From Manspreading to Mansplaining — 6 Ways Men Dominate the Spaces Around Them

manspread1Originally published at Everyday Feminism.


A few weeks ago, I was having a meeting with a friend at a coffee shop. It was hot out, I was slouching a bit, and without my really noticing, my legs were sticking out into the aisle. A woman who came by had to walk around them to get inside.

My friend laughed. “Dude, are you manspreading right now?”

“Am I? Maybe. I don’t think so. Maybe…”

I totally was.

In truth, at first I was defensive and had assumed that I wasn’t mainly because I’m not “that guy” – you know, the super entitled jerk who takes up more space than he deserves.

But that’s the thing about manspreading. It’s not about men actively choosing to be jerks or trying to be sexist and ableist (since the outcome of our manspreading not only takes up space under the guise of our needing more room, but also often makes space less accessible for some people with disabilities).

It’s entirely about our socialization – about how we’ve been taught (in subtle and overt ways) never to consider how entitled to public space we may act or feel.

So when countless women point out (often in hilarious ways) that we’re manspreading all over the place, we quickly hear the refrains of “Women do it, too!” and “Stop conflating someone being rude with sexism and toxic masculinity.”

But the problem actually is toxic masculinity and, by extension, sexism – it’s just not as obvious as sexist name-calling or men being physically abusive.

After all, it’s our masculine socialization that ingrains in us from the youngest of ages the idea that we are entitled to what’s around us.

And this is intensified when we add in other forms of social power (or a lack thereof) to the equation.

When male entitlement compounds with class privilege, White privilege, and other forms of privilege, we see the amplification of this privilege and entitlement (all too perfectly exemplified in Donald Trump’s “I’m rich, so I can do what I want” braggadocio).

On the other hand, when White supremacist systems endlessly brutalize and humiliate men of Color while reducing them in the media to strict portrayals of hypermasculinity, then masculinity, the only sense of social power that some men of Color may feel, can show up in hypermasculine expressions or in a sense of entitlement to public space.

We as men have been so inundated with the idea that all space is our space that we, often subconsciously, act as if that’s true – both in our body language and in more overt expressions of entitlement like dominating conversations, talking over other people, and harassing women on the street.

A hilariously perfect illustration of male entitlement to public space, the KoolAid man busts through a wall of a party, shouting “not all men.”

Thus, I do think manspreading is a problem– not because it’s the ultimate example of misogyny, but because it’s a perfect, public representations of the much more concerning issue of sexist male entitlement.

So when we as men experience a lifetime of messages that tie up our identity with entitlement to space and bodies, it makes perfect sense that we would take up more than our fair space on a crowded bus – but we must also understand that this is indicative of something so much bigger.

The point is that, in and of itself, manspreading in public isn’t inherently sexist.

But when it’s taken in the context of power and oppression and all of the other ways that we consciously and subconsciously assert our entitlement into public space, it’s suddenly something entirely sexist.

With that in mind, here are six spaces in which our entitlement shows up in forms other than manspreading, offered with the hope that we as men will reflect a bit on how we can work toward better ways of being in community.

1. Men Dominate Physical Space

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Abusive ‘Feminist’ Men Exist – Here Are 6 Things Men Can Do to Stop Them

The first time a woman told me she distrusted me because I’m a man, she tried to explain that it wasn’t personal, that she’s not been given many reasons to trust me (or any man for that matter). She said she’s especially skeptical of me because I called myself a feminist.

That last part really threw me for a loop. She didn’t even really know me! And I’m a good guy!

Fast-forward a few years and how can I blame her? Male “feminist” allies have a history of abusing women’s trust.

For fear of making the movement look bad, the male “allies” of the Occupy Wall Street movement stood silent when multiple women came forward after having been sexually assaulted by other “Occupiers.”

After being lauded and defended by many (including myself) as a model for how to be a better man, Hugo Schwyzer was exposed to be a racist, abusive liar (as if many women of Color hadn’t been saying so all along).

Charles Clymer has been exposed as abusive and self-serving as he attempts to brand himself a “feminist” hero of some kind.

And this is nothing new!

There are stories going back to every era of the feminist movement — stories of men talking the talk of feminism, gaining trust, and using that trust to hurt, abuse, and act in profoundly anti-feminist ways.

