Intersectionality Power: The Recognition

Disclaimer: I’ve been following the Good Men Project for a few months now, and have really enjoyed the website, agree with its premise, and have been surprised by the number of quality and nuanced articles on there.

BUT. All good allies will sometimes fuck up, and I was completely dismayed by the publication of this article about “feminine power”.

As a queer person who identifies neither as femme or butch, I’m wary of anyone trying to pin down the definitions of what is “feminine” and “masculine” without writing or linking to a ten thousand word thesis about it beforehand. Furthermore, the construction of feminine/masculine will differ according to culture; for example, femme/butch identities were historically developed from Western society and culture, and may have less relevance in non-Western cultures.

Enter white male author, Brandon Ferdig, who I am sure has all the greatest intentions in the world. In fact his post is oozing with good intentions to present “feminine” power equal that of “masculine” power. Sadly he has to resort to racist tropes in order to make his point.

The emasculation of Asian men in Western media is so common and well-documented that Wikipedia even has section about it. In short, the fear of Yellow Peril caused Western men to perceive Asian men as sexual threats to white women (yes, I know how fucked up that sentence is), and over time this has warped from a hypersexualised image of Asian male sexuality to a stereotype devoid of any sexuality. I’ve read and heard a lot of whitesplaining about how Asian men are more “feminine” and “delicate” and the following quote is no exception:

Expectantly, it was the men who stuck out when femininity is stronger—especially when compared with the masculine men of America. In China, many men carry themselves with a more delicate walk, prettied hair, and some sport lengthy, manicured fingernails. Fisherman and other figures of masculinity commonly pull their shirts up over their midriffs.

To add insult to injury, Ferdig captions two photos of Chinese men and women holding hands as “probably not lesbians” and “probably not gay”, completely ignorant of the deep-seated homophobia that exists in mainstream Chinese society.

Let’s break this down:

While I’m currently living in Australia, I come from a Chinese background and have travelled to China at least 8-9 times over the last twenty years. Never have I seen this “delicate walk”, “prettied hair” and “manicured fingernails” phenomenon. What I have seen is an overall trend towards accepting men who care about self-grooming and appearances – but that’s the same walking among the white hipster dudes of Fitzroy in Melbourne as it is in the streets of Shanghai.

I can’t help but feel Ferdig has internalised a lot of Hollywood tropes about Asian people and just experienced confirmation bias while he was in China. He has been brought up in a society where white male faces are the norm, so maybe he’s used to equating prominent brows to masculinity, I don’t know. I don’t see anything particularly feminine about the photo of the young chinese boys he posted. Would he describe Panic! At the Disco as “feminine” for having similar hairstyles and *gasp* wearing eyeliner and makeup? Does that mean that Western society is becoming more accepting of feminine power?

In anything, traditional gender roles and expressions are even more strict in China. I don’t know if this causes the so-called increase in “feminine power” Ferdig describes, but anything outside the heterosexual nuclear family retains a scandal like no other because perspective is not one of the individual making their own choices, but that of letting the whole family unit down. Gay? Childless? Confucius is rolling in his grave right now. If you’re holding hands or touching a member of the same gender it’s probably because most people don’t conceive of queer identities in the open.

And:

After the first beat of the first song, I knew this was far beyond the gender-neutral territory of yoga and over to the land of the Lifetime Channel. The music was slow, light, and passionate; the dance moves were smooth and methodic: light touches, limp wrists, and weightless limbs.

It was so feminine.

Excuse me while I barf. I have a bunch of friends that are femme or that I’d describe as feminine, but “Lifetime Channel” is probably not the phrase I would use for them. Ferdig seems to equate the idea of the feminine with aspects of antiquated “female virtues” of patience and nurturing and I don’t know, raising children or something. Which is not to say that feminine people can’t be those things, but to break traditional gender paradigms we need to start viewing femininity as capable of being “fierce”, “strong” and “active” as well. I’m not 100% sure what sort of “power” he’s talking about in the context of the article (social power? expressive power?) but I’m pretty sure that using a nineteenth century wallflower definition of “feminine” isn’t helping anyone here.

