"The women of Bikini Kill let guitarist Billy Karren be in their feminist punk band, but only if he's willing to just "do some shit." Being a feminist dude is like that. We may ask you to "do some shit" for the band, but you don't get to be Kathleen Hannah."--@heatherurehere

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Sex Stuff

There are several good posts/sets of comments over at Bitch, PhD. One of the interesting things she's done is set up segregated posts: One for straight women (unfortunately 'straight-by-default'), one for straight men (again, by default), and one for lesbians. She segregated by gender originally, and then added the dyke post after people pointed out that she was being too heterocentric.

Two things are interesting, I think: There are a lot fewer comments in the 'men only' section, sort of possibly proving her point that men don't talk about sex enough, compared to women. Also, it's disappointing to think that she implicitly believes that gay men's opinions about sex don't belong on a feminist blog:
But the gay men are going to have to write their own thread somewhere else. Tough shit. I don't care about gay men. Anyway, you guys have Dan Savage.

Because, y'know, gay men aren't feminists. And what gay men enjoy or don't enjoy sexually has nothing to do with patriarchy, feminism, or structures of power that are set up along gender roles.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Confident Yet Not Dominant

At the risk of this blog becoming only a link-fest:

Zuzu from Feministe and various comment-ors help us out by giving us some examples of men (from reality and from fiction) who are confident but not dominant.

I think this sort of discussion is important--at least on a personal level, it helps me to be able to have some possible role models around confidence-but-not-dominance...

Joss Whedon Speaks at Equality Now

...and he talks about the influence of his mother, and why he 'writes such strong women characters':

Cross-posted on Jeff Lives Here

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Call For Contributers

We'd like to formally invite anybody who would like to be a part of Feminist Allies to get in contact with us. You may want to just submit a post from time to time. You may want to inundate everybody with your frequent blurbs o' wisdom about all things pro-feminism. Perhaps you just like to comment, but your comments get pretty long? Cross-post something related to men and feminism from your own blog?--fine with us.

Just email us, or leave a comment and let us know a little bit about what you'd like to write about. Send a link to a post you have, or a sample of something you might like to say.

This groupblog is still in its initial stages of forming, so we don't have a lot of hard-and-fast rules about what counts as something that can be talked about here, but in general what we want is stuff pertaining to men who are feminists, who embrace feminist theory and feminist action. Maybe we want stuff that there isn't room for in other feminist blogs, because it pertains more to the concerns men-as-feminists have than to the concerns that women-as-feminists have.

Feminism is a pretty big tent, but it doesn't include the so-called 'feminists' who are MRA's, who question basic concepts such as "we live in a patriarchy, and patriarchy is bad." MRA's have every right to voice their opinions on their own blogs...this isn't the forum for them.

So whether you just want to say a few words or write a treatise or two, post a comment or email us at: feministallies-authors(at)memethief(dot)com.

Friendship Among the Feminist Men

Most of my friends are lefty-liberal-types, in varying degrees. As such, there also tend to be a lot of people in my circle of friends who are at least conscious of gender issues, sexism, racism, problems with heteronormativity and the like. I'm lucky in that I have people who are more knowlegable about most of this stuff than I am, and who are willing to work with me to learn. Probably also I serve that role for some of my other friends.

And yet, most of my friends wouldn't call themselves feminists. They shy away from the world for various reasons, but to some degree they also shy away from the concepts involved. And, frankly, this is more likely to be the case for my friends who are men. Some of them just aren't as interested in spotting and avoiding sexism as I am; some of them think they 'do enough'.

Furthermore, those among my women friends who would call themselves feminists aren't as interested in helping me learn about it--they are more interested in finding ways of fighting sexism and the like from within female-only spaces. There is a need for this, and I understand their decisions around helping men be better feminists--in many ways, they've got better things to do.

This presents a problem: If most of one's friends are either not feminists or not interested in bonding around feminism, how does a feminist man interact with other feminists? The world o' blogs offers up some chances for exchange of information, for solidarity and the like, but the reasons that keep, say, me from having lots of feminist (especially male feminist) friends are probably some of the same reasons that there aren't a lot of group blogs for men centered around feminism.

Or perhaps a good deal of this is only related to the particulars of my situation; perhaps other men who are feminists don't find these things to be the case. Perhaps there are ways of interacting with other feminists that I haven't figured out yet. But, if any of what my situation shows me applies to other feminist men, then I would hazard a guess that many feminist men are lonely for the company of other feminists, in general, and of other feminist men in particular.

There are, of course, lots of reasons why there aren't big gaggles of feminist men who are friends. I'll address just a few here, and ask anybody reading to add to the list in the comments.

First of all, there are fewer men who count themselves as feminists than I would want, first of all, so the pool of potential friends and allies is perhaps smaller than would lend itself to forming lots of friendships among feminist men. But there are other factors at work, I think. There is a severe lack of models for male bonding around things that aren't traditionally masculine, and this is a big part of the problem. If one is more interested in feminist theory than, say, hockey, one will probably have fewer male friends doing things they're interested in (i.e. feminist activism and theory). Which is not to say that feminist theory and hockey are mutually exclusive, of course; but it's likely that one's hockey friends and one's feminist theory friends aren't composed of very many of the same people, right? Or is this just a gross overgeneralization, simple sexist thinking?

I think another problem that feminist men have to face is the spectre of the Men's Rights Activists; when you meet a guy who tells you he has a feminist political stance, even other feminist men will likely first doubt that he's on the up-and-up; more likely, he's an MRA and not a feminist at all. So there's a sort of proving-ground effect that goes on; another wall built up around men.

These two facors alone account for a good deal of the dearth of male feminst buddies, I think. Other factors?

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Sex: "What Men Want"

Happily, the feminist blogs have been doing the rounds talking about sex. I say 'happily' because it seems to me that the intersections of sex and sexism are many and varied; also because I just tend to think that people don't talk about sex enough, relegating it to some sort of back burner while 'more important' issues are dealt with...as if a great majority of people don't have sex drives in a similar way that they have drives to eat, sleep, have companionship and the like.

And let's just put it out there: Resisting patriarchy makes sex complicated, especially for those of us who are trying to be conscious of it and to undermine it to whatever degree. Among the complexities are things like considering when sexual desire is and isn't simple objectification, being concerned about sexual role-playing around power while embedded in a sexist society, and dealing with the myriad ways in which patriarchy seemingly dictates what we ought to want sexually.

For those of us men striving to be feminist allies, the individual sexual relationships we have are informed by our feminism, and by resisting patriarchy. But there are all sorts of ways that this can play out. (Note: It's likely that patriarchy affects gay and bi men just as much as straight men--even these designations, to the extent that they are seen as rigid, are probably patriarchy-enforced; still, I've mostly got experience sexually as a straight man, so I'll be addressing some of this more from that perspective than others may like.) One thing that I've been focused on recently is the notion that part of feminism is anti-essentialism, and part of anti-essentialism is making sure that one tries to avoid thinking of women as 'an undifferentiated mass' (thanks to zuzu for this phrase, which I found really drove the point home for me). That is, talk about 'what women want' is sexist talk from the get-go. If we're going to make generalizations, they need to be backed up in some real way, and they need to be acknowledged as generalizations explicitly. But in general(!), it might be better to just avoid making generalizations about what women want, because 'women' are a group of varied individuals, and acting as if they aren't is one of the roots of patriarchy.

