Congratulations on washing! (or: men and feminism)
Here's a pretty old post from the blog archives of Geekery Today; it was written about 17 years ago, in 2006, on the World Wide Web.
Here’s two things that are both true at once.
The Soapbox (2006-02-13): The F-word (part the third):
But what, is the role of men in feminism to be? On the level of government and legislation, it means that men have to acknowledge and represent the needs of women. As Mind on Fire points out, male involvement in feminism raises the possibility of male engagement, criticism and leadership in the feminist movement. How do we feel about that? In all honesty, my gut feeling is that men should not be making decisions for women. For example, I have a fundamental problem with men making the decision to restrict abortion rights, for example. Men never become pregnant, and for the most part still take a smaller share in the task of raising a child. It’s roughly comparable to women making decisions (and creating restrictions!) on the permissible medical treatments for prostate problems. Consequenly, I have difficulty seeing how men generally can properly understand the significance an unwanted pregnancy has to a woman. This leads me to draw a distinction between speaking for or making decisions for women, and being a channel for the voices of women.
… So where does this leave us? My own view is that men should not be setting the priorities for the feminist movement, and they need to be careful that their involvement is not the insertion of male authority. That said, I am absolutely for the involvement of men in the advancement of feminism. As a women’s movement, women need to be leading the movement and setting the priorities. But it also needs to be a joint movement, and men do need to be involved. So guys: go on, be activists! Take an equal share of the housework and the childcare, sign petitions for Roe, go on marches, be part of it. So, in answer to Mind on Fire’s original question ofIs there a place for feminist men in feminism?my answer is a resounding YES!
BB, Den of the Biting Beaver (2006-02-21): Fair or Unfair, you decide (boldface added):
This is a phenomenon that radicals often see. Hell, Sam has posted about it before on this very board. We see this often in radical circles, men, who are well-meaning, and not trying to troll, stepping forward to claim thefeministlabel and then telling radicals that they are wrong or not taking any criticism from the actual women.
I suspect that I know where this comes from. Hell, Dim suffered from it and I suspect that many feminist men have dealt with it. They think that they’ve made all of these wonderful changes, that they’ve come so far. They share the household chores with their wives, they do laundry, and they may even speak out against sexist jokes when they hear them. They prance and dance and inside are swelling with pride for being soprogressiveand adding their voices to the tide of women’s voices. That is, until a woman calls them out on something. Until a woman says,You haven’t learned as much as you think you have and, in fact, I have a feeling that you’ve still got a lot of work to do.
They instantly deflate, confusion purses their brow and you can almost hear the line that is going through their heads,But, I’ve done so MUCH! What the hell? I can’t win with you!Instead of prancing and congratulating them forall the work they’ve donea woman is instead telling them that they’re not even close. This isn’t what they expected at all, what do you mean she’s not happy YET? What is wrong with this woman? How many fucking mountains do I have to climb to get her to congratulate me?
Here’s a tip.
A radical will NEVER congratulate you for treating women as human. We’re not going to go all cute and cuddly and say,OH, you’re such a good boy for actually helping her with the housework and changing the baby!Why should we? Seriously, we ARE human, and we DESERVE to be treated as such. When a man shows up expecting great big loads of praise for actually treating us as human beings what he’s really saying is that he’s done some great Herculean task by treating us as equals.
This is akin to a white person prancing around a group of African Americans and expecting praise for NOT hating them based on their skin color. The right not to be hated, not to be abused, is a RIGHT. Why in the hell do we need to congratulate you on youraccomplishmentof not being a fuckhead to us? It’s insulting and no radical is going to go out of her way to make you feel better about not abusing half of the population.
Now, here’s the other half of the equation, which Dim touched on yesterday with his post: The men who come to feminist spaces and expect to be able to dictate just what feminism is and what it isn’t. And when those ideals are in line with radical feminism then women are fine and dandy, but when men come into threads telling women that they’re wrong and women get angry, these same guys tend to dance around and say,But, but….I’ve come so far and I’m just learning!.
Women don’t have the time to offer you a learning curve. Your partner may do it because she loves you, your boss may do it because they respect that you’re trying, but feminists on the front lines who have no connection to you aren’t going to give you alearning curve. Now, I’ve never met a feminist who screams at a man for getting it wrong, normally, they’ll simply point out thatYou’re wrong, you need to read some more. No fuss, no muss, and they sure as hell aren't going to dilute their message by congratulating you for changing diapers. That’s already expected. I suspect it is this lack of congratulation that throws these guys into a tizzy.