It’s easy to criticize the misogyny of the MRAs or the PUAs. But how often do we turn the lens around?

When considering how often people like me (cisgender men who call ourselves “pro-feminist” or “feminist”) act in anti-feminist ways, I finally understand the distrust. After all, if those of us who fashion ourselves “allies” are unwilling to expose abusers, why should we be trusted?

Our role is not to be out front in the movement.

Our role needs to be to work with other male-identified people to uproot male supremacy and to transform what it means to be a man. And the place where we need to start is with other feminist/pro-feminist men.

Here are six simple (though often incredibly difficult) things we need to do starting right now.

1. Listen to Women, Trans, and Gender Non-Conforming People

Sometimes I feel like a broken record in my writing, as I cannot say often enough how important it is for privileged people to listen. But I will say it again.

One of the foundations of effective ally work is listening to those who are impacted by oppression.

By starting with listening more and believing those impacted by oppression in what they’re telling us, we center the truths that we cannot every fully know.

And listening will go a long way in understanding what behaviors we need to expose and talk about with other men, particularly those behaviors so subtle and subconscious that we miss or ignore them.

2. Pay Attention to Intersectionality

In order to actually understand the harm done by male abusers, let alone male abusers who carry the feminist flag, we need to understand others and ourselves intersectionally.

If we’re going to call in other men, we need to recognize our positionality as informed by race, sexual identity, wealth, and other aspects of identity.

I once tweeted, “God, can he just go away forever!?” in response to something misogynistic Chris Brown had done. My friend Emiliano, a man I greatly admire and from whom I’ve learned a lot, tweeted something to the effect of “Jamie, I hear you, but please consider the implications of a White man calling for the disappearance of a Black man in the US.”

He was absolutely right. As a man striving to be an ally to women, I have a responsibility to call out male violence against women. But if I do so in ways that reinforce racism, I’m no intersectional ally.

Similarly, it’s a wholly different thing for me to call out a transgender person (regardless of how they identify) than it is for me to call out another cisgender man.

Does this mean that I cannot call in/out a transgender person? Absolutely not. After all, I know a few trans people who toe the MRA line.

I just need to consider my privilege and positionality in how I call someone to do better.

3. Start with Yourself

Read the rest at Everyday Feminism.

5 Lies that Distort Male Sexuality and Hurt Everyone

Trigger Warning: Sexual Violence and Abuse

Some of the most important lessons I’ve learned in life came through sports. They taught me hard work, commitment, and teamwork. They also taught me some of my most foundational lessons about masculinity and sex.

Not all of these messages were problematic and harmful. I often had coaches talk to me in positive (though sometimes paternalistic) ways about “respecting women.” But looking back, most of the messages I received about sex and my masculinity’s role in sex were quite horrifying.

Perhaps one of the most terrifying messages that I received came from an older soccer player named Dave when I was in tenth grade. One day, he was bragging to me about his sexual relationship with his girlfriend, a girl widely recognized as “hot” and “popular.”

In the midst of his braggadocio, he mentioned wanting to perform an incredibly violent sexual act that would violate her consent and would likely lead to serious injury.

He said he was only joking, and I laughed along, but it didn’t sit right with me. No matter how uncomfortable it made me, though, I didn’t dare challenge the “joke.”

After all, to do so would not only have challenged a man I was supposed to look up to, but it might have led to me being further ostracized for being “gay” (because apparently men are gay if they stand up to violence against women, and being gay was the “worst possible thing” I could have been in high school).

To this day, I’m ashamed that I never said anything, but I simply didn’t know how. I was a young man lacking in confidence, and I felt like it was “normal” that we were talking about women in this way.

Though some might write this story off as adolescent immaturity, this story speaks to a wider problem of patriarchal masculinity and how we as men are taught to understand sex and sexuality.

Feminism vs. Patriarchy

For generations now, feminism in its many iterations has done an amazing job of pointing out the terrible impacts of patriarchal masculinity. And, increasingly, feminists have focused on how patriarchy hurts people of all genders.

With the rise of the Internet as a dominant force in so many people’s lives, though, the resistance to feminism has only grown louder and stronger.

The power of the Internet for organizing Men’s Rights Activists, Pick Up Artists, and other anti-feminist groups has meant a surge in numbers of those who see feminism as “anti-male” or who despise the ways that feminism subverts patriarchal masculinity.

