“It’s About Power”: Reflecting Upon and Pondering About Men in Feminism and Religion By John Erickson

The following is a guest post by John Erickson, doctoral student in Women’s Studies in Religion at Claremont Graduate University.  His research interests involve an interdisciplinary approach and are influenced by his time as the director of a women’s center and active member in the GLBTQ and women’s rights movements.  His work is inspired by the intersectionality of the feminism, queer identity, and religious political and cultural rhetoric.  He is the author of the blog, From Wisconsin, with Love and can be followed on Twitter at @jerickson85.

I must confess I have been struggling with writing this blog entry for a couple of months.  Although I don’t usually find myself at a loss for words, when discussing the role of men in feminism and religion, I must admit, I did not know what to say.

While thinking about my positionality within feminism, both as a man and self-identified feminist, I was continually brought back to the time where I felt as if I didn’t belong.  When my place as both an ally and advocate for gender and sexual equality was challenged not by other men who didn’t understand me but by a group of fellow female students in my first ever graduate class in Women’s Studies at Claremont Graduate University.

The overarching feeling that I can recall from the memory is how scary the prospect of a man in a women’s studies class appears to be.  What place did I have sitting in what has been traditionally defined as a “safe space” and more importantly, how would my presence in the classroom affect the open and empowering nature that women’s studies classes have symbolically represented in both the world of activism and academia?  

I must admit that, even though I don’t believe to know the answers to these important questions, I believe it comes down to power and what exactly power means.  Culturally, what does a white, male-bodied individual both symbolically and physically represent?  In an academic field dominated by men, what did it mean to have a man in a women’s studies and religion class and program sit there and claim to “understand” or “belong” in feminism?

I remember when I was 18 years old and heard a female role model of mine utter the phrase: “It’s not about right, it’s not about wrong, it’s about power.”  Her name was Buffy Summers and although some might scoff at the sentiment or rebuff the source, this saying has stayed with me through my time as a Women’s Studies major in college to now, as a recent graduate of two graduate Women’s Studies programs.  Specifically, this statement has been one that I lived by when entering into classroom discussion.

As a man in feminism and religion it is my responsibility to negotiate the power, responsibility, and more importantly the vulnerability that comes with being a man in feminism.  I must understand my power as a white, male-bodied individual in feminism and the privilege that I receive from the world just because I was born a man.  I must be responsible for that power and understand that it is both subconsciously oppressive and endowing just as much as it is consciously empowering. However, while I navigate my way through intersectionalities of these positions, I must understand and accept the vulnerability that comes with being a man in feminism.

As men in feminism it is our job to accept and understand that if it comes down to power, then we have to be ok with being vulnerable.  Men have to accept the vulnerability we feel, when we hear the stories of patriarchal oppression and subjugation.  We have to be willing to redefine our positions both within the field of religion and women’s studies as well as the world in order to move beyond heteropatriarchal and heteronormative stereotypes to create a world that is both empowering to women and men from all walks of life.

If the world really does come down to power: who has it, who wants it, and what we do with it once we get it, men in feminism, specifically have to be ok when the power pendulum doesn’t swing their way and that, is why I believe, many men are not involved with feminism today.

Giving up power means making oneself vulnerable and that is a concept that men, traditionally those outside of feminism, still have a hard time admitting to and actually doing.  However, if we begin by exploring the male allies that are already in feminism and religion, then it is easy to see that change is both possible and plausible.

Change is never easy.  Change is suppose to be hard and most importantly, change is suppose to take time.  While men in feminism still remains a new concept and may or may not sound particularly “normal” when rolling off the tips of our tongues, we, as new and continuing students and scholars of feminism and religion have to understand that this “vulnerability” we feel when welcoming a male student into the classroom or listening to their comments during discussion are suppose to feel strange.

But we also have to remember what it takes to get a man into the classroom and the world of feminism.  If a man joins in class discussion or takes a class in feminism, we owe it to the possibility of change, to listen.  If we have discovered anything by studying feminism throughout history, it is that giving up power is never easy, and that is what these men, in my opinion, are doing.

Men in feminism and religion have to step back and listen first.  To create the change we want to see in the world we have to listen and act together and that is exactly what feminism is all about: taking the harsh and oppressive nature of a scary world and creating something beautiful for all of humanity to be proud of and work towards together.

