April 01, 2006

Should men be called feminists?

Ampersand gives this question as long, thoughtful answer:

Years ago, I used to get into arguments about the 'feminist' versus 'pro-feminist' question, but then I began to wonder: Why am I spending time arguing with feminists? Is it my job as an ally to care about what these people I want to support choose to call me? If I get into long debates about what I should be called - or if I'm a feminist at all - aren't I both wasting the time of feminists who might have better things to do, and making myself the center of feminist debate? (For that reason, I've more-or-less stopped going to female feminists' spaces to argue about feminism - if I have to argue with someone, it's better that it be an anti-feminist, or at least that the argument take place on my own space rather than appropriating someone else's.)

I still call myself a feminist - frankly, I think more men should be calling themselves feminists, especially in public. But at the same time, I call myself pro-feminist if I sense that's what most feminists in a room would prefer. It's not helpful to feminism if I get into women's faces and make demands about what I'd like to be called. In the end, I think the content matters more than the label. (Of course, there are feminists who argue that my content sucks, too).

And there's more; take the time to read the whole thing.

In a somewhat different context, I make the following argument in a paper I'm current writing:
First, think of A. A is in her twenties, a grad student in philosophy who's done some serious thinking about feminism, and who calls herself a feminist. B is the same age as A, and also a grad student whose views would easily be called feminist, except that he is male.

Suppose A and B spend a week going around their campus together, documenting all the different instances of sexism they come across. A and B will probably not produce identical lists, of course, but it's quite likely each will only have a few items the other didn't put down.

Now suppose C and D do this same exercise. These two are both first year undergrads, coming from some politically moderate, upper-middle class suburb; they haven't really thought much about sexism, or political issues in general. C is a woman, D is a man. C's list is quite likely to be a great deal longer than D's. And C's list is quite likely to be a great deal shorter than either A's or B's.

I think most of the folks who are concerned about calling men 'feminists' because men don't know sexism 'first hand' have the disparity between C and D in mind. While it's certainly vital to keep this disparity in mind while doing feminist theory or feminist activism, I think it's largely irrelevant to the question of whether B is an 'ally' or a fully-fledged member in the feminist movement.

Is B taking over the discussion, demanding feminists pay as much attention to men's lives as women's and treating other participants in the discussion with a complete lack of respect? Then he doesn't belong in the discussion because he's not really a feminist. But if he's listening respectfully, and contributing his own ideas and stories at the appropriate times -- that is, if he's genuinely a feminist in deed -- why isn't he in fact an equal in the movement?

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