Just as there’s no easy answer to the question of whether or not a man should call himself a “feminist” or go by a different term, there’s no easy answer for what role men should play in feminism. Below are a collection of different thoughts and perspectives of what men can do to be good allies.
Michael Flood [XY-Online]
Although the following advice is from a piece specifically addressing the men’s rights movement, the excerpted parts are just as suited to be general advice to pro-feminist men:
(1) Assert a feminist-supportive and male-positive perspective.
Men such as ourselves, men with a concern for men’s issues and a sympathy for feminism, should be trying as hard as possible to take up space in the public arena and to affect social and political relations. We should be writing letters to the editor, lobbying politicians, sending submissions, being interviewed, phoning talkback, plugging XY, holding meetings, forming alliances, getting funding, doing deals and shaking hands.
One point of all this is to create an alternative voice on gender issues that is specifically male. Of course it is essential that women take up as much space as possible too, but pro-feminist men have a particular role we can play, and ironically, sometimes we may be listened to more because we are male. We need to show that anti-feminist men do not speak for all men. [...]
(2) TAKE up men’s rights issues, but differently.
[...] We need to take up the issues about which men’s rights men are vocal, offering an alternative analysis of their character and causes. We have to try to reach the men who otherwise might join men’s rights organisations and in some cases who have their pain turned into anti-women backlash. Doing so will be challenging, and it may involve questioning aspects of the feminist-informed analyses we have held so far. I believe that a recognition of areas of men’s pain and even disadvantage is compatible with a feminist understanding (that is, an understanding based on a commitment to gender equality and justice), but it may take some reworking for this compatibility to be realised. [...]
(4) Set up services.
Whether the issue is divorce or men’s health, we need to provide feminist-informed or at the very least feminist-neutral (and of course male-positive) services and resources for men. If men who have gone through painful divorces and messy custody proceedings, men who are hurting and confused, can find access to such services, they will be able to work through this in ways that are healthy and safe. In fact, I believe that this is happening in Brisbane, as a coalition of women’s and community groups respond to the Men’s Rights Agency and the Hillcrest murders.
Hugo Schwyzer [Hugo Schwyzer]
Hugo doesn’t have a “pro-feminist manifesto” as such, but I’ve excerpted relevant parts of a few of his posts:
Pro-feminism asks men to ask hard questions of themselves and the culture. It asks young men to hold themselves accountable; it asks young men to see women as human beings. But it doesn’t ask young men to be anxious people-pleasers. People-pleasing, after all, is cowardly and manipulative. An aspiring pro-feminist man still gets to express his desires and his wants; he doesn’t get to keep a sense of entitlement that tells him that women exist only to meet those desires and wants.
One reason why so many "nice and liberal" men tend to try and derail feminist discussions is that they are eager and anxious to prove that they "aren’t like other guys." Too often, young (potential) pro-feminist men seek to establish their bona fides by stressing the various ways in which they happen to be "exceptions to the rule." One way these guys think they’ll establish their feminist credibility is by explaining that they too know what it’s like to suffer from sexism and stereotyping. The goal is not always to derail the feminist discussion, but rather to win approval and acceptance.
But saying "Yeah, I understand, but I’m a victim too" doesn’t help the feminist cause. Men do need to do the vital work of coping with their own very real issues, but we can’t do that by introducing them into a feminist setting. What we need to do is create specific spaces — like men’s studies classes — for focusing in on the myths, structures, and social obligations that create the "masculine mystique." We need to find healthy ways to express our very real pain and frustration — and we need to express that pain to other men. Too often, traditional definitions of manhood force men to only open up to women, thus burdening our wives, girlfriends, sisters and daughters with doing our "feeling work" for us. While we should indeed share our truest selves with the women in our lives, we need to do more of our emotional work with other men — and not make as many demands on the emotional energy of women, energy that might better be spent elsewhere. [...]
In the end, progressive pro-feminist men need to do a better job of truly hearing what our wives and sisters are telling us. But we also need to do a better job of identifying the sources of our own frustrations and disappointments, and we need to do that in community with other men. Adding to the emotional burden that our wives and mothers and sisters already carry is not acceptable; learning to tell the truth to other men is.
The first question that any activist, in any movement, must ask himself or herself is this: “What can I do? Whom can I change?” It seems clear that there is one clear answer: your ability to transform the world hinges on your transforming yourself first. For the men’s movement, that means focusing on changing men rather than on lashing out at women, the legal system, or modern culture. Once the process of self-transformation is underway, then and only then ought one to begin focusing on changing larger societal institutions. (The danger, of course, is that some folks in the men’s movement become so self-absorbed that they never start work on addressing the culture at large. Balance is needed) [...]
