Affirmative Action For Male Feminists?

A discussion in comments has led to something I think is worth discussing in its own right.

In the journal rankings discussion, commenter Anon pointed out that Hypatia’s editorial board is overwhelmingly female. This led me to speculate about the possibility that feminist philosophers should not simply take for granted that this is an acceptable state of affairs. Yes, some feminist philosophy draws on the experience of being female. But much of it doesn’t, or needn’t. And work drawing on the experience of being male could also be (and in fact already is) really useful and interesting to feminist philosophy. Ross Cameron, in comments, suggests that actually it’s more important for men to be feminists than for women to be:

In some ways, it’s more important that men be feminists than it is that women be. (For the same reasons that the people you’d *really* like to convince that blacks aren’t inferior to whites are white supremicists, not black people who most likely believe that anyway.)

So, should we try to make feminist philosophy more friendly to men? I think we should, for lots of reasons. But one especially relevant to recent discussions is this: People are more likely to know and respect journals they read. They are more likely to read journals in areas they work in. If men feel unwelcome in feminist philosophy, they’ll be unlikely to read feminist journals. With philosophy’s male/female ratios, how can we possibly hope to mainstream feminism and get widespread respect for feminist work if most of the profession feels sealed out of feminism?

One might argue that men can’t possibly feel like feminism is off-limits to them, given their general dominance of philosophy. But this just isn’t true. Aside from things like stereotype threat and the problems with solo status (see Haslanger), there are major feminist philosophy conferences (UK-SWIP, definitely, and I’ve heard conflicting things about C-SWIP) at which they’re not to permitted to give papers.

Separatism has its place, but that place isn’t very helpful for mainstreaming. So I say: let’s make an active effort to get men into feminist philosophy.

21 thoughts on “Affirmative Action For Male Feminists?

  1. Hi, Everyone. I agree that the issue of men and feminism is an important one. I hope nobody minds a bit of shameless self-promotion, but it’s certainly relevant here.

    My book Men Speak Out: Views on Gender, Sex and Power will be published by Routledge in January, 2008. The anthology includes discussions of the philosophical issues raised by these posts. Primarily, though, the book is a collection of accessible, first-person essays written by a diverse group of (pro)feminist men on the subjects of masculinity, sexism, identity, sexuality, etc.

    If anyone would like more information, feel free to get in touch with me at

    Best regards.

  2. This is a very interesting issue!

    I’d like to point out that the SWIP-UK mailing list is open to everyone “who are interested in issues relevant to UK women in philosophy.”

    I agree, for the reasons mentioned and others, that this would be a natural and desirable path for other SWIP-UK activities to take.

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  4. I look forward to the anthology mentioned in one of the posts. I think it would be great to have an anthology by female and male feminist philosophers. I think men should be encouraged to participate in listervs and conferences devoted to feminist philosophical issues. Men need to help out more in terms of promoting feminist issues; women shouldn’t have to do all the feministkeepingwork. It’s too exhausting for us, and burdensome.

  5. I have to say, I’m not so sure that the problem is with making feminism “friendly” to men. I suppose it depends on what one means by making it more friendly.

    My concern with movements in that general direction would be with watering down the purpose or results of the movement. As a man, there are many aspects of feminism that shouldn’t be friendly towards me. In fact, I think that it should, at times, probably make me uncomfortable. Feminism is a challange to the status quo, and I think that men who get involved with feminism should expect to find things uncomfortable sometimes- when confronted with privilege, it can be uncomfortable.

    I think that it’s more important to stress the overall benefits and necessity of feminism, rather than to make it more friendly. I’m not a feminist because I think it’s fun, I’m a feminist because I recognize that there’s a horrific amount of sexism in the world, and it’s harmful to everyone.

    Of course, if making feminism more friendly just means making it clear to men that men can be feminists too, and that men can contribute to the movement in positive ways, that’s an entirely different matter.

  6. What I mean by “make feminism friendly to men” is a good question. Certainly, at a minimum, I mean “don’t exclude men from giving papers at feminism conferences”. But that hardly deserves the name “affirmative action”– “non-discrimination” would suffice. I guess I do mean something more– a bit of explicit encouragement for men who feel that they might not be welcomed within feminism, at least. It’s my impression that there are such men. But you’re right– we shouldn’t expect that men would find the experience of being a feminist wholly comfortable. On the other hand, women may not either– women, too, may be invested in the status quo, and they may have to re-examine bits of their lives and identities in ways that can be disconcerting. Really interesting points.

  7. I’m no philosopher, but as a male feminist I can throw in my two cents here. Full-blown separatism is not helping, it does reinforce stereotypes. But it has its uses: I mean I had my fair share of rejections and it drove home some truths about gender-bases rules I can’t honestly say I’d have faced without this experience.

