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Why I am not a feminist

There’s a recent blog discussion-cum-argument-cum-slagfest that started in discussion of why a couple of blogs run by self-identified “male feminist” bloggers are feeling less than welcoming to some women due to extensive tolerance of sexist commenters. The discussion has so far spanned about forty different blogs that I know of and spawned a couple five subdiscussions, some of which have pitted people I admire and love against one another. One of the bloggers at the center of the storm opined that perhaps the reason he and one other male writer were taking such heat — some of which I delivered — was that there are so few male feminist bloggers, and thus he and the other were the subjects of rather high expectations.

This irritated me for a couple of reasons, one of which I spoke up about in response to his statement. That was this: there are quite a few male bloggers who write thoughtful stuff about feminist issues, on non-single-issue blogs. I try to do that myself here. I usually can’t stand the thought of writing here about stuff I feel I’m expected to write about, an infantile disorder that caused me, when inundated with Koufax traffic looking for political writing, to write post after post of telegraphic poetry about the nature of thought and writing and existence and birdwatching. The astute reader will note that there is not a single post here about South Dakota’s abortion ban. This isn’t because I don’t have strong opinons on the subject, far from it. It’s because ten thousand people have said stuff on their blogs about the South Dakota abortion ban, and I have nothing new to add here that hasn’t been said. I don’t write about feminism all the time because I don’t write about anything all the time, not even the subjects with which I have rather more familiarity. Plus, when I do write about feminist issues here, I quite likely betray my own middle-aged vanilla hetboy bias and privilege. Nonetheless, the insinuation that few men are blogging about sexism just because there are only two prominent, self-identified “male-feminist” blogs rankled me to no end, as if I was being told that I am not a desert blogger or nature writer because I sometimes post pictures of my pet bunny.

But there’s something else. It’s this:

I am not a feminist.

I support feminism and feminist activists. Which is not to say that I agree with every statement by every such activist, or every proposal that has been floated in the name of feminism. But those disagreements tend to pop up either in the realm of feminist metatheory or in places where i feel those activists have not sufficiently grounded their feminism in the context of other issues, such as racism and nationalism. Really, that’s less than a single-digit percentage of the feminist statements I encounter in my life, and I read the blog slagfests. I am a wholehearted supporter of feminist politics and a fervent believer in applying those politics to my personal life — though the women who are part of that personal life will likely tell you that I have far to go in that respect.

I am not a feminist.

I see my name mentioned in more and more places in the feminist blog world as “one of the rare men who gets it.” This gratifies and depresses me, and confuses me not a little. I suspect that some of this is that privilege mentioned above, in which a man who says certain eminently sensible, obvious, just, and humane things about feminism and sexism gets more recognition than a woman who says the same things. I suspect some of it is that I love women, and no matter how you parse that you will likely be right. I suspect some of it is that I cannot imagine my freedom, my rights to be fully realized in any system that deprives others of those rights and that freedom, and women are systematically deprived of those rights and freedoms.

I am not a feminist.

I think rape is a war on women, a systematic hate crime that is mainly treated as a crime against male property, even in North America. I think women have the right to determine the fate of their own bodies. I support legal, accessible, and government subsidized abortion up until the hour before birth. I support free availability of RU-486 and the morning after pill, free access to contraceptives, free public health and contraception education, and an end to gag rules of any sort. I see a dozen systemic social, political, and environmental issues, global and local, that can best be addressed by providing education and political power to women. I support free prenatal care and wages for housework, a.k.a. the guaranteed income. I support Shulamith Firestone’s notion of exploring ways to disengage human reproduction from gender. I support Dad changing half the goddamn diapers.

I am not a feminist.

I agree with the notion that women are the sex class, whether or not they work in the sex industry, and I find this commodification of a human being’s most personal activity abhorrent. I feel this applies equally to prostitution, porn, and primping for the prom. I refuse to condescend to the women who have found themselves being so commodified.

I am not a feminist.

