"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

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Men in Feminist Spaces

“Men who want to be feminists do not need to be given a space in feminism. They need to take the space they have in society & make it feminist.”

—Kelley Temple, National Union of Students UK Women’s Officer
Here's a quote that's been floating around various online spheres of mine--it's one that I love, but at the same time, it also shows the limits of slogans (even good slogans).  Inasmuch as it addresses the persistent problem of feminist men barging in and attempting to take over feminist spaces to various degrees, it's fantastic.  And as a beginning of a plan for feminist men, "go out and make the spaces you're already in feminist" is quite a fine start. It was partly in that spirit that I originally started this blog--while I had recognized that men would often take over comments sections of various feminist posts ("what about the menz!?!!1!"), I also recognized that some of the stuff that men were bringing up in comments were legitimate issues that just weren't being brought up in the right context. I wanted Feminist Allies to provide some of that context, to provide a place where men who were feminists could talk about feminist movement, including their concerns about their place(s) within feminism.  

Thing is, "go out and make your spaces feminist" can only be the start of what feminist men can (and ought) to go out and do--it can't be the start and end of what we can do. Imagining that men can do feminist work without having a community backing them up, that men can do feminist work without support from other men, women, and folks of all genders, is to partly buy in to the notion of traditional masculinity, buying in to the notion of hyper-individuality which is really specifically harmful to men, even though it of course affects folks of all genders.  

Feminist men don't "deserve" a place in all feminist spaces. But there have to be some feminist spaces that men are allowed into; even if the majority of those spaces are created and maintained by other feminist men, I suspect that there is a real, necessary need for some feminist spaces created and maintained by women to make some space for feminist men.  Luckily, there are lots of such spaces, actually, which is why I can still embrace the above slogan, even though I think it's way more complex than it implies.  

I think bell hooks has it right, in The Will to Change:
"Women and men alike in our culture spend very little time encouraging males to learn to love. Even the women who are pissed off at men, women most of whom are not and maybe never will be feminist, use their anger to avoid being truly committed to helping to create a world where males of all ages can know love. And there remains a small strain of feminist thinkers who feel strongly that they have given all they want to give to men; they are concerned solely with improving the collective welfare of women. Yet life has shown me that any time a single male dares to transgress patriarchal boundaries in order to love, the lives of women, men and children are fundamentally changed for the better."(pp10)
I also think that the love that men need includes some open space in feminist communities, at least some of the time.


Unknown said...

Found my way here from Guerrilla Feminism. Great post. I personally think the gender binary is a huge hurdle in reaching equality and mutual respect. We'll remain divided as long as we keep making ourselves feel like two separate species. Guys (and some women) will keep on not seeing the problems we're encouraging in society as long as we keep trying to fit into labels and are shamed when we don't (Ie: "You sound like a girl" "You're acting like a man"), which gives us no reason to care for the other when we stereotype each other into negatives, and in turn just fuels the emotional frustration and pain women (including transsexuals) have at all men in general when most of us just don't seem to get it.

That's just simply my view, you're free to disagree. So what is your opinion on the gender binary and how it relates to the issues of feminism?

Unknown said...

Very very true!!!

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Unknown said...

I'm male, and I was raised feminist. I went out into the world, and it felt like there was no place for me in feminism.

You are the first voice of reason on this topic that I've found. It feels pretty heavily like I'm not allowed to be an ally in feminism without changing my body to match. Your article provides a possible light at the end of the tunnel.