#1: You're Probably Not
If you think you're a male feminist, well, you're probably not. Not yet anyways.
Let me explain.
If you're reading this post, remember, I'm writing from the perspective of a male feminist, writing to the newly awakened feminist.
As you're perhaps discovering feminism, I've found one of the more useful metaphors is that of the recovering alcoholic. Perhaps you've had a epiphany, some moment, large or small, where you observed something of the patriarchy, something misogynist, or some chauvinist twit that just make you think, "Gee, I don't like that, and I don't want to be that."
Well, now that you've seen a glimpse, soon you'll see it everywhere. And like the recovering alcoholic who slowly realizes that their personal life was structured around their disease, you might too begin questioning some of the ways your own life has gone.
You see, the difference between the male feminist and the female feminist is that we have a privilege, a privilege of not being subject to a system that subtly or brutally oppresses women. It's a darn great privilege not to have to worry about that. But for women, well it's staring them in their face, unblinking, from the moment they reach a tender age where they experience some discrimination, or violence, or some other manifestation of the system in which we live (so I'm told).
Most women, regardless of how whether or not they self-identify as feminists are the products of feminism. Even a Sarah Palin or Ann Coulter, rabid anti-feminists both, could not have survived and persisted in the world of their mothers or grandmothers, though they might deny it. We know (and perhaps they do too) that their positions in society aren't the same as their forbearers, and that they are breaking a mold in achieving what they have done.
But we men don't have that experience. Feminism is rarely something that lives with us in our everyday lives from a young age. We don't have many self-identifying male feminist role models, and we don't have the kind of experiences that deeply and profoundly affect us at a young age as women do.
So when a man comes to feminism, even with an "Aha!" moment, it's sometimes a slow progression of realization of the system. Maybe you once made sexist jokes and catch yourself now. Maybe you never really liked some of the activities you once did, or some of the TV, movies, books or culture you once consumed. But as this realization slowly creeps up on you, remember, we're not really feminists, not yet anyways -- we're recovering chauvinists, striving to achieve a feminism we hardly know.
So take that with you, as you begin exploring feminism, and be cognizant of our ignorance, of our privilege, and the chauvinism that intentionally or not, we still possess.
There's already been a lot of really excellent posts about the Yale DKE Chapter that marched around the Yale Women's Center shouting, "No means yes! Yes means anal!" Some of the posts have analyzed how the Chapter apologized. Salon had an interview with a DKE member. Hugo Schwyzer told the story of his legacy at DKE. Readadultsex has a great post analyzing how men are gendered to need to "win" women, absent the possibility that women could have sexual desires.
Now there's a lot to be said about this issue, and most people have said it far better than I have.
But there's definitely a certain voice that I haven't heard much, and though I am by no means connected to every blog on the Internet, I can't say I've seen anything written (outside the DKE Chapter) by other fraternities condemning this.
So, as a former frat boy, let me add my voice to those who have condemned what DKE did, and let me also say: this isn't an isolated incident. There are many, many fraternities out there that ascribe to the same ethos as the Yale DKR Chapter clearly did. That being said, there are plenty of fraternities that are somewhat more enlightened, and that would have never in a million years pulled off this stunt.
The question we need to ask ourselves is how do we move fraternities from the mindset of DKE to a feminist or pro-feminist mindset? Now, although others certainly disagree, I am opposed to simply abolishing the fraternities system, as many schools have done. I think that there can be benefits to these kinds of societies, from the somewhat altruistic ones, like brother/sisterhood, community service, to more practical ones such as throwing a good party.
Well, I can think of a few ways certainly: firstly, make education on sexual assault mandatory for all members. If you enforce the policy and make the program good and effective, most will go. Perhaps only few will leave taking away something substantive and positive, but that's a few more than you had before. Secondly, force each Greek organization to have membership in some sort of cross-campus violence prevention program or organization. Even making one or two members of each chapter more aware of these issues, their effects on the community, and more importantly, their effects on their house can do worlds of good. Thirdly: have serious consequences when incidents like this happen. I don't know what's happening at Yale in regards to any discipline that might be happening to this Greek Chapter, but even if nothing is happening, this Chapter clearly has some image cleaning up to do and is working to do it. So even if not a one member believes in any anti-sexual-violence messages or principles, having clear consequences for their actions will make them clean up their act and stop doing these kinds of things. Fraternities are notoriously effective at damage control, from dealing with neighbors who are pissed at parties to keeping the police off of their backs -- if you make sure there's damage when they commit pro-rape acts, they will control it, and they know that the most effective control policy is prevention.