Feminism has been described as the radical notion that women are people. But that is a bon mot, good for opening a few minds but not as a working definition of a philosophy or an ideology. Here is what I think feminism is: Feminism is a liberation movement. Though it takes multifarious forms, and there are probably more feminisms than there are feminists, that is what it comes down to, especially if you grant a broad definition of the word liberation. Feminism is the movement to free women from sexism, to free them from the oppression — whether murder, mutilation, or mere slight statistical lack of employment opportunity — visited on them by men… and by other women.

I am a sympathizer. I am a fellow traveler. At my best, I am an ally. But I am a member of the class against which feminism is aimed. I can do my best to be a traitor to that class. More and more men do, and I think no one would deny that the material support we can provide is crucial, whether talking to other men, offering political and financial and emotional support to feminist activists, or just doing the damn dishes half the time.

I read Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua’s This Bridge Called My Back the year it was published, and found it invaluable in understanding a part of American culture I had until then missed. Were I to call myself a Chicana as a result of my poltical support, I would be laughed out of the planning meeting. I have been marching in Pride Parades for a quarter century, and had mainly gay friends in college for a decade before that. Even with broadening definition of the term, calling myself a “Queer activist” would almost certainly raise eyebrows. I cut my political eyeteeth working on the defense of the Attica prison riot defendants. That does not make me a Black Power activist.

My goal is to be the best ally to feminists I can be, in the political realm and in the much more difficult personal realm.

But I cannot call myself a feminist: the label is not mine to claim.

46 thoughts on “Why I am not a feminist

  1. Charles

    I lucked out this morning:  The goddamn diaper I changed before leaving for work wasn’t poopy.

    You’re just asking to be quoted out of context, aren’t you?  Seriously, about half a lifetime ago I was told I couldn’t call myself a feminist, in words much less eloquent and persuasive than yours.  I was offended for awhile.  Then, slowly, I got it.  Thanks for reminding me.

  2. beth

    I’ve been thinking about this issue lately, as the straight author of an about-to-be-published book about gay rights and religion. I too am an ally, but will always be outside the struggle itself. As a woman, I do appreciate you making the distinction, Chris, but the real point is what you stand for, not what it’s called.

  3. dread pirate roberts

    well said chris. you can speak for me and i’m sure for many men, at least on this. i check out those discussions sometimes. there often seems more heat than light. i do appreciate the places that allow a wide range of opinions.

    the para about why you’re not a chicana, or queer activist, or black power activist is right on, and viciously funny.

  4. Dr. Virago

    Hm.  I think you are a feminist, Chris.  Leaving aside the whole “gender and sex are culturally contructed” argument, and assuming that there are definable identities such as “man” and “woman,” and accepting your claim that you are indeed a “man,” I still think you’re a feminist.  There were white people who were abolitionists and civil rights activist, despite being neither slaves nor black; there are white collar labor activists (and indeed, lawyers especially are pretty necessary to the modern labor movement); there are straight people working tirelessly for gay rights; and so on.  These political activities don’t make these activists black, working class, or gay, but they’re still activists.

    Feminism is a political position that can be held by anyone.  “Woman” is (perhaps) an identity that only some can claim.  You are not a woman, but you are a feminist, given your political claims above.

    If one argues or implies, as you have, that only women can be feminists, then in this liberal feminist’s opinion, one runs the risk of damning feminism to a permanent “minority” position (if not in numbers then in status, like women themselves).  Such an argument also reinforces the ‘strawfeminist’ canard that ‘feminists hate men,’ when what feminists hate is patriarchy, the system, which can be equally upheld by women (as you point out).  Thus feminism and its ideals should be equally open to men to support and to work for.  You are not “a member of the class against which feminism is aimed” if you actively part of the solution and not the problem of patriarchy. Being part of that solution, not falling back on patriarchal conventions, is hard work even for self-proclaimed feminist women; it’s not a ‘natural’ state.

    I understand, though, why you would say the label feminist is “not mine to claim.”  I understand your hesitation.  Lord knows I’ve know many a condescending white het guy who claimed to be feminist only to seem cool and get laid.  And there is something seemingly or potentially presumptive about a man saying he’s a feminist.  But let this virago say it then: you’re a feminist, Chris.

