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.
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.
Due to the number of spam registrations we’ve been getting, I’ve turned off registration for the website and deleted all accounts. I suspect some of those accounts may have been genuine, but you will never need an account to view or comment on the website so there’s not much of a reason to have an account.
I’ve also set up an automated Twitter (@SJLeague) which is updating with new posts as well as comments. Well, the comment updates have been a bit hit-and-miss but it is definitely updating with new posts! I will turn off comment updates if things get too much.
I am currently completing a post-Law-degree course that will let me become a qualified lawyer in Australia. All of our instructors have been practicing in their fields of expertise for many years, so frankly, I shouldn’t have been surprised when some of those barristers and advocates supported slut-shaming and victim-blaming as ways of conducting rape and sexual assault cases. And then justified that attitude as a duty to their defendant client.
In Australia, about 1 in 5 women experience sexual assault and violence. Of those one in five, only 1 in 3 of those assaults are reported to police. Of those assaults reported, only 1 in 3 proceed to trial based on the likelihood of prosecution and wishes of the victim (PDF link).
Criminal proceedings are notoriously bad when treating victim giving witness testimony. Not only must they relive the crime in a courtroom under the scrutiny of lawyers, judges and jurors, but they are often asked highly invasive questions during cross-examination. (I should note here that now a lot of cross-examination is filmed privately on video and played to the court as evidence instead of live testimony.) Of course, any witness testimony will inevitably be difficult for a victim, and witness testimonies will always be necessary to satisfy the criminal burden of proof in an adversarial, common law jurisdiction. But there is never a justification for using arguments or questions grounded in victim-blaming as part of a defence. There is never an excuse to quiz the witness on what they were wearing, how many people they’ve slept with in the past and whether they were inebriated. There is never an excuse to reinforce rape culture.
The argument I most commonly run against is: that, in absence of evidence beyond conflicting testimonies, lawyers need to use whatever favourable “evidence” they can find, because they have a duty to do their best to win the case for their client.
Call me old fashioned or just a fresh-faced graduate from law school, but I thought lawyers were supposed to be officers of the court first.
Jurors aren’t rational and objective beings beamed down from the planet Vulcan to sit in judgement on our legal cases. Living in a rape culture, it should surprise no one that jurors will often hold prejudiced, misogynistic and anti-victim views. Using arguments and reasoning that appeal solely to a person’s prejudice only reinforces that prejudice and in cases of sexual assault and rape, only reinforces rape culture.
People trot out the evidence argument as if it is an unsavoury yet necessary practical component of sexual violence prosecutions. But anti-victim arguments aren’t “evidence” of anything, and they definitely aren’t evidence of consent. Whether a victim was wearing sexy lingerie has no bearing on their consent, just like a person’s skin colour and ethnicity has no bearing on whether they’d commit a theft. Suggesting victims who don’t initially report assaults are liars reinforces misinformation about “correct” victim behaviours and completely ignores statistical realities – that contextually, a reluctance to officially report sexual crimes is probably evidence that the victim was being truthful. Relying on misogyny and rape culture to acquit a defendant is a lazy and dishonest way of conducting a case, and no different from relying on racism or classism or any other prejudice. Such overt prejudices are impossible to find in the courtroom nowadays, yet victim-blaming sadly remains rampant and acceptable.
Yes, rape and sexual assault are difficult areas of law because consent is often one person’s word against the other. However, judges and juries often make findings of fact on little or no evidence beyond witness testimonies, and often rely on how credible they found a witness to determine those facts. While jurors may still be influenced by internalised prejudice to determine issues of credibility, at least this isn’t something they’ve explicitly turned their mind to. Credibility may still place unreasonable expectations on victim behaviour, but at least some of those expectations can be prepared for and managed after the crime.
An adversarial legal system does require the defence to act as a check on the prosecution. The defence ensures there is procedural fairness, and that the prosecution has proved their case on the evidence. The burden of proof in criminal cases is much higher than in civil cases – the prosecution must prove the defendant is guilty beyond reasonable doubt. That’s a high enough burden without the defence needing to rely on victim-blaming to make the prosecution work that bit harder for our taxpayer money.
Nor are lawyers required to do everything possible to win a case. In fact many things are explicitly forbidden because they conflict with a lawyer’s duty to the court. For example, lawyers cannot knowingly allow someone to present false evidence or delay proceedings as a tactic. Lawyers should cease acting for clients who insist on presenting false evidence. From there, even if it isn’t explicitly stated in the Professional Conduct rules, I’d say that it’s necessary to imply a “Don’t reinforce the prejudices of the jurors” in the interests of justice.
DID YOU KNOW?
Under the Evidence Act 2008 (Vic), evidence that relies on stereotypes is considered improper. Evidence about tendency (ie. they’ve had sex with X before so they would have X with again in this instance!) is generally only allowed in very limited circumstances.
Of course the law is not always applied perfectly (stereotypes to a judge is likely to be more limited than someone from a social justice framework) and these laws only apply to the state of Victoria in Australia. There are plenty of places around the world where slut-shaming is a valid and legal defence.
A wise woman I know once told me that there are two types of women: those who dress for men, and those who dress for other women.
How you dress and present to the world is definitely not a personal, creative expression of yourself. It’s a lot healthier to dress to win the approval and acceptance of your peers. In fact, women should feel like their appearance is being constantly scrutinised and judged by everyone and then dress accordingly. But the difficulty is that men and women don’t like the same things! You can’t please both genders at once! Because men and women are so different.
I actually think I do both depending on the day, but I will admit that there are two very different kinds of outfits. The below, which I imagineered up while working from home this morning, was never meant to be understood by the penised of the species.
Penises have magical powers that will dictate your sense of style and aesthetics, didn’tchaknow? Penises also have magical powers that will dictate your gender identity! (Hint: this is sarcasm, your gender identity is completely independent of your genitalia.)
To test my theory, I emailed my boyfriend a picture of this concoction,
A sample size of ONE is highly scientific PROOF. PROOF I TELL YOU.
Then my (male) therapist said he thought it was very “creative,” which may have been code for “time to catatonically make some rainbow lanyards down at the mental hospey.”
Further proof of how men and women are Different (TM) because even your therapist hates it! (That’s a sample size of TWO for those of you still playing.) Whenever I describe something as “creative” I definitely mean it to have negative and ableist connotations. I definitely wouldn’t say what I actually meant.
But maybe some commenters will have picked up the errors in her post? The gender essentialism, the trans erasure, the dressing-for-validation…
You could amend those categories slightly.
Wait, a commenter with some sense? A lone voice of reason?
I think the two camps are actually MEN, and THOSE WHO LIKE PENIS (which includes us males of the homosexual persuasion, who also understand that sometimes a hairdo is just begging for the addition of an oversized butterfly, feather, or some such fabricated flora or fauna to make it complete).
Oh, my mistake, it’s just someone making broad generalisations and stereotypes about sexual orientations.
Carry on then, XOJane.