Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Talking with Strangers about Feminist Men

Snippet of a conversation I had with a woman who was sitting next to me, while we waited for the play to begin:

(We talked for a bit about what we each did for a living--she's a teacher and a director of plays, I explained I had sold-out and was doing technical writing stuff.)
Her: So, you don't do philosophy anymore?
Me: Not in any official capacity. I tend to be more interested these days in feminist theory.
Her: Oh. (long pause) I'm not sure I like it when men get involved in feminist theory. I dated this guy who was very into feminist theory, and it turned out that he just had issues with women in general.
Me: Yeah, it's something that I'm constantly second-guessing myself on, questioning my actions and my motives. A lot of men come to understand feminism because of their own issues with interacting with women.
Her: ...yeah.


At that point the woman on the other side of me began talking with me, briefly, and the original conversation was ended--it's too bad in a way, because that's exactly the point where some great follow-up could have been had. But it was also the point at which I felt a wall go up, and I'm often torn about what to do about walls like that.

Thing is, I completely understand her reaction. I've met men like the one she mentioned again and again. I've met that sort of man in myself, from time to time. As much as I'd like to believe that I'm not one of those guys, the truth of the matter is that any of us men who are interested in justice along the lines that feminism is involved with it, we're never going to be one or the other: Enlightened Male Feminists or Hypocritical Nice Guys. Rather, we're likely to always be a mix of the two, jumping back and forth due to our upbringing, the complexities of feminism itself, and our own blind spots.

How does one deal with the skepticism, right off the bat, that one might find out in the world, talking to strangers about being a feminist man? How does one deal with one's own skepticism about one's own motives? For me, the partial answer is: Conversation with others, and with myself. And then more conversation. Another piece of the answer is: doing rather than talking about. If I spend a good deal of my time trying to educate myself and others (especially other men) about feminism, then that really ought to be all I have to say about the matter, in some ways.

But I'm curious to hear what other feminist (or pro-feminist) men have done in similar situations...
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