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Project X: An Introduction.

January 11, 2012

Project X (noun): Work that it is still in progress and, though there’s a direction, no one’s quite sure what the end will be. Requires additional input.”

I recently got into a brief discussion (if you can call it that – it was over FB comments) with a friend regarding Ron Paul and his view that we should do away with the Civil Rights Act. I’m not going to get into that here, but my friend immediately 1) took issue with “playing the race card” and 2) gave evidence for the fact that we shouldn’t act like black people have it worse because hey, she lived in the “ghetto” (her quotes, not mine) and was a poor white chick once.

Again, I’m not here to discuss that particular dialogue. But all of that felt a lot like the discussion that happened in December, and are continuing to happen, over at the Good Men Project.

It also brought to mind, for me, my most recent post over there about sexual expression, and that straight women can experiment, but straight men cannot. The idea that, yes, I have absolutely experienced discrimination due to my sexuality, but that I can’t imagine what it must be like for a dude. I could easily say “hey, so, all that girl stuff was pretty fun but I’m straight” and people would be cool. If a dude tried anything even near that? Yeah right.

Other examples? Well, everything from white, feminist women thinking they can use the N-word to the importance of addressing the intersection of the environmental movement with class and race.

While all of these things are very different and issues in their own right, they do have underlying themes – and they do all connect to this little project my friend Simone and I thought up in December.

Yes, we are going to focus on feminism, because that is what we have in common, and that is what got this whole thing going. However, I for one think the lessons that come out will have much deeper implications to how we as a human community discuss things Society dictates for us in terms of gender, race, sex, class, etc. And that, really, is the point: to learn how to have this conversation in a more constructive way.

To get us going, we’ll start with a post about definitions and terms that we will use from here on out. In my limited experience, many a constructive discussion was completely derailed due to people’s attachments to words over content. In attempt to avoid such inability to see woods for trees, we want to have that conversation first, to determine what things mean, and hear back from readers their thoughts. Our hope is to move forward on the same page in terms of words.

From there, we’re going to explore some more specific narratives within the discussion around feminism. The point is to bring the long history of feminist theory and academic study (thanks Simone!) to bear on the conversations happening far outside this in the blogosphere. See, one of the massive problems we’ve both noticed in the blogged conversations is the lack of this background. We want to start there, and, yes, there will be recommended readings.

Yes, the hope is to provide better understanding, to educate, and to open hearts and minds, but it also to stimulate discussion on other perspectives and experiences.

Finally, we will wrap up with discussion on how to move forward and engage these kind of conversations in a constructive way, one that allows for people outside marginalized groups to talk about how ‘isms, and anti-‘ism movements, affect them. For example, how I might go about discussing race or class, since I am white and middle-class. We hope that, by starting with everyone on the same page in terms of vocabulary, providing a background in theory and research, and then engaging how to move forward, we might really get somewhere.

♦ ◊ ♦

Simone’s post on this is below – and it can be found on her blog “Will Somebody Read A Book Please?”.

In the past few weeks, and maybe months, there’s been a ruckus over at Good Men Project.  The ruckus is really encompassing all the fundamental issues I believe GMP – and anyone who studies, participates in, or cares about these discussions – holds dear:  feminism, men’s rights, gender, race, privilege, classism.  These are really foundational issues.

Nikki & I think that something’s gone awry.

A vast majority of the articles over at GMP – and particularly the comments they garner – really seem to be sticking to superficial arguments and massive logical fallacies that, frankly, I thought we’d all moved past.  Apparently we haven’t.

I feel these articles, the publicity they’re receiving, and maybe more importantly the cultural viewpoints from which they are clearly born and reinforce, are severely detrimental to the progress made in the last 30-50 years (yes, people, it’s only been that long) toward equal rights and a more democratic humanism.

