I have to admit, when I saw the title of Jennifer Wright’s article, “The Problem with Male Feminists” I felt my defenses rise, ready to refute anything that Wright would lob at us.
And I have to admit, I struggled to come up with a solid defense.
Wright argues in her article that it’s fine when men sympathize or empathize with women and their general struggle to overcome patriarchy and sexism. That’s all good; the problem lies when men become enraptured with the idea of the poor put-upon women struggling against the man: Wright says that she runs into men that are “fetishizing female victimhood.”
Are we? That’s a dicey question because on the one hand, men who identify as feminists shouldn’t feel the need to flex their muscles and swoop in to protect women; on the other hand, men also don’t get a “pass” of some sort by women just because they identify as feminists, or because they say they understand how sexism works in society. Men, no matter how sympathetic to the cause, are still implicitly part of the problem, and as such should acknowledge that. And it looks like few of the male feminists that Wright runs into, can see that.
But does Wright’s article require a rebuttal from a male feminist?
Well, I’d like to try. I’m a feminist for selfish reasons. I think deconstructing male patriarchy will, in the end, benefit all genders, whether male, female, intersex, trans, etc. I think patriarchy has left a lasting impression on all kinds of folk, and very little of it positive – even the asshats who benefit from patriarchy, and in fact, use it to their advantage, have to live with the fact that they are sexist asshats.
I also was raised by a single mom, who believed in feminism and lived it everyday of her life. And I saw growing up, all the needless obstacles that she faced in her life, and I witness the issues she’s dealing with now, being a middle-aged woman in a society that values youth and beauty over experience. I’m a feminist because my best friend, like my mother, also struggles with expectations of her culture that honors virginity, chastity, obedience, and docility, when in reality, she wants to live her life the way she sees fit, without having to face unfair repercussions.
When reading Wright’s article, I was struck at how jerky the male feminists that she encountered were. I didn’t meet the guys, but even I gritted my teeth and rolled my eyes at the description of their condescension or maudlin expressions of support. But we don’t all do that. Some of us only point out the obvious (women are treated badly by a lot of society), when we’re forced to – namely when we’re presented with some sort of instance of misogyny or sexism. And in the age of Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin, we find ourselves explaining a lot of this stuff to anti-women women.
You know, it’s interesting thinking about the image that lots of folks have of male feminists – some think that male feminists espouse these beliefs in hopes of attracting women; others think that male feminists are somehow less male – a product of our more feminine times. And while these two extremes may be true in some instances, I’d say that most of us are on the right side of history because it’s the right side of history.
Social movements are comprised not only of those who are affected directly by prejudice or ignorance, but those who want to see those prejudices ended. When I think of the Civil Rights Movement, I immediately think of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, Baynard Rustin, Stokely Carmichael, Coretta Scott King and Dorothy Heights. But I also think of Viola Liuzzo, a woman who is seen by many as a martyr for the Civil Rights Movement, after being killed by KKK members because of her work with the Civil Rights Movement. I don’t claim any personal knowledge of Liuzzo’s intentions for her activism, but I have to assume that her reasons were pure.
Wow, things got heavy there, didn’t they?
Look, I’d love to say that all male feminists come from a place of true social justice – but they don’t. For some it’s a marker of liberal enlightenment. Those who watch Mad Men will remember Paul Kinsey and his adoption of the struggle for racial equality as a pose to seem interesting and subversive. And there are elements of that to men who claim their feminists. I’d just like to say that we’re not all like that.