    (PS—If I have completely missed some Modest Proposal style irony here, shoot me.  I believe that you were sincere throughout.)

  5. norbizness

    I think that, for a while, they were handing out “I’m a feminist” stickers in the bottom of cereal boxes. I mean, they don’t call everybody who’s not a fundamentalist Christian an atheist, or, as Chris points out, people who believe that segregation was bad “civil rights activists.”

    Maybe it’s generational, trying to glom on to the accomplishments of giants by self-labelling. The work is still hard, but getting static from Phyllis Schlafly isn’t the same as lobbying for the franchise 100 years before it became available.

  6. Jenn

    Wow. 

    I just happened to revisit a bookmark to your (former) site today, and I’m glad today is the day I dropped in. 

    Thank you for this essay.

  7. Dr. Virago

    Hey Norbizness, by your definition of feminist, I’m not a feminist, and I’m pretty sure I am.  I didn’t say Chris is an “feminist activist”—I said he’s a feminist.  (Though I did make an implicit comparison to civil rights activists, my point was more that such a position does not imply or require a particular racial identity.  Likewise, Chris doesn’t have to be a woman to be a feminist, which I think part of his post suggested he thought was a necessary pre-requisite.)  I’m not a politician, but I’m a Democrat (as in member of the party) and a liberal (my general political views).  I’m only marginal in my feminist “activism” (I give money, I write about feminist issues occasionally on my blog, I write to my elected representatives on women’s issues, I write about gender in my academic field more regularly, and I teach feminist approaches to literature to my students).  Does that mean I’m not a feminist?  And you suggest that feminists belong to the past by equating it only with <i>lobbying for the franchise 100 years before it became available<i>.  Did you mean that?

    And finally, the idea that the personal is political is intrinsically and irrevocably important to feminism, as a set of political beliefs and as an ethic.  So if all Chris does is lead a feminist life (which, btw, includes a whole lot of public writing and conversation with feminists and about feminism, here and in comments elsewhere) then he’s still a feminist.

  8. Dr. Virago

    I guess all I’m trying to say is that if you conclude that only some people (i.e., women) have the right to claim themselves “feminist” then you make feminism itself much less politically viable.  You also reify the very gender categories that feminism seeks to undo.

  9. Chris Clarke

    Your critique is a compelling one, Dr. V. But rest assured I’m not trying to advance an essentialist argument. I recognize that gender is, to some degree, an arbitrary category. Still, the same is true of race, but no one’s gonna take me seriously if for instance, after reading nubian’s post of the day (and everyone should), I were to claim the mantle of “person of color.”

    I don’t have a problem with women thinking of men as feminist. I don’t mean to get into Talmudic discussions of “feminist” versus “pro-feminist” versus “feminist-oriented.” What I’m addressing here is a common male attitude, the need to be included in others’ spaces.

    There’s a joke I was thinking of this morning, told me a few years back by an old guy on the Cattaraugus Seneca Reservation.  A white guy is in the west, and he sees an old Indian man sitting in front of a restaurant, and he looks kinda thin. so the guy says “Hey buddy, can I buy you a steak?” and the old guy nods. The white guy’s thinking the old man might, you know, tell him some interesting legends or some such, but he just tucks into his sandwich -a really big sandwich -and devours it without a word.

    He finishes it, and the white guy asks “Are you still hungry?” And the old guy nods, and so he gets another sandiwch. He’s eating that one silently too, and about three-quarters through it -no sign of slowing -the white guy says, sort of jocularly, “I sure wish I had your appetite.”

    The old guy stops eating, puts the sandwich on the plate. “Let me get this straight,” he says. “You took my land, my religion, and my language away from me. and now you want my appetite too?”

    There is something to me about the idea of safe spaces. I don’t need to demand inclusion in those spaces in order to support my sisters. And while you -unsurprisingly -make great arguments, I find something suspect about men who jump up to claim that mantle without the slightest apparent hesitation. That’s all I’m saying.

    And thanks for the votes of confidence. I’ll try to earn them.

  10. piny

    I blog-bogarted this, because I’ve gotta post something. 

