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!
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.