Should feminism include men?

30 Nov

The other day I visited a thread on an atheist website about feminism and the role of men. It was a very interesting discussion, with most people agreeing that men can be feminists and help, but their was one particular poster who would have nothing to do with it. To her, feminism was solely about women and improving their situation, no men allowed.

At the same time another woman, who disagreed with this poster, presented a very interesting article from The Daily Kos titled: “15 aspects that must be recognized in third-wave feminism”.

The very first item on the list states:

“There must be a widespread understanding that feminism does apply to men. Therefore, men who stand up for feminist issues may, and should, be identified as feminist. It is counterproductive and hypocritical to discuss gender equality while simultaneously creating a double standard towards males who share feminist values.”

The author then goes on to say that feminists can come from any walk of life, men included, and that feminism is inclusive, not exclusive.

Back to the thread. The lady who started the thread then got into an argument with the “no men allowed” poster over the goals of feminism. To the OP, feminism, while it may have began as a movement directed at undoing the wrongs done to women, has now morphed into fighting for gender equality across the board, men included. According to the OP, the feminist should not only be concerned with fighting the strict gender roles society imposes on women, but the roles imposed on men as well.

As mentioned earlier, the “no men allowed” poster would have none of it. “If that’s what feminism has become, then I guess I’m not a feminist anymore.” Her goal seemed decidedly set on retribution as opposed to making things better for everybody.

For the longest time I was 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 felt like when feminism was being discussed by women, I had to sit in the corner like a child and keep my mouth shut. After all, I was the enemy.

But you know what? I realized something the other day. Men do have an important role to play in feminism. If feminism is going to have any shot of changing society and gaining equality for women, it’s going to have to include men.

Now let me be crystal clear. I am not saying women are dependent on men to do anything. What I am talking about is the simple reality of how movements work.

In order for a minority to achieve something, it needs the help of the majority. It doesn’t matter who the minority and majority are. Blacks could not get the civil rights acts passed without the help of white legislators. Gays could not get anti-homosexuality laws repealed without the help of straight allies. Atheists will be unable to get the separation of church and state enforced without the help of their theist allies. This is a fact of how things get done.

Women may not be a minority population wise, but unfortunately in every other aspect of life they are. They are a minority in government, in businesses, and in churches. They will not get anywhere by alienating the majority in those spheres.

For centuries male has been considered “normal,” the default. It’s part of male privilege and the majority of men are so accustomed to this they don’t even notice. Women trying to tell them that it is not normal will only have so much of an effect because the men they are trying to talk to are living in a bubble where they see the woman as abnormal. “Of course she’s going to say that! She’s a woman!”

This is where men can have their greatest impact. As I talk about in this post, men are able to break through that bubble and reach other men simply because they are deemed “normal.” A guy can easily dismiss a woman’s attempts to correct male privilege simply because she is a woman, but if a man stands up and says “Look buddy, these assumptions are not normal, they are people too and deserve equal treatment”, then that will bypass the other man’s defenses and stick!

So to that “women only” poster I say no. No I will not sit down and shut up like a child. Gender roles and society affect me too, and I am part of the solution. If you’re interested solely in retribution for something other men have done, then I don’t know what to tell you, but I’m interested in working to make society better for all of us, regardless of sex or gender.

22 Responses to “Should feminism include men?”

  1. timberwraith November 30, 2010 at 11:19 pm #

    Here’s my 2¢.

    Gender is socially constructed as a binary in which the two positions (woman/girl/feminine and man/boy/masculine)are seen as both relational and complementary. This becomes evident when one considers that these ways of being are deeply intertwined with society’s mores surrounding heterosexual relationships.

    Sexism is more than simple discrimination grounded in prejudicial notions against women. It is also the product of a relational system of roles and behaviors that is bound up in social patterns derived from a binary system of gender. In other words, society’s notions of manhood, womanhood, masculinity, and femininity contain ideas and modes of behavior that inevitably produce sexism and sexist discrimination.

