Our first class period of the semester we answered two fundamental yet complex questions. “Do we consider ourselves feminists? And what does feminism mean to you?” There answers shared some commonalities, but each person’s beliefs and experiences influenced their responses. I ardently answered the first question in the affirmative. However, I avoided the second question altogether (whether intentionally or not I am not quite certain).
As a cis-male, my relationship with feminism is ever evolving; I try to be a constant learner, always open minded. Yet, I have been consistently reluctant to define feminism. I associate certain socio-economical and political tenetss to feminism: equal pay, reproductive choice, anti-body shaming. But I will not say Carly Fiorina is not a feminist, or not a good feminist. But is this reluctance correct? Is it evasive? I honestly do not know the answer.
I looked to bell hooks’ "Feminism is for Everyone" for some insight ( https://excoradfeminisms.files.wordpress.com/2010/03/bell_hooks-feminism_is_for_everybody.pdf). To hooks, creating male allies and generating feminist conscious-raising among men are pivotal to the success of the movement. This much seems intuitive; an exponential effect of more pro-feminism men checking the privilege of others, in turn creating more pro-feminism men.
hooks also articulates the importance of dismantling the false media narrative of anti-men feminism. hooks argues for educating men at a young age to effectively counter this. hooks identifies the benefits that feminism has for men. Patriarchy has clearly failed a majority of men, she argues, pointing at the male anxiety of the incoherent "men's rights" movement. It has left so many without a basis for identity based on anything except violent power.
Yet, hooks does not speak directly to my earlier quandary. I assume there are two reasons for this. First, it is a generally broad text, covering many topics; it contains historical background, critiques of past methods, and hopes for the future of feminism. Second, societal conscious-raising will achieve more for feminism than finely articulating male ally roles and responsibilities. But inferences can be made when considering the other preeminent goals hooks sets out in the text.
In the introduction to her book, hooks laments the breakdown of feminist politics within the feminist movement. Responsible, in hooks' mind, is the lack of clear definitions of what it means to be feminist. Without clear definitions, internalized sexism and patriarchal attitudes remain unchallenged. hooks considers addressing internalized sexism essential to the feminist movement.
After reading hooks, I consider my past silence evasive, and . If definitions are needed, and internalized sexism must be conquered, then allies cannot afford to be silent. This is not all to say that I, as a man, should be defining what feminism is. Rather, I must be actively seeking out the appropriate definitions so I can be confident in public discourse.
This semester, I plan to do just that, to become well versed, knowledgeable and confident. The next time I am asked those two fundamental questions, I will be able to answer both with equal vigor and confidence.