One reason I'm glad to see people talking about sex is that one almost immediately has to ditch a lot of the generalizations, because 'exceptions' seem to be the order of the day. But I also see (I think) a tendency for it to be more ok to talk about 'what men want' sexually than it is to talk about 'what women want' sexually--as if men were more like an undifferentiated mass than women; as if their sexuality and combinations of sexual desires are relatively simple. For instance: "Straight men prefer PIV (penis in vagina) sex." Zuzu notes:
But in terms of equivalences — and I do have to say that I dislike the very idea of quid pro quo or tit for tat — I see the proper analogue for cunnilingus to be PIV intercourse. A blow job is an appetizer, or perhaps more properly, the tapas of sex. Sometimes it’s just a precursor to a meal, sometimes it’s the meal itself. But by and large, a guy wants an entree.

Now, it may very well be true that some majority of men percieve fucking as more of an entree, while oral sex is seen more as an appetizer. Perhaps there are studies to support this view. But supporting such a view has the same problem as taking a survey of a bunch of women about whether or not they like confident men or non-confident men--not only could generalizing from such a study treat men as if they have no variation in desires, but there are inherent problems with even framing the questions; patriarchy (among other things) has already set up the false dichotomies from which men tend to choose. "Do you like fucking or sucking?" is, most likely, a loaded question. (The sexual puns just never end.)

Getting Personal
In the spirit of the discussions over at Feministe, which tend (to me) to be along the lines of 'well, *I* like X, and that's not supposed to be the norm', I'd like to point out that, on a personal level, almost all of the lovers I have had have liked fucking more than I have. They were, so to speak, much more interested in PIV sex than I was. It could be that I am an aberration (statistically speaking, of course), or it could just be that men aren't an undifferentiated mass.

That said, I do think it's expected of men that they prefer PIV sex. Along the same lines, it's expected that they like 'receiving' better than 'giving'. Whatever the statistical truths of all of this, I still say the dichotomies are false--as people have pointed out, one person's receiving is another person's giving (some people get exactly the pleasure they want, be it orgasm or not, from being the 'giver' of oral sex, for instance). Further, it's expected of men that they prefer getting right to the fucking, rather than, say, making out, grinding, oral sex and the like. Men are expected to like visual stimulation more than verbal stimulation. But how much (if any) of that is true because it's what's expected? How much of that is 'true' because of the false dichotomies created by patriarchy? From experience, it's difficult as a man in our society to say something along the lines of, "I'm not ready for fucking just yet," or even "I'd prefer not to."

I think that we all ought to recognize that, whatever gender identity we have, none of us are just another bit of the undifferentiated mass; just as we ought not talk about 'what women want' to the degree that we treat them as such, we ought to talk about 'what men want' as if their sexuality (or whatever) is simple and homogenized. As feminist allies of all genders, we ought to resist these false dichotomies, and continue to see each other as wonderfully complex beings who happen to exist within a bunch of (percieved) rigid frameworks.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Like Hip Hop?

But hate all that woman-hater crap? This sort of problem occurs to lots of people who enjoy a certain activity but hate the shit that goes along with it. John touched on something like this in his post about Hockey: the fast pace of the game is fun, but the violence and its glorification is disturbing. Likewise Hip Hop: I love the way it sounds, but there is so much of it that glorifies everything from sexual harrassment up to rape and murder that I can't listen to it. I think this is the sort of thing that makes some men see feminism as a burden: they think that by throwing their lot in with feminists they're forced to give up things they enjoy.

Often you can find a healthy middle ground. After all, it's not necessarily the activity itself that you come to find distasteful, but certain elements of it that can be cut out. Say I like comic books graphic novels, but it bugs me that women are portrayed so awfully. This doesn't mean I have to give up on graphic novels altogether, just on the ones that offend me. Of course, these tend to be the most common ones, so I actually need to do some hunting to find stuff that won't make me feel dirty.

Some activities are themselves offensive. Let's say I used to enjoy going to strip clubs (I never did, for the record), but as I became more aware I realized how gross that was. I'm not likely to think "I wish I could go and stare at some naked women, but without all that oppression stuff" because it's the staring itself that is oppressive. On the other hand, I am of the opinion that Hip Hop can be great when you take the misogyny and racism out of it. For instance, there is a lot of great rap from France that is powerful, emotionally and politically charged, and doesn't resort to "je donne une claque a ma pute" lyrics.

So, in the spirit of helping people find stuff they can enjoy without compromising their morality, here are a couple of links to stuff that breaks form:

Julien (who I mentioned in a previous post) has a podcast called In Over Your Head. He plays mainly hip hop, that he tries to make sure is racism- and sexism-free. He's pretty well-connected, too, and gets some pretty big names on his shows sometimes. If you are like me and you like Hip Hop but hate the hatred, I recommend you check it out. He tells me that occasionally some offensive lyrics slip through the cracks, so if you hear something on his show you don't like leave him a message about it and he'll probably fix it or at least address your concerns in future shows. Watch out though: the content (especially Julien himself) is not edited for explicit language, so it's definitely Not Safe For Work.

Fallen Angels Used Books: it's a little silly, but I read a ton of webcomics. I found this one recently, and immediately was hooked. Once I managed to figure out why it drew me in so quickly, even before I got pulled into the writing, I realized that the artist draws real people. Characters wear comfortable clothing and are not all skinny. Children are not fetishized. On top of that, there is some examination of oppression and equality. I don't know how in-depth this will go as the plot progresses, but it's nice to see that (for instance) the character who is androphobic is not magically cured by "a night with the right guy" or something.

If you have similar resources for material that breaks expectations of sexism or other oppression, please add a link in the comments; I'd be eager to find out about it.


Please bear with me -- I am trying to transfer all the comments over to Haloscan now.


edit: Currently there are no comments here -- I am now adding them back in.

update: I just finished copying all the comments to Haloscan. The dates are all screwed up, but they're there. Yay!

Alpha Male Feminism: Be a Man, Part One

Be a Man
I think it's fairly telling that a lot of what gets discussed in the ol' blogosphere around feminism as it relates to men is rehash after rehash of the "Nice Guy" discussion. I don't think I want to do yet another rehash of it...suffice to say that it's pretty obvious there are both lots of guys who really are nice and caring, and lots of guys who go around in whatever way saying they are nice guys, but behaving like (anti-feminist) jerks. And yet, I don't feel like I see enough discussion about the different sorts of identities that various men who identify as feminists can take on. We see a lot of: "Don't be a 'Nice Guy' (capitalized to show that such guys aren't nice at all), but there seems to be something of a lack of alternatives offered up, and the one most often given is problematic: "Be a man."

