“Why I Am A Male Feminist”

I can’t find a record of us having linked to this before, but I have a feeling we may have done so. (If so, accept my apology!) If not, enjoy this excellent article.

The following day, I attended a workshop about preventing gender violence, facilitated by Katz. There, he posed a question to all of the men in the room: “Men, what things do you do to protect yourself from being raped or sexually assaulted?”

Not one man, including myself, could quickly answer the question. Finally, one man raised his hand and said, “Nothing.” Then Katz asked the women, “What things do you do to protect yourself from being raped or sexually assaulted?” Nearly all of the women in the room raised their hand. One by one, each woman testified:

“I don’t make eye contact with men when I walk down the street,” said one.
“I don’t put my drink down at parties,” said another.
“I use the buddy system when I go to parties.”
“I cross the street when I see a group of guys walking in my direction.”
“I use my keys as a potential weapon.”
“I carry mace or pepper spray.”
“I watch what I wear.”

The women went on for several minutes, until their side of the blackboard was completely filled with responses. The men’s side of the blackboard was blank. I was stunned. I had never heard a group of women say these things before. I thought about all of the women in my life — including my mother, sister and girlfriend — and realized that I had a lot to learn about gender.

(Thanks, Mr Jender!)

20 thoughts on ““Why I Am A Male Feminist”

  1. It is sad that “feminist” is always associated with women. Independently of the proportion of women within feminism, it should remain gender neutral. Why should I have to clarify that I have a penis?

  2. I protect myself from being sexually assaulted by not flirting, not being nice and clearly displaying my lack of interest.
    My blackboard would not have been empty.

  3. I don’t find it sad that feminism tends to be associated with women. The association occurs in a historical context. To proceed as though feminism was not primarily a movement made up of women would be needlessly acontextual. But perhaps I say this because my mind is on different aims than nihikos’ mind is. I have deep appreciation for arguments by Larry May and others that many men (not all, but at least some) are more likely to listen to men than women, more likely to accord them moral deference, implicit authority. So when I see a headline like “Why I am a Male Feminist,” my first reaction is, “Oh, good, perhaps this writer will influence some men to take note, to listen, to accord him a receptive audience.” Like I said, I am coming at this on a runway that may be different from the one nihikos occupies. Our worries may just be different in kind.

  4. i don’t commit imprisonable offenses. in all seriousness, that’s about all a man needs to do not to get raped.

  5. Just a general thought since I don’t know the context in which Mr Jender’s reflection appeared, and in what other ways Mr Jender’s feminism manifests itself : Every great journey starts with a small step, but not every baby step is an article. Would a woman coming to the same conclusion be as interesting?

  6. Sorry to confuse– Mr Jender was the one who gave me the link. He’s not the author of the article. I thought it was an interesting tale of consciousness-raising.

  7. @james – That may be true of straight cis men, but gay and trans men are at substantial risk of sexual assault and rape.

  8. Sherri Irvin, I was similarly thinking, “This sounds like the experience of a high-functioning, able-bodied, socially-masculine-presenting heterosexual male who has never been threatened with sexual sorts of punishment for violating social norms.” And of course, the consciousness-raising of such a sort of man is good to hear of. But indeed, it is successful because it is out of the experience of this man (or this group of men) to think of times he’s tried to avoid sexually inflected violence.

    Men I know who are not so lucky, or so widely accepted, notably men in my life who are perceived as less masculine, less heterosexual, less confident, more anxious, have already had the experience of being threatened with such violence. Their blackboards would not have been empty — at least not in their heads. Whether or not men in the room felt free to say something in the presence of other men is another confounding factor.

  9. James,

    I take your point to be that male prison rape is by far the most common kind of male-victim rape. That is undoubtedly true, and it’s a deplorable phenomenon I’ve written about on these pages several times before. In my view it is the form of rape most trivialised in our culture. But we should remember that a non-trivial number of prison rapes occur while people are detained awaiting trial (so they may not have committed offenses). And of course, some number of people find themselves sentenced to prison without having committed crimes (or serious crimes, at least), particularly in certain countries. Most importantly, I take it as a given that even hardened felons do not deserve to be raped, especially while in the custody of a civil power that has assumed near-total control over their circumstances and welfare. I know you weren’t suggesting otherwise, but there is a lot of “blaming the victim” in connection with prison rape (even compared to other kinds of rape), since people already have independent grounds to condemn the victim.

