Step Up and Step Back: more on the role of men in feminist spaces

The discussion of men in the feminist movement heats up in the comments below this post by Amelia at Feministe: The Masquerade: I call myself a feminist, therefore I am a feminist. She tells a story that is all-too-familiar to campus activists. A male student at Amelia’s university attempts to hijack a feminist student organization while claiming, with ever-increasing vehemence, to be a feminist. When his aims are thwarted, the male “feminist” insinuates he’s more committed to feminism than the women who lead the organization. The disruption he causes is more than exasperating, and raises serious questions about the role of men in the feminist movement.

There are many ways in which men who claim to be feminists can do tremendous harm. Two summers ago, we dealt with the infuriating and depressing story of Kyle Payne, an anti-violence campus activist, dorm adviser, and self-described feminist who ended up sexually assaulting a woman in his residence hall. But the problem isn’t limited to rapists who are “wolves in sheep’s clothing.” Indeed, there’s a range of problematic male feminist behavior, with outright sexual assault at one extreme and well-meaning but utterly clueless insistence on taking on a leadership role in the anti-sexist movement at the other. Spend enough time doing anti-violence or other sorts of feminist work on campus, and you’ll meet young men very similar to the sort Amelia describes.

One commenter at Feministe suggests that the problem lies in having men take on any role in feminist organizations:

sorry, but you are going to have this problem constantly, and consistently be wasting your time with aggressive, entitled men and mansplanations, as long as you let men into womens and feminist spaces. full stop. there is no remedy for this problem, except to not allow them access. and unfortunately, theres really no way to limit membership and privatize groups when you are in a public school setting, even when its to deny men access to womens spaces DUE TO WOMEN NEEDING PRIVATE WOMEN-ONLY SPACE, DUE TO AGGRESSIVE, ENTITLED MEN.

I sympathize. But as a man who is committed to doing feminist work, I respectfully reject the commenter’s suggestion.

I’m a man who has spent close to 25 years working in feminist spaces, since I took my first undergraduate course in Women’s Studies at Berkeley in the mid-’80s. I was a member of a variety of feminist organizations when I was at university. I’ve taught women’s studies at the community college since the mid-’90s, and have been an adviser to campus feminist clubs throughout that time. And I’m particularly interested in this topic now as I’m working on the nascent Feminist Masculinities project within the National Women’s Studies Association. With colleagues from Harvard, Penn State, and USC, I’ll be part of a panel discussion on Men and Anti-Sexist Activism at this November’s NWSA conference in Denver. This will be a follow-up discussion to our very successful dialogue at last autumn’s NWSA conference in Atlanta, about which I blogged here.

As I commented at Feministe, I have a simple formula I’ve developed over the years to describe my thinking about men in feminist spaces. (I am perplexed as to why I’ve never blogged about it before.) Four words:

1. Step up.
2. Step back.

“Step up” means that men who choose to identify as feminists (or, if you prefer, as “feminist allies” or “pro-feminists”) are called to take an active role in the anti-sexist movement. Building a genuinely egalitarian and non-violent society requires everyone’s involvement. Empowering women to defend themselves from rapists and harassers is important; raising a generation of young men to whom the idea of rape or harassment is anathema is also vital. We need men of all ages in the feminist movement to “step up” and commit themselves to embodying egalitarian principles in their private and public lives.

Stepping up means being willing to listen to women’s righteous anger. That doesn’t mean groveling on the ground in abject apology merely for having a penis — contrary to stereotype, that’s not what feminists (at least not any I’ve ever met) want. That means really hearing women, without giving into the temptation to become petulant, defensive, or hurt. It means realizing that each and every one of us is tangled in the Gordian knot of sexism, but that men and women are entangled in different ways that almost invariably cause greater suffering to the latter. Stepping up doesn’t mean denying that, as the old saying goes, The Patriarchy Hurts Men Too (TPHMT). It means understanding that in feminist spaces, to focus on male suffering both suggests a false equivalence and derails the most vital anti-sexist work.