    Consequently, feminism can not limit its scope to women’s lives only, for that only address half of the social system in question. Men have to be included, for their behaviors and notions of what it means to be male need to shift as much as women’s notions of womanhood must shift. You can’t change half the human race and expect this problem to go away. Hence, feminism concerns men’s lives, too. Ergo, men must be included.

  2. timberwraith November 30, 2010 at 11:50 pm #

    I just read your post from last year. May I offer some advice?

    Feeling a sense of guilt over sexism isn’t all that helpful. The point is not to feel guilt, but rather, to change: to change yourself and where possible, the world around you. Read about feminism, feminist theory, and gender theory. Learn the history behind the movement and understand the hurdles that have been surpassed and those that still remain. In the process, ask yourself where you are in the greater scheme of things. What flaws need to be remedied? What strengths exist?

    You won’t be alone in this process, for it’s not only men that need to change. Women can and do change in many ways through their own process of feminist exploration. This is a very personal process. No one can walk this journey for you, regardless of whether you were born male, female, or intersex.

    So, to summarize, this process is not about recognizing yourself as “the enemy.” It is certainly important that you recognize men’s position of privilege in the larger power dynamic between the sexes and realize what this means in your life. However, the point is not self-denigration or guilt. The point is change… and we all need to change because we all grew up in this shitty patriarchal society we call home: men, women, everyone.

  3. godlesspaladin December 1, 2010 at 1:17 am #

    Hey Timberwraith, thanks for the good input. 🙂 I hadn’t considered how the two binaries relate in that way. As for recognizing myself as the enemy, I think I’ve progressed from that a bit though I still feel bad for things I haven’t done. I am, however, keenly aware of male privilege, even when it benefits me. Whenever possible I try to point it out to my friends and correct it if it’s within my ability to do so. I guess that’s part of the process of change.

    (Oh, and I went ahead and fixed that earlier comment)

  4. Puddingpie December 1, 2010 at 3:49 am #

    Honestly, I’ve felt that it’s been harder for men to correct male privilege than for women. Women are perceived to be for women’s rights by default, the same way that African Americans are automatically assumed to be for civil rights, and there’s not a stigma attached to it. Men though, must be “gay” or “pussywhipped” or “hippies.”

    Not every woman will admit explicitly to being a “feminist” because of all the man-hating connotations, but pretty much every woman I’ve ever met, regardless of religion, politics, or ideology, will claim to be for “women’s rights.” It’s considered harmless, normal girl behavior, like shoe shopping, ordering soy lattes, and vampire erotica. (Think about that for a minute)

    However, feminism for men is considered an “abnormal” state. Which gender has it better in that regard, I’m not sure. Would you rather be perceived to have a weakness in manly virtue, or a non-threatening, generic, politically-correct non-opinion?

  5. timberwraith December 1, 2010 at 9:49 am #

    Men though, must be “gay” or “pussywhipped” or “hippies.”

    Oh god. Yes, I’ve seen people take that attitude, Puddingpie. Actually I’ve seen guys take that attitude, but not many women.

    I just love the lack of logic. If a guy stands up for women and declares that he’s against women being treated like crap, then he must prefer men as romantic partners. So, does that mean that an attraction to women automatically entails a desire to treat women in disrespectful, prejudicial ways? Can I assume that having a predisposition toward loving women somehow entails treating women hatefully? How does that work? Is this true for lesbians, too? Do bisexuals treat everyone respectfully, disrespectfully, or some combination of both?

    I really need to understand this because I’m a bi woman and I’m very confused. If someone—male, female, anyone—treats me like crap, should I interpret that as sexual interest? Should I treat them terribly in an effort to show how much I like them? Oh dear…

    /sarcasm

  6. timberwraith December 1, 2010 at 9:51 am #

    Just to be clear, I wasn’t frustrated with you, Puddingpie. I’m frustrated with the silly people who make statements like the one you described.

