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March 22, 2006



Pro-feminist men can listen and learn a great deal from our feminist sisters, but they can't show us by example how to become the men we are called to become. For that, we need role models who live in male flesh and have been acculturated as men.

You've said this many different times in many different ways. Is it truly an article of faith, or is there some explanation you might offer for why you believe this? I realize you don't mean it to be insulting, but when you claim that can't follow a woman role model as a guide for how to be a fully-formed, ethical, responsible, feminist adult - in other words, a man, since you're male - I wonder why. Because it's hard? Because it's unusual?

It's true, for example, that feminists often make noise about the presence or absence of female role models in particular fields, but I have always understood this to be an issue of visibility: that is, if a girl never sees a woman doing a particular task, she may unconsciously assume that women are not capable of doing it, and I imagine the same goes for boys and men. This does not mean, however, in any but the most impoverished and mean-spiritedly literalist paradigm, that a girl who wants to be a great writer cannot take Faulkner as a role model, that a man who wants to be a great feminist cannot take Simone de Beauvoir as a role model, or that a boy who wants to be a good man cannot take his mother as a role model (provided only that she be a good woman.)

I don't see how insisting that only men can show you by example how to live as a man does anything to help your pro-feminism. It puts gender essentialism in a place where it decidedly doesn't belong. I don't think much of protestations that male feminists face a high and lonely destiny, with burdens women can only imagine, but I will grant that learning to be a man by following a woman's example has got to be pretty hard. I just don't see that as any reason not to try.


Sophonisba, I'm referring to the way in which society responds to us as pro-feminist men. We aren't judged the same way as feminist women. Pro-feminist straight men have a unique struggle -- the struggle not to opt out of the fight and accept privilege.

Ultimately, when I'm in a crisis in my life, the people who are of most use to me are those who can empathize, not merely sympathize. I need to rely on other's experience, not merely their convictions. I want mentors who have been where I have been and can show me how to get where they are. I'm trying to escape my acculturation as a man. A woman can tell me why I ought to want to do that, but she can't share with me her invaluable experience of actually doing it.


I cannot help but be reminded of the recent study of lesbian parents which found that the boys raised in two parent lesbian households were more centered, better able to see other points of view and more open minded.

I am wondering if the same is true from two gay male parents (due to North American current attitudes far less in numbers)? It seems to me the limitations isn't simply on seeing the varieties of male expression and equality acceptance but rather what dominant (and schoolyard) male culture will accept. The act of variance strips the individual of "maleness" - one is seen to be "less than male" - a male marching with women on women's rights isn't a "real male" - of course neither are gay men, sensitive men, men who wear pink shirts, etc. I think the most obvious example of this is the regular murders of specifically m-f transpeople or crossdressers which not only occur in numbers higher than all other hate murders in all catagories combined but also usually include far lighter sentences (for example in my local province a man murdered a transperson 3 years ago and got 4 years on the defence: "I thought it was a woman, it was a man; so I reacted as anyone would").

The societal message appears quite clear; the lowest and most traitorist form of male is one that is an open ally or externally presents some aspect associated with female. And for those who transgress this unspoken boundry; the sentence is death. (in the same way that openly feminist males, I assume, have hate crimes against them for basically existing).

When a culture that hates women so much that any man who open is seen to have "feminine" aspects or is stereotypically assumed so (such as gay men) is stripped of his rights, his voice and his place in society then what can be done?

Perhaps there is a feminist male history that needs uncovering, or perhaps it is still being written. Where is the Harvey Milk of this movement?


Well, I love the legacy of Harvey Milk, but I don't want to get shot or have my pro-feminist brothers get shot.

One candidate?  Henry Blackwell, who married abolitionist Lucy Stone in 1855 and with her issued a famous statement about egalitarian marriage. She kept her name.


the struggle not to opt out of the fight and accept privilege

interesting point. i was thinking the other day about how gender roles for both men and women are straight-jackets. however, when women don the straight-jacket, they are disadvantaged, but when men don the straight-jacket, they are rewarded for it. in other words, men have to deal with constrictive gender roles too, but they benefit from being constricted. so (to be incredible reductive!), women capitulate out of fear, men capitulate out of common sense?

i don't mean for that to be as flip as it sounds! i'm honestly mulling this stuff over.

also, i'm with you on the empathy vs. sympathy thing. i think that's a good way of crystallizing the difference in many peoples experiences in relating to other genders while trying to live out their feminism.


