Monday, April 7, 2008

"Feminist Men" vs. "Pro-Feminist Men"

After launching this blog, it as come to my attention for the first time that there is a semantic debate over men calling themselves feminists, and that for some the term "pro-feminist" is preferred. Here is some of the logic behind that, taken from Michael Flood's FAQ about pro-feminist men:

Feminism is a movement and a body of ideas developed primarily by, for and about women. Men can never fully know what it is like to be a woman. If we call ourselves "feminists", we run the risk of colonising feminism or looking like we're saying we've got all the answers.

Some feminist women argue that men CAN call themselves feminists, as long as they live up to the same standards as women who are feminists -- to support the equality of women and men. Nevertheless, most pro-feminist men use the label "pro-feminist" rather than "feminist". We believe that there is plenty men can and should do to support feminism, and we don't need to call ourselves "feminists" to do it.

That whole FAQ is pretty helpful by the way. (and check out some of the new links too!)

I am curious to hear what people think of this. I know that my intention around describing myself as feminist is not to co-opt women's experiences, but to align myself with a movement and critical way of thinking. For me, it is already inherent within the canon of feminist thought that men cannot fully know what it is like to be a woman living under patriarchy. And I am crystal clear that we men don't have all the answers. So... though I understand and respect the *intention* behind these distinctions, to me it seems a little redundant and overly semantic in a kind of tip-toe-ing liberal kind of way. I would liken it to people describing themselves as "pro-Marxist" instead of "Marxist" because the ideas of Karl Marx have not necessarily been successfully duplicated in society, so we haven't lived it. I would also be annoyed if white folks started calling themselves "pro-anti-racists". Ha! Ok, before i get too defensive, let me say that i am still open to listen and change, but at the moment, i am like... huh?

I am also not sure if this term is coined by "profeminist men" or feminist women, which i think might make a difference for me.


richard said...

still on this thing! wondering if i would also have to define myself as pro-pro-choice since its not my choice to actually make, but i support a woman's right to choose.

feelin me? if i am just getting silly now, let me know!

Chris said...

While I dig the intention, I feel a bit like it's a way of still caving to the patriarchy.

That is, the reason to call yourself pro-feminist is to prevent people from misattributing the good work of feminist women, instead to feminist men.

At the same point, though, if you have to do that, those kind of people who'd make that mistake are missing the core point of feminism to begin with...

richard said...

hey Chris! so great to have some male input (if you define yourself as such)!

i hear what you are saying, and i guess i am still with the second point at this juncture. i am willing to differentiate to those kinds of people who might actually believe that i am creating this canon of work by feminist women. I can be clear that i do not own feminism, and that i subscribe to feminist thought. if anything, it offers me an opportunity to educate other men.

i'm from the east coast, and now live in the bay. to me, culturally, this feels like a distraction from doing work. someone once said that the left can't get anything done because we spend all of our energy trying not to offend each other (ie, my above parenthetical statement "if you define yourself as male").

Having said that, at the same time, i do believe that sensitivity to diversity of struggle is essential to building conscious community.

i can also see where someone may read my taking on the term "feminist" as male entitlement and arrogance. at this point, it feels more like east coast arrogance to me :)

i have a question: does this mean that there is indeed a new canon of work called "profeminism"? And if so, doesn't that cycle back around to the original concern?

Helen said...

Hey there! Love your blog, and will pass the link on. And, as for the question of "pro-feminist men" vs "feminist" men, my answer is to agree that it feels a little hyper liberal... and no matter what you or I call ourselves, (child, please, call yourself a feminist if you care about women's lives and deconstructing male privilege and gender inequalities...) what matters even more is your doing and being... you know? Similarly, I don't want to call myself a 'pro-anti-racist'... I'm not just for it, I intend to live being an antiracist... (on the other hand... is it permissible for me think of/envision another word which isn't 'anti' but affirmative of what antiracists want to build in place of racism? Just thinking 'out loud' so to speak...) Richard, I do believe men can be feminists... (and maybe I want to say that the struggle to deconstruct/dismantle oppressions belongs to all of us?? is that too simplistic though??) and I am also hopeful that language will continue to change and make space for more of the complexities of our lives... Plenty blessings to you...

Chris said...

Hi Richard,

(This is Chris who lives down the street from you, and sees you at the Breakroom or Shooting Star)

I think it's also important to look at how the term is being used from it's intention. I'm pretty much with Helen on that.

