Men and Feminism

I recently stumbled across a post from Danny from adventures in cultural politics about a debate he and David from Lawyers, Guns and Money called Feminist men respond. The subject of “male feminists”/”pro-feminist men” is one that I consider to be a cause of mine, so my attempt at commentary blossomed into a full-blown article.

I don’t see the movement of feminism in general as a “woman only” space; I believe that any person, regardless of gender identity (male, female, or any shade of transgendered/genderqueer), should be able to call themselves a feminist as long as they strive for the social, economic, and political equality of all people. Of course, I also respect any person’s right to decide to choose their own labels.

The main reason why I see the movement as inclusive of more than just women is that feminism isn’t the fight against men, but rather the fight against patriarchy. The cycle of abuse and repression of women is linked to the belief in the validity of strict gender roles, which is just as, if not more so, strict for men as for women. By excluding men from the feminist movement, I believe that it harms the progress away from a masculine-normative society in which “masculinity” is good/normal, and “femininity” is bad/lesser. I also think that, only by actively engaging in the feminist community will men be able to see how the patriarchy affects them and those around them. If we as a society cannot or will not see how the system hurts us, then how can we bring about any changes?

Although the original debate is on a slightly different subject than what I’m focusing on, I’d just like to offer a different perspective on what Danny said:

For women who don’t identify as feminist, I think your identification is more likely to dilute the link of “women’s experience -> feminism” that has been a driving force behind its success as a political movement.

When I encounter people who don’t identify as feminist, I usually ask why. Everyone has a variety of answers, but most of them will include “the movement excludes men” as one of them. My argument doesn’t invalidate Danny’s, but it shows that linking feminism with “women’s” experience (and only women’s experience) can offend some people’s sense of equality. The “women’s experience -> feminism” model also has implications for transmen and transwomen, both of whom have much to offer the feminist community but who have been (and continue to be) shut out because of “women only” spaces that reek of transphobia. If feminism is for women, then where do the intersexed and transgendered communities fit in? And I don’t accept the notion that transmen “betrayed their gender” and transwomen are “spies for the patriarchy”, a view that sadly has been expressed by some feminists.

What it comes down to is that if we want equality for all, then it has to be fought for by all.

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This entry was posted in Eradicating Divisive Discourse, Feminism, Gender issues, Queer Issues. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Men and Feminism

  1. Danny says:

    Hi Andrea. Thanks very much for the comment and the link. I don’t disagree with your sentiments about the problems the link of feminism = “women’s experience” raises, particularly for transgender folk, but also for its uptake.

    Now this might seem obtuse, but I guess I would respond by suggesting that there’s a difference between how you saying that and David or I saying that would be received by “potential feminists”. I absolutely endorse your perspective, and of course my interest in feminism is predominantly in that area motivated by roughly “anti-foundationalist” ethics. Still, I think there’s a difference when men say that gender doesn’t matter.

    I guess one of the important terms that you raise with respect to this is “equality” – my point of view would be that equality is often used to justify not engaging in justice, and to police difference. In Aotearoa, it is perniciously used to prevent institutional redress after colonisation). To me, doing what is good, right, or just is more about suspending judgement and allowing the other to play a role in our interaction, rather than “treating them equally”. Because the question is, then, who measures the equality? From my POV, the most useful thing men can do with respect to women’s rights is 1) just shutting up for a bit and not telling them what they should do, and 2) critiquing male expressions of dominance. I’m not sure how men identifying as feminist helps this. The irony is that I think that it’s through (1) (which is very hard for white guys to do as we are born to rule :7) that I have felt accepted in various political movements that are not mine.

    To summarise that convoluted response: women articulating roles for men in feminism is good, as you point out; men articulating their own position as feminists is more problematic. At least that’s how I see it. I don’t know if that is useful, but thanks for stimulating my thoughts there!

  2. tekanji says:

    Congrats on being the first commenter on Shrub.com’s blog! I’m still working on the layout (and trying to convince the other Shrub.com members that they want to blog here), so any comments or advice you can give are welcome.

    Still, I think there’s a difference when men say that gender doesn’t matter.

    Absolutely, and not just when it comes to whether or not they identify as “feminist”, “pro-feminist”, “friend of feminists”, or what have you. The idealist in me wishes it wasn’t that way, but of course that’s just yet one more reason why I am a feminist: the world shouldn’t be this way and something has to be done to change it.

    From my POV, the most useful thing men can do with respect to women’s rights is 1) just shutting up for a bit and not telling them what they should do, and 2) critiquing male expressions of dominance. I’m not sure how men identifying as feminist helps this.

    I think we could all benefit from a little shutting up sometimes. ^^; But I do agree with you; because of the position afforded to them by society, it’s important for men to be extra cautious of how they approach the issue of women’s rights. That’s not to say that a male perspective, or experience, isn’t valuable but rather that combating male dominance with male dominance is not an ultimately helpful approach.

    When it comes to your second, point, however, I think that it’s a bit more complicated than simply “critiquing male expressions of dominance.” The entire system of patriarchy, which I see as a broader range of subjects woven together by male dominance, needs to be critiqued. More than simply understanding and acknowledging their privilege, men need to experience working side by side with intelligent, motivated, and committed women like themselves. That, of course, is where your first point is invaluable: they need to be able to do so without trying to dominate the situation. While it may go against social conditioning, my experience is that working together like that is not too far-fetched of an idea.

    I guess one of the important terms that you raise with respect to this is “equality” – my point of view would be that equality is often used to justify not engaging in justice, and to police difference.

    Do you see these two problems happening with feminism/women’s rights legislation right now? In regards to policing difference, do you think that finding a way to include men in the fight for equal rights would have any effect on the situation? Do you think there’s any link between the “equality” you describe and the pervading notion that “equality” means enforced “sameness”?

    Sorry to hit you with a bunch of questions, but I think you’ve brought up an intriguing point and I want to get a better idea of your position on this in terms of feminist ideals, the movement itself, and men’s place in all this.

    Anyway, thank you for your comment on my article. It’s always a pleasure to debate with someone with a different perspective than me.

  3. Danny says:

    Thanks Andrea,

    Well, as an example on the equality front, I’d use the current push by the Australian conservative government to change welfare rules and force women of school-age children into work. This is, of course, without the child-care that would effectively allow them to work. Instead, there’s a language of equality noting that “many women work”, without acknolwedging the very different *reality* of the childcare / domestic labour situation that faces women and men.

    But my main thoughts are on a more personal level, that “equality” negates the cognitive problems that men face dealing with women’s issues. We simply have a different life experience, and papering that over in order to achieve larger goals is, I think, unnecessary. So while I support a concept of “equality” in the sense of a “power balance” (which is clearly and unjustly skewed right now), I’m wary of letting that slip into “men and women are equal”. Why can’t men just support feminist concerns, why do we need to call ourselves “feminist”? i’m interested in the male desire there rather than just how it might be perceived.

    So I’d suggest that I *do* fight for “equal rights” for women in many of the situations where women are seeking them. I don’t feel excluded from that struggle, many women obviously welcome the support. As your comment pointed out, thank you!

    Best of luck for the blog!

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