Founded in 1974, the Women’s Center was established to:
Dismantle, from a feminist perspective, all forms of oppression, including but not limited to those based on ability, age, class, ethnicity, gender, race, and sexual orientation.
Advocate for an equitable environment free from violence and harassment based on gender, race, and sexual orientation.
Create an anti-racist, non-sexist, queer-affirmative space where all people can feel valued and safe.
Facilitate and strengthen connections among people across lines of difference through programming and educational campaigns.
Integrate an appreciation of Women's Gender and Multicultural Studies across the disciplines.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

A Message to Men in Feminist Spaces and Conversations

"As a man, I..."
"Speaking for the male population..."
"To bring a male perspective..."

I hear these sorts of phrases very often in the work we do here at the Women's Center, and every time they make me feel uncomfortable. In my capacity as Men's Outreach Coordinator I do a lot to try to make men feel more open to participating in feminist spaces, but these qualifiers that are so common are always difficult to deal with, especially when it is clear that the speaker is generally coming from a well-intentioned place. I am often very uncomfortable with the significant weight that my words can carry when speaking about feminism because I should not be treated any differently based on my gender identity. I get that it makes it easier for men to identify with feminism if they can see someone like them involved with it, but trying to pigeonhole myself and other men into being token spokespeople really takes away from the serious work that we do in dismantling gender norms. Making my and other men's sex and gender identity the focus of our participation in feminism keeps us from fuller solidarity and understanding. Although men can and should be welcomed into feminist spaces and conversations and I am usually very happy to see more men participating, prefacing one's statements like this tend to do a few things that hinder conversations and progress within feminist spaces.

First, they assume that one man can speak for all men - any situation where a person is asked to speak for a specific group that is part of their identity is problematic. No one man can speak on behalf of all men; he can talk about some common experiences among certain groups of men, but in the end all men are individuals with independent experiences and thought processes and no one should presume to speak for others.

Second, it promotes the idea that men always have a unique perspective that demands to be heard when talking about feminist issues. Not every issue needs a male-specific input when discussing it; for example, when deciding what is best for women's bodies and health, a male perspective is not really necessary. Trust people to know what is best for themselves and support them, and learn when your input is not conducive to enriching the conversation at hand.

Third, it encourages the notion that men are out of their element within feminist spaces and that every time a man opens his mouth it should be treated as a very important part of the discussion. As feminists I think we are sometimes predisposed to over-appreciate the work put in by people who are not stereotypically associated with feminism, and cisgendered male feminists are often held to lower standards than others. Their input is often treated as being more profound simply because it came out of their mouths than it would be had a woman made the same remark. We all want to get more men involved in feminism and social justice because my liberation as a man is tied to the liberation of women, the liberation of the queer community, the liberation of people of color, the liberation of all oppressed groups. However, if we do not hold men to equal standards it will be harder for us to move forward effectively and it does a disservice to feminist men by taking away opportunities for them to learn how to be a better ally.

Meeting people where they are at is an important tactic that we use in feminism to help get more people involved and comfortable, but I worry that for too long we have been coddling of or willing to accept inferior work from men within feminist areas simply based on their gender identity. I recognize that as someone who has been involved with feminism for the entirety of my college career and even before then (And as someone who does this for a job), I have far more experience and education than other men who might get involved. I don't think that my current state within my feminist growth and activism is preventing me from meeting people where they are at and I am more than willing to do so; I just think that feminists need to be more vigilant in making sure that we hold people accountable for their work.

To any men who may be reading this, please understand that feminism is important for you too and you should definitely do what you can to promote equality, whether it is calling out your buddies for making fun of rape or taking an active role in organizing for feminist issues at your school or workplace or even simply taking the time to educate yourself. Just don't expect to be treated as a special snowflake because you happen to be male.

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