I’m writing this post in response to a comment on my first post by a poster named Jon. Jon offers several critiques of my first post, that I think I can sum up in the question, “Why Manism?” Let me begin by addressing Jon and say that you responded to my post with about twice the length, so let me apologize if you’ve criticized things I haven’t covered, because, well, I haven’t gotten to it yet.
Feminism has two components. The components are what I’ll call, for the sake of this argument, “feminist ideologies” and “feminist strategies.” Feminist ideologies are the higher-order ideas and goals of feminism, and there are many of them, from deconstructing gender identities, the patriarchal heteronormative hierarchy to political goals such as pay equity, maternity and paternity leave and reproductive health.
The second component is what I’ve called “feminist strategies.” Feminist strategies are how you impart your ideology. Manism is a critique of feminist strategies, not feminist ideologies. I am not immune or ignorant of the criticism of feminism within feminism by feminists, but frankly, men are ignorant of it. For the purposes of reaching out to men, academic self-critiques lack practical relevance. What I wish to address is how to bring “feminist ideologies” to men. I have concluded that using “feminist strategies” to do this, is fundamentally flawed, for the reasons I expounded upon in my first post. Feminist strategies have to be based on empirical realities and the very real perceptions of all groups of people in society.
To illustrate the difference between ideology and strategy: Lenin took Marxist ideologies and created Bolshevik strategies to achieve them. At the beginning, the split between Bolshevik and Menshevik was a split regarding the strategies to achieve ideology (mass party versus vanguard party), not the ideology itself (although students of the Russian Revolution will note that this split became ideological, or perhaps, this strategic split was indicative of ideological difference). It would have been a poor strategy for Lenin to attempt to teach Marxist-Leninism to, for instance, the Russian nobility or the any of the Ruiriknichi (the noble clan from which all Russians nobility claimed descent).
Feminism the strategy is different in an important respect. Unlike Lenin, it is not advocating a violent revolution, thus it should not be restricted to teaching itself just to the underclass; however, and taking us out of academia and into the real world, feminism is perceived by most men as a woman’s movement.
Let me say that again: feminism is perceived by most men as a “woman’s movement.” I do not think it is a “woman’s movement” and I doubt the individual who responded to my first post thinks so either; however, this is a fact grounded in the empirical reality in which we operate.
Feminism as a movement, as a gender movement, as a movement that has attempted to bring all people into its arms has failed to do this. It has failed most spectacularly, but not unexpectedly, to bring in the people who hold power in traditional society: white, middle and upper class heterosexual men.
The question I ask, as someone who has dabbled a bit in attempting to bring these types of men into feminist movement is: “How can we do this?” “How can we bring men to feminism?”
My conclusion is that you cannot bring men to the ideologies of feminism using the strategies of feminism. My evidence is simply reality: (speaking as a generality) men are not involved in the feminist. Yes, yes, there are excellent movements, like Men Can Stop Rape that do fantastic work that targets men, but they are few and far between.
Why aren’t men flocking to feminism? I believe the strategies of feminism, as I outlined in my first post make it extremely difficult for men, who generally don’t have the vocabulary of self-expression that people more learned in these fields have, to access the feminist ideology.
It is more difficult to reach “majority” groups, and please note I use the term “majority” to denote who is the majority powerholders in society, than it is to reach minority members of society. This is because, obviously, entrenched groups have little impetus to give up their priveges, and also, entrenched groups are harder to actually reach, to get into the room to begin talking about issues. How do you get entrenched groups in the room?
Well, first, you have to trick them. Majority men, and let’s be clear, when I say majority men I’m generally referring to white, middle class, heterosexual men, are hard to reach. In order to get them through the door, you have to accept some of their sexist paradigms and assumptions in order to begin the conversation. For example, majority men generally react negatively to words like “feminism.” Thus, you create a new word for them, “manism,” which doesn’t have any of the incorrect stereotypes associated with “feminism.”
As another example of accepting anti-feminist paradigms in order to reach people, I’m going to illustrate a case I use, but let me give the background. At Tufts University, where I attend, we run a program for incoming first-years called “In the S.A.C.K.,” which stand for Safety, Awareness, Consent and Knowledge in Relationships, where we discuss relationship violence, sexual assault, harassment, and stalking, among other issues. First, we have a large presentation with several hundred students in a large auditorium. Then, we break up into small, same-sex discussion groups to talk about the issues presented. I’ve led one of these for two years now For the men’s groups, we run through certain scenarios to illustrate consent, and things of that nature. Now here is an example of an anti-feminist paradigm I accept in order to begin reaching these guys: I would never wear pink. Simple as that. Most majority men would automatically assume that a man who wears pink (and in particular, is discussing the issues we’re discussing) is gay. These men would then discount what I’m saying, because I’m “just a gay guy” talking about these issues.