On a more specific level, I’m appalled at the lack of theoretical research in these articles (there is years worth of feminist & race scholarship available; some readily accessible) and the even greater lack of deference to scholars in those fields who try to shed some light on the issues.  Many scholars have been through this many times – why should we, out here in blogosphere – reinvent the wheel?  There’s nothing wrong with taking issue with the scholarship – it’s the heart of a healthy debate! – but, let’s actually *read* the literature, first!

So, Nikki & I came up with a project to respond.

We’re going to begin by defining some of the key words we’ll be using & discussing throughout the posts.  As Nikki also states, too many discussions are derailed when people get stuck on semantics.  By opening in this way, we hope to get that discussion out of the way, make adjustments as necessary, set expectations, and move on.

Next, we’ll discuss some of the narratives that surround these issues, particularly regarding feminism.  Here is where we’ll try to draw on the available scholarship, get to the heart of the issues at hand, and recommend readings.  Though this – albeit limited – attempt we hope to educate and provide better understanding and nuance to what are, admittedly, sticky and complex issues.  We hope that our readers will add their own experiences and perspectives to these discussions.

Lastly, we want to discuss discussing!  How do we have these conversations; how do we encourage productive conversations; how do we include everyone, both those who are marginalized & those who aren’t?  Discussion & information are the vital pieces of change —- so how do we affect change??

I think everyone involved at GMP, everyone writing about these issues independently, and everyone thinking about them on their own time in their daily lives ultimately wants to make this world a better place and allow for all people to have their voice be heard, for all people to be respected, for all people to be treated fairly and allowed the space to reach their full potential.  But, it doesn’t begin with misinformation and it doesn’t begin with shutting down.  These are complicated issues, no doubt.  But we MUST talk about them.  To do so we must put aside our own discomfort, be hugely self-critical, and above all be self-aware and CAREFUL.

So, here is Nikki & I’s offering of voices we think have bestowed a little wisdom to help us along the way. Happy Discussing & Happy Reading!

 ♦ ◊  ♦

29 Comments leave one →
  1. January 11, 2012 3:31 pm

    Good on you and Simone. I can’t wait to see what sprouts from this idea of yours.

    I think you know where I stand on most issues so if you’re in need of a male opinion or whatever don’t hesitate to float something by me.

    • January 11, 2012 8:26 pm

      Absolutely, Bob. And we expect you to weigh in regularly. Thanks for all your support!

  2. January 11, 2012 4:02 pm

    Phew… let the discussions begin. Should be very interesting. Looking forward to it!

    • January 11, 2012 8:26 pm

      Great! Looking forward to what you have to say… 😀

  3. January 11, 2012 5:04 pm

    I applaud the two of you taking this on and think it is MUCH needed.

    Though I’m not sure all of the people who comment profusely over at GMP will read any feminist theory, I’m glad that the step is being taken to provide scholarly information on the history of the feminist movement and how we got where we are today. There are a lot of big words and seemingly intellectual sentences being thrown around without the cultural/societal/movement knowledge to back it up (I include myself in that statement!).

    And I think how we ‘discuss’ on the internet needs a serious overhauling – we all got so caught up in this ‘we can say anything we want because we’re anonymous!’ idea before we set any kind of rules of general respect and speaking your truth without shitting all over everyone else. If we are going to have real discourse via the internet – and today, that’s where it HAS to happen – we have to act as if we are in person. We have to know that our words are powerful, maybe even more so when written.

    Looking forward to it!

    • January 11, 2012 8:31 pm

      Yes! Excellent points…

      One thing Simone has really noticed is how much theory and terms are being used incorrectly, and how far behind the blogosphere sometimes is compared to the actual scholarship.

      I also agree that the internet is problematic – because we can be anonymous, AND because the internet makes us all able to be as vocal as we want. We can easily feel that our voice is on par with everyone else – and sometimes that means we don’t listen.

      Flip side: The internet could also be such an incredible place for exchanging ideas, learning, discussing… and it clearly already is. So… we’ll see…

      I hope you’ll come back and leave your thoughts!

