Sunday, June 25, 2006

"A feminine way of seeing it"

Funny that Maggie May just had a great post about an awkward exchange with a friend/colleague, who engages in that old, tired discourse about escaping from the tiresome grind of home and kids, while his female partner/wife is there caring for them. Setting up home and partner as burdensome ball and chain. I had an email yesterday that touched on – or, rather, exploded – a very similar kind of issue.

I have an email friendship with a guy I met at a conference just over a year ago. We admire each other’s work, have some overlapping theoretical interests and are both being published in an anthology that’s coming out shortly. We’ve talked about putting a conference panel together, and have exchanged work. We email periodically and have talked on the phone once or twice. He’s not a close friend, by any means, but I think we enjoy having a glimpse of each other’s lives, which are very, very different – and conducted in very different parts of the world.

His wife just gave birth to their second child very recently. He announced this, I congratulated him, and then his next email mentioned how many demands he feels he’s dealing with. People – read: wife, toddler, and brand new baby – need things from him incessantly. A typical complaint, I suppose, but the tone and the implications chafed a bit. Did he hope to work away in the ivory tower untouched by earthly demands? What about his wife, who sounds as if she is doing most of the care for this family on her own?

I emailed back and expressed sympathy for the too-muchness of it all, which is of course a real thing for anyone. But I also wrote something short about how interesting, how far-out and cool, new babies are. And said that I hoped he was also able to find some joy in this time, find the good in it.

I got an email back yesterday saying that what I’d written was “a very feminine way of seeing it”. And that he “sees it from a heavier perspective”.

Oh, right. Of course. I’d forgotten that men own “heaviness”, while we women flit about twittering over children, dangerously unaware of life’s gravity. I suppose it is men’s business to sit, head in hand, and contemplate the terrifying philosophical implications of new life, or whatever, while women do the trivial – and apparently irritating – work of carrying, bearing, and raising children.

This comment quickly confirmed the tone I had been wary of in the earlier email. And casts doubt on my friendship with this guy. It becomes nearly impossible. I also feel as if the work I do is being trivialized. Am I not able to see past my “feminine perspective” when I write feminist theoretical work on the thinker we both work on? I remember that when we were out to lunch with another couple of scholars at the conference where we met, he had said something – that he thought was supportive and “feminist” – about how the outstanding question for people doing the kind of work I do is “What about [major thinker]’s wife?” I was puzzled, bugged – feminist work can, and admirably does, tread the very same ground that he and his cohort do, and isn’t interested in being relegated to studying the daily lives of male philosophers' wives and mistresses. But I let it go. Cause I get tired of confrontation, I hate arguing, and it is a fault of mine that I always give people the benefit of the doubt. Now I see that that attitude speaks to a deeply gender-segregated worldview. Ugh, ugh, ugh.

GF says I should reply with a classic “Sometimes email leads to misunderstandings. So I’m just going to clarify that you didn’t mean to suggest that women don’t deal with “heavy” issues. Correct?”

I don’t know. I think it’s done. I don’t know if I need to have that conversation. I’m tired of sexism and just want it to go the fuck away. Do I need to have a Gender 101 conversation with an up-and-coming international scholar who should know better, given his overall political and philosophical stance?

In closing, let me just say that I was reminded of Mina Loy’s amazingly avant-la-lettre poem, “The Effectual Marriage, or the Insipid Narrative of Gina and Miovanni.” It reads, in (small) part:


In the evening they looked out of their windows
Miovanni out of his library window
Gina from the kitchen window
From among his pots and pans
Where he so kindly kept her
Where she so wisely busied herself
Pots and Pans she cooked in them
All sorts of sialagogues
Some say that happy women are immaterial


Ding dong said the bell
Miovanni Gina called
Would it be fitting for you to tell
The time for supper
Pooh said Miovanni I am
Outside time and space

Patience said Gina is an attribute
And she learned at any hour to offer
The dish appropriately delectable

What had Miovanni made of his ego
In his library
What had Gina wondered among the pots and pans
One never asked the other
So they the wise ones eat their suppers in peace


MaggieMay said...

God, I've had so many irritating exchanges like that. It's really remarkable, isn't it?? I'm with you on this one, though: I get tired, o so tired, of having to continually confront/"educate" my colleagues who make those sorts of jackass statements.

App Crit said...

Wow! It's funny, in that not-really-funny way, how so many academics talk the talk but don't seem to live it or accept it. To essentialize his challenges as 'heavy' is of course anything but. And his reaction to your very appropriate response, well, that was offside.

And it's not your limiting feminist perspective; it's his adolescent egocentrism.

I hope the next conference is a long time yet.