Feminism and “Real Men”

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[See Update at bottom]

Can men be feminists? Absolutely.

But recent media maneuvers and blogosphere blow-ups have put this confident answer to the test. For those outside the feminist bubble, here is the nutshell version:

One self-identified feminist man with a history of confused intent and mental illness hijacked an extraordinary amount of attention. That a community college instructor with training in Scottish history was ever assigned to teach courses in gender studies, pornography, or feminism violates the standards of academia and professional expertise. That popular Internet sites such as Jezebel and xoJane published his work is no surprise. There’s nothing like discussions about facials and anal sex (he wrote about both) to garner copious page views. But that’s enough about him.

The conflict he hath wrought, however, has created a feminist tempest in a digital teapot.

As someone who writes and teaches university courses about men and feminism, the divisiveness and sheer exhaustion that emerged from this mess is both personally and politically painful to witness. Instead of burning out on conflict, however, there are plenty of opportunities to redirect attention to constructive solutions and positive perspectives on men’s role working for gender justice.

As I write in my book Men and Feminism, feminists are committed to addressing problems that happen every day. Some of these are issues that take place behind the privacy of closed doors; others are matters that confront us in the public arena. These problems include things like domestic violence, rape and sexual assault, racism, homophobia, unequal pay, job segregation, sexual objectification, restrictions on reproductive choices, and unattainable standards of gender, beauty, and behavior.

The examples of men doing this work are many and growing. Men for Women’s Choice supports reproductive rights. Voice Male Magazine and Masculinity U encourage rethinking stereotypes about masculinity and feminism. There is the awesome collection of men speaking out against street harassment. Award-winning filmmaker Byron Hurt’s documentary about hip hop continues to inform. Tom Keith’s recent video The Bro Code investigates the toxic mix of men and sexist media. Filming is underway for Jennifer Siebel Newsom’s new film on masculinity, The Mask You Live In. Every day, it seems, more men are getting on board with creating constructive solutions and positive change.

On an individual level, feminism makes room for each of us to explore who we are, separate from gender constraints. Too often, the social rules and regulations for men and women are restrictive. They don’t really describe us well. Feminism questions rigid binary categories of masculinity and femininity, looks at the political consequences of assumptions about gender and helps us search for better models and greater freedom.

Guys have lots of opportunities to get involved with everyday practices such as engaged parenting, pay equity and consensual sex. Changing diapers might not seem like a political act, but it definitely has political meaning. There’s certainly nothing wrong with doing domestic, caring work. In fact, feminism is about the right to freely choose our life activities. But if women are doing the majority of the housework and caring for the babies, it means they’re doing these unpaid jobs in addition to other paid work or it means they’re not doing something else (like earning money, writing the great novel, etc.).

While working on my recently published second edition of Men Speak Out: Views on Gender, Sex, and Power, I talked with men across the country who are concerned about masculinity, identity, sexuality, violence and equity.

In this anthology, writer and ex-convict A. Razor takes us inside the Marin County Jail as he waits for transfer to San Quentin Prison. Facing a possible life sentence for a third-strike felony, Razor joins a therapy group focused on ending male violence against women. Razor struggles to face his personal accountability as an abuser while he figures out how to make a radical change to stop his part in the cycle of abuse.

Athlete (and now educator) Nathan Einschlag recounts his life-changing and heartbreaking experience playing college basketball at a school filled with privileged—and in many ways protected—young students. Growing up in the immigrant neighborhood of Jackson Heights in Queens, New York, Einschlag saw things that the guys on his team “only read about in magazines, or saw on TV.” In college, he is surrounded by teammates who think that heavy drinking and sexual conquest prove their ability to be a guy and play the game. Einschlag bravely faces a difficult choice: to play college basketball and go along with the expected standards of masculine behavior, or stay true to himself and possibly leave the team behind. In doing so—and in writing about it publicly—he lets other guys coming up know that they are not alone in facing ethical decisions, and that being a “real man” can mean both rejecting sexism and bench pressing 225.

I realize that some people still take issue based on the misunderstanding that feminism is about women waging war against men. But before we go down that route, here’s the thing: Gender-based inequality works to the advantage of men as a group and works to the disadvantage of women as a group. That doesn’t mean all men have advantage or that none of the women do. These things are complicated, but I trust that we are a generally smart bunch. And to that end, together, we can create a much, much better world for everyone.

