Saturday, May 16, 2009

Men: 10 Ways to "Tighten Up" & Step Up!


Marc writes:

I am far from perfect. As a male feminist, I've stumbled, picked myself back up, learned and stumbled some more, and I am still stumbling - that is, to say, I've been in feminist movement for quite a while now and believe that part of being a feminist is about growth. I came to the feminist movement five years ago as a freshman and I am still learning and making mistakes.As such, and in response to recent posts on this site about the involvement of men within feminism and whether they are "overrated," I'd like to make this post about how we, as men, can be better partners and allies to the feminist community.Please feel free to contribute and add your advice. It's the only way we'll learn to be better partners.

One: Look internally. To combat sexism, one has to first understand how, implicitly, one contributes to sexism. While we may feel the desire to point the finger and call out sexism, sometimes we must look within ourselves. Only by understand our own actions and how we interact with women can we engage the world in anti-sexist actions.

Two: Feminism is about the personal just as much as it is about the political. Being pro-choice and supporting gay marriage does not make one a feminist. Being an "activist" is simply not enough to call oneself a feminist. Feminism is also defined by how we interact with others, and especially women and our intimate partners. This goes back to point one of understanding ourselves. It also illustrates what MercurialGirl said in the "Overrated/Underrated" post about some progressive men still being "intimate terrorists."

Three: Don't expect a cookie. You don't get a pat on the back or more dates just because you're a feminist. To expect a reward for being a feminist is sort of like expecting accolades for being a good father, or paying your bills on time. You're a feminist because you see the injustices in the world, and have chosen to take actions because of it. This makes you a good person, and good people are everywhere, you're not special.

Four: Give up your male privilege. When I first entered this movement, I didn't understand what it really meant, but as I grew, I understood that we must give up our sense of entitlement. Unlike women, most of us have never faced the challenges of denied access, and when we are turned away by certain sects of feminism, the answer isn't to get upset, but to find other avenues that we are welcomed in, and can help. We don't deserve anything, other than being treated like human beings; and as human beings, we each have our own privileges, so there's no pouting when a less privileged group denies us access.

Five: Listen to women. By this, I don't simply mean following women's directions, but rather, critically listen to women's personal narratives and thoughts, and critically analyze what they say. This is not so that we can make a counter-argument or to dismiss their experiences, but rather, so that we can see things from their perspectives. Given that our experiences as males (and I am not inclined to say that all men have the same experiences - our sexual identities, education, color and class play a great part) are often much different than that of women, the only way we can be better allies is to listen and learn. While it's important to share our thoughts, it's more important to learn about theirs. Without such, we'll be doing feminism our ways and the way we see fit, rather than doing what women really need us to do.

Six: Put yourselves in women's shoes. Sometimes, as male feminists, we fail to be better partners because we see things from male perspectives. Our lens is a privileged one, and while I don't doubt that the majority of us mean well, even as feminists, we've grown into a male-centered culture in which we view the world through our privileges. Even when we think we mean well in what we're doing, we have to stop and ask, "Well, how would she feel about this?"

Seven: Remember that while we may be equals in feminism, our experiences will dictate that we, as men, as the privileged ones. This means that our gender does matter. While we may see ourselves as "just another guy in feminism," women may not see it as such. I look in the mirror and I see myself a man, but many women, based on experiences, will associate maleness with power, or intimidation, or pain. That said, be aware of your sex, and that you being a man within the feminist movement does matter and have all types of implications of power that can be used to thwart women's voices.

Eight: You don't take the lead. While there are areas in which men can certainly take the lead to combat sexism, being a leader of a feminist organization for women is not one of them. Feminism is about empowering women, and while men can gain a great deal from feminism as well, your involvement in leadership positions will firstly take power away from women; secondly, it will prevent some women from speaking up; and thirdly, from an epistemological perspective, brings nothing positive to the movement. Want to take the lead? You work with men to end sexism. Feminism belongs to you as much as it does to women, but until the violence stops; until one out of four women is no longer raped; when the rest of the world actually sees women as equals, it will always be women-centered. You belong behind and beside women, never in front of them.

Nine: Remember that you're not doing women any favors. You're doing this because you have a stake in it, too. Women are not damsels in distress and you're not a knight in shining armor. The feminist movement thrived without men in the past, and will continue to thrive with or without men. In feminism, we're partners and allies, and until we stop pounding our chests and acting as if we're some sort of heroes (a sign of unresolved masculinity and male privilege), we're still not being good allies.

Ten: Work with other men. Listen to male mentors. There are many out there, and while you (and I) may feel like they're of the "old school" and have nothing interesting to say, they've been through this before and can offer invaluable lessons as to how to be better male allies and partners. No one learns on their own, and just as it's important to learn from women about their experiences, we can learn from men who have come before us about our roles within feminism. Those men include Jackson Katz, Michael Kimmel, George Marx, Jason Schultz and perhaps even your own father, and all the great folks over at the National Organization for Men Against Sexism.

Also, engage other men. You have male privilege; you can talk to other men. You don't have to appear preachy, but by just simply engaging other men in conversations about their relationships and views about women, you can influence them to be better men and better feminists. In the end, no matter where you are in life, you're valuable, too, because you've recognized the importance of feminism, and you can do a lot by reaching out to other men. There are millions of young men out there needing directions and waiting for answers, you can be that answer.

Good luck!
Posted by Marc - May 11, 2009, at 11:55AM in Analysis

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