And ironically, these groups prey on men who feel hurt, who feel insecure, who feel entitled to sex, but who struggle socially and can’t find fulfilling relationships.

MRAs and PUAs tell insecure men that the problem is feminism, not patriarchy, and in doing so, fuel a particularly violent online (and offline) misogyny.

Yet the hurt and frustration these men face when it comes to sexuality is almost always directly tied to the ways in which patriarchal masculinity distorts male sexuality – which is a battle that feminism fights.

In her book The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love, bell hooks describes patriarchy as the single most life-threatening social dis­ease assaulting the male body and spirit in our nation.

If we are ever going to engage men more fully in dismantling patriarchy and ending misogyny,we need more men to understand how the messages we receive about sex hurt more than women. These messages hurt us in myriad ways, too.

Thus, though I could likely unpack just about every message about sex that we receive, I want to analyze five of the most prominent messages men are taught about our sexuality.

1.  ‘Sow Your Wild Oats’

Read the rest at Everyday Feminism.

Against Patriarchy: 20 Tools for Men to Further Feminist Revolution

ChrisCrassThis week’s post comes from Chris Crass, a longtime organizer working to build powerful working class-based, feminist, multiracial movements for collective liberation. Throughout the 1990s he was an organizer with Food Not Bombs. In the 2000s, he was an organizer with the Catalyst Project, which combines political education and organizing to develop and support anti-racist politics, leadership, and organization in White communities and builds dynamic multiracial alliances locally and nationally in the United States. He has written and spoken widely about anti-racist organizing, lessons from women of Color feminism, strategies to build visionary movements, and leadership for liberation. He is the author of Towards Collective Liberation: anti-racist organizing, feminist praxis, and movement building strategy published by PM Press.

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Men in Feminism

For all of us who are men who believe in social justice, who want healthy and beautiful lives for our loved ones, and who are working for positive change in the world, let us commit or re-commit to making feminism central in our lives, values, and actions.

Black feminist scholar bell hooks writes, “When women and men understand that working to eradicate patriarchal domination is a struggle rooted in the longing to make a world where everyone can live fully and freely, then we know our work to be a gesture of love.” She continues, “Let us draw upon that love to heighten our awareness, deepen our compassion, intensify our courage, and strengthen our commitment.” It is time for men in the millions to take courageous action in our society to further feminist revolution.

The everyday violence and oppression of sexism in our society is epidemic and not only must end, but can end. Sexism devastates our relationships, communities, social justice efforts, and our lives. While we did not choose to be men in a patriarchal society, we have the choice to be feminists and work against sexism.

Below is a list of tools and suggestions that have helped me over the years as I have struggled to understand what it means to be a man working for feminism (1).

Let us look to the leadership of women and gender oppressed people for guidance and work alongside them, let us bring more and more men into feminist efforts, let us embrace feminism as a healing and transformative force in our lives, and let us feel in our hearts that we can do this (2).

1. Develop an intersectional feminist analysis of patriarchy, capitalism, White supremacy, heterosexism, and the state. Study feminist analysis from writers such as Audre Lorde, Gloria Anzaldua, Suzanne Pharr, Angela Davis, Barbara Smith, and Elizabeth ‘Betita’ Martinez. Learn about the historical development of patriarchy in books such as Maria Mies’ Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale, Silvia Federici’s Caliban and the Witch, and Andrea Smith’s Conquest.

Explore the impact of patriarchal violence on your life and what you can do to stop it in Paul Kivel’s Men’s Work. Read bell hooks’ essays about men and feminism in Feminism is for Everybody and The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity and Love. Learn more about gender justice in Leslie Feinberg’s Trans Liberation: Beyond Pink or Blue. Reflect on your experience of gender using Kate Bornstein’s My Gender Workbook as a guide.

2. Study social movements and organizing experiences led by women and gender oppressed people historically and today — from Ida B. Wells and Abby Kelley to Septima Clark and Ai-Jen Poo. Also learn about men in the movement who supported women’s leadership and feminist politics—from William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass and W.E.B. Du Bois to Ricardo Flores Magon, Carl Braden, and David Gilbert.

