Frequently asked questions about pro-feminist men and pro-feminist men's politics
(By Michael Flood, 30 January 1997. Please feel most welcome to distribute this document.)
Who are pro-feminist men?
Pro-feminist men are men who are actively supportive of feminism and of efforts t o bring about gender justice and equality. Some pro-feminist men are involved in political activism. One of the most common areas of involvement is men's violence, and there are men's groups in Australia, the US , Canada, Europe and elsewhere who have this as their focus. Pro-feminist men do anti-violence work with boys and young men in schools, offer sexual harassment workshops in workplaces, run community education campaigns, and counsel male perpetrators of violence, just to name a few common activities. Pro-feminist men also are involved in men's health, activism on pornography, academic research on masculinity, the development of gender equity curricula in schools, and many other areas. This work is sometimes in collaboration with feminists and women's services (such as domestic violence and rape crisis centres).
Other pro-feminist men are not active in public campaigns. Nevertheless, their commitment to pro-feminism takes the form of trying to live in egalitarian and respectful ways in their daily lives - at home, at work and on the street.
What do pro-feminist men believe?
Pro-feminist men are sympathetic to feminist understandings of society. We believe that women suffer inequalities and injustices in society, while men receive various forms of power and privilege. We believe that the current, dominant model of manhood or masculinity is oppressive to women, as well as limiting for men themselves. We believe that men must take responsibility for our own sexist behaviours and attitudes and work to change those of men in general. We see both personal and social change as vital.
For some men, their sympathy for feminism revolves around a simple acceptance that men and women should be equal. Women should have the access to jobs and areas of public life as men do. For other men, being pro-feminist is about a passionate and profound commitment which has changed every corner of their lives. For yet other men, being pro-feminist is about a radical questioning of traditional Western models of thought, of the ways in which these privilege masculine ways of being and knowing. Some men's pro-feminism is informed by contemporary feminist theory, while others' is informed by gut feelings and conversations with their partners and sisters and mothers and friends.
Just as there is substantial diversity and disagreement within feminism, there is diversity among pro-feminist men. One area of disagreement for example is over the extent to which men are also limited or harmed by the gender relations of society. Some men emphasise the privilege that men receive by virtue of being men in a patriarchal or male-dominated society, while others emphasise the ways in which both men and women are constricted by gender roles.
Some pro-feminist men argue that those who emphasise the latter, or who even claim that like women men too are "oppressed", are not really pro-feminist or are not pro-feminist enough. Others make a distinction between "radical profeminist" and "liberal profeminist" men, and emphasise their shared commitments and similarities.
Pro-feminist men typically also recognise the importance of other forms of injustice and other kinds of social relations. We assume that class, race, sexuality, age and other such things are important influences on the relations between and among men and women.
Pro-feminist men who are politically active have tended to concentrate on a number of specific issues, such as men's violence. However, a pro-feminist perspective is applicable to and relevant for any issue and any area of men's lives. For example, issues of child custody and family law have usually been taken up by men who are non-feminist or anti-feminist (such as "men's rights" and "fathers' rights" groups), but there is no reason why they cannot be taken up as areas pro-feminist men's activity too.
How do men come to be pro-feminist?
Men's pro-feminism is like any other set of values, beliefs or political activities. It comes from deeply felt personal experiences, from particular relationships and intimacies and loyalties, from other ethical or political involvements and commitments.
An eloquent description of how men come to the struggle for women's equality is given by radical pro-feminist John Stoltenberg, in his book Refusing to be a Man:
"I'm thinking of those men whose feminist convictions spring from loyalty to a particular woman in their lives-a mother, a lover, a cherished friend-someone who has brought them to an intimate, almost insider's view of what life for women is like under male supremacy. These men have made a vow to stand beside her and not abandon her, to wholeheartedly be her ally. For such men, loyalty to a woman's life is experienced as a profound form of intimacy (not a threat to selfhood, as it might be for other men)."