  7. timberwraith December 1, 2010 at 10:06 am #

    Oh, and I prefer a nice, strong Caffè Americano over a soy late, I hate shopping for shoes, and vampire erotica annoys me. Edward Cullen should fall down a flight of stairs… repeatedly. Does that make me an oddball? 🙂

  8. godlesspaladin December 1, 2010 at 11:34 am #

    @Timberwraith This could possibly be their (not my) “logic” behind it: women like jerk/asshole guys. They deny it, but they secretly like it. Jerk/asshole guys get a lot of sex with women. If a guy stands up for women and against jerk/asshole guys, he must not be interested in sex with women, ergo he his gay.

    >.>

  9. timberwraith December 1, 2010 at 12:21 pm #

    Ah yes, I’ve certainly encountered that notion. The “bad boy” may be sexy when he’s on the silver screen (think Spike of Buffy/Angel fame), but he makes a terrible romantic partner in real life. When I encounter guys who believe this junk, I always shake my head and then steer clear. Personally, I think it’s a sign of extreme immaturity.

    I have an alternate take on your idea. I suspect that there are still a good number of guys who are raised to think that being a “dominant male” in the presence of a woman is a core part of masculinity. If you stand up for women’s rights, you must not be terribly dominant because you want women to have more power than they currently do. Consequently, you are less than masculine and thus take on the image of being feminine. Given that common prejudices strongly associate low levels of masculinity and outward femininity with male homosexuality, we have the trope that male feminists must be gay.

    More generally, homophobia is frequently used as a means of shaming men and boys into conforming to the standard gender script. I think that one of the ways to break down this trope is to continue to fight for LGBT rights. As the levels of social acceptance for queer men increases, I suspect sexists will have far less ammunition to wield against feminist men and gender variant men.

    If you run into guys with this stupid attitude, I think you should ask them if they want their mothers, sisters, and girlfriends being treated as second class citizens by other men. If their answer is “no”, then they need to ditch their stupidity and move on.

  10. godlesspaladin December 1, 2010 at 12:57 pm #

    Yeah, that too could very well be the logic behind it. I think you’re right in that fighting to LGBT rights will take away ammunition from the sexists to shame people into conforming.

    As for the jerk guy thing, my ex girlfriend once explained to me that yes, the jerk guys are terrible for stable relationships, but they’re exciting and sexually thrilling. Ideally a woman wants to settle down with a stable boring guy who will take care of the children and then have an affair on the side with James Dean.

    She likened it to bowerbirds, saying one bowerbird male might spend hours working hard building a nest to show he’s dependable and stable, but then another male will mate with the female and get her to raise his babies in the dependable male’s bower. Thus the asshole bird doesn’t have to do any work and still gets the girl.

  11. timberwraith December 1, 2010 at 1:44 pm #

    I’m really thankful that I don’t have feathers sticking out of my bottom. 🙂

    The flip side of this issue is that women are quite often socialized in ways that are harmful to them (guys are too, but usually in a different way). Being attracted to potentially abusive mates isn’t all that healthy, regardless of your sex. Ultimately, this kind of attraction only serves to reinforce the uneven power dynamic between women and men and in the long run, that really sucks.

    Perhaps it’s because I’m a survivor of abuse, but when I sense that vibe coming from a guy, my first instinct is to shut down and distance myself.

  12. timberwraith December 1, 2010 at 2:13 pm #

    Ah, I just thought of a question that I’ve never asked a guy before. Do you find the “bad/tough girl” persona sexy in women?

    Being bi, I can compare and contrast my attraction to both women and men. For me, the answer is a definite, “yes.” The examples that come to mind—again, from Angel/Buffy—is Faith, Darla, and Gwen Raiden.

  13. Greg Christopher December 1, 2010 at 4:12 pm #

    I am actually being attacked over on Raggi’s LOTFP blog in a comments thread because I am arguing that women are generally against art that depicts women as subservient victims and I am being attacked by a woman who is arguing that art doesnt have the power to victimize you unless you allow it to.

    This is, of course, along with all the other dodgy responses from the males in the crew. So yes, it is hard to be a male feminist.

  14. timberwraith December 1, 2010 at 6:20 pm #

    Huh. That blog thread is a mess. Raggi’s post just seems like one long rationalization. And this little gem made my jaw drop open:

    Women are just better at some things than men and being a sympathetic victim is one of them.