As the recent online examples of one man have demonstrated, we all have ways in which our personal lives don’t always sync up perfectly with our politics and our ideals. As humans we are often inconsistent and sometimes downright flawed.            

I invite all of us to join in a delightfully imperfect feminist movement that keeps its eyes on the prize while valuing the process. This process can be as messy and as well-intentioned as human beings ourselves. This invitation is for each of us, whether woman or man, transgender or genderqueer. It is crucial that we start talking with each other across various communities about masculinity and femininity, about gender politics, and about sexuality, race and class. The fact is, we have a lot of work to do. See you in the classrooms, in the boardrooms and on the streets.

Author’s update:
This article is an early draft that did not include Hugo Schwyzer’s name only because I was so disgusted with the attention one narcissist garnered, that I didn’t want to further contribute to that problem. I made a mistake. A more complete version of this piece (published on AlterNet) specifically named Hugo and links to further information about him.
This article is intended to recognize the constructive work many men are doing to promote social justice. I wrote this piece prior to Hugo Schwyzer’s well-publicized Twitter breakdown on August 12, but long after his abuse was publicly known. In my effort to highlight the positive, I failed to specifically identify the serious damage Hugo Schwyzer has caused. I apologize. Hugo Schwyzer’s actions go beyond “confused intent.” He conned many people, including me. Schwyzer has cut large swaths of documented damage to women of color, women’s and gender studies, feminism, his former students, and also to abuse survivors—many of whom have been significantly triggered by his admissions. Silence feeds abuse, whether the abuse impacts individuals or communities. I am correcting my silence. I also continue to honor those addressing complicated issues of gender, race, class, violence prevention, justice, and peace.

This article draws from Shira Tarrant’s books Men and Feminism and Men Speak Out: Views on Gender, Sex, and Power.

A version of this piece appeared on AlterNet.

Photo courtesy of Shira Golding via Creative Commons 2.0.

Comments

  1. “I realize that some people still take issue based on the misunderstanding that feminism is about women waging war against men.” Yes, that’s a convenient canard spread by antifeminists.
    However, it is a fact that feminism is about *the class of men waging a very real war against women*, with previous few men physically opposing it.
    And I find it unfortunate that the few who do are too often used to deny this general pattern, as Hugo Schwyzer was, over and over again, until radical feminist protests became loud enough to cut through the liberal applause.

  2. Laila namdarkhan says:

    Agree none of us is perfect. But the dood you speak of deliberately ‘used’ feminism as a cosh to attack womonkind for his own personal aggrieved sense of entitlement. Men in feminism is an idle womons fantasy . Imagining at some level working with the enemy is the route to change womons inferior status ( believe me that is each males inherited privileged view of us) cannot work anytime soon. Womon must liberate themselves in all aspects of their being,.

    • You mention that we have an inherited privileged view of woman, perhaps you are right, I’m not sure but that doesn’t mean there are men who don’t question those views. I, myself have in the past and still do frequently stop when I have a knee jerk re action to a feminist stance and try to break down the process that the reaction came from. It can be challenging to accept when you realise that a view you had, stemmed from an oppressive system without consciously knowing but it’s always worth the self reflection. There is a long way to go towards equality, but there are a lot of men trying to figure out what’s right too.

  3. Men are not the enemy. True equality means that men can also choose to not earn an income and be the nurturing type. It really depends more on the dynamic of the family and the relationship. My husband is very good at being a SAHD. We decided it would be better for the kids if one of us stayed at home and since I make the higher income we decided it would be him :) . Often times men are looked down upon or thought to be dead beats because they choose to stay at home with the kids. Equality needs to work both ways.

  4. Ernesto Aguilar says:

    Whether it’s intentional or not, Tarrant has come across in the past as one of Schwyzer’s defenders, and certainly a critic of those who called out Schwyzer. This goes beyond Schwyzer being one of Tarrant’s project collaborators (his inclusion in previous editions of her aforementioned Men Speak Out (http://search.library.cmu.edu/vufind/Record/1096344/TOC & http://www.hugoschwyzer.net/2009/07/09/men-and-feminism-a-review-of-shira-tarrants-newest/) is oddly left out, but should have been disclosed in this piece). Moreover, there seem to be consistent efforts to minimize feminist concerns about Hugo Schwyzer.

