Should male feminists mention their gender?

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A guy on Reddit Feminisms has raised an interesting question: As a feminist man on reddit, I’m compelled when confronting male, sexist redditors to say I’m a straight man, hoping my words won’t be “written off” as self-interested. Is this legitimate sharing of privilege, or propogation of patriarchy?

When you argue a feminist/womanist perspective, some of your opponents often dismiss you as a woman who’s just out to better her own lot in life. If I were a straight guy, I’d be very tempted to let them wander innocently into that trap, then yell, “Surprise, you silly! I’m a straight guy!”

The arguments against this are pretty easy to sum up, so let me start there: the kind of posters who assumes everyone arguing for women’s equality is just some self-interested woman are the kind of people who will call a man who stands up for women’s rights a “gender traitor.” Basically, it doesn’t matter what you say to these individuals, because they absolutely do not perceive the potential for equality among different kinds of people. They so firmly believe that some group or another must be on top that they can’t perceive talk of women’s rights as anything but a bid to steal social superiority from men and then wield it over hapless men as they have wielded it over women.

The other major argument is that if a man reveals his gender for any reason, it could be perpetuating the very ideas he wants to break down: “I’m male , so my opinion matters.” Or, “I’m a guy who supports feminism – gimme a cookie!”

But there are arguments for a man revealing his gender in the setting of a pro-womanist argument:

  • There are decent young people who have been taught that feminists are just out to become superior to/have it easier than men. These people – young women included – might listen to another viewpoint more carefully if it comes from someone who can’t possibly benefit from the scary feminist world they’ve been envisioning.
  • The “surprise, I’m a man!” tactic I mentioned in the first paragraph can really toss a cherry bomb up the tailpipe of your opponent’s credibility.
  • If you’ve got privilege and you use it to undermine the structure that handed you the privilege, that’s kind of cool. I speak up when white people say racist things around me, or when homophobes say anti-queer stuff. I don’t want a cookie for it – I just feel I should use my privilege to make the world a better place (as I see it).

What do you think?

Comments

  1. Dani says

    I don’t really have a problem with men identifying themselves as men in discussions about feminism. First of all, speaking just from my own experience, plenty of people who don’t think feminism is important seem more inclined to listen to someone who won’t receive any obvious benefit from changing the status quo, like you said at the beginning. And I also agreed with a comment from a trans person on that original post… they said that they appreciated cis people confronting transphobia but that they liked to know who was cis and who was trans within the discussion in case the cis person makes a misstep.

    I just think there’s a careful line to walk because I don’t really want men to speak FOR me, in much the same way that any other less privileged group deserves to speak for themselves, whether it’s PoC or disabled people or whatever. As long as male feminist allies are behaving like them and not shouting over the women’s voices in the discussion I’m good with it.

  2. says

    As long as they aren’t ‘mansplainin’, I see no reason why they shouldn’t. I’d more prefer to see no gender revealing at all though, no matter which of the dozen or so genders a person identifies with.

  3. Casey says

    I agree with GardenGoblin about no mansplainin’ (and also, don’t bandy about your gender like a wanna-be “exceptional female” would)…but I that reminds me, I think somebody on Womanist Musings accused someone of WOMANSPLAINING! ‘DA FUCK~?!?!1one

    Anyway, this is a sticky wicket, because as much as I like womanist/feminist/pro-feminist men and their existence as allies, there’s always gonna be trolls who say the feminist men in question are just phonies trying to feign interest in the plights of women to get laid. OR that they’re pussy-whipped or like fem-doms (and what’s wrong with fem-doms? :P).

    • Samus says

      Yeah, this is why the insult “mangina” came to be; that’s what MRA guys call male feminists. I’ve also seen the “he’s just trying to get laid, he’s not really a feminist” argument from male opponents who can’t even imagine why a man would decide to respect women of his own free will. It’s obviously hard for misogynist men to understand how any man would want to give up their privilege, so their response is basically the equivalent of saying, “what are you doing bro, don’t screw this up for the rest of us!!”

