"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

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Places of Men in Feminism

Stealing Jeff's topic for a moment I'd like to try to address what I see as Men's Places in Feminism and some related issues. Men's work to end rape, domestic violence, child abuse and indeed male violence directed at other males has been generally limited to a few strong groups and a few more short-term efforts.

One example of a wonderful men's group has been the Men's Resource Center of Western Massachusetts (http://www.mrcforchange.org/) which had the leadership of a wonderful man Steven Botkin and others around him starting in 1982 and continues to this day. The MRC has dealt with racism (also) and other issues connecting them with sexism most effectively. Far more common than the MRC have been efforts mostly of several years or less often on college campuses in the U.S. which often flounder when their initial leadership graduates or otherwise moves on.

Individual men also do wonderful things! John Stoltenberg has done a variety of wonderful things focussing on pornography and other parts of "maleness".

Underneath these types of efforts women have largely created the modern feminist movement and done the work to push things forward with minimal male support and almost no parallel work done by men.

I don't see this changing significantly until a lot more men start seeing traditional masculinity as problematic and seriously work towards change. I believe that to do serious work most men are going to need to do work with other men initially. As we learn to work with other men we can begin to become real allies of women and build coalitions with groups that are predominantly female.

Where we try to jump into women's groups and work with women we often have problems. Most men have a lot to work out within ourselves related to our masculinity and how we relate to women as well as other men. When we try to work out our issues within women's groups we repeat the pattern of women needing to educate men about our feelings and many other related issues.

When we've done serious work with other men we may become able to work with women's groups either as a part of them or as their ally from outside.

Undoubtedly there are individual men who can work with women without going through the necessity of working with men. Since many of the problems related to feminism require work with men it would seem logical for most men supportive of feminism to try to work with other men.

Whether women and women's groups should let men in depends greatly on many factors. There are situations like women's health clubs where men intrude upon women's space and make it much harder for women to focus on their physical and emotional health.

"Separatism" can be many different things. It can be a way for oppressed people to deal with their oppression in a safe environment. It can be an escape from one's past - hurts and pain - which may not make one well, but allow one to survive and cope.

For men being apart from women can be good in some circumstances and bad in others. Where we work on our issues and confront and support each other moving forward to the point where we can more effectively work towards positive change being apart from women can be helpful. Where we take male privilige, particularly where combined with White Privilige and the priviliges of Wealth, we can oppress others and help perpetrate sexism, racism and classism.

Often people have both privilige and oppression within themselves. White Women have White Privilige. Black Men have (some) privilige by being Male in a culture where Maleness is valued. We should not presume to know which oppressions are more hurting to others.

As men I believe that we need to build a movement or a set of movements amongst ourselves to help allow us to be better allies of women, children and other men. While it would be nice if we could move in a "feminist" direction out of concern for women and girls, I think it far more likely that we will find paths towards our successful future looking initially at men and boys and how we are hurting. Until we can see how we as Males are hurt by our "Maleness" and understand the desirability of making changes in our own lives, it is difficult to see how we will en masse support women and girls in important and necessary ways.

Boys and men - hurt and kill each other fighting in many ways, both physically and psychologically. We have attention deficit problems as young children. We have other problems as we grow up and become men. We don't seek medical attention often, shortening our lives and making the quality of our lives less than it could easily be.

When we see how "Maleness" hurts us we often can appreciate others much more easily. Then we can be better allies of the women in our lives as well as other women we may want to work with.

I also think that as men we learn far too often to see the world Only through our immediate lives. We become concerned about children when we approach fatherhood, but not when we aren't fathers. We become concerned about the elderly when we have an elderly parent or approach old age ourselves.

To become true allies we will need to learn to be more holistic in our priorities. I know I've been myopic in these ways far too often in my life.

I wouldn't want to discourage women's groups from seeking men to join them however they can do so. I would be pleasantly surprised where they will have significant successes, but small successes can help bring about positive change.

I hope that I will do better. I hope that we as men will do better.

I have only addressed a little in what I've written above. Others may also see things very differently. That's fine!


1 comment:

jeff said...

Great post, Geo. There's so much to cover, and you're taking on quite a bit of it all here!

I especially like this:
Often people have both privilige and oppression within themselves. White Women have White Privilige. Black Men have (some) privilige by being Male in a culture where Maleness is valued. We should not presume to know which oppressions are more hurting to others.

Also, as far as 'stealing' the topic: I'm thinking that this discussion--the place of men in feminism, the place of people in various '___-only' spaces, should always already be an ongoing discussion. Anybody who offers up simple answers on this topic (seems to me) doesn't understand the complexities of the topic.

Thanks for continuing the conversation.