  4. January 12, 2012 6:57 am

    I look forward to the discussion. I’m of two minds: one is that I don’t see (in my daily life) the need for such a discussion and two that maybe for this reason I’m part of the problem. I look forward to settling this argument with myself!

    • January 13, 2012 11:37 am

      Ha! Yes – that would be for you to decide, and it would be really interesting, to me at least, for you to leave your comments about how what we’re discussing translate for you – whether it makes sense, or you don’t see it, etc.

      We’re just as interested in a neutral position as anything else – and settling this argument you bring up!

  5. January 12, 2012 8:42 pm

    This is sooooo refreshing, and I very much look forward to seeing where it will go. I find it difficult anymore to join the conversations over at GMP, as there is a great deal of posturing but little substantive reference to, say, theory. Thank you for undertaking this project!!

    • January 13, 2012 11:39 am

      Thank you, Jamie!

      I’ve since been involved in some behind-the-scenes discussion, with a lot of interesting things coming out of that alone. One of which I didn’t see coming, which is the idea that scholarship is actually out of touch with reality, and therefore *not* all that important – hence, it’s ok to dismiss or ignore it. However, I do see things moving in the right direction, it will just happen slowly, which I am a-ok with.

      We do hope you’ll come back and join the conversation!

  6. January 17, 2012 2:02 pm

    So happy to see a more informed and intelligent conversation about these issues taking place somewhere, instead of all the finger pointing and name calling we see… other places. Hats off to you both.

    • January 19, 2012 12:39 am

      Thank you, Simone. I do hope you’ll check back to leave your thoughts if you have a chance! We are hoping to avoid the finger pointed and name calling…

      Thank you!

  7. January 21, 2012 12:29 pm

    Thank you. Happy to have a new place to comment that will hopefully be friendly and open and not shutting down of female/feminist commentary.

    • January 21, 2012 4:49 pm

      We hope so, too.

      Honestly, I see so much in comments from MRAs and others who seem vehemently against feminism, yet they discuss so many of the same things, just from a different angle. Really, I’d love to be able to find common ground and speak from there to move forward towards humanism – I think we have more in common than we think.

      Yes, I really believe that.

      • January 21, 2012 4:57 pm

        Humanism is what I want. But MRA’s don’t seem to believe in it…they seem to think that it’s code for feminism, and their definition of feminism is something that does not resemble feminism to me. And some feminists object to anything that includes caring about equality and empathy for men. So yes, let’s move forward and try to find middle ground that many on both ends of the fringe spectrum seem literally–inexplicably–not to want!

  8. January 21, 2012 1:34 pm

    The burden is on the academic and the writer to explain the concepts in those books to the people who we want to understand those concepts, because we think those people’s lives will be made better by internalizing them as beliefs. As a working-class person, I identify with those who are made to feel that their views are discounted because they do not agree with an unfamiliar ideology. It’s as patronizing, in its own way, to presume that because you have already come to understand and believe a theory of how the world works that is supported by the people you know, that this idea will be easily transferred to someone who has already worked out another view of the world that is also, presumably, met with a similar amount of acceptance among that person’s peers. I appreciate evangelism and am capable of it, myself, but I always have to remind myself to temper my enthusiasm with empathy. I was an atheist and then a Jew in the Bible Belt; I know what it’s like to be the stranger in a strange land.

