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Here’s What Is (And Isn’t) Working in Men’s Work on College Campuses

istock_000037932394_mediumOriginally published at Everyday Feminism.


As a kid, I secretly loved to dress up in my sister’s dresses and wear makeup, and even though I pretended to hate it, I loved playing Barbies. In time, though, bullying and intimidation taught me how I was “supposed to act.”

By high school, I tried to exude the stereotypes of what a man is supposed to be: I acted like a tough guy (once punching my best friend and nearly ruining a friendship simply because I didn’t want to show emotional vulnerability), and I constantly expressed toxic heteronormativity, objectifying and treating women like garbage.

Once I got to college, though, two important things changed the way I think about masculinity and my relationship to it.

First, women in my life shared with me the ways they’d been directly hurt by toxic masculinitythough sexual violence. Second, male mentors in my life reached out to me and helped me understand different ways of being a man.

These revelations were important for helping me find a path toward cultivating a different kind of masculinity. And it’s important for me to think of this as a path – because I’m still very much traveling in the direction of healthier masculinity while often losing my way, screwing up, and needing to do better moving forward.

As I reflect on my own learning, though, it’s notable that it took leaving my home environment and immersing myself in different ways of thinking to shift my reality.

This isn’t true for every man who embarks on the path toward healthier masculinity, but for those men who go to college, we find a unique opportunity to engage men.

Hence, “men’s work” and male-engagement programming are becoming more and more common on college campuses. Full-time positions are being created to focus on men’s engagement in creating positive community and ending sexual violence, and some schools are going as far as to create Men’s Centers (more on that later).

Unfortunately, though, while men’s engagement programs and positions offer unique opportunities for reducing sexual violence and promoting healthier ways of being men, there are a lot of dangers and pitfalls in doing this work as well.

As a result, I’ve compiled five dangers to consider and four suggestions for effectively engaging men on college campuses in hopes of offering some important considerations for students and professionals on college and university campuses who are taking up “men’s work.”

1. Men’s Work Lacking Intersectional Anti-Oppression Analysis Reinforces Oppression

Probably the single most significant issue with work on men and masculinities is also somewhat of an umbrella for the other four dangers: When we do men’s work without careful attention to intersectional feminism, we can recreate the very problems we’re working against.

A perfect example of this is the movement to create “Men’s Centers” on college campuses because of declines in net enrollment among men.

It’s notable that the cesspool of Men’s Rights Activism known as A Voice for Men has published content lauding the movement to create more “Men’s Centers” on college campuses. Historically, identity-based centers have been spaces for marginalized and oppressed people to find community and safe space in otherwise hostile college environments. But men are neither oppressed nor marginalized for their gender on college campuses.

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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.

BGD Editor in Training Program

Challenge to White Folks: Take The Black Girl Dangerous White Privilege Bucket Challenge

I was recently challenged by a dear friend to participate in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Coming from this friend, the challenge was particularly poignant considering that her father was recently diagnosed with ALS, and just watching the video where she challenged me brought me to tears.

However, I wasn’t sure I wanted to do the challenge.  It’s not that I have a problem with the ALS Foundation or with people’s participation in the challenge.  It more had to do with what I saw on my social media at the height of the challenge.

When most people were participating in the challenge corresponded to a pivotal moment in our nation’s history: the protests in Ferguson, MO after the extra-judicial killing of Michael Brown. Virtually every person of Color I knew (and some White folks acting in solidarity) were posting about Ferguson, offering analysis and updates of what was happening on the ground.

But from the mostly-White youth that make up the vast majority of my Facebook fam, silence on Ferguson and a whole bunch of Ice Bucket Challenge videos.

This is not to say that there should not be young White youth participating in the Ice Bucket Challenge. It was just wholly indicative of a problem of perception in the U.S. right now:

According to a Pew Research Center poll released Monday, 80 percent of African-American adults answered that the shooting and killing of the 18-year-old Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, raises important issues about race, while 18 percent answered that the topic of race is “getting more attention than it deserves.” White adults polled held very different opinions: Thirty-seven percent answered that the case is raising important issues while a plurality, 47 percent, said the topic is receiving too much attention.” – Source

There’s no question in my mind why 80% of African Americans knew Michael Brown’s killing raised important issue about race: Black and Brown people in the United States live the reality of state-sanctioned police violence against their lives, bodies, and communities every day in the U.S.

