Does Feminism Need a James Bond?

When Daniel Craig referred to his Bond character as a “sexist pig“—and then dressed in drag for public service announcement about gender inequality (below)–it was pretty big news.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gkp4t5NYzVM

And when Jon Hamm, star of the hit TV show Mad Men spoke out about rape as a men’s issue, he was lauded as a feminist hero.

Hamm and Craig portray two of the most notorious womanizers in popular culture. Perhaps the contrast between their characters and their off-screen stances was what drew attention–or perhaps their hyper-masculinity made their feminism more palatable to the masses. If the latter, does that mean the feminist movement needs macho men?

This was one of the questions that arose when activists, academics and artists gathered in Los Angeles earlier this month to discuss the role of men in feminism. The panel, held at Santa Monica College, had a provocative premise: Are men who speak out about women’s issues overprivileged as feminist leaders?

The feminist community often voices a mix of adulation and uneasiness when a man speaks up for women. Although many feminists would love to have more male allies, some worry feminist men drown out women’s voices or take up limited feminist resources. Others are concerned that feminism suffers from a phenomenon–common to female-dominated professions–in which men are whisked up the “glass escalator,” getting leadership and speaking roles ahead of women. For instance, as panelist Shira Tarrant pointed out, on the violence-against-women lecture circuit, male speakers are often paid more than female speakers. Male feminist blogger Yashar Ali, whose piece “A Message To Women From A Man: You Are Not ‘Crazy‘” was one of the top-ranked Facebook articles of 2011,  agreed, saying “Sexism only helps me. I’m just being absolutely honest.”

Most panelists agreed that these privileges are unfair, and that men should not receive special treatment when they do feminist work–but that men have a place in the movement. Activist Pia Guerrero and professor Hugo Schwyzer pointed out that men, too, stand to benefit from feminism. Disagreeing with Ali, they argued that although women clearly suffer far more than men in a sexist system, sexism limits the possibilities of all people, denying both men and women the chance to be fully human. Therefore everyone has a stake in gender liberation.

Others spoke of a need for a male feminist perspective because of the specific ways that sexism impacts men. Kalil Cohen, founder of the Los Angeles Transgender Film Festival, talked about the consequences for men of transgressing prescribed gender roles, saying that men who are perceived as feminine face even more aggression than women who are perceived as masculine.

So that brings us back to Daniel Craig in drag—do we need manly men to speak up about sexism, because their voices will be better heard? And when they do speak up, should they receive special credit or attention?

What do you think? Panel organizer Melanie Klein is planning a follow-up event this spring (we’re looking at you, Jon Hamm!), and she wants YOU to get involved.  These panels are meant to redress the lack of meaningful debate over men and feminism.  You can see tweets from the last panel at Twitter hastag #menandfeminism, and submit questions for the next national go-round to [email protected].

Photo of panelists at the December event: Hugo Schwyzer: Author, speaker and professor at Pasadena City College, @hugoschwyzer, Pia Guerrero: Executive Director of Adios Barbie @pia_AdiosBarbie, Kalil Cohen: Founder of the Los Angeles Transgender Film Festival @TGFilmFestival, Shira Tarrant: Author of Men and Feminism, professor at California State, Long Beach @shiratarrant, Yashar Ali, Founder and writer for The Current Conscience @yashar, Jacqueline Sun, National Campus Organizer at Feminist Majority Foundation @jacquelinesun. Photo courtesy of JustSarit Photography.

To hear an interview on KPFK radio with the panel organizer, Melanie Klein, and panelists Hugo Schwyzer and Pia Guerrero, listen here.

Photo of Daniel Craig from Wikimedia Commons.

About

Emily Musil Church is a professor at Lafayette College where she teaches African history, human rights, history of the modern world, and women’s and gender studies. She received her Ph.D. from UCLA, and has taught International Studies and History previously at American University in Washington DC and Trinity College in Hartford, CT. She has worked with Nomadic Wax to help promote the work of African hip hop artists and activists, and with Film Your Issue, a competition highlighting short films about social issues. She is working on a book about black women intellectuals and their contributions to the development of human rights.