"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 01, 2006

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?


Stentor said...

I think the trick is to keep our eyes on the overarching goal -- ending sex- and gender-based oppression in society as a whole. The danger is when we let a subsidiary goal -- in this case, dealing with the obstacles that face men who are trying to support feminism -- become an end in itself.

jeff said...

Good points.

It may be quite tricky, actually, to do that. On an individual level, of course, it's sometimes difficult to not focus on those things that are more readily apparent in one's own life.

I think that learning to better recognize how many of the obstacles we all face in living our lives come from various oppressions, including sexist oppressions, can help us see the connections between the institutional oppression and those obstacles.

The philosopher in me is skeptical of the phrase 'end in itself'. In this case, I think one could argue that I am always both interested in better understanding and rooting out sexist oppression because of how it affects me (as a man, or just in general) as well as because of how it affects women (and other men, and other genders).

Take happiness, for instance. As a candidate for an end in itself, it's a pretty good one. But immediately, it's easy to see that my happiness alone can't be my highest value, really, unless it includes the happiness of others. This is part of why I think it's ok/good for men who are feminists to discuss the difficulties that can arise from that identity--and for that to become an end in itself...I'm not sure what that would look like. Perhaps like the stereotypical pseudo-feminist men that we've also been talking aobut here?

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