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Thought the below, recently published in ASA's Section on Sex and Gender Newsletter (less the references), might add to the present discussion on the list.  I do welcome constructive critcism, on or off list, as I plan to develop the piece into a journal length article this summer.
Cheers, Steve
April 2001


The Promise of a Male Feminist Epistemology

I believe the truth about any subject only comes when all sides of the story
are put together, and all their different meanings make a new one.  Each writer
writes the missing parts of the other writer's story.  And the whole truth is what I am after (Walker 1983, p. 49).

A great deal of feminist research and what is taught in women's and gender
studies courses is about experiences of being oppressed and the unjust basis
of these all too common and quite harmful societal realities.  Having an
experiential appreciation of oppression is often seen as a requisite for a
feminist consciousness and the basis of a feminist epistemology (Stanley and
Wise 1993).  Being a white male from an upper-middle class background whose
life partner is a woman, as defined by Young (1988), I honestly can claim no
experiences of being oppressed. Initially it would appear that I, and others
like me, would have little to contribute feminism.       

      Yet the truth is that I do have an experiential appreciation of
oppression albeit as the oppressor.  All of my social statuses have afforded
me significant amounts of unearned privilege and unlimited opportunities for
being oppressive to others and, especially when I was younger, I have often
and all too successfully embraced the role of being the oppressor.  Somewhat
paradoxically, I believe herein lies the possibility of a male feminist
epistemology.

      Over the years I have increasingly felt that the most fundamental and
promising aspects of feminism is its worldview that all forms of oppression
must be challenged and eliminated, as an egalitarian future is necessary to
ensure survival on our planet (Ewing and Schacht 1998). If one takes the
stance that comprehensive knowledge about any topic, such as oppression, is
only made possible through the inclusion of multiple experiential standpoints
(Haraway 1988; Schacht 2000a), then the story of the oppressor-my story-would
obviously be an important part of the whole story being told and, ultimately,
the eradication oppression.  Thus, I believe that it is men's experiences of
being an oppressor, firmly grounded in a feminist perspective, that provides
the basis of a male feminist epistemology.  

      As one might guess, the praxis of male feminist epistemology calls for
different classroom,  research, and personal practices on my part than those
undertaken by women. The pedagogy of my male feminist outlook involves me
explaining why I believe the unearned privilege I have been afforded is
unjust (Schacht forthcoming), acknowledging just how harmful my oppressive
actions have been to others (Schacht 1997), trying to envision non-oppressive
ways of being in the world (Schacht 2000b), and learning ways to perform
equality in relation to others (Schacht 1998).  The efficacy of this approach
is not just found in my classes, but equally, if not more so, in other more
mundane, everyday interaction settings I find myself in.  By trying to be
consistent with the "rhetoric of equality" that I promote in my classes-to
live it-in all settings I find myself in, I have found ways to have
non-oppressive relationships with others and to experience breath-taking,
emotionally based feelings of equality with others.

      Accordingly, all of my ethnographic work over the past 10 years has
been about me revisiting past oppressive attitudes that I have held and
behaviors that I have undertaken to better understand their cause, meaning,
and consequence.  As a young man I was actively involved in sports, and have
always wondered why such activities were so meaningful and important to me,
especially as I grew older and started to embrace a feminist outlook.  After
undertaking a two year ethnography of male rugby players, I could better
appreciate the tenuous, often insecure basis of my masculine "sports"
identity, ultimately grounded in the misogynist rejection of anything
associated with the feminine, which compelled me to continually prove I was a
"man"-often in extremely harmful ways to both women and other men-to anyone
who would be witness to my manhood act (Schacht 1996).  Like many young men,
homophobia was also an important part of my world growing up.  Now, over
seven years into an ongoing ethnography of various glbt communities, I am no
longer repulsed by same-sex affections, such as a man kissing me, and have
come to personally treasure my emotionally based friendships with gay men
(Schacht 1998, 2000c).  I have always been amazed and, eventually, troubled
by how effortlessly I have been able to realize white male privilege
throughout my lifetime.  
Presently, my spouse, Lisa Underwood, and I are undertaking an ethnography of
fraternity members (all friends of ours) exploring how they do privilege with
part of the study having a strong advocacy component where we actively and
publicly challenge their misogynist attitudes and behaviors. In short, "the
personal is political" of a male feminist epistemology, at least as I have
experientially come to understand it, not only entails me revisiting past
oppressive attitudes I have held and behaviors I have undertaken, but also
envisioning, promoting, and acting upon non-oppressive ways of being in the
world to take their place.  