"gender roles for both men and women are straight-jackets".. I love that. Can I use it elsewhere?

Hmm... do you mean men are rewarded by women, men, or everyone, in donning (sp?) the straightjacket? 'cause.. while men can turn their "coming out" (of the "manly" closet) into a commercial venture and profit, perhaps, in this manner... an honest sidestep results in loneliness and aloneliness. i think that's pretty punishing, so much so that this very consequence restricts men from doing so in the first place.

do mind clarifying for me?


i can't really clarify too much, because these are just half-baked thoughts that i'm trying to work through in my head as well :) i guess i would say that men are rewarded by everyone (by everyone, meaning mainstream society)for donning the jacket. and i mean that in a largely material and societal sense - good jobs, better pay, more power, more privileges, etc. in a personal sense, do men end up being "rewarded" for donning the jacket? that's much more difficult to ascertain, and i'd hesitate to even try because it'd probably be an overgeneralization.

that probably just confused you more :) and it's not as related to hugo's original point...except perhaps in the question of how men make the personal decision on whether or not to abide by gender roles and reap the benefits of certain privilege.


I can think of a lot of ways in which the male straightjacket is contricting, not rewarding at all. I still remember the policing that went on for/amongst the boys in school: so many don'ts! Don't hold your wrist this way, don't wear the colors pink or purple, don't talk with too much emotion, don't dance, or at least don't do it well (sadly knew several straight boyz who dropped out of dance class because the ribbing got to be too much), don't show fear, don't cry, and (most bizarrely of all), don't hang out with women too much; that tags you as a faggot.

And then from the other (?) side, the complaints that one tends to hear here: don't be *too* masculine (which means: what? physically aggressive? "crude?" dirty?) at least not if you want to aspire to a certain status in life. (On the scale of oppressive clothing, I don't think neckties are as bad as say mandatory corsets or footbinding, but they sure are constricting).

But as long as the sissy/gay tag is something to be feared, the problem's never going to be truly resolved, I feel. It's not just harmful to gay folk; it's a very effective whip with which to keep all malefolk in line. Toe the line of compulsory masculinity, however it's defined, or else.

Or--well, I'm just guessing here, really, based on my observations. But: how many straight men in here ever did something you didn't want to do (or abstained from something they did want to do) because otherwise you'd get called a sissy or a fag?


It's my feeling (raising two little boys), that men are as disadvantaged by the straightjackets of gender roles, although in different spheres. I have to agree with belle dame; and add that I've seen the male 'slate' go horribly awry - prison, drug addiction, etc., all in the hopes of being worth something based on net worth.
Also, to me the emotional drawbacks for boy kids working hard not to be a "pussy" are as severe, if less societally observable, than the economic disadvantages for women. I just watch all the little aggressive gender lessons that my kid - who is polite, and warm, and wonder-filled - goes through every time we buy bloody shoes or pjs or get a "kid's" toy at a restaurant. Dull colours, war/sports franchises/aggressive animals: this is what boys "like", if you're buying on the cheap - even if they really like Dora, or music, or Dr. Seuss, or bright colours and artistic patterns. Hell, I was told by the secretary at the community centre not enroll my boy in a dance class for fear of... Of what? Exactly? She didn't want to articulate.
I remember my eldest asking me to get him a satin purple and pink skirt when he was about three. Our next door neighbour had one. He thought it was so cool; it was shiny and bright and smooth and why the heck wouldn't any small child be attracted to it? We settled on a jacket that I decorated with satin patches in bright colours - a more gender neutral solution. But one I had to construct.

Anyway, there are many men in this society who don't fit the masculine 'ideal' but have been socialized with all this and a million more cultural touchstones that I, female, have not experienced - even though I was a tomboy. So I understand the need for men mentoring men. And I think that to assume the straightjacket privileges all men is untrue, because there are many who simply don't fit, or can't make it work, or interpret it extremely, or whatever: just because our powerful or wealthy people tend to be men, doesn't mean that all men are powerful or wealthy. For those men that aren't, there is a greater stigma, I think - similar to the zillions of women who don't look like a Maxim cover.


