"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, June 16, 2014

Grateful for Female Friends

Found myself this week feeling especially grateful for all of the female friends I currently have in my life, and also for the female friends I had growing up. Been thinking a bit about it because of two stories that dug deep into my brain: Gus Van Sant's film Paranoid Park, and the graphic novel Sentences: The Life of MF Grimm, by Percy Carey, wherein the male protagonists seem almost wholly separated from women as friends.

Paranoid Park is a fictional account of a white, middle class high-school skater boy navigating not only his parents' divorce, but also the aftereffects of a severe trauma. No spoilers here, but he is surrounded mostly by his male skater friends, who aren't particularly good at even noticing he's been through a trauma, and who respond to any deviations from traditional masculinity by wondering if somebody "is a faggo".   The only girls his age in the film he interacts with are his girlfriend, who really only sees him as something of a fashion accessory, and a friend-who-is-obviously-smitten-with-him that he mostly blows off. (To be fair, this second girl is one of the only positive influences in his life.) The movie does a good job of conveying the isolation he feels because of the secret he doesn't feel he can divulge, but also the basic isolation that kids growing up can feel--and especially focuses on the isolation boys feel as they try to fit into the straight jacket of traditional masculinity. 

Sentences: The Life of MF Grimm is a beautifully illustrated autobiographical comic about Percy Carey, otherwise known as MF Grimm, who was/is a hip-hop star of some renown. (Carey is now president of Arch Enemy, a comic company that puts out some interesting stuff, which goes to show this man knows how to create success in just about whatever he does.) He pulls no punches in the telling of his story (and his story includes a lot of literal punches), and my favorite aspect of his writing was that he sets the tone by explicitly laying out some of the culture he was immersed in to those of us who might not be familiar with it-- the culture of a not well-off black kid in the United States. One of the only women he talks about in the book, his mother, is central to the story of his life: She always has his back, and is the central person in his life who teaches him to take shit from no one. (The scene where she punches out a stranger who pinches her ass was one of the best parts of the book, if also heartbreaking.) But that one page on his mom, with the exception of a few words about his grandmother's death, is basically the only time any relationships with women are talked about. Carey seems to have lived a life among men, to the extent that almost all of the formative moments he has chosen to tell about were about the men in his life. If he had friends who were women, he left them out of this book. 

Which brings me to what I have always been grateful for, but feel more strongly these days: All of my female friends. A few of them are ex-girlfriends, but most of them are just people I clicked with on some level, and they have offered me (as I look back) lenses through which to look at the world that I would never have had access to if I had kept my friendship circle to mostly men. Sure, as a man who is romantically interested in women, sometimes friendships with women are sometimes more...complex. There's the sentiment, which I learned from When Harry Met Sally, that men want to sleep with all of their women friends:

And of course this sentiment isn't limited to movies from the 80s. Here's the same idea, in a relatively modern discussion:

To whatever extent that stereotype may hold true, I'd say it's partly because we don't encourage men to be "just" friends with women. ("Just"--because somehow friendship is less-than romantic relationships?) There are too few blueprints for and examples of mixed-gender friendships, especially among straight folks.  

So a thank you to all of my women friends, past, present, and future. 

Thursday, June 05, 2014

You Don't Get to Be Kathleen Hanna

It hasn't quite even been a year since the whole Schwyzer meltdown, and we already have the newest "top feminist dude" showing his true misogynist colors. When Schwyzer's truths became impossible to ignore (and, sadly, I did ignore them for far too long), I began some deep rethinking of how I go about practicing feminist ideals in my daily life, and online. Clymer's bullshit has pushed me back into rethinking things, yet again.

I came to feminism through theory (women's studies classes), through lived experience (raised by a bad-ass single mother), and through folks like bell hooks who provided both theory and insight into practice (Feminism is for Everybody).  I knew enough women who wanted men to do some of the hard work of feminism that I began to consider myself an ally. Enough women thought I was an ally that I felt justified in that. Now I see lots of women supporting a dood like Clymer who (to me) clearly isn't fit to lead a gender equality site that I'm starting to doubt (as many other have before me) whether "ally" is even a useful term.  For quite a while I didn't see why men can't be leaders in some feminist fights, but I'm starting to get it now, with slow, dawning understanding. 

And after all the good ideas put forth by many people around why men shouldn't lead anything in feminist movements, it was finally this rather simple analogy that brought it home to me, for which I'll forever be grateful to @heatherurehere on twitter:
"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 Hanna."--@heatherurehere on twitter
Sure, sometimes men listen more to men, and that's one reason why men have to be a part of feminist movement. And patriarchy harms men, which is another good reason for men to be pro-feminist. There are myriad important reasons for men to support feminism. But do we need men to lead gender equality sites? Nope. Do we need men to lead Slutwalk? Nope. 

I still think that men need to connect with other men, and folks of all genders, to build communities, to support each other, all while doing feminist work. I still haven't found that supportive community, really, though lots of new friends on twitter do a good deal of that work.  So I'll keep blogging, and talking with people in Real Life, and amplifying the voices of women, but I'm not even comfortable calling this thing Feminist Allies any longer. I'll call it Feminism Helps Men for now, and see where that takes me.