Look, I’m glad this dude seems to really want to appreciate feminine people in his life, I really do, but what was the point of this article except to present China as some sort of haven for femininity. Which it definitely is not. Chinese politics and business is as much dominated by competition and adversary as it is in the West. Sexism still very much exists and therefore the devaluation of “feminine” still exists (although of course woman doesn’t always equal feminine). And most importantly, racism still exists and this article is a prime example of how to fail at intersectionality and ignorantly support some pretty racist Asian stereotyping.

From the same website, compare with Tom Hargrave’s post on masculinity which is one of the most nuanced explorations of masculinity in the patriarchy I’ve ever read.


20 Comments on Intersectionality Power: The Recognition

  1. Rachael Rachael says:

    UGH that post is making me upset. He says:
    “It hit me: Feminine power is the praise of life: growth, potential, hope, expression. This opposed aspects of the power I had previously only known. Yes, there was still some element of “fight” in this power, but even this is a passionate battle that moves delicately—not physically aggressive. It’s a patient power and a persistent one that nurtures and soaks in every moment. It honors and expresses the joy of the freedom to live life.”

    Okay, this dude is seriously confused. The thing he is describing is “socially-coded femininity”, which is NOT THE SAME THING as femininity itself. Similarly, socially-coded feminine behaviours and traits such as patience, people skills, nurturing and delicacy are NOT what “feminine” is. (Obviously the same distinction exists between socially-coded masculine traits and what real masculinity is, which is very intensely personal for each person who identifies as masculine.)

    I think femininity is a really personal thing. When this article snidely dismisses Hillary Clinton as having masculine power, I cringe. Yes, Hillary is successful in a socially-coded masculine way, but she identifies as a woman and (presumably though I don’t know for sure) as femme, and it’s NOT FOR US TO SAY whether her behaviour and her power is masculine or feminine. LIKE, DOES IT EVEN MATTER? GODDAMN. LET HER GET ON WITH HER SHIT DAMMIT.

    This is very personal for me. My own femininity is very different to socially-coded feminine traits, norms and behaviours. But just because I don’t fit into the box of feminine as others see it does not mean I don’t experience myself as feminine. I’m not delicate or nurturing or patient, I’m loud and independent and ambitious and assertive and logical and NONE OF THOSE THINGS PRECLUDE ME FROM BEING FEMININE. Those things are part of how I experience myself, as a person and as a woman.

    THIS HAS BEEN A RANT.

    • Connie Connie says:

      This was a hard post to write because femininity/masculinity are such difficult terms to pin down. I don’t take issue with anyone trying to examine the definitions, but this is clearly not the way to do it. He sort of just states his arbitrary view of femininity/masculinity without further examination of how he got to that position (or research or reading or awareness of gender theory apparently) and THEN uses his own bigotry to reinforce those initial views (again ignoring research or cultural difference).

  2. Okay, this got my attention and am a bit troubled that in my attempt to praise femininity you call me racist and whatnot–(though you did mention my good intentions.)

    But first, how can you bring up my race and sex as a negative while calling ME racist?

    Second, you don’t need to complicate my observations with theories of the emasculation of Asian men. I simply lived in China and reported what I saw.

    I lived there for 11 months and learned about the homophobia in China from a gay friend living in Beijing. So I’m not ignorant of this fact. I wrote “probably not gay” for the sake of my mainly-American readers to make the point that friends being physical is normalized in what I see as a more feminine culture. (Email me next time before you rant, Connie, to ask for clarification.)

    I disagree with the notion that cultures determine femininity and masculinity. I think all humans share the same masculine/feminine continuum, as any species does. (I made it clear that men or women may embody either of these.)

    Different cultures may lie along this line in different places. I don’t believe there are different plains of these traits for different racial groups or cultures as you claim.

    What I do agree with you about is my lack of clarity of what feminine and masculine are. I tried to explain them, but it’s not easy as you know. Masculinity is about the power to conquer. Femininity is about the power to nurture.

    Hopefully, I can make a better case for the universal quality of these traits in my follow up piece, which I also hope you take the time to read.

    • Rachael Rachael says:

      1. If you don’t understand that it’s not racist or sexist for us to point out that your whiteness and maleness mean that you have privilege women and people of colour don’t have and therefore you are unlikely to understand what you’re wading into when you talk about femininity and chinese culture, then you need to go back to social justice school. Racism = Power + Prejudice. Sexism = Power + Prejudice. For you to come here and snidely accuse us of racism and sexism makes me question your good intentions.

