For some reason, feminist praxis for men keeps getting marketed (and yes, “marketed,” as it is often portrayed as an object of consumption and a club, a problem with mainstream feminism itself) as 1) being “nice” to women and 2) somewhat rethinking masculinity outside of patriarchy. I don’t only mean cishet men either; I’ve seen this assertion in several spaces for men in the most comprehensive sense of what “men” means. This fascinates me because as a woman, especially as a Black woman, I find this bar low and asking so little involvement of men. The hurdles that Black women are expected to jump over before ever being considered feminist are astronomical compared to White women and trying to compare it to men, Black, White or otherwise is beyond laughable. So little is required of them compared to what is required of Black women, even as Black women’s Black feminist/womanist language and work are regularly appropriated or erased.
Yesterday I shared some tweets about this topic, including this one:
Though in terms of womanism, wholeness matters and healing matters—and beyond the scope of challenging sexism alone as feminism is often articulated as—this work towards wholeness is not solely individualized as it often is expressed in feminism. It requires commitment and work beyond individualized actions for personal situations, though those matter also. Feminist praxis for men is more than “being nice” to women. It’s about rethinking men’s ideology regarding all oppression, not only sexism. From there it involves men actually doing. Challenging the men in their lives. Checking their privilege. Not mansplaining. Not hogging the mic. Additionally it involves recognizing their role in speaking about domestic violence/rape, for example, and not as “women’s problem.” This involves men as well. And when I say it involves men, this is not to alter the statistical scope of women, cis and trans, as well as vulnerable non-binary individuals as the most common victims of rape and abuse, to center men. It’s to say that men as perpetrators of violence has to be a topic men discuss, not a "but men ‘too’" statement when men as survivors can be heard without silencing women.
Also there’s the issue of patriarchy itself; men’s feminist praxis cannot only be playing “good man” and call that a reformation of masculinity. Even as that personal masculinity reformation occurs, men have to realize that quoting bell hooks all day on this one topic, masculinity, is limited. bell hooks is the only source for some feminist men since they think feminism is solely about their own personal masculinity. She’s not even the only Black woman whose written on the topic. It’s that she’s placed as the bar that Black women have to meet in order to be considered feminists while for White women it’s having a pulse. Thus, she’s noticeable and not solely for her genius then.
While how we embody the oppressor within is where all feminist work begins, men’s own praxis can’t always be about themselves and self-therapy. If a man’s feminist praxis equals being “nice” to women and internal focus on masculinity and nothing else, it’s just large gaping holes in the work. I have a problem with this. It’s male privilege. Black women who are Black feminists/womanists aren’t allowed to do so little and be recognized as voices/thinkers. And praxis isn’t about recognition alone. It’s work against the many ways that oppression manifests (i.e. yes sexism, but also racism, homophobia, transphobia, transmisogyny, fat shaming, ableism, classism, colonialism, imperialism, capitalism etc.). But the amount of work Black women are expected to do versus everyone else? I am not interested in Mule Of The World Feminism where Black women move from status quo spaces to progressive spaces to still be servants while men are applauded for so little.
As I’ve mentioned before, I am not so concerned with applauding men who accept the label of “feminist.” I simply watch what men say and do more than if they claim the label “feminist” or not. Do they uphold sexist oppression or do they challenge it? Do they only have an issue with sexist oppression when the target is a White woman? Almost no one takes a stand in defense of Black women, ever. This is what I watch. Do their concerns permeate more than performing masculinity in a way that they think is acceptable in feminist space solely to maintain authoritative positioning no less? Are they more concerned with not being viewed as “bad men” or patriarchal versus challenging oppression any and everywhere it exists, and not solely sexist oppression? This is what I watch. Are they more concerned about “correcting” anti-feminist women or women who’ve internalized sexism and face a greater risk from rejecting patriarchy than most men ever will or are they actually challenging other men’s patriarchal and oppressive thinking for once? Are they fighting for the microphone versus making already male dominated space feminist space? Are they concerned with speaking over women and lecturing women on why patriarchy is bad while ignoring how male privilege gives them the space to do so or are they actually interested in the end of patriarchal domination, including within progressive space? This is what I watch.
I am not interested in handing out trophies to men for feminism nor am interested in them proving how they are “better” than other men and thereby require reward, especially when some abuse while claiming that they are better than men who don’t label as “feminist.” I am interested in anti-oppression praxis that will of course include challenging their own patriarchal notions of masculinity and how they treat women interpersonally, but this work requires more than interpersonal relationships and “proving” how “good” they are. The same work I require from myself is required from men, period. And while certain things will eclipse their experiences and knowledge because of male privilege (and all men do not experience male privilege in the same way; White men with class privilege versus Black men with or without it are not living the same lives as men, for example; this is why knowledge of more than just patriarchy and masculinity is needed by all male feminists; a grasp of intersectionality, not linear concepts on gender is need) still more is required than being a “nice” guy focused on studying masculinity and little else.
Related Essay List: Womanism, Black Feminism and Race In Feminist Discourse (Updated)
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