"I'm thinking also of those men whose commitment to feminism draws on their own experience of sexual violence or sexual abuse from other men, perhaps as a child or adolescent. Somehow such men have not paved over what happened to them; rather, they have recognised in it the same dimensions of violence and abuse that women were mobilising to resist. So these men, for their men whose advocacy of feminism derives from other sorts of principled political activism. Coming from the perspective of their pacifism, their anti-racism, or their commitment to economic justice, for instance, these men have grasped the ideals of radical want it? Now!
suffered the shame of growing up with a sexuality that was not 'standard issue.' It was a sexuality that longed for partnership and ardent tenderness; it did not stir at dominance and coercion. It was a sexuality that set them apart, whether with women or other men. These men have become, in a sense, dissidents from the sex-class hierarchy in intimacy; and they are gathering courage to defy that hierarchy beyond the bedroom as well."
"I'm thinking also of those men whose advocacy of feminism derives from other sorts of principled political activism. Coming from the perspective of their pacifism, their anti-racism, or their commitment to economic justice, for instance, these men have grasped the ideals of radical want it? Now!"
Seriously folks, pro-feminist men want the same things that feminists want: a world in which relations between men and women are peaceful, egalitarian, trusting and joyous; in which neither men nor women are confined into rigid, unhealthy and soul-destroying models of living; in which the rigid division into masculine and feminine has been repnists". This argument takes a variety of forms, including the following: Feminism is a movement and a body of ideas developed by, for and about women. Men can never fully know what it is like to be a woman. By calling ourselves feminists, men run the quot;, spiritualadical feminisms. And these days you can add at least black feminism, lesbian feminism, poststructuralist and post-modern feminisms, and much more.) Pro-feminist men share this same diversity, drawing on or influenced by different strands of feminism. And this diversity is evident too in the writings and theory of pro-feminist authors
Why do you call yourselves pro-feminist and not just feminist?
The simple answer is that it is inappropriate for men to call ourselves "feminists". This argument takes a variety of forms, including the following: Feminism is a movement and a body of ideas developed by, for and about women. Men can never fully know what it is like to be a woman. By calling ourselves feminists, men run the quot;, spiritual and "mythopoetic" men, and "men's rights" and "fathers' rights" men. There is also internal disagreement within t his "movement", for example with pro-feminist me-wing and socialist movements, anti-racist struggles, and so on).
Does being pro-feminist mean that you are anti-male?
No. We are anti-sexist, we are anti-patriarchal, but we are not anti-male. Pro-feminist men are hopeful about both men's anre is a potential for backlash within the men's movement, a potential for the movement to turn towards the defence of men's privilege and position, and some would say that this has already occurred. While all pro-feminist men assume that men must act to dismantle gender injustice, some argue that a "men's movement" is not the way to do this. They advocate instead that we build alliances and coalitions with other progressive groups and movements (such as feminism, gay and lesbian liberation, left-wing and socialist movements, anti-racist struggles, and so on).
The only sense in which pro-feminism is "anti-male" is that some pro-feminist men believe that we must dismantle the whole system of dividing people into two "opposite sexes", "male" and &qn get rid of no their oppressive behaviour (such as violence) and can choose to change it.
Male-positivity is balanced by pro-feminism. Being male-positive of course doesn't mean supporting whatever men do. We have to retain a sense of ethics or values, and to assess men and masculinities accordingly. To give a simple example, a violent masculinity is unacceptable, because violence is ethically unacceptable. And being male-positive is compatible with criticising oppressive or destructive aspects of men's groups or the men's movement.
The only sense in which pro-feminism is "anti-male" is that some pro-feminist men believe that we must dismantle the whole system of dividing people into two "opposite sexes", "male" and &qn get rid of notions of masculinity and femininity altogether.
Are pro-feminist men usually gay?
Well, pro-feminist men include heterosexual, gay and bisexual men. It's hard to say whether the proportion of gay men among pro-feminists is any greater than the proportion in society in general (which some people estimate at around ten percent), because no one has done the research. On the one hand, men have often come to a sympathy for feminism through their sexual relationships with women, and this represents a specifically heterosexual path to pro-feminism. On the other hand, gay men have sometimes been drawn to pro-feminism because of their sense of distance from traditional masculinity or their realisation of the links between homophobia (fear and hatred of non-heterosexuals) and sexism.
Pro-feminist men, who often question traditional masculinity or behave in non-stereotypical ways, are sometimes perceived to be gay (whether they are or not) and attacked in homophobic ways. This is an indication of the strange link often assumed in our society between sexual orientation (who you are attracted to or who you'd like to have sex with) and gender behaviour (conformity to notions of proper manhood).
