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.