Zuzu from feministe riffs a bit on the nice guy thing, giving her take it, pointing out that if she's looking for a man at all, she's looking for a Decent/Good Man, not a Nice Guy:
They’re also a far different animal than the Good Guy, the Decent Guy, the Salt of the Earth, or, my personal favorite, the Good Man. Because I am old enough that I’m not really looking for a “guy” anymore. From Say Anything:

D.C.: Lloyd, why do you have to be like this?
Lloyd Dobler: ‘Cause I’m a guy. I have pride.
Corey Flood: You’re not a guy.
Lloyd Dobler: I am.
Corey Flood: No. The world is full of guys. Be a man. Don’t be a guy.

I like zuzu's take on all of this, especially when she notes what she might like in a man:
That doesn’t mean he can’t have a wicked sense of humor or that he has to be dull. But it does mean he has to respect me and value me as an individual.

So one message here is pretty clear, and the Say Anything quote is a nice touch: Real Men respect women. (Of course that's not all men should do--as Dave has pointed out to me, that's a moral floor, not a moral ceiling.) But even within something as simple as a movie quote, there's a lot tied up in "Be a man," and especially so for feminist men. So when Corey says "Be a man," we get what Corey is saying: Step up. But, while "be a man" certainly can mean "respect women", traditionally it has meant things like "don't be a wimp," "don't be like a girl," "be strong (and silent)," "don't express yourself except through violence," "be cocky" and that sort of thing. I'm not very sure about other feminist men out there, but when I hear 'be a man,' I tend to cringe, rather than be inspired.

And this isn't just about my personal dealing with being more of a beta-male than an alpha male (at least, I think it isn't). Given the flavors of feminism that I tend to embrace, the very notion of the 'alpha male'--here used in a loose way, like most people use it, I think--can be seen as anti-feminist inasmuch as one's feminism embraces non-dominance/hierarchic thinking and one's alpha male-ness embraces domanance/hierarchy.

Dominating Other Men
Another way of putting it is this: That entitlement that men experience? It doesn't come from only oppressing women--it also comes from dominating other men. Domination-hierarchies are multi-faceted; if you have one domination hierarchy(in this case men above women), you invite various others (alpha-male/beta-male, white male/male of color, white woman/woman of color). Of course, a lot of this just hangs on how one defines 'alpha-male'--there's likely a distinction to be made between Alpha Male and alpha male, along the lines of the distinction between Nice Guy and nice guy.

Revenge of the Twerps
But the whole bully attitude that one might associate with Alpha Males (capitalized) is more pervasive, even among feminists, than you might at first suspect--and I think to the degree that it is pervasive, people are forgetting the aspect of patriarchy which dictates that men dominate other men. For instance, jedmuns of Pandagon, points out that he thinks Hugo is a 'twerp':
You can be a feminist and an alpha male at the same time. Not all feminist men are as twerpy as hugo.--jedmuns

When jedmuns points out that one can be a feminist and an alpha male at the same time, and then in the next breath basically pulls the patriarchy-bully move of name-calling another guy--asserting his own dominance over Hugo in whatever small way that calling somebody a twerp is meant to do--he is buying into what I see as an anti-feminist, dominance/hierarchy model of male interaction. Bullying other males isn't in line with the sort of feminsm that I subscribe to. Keep in mind that I have no problem with jedmunds criticising Hugo--but criticism through name-calling (especially a term like 'twerpy' which is a typical alpha-male bullying-of-other-men term, one which likely wouldn't be used by a guy to describe a woman) is something else entirely.

And Amanda from pandagon jumps on jedmuns' bandwagon--although she makes a slightly different point. She says:
Bingo, jedmunds. It’s as simple as that. This shit frustrates me to no end, as I tend to go with men that have aggressive personalities (they’d have to, to keep up) and yet their politics are spotless. Because I aggressively vet for that.

Not that I’d need to. You don’t actually meet hot, confident, fun men where I live that are conservative. Consevatives tend to be dweebs.

Even though Amanda says "Bingo, jedmuns," I think she's actually making a different point. When Amanda calls for men with aggressive personalities (and even when she calls some men dweebs), she's not as easily buying into the dominance/hierarchy as jedmuns does--because jedmuns is a man, and as such is in a place to either exercise dominance over other men (in this case by name-calling bullying), or to not. Amanda has lots of choices too, but one of them is not to dominate other men as a man.

That said, even Amanda's point is, I think, more controversial than she might admit. Being a man with an agressive personality while not being a bully-who-embraces-dominance-models of male interaction is a tricky business, to the degree that it is possible at all. Everything hinges on what 'agressive personality' means, of course. Let's imagine an man with an agressive personality to be one that sort of automatically draws attention when he enters a room--or 'takes up space' as others have put it. Well, in a dominance/hierarchy/patriarchy, for a man to take up space is to take away space from other men, at least to some degree. So just how aggressive a personality can men have without embracing anti-feminism? When Amanda says "their politics are spotless," does that mean that their aggressive personalities don't automatically (being in a hierarchy/dominance patriarhcy) cause them to dominate other men? Do aggressive personalities in men tend toward the bullying that jedmuns does in calling Hugo a twerp? And what does it mean when feminists like Amanda back up men like jedmuns in their dominance-tactics?

Of course, it's important to note that confidence does not equal dominance; to the degree that men and women think that 'be a man' means 'be confident', it makes a lot of sense. Amanda says:
I’m still flummoxed about why confidence is such a shady thing to want. I require it in a man. Period. I’m smart and opinionated and any man who wants me better not be the sort who needs to be constantly propped up by being superior to a woman. That’s a fact. I consider it charity at this point to write off anyone who doesn’t have the confidence requirement.

But to the degree that 'being confident' entails doing things like name-calling other men to assert one's alpha-male-ness, 'be a man' takes on the same basic negative connotations of 'don't be a wimp' or, even, 'don't be like women'.

Ok, this one is long enough; perhaps more on the different ways men might be confident without bullying other men later.

Monday, June 12, 2006

More on Muscles and Masculinity

Sorry for the alliteration.

At the risk of being overly self-referential, even for a blog, I'd like to riff on something that Dave commented on from another post:
From this description it seems the man exhibited behaviours that smack of masculinity, and perhaps privilege as well. The muscles, the shaved head. Perhaps a bit of an overbearing attitude.

I get Dave's point here, I think, and a tangential point which is that context is everything: Muscular, eager guy at the gym = normal; Muscular, eager guy at a youth shelter = creepy.

And yet this is an example of something that I think I'm increasingly confused about. It could be that I was sleeping during Feminism 101, and that this is familiar territory for everybody but me. If that's the case, I'm relatively certain that y'all will let me know pretty quickly. These aren't thoughts that are solid, but the beginnings of musings into concepts that seem larger than they did at first.