    During the initial firestorm (e.g. when Hugo Schwyzer revealed attempted murder of a partner), to a radio interviewer, Tarrant decried “takedown culture” (http://feministcurrent.com/4667/transcript-shira-tarrant-on-the-f-word/) in matters like Schwyzer. Here, the outrage at Hugo Schwyzer’s behavior is called a tempest in a teapot.

    The reaction to Hugo Schwyzer’s behavior matters to a lot of people. Writing to dismiss it seems unfair to those who care about the movement and the questions raised.

    [Full disclosure: I've been publicly critical of Hugo Schwyzer and was also interviewed about him on the same show as Tarrant: http://feministcurrent.com/4663/men-feminism-race-movements-and-the-cult-of-hugo-schwyzer-the-f-word-interview-with-ernesto-aguilar/ -- I'm also a fan of Ms. and the writeup on the passing of Jo Ann Evansgardner, who recruited me to the movement, still touches me to this day.]

    • Would love to see Tarrant respond to this.

      • Disappointed, Not Surprised says:

        I doubt he will. I mean, look at what he said here:
        “Instead of burning out on conflict, however, there are plenty of opportunities to redirect attention to constructive solutions and positive perspectives on men’s role working for gender justice.”

        In other words, let’s ignore all of the problems in mainstream feminism that allowed Hugo Schwyzer to get away with attacking feminist women of color, having sex with his students, and so forth and continue to be considered a feminist by the mainstream, even after confessing to attempted murder. Instead, let’s focus on MEN!

        Hell, the article doesn’t even include Hugo Schwyzer’s *name*. He deliberately refers to him as just a “self-identified feminist man” as if the problem here isn’t that mainstream feminism also identified him as a feminist. He will not respond to questions of how he justifies his past relationship to Hugo because the whole point of the first four paragraphs is to pretend it doesn’t exist.

        In fact, this entire article can be summed up in one sentence, “But not all men are like that!”

  5. Any article about Schwyzer which omits mention of the fact he tried to murder a woman is simply another in a long and disgraceful list of apologetics for this predator.

    Instead of being direct Tarrant euphemises attempted murder using a link entitled “confused intent” – Schwyzer’s intent wasn’t confused. He was quite clear in his confessions (there are two now) that he intended to kill his ex girlfriend by turning the gas on her after she’d been raped by a drug dealer. The only reason he didn’t succeed was that neighbours and then the police intervened. Otherwise a woman would have been dead at his hands.

    An interesting aspect of the many words that have been wasted on the fraudulent criminal Schwyzer by journalsts and commentators is that not a single one of them has asked the question, even rhetorically – “what harms to women has Schwyzer not admitted to?” – because men who are violent to women normally don’t have just the one victim, and generally abusers only admit to what they can get away with (Schwyzer’s first confession only came about because he was likening his murder attempt to someone losing a dog). This is basic feminism, but basic feminism has been in short supply in much of the published analysis of Hugo Schwyzer.

    Yet again rather than a proper examination of a violent misogynist who was able to wheedle his way into a movement which is specifically about ending male harm to women, we have an exercise in minimisation and dismissal. Exactly the kind of behaviour by Scwhyzer enablers which helped get us into this mess in the first place.

    Men who attempt to kill women have no place in feminism. It’s very simple.

  6. I’m glad we’re having this conversation. These are obviously all such important issues. I’ve been working on a piece that addresses these serious topics and concerns. To be clear, I do NOT defend Hugo. I HATE the harm he has caused so many people. Like so many, I was conned. I was horrified to find out about his history. I apologize that my disgust for Hugo and his abuse was not more directly stated. I stand by victims and survivors of abuse and violence. More to come.

    • Like so many, I was conned.

      The question is: why were you (and so many others) able to be conned? And for so long!

      He didn’t and doesn’t go to much trouble to hide what he is, yet even today, there are plenty of people who, as feminists, should know better who buy into whatever “brand” of himself he is selling at the moment. There’s a certain “look at how the dumb [misogynistic epithet]s fall for my BS” quality to what he does.

      I suspect that if the feminist community were able to truthfully answer this “why,” and then make whatever changes they feel they need to make in light of this answer (remember consciousness raising?), they might be able to get feminism out of the slump it finds itself in.

