Today I went to a talk on rhetoric and literature which turned into a very fascinating conversation on feminism and pop culture. The room had around 20-25 people in it, and I was 1 of 3-4 men present. The entire time feminism was being discussed I was very nervous and uneasy.
I felt this way for a number of reasons. For one, being a male, I felt like the historical “bad guy” for feminism. For centuries men have oppressed women all over the planet. They’ve beaten them, raped them, denied them economic and educational opportunities, barred them from political power, and treated them merely as objects that existed solely for their pleasure.
I had this all over my head; I was ashamed and disgusted by the way men have treated women in the past. While I sat there quietly, unsure of my place in this discussion, I could not help but think how I was not those men, how I wanted to help. But how? How can I as a man help feminists? Is that even a valid question to ask? I don’t want to imply that women need my help as a man.
All I know is that I want to be part of the solution. That statement, however, assumes that I even have a part. As obvious as this may sound, a lot of feminism is strictly women only. This “minority space” is just somewhere I can’t go as a white male. It’s important that women have this private space to themselves to be able to exchange ideas and experiences. So then that begs the question “what spaces within feminism are not minority spaces, and can men be apart of them?”
All of these questions and then further questions about the assumptions behind the original questions paralyzed me in that room. Here I was, a willing ally yet a member of the old enemy, but so unsure of everything that I couldn’t talk. I didn’t, I don’t, want them to look at me like the enemy. The only thing I could manage to do to try and stave off those assumptions was to raise my hand and express my lament at the video game industry being a bastion for misogyny.
I tried to convey my displeasure with the unrealistic and extremely sexist way women are portrayed in most video games. I tried feebly to mention some of the points I made in this post about sexism in games. How I can count strong, competent female main characters on one hand, how most women in games suffer from the “women and refrigerators” syndrome, or “white man saves the day” scenarios, and how millions of young boys are growing up with these twisted views of women.
After I managed to get that out without tripping over my anxiety too badly I felt a little better. At least now I hoped they would see that I was aware, and making an effort, and was not to be thought of as the enemy.
It’s only now while writing this that I realize the whole “as the enemy” thing can be misconstrued as “man hating feminist”. I assure you that’s not what I mean. I realize that it is important to choose my words carefully. There are so many assumptions that I used to take for granted, I can easily see how other men could be intimidated.
I had all these questions but I didn’t want to ask anyone at the talk. Not only was I not sure if it was the right time to ask, but I wasn’t sure if I could ask in the first place. I do know that it’s bad for men to go on feminist forums and post “I don’t understand X, so teach me!” It’s not the job of the women on those sites to take the time out of their day to teach you when you should go do the research yourself. My problem is not on the concepts and theories, but where I fit into it all. To add to my confusion there is controversy on both sides of this question as well. Some want men out all together, others want to include them on some things.
I would imagine that if feminism’s goals are going to stick, then the behaviors and assumptions of the men perpetuating the problems are going to have to be addressed. That will require women to engage with men on some level to try and deal with these problems. I just don’t know what part I can play in that engagement, or in engagement with other men on the issues.