That Feminist Boy Thing
Here's a pretty old post from the blog archives of Geekery Today; it was written about 19 years ago, in 2004, on the World Wide Web.
Trish Wilson has pointed out that this seems to be happening regularly about once every three months: some liberal boy blogger or another suddenly
discovers sexism in the blogging world (call it Quasi-feminist Male Syndrome, or QMS) and feels compelled to put out some musings on the musical question:
Q: Where are all the female political bloggers?
A: On the Internet, dummy. Try reading some of them:
- Margaret Cho
- Pinko Feminist Hellcat
- Rox Populi
- Sappho’s Breathing
- Totalitarianism Today
- Trish Wilson
- wicked thoughts
- etc., etc., etc.
Where does QMS come from? Like the e-mail promising that Bill Gates will pay you $200 for everyone you forward it to, it keeps going around and around in cyberspace; for better or for worse, though, it is starting to raise some important discussions about Leftist boys and the nature of feminism. Wicked Muse, for example, took the fracas as an opportunity to put up a great post on
Male Feminists and, among many other things, whether men who support the feminist movement should identify as
pro-feminists (along with the corresponding question of what boys’ role in the movement should be):
Matt Stoller, over in the comments of the post listed above, says:
More to the point, feminism doesn’t belong to women, and until you realize that we’re in this together, the more marginalized you will continue to be.
Well, I disagree. I almost wrote,I’m sorry, I disagree,but the fact is I am NOT sorry for my viewpoint. (I have to stop that.) Feminism DOES belong to women, though it will take both women and men to get things to where they need to be. Part of me can’t help but get a little irritated at the whole thing and wonder why women can’t just have one thing that men aren’t sticking their noses into or trying to take over. I realize how immature that may sound, but the issues feminism deals with, as Mr. Ripley says in his comment, are sometimes life-and-death for women and men can avail themselves of priviledges that make it much less so for them. Many women are feminists because they HAVE to be, so the whole movement is nearer and dearer to our hearts.
I think men who truly support the movement by trying to do something beyond offering lip-service (perhaps in an attempt to ingratiate themselves and/or feel less guilty) are wonderful and I welcome them with open arms. Things are only going to get better by working together, which is one point I agree with Matt on. However, in a society where labels are all important, as much as we eschew them at times, I think the feminist label needs to be left for women to grasp, either to help keep them afloat or to hold high in defiance. If you’re a man and support the cause, I daresay we love you. Men like you are rare… much too rare. The support is appreciated, no doubt, but I, for one, would feel much more comfortable if at least the symbol of the movement was left to us rather than it being yet one more thing co-opted, which is just one step from having it taken away.
Well, I am a Leftist boy and I agree completely with Wicked Muse that feminism belongs to women (I was, quite honestly, astonished that Matt Stoller could get that sentence out of his mouth without the cognitive dissonance making his head explode). And while I think that men have a responsibility to get involved and to seriously work with feminist efforts to undermine male supremacy, we have to be aware of the fact that we are men in the women’s movement, that feminist women have been doing fine without us for the past 150 years, and that it is their movement to own, direct, and lead. Not ours.
Not mine. This is something I have to tell myself a lot. What I hope I can do is listen to women and take what they say seriously. Not get into ideological arguments and tell them what their organization needs or what I can do to save them. If I end up doing nothing at a meeting other than volunteering to put some flyers or baking some brownies, that’s quite alright. Shit work needs to be done by somebody, and why shouldn’t a boy be the one to do it every now and again?