    Why is that? Could it be bound up in some very limited assumptions about gender roles that still have widespread acceptance? When a woman is portrayed as a victim, her character is following the standard script of women being weak and helpless and her portrayal is accepted as being “normal”. When a man is portrayed as a victim, he is viewed as a failure at being properly masculine and consequently, the character is viewed as a loser and a wimp.

    Men are victims of violent crimes quite regularly, and yet, there is an automatic negative judgment placed upon them. Women perform acts of strength and heroism quite regularly, too, but that flies under the radar because it doesn’t fit into people’s preconceived notions.

    Rather than address this problem, Raggi has looked for a rationalization to enable him to sweep this issue under the fuck-it carpet.

    As a woman, I appreciate movies, tv shows, and books that ditch the expected, narrow social roles and present something that challenges the assumed norm. When I run into the usual damsel in distress scenario, my response is usually an eye roll and ensuing boredom.

    As for the woman you spoke of, her response to you was utterly craptastic. To use a psuedo-feminist technique in dismissing valid points made by a feminist man is insufferably warped.

    Only a minority of the populace identifies as feminist, including women. There’s an incredible amount of ignorance out there.

  15. Greg Christopher December 1, 2010 at 11:15 pm #

    Exactly, Timber. That is why my first response was incredulity that he could simultaneously KNOW that there is a systematic bias and knowingly ignore that information. Crazy!

  16. greengeekgirl December 2, 2010 at 10:08 pm #

    Soo much going on in the comments here 😀

    @timber, probably that person thinks that women are inherently better at being sympathetic victims because he’s an unsympathetic douchebag who likes to victimize women. (“What? Jesus, I didn’t mean anything.. why are you crying???”)

    @GP, get down with your feminist self, mon ami 😉 Any women who say you can’t be a feminist clearly don’t understand what feminism is supposed to be about.

    I actually don’t consider myself a feminist, even though I’m a woman, partially because of the negative connotation but mostly because I of course think that women should have equal rights as men–just like I think gays should have equal rights, I think people who are not white should have equal rights, I think nontheists should have equal rights, on paper AND in practice–I don’t see why anybody should not have the same rights as anybody else. Calling myself a ‘feminist’ seems to me that I am putting women’s rights somehow above all of the other groups, as though I am especially concerned about women’s rights and not as concerned about others. I am concerned of course, but I’m chiefly concerned with human rights as a whole.

  17. godlesspaladin December 2, 2010 at 10:13 pm #

    @ GGG, yeah for me “feminism” is just a subset of human rights. I’d tell people that I’m first and foremost concerned about human rights, and since women are humans, feminism naturally falls with my area of concern. (Same as gay rights, religious rights, you name it)

  18. thesecretatheist December 2, 2010 at 10:37 pm #

    re: greengeekgirl

    I somehow manage to be surprised any time I am faced with someone who doesn’t feel that all people should have equal rights regardless of any racial, gender, cultural or class differences, etc.

    I guess I have a bad habit of assuming the best of people until proven otherwise.

  19. ashleyfmiller December 2, 2010 at 10:48 pm #

    Random: I would argue that at least part of the bad boy appeal is that, in fiction, the most fleshed out and interesting characters tend to be villains/anti-heroes. I suspect it has more to do with being able to identify with the emotions a character goes with than their “bad boy” status.

    I’ve always been more interested in LGBT rights than feminism, which is sort of weird because I am definitely a woman and I don’t identify as gay. I think women who claim men can’t be feminist are not only shooting themselves in the foot by rejecting the help of the majority, as you say, but they are fundamentally undermining the message of feminism which is gender equality, not female superiority.

  20. greengeekgirl December 4, 2010 at 1:45 am #

    @thesecretatheist I am not surprised anymore by it… just disgusted, really. But people are not naturally democratic; even many people who consider themselves to be fair-minded people have blind spots.

    I still like to try to assume the best of people, though.. yeah, I get burned when things don’t work out (like recently, when the people who bought our former apartment miraculously worked out $200 worth of charges to keep our $200 deposit) but it helps me sleep at night.

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