    Incidentally, Chris, I’ve got a post in the works about something _else_ he said wrt ally stuff.  …Probably imposing, but would you be willing to discuss it, as someone negotiating some of the same issues as Hugo?  It’s a touchy subject, and I’d like to make sure I’m doing right by it.  And making sense.

  11. Chris Clarke

    In response to a direct request from the Third Official Male Feminist Blogger? How could I not, piny?

    I’d be glad to. email button up top if you’ve lost mine.

  12. piny

    In response to a direct request from the Third Official Male Feminist Blogger? How could I not, piny?

    (…)

    Let’s just say that you managed to articulate a _lot_ of the vague discomfort I have with all these titles. 

    And thanks very much.  I’ll do that.

  13. norbizness

    Dr. V: I didn’t mean to suggest anything of the sort (men can’t be feminists, non-activists can’t be feminists); I just meant to say that the term has become elastic enough so that the time spent over appropriate labelling (e.g. purity tests that can consume 100-200 comments)has reached negative marginal utility.

    You could reduce it to the essentials: Am what I’m doing/advocating likely to increase or decrease the autonomy of, equality for, and non-violence against women? The more activities a person undertakes per day that concretely affect those metrics would define the inner (or essential) circle. I’d be more in the cheering section.

  14. Bitch | Lab

    Well, I’d like to see us return to what the personal is political really meant.

    It did not mean that you can change the world by changing your behavior. It did not mean that telling your personal story is the same thing as theory or the same thing as political activism.

    Rather, it was first articulated by Carol Hanisch in an essay, “The Personal is Political” when she wrote, “One of the first things we discover in these groups is that personal problems are political problems. There are no personal solutions at this time.”

    She was addressing those in the New Left who felt that the thing women were concerned with—housework, orgasms, who got the coffee at the meetings, harassment, rape, abortion—were not “real” politics. She was also speaking ot the consciousness raising groups from which those issue were voiced and shared among women.

    There are no personal solutions at this time meant that the personal is political in the sense that, to solve them, they could only be addressed at the level of collective action.

    Robin Morgan took up the issues a year later when she wrote, ‚ÄúWomen‚Äôs liberation is the first radical movement to base its politics ‚Äî in fact, create its politics ‚Äî out of concrete personal experiences.‚Ä?

    Again, the focus is not on experience itself as political, but it’s on a politics that is derived from the personal—CR groups.

    There’s more here: Feminism: it’s a process, not a product

    The phrase “the personal is political” has, for too long, been used to issue tickers or fines in order to regulate women and feminists, charging them with being insufficiently feminist, as Katha Pollit wrote 7 years ago. It’s about time we dispensed with that nonsense.

  15. Chris Clarke

    Jill has an important point to make in rebutting mine over at Feministe, which I thought was worth dragging over here:

    I find greater solidarity in men feeling like they have a place in the feminist movement ‚Äî in being committed activists in the feminist movement ‚Äî than I do in men saying, ‚ÄúI support feminism, but I‚Äôm not a feminist.‚Ä? I suppose this comes from so often hearing the word ‚Äúfeminist‚Ä? used as if it‚Äôs dirty, with people asserting feminist positions and then following with, ‚Äú‚Ķbut I‚Äôm not a feminist.‚Ä? I think we need as many feminists associating themselves with feminism as possible, and not being afraid to define themselves as active members of the community, not tacit supporters.

  16. Dr. Virago

    There is something to me about the idea of safe spaces. I don’t need to demand inclusion in those spaces in order to support my sisters. And while you -unsurprisingly -make great arguments, I find something suspect about men who jump up to claim that mantle without the slightest apparent hesitation. That’s all I’m saying.

    OK, *that* I get.  But still…
    but no one‚Äôs gonna take me seriously if for instance, after reading nubian‚Äôs post of the day (and everyone should), I were to claim the mantle of ‚Äúperson of color.‚Ä?

