Friday, April 23, 2010

Can Men Be Feminists? And Is It Good When They Are?

Interesting article. This piece from The Scavenger looks at the place of feminism in the male world - and how marginalized they are (and I think it's getting worse with some "masculinity" blogs and movements hating all forms of feminism).

Feminist men: friends or foes?

feministmen1Gender and concepts of masculinity strongly shape feminist men’s experience as feminists in a world that considers them to be neither real men, nor real feminists, writes Rosalie Scolari.

When you opt to conduct academic research on a controversial topic, I have discovered you are not in for an easy ride.

In my case, I was fighting against decades of feminist research, by arguing that there are men who deserve to be seen as legitimate, committed feminists, and deserve a position of camaraderie in our quest for women’s rights.

Now, this is not an easy thing to do when feminism is often marked for “women-only”, or defined in the competitive terms of male versus female privilege.

Any utterance about my research was met with a barrage of catch cries, often from women, demanding: What right do men have to muscle in on what is about and for us? Isn’t feminism and men a contradiction of terms? Or my personal favourite: If anything with a pecker actually truly gave a shit about me, my rights and my body, I would hand over my first born and join the circus.

For me, however, looking at worthy men, and seeing and accepting them as feminists, was conflict-free. Because of how I choose to define feminism, and what I consider its goals to be, the connection between feminism and men was no more controversial than the connection between feminism and women.

What does a feminist look like?

It is important to remember that the terms “feminist” and “woman” are not synonymous. Similar to Simone de Beauvoir’s observation that one is not born a woman, but rather, society creates women, academics like Judith Butler and Judith Grant, suggest that the experiences of women are not necessarily indicative of the standpoint of a feminist.

Rather, it is only with what Grant calls an “interpretive feminist lens,” that women’s experiences come to be part of feminism. In other words, feminism may claim to speak for all women, but not all women speak for feminism.

Despite this obvious truth, the association of feminism with women is overwhelming. Over the years, numerous authors have proposed various definitions of feminism.

While there are often ideological disagreements over exactly what a feminist should stand for, there appears to be some general agreement that since men cannot experience women’s oppression, they cannot be feminists.

I find the experience argument problematic. I just need to compare my own experience as a white, western, middle-class, queer, 26-year-old woman to any women not of the same race, class, country, sexuality or age, to understand that I could not possibly experience oppression like others.

Perspectives and knowledge of all people, regardless of gender, are partial and situated. A full understanding of oppression requires that we recognise these multiple realities, each valid from the perspective of those having the experiences.

It is experience that also shapes men’s relationship to feminism, with some forming a feminist worldview after objecting to the sexism they see around them, reflecting on their own sexist behaviour, or when they have experienced oppression themselves (often racism or homophobia).

Take a story from one of my research participants for example:

“I was sexually assaulted by a group of boys, not long after I came out in year 12. It was a crime of hate ... I know what it feels like to be violated, to have your rights stripped away, to be oppressed daily. Understanding and relating to women’s oppression has always been easy ... and I will do everything in my power to fight for a world where their safety and rights are never compromised.” (Dan)

Women have been burnt, however, and some reject men as feminists because of personal experiences with so-called feminist men, who have turned out to be phallocentric misogynists.

Sadly I too have had encounters with such types, and it is very disheartening. However, I feel much the same when the likes of Girls of the Playboy Mansion, or the delightful (insert sarcasm here) Sarah Palin declare themselves as feminists too.

I wanted to see the pathways men travelled to become feminist, and how this act shapes their lives.

For my honours research I gathered the social, personal and theoretical reflections of 12, self-identified feminist men (six being heterosexual, five being homosexual and one identifying as “queer”).

These men see feminism as a social movement that seeks equality of opportunity for all people, regardless of gender. To them, it is a political perspective that uses gender to critically analyse power – who has it, who doesn’t, who abuses it and why.

Let’s take Nick for example: Nick is a 27-year-old vegan, who works in a music store. Nick believes girls and women should not be raped, abused, discriminated against, and should have control over their own bodies.

Feminism provided him with the tools to start thinking critically about his gender and his unearned privileges as a heterosexual white male. As a result, he tries in his everyday life to avoid doing things that oppress other people, and he attempts to confront oppression when he sees it.

Nick an active member of various communities and organisations that fight for women’s rights.

Now, while many feminist women may find no conflict, and may even applaud Nick’s convictions, the problem often lies in the adoption of the term “feminist”, which “was not designed for men, it was designed because of them.”

So, what is in a name?

While some men who recognise problems of gender oppression, misogyny, sexism and the politics of domination take a stand by identifying as feminists, others call themselves pro-feminists, feminist allies or even menists.

Although I personally see actions as more important than labels, I recognise, like the men in my study, that labels can be used as a powerful display of our politics. Therefore I see the bold, political act of identifying as a feminist, as a profound act of solidarity.

“I call myself a feminist because for me, it politically makes a lot of sense. Sex and gender binaries need to go, and in my ideal world, anyone who believes in equal treatment of the sexes can call themselves a feminist. I think if men can’t call themselves feminists, then perhaps feminism will always been seen as something that only women should care about.” (James)

Read the rest of the article.

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