Take stock of the resources around you that can support your learning. Women’s Studies, Ethnic Studies, Gender Studies, and Labor Studies programs were won through the struggle of previous generations. Some of the most visionary and powerful feminists of our time teach; seek out opportunities for study at colleges. Look into political education and training programs led by social justice organizations with feminist politics. Look for events about women’s history and feminism at progressive bookstores, social justice conferences, and with community groups. Join or form a study group to read books from some of the authors already mentioned, and to learn more about feminist history.

3. Think about women, genderqueer, and gender non-conforming people in your life who support your development as a feminist. These may be friends, people you’ve worked with, or family members. Reflect on what you have learned from them. Far too often patriarchy teaches men to ignore or devalue the wisdom of gender oppressed people and this both undermines their leadership in society and robs us of their leadership in our lives. Take time to thank people for what you’ve learned and look for opportunities to support them and strengthen your relationships.

4. Think about men in your life who can support your process of learning about sexism and developing as a feminist activist. This could include talking through questions and struggles you are having and/or reading one of the authors mentioned above together, as well as participating in organizing efforts that have feminist goals. While support for your development as a feminist will often come from women and genderqueer people, and it is important to show gratitude for that support, it is critical to build bonds of mutual support with other men as we work to grow individually and also to develop a culture of feminist activism amongst men.

5. Learn about current struggles in your community that further feminist goals and have a gender analysis. Look for opportunities to get involved and support these efforts. Your support can include donating money, volunteering to do office work, doing outreach for events, showing up with others to demonstrations and rallies, and recruiting other people in your life, particularly men, to get involved as well. It is important to support and respect the existing leadership of these struggles, rather then come in thinking you’re going to take over. Look for opportunities to build relationships with the people involved in these efforts. The more you show up and make useful contributions, the more you can also build trust and respect.

6. Develop a feminist analysis of all the social justice work you do, and work with others to help make that analysis more central in your efforts. Reach out for help and ask questions. Notice when you feel that asking for help is a sign of weakness and try to do so anyways.

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A New Masculinity: Why I Need Feminism as a Man

As I was thinking through what I might say in this article, I found myself sitting in the back of a classroom, observing a teacher in a school where I was offering some bullying-prevention training.

While the teacher was engaging the students in a discussion on the foundations of Judaism for a World Religions class, I noticed that a young man was wearing this t-shirt:

Capture

For the next ten minutes or so, I considered what I could say to engage this young brother in a discussion about the impacts of his choice in t-shirts.

After all, he undoubtedly wears it to court attention, so a confrontation or preachy approach surely isn’t the best route. And I wasn’t sure of the best question that I could ask him to get him thinking about the problematic nature of his shirt.

Then the bell rang, and he quickly grabbed his things and ran out the door, disappearing into a mass of students before I could get his attention.

As I sit here hoping that one of the other men in his life calls him into a discussion, I am still not sure what I would have said to him, but I do know that the route that would likely be most successful in encouraging critical thought would be one that calls him to reconsider what it means to be a man.

After all, I know that I’m more likely to critically engage when someone calls me in rather than simply calls me out. Sure, calling him out would have felt good, but calling him in may have led to change.

That said, the “calling in” conversation isn’t likely to be a discussion I could have with him in passing, for a reconsideration of masculinity and gender isn’t exactly the stuff of hallway banter in a busy high school.

Meeting Men Where They Are

Yet reconsidering mainstream masculinity and its role in a wider system of gender oppression is one more of us as men need to take up in all of its nuance and complexity.

And yet without fail, every time I have written something addressing the need for a new masculinity – one not rooted fundamentally in oppression, violence, and power over others – someone offers a comment or an e-mail about how my efforts are misguided.

They argue that the problem is not just in masculinity, but in gender as a whole, and if we really want to end gendered oppression, we have to “blow the whole thing up.”

While these comments are often quite thoughtful and give me much upon which to reflect, I still cannot really get behind the simple “Let’s just destroy gender” argument for one main reason: I don’t find it helpful for meeting most people where they are.

If my goal is to engage men, and mostly cisgender men, in participating in the movement to end patriarchal oppression, telling men that we should just end gender doesn’t get me very far.

Further, the “destroy gender” argument, while rooted in sound theory, doesn’t (at least as I’ve seen it offered) effectively address the ways in which people of all genders are invested, both positively and negatively, in current constructions of gender.

