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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Retraction: Men Can NOT Be Feminists

A while ago, I wrote a post about the different sides of debate about if men can be feminists and came to the conclusion that yes, men can be feminists. Actually, what I decided was: "men can be feminists, but they are a fundamentally different kind of feminist than women."

Since then, I have been thinking more about this, in light of some of the comments on the post and reading other posts from feminists. I have, in fact, changed my mind. Men can NOT be feminists.

This is not to say that men cannot have feminist values. I encourage all men to think about feminism and equality. I think when it comes to men and feminism, men can be pro-feminist or feminist-minded, but not truly feminists.

Men cannot truly understand what it means to be a woman. Just as a point of clarification: I want to make sure that it is understood that in this argument, I am including trans men and trans women. Trans women can be feminists because they are women and share some of the same experiences that cis-women do and face different kinds of oppression. Trans women, of course, will have differing experiences from cis-women, but there are differing experiences between all women. Also, trans men cannot be feminists for many of the same reasons.

When it comes to oppression, people can fight against it (and I strongly encourage them to), but they will never fully understand it unless they are subject to it. People with male privilege, no matter how much they are aware of their privilege, won't be able to get rid of that privilege to fully understand the oppression that they are a part of (part of privilege is being complicit in oppression, even if you are aware of your privilege).

This post is not intended to discourage anyone in their feminist beliefs. I am all about men having feminist values. My only problem comes when men call themselves feminists, instead of pro-feminist, feminist-minded, etc. Recognizing one's own male privilege is also about recognizing the oppression that you are complicit in, even if not purposefully. Therefore, it is hard to call yourself a feminist...only pro-feminist.

Further Reading:
Men are not feminists. [Pieces of String]


RMJ said...

A little surprised to see this, since your last post called Ted Kennedy a feminist...

I don't think I agree. I think that the goals of feminism are wide enough and effect everyone enough that men should be able to enter into discussion of them. Feminism's for men, too, as far as I'm concerned, so if a man wants to take on a problematized title, I have no problem with it.

Feminism and being a feminist, to me, is also tied to fighting white, het, able, and cis privilege, as much as male privilege, but I engage in all of those privileges and perpetuate them. What about men who are not white, het, able, or cis? Are they unable to seek it out under those auspices? And since trans men have had the experience of being deprived of male privilege, why are they excluded?

Sexism and inequality between the genders hurts men too. It boxes them into their gender roles and prevents them from fully experiencing the fulfillment of equality with the women they love, be it their intimate partner, their friend, their sister, or their mother. And if they break out of those gender roles, they do experience sexism - the usual equation is prejudice + power = racism/sexism, but that speaks more to the speaker than the recipient.

But then, I don't really have an issue with the title being mis-used. I'm emotionally attached to my own use of the title more than how other people use it because of my personal history with feminism, but if Sarah Palin wants to use it - whatever, she has experienced sexism. I'm more concerned with how things and people are specifically doing good or bad than whether or not they're feminist. A lot of good and bad things have been done in the name of feminism, so I don't think it's necessarily a synonym for either end.

Sorry for the novel...

Clarissa said...

Do you think that men are not oppressed by patriarchy? Of course, they are. Patriarchy is just as bad and just as oppressive (albeit in different ways) to men as it is to women. There is "male privilege" under this system, but there is also "female privilege." This is not a system that oppresses all women and benefits all men. Rather, it limits the opportunities for all of us.

I think there is no feminism unless we all understand that.

Laura said...

@RMJ - I believe I referred to Ted Kennedy as a feminist ally, but I will double check, because that's what I intended. Feminism, for me as well, is about fighting all forms of oppression, but I look at how these forms of oppression intersect on women's bodies. I think that men should enter into discussion of feminism. Men are more than free to discuss feminism, agree with feminist values, etc. I'm all about men being pro-feminist. I just don't think I agree with men being feminists. This is definitely an ongoing struggle and discussion for me (I obviously go back and forth a little bit). In my original post, someone talked in the comments about a post from Womanist Musings about how white women cannot be womanists, but they can align themselves with womanist values. I think the same thing applies here.

@Clarissa - Women definitely benefit from some things that men don't. I'm not saying that all men are privileged ALL the time and all women are oppressed ALL the time. And men would definitely benefit from having the patriarchy abolished as well as women. I'm not saying that men cannot have feminist values and work towards feminist goals. I'm just saying that men (b/c they have male privilege) cannot fully understand women's experiences, just like women can't fully understand men's experiences. And for me,an important part of feminism is about how women experience different intersections of oppressions.

Dawn. said...

Interesting post, Laura. I do agree with RMJ though - to me, being a feminist is about acknowledging and fighting sexism but also about acknowledging and fighting white, cis, hetero, upper class, and able-bodied privileges. I also engage in many of these privileges and therefore perpetuate them, but I am still a feminist.

