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.

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 info@feministfatale.com.

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.

Comments

  1. I think men in feminism makes feminism stronger and it is nice to have a celebrity talk about sexism, but hailing Hamm or Craig as feminist leaders or maybe even feminists maybe going to far…I think the reason why they get so much attention is because they’re so well known.

  2. I think it’s important to remember that public service messages, including feminist ones, rely on basic marketing techniques. If the listener does not relate to the messenger the message gets dismissed. I think it’s extremely important to get as many men on board with the message as possible. Regarding leadership and pay is another issue entirely. But novel acts and messengers, like Yashar Ali bring the message to people who might not otherwise see/hear it and it becomes a mainstream ideal eventually. As feminism broadens to outspoken men it won’t be so hard for others to speak up and have issues that affect us as women finally get the fair treatment it deserves.

  3. I have felt that the popular icon James Bond is a sexist pig but no fan admits it, like somehow his “awesomeness” excuses his grossness, like its just a given or an unintended semi unfortunate circumstance. I am glad that finally someone has publicly renounced the character as a sexist pig and it is the “man” himself. It will be harder for fans of JB to act like there isn’t sexism or there is but it might as well be ignored cuz it is built in somehow, according to their logic.

  4. Yes, we need men. And men need us.

    Both sexes have their problems and are forced into little boxes. Men have to be tough. Women have to be pretty. It’s not fair to either side, and we’re not going to fix it until we’re both willing to fight for each other.

    If I wear pants, no one cares (these days). If my husband wore a skirt, he’d never hear the end of it. I can like blue, but he can’t like pink. I can like movies like “Hercules,” but he can’t like movies like “Beauty and the Beast.”

    It comes from two problems, really. One, men are less socially liberated than women. Yes, I said it. We have a slew of legal problems to work through and standards of beauty are crazy and there are twenty-million other problems women face, -but- we have more options as to who we can be as people than men do. And this largely is because of problem two, which is that masculinity is still considered better than femininity, so a woman being similar to a man is good while a man being similar to a woman is bad. Both of us are being hurt and insulted by this.

    Think of how many women you’ve met that wear pants and like green and watch football. Now think how some of them might react if they met a (straight, cisgendered) man who wore skirts and liked pink and read fashion magazines. It just doesn’t happen in this society.

    • Yeah yeah fine we have it super good – now think of the pay gap and about who gets beaten at home by their partner.

      And while we are at it, think why you don’t have any problem adopting a masculine look, while he does have a problem adopting a feminine look. Is it because he’s a guy, or because a guy adopting a feminine look is seen as weak and pathetic? …Because women are weak and pathetic?

      Etc etc I’m not even going to continue.

      They have it tough – but part of the dialogue is for men to realise and acknowledge their male privilege. In the same way white women need to acknowledge their white privilege in comparison to women of colour, in the same way rich people need to realise their economic privilege is unfair and undeserved.

      He can totally like Beauty and the Beast, by the way. He’s not going to get beaten up about it, unless he’s a highschooler.

  5. In any case, what I wanted to say is – it is necessary and excellent for famous men to come out in support of feminist/women’s causes.

    However (unless, in my opinion, they are trans men, who have past experiences of discrimination and abuse as women) they are not, and certainly should not be, considered leaders.

    But we need to make alliances. I would be nowhere if it wasn’t for my partner, a male feminist ally. His support and understanding is incredibly important – not just for me and my personal life, but for feminism as a whole. How are we going to create an egalitarian society without making alliances?

  6. I was speaking about this with my partner, and during the discussion we talked about peers and how our opinions are formed based on what we perceive to be common pressures of people like us. For instance, men look to other men for guidance on how to act much like women look to other women for guidance on how to act.

    So the more men that come out and support equal treatment for women, the more men who will see this as being acceptable – especially if ‘men’s men’ come out in support of it. Often times, men perceive male feminists as being weak and effeminate.

    Daniel Craig is not weak, nor effeminate, so seeing him supporting female causes is a huge boon to making other men break through these social barriers and stereotypes.

    Is it right that men have those preconceived notions about feminists and male feminists specifically? Of course not. But to me, it doesn’t matter how they change their mind on female equality – only that they do.

  7. I teach U.S. women’s history so am reminded of the boost that the woman’s movement of the 19th century received when Frederick Douglass declared himself a woman’s rights man. I see nothing wrong with male celebrities doing the same in the present day. Valerie is right, we need each other.

  8. There are lots of reasons why rape is a men’s issue, as well as a women’s issue:

    1.Men rape men as well as women.
    2.That so many men are sick enough to commit rape is, I would say, a huge social problem.
    3.Is rape a serious enough public health issue to transcend gender, or are we just messing around here?

    Among others. So yes please, let’s get the men on board.

  9. Of course, we need men in the feminist movement. But we need to keep from putting them on glass escalators and over-praising them.

    Chris Lindner of Colorado State University has done some sobering research on men working in the anti-violence movement, as shown in this report by Hugo Schwyzer:

    http://www.hugoschwyzer.net/2010/11/15/a-few-good-men-new-research-on-problems-with-male-allies/

    The conclusions of this research are leading many to think that we need to screen male activists extra carefully. It is horrifying to think that some men in the anti-violence movement are guilty of sexual assault.

  10. “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?”

    Yes, we do.

    “And when they do speak up, should they receive special credit or attention?”

    No, no, no. The Daniel Craigs of the world need to give credit to feminist women when they speak out against sexism.

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