[personal profile] flexibeast
Someone over on [livejournal.com profile] debunkingmale has brought up the old "Men should not call themselves feminist, only pro-feminist" thing. i've written about this topic many times all over the Web, but not, apparently, in the form of a post to my own journal. So here is that post, which i'll update with further points as they come to mind.

The issues i have with the "Men shouldn't call themselves feminists" notion include:
  • All too often it's based on dichotomous ideas of sex and gender. What about people such as myself, who identify as male and female - can i call myself 'feminist'? i've often found that those pushing the "no 'feminist' men" idea tend to be transphobic, or at the very least have very simplistic ideas about trans people's lives and experiences; so they may dismiss this point as irrelevant, or only relevant in that they feel it serves as yet another example of men trying to colonise womanhood. Which brings me to an important point:

  • If only women can call themselves feminist, we have to ask what constitutes 'womanhood'. Having a womb? But then those who have had a hysterectomy don't qualify. Having breasts? But some women have smaller breasts than some men. Having a cunt? Personally, i balk at reducing a woman to her genitalia. Having exactly two X chromosomes? But then intersex people who have been raised female don't qualify. What about having been raised as a female, or having lived as a female? In the case of the former, does that mean that an FTM transsexual can call himself a 'feminist'? In the case of the latter, exactly what experiences are required over what period before a person can qualify as a 'woman'? Does one have to experience oppression primarily through one's gender before qualifying? And so on.

  • The argument that someone made in the debunking male thread that men's definitions of feminism may not match women's definitions of feminism is specious, since feminism consists of a wide variety of beliefs, a number of which involve claims that other feminist beliefs are patriarchal. For example, some anti-BDSM feminists feel that BDSM is one form of the "eroticisation of women's oppression", whilst pro-BDSM feminists often feel that dictating the form women's sexuality 'should' take is classic patriarchal behaviour.

  • i tend to feel that how men identify in this regard is far less important than their concrete actions. Although i'm aware that other women (e.g. [livejournal.com profile] porcineflight) have different experiences in this regard, i've all too often witnessed so-called 'pro-feminist' men act in ways i feel are highly disrespectful to women and their feelings and experiences - for example, this incident, Stan Goff's comments about women and sex work (as per this critique) and a Web-based attack on me in which it was implied that [livejournal.com profile] naked_wrat must really merely be a sockpuppet of mine, since no real woman would enjoy and defend at least some types of porn. :-P Further, it strikes me as odd (at the very least) that a cis woman could declare herself a 'feminist', argue against abortion even in cases of rape, and still be able to call herself 'feminist', whereas a cis man who publicly argued for pro-choice positions and who, in his own behaviour and in his activism, worked towards ending violence against women, can nevertheless only call himself 'pro-feminist'.

Personally, i'll take the man who identifies as a feminist and walks the talk over the man who identifies as 'pro-feminist' but who behaves as a condescending prick anyday.

Edited to add: This thread covers a number of issues relevant to this topic.
 

Date: 2007-05-24 08:12 (UTC)
From: [identity profile] candika.livejournal.com
As far as I'm concerned, if people behave like a feminists they are regardless of gender.

Date: 2007-05-24 09:45 (UTC)
From: [identity profile] flexibeast.livejournal.com
*nod* So what, for you, is involved in behaving like a feminist?

Date: 2007-05-25 01:31 (UTC)
From: [identity profile] candika.livejournal.com
Hehehe! Do you want the long answer or the short one?

Date: 2007-05-25 03:05 (UTC)
From: [identity profile] flexibeast.livejournal.com
If you're willing, the long one. :-)

Date: 2007-05-24 09:20 (UTC)
From: [identity profile] winterkoninkje.livejournal.com
Another medallion to hang off the argument that men can't be feminists because their conceptions of "feminism" differ from women's is that, lo, women are not a hive mind. Such wonderful tales to the contrary, women do not in fact all get together and conspire. What one woman calls feminism and what another woman calls feminism are often very different things, without even getting into 'hard' issues like BDSM/kink, transgenderism, pornography, etc.

