Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Phenomenon of Commenting: Post-Feminism, "Violence Against Men," & Imagined Communities

It's fascinating how in the Obama years, every time a discussion emerges on affirmative action or other policies relevant to race, the discourse that arises revolves around our so called post-racial society (e.g., fire fighters case in New Haven). Likewise, with women now comprising a majority of most college campus student bodies (undergrads and grads), men will not hesitate to argue how disadvantaged they are whenever they get the chance.

It's not as if this hasn't been going on for centuries as minorities have gained power. However, a new way of measuring this can be seen online. I first noticed this when NPR ran this story, titled "Student: Men Need To Feel Empowered, Too." After the show's host subtly challenged males' assertions that men were the now disadvantaged group, males (at least they appear to be males) came out in waves to comment on the story, spotlighting how underprivileged they supposedly were relative to women, how they were even victims of women.

Yesterday, "Talk of the Nation" ran a story sparked by the Steve McNair homicide titled "The Violence We Ignore." It was actually based off a story run in the Blatimore Sun by Ned Holstein and Glenn Sacks. Holstein argued men were victims of violence nearly as much as women and cited a bunch of quantitative studies, most of which focus on minor forms of violence (e.g., pushing, shoving, yelling, slapping) as so-called evidence that women initiate intimate partner violence as much as men.

As Jody Miller has shown through more thorough qualitative research, these statistical studies completely decontextualize broader power imbalences between men and women (or boys and girls) that contribute immensely to women's more severe victimization.

In any case, the comments made by males following the "The Violence We Ignore" story resemble a little imagined community of guys, pinpointing their own experiences to "prove" that men as a whole are victims of a judicial system privileging women. More to the point, they argue that collectively, women are now the more effective perpetrators of violence against men because the system supports women, even those who beat up their husbands/boyfriends.

Again, in the comments discussing co-occurring violence (and women's violence against men), there is no willingness to discuss the pretextual and structural power imbalences men have over women that contribute to co-occurring violence. There is no willingness to even begin a discussion on issues, such as women being isolated from families/friends, financial control, physical intimidation, using children as leverage, etc. In fact, the male commenters occassionally try to argue women now utilize some of these strategies to become the more effective abusers, again because the system supposedly supports men being abused.

This is an absolutely textbook example of what Angela McRobbie discusses in her article, "Post-Feminism and Popular Culture." She defines post-feminism as:

...an active process by which feminist gains of the 1970s and 80s come to be undermined. It proposes that through an array of machinations, elements of contemporary popular culture are perniciously effective in regard to undoing feminism, while simultaneously appearing to be engaging in a well-informed and even well-intentioned response to feminism. (p. 255).

The male commenters appear desperate, showcasing their individual examples as a means to advocate for male rights. In the process, they argue for equality between the sexes because they state the tables have been turned; they are now the said victims of a liberal state that privileges minorities. In their collective imagination, they cite quantitative studies lacking context so they may wallow in a shared experience of reverse discrimination.

I really loved Steve McNair as a football player; my favorite of all time. I'm saddened his death is being used inappropriately this way. Here's the much more common reality:

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