On of the off chance that someone reads this and is in a fraternity or a sorority who knows someone who is, let me tell you what you can do: go submit an opinion piece in the student newspaper. Talk about the DKE incident and how it relates to how things are on your campus, and make it clear that it's okay. One of the most important things in this kind of work is for people to stand up and let their voices be heard. As male feminists, and as fraternity members as well, we need to stand up in our communities, on campus, off campus, in our chapters, as alum or current members, and speak out against this kind of behavior and work towards making our own communities safer for everyone.
I have to admit, I'm not particularly interested in the debate, which seems to spring up in the feminist blogosphere every now and then again, over whether or not men can be feminists, or if we should take on another title, such as "pro-feminist" or "feminist allies." I prefer "recovering chauvinist" myself, but I suspect it's not really a winner for image politics. Heh.
Should men expect to be treated as full members of (broadly speaking) the feminist community once they proclaim their self-identified feminism? Of course not. Feminists have every right to be wary of men purporting to be feminists and joining their community. I would suspect, though my experience is limited, that a lot of male feminists are just a slightly more mature or clever version of "nice guys," trying to get involved in feminism for purposes quite at odds with actual feminism.
But that is, in some ways, the point of this blog and creating a space like this: here's the place where men can talk about male feminism, about masculinities, about gender and the patriarchy. We don't need to subvert feminist safe spaces to engage in these kinds of discussions when we can create our own safe spaces, right here.
What's important to remember is male feminists aren't some sort of exception to the general rule of a patriarchy. We aren't outside the patriarchy. We're part of it, we participate in it and we contribute to it -- we just do so a bit more knowingly. However flip I might be in using the term recovering chauvinist, it's not an inaccurate description. Like a recovering alcoholic or drug addict, we're never "cured" of our addiction. But moreover, unlike a recovering addict, it's not as easy to become "recovering." If an alcoholic stops drinking, or a drug addict stops using, then they can begin the road to recovery. For men, there's no simple binary of ceasing to do a thing and thereby start recovering. Internalized and externalized sexism is not an easy foe to slay -- there's no "off" button to make it go away.
The sad truth of male feminism is that it never "goes away." No one person can conquer the patriarchy, and I would be very suspicious of any man who would claim to have bested the pressures of society and history and be "recovered."
But as to the point of this post: I can't say I really care for these arguments about whether or not men can call themselves feminist. A chauvinist man can no more call himself a feminist than Sarah Palin can. Feminism to me, means accepting certain principles of politics, culture, relationships, at the broadest society down to your own individual level, in a never-finished attempt to master the sexism that the system put in us. If you can give that a shot, any person can be a feminist.
Talking to men about sexual assaults is probably one of the more difficult tasks of the male feminists. It's difficult in ways that really highlight the differences in strategies and tactics in bringing feminism to women and bringing it to men.
One of the central differences in this: talking to an oppressor is different than talking to the oppressed. The oppressed (women) are open to your arguments. They understand first-hand that they exist in a system that discriminates, from subtle forms of discrimination to brutal violence. While it would be incorrect to generalize and say that women are low-hanging fruit when it comes to feminism, they're certainly lower than men.
Men are the oppressor in this system. We are privileged. We see neither the forest nor the trees of this system. Feminism appears to us to be an ideology designed to weaken and change the traditional privileges and bonds of power we have exercised. We are skeptical. We are not easily won over. We are not low-hanging fruit.
When I was in college at a liberal arts school in New England, we had a program for all incoming first-year students about sexual education. It covered relationships, consent, assault and things of that nature. Students were divided into three or four groups and they all went through a program of two parts at different times during their orientation program. The first was a big ol' set of speakers where hundreds of students were talked to in a big auditorium. In the second part, that big group broke up into small, same-sex discussion groups of maybe 20-40 (though people were told that they could join with whatever group they identified with).
During the second part, there were student facilitators who ran a little program, held a discussion group and answered questions. I was one of those facilitators for several years and did maybe a dozen of those groups.
So, let's set the scene here. You have 20-40 18 year old men, all of whom are required to be present. So you know that you have a pretty mixed bag: there's probably some gay and queer men there, there's probably some out-and-out chauvinists, there's all sorts of people in between, but most of all, they're all probably a bit scared and generally speaking, pretty ignorant when it comes to formal education about sexuality and sexual assault. You're getting young men who may have had comprehensive sex education to those who had abstinence only to those who just had nothing at all.
When we facilitators got together to prepare for these types of groups, we tried to agree on strategies to deal with questions and guide discussions. A couple of those principles were pretty obvious: stay away from legal stuff. We had some handouts that simply contained the language of our State sexual assault and rape statutes, but it wasn't our place to be lawyers and take hypothetical questions from men in the group. There was almost always one would-be litigator who really wanted to parse the definitions, and that's not what the purpose of these groups was for.