      Ultimately, a male feminist epistemology recognizes that I must travel
disparate path than women to realize a feminist worldview and,
correspondingly, must play a different role in sharing the promise of a
feminist outlook with others (Schacht and Ewing 1997).  It also means that I
must not only validate the experiences of women and other oppressed people,
but also acknowledge and be accountable for the intimate role I have often
played in their oppression.  Recognizing the harm and suffering caused by my
oppressive attitudes and actions has forced me to change many of my beliefs
and behaviors.  By telling my different story of the why's, the how's, and
the harms of being an oppressor, I hope to become a  meaningful collaborator
in the "whole story being written," ultimately done in hopes that new,
non-oppressive stories might be envisioned and acted upon (Bystydzienski and
Schacht, in press).  I believe that this is both the basis and promise of a
male feminist epistemology.

References

Bystydzienski, Jill M. and Steven P. Schacht (eds.).  In press.  Forging
Radical Alliances Across Difference: Coalition Politics for the New
Millennium.   Lanham, Maryland: Rowan and Littlefield Publishers.

Ewing, Doris W. and Steven P. Schacht. 1998. "Introduction." Pp. 1- 17 in
Feminism and Men: Reconstructing Gender Relations, edited by Steven P.
Schacht and Doris W. Ewing. New York: New York University Press.  

Haraway, Donna.  1988. "Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism
and the Privilege of a Partial Perspective." Feminist Studies 14: 575-591.

Schacht, Steven P. and Doris Ewing. 1997. "The Many Paths of Feminism: Can
Men Travel Any of Them?"  Journal of Gender Studies 6:159-176.


Schacht, Steven P.  1996.  "Misogyny On and Off the 'Pitch': The Gendered
World of Male Rugby Players."  Gender & Society 10:550-565.

Schacht, Steven P.  1997.  "Feminist Fieldwork in the Misogynist Setting of
the Rugby Pitch: Becoming a Sylph to Survive and Personally Grow."  Journal
of Contemporary Ethnography 26:332-63.

Schacht, Steven P.  1998.  "The Multiple Genders of the Court: Issues of
Identity and Performance in a Drag Setting."  Pp. 202-224 in Feminism and
Men: Reconstructing Gender Relations, edited by Steven P. Schacht and Doris
W. Ewing. New York: New York University Press.

Schacht, Steven P. 2000a. "Using a Feminist Pedagogy as a Male Teacher: The
Possibilities of a Partial and Situated Perspective." Radical Teacher 2:2
(http://radicalpedagogy.icaap.org/ content/issue2_2/schacht.html).

Schacht, Steven P. 2000b. "Paris is Burning: How Society's Stratification
Systems Makes Drag Queens of Us All."  Race, Gender & Class 7:147-166.

Schacht, Steven P.  2000c.  "Gay Female Impersonators and the Masculine
Construction of Other."  Pp. 247-268 in Gay Masculinities, edited by Peter
Nardi.  Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Schacht, Steven P. Forthcoming. "Teaching About Being An Oppressor: Some
Personal and Political Considerations."  Men and Masculinities.

Stanley, Liz and Sue Wise.  1993.  Breaking Out Again: Feminist Ontology and
Epistemology. New York: Routledge.

Walker, Alice.  1983.  In Search of Our Mothers' Garden.  New York:
Harcourt-Brace-Janovich.

Young, Iris. 1988.  "The Five Faces Of Oppression." Philosophical Forum
19:270-90

-----------------------------

Steven P. Schacht
Department of Sociology
Plattsburgh State University of New York
Steven.Schacht(AT)Plattsburgh.edu
 


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