Feminism is about all these things and men too. Men are deeply hurt by patriarchy in a variety of ways, especially men who are not white, cis, and/or hetero. I can understand this is a complex subject and so many feminists have varying opinions about it.

To me, feminism is about everyone who is hurt by our deeply flawed social system, and that includes cis men.

Whiner said...

So, in your mind, men can believe absolutely everything a feminist believes, but they can't be 'real' feminists, just like women can't be 'real' things that men are? I see a problem here.... :)

piecesofstring said...

@Whiner: Nice stretch, but your insinuation absolutely cannot be inferred from what Laura has said.

When I wrote my post yesterday, it was pretty cut and dry. Of course feminism needs male allies, and of course patriarchy hurts all genders, I think the issue here is just respecting the term. I still maintain Renee's sentiments that like white women cannot (or should not, really, because people can and will do whatever they please) identify as womanists, men should not identify as feminists.

I'm having a hard time understanding why an ally term would be so difficult to apply here. Straight people are hurt by rampant heterosexism similar to how men are hurt by the patriarchy, but that doesn't mean straight folks get to call themselves LGTB. I realize it's not quite the same, as LGTB is not really a political identification, I just want to further explore why men/some feminists feel that it would be wrong to assume men should apply the ally term to themselves when talking about feminism.

Laura said...

Well, said @pieceofstring.

@Whiner - Men can believe everything that feminists believe. But, for me, they are missing one part of the puzzle, the experience of oppression that women face because of their male privilege. What "'real' things that men are" are you referring to in this instance? Women can do everything men can. I think an appropriate correlation would be women can't be men's rights activists because they don't have the experiences that men have. I don't want to be a men's rights activist, I don't agree with their anti-feminist values, but I think that would be an appropriate correlation.

And like @pieceofstring said, why are we so hesitant to apply to term 'ally' to men?

meloukhia said...

I initially disagreed with the title of your post, but then I spent some time thinking about it, and I started framing it in other terms.

As a white woman/genderqueer, I can't be a womanist. I'm ok with that. I think it's important to have a space dedicated to women of colour.

As an able bodied person, I would consider myself an ally of disability rights activists, not a disability rights activist. I'm ok with that, because I think it's important to have a dedicated space for people with disabilities. can see where I'm going with this.

So why do I have a problem with the idea of feminism as a dedicated space for women/trans women/other members of the gender spectrum who identify with women? Is it, perhaps, because I've been taught that it's not appropriate to exclude men from anything?

Laura said...

@meloukhia - That's a GREAT question! Why are we so eager to include men under the title of feminist and not just as feminist allies or pro-feminist? Maybe it's because we want to include as many people as possible to keep the movement strong. But men are still part of the movement if they are feminist allies. I'm definitely going to have to think a little bit more about this. Maybe we are hesitant exclude men from the title feminist (not the feminist movement altogether) because we are taught to not exclude men.

Laura said...

And I understand your reaction to the title. I wanted to catch people's attention, so it is a little abrasive.

recursiveparadox said...

In response to the concept of feminism fighting all forms of oppression (ableism, cissexism in general not just transmisogyny, racism, etc etc), I don't think it really works.

We already have a term for a movement that seeks to fight every inch of oppression everywhere it raises its head. Egalitarianism. And anyone can be Egalitarian because it includes everyone. It is the overarching rights for all movement.

Feminism (like disabled activism, womanism, racial activism, trans activism, and etc) is more of a specialization of Egalitarianism.

Feminism concentrates on the points of intersectionality in the kyriarchy that center themselves on women's bodies. There are further specializations, like womanism, that deals with intersectionality of the kyriarchy that centers on race and women's bodies. Transfeminism specializes in intersectionality within the kyriarchy faced by trans women specifically.

All of these rights and acceptance specializations seek out social change using the experiences and perspective of a specific group. It allows them greater levels of concentration on more subtle and specific but still very important issues faced by those within the specialization. Let's face it, feminism does not adequately address racial issues or trans issues, ever. Womanism does not adequately address trans issues, ever. Transfeminism does not adequately address racial issues, ever.

If these specialized groups can't address other zones of intersectionality as well as their primary zone, then we really can't expect egalitarianism to be perfectly address (or even address well) these more detailed, specific and subtle issues.

So specializations arise within the larger group that filter down. Those specializations determine who enters, who works the best within the groups and what angle those groups take.

So in the end, it makes sense that a pro-feminist guy can't truly be a feminist. He's still egalitarian, but he can't concentrate that well on women specific issues because he lacks the perspective (due to his privilege) to actually comprehend these issues on the level necessary. In the end, he will be following the direction and lead of women and using our perspective to comprehend things.