Their argument stinks of so much essentializing the Other. Well, any of this "men can't be feminists" blather stinks of so much essentializing the Other. I think that men need to be especially wary of claiming the title of feminist for fear of coopting women's positions of power, but provided they bear that in mind and doing so respect women's claim to power and walk the walk, there's no reason why men should not be able to be called feminists.

Date: 2007-05-24 09:45 (UTC)
From: [identity profile] flexibeast.livejournal.com
What one woman calls feminism and what another woman calls feminism are often very different things, without even getting into 'hard' issues like BDSM/kink, transgenderism, pornography, etc.

*nod* Excellent point. Those cis women close to me who themselves identify as feminist have tended to feel completely comfortable with me identifying as a feminist myself even when i didn't identify as a woman; they haven't felt that i was being disrespectful. Apparently their idea of feminism includes "walk the talk" men identifying as feminists - and so we must ask, is it appropriate for proponents of the phrase 'pro-feminist' to tell these women how they should define feminism?

Date: 2007-05-24 09:50 (UTC)
From: [identity profile] haggis.livejournal.com
The difficulty, I think, is assuming a universal female experience, which leads to a common idea of what a woman is. If you assume that this is basically true, then it's easy. Women have one experience (and get to be feminist), men have another (and can only be pro-feminist). Trans and intersex people confuse matters so it becomes a quest to identify which they 'really' are - physically female, socialised female etc. And then keep them in their place :(.

This ignores a lot of other factors (privilege from race, class, education etc) that affect people experiences and lead to oppression between feminists as well as from the patriachy.

My feelings on this are that if you are socially-identified as female, you will generally experience gender-based oppression in one way and if you are socially-identified as male, you will experience it in a different way. That life experience will affect how someone acts, communicates and interacts. In those cases, the 'pro-feminist' label makes sense because it flags up that difference.

But if you are not in those two categories, because you are trans*, intersex, genderqueer or whatever, then it is not so simple. I don't believe that being socialised male means that a MTF woman only experiences oppression in a male way but I think it makes it different to the experience of a cis-woman. An example from a different area - a bisexual person may experience homophobia and straight privilege so their perspective will be different from a gay or straight person. Better in some ways and worse in others but still relevant and useful.

Date: 2007-05-25 08:45 (UTC)
From: [identity profile] flexibeast.livejournal.com
The difficulty, I think, is assuming a universal female experience, which leads to a common idea of what a woman is. . . . This ignores a lot of other factors (privilege from race, class, education etc) that affect people experiences and lead to oppression between feminists as well as from the patriachy.

*nod* Exactly!

My feelings on this are that if you are socially-identified as female, you will generally experience gender-based oppression in one way and if you are socially-identified as male, you will experience it in a different way. That life experience will affect how someone acts, communicates and interacts. In those cases, the 'pro-feminist' label makes sense because it flags up that difference.

Well, except that the sex / gender identifiers 'female' and 'male' already do that. Why should the word 'feminist' be roped in to also perform that function, particularly when in practice, feminism is defined by beliefs about women's place in society, not experiences. If the latter were the case, every woman oppressed in some way by the patriarchal system would be 'feminist', regardless of their actual beliefs. But maybe you're suggesting it's a combination of experiences and beliefs: okay, but then as i said in my post, what experiences does an individual woman have to have in order to allow her to use the term 'feminist' rather than 'pro-feminist'?

I don't believe that being socialised male means that a MTF woman only experiences oppression in a male way but I think it makes it different to the experience of a cis-woman.

*nod* Agreed. But the question is, are the differences in experiences of oppression between various cis women lesser than the differences in experiences of oppression between cis women and trans women? Personally, i doubt it; the variation between individual cis women is probably too great.

Date: 2007-05-25 08:47 (UTC)
From: [identity profile] flexibeast.livejournal.com
Also, i'd be interested to hear your thoughts on [livejournal.com profile] catsnstuff's comment (http://hierodule.livejournal.com/84158.html?thread=529598#t529598) below.