Author: John M. Erickson

Mayor Pro Tempore John M. Erickson was elected to the West Hollywood City Council on November 3, 2020 with the commitment to uphold the city’s founding vision for a forward-thinking, diverse and tolerant community. Mayor Pro Tempore Erickson first planted roots in West Hollywood in 2010 when he was selected to intern for the City Council. The internship set him on a path that connected his work for social and economic justice with his passion for public service. He went on to become Council Deputy to former Mayor Abbe Land and then served as City’s Community Affairs where he advanced policies and programs to increase awareness around LGBTQ+ rights, women’s rights, the environment, and civic engagement. After leaving City Hall, Mayor Pro Tempore Erickson served as a Legislative Representative at LAX (Los Angeles International Airport) and is currently the Interim Vice President of Public Affairs, Communications, and Marketing at Planned Parenthood Los Angeles. The immediate past Vice-Chair of the City’s Planning Commission, Mayor Pro Tempore Erickson’s priorities on the City Council include: overcoming COVID through sensible health practices and economic recovery; creating more affordable housing and protecting renters’ rights; reducing traffic through alternative transportation strategies, fighting climate change and making our city more sustainable; and implementing policies that make the city truly free of prejudice and welcoming to all. Mayor Pro Tempore Erickson has earned a reputation as a fearless, tenacious and effective voice for those who need one. His advocacy work includes serving a National Board member of the National Organization for Women and President of the ACLU Southern California. In 2017, he became Governor Brown’s appointee to the California Commission on the Status of Women and Girls and served as an organizer for both the Resist March and the historic Women’s March, Los Angeles that year. He serves on the Board of the Women’s March Los Angeles Foundation Mayor Pro Tempore Erickson was part of the End Statute of Limitation on Rape (ERSOL) Campaign, which overturned California’s statute of limitations on rape and sexual assault in 2016. Mayor Pro Tempore Erickson received his Ph.D. in American Religious History from Claremont Graduate University and a Dual-Master’s Degree from Claremont Graduate University. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh with a B.A. in English and Women’s Studies.

3 thoughts on ““It’s About Power”: Reflecting Upon and Pondering About Men in Feminism and Religion By John Erickson”

  1. Dear John,
    Thanks so much for your comments and in particular, for the way you bring up the issue of power. I too am a Buffy fan, and I remember taking a little step back when I heard the quote you mentioned above for the first time…because it makes you think…. in one way, she is definitely talking about a certain kind of power, while on the flip side, she is confronting the idea so ingrained in our society that power is somehow given to what is “right,” when often it is not. (I can’t remember because its been a while, this is when she’s encouraging the young slayers… or rather, going to fight at the hell mouth with them?, right?)

    I think a lot about the “kinds” of power we use, or the intention attached to the energy we use. I remember once listening to the Tyra show while I was painting my hallway. She was interviewing hip hop star 50 cent and asked him about his tattoo of the word POWER across the knuckles of his fist– he basically replied that power was everything to him… but the symbolic meaning of tattooing this across his fist just made me so sad, because it made me think that maybe this dominating image of power was the only kind of power he understood.

    Certain kinds of power can seem so protective… but are so often just an illusion of protection– as though strict control or power-over something might make us less vulnerable when in fact, it often robs us of important aspects of “lively” relationship. Please forgive my rantings here…. If you can’t tell, I am a student of Process Theology ;)
    That said, vulnerability is a HUGE risk, particularly in a cultural climate that is steeped in abusive models of relationship. I agree with you that the threat of letting go of power is a huge reason why people resist stepping into complicated, but creatively “lively” relationships of transformation!
    Thank you for sharing your risk! And know that you are not alone in it– even though risks are different. :) I remember sitting in my first graduate women’s studies class and telling the class that I didn’t know if I could identify as a feminist because I didn’t feel like my life represented the feminist ideas I held— I know that does not preclude my ability to be a feminist now, though I still work on letting go of the fear or shame related to not being a “perfect feminist,” or “perfect ally”…. and that idea of unattainable perfection is for me, definitely related to holding, sharing and releasing certain kinds of power!

    Thank you!
    -Sara Fryk.


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