One of those principles we agreed to guide our discussion was to be painfully honest with the group, and explain every issue thoroughly and explores its subtleties. This wasn't necessarily easy, and it might cause a bit of controversy among feminists.
For instance, when talking about consent, we first would cover the legality of it all. But the questions would quickly come and we'd have to wade into the nitty gritties of reality. "If me and my girlfriend, who have had sex before, go to dinner, have some wine and go home and have sex, is that rape?" "If I meet a girl at a party, and we both get drunk and have sex, is that rape?" We explained these types of issues to men in terms of risk, because the legality is all pretty clear. If either of the parties believes that they did not consent, then it was rape. The former situation obviously has far less risk than the latter.
Talking about these issues with nuance is necessary to impress upon young men that healthy, consensual sex is complicated and it takes a bit of work. The popular perception of feminism is that it is radical and deals in absolutes. The stereotype of the feminist is that they would simply answer that both of those situations are rape, without recognizing any nuance.
Let's talk about another example from these discussion groups before concluding. In these groups, invariably, someone would bring up an example of a "false rape allegation" from popular media. When I was doing this it was usually the Kobe Bryan case or the Duke Lacrosse case, but now I'd imagine it might be Ben Roethlisberger.
Now this is another example of any area of male feminist discussions where you have to be painfully truthful with the young non-feminist male. They would ask us, "Aren't these examples of false rape allegations? Can't this happen to me? Doesn't a woman have a lot to gain by this?"
Now, there's a lot of ways to start talking about this. You can take one of the specific incidents and start discussing it. Say the Kobe Bryant case (I had his post-settlement statement taped to a binder), where Kobe eventually says, "Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did." That's obviously a point pretty ripe for discussion. If I think I have consensual sex with someone, and the other party "does not view the incident the same way," then that means she does not view it as consensual. And that's rape.
You can also take the tact by discussing what's actually involved in a woman making a report of rape to law enforcement: rape kits, reliving a traumatic experience, slut-shaming if it goes public, the lack of rape shield laws in some jurisdictions, etc., etc., and show that women have a lot to lose by making those kinds of allegations. And of course, there's always the wry observation that if a woman made a rape allegation against me, or anyone else in the room, it's not because of our deep pockets or all the money she might gain out of it.
Now, there's some things I would not say in this situation, and this is really the crux of my thesis here: being painfully honest with these kinds of men. I would not say that it's impossible for a woman to make a false accusation. I would stress that for the crime of rape and/or sexual assault, false accusations are made at no greater rate than any other crime. I would stress that in any situation any of us might encounter, the most responsible and healthiest course of action is to believe any person who comes to us claiming to have been a victim, so that we can help them get help. But I would not flat out deny that false accusations are impossible.
Is there a possibility that some men will take that admission as permission to assume false accusations or justify pro-rape behavior? Yes, but I would say that those men probably were going to anyway, and what I said did not do much. I think, however, that far more likely, is that I buttress my own credibility in talking to men by being painfully truthful and acknowledging the nuances of issues, rather than taking absolutist stances on issues. In buttressing male feminists' credibility, we can better reach those men who are open to what we talk we about, and hopefully gain some converts, or at least make some young men think.
In popular media, violence against women is something you see a lot. It might be in the news, but it's also in feminist discussions. But you don't see it covered from a feminist perspective in the news, and when feminists discuss it, it's usually not from the non-perpetrator male perspective.
Not that I have a lot of experience as an activist, but I was at a conference once in Boston called EngageMen about getting men involved in movements to reduce violence against women. There was a great speaker there who talked about using the common experiences of men to talk about violence against women. When he talked about getting men involved in violence against women, he said not to use the common experiences of victims (women in this context), but to use the experiences of non-perpetrator men to talk about it:
Have you ever walked down a street at night, and seen a woman walking towards on your side of the street? Before she reaches you, however, she crosses the street, to get on the other side? Why does she do that? What does she think and assume about you? How does that make you feel?
These are questions men don't get asked a lot, but it's something most men can relate to. Yes, we've been in that situation. The woman crosses because she fears us. She fears that she might be attacked by us.
How does that make you feel is usually the interesting question for a group of men. Confused? Sad? All these things, but I frequently hear is angry. At whom? The woman? Society? Rapists who make her fear?
This is an example of what you might call recasting a traditional feminist issue from a masculine perspective. There's a lot written about rape and sexual assault in the media and feminism generally, but a lot of it is from a woman's perspective. It might talk about women fearing walking alone at night, or what the woman wore, or where she went, or how much she drank. These are experiences that don't resonate as well with a man because it's not experiences men share from our position of privilege. Men aren't afraid to walk at night. That's our privilege. Generally, we don't have to worry about drinking too much, at least not in terms of becoming victims of sexual assault.
