Men and Feminism?

19 Oct

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.

5 Responses to “Men and Feminism?”

  1. Alex Schröder October 21, 2009 at 9:38 pm #

    I treat it as a basic question of human behaviour. Of course I want women to be paid the same for the same work done, of course I want them to get the same jobs, of course I want them to be treated respectfully — because I want it for everybody. Not just for women. I want it for all of us.

    That’s the easy part. There is no division, there’s no group of people wanting something for themselves. All of us want the same rights, the same respect, the same opportunities.

    When talking to my wife, I sometimes feel that there are also areas where my participation ends. It ends whenever I feel the need to tell her how to behave, how to react, what to say. I think I see submissive behavioral patterns imprinted on her and other women by society. But often that’s not the whole story. In these situations, I need to listen and to learn.

    So that’s how I draw the line: When we’re talking about things we all need to do, I have no trouble calling myself a feminist. I have no trouble calling for the emancipation of both men and women. I feel no hesitation in being part of the solution. Sure, maybe some people need to walk part of the way alone, just as I sometimes don’t want the help of some people. But in the end we’re talking about human rights, human issues. We’re all involved. We’re all part of the solution.

    Also, I wrote about equal rights on my blog, linking to your sexism in gaming post. 🙂

  2. Carey October 24, 2009 at 9:26 am #

    Feminism is, like so many other forms of sexism, unnecessary. There is nothing to be gained by blaming men for all the woes of women anymore than there is something to gain by blaming (enter any group of people here) for the woes of (enter any group of people here).

    For the US, Feminism was a product of the civil rights movement in the prior century. It’s served its purpose in the form of many hundreds of laws guaranteeing women the same rights as men. The factors that created feminism no longer exist in the US, no matter how hard people try to prove they do. Women can vote, own property, divorce, hold any job they want and even decide to change their own gender.

    There is also the fact the majority of women like to be treated as women. They want men to be chivalrous. Many of them refuse to date a guy that isn’t taller and earns more money than they do. They want doors held open for them. They don’t have any problems with the special treatment and accommodations women receive in our culture when it suits them.

    The only places feminism has any value are in third world countries where the issue of equal rights regardless of gender is still a factor.

    • godlesspaladin October 27, 2009 at 10:45 am #

      Carey, I must disagree. There is still a lot of progress that needs to be made in the US as well as third world countries. There is still a large pay gap between men and women in the workforce. 75 cents to every dollar a man makes in 2004. Source. And feminists don’t blame only men (although men are the main culprit.) Feminists also blame women that perpetuate stereotypes of women and inadvertently work to keep women shackled.

      “There is also the fact the majority of women like to be treated as women.” Proof? And define what it is to “be treated as women”. I think I know what you might say, and I know of plenty of women who would strongly object to this. They would say that they don’t wanted to be treated “as women”, rather they want to be treated like human beings, equal to you and me. That’s the whole point of feminism.

  3. CJ December 9, 2009 at 10:58 pm #

    Yea, treated exactly the same, right? Which is how come hundred year old companies have a 30 year old woman on the board, along with 50 something guys. Why? Because she’ll sue for sexism if she gets passed over.

    Feminism was good to get females the right to vote, after that it all went downhill.

    Women have no choice, they have to work. Basic fact of life, not everyone will end up in their dream job. Someones going to be at your fast food restaurant on the night shift.

    There’s a fantastic comic on Cyanide Happiness which illustrates things nicely. There’s a female with no arms walking towards a door, a guy sees her and walks in front, opens the door and does a small bow. Female goes “I can do it myself you chauvinistic pig!”. Feminism is females giving up first place to tie for last.

    Although I’m going to object to the “They would say that they don’t wanted to be treated “as women”, rather they want to be treated like human beings, equal to you and me. That’s the whole point of feminism.” part. Equal is them buying me a drink, them holding the door open for me. Them not going for paid maternity leave, them not being hired over guys because they’ll sue for sexism otherwise.

    No such thing as equality, guys are third class, girls are second, first was given up years ago.


  1. Should feminism include men? « The Godless Paladin - November 30, 2010

    […] been scared to say anything on feminism for fear of running into this person. For the longest time I questioned whether, as a man, I had any right to have an opinion on feminism, much less voice that opinion. I […]

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