Originally posted on August 24, 2010
As I wrote before, to a certain degree I pity male feminists. They are in an unenviable position. Their actions are scrutinized as suspicious. Their views are contorted and thrown back in their faces. The more they attempt to appeal to feminists, the more they find that they are “sexist” and “anti-woman.” They are in a no win situation where they must constantly prove their worthiness to female feminists. The women who treat male feminists with suspicion justify it by citing examples of male feminists behaving badly. However, those examples seem like red herrings since most feminists already treat men with suspicion. Whether identifying themselves as allies or not, men must prove themselves to feminists even as feminists state that they probably will never trust men. This is not a tenable position to be in.
It is even worse when male feminists support the position by stating things like:
Stepping up means being willing to listen to women’s righteous anger. That doesn’t mean groveling on the ground in abject apology merely for having a penis — contrary to stereotype, that’s not what feminists (at least not any I’ve ever met) want. That means really hearing women, without giving into the temptation to become petulant, defensive, or hurt. It means realizing that each and every one of us is tangled in the Gordian knot of sexism, but that men and women are entangled in different ways that almost invariably cause greater suffering to the latter. Stepping up doesn’t mean denying that, as the old saying goes, The Patriarchy Hurts Men Too (TPHMT). It means understanding that in feminist spaces, to focus on male suffering both suggests a false equivalence and derails the most vital anti-sexist work.
Stepping back means acknowledging that in almost every instance, feminist organizations ought to be led by women. It means that men in feminist spaces need to check themselves before they pursue leadership roles. While that might seem unfair, arguing that biological sex should have no bearing on who wields authority in a feminist organization fails to take into account the myriad ways in which the wider world discriminates against women. Even now, we still socialize young men to be assertive and young women to be deferential. (Yes, there are plenty of exceptions, but not enough to disprove that rule.) Part of undoing that socialization for women means pushing themselves to take on leadership positions even if they feel awkward about doing so; part of undoing that socialization for young men means holding themselves back from those same offices.
I am keenly aware that a great many women are deeply cynical about men who claim to be feminists. This mistrust is rooted in real experience. The consequent desire to exclude men from feminist spaces is understandable.
As I noted on that blog, if one always assumes the worst of people, one will have little trouble proving that assumption correct. It takes effort and humility to step back, check your ego and defensiveness, and allow someone the opportunity to prove you wrong. It is unreasonable to tell someone that you will never trust them and then demand that the person try to earn your trust. It is also hypocritical to claim that you want a partner and colleague and then demand deferrence and subserviance. Perhaps the reason so many men fail in feminists’ eyes is because of the impossible (and sexist) expectations those feminists place on men.
The irony is that feminism is supposedly about “building a genuinely egalitarian and non-violent society.” How can one do this if one favors one gender over the other? How can one promote equality when one unfairly guilts an entire gender, minimizes their feelings, denies the validity of their experiences, mocks their pain, and victim-blames them? How can one want men to be involved in feminism when one puts them in a catch-22 in which they must do feminist work or they are sexist, but if they speak too much or at all they are also sexist? How can men truly be allies if everything a man might do to ingratiate himself with feminists can be construed as sexist, especially if he voices his feelings or speaks about his own experiences? How can one simultaneously demand equality while expecting deference?
These seem like rational, logical questions to ask, yet one commenter did not understand them. Hobbes stated:
I don’t understand where Toysoldier is coming from, because he seems to forget the fact that the movement is about female empowerment. Yes, it involves masculinity, but- let’s be honest- primarily to the extent that it relates to femininity. There are exceptions, of course- Hugo writes about men often- but the feminist movement is about women and women’s rights. It assumes that women are disadvantaged in relation to men, and works from there.
If that is so, then why is it that feminists claim that feminism is about creating and promoting equality? It seems like feminists want to have it both ways at their convenience. Feminism is about equality and for everyone until men want acknowledgement, at which point it becomes about empowering women and women’s rights. Feminists oppose rape until someone mentions male victims, at which point feminists say they are only concerned about female victims. Feminists oppose violence until someone mentions male victims, at which point feminists say they are only concerned about violence against women. Feminists support equal access to education until someone mentions boys failing in school, at which point feminists say they are only concerned with educational disadvantages girls face. Feminists support treating people’s voices and experiences as equal until men speak, at which point feminists say men speak too much already, and so on.
Feminists want men to treat women’s experiences with respect, yet feminists, by their own admission, do not and will not treat men’s experiences with respect. In short, they demand something they are not willing to do themselves. That kind of hypocrisy and contradiction works against the purported goals of feminism, and it also prevents men who consider themselves allies, or might have, from being able to fully participate in the movement. Feminists essentially set men up to fail and then point to the men when it happens and go, “See! I fuckin told you!”
Of course men will fail. The expectations they face are impossible.
Hobbes went on to state:
If Hugo had said that men should *always* step back and allow women the spotlight, obviously I would disagree. But he didn’t. This particular movement concerns itself with the advancement and leadership of women. Therefore, as a man, I am going to step back in this sphere. This doesn’t mean, for example, that I’m going to be granting female executives precedence at a board meeting. I mean, I don’t think that it would be appropriate to see a white head of the NAACP, no matter how devoted he or she may be to civil rights. Let’s go further- I wouldn’t want to see a woman in charge of father’s groups. Why? It’s not about her.
Again, feminists state that feminism is for and about equality. It is only when men want to play an equal role that feminism suddenly becomes just about women. Hobbes has a point that if a movement is about a specific issue then it is best that a member of the group lead it. However, if that movement’s position is that differences between people should or do not matter, then anyone who can adequately represent the concerns of the group should be allowed to lead. In other words, if the NAACP were only about preventing racism, then it would be fair to say no white person should head the organization. Since NAACP is primarily about promoting racial equality, white people should not be excluded from being potential presidents of the organization.
Setting that aside, the problem does not just lie in the overt misandry in the feminist positions presented above. It also lies in hypocrisy of condemning one’s own second-class treatment while demanding that other people accept second-class treatment. Feminists want women to be treated as equal to men, yet in their own movement they refuse to treat men as equals. Feminists object to women entering men’s spaces being treated with contempt and suspicion, yet they openly treat men with contempt and suspicion when men enter feminist spaces. Feminists want men to respect women’s voices, yet they refuse to respect men’s voices.
That there are men who ally themselves with feminists and put up with this should be in and of itself a testament to their resolve to support feminism. In no other instance would a person willingly step into a deferential, second-class status. To then turn around and vilify and ostracize the men willing to take the hits makes no sense. It is reminiscent of someone teaching a child to perform sex acts to the person’s pleasure, which the child does only to be called a “whore” when he does the acts properly.
Male feminists do what feminists tell them to do only to be chastised for doing so. What more can those men give that they have not already given?