Date: 2007-05-24 19:53 (UTC)
From: [identity profile] catsnstuff.livejournal.com
You have some very good points against that argument. What justifiable points could really be for it? The only thing I could think of is that men just don't and couldn't understand women's experiences.

Perhaps they couldn't. But then, no woman could understand all women's experiences, either. I'm one of them white middle-class university-educated feminists, with an enlightened middle-class university-educated male partner. The issues I face are NOT going to be of those of an an uneducated person from a working-class background. It is a stock criticism that many middle-class women think that there is no longer a need for feminism because they can become very successful in comparison to many men... while those from some working-class backgrounds continue to face many of the same problems that we think aren't relevant any more. My issues also won't be one of a Samoan woman balancing her family's culture with that of wider society. They won't be that of an "out" lesbian living with her female partner, and although perhaps that would be easier to "try on" if I were so inclined, I would always know I had the option of returning.

All of these experiences are so foreign to me, and frankly, while I can learn about them I just can't know them as I know my own. Can I speak for those people far more freely than a man could because of my biology, perhaps tell the Samoan men what their wives really are going through living in their household? Hardly. If we shape our actions and our political positions only in relation to those we can speak for from position of really knowing, we're going to find ourselves pretty bloody curtailed.

If we shape our actions and our political positions by who we will affect, the perceived consequences of our actions and what difference we can make in the world, then we can more effectively engage with the wider environment and our place within it. One perspective cuts off options, the other enables them. To my mind, there is no contest.

I went to a reclaim the night protest a few years back, and to my horror the men were told to march separately from, behind, the women. My (male) friend was crushed that he couldn't march with the rest of us. It was like his contribution was seen as less valuable than mine, or that his concern with the topic was seen as more suspect than my own. We were all very angry and it was not a good night. Frankly, I don't want to be part of something that values one physical sex over the other - this is, to me, kinda the main thing I'm working to remove from society!

Date: 2007-05-25 09:05 (UTC)
From: [identity profile] flexibeast.livejournal.com
Excellent points about women understanding (or not) other women's experiences. :-)

Re. Reclaim the Night - that's an interesting issue. Although i've heard of some RtM events taking the "exclude all males" position to the level of absurdity, with even pre-adolescent males excluded from marching - how is it woman-friendly to force all mothers of such children to have to find childcare for the duration of the march? - i must say i am sympathetic to the idea of women-only spaces as a counter to the fact that most of society's spaces are male-dominated. Personally, it puts me in a weird position, because i often feel uncomfortable around cis men, and feel really uncomfortable in (pre)dominantly male spaces, and yet i know that many cis women would feel uncomfortable (at the least) with me being present in women-only spaces, due to my partial maleness. So although i support women-only spaces overall, i have to take a case-by-case approach regarding whether i feel it's appropriate for me to be excluded from this or that particular women-only space.

Date: 2007-05-26 01:14 (UTC)
From: [identity profile] porcineflight.livejournal.com
Since my name is mentioned I should probably put my 2 cents worth in (rounded up to 5c).

I do understand and appreciate the trans* argument and I have no problem with trans* people identifying as feminist. However, a MTF trans* would be well-advised to spend more time listening rather than speaking, at least initially when newly identified as woman/feminist to avoid falling into the trap of walking into women's space and dominating the discussion with their opinions/experiences/issues... for me this is a sign of respect for the other women there and appreciating that there is an opportunity to learn... if you want acceptance, you need to show respect.

As I have discussed with Heirodule in the past, my reluctance comes from:

1) Experience of men, especially student politicians and thier ilk, who, having done a women's studies subject at university, start proclaiming "as a feminist, this offends me", using the badge of feminism for their own self-promoting purposes. By identifying as feminist, it removes their responsibility to consult with women/other feminists about an issue that affects women, making oneself an immediate authority.

