Monday, December 5, 2011

Feminist Question of the Week: Where Do Men Fit in Feminism?

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This question has been on my mind for awhile, but I've felt unsure about how to address it. On the one hand, I feel like it's an unnecessary question that harks to the fallacious belief that feminists are women and that men can't be part of the movement. But on the other hand, there are some legitimate questions about how feminist men can be full participants in the movement, without reinforcing patriarchy (for my LDS readers, remember - we 're talking about the form of Patriarchy that Hugh Nibley refers to as a fallen patriarchy - one that is about control and power over women, not about partnership and service). So, what are some of the inherent obstacles we need to consider? Well, for one, most research finds that if more than 25% of the people in a discussion are men, the majority of conversation comes from men, and the same phenomenon takes place in a lot of feminist discussions.

Now, some bloggers - like Twisty from iblamethepatriarchy - have gone so far as to discourage men from participating on their websites, but that's obviously something we'd never do here at NAW. A solid portion of our readership is male, and each of our male readers contributes a unique and interesting personal perspective. Plus, how could we ever sacrifice the great discussions between Jeremy and Jon? But the blogs that discourage male voices (as much as I disagree with their policies) do so for a reason: they get sick of a phenomenon known as "mansplaining." What is "mansplaining"? Well, it's a term feminist bloggers use to refer to men who show up and attempt to set all the feminists right, usually prefacing their comments with something along the lines of, "As a man, let me tell you what men think about ______."

Why isn't such a helpful comment appreciated on a feminist blog? Well, generally such comments miss the point. For instance, a couple years ago I wrote a post in defense of feminine styles of communication. A few men showed up and took it upon themselves to explain male communication and encourage women to adapt to male communication patterns. But the whole point of my post was that feminine communication was just as valid as male communication. If I'd written a post about how confusing I found male communication, those responses would have made sense. As things stood, I personally already communicated in a more masculine style, as I had stated in the original post. So, as great as their intentions may have been, those particular male readers were only exacerbating the situation by  making the discussion all about how women should adapt to male needs, and by refusing to listen.

So, with all these issues in mind, let me repeat the question:

Where do men fit in feminism? How can female feminists help male feminists feel welcome, while avoiding some of those obstacles I just listed? And what should a man do if he's new to feminism and wants to join the discussion?


  1. You pose a good question, and a troubling one for me. But I don't think I mind my reactions because I want to be troubled and taken off guard. I feel similarly troubled when I participate in discussions about race because I've spent enough time around race discourse and whiteness studies to understand that even if I don't want to, I still carry with me the vestiges of systemic and institutional racism which my privileged whiteness wont allow me to get away from. I feel the same with feminist discourse. I want to participate and enjoy participating, but there is always the concern that my male identity is speaking more loudly than I anticipate and coloring the conversation with elements of latent patriarchy that I didn't even notice were on the bottom of my shoes when I came in the room.

  2. I've considered myself a feminist for years. I self-identify as male but not as particularly masculine. Every gender test I've ever taken scores me as androgynous. I'm a stay-at-home dad.

    The main question I would ask is how those studies showing a tendency for most conversation to come from men if even a quarter of participants are men stack up against the idea that there are different types of communication. It seems those studies could be measuring for a masculine style of communication. I see some problems with the examples I'm about to use, but couldn't we even posit that the idea of more or less communication is potentially anti-egalitarian? I've found some feminist critiques of especially lengthy novels that posit them as a masculine attempt to be prolific and spread symbolic seed, for example. I think there are some feminist critiques to make of that critique, but I like the way it troubles ideas like the one that study presents.

    What do you think, Emily (and others)? Is there a way to deal with the inherent problem of difference without creating a phallogocentric binary?

  3. Anthony, I think it's essential that feminism include men, and it really bothers me when people assume that feminism is about women hating men. On the contrary, female feminists are some of the first people who will discourage other women from stereotyping or mocking men.

    At the same time, I think we sometimes forget that those with privilege are sometimes less likely to understand other perspectives. Not because being white, American, middle class, male, educated, and in good health makes a person close-minded - rather, when so many forms of entertainment, advertising, art, etc. tailor to that perspective, minorities often learn to understand the privileged in a way the privileged don't come to understand minorities.

    For me, the biggest answer is to listen before speaking, especially when we're new to a discussion. I've been following womanist blogs for more than two years now, and I began following these blogs after spending a few years with black roommates, and yet I'm only now beginning to feel like I can understand the place where womanists are coming from.

    Because, when I first read complaints about white feminists, my instinct was to feel offended. Now, after a long time reading and engaging with those critiques, I'm a lot more likely to see where the critiques are coming from - or to thoughtfully disagree. So, I think that in discussions about an area in which we personally have a lot of privilege it's important to be humble and take some time listening and reassessing our assumptions.

    I also think it's important to remember that we all have privilege of some sort, and that privilege sometimes blinds us to insensitivity.