Male Feminists?

Spitfire and I have been discussing the possibility of roping in more guest bloggers as we find our personal plates rather full. (I myself just started a new relationship…meet my new boyfriend, Graduate School. He keeps me up late nights with fiery discussion of Dewey Decimal versus Library of Congress Classification…mmm… nerdylove.) So I suggested that it would be interesting to get a guy to guest blog.

And then we heard the metaphorical crickets chirp on both sides of the Gchat.

This has been a common debate within feminist circles–can men be feminists? In its most basic terms, I tend to wholeheartedly agree that yes, men can be feminists! Men can believe in gender equality! But upon further investigation I begin to wonder. Between the theory of male feminists and the the actuality of male feminists, there has been a disjoint as I find theory hasn’t manifested itself into actuality…at least that I have personally witnessed.

This isn’t to say I haven’t run into male feminists in my life. I know quite a few. But I find they fall into three categories:
(1) Freddie Feeble Feminist: These are the guys who say yes, I am a feminist! I believe in gender equality! And thank you Freddie, I appreciate your support. But Freddie doesn’t know much. He can’t tell you why reproductive rights are important (just that “choice is good”), he can’t tell you why the balance between work and family may be difficult and fraught with social pressure for many women (he probably hasn’t really thought it over anyways.) Freddie’s heart is in the right place, but he doesn’t have much to say, and I wonder what, if anything, he contributes to the feminist community at large. Although I truly hope Freddie pipes up during locker-room machismo discussion, I wonder if he does. But Freddie respects women.
(2) Fabio F**k Me Feminist: A close cousin to Freddie, Fabio too claims to be a feminist but can’t articulate why. But unlike Freddie, who has his heart in the right place, Fabio has other things on his mind…his dick. He claims to be a feminist to get chicks. Because somewhere down the line he heard that feminist chicks are sexually liberated and easy. He’ll sweet talk you through women’s liberation, but only so far as the nearest bed. Fabio clearly doesn’t respect women.
(3) Frank Full of Himself Feminist: Sure, Frank knows his Katie Roiphe from his Linda Nochlin, and he’s been to a few Take Back the Nights. And don’t we know about it! Frank can’t stop talking about gender equality, but his “talking” soon becomes lecturing and he comes off as too “enlightened” and it just feels too much like patriarchy’s stamp of approval…thank god for Frank’s head-pat of approval! Frank pisses me off becase Frank pays lips service to respecting women, when in fact he doesn’t, because in his mind he’s still saying “bitch, sit down and listen to me, the man.”

So this is what I have personally witnessed in my life, and I realize I’ve painted with large brushstrokes, and I realize I could be wrong–I hope I am. But I’m genuinely asking, can men be strong solid feminists– knowledgeable, respectful, and contributing? I know men have written about masculinity, contributing to gender studies, and these voices are valuabe to help flesh out gender topics that abut feminism, but they don’t directly support feminism.

But I hope I’m wrong about this. How can we get Freddie to be more vocal like Frank but less of a douche? I don’t want to scare guys away thinking they are forever doomed to fall into one of these categories, but how can they (can they?) find a valuable role and voice within feminism?

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10 responses to “Male Feminists?

  1. How knowledgeable does one have to be to escape

  2. How knowledgeable does one have to be to escape the first category?

  3. Hey! Look who’s posting. You’re welcome, Kate.

    And… off to the comment:

    In so dismissively (and harshly) characterizing the ‘feminist’ attempts of young men, I think you may be unwittingly (and unnecessarily) alienating them. This is a huge block of people that could potentially help the cause and questioning whether they can legitimately identify as “cause members” seems an endless, semantic affair (especially considering the loose definitions of “feminist” that abound) that may not be worth it.