The flavors of feminism that I tend to support are generally 'anti-essentialist'. That is, if gender essentialism is the view that some/most/all facets of a gender are somehow immutable, the feminisms I embrace generally point to the mutability of various facets of gender. (I also tend to be 'anti-essentialist' in realms not directly related to gender.) So, if somebody points to a 'masculine' trait, I almost immediately make a little mental note that it most likely isn't the case that said triat is somehow essentially only applicable to men. For instance, regarding the above comment, men aren't the only gender that can be muscular.
And yet, even if 'masculine' facets are mutable (to whatever degree), it's still the case within our culture that if something is labelled/thought of/seems inherently masculine, there are all sorts of value-judgments associated with it. There are what we might call 'traditional' value-judgments (i.e. "men ought to be strong"), some (most?) of which are the very sorts of ways of looking at gender that feminists want to avoid. For instance, "Men ought to be strong" in a patriarchal culture implies that women aren't strong, or shouldn't be strong; as feminists, we might avoid saing 'men ought to be strong', unless, of course, we follow it up with something akin to 'like other genders are strong' or some such. There are, then, what we might call non-traditional or feminist value-judgments of concepts like 'masculine', too, such that one non-traditional judgment of masculine would be that it's something to avoid, because it buys into partriarchy.

So, anything that is labelled as traditionally masculine (i.e. muscles) is at one in the same time generally thought of as desirable by the larger popoulation and undesirable by many feminists (often including myself!). And this is the case even if one thinks of these things in anti-essentialist terms. (And, of course, this isn't accounting for the various feminisms, some of which would disagree with this analysis on at least a couple of levels.)

So what happens to me, given the above situation, is that traditionally masculine traits become desirable only if one isn't a man. That is, women who go to the gym primarily to build muscle mass have my sort of automatic 'ok', while men who go to the gym primarily to build muscle mass aren't given the benefit of the doubt--they are, as Dave put it in another comment, out to make themselves 'more manly,' which is also inherently suspect if you're a man:
And why does he purposefully make himself muscly? To be more manly. And anyone who has "be more manly" as a goal is suspect.

To be clear: I don't think any of these judgments are wrong, necessarily. Women who are building muscle mass at the gym have a sort of automatic 'in', in my opinion, because they are going against all sorts of patriarchal crap: That women should stick to cardio, that women don't need muscle mass, that muscle mass=manly, that women should 'tone' and men should 'bulk', and many more. Men who are at the gym bulking up are much more likely to be there for what I might consider 'the wrong reasons,' akin to Dave's 'be more manly' example. Gyms tend to be pretty sexist places, and it's the muscle-men (and aspiring muscle-men) who create sexism there.

And yet, because I'm also an anti-essentialist, I think that we need to acknowledge that, just as it's wrong to think that women ought not build muscle mass, it's also wrong to think that all men who want to bulk up want to do so to 'be more manly' or even 'to be more masculine'--any more than some of the women who are there to bulk up aren't there to be more masculine. Because 'being muscular' ought not equate to 'being masculine'--and yet here we sit in a culture that still throws that in our faces pretty much constantly.

The long and the short of it is that when I go to the gym, I do want to build muscle mass. I want to get big. I think it feels good, and it helps to keep my body healthy in all sorts of other ways. I don't think I want to do this to be more manly--and yet, if I achieve my goal, to the extent that our society still equates muscles with manliness, I will appear, at first glance, more 'manly' in the negative sense of the word; and, strangely, I will appear more manly in the 'positive' sense of the word to those people who do equate muscles with manliness. Not such a huge burden to bear, I know, compared to the burdens of others; and yet, it is something that I have to deal with, to know that my version of being more healthy will affect how others might see me in the world in this negative way.

(Disclaimer: Likely, I will never be very muscle-y. While I like the process, I am not dedicated enough, have too many other interests, etc., to ever have to worry much about it.) This, my friends, is the kind of stuff I think about when I go into the gym.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Convincing the masses

I had an interesting conversation the other night with Julien of In Over Your Head. The conversation touched on a lot of topics, so I may wind up making this a multi-parter to avoid writing another monolithic post. We were talking about racism at first, then sexism and other forms of oppression as well. Mainly the conversation was about entitlement and privilege. He didn't realize at first that was what we were discussing, but eventually I think I managed to get some points across. And boy is that hard, even with people who genuinely want to learn to improve themselves. I consider conversations like this one of my most important duties, but (as feminists have known forever) it sure is difficult to break through that privilege wall!

What sparked the conversation was an experience Julien had had at a conference he was attending. He went to a panel on racism, and eventually realized he was the only white person attending. This didn't cause any problems; someone asked the room if anyone objected to Julien's presence and nobody said they did. But when this happened he started thinking: what if someone had said yes? From the IM logs (edited for brevity, continuity and coherency; please excuse the candidness of the language used):

Julien: but like they actually asked everyone if it was ok if I was in the room. I was the only white person there
Dave: okay...
Julien: I thought "do you not want me to hear what you have to say?"
Dave: No, it's a valid concern
Julien: well sure. but otherwise i feel kind of like it's a circle jerk
Dave: If there are a bunch of people talking about how they've been oppressed their entire lives by white people, it's not necessarily very comfortable with a white person around
Julien: well ok. i see that point. however, if they can't be comfortable talking with white people who want to listen about how they feel oppressed, then nothing's going to change

So I spent much of the next three hours trying to explain the point of X-only spaces, where X is any given oppressed group. I explained that as noble as it was, his own desire to better himself and to reduce the negative impact he has on oppressed groups is less important than the need for those oppressed groups to have spaces where they can be away from members of their oppressing groups.

So why was this point so difficult to get across? Julien is an intelligent person, and has a real desire to see inequality and oppression end. He has taken modest steps to improve his own outlook and behaviour, and could be generally seen as anti-racism and pro-feminism. Still, there was a block somewhere that kept him from putting the needs of oppressed groups first.

Eventually I came to see this block as one of the more subtle incarnations of privilege. Julien seemed to be putting his own desire to be (and to be seen as) a good, moral, egalitarian person above the desires of the people who are the subjects of the oppression in the first place. This is a cousin to the inability to see, when one does not act in an oppressing way, how one still benefits from ones privilege.

So it is important, when discussing feminism with a man whose intentions are more or less in the right place, to help him see that despite all the effort he might put into being a good person the fact that he is male and benefits from male privilege means that he is still one of the oppressors. I've seen this concept met with fierce opposition.

Dave: So what we're talking about is not the effect that your racism or the lack of it has on people, but your status as a member of an oppressing class.
Julien: sure
Dave: Actually, about six or seven oppressing classes
Dave: So it is imperative that you recognize that you are an oppressor to just about everyone who is oppressed.
Julien: but david, i am not an oppressor. i am part of an oppressing class

Again, difficulty. I try to explain that we are more than our own actions, that we have to accept and come to terms with our membership in a group, that most kinds of privilege -- and the oppressor status that goes with it -- are impossible or extremely difficult to completely purge.