Which is what an ally does.

Ameya said...

I could not agree less, but if that were true I would turn in my feminist card immediately. I want no part in a movement that excludes people because they "just don't understand". Just because they don't experience sexism in all the same ways we do (they still encounter it every day in their own lives) doesn't mean that they can't understand. I think that's just insulting to people's intelligence & needlessly dividing a group that has quite enough trouble feeling cohesive as it is.

I think sometimes the idea of privilege is taken much to far. Yes, one can experience it, but it doesn't make them stupid to what it's like without it. Being aware of it is, absolutely, part of being feminist - but if you see all the ways that you have the advantage, how could you not understand how hard it would be with all of those things being different?

Compared to the sexism some people face, i live in an egalitarian utopia. So, if we are able to bestow the title of feminist on people who have experienced it, only, then why does my vagina alone grant me the label? Why have I automatically faced more sexism than my husband, just because of my anatomy?

it's interesting because when we talk about it, I absolutely believe that sexism has affected him much, much more than it has me. I also ran into it less. No doubt due to growing up in a girl power! era.. but why is someone telling me I need to lose 20lbs to be more beautiful & worthy of love worse than people telling him that he needs to be tough and plow down people on the football field or he's "a pussy" and not worthy?

And I think it's bullshit that people would tell me I can't understand what he's gone through because I haven't been forced to play football before. I can still understand it perfectly fine, how could one not?

It's not the experiencing it that makes you worthy of being a feminist, it's being able to see it, identify it, call bullshit on it. My bodily organs or self-identification doesn't make me any more able to see these things than any of my male friends who consider themselves feminists. I've never once in any of my women's studies classes though "ugh they just don't get it" when talking to a well educated male feminist. They have always gotten it, and been just as infuriated as it as I have.

John O'Dwyer said...

I'm a feminist ally and I agree with this post.I think it's important that men aren't seen or portrayed as leading voices of the feminist movement.I've already seen TV shows where 2 men were debating feminist issues and women were absent.No man who genuinely supports feminism should have a problem with 'pro-feminist' nor should they disagree with women-only events/groups.

Clarissa said...

What a great comment, Ameya. You said all I wanted to say on the topic.

I also know that if it weren't for the great men who brought me up (my great-grandfatheer, my grandfather, and my father) I might not even be a feminist today. Denying them the right to be called feminists would invalidate everything they did to raise me with a consciousness of my own value as an individual.

herogirlpenforhire said...

Ameya - Great comment! You said everything I was thinking in a much more calm and rational voice than I have going on in my head right now. Thank you for being a dissenting voice of reason in all this.

Laura said...

I think this post has generated a lot of great discussion. I knew when I wrote it that I would ruffle some feathers because it is a debate within the feminist community with each side passionate about their opinion. After this comment, I will be bowing out of the discussion because I think my opinion has been clearly stated and expressed. But I encourage all commenters to continue the discussion and I will definitely be reading all comments (I will respond if I feel it is necessary, but for the most part I will be bowing out).

I would just like to state again that my opinion is that no matter how aware of sexism a man is or how much he calls bullshit on sexism, he is still benefiting from male privilege and that sexism and I see that as opposing my investments in feminism. I am all for men discussing feminism, having feminist values, calling bullshit on misogyny, but to me, they will still always be feminist allies.

@recursiveparadox - Thank you for a great response. You laid out the argument for men being feminist allies very well.

@John - Thank you for adding a male perspective to the conversation (I hated in WS classes when the single male in the class would be called upon to speak for all men, but I know that's kind of what I'm doing here). I agree that men should definitely not be leading the feminist movement but should play an integral role.

@Ameya and @Ocean Star - I want to thank you for visiting my blog and sharing your opinion. I don't really know how to respond to your comments because I think I have laid out my opinion on the topic pretty well. But I understand that this is kind of a hot topic and I'm glad that you have shared your opinions with the thread...please keep it up! And let me know if there is anything specific that you would like me to clear up!

Thank you all for participating in this discussion. I'm excited to see how this discussion evolves further, even though I am bowing out of actively participating...for the most part.

recursiveparadox said...

@Ameya: It isn't so much a lack of understanding from a logical perspective as it is from detailed direct experience perspective.

Like it or not, no matter what, guys have generally different social treatment than women. This treatment (in most cases) is certainly still a problem, as you stated, but it is not the same as the treatment we undergo.

And while one can have a logical, conceptual idea of what that treatment means and the effects it has, one can not truly comprehend that unique impact on the psyche without experiencing it.