      2. If you’re our ally, don’t condescend to us. We do not have to email you before we publish a commentary on your work which you put up on the internet! Connie did not “rant” as you accused her. Good male allies to feminism listen to what women say and take it on board. Do not dismiss us because we’re telling you that you got it wrong. Connie was very respectful.

      3. We dispute your claims that chinese culture is more feminine and you have given NO indication that this belief is grounded in anything other than your pre-existing biases about chinese people and your personal anecdotes. You restate your belief in your comment without EVER copping to your own biases or assumptions which Connie pointed out to you.

      4. You talk about “theories” about the emasculation of asian men as though this is not a real thing. If you are ignorant of this phenomenon then you have no business writing about gender and asian cultures! Connie even linked to the wiki page!

      5. You say “Masculinity is about the power to conquer. Femininity is about the power to nurture.” No. Retract this sentence now or lose all credibility.

      You still don’t get it. Women have had this “nurturing feminine” stereotype thrown at them for years. I am literally astounded that you bring this out as if it is anything new — you seem to be totally ignorant of the way women are straightjacketed by social and cultural norms into cultivating “nurturing” traits because THAT IS THE SOCIALLY-CODED FEMINITY THAT IS DEMANDED OF THEM in a patriarchal society. Your definition of femininity comes from patriarchy.

      Am I any less feminine because I am much better at conquering than nurturing? As a woman, I am telling you that I experience my femininity in a way that is more about conquering challenges than patiently nurturing. I am not any less feminine and I do not appreciate you trying to tell me and other women like me that I am.

    • Connie Connie says:

      Unfortunately I’ve been out of the house all day so haven’t been able to reply to your and Lisa’s comments until now. However Rachael has basically said everything I want to say and very eloquently (possibly more than I ever could).

      Just because I think you engaged with racist tropes doesn’t mean I think you’re a card-carrying member of the KKK and hate all Asians. I don’t know you personally and have no idea of your personal beliefs.

      HOWEVER racism (and bigotry in general) is internalised by everyone, and the correct way to engage with internalised racism, after having being explained why a trope is racist, is to apologise and reflect on your words. I mention your maleness and whiteness as indicators of privilege and having no direct experience of either racism or sexism personally (see Rachael’s power + prejudice definition), and therefore not really an authority to speak about what is/isn’t racist or sexist.

      Different cultures may lie along this line in different places. I don’t believe there are different plains of these traits for different racial groups or cultures as you claim.

      Honestly, I don’t really care what you personally believe. But I do care when people publish what I think to be utter nonsense on prominent websites that silence marginalised people.

      The intersection of gender across cultures is something that queer people of colour constantly struggle with as personal expressions of their identity. It’s something queer people of colour actually discuss a great deal among themselves. Queer POC are often twice marginalised – within queer circles for being non-white and within POC circles for being queer. SO when you as a (I assume) straight, white cismale who has less of a stake in these terms suddenly just decide that definition feminine/masculine should be a certain way that tramples over discourses of queer POC, and that is silencing.

      I will probably read your follow-up piece, but if I have a problem with it I will not email you beforehand. I will post a rebuttal here, because when you publish something publicly on the internet you ought to take some responsibility for your words and realise that not everyone is going to agree with or like what you say.

  3. Lisa Hickey says:

    Hi there,

    I’m publisher of The Good Men Project. I stand behind our publication of that article and Brandon’s response. To me – the goal of our website is to look at the changing role of men in our society. That means truly looking at it from the perceptions of men themselves. It means starting by believeing that everyone who writes for us with the intention of trying to figure out what is “good.” And it means that we look to embrace such diversified points of view,

    I don’t believe social change happens through accusations that people are not talking about something the “right” way. I don’t think that social change happens from yelling and screaming and ranting. And I don’t think social change happens by people saying “you just don’t get it, do you?”

    I think that social change happens when people start to articulate what is they see, what it is they’ve learnt, what it is they feel – right or wrong, good or bad – in an honest and open way. And that a conversation ensues that is the along the lines of “oh, now I see the world the way you see it.”

