Please Excuse Me for Having a Penis: Taking a Back Seat to Privilege and Power by John Erickson

Male feminists must be aware that we not only engage in an ongoing struggle against sexual and gender inequality, but more importantly an ongoing fight with ourselves.

I have often struggled with that little voice, call it my conscience if you will, that speaks to me during times of distress.  Although I consider myself a proud feminist, I still struggle with aspects of what I call, internalized misogyny, or more aptly defined as a male born characteristic trait that imparts the idea that men are not only dominant but also more powerful than the other 50% of the species.

For many reasons, I believe religion is one of the main culprits of this growing evil, one that we all witnessed throughout this last election cycle.  However, instead of placing blame solely on religion and images of the male Godhead we have to begin deconstructing the sociological consequences these subconscious social, sexual, religious, and gendered norms have on men but more importantly men who identify as feminists.

I believe that male feminists often deal with multiple binds that force them to recognize and then re-acknowledge their innate power and privilege.  Whether a male feminist identifies as straight, gay, queer, or trans, male feminists, in an abstract way, must combat social and religious images that define their power and privilege for them before they are even given a choice.

I was recently on a panel at the National Women’s Studies Association’s annual conference in Oakland, CA that discussed the issue of having a Men’s Caucus at the annual convention.  Officially becoming a caucus provides the group with an official vote on the board and a possible say with the future direction of the NWSA Conference.  Staged against Robert Jensen, who argued against the formation of such a caucus, I took on the position of the need for such a body to exist, to reexamine the growing field of masculinity studies as well as the growing number of men or male identified individuals who have been coming to the conference in recent years.

As more men become involved in women’s studies and more women start taking an interest in the growing field of masculinity studies, men and women alike have to start examining the reasons why men in feminism is both beneficial to the field as well as being useful in changing the ways in which men, women, boys and girls all interact with each other and construct their individual social, sexual, and religious identities.

However, as many scholars and activists have point out, while men continue to engage in feminist discourse, we still have to remind ourselves, on a daily basis at times, that even though we may be a minority within the safe space of the NWSA Conference, the moment we step outside the doors of the conference hotel, we are no longer the minority but again the majority.  Male feminists must take a back seat to the inherited privilege and power that is given to us within social and religious circles and remind ourselves each day why we chose to become feminists and more importantly why we continue to fight against our internalized misogyny that silently whispers to us that “we deserved” whatever position or opportunity we were passed over for simply because we have a penis.

Male feminists must be aware that we not only engage in an ongoing struggle against sexual and gender inequality, but more importantly an ongoing fight with ourselves.

Previously discussed at the Gender, Society, and Change Conference at Claremont Graduate University where myself and other scholars discussed “masculinities,” sometimes, always raising our hand in class may not be the best option and sometimes always speaking our mind does more harm then good, but in the end, the fight continues and it is within the space of the fight that we begin to not only occupy and navigate through the delicate area of power and privilege but also into a new world where men and women no longer have to take the metaphorical back seat but can operate and function in a world together, equally.

(This post would not have been possible without the support of two dedicated scholars and activists, Brian Jara and Tal Peretz (the moderator for the panel mentioned above) who proposed the idea for the panel and have, like myself, been at the forefront of the issues surrounding men in feminism.  I am grateful to their dedication and honored they asked me to serve on the panel alongside Robert Jensen)  

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.

13 thoughts on “Please Excuse Me for Having a Penis: Taking a Back Seat to Privilege and Power by John Erickson”

  1. I couldn’t agree with you more that men need to create spaces for discussions of male feminism and what that entails. The NWSA could be a place for that. Perhaps the men should ask for a program unit, but without a votes as there are good reasons that women should be running the NWSA. If the group became really successful, it could “hive” off.


    1. Carol,
      This is something that came up during the discussion period and I merely stated that just because it is a “Men Caucus” formed from the Feminist Masculinities group doesn’t mean that if we did become a caucus, with a vote, that a woman couldn’t be the Chair of the group. I’d actually prefer that.


  2. Really liked this…and esp. the part thatyes men may not need to always raise their hands et . In a gws class i always find i end up knowing the names of all my male students much quicker than i will learn the women’s names


  3. I’m with Carol on this issue. It’s important for the National _Women’s_ Studies Association to be run by women. Could a men’s caucus form and decide that it would have only an advisory rather than a voting role? The the space would be created for discussing male feminism, but it wouldn’t upset the space that has been created for women to run their own organization.

    I find my initial reaction to your visual funny in this context. The sign in the picutre can be read in several different ways. The way I first interpreted it, “Equal Opportunity Boys Can Be Feminist Too,” was as an assertive or even pushy statement that we female feminists should make way for the male feminists in our midst. I think creating a men’s caucus can perceived that way as well unless it is done in a truly feminist manner.


  4. Thank you for this honest post! This work is never easy and it will never end as long as we live in an inequitable society. Whenever forming a group, it’s always important to consider why you’re coming together and what you’re hoping to accomplish. And this should be struggled in how you position yourself, including your title. Are you hoping to create a group for men who work in women’s studies because part of being a situational minority is difficulty finding others like you? If this is the case, perhaps there is alternate structure within NWSA aside from a caucus. This would help make it clear that you’re not trying to “take over” but find space and support. Or are you making an intervention in the field of women’s studies and working to gain recognition for masculinity studies as a growing subfield? If so, maybe you could name the caucus “Masculinities Caucus.” Something to chew on.


  5. Honestly science does more to hurt females than religions. Science itself is the reason why the female form is looked upon as a sexual object more than the religions. Either way I don’t disagree with equality in church, however I disagree with changing anything in the bible just to push the feminist agenda. Just like some religions like to paint people like none believers as all, some liberal people like to generalize all religions like they are the same.


  6. It must be almost as hard for a male to understand the effects of patriarchy on women as it is for a white person to understand the effects of white privilege on people of color. I think men need their own group to grapple with the negative effects of patriarchy on all of us.


    1. Men and women interested in men and masculinities should consider the American Men’s Studies Association Our annual meeting (the 22nd) will be in Tacoma in late March. On the question of leadership, our new president is Daphne Watkins of the University of Michigan, and the board last year and 5 women out of 15.


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