They WANT to be recognized for not being a complete fuckheads, they think they SHOULD be congratulated onAll the work I’ve done. Radicals see that as a given, you are expected not to hurt women, period. These same men will then come back and oftentimes say,I’m sorry…but(or some variation thereof) and this, my friends, will piss off a feminist more than you can possibly imagine. We know whatI’m sorry butmeans. It means that you still think you were right and justified in saying something wrong, it means that you think that we should allow you to get away with saying anti-woman things because of yourlearning curve. It means that you believe we OWE you time towork things outbecause, of course, the notion of not being fucktards to women is so damn hard to grasp.
It’s insulting and infuriating and anytime a man comes in with theI’m sorry butshtick we know what we’re facing. Radicals are not in the business of coddling men, we’re not in the business of saying,Good boy! You didn’t insult me this week or say something sexist to me! I’m sooo proud of you!!This is something that ALL feminist men need to understand. We’re not in this to lead you by the hand and show you what’s what. If you have a question, then ask it. I’ve yet to see a woman tear a man limb from limb for simply asking a question that is NOT loaded with presuppositions and defensive language.
… This is another common idea, that somehow I’mstifling dissent. I’ve seen men use this excuse time and time again to try to manipulate a forum to allow them to say whatever the hell they want to say. Sorry, it ain’t working here. If you've read my rules and my Mission Statement then there shouldn't be any questions. When men come in and say,You can't get your message across if you stifle dissentI laugh, then I scream. It sounds like a thinly veiled threat to me,You better let me disagree with you in whatever nasty, mean, spiteful way I want or I won't listen to you!My response to this is fine. I don't need you and I sure as hell are not going to take you by the hand and forgive every stupid remark you make because I fear you're not going to listen to me.
Feminism as a theory, will stand or fall on it's own merit. It doesn't need me, or anyone else, coddling men to make it work. Do I want to convince you? Sure I do. Am I going to jump through hoops and let you be rude, obnoxious and just plain sexist to make that happen? The answer is an across the boardNo. I don't need your voice that badly, not badly enough to let you run roughshod over the women here.
Here's the deal, in THIS movement you are just another person. Period. And, to push it even further, if you want to be involved in radical feminism you should prepare and be ready for women telling you you're wrong. For once in your life your sex will be scrutinized and looked at suspiciously, get over it. The fact that you are a man will account for nothing unless it is asked when you are saying something antithetical to what the feminist movement is about. Here's the thing, we don't NEED you. We sure as hell aren't going to waste time trying to appease you at the expense of women. This is fact in radical circles.
Humility is hard, and so is ignorance; and it’s especially hard when you’ve been brought up, subtly or overtly, to expect pride and honor and a hearing for your opinions and your theories as your birthright. But when we boys get sniffy over the fact that we’re getting criticized for our behavior and start appealing to our past
achievements, or worse, our intentions, we’re expecting rewards for things that ought to be basic expectations, and would be in a humane society in which women were consistently respected and treated as equals. Successful male feminism isn’t an accomplishment like writing a symphony or inventing a new labor-saving device or cooking a particularly delicious meal. All it amounts to is managing to do the stuff that you’re supposed to, in spite of what may be convenient for you. If you expect to be congratulated on showing up for work or washing your hands, or you think that you personally are so vital that you need to be congratulated just for showing up or it’s all going to go to hell, then you need to think harder about why you expect this.
Here’s one that I struggle with; it’s hard for me because I’ve been encouraged to act this way and frankly it’s hard for me because often I like to act this way. I need to get better about it. Not as often with women as with other men, but it’s something that I do, and that I do too often and too easily, both in private life and public forums (each in their own way). The temptation towards a combative style of conversation, and treating the
debates that follow as if they were wars of attrition, is something I need to overcome.
Here at The Den we’ve had a good many disagreements. But a startling trend has become abundantly clear to me. When I peruse some of our hottest threads I note that most of the time when a disagreement is between women one of them will ultimately say,Well, I see that I’m not going to change you mind on this. You are certainly entitled to your opinion and I appreciate the time you’ve given me with this discussion. Then, they bow out of the thread.
With men I have NEVER seen such a thing. It’s unheard of for a man to simply say,Hmm, I see I’m not going to change your mind, thank you for the discussion you’ve given me a lot to think about. No, instead what I see is thread after thread where these guys continue on and on and on pushing insult after insult in an attempt to shut up the woman they're arguing with. They can’t seem to STOP posting, even when it’s become clear that they’ve come to a total impasse.
No, they seem to expect the women to stop posting, and their common response is,Well, SHE didn’t stop! Why do you expect ME to stop?The answer is simple; these women on this site are practicing standing up to men. Many of these women have never had the opportunity to continue speaking after they've been told by a man to shut up. Many of them are, for the first time ever, trying to find the nerve to tell a man that he’s wrong. If you think it’s unfair of me to expect a man to shut up and bow out when there’s an impasse then I don’t know what to tell you.