Thus, while my ideas may be evolving, it’s possible that I simply see the need for construction of a new masculinity as part of the journey toward the reimagining of our current notion of gender altogether, but that doesn’t mean that we as men shouldn’t invest earnestly in transforming what it means to be a man.

Read the rest at Everyday Feminism.

Porn

One Man’s Journey: How I Stopped Watching Porn for 1 Year and Why I’m Not Going Back

DanMDan Mahle is a group facilitator, program coordinator, and occasional blogger on the topic of men and masculinity. His work reaches into many different arenas, from youth leadership and intergenerational collaboration to environmental justice advocacy and men’s work. He lives in Seattle, WA.

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Porn

Image from Fame Magazine.

I remember when I first discovered internet porn – I was 17 years old (1).  Fascinated by this world of unleashed sexual expression and fantasy, I couldn’t get enough of it. As I grew up and began exploring my own sexuality, I discovered just how different watching pixels on a screen was compared to the intimacy of making love with another human being. I thought I’d outgrow my porn habit over time. But I never did.

I didn’t know it then, but porn had become an addiction. And, like most addictions, it was a behavior that I was ashamed to talk about or even admit was a problem. “Yeah, everybody watches porn,” I remember hearing. It seemed so pervasive and culturally accepted that having an actual conversation about it was a total non-starter. So I kept it to myself.

I thought I had my habit under control. I thought I could quite porn whenever I felt like it. I even tried to quit a few times and then rationalized my eventual return to the addiction.

I didn’t realize how much watching porn manipulated my mind, warping my sexuality, numbing my feelings, and impacting my relationships with women. And I was not alone.

According to a recent study, more than 70 percent of men ages 18 to 34 visit porn sites in a typical month. And it’s not just guys watching sex online. It is estimated that 1 in 3 porn users today are women. Now, I want to be clear here that porn use extends beyond the male/female gender binary, but for the purpose of this post I am sharing my experience with porn from the perspective of a heterosexual, cisgender, White man.

Let me also state clearly that I don’t think all porn is bad. I’ve seen some great videos of couples engaging in intimate and respectful sexual encounters – of course, these are often only found on feminist porn sites or in the “female friendly” category (It’s interesting to note what the category name “female friendly” implies about all the other categories). But I’m not here to judge anyone else for what they choose to watch. I’m simply sharing the impacts that porn has had on my life and what has changed for me since I’ve stopped using it.

To me, what is worrying about porn is not how many people use it, but how many people – like me – have found themselves addicted to it.

As Dr. Jeffrey Satinover stated in his 2004 testimony to the U.S. Senate subcommittee on pornography, “Modern science allows us to understand that the underlying nature of an addiction to pornography is chemically nearly identical to a heroin addiction.”

Impacts of Porn (2)

A lot of studies have been conducted on the impacts of porn on men and women in society. Of all of those impacts, three most resonated with my experience:

1. Violence Against Women (3):  This includes an obsession with looking at women rather than interacting with them (voyeurism), an attitude in which women are viewed as objects of men’s sexual desire, and the trivialization of rape and widespread acceptance of rape culture – fueled by fake depictions of women in porn videos often pretending to desire violent and abusive sexual acts.

2. Numbness & Disembodiment: This can include erectile dysfunction, inability to orgasm when not watching porn, detachment from your physical body, emotional unavailability and numbness, lack of focus and patience, poor memory, and general lack of interest in reality. Furthermore, these outcomes in men have been linked to boredom with their sexual partners, higher levels of sexual promiscuity, adultery, divorce, sexism, rape, abuse, and suicide.

3. Fear of Intimacy: Watching porn contributes to many men’s inability to relate to women in an honest and intimate way despite a longing to feel loved and connected. This is because pornography exalts our sexual needs over our need for sensuality and intimacy; some men develop a preoccupation with sexual fantasy that can powerfully impede their capacity for emotionally intimate relationships.

Why I Quit Watching

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Beyond Being a White Knight: 8 Ways Men can be Allies to Women at Parties

I spend a lot of time thinking about parties.

Not only do I love parties, but a big part of my work is encouraging sex-positive party culture on college campuses.

And while I love to party, I have to remember something: Parties can be profoundly dangerous places, especially for women.