  4. Anne says

    It’s also nice for men to mention–as long as it’s not in the attempt to get a cookie and whatnot–that they are men because then it can feel like there are men who have our backs too, and who are wanting the same thing I want. It makes it feel like less of the gender/sex war opponents make it feel like.

    • SunlessNick says

      I don’t go to forums that focus on mental illness, but if I did, I would feel safer about it knowing which posters were mentally ill themselves, and which were sane people who gave a shit. Obviously illness and gender are very different things, and in the latter, I’m the one with the privilege – so I don’t, and probably can’t, know for sure – but I can imagine that some women might feel likewise about which posters are male.

  5. zeteticat says

    “…might listen to another viewpoint more carefully if it comes from someone who can’t possibly benefit from the scary feminist world they’ve been envisioning.”

    First, I want to say that this isn’t necessarily true — EVERYone would benefit from equality, be it gender, race, nationality, sexual orientation, etc. Theoretically, if – when – we achieve equality, everyone would get along splendidly since all would feel they are receiving the respect they deserve based on who they are as individuals, and are not being judged on uncontrollable attributes that only inform our characters as far as we are forced to view ourselves and others through the cultural stereotypes that bombard us daily.

    Second, before the internet, it was much more difficult hide behind gender anonymity. Revealing that you are a male for women’s rights is just revealing one more detail, small or not, about your background and the cultural experience that informs your perspective.

    So I say, use that revelation where you think it packs the most power.

  6. Patrick McGraw says

    Since I post most places under my real name (huge privilege there), it’s already part of anything I post online. So if I hadn’t already made that decision, I’m not sure what I would do. I do worry about coming across as speaking for women, as I’ve seen plenty of mansplainers do. (Along with ‘splainers of other varieties.)

  7. Sabrina says

    As long as they “behave” (as in no mansplaining, no cookie grabbing and such) I actually find it quite important to have visible male allies. And if they are calling out other men’s misogyny all the better!

    I feel that one big problem with the image of feminism is that it’s still seen as a women vs. men thing. Those feminist men can help to overcome this perception. After all, feminism is the fight for equality for all of us – so why not demonstrate this with women and men fighting for the same goal?

    I’d also think that “I’m male, so my opinion matters.” isn’t even such a bad thing as long as it is in a “men educating other men” context. When society is teaching men that opinions of women are worthless how big are the chances that they will start listening to feminist women just like that? Most likely you’ll get a sexist knee-jerk reaction as a result of their socialization. However, sometimes all they need are male role models to overcome those prejudices. (I’m thinking about something like that men-can-stop-rape campaign here where men are educating other men how they can use their strength to prevent harm from others.)

  8. DragonLord says

    I think that there’s no right answer to this one, just situational ones. As in some cases it can actually hurt your argument if you reveal that you’re male, and in others it can help. It would be nice if there was a way that we could say this is when men should reveal that they are male in a discussion for maximum positive effect.

    The other ISSUE I see is that on the internet said man that is revealing himself may actually be dismissed as a women that’s fed up and is just pretending. The only thing (I can think of) that could possibly get round this is a live web cam feed where they can ask you questions live and see who you are, but this brings with it other problems that may not want to be faced.

    • M.C. says

      I agree that it depends on the situation. But most arguments one makes should speak for themselves, no matter if the poster is male, female or transgender.

      It’s the same with race, class, disability and all other kinds of privilege.

      • Anne says

        The arguments should definitely speak for themselves–and this article’s question is further muddled because a MAN’s argument should not be more valid than a WOMAN’s simply because they claim a gender.

        I.E.: If my argument is “women should be treated respectfully and as equals,” this should not be viewed differently whether I am a man or a woman. If I say “I am a man and I think women should be treated respectfully and as equals” and it is taken more seriously than “I am a woman and I think women should be treated respectfully and as equals,” that’s kind of just pointing out yet another problem feminism has to overcome–the idea that our movement can only be validated because men agree with it. Because, I mean, men SHOULD, but that shouldn’t be taken as an argument that the movement is only a serious one if men proclaim themselves to be on board.

        …if that makes sense. So basically, what M.C. said, only I’m more talky.

        • DragonLord says

          And so the arguee can then point out that the person is inherently sexist by accepting the arguments that 5 minutes ago they were dismissing as the rantings of a mere woman.

