The stalwart activists in feminist history are female, which seems to go without saying, yet I’ve found mere gratuitous mention of men who were considered to be on the side of early feminist ideology. This fact too is not surprising.
At best, men like Frederick Douglass, who fought through oppression based on race, had the foresight and guts to speak out for and in recognition of oppression directed at women.
A few early sociologists paid mild lip service to the equalization of women in society, usually along lines associated with economic structures and capitalism. I will also assume that a few men, married to outspoken feminists, were also willing to see a benefit in allowing women some equality. Perhaps buying into the notion that if they kept the little woman happy then she would be more inclined to keep her man happy if you get my drift…
If we look to the current state of feminism I believe that it’s safe to say that not all men are unsympathetic to the ideal that women are humans too and as such should be treated as something more than second-rate members of society. That sentiment led me to ponder the question of males be allowed the ability to be defined as feminist. That question to many may seem contradictory, especially in a binary system that so clearly defines what it means to be male and masculine or female and feminine.
I think that it’s safe to say that a large number of men, with all their masculine baggage, are laboring under the stigma that to acknowledge women as their equal would catastrophically emasculate them in the eyes of their brothers. Our social order doesn’t take kindly to ripping the figurative genitalia from a true man who bears his badge (female oppression) of honor among the legions of patriarchal followers. If you really want to bring a guy down just let it be known that he has tendencies toward the adoption of, or agreement with, feminism.
I’m well aware that a variety of men’s groups and organizations have been in existence in one form or another since the proverbial 2nd wave of feminism literally marched onto the social scene in the 1960’s. I have no intention of spending time on a historical romp through men’s movements, men’s studies curricula, or men’s feminist organizations rather legitimate or as fronts for feminist bashing. I will say that I applaud all groups, large multi-state organizations, and college programs that have in the past, and that continue to make, real and honest attempts to learn from and with women concerning both feminism and gender rights.
In returning to my original question, I went to the internet to seek out an answer to “can a man be a feminist.” You may be able to imagine a laundry list of results for that question. I found an article by Brian Klocke, writing for the National Organization for Men Against Sexism (NOMAS). Klocke writes of the place of men attempting to “do” feminist theory because he notes that feminism is not simply understanding theory and background, but is also praxis. Along with that comes the defining label of feminist, or one who takes action to fight patriarchal oppression.
“It is crucial for men to be a part of feminist agency. If feminism is to obtain its goal of liberating women, men must be a part of the struggle. Indeed, men probably bear more of the responsibility for ending oppression of women since patriarchal men have been the main perpetrators of that very oppression. But can men do this by becoming feminists?”
If we leave out the final question in this statement, it would seem to be a prequel to the message that Emma Watson used in her address to the UN recently.
Klocke goes on:
“Although I believe that men can be pro-feminist and anti-sexist, I do not believe we can be feminists in the strictest sense of the word in today’s society. Men, in this patriarchal system, cannot remove themselves from their power and privilege in relation to women. To be a feminist one must be a member of the targeted group (i.e a woman) not only as a matter of classification but as having one’s directly lived experience inform one’s theory and praxis.”
Is Klocke simply making an argument for essentialism with this statement? Are we looking at a biological argument in his statement’s on lived-experience? If one has not truly lived as a female in our society, can one ever really understand, or put into place actions for change surrounding patriarchal oppression? Let’s juxtapose this idea for a moment. I do not have male privilege, yet does this mean that I cannot completely understand privilege as a female? As a white, middle class feminist, I believe I can understand the social privilege I have been given over my fellow feminist women of color who have struggled with deeper marginalization and oppression continuing to this day.
I also have to ponder where men who have lived with oppression fit into the scheme of feminism. Surely we recognize that race and class play a role in oppression of men in our society. Are we to place men on a continuum in terms of oppression levels when establishing a defined feminist male model?
Klocke does go on in the full article, linked earlier, to discuss these questions, along with the validity of men who may not define as feminist, but who work alongside females in praxis. He cites information from Alison Jaggar regarding the application of theory, but seems to defer taking a stand regarding the feminist label for males, preferring to consign himself to the concept that men can, with practice, stand alongside a feminist in action, but perhaps never have the essential qualifications to be called feminist.
What do you think? Can our society, and feminism itself, truly define a feminist male in the literal sense, and does it even matter? Is the real key that society (and feminists themselves) just drop the labels and simply accept men who believe that human rights are essential for everyone, not just based on a select sex, or race, or social status?
Klocke, B. (2008). “Roles of Men with Feminism and Feminist Theory. NOMAS position paper. Retrieved from http://www.nomas.org/node/122
And…..because the topic is related, have you found this blog yet: http://makemeasammich.org/2014/09/28/when-bad-allies-get-good-guy-awards/