But we have been in that position, where we see that woman crossing the street because she fears us. That's an experience we share, that's a commonality between men and it's something that can be used as a starting point into a discussion on sexual assault.
Hi. I'm Jeff, and I'm here to blog about feminism from a male perspective.
This post is a welcome post, with a bunch of disclaimers and caveats that should be considered when reading this blog. I'll try to update it as I add more content to this blog, but still keeping it reasonably short.
First, a bit about me, because it's important to understand where I'm coming from. I'm a white, middle class, heterosexual American man. I'm also a feminist (or a feminist ally, whatever you choose). How I came to feminism is probably something of a post of its own, so I'll leave that for later.
Being who I am, I have a lot of privileges. I'm white, so I have privileges in that regard. I'm straight. I'm middle class. And I'm a man. That's a lot of privilege. You might call me something like a "majority man," in that I come from a demographic that traditionally possesses the majority of power and wealth.
I mention this for two reasons. One, to explain my perspective and offer a bit of a mea culpa as I show my privilege in what I write. Secondly, because in the following post (and on this blog in general), I'm going to be talking about feminism reaching "men," but when I mean "men," I mean those in the demographics and in communities that feminism has the hardest time reaching: white, straight, privileged. For instance, men who don't identify as straight frequently can become involved in or learn about feminism through their own communities, queer and gender theory and the like. So when I talk about feminism not reaching "men," usually I'm referring to these majority men.
Let me begin by saying that when I talk about "feminism," it can sometimes seem like I'm talking about some monolithic movement, but as any feminist knows, we're a diverse and fractured movement, agreeing on perhaps a few key principles, but disagreeing on numerous issues of theory, strategy and tactics. So understand when I speak of "feminism" or the "feminist movement," I speak generally and paint with a very broad brush, not doing justice to a large and complex movement(s).
As I came to feminism, I soon began to realize that there weren't a lot of people like me involved. That's not to say that there aren't any, because there's lots of great men out as activists, writers, academics, anything and everything. But feminism is, however, perceivedas a movement for women.
It's understandable how people unfamiliar with feminism would come to that conclusion. Many of its outspoken theorists, its public personalities, and bloggers who run feminist blogs are women (or at least not men), and the issues they discuss frequently are about women. I'm not making a judgment on that fact (it's understandable why this is), but merely an observation.
That's not to say there aren't men out there, because there are, and that's not to say that feminist blogs don't cover men's issues, because they do, but few blogs cover men's issues from a feminist perspective, fewer still from a male feminist perspective and yet fewer still exclusively.
And why is that necessary? I believe that feminism is an ideology for everyone. Some would disagree, and say that feminism is a women's movement designed for women. I think that feminism can and should be a movement for everyone.
It's difficult for men to come to feminism for what I think are two major reasons.
Firstly, men have privilege. There are many clear incentives for men to maintain the heteronormative patriarchy, the system that grants us many privileges and preferences. Those incentives are clear for any consumer of modern culture, any person in the modern workplace, any person living in this country or others. The incentives for rejecting that system aren't clear in our culture, our body politic, or our country.
And that leads to the second point: feminism has a hard time reaching majority men. A lot of "feminism" is directed towards women: from formal academic theory to casual blog posts and essays, and a lot of it is written from the female perspective. Feminism frequently uses common and shared experiences between women to make any number of its points. To say that women have a unique perspective, different from men, on any numbers of political and cultural issues is nothing radical. In frequently framing feminism within that perspective, feminism loses its ability to be accessible to men as it is women.
My blog and my part:
And thus, this blog is born. I certainly can't do a whole lot to change the first reason I mentioned: I'm just one guy and I can't change a system by myself, but I can change in some small way the second, by writing about feminism from a male perspective. I hope that this blog, acting as a platform for content about politics, culture and everything under the sun using the common and shared experience of "man" the same female feminists do for women, helps to make feminism a bit more accessible, perceived as a bit more "normal" and maybe a bit more understandable.
While this blog might seem like its purpose is to spread a perspective on feminism, that is not its only purpose -- this perspective, my personal perspective and your perspective only grows through healthy debate and discussion and of course, dissent. As I, and hopefully you, continue to engage with all sorts of different people and each other on issues affecting feminism, our views may change and evolve. So I ask you too to participate in this blog by commenting on posts, sharing it with your friends, and always engage with each other respectfully and vigorously.
Note: this is the same content as what is currently under the "Mission" page, but I'm posting it here to get it on to the front page.