I'm convinced this is not a completely hopeless cause. After all, there are male feminists/allies out here who come from an embrace-the-patriarchy background. So what difficulties have you encountered with this sort of discussion? What have you been able to do to counter them? How the hell do you manage to break through that wall of privilege?

Friday, June 09, 2006

No Cookie

[Cross-posted on my blog]

I was about to comment on a recent post by Jeff, but I realized I had a whole post in the works on this subject. Jeff was talking, in part, about some criticism Q Grrl had of a post by Hugo Schwyzer.

Q Grrl says: [...] Don't kid yourself that a man challenging other men is brave or exceptionally impressive. It's not even virtuous. More precisely, it's a base-level human reaction to injustice -- and no man should be given kudos for simply rising to the least common denominator.

Jeff says: [...] the common denominator is sexism, so to the degree that he's not being sexist, he's rising above the common denominator.

I've come across this issue before, the so-called "no cookie" issue. I think Jeff is basically on the right track, but I also think that he and Q Grrl are using "common denominator" to mean two different things.

If I understand Q Grrl correctly, she is saying that the base level of decency that anyone ought to display is to treat everyone justly and speak out against injustice, and so to do so means you're only doing the bare minimum that you ought.

Jeff seems to be saying that since the default attitude of men is a sexist one, then to be better than that average is commendable. That is false. To be at that average is deplorable. An acceptable level of behaviour is well above the average male attitude. And to acheive a level of "acceptable" in your actions is not commendable.

The difference here is between what behaviours the average man exhibits and what behaviours he ought to exhibit.

When confronted with the fact that he is part of a culture that encourages men to treat women subserviently, to assume that anything to do with housework and childcare is by default women's work, it is common for a man to proudly say "Well, I do half of the housework in my house." Or, "I do half the cooking" or whatever. The correct response to this is "so what?" After all, this is the state of affairs that ought to be the norm: two partners equally sharing a space ought to equally share the responsibilities that come with that space. In all cases, distribution of work, responsibility, resources and so forth ought to have nothing to do with sex or gender*. So when a man announces that he does his equal share, he is essentially saying, "look, I'm doing the bare minimum that I ought," and therefore deserves no acclaim or congratulations. No cookie.

There are more extreme cases too, where a man will say "I've never beaten any of my girlfriends" or "I've never raped anyone" or even, in one case I heard about, "a woman came over to my house and passed out before we got a chance to have sex, and I didn't have sex with her while she was sleeping" -- these are just stupid, and part of another discussion entirely, because I want to talk about the arguments that don't involve the "effort" of not performing overtly cruel and violent acts.

I haven't decided yet where I draw the line on the "no cookie" issue. On the one hand it is clearly true that the "feats" boasted about are not special. The fact is that for a man to treat women as equals -- at home, at work and in the general case -- is not some wonderful thing that some people might strive for. It ought to be the norm, and there's no sense in congratulating someone for acheiving what ought to be the norm. In this sense saying "I don't condescend to women when I speak to them" is similar to saying "I don't punch random people in the face" or "I don't run naked through the street thinking I am Napoleon." On the other hand, there is effort involved. The effort is not in the act itself, but in examining and overcoming the indoctrination and socialization that leads to such behaviour in the first place.

Let's say that Andy grew up in a household where he would pitch his dirty clothes in the general direction of the laundry hamper, and they would magically disappear from the floor into the hamper while he was off at school, then reappear, clean, in his drawers and closet every few days. Andy doesn't necessarily consciously think it his right to have his clothes cleaned and put away without any effort on his part, but he has been taught to not question the way things are, and that's "just the way things are." This is a clear example of male privilege at work.

Then let's say he eventually winds up sharing a residence with a female partner, Betty, and he acts the same way. Betty calls Andy on what he's (not) doing. She complains that he's stinking up the room with his laundry and that she's doing all the work of getting the laundry clean, and he changes his ways. He always puts his clothes in the hamper and starts doing the laundry every other time it needs doing because Betty wants him to, and he is considerate enough to do what she wants. Say the same thing happens with cooking, shopping, childcare, bill management and all the other shared responsibilities Andy and Betty have. Then Andy boasts that he does half the work at home, and expects feminists to fall over each other trying to be the first to thank and congratulate him.

Andy didn't actually challenge himself. While (for the sake of argument) he is sharing responsibilities and work equally he has not done anything exceptional, or even above the mean of what he ought. He could take on 75% of the responsibilites and work and still not earn a cookie, because the issue is not how much work gets done by each partner.

Andy's twin brother Charlie had exactly the same upbringing as Andy. But as he grows up he becomes more used to examining his own motivations and actions. Perhaps it takes a feminist friend to point it out to him, or perhaps he reads something online, or perhaps he happens to take a course on feminism in college, or perhaps he just realized one day how he had been heavily socialized. Anyway, he looks for ways in which his privilege manifests itself and ways to counteract it. When he starts cohabiting with his girlfriend Dana he realizes how much his upbringing has caused him to overlook the work other people do on his behalf, and to not even think of certain responsibilities as such. He tries to make sure to notice when his privilege shows itself and to work against it. Part of this effort is splitting as equals the responsibilities shared with Dana.

The net result, objectively, may seem the same as Andy's situation. Each does half the housework, each does half the parenting, each makes sure not to be dismissive of what his partner has to say and so on. But Charlie is the only one putting real, useful effort into the deal. Andy aims for equality to make Betty happy, without actually examining why his inclination is toward inequality. Charlie's decision to act against his upbringing might as well be independant of his cohabitation with Dana, in that he examines his privilege because it's the right thing to do, not just to make her happy.

That a man treats women as people and doesn't act as though what he has to say deserves to be heard and doesn't trivialize women's social difficulties and so on is not something worthy of praise. However, I think that the effort required to examine one's privilege, look for new ways it manifests itself and counteract them, is laudable. Privilege is a bit like an addiction sometimes: you have to be vigilant, conscious of every instance where it applies and prepared to go the other way. Unlike most addictions, with privilege the opportunity to lapse is always present, in everything you do, and is not necessarily obvious unless you train yourself to see it. It is difficult to come to grips with the idea that you will never be able to be lax about what you say and do, that you will never be "cured". It is easy to say "fuck it" and give in to privilege, and suffer few ill results in consequence.

There is another level of complexity when we get into the issue of a man speaking out against the sexism of other men. It ought to be the default behaviour to speak out against oppression wherever one sees it, and therefore doing so is nothing noteworthy. But in the case of a man speaking out against other men, be they friends, co-workers, family members or whatever, there is an additional factor: to do so is often to risk ostracization, hatred and, in extreme cases, violence. I suggest that it is that risk that makes speaking out against other men commendable. It goes beyond simply doing what is right to doing what is right in the face of personal harm.

Obviously, women and other oppressed groups have faced adversity much more extreme than what I'm talking about here, and the challenges men face in standing up for what is right can't even hold a candle to what oppressed groups have gone through. The challenges are still there, though, and I think it is commendable to face them when it is often so much easier to ignore one's nagging conscience and not speak out.

