Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Allies and defining the movement

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.


Kyle Kate Dudley said...

I think this is a wonderful way to approach your feminism, and the class, Earnest. The male allies in the feminist movement and cis-male feminists are an incredibly powerful resource for getting the word out there and for getting people to "come closer to feminism" as hooks suggests. The 'women against men' is more often than not problematic, the way I see it. I have always been for working to change the system from within it. With the system of men and women, there is incredible space and fodder for collaboration if we allow it.

Amen to the cis-male feminist!

Josie Zimmermann said...

I think this is so important. It's incredibly beneficial for any movement to have allies on the "other side." I wouldn't even worry too much about knowing the right things to say, or having a perfect definition of feminism. Listening when women tell you their experiences, backing them up when others are dismissive or overbearing, and just saying "that's not cool" when men act in uncool ways are powerful ways to be an ally without taking on the enormous task of defining the movement.

Flamingo said...

Very well said Josie, I couldn't agree more. Just being open-minded and conscious of feminism is so helpful in itself.

Thank you for sharing this Earnest. In my opinion, clear definitions are not necessarily helpful as they usually are excluding of some opinions/people/approaches. In my opinion there is not one feminism that is the only truth applicable to everyone. I think we have studied a number of different feminisms and people can decide for themselves to which of these they want to relate or not. Merely thinking about them and discussing them is already truly beneficial.

Anaaf said...

In my opinion, if any, minority or underprivileged group wanted a change, it is critical for these groups to seek allies from the other side. It is easier and more effective to create change when more segments of society are sympathetic with the movement. Whether if we wanted to admit it or not the problem with the feminist movement that it only reaches the elite of society. White straight men control the lion’s share of the media, so if we really want the movement to reach a wider portion of society we are going to need as many allies as we can get.