I understand and I sympathize with the reasons that some feminists give for wanting men to refer to themselves as
pro-feminist rather than feminist. No matter how important feminism is to my life, it can’t mean to me what it means to a woman who lives it; no matter how much I know about sexism, I can’t know as much as a woman knows who faces it everyday. That’s hard for me to swallow sometimes–feminism is the most important political commitment in my life, by a very long shot. To explain the reasons behind that would involve delving into a lot of personal details about my life, my family, and my dearest friends, which is more than a bit beyond the scope of this post. But that’s just it: it takes a lot of telling why it matters so damn much to me. Were I a woman, it would be easy to say why it does, because I’d have to put up with a bunch of shit every day that, as a man, I don’t have to. And, whether I like or not, that puts me in a very different situation when I go around talking about the feminist movement.
That said, I do want to mention a bit about why I do usually describe myself as a
feminist and not as a
pro-feminist man. I think that all the concerns Wicked Muse raises are legitimate, and important. If I’m in a space where women would rather I don’t refer to myself as a
feminist, I don’t. As I said, I understand the reasons, and it’s not my place to get into a fight over it. But I do just say
feminist in most circumstances. My reason for worrying is this:
pro-feminist suggests a distance from the movement. Not surprising; that’s what the phrase was intended to do, to point out the importance of men being willing to step back, if they’re serious about it, let women have their say, and listen to them, and follow their lead. But for all too many men who identify as
pro-feminist the distance has ended up being cashed out in a much worse way: a sort of wishy-washy non-politic, in which the
distance from the movement is taken to mean distance from taking action. Calling out other men on sexism, or moping about your own sexism, rather than doing what you can to help end it. Forming groups of men to talk about women’s liberation (?!), which becomes talking about “sexism”, which becomes talking about men and how they feel in a sexist society, which becomes dithering around and trying to change how men touch and feel each other rather than making a serious political commitment to ending male supremacy and violence against women. Maybe it comes down to the likelihood that boys who genuinely want to do some good, but who feel guilty and don’t necessarily know just what to make of it, will do what a lot of boys do: think in terms of ourselves, and take the
pro-feminism to mean a psychological attitude (say, warm fuzzy feelings towards feminism) instead of a political and moral commitment (say, taking feminism seriously and acting like mean it). I don’t think that’s what
pro-feminism has to mean, but I do think that given a lot of the pitfalls that have shown up in boys trying to get involved in feminism, it’s unfortunately likely. I worry that this it’s what has happened to all too many–maybe almost all–large-scale efforts by sympathetic men to get involved in feminism. (Andrea Dworkin’s speech, I Want A Twenty-Four Hour Truce During Which There Is No Rape, has been really influential in how I think about these things.)
Now I don’t think that it’s a huge loss for feminism if men’s efforts end up being lame. Feminism doesn’t need boys to win. But it is too bad for the boys involved: we can do better, and we ought to do better. What I hope is that I am living my life, being accountable instead of defensive, listening to women and changing the way I act and think based on what I hear, in such a way that I can live up to a commitment to the feminist movement. So I call myself a
feminist in many contexts. I understand the worries around it, and I can’t say I blame Astarte or Wicked Muse at all for finding the phrase a bit creepy and worrying about co-optation. But I do hope that some of the worries that I’ve raised here make sense, and maybe even that they might help continue the conversation. It’s a conversation that’s well worth having, and I’m glad that some of the posts floating around at the moment have brought it up.
What do y’all think?
Victoria Marinelli /#
The cognitive dissonance making the guy’s head explode… now that was a marvelous image. Thank you. Incidentally, I found your site a long time ago from an oob listserv link, and have been meaning to put up a link to Rad Geek on my site… finally that’s done. Best regards — Victoria Marinelli (Link to my site here, FYI)
As a female feminist (a bit of a mouthful, there), I don’t have a problem with males who call themselves feminists. The white people who helped crusade against slavery were called abolitionists along with the blacks (note: I am not attempting to compare sexism and racism. That’s a whole other post.)In order for any societal changes to be brought about, all members of the society need to be involved. Splitting into fragments battling, or at best excluding, one another seems to be counterproductive.
“The white people who helped crusade against slavery were called abolitionists along with the blacks.”
Yes, but they weren’t called Africanists.