by Sean Eddington
John McCarroll, writer for Sherights, asserts, “men are given a privileged place in the feminist movement, one where they are praised for simply not being terrible and their much-vaunted power remains intact.” I have become acutely aware of this privilege that comes with the status of the “Feminist Man” within the feminist movement. There is a level of added admiration, adoration, and even legitimacy. It’s as if healthy expressions of emotions, supporting and advocating for women’s rights and equity, and working, etc., gives me an edge or makes me more worthy of the “feminist” label (either self-ascribed or prescribed to me by my feminist sisters). (Spoiler alert: It doesn’t.) I still struggle with biases and recognize that there is much more work to be done. Self-work is one piece, but creating an activist narrative and moving beyond knowledge-sharing is still a real struggle for me.
Additionally, PolicyMic writer, Cassandra Leveille, writes “As much as we may idealistically wish for men to understand that gender roles are restricting for them as well, far too many men are comfortable with the status quo from which they considerably benefit.” As men within the feminist movement, we must be aware of the privilege that may emerge when we align ourselves with the feminist movement. While we aspire to use our privilege to do good and promote equity, we must be cognizant that privilege continues to exist. If we are not careful, we can end up doing more harm and perpetuating systems of oppression (Edwards, 2006). During my first year on a departmental Social Justice and Inclusion committee, I found myself expressing viewpoints, and the viewpoints not necessarily being challenged. As much as I would love to believe that my ideas are brilliant, I couldn’t help by wonder if this was more about me being a white, cis-gendered man with my privilege. Also, as I began work on studying men and masculinities, I found myself drawn to the idea that “Real Men” are able to express emotions in a healthy way, “Real Men” make are not threatened by a woman’s power, etc. What I found with that many of my feminist friends were drawn to this language, and remarked that I was a great example of a man doing feminist work. Neat, right? Perhaps not so much.
It is becoming increasingly important to understand the language that we use to describe the Feminist Man as a “Real Man” is equally oppressive. While we might agree that being able to navigate through emotions is integral to emotional maturity and self-authorship, by promoting and lauding the Feminist Man, we unwittingly perpetuate systems of oppression. Sociologist, Michael Kimmel, argues, “by prescribing and proscribing certain behaviors, having definitions of gender (even healthy ones) limit us as human beings to a code that supposedly comes with our biological sex.” I work with some pretty amazing women at Purdue, and there have been times that I have been placed on a pedestal for being a man who identifies as a feminist. While this isn’t always a bad thing, there exists an unspoken pressure to be cognizant of my actions, and these incredibly high expectations are unrealistic–to perform and be the perfect feminist ally. Would I love to be a perfect feminist ally? Absolutely. Do I strive to reach these expectations? Yes; however, there needs to be grace for the times that I, and any other feminist man, fall short.
Even with the Feminist Man, “male privilege is re-defined, but not negated, in a way that leaves masculinity unchallenged and still dominant” (McCarroll, 2014). It is important for men involved in the feminist movement to recognize and acknowledge that their space in the movement comes with the potential for unintended privilege. Our space can unintentionally silence women; therefore, we must work harder to create spaces that affirm, advocate, and champion those within subordinated groups.
Essentially this comes down to the fact that the well-meaning Feminist Man can actually do harm to the feminist space if he isn’t careful. Sounds depressing, right? However, there are some ways that the Feminist Man can be a better ally and mitigate the challenges that may emerge:
1. Continue self-work and education. It is not the responsibility of a person within a subordinated group to educate you. You must be an active player in this, and here are some great resources particularly on being a man and doing feminist work:
- Men Speak Out: Views on Gender, Sex, and Power by Shira Tarrant
- Men and Feminism by Shira Tarrant
- Full Frontal Feminism by Jessica Valenti
- Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center by bell hooks
- Feminism Is for Everybody: Passionate Politics by bell hooks
- SISTER OUTSIDER by Audre Lorde
- The Gendered Society by Michael Kimmel
- The Guy’s Guide to Feminism by Michael Kimmel and Michael Kaufman
- Women, Race & Class by Angela Davis
- Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity by Judith Butler
2. Talk with other feminists of all genders…and LISTEN. As Stephen Covey stated, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Be empathetic and learn about individuals’ stories and their various experiences.
3. Become more comfortable challenging casual sexism. “Man up.” “What a wimp.” “You throw like a girl.” As men, we’ve been inundated with messages like these, and we need to become more comfortable and confident challenging these statements. Many times these phrases are uttered man to man, but these can also be iterated from another woman to a man.
4. Did I mention continue education? Here are some great blogs and resources that can be used to be a better Feminist Man.
Edwards, K. (2006). Aspiring social justice ally identity development: a conceptual model. NASPA Journal. Volume 43 (4). Retrieved from http://our.peacefuluprising.org/sites/default/files/aspiring_social_justice_ally_identity_development__a_conceptual_model.pdf
Leveille, C. (2014, January 23). Stop fawning over male feminists. PolicyMic. Retrieved from http://www.policymic.com/articles/79669/stop-fawning-over-male-feminists
McCarroll, J. (2014, April 24). The language of dude feminism. Sherights. Retrieved from http://sherights.com/2014/04/24/the-language-of-dude-feminism/
Sean Eddington is a Residence Education Coordinator at Purdue University. In his work, Sean oversees the development and residential education of close to 1200 college men at Cary Quadrangle, one of the largest all-male residence halls in the United States. The core of his work with college men is on wellness, resiliency, and wellbeing. Connect with him on Twitter @seanmeddington or on his blog: www.seaneddington.wordpress.com.