The Hot Seat by John Erickson


men_feminist_mainI’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be a male feminist lately.  As the only man to be a permanent blogger on this very site until my colleague and friend Kile Jones came on board, I took my role, as a man in a traditional feminist (online) space very seriously.  Although the ongoing struggle to be a male feminist is one continually wrought with dialogues about power and positionality (amongst a host of many other topics), I am often conflicted when I see male feminists take advantage and destroy the hard work that many, specifically on this site and beyond, worked hard to build and defend.

Not wanting to reopen old wounds or start new online battles, men have been involved in feminism for quite some time.  From James Mott chairing the first women’s rights convention, to radical feminist Andrea Dworkin’s life partner John Stoltenberg, to Michael Kimmel and Michael Kaufman’s life long work to legitimize not only men in feminism but also what it means to be a man who works for gender equality, being a man in feminism isn’t easy and that’s how it is supposed to be.

I’ve written on this blog that men often have to deal with an internalized misogyny that is a born characteristic trait that imparts the idea that men are not only dominant but are also more powerful than women, so they should, naturally, be atop of the proverbial pecking order.  This internalized misogyny leads many men, who already or want to exist in feminist spaces, to speak up more than the women in the room when they should really be listening.   However, what is more important than this internalized misogyny is how men, specifically, male feminists, fall victim to their ego by wanting to be the sole male feminist.

MenInFeminism

While I still believe that men are endowed with these characteristics as a result of purposeful and subconscious cultural, societal and religious imagery that shows men as Gods, it is important to realize that while the image of the one God may be something that many men idealize and aspire to, the idea of the one male feminist doesn’t exist and it is not supposed to.  Those who strive to be the male feminist are doomed to fail and they hurt those who came along for their ego driven ride and the feminist cause they sought to be a part of.

When it comes to leading, men are told to get to the front of the line no matter what the cost or who they hurt and women are told to take a backseat.  However, when it comes to feminism, especially men in feminism, men must to go to the back of the bus first and work their way up to the front fully knowing that although they may never reach that coveted front seat, the work they did to help the cause was just as important because equality doesn’t mean anything when there is only one voice screaming from the rafters.

Hopefully the hurt that has been caused as of late can be healed and as a result of more men join the cause to stop all forms of injustice that threaten not only women’s equality but also equality for all, no matter what.

equalty

John Erickson is a doctoral student in American Religious History at Claremont Graduate University.  His research interests involve an interdisciplinary approach and are influenced by the GLBTQ and women’s rights movements.  His work is inspired by the intersectionality of  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.



Categories: Academy, Activism, college, Community, Ethics, Feminism, Feminist Awakenings, Gender and Power, Gender and Sexuality, General, God, God-talk, Hierarchy, Human Rights, Identity Construction, In the News, Justice, Mary Daly, Media, Men and Feminism, Patriarchy, Politics, power, Power relations, Prayer, Redemption, Sexism, Social Justice, Women and Community, Women's Rights

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9 replies

  1. preach it brother! & thank you for your partnership!

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  2. John,
    Glad you mention Kile, James, John, Michael, and Michael. Weird that you’d tag Hugo and his (former?) employer without saying anything in the text of your post about him explicitly. Aren’t you needing to say he has internalized misogyny, that he has striven to be “the” male feminist, that he is responsible for the hurt that has been caused as of late?

    Glad you mention Andrea (if only in relation to a man) and that you tag Mary Daly (if without a mention of her in your post). I wonder if either could or would endorse men for feminism(s)? I rather imagine that, if they could agree with bell hooks, they might want none of us being “for” feminism. Rather all of us might work to understand and then to end systemic institutionalized sexism, sexist thinking, sexist exploitation, and oppression. This is much more profound than the binary question “whose side are you on?” and “whose side can you be on?”

    On the very first page of her book “Feminism is For Everyone: Passionate Politics,” hooks reminds:

    “Simply put, feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression. This was a definition of feminism I offered in [my book] ‘Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center’ more than 10 years ago [in 1985]. It was my hope that at that time that it would become a common definition everyone would use. I liked this definition because it did not imply that men were the enemy. By naming sexism as the problem it went directly to the heart of the matter. Practically, it is a definition which implies that all sexist thinking and action is the problem, whether those who perpetuate it are female or male, child or adult. It is also broad enough to include an understanding of systemic institutionalized sexism. As a definition it is open-ended. To understand feminism it implies one has to necessarily understand sexism.”

