I had an interesting conversation with a friend the other night who reads this blog, and she suggested an interesting topic:
Men who identify as feminists, but generally won't call themselves "feminist" to people they meet.
Well, I can imagine a few scenarios, specific men, so let's talk about them and unpack them. But before I do that, let me add a point: all the reasons that anyone might not want to identify as a feminist also apply to men. For instance, in our society, "the 'f' word" is a pretty bad word to begin with, no matter who's using it. So just to head off anyone who might note that I haven't included a number of examples of reasons why people would not identify as feminist, what I've written below is me trying to find reasons why men specifically would not want to identify as feminist.
1. Dudes Aren't Supposed to be Feminist
Men aren't supposed to be feminists. In the popular consciousness, men aren't feminists. Women are feminists. Gay men might be feminists. But straight men? Of course not! So there's a lot of disincentives for feminist men to identify as feminist to people they've just met, especially men. A lot of misogynist men will have never met someone who would call themselves a feminist, whatever their gender, and in a lot of social situations, it's not worth the risk of provoking a confrontation.
I think as well, particularly for feminist men who might be new to the movement, and less secure in their identity as a feminist, and less used to the attacks that feminists generally get and feminist men specifically get, it can be very disconcerting for the slurs that can come. It's not particularly fun to have your sexual orientation questioned, and it's usually not germane to a discussion about feminism.
2. A lot of "Liberal" and "Progressive" People Aren't Feminist
Shocking, I know. The issue is, you can be in what you might think would be a safe space for liberal and/or progressive politics. You're with a bunch of people who have similar thoughts on politics and policies, and you say, "Hey, I'm a feminist." The room goes quiet. Feminists are something else, and they're not always welcome in progressive movements.
History is replete with examples such as this. The abolition movement split over including women. Progressive/liberal organizations, such as Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), did not include "women's issues" as a priority when they were formed.
3. Sometimes Feminists are Suspicious of Feminist Men and Rightly So
I've written about this before, in the context of messing up other feminists' stuff. Male feminists can sometimes have a tendency to want to focus on their issues and what they think is interesting within the context of a mixed gender feminist group. That's not always a good thing, because sometimes male feminists, either unknowingly or intentionally (because they aren't feminist) try to subvert the goals of a feminist group. So a lot of feminists are frequently on guard for this. No one wants a "nice guy" coming in to their group whose only goal is to score, make some rhetorical point agains the group to feel good about himself, or just coming in to justify to himself his own misogynist views.
4. They Aren't Feminists
Ultimately, well, they just might not be a feminist. If you're a feminist and you know a male feminist who will only tell you that he's a feminist, and not anyone else, well, he probably isn't a feminist. He might be one of the guys I described in section three above. I think, particularly as a male feminist, and as a male feminist who I like to call a "majority man," (white, cis, hetero, middle class), which are among the harder types of men for feminism to reach, we have a responsibility to self-identify as feminists to act as an example for other men who might be afraid to identify too. I don't wish to overstate the matter, but being a "secret" feminist is a disservice to a movement that needs more vocal men talking to other men about feminism.
I caught a little news item yesterday that just had so many issues about gender going on in it that I had to blog a bit about it.
Boy. Where to start?
Let's start with the background. Sheriff Joe makes many of his male prisoners wear pink underwear. He explicitly does this because he believes that it humiliates the prisoners, with the stated official reason that because of this humiliation, it reduces the stealing of underwear.
I don't doubt that his method is effective. Men are taught at a young age that our masculinity, despite being defined positively (that is, being defined by what it is), is also very much defined negatively (being defined by what it is not). And what masculinity is not, we are taught, is feminine. The genders are taught to us as being mutually exclusive. One cannot have feminine traits and still claim to "be a man."
We're taught this pretty young, too. It's fighting words to a ten year old to be told that he "throws like a girl," and fighting words to a teenager that he's a "pussy." Even grown men, Senators no less, are told "man up" as a way to attack their masculinity, and thus their identity.
I think there's something else going on in this "gift" of pink underwear to Sarah Palin. Sure, it's sort of Sheriff Joe's symbol, but underwear is not something you give to someone, at least not someone you don't have an intimate relationship with, in my experience. Certainly you don't give underwear to someone professional, and you don't give it to a professional politician.
I think that Sheriff Joe giving Palin pink underwear is a sexist way to undermine her credibility as a politician. While I am not fan of Sarah Palin, I certainly think she's been the victim of chauvinism and misogynist commentary in the media. I've not heard of Sheriff Joe gifting pink underwear to any other politician, man or woman, and this kind of creepy, sexual gesture speaks profoundly to the views that people like Sheriff Joe have towards women. I would speculate that Sheriff Joe gives it to Palin because she's viewed as an attractive woman, not as some sort of "here's my little token and I give it to every politician." It demeans Palin, by treating her as an object of male sexual desire, rather than as a professional politician.
I don't know what kind of appropriate response Palin could make, other than respectfully declining Sheriff Joe's gift.
#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.