There’s an interesting phenomenon that I have been bumping into in my short time of toiling in an effort to end gender-based violence and working with men and boys. It’s curious and a complex reality in working with seemingly feminist friendly fellows. This phenomenon doesn’t exactly have a particular name, personality, ethnicity, color or a specific face. One commonality with these men is that they proclaim a personal stance of gender respect and equality; however, they are routinely opposed to the use of the word feminism and assert a humanist agenda.
All the while proceeding as though the concept of humanism is something he personally discovered and created in a fit of frenzy of personal compassion for all beings of the world.
These are the easier fellas to have the conversation with. It gets worse.
Some guys have even been downright hostile and behave as though feminism is a personal attack and feminists specifically seek to steal away the personal civil rights of men. These fine fellas don’t always use the word humanist. Sometimes it’s equality. Maybe it’s pro-gender-equality. It may even be a female-male alliance in an effort to ensure a space where women and men are afforded the same undeniable respect and egalitarian opportunity. I get it. It sounds flipping fantastic. These aren’t violent men. They’re not out raping and beating folks. Then why this obvious outrage? Explain this immediate defense structured in opposition, what about the boys? Sometimes the opposition is meticulously thought out and defended with very logical perspectives and quantifiable statistics about the plight of men and boys. I can respect that drive. I can respect the philosophical discourse.
Put frankly, often times its knee jerk and a defensive response to something that appears as though it might take away a bit of personal power and privilege. This is what I feel. I feel that the truth is that it is often times a peculiar resistance to relinquishing patriarchal constructs. It’s a misunderstanding about feminist ideology and its multitude of facets. It’s fear of the unknown. It’s a desire to maintain control. It is a misrepresentation of Secular Humanism, which is more aptly a philosophy that specifically rejects religious dogma on the basis of morality and conscious decision making. It postulates that human beings are capable of being ethical without a dependence on a higher power or fear of retribution. It further clearly states that all human beings are born free and equal and that dogma and superstition will not be the basis of decision making; however, independent and social conclusions will be borne of logic and rationality. It’s a striking and beautiful concept. What’s interesting is that it’s totally possible to be a “pro-feminist humanist” because they are in fact, two separate things.
Deep breath. Time for self-disclosure.
I’ve experienced this perplexing occurrence myself. I’ll admit it. I’ve faced this exact cognitive dissonance when first becoming involved in learning about feminist principles and ideologies. It is a continuous evolution that I continue to revisit on occasion. In the beginning, I put up my defenses and got ready to throw blows. I donned my battle gear and readied my boxing gloves as any suitably socialized fellow would do. What about all the boys killing themselves and others? I submerged myself in research and statistics. I buried myself in published rhetoric about the plight of boyhood and masculinity. Boys are now lagging behind girls in school? What? Boys are now at greater health risks? Boys are more prone to violent forms of suicide? I’ve even read books that assert that if feminism has its way it will continue to overemphasize the troubles of girls, while boys suffer from equivalent self-esteem dilemmas and those feminists will inevitably tip the proverbial scales of power, control and oppression.
Yep, I contemplated it and I can see the fallacy behind it. I am able to see the fallacy behind it because I make a concerted effort to shut the hell up and listen for minute. The fact of the matter remains that there isn’t a sudden emergence of women going out to beat and rape men in epidemic proportions. Feminist women do not have an obligation to advocate the plight of men and boys. Each front has its place, resources and merits. You don’t hear about women marching into schools with semi-automatic weapons and killing children. The fact of the matter remains that feminism isn’t about taking away the rights of anyone; however, it is about securing the safety, rights and freedoms for women and girls. These are entitlements that are already theirs and that are systematically withheld from them both overtly and subtly. Most men do not commit violent criminal acts against women; however, of the people who do commit these crimes, it is overwhelmingly, men. Therefore, we can’t whitewash the issues and call for a so-called humanist agenda.