I've been generalizing a fair amount in this post. I've used a stereotypical example for Andy's and Charlie's childhoods. I've been ascribing traits to men in general based on my own experience. But I think the argument is valid. No, most men probably have never even encountered the concepts of privilege or entitlement. A great number (most?) don't even put in as much effort as Andy. And most of the time, when a man claims that he is not part of the oppression of women, he is dead wrong. If he claims to do half the housework, he is most likely discounting all the "invisible" work such as deciding who does what and finishing up unfinished jobs and saying "please do X now." And even if this is not the case, he probably still acts with the motivation of "pleasing the wife" or "share and share alike" rather than of mending a flaw within himself.

So when a man gets up and boasts that he does half the housework, yeah, he gets no cookie. And if he boasts that he's never raped anyone he deserves contempt for thinking that's anything close to worth boasting about. And if you ever meet the fucktard who thought he was special for not raping someone in her sleep, please feel free to inflict on him pain approaching that experienced during organ failure. But acting against one's indoctrination is difficult -- not in the acts themselves but in the attention and analysis that leads to them. It's not difficult to shut up and let a woman finish what she's saying; it can be difficult to notice that you're interrupting and realize that it's because you've been told your entire life that whatever you have to say is more important.

I'm currently somewhere in between Andy and Charlie. My privilege has to occasionally be pointed out to me because I haven't yet gotten to the point where I can reliably see its incarnations myself, but I'm working hard at it. I decided to write this post because the "no cookie" response sounded to me like no matter how much progress I made toward being the sort of person I'm trying to be, I would never be worthy of praise**. That because I started buried up to my neck in privilege digging myself up to where any decent person ought to be does not count as effort.

However, what I've realized in writing this is that the "no cookie" response seems to be to men like Andy, who want to pretend that their actions demonstrate how wonderful they are. Men like Charlie don't bother mentioning that they split responsibilities equitably with their partners because that is not the point. Unless what you are doing somehow goes above and beyond what you ought, as a moral person, to be doing anyway you deserve no congratulations, no kudos and no cookie.

* Except, obviously, where proscribed by biology or whatever. Like, if a pregnancy is planned, someone with a uterus needs to do the getting-pregnant part.
** I don't generally try to garner praise, but I'd like to be worthy of it :)

Thursday, June 08, 2006

A New Voice

Hi, I'm Dave. I was well pleased when Jeff asked me if I'd like to join in on this blog, and so here I am. Like the others here I'm working to reconcile my life-long socialization with my current value set. Like the others here I'm not entirely sure about the value, validity or welcomeness of a male-run feminist site, but like the others here I'll do my damnedest to make it a useful and worthwhile addition (or peripheral) to the feminist community.

Um. Random fact sheet:
  • I don't call myself a feminist.
  • I don't blog enough (but hopefully that's about to change).
  • I dislike religion as a concept.
  • I've only been following feminist blogs and ideas for about two years. Before that I was a patriarchy-embracing asshole.
  • I am canadian.
  • I'm not only male but white and able-bodied and middle-class and mostly heterosexual and not fat, and probably a few more types of privileged that I haven't learned to recognize yet.
So I hope you enjoy my contributions to this blog. I hope I manage to interest you, to piss you off and make you question everything you hold to be true. Hey, you don't have to agree with me (and I love being convinced that I was wrong) but if I can make you think critically about something you've always taken for granted I think I've done a pretty good job.

Speak to you soon,

Men With Muscles = Child Molesters

Janice Erlbaum has some exerpts from the books she's currently working on up on her site. She gives us a hint of what it was like to go back to volunteer at the shelter that helped her when she was younger:
Now here I was again, age thirty-four, in my pinstriped work pants and my good-enough shoes, sitting around the conference table in the volunteer department with my paperwork in front of me, sneaking looks at the other prospective candidates: A young white girl with her hair in braids, looking to earn college credit, a black woman in her forties, also going for college credit, and a bald, muscular guy with a big tense grin. When the volunteer coordinator asked him why he was interested in volunteering, he grinned so hard he almost broke a sweat.

"I love kids!" he exclaimed. "I've been a foster parent, and I'm really…I love kids. Wanna help 'em out." Grin, grin.

Creep, I decided, for no good reason. Child molester. It was something about the muscles; I could picture him screaming at his foster kids, shirtless, while he made them do push-ups. He grinned at me, and I smiled back, weakly.

Foster parent? Man? Muscles? Must be evil.

On the other (non-sarcastic) hand, if anybody has good radar for creeps, it's probably somebody who found herself in a shelter when she was 12. Still, it's tough to read and not wince and wonder: Who sees me that way when I smile and talk about how much I love kids? Ech. Not that, erm, I have muscles, really. But this makes one want to not go to the gym, for sure.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Hierarchies and Harpies

Hugo had an interesting post the other day regarding one of his male students asking about one particular pitfall of being a pro-feminist man, as he saw it: Women don't like feminist men.

This student, renamed 'Pete' to protect his identity, says, with Hugo paraphrasing:
The thing is,Pete continued, I don't think girls want feminist guys! You know that whole thing where girls aren't into nice guys but would rather have bad boys? It's like they say they want one thing, but in reality they want another. If I want to meet girls and have fun, I have a lot more success when I don't try and be pro-feminist. I mean, why should I be more feminist than the women around me?...Why shouldn't I wait to be a pro-feminist man until I'm older, when women will appreciate it? Why shouldn't I be a player now, and have my fun?

The obvious/simple answer to Pete's question, of course, is: One ought to be a feminist because it's the right thing to do, not because anybody (including women who might be interested in Pete) appreciates it. Hugo, I think, does say something similar to Pete, but he also acknowledges the 'problem' that Pete thinks he sees. He points out one of the easily-made mistakes of the budding feminist man:
In the early stages of embracing pro-feminism, too many young men (including my younger self) tend to walk on eggshells around women. These yung men are idealistic, and intensely eager to reject traditional male privilege and modes of behavior. But the end result, all too often, is a most unattractive kind of indecisiveness!

I think this sort of problem is worth addressing. It's a tough, sometimes slow lesson to learn that feminism can often be about something positive--embracing equality, respect and the like for all genders, recognizing oppression and priveledge and rooting them out where one can; if these positive aspects of feminism aren't stressed, then 'feminism' becomes something that is only a rejection of what have been seen as traditional masculine ways of being.

Hugo goes on to advise Pete that there's more to life as a man than choosing between being a wimp or a jerk!

On the face of it, this could be taken as trite, as an aside, even as tongue-in-cheeck. But I think it's central to one of the difficulties of being a feminist man; navigating through the rejection of patriarchy and priveledge without throwing the baby out with the bathwater isn't an easy task.

