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Gender politics, take 2 3 4?

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

I've lost track since the tussle began. Kevin Drum has taken another crack at discussing gender issues. This time he deserves credit for largely hitting the mark. He correctly points out that the most passionately debated topics are sex/gender related -- sex ed, reproductive rights, pornography, gay rights and low-wealth/welfare issues -- all passionately and successfully framed by the Right in the last election cycle.

Social conservatives have sought and gained power in the name of maintaining (or returning to, depending on your perspective) traditional sex and gender roles. Michigan's "Conscientious Objector Policy Act," which would "allow doctors to refuse to treat gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender patients based on moral, ethical or religious beliefs" is is a logical result when theocrats take control of the social agenda. It explains the trends such as pharmacists across the country refusing to fill prescriptions for birth control and morning-after pills (again, based on personal beliefs). Drum:
This is why gender equality per se should get more attention from the liberal community: because it's the underlying core of so many emotional, election-deciding issues. I know, I know: this kind of talk is just so 70s. And it's true that the tone of feminist rhetoric - especially academic feminism - probably puts off a lot of liberal men, including me from time to time. But it's hard to make headway on all these disparate issues without understanding the core sensibility that drives so many of them. We shouldn't allow pique to get in the way of that.
All that forward social momentum from the 70s is threatening. Eventually a line in the sand had to be drawn, a comfort level had been breached. Men of all political persuasions found themselves uncomfortable and unsettled by the rapid social changes over the last three decades. As Rox notes:
In the early 80s, it all came to a grinding halt. Why? Was it backlash? The Reagan Revolution? AIDS? Whatever it was, we haven't recouped.

I tend to believe that those who had power didn't want to relinquish any more of it. They gave some of us a few crumbs to keep us sated. It was the "steam control" Tom Wolfe describes in his 80s classic, The Bonfire of the Vanities.
For social conservatives, the cultural road map was already there to address their world-gone-to-hell-in-a-handbasket: a return to the idealized Eisenhower-era society (actually, for some whackjobs, it appears the social ideal occurred several hundred years ago). The disaffected could unite around a common vision for social order that was like mac-and-cheese comfort food.

However, men committed to progressive social change have a different problem. How do you recognize, embrace and express discomfort with the changing roles of gender/sexual politics constructively without appearing like a cave man? The politically correct social framework that has evolved over the last few decades doesn't make it easy to be honest about the complex emotions surrounding gender politics, does it? It doesn't make those feelings go away, safely unexpressed.

The fact that the testosterone clubbiness of op-ed pages, blogs, and opinion magazines exists speaks volumes -- the club generally steers away from those sex/gender issues because it's just not comfortable. It's not because those topics are unimportant, but they involve opening honest conversations that might make liberal men queasy as they struggle to understand the emotional impact of shifts in our culture and the balance of power in the national social mosaic. Drum touches on this.
And it's true that the tone of feminist rhetoric - especially academic feminism - probably puts off a lot of liberal men, including me from time to time. But it's hard to make headway on all these disparate issues without understanding the core sensibility that drives so many of them. We shouldn't allow pique to get in the way of that.
Conservatives have no such dilemma. The agenda is not about change, but conformity, tradition, and clear gender roles/sexual identities.

At least now the door to discuss this is cracked open; I hope Drum and his peers decide to loosen up a bit -- it's no time to hold back when you have the AmTaliban nipping at the country's heels, ready to move up and bite us all in the ass.

Props to Shakespeare's Sister, whose commentary and correspondence with Drum helped moved this conversation to the next level. It needs to continue. It's clear that the other side never sleeps.