Pro-feminist men are in solidarity with their sisters in the feminist movement. As such, they encourage women to challenge themselves, to better themselves, to become stronger, more empowered and more effective human beings. But pro-feminist men understand that ultimately, the work of transforming women is women’s work. Women need to mentor and guide other women. And men need to mentor and guide other men. We are at our most effective when we are ministering to the unique needs of our own sex. And before we can mentor and guide other men effectively, we have to accept responsibility for our own actions and our own lives. [...]
I trust that my sisters in the feminist movement are busy mentoring young women and challenging them to take ownership of their choices and greater responsibility for their own lives. I know plenty of women who are doing just that. But my commitment to advocating male self-examination and accountability is not contingent on whether or not women are doing the same. The call to become who we were meant to be is not a quid pro quo; even if women were to fail to take the same degree of responsibility as men (which I don’t think is the case), that would not absolve those of us in the men’s movement from pushing ourselves and our brothers to be braver, kinder, more ethical, more loving, more generous men.[Hugo Schwyzer (Hugo Schwyzer): Quick additional thoughts on men and accountability]
geo [Feminist Allies]
Underneath these types of efforts women have largely created the modern feminist movement and done the work to push things forward with minimal male support and almost no parallel work done by men.
I don’t see this changing significantly until a lot more men start seeing traditional masculinity as problematic and seriously work towards change. I believe that to do serious work most men are going to need to do work with other men initially. As we learn to work with other men we can begin to become real allies of women and build coalitions with groups that are predominantly female.
Where we try to jump into women’s groups and work with women we often have problems. Most men have a lot to work out within ourselves related to our masculinity and how we relate to women as well as other men. When we try to work out our issues within women’s groups we repeat the pattern of women needing to educate men about our feelings and many other related issues.
When we’ve done serious work with other men we may become able to work with women’s groups either as a part of them or as their ally from outside.
Undoubtedly there are individual men who can work with women without going through the necessity of working with men. Since many of the problems related to feminism require work with men it would seem logical for most men supportive of feminism to try to work with other men.
Whether women and women’s groups should let men in depends greatly on many factors. There are situations like women’s health clubs where men intrude upon women’s space and make it much harder for women to focus on their physical and emotional health. [...]
As men I believe that we need to build a movement or a set of movements amongst ourselves to help allow us to be better allies of women, children and other men. While it would be nice if we could move in a “feminist” direction out of concern for women and girls, I think it far more likely that we will find paths towards our successful future looking initially at men and boys and how we are hurting. Until we can see how we as Males are hurt by our “Maleness” and understand the desirability of making changes in our own lives, it is difficult to see how we will en masse support women and girls in important and necessary ways.
- Michael Flood (XY-Online): Pro-feminist men’s FAQ
- Jeff (Feminist Allies): Allies
- Dora (Official Shrub.com Blog): On being an ally
- Jeff (Feminist Allies): Linky Goodness: On How to Spot the Faux Feminist Man
- Kevin (Thinking Girl): For the Menz
- In relation to “armchair feminism”:
Some of the, shall we say, “tentativeness” with which I write about feminism comes from the complexities of being a feminist man, of wanting to carefully navigate space that has been created by (mostly) women, and in some cases is thought of as a safe space for women, a refuge from a sexist world. Which is not to say that I haven’t felt entirely welcome in some feminist spaces–in fact, I’ve felt very welcome in most feminist spaces, both online and in the Real World. But feeling comfortable doesn’t stop me from being careful, looking for blind spots related to male privilege, and making an effort to listen when my socialization encourages me to talk. My constructively critical friend might say that I’m too careful, and that may very well be so. Or perhaps I just haven’t learned (yet) how to navigate without being overly careful. Or, perhaps, I’m comfy in my Feminist Armchair, and I’m using this stuff as an excuse. Likely it’s a mix of all of this stuff.
- Limitations of men’s roles in the main feminist movement:
mind you, there were feminist women there as well, but they sat by silently while the men and i argued over “men’s place in feminism” and whether or not they had a right to define, critique, or take on leadership roles within it. i argued that they absolutely don’t and the fact that they would even consider it only illuminated their sexism and ridiculous sense of entitlement.
- What being a good ally isn’t:
Of course, I did tell Pete that the purpose of becoming a pro-feminist man is not to please women or to "get" women into bed. Indeed, doing so only reinforces the worst stereotypes about male feminists! I know countless folks who suspect that pro-feminist men are simply "wolves in sheep’s clothing", looking for a new and effective strategy for seducing women. Indeed, when pro-feminist men aren’t being told that we’re gay, or filled with self-hatred, we’re frequently accused of being predatory frauds. I reminded Pete that I hadn’t tried to sell pro-feminism as a "tool" for using and exploiting women.