Friday, October 19, 2012

Male Allies and Feminism: Leadership in the Movement vs. Personal Identity

I've been reading/watching closely the Hugo Schwyzer-fest happening at a few lady blogs this week. (I mean specifically, Persephone and xoJane--the former which I read regularly the latter, I do not but went that way when I saw several Tweets exchanged with and by the author Lesley Kinzel.)

I don't even want to touch the Schwyzer stuff specifically. If you want to read about that, go to almost any prominent feminist blog, search for his name and read and read and read. (Oh, and there's this Tumblr about him too.)

What I do want to touch on is the idea of male feminists and their place within the movement.

You see, the most recent round of the Schwyzer debacle has brought up the question of when/how is it appropriate for men to occupy feminist spaces. Schwyzer's past invokes a host of situations specific to him which make it extra complicated, but the basic question is worthy of attention for all men involved in the movement. There are been a few really good points made in the comments of the articles.

For example, pileofmonkeys commented at Persephone:
My primary issue with Schwyzer is, if he’s setting out to explain men to women (and explain men to themselves, I guess?), why does he need to be allowed to do so in women’s spaces, which have traditionally been some of the very few places where women get a voice without the male filter? How does that make him different from any of the innumerable douches we all know and, well, know, from the comment sections of these sites who bust in, all “enlightened” and "allies" and then get insidiously creepier, mansplainier, and patronizing? 
I’m not opposed to him having a voice, I’m just confused as to why women’s spaces need to be the ones to give it to him.
rellaa at xoJane took it a step back and was more broad:
Men are allies. They are not the voice of this movement. A program like "Men Can Stop Rape," where men work with other men (and teenage boys) to teach them how to become strong, respectful men who don't harass, assault or rape women is a perfect example of how men can be involved in the feminist movement.
rellaa's comments particularly struck with me and made me reconsider a position I've taken before. In a previous post, I argued that "feminist ally" is a useless term. As I said at the time:
If you personally advocate for equal rights and fair treatment of women, then you ARE a feminist (like the term or not!)...Basically, "feminist ally," to me sounds like another way to try to make people who are afraid of the word feminist more comfortable with it as a concept, and to perpetuate the FALSE assumption that only women are feminists...
I stand by the premise that "ally" as a personal identifier shouldn't be used because of a distaste for the word feminism or a believe that men can't be feminists. However, the discussion surrounding Schwyzer has crystallized for me just how important it is to understand why many people use the term.

I agree with the idea that there can and should be female led spaces, and it's extremely important for men who enter those spaces to be aware of their privilege.  It doesn't seem appropriate for a few men amongst many women to rise to the top of feminist leadership (if there is even such a unified thing...) and become the voice of the movement, as was mentioned in pileofmonkey's comment. So in that context, the "feminist ally" term--and delineating that men aren't the best representatives of the theory--is an important thing to acknowledge.

All that said, I makes me realize that I should revise my previous comments on male feminists using the term "ally." I can see that there is a distinction to be made between one's ability to personally identify with feminism and to be a leader who speaks on behalf of the movement. Using "ally" can stand to be a sign of respect from a male feminist--a way of acknowledging that he can only speak from his male experiences and not on behalf of "feminism."

It makes sense to acknowledge that existing privileges can affect feminist/female spaces and that men should be conscious and respectful of that. Of course, using the term "ally" alone is not enough (shitty mansplainy behavior ain't ok!) but I can see how using this identifier when a man operates in a feminist community is a helpful gesture for many women.

1 comment:

  1. May (we) men learn to speak appropriately at all times, but especially in spaces where we have things to learn, and not things to teach. And I wish to thank A. Lynn for -granting- me the privilege of speaking here.


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