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.