That’s simply not a problem very many White folks face. Yes, in the lowest wealth White communities, the problem of police brutality is understood, but by-in-large in the U.S., we as White folks have no idea unless we’re choosing to step back from our privilege and to listen to people of Color who must live with this violence.

So when I say this lack of attention among young White folks to Ferguson was a problem of perception, what I really mean was a that it is a problem of White privilege: the privilege to close our eyes to the truths of endemic racism in the United States (of which police violence is but one iteration).

Thus, my hesitation to participate in the ALS Ice Bucket challenge stemmed from my desire to see a different social media landscape among the White folks in my network.

The Black Girl Dangerous White Privilege Bucket Challenge

That’s why I was delighted to see my friend Sarah participate in and challenge me to join the Black Girl Dangerous White Privilege Bucket Challenge.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you likely have read at least one post from the brilliant Black Girl Dangerous, as I love the work done there and tend to link to them fairly often.

But Black Girl Dangerous does more than host a platform for Queer and Trans People of Color to offer their voices, analysis, truths, stories.  Black Girl Dangerous is a revolutionary organization that challenges the Cis-, Straight-, and White-dominated media landscape.

That’s why the Black Girl Dangerous Editor in Training program is so important, and it’s why I accepted Sara’s challenge in the White Privilege Bucket Challenge.

From the BGD website:

The mission of the Black Girl Dangerous Editor-In-Training Program is to educate more queer and trans people of color in writing and editing specifically for online independent media. Online indie media sites have specific needs with regard to writing and editing. This program will focus on gaining those specific skills.

Many of us who have the most to contribute to important conversations happening in indie media, including conversations on race, gender, queerness, economic injustice, disability justice, issues affecting youth, etc., have the least amount of access to the training, education and experience needed to be successful in contributing to and leading independent media movements. Continuing our commitment to amplifying the voices of queer and trans people of color from all walks of life, BGD will train queer and/or trans people of color in online media editing and writing over 6 months. Participants will learn the skills necessary to write well for the web while also learning to effectively edit the work of other writers, to contribute to and build quality platforms. Participants will have the opportunity to write and edit for BGD, and to carry those skills into their own future indie media projects.”

So having taken the challenge and made my donation, here’s my video:

Why Challenge White Folks (Particularly White Men)?

Since releasing the video a couple of days ago, I have had a few White people ask me why I’m challenging White people (but particularly White men) to take the challenge.  One person asked, “If this is an issue that affects people of Color, why don’t they fund it?”

My response to that is two-fold:

1. This does not just affect people of Color. Being shielded through our privilege and our media from the lives voices of people of Color hurts us, as it ensures we live in a painfully isolated echo chamber. When we change the structures that deny Queer and Trans People of Color access to mediums for having their voices heard, we all benefit.

2. Simply put, White people need to be willing to redistribute our wealth.

In the United States, White privilege doesn’t just mean benefitting from little advantages throughout our day. For most of us, being White has meant that we have access to economic opportunity that ensures, as Ta-Nehisi Coates made so clear in this brilliant piece, that White poverty and Black poverty in the United States are not differences of “degree” but are poverties of a wholly “different kind.”

In turn, part of being accountable to our privilege means being willing to give as much as we’re able to people of Color-led efforts at realizing justice.

If we say we stand for justice, we have to put our money where our mouths are.  And a great way to do that is to give to the Black Girl Dangerous Editor in Training Program.

Thus, White folks, you should give.  Now.

White men in my life, I am particularly challenging you to give.  If all you can afford is $5, give $5.  If you can afford to put them up over their goal with a huge donation, do so.  But give.

As of the time I publish this piece, the fundraiser is a little more than halfway to its goal, with $11,673 left to raise.

Black Girl Dangerous Editor in Training Program

If (I’m sure mostly White) people can fundraise more than $55,000 for some damn potato salad, we should be able to get BGD at least that much.  If not, let’s get them to $25k.

Virtue Makes You Beautiful

Purity, Slut Shaming, and Virtue Policing – On “Virtue Makes You Beautiful”

I’m always one for a good remake of a pop song.  Hell, I even worked with friends to create a consent-based version of “Call Me Maybe” a few years ago.