    And yet, I agree with you. The above three types definitely exist (in fact, were I a male, I fear I might fall into the first, despite my ‘women’s studies’ cred). But in regard to the second two (and especially the second), might I suggest that their annoying “feminist” assertions are actually just the product of immature guys still in the self-obsession stage, that these guys are not representative of the actual scope of self-identifying male feminists, and thus, that positing an argument based solely upon them renders that argument invalid?

    All I’m sayin’, as with any political cause or movement, feminism depends upon truly seeing others as full human beings. And when young guys use the feminist label as a means to a purely selfish end, it’s definitely not about that “full” other, and it’s not really about the cause; it’s just about the self.

    I have to believe that there are mature, thoughtful, well-adjusted guys who do the cause justice. They’re probably just older than 24 (but not necessarily).

    Geez I’m long-winded.

  4. in response to tyler:
    i think the necessary knowledge to avoid the first fate is a solid understanding of feminism–check out the linked article in the related posts. one wouldn’t call themselves a communist without knowing what the hell that really meant. a solid understanding of all three waves of feminism and the current issues that women face is key to not looking like a clueless dope. and i would also say the ability to speak up for gender equality is necessary as well–whether it’s to explain to your male coworker why “those jokes” aren’t funny, or whether it’s to hold your own in a discussion about the “empowerment” of “girls gone wild.”
    does that make sense?

  5. That seems like two fairly separate standards –

    a) Being conversant with the history of feminist ideology and major schools of thought of women’s and gender studies.

    b) The ability to intelligently advocate for gender equality in everyday conversations.

    Are both of those qualities necessary? Are they equally important? I recognize the need for and value of higher order theoretical discussion of gender politics, but I realistically can’t afford to be literate in all the areas of expertise I’d like.

    Do I need to be able to distinguish the politics of different waves of feminism in order to consider myself an advocate for gender equality?

    I’ve always considered the definition of feminist to be “One who believes that people are equal regardless of gender.” Similar I would think of anyone who thought that wealth should be distributed from each according to their abilities to each according to their need as a communist, even if they had never read any Frederick Engels.

    Can I be a feminist without studying feminism?

  6. in response to tracee:
    “feminism depends upon truly seeing others as full human beings…I have to believe that there are mature, thoughtful, well-adjusted guys who do the cause justice.”
    yes! you’ve nailed it! i was clearly generalizing in my characterizations, but i have to believe that there are grown men out there that are well-adjusted and mature and are strong feminists. but part of the problem i believe (and once again i’m generalizing) is that american machismo culture does not value women as full human beings (viewing them as property or toys or what have you), so men have to grow into this realization of women as human beings as they mature. which could explain why, at 25, i have yet to meet many.
    i think perhaps what i just said could be viewed as horribly offensive. but do you get the point i’m trying to make? i’m clearly not articulate today…

  7. tyler–i’m not saying you need to know the history of elizabeth cady stanton vs. betty friedan. i’m a history freak personally, so these things are important to me. i would say, however, that you know about the fight to pass roe v. wade because that history is integral to the tenants of feminism.

  8. i’ll jump into fray: tyler and mayhem

    i don’t think you need to know everything there is to know about the 3 waves of feminism (because in fact the 3rd wave can’t even define itself)– but i think you should at least know that there were 3. not 7. or 12.

    to a degree, i think knowing your history keeps us from making the same mistakes in the future and from reinventing the wheel (what other cliches can i throw out here?)– and i wonder if a person has no desire to study feminism, why self-identify as one? (but that’s the question you’re asking, isn’t it? must one study something in order to be a member/person of it? i think so. i wouldn’t call myself an economist unless i studied it. but then feminism exists in this limbo state of cultural phenom/academic/professional thing so that people from all walks of life can identify with it) dear god, what am i even saying?
    i think too much ____ is given to labels– agonizing over whether or not s/he is or s/he isn’t. just live your life- fight for gender equality and if others brand you a feminist– you’re doing something right.

  9. i have met some male feminist who are genuine men and young, they do not fit into any of these categories

  10. speaking of good men, have you heard of “men can stop rape” excellent body you can google them up

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