    I’d rather have overt sexism than hidden sexism any day. The same with racism – we’ve published “I prefer my racism straight up, thank you” to discuss this pov. I’ve talked openly about the fact the worst thing is not when somebody calls me a “lying feminist scum” (google that plus Lisa Hickey and see what you get) but the sexism that happens when I’m at work and a bunch of guys goes off and plays golf on a weekend without inviting me and talks business strategy while they are on the field swinging away. But I’ve found that I can’t fight that kind of sexism by trying to “guilt” guys into letting me play golf with them. I have to find a way into the conversation that acknowledges the fact that they see the world as different than I do.

    And that’s why I stand by Brandon’s post. I appreciate the dialogue it sparked. I appreciate the ability to look at *his* story through *your* eyes. But I appreciated looking at the world the way he saw it first.

    • Rachael Rachael says:

      We’re big fans of the Good Men Project here at SJL. The other articles on your site are of a very high quality and we think you do good work. But you need to acknowledge the problematic elements of that post before we can have a dialogue about it, because it seems like you guys aren’t willing to accept that the post has caused harm and perpetuated harmful stereotypes about women and asian cultures. I am upset by your attempts to dismiss our criticisms based on their tone rather than engaging with their substantive content.

      How can you stand by Brendan’s response to our criticism, when he essentially accused us of sexism and racism? I thought it was well established in the social justice community that sexism is not just sex-based prejudice but necessarily includes a dimension of sociocultural power. How can you stand behind the idea that masculine power is about conquest and feminine power is about nurturing, when we women are force-fed that trope from day one? It is bad enough that Brendan made his post completely unaware of the intersectionality issues (and apparently unaware of major stereotypes about asian cultures), but it is worse that he refused to listen to criticism from a woman of colour.

      Your objections to my first response (since Connie did not yell or scream or rant, and I did rant) sound like an attempt to silence the anger of marginalised people and insist that they “play nice” all the time. I expressed my anger and hurt, but I did not call Brandon nasty names or make snide comments about him – the worst thing I said was that he is “confused”! Yes, I told him he didnt get it – because he doesn’t get it! If I don’t tell Brandon he doesn’t get it, evidence suggests he will continue to not get it – if I tell him, maybe he will listen to me, a woman, whose power and worldview he claims to respect.

      Marginalised people have the right to call out people who create media that hurts them, and their anger is justified. I would hope you would never go to a POC’s social justice blog and tell them not to be angry with the well-intentioned white people who have hurt them…the principle is the same for women’s blogs calling out well-intentioned men (I’m talking about my comment here as I assume you have no tone issue with the original post. That post was indeed by a woman of colour from the culture about which the post was made!)

      Feminism fights for women’s voices to be heard, because mainstream culture privileges men’s voices. Our movement values the contribution of men and male allies, but those allies are here on our terms and should defer to female feminists about how feminism moves forward. If a post made by a white male ally offends, upsets and hurts women of colour, then it is simply inexcusable for a male ally to continue without at the very least taking these complaints on board and considering their validity. Brandon dismissed them immediately – he showed no signs of even acknowledging that the stereotypes he was unaware of genuinely exist!

      You’re welcome to take your approach of not directly confronting sexism when you see it, and I completely respect that you want to find a way to address sexism in your life that works for you. But don’t chide us for taking genuine issue with a post we found hurtful and problematic and directly confronting it. A lot of men with good intentions need to be told when they are screwing up or they will never realise, because of their privilege. They want to be good allies, we want them to be good allies – but part of being a good ally means copping to the hurt and anger you have caused marginalised people despite your good intentions, not dismissing their concerns because of their angry and hurt tones.

    • Connie Connie says:

      I added a disclaimer to the start of the post and also linked to another article of the GMP’s which I thought was an excellent discussion of masculinity. I don’t know where you got the impression I was attacking anything but the post in question. Nor did I call Brandon any names. What I did call out was the unexamined racism in the article and for the I am completely unapologetic for.

      (And while we’re on the subject, even if I had done those things invocation of my tone would still be derailing the conversation.)

      It means starting by believeing that everyone who writes for us with the intention of trying to figure out what is “good.”