    There can be no bastion of male feminist space that anyone must claim, reclaim, and defend in the agon of the world, for crying out loud. To posit such is to construct the boundary, the sort of binary thinking that sexism relies on. This is the fundamental structure that needs to be taken down. I’m not sure that anybody can put it better than Nancy Mairs has, when she writes:

    “In order to get what he wants, then, the father must have power to coerce those around him to meet his demands. To have power is to alienate oneself, however, because power is always power over and the preposition demands an object. The fundamental structure of patriarchy is thus binary: me/not me, active/passive, culture/nature, normal/deviant, good/bad, masculine/feminine, public/private, political/personal, form/content, subjective/objective, friend/enemy, true/false. . . . It is a structure, both spatial and temporal, predicated upon separation, not relation. It demands rupture, the split into halves engendered by the abrupt erection of the phallus: those who have and those who have not. It speaks the language of opposites. . . [in] a dimorphic world.”

    If anything, let’s talk about the dimorphic world of Hugo. But all the power talk of losing male feminist numbers and power and such sounds rather, well, like trying to do what one must do to get what he wants.

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    • Hi J.K. Gayle! This is such a great strain of comments that I do not want to just respond with one blank statement but take them each point by point. You raise so many important conversation pieces that we could talk about until we are blue in the face so here I go:

      Glad you mention Kile, James, John, Michael, and Michael. Weird that you’d tag Hugo and his (former?) employer without saying anything in the text of your post about him explicitly. Aren’t you needing to say he has internalized misogyny, that he has striven to be “the” male feminist, that he is responsible for the hurt that has been caused as of late?

      -There are many more I could mention that are doing great work and there are many more that I could tag that are doing more harm than good. Instead of tagging Hugo and his CURRENT employer (based off of what I’ve read and know about tenure) I decided to go with “the good,” and not draw attention to his actual name in my post. I must say, I know Hugo and have spoken with him many times about many issues and I can come to the conclusion that I hope he gets the help he needs and I hope he and his family can live peacefully together in the future after this occurs. Now, with that said, what has occurred in the past weeks is a great travesty to those who are working in the cause and do not need to go around and call themselves the “male feminist” because they fear another man might kick them off their proverbial throne. For me, it is very simply a vicious battle, similar to, Game of Thrones, when men get involved with feminism for the wrong reason but instead of them “getting hurt” and suffering the consequences of their actions, it is often the women and girls who are the ones badly hurt as a result of their actions. Men still have privilege regardless of how badly their twitter meltdown may be. No one can take that away from them but the women who were hurt in the past and are hurt now do not that have same type of privilege and then it is up to us, the individuals who are not like Hugo, to pick up the pieces and rebuild the road that not just he, but many others, attempted to destroy. Sadly, the more power we give him, the more powerful he feels.

      Glad you mention Andrea (if only in relation to a man) and that you tag Mary Daly (if without a mention of her in your post). I wonder if either could or would endorse men for feminism(s)? I rather imagine that, if they could agree with bell hooks, they might want none of us being “for” feminism. Rather all of us might work to understand and then to end systemic institutionalized sexism, sexist thinking, sexist exploitation, and oppression. This is much more profound than the binary question “whose side are you on?” and “whose side can you be on?”

      -It is a well known fact that Andrea Dworkin and Mary Daly had men in their lives and even taught them (for the various reasons that you mention) as well as many others. I believe they would welcome men in “the cause,” but more importantly, that welcoming hand would not come until years and years of trust and proven leadership for the same cause. Trust, specifically men in feminism, is a very tricky thing. Once it is broken, it takes years to rebuild.

