Men and Feminism

There’s a lot that’s good in this article. I like the way that it calls on men do something about gender inequality, rather than just e.g. urging women to support each other through networks, etc. I like the fact that it points to the importance of male involvement in childcare, and the need for policies that encourage it. I really like the suggestion that men, too, will benefit from feminism. Some bits, though, I’m not so thrilled with. This bit below, for example:

In the Western world, motherhood remains the barrier to gender equality. Until they have children, young women now earn nearly the same as men and climb the career ladder at a similar pace. With the babies often come career breaks, part-time work and a rushed two-shift existence that means sacrificing informal networks like the after hours beer-and-bonding experience often crucial at promotion time.

I’d be totally happy with this being singled out as *a* significant problem. But it’s not the only one. Motherhood isn’t the reason that the very same CV gets an interview with a man’s name at the top and not with a woman’s. It’s not the reason for sexual harassment, rape or domestic violence that women still face in very high numbers. (Of course, it can interact with these in various important ways, but it’s not *the reason*.)

And then there’s this:

It took a male prime minister to sell the legislation to the country, and it took male leaders in Sweden and Norway to pass similar laws. It was a man who championed Norway’s boardroom quota obliging companies to fill at least 40 percent of the seats with women.

I’m totally on board with praising these men for what they did, and with encouraging other men to take similar action, rather than just leaving it to the women. But there’s an implicit suggestion that women *can’t* make these sorts of changes and they need the men to step in and do it for them.

As I said, though, mostly the article pleases me. I think the changes we need require both men and women to be feminists, and I’m glad it’s being said in such a prominent place.

16 thoughts on “Men and Feminism

  1. I think you want:

    Motherhood isn’t the reason that the very same CV gets an interview with a man’s name at the top and not with a woman’s.

  2. i don’t know. i think there’s something to the ‘men have to do it’ claim. i agree it gives one the creeps. but the dominant group is…well, dominant. and if you’re in the dominant group you’re going to have a much better time being heard. it’s perhaps overstated…?

  3. That men ought to play a role in feminist movement is nothing new, per se. It is, after all, one of the major things bell hooks discusses in ‘Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center [sic]’ where she notes — if I recall correctly — that “feminist movement” should not be understood as concerning women only, because this downplays, or removes entirely, the possibility of men as potential allies. In hooks’ view, if I’m remembering correctly, this lack of support from men becomes counterproductive as it paints them solely as privileged if not outright oppressors — which, as we might know, is not entirely accurate — and does not acknowledge the harmful effects of patriarchy upon males as well, nor the help that men could provide to significantly diminish problems such as violence against women and the pernicious conception of feminine beauty. (That is not to say, however, that patriarchy affects both equally; there is clear evidence that women are treated markedly worse than men.)

    This doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate much of the article’s point — that men must get involved in feminism is, it seems to me, entirely correct and absolutely important — I am merely noting that such suggestions have been around since at least 1983… but I’m glad that such thinking is “out there” where it might be more easily seen. (Though I find the hooks’ book on theory extremely readable and engaging, myself; it was a shock moving from Judith Butler to bell hooks, to say the least!)

    Hopefully this wasn’t too ramble-y and pointless for y’all!

  4. Personsally, I think that women should have a much greater say in how countries and companies are run. I love that Norway is making it mandatory that at a minimum 40% of all boardroom seats must be occupied by women. I know a few years ago Rwanda made it a law that 30% of the Parliamentary seats must be occupied by women. Today, they have a female majority. 57% of the seats are now occupied by women. So, the quota was definitely good for the country.

    I also like that Iceland has turned to women to lead them after the economic meltdown. They now have a woman Prime Minister. Half of the Prime Minister’s cabinet members are women. And 43% of their Parliament is now women. The Prime Minister also replaced the 2 men that ran 2 of the countries banks (which failed) with women.