2) Men who are desperate for approval of women/feminists for their own self esteem, seek acceptance as a feminist so that they can distance themselves from the "other men" who are the evil patriarchs ie "all men are bastards except for me". A very good male friend of mine agrees with this, he said during his formative years he did want acceptance as a feminist for those reasons. He also stated that he believed it inappropriate to distract women from their feminist efforts by trying to elicit feminist approval for him to prop up his self esteem... this is what women have been expected to do in patriarchal society that is part of the problem... compare with "yes dear, you have a big penis, are a real success in business and are a great lover". Men should sort out thier self-esteem issues for themselves without expecting women to do it for them.

3) If feminism is about the liberation of women, women should feel that they have control and not be subject to the agendas of men. Compare with Indigenous communities who are sick of "do-gooder whities" coming in and telling them what they should do to sort out their problems. To continue the analogy, it is beneficial for white people to come and help share thier privilege and assist Indigenous people sort out issues of oppression, but it is culturally inappropriate to do so as a leader or expert, preferably it should be as a role of helper or consultant.

According to my possibly flawed recollection (as this discussion took place several years ago) the argument that Heirodule and I came to somewhat of a truce around some of the folowing issues...

The point of yes, for some people in particular, gender is not a black and white experience. People should not be excluded due to issues of biological determinism, that as Heirodule has mentioned above, can falter under scrutiny.

However, feminism is a response to some degree of structural oppression.

While "The Patriarchy" does not equal "Men", men have played a disproportionate role in its continuance.

If it is just as easy for any man to call himself feminist as any woman, the term feminist risks losing some of its meaning.



Date: 2007-05-26 02:06 (UTC)
From: [identity profile] flexibeast.livejournal.com
Well, as you know, and as i've written elsewhere (http://hierodule.livejournal.com/65332.html), i strongly agree with you on the issue of MTFs.

There are three main issues i see with your comments overall:
  • Many (most?) of the complaints you make about men who identify as 'feminist', i have about men who identify as 'pro-feminist': trying to elicit women's approval, being at pains to point out they're not one of the bad guys (which often comes across as "The gentleman doth protest too much"), imposing their views on woman (as per my post). And further, as you know, i have seen far more men who identify as 'feminist' actually walk the talk and be genuinely respectful to women than men who identify as 'pro-feminist'. So given the differing experiences you and i have had with 'feminist' and 'pro-feminist' men, it seems to me that it's not possible to use these labels as indicators of the likely attitudes and behaviours of the men in question.

  • i would suggest that some (perhaps only a few) men actually are more knowledgeable about the issues facing women than many women. Michael Flood (who i believe identifies as 'pro-feminist') is a fine example. It's an absurdity to suggest that a woman who reads, i don't know, Mercy and declares herself a feminist has more of a handle on the complexities of women's experiences than someone like Michael, who has spent years and years researching these matters. And to give a more specific example, Michael has shown himself to be much more willing to listen to the diversity of women's experiences in the sex industry than a number of cis female feminists i've encountered. i think that it's reasonable to think that people of any gender can and should need to actually earn a position of authority within the feminist community.

  • Finally, you talk about men consulting with women, but many female feminists fail to apparently consult with women. Sheila Jeffreys is the classic example - her views often seem to fail to take into account the diversity of women's experience, and the fact that she's in such a position of authority as a widely-known academic, means that she ends up occluding or dissing many women's lives, not only to the broader community, but within the feminist community itself. It's easy to dismiss the likes of Stan Goff as being yet another male trying to foist his attitudes on women; but his rhetoric comes precisely from reading the work of people like Jeffreys! And as far as i'm concerned, and at least one cis woman i know who has helped women exit the sex industry, Jeffreys has done at least as much (and possibly more!) damage to women than i ever have when i was a male identifying as 'feminist'. Again, there are all too many cis female feminists who spend more time judging women for their choices rather than trying to understand them.

In summary: neither being a cis female feminist, nor being a 'pro-feminist' male, necessarily guarantees "walk the talk" respect for women.

Profile

flexibeast: Baphomet (Default)
flexibeast

Journal Tags

Style Credit

Powered by Dreamwidth Studios