          Personally I think that the internet should be more or less genderless (except on dating and survivor sites to name some obvious exceptions), and that anyone that requires someone to reveal their sexuality/racial background should be instantly banned for 1 day/offence they’ve already committed.

          • Anne says

            You know, I used to agree with this, the same as I thought that it should be raceless and whatnot as well, but I’ve since changed my mind.

            Not because it’s not a good thing to strive for–and I get that the implication is that they are raceless and genderless because it shouldn’t MATTER in human interaction (i.e. we’re all just people, human beings, whatnot), but the problem with that right now is that the default is often perceived as white male. Just now in a comment elsewhere someone assumed that I was a man. Nowhere in this conversation was it necessary to bring gender into it, and yet they did by calling me “sir.”

            I corrected them. Because it IS important to me that my gender is not assigned to me in that way. I agree that anyone REQUIRING it is awful and deserves banning, but I enjoy the diversity that not having a genderless, raceless, etc internet brings. I like knowing the whole world is different from me–if we took away parts of people that they identify with, currently, they by default become something they might not be.

            • says

              I don’t think so. White male trolls always assume this site is 100% female, when in fact our readership is 52% male. I think people generally default to “white male” unless they have a good reason OR stereotype influencing them to assume otherwise. (The white male default is heavily coded in our culture: it’s why even a person of color knows to assume characters whose races are not mentioned are white.) When I first started reading online fanfic, I did NOT assume most posters were white women, though it turned out we probably are the vast majority on those sites. I assumed everyone was a white male because (a) that’s the cultural default and (b) I didn’t yet know that fanfic was such a female-dominated activity (and it wasn’t so much, when I first went online in 1994).

          • Casey says

            For me, the “default person” stereotype on the internet varies on a case-by-case basis depending on where I am. If I’m on DeviantArt or in a fannish environment (regardless of whether the fandom is of something “masculine” or “feminine”, I assume almost everyone’s a woman, if I’m on a 4chan-style image board I assume everyone’s a white man. :|

          • Anne says

            Since my predominant hangouts are forums and whatnot, I see more people being assumed to be white male (US citizens) than not–including myself.

            Though I do the same thing with DevArt, haha.

            As for 4chan, since I know pretty much equal parts boys and girls who go there, it depends on what’s happening.

  9. Jay says

    I think it’s important to show that feminism has male voices in it – and at the same time they shouldn’t be dominating the discussion.

    Unfortunately, the reality is that some guys won’t listen until they hear it from another guy. It’s not the best state of affairs – arguments should stand on their own – but if people understood that there would probably be a lot less need for that type of education in the first place.

    • Casey says

      The more I think about this post the more I think about Hugo Shwyzer.
      I like him pretty good, although he’s far too tolerant towards MRAs/trolls/Nice Guys/men who’ve been mind-fucked into believing their sexuality is toxic and blame feminism for it/etc. in his comments section (I’ll get back to this in a second), AND his theories about men can get kinda derpy sometimes (like thinking bukkake shots are prevalent in modern porn because men want their penises to be validated my a woman’s face or some shit…WAT? And here I was thinking the powers that be just thought debasement/humiliation of female bodies by squirting jizz into their/your eyelid was HAWT), but hey, he’s a different kinda guy, he understands women a lot better than his own gender sometimes, and I like how he intersects his Christianity with feminism to really dissect our Puritan culture.
      BUT ANYWAY, the thing that bothers me about male feminists is this; Hugo has a young daughter named Heloise, and he talks about her in posts and whatnot when discussing father/daughter relationships, well there’s been more than a few ASSHOLES who’ve left comments along the lines of “WELL I’M GLAD HELOISE WASN’T BORN A BOY BECAUSE YOU’D PROBABLY GRIND HIM UP INTO SAUSAGE AND ROAST HIM ON A SPIGOT FOR YOUR FELLOW FEMINISTS TO EAT HURR DURR”.
      That just REALLY raised my hackles more than most, even more than the trolls who post “LOLOL HAY SENSITIVE MALE, I’M IN UR HOUSE DOIN UR WIFE” constantly.

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