I found myself wondering, what about all those dads being denied rights over their children? Bullshit propaganda resulting from MRA shenanigans. What about all the husbands and fathers that are pressured with the impossible task of being the sole financial provider lest face personal failure and social ridicule? Guys, if you take the time to really learn about the philosophy behind feminist ideology, you will see that there are very real solutions to these societal and cultural issues on all ends of the spectrum. You have to be willing to listen with an open mind. The type of pushback that I am talking about was recently apparent on another feminist blogger site. Kimera gets raw. She gets serious about the very real and incomprehensible events that have happened to her and others as the segments of oppression intersect and consume women of color in the service and labor industries. This is her story. Her lived experience and academic thought spoken. Out loud and upfront in a very respectful and intelligent way. Then what? Some dude asking, what about the boys? He is asking about the isolated instances of individual discrimination when men are denied jobs in the service industry based off of the fact that they are men. Instances where men might be turned away because the establishment is looking for a “waitress”. Even if this is true somewhere in the world (I’m not entirely sure that it is), it’s hardly a systemic issue. Individual acts of prejudice will occur. It’s not something that is going to prevent him from getting employed somewhere else. It’s not going to impede his promotion at another job. It’s not going to make it easier for people to sexually harass and exploit him because he is in fact, male.
This happens all. the. time.
When you take a moment to look at this example even deeper, you are able to recognize that if this is true, if this is a common occurrence, it is directly a result of the enforcement of rigid gender expectations that call on women to fulfill stereotypical roles and employment. It is a call for women to be available for men, to serve men and a call for women to be the objects of male gaze. These are the types of things that Kimera (and other feminist writers) are already talking about and who experience routine attempts, by men, to derail the conversation. It happened recently on a press release about our film screening of the Bro Code and subsequent talk about hegemonic masculinity.
I appreciate everything HAVEN does, but what a crock! If anything the trend has been towards emasculating boys (“Glee”, hello??). It’s more acceptable than ever to be in touch with your feminine side in today’s society. To target “traditional, hegemonic masculinity” is ridiculous. You’d have to ban hunting, football, drag racing… ~ Joe
No real feminist would imply that violence and aggresion [sic] are masculine traits. And news stories would suggest that women and girls are quickly catching up with men and boys when it comes to violence and aggression [sic]. ~ MelvinMarshmallow
Instances where men derail the conversation, mansplain (google it) and then make it about themselves, and try to call it humanism, happen every flippin’ day.
These guys have no idea what it is like to endure the vice grip and personal strangulation of the systemic oppression of women. How could they? I’m giving these guys a hard time but I do understand where they’re coming from. The problem with a guy like this, is that he is unwilling to quiet his inner monologue long enough to make an attempt to listen and understand a women’s lived experience. Then he is unwilling to accept it without internalizing it and making it his own.
It’s not about you, man!!
This is particularly of interest because I do think that the issues men face are problems that need to be considered to effectively come to a solution that in turn creates a culture of equity and non-violence. Our young men should be on our minds; however, what exactly does that look like? A significant component (among many) in my drive for getting involved in feminism and ending gender-based violence was in an effort to also enhance the lives of men and boys. What, What, WHAT?
Yep, I said that too.
When I say those exact words, it’s often reasonably and rationally met with resistance from feminist women. It’s off putting. It is a justifiable and palpable anger. Well Kole, I think that men already have it pretty fucking good, has been shot in my direction once, perhaps twice, in one form or another.
Yes! And, not exactly.
But this is not what we are talking about today and I will be sure to delve into that topic when we approach “Feminism. Enhancing the Lives of Men?” in future blogs. For the moment, I will address this with a very simple phrase stolen (and adlibbed) from a personal feminist authority and friend,
“I will be post-fucking-feminist when we live in a post-fucking-patriarchy.”
Guys, sit down, quiet your inner monologue and try to listen to the folks who are doing this work every day, here are some tips.
When you feel yourself asking, what about the boys, make an attempt to slow your roll:
- Take a deep breath and calm your mind, resist the urge to fire back a response.
- First attempt to listen, ask questions and do your own research.
- Operate under the assumption of good faith. Understand that this is not a personal thing and is not always about you.
- Know that having these discussions is going to be uncomfortable, it is okay to sit we these feelings and not having to say or do anything in that moment.
Other tips for dealing with defensiveness.