So when I saw someone post a remake of a song I absolutely hate for its really messed up, sexist message to young women, I thought to myself, “Hey, it can’t be worse than the original!”

Wow, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

In short, I hate “What Makes You Beautiful” because this group of “heart-throb” teen pop-stars tell young women over and over through a myriad of cheesy lyrics that  what makes them beautiful is having no self esteem and not actually finding themselves beautiful.

Just what we need! Another song telling women that it’s “hot” for them to hate themselves!

And what’s worse, it’s a bunch of men telling women what they should think about themselves!

So when I saw that there was a remake out there, I was intrigued, hoping that maybe it would put some subversive spin on the terrible message.  And this is what I found.

In case you can’t bring yourself to rage watch the whole thing, it’s a bunch of high school boys with the help of superstar (within a certain world) Mormon musician Alex Boye signing about how women are far more attractive when they have the “self respect” not to wear “short skirts or low cut shirts” and that they are most beautiful when they are “modest” and “virtuous.”

Oh, and with the line “girls with integrity are hard to find these days,” they basically say that women who don’t “respect themselves” by dressing “modestly” have no integrity and only would dress the way they do to attract the attention of “a guy that only cares what he sees with his eyes.”

Ugh.

Okay. So it’s hard to know what all to say about this, and I can’t help but think that I’m being trolled with this entire thing, but it’s really popular!  It has a total of probably 500,000 hits in various copies on the internet!

While it may seem that I’ve taken to my blog just to complain about this nastiness, I actually do want to do more than just rage out about this purity policing.

When the song first started, I had hope.  After all, a message telling young women that they are more than sexual objects and that confidence and self respect and intelligence are all beautiful qualities could be a good one.

But this remake doesn’t do that. It sends girls and women some really terrible messages, but as an educator who works primarily in engaging men in feminist work, I am concerned with the messages it sends to men:

1. Whether by valuing only a woman’s sexuality or “virtue,” men still get to decide what’s beautiful. What girls and women think doesn’t really matter.

In reality, though, we as men should have absolutely no right to tell a woman (or any person for that matter) “that’s what makes you beautiful.”  Sure, we can be attracted to certain things like confidence and even particular styles of dress (though we should definitely interrogate that attraction for underlying sexism and paternalism), but women are the only ones who get to decide what’s beautiful.  If a woman feels beautiful in a niqab or in daisy dukes, her opinion is the only one that matters.  And by publicly putting out messages like this one, we are basically shaming any woman who doesn’t act in the way we deem “beautiful” as somehow the opposite.

2.  There is a dichotomy (a false one) between women who “respect themselves” by dressing “modestly” and slutty slut sluts who have no “virtue.”

Young men (well, men in general) get some pretty terrible messages about how they should think about women, but this false dichotomy not only hurts women for obvious reasons (I hope they’re obvious…), but it forces men to lie about our attractions so as not to appear “without virtue” ourselves.  After all, yes, we may be attracted to people who dress in what these dudes consider “modest clothing,” but we are also likely attracted to all sorts of people and styles of dress and ways of being (and not just women, but I’ll get to that later).

When we claim that we think it’s wrong for women to be anything but “virtuous” in this strict construction of virtue, we end up shaming women while casting ourselves into guilt and shame when we find women attractive who don’t fit the “virtuous” profile. It’s just unhealthy, repressed sexuality mixed in with some good, old-fashioned slut shaming!

The reality is that a person can dress modestly and be a terrible, mean, downright nasty person, and another person can have all the integrity in the world and love to show their beautiful thighs to everyone while riding their cruiser bike.  How we as humans dress says nothing about our character!

3.  Men have the right to body police and slut shame women so long as we do it through positive language like “modesty” and “virtue.”

I would guess that if I asked most of these guys if they think it’s wrong to yell “SLUT” at a woman on the street who is wearing a low-cut top, they would say yes (even if, in practice, they might do it).  Yet that’s exactly what they are doing, only in reverse.

They are yelling singing publicly that women who dress “modestly” are “virtuous” and “beautiful,” they are slut shaming without ever yelling impolite words.  This allows us as men to feel like we’re being honorable when we’re really no different than the men on the street who harass women for what they wear.

