I had the opportunity to hit the “Fundamentals of Feminism” panel at Wiscon, consisting of four women and Sam Delany. Delany’s opening comments touched on men’s interests in the equality of women throughout history.
“What do these men have to do with feminism?” he asked. “Absolutely nothing. Men cannot be feminists. Feminism is about women.”
My buddy Patrick happened to be sitting in the front row of this panel, and I cut a look at him to see how offended he was. I know *I* was offended.
Do I believe that a feminist conversation should be controlled by women?
Do I believe feminist issues should be determined by women?
Do I believe that excluding half the population from the conversation forwards the goals of feminism?
For a lot of people, it’s the *wording* that seems to be the problem. As a white woman, can I call myself a member of the Black Power movement? There are a lot of wording gymnastics: pro feminist men, allies, etc. For the record, I don’t mind a guy calling himself a feminist. The guys I’m leery of are the ones who feel they need to remind you that they’re a feminist at every opportunity.
Delany said that in 10 of the 12 years he’s taught creative writing, he’s received a story from a female student about a woman who was breaking up with her “feminist” boyfriend who turned out not to be feminist at all the longer the relationship went on (or when they moved in together). When he approached these women, they admitted the stories were autobiographical.
“Your first clue that things weren’t right should have been when he called himself a feminist,” Delany said.
Or, as another blogger put it:
As a matter of fact, it’s caused me to realize that most of the men I’ve personally known who have made a huge hairy point of identifying as feminists have been either date rapists, mom fetishists, porn addicts, or bear daddies inflicting their frustrated pseudopaternal tendencies on women. They are some of the most passive-aggressive, patronizing, out-dishing without it-taking twerps on the planet, and they are poisoning the women’s movement from the inside by sapping the hell out of everyone’s goddamn energy.
I was offended by Delany’s comment on behalf of my guy friends: the ones who live feminism. The guys I’ve known who make a Big Deal about how “woman-friendly” they are usually do so because they’re trying to mask their misogyny (One guy I knew went on and on and on about what a feminist he was and – in the same breath – talked about how much feminism oppressed him. We’re no longer friends). It’s like running around saying you’re not a racist and have tons of black friends. Or not a homophobe and have tons of gay friends.
I used to be one of the biggest misogynists I knew (as a woman, you can convince yourself of this by taking yourself out of the “other” category and declaring yourself an “honorary man” ie a “real person” because you don’t wear makeup or skirts). It’s stupid, and I still catch myself thinking horribly anti-woman things on occasion. I write stereotypes and have to go back and fix them whenever I catch them.
I grew up in and am constantly immersed in a society that still denigrates women and forces men into monstrous-masulinity roles. I’m going to think these things. The best way to combat it is to read as widely as I can, talk to as many people as I can, and be aware of why and how I’m thinking and what images I put onto a page; what thinking goes on behind it. It’s no easier for me, I think, than it is for a man to twist at my internalized misogyny. I’ll be one of the first people to admit that stupidly racist thoughts go through my head at the oddest moments. But I’m aware of them, aware of where the racism comes from, and I fight it tooth and nail whenever I respond that way.
Does that mean I can’t argue against racism and misogyny?
The Abolitionist movement and the Suffrage movement would not have succeeded without support from a variety of camps. A great number of Abolitionists were pale people, and the deciding vote in the deciding state that ratified the amendment granting women suffrage was cast by a man (who did it because his mother told him to. Raise feminist men, women!).
I’m always leery of casting the feminist movement as a separatist movement that eliminates half the population from the conversation.