    • January 21, 2012 4:31 pm

      Justin, I understand your POV. Personally, it doesn’t feel patronizing or condescending to me–and I can only speak for myself–because I’m open to learning more. I am very well educated, but not in this area, and I see people taking certain terms and either shutting others down with them, or turning the terms inside out in an attempt to destroy their merit. For me, I’d be interested in being brought up to speed a bit, especially from a feminist perspective, as up to this point, I have mostly “learned” about words such as “patriarchy” from people who say it does not exist, which is counter-intuitive to my own real life experiences and my reasonably deep and broad education. I’m just trying to be open and hoping to add nuance to my understanding of language, knowing that I am smart enough to decide for myself what makes sense and what doesn’t, which is all highly subjective anyway. I have actually never worried that anyone could foist a belief onto me that did not feel right to me. Just another perspective to add to yours and those of others’. I do look forward to exploring some of this in a comment thread that (hopefully!) is not overtaken by either “radical” feminists or “radical” MRA’s. Have been looking for such a middle-of-the-road conversation for months, and will go elsewhere to find it if it does not happen here. 🙂

      • January 21, 2012 5:00 pm

        Lori – we are hoping for dialogue among open minds!

        We won’t be shutting anyone down who wants to share their personal experiences, and we are interesting in hearing how what we’re saying doesn’t *feel* right to someone… but we won’t be allowing polarizing dialogue on either side.

        • January 21, 2012 5:06 pm

          That’s great. Most sites don’t want to moderate out the polarizing inflamed dialogue because they want maximum numbers in Google analytics and to maintain free speech, and I do understand those things. At the same time, if those extremists on the ends don’t get modded, they totally take over, turn the conversation into a battle among themselves, and squeeze out the middle. Frankly, the middle folks are where I think the seeds of positive change lie, and that group needs to be cultivated, because the extremes on either end have plenty of other places they can go to duke it out to their hearts’ content. Some people (like me) desperately want a place to get away from those fringes on the internet. 🙂

    • January 21, 2012 4:59 pm

      Hi Justin!

      I see your point, and you and I have talked about this a bit in e-mail – basically around how to engage people, and if these very polarizing words are necessary (I learned recently they can be referred to as “sticky” words, due to all this and their history).

      Here, Simone and I decide we’d try to start from the ground up in an attempt to be able to use these words. See, we are aware there’s that an additional issue here – around both a mistrust of academia, and the “ivory tower” issue of science being unable to engage anyone outside their field. Both are legit. However, Simone and I decided we didn’t want to scrap scholarship, but instead try to educate. We firmly believe that there IS common ground around these things, that they DO have a place in our conversations and CAN be helpful in communicating.

      SO we’re gonna try this and see what happens… We will do our best not to be patronizing, but at the same time, neither of us are prepared to put away words, simply because some other people don’t *believe* in them. It would be one thing if they were hotly debated within people who study them, but they’re not. They are only hotly debated when people decide they don’t exist, but have no knowledge (for good reason) of the scholarship.

      I keep coming back to the analogy of global warming: I’m not about to allow someone to tell me it’s not happening simply because it’s not in their experience or against their dogma or isn’t what their news source tells them. If I want to educate people about it, I’d rather differ to the science as a way to start.

      This isn’t to say your point isn’t valid, as we’ve talked briefly in e-mail, but this is how we choose to get started, and it’s a project – we’ll see how it goes…

  9. March 5, 2012 1:34 am

    Holy Hell Lady! So much to read, I feel like I don’t even know you. (but we knew this, yes?)
    Guess what I’m reading at the coffee shop tomorrow? Please don’t be too funny because no one likes to see me snarf a latte, especially on a Monday morning. Generally if I am going to aspirate something I prefer to do it midweek.

    • March 6, 2012 8:45 am

      Hope you had a chance to read over and it was at least interesting! I am glad to see you’re back and heading to read your updates SOON! 😀


  1. Project X: Introduction « will somebody read a book, please…?
  2. Project X: The definitions. « Women Are From Mars
  3. Project X: Narratives, or The stories we tell each other, and ourselves. « Women Are From Mars
  4. On vacation… « Women Are From Mars
  5. Can’t we bang already?: Balancing social narratives & individual choice. « Women Are From Mars
  6. Project X: We haz a rant. « Women Are From Mars
  7. Couple things… « Women Are From Mars

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