A good man is hard to find: On male feminist allies

Photo from Facebook.com/WhoNeedsFeminism.

Photo from Facebook Community Who Needs Feminism?.

I hear feminist activists appeal all the time to “the good men”. They make speeches, like Emma Watson did recently to much fanfare, to impeach these “good men”—who witness the systematic rape, torture, murder, debasement, and general oppression of women—to stop standing by. They ask these “good men” to stop merely witnessing the oppression of the female sex, and to start doing something to stop it.

My definition of goodness must be very different from theirs.

My definition does not include any person who turns a blind eye to the rape and murder and oppression that is right in front of their faces. My definition does not include any person who would see violence and degradation done in their name and shrug their shoulders, saying, “But how does it hurt me?”

That’s not goodness. That’s cowardice. It may not be evil, but it’s cowardice, and it’s certainly not “good.”

And that’s exactly the problem with a brand of liberal feminism that panders to men and male feelings–it’s not addressing the root of any of our issues. It’s whitening a rotten tooth, instead of yanking it straight out. For a man to become a good man, he must first realize that there is much about him that isn’t good. If you call him good already, what reason does he have to change? And no change means no progress.

Men are also called “good” merely for pledging support for feminism in words, by “identifying as a feminist” or calling themselves feminist allies, while changing absolutely nothing in their behaviour. Watson’s #HeForShe campaign asks for such pledges, but offers no concrete solutions or direction for men.

Hugo Shwyzer, a professor who slept with his students and tried to kill an ex-girlfriend, is one of the most well-known “male feminists” out there. Kyle Payne was a sexual abuse advocate for women who was then convicted of sexual assault. James Deen, a male porn star who makes rape jokes about children, has been called feminist. Stephen Fry, who compares being interviewed to rape, who doesn’t think women enjoy sex, and who celebrates “whore houses”, was one of the first celebrity pledgers to the #HeForShe campaign. Shit, people have labeled Hugh Hefner an advocate for women’s rights.

There are men who identify as feminist who still call the women they don’t like sluts, bitches, or cunts. They still laugh at jokes about dead prostituted women. They still watch porn and support that industry of rampant rape, violence, racism, and abuse. I’ve personally met them, many times.

They do nothing to challenge their own misogyny, but enjoy stuffing their faces with the cookies some women gift them for paying the movement lip service, which costs them zilch. Aaminah Khan from the Huffington Post calls this, “the appropriation of the feminist movement by men who either don’t know what they’re doing or are deliberately trying to profit from it.”

If somebody assaulted you, would you mind it less if your attacker wore a shirt saying, “Feminist”? Of course you wouldn’t. In fact, it could be more devastating, in that the attack was more difficult to anticipate.

Feminism is not an identity label you simply slap on with glitter glue. It is a serious political movement with a specific ideology, and it requires an absolutely constant negotiation between the modes of thought and behaviour that are socialized into us, and what we try to teach ourselves is right.

But you see, most men don’t really want to talk about the reality of violence against women, because it might force them to examine the ways in which they themselves are complicit in sexist systems, as well as the ways they may benefit from it, and that makes them about as comfortable as a girl on late-night public transit.

But if feminism—a movement supposed to be dedicated to ending male supremacy and female oppression—doesn’t make men uncomfortable, it isn’t doing a damn thing.

For men to feel impassioned about an issue of male violence, they seem to need to imagine the female victims as their daughters, wives, or mothers. It’s a common narrative. (See Simon Pegg’s much-shared tweet in response to #HeForShe.) To feel empathy for female victims simply because they are fellow human beings—no, this is never enough. They must imagine that the violence affects them personally too.

I want to deploy this thinking pattern in a different way. I want men to think of the dudes who abuse, rape, and impoverish women as their kin, also—as their brothers, friends, fathers, and as reflections of themselves.

Every man who doesn’t stand up against male oppression is responsible. Men who watch rape fantasy porn are the rapist’s friends. Men who refuse to believe victims of violence are the abuser’s friends.

Just who is the patriarchy? Is it made up of phantoms? Of alien beings?

A good man is an exception. And being an exception means there is a rule, and in our society, that rule is to hate women. That rule was written by human hands—by the hands of many men. It wasn’t born out of some abstract chasm of nothingness. There’s a Sex Pistols song with a chorus that goes, “Problem, problem, the problem is you / What you gonna do with your problem? / I’ll leave it to you, because the problem is you.”

You can’t clean something when you’re filthy. Men can’t fight misogyny if they can’t even commit to confronting their own.

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