Thursday, January 7, 2010

Ought men call ourselves Feminist or Profeminist? A question worth asking, without an easy answer


[image of this photographically handless, headless, and lowerbodyless man in t-shirt is from here]

Far easier to answer is whether men should be one or the other. The answer to that question is, imo, "Yes".

This has been an on-going conversation, in some ways, but for me it is one that I've settled--for now. The consensus among radical feminist women I know is that men have a habit--a deeply male supremacist one, among others--of appropriating women's language, energies, politics, agendas, and actions and then claiming them as our own.  Or we call ourselves feminist and have no intention of truly being accountable to feminist women and women generally. Or--obnoxiously to be sure--men delusionally claim we can "do" feminism better than women. So those men who respect this position held by many radical feminists I know tend to call ourselves profeminist although I think that term needs some caveats or addenda. Hence, in my case, I'd call myself a radical profeminist who is supportive of radically pro-woman activism and who actively engages men, confronting them on their/our sexism and misogyny, as well as on their misogynistic racism, heterosexism, lesbophobia, and more.

The compelling argument made by other feminists, is that men shy away from really committing to anything that has to do with women's political struggles, and will find linguistic ways of manifesting that distancing, hence men saying they are "profeminist" not "feminist". Sort of like being pro-running but not a runner oneself. I think this is true.

My own radical lesbian feminist mentor was all for men calling themselves feminist, so as not to duck out of taking on the struggle as determinedly as any woman would. How I arrived at my own moniker is that the women who currently are in my life (my mentor passed away many years ago), prefer men use the term "profeminist". So that's what I do. I'm not wedded to the term. I'm committed to the politics. The name, in some sense, means very little. I've known plenty of "feminist" and "profeminist" men who do or have done despicably misogynistic things without being at all responsible for having done them. First, the most responsibly and "feminist" thing would be to not do them in the first place--something worth considering! Second, men ought to fully owning up to what we do that betrays one woman or many women in any way, and not making excuses for committing the harmful/oppressive/destructive act(s). And we ought not be defensive or argumentative when women's anger is expressed to us for what we did that was outrageous, abusive, oppressive, or a betrayal. We should listen, reflect, and grow as humane beings.

So, for now, men being profeminist is my own preference although it does bother me if any man chooses that term in order to distance himself from any significant commitment to "the struggle". But it bothers me more when men call themselves feminist and then enact all manner of sexism on the women in their lives.

Being profeminist means a great deal to me in terms of how I live my life. First and foremost, it means not abusing women. Period. If men would only do that, things would change radically. Second, it means being honest, transparent, and accountable to women. It means not being a liar, a cheat, or, well a prick or P.R.I.C.K. Third, it means knowing as much as one can about women's experiences of male supremacist violence and socialisation without draining women's energy in the process. Women are not on Earth to teach men how to be human, but you'd never know that from patriarchy. And women often enough are the primary raisers of children, only to see their sons betray them when the boys become men, by doing to women things that are atrocious and normally misogynistic.

Being profeminist means knowing as much as possible about how male supremacist dynamics play out interpersonally and institutionally. That may require a fair bit of reading, or many conversations with other profeminist men, or a whole lot of listening when being called out by women for what we do that is sexist.

My life is organised around supporting women in a variety of ways, and is intentionally not organised around supporting men. I only have two men actively in my non-cyber life. It's better that way. My energies are clearly better suited to validating women's experience, caring about how women are doing, and caring for those women who need extra levels of assistance in times of crisis or due to aging. I love women in a way I do not love men. And that doesn't mean I hate men. (Duh.) Were I a lesbian woman, there's little doubt I'd be a separatist, assuming I had similar life experiences due to that love of women and that commitment to putting my energies towards women and movements designed to bring women more freedom from patriarchal atrocities, exploitations, and annoyance.

Those dimensions of my profeminism that might not manifest for other profeminist men. I think there are men whose best work is done assisting other men in "getting it" that we, the boys, are responsible for patriarchal atrocities--we, not only the rapists--assuming we are not among that population, are responsible for ending rape. I tend to have little patience for men's sexism and misogyny, unless it is being directed at a woman I know and she requests me to clear up some stuff for him about how he's treating her. I'm not always able to do this effectively. My tone of engagement with him is based on what would be most helpful to her. "Effectively" hear means she feels human, seen, and heard, not him. If he gets it, he gets it. Men, in my experience, are extremely practiced in the art of willful ignorance when it comes to noting (and changing) how our behavior negatively impacts women and their fight for liberation from patriarchies that benefit men so much.

