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Pro-feminist Men

2009 March 2
by Natasha

Ah, so I feel like I’ve been away from the blog for awhile — and I have.  So here I am, back from the windy mountains of Boulder, CO, to arrive in windy snowflakes tossing around and stinging my cheeks.

Some thoughts about pro-feminist men based on my research, in relation to g&t…
First off, who are pro-feminist men?  The movement of pro-feminist men arose in the late ’60s and early ’70s in the US, UK, and Australia.  Pro-feminist men support feminism (some call themselves feminists — see Alankaar Sharma’s “Feminist. Man. Feminist man.” but some not wanting to infringe upon the empowerment of feminist women call themselves pro-feminist).  They believe in and promote gender equality and justice.  There are many concerns within the movement, and, as is the case for female feminists, different pro-feminist men focus on different issues.  A big one is male violence against women, but there’s also gender equality in school curricula, pornography, men’s health, masculinity, and many others.  In some ways these last two are bringing back the focus to men, but the idea is to rethink gender roles and how they are constricting to both men and women — more as a shared front for action and a motivating force for men rather than as detracting from a women’s movement (though there might be such repercussions too…).

My research has mostly consisted of looking at websites for organizations for pro-feminist men, such as the White Ribbon Campaign, as well as reading articles written by or for pro-feminist men.  Hence I’ve been looking at the technology of pro-feminist men — how they express themselves using technology, how they communicate and spread the message to others using technology.

Some of the discussion/articles has centered around the gender system itself, its current construction as a binary structure which reinforces strict gender roles for both women and men.  Some interesting discussion about this by Alankaar Sharma (again, in “Feminist. Man. Feminist man.“):

I don’t feel embarrassed at calling myself a man, because in doing so, I believe I am taking power away from the social construction of the term “man”. […] And when I proclaim myself as a man too, I believe I’m helping pluralize the term “man” [, ….] shifting the terminology from “man” to “men”… “masculinity” to “masculinities”.

So he thinks that, in calling himself both a feminist and a man, he is stretching the definition of man, rather than enforcing the construction of stereotypical gender roles.  Perhaps he still is upholding the gender binary, but pushing it.  And he is reconstructing and rethinking the technology of gender by pluralizing and opening up the term man to encompass more kinds of men.  Further, this was a repeated theme of the pro-feminist men websites, allowing men a way out of the dominant gender role which our society preaches (which, they note, is part of the feedback loop of patriarchy/male oppression of women) and into other definitions of being a man (yet all the while, still within the confounds of labeling oneself a man).

So.  Engendering technology.  I’ve talked a bit about how pro-feminist men are relating to the intersection of gender and technology, how they are rethinking the gender of technology (as part of the bigger movement to support equality between women and men).  But, kind of like Rebecca, I’m attempting to think how pro-feminist men are engendering technology (by engender, I’m assuming we mean “make gendered” rather than the traditional definition of “producing, spurring on”), and not coming up with much

One thing I did come across which perhaps relates to engendering technology (and the gender-technology relation over all, too) is this one pro-feminist men’s website called XY.  While this site is doing a lot to promote discussion/thoughts in terms of questioning women and men’s gender roles, I was disappointed by their choice of name.  By labeling themselves “XY: men, masculinities, and gender politics”, they are 1) continuing the notion of a gender binary and 2) supporting the notion that having XY chromosomes makes someone a man, whereas, as we have discussed in class, being a man (as much as that has any meaning, since it’s just a label too!) can depend on gender identity, chromosomes, hormones, society, sexual parts, etc.  I can see why they named it how they did: it’s short and catchy — which fits well with their technological medium of being a website.  The nature of the technology they’re using, then, is informing their use of words.

Furthermore, are they gender-izing technology by naming a website XY?  Does that make the website male?  [OK that’s probably a bit of a stretch, but I’m trying to relate the genderizing of technology to pro-feminist men and just trying things out here, experimenting…] Is the website for men?  By mostly men?  If the website is mainly for men written mostly by men, then maybe they are genderizing the technology.  And then that seems to be counteracting the goals of pro-feminism (I’m not sure if XY is so much is a pro-feminist site as a site questioning gender issues, where some pro-feminist viewpoints are placed).  Or maybe it’s not?

4 Responses
  1. Solomon Lutze permalink
    March 2, 2009

    Just for the record, I decided to go with calling myself a “feminist.” To me, the objection with “pro-feminist man” is that it necessarily strengthens the divide between male and female (women are “feminists,” men are “pro-feminist men”). The objection with “feminist” is that it is . . . I don’t know, presuming a level of involvement that’s kind of unfair, really, given that I haven’t sacrificed as much as many great feminists and that I don’t know what the gender discrimination experienced by women is actually like. However, I feel that the objections to “pro-feminist man” are at least in my eyes more troublesome, so “feminist” it is.

