Sam's Comment, or Showing Jarrod Who's Boss

Every time a woman responds to something I have written on this blog relating to feminism, she claims she can’t understand it [see ‘Why I do Not Call Myself a Feminist]. I think Sam’s comment, however, is the most astute and insightful I have received here. I wanted to feature it as a post in its own right – because of its perspicacity, but also because I guess I need to talk about the grinding of this particular axe. 

Dear Jarrod,

I have enjoyed trawling through your entries. You are thought provoking and to the point. However, I don’t understand your point in this post. You don’t make it clear. The way I see it, both Dermott and Yumi made dumb comments about members of the opposite sex. Yumi’s was a snobbish remark regarding a war hero’s intelligence (it was George negus who brought up potential problems in the bedroom), and Dermott’s was a sexually offensive remark that was clearly punitive (a common theme in the football world if a woman dares insult their creed). Both ‘offenders’ copped shit from the media. I would say that Yumi copped more shit than Dermott did, particularly in regards to readers’ comments in the online press. Am i right to think that you are implying that women have more leeway than men when it comes to making offensive remarks?

More generally, feminist theory and male/ female interactions seem to feature heavily in your writing. However, from what I have read of your writing, you seem to be hung up on women not living up to the standards you have placed on them, which are the same standards you have placed on men (and I don’t mean that women should be treated with velvet gloves, or should have less expectations placed on them, rather that we are shaped by different forces and you don’t seem to take this into account in your reading of our differing styles of behaviour). And whilst you write about feminism from a male perspective a fair bit, you never write the stuff that women really care about (women, that is, living in a post-industrial context) such as us being far more likely to live below the poverty line then men are, that we make far less money than men, or that we are less likely to have decision making jobs, etc. I will also add that your extreme reaction to a girl pinching your bum is a great example of male privilege ( Whilst you have a right to be annoyed and pissed off that someone crossed the line of your physical boundaries, I have to tell you that bum pinching is the least of many of our worries. It happens a fair bit, but it is not nearly as frustrating, not is it as serious, as many of the other set backs we face.

Dear Sam,

In my opinion, the Australian cultural landscape is rotten with the maggots of feminist ideology. And I don’t mean your Betty Friedan/Germaine Greer/Gloria Steinem feminists; I mean the faceless women in government positions, handing out the arts grants. They have MURDERED the film industry here, as well as the arts academia. I mean those who have worked to create a cultural environment where suckholes like Tim Winton and Sam De Brito thrive; men who understand the climate and seek to become intellectual lapdogs to the women who read them to have their own prejudices confirmed. I could hear the high-pitched, plaintive barking of De Brito in his debut novel, The Lost Boys; ‘I’m a bad man! I’m such a bad, bad man and all the intelligent women I’m surrounded by know it!’ It’s certainly not that the novel isn’t entitled to say what it does, but when you take it in the context of his blogging and columns, it’s all rolling over, sitting up and begging.

Granted, Winton is far more sophisticated, but just as sickening.

My mother was the first great feminist I knew. She stood up one day when I was about twelve and said, “Listen, you lot; I am not a slave. You have to help cook, do the laundry and put it away.” I didn’t do anywhere near as much as my sisters, but this was because they were more decent than I was. My mother was very strict about our diets as children, and this has formed the basis of my diet for the rest of my life. I have excellent teeth and excellent health; my body metabolism is set-and-forget. I exercise very hard, but the basis of it was entirely my mother’s doing. Similarly, she made me come to see men like my father and grandfather as weak; any man who can’t shop, cook a meal or work a washing machine is not an autonomous person at all. I can do all of it and performing those basic tasks is the basis of autonomy – and dignity.

My mother was also very smart, but had been bought up to believe she was stupid. She was a voracious reader, and read all kinds of stuff – Wilbur Smith to Henry Handel Richardson. One of my first memories was watching her reading in her head and thinking, ‘Wow – how does she do that!” I wanted to learn and she taught me. I was always reading and afterwards, we talked about what I read. The same with films, and from the age of 12, I could rent any film I liked and she would always discuss it with me. She was a highly sophisticated reader and, without formal education, had the kind of natural  sophistication critics never have. I asked her once whether she liked A Clockwork Orange. ‘It’s not the kind of film you like,’ she replied, and it showed the fact she had the ability to appreciate sophistication outside the narrow rubric of like and dislike. I aspired to this sophistication, courtesy of her example.

She brought tickets for my sisters and I to see Pamela Rabe perform as Virginia Woolf in A Room of One’s Own. I wanted to be a writer, and anyone who has had a taste of the kennel floor as the underdog can’t help wanting to stand up at the end and shout, ‘FUCK YEAH!’