      I specifically wrote in my post that I believed Brandon has good intentions. But good intentions mean nothing when they lead to further marginalisation. As people who are trying to figure out what is “good”, perhaps he (and you) should be engaging with the points we raised in this post and the comments instead of acting defensive?

      I don’t believe social change happens through accusations that people are not talking about something the “right” way. I don’t think that social change happens from yelling and screaming and ranting. And I don’t think social change happens by people saying “you just don’t get it, do you?”

      Except that we’ve done none of those things. What we have done is pointed out the flaws in the post and Brendon’s subsequent comments on this site in quite some detail. As tempting as it was, we haven’t just dismissed you out of hand without trying to engage in constructive discussion. You thank us for the “dialogue it sparked” but the “dialogue” seems to be pretty one-way at the moment – with us providing reasoned arguments for our positions and you making claims that we are “yelling and screaming and ranting” (but see again above derailing link).

      I’d rather have overt sexism than hidden sexism any day.

      We are in agreement. This is why I have called out Brandon’s hidden racism in this post.

    • Aditi Aditi says:

      “And that’s why I stand by Brandon’s post. I appreciate the dialogue it sparked. I appreciate the ability to look at *his* story through *your* eyes. But I appreciated looking at the world the way he saw it first.”

      If Brandon had written a post in which he used the N-word, that would probably have sparked some dialogue about when it is appropriate for white people to use the N-word too. He could even have used the word with good intentions, ignorant of the harm it would cause. But just because some good dialogue flowed from that offensive remark, that wouldn’t make it a good thing that Brandon used the N-word.

      But all of that is moot in this case, because there hasn’t been a good dialogue. Connie explained in great detail why she found the post offensive, and neither you nor Brandon have engaged substantively with the criticisms — instead, you have chosen to dismiss her as “yelling and screaming and ranting”. That isn’t what constitutes good dialogue.

  4. Connie, Rachel, I understand how this piece could have offended you. Those that invest a lot of themselves seeking to enhance the discussion and points of view within society about these issues of gender and power probably get upset when a white man speaks freely in ways that seem to enhance stereotypes.

    I acknowledge this and should own this. You are right.

    However, I also believe that in your attempts to see a better platform of discussion, you’ve decided that anything that resembles the opposition must be bad.

    Don’t confuse me with a bigot. A bigot may say “all women should stay home with the children”. I said, “feminine power is nurturing”. I said nothing about women. I speak of a feminine and a masculine power in humanity, in nature. I made the discovery and wanted other people to realize it, too, because (especially in America) we don’t. And I hope humans can become adept as using both.

    A bigot says “Chinese men are like women”. I said “Southern Chinese men exhibit feminine qualities.” (The locals would said this to me themselves.) I understand how racism can be a subtle monster and I’ve worked hard in my life to spot it and destroy it when I see it in myself. But my observations in China were made with no ill-will of any kind. That’s for you to accept or deny.

    I understand how my piece brings up sentiments of racism and pain, but you can’t demand that all white men who make claims that arouse negative sentiment within yourselves to be a bigot. Because now you’re the silencer, the marginalizer.

    I am sorry that you are bothered by what I experienced, saw, and reported on. But it’s wrong for you miscast me with others who seek to limit people’s understanding.

    I seek to expand it.

    • Neev says:

      Being told that you are wrong about something you are completely unqualified to talk about in any way, shape, or form does not make you marginalized or silenced. It just means that you’re wrong. Sometimes people are wrong. This is one of those times for you.

    • Connie Connie says:

      You opened up this comment with a non-apology (ie. “I’m sorry you were offended” rather than “I’m sorry I offended you”), but look that’s fine, I’m not particularly interested in apologies, non-apologies or otherwise.

      What I am concerned with is whether you’re actually taking on-board what we’re saying and if you’re going to be publishing more articles in a similar vein in the future. And thus far your only defence for your post is “But I’m a good person and I’m not a racist and therefore I could never do anything that is racist!”

      Which is plainly bullshit. You and your intentions don’t get to decide what is racist and bigoted, marginalised people that your actions hurt decide this. When marginalised people tell you that what you have said is highly problematic it is not because they find it fun. It is because they have experienced the hurt your actions have caused. So you whine about how you had “no ill-will” as if your intentions had some sort of magical ability to transform your actions, you only come off as a privilege-denying and dismissive of marginalised experiences.

