Thursday, March 25, 2010

Academic Feel-Good Metanarratives

This past Tuesday my Postcolonial Literature class had another round of presentations. The group scheduled was illustrating the term, "Hegemony".

It was another sad display of almost-academics applauding themselves for feats of (un)intelligence.

The discussion revolved around the idea of "agency". That is, how certain groups -- particularly dominant groups -- will present things differently than minority groups, and how who is showing what changes how that information is disseminated.

For instance, a white European will never be able to articulate the experience of an indigenous Latin American. They can intelligently describe, define, discuss, and other sorts of mental exercises, but they will never be able to capture the essence of what it is to be Latin American. Furthermore, due to their differing positions in a global structure of class, race, and gender, the white European will innately focus on divergent topics from the Latin American. They will especially present the narrative of life (whether in Europe, Latin America, or the world) far differently.

Using the idea of hegemony, a dominant culture may choose to devalue or otherwise ignore the negative experiences of minority cultures, particularly their reactions to the dominant culture which minimizes the importance of their own in comparison. With hegemony, standards of beauty reflect the dominant group's culture -- in our example that would be the Western World's model of skinny white blonde -- and poverty as somehow "self-inflicted" and "changeable".

An example of political hegemony is the imposition of democracy on countries that the US invades (whether they want it or not -- effectively shoving freedom down the throats of the world in an ironic display of cultural imperialism).

However, at the end of my class, one of the students echoed a sentiment I held, which was that as American college students, we occupy a certain privilege to talk about these injustices freely, and then go back to our day. We could be apathetic. And we frequently are.

Then the professor said the most intellectually insulting thing ever: "I'd just like to note that even though we as members of the academy have the luxury of apathy, this is the least apathetic place I've ever been a part of."

Which makes it totally okay now...

But there's more! The group also had a section entitled, "Hegemonic Masculinity", defining how masculinity functions as a part of hegemonic oppression. The speaker was a young woman, and immediately my spider-sense went off. How the hell does she have any idea about masculinity and what it does/means?

As a man raised by women -- my mom, my aunts, nieces, grandmothers, friend's mothers, various girlfriends, etc -- and effectively surrounded by a culture dominated with negative male stereotypes from personal experience to popular television, I felt... offended at the notion that the concept of masculinity was oppressive to anyone.

I know, I know! It wasn't that long ago that men were beating, raping, and dominating women in various fields of art, politics, academia, and society in general. But this isn't the 1800's or the 1960's. The rule of thumb isn't a stick used to beat your wife, and women have basically permeated every part of patriarchy. Things have changed.

So excuse me if I take offense at your ignorant attempt to dress up old injustice and reinstate it as brand-new. You're not fooling anyone, honey.

I suppose the simple examples of television shows with male stars presented as ugly idiots juxtaposed with beautiful intelligent women barely putting up with them isn't worth mentioning? What about that when the idea of masculinity is defined, women are complicit in creating negative male stereotypes? It's kind of similar to what you're doing right now, actually...

But the greatest indignity was that we never got to address those issues. The entire discussion was sidelined by everyone patting themselves on the back, clapping as we "learned" shit. And so the extremely uncomfortable and offensive ideas promulgated by this group, and that our class was unfortunately a tolerant participant in, were allowed to go unchallenged for the intellectually immorally repugnant beliefs that they are.

It made me feel ashamed to be a man, and yet also defiant to be circumscribed like that.

Overall, college & I are really not getting along well this semester.

3 footnotes:

Archivist said...

Zek, you paint a chilling picture of the academy in 2010. Having not stepped foot in a college/law school classroom since the 80s, I have come to believe that the mission of modern liberal arts professors is to disabuse what they see as self-righteous young minds of wrong-headed, albeit unconscious, notions of American/male/Christian superiority. At the college level, the teaching profession attracts an inordinate percentage of -- how to be polite about this? Misfits. Self-righteous contrarians, who look upon the great unwashed as backward and bigoted and downright stupid. As our dear president (who is one of them) so derisively put it, they cling to their guns and religion. (But, gee, he still makes sure to end his speeches with "God bless America!" I guess that's what we call "change.")

Here, in the real world -- without smarmy professors out-braying one another to prove their progressive credentials necessary to gain admission to the "club" of enlightened persons -- the screeching caterwauling of angry feminists is regarded as little more than the yipping yapping death howl of 70s activism. Yes, there is plenty of misandry, but it's more the misandry of chivalry. This misanry has only recently noticed by men because they see women insisting on total equality but realize few insist on it for men in family law court, in criminal sentencing, in the wide-spread societal insistence that men are breadwinners and only secondary parents (the latter view, by the way, is insisted upon by WOMEN), in the disparity of funding for problems that affect boys, the disparity of funding for uniquely male diseases (e.g., ever hear of Prostate Cancer Month? Doesn't get much publicity), in the requirement to sign up for selective service or become a felon, and in many other ways, too.

While chivalry still holds sway, misandric feminism -- though marginalized -- has a powerful lobby (even though practically every one of their positions, if put to a referendum vote, would go down in flames).

Do not let them shame you for having the audacity to have been born male. And do not let them arrogate to themselves the mantle of victimhood solely by reason of a double X chromosome. And finally, do not let them rewrite history to suggest that women haven't been complicit partners in male domination from the beginning of time. Men have always, from pre-history, conformed their conduct in order to increase their odds of mating. Do they really think it was OUR idea to risk our necks hunting the wild bull while they stayed in the warm cave with the kids? Puh-lease!

Anonymous said...

Then the professor said the most intellectually insulting thing ever: "I'd just like to note that even though we as members of the academy have the luxury of apathy, this is the least apathetic place I've ever been a part of."

What the hell?

This is my pet peeve with so-called "academics"--as I told my friends the other day (pardon my language), they spend way too much time s*cking their own ****s. It's like walking into a room of wife beaters and congratulating them for only beating their wives once a day. People in academia are way too self-congratulatory (just check out any school website on "helping the poor kids in India" or other such nonsense). Why is it that people want to spend hours patting themselves on the back for maybe 5 minutes of "good work"? Did they just not get enough attention as kids?

P.S. I love this title, may I have permission to "borrow" it (with the brilliant author duly credited of course :-P)?

Zek J Evets said...

@archivist: chilling doesn't even begin to describe college these days. i've written a fair amount of posts here about the failures of university-level education, particularly the ideologies it promotes (knowingly and unknowingly).

the examples of misandry you pointed out are things i have also noticed, and would like to add that whenever a man commits a violent crime (george sodini, for instance) that somehow ALL men are like that. yet when a woman commits a violent crime (like aileen wuornos) she is considered an "exception" to "the rule" that women don't do/aren't capable of those things.

in my own ways i rebel against these slanders, but mostly through socratic dialogue and midterm papers. your blog, i feel, is much more helpful, and one of my top places to go for all male-related issues. keep up the good work!

@jasmin: it's not just a pet peeve for me -- it seriously pisses me off sometimes how inane people can be in college. Even the professors!

and yes, you have my permission to borrow the title =)