I have never had any trouble identifying with women in books and films. One of my all time favorite books – and writers – is Margaret Atwood. I read Cat’s Eye in high school and was completely consumed by it. Anyone who knows what it is like to be bullied knows that little girl and feels her pain. Maybe in this way, because my father oppressed both my mother and me, I came to identify with her. We were both under the jackboot and I didn’t perceive a difference between us then. I probably don’t now.

I recently began reading The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf (it pissed me off; don’t worry, I’ll get to her), and it raised what I have always believed to be one of the principal tenets of feminism; it is unjust to evaluate a person on the basis of their appearance. This is what really annoyed me about those imbeciles Stynes and Negus. The fact is, it has become okay for a woman to degrade a man on the basis of his appearance. To reduce him to his body. This practice is the principal means through which patriarchy has sought to control women (says Wolf, at least).

I understand what you’re saying in response to my ‘extreme reaction’ (extreme is the only way to go!) to that girl pinching my arse, but here’s my problem; feminism has fought to drag women on to an equal platform – legally and ideologically – to men, and women that behave like chauvinist are degrading what generations of women – and men – have fought for. It recalls the quotation, “Nowadays, women can behave like men. But how long before they behave like gentlemen?” She is betraying the cause. And being a dick-head is no excuse. In this respect, you are right. I am ‘hung up’ on women not living up to the standards placed onme. I believe that feminism was, and is, the engine that sought to set the standard.

Years ago, I read The Female Eunuch. I had read parts of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique and thought that I should give Germaine a go. I thought it might upset me and it had been a long time since I had been offended by anything. Being offended seemed to be a big part of some of my friend’s art-going experience, so I thought I was due for a serve.

I was completely surprised by it. First off, nothing offended me at all. There was no ‘All men are pigs’ rhetoric, and it was intensely readable. I was surprised it caused the fracas it did, but I read it some time on from initial publication. One of its outstanding features of my reading experience was that The Female Eunuch was probably the first polemic I had read. This means it is a book essentially designed to start fights. The closest thing I have read to it would be The Autobiography of Malcolm X, which is one of my favorite books. Malcolm X started fights and caused controversy. Doing that creates dialogue and that’s how people find out about what they think. And how they portray it through action.

I’m not going to go into it in a big way, but I read the male privilege article. I’m not sure how my response to that girl pinching my arse was an example of male privilege, but I don’t see myself as privileged at all. People assume, based on my appearance, that I am stupid all the time. They make degrading comments and discriminate against me. I tried to get jobs in bookstores all through university and couldn’t get anything than a shelf-stacker at a supermarket or a bouncer in a nightclub, either because I looked dumb, or fit (God knows, people who read books aren’t fit!) or intimidating. I know what it is to have been physically and emotionally abused by a violent patriarch and the betrayal cuts to the bone when a brilliant woman like Judith Herman in her book Trauma and Recovery deliberately genders all victims female and all offenders male. I know what it is to be sexually harassed, both in the workplace and by my literary agent (to the detriment of that relationship). And worse, if there’s one thing a self-respecting man cannot do, it’s cry ‘sexual harassment’. As any woman knows, being able to make your way in the theatre of dog-eat-dog is all about respect.  

I must confess, Sam, that the title of my article is a bit of a cheap trick; I find those kinds of titles stir up the women I know and next thing, there’s fights. If you have read my blog then you will know that I believe in fighting between two unarmed combatants in a ritualised space with clearly proscribed rules. And your letter is the best I have received on this blog to date; I realise how my notions of feminism have been informed by a literary/filmic education and are focused on notions of image and representation. I hadn’t really thought about things relating to “the stuff that women really care about (women, that is, living in a post-industrial context) such as us being far more likely to live below the poverty line then men are, that we make far less money than men, or that we are less likely to have decision making jobs, etc.”

I haven’t really considered this because, I must confess, most of the women I know are super-brainy and work as lawyers, directors in art galleries, journos, and other positions of considerable to significant corporate influence. One of my sisters is a doctor of gender studies, teaching at the University of British Columbia. The other is a psychologist. My girlfriend is studying law on scholarship at La Trobe University. One of my great friends runs a children’s media company and another is the director of International art at the NGV (she tells me I am not sexist but I am a chauvinist; when she goes on dates, I evaluate them by whether or not they pay for her. And if they don’t I tell her they aren’t good enough). All these women are awesome people that I would not fuck with because they would not like me. I expect they would shun me as a result and this would reduce me greatly as a person. I also envy them; I honestly believe that history has turned the wheel so they can get the kind of jobs that I can’t – because of my appearance.

I write this very long and windy response Sam, which it is unlikely that anyone other than you will read, because I now count you among their number. Your comment surprised me; responding to you has sharpened my focus and forced me to develop my ideas.

As they say in the westerns, you’re welcome around here any time.