Stepping up means, of course, being willing to confront other men. I’ve said over and over again that the acid test of a man’s commitment to feminism often comes not only in terms of how he treats women, but also how he speaks about women when he’s in all-male spaces. Many young men are earnest about living out feminist principles when around women (of course, some like Amelia’s troll and the lamentable Kyle Payne obviously aren’t.) But get them around their “bros” and their words change. Or, as is more often the case, they may not join in on sexist banter — but they fail to raise vocal objection to it. Stepping up means challenging the jokes and complaints and objectifying remarks that are so much a part of the conversation in all-male spaces. This is, as far as I’m concerned, a sine qua non of being a feminist ally.

Stepping back means acknowledging that in almost every instance, feminist organizations ought to be led by women. It means that men in feminist spaces need to check themselves before they pursue leadership roles. While that might seem unfair, arguing that biological sex should have no bearing on who wields authority in a feminist organization fails to take into account the myriad ways in which the wider world discriminates against women. Even now, we still socialize young men to be assertive and young women to be deferential. (Yes, there are plenty of exceptions, but not enough to disprove that rule.) Part of undoing that socialization for women means pushing themselves to take on leadership positions even if they feel awkward about doing so; part of undoing that socialization for young men means holding themselves back from those same offices.

Stepping back doesn’t mean men should never speak up in feminist spaces. Stepping back is not about silently serving in the background. Stepping back is about the willingness to engage in self-reflection, to defer, and remembering that the most important job feminist men have within the movement is not to lead women but to serve as role models to other men. Stepping back is a way of renouncing the “knight in shining armor” tendency that afflicts many young men who first come to anti-sexist work. Women need colleagues and partners on this journey, not rescuers or substitute father figures.

As a male instructor who teaches women’s history, I’ve always made sure that female colleagues feel free to critique my syllabus and teaching methods. As adviser to the campus feminist club, I’ve done everything I can to make sure not to assert any more authority than necessary, and I defer as often as possible (without shirking work) to my two feminist colleagues who co-advise with me. I recognize that “stepping back” can turn into a convenient excuse for not doing some of the more tedious work of feminist activism (like paperwork), and I do my best to make sure that I’m both “pulling my weight” and “hanging back” as needed.

I am keenly aware that a great many women are deeply cynical about men who claim to be feminists. This mistrust is rooted in real experience. The consequent desire to exclude men from feminist spaces is understandable. But I’m also convinced that men do have a vital role to play in transforming the culture and building a truly egalitarian society. Imperfectly, I’ve been doing this work for over half my life, mentoring as I was once mentored. I believe in engaging men in the struggle to end violence; to create new models for sexual relationship; to build a world in which one’s biology is not the primary determinant of one’s destiny. Women in the feminist movement have brothers and fathers and boyfriends and buddies and sons and husbands and nephews whom they love. Most women I’ve worked with very much want men in the movement, but are often understandably wary about what role we will play. And as we acknowledge both that need and that wariness, I think it’s a good time to reiterate the importance of stepping up… and stepping back.

UPDATE: Wanted to link to this post of mine from 2008, written from the WAM (Women, Action and Media) conference in Massachusetts: Some Thoughts on Changing Attitudes towards Male Feminists. I see a major generational divide in terms of receptivity towards men in the feminist movement, and I’m old enough to have seen a significant shift towards “inclusionary” views of men in feminist spaces.

65 thoughts on “Step Up and Step Back: more on the role of men in feminist spaces

  1. I believe we need men in the movement because part of the equalization of power involves men recognizing they’ve got too much. It gets tricky when men think they’re oppressed by patriarchy, too. In this case oppression just needs to be better explained to them and stressed as institutionalized discrimination based on GENDER (or race, ability, etc.) status. Too many men think the fact that they can’t cry in front of their coaches means the same thing as a woman dying every 15 seconds from intimate partner violence. They need to know that they’re working against sexism because it hurts women, more than half of the world’s population! When it’s stressed to them as some kind of movement to help men express themselves emotionally, it’s still about them and they’re never really realizing or understanding that the point is to put some effort into caring about others. Plus the stakes aren’t as high as they are when you bring life and death matters into question, anyone would lose interest in a movement about the freