"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

Monday, September 24, 2007

bell hooks Monday: Barriers to Overcome

Sometimes men feel unwelcome in feminist circles. Indeed, sometimes men are legitimately unwelcome in feminist circles. But, while men who would be feminist allies ought to respect the desires of other feminist as regards when and where ally work can be done, they also shouldn't let the fact that sometimes, in certain contexts, some feminists want men to not be involved in ally work, or to be less involved, or to be involved only in certain ways, keep them from pursuing feminist goals, from doing ally work in whatever areas they can. If a particular forum doesn't welcome your ideas because you are a male feminist, there are still forums that will welcome your ideas (and lots of 'em, from my experience). Check your privilege, then move on and do some work somewhere else--there is always work to be done, and there are almost always places for you to do it. Create your own space, if need be.

Whenever I hear men who would be allies who are frustrated with particular feminist spaces, or with particular feminists, I think about what bell hooks has to say about those who would discourage black women from using the tools of feminism, even though aspects of feminism have been historically (and continue to be in various ways and to various degrees) racist. bell says:
"To many black folks feminism continues to be seen as synonymous with bourgeois white women. As a consequence any black woman who uses the term risks being seen as a race traitor. The dismissal of black female voices that advocate feminist politics has intensified with the resurgence of narrow nationalists thinking that either invests in supporting the maintenance of patriarchal gender role or insists that embracing an Afrocentric worldview will necessarily return black females and males to an idyllic location where gender hierarchies do not exist. Again and again in my work I have had to reiterate that the racism of white women should be militantly challenged but that it should not act as a barrier preventing black women and men from engaging feminist politics. Even though Karl Marx was clearly racist in his thinking, this has never stopped black folks who seek to radicalize their consciousness around the issue of class from engaging Marxism. Sure it is patriarchal condescension that leads black folks, particularly sexist black men, to assume that black females are incapable of embracing revolutionary feminism in ways that would enhance rather than diminish black liberation, despite the continued overt racism and racist agendas of those groups of whit women who can most easily lay claim to the term "feminism" and project their conservative and reactionary agendas. Often this condescension merely masks allegiance to sexism and patriarchal thinking in black life. Certainly, the labeling of black women who engage feminist thinking as race traitors is meant to prevent us from embracing feminist politics as surely as white power-feminism acts to exclude our voices and silence our critiques. In this case, both groups are acting to protect and maintain the privileges, however relative, that they receive in the existing social structure."--pp100-101, Killing Rage.

I'm not directly comparing what black women who might be feminists feel about feminism to what men who would be feminist allies feel about feminism; I think the differences are myriad--men enjoy privilege as men that black women don't enjoy, I don't think men need to 'militantly' challenge where they are asked to stay out of the fight, just for starters--but I do think that the rationale that hooks is using here can work for us: The fact that sometimes particular feminist spaces are off limits to men who would be allies shouldn't stop men from using feminist theory and practice to do ally work, any more than Marx's sexism and racism should stop us from using Marx's class analysis.

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