both.) There’s nothing wrong with focusing on masculinities in this book, of course, it’s just that this claim is off in light of all this.

    Anyway, minor quibble with just one sentence in this chapter so far! I think simply expanding on this idea to explain it more will help it fit in better.


    August 1, 2011 at 1:42 am

    • Hi: thanks for dropping by.

      Maybe this comes down to an issue of measurability. We can see plainly the footprint of the masculinity conspiracy in terms, for example, of a dominator way of thinking impacting both power relations between people, and our physical impact on the earth. Whereas the speculation of how things might be different if the conspiracy was mitigated by the involvement of women (or indeed counter-conspiratorial men) remains a far more elusive thing to identify and measure?


      August 3, 2011 at 2:45 pm

  3. I have noticed, and pointed out to others, the strange divergence of terms applied to men and women. You often see the term “male” when referring to a man, and you see “woman” when the word should be “female.” Women voters, for example. Above, the author describes himself as a male. Not as a man, but a male.

    I believe that this is part of the conspiracy. A male human being is a man. If you take the humanity away, you have a male. That’s what our society is unconsciously (or not) telling us: that we are males (not men), and that, by extension, we are not human.


    August 4, 2010 at 2:01 pm

    • On this page alone I use the word “men” seven times, and “male” only twice, so I don’t think I’m perpetuating the problem you suggest. But it’s an interesting point.


      August 4, 2010 at 6:58 pm

  4. I’m understanding your use of the term conspiracy now. You seem to be using it in an almost fictional sense in order to give the narrative some intrigue. Or at least I’m confortable with that more playful sense.


    April 26, 2010 at 6:54 pm

    • The use of conspiracy works on both levels: in the way you suggest, and also more seriously. I fluctuate between the two, depending on mood.


      April 26, 2010 at 7:03 pm

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