Thursday, February 22, 2007

Can a man be a feminist?

I was drawn to a blog posting at a place called Progressive U, debating the concept of whether a man can be called a feminist. To quote:

[T]his idea is based on Irving Weinman as quoted by Treichler and Kramarae who said, “When used by a man to refer to himself it is a “male appropriation of language no less stupidly defensive than a white man imagining myself a black radical.” Profeminist is the term used to describe the male who works toward feminist goals.

And then the author's opinion:


I feel that men can be feminists because I believe feminism, though it has its roots in the Women’s movement, is more encompassing than just women concerned with women’s issues. Women are half of the world’s population but the other half is often intimately connected to the lives of women. If a man recognizes his privileges and believes oppressions to be systematically linked I see no reason why he should be denied the title “feminist”. For a man to embrace the title and the stigma associated with it could be an important step in his awareness of privilege and marginalization.



I actually agree with a lot of that, but I've noticed something interesting: most young men who identify with feminism call themselves a feminist--but most older men identify themselves as "pro-feminist."
To me, this suggests a shift in more than just men's place in the spectrum of feminist ideologies, but rather the entire spectrum of feminist ideologies itself. It seems to me that those who identify as "second wave" feminists tend to believe that feminism is primarily identity politics, while those who identify as "third wave" believe in feminism as a series of ethical ideals and human rights. It would appear that men who are supportive of feminist politics would also be influenced by changing definitions of feminism, and this would be the reason for the change in terminology.

What do you think? True, not true? A good thing, bad thing, or neither?

3 comments:

Marissa said...

I've actually thought about this topic a lot. In theory, I have no problem with men calling themselves feminists based on my own definition of what a feminist is ideologically. In reality, I've noticed a lot of men calling themselves feminist in a way that is meant to 1) completely obscure their male privilege, 2) appropriate the women's rights movement, and 3) score undeserved and disingenuous points with women. I was consistently frustrated in my Gender/Women's Studies courses at Grinnell because the 2 men in a 20 person class would consistently dominate class discussion. I'm tired of male friends bragging to me that they are "more radical" feminists than most of the women they know. Behaviors like this have reinforced to me how insidious and powerful the indoctrination of male privilege is. I think these men meant well for the most part, but their actions in taking on the label of feminist devalued the experiences, perspectives, and voices of the women around them. For that reason, I am now in the men can be pro-feminist, but not feminist camp.

Also, your brief definitions of second and third wave made me a little curious because in my mind third wave is much more obsessed with identity politics than second wave ever was.

Andrew said...

For the Second-Third wave part - I really can't say, because I haven't seen enough men in either wave to make an informed generalization.

I was just reading bell hooks today, where she was discussing a major stumbling block for feminist movement was lack of any sense of clear definition of what a feminist (or feminism at large) is.

The answer to the Man Problem is found in whatever your definition of feminism is. If feminism is a basic rejection of sexist oppression(to use hooks' term) then of course men can participate. But if feminism is specifically women's social and personal liberation from patriarchy, then no, men can't be feminists.

I admit I am on the fence on this issue. I think that freeing our own genders from patriarchy is a goal, but I worry about the use of reinforcing the male-female binary to acheive this aim.

It is definitely a language problem. Feminist ideology is still very much in reaction to sexism and patriarchy, and has to define itself by what it is not.

JusticeForAll said...

Marissa--you know, on a theoretical and intellectual level (though not personal level), I'm totally freaked out by your post. It suggests that no man is able to overcome his privilege, which is something that is fundamentally at odds with my life's philosophy.
However, at the end I have to agree with you because the experience you describe is REAL. And at the end of the day, our language should reflect reality as well as shape it. It is a sad truth that you're talking about, but just because it's sad doesn't make it any less real, and threatening to the ideals of women's equality as a whole.

As for the whole thing about 2nd vs 3rd, this is just entirely my observation. There is no scholarly anything to back this up. So obviously, there's more than enough room for disagreement (or more bluntly, for me to be totally wrong).

Andrew--I basically agree with you. But when people ask me whether I'm a feminist or pro-feminist, I say "what's your definition of feminism?" But at the end of the day, that sort of a statement sounds more like I'm questioning feminism than I'm being thoughtful.

To sum up, my responses to both of you, this is probably the language issue I'm most torn over that I've yet posted about here.