Many pro-feminist men believe that masculinity is strongly molded by homophobia, the widespread fear of and contempt for homosexual people, and the dominant model of masculinity is of a heterosexual masculinity. We argue that homophobia and heterosexism (a system of heterosexual privilege) represent injustices to non-heterosexual people, and also constrict the lives of heterosexuals. Men in particular find their emotional, social and sexual lives limited by the fear of being perceived as gay. Growing up, men are faced with the continual threat of being seen as gay and the continuous challenge of proving that they are not gay. Homophobia leads men to limit their loving and close friends not useful.
See above for some of the experiences and commitments through which men come to a support for feminism and to an anti-sexist politics.
Aren't you just motivated by guilt? (Or, is pro-feminism about guilt?
No. Pro-feminist men believe that we have a responsibility to try to change our own sexist behaviours and attitudes and those of other men. We may sometimes feel guilty when we realise that we have acted in hurtful ways, but staying stuck in this guilt is not useful.
See above for some of the experiences and commitments through which men come to a support for feminism and to an anti-sexist politics.
Guilt can be part of a normal response when a person is challenged or criticised about an inappropris and relationships, rather than men adopting an "us against them" model.
To summarise, pro-feminist men try to speak to the experience of boys and men in such situations, but offer a different interpretation of it and encourage a different resolution for it to those in men's rights and anti-feminist ideology.
Where can I find out more?
XY magazine's web site has a wealth of articles which embody various pro-feminist perspectives and issues. The site also has links to other pro-feminist men's sites around the world. You can find the site here
There is now a very good literature on men and masculinity [Sorry, link lost 2003 Jan] A list of over six-thousand books and articles, sorted into over thirty major subject areas.
Some of the best works on men and masculinity are as follows: Brittan, Arthur 1989 Masculinity and power, Oxford: Basil Blackwell
Clatterbaugh, Kenneth 1990 Contemporary perspectives on masculinity: men, women, and politics in modern society, Colarado & Oxford: Westview Press
Connell, R.W. 1987 Gender and power: society, the person and sexual politics, Sydney: Allen & Unwin
Connell, R.W. 1995 Masculinities, Sydney: Allen & Unwin
Cooper, Mick and Baker, Peter 1996 The MANual: the complete man's guide to life, London: Thorsons
Edley, Nigel and Wetherell, Margaret 1995 Men in perspective: practice, power and identity, London: Prentice-Hall
Edwards, Tim 1993 Erotics and politics: gay male sexuality, masculinity, and feminism, New York: Routledge
Haddad, Tony (ed) 1993 Men and masculinities: a critical anthology, Toronto: Canadian Scholars' Press
Kaufman, Michael (ed) 1987 Beyond patriarchy: essays by men on pleasure, power and change, New York: Oxford University Press
Kaufman, Michael 1993 Cracking the armour: power, pain and tstview Press
Segal, Lynne 1990 Slow motion: changing masculinities, changing men, London: Virago profeminist men respond to the mythopoetic men's movement (and the mythopoetic leaders answer), Philadelphia: Temple University Press
Kimmel, Michael and Messner, Michael (eds) 1992 Men's lives, New York/Toronto: Macmillan/Maxwell (2nd edition)
Mac an Ghaill, Mairtin (ed) 1996 Understanding masculinities: Social relations and cultural arenas, Buckingham & Philadelphia: Open University Press
May, Larry and Robert Strikwerda (eds) 1992 Rethinking masculinity: philosophical explorations in light of feminism, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield
McLean, Chris, Carey, Maggie and White, Cheryl (eds) 1996 Men's ways of being, Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press
Segal, Lynne 1990 Slow motion: changing masculinities, changing men, London: Virago
Snodgrass, Jon (ed) 1977 A book of readings: for men against sexism, Albion CA: Times Change Press
Stoltenberg, John 1990 Refusing to be a man: essays on sex and justice, CA & Suffolk: Fontana/Collins
Stoltenberg, John 1993 The end of manhood: a book for men of conscience, New York: Dutton
(By Michael Flood, 30 January 1997. Please feel most welcome to distribute this document.) from http://www.chebucto.ns.ca/CommunitySupport/Men4Change/prof.html
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