    Deutcshe Telekom also made a quota making it mandatory that 30% of all senior management positions be held by women. They decided to do this because it was a “necessity for the company’s success.” (Rene Obermann)

    It’s obvious that times are changing. Women are now earning 60% of all college degrees in the U.S. Women are also earning 60% of all business degrees in Germany. In order for businesses and countries to get the best and brightest they are going to have to recruit and promote women. It just makes sense.

  5. I have to agree with extendedlp. I think there’s actually a lot of truth to the “it took a male to…” thing. Not because women are lesser or have lesser abilities, but because of patriarchy. Most positions of power are held by men.

    Part of the point is to shift things away from being like that, so that women *are* in a position to do something, so that it *won’t* take a male.

    (Which is not to say there isn’t anything women can do. Clearly, there is a lot that women can and have done. And that’s at least as critical, if not more so. But due to patriarchy, sometimes it does “take a male” in a position of power to enact change.)

  6. I wonder how we are supposed to get more men involved in the issues. I do sometimes get the awful feeling that explaining to men some of the problems is a bit like lecturing a cat on not chasing birds. He and the cat appreciate the attention, but it’s not at all an effective way to change a human or feline person, which is very, very hard.

    I’ve been recently particularly struck by seeing epistemic injustice (cf. Amanda Fricker) at work in academia. Most of the men who automatically privilege men’s accounts, men’s work, etc., don’t seem to realize at all that they are doing it. Too often they don’t seem to be aware that there is anything they are missing. And they can be receptive to words, but that’s not going to anything like enough to get them to change the way they perceive things, which may take motivated practice over some period of time.

    One incident: a woman in an Irish university accuses a man of sexual harrassment and a huge number of academics buy into his story about how she is wrong.

    I also have in mind the somewhat fraught exchange over the last SPP meeting was similar. A number of people said it was full of errors, but their responses shows a very distinct lack of carefull reading and/or thinking.

  7. jj, the same thing is a problem with a lot of women, of course. so, if there’s a particular problem w men listening, it’s more than just that. (maybe it’s that, plus the fact that they have obvious incentive not to listen?) but anyway what you’re saying seems consistent w this idea that men need to be championing feminism, no? -if men privilege men’s accounts, then *men* need to start giving accounts of equality problems.

  8. elp, I do agree with you. There’s some congratulatory thing Baumeister days in an article Jender discussed here about how once men were allowed to be involved in child birth, they made is safer. What part of that is true is due surely to the fact that only men were part of systematic institutionalizing of medicine. And that isn’t because women can’t do medicine…

    I’m wondering about thinking of this article in terms of civil rights. I didn’t see Henry Louise Gates, after his arrest, say anything about how this shows African Americans need to engage white people to fight for their rights. Have the tactics been very different on this sort of issue?

    I think the situation with women is a bit different and puzzling. I was inclined to say that women know from their own case, e.g., how prevalent harassment is, and so there’s something different going on when they believe the man and discount the woman. But in some ways that might not be true even now. In fact, in reflecting on it, I could think of quite a bit of my education as instilling the idea that men are better, nobel, etc, people. One hopes there’s a lot more awareness now, but I can remember from some time ago, complaints by women graduate students in a certain philosophy department about their treatment got the worst and least sympathetic hearing from the female staff.

  9. popovich, thank you for that article. In my opinion, being a male feminist is becoming more and more acceptable every year. Personally, I have openly shared my pro-feminist views with other men. Most men just want to know why. They are curious. Then, there are some that are pro-feminist themselves but are afraid to admit it in public. Anyway, I do think that men need to be involved. When men see that other men are pro-feminists they are more open to listen and learn about the importance of women’s rights.

  10. Don, I just discovered a comment from you from June 22 – one about the condom teeth. Would you still like us to rescue it?

  11. […] Men and Feminism In case anyone wonders why I'm in feminism beyond the whole equality issue, there's this whole thing about it not being man hating, man destroying or anti-maile. Cos y'know, equality is pretty awesome. (tags: sddc) […]

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