Maybe this is simply because I'm young (26 in a less than a month -- it feels 'old' to me, but I realize it really isn't), but I have to agree with sophonisba's sentiments above -- I certainly consider my mom and Simone de Beauvoir great role models, and probably better role models than any of the men in my life, personally or professionally. My feminism has been strongly influenced from my college days by the likes of de Beauvoir, Monique Wittig, and Foucault -- all strongly opposed to essentialism and systems of classification, and I am deeply committed to the ideal of genderlessness, not 'mere' gender equity. As kate d. put it so eloquently, gender is a straightjacket for everyone, and even male privilege (which is very, very real) comes with deep costs. The system sucks for everyone except for a handful of rich, straight, christian, white guys in the global north, although it does suck for some worse than others.

It's not that I think everyone can or will have the same perspective on sexism (or racism, classism, etc). Indeed, I go the opposite direction: everyone has their own unique perspective on the world, including the social world. If we're going to break down perspectives on sexism into male ('pro-feminist') and female ('feminist') perspectives, why not break things down by ethnic heritage and sexuality, too? And geography and class are going to be important. Where does it stop? It's far better, IMO, to just say that any perspective critical of sexism is feminism, and we can all stand together as individuals united under that banner.

Due to my gender, will I be as aware of instances of sexism and women-unfriendly circumstances at our school as, say, my friend Natalia? No, probably not; but I think that difference is liable to be pretty small, on the whole. Will I be more aware of sexist descriptions of men? Probably; but again, only a small amount. Will I, or Hugo, be more aware of sexism in general than the typical first-year college student? Almost certainly, even if she is a woman. Will I ever experience the anxiety of the decision over whether or not to abort a pregnancy? No. Can I argue passionately and eloquently that the right to an abortion is deeply tied into a woman's fundamental rights? I think so. The way I experience sexism is unique, and is certainly informed by my gender. But I don't see how this makes me any kind of second-string feminist, in thought or deed. I will stand next to my sisters, arm-in-arm, but neither in front of nor behind them.

(Apologies for getting a little dramatic there at the end, and for length, and if this was posted twice. Oh, and Hugo, thanks for the sidebar link!)


Noumena, bravo.

Cats & Dogma

I posted a response over at Dark Daughta's after she pointed to it in a comment in an earlier thread here, and I've been thinking about it for the last couple of days. On the one hand, I genuinely fear "the patriarchy" and the ways that it amorphously disciplines gendered behavior, and as a result, have found myself patterning heteronormative middle-class values ever since abandoning my oppressive evangelical background as an undergrad (Hugo, I am constantly amazed, impressed, and humbled by the ways that you have found to reconcile your faith and ethical life--there are so few models for that). On the other hand, I recognize that in this culture, my words do have privilege, and if I can lend them in a struggle greater than mine, great.

This year, at a university that takes its mountain-man mascot very seriously, I've turned my literature survey in part into a survey of masculinity and nation, trying, in my small ways to show that constructions of ideal maleness are in no way innate, and are as senseless today as they were 70 years ago, or 130 years ago. That's been hard, because in those instances, my male-but-not-particularly-masculine body becomes part of the discourse in a way that my female colleagues' have always been. The toruble is, it's new to me and easy to opt out. I, like many male feminists, struggle every day with the impulse to opt out.

As i mentioned over at Dark Daughta's, my 2-year-old son is at stake. That makes me even more afraid of the patriarchy, on his behalf, and at the same time, up the stakes.


I'm trying to escape my acculturation as a man. A woman can tell me why I ought to want to do that, but she can't share with me her invaluable experience of actually doing it.

I dunno, it seems to me that being a woman has allowed me to escape acculturation as a man pretty thoroughly. You might almost say, entirely.

I follow what you're saying, but I don't get it all.


Sophonisba, you WEREN'T acculturated as a man, therefore you don't have to "escape" from it. I'm using "escape" as if traditional massculinity is Alcatraz; if you've never been locked up there, you don't have to worry about how to get off the island.

If I'm an inmate on Alcatraz, trying to break out, who's going to be more valuable to me? Another con who busted out and can tell me how he did it, or someone who urges me to break free, but hasn't actually been behind the same bars I have?


Hugo... only now catching up on comments and posts...

I think this last comment you have made is significant. And is particularily important in regard to the concept of generating a men's movement (one that is opposed to the patriarchy). This is where convergence spaces are of the utmost importance... Among those whom have cause to converge, of course.

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