    Claiming you’re a “person of color” and claiming you’re a “feminist” aren’t the same kind of claims.  *That’s* what I was trying to say.  Now if you try to claim you’re a woman and say to me “sisterhood is powerful” then I’ll give you a funny look.  :ohh:

  17. Dr. Virago

    Oh crap, I screwed up the italics.  Sorry!  They were supposed to end after “person of color” and then the word “then” near the end (before “I’ll give you a funny look”) was supposed to be italicized for emphasis.  That’ll teach me not to skip preview again!

  18. Chris Clarke

    Bitch | Lab, I’ve seen you making that point in a few places these days, and I think it’s a crucial one. The environmental movement could use a bit of that analysis as well.

  19. darkdaughta

    “I am a sympathizer. I am a fellow traveler. At my best, I am an ally. But I am a member of the class against which feminism is aimed. I can do my best to be a traitor to that class.”

    Tingles. Such clarity and honesty. Allies are wonderful things when they realize who they are and embrace their social positioning. Gets more work done and avoids oversimpligying what it means to resist and to support those who resist.

  20. Scott

    Thanks for this post.

    I’m not sure I’ve ever identified as “feminist” either. When I first started getting politicized, both in general and around gender issues, that choice was because of a vague feeling of not wanting to look like a poser, not wanting to presume, but without any real rationale I could’ve defended. I think that was put on more solid intellectual footing after getting to spend a couple of hours interviewing an amazing woman who comes out of the “radical feminist” strain of modern feminism’s second wave and is still relentlessly vocal and active today. It wasn’t that she addressed this issue directly…rather, it was that everything she talked about was structured around what is now to me a fairly obvious point: experience (or standpoint) matters. Experience shapes our gut, our instinct, our automatic and triggerable responses, what we see and don’t see as a matter of course, and twenty or fifty or eighty years of having that shaped by being on the receiving end of gender (or some other) oppression is going to do different things than the same period of time experiencing privilege from the oppression of others.

    So it’s politically essential for men to acquire analysis of gender oppression or patriarchy or whatever term you want to use. And it is politically essential for men to devote effort to the always-in-progress process of decolonizing our gut-level selves from that experience of being socialized into privilege. But that is not the same as growing up and living on the receiving end of the oppression. Therefore, whatever actual words end up getting used, it is politically essential to have terms that distinguish between those who experience a particular oppression and struggle against it, and those who do not experience it but still support the struggle against it (and suppot those who struggle against it).

    When in situations that require providing a label—and I tend to shy away from labels, for both good and bad reasons—I’ve generally used “pro-feminist man” or sometimes language around being an “ally,” though for no good reason the language of “ally” tends to be associated in my head more with racial and sexual oppressions than with trying to be anti-patriarchal…probably something to do with my timing of learning various things.

    Anyway, speaking as one of the “male bloggers who [tries to] write thoughtful stuff about feminist issues, on non-single-issue blogs,” thanks for this post, which has helped crystallize some things in my mind.

    (And thanks also to Darkdaughta for pointing me over here.)

  21. Dr. Virago

    Norbizness:  I‚Äôd be more in the cheering section.

    OK, now I getcha.  Cool.  I didn’t think I was reading you right, which is why I thought I’d ask first.

    Bitch|Lab: Well, I’d like to see us return to what the personal is political really meant. [Plus everything else she said.]

    Yes, I did a disservice to that phrase.  But I did mean that Chris too recognizes that there are no personal problems, that they are all political, and in that way he is a feminist.

    And yay! to what Jill said.  I am, however, warming up to the idea of “allies” and “fellow-travelers” and, for you, Norbizness, “cheering section.”

    [Preview approved—no messed-up italics!]

  22. Brooklynite

    Piggybacking on what Jill said, Chris, here’s a thought…

    There’s a big difference between appropriating the term in a congenial crowd and adopting it when it costs something to do so.

  23. piny

    *headdesk*

    Remind me to never link to anything on your blog ever again. 

    Hm. 

    I’ve mostly been wandering and reading (okay, and flaking) these past couple of weeks, and doing a lot of thinking about dialogue, inclusion/invisibility, and group dynamics.  I’d like to work through these questions globally, but they keep sifting into the false divisions that allow people to cling to their pet causes and comfy prejudices while excoriating people for the ones they don’t happen to share. 

    darkdaughta left a comment on another feministe post that I’ve been turning over and turning over without much joy.  Maybe I should just put it up for comment and see if anything gels in response.  I loved it.  I’m not sure how to work with it yet, but I loved it.