So it leaves me wondering this: Aside from the environmental changes we can make to ensure party culture is more sex positivein what ways can men act as allies to women at parties, particularly as we look to prevent sexual violence?

Whether you’re in the club or at a house party or a school-sponsored dance, men have a responsibility to act in solidarity with women to ensure that parties are fun and safe for everyone.

When it comes to party environments, though, that’s not exactly simple to accomplish.

After all, attempting to be a good ally to women can quickly devolve into some paternalistic “white knighting” that can easily recreate the very systems of power and marginalization and oppression that we’re looking to undermine.

And as I sat down to write this piece, it ended up being a lot more difficult than I thought. Every idea I came up with for how to be a good ally at parties seemed to easily devolve into paternalistic ugliness.

So I reached out to my community!

And once again, I was reminded about how this work must be done in cooperation.

8 Ways Men Can be Allies to Women at Parties

In turn, the following list is reflective of my community: friends, acquaintances, other bloggers, family members.

While some ideas are my own, many, even ones not directly attributed, are reflective of the powerful community in which I am fortunate to be grounded in my work to prevent sexual violence on college campuses.

1.  Don’t Be ‘That Guy’ 

Arguably the most important thing that a man can do to act in solidarity with women in party atmospheres is to make sure you aren’t being the one to make others uncomfortable (at best) or to act predatorily (at worst).

What I often say is that men who openly espouse feminist ideals and who know how to “talk the talk” of solidarity are sometimes the most dangerous to women.

After all, those of us who can drop some bell hooks or speak to the performative nature of gender roles have the potential to gain trust and to exploit that trust to manipulate, assault, or otherwise hurt women.

In short, if we want to be allies, we have the most responsibility to buck our social conditioning of what it means to be a man.

We have the responsibility to consider the impacts of our actions on the women around us, even if we are not intending to make them uncomfortable.

In the words of my friend Jen, “If you comment on a person’s appearance, be aware it could be unwanted attention and make her uncomfortable (especially in alone situations or when it turns into harassment).  Don’t jump to calling her pet names (sweetheart, babe) or to making requests of her (smile for me, etc).”

In short, don’t be that guy – the guy who actively is hitting on everyone, who is ogling women’s bodies, who’s enabling other men to prey on women, who is performing traditional, toxic masculinity.

2.  Don’t Be Paternalistic

One of the trickiest aspects of attempting to ally oneself to women as a man in any context is avoiding paternalism – acting on behalf of women as if we know better than them – but it’s particularly tough to avoid in party environments.

After all, parties tend to be loud, busy, complicated, and people are there for a variety of reasons.

Thus, we might see a woman on the dance floor who has someone grinding up on her. Even if she has a look on her face that we interpret as discomfort, it’s hard to know how to proceed.

After all, maybe that is how her face looks when she’s really into something! Or maybe she is uncomfortable, but doesn’t want help from a stranger. Or maybe she is uncomfortable and wants help, but not from a male-identified person. Or maybe she’s getting ready to handle it herself.

The key here is not to assume we can “save the day” and to be respectful and defer to women when possible.

If you have a relationship with the women in question, a simple check-in can go a long way: “Hey! How you doing? Wanna get a drink with me?”

If you don’t know the person in question, sometimes even making eye contact and giving a concerned look can allow her to signal whether she might want your help.

From there, perhaps the best way to proceed is to engage the guy who’s acting inappropriately.

Talk to him, distract him, and if she’s uncomfortable, she can move along. Doing so helps share the agency, allowing her to still make a decision about how things should go forward.

Perhaps, though, the best way to be an ally is, as my bestie Becca put it, to consider “how you position yourself in a room/situation. Sometimes removing yourself from a room/situation altogether can be a form of allyship in itself.”

In a party environment, sometimes the best thing we can do to avoid paternalism is to be aware of the space we are occupying in parties and consider how we’re interacting with women and act accordingly, which may mean removing ourselves from a situation.

After all, offering a woman a ride home (even with good intentions) could be the most threatening thing she’s experienced all night.

Lastly, recognize that when you try to be an ally, sometimes you’re going to screw up and totally “white knight” the situation.

If that happens, apologize where necessary and try to learn from that experience.

3.  Err on the Side of Intervention

Read the rest at Everyday Feminism.