"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

Friday, July 28, 2006

(Alpha-) Male Feminism -- Part Three(?)

When I have posted before on what I (following the lead of others) termed 'alpha male feminism', I learned a great deal, both from particular comments (not only on this blog but of course on others as well) and also from the response in general. If I might generalize, most of the response has been along two basic lines of thought, which I'd like to look into more now.

'Alpha Male' is The Wrong Term
The first prominent train of thought in this regard is along the lines of "the term "alpha male" is just too fuzzy a term (or is an inappropriate term, or is the out-and-out wrong term to use here)" to the point that, rather than helping us understand the realationships between men (and women, and those of other various genders) and feminism, it actually gets in the way.

There is merit to this, I think, and quite a bit of it. And yet--we do have to consider that people throw this term around as if it does mean something definite, as if it were something simple and easy to recognize (or create in yourself). Given that it's not, part of our response to people who use it (in a 'positive' or 'negative' way) ought to be to call them on the complexities involved, but that can't be (to me) where our response stops. I think that our response ought to also include (say) an analysis of what it means to be an assertive man in a culture where, in at least a good deal of contexts, being assertive has negative implications for those around him (and this response includes discussions about ways of defining 'assertive' such that being it has no negative implications for those around us!). So, yes, 'alpha male' is a loaded term and should be understood as such in any complex discussion, but yes, we have to address its use as we address the complexities of what it means to be a man and a feminist.

And that was sort of what I gleaned from the whole of posts and comments about alpha male feminism--that some people believe that being a man and a feminist isn't a complex deal--some male feminists are twerps and some are alphas, if we are to go with jedmunds' and Amanda's stance on things (though I still don't completely understand Amanda's assertion that jedmunds was just trying to point out that there are many different (and equally good!) was of being a man who's a feminist; to me, that's akin to saying "Some radical feminists are ugly dykes, and some are normal" and expecting the dykes to think that they are somehow being 'more included'"). But if alpha is the wrong term to use, then why didn't more people call him on it? In part because some people do think that being a man and being a feminist at the same time is a simple sort of thing. But is it a simple thing?

Take, for instance, the fact that comments abound around these discussions that are along the lines of the oft cited idea that "feminism is the radical notion that women are human beings." While this might be true as far as it goes, this (to me) can't be all that feminism can give us. Even if you believe in this flavor of feminism, feminism must also supply some ways of changing the world and the people in it such that more and more of them understand it. Comparatively, whether or not you think alpha males exist, whether you think men ought to be aggressive or you think men ought to be assertive (in their feminism, too!), being and doing these things isn't a simple thing, if you want to hold to feminist ideals.

So, even given that 'alpha male' is a problematic concept--to the point of being useless, some think--examining why it's problematic, especially in the context of men who are feminists, can teach us a lot, I think. Or at least, doing so has taught me quite a bit, without settling for simple statements that boil down to 'just be a feminist!'.

And I say this not to end discussion, but like bringing up alpha male feminism in the first place, to begin and continue discussion.

Aggressive and Assertive
And I think the second most powerful response in the discussion was the idea of recognizing distinctions between aggressiveness and assertiveness--or similar distinctions--which, while not finalizing in any way, are quite helpful nonetheless (for instance, this is sort of the basic distinction that Nice Guys(tm) are apparently not fully understanding). And I bring this up now because I think this is exactly the sort of discussion that feminist men need--what may be obvious to one person (i.e. "well, that's being aggressive, not assertive") isn't obvious to us all, and to have people help out with framing these distinctions is a welcome change, I think, from the general take that, well, men can be feminists just by supporting women in feminism and by recognizing the radication notion that women are human beings. To do these things is good, but how to do them isn't clear-cut, and it won't be the same for every man who does believe in feminism and wants to act in support of feminist ideals. And it won't be the same for all feminists of other genders, either...in short, this points to yet another way that we might examine some of the complexities of what it means to be a man and a feminist.
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