      • I agree. HOW were you ” conned ” ? This man spewed his real stuff all over the place, all the time. ” Examples of one man “. Yes, just one man. It makes sense to me that you would write such a statement, because you refuse to refer to HUGO SCHWYZER, by name. Many, many Feminists, aka women, have always had HUGO SCHWYZER’S number. One didn’t need to know his history to see it. So many are so enthralled with men who give bits and pieces of feminism lip-service. You are one of those people. His name is HUGO SCHWYZER. There are many HUGO SCHWYZER’S, and those who so a lot of mansplainin’ when pesky Feminists know that to ” redirect ” is just another way to say, ” calm down, ladygals, and let’s focus “. Ridiculous and outrageous.

  7. Hmm is anyone else having problems with the images on this blog loading?
    I’m trying to figure out if its a problem on my end or if it’s the blog.
    Any feedback would be greatly appreciated.

  8. I’m concerned as to why Shira Tarrant chose not to name violent misogynist Hugo Schwyzer. Is it because as usual men always ‘disappear’ when they are the perpetrators and men only appear when they can be portrayed as ‘the supposed real victims of that system which apparently has no name!’ The name of the system is Male Supremacist System and yes it was created by men to maintain male domination over all women. But this fact is too real for many women, so let’s pretend men too are victims of the system they created but which they refuse to name or acknowledge.

    Women have never been accorded the right to ‘disappear and reappear at will’ because unlike men, women are still not accorded human status.

    I agree with Martin Dufresne, Laila namdarkhan and Delphyne who have provided real evidence that Schwyzer is /was not ‘mentally ill’ but is and continues to be a very clever, cunning and manipulative male.

    Males who commit violence against women always deny their accountability and these men are always supposedly ‘mentally ill;’ suffering from temporary insanity; loss of control; were provoked by the female(s) they subjected to violence or even these men were innocent. Claiming Schwyzer is ‘mentally ill’ is male supremacist tactics and I’m not buying it. Schwyzer is accountable for his behaviour and yet as usual he is exuding crocodile tears and expects us women to feel sorry for him.

    Herstory is replete with evidence that what men claim and what they actually do to women are not the same and yet apart from Radical Feminists, Liberal Feminists were once again duped and refused to accept the mounting evidence of Schwyzer’s violence to women and his constant lies.

    Since when are Feminists expected to work with the oppressors? Do we demand that non-white women and men ‘work with white male supremacists?’ Of course not but as usual women are expected to put men first and women’s fundamental rights last. Guess who benefits from this lie? Why men of course. Furthermore Tarrant’s claim that ‘Gender-based inequality works to the advantage of men as a group and works to the disadvantage of women as a group. That doesn’t mean all men have advantage or that none of the women do,’ is an attempt to hide the fact men individually and collectively continue to be accorded their male right to dominate and control women.

    Male violence against women is pandemic and global – this means irrespective of a female’s class, ethnicity; race; sexual orientation because her sex is female, she can never know when and if a male will decide to subject her to violence. Class and wealth does not protect women from violent men. Neither does class and wealth protect women from men dismissing her as ‘hysterical’ if she so much as voices an opinion which men perceive is not sufficiently deferential to their supposedly superior status. Furthermore few women are accorded ‘class and wealth’ in their own right because women are always viewed in relation to man (sic) and it is her relationship to men which gives her ‘class and wealth.’

    However, whilst not all men are equal, because some men accord themselves power over other men; all men accord themselves the right of power and domination over all women.

  9. I hear a lot of defensiveness in the article and comments. However, it isn’t doing us much good. Instead of getting defensive, we need to ask how we can keep a Hugh Schweitzer disaster from happening again. I know there is no way we can “disaster-proof” a movement. However, I know that we can do a much better job of screening the women and men who want to teach women’s and gender studies, who want to take leadership positions in activist groups and so on.

    I hate to say it, but Hugo Schweitzer is not the only fraud in the movement. I know about a man who teaches Women’s Studies in a southern university and is widely known as a sexual harasser. Feminists have called him out but since he has tenure, he hasn’t gotten fired. It seems like almost every feminist I know has a local version of a Hugo Schweitzer story.

    Every activist group and women’s and gender studies department needs to use the Schweitzer disaster as a wake up call to find better ways to screen the women and men who work for their organizations. Please, let’s stop the defensiveness and talk about how we can avoid this fiasco in the future.

  10. Honestly I’m really disappointed in mainstream feminism and how it marginalises and silences women of colour. For the first time I feel ashamed to call myself a feminist. I don’t think I’ll be admitting it out loud to people anymore.

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