Many of the women on this blog have been effectively silenced for much of their lives and I’ll be damned if I tell them to shut up as well. As a man it’s rare that you’re asked to shut the hell up, but it WILL happen here and I will expect you to allow these women their voices and back the hell off when it’s clear that nothing more is to be gained.
To you men, if you’re really all about giving voice to women then here’s a trick, Let them have a voice. Let them get thepreciouslast word, back off and bow out. Women do it all the damned time. A quick look through the contentious threads will show you instance after instance of women saying,Thank you for the discussion, I appreciate the input and now I’m going to go and think about it. In the threads where men are involved this is almost unheard of, only a few posters come to mind.
No, it appears that men are all too willing to ‘give women a voice’ unless and until it comes down to THEM shutting the hell up. …
— BB, Den of the Biting Beaver (2006-02-21): Fair or Unfair, you decide
In a similar vein
- GT 2004-11-11: Whereof one ought not speak, GT 2005-04-24: Credo and ensuing comments, GT 2004-09-06: That Feminist Boy Thing
- Dan Spalding, Shut the Fuck Up, or, How to act better in meetings
- What Men Can Do For Women’s Liberation by Gainesville Women’s Liberation, anthologized in Dear Sisters
Interesting post. In my mind, the discussion of male feminism, and the role of men in feminism is one of those instances where fairly subtle differences of theory actually do matter.
If Feminism is identity politics for women, then the role of men should be limited to supporting women’s groups, and creating “men’s auxiliary” groups and campaigns that support feminist politics (the various “Men can stop Rape” campaigns that are popping up are an excellent example of a group like this). On the other hand, if feminism is the breaking down of gender roles, then the role of men might be more prominent and focus on very different issues, because men are socialised with very different notions of gender than women.
I lean towards the latter, but I do think then the way which is tactically useful for men to attack gender roles is significantly different than that of women. We need to attack notions of masculinity that legitimize oppression, and the best way to do that, in my opinion, is to refuse to live up (or more accurately, down) to them.
With regards to the second part of your post, that’s some good food for thought. I often find myself feeling an urgent need to “get the last word in” in argument, even when it is obviously pointless.
Mike Enright /#
Is there a place for men who want to support the feminist movement, but don’t really care for radical feminism? Perhaps a place where you can go to do what you think is right where the expectation won’t necessarily be to either mold yourself into what radical feminist women want or shut up? Or perhaps there may be a place in the feminist world where men can debate or explore radical ideas without necessarily being expected to agree with them?
I agree with your general claim that men shouldn’t expect praise for treating women with basic respect. But I think it’s a stretch to say that anti-feminism = anti-women. Insisting that a particular aspect of feminist theory is misguided is hardly misogyny.
Rad Geek /#
Well, you could call your local battered women’s shelter or abortion provider and ask how you can help in terms of fundraising, donations, volunteering, etc. Different clinics and shelters have different policies about when and where men are to be involved but they all could use help in some respect or another.
I’m not sure if that’s what you’re looking for, but I do think that it’s a lot more important (for everyone, not just non-radfems) than organizational politicking.
Well, I don’t know. I expect it depends on what you’re looking for by way ofor There’s lots of good books out there on the topic that do a much better job of helping you understand the ideas and explore their implications than most Internet or offline forums would. I can make some recommendations if you like.
To crib vocabulary from the Marxoids, I don’t think that anti-feminism needs to be subjectively woman-hating in order to be objectively anti-woman. If feminism is the promotion of women’s rights and deserved interests, then anti-feminism curtails or undermines women’s rights and deserved interests to the degree it opposes feminism, whether or not some particular anti-feminist realizes that this is what he or she is doing.
Of course, that’s a bigfor non-feminists to swallow, but I’m not a non-feminist and not really addressing non-feminist men, so I’m not too worried about giving the full defense of it here.
I’d also suggest that men do not know as much about women’s lives as women do, and therefore aren’t always in the best position to determine whether or not a particular aspect of feminist theory isAnd that we ought to acknowledge that by approaching the subject with a certain degree of humility about what we know or understand and what we may not know or understand.
I think any human being should be applauded for fighting stereotypes and prejudices they were raised with, yes. However, I don’t think any human being should ever waste time applauding themselves for doing this. I.e., as a woman and a feminist, I congratulate those men who are fighting their own privilege. I do not, however, approve of those men who spend their time congratulating themselves rather than trying to improve further.