  24. spyder

    There is something to be said for awareness and sensitivity to others and to the needs that they express.  Compassion is, at its core, about acknowledging, and working towards the alleviation of, suffering.  Suffering is everywhere and before we can actively encounter and deal with the near infinity of root causes of suffering, we first need to become aware and sensitive to those that suffer.  Domestic violence creates enormous suffering and has many causes, solutions for which are empowered by a number of “ism’s;” one certainly being feminism.

    The “ism’s” have been, for the most part, labels identifying groups within which individuals find consensual agreements regarding problems of suffering and possible solutions to same.  In the 21st century we have a great many “ism’s” to deal with; the more we find a conflict unresolved, the more we seem to label it within an “ism,” or find ourselves aligning with an “ism” to fight it.

    Being the best human beings we can be, seems to me to honor compassion more than aligning or identifying oneself with an ism.  I prefer to start by focussing my efforts on alleviating the suffering of the planet, for without this lovely sphere’s marginal capacity to provide life-sustaining properties and qualities, feminism really wouldn’t matter much.

  25. Ruth

    How about a compromise?  What’s wrong with the label “anti-sexist.”  I am white, but I believe that my life and politics are anti-racist, even as I struggle with the internalized racism I learned growing up in 60’s America.

    Labels matter, experience matters.  But when someone asks you, “Which side are you on?” it matters that you choose sides clearly.

    24+ years ago, I realized my partner was something pretty special in an argument over just this issue.

    Thanks for a thought-provoking essay.

  26. John M. Burt

    I can’t accept this terminology.

    Yes, I am a feminist.  I am a republican, I am an abolitionist, I am a desegregationist, I am a disestablishmentarian, I am a scientist, I am an environmentalist.

    You can dispute any of these (I never lifted a finger to help abolish slavery in the U.S., I have never performed scientific research, I am a registered Democrat), but in the sense that these labels represent the principles I live by and am willing to give my life for, I am all of these and more.

  27. kathy a

    chris, i really appreciate this essay, and the discussion it has inspired.

    i’ve been extremely fortunate in my life—decent education, interesting work, good friends, varied experiences.  i feel lucky to have had many pro-feminism guy friends along the way, for themselves and to balance the neanderthals and the various bizarre expectations of women one encounters.  i guess it says something that i need to feel lucky in that regard.

    two men who called themselves feminists stand out in my mind.  one was a boyfriend when i was 18, and he called himself a lot of “ists” in an effort to find himself; now, he reminds me of a stock car covered with logos from various companies.  the other was a colleague at work, who used the “i’m a feminist” line to curry favor and hit on interns—i just wish i’d heard about that latter part in time to do something, such as ensure that his entitled butt found the door promptly. 

    those sorts of things left me with a certain queasiness about guys who say they are feminists.  and yet i know very well that many men believe the human world is better for feminism; that changes in the social structure wrought by women gaining power are positive for humans; that patriarchal assumptions tend to serve very few individuals well, and aren’t a good societal model.

    so, thanks.

  28. Hissy Cat

    Chris, your post makes me pretty sad.  I find it troubling, I guess, that you can go through a laundry list of feminist positions and then say “I am not a feminist.”  Where exactly does that leave those of us who are, in fact, feminists (or who thought we were and call ourselves such)?  For one thing, I think by keeping a touch aloof of the feminist label you ensure your arguments are priveldged in a way that none of the feminists’ arguments are.  I seriously doubt this is your intention, but that’s the effect—you support what the feminists are saying, but its not your experience, so you’re not angry/ shrill/ sexually deficient like them, you can kind of take the wider view.  Just my impression. 

    Secondly, if I follow your implication correctly (entirely possible I’m not) who does have a claim on the term ‘feminism’?  Do FTMs, who aren’t women but have had the experience of living as a woman?  What about MTFs who now present as women but who were socialized as boys in their early years?  Even among cisgendered feminist women, what does it mean to tie your (political) feminism that tightly to your experience?  Put another way, there are rights I have that may never need, and I have civil rights which may never be violated; don’t I still get to fight?