    I’d say just don’t keep men out altogether, but it’s OK to ask more of them, both to weed out token feminists and as an educational experience. Abstract reasoning is great but experience can temper it to greater strength. Seeking knowledge and seeking comfort are not the same thing, so don’t water down your discourse, but any prejudice — even your own — is best kept separate, or at least obvious.

  8. What I mean by “make feminism friendly to men” is a good question. Certainly, at a minimum, I mean “don’t exclude men from giving papers at feminism conferences”. But that hardly deserves the name “affirmative action”– “non-discrimination” would suffice.

    Unfortunately, it looks as if male feminists might be then discriminated again in the next SWIP-UK conference.

  9. Yes, that’s exactly right. It’s SWIP-UK policy that only women may present papers at conferences.

  10. Yep. It’s very unfortunate. Not only does that exclude the mail perspective on feminism, but I also know of quite a few female feminist philosophers who have been completely put off SWIP because they don’t wish to join in in the equating of pro-women with anti-men.

  11. Ross (and others)– encourage your female feminist friends to get involved with SWIP anyway. It’s small, just being re-born, and likely to be changeable.

  12. That’s great to hear that there’s a chance that SWIPUK may change its policy on submitting papers. I’m not in the UK now, but I did my Masters there, and the central reason I didn’t go to the SWIP meetings was that I thought their policy amounted to discrimination against men. I mainly do M&E and the majority of the people working in my area are men. Two exceptions aside, most have been supportive. It seems incredibly unfair to exclude those men who have encouraged women in philosophy. It also seems philosophically counterproductive to exclude people with an interest in the area and may have lots to contribute. And it seems politically counterproductive: if SWIPUK continues with a “No Men Need Apply” sign at their door, it’s not going to be very helpful in raising awareness in a context where most of the people are men. Bring on the change !

  13. I tend to think that smaller departments have a correlatively smaller interest in affirmative action. Affirmative action by nature selects diversity candidates who would be less competitive if considered on the basis of their abilities alone; the promotion of diversity concedes, to an extent, a lessening in the aggregate skill of the group. Big groups are more able to support such compromises, and are consequently more able to be flexible as regards policies such as affirmative action. The smaller a group, however, the more difficult it is to justify the loss. It’s one thing to devote 5 of 100 positions to diversity candidates, and another thing to devote 1 of 5. Given that most schools have not more than a handful of feminist philosophers, then, I’m reluctant to privilege male applicants to any great extent; I think we should be overwhelmingly more concerned with their scholarship than their gender (or race, or sexual orientation, etc.).

    I should say that none of this is meant to detract from affirmative action policies generally; I just think that there are costs as well as benefits, and that smaller groups are less able to sustain said costs.

  14. Red– I probably shouldn’t have used the term ‘affirmative action’, as I certailny didn’t mean anything like that. I was using it in a jokey way. All I meant was that we should be aware of the fact that men may feel they’re not allowed to do feminist philosophy, and that in light of this we should encourage them to do so. I agree with everything you say.

    AC–Interesting that you stayed away for that reason. I can certainly understand that. Though it is arguable that the policy is not discrimination under the law: women are arguably so under-represented that it could be worth having conferences with only women speakers, and the law makes exceptions for just this kind of case. Still, I’m totally on your side. By the way, my claims about changeability of SWIP-UK are based only on the fact that it’s a small, democratic organisation with a diversity of views on the topic. This suggests to me that its policies are changeable, esp. if those in disagreement with current policies get involved.

  15. I agree, convincing women that feminism is good isn’t a problem, its convincing men, and turning away the people you really need to convince might be just a tad paradoxical.

  16. I’m inclined to back up and ask about the aims of feminist first. Here are two: the reform and restructuring of sexist society, and in the interim the development of `safe spaces’ that serve as shelters from the ravages of that same society.

    These aim pull in different directions. While the first aim requires feminists — including male feminists — to engage with society as a whole, the second aim involves women withdrawing from society, and in many cases from men in general. The upshot is that actively recruiting men into feminist activities might be entirely appropriate in some cases, but entirely inappropriate in others. The question to ask, in each case, is which aims is this whatever-it-is trying to realize, and who can help us achieve those aims?

    Consider the SWIPUK conference that some other commenters have mentioned. (I should point out that I know absolutely nothing about this conference beyond what people have said here.) Is the aim of the conference to integrate feminist philosophy into the philosophical mainstream? If yes, then it makes sense to change the rules and encourage men to participate in the conference. But what if no, and the aim of the conference is instead to create a `safe space’ for female philosophers? We’re talking about a discipline in which it’s not hard to find anecdotal evidence of mild harassment and discrimination against women, after all. Now, of course not all men are going to engage in such behaviors. But given the goal, it may be reasonable to simplify the screening process and allow only women to participate.

    To be clear, I’m obviously not prepared to make any such arguments for myself. But I think such a case could be made in certain circumstances. And from that it follows that it’s possible that no single answer (whether to include men or to exclude men) is correct in all foreseeable cases.

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