      On the very first page of her book “Feminism is For Everyone: Passionate Politics,” hooks reminds: “Simply put, feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression. This was a definition of feminism I offered in [my book] ‘Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center’ more than 10 years ago [in 1985]. It was my hope that at that time that it would become a common definition everyone would use. I liked this definition because it did not imply that men were the enemy. By naming sexism as the problem it went directly to the heart of the matter. Practically, it is a definition which implies that all sexist thinking and action is the problem, whether those who perpetuate it are female or male, child or adult. It is also broad enough to include an understanding of systemic institutionalized sexism. As a definition it is open-ended. To understand feminism it implies one has to necessarily understand sexism.”

      -If we don’t understand sexism or the “roots” of these multiple impressions we are doomed to repeat the past. We, as men, have to understand that we are the cause and that we also can be a part of the solution.

      There can be no bastion of male feminist space that anyone must claim, reclaim, and defend in the agon of the world, for crying out loud. To posit such is to construct the boundary, the sort of binary thinking that sexism relies on. This is the fundamental structure that needs to be taken down. I’m not sure that anybody can put it better than Nancy Mairs has, when she writes: “In order to get what he wants, then, the father must have power to coerce those around him to meet his demands. To have power is to alienate oneself, however, because power is always power over and the preposition demands an object. The fundamental structure of patriarchy is thus binary: me/not me, active/passive, culture/nature, normal/deviant, good/bad, masculine/feminine, public/private, political/personal, form/content, subjective/objective, friend/enemy, true/false. . . . It is a structure, both spatial and temporal, predicated upon separation, not relation. It demands rupture, the split into halves engendered by the abrupt erection of the phallus: those who have and those who have not. It speaks the language of opposites. . . [in] a dimorphic world.”

      -What is power? How are we defining it? We understand power to be many things and I honestly believe that when men give up their power, they are also giving up parts of themselves that society (and other forms) constantly try to put back “into them.” Men have been equated with power and that is “normal,” to them. We all can state examples of what happens when someone threatens or takes a man’s power away and how they react. Both negative and positive, this is something our culture puts into men and there is no question. When power is implied with women, both directly and indirectly, society questions and reacts to it. They ridicule and point out that “she” is not “normal,” because she is exhibiting something that men are supposed to possess. Many of the dualisms that you pointed out above are thrown into the mix. Giving up power is the first and continual step that male feminists and allies must do. In every action, men must give up their power, otherwise we are doomed to fail. Those that attempt to retain and hold onto their power, much like Hugo, are prime examples of the height of hubris and the long fall down to the spiked bottom pit.

      If anything, let’s talk about the dimorphic world of Hugo. But all the power talk of losing male feminist numbers and power and such sounds rather, well, like trying to do what one must do to get what he wants.

      -You’re exactly right but we have to remember that Hugo tried to retain that power by being the “male feminist.” Once he felt threatened we saw what happened and all we have to do is search “Hugogate” or his actual name on Twitter to see the ramifications.

      Thanks for your comments! I hope to speak to you more about them! :)

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  3. Great article John!
    I must say that sexism is still so intense that often the best-even lifelong friends I have who are men say completely sexist things -even with some awareness -they don’t even realize it was sexist….I applaud all conscious people who treat women as equals as it is still a very radical thing to do.

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    • Thanks Angela! I really appreciate it. I don’t often cross my “WeHo” world with my academic side but this blog really offers me that chance to really mix them (although I don’t think many people at WeHo know this exists!)

      We need to celebrate those who treat all people as equals, (especially today as the March on Washington turned 50!) What a better way to really realize and achieve MLK’s dream than to sit back, think, and move forward together in full equality.

      I always appreciate my conversations with you :)

      Like

  4. great read!!!…by one of my favorite young feminists

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  5. Feminism is about women’s liberation. Equality is the false god men have created. I don’t want to be equal to men, I want freedom from their monstrous tyranny, their wars, their rape, their desecration of the earth. I also want vast social space free of men period, so I can concentrate on discussion with women. Vast public social space, parklands, who downtown areas, a national park or two free of men, so that women can be free at last. The most radical thing a woman can say, is we don’t want men on the bus at all, we want men to confront other men, so that we women can concentrate on our idea of full liberation, so that we can also get rid of the patriarch from within. Now that is my feminism.

    The rest is Hugo-land as far as I’m concerned. Men, confront other men, and men get outraged over the behavior of other men. Those are men who might be useful, just go do it and shut up will you.

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