A Scheme for Liberation
Thinking about Feminism is not enough to change things. Political solutions alone will not change things because to a large extent the political system reinforces the problem. Politics in the United States grows out of existing social dynamics and is not an imposed system of oppression, it is the reification of organic systems of oppression, or organic hierarchies. Because of this it is not enough to theorize, think about and implement political solutions, we must, as individuals, examine our role in society and first determine how our actions reinforce, intentionally or unintentionally, the systems of oppression that exist in out society.
What we generally refer to as our personal lifestyle consists of our actions and reasons for our actions. Our personal lifestyle is both a manifestation of and a reinforcement of what Sally Haslanger has called schema. A schema is not simply a set of rules and beliefs that we follow, it is an internalized rule set that guides our interactions in the world. Similar to the way we do not memorize the grammar of our mother tongue and then refer back to it when we wish to communicate something, we do not memorize the schema of our social roles and then consult it when we interact with the world. The relationship between schema and action has potentially liberatory effects in that we can alter the schema by our actions and can thus bring about change in the schema and rework them to such an extent that they no longer play a role in the oppression of people. In regards to Feminism in ones personal lifestyle it is the schema for genders that we must change or destroy, for they are that aspect of our personal lifestyle to which we have effective access.1
Because gender is a part of the oppression of women, and gender roles are the action aspect of the gender schema, ones personal lifestyle should be altered so as to not conform to gender expectations and thereby create a space for oppressed people, in this case women, to recreate their own schema, whether that means destroying it or merely altering it so as to shed the oppression attached to it. As a male, who is general identified as being a man, I think that this is one way I can help to get rid of the oppression of women. There is , for me as a male, another, less subtle way to stop the oppression of women. This too has to do with the schema of gender. A great deal of the schema for men is based directly on the oppression of women. Men are expected to treat women not as people but as objects, both sexual and laborers, and as sexual laborers. There are quite a number of ways that men, as a class, can affect the oppressive living conditions of women, most of which consist not of action, but of the lack of oppressive action.
The first of these is for men to not force or pressure women into sex or sexual interaction. This would consist of abstaining from a range of activities, from hiring a prostitute, to staring at a woman’s breasts, to telling her “if you really loved me you’d have sex with me.” We live in a society where these things are tacitly condoned, if not expected. For example: men are generally expected to view pornography or go to a strip club. To forego these activities is not a burden on men in any objective way, or inter-subjective way if you prefer. Yes, it may be difficult to undo years of habitual action, to change ones schema that is, but is that really an argument against the cessation of harmful actions? I suspect that if I told people that I could not stop kicking puppies because it had become such a habit they would hardly be sympathetic to might plight. And yet this is exactly what many use to argue against men ceasing these activities. There is another arguments against not doing these things. One is that these different sexual interaction can be liberatory and not oppressive. I certainly would not argue that sexual interaction are somehow limited to oppressiveness, but to say that because it is possible for them to be liberatory then we should assume that somehow the liberatory nature is intrinsic in the act, is absurd. The ability to use guns for self defense does not justify murder.
There is another important aspect of personal lifestyle that affects me especially as someone identified as a man, that is male privilege. The idea of privilege can be complex but what it boils down to is that because society identifies me as a man I am able to do things that those not identified as a man cannot do, or are chastised for doing. I like to use the metaphor of a car to represent privilege, likely because I am a bicyclist and am negatively effected by car on a regular basis. The car represents, in a real physical sense, the power of privilege. While in a car the driver experiences the world not as an individual alone, but as a hybrid of individual and machine, wherein all the driver’s reactions to and interactions with the world are made by the driver but through the car. This hybrid, or maybe cyborg is a better name, insulates the driver from negative effects of many of his actions because the car offers both a protective shell and an enhancement of physical power. This hybridization is often so complete as to feel personally harmed when his car is injured or even impeded.
Viewed through a Feminist lens there are a number of implications to this metaphor. If we look at the differing goals which feminists have we can describe some of them as wanting everyone to drive, some as wanting drivers to make to follow rules so as to make the world safe for non-drivers, and some, myself included, as wanting to do away with cars all together. Moving beyond the metaphor, what we are talking about is power, how it is connected to the self in the form of privilege and how best to deal with power and privilege in the real world; because, while I may have given up driving years ago I cannot simply sell my privilege, it is thrust upon me by society. Here we return to schema.
The hybridization of car and driver is representative of schema. A driver does not consciously think about pushing the gas and the brakes and steering, he has internalized the driver schema to such an extent that his reactions to stimuli external to the car take place in an unconscious way; again, like speaking his mother tongue. He is enmeshed with his power so much that it has become a part of his identity. Parallel to this, I have internalized the schema for a man. I cannot simply step out of the car, as it were, because it is a social creation and while it can be perpetuated by me, it is more so given to me. So my job, in regards to my personal lifestyle, is to rid myself of the car of privilege. A large part of this is the way that I interact with women, but it is equally important how I interact with men. I must break the schema I am given so that other may be liberated.
I hope that I have successfully laid out the ways that I feel my views on feminism informs my personal lifestyle, and why feminism should necessarily inform everyones personal lifestyle. The liberation of oppressed peoples is the great challenge of our time, and, while it is difficult, to simply give up in the face of difficulties is not an option I accept.
note:Much of this paper draws from Sally Haslanger's talk at the APA-Pacific 2007 Constructing the Social: Practices, Categories, Kinds