6 Responses to “Sam's Comment, or Showing Jarrod Who's Boss”

  1. Avid reader Says:

    Someone other than Sam read it

  2. Julie Hock Says:

    And this will have to be dissected and studied, but a fantastic piece, and worthy of acknowledgement. Thank you – Sam and Jarrod.

  3. Samantha Says:

    Thank you so much for your honest and raw response, especially in regards to your adolescence. Oppression, victimization, and brutality are universal experiences of both men and women. Especially as children.

    I can’t really comment on the current climate of the literary arts in Australia. I don’t read contemporary Australian fiction. From what you say, perhaps you are a frustrated author born of the wrong era and in the wrong place. In the defense of ‘matriarchs’ of the arts, after a prolonged era of oppression, people tend to push back, sometimes too hard.

    In regards to why your overreaction to the arse pinching episode is an example of male privilege, put it this way – women, who experience similar, if not worse ‘abuse,’ on a pretty regular basis, are generally immune to ‘minor’ transgressions such as arse pinching. You may experience sexual harassment in small doses, so when it does happen, you feel more outraged than what a woman feels, you have the mental reserves and the support of the community to push back hard. That’s the gist of male privilege.

    I think it’s great that you surround yourself with intelligent, successful women. I have an arts degree in international relations, and I am currently studying law myself, while working full time. However, accessing a woman’s legal right to an education is half the battle. Perhaps this is miserly of me, but I do wonder whether I’ll get the good cases when I do go into practice, and if I don’t, whether it is because I’m not as good as my male peers, or because I’m a woman. Not knowing that for sure, (and likely, it will be a mixture of both) is something a man would never have to question.

    I am sorry to hear that people make idiotic assumptions about you. I can see why Yumi’s comment cut to your bone. It’s those sorts of remarks that you cop. One of the reasons that I enjoy your blog so much is that you refuse to conform to people’s easy, stereo-typed perceptions of a kick boxer and of a writer.


    • Thanks for your reply, Sam.

      If I may say, I think the fact that you – and practically nobody else – reads Australian fiction, is as eloquent a statement as is required; it’s dull as bat-shit and run by accountants and idealogues. And this is where me – and people like me – get really pissed off; there is no defence for fucking it up. If I started belting my partner, would I be excused for being subject to a ‘prolonged era of oppression’?

      As male privilege and arse pinching, it is legally defined as a form of sexual assault. I can claim to know a little bit about this from working for such a long time as a bouncer. My girlfriend is also dealing with having been sexually harassed in her work place, where she was repeatedly subjected to having her arse pinched (among other things). Experience has taught me to read it as a kind of vandalism. As you know, men who are making genuine overtures rarely do it through arse pinching. It is intended to be degrading. As an affront to a person’s agency. You have no idea how much I wanted to go and drag those sons-of-bitches out into the street and thrash them. Arse pinching, certainly in her instance, is an extension of the bully mentality. And there is nothing more satisfying than seeing a bully dealt justice in kind.

      Re: male privilege – what community support? What if I belted that idiot for pinching me? How much support do you think I’d receive? I do not buy any of this business about ‘concern for being shaped by different social forces’. That’s just an excuse. Think about how Malcolm X would respond to that – you drag yourself up to standard, which is the standard of the law. That’s real equality; one law – and one standard of behaviour – for all.

      Cheers, Sam.

      • Samantha Says:

        You do make some great points, Jarrod. But there are so many shades of grey and contexts that you fail to recognise. Repeated arse pinching in the work place, as opposed to a one off in a nightclub, are very different situations. Your GF is getting bullied by those bastards, and I hope she is out of that situation now. Conversely, I don’t think that girl in the club was trying to humiliate you, I think she was trying to get your attention because she wanted to speak with you (albeit immaturely and disrespectfully). Arse pinching may be ‘sexual assault’, but in the court of law, all actions are ‘distinguished on the facts’.

        Don’t get me wrong, I completely and utterly respect that you put that girl in her place and told her she was out of line. I think she will be a better person for being told her behaviour was unacceptable. However, your reaction was disproportionate to the crime. The power imbalance between men and women is also a ‘distinguishing factor’, and that is part of male privilege.

        If you belted your partner, you would not be able to cite years of oppression ‘as a man’, because anglo saxon men have not been oppressed for an eon. And to make it clear, I never excused the arse pincher’s behaviour because she was a girl (I was referring to the zeitgeist of Australian literature, which again I am not excusing, rather, pondering). Regarding Australian literature, I have read a bit of Tim Winton and I found him boring – nothing else has really interested me (and my main passion is for contemporary American literature). I don’t push through ‘trying’ literature like you do (a skill I wish I had), but I do share your appreciation of the Russian classics, and I really enjoy your reviews of them!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: