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Why Manism?

November 14, 2007 Leave a comment Go to comments

Why Manism?

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.

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  1. November 14, 2007 at 11:57 am | #1

    I find it interesting that you’ve used the division between Mensheviks and Bolsheviks to highlight a part of this matter. It stands out in its loneliness, I feel. Allow me to investigate the matter further.

    Bolshevism and Menshevism were divided by ideology, which dictated tactics – or strategy, whichever word you care to use. The Mensheviks wanted to support the leadership of the progressive bourgeoisie. The Bolsheviks wanted proletarian revolution. One can see immediately why the two ideologies produce different tactics.

    If the word ‘socialist’ can be used to mask the differences between the above groups, then the word ‘feminist’ is equally opaque. I did not notice in your discussion any commentary upon the class character of feminism and the different approaches engaged in.

    Certain elements even of socialist feminism contend that the patriarchal nature of society is a separate issue to be dealt with in a separate fashion from challenging the capitalist mode of production. This is a fundamentally un-revolutionary idea.

    On the other side of that coin, certain elements of feminism agree with Marx and Engels that the capitalist system is responsible for the denigration of women and that this denigration cannot be expunged without altering the basis of society – i.e. by establishing socialism and overthrowing capitalism.

    These two groups have different tactics dictated by their ideology. The first sees no problem in an alliance ‘of all the talents’ so to speak – woman-kind standing in classless unity. In other fields such as history, this type of movement has even led to the formulation of women as a possible separate class altogether.

    The second group sees many problems with this, noting that many women attached to the ruling class can support some of the demands of ‘feminism’ but can stand in the way of other demands – the revolutionary demands.

    Tactics of any group motivated by ideology cannot be dictated by pragmatism alone. That way lies opportunism and defeat. That is not to say that women’s groups cannot form a united front to achieve what limited gains they can – such as protecting the right to choose. Yet within that, these groups should remain separate, with their own publications, ideas and organisations.

    You speak as a Marxist so you should act like one. Your job is to demand the organisation of women – as with the other oppressed groups of capitalist society – into a collective body affiliated to a revolutionary party willing to challenge the basis for exploitation. Your aim should thus be to explain the direct link between capitalism and exploitation of women.

    With that link established, the tactics follow smoothly from there.

  2. November 14, 2007 at 5:40 pm | #2

    First, let me just say, Dave, you’re absolutely right about Bolsheviks and Mensheviks. I think my point still stands, and I think we are in agreement, the the initial split appeared to be merely about strategy, when in reality, as scholars of the period know, it stemmed from ideology and the essentially un-revolutionary nature of Menshevikism.

    Secondly, while I agree that feminism can, is, and should be a part of socialism, not all feminists are socialists. That is to say, women are not a “class” in the Marxist sense of the word. I also agree that the denigration of women is caused by the capitalist system and the society it constructs.

    However, at this stage in the game, in terms of “manism” as such, I think it’s important to steer away from words or terms that might frighten off men. As I wrote in my post, part of getting feminism to reach men is “tricking” them, essentially, into situations where you can then talk about feminism. Thus, I would not advertise a “manist” event as “feminist” because of the negative connotations most mainstream men give the word “feminism.” Similarly, I would steer away from the word socialism, and discussion of the capitalist system as it fosters the society in which we have these gender stereotypes and patriarchal hierarchy. Those are more advanced topics.

    Manism is the first step. Once you get men to begin talking about how society constructs gender, then you can ask, “How is our society constructed?” The answer then, is capitalism.

  3. November 14, 2007 at 7:37 pm | #3

    I dispute any notion of ‘frightening away’ supporters. Allow me to explain why.

    In truth, all political questions need to be addressed within the democratic structures of a political party. If they are not, the danger is constantly present that the matters of common value in a broad organisation – whether feminism or secularism, to name two prominent examples – can be put ahead of the wider view.

    Whether that party is explicitly revolutionary or is a broad coalition of progressive, nominally pro-labour groups is not relevant for the purposes of this discussion, so long as within that party one is free to agitate in favour of revolutionary socialism.

    One should not approach feminism as feminism in its traditional forms. Feminism should be regarded as one more plank in a party programme – as it is by most Marxist parties and indeed even by many left wing reformist organisations. Women, as you rightly point out, are not a class on their own – the emancipation of women is inseparable from wider class struggle. I say again that feminism should be one plank in a party political programme.

    The question, thus transposed into an incomparably wider framework, takes on immediate relevance to men. Men seeking their own ends – in collective bargaining, greater democracy or whatever issue – will as a result see women as natural allies.

    In all moments of prominent class struggle that I can currently think of, the emancipation of women has been a necessary corollary of any socialist movement. Whether the British Miner’s Strike or the Russian Revolution, a greater freedom is always established, so long as the progressive movement is waxing in influence and not routed.

    Pushing for a separate feminist agenda or pushing to water down a socialist agenda is a failure to consistently apply principles derived from many long years of socialist struggle. The popular fronts of first wave to third wave feminism have only achieved so much as the bourgeoisie was willing to concede – concession which are readily understood by Marxists. That would be the route of another popular front approach.

    The principled approach must be to arm a political party or section thereof with the correct ideological positioning vis a vis women and feminism. If other groups exist, a coalition in which each and every group maintains its right to free discussion, propagandising and recruitment is the next step.

    This type of organisation more easily permit of debate and allows the criticism of what I assume would turn out to be a moderate middle class leadership. Criticism which is necessary to establish and maintain the correct orientation of one’s supporters.

    That one’s immediate supporters may be few in number is irrelevant. It is no excuse for approaching sympathetic listeners under a false flag – which is essentially what radically toning down the manifesto of a socialist feminist-supporting party would mean. That dishonesty is something I do not like to countenance.

    I do not advocate a purist approach – compromises often have to be made. Yet they should be made between factions, not inside a faction by an act of self-effacement.

  4. November 14, 2007 at 8:36 pm | #4

    I disagree that at this point a party has to be created for Manism as such.

    Let there be socialist manism as there is socialist feminism, but let there also be all stripes and creeds of manism of any varied political persuasion, as they long they remain manist.

    I am for making a party to bring these things to fruition, but such a party would have to permit the type of inter-party democracy that would allow the vibrant discussion of these issues. There will be many who will call themselves manists who would not call themselves socialist manists, and I can accept that, as long as they be manists, if the party be manist.

  5. November 15, 2007 at 7:05 am | #5

    No; the point I am making is that socialist ‘manists’ and ‘feminists’ should be rallied behind a socialist banner first – the party must be socialist. Then, collectively, it can attempt to create pressure for reform on feminist and manist issues as merely one section of what its task must be.

  6. Oberon
    August 31, 2010 at 4:15 am | #6

    You are awfully condescending. That might be a problem getting “Manism” going. It appears as If you think men are just too stupid to understand feminism. As if middle or upper class white men can’t understand that I don’t want to pick the cotton. Counter cultures generally don’t want to be assimilated by the mainstream, and so their tone is hostile. ( male feminists overcome the hostile tone) If feminism was for everyone it would be called everyoneism. Men understand feminism but reject it because of it’s percieved tone. In psyop, perception is reality. This is the pertinent reason to change the name Feminism to Manism,–not because men can’t understand it, (so simple a caveman could understand it) but because it has been associated in mens minds as hostile to them. So they choose to reject what is hostile. By the way assuming any concept of reverse racism must inherently be racist is misinformed or intellectually dishonest. I’ll be kind and assume you didn’t know black people could be racist towards whites or even other blacks. Women can also be sexist towards men or other women. I’ve encountered the former often. (Interracial marriage) and the latter several times. (military) Just something to consider.

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