So, for those of you don't know, I'm on Reddit, and I post occasionally in the comments over at reddit.com/r/feminism. There's a thread over there that's led to some interesting discussion. You can probably figure out who I am.
It discussed the now defunct "Nice Guys of OKCupid" blog. You can find an archive of that blog here.
Pretty much the discussion point is this: is "shaming" misogynist men an effective tactic? Is it feminist? Is it something we, as feminists, should promote? I'm torn, but not that much. From the comment thread, a lot of people (I'm going to presume men) take offense to the blog because it's shaming men. A couple comments have pointed out that it's like slut-shaming.
My responses have mostly been that I think shaming can be an effective tactic to get men to change their behavior. It shouldn't be your only tactic, but it can definitely be one of them. Different men will respond to different thing. As I've written before, I think one of the most effective tactics is for people in the misogynist's life to call them out on it. Tell them that their statements are hurtful towards women, towards specific women (maybe you! maybe your mother, sister, daughter, significant other, friend). But I recognize that not everyone feels comfortable (for physical, emotional, other reasons) calling men out like that. But what do we have? The anonymity of the internet. Certainly not as effective, but it can reach more people.
So we have to move on to other tactics. I certainly support education, and I think reaching out to men and trying to educate them about feminism is worthwhile. But I don't think that tactic is going to reach all men. Some men are going to respond to shaming. Some men will respond to shaming because they might be genuinely surprised or come to a realization that their behavior hurts women, and they might engage in the kind of careful self-examination that most (if not all) male feminists eventually have to go through. I think, however, that of the ones who stop their behavior because of the shaming, most of them will do it simply because they don't want to risk society's disapproval.
Will this embitter some men and make them angrier towards women? Undoubtedly yes. But were these men you were going to reach through other means? I don't know. I'm all for bringing feminism to as many men as possible, and I've tried to write a lot about tactics to reach men. I think that at this stage in the feminist movement, and in the movement to bring bem into feminism, we need to try to get the low-hanging fruit. We need to find the men who are sympathetic to our ideas but aren't quite there yet, and bring them in. And then bring in the next most-sympathetic group, and so on. I don't know that we can afford to tailor our messages to the lowest common denominator, with the goal of not further embittering men we were never going to reach in the first place.
Thoughts on this? I'm going to post this on the reddit/r/feminism section, and see if any redditors and my normal commentariat can get a discussion going. (If there's any normal commentariat left, given the lack of posting on this blog).
Moving Towards Positive Images of Masculinities
One of the great obstacles in front of male feminists is moving from a negative understand of masculinity to positive visions. We have a pretty good sense of what we don't like about masculinity: the violence, the homophobia, the bravado, the low expectations of parenting, the lack of expectations of communications, etc., etc.
But we don't have well-defined positive visions of masculinity. I mean, there's a few things most people can agree to put their finger on as something positive: male visions of being an involved parent is one I can think of. A sincere and good fatherhood is certainly a positive vision of masculinity (for those who want to choose fatherhood).
Part of this, I think is that many developing feminist men have deep misgivings about their own sexuality. It's difficult, or at least it was difficult for me, doing even a small amount of anti-violence work, not to internalize some of the negative attitudes towards male sexuality. After all, so much of male sexuality is violent and brutal, and that's a big part of what once is exposed to doing anti-sexual violence work. And hearing that, I suspect that a lot of men experience some self-loathing and question or fear their own sexuality.
(As an aside, some men interpret an attack from feminist women on male sexuality as an attack on them personally and all men, and rather than developing a shame or misgivings about their own sexuality, channel those feelings as anger against "man-hating" feminists. I merely point it out to demonstrate how I think different people respond differently to these things.)
While internalized misgivings and shame about male sexuality is problematic in and of itself, what's most problematic is that most men (feminist or not) don't have the tools to resolve and work through issues. Men are socialized not to talk about their feelings or sexuality with other men. So that means we either unload on women, who really shouldn't have to deal with nascent male feminists (or developed male feminists) working through their issues with them, or we suppress these unhealthy feelings.
Really the solution to all of this is to talk about these kinds of issues with other men. It sucks. And it's hard. We really don't have a vocabulary of self-expression for emotional issues, having been socialized that it's "unmanly" to talk about our or others' feelings. We have to develop one that we can use with each other. Part of that is developing safe spaces where we can discuss these issues. Though one might glibly reply that all spaces are safe spaces for men, it's intellectually dishonest to pretend to that those spaces are safe spaces for feminist men to discuss feminism. The world, while not as hostile to men who choose to express feminism as it is to women (who choose to express feminism or who simply try to exist), certainly is hostile to these kinds of discussions from anyone, men or women.
So men, we need to try to create safe spaces. I hope that this blog can serve as one, but I'd like to ask, what are other men using as safe spaces? Do you have other men you can talk to about these issues? Please let us know in the comments!
Sisters Make You Happier; Why Not Brothers?
As the linked article suggests, a lot of this has to do with communication: men don't communicate about emotional issues very well. So when a family has a daughter, she's able to emotionally communicate effectively with her siblings.
So I suppose it doesn't tell us anything that we don't already know, anecdotally, about men, which is that we're not very emotionally mature or communicative. This isn't particularly revelatory, and it certainly isn't particularly revelatory to women or to feminists, I imagine.
But it does have some interesting implications for talking to men about feminism. A lot of feminist issues are framed as emotional ones or have emotional aspects of them. I'd be hard-pressed to name a feminist issue for which I don't have an emotional and often visceral response to. Now the problem comes in is that when men are presented with feminist issues from a woman's perspective (as feminist issues usually are), men frequently have more difficulty understanding the issues because of the emotional content, or men are made uncomfortable talking about the issues because of the emotional content.
One of the reasons we're made uncomfortable talking about emotions is that we're pretty much taught that men have to suppress certain kinds of emotions. Sure, we can be happy and angry, but "boys don't cry," is pounded into us at a young age. We're not taught to embace any outward displays of affection, platonic or otherwise, to any people. We're not taught to give much thought to our feelings or others' feelings as it comes to things that bother us cause us concern.
I think a lot of feminism is talking about emotions, and feminist issues like identity and sexuality are intensely personal and require a certain emotional vocabulary that men don't traditionally have a lot of facility with. For male feminists, part of our strategies and tactics have to take into account overcoming this challenge. Male feminism needs to help men become more comfortable talking about feminist issues with an emotional aspect, and communicating with both men and women.
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.