      I’m not going to address your points of how not to confuse you with a bigot. Like I said, you and your intentions don’t get to decide what is bigotry. People who are affected by bigotry get to decide that. Furthermore, when you’re splitting hairs about the semantics of “like women” and “feminine qualities”, ask yourself why you need to do so to justify your position. A bigot (whatever your definition of the word) could equally say both.

      The fact that you claim we are marginalising you is frankly hilarious. See again Rachael’s definition of Power + Prejudice.

    • CrapCommentFromADude says:

      I was going to call this a failed retort, but it’s not really a retort at all… you’ve gotten all hung up on the question of whether or not your identity entitles you to say certain things, and in the process you’ve basically ignored what everyone is saying to you: namely, the root problem isn’t that you’re a white guy, the root problem is that you’re completely wrong.

      Your notion of what constitutes ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’ is wrong.

      Your notions about southern China are wrong.

      And in particular, your attempt just now to buttress the authority of your position by reporting that a Genuine Chinese Dude bullshitted with you for a bit over hot pot about how Chinese Guys are Like This but Western Guys are Like That is absurd.

      Having lived in China for a bit, including southern China, I can safely report that just like everyone else, plenty of Chinese people like to have fun breezily generalizing about the people in the different regions of China, or differences between China and other countries. They’re not revealing some magical truth, they’re just having fun bullshitting, same as we all do. “Hey, a Chinese guy said so” is not a blanket license for you to write stupid things.

      For example! I, a proud Jew and Californian, often have fun at parties talking out of my ass about the supposed glories of The Jews after a beer or two, or why New York is just an also-ran version of Los Angeles (Note to anyone reading this who likes New York: that’s really all it is).

      But if someone were to hear my well-lubricated mutterings about the notable traits of us Jews, spin it into a theory of ‘Jew-inity’ and ‘Goy-inity’, and make a big blog post announcing their newfound knowledge on a well-respected social justice website? I’d be fucking embarrassed for them.

      I’m sorry if I’m coming off as strident right now, but people keep trying to gingerly clue you in on where you went wrong, and you just keep. on. missing. the. point.

    • Aparna says:

      When you term a force, which you call nurturing, as “feminine,” and a force, which is dominating, as “masculine,” isn’t it stereotyping in itself? If you call something feminine and masculine, it would be naturally ascribed to women and men respectively (to make that leap, you do not need much faith). and then to go on and say that “feminine” forces can be found in both men and women and hence you are not being sexist.. well, that does not help much… Sexist people, or people who believe in gender stereotypes, would hardly listen to that auxilliary… (or they might think that you are just being politically correct).
      Is it so hard to understand that?

  5. LizB says:

    I have to say, the behaviour of Brandon and Lisa here mean that I’m going to give the Good Men Project a wide berth from now on, and warn everyone else I know to steer clear as well. Watching a white man, with the explicit approval of a white feminist, telling a Chinese-Australian woman that her understanding of gender in Chinese culture is wrong is like a textbook example of everything that needs to be fixed about mainstream feminism right now.

    • Connie Connie says:

      I am giving the Good Men Project some SERIOUS side-eye as well and that’s purely on their response to having their problematic shit called out. I’d like to think I am pretty forgiving when it comes to educating privileged people who don’t know/understand what they originally did wrong, but all bets are off when the reasons have been patiently explained to them numerous times.

  6. Duncan says:

    While I shan’t contribute further to the conversation – because Rachel, Connie, and LizB, summed up everything and more than I thought of – I just want to say I am loving this blog. This kind of bold open conversation about privilege and intersectionality are /exactly/ the kind of conversations we need to be having.

    Also, ‘I’d rather have overt racism’? Ugh. How about we work towards actually eradicating racism instead if playing the ‘I don’t see color’ game which is in itself a position that comes from the privilege of being white?

  7. Aparna says:

    By the way, wanted you to know that your posts help me learn new terms and theories… and explore them… I am new to feminist and social justice theories and such, so appreciate this opportunity very much… :)
    Have a nice weekend!


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