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.
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.
- 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
- Emi Koyama (Shakesville): Silencing and Intimidation of Women of Color at ‘Men Against Sexism’ Conference
- 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.
- Example of behaviors men should avoid:
Last week I attended the Forging Justice conference in Detroit, which was jointly sponsored by National Organization for Men Against Sexism (NOMAS) and HAVEN, a domestic violence and sexual assault agency in Oakland County, Michigan. [...]
After the panel was over, Cristy from HAVEN came up to me and told me something shocking: minutes if not seconds before the panel was to begin, two white male co-chairs of NOMAS told her that the live-streaming of the panel would be turned off for my presentation after two other panelists spoke. She also told me that the men had indicated that, depending on what I say, they were prepared to step in and interrupt my presentation on the spot. [...]
Worst of all, [NOMAS co-founder Robert] Brannon and other members of NOMAS did not bother to ask any questions at my presentation, or approach me privately to discuss their concerns or disagreements; they just censored my presentation, threatened to interrupt and shut it down, and talked disparagingly about me, not with me, as if I did not belong in the feminist conversations over issues that directly affect me and my community. [...]
[NOMAS national co-chair Moshe] Rozdzial seems to think that he and other men of NOMAS get to define what feminism is, and censor women–in this instance, a survivor and a woman of color with first-hand experiences in the sex trade–because, apparently, women who disagree with NOMAS are not feminists. He also fabricates mutuality and consent where none existed, like any rapist who is confronted about violating another person without their consent, while blaming Cristy in the process. [...]
Meanwhile, Brannon, clearly angry from all the women challenging him and his colleagues, rushed toward the only other (as far as I know) woman of color in the room, activist Lauren Chief Elk of Save Wįyąbi Project, who had given a wonderful keynote speech in the morning. Standing extremely close to her with his hands raised, violating her personal space, he kept telling her that she was wrong to criticize racism within first-wave feminism and suggesting that he knew more about her people and culture than she did because he has read history books, much the same way he acted as if his “social science” background made him an expert about sex trade over someone who has actual lived experiences in it. [...]
To be honest, I never expected this conference to be that great. I have had enough unpleasant interactions with “feminist men” in the past, especially cis white men (which NOMAS mostly, although not exclusively, is), and never trusted them as a group. But I did not expect my experience at the conference to be this horrible: is this really what feminist and pro-feminist men do in the name of feminism? But once I disregarded their self-identification as feminists or pro-feminists, all the irony was lost: they are just bunch of racist, sexist, white men.