Take a simple example, inspired by a comment that comment that belledame222 made about men 'taking up space' on another post: Men tend to assume their own right to 'take up space'. And how to they exercise this priveledge? Well, they interrupt, they speak before spoken to, they talk before raising their hand in class, they comment on feminist blogs in a way that derails threads, they step onto the train and expect people to move out of the way...the list goes on and on (and these are the most minor of offenses). All right. So far so good. So, as a budding feminist man, what ought somebody like Pete do once he recognizes that men tend to assume their own right to take up space in these ways? The first obvious thing for him to do is to begin to not do the things which take up space in those ways. He begins to not interrupt so often; he raises his hand in class before speaking; when he steps onto the train, he consciously tries to take up less space, to be cognizant of the space others need. When commenting on feminist blogs, he keeps it to a minimum, and keeps a wary eye on whether or not he's speaking to the topic. He keeps himself in check.

But what is he keeping in check? How does he recognize these facets of himself that he needs to keep in check? Well, they're easy to spot: They're the traditionally masculine facets. It's almost definitional. But of course, few feminisms would allow that 'taking up space' is somehow inherently masculine. That is, men in sexist culture tend to do it more than women do, but that's a product of the sexism, not the product of 'being a man'. Women can take up space (and feminists are aiming at a world where women are expected to take up space).

So keeping oneself in check about taking up space by avoiding traditionally masculine behavoir can be anti-feminist, if we're not careful. If, as a budding male feminist, you decide to take up no space, then you're supporting the idea that taking up space is wrong, not supporting the idea that men assuming they can take up space is wrong. It can be a fine line.

Just as interesting as Hugo's post (as is often the case) were the comments, most of which revolved around Pete's (and Hugo's!) priorities. We might first note that nowhere does Hugo indicate that Pete's only after sex, though many of those commenting cast Pete this way. But what I find most interesting is the sort of all-or-nothing stance that some commentors (can we just make 'commentors' a word, please? 'commenters' looks just wrong, and I'm tired of writing 'people who comment') take regarding being a feminist. This happens so frequently as a sort of subcategory of the 'feminist definers' that it almost seems like it needs its own name. 'Feminist definers' are those people who go around saying "X is/isn't a real feminist because X doesn't believe in Y, and Y is obviously central to feminism"...when Y may be exactly what is at issue. For example: Amanda Marcotte isn't a real feminist because Amanda Marcotte doesn't believe in lesbian separatism, and lesbian separatism is obviously central to feminism." Unless you're already a lesbian separatist, it isn't going to fly. I'd put the 'you're either with us or against us' crew in the same category. Q Grrl says:
You know, when women approach an all male group and challenge them on their misogyny, we're called man-haters, ball busters, dykes, and harpies. Don't kid yourself that a man challenging other men is brave or exceptionally impressive. It's not even virtuous. More precisely, it's a base-level human reaction to injustice -- and no man should be given kudos for simply rising to the least common denominator.

First of all, this doesn't seem quite right: To draw an analogy from the fight against racism in the US, I think that all the people who went on civil rights marches, though they were responding to what I would call a base-level human reaction to injustice, were still very brave and impressive. A man in a group of men challenging patriarchy isn't comparable in scope to the civil rights movement, but he is 'just doing what's right' and I think, to the extent that he does face challenges and a loss of priveledge, he ought to be commended. Does that mean I think that is all he ought to do, or that he deserves accolades from those who have had to do much more difficult work (i.e. women, any oppressed groups)? Nope. But that doesn't mean that he is is only up to the common denominator. Unfortunately, the common denominator is sexism, so to the degree that he's not being sexist, he's rising above the common denominator.

But back to our budding feminist man. So here's this 20 year old guy who is just discovering feminism, thinking that it might make some sense, but worried about how it will negatively affect his life romantically. He hasn't even begun to address the issue of how to express his feminism to other men--but he has started recognizing how expressing his feminism around women has affected his life. Hugo tells him that feminism is a process, and that he ought not be doing it because of how others will view him. He does not launch into a diatrabe at the guy, skewering him for his lack of feminist intuitions. Still, Q Grrl thinks Hugo is a bad feminist:
Be that as it may Hugo, your advice was to pat him on his back and tell him it's okay! You're neihter young nor female -- he came to you for advice and you seem to have forgotten that the premise of feminism is politics, not sexual liscence.

Of course, what Hugo actually said was:
An aspiring pro-feminist man still gets to express his desires and his wants; he doesn't get to keep a sense of entitlement that tells him that women exist only to meet those desires and wants.

Q Grrl makes a few points as to why Hugo is a bad feminist in succession here: First, it's important that Hugo isn't female. Second, Hugo is a bad feminist because he has 'forgotten that the premise of feminism is politics, not sexual liscence'.

Well, "the premise" of feminism varies so widely depending on what feminism you embrace, that statements about what feminism is can be troublesome, at best. And this is one of the things that the Feminism Definers tend to look away from. In this instance, even if Hugo were talking only about sexual liscence when he talkes about desires and wants (which it seems to me he isn't), he's not saying that addressing the interplay between feminism and those desires and wants is the Key to Feminism. He's addressing it as one aspect of being a feminist.

Which brings me to my final (whew!) point: We may talk and argue about what is important in being feminists, but there will always be multiple facets to being a feminist, just as there are multiple facets to being human. Should Pete put more weight on finding love (or sex) than he does on social justice? Nope. But should he put no weight at all on finding love (or sex)? What would living such a life be like? Should nobody of any gender look for love (or sex!) until we have achieved social justice? Q Grrl says:
Pete knows that his convictions vis-a-vis feminism are right -- the crux for him is that those convictions hinder his perceived, and age-specific, needs for dating and sexual encounters.

This is a crux for him, one of the 'cruxes' that he brought up with Hugo...there will be more later on (just wait to see how the football team treats you as you espouse your feminism, Pete), and there are probably some others now (how will my family see me, how do I see myself?). And of course there are the larger 'cruxes'--that women are oppressed, villified, raped, and harmed in all sorts of various ways in our sexist society, for instance. But the fact that these other problems do (or will) exist doesn't mean that Pete doesn't need to deal with this other problem, too. Not instead of. Not before. But as well as.

It makes a lot of sense to say that Pete needs to perhaps examine his priorities (which I think is part of what Hugo does say to him). Doesn't make as much sense to me to say that Pete, who has to begin somewhere should not also live his life (including thinking about love and sex) while he learns to be a better person, and a better feminist.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

That is So Gay

So what if this blog turns out to be a linkathon? So what! I'm tired and strung out on caffiene and yet I Can't. Stop. Blogging.

Hugo had an interesting post a bit ago about the fact that one of the first things that feminist men (or pro-feminist men, if you want to go with Hugo's view on the label thing) have to deal with is being called "faggot" (as a slur) and the like. His suggestion to potential and actual feminist men who are worried about such things: Get over it.