I am probably an atypcial gay profeminist in the sense that I don't much like men as a class of people. (I feel very similarly about whites.) How I feel about men individually varies across the spectrum from great respect and affection to disdain and revulsion. While attracted to some men, that attraction usually will fade, wither, and die much like an orchid dropped into a pot of boiling water. This fading of warm feelings tends to happen within a few conversations, as men tend to demonstrate to me the ways they don't respect women within that short a span of time. Sometimes it only takes one conversation. If a man calls a woman (in conversation to me or otherwise) a b*tch or a sl*t or any number of other misogynistic terms, he's out of my heart. Purged. Men's sexism angers me I think because it ought to; it ought to anger everyone who witnesses it. And rage is not an aphrodesiac for me--thank goodness. Much of what men do in order to be "men" or to establish dominance and control over one woman or many, pisses me off a lot.

So that's where I stand on this whole issue of what to call oneself. Make sure you actions, private and public, are in line with your professed values, and own and be transparent and honest when they are not. And after doing that for a while, ask the women around you what they consider you to be: profeminist or feminist, or neither.

7 comments:

Chris O. said...

Good stuff. It's kind of a weird situation. On one hand, "profeminist" sounds supportive-but-not-too-active-about-anything, but on the other hand it doesn't seem really appropriate to call myself a feminist considering that men love to hijack movements...I think profeminist is the better choice. I know what it means, you know what it means, plenty of others do too, so what's to lose right? A male who demands to be called a feminist raises red flags in my book.


Hehe. "So you're into feminism eh? Here's a tip, give it the snip!"

beanphed said...

Hey Julian! Happy New Year.

This is a pretty good question many men, who are committed to women's issues should ask themselves.

I think for the few guys who actually have a respect, understanding and support of woman's issues, we should understand that we still wear the mask of man/male/masculinity and have been socialized as such. It's not easy to distingish us from the dickwads. Even "feminist guy" shirts can be appropriated.

It is very important for us to take a step back and defer to what ever woman is present prefers.

Since Feminism in it's 3rd wave has become sort of a "funsexiyay" ideology, I find myself distancing away from the word. The closest I come would be a Pro Radical Feminist male. Or perhaps Pro women would be best. In the day to day I try to find women doctors, dentists, plumbers, electricians, whatever, it doesn't matter their political beliefs/affiliation. Income redistribution. :)

I've been working on extending my hand to my male counterparts, but I have a hard time being around them. I suppose in mens company I would call myself feminist or pro feminist, since in their eyes, Feminism and radical feminism are virtually the same.

What ever we call ourselves, we have to remember that we can never stop questioning our actions/intentions/beliefs in comparison to feminist (radical) theory. I've been socialized as a het male for more of my life then I've been a supporter of radical feminism. I've come along way but I ain't done yet. Few of us ever are.

sorry for the ramble. All the best,

Julian Real said...

Haha!

Thanks for commenting, Chris. Yeah, we're in agreement there about the potential problems with men calling ourselves feminist.

Bottom line: BE feminist and don't be too concerned about what you call yourself.

Because our behavior reveals who we are anyway.

Julian Real said...

Happy New Year, beanphed!

Thanks so much for commenting and please feel free to do so more often, ok?

I'll respond in parts to your comment.

I think for the few guys who actually have a respect, understanding and support of woman's issues, we should understand that we still wear the mask of man/male/masculinity and have been socialized as such. It's not easy to distingish us from the dickwads.

Haha! I agree with you 100 percent!! (1000 percent!)

Even "feminist guy" shirts can be appropriated.

Indeed, yes. I've heard all about this gross phenomenon of heterosexual men in colleges taking women's studies courses not because they care about the politics of women's lives, and the struggles women face socially, but only to "appear" the sensitive "feminist guy". And I think this is deplorable.

It is very important for us to take a step back and defer to what ever woman is present prefers.

Here here!! (I like your style!)

Since Feminism in it's 3rd wave has become sort of a "funsexiyay" ideology, I find myself distancing away from the word.

So true, so true. But I refuse to let any individualistic sexual liberals and pro-pornography folks take that word away and co-opt it. Believe it or not there's a resurgence in feminism that values the second wave feminists a lot. So don't despair and don't toss out the word just yet!! I can lead ya to blogs where radical feminism is alive and well! (But always ask first if the moderators/hosts prefer woman-only space.)