    I’m a San Franciscan in my early 20s who keeps company with progressive young fellows who support women’s rights and, you know, ‘cheer on’ my feminist doings, but don’t see feminist as a term available to them.

    It’s not sufficient for men to be just ‘pro-feminist’ or supportive of feminists, and here’s why.  Saying “I am a feminist” is a comittment in a way that just being ‘for’ feminism is not.  A man, especially a young man, who calls himself a feminist, is going to get questioned—not in my experience by other feminists but by people who are skeptical or ignorant about feminism—and it gives the man an opportunity to explain what feminism is instead of just saying “I support women’s equality” and everyone nodding their heads.  Also, men who are feminists get called pussies.  They do by trolls online and sometimes, in life, get kind of mock-teased by their male friends, and you know, I actually think that’s a good experience for men to have—to have to put up with that shit is a taste of what women feminists have to put up with times eight hundred. But perhaps the most important reason for men who are serious about sticking up for the rights and human dignity of women to call themselves feminists is that feminism is a practice, and it takes practice.  By calling yourself a feminist, you take responsibility for the things you say, the way you say them, what your initial reaction to a sexist joke, whatever.  Calling yourself a feminist also involves in debate/ discourse/ conversation in a different way; you can’t cop out of a tight spot or avoid a challenge from a female friends because, well, “hey, I never said I was a feminist.”  When a person says they are a feminist people can and will hold them to their ideas of what they think feminists should do and be and if a man does something sexist he is likely to get called on it either by feminist peers or by non-feminists waiting for to see you trip up.  Each time this happens is a chance to reflect on unpack his actions and either own up to a sexist act or behavior or explain why his accusers are mistaken.  I’d like to see more men, not less, participate in this discussion.

  29. Chris Clarke

    Hissy Cat, it may interest you to know that until very recently, the majority of feminist women I knew felt very stongly that it was offensive for men to claim the title of “feminist.” We’re talking from 1973 or so -when I first started talking with radical feminists -through the eighties and early 1990s.

    For much of my life involved in radical politics, I mainly heard feminists use the phrase “feminist man” with a sneer, as a clear synonym for “dickhead poseur.” My viewpoint is heavily informed by my experiences listening to feminists, but I’m an old guy, and much of that listening was done a long time ago. In the reaction I’ve read to this piece, it seems that that point of view is not nearly as much a consensus as it once was. Is that because attitudes have changed due to a changing sense of the word, or just because so many men started referring to themselves as feminists that the old guard kinda gave up? Maybe some of both.

    But that was the position back then for most of the feminists I knew: men calling themselves “feminists” were intruding on women’s space. That is the only reason I am reluctant to use the word. Not lack of commitment, not unwillingness to call men on their bullshit -though I’ll confess I’m kind of glad there’s someone out there who doesn’t think of me as always charging into battle with the reactionaries without thinking things through, which I fear is my main persona online.

    I do disagree collegially with the notion that calling yourself a feminist necessarily implies a commitment to standing up for women that a similar word like “anti-sexist” does not. This whole blog controversy started, after all, over men who claim the mantle of feminism and then -in the view of some -did not take steps necessary to make their blogs safe spaces for women.  I’ve known plenty of self-proclaimed feminists of both biological genders who have let sexism slide, or engaged in it themselves, often heinously.

    That said, I found your comment thought-provoking. You’ve given me even more food for thought. It may be that it’s time for me to emerge from the heyday of the radical 1970s and into the clear light of the 21st century.  But it’s pretty clear that there’s still a diversity of opinion on the topic. If for no other reason, I’m glad I posted this because of the discussion it’s started.

  30. Brooklynite

    Hissy Cat wrote:
    Saying ‚ÄúI am a feminist‚Ä? is a comittment in a way that just being ‚Äòfor‚Äô feminism is not.

    I’ve been thinking about this question ever since Chris brought it up, and I realized that there’s one circumstance in which I know I’ve called myself a feminist and one in which I know I would.

    I remember once I was talking with a male student during office hours, and he was critiquing feminism in a typically earnest-young-man way. When I said, “well, I’m a feminist,” it grounded the conversation—-made it more immediate, and made it clear that when I was arguing with him I wasn’t just sticking up for someone else or taking a devil’s advocate position.

    The hypothetical is in some ways similar. If my kid, or one of my young nieces or nephews, asked me whether I was a feminist, I’d say yes without hesitation.

    Like you, Chris, I’m deeply suspicious of men who claim the mantle of feminism. In my experience, when a guy calls himself a feminist, usually he’s inoculating himself from feminist criticism or he’s looking to get laid. But here’s the thing—-in my experience, when a guy goes out of his way to say he’s not a feminist, there’s a not-zero chance he’s trying to inoculate himself from feminist criticism or he’s looking to get laid.

    So where does that leave us? I think we just do the work. Are we feminists? I don’t know that it matters, most of the time.

  31. Ampersand

    In the reaction I’ve read to this piece, it seems that that point of view is not nearly as much a consensus as it once was. Is that because attitudes have changed due to a changing sense of the word, or just because so many men started referring to themselves as feminists that the old guard kinda gave up? Maybe some of both.

    Were most of the feminists you knew radical feminists? In my experience, liberal feminists think that men can and should be feminists (for the reasons Jill discussed on Feministe), whereas radical feminists are more likely to say men should be pro-feminists. (Of course, these are generalizations).

    I call myself a feminist most of the time, but if I’m in a crowd where pro-feminist is the more accepted term I’ll go with that. In the end, I agree with Sara, Brooklynite and others that the label is less important than the content.

  32. Ancrene Wiseass

    I’ll take allies, fellow-travelers, and cheering sections wherever I can get them with gratitude. But I wholeheartedly agree with Dr. V: men can be feminsts, and I’d count you as a feminist man, Chris.

    I also agree with Jill: we need as many people, of whatever color, creed, origin, or gender, as possible on this bandwagon if we’re going to get where we need to go.

    Just as saying you were a Civil Rights supporter in the 60s didn’t mean you were identifying as an African-American, saying you’re a feminist doesn’t mean you think you can co-opt womanhood.

    I’m very happy to rub elbows with you in my “political space.” In fact, I’m honored. If you tried to claim access to my experience as a woman, I would certainly get irritated. But I really don’t think that’s likely to be a problem.

  33. belledame222

    While I’m fine with a man calling himself either feminist or an ally (or what you will)—as has been said, actions speak louder than words—tangentially, or perhaps not, I’d like to throw in a wrinkle here that I’ve not seen brought up much lately in the loosely-defined blogosphere (that I’ve been onm anyway): the intersection of gay (male, specifically, since obviously lesbians are already women anyway;) experience and womens’. Or more specifically, the intimate interweaving of homophobia and misogyny.

    all by way of a lead-in to a shout-out for a pal of mine, fastlad, who’s got a ercent post on this:

    http://fastlad.blogspot.com/2006/03/witchs-hammer.html

  34. belledame222

    Okay, I did not mean to include a big yellow winkie at that juncture, or any, and now I’m not sure how that sentence fragment was supposed to finish.  I don’t know what I did, but now I’m like totally embarassed.

  35. Chris Clarke

    All I’m saying is, men just need to learn their place, that’s all.

    First person to quote Stokeley Carmichael is so banned.

    And gets my phone number.

  36. Jennifer

    Who cares about labels anyways?  They are mostly downright deceptive—if not self-deceptive: an excuse to pose and preen in front of a mirror.

  37. Joanna

    I don’t have time to find the source, but wasn’t it bell hooks who talked about saying “I advocate feminism” as sometimes more accurate than saying “I’m a feminist”?
    A great contribution to this incredibly interesting conversation.

  38. Brooklynite

    I’ve always thought Stokely probably meant supine.

    (I’ve talked to a woman who was there when he said it, by the way. She claims it was good-spirited joshing. Dunno if I buy it.)