commitment issues

commitment issues. i realize that there are a set of standards that men are judged by, and expected to conform to, but recently this one has particularly grated on me. presumably, because my roommates have decided that i have them, and need to work on them. don’t get me wrong, they’re my friends and i take their advice to heart, but at the same time, i wonder where some of this advice is coming from

** * **

its interesting the number of sexist tropes that are used to cover all sorts of behavior by men. a guy that doesn’t want to settle down – or is too vocal about the (lack of a) future – has ‘commitment issues’. and its almost like his motivations and reasons are irrelevant – “men, sigh…”. or, worse, the ‘real reason’ must have something to do with his wanting to play around. oh, and heaven forbid men should complain about this state of affairs, which is considered oversensitive at best. (in my experience, even the feminists scorn this kind of talk, something about appropriating the discourse of resistance… really screwed up model of victim here). the fascinating thing is that the expectations for the reasons of noncompliance with the standards – the need to fool around – set an entirely different set of standards. hypersexual, with either the emotional range of a toaster, or perhaps a teflon coating around an emotional (and presumably broken) core.

i guess there are two ways to go from here, one way toward what exactly is at issue with treating people this way, and the other toward whats wrong with a feminism that doesn’t think this is an issue.

* *** *

one might object to the above sentiments with an argument of the form that (1) this is generally the the male behavior observed and (2) that it is reasonable, and in some ways necessary, to generalize upon broad trends in human behavior

i completely agree that some amount of generalizing is essential to interacting in a modern society. we learn based upon our experience, and part of that process is generalizing based on repeated interaction (“my coworker tends to drink coffee in the morning” is in this sense similar to “putting my hand on the stove causes pain”). repeated confirmation leads to generalizations that aren’t just probabilty statements (putting my hand on the stove tends to cause pain // cheetas tend to run fast), but statements of being (the stove is hot, cheetas are fast runners)

this extended model, however, ignores the role of agency in human affairs. unlike objects, which can be reasonably modeled as having immutable properties (stove = hot), an individual has the capacity to choose at any moment. i may be a coffee drinker today, and a tea drinker tomorrow. the a generalization thus not only overpredicts action, but denies agency – in both a passive and an active sense, as the loss is not only in our poor modeling, but its impact upon the observed. at a minimum, being told what one IS yields an expectation to preform, enactment. hence that subset of overgeneralizations known as stereotypes, those that deny agency in a meaningful sense.

(i won’t pretend to be terribly happy with this analysis, and there are more than a few major shortcomings in its epistemology and social basis, but its a working basis for later elaboration)

* * * * *

feminism and men. if it is the case that man – woman are separated into a binary in sexist constructions of gender (as most suspect and comment), and that this reification is an agency-denying overprediction of the type commented on above, then it seems clear to me that – in this aspect of agency at least – feminism has yet to address the impact of sexist constructions upon men. just as our sexist society has constrained women to being passive, when many women would rather be assertive, it seems clear to me that the same sexist society forced men to be assertive, while many would rather be passive.

the most frequent objection – that men are the supposed beneficiaries of the system – seems to operate on a very narrow concept of benefit. within the terms of the sexist society, it is true that men tend to take the privileged aspect (reasoned over emotional, assertive over passive). but it baffles me why being well adjusted to a profoundly sick society is a measure of good health. it even strikes me that the term for benefit – privilege – insofar as it is construed as a characteristic of individuals, suffers from the issues mentioned above.

* *** *

i think i can sum this all up in one of tim burke’s (and my) persistent worries,:

that I, and perhaps more than myself, are trapped in recurrent, irresolvable debates and conflicts, that the academy is at the edge of its limitations, at a moment of arteriosclerosis


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