What Men Dare Do! "O, what men dare do! What men may do! What men daily do, not knowing what they do!"

28Oct/107

Don’t Mess Up Other Feminists’ Stuff

#2 Don't Mess Up Other Feminists' Stuff

Okay, so you're a feminist, or at least you think that's where you're going.

You might be thinking that now's the time to jump in!  Go to a feminist discussion, a book group, see some speakers, read some books, comments on some feminist blogs!

It's good to be eager, but as a beginning feminist, it's best to be a passive consumer of feminism when you're first going into feminist safe spaces.

Now that might be a new phrase for you, "safe space."  What is it?  Well, it's one of those things that men generally don't have to worry about -- a place where everyone who is present feels safe and comfortable expressing themselves about whatever topic they might want: feminism, queer theory, racial issues, etc., etc.  The mainstream man can always talk about just about whatever he wants.  (On the other hand, the queer man, the feminist man, the man of color, they can't, but remember, we're talking about "majority men" right now).

Sometimes, when a male feminist newly becomes interested in feminism, they want to join a group, maybe on a college campus, maybe a local book club, or just start commenting on blogs and forums, and begin discussing feminist issues!  It's great to be eager, but remember, you're going into someone else's established safe space, knowing a lot less than they do.  People aren't interested, generally, in spending a lot of time going off topic of whatever it was they wanted to talk about to educate you about what feminism is.  If you really feel a need to go to a group like that and can't hold yourself: be a passive consumer.  Listen.

Before you go out and participate, try to make sure you've done as much educating of yourself as reasonably possible.  Be familiar with Feminism 101, read some FAQs, learn a bit of jargon, and then when you have at least a basic vocabulary of self-expression, along with the wisdom to know that it's not all about you in these types of groups, then go to a group and talk about issues.

But always remember, most women have years if not decades of experience acknowledging, discussing and experiencing first-hand a real-world system and a philosophy of ideas that we've only just been introduced to.  That's not to say men can't make substantial contributions to feminism (indeed, we do), but I doubt a female feminist ever came out of a feminist group having met a man and thought, "That guy was too humble and timid."  It isn't feminists' responsibility to tolerate us coming in and messing up their stuff; we need to self-educate ourselves as best as we can before we participate in the movement.

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18Oct/101

Recasting Issues from a Masculine Perspective

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.

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