Is that homophobic? You bet. But by appearing as a mainstream, majority man, I get these guys attention. I get them to listen (I hope). And then, we can begin discussing our issues, and then, after a little while, I mention to them my choice of clothing color, and why I think I needed to make it, which spurs more discussion.
One might ask, “Why do men need these kinds of groups?” Well, the answer is simple, “We don’t have them.” There is no appropriate place for majority men to discuss issues of gender in society. Men can join feminist organizations, but anyone who’s been in any sort of safe space discussion group know that it’s sort of “Safe Space 101” that a majority person who enters a minority safe space shouldn’t be trying to monopolize the discussion group’s time trying to rehash the basics of feminism or trying to bring minority issues and how they affect men.
Men should not be going to feminist groups to try to learn the most basics aspects of feminism. The feminist groups don’t want to be rehashing the basics, and they don’t want their time, which is spent discussing whatever issues they want to discuss, to be taken away to talk about how these things affect men. That is an example of using men to reinforce a patriarchal hierarchy, “Here I am, feminists! I am man! Let’s talk about me now!” That’s absolutely not the way to go about educating majority men. I believe the most effective way to do it is to create organizations centered on majority men. That’s not to say any other person could not join, but they would have to respect the majority men’s safe space like a man would respect any minority’s safe space.
Part of facilitating discussion among majority men is just as simple as giving them a safe space. White, heterosexual men, generally speaking, do not have a safe space. They do not have groups where they discuss issues of gender, identity, relationship, sexual violence, etc., etc. Women have these groups. The LGBT and queer communities have these kinds of groups. Minority men of color have these kinds of groups.
The argument that permitting a men’s group for these majority men somehow reinforces the a hetero-normative male hierarchy strikes me a bizarre type of “reverse-ism” that feminists generally oppose. Many anti-feminists say that feminism encourages people to be “anti-men”, an argument that comes, I imagine, from the racist “reverse-racism” type arguments. I feel that the accusations leveled against men’s discussions groups smack of this same type of thinking. “Men,” they say, “reinforce the hetero-normative patriarchy by meeting in these groups.” If that is one’s argument, then one must accept that women’s groups reinforce the hetero-normative patriarchy, and that LGBT and queer groups reinforce the hetero-normative patriarchy by separating these minority groups from the heterosexual, white, middle-class male powerholders. I think that those who make an argument that men’s groups reinforce a hetero-normative patriarchy accept the very premise that I think, feminism at its very basic level is trying to fight, that some people aren’t people. Men are people. Women are people. Everyone is a person, and should be treated as such. At the most basic level, that’s what feminism is: it’s an ideology for everyone.
To illustrate the level of education that men need, I’m going to mention something that happened to me just a few days ago at a networking event I was at. So, I was at this networking event, talking to a fine gentleman, who seemed to be a very smart guy, involved in lots of different organizations on campus. I told him the organizations I was involved with, and he was confused about the purpose of this men’s group that I am involved in. I explained to him what we do (“work to reduce violent against women and portray a positive male role on college campuses”), and then I told him the difficulties we have in reaching men. I quipped that so many men don’t even understand the difference between gender and sex. He stared blankly at me. I spent the next minute or so explaining how sex was physical and gender was a societal construct, etc., etc. He’d never heard of it before. The person who posted a critique of my first post talked a while about how I wasn’t talking about queer studies, talking about people of color, etc., etc. The point I am making is that majority men don’t even have the vocabulary to begin discussing the finer aspects of third wave v second wave feminism, or what the “hetero-normative patriarchy” even is. I don’t think most majority men could even understand the critique to my post, so filled it is with the vocabulary of academia.
That is the challenge male feminists face. It is not that majority men are so evil, or so fearful of giving up their privilege that they refuse to listen, rather, it is not that no one has talked to them before and reached them. Feminists have been trying to talk to men for years, but they have not been using strategies that are effective to reach men.
The goal of manism is not to create a new ideology of feminism. Part of its goal is certainly to add to the bounty of what feminism has created, hopefully by adding greater volume to the body of literature and knowledge about what the majority man faces, but far more importantly, manism’s goal is to be and create strategies that bring the ideologies of feminism to men.