4.  Guys are and should only be attracted to women.

Finally, I know without a shadow of a doubt that they meant it to be this way, but watching this video, you would think that men only are ever attracted to women.  Why is this hurtful?  Well, LGBTQQAAI young people who grow up in “purity cultures” like that pushed by this video live in worlds founded on guilt, shame, hurt, and violence, and they take their lives in staggering numbers.  Thus, though it’s not the focus of the video, the heterosexism present also hurts.  Who knows, maybe it’s hurting one of the people acting in the video!

In essence, this was a bit of a rant.  But it was meant to be more than that!  It was meant to be a call to consider how “purity” and “virtue” messages like this one are actually really damaging, and we need more adult men (I’m looking at you, Alex Boye) to call young men to consider why this hurts everyone.

SavingRoomforCats

10 Ways Men Can Combat Sexist Entitlement in Public

After the tragic mass murder in Isla Vista, CA in May, violence driven by Elliot Rodger’s misogyny and racism, countless women used the hashtag #YesAllWomen to voice the endless ways in which overt and microaggressive misogyny shows up in their everyday lives.  It was an incredible response to a terrible tragedy, one with the power to raise awareness of the constant assault on their lives, bodies, personhood, and livelihoods that women-identified people face.  I, along with a number of other pro-feminist men, called on men to read as many of the tweets and to reflect on what they cumulatively call on us to change.

Sadly, though, many men saw it as a chance to question and challenge women’s experiences with misogyny rather than to listen.

One of the most common refrains, despite the thousands of voices cumulatively calling on men to realize the harsh realities of misogyny, was “PROVE IT!”  Men, and not just your hardcore MRAs, were challenging women (without a hint of intended irony) to show evidence that misogyny exists while the evidence rained in tweets all around them.

One dude in particular tweeted at a number of women, asking for proof that men are socialized to feel entitled to women, women’s bodies, women’s accomplishments, women’s space, and so on.

As one example, someone tweeted the “Men Taking Up Too Much Space on the Train” Tumblr, trying to help him understand that male entitlement extends beyond overt commodification of women’s bodies, and that it extends into how we are socialized to be in society.  Literally, we are socialized to take up more than our fair share of space!

MT2MSOTT

Source: Men Taking Up Too Much Space on the Train

From there, someone linked to the “Your Balls Are Not That Big” Tumblr, and someone else posited that maybe the men on trains are just “Saving Room for Cats:”

SavingRoomforCats Source: Saving Room for Cats

The guy didn’t really get the connection.

But there is an important connection to be made.  #YesAllMen are socialized to feel and act entitled in society, and we tend not to see and understand the ways we act with entitlement because, well, privilege.  And for many of us, this entitlement just plays out through microaggressions like asking a woman to smile or touching a woman’s hair without her permission.

But it doesn’t just impact women.  Last week I was on a plane, and I was exhausted. I had just spent the night in the airport after a series of annoying delays, and it was a long flight.  The guy sitting behind me was pretty obnoxious during boarding, cracking stupid jokes and being overall way too loud for a 7 am board time.  I was in the exit row, which meant there was a gap between my window seat and the actual window/door, and a few hours into the flight, I was woken up my a terrible smell.  This is what I found:

MyFlightCompanionYeah, that is my arm rest, and those are his shoeless feet.

Now before you rush in with a #NotAllMen trope or a story of a woman being super entitled in public space, listen: no, not all men would have the gall to put their stank feet up on someone else’s armrest, and yes, I have seen women get super entitled about how their drink was made a at a coffee shop.  However, when we pair the entitlement that men too often feel and act upon with the everyday misogyny that women face, we have a dangerous combination.

No, not all men will be an Elliot Rodger, killing women who reject us, but if we are not actively working to dismantle the ways in which men learn the type of entitlement that Elliot Rodger felt, then we are surely contributing to the wider problem.

So here are 10 simple ways that men can combat sexist entitlement in public:

1.  Don’t Act Like the World is Your Living Room, and Call Out Men Who Do

This one’s simple.  Be aware of the physical space you take up in public: on trains, in coffee shops, at the library, on airplanes.  I’m plenty guilty of waking up on a plane, only to realize my large legs have taken over some of the space afforded to my neighbor when they bought the ticket. I simply apologize and reposition myself so I’m not taking over!  See a dude with his feet up and shoes off in a crowded Starbucks?  Politely ask him to consider how much space he is using.

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Men in 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.

~~~

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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CoolStoryBabe TShirt

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.