I disagree with Quixote’s assessment that several male commentaries, including my own, about men and feminism are somewhat illegitimate. While I’m mindful of reinforcing the “feminists hate men” narrative, that the lowest common denominator (or some misogynist tool) would turn “men can be feminists too” into “those broads are femi-nazis!” is largely unavoidable. Also, I don’t think of these comments as broadly representative of either Feministe or its commenters; I just used it as a jumping off point to discuss a debate I thought, in popular discourse, had been settled.
But I shouldn’t have been so surprised that there were still women out there asking if men can be feminists, as feminism–like so much else–isn’t a monolithic movement. My reaction should have been “Wow, there are still those sort of radical feminists out there? How quaint.” Our beef is with radicalism (or at least a particular strain of it).
I gave up the radical’s critique that “you can’t tear down the master’s house with the master’s tools” a long time ago because, as it so happens, the master doesn’t have a monopoly on his tools. This is why I think it’s still fair to take issue with feminists who think men can’t be allies–feminism is a more effective movement if men are working against patriarchy too. Moreover, Mike raises an important concern:
Their movement has been unbelievably successful in a shockingly short period of time, and I desperately wish they wouldn’t minimize those of us who feel that what they call the patriarchy is actually deeply harmful to those of both genders.
That patriarchy has been a pox on both genders is an old idea. The poet Adrienne Rich described it as “a world masculinity made/unfit for women or men”. Recognizing that men have, in some ways, screwed things up for themselves, avoids the essentialist tendencies that Mike rightly finds frustrating and mind-boggling .
More men identifying as feminist (or included as allies) makes a movement stronger because it widens the scope of support. The more people you can legitimately include, the stronger your political position. Radical feminists (or anti-war activists or environmentalists) want to narrow the scope to enforce some sense of purity, which has the deleterious effect of weakening your political power. Besides, taking up this issue combats the oft heard “I’m not a feminist, but…” in which someone goes on to tell you that they support all sorts of gender egalitarian causes, they’re just not a feminist. This is the same sort of thing liberals have had to deal with for the past twenty years, where many people support liberal causes but identified as “moderate” or (shudder) “independent” because they didn’t want to be associated with the liberal label. I don’t want conservatives or certain radical feminists defining feminism for me, so I argue we should push against the extremes to build the largest coalition possible.