  10. I like this. Thanks for posting, even if its a repost. And it reminds me of a somewhat related situation described by a black male grad student I once met. He described how what he wore would change the way white people reacted to him in different places. He said he had to think about where he was going, and who he might run into, before he would dress to leave the house. He didn’t want to frighten Aunt Bea or Clara, for their sake, but also for his own. (We were in school in the South.) He didn’t like appearing scary to others, and it really bothered him when he did. Well, I don’t want to look like a slob in front of people who might care about that sort of thing, but this student’s description of the care with which he dressed in the morning was a complete and eye-opening surprise to me. As a white male, I never think about these things in this way. (Well, my wife would like me to dress a bit better, but I tell her that’s a perk of professorship! Should I add, “at least for men”? Sigh.)

  11. p.s., the sigh is not meant to be derogatory, but is instead meant to indicate weariness over the way the world is. My wife professes too, and I know she cannot get away with dressing the way I do. (That’s part of the joke at home.) Good grief, I seem hyper-sensitive and defensive all of a sudden. Again, sigh.

  12. Clarence, that is a depressing and sobering anecdote about your grad student acquaintance. You mention that this took place in the South; I was wondering if the grad student in question was from the South or from elsewhere? The reason I ask is that I suspect the kinds of concerns he was worried about would be much more likely to materialize in places like Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont or Rhode Island than they would be in places like Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana or Mississippi, and I wonder if his were homegrown Southern reflexes or ones that were honed in the race relations climate outside the South.

  13. I love it when ostensibly feminist writing is accompanied by a picture of an enpornulated woman to, I suppose, make up for the emasculation their manlier readers would otherwise have to endure..

  14. A good post,and good replies.Has some philosopher who can write books not already explained how it works?This issue seems close to the nitty-gritty(Hi to the USA bloggers) of the women emancipation/feminism/humanism/equal-,civil- and human rights matter in our world.It is complex,yet for me not such a puzzle as it appears to be for everybody else.There are basic differences between men and women.Few seem to want to take that into account to the depths that these differences manifest in the genetic/epigenetic,etc., and biological/psychological make-up of both (let’s say ‘major’,so as not to offend those who feel different,though who suffer with women from this problem)sexes.I readily accept the assertion that women are more at risk of being raped in society than (heterosexual) men,except for the situation of incarceration where,significantly,immediately a heirarchy develops in which a proportion of men are being treated as most women are in,nominally,free society.Perhaps for women feminists it would be useful to imagine a situation in ‘free’ society where a (heterosexual) man is treated like a minor.This has always happened,and is happening still,in situations of manual labour employment.I have experience with that.I think it is without a doubt men react differently from women here.Nature,the universe,works with hierarchy.We cannot hope to change the way the universe manifests itself.We can,however,work with it in order to effect the changes which are humanly desirable and possible.Since I cannot write a book in this comment,not even a thesis,I would invite women feminists to study the facts as already enumerated and,nearly,done to death by academics,psychologists,psuedo-philosophers,and better but more esoterically explained by Lao Tzu,Buddha Gautama and a host of people who have,through the ages,written down or passed on otherwise the knowledge they gained by wrestling with these and related issues.Briefly,it is a matter of who and what you are integrally(spiritually,intelligently,intellectually,mentally,physically,emotionally,socially,etc.,and sexually as to how it rules your feeling-thinking-acting.This is not about religion(even anti-(Abrahmic)religion,if anything).It concerns the basic parameters of life and the conditions pertaining to the way we relate to these basic parameters.

  15. Maybe a bit off-topic but Leiter noted that Ruth Barcan Marcus has not had an obit in prominent venues–that is an outrage! Is there someone here who could do something to correct this oversight of the passing of someone so gifted and influential in philosophy?

  16. Hello Nemo: It has been a few years, but I think he was from the South. I am intrigued by your suggestion though. What is the difference?

  17. Clarence,

    Well, it’s often been observed that social interactions between blacks and whites tend, by and large, to be easier and friendlier in the South than in much of the rest of the United States. (At the extreme negative end of interactions – such as race-hate crimes – the incidence per capita, even allowing for underreporting, seems generally much higher in, say, the Northeast.) A number of explanations for this have been proposed; it may be partly be a simple function of more equally balanced ethnic composition in the regional population. So it occurred to me to wonder whether the habits your grad-student acquaintance described might have been cultivated outside the South (which isn’t to say that a native Southerner in his shoes might not feel he had reason to practice the same habits, of course).

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