How do you think those guys, immensely knowledgeable on feminist issues, got that way? Probably from speaking to a feminist woman, right? Or from reading books by feminist women. In the end, all of their information about what we experience has to come from us. The impact, the perspective, the comprehension of men of our situation is dependent on us. Whereas if you're a woman, chances are you have experienced it. And if you haven't experienced it yet, you will.

Much in the same way that women can't understand the trials of men, without going only through them to learn of it.

That right there is a division, one not created, one that simply exists as a consequence of the kyriarchy.

The only folks who breach that division are a rare set of binary transsexual folk who didn't adjust everything we saw through the lens of our trans identity pre transition and actually experienced the differences between being a guy and being a girl.

And let me tell you, just like you I haven't experienced the really awful stuff. But good god is the experience different. And even with the stuff guys faced, the stuff I faced pre transition, it still doesn't hold a candle to the tiny fraction I've experienced of the awfulness women get hit with.

But really, I won't assume, and I'm sure there are guys out there that have it intensely worse than us luckier girls. That still doesn't change the fact that their issues are fundamentally different (if similarly sourced). It means that you can't be a masculinist (if such a movement ever gets off the ground) any more than he can be a feminist. I don't really see it as divisive. I see it as making sure different experiences have a safe space to be stated in.

Anonymous said...

This response is me thinking into this text box about all of this. I am male and I am white. I'm not particularly happy with either of those identities. I consider myself a feminist; I think that's a valid category to place myself in--one of many.

White male privilege: I most certainly have benefited from it. I don't get ogled and eyed by men when I walk down the street; I don't get called racial slurs; "my people" don't have a history of oppression, repression, violence, or genocide directed at them. I don't navigate a dominant culture that is significantly different from me.

Now let me call bullshit on the latter part of that paragraph. I do navigate a dominant culture that is significantly different from me, despite my maleness, despite my whiteness. I have experienced repression and oppression directed at me--not in the overt ways that people of color, women, openly trans folk, homosexual people, indigenous people, and others have experienced it--but it has done significant damage to my psyche, and from a very early age. And I would like to belong to a community or communities of people that also have suffered painful experiences under the kyriarchy and the patriarchy, and who are doing something to fight against the injustices inherent in the system, and to uproot and transform the system itself.

If I can't claim that, well, that sucks. It's pretty invalidating. I don't like being or want to be lumped into the same dominant and dominating glob of fools that make my life particularly difficult; that have made it hellish even.

I don't really care about the semantics of the pro-feminist/feminist debate; not really. If I am in a crowd that is more comfortable with me using the term "pro-feminist" than "feminist", then okay, that's what I am; I'm a pro-feminist. But I think of myself as a feminist.

By claiming this identity I by no mean intend to undermine the feminist movement. I mean to support it.

Anonymous said...

I just ran across this in a post by Fugitivus, and am going to assume that she won't mind me reposting it here for consideration in our discussion:

"Men are boxed in by expected gendered behaviors nearly as tightly as women, and often experience consequences as violent and deplorable as women do when stepping out of those boxes. (The big difference is, when men stay in their boxes and perform their gendered behaviors well, they only experience the internal dissatisfaction of having their feelings and inner lives destroyed; men will not be attacked for acting as men. Women can be attacked for staying in their boxes and performing well, because even if they act like the perfect woman, they are still women, and still worth less than men.) Men, like women, must sacrifice an enormous portion of their personality and needs and desires in order to behave as their expected gender, and not ever ever ever behave as the “opposite” gender, and that makes men and women have shittier lives together. Masculine gendered behaviors couldn’t exist without something to define themselves against, something they are not, something they are different than, and that thing is our sick cultural idea of femaleness, and that is why I am a feminist."

Want to read the whole post? Go here:

Laura said...

I think it's important to remember that having male privilege does not mean that you do not face discrimination and are not hurt by gender norms and the patriarchy. Men are just discriminated against in a different way than women. As recursiveparadox said above, feminism is a part of egalitarianism. Feminism, for me, is looking at how different forms of oppression intersect on women's bodies. Men can study this, talk with women about it, call out sexism and misogyny, but will never experience how these forms of oppression intersect on women's bodies. They will experience how they intersect on men's bodies, but for me, that's not what feminism is that case I would look at egalitarianism.

I'm not meaning to not include men in the feminist movement. I whole-heartedly believe that men can be a part of this movement, but as feminist allies who have their own point of view to offer.

recursiveparadox said...

There really ought to be some sort of masculinism or something, to analyze and put together the experiences of men and figure out the intersecting lines of marginalization that come from the kyriarchy against men's bodies.

No doubt men need a specialization in egalitarianism (and I used to involve myself in such things, pre transition), but feminism is not equipped to handle the needs of men and women.

It would reduce the power of the specialization and make it harder to concentrate on and analyze the details.

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