I think a bigger threat of appropriation has been the recent push of celebrity's claiming feminism while pushing the same-old same-old with a Grrl Power t-shirt.

richard said...

aw thanks Helen! really appreciate that. and i am with you, i too feel that the task of dismantling oppressions belongs to all of us. as someone once said, none of us are free till all of us are free.

this is interesting, because most of my friends who identify as feminist women who i have had this convo with are with you and i on this. and the blogosphere has mostly men blogging about needing to refer to oursleves as pro-feminist. its interesting. again, i appreciate the intention, but seems a bit overly semantic for me.

and Chris! i was wondering if that was you. nice baby pic :) could you say more about this recent possibly problematic claiming of feminism by celebrities? are we talking about men? i really live under a rock when it comes to these things...

Chris said...

We're talking about women celebs, but it's not especially new-er, just a repackaging of the "mainstream friendly feminism" that isn't really feminism. It's been critiqued many, many times before.

The other appropriation thing worth looking into is the term "womanist" divorced from it's context as a woman of color term.

Both cases though, we're talking about women appropriating the term. I think the patriarchy is a little too strong for most men to start swinging around feminism like a fashion statement for appropriation (though, like any thing, you see macktivists using it at times).

richard said...

huh! not familar with this celebrity trend. and i definitely associate "womanist" as a woman of color term.

i am not sure if you are saying that men identifying as feminist is akin to making a fashion statement, if you are referring to celebrities, to me... and what's a macktivist??

would the patriarchy weaken if men identifying as feminist became more normalized?

i'm waiting for my friend michelle to comment she has something really interesting to say...

Michelle said...

sorry Richard I've been so slow in writing! what I like about the term feminist for men is that it embraces the struggle. pro-feminist is a layer removed, a hands distance away. and I think (subconsciously) men may be reacting to the term "feminist" because of the "fem" root. speaking generally, clothes, mannerisms, jobs--things that are seen as feminine are avoided by men b/c their masculinity must be protected. being described as girly/ feminine is an insult to men. so embracing the term "feminist" helps claim a fuller concept of masculinity. one with room for some "fem."

richard said...

michelle, thank you so much for posting this! i really love this idea. i stand as hetero bio man, embracing the struggle and my "fem"! :)

Dan Holzman-Tweed said...

Michelle summarizes one point at the root of my refusal to identify as "pro-feminist" instead of "feminist," that removal. And that removal does not fly with me. My Be Present t-shirt states the mission, and begins "We are a diverse network of women..." If one fears emasculation for that shirt, or for the "fem" in "feminism," one isn't getting it at a very basic level.

I don't read it only as a distance from the word, but a distance from the work.

"Hard work fascinates me, I could watch it all day," reads a button I've seen people wear. The argument that our role is "support" that I have seen associated with "pro-feminism" puts me in mind of a button that might read, "Hard work fascinates me, I could support it all day." Does not fly.

The "pro-feminist" label also occludes the fact that sexism directly hurt men and that feminism directly benefits men by combatting sexism. It casts us as the "white knight" again, gallantly supporting this thing that benefits women at no benefit to ourselves -- even at our expense! Once again, does not fly.

I also reject the label "pro-feminist" because if I took it, someone might thing I held their attitudes! I've yet to meet the pro-feminist man who didn't get that it is no this place to claim that, for example, Camille Paglia is not feminist. Their analysis of feminism isn't deep enough to recognize that feminism is a multi-faceted movement that contains sub-movements that are mutually exclusive. They don't get that someone can be both feminist and wrong. They certainly don't get that a man acting as gatekeeper to feminism misses the point at first principles. Does not fly, strike three, "pro-feminism" is out for me.

richard said...


wow. that was a passionate and well said endorsement of men identifying as feminist! thank you for that elaborate 1-2-3 punch :)

i'm with you on 1 and 2 for sure, i am still reading over 3... i am not sure how identifying as feminist as opposed to pro-feminist (just semantically) would project to others that you have a more monolithic view of feminism... is that based on your experience of pro-feminist men, or something you think the actual languaging conveys?

Anonymous said...

as another pro-feminist male or feminist male...

i'm gonna make an argument for context or circumstance.

personally i'll gladly choose feminism when anyone wants to debate the movement(s) or deny the importance of it or has a problem with the word or even wants to talk about post feminism (i'm talking about mostly around other men but some women for sure as well).

however, i also see the importance of the distinction. there have been countless 'pro-feminist' men's organizations that have done too much coopting and misappropriating, even to the point of their organization or efforts usurping feminism for their own new-masculinity benefits.

its a tricky one.

ps i also really appreciate your 'tip-toey liberal' sentiment. i think we can have this discussion and recognize the differences without having to go there...