Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Not Harmless

I once went to Australia to speak at a conference. (This is in a previous life, when I jetted all over the place talking about independent media.)

The organizers put me in the same room as comic-book artist Madison Clell, who is now a good friend. At this time, however, she was a complete stranger.

Apparently they thought “Madison” was a guy and didn’t think much of sticking us in beds a few feet apart.

“Should we get a new room for you?” our female handler asked Madison.

Madison and I had met only an hour before. She looked me over with a cool and penetrating gaze. Then she turned back to our handler.

“Nah,” she said with a smile. “He’s harmless.”

Harmless…Madison meant that she didn’t think I would, er, take advantage of the situation, and I suppose her remark could be taken as a compliment.

But, of course, no guy wants to be told he’s “harmless.” Instead, in our beastly heart of hearts, we all want to be James Bond… you know, sexy and dangerous. Tempting to the ladies. Good with flying cars and machine guns disguised as umbrellas.

Not…harmless.

I thought of this incident when I received my contributor’s copy of the new anthology, Men Speak Out: Views on Gender, Sex, and Power, edited by Shira Tarrant. I would be blogging about this anthology even if I weren’t a contributor. Consisting of essays by pro-feminist guys on many dimensions of the male experience—I wrote about fatherhood, of course—Men Speak Out is unique in covering issues near and dear to the heart of Daddy Dialectic.

I felt a little flutter of anxiety as I opened the covers. You see, I have a special angst about antisexist, pro-feminist writing by guys. I worry about the possibility it could be deemed “harmless”—that is to say, bland, pious, wimpy. I want male pro-feminist writing to be muscular, confrontational, and courageous—not in a flashy superficial sense, but in a way that shows the writer has really dived into the heart of his own experience.

I can’t stand antisexist writing in which the writer portrays himself as a hero in the struggle against a sexist world—I want to see the writer lose as well as win, because that’s what’s going to happen when you pit yourself against centuries of traditions that live on inside of you as well as outside. I don’t want to see the antisexist guy frame it as someone else’s struggle—I want to hear about his struggle, with himself as well as both men and women.

I don’t want the antisexist guy to reflexively agree with everything a woman and “feminism” says. I want to see him battle for understanding and stand up for his own ideas and tell the truth about his life. The purpose of antisexist male writing is not to curry favor with feminists. Its purpose to hold up a mirror to individual men and ask them to change their lives--and better yet, show them how to change their lives, and to be proud of progress when it happens.

I am relieved to report that most of the essays in Men Speak Out do that, and much more besides. The best essays helped me to see my own experience and ideas in a new light, and that’s the most you can ask writing to do. You can buy it here.

7 comments:

Doodaddy said...

"Harmless" has always been what I shoot for... more for the kids than for the adults. Kids can figure out which adult is going to be cool and not too strict and not too goofy, either -- that's my goal.

chicago pop said...

I want to be James Bond, too. Or maybe Jason Bourne, without all the baggage.

as it is said...

I am taking a class with Dr. Tarrant right now. I have just read a couple essays in Men's Lives, and I am actually about to spend my Friday night reading many more..... So far, none of them appear to harmless

Jeremy Adam Smith said...

Hmmm. I'm a Bourne man myself, which makes sense. Comparing Bourne with Bond is instructive.

The trajectory of the Bourne character is from amnesiac robotic killing machine to (sort of) compassionate, flawed human being. And note the role of women in the film: OK, no woman matches him in the fighting-and-killing department, but they are otherwise his equals. Bourne doesn't patronize or exploit the women in the story.

But in Casino Royale, which was supposed to reboot the 007 myth for the 21st century, Bond ends up just as sociopathic (I almost typed "sociopathetic") as he was in the 20th. He bullies and sleeps with a coworker, falls in love, resigns from his life of danger and death, lounges languidly on the deck of a sail boat, the wind gently stirring his chest hairs, reflecting upon his girlfriend's bikini-clad bottom, when suddenly...THE BITCH BETRAYS HIM! Cue 007 theme...she dies, of course, sealing Bond's glamorously grim destiny. The film ends with him standing over a vanquished enemy, gun in hand: "Bond, James Bond..." So old fashioned.

Torrance Stephens bka All-Mi-T said...

great post folk, drop by my neck of the woods one day

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