  2. Baibh Cathba permalink
    March 3, 2009

    I think I tend to blather more than add to the conversation on this one, but I think I’d like to reply to this post.

    I am of the opinion that Natasha laid out an interesting puzzle of whether or not the word “feminist” lays out gender stereotype. I find the attempt to define an individual website as “masculine” particularly interesting. In the Developmental Robotics course we had this morning we discussed the pronoun “he” and how common the use of such a pronoun was. (It was actually not part of the reading, but we discussed it anyway because Professor Blank is, like, the coolest man alive.) We also discussed whether or not it was an affront to refer to groups of people as “guys” versus what was termed the more “offensive” terms of “girls” or, heaven forbid, “ladies”.

    Unfortunately I feel like this quest to have unchanging definitions requires simplistic explanations with which to describe the words used to describe people. This is probably going to sound wordy, and it kind of is, so let me unpack that sentence a bit (aka I often confuse myself when I talk, so here’s an attempt to untangle). The labels with which we name things are convention. By challenging convention, we make discussion of labeled things uncertain. By constantly re-defining the playing field, the pieces and such a discussion of chess can often be mistaken for checkers at the end of the conversation.

    Okay, to connect this back to class… and the whole ‘feminist’ thing, I would like to bring up this distinction of “feminist” and “femeNAZI”. The feminist is reasonable and uses rationale and facts to back up their argument. The femeNAZI is a raging bull burning down shops full of bras and spewing their opinion with no regard for the life or opinion of others. (An over-simplification perhaps, but as always, humor minimizes an issue to the simplest form: “is not” “is so”.) Bringing this even closer to class, can men be feminists? Well, I say sure. While not convention, (ie, the classic image of a bra-burning, rampaging, army-lesbian who wants a matriarchy and estrogen power to burn down the phallic memorials of testosterone) I grew up with my father who calls himself a feminist along with my mother. Personally, because of the femenist/femeNAZI dichotomy, I often find myself saying that I am NOT a feminist (nor a femeNAZI) at all.

    I guess what I’m saying is that in some ways it is easier to see a man as a feminist because “at least he doesn’t have an agenda to burn his own house down in the name of feminism”.

  3. Natasha permalink
    March 15, 2009

    I’ve been wanting to respond to these for some time, so here I am.

    Solomon, I originally was going to call my group “Male feminists” but then came across the term “Pro-feminist Men” a number of times in my research. So it seemed to be the term that’s used. Also I just thought I’d try to be PC, avoid conflict, which probably isn’t a good thing. Really I just wanted to be respectful, didn’t want to offend someone, offend female feminists who have worked so long and hard for this movement just to have “men take it away from them”. But in many ways that’s really problematic, and I was wondering if/nervous that I would / I think I did end up being somewhat offensive to men who feel they can be feminists too. I think it’s a really interesting issue. Maybe I was treating the issue with protective gloves (like the “kids gloves” Ryan was talking about). But how do you talk about men and feminism without offending someone? Or shouldn’t you try to?

    Baibh, I think the issue you brought up is really interesting, about feminists vs femenazis. I think it’s really hard for women to say they’re feminists these days. To think they’re feminists. I remember when I came here, my first year I was taking this Spanish class and I don’t know how we got onto this issue, but our prof, a male, asked us all “are any of you feminists?” And I don’t think ONE person, a room full of female Bryn Mawr students, mostly first years but some upperclasswomen too, raised her hand. Well maybe one or two. But definitely not many. And the prof said to that “Well, I’m a feminist”. I just think it’s so interesting how difficult it is for women to think of themselves as feminists. And I think it’s because we have this stereotype (a technology?) of feminists as femenazis. Not that I think femenazis are necessarily bad. I mean they have a point. I don’t agree with violent acts, but maybe “spewing their opinion” isn’t such a bad thing. So I think women are really reluctant to call themselves feminists.

    I know I was, in that Spanish class, three years ago. I thought women were equal to men. I thought some women a while ago had already fought our battles for us and they were over. There were equal numbers of men and women in my high school Honors’ math. Young men and young women talked equally in my classes, from what I could remember. But that was just one school. And there could always be things I wasn’t picking up on. And my Dad has a full time job but my Mom doesn’t. And there are tons of stay-at-home Moms, and they probably want to be stay-at-home Moms, and maybe that’s OK. But maybe they wouldn’t have decided that if things were different, if our society were different, if our technology of gender were different. Why aren’t there nearly as many stay-at-home Dads as Moms? Why am I scared to say I’m a feminist? Is it easier, Solomon, for you to say you’re a feminist, than for me? Do you have less to lose? (And I’m certainly not saying it’s easy for you to say your a feminist. I guess I don’t know whether or not it is. I think it’s honorable. Well… is it easy? Difficult?)

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