As an adult, heterosexual, pro-feminist man, I don't spend time trying to disprove the charge of homosexuality. After all, to do so would suggest that I thought there was something fundamentally wrong with being homosexual. Young men who aspire to do pro-feminist work had better get over any internalized homophobia lickety-split! Running around saying "Look at me, I"M NOT GAY!!!" is not only unlikely to impress anyone, it also indicates a profound discomfort with the whole notion of diverse sexualities. If being called "fag" or "gay" makes you quake in your boots, my friend, you still have a considerable amount of work to do. I don't say that to be unkind or insensitive, but to be brutally honest. One of the litmus tests for whether or not a man is ready and willing to live as a pro-feminist is how he responds to the nearly-certain anti-gay slurs that will be thrown his way. If he reacts with frantic defensiveness (as I did in eighth grade), then it's evidence he's got a ways to go on his journey.

I think Hugo is right on in this post, for the most part, despite the inherent irony of both stating in his post that he has never even considered that he might be gay, that he has always loved girls/women and at the same time explaining how pointing out this fact is sorta pointless.

Linky Goodness: On How to Spot the Faux Feminist Man

Some interesting discussions going on about men and their place within feminism, and how to spot the men who call themselves feminists, but aren't really:

Kameron Hurley of Brutal Women stands up for her male friends who live feminism.

Janice Earlbaum sketches out some stereotypical non-feminist men who call themselves feminists.

Hugo also chimes in on the subject, at the request of Loaded-Question Guy.

Kameron is actually (in part) reacting to Janice's post, and it's interesting to read the comments in Janice's post. She has apparently nailed some of the stereotypes, as people are chiming in with variations of "Right on!" in the comments. And I have no doubt that these are common stereotypes, and that there are enough men who fit 'em to account for the chiming in.

And I see myself in some of them, unfortunately. In fact, to somebody who doesn't know me well (or perhaps to those who do?), I could be immediately placed in any of those categories at the outset. And yet, I don't consider myself a misogynist (at least, to the degree that I'm able to overcome my training toward misogyny from being part of this culture). What gives?

Well, apparently, a tell-tale sign of being the kind of anit-feminist-feminist man is shouting from the rooftops (to whatever degree) that you are a feminist. The key to picking out the fake feminist men, according to Janice, is to take those who proclaim being feminists with a grain of salt:

As a matter of fact, it's caused me to realize that most of the men I've personally known who have made a huge hairy point of identifying as feminists have been either date rapists, mom fetishists, porn addicts, or bear daddies inflicting their frustrated pseudopaternal tendencies on women. They are some of the most passive-aggressive, patronizing, out-dishing without it-taking twerps on the planet, and they are poisoning the women's movement from the inside by sapping the hell out of everyone's goddamn energy.

I think I see her point. It's a pretty straightforward Freudian/Shakespearian thing, isn't it, for a misogynist to proclaim himself a feminist, and loudly. Something along the lines of 'methings thou dost prostest too much' or something.

And yet.

I think it's important for men who identify as feminists to shout it from the rooftops. To make a big, hairy deal about it. And here's why: It's too easy to keep one's feminism to oneself, as a man. It's too much in line with the traditional masculinities that I think screw men (and other genders) over: Men are strong and silent. They show by deed, not by word. They're not too bright, so they should keep sorta quiet (and that makes them somehow more manly). They should just do feminism, not talk about their identities as feminists.

So: How do you spot the fake male feminists? Well, they're the ones shouting it from the rooftops that they are feminists. You can spot the real feminists by watching what they do.

That doesn't make enough sense to me. And this is why: You spot the 'real' male feminists both by word and deed. They are the ones who are shouting it from the rooftops, making it a big, hairy (love that it's a 'hairy' deal--another traditionally masculine trait) deal about it; and then, they're backing it up. The ones who make a big deal about it and don't back it up? They're fake, yep. The ones who don't make a big deal about it--maybe they're doing feminism in their own way, but to my mind that's not the only way to do feminism; and, to the extent that that way just buys into traditional masculinity (the strong, silent type), it's actually not helping as much as shouting it, and then doing it.

Update: Lindsay of Majikthise says a lot of what I've tried to say much more eloquently, and from a different perspective:

It takes a lot of courage for a guy to self-identify as a feminist outside his women's studies class. A man who's willing to tell his drinking buddies that he's a feminist is taking a risk. He's putting a little of his privilege on the line when it counts. That's a choice that commands respect.

Some feminists argue that men don't deserve "extra credit" for doing the right thing. I don't consider it extra credit to acknowledge the distinctive obstacles that men in our society have to overcome in order to get right with feminism.

Any guy who's willing to stand up and be counted as a feminist deserves to march under our banner.

How to Even Begin

Ok. I'll start.

There are a couple of things (at least) that inhibit a groupblog about the experience of being a feminist man, and not suprisingly, they have to do with (I think) the negative ways that the patriarchy affects men.

First off, there's the lack of good, clear ways for men to relate to each other, which I think is caused in part from traditional conceptions of masculinity. Men are blocked off from one another by competetiveness, by notions of strength as inextricably intertwined with atomistic independence. When one man emails another man, as has happened recently to me, and says, "Hey, I'm a feminist too, we should talk," there is a certain air of vulnerability there, a hesitancy because of lack of familiar paths. We don't know, exactly, how to talk to each other.

For instance, when I get an email like that, what's one of my first reactions? Well, we should do a groupblog. Not, "let's discuss this just between us." Not, "let's have coffee and talk about it." Rather: "Let's put it out there in the open." I'm wondering if there isn't some subconscious motivation for this, some aversion to having people think that I'm 'being sensitive' with other men. Even I end up making jokes (mostly to myself) about a man-date.

So, this inability to connect, due I think in part to a lack of role models for such things, could stop a groupblog about feminist men before it even gets started. (This is, of course, assuming that a groupblog about feminist men ought to be by feminist men, which isn't a given, in my book.)

Secondly, there's the idea that perhaps discussion about feminism and men is a way to distract from more important things which we all, as feminists, ought to be concerned with. The idea is that the very act of starting a groupblog about issues for feminist men is, by definition almost, not a feminist act. Sure, people might say, it might be difficult in interesting ways to be a man and a feminist in this culture--but those difficulties so pale in comparison to the difficulties that women go through so as to not be difficulties at all.

There is certainly a point there. And it behooves us all to keep that last point in mind, even those of us who do forge ahead and talk about men and feminism. I don't want my concern for myself and for other feminist men to overshadow what I consider to be the 'greater' concerns of feminism, some of which are somewhat gender-neutral, and some of which have a lot more to do with women than with men. But at the same time: Men who are feminists have to navigate those waters. They have to face the difficulties imposed by embracing that particular identity. And I don't think the difficulties ought to be swept under the rug. In some ways, I don't think that they can be swept under the rug, at least not for the men who have to deal with them. To the extent that I identify as a feminist man, I have to deal with the negatives (and the positives!) of that identity. Is there some inherent harm in finding/creating a community to help us all do those things?

I see no reason why a forum for men (and those of other genders who are their friends and family) who have to face this stuff ought not to come together to as a community of support. And not just to face the problems, but to celebrate the positives, too.

Still, given just these two concerns, what are the chances that something like a community of support for feminist men might develop?