Saturday, August 10, 2013

Male Feminism Considered

My good friend K. sent me these links yesterday on male feminism. I'm increasingly interested in articulating my thoughts as a male feminist (as opposed to just being one), now that I've personally experienced how threatening such an idea is to so many men (see the comment section here).

In The Guardian, Jonathan Freedland argues that men have to be part of the struggle against misogyny.

That there is a battle to be fought is surely beyond doubt. Whether it's a prosecuting barrister branding a 13-year-old female victim of sexual abuse "predatory", or the ongoing death and rape threats against women who speak out on social media, all those who care about even basic notions of fairness or justice can see there is a momentous struggle to be joined. Yet men hesitate. Register the voices who rise up to object to these or any of the other instances, constant and ubiquitous, of sexism and misogyny and they overwhelmingly belong to women.

Perhaps that's inevitable. An attack on any group will be felt first and most keenly by that group: it usually falls to Jews, for example, to sound the alarm over antisemitism. But that rule is not universal. The backlash against the Home Office's "Go Home" vans, a hateful scheme now under investigation by the Advertising Standards Authority, has not been the exclusive preserve of immigrants, legal or illegal, or the descendants of immigrants. Even Nigel Farage denounced it.

But somehow men leave the heavy lifting against gender bias and gender hatred to women. The most charitable explanation is that men worry they cannot speak about this subject authentically, that their perspective is of less value than a woman's. Others fret they'll get it wrong, that they'll inadvertently say something that is itself sexist, thereby revealing that they too don't "get it" – so it's safer to say nothing. The diffidence of the men who took part in last week's #twittersilence was striking, several indicating that they were only "sort of" taking part.
He finishes strong:
That means a change in men, but also perhaps in the struggle itself. For there is not just a gender gap on this issue. Wary as I am of pointing it out, there does seem to be a gulf separating the feminist conversation currently aired loudest in the public sphere and the kind of monotonous, grinding experience recorded by @EverydaySexism. It is the culture wars that grab media interest – a run of pop videos featuring topless women; proposed "modesty" wrappings to hide the covers of lads' mags; Jane Austen on bank notes; horrors on Twitter – yet it is the stubborn problems of unequal pay, low conviction rates for rape, workplace discrimination against mothers and, say, the need for statutory carer's leave, which probably speak more directly to the lives of women outside the media bubble.

For now, though, the challenge is for men to find their place – and to be welcomed – in a struggle that may be led by the women's movement but which is surely a human cause. We've tried sitting in silence – and it hasn't worked.
 I really like the contrast between the big issues (on which men often speak up) and the "grinding experience" of Everyday Sexism. I tried to get at that in my writing on the subject, emphasizing that while sometimes patriarchy and its effects are overt (Wendy Davis/Texas/etc.), in many ways the covert is just as important to recognize and fight (McDonald's, "Best Dressed" awards, etc.)

Which brings me to the second piece, from South Africa. The young author explores his growing awareness of sexism and the feminist response to it, and focuses on the question of attraction. How can a man express attraction without being sexist?

The first source of my confusion is chivalry. Part of my village’s training related to giving women precedence. A woman must have your seat, you must carry her bags, you must open the door etc. I learned later that westerners call these teachings “chivalry”. It has occurred to me that I can’t reject my village’s teachings without also rejecting chivalry.

The second source of my confusion is physical attraction to women. While I distaste misogyny, objectification or any other notion that equates a woman’s value to her looks, I still am attracted to women. In moments of honesty, I do admit that my attraction to a woman is influenced by my prejudice on looks. It has then occurred to me that proclaiming myself a feminist, while still placing some kind of value on looks, is revolting hypocrisy.
Attraction and chivalry may seem like trivial issues, but they lie at the heart of many male questions about how to be a feminist or how to be an ally. How do you hit on a woman without being a sexist? I see this question asked again and again. It's good to read a young South African man working through these issues.