I find myself a little bit conflicted by my reaction to feminist men/feminist allies. We have a couple of great men who write here, and by no means do I intend to belittle their contributions or those of other men who are actively involved in feminist work. Not only do I think that power imbalance is destructive to everyone (though not in equal measure), I think it goes without saying that such an imbalance can’t be fought by women alone. So it’s not a question of whether men belong in feminist discussions or activism (though it’s not unreasonable to question in what ways and in which spaces).
The conflict I feel is in my reaction. I feel like I’m still inclined to swoon a little at men who ‘get it’, which means I’m still participating in the system that gives men extra credit for basically not being total assholes. If equality and the absence of oppression are not up for debate, then anything less than support for feminism (and other anti-oppression activism) is pure jerkery. So I very much want to encourage men to challenge their own assumptions, to recognize and speak out against sexism, and to contribute to feminist work, and I want to help any tentatively supportive men find ways to do so. But, for the sake of really getting at the roots of my own gender-based assumptions, I also want to stop myself from treating it as unexpected and deserving of gold-star status.
Perhaps even more importantly, I’m extremely frustrated that even (and perhaps especially) with respect to feminism, male voices are more relevant than female ones. If a woman challenges someone on an everyday sexist comment, a lot of people find it easy to dismiss her as shrill, bitchy, or as having a ‘victim complex’, but a man challenging the same comment is given more credence. I may be wrong, but I suspect male feminists/allies rarely encounter the eye-rolls and ‘oh, you’re one of those‘ reactions that I get on a regular basis. Male public figures who say something against sexism are newsworthy (which is part of the gold star swoon factor I described above) and so garner attention to the same things that are not noteworthy when said by women because they’re expected (and therefore whining, self-centred, or still beating that old, now irrelevant feminist drum). Thus yet again, the male voices get more power than the female ones. It’s tempting to want to use that extra power, because it helps with some practical measures of progress, but it comes from the exact foundation that we’re ultimately trying to fight, so we would have to simultaneously use it and challenge it.
It’s important to show men all the ways in which feminism, breaking confining gender boundaries, and equality are beneficial to society as a whole, and it’s important to encourage and appreciate the men who work against sexism. But it’s also important to fight situations in which male voices are given more credence than female ones, especially when what those men are doing is quoting women who were ignored when they said it in the first place. Personally, I still struggle to do either, in many cases, let alone both at once.