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There are no "real men" in pragmatism

The Rotund has a short rant against the practice of labeling people "real women" or "not real women." She objects to its use both by oppressive forces in society (e.g. fat women aren't "real women") as well as by anti-oppression forces fighting back (e.g. skinny women aren't "real women"). She specifically addresses instances when the anti-oppression side simply reverses the accusations of unreality, where it's easy to see how the anti-oppression side is really just using the same oppressive tactics (albeit with less social power behind them) against those privileged by the prevailing definitions. But I would extend it to attempts to use the "real" label to encourage positive behavior -- for example, as much as I agree that men ought to speak up about sexism, I don't find saying "real men speak up about sexism" to be a helpful way of promoting that idea.

I think that -- in addition to the factors of exclusion and forced conformity to a too-narrow ideal identified in the post and comments -- the kind of "real Xs" talk she objects to has a basic element of dishonesty. All the categories and concepts we use to make sense of the world are socially constructed. That doesn't mean they're false, or that they can be constructed in whatever way we like. But it does mean that they're tools whose creation and use we have to take responsibility for.

Talk about "real Xs" is at the same time a powerful means of constructing categories and a powerful means of hiding the fact that your categories are constructed. It implicitly posits a Platonic ideal to which mere reality must conform or be judged inferior.

Thus, to return to the example of "real men speak up about sexism," the problem with this is not that condoning sexism is a legitimate alternative form of masculinity that should be accepted into the broad tent of maleness. It's that it takes a normative claim (that condoning sexism is morally wrong) and dresses it up in ontological clothes (that you'll somehow cease to deserve the label of "man" -- and the social status and sense of identity that comes with being easily fitted into our taken-for-granted structure of categories -- if you do so).


Blogger fancycwabs said...

Considering that when you preface an argument with "real $sex..." it is automatically a sexist statement, is the phrase "real men speak up about sexism" a specialized sort of oxymoron?

11:21 AM  

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