The closest I come would be a Pro Radical Feminist male.

That was the other choice for this blog's name! A Pro-Radical Feminist. But that made it sounds like I was a feminist, the pro-radical kind, rather than a profeminist, the radical kind!

Or perhaps Pro women would be best.

I see nothing wrong with that at all! Short, sweet, and to the point. Me like!

In the day to day I try to find women doctors, dentists, plumbers, electricians, whatever, it doesn't matter their political beliefs/affiliation. Income redistribution. :)

Rock on! :)

I've been working on extending my hand to my male counterparts, but I have a hard time being around them.

We could talk for hours, I bet! (Me too.)

I suppose in mens company I would call myself feminist or pro feminist, since in their eyes, Feminism and radical feminism are virtually the same.

True that.

What ever we call ourselves, we have to remember that we can never stop questioning our actions/intentions/beliefs in comparison to feminist (radical) theory.

Yes, it's the practice of the theory that's important, not the knowledge of the theory if it goes unpracticed.

I've been socialized as a het male for more of my life then I've been a supporter of radical feminism. I've come along way but I ain't done yet. Few of us ever are.

Well, of course that'd be the case. Unless you were raised by some awesome radical lesbian feminists! And again, I completely agree with you. We are never finished and it's the men who think they're "done and graduated" that I worry about. I worry more for the women in their lives, actually.

sorry for the ramble. All the best,

That was SO NOT a ramble, beanphed! I really, really appreciate you taking the time to write and send your comment.

Maybe Chris, Rotifer, you and I can start up a little email list, and invite other men you all know to it as well. How does that sound?

At any rate, I welcome you and would like to have your email address--send as a comment alone and I won't post it to the blog.

Let's talk more.

Cheers!

fabmatters said...

It's true, there is no easy answer, and I am inclined to think that context is key.

When engaging with women/feminists, "profeminist" is the preferable term, because it ackowledges the history of male-appropriation of female experience. Using this term is a gesture of good faith - a way for men to show that they are decentering themselves, and I am far more likely to take a man seriously if he refers to himself as profeminist rather than feminist. Too many men adopt the term "feminist" in what strikes me as a (rather smug) demonstration of "See, I'm one of the *good* guys, and you'd better appreciate it!"

With that said however, I think if a profeminist man was surrounded by non-feminist men, then referring to himself as a feminist may make a stronger point among those who are most likely not aware of feminism vs profeminism to begin with.

The most important thing is that men who consider themselves supportive of feminism accept that they are not entitled to the term "feminist", and they are only feminists (or indeed, profeminists) if women perceive them as such.

Julian Real said...

Hey fabmatters,

I agree completely. Context matters. The only issue then, for me, is what do men call themselves, say, when writing. Because writings can span contexts.

In some ways, if I had to do it over again, I may call this blog "A Radical Prowomanist" to demonstrate a clearer alliance with the struggles of women of color. But my background as a white guy, is in Feminist politics and communities, not in Womanist ones. So this name for myself is probably more honest.

I totally agree with you about being in antifeminist/antiwomanist spaces and hearing ANYONE of any gender say "I'm a Womanist!" or "I'm a Feminist!" It's like seeing humanity where once there was none.

What that actually means to the male declarer is always the SECOND thing I want to know.

What women's experiences are when around him is THE FIRST thing I want to know.

I have known so many men who come across to me, a guy, as really sensitive, kind-hearted, good-natured, caring people. And then I hear from the women in their lives about how sexist and assholey they can be to them. And I think: "Right. Men are different around men than they are around women." So I've learned never to assume anything about the character of a man until I know, in a context of trust and safety, what women who know that man well think of him.

Julian Real said...

Ray, the author of the excellent review of the movie Nine--posted to this blog recently, had an excellent addition, by way of comment, to this discussion here and I wanted to copy and paste it in, so others can read it along with the other responses.

So here that is (and thanks Ray!!!)

raytherah said...

Hello again!

Not sure whether to reply here or further up. I enjoyed your discussion of feminism/profeminism, and I thought the concerns you raised were interesting. Where I come from there are so few self defining feminists (male, female or other) that I personally breathe sighs of relief whenever I meet someone who defines as feminist at all. I guess worries over male appropriation of the term become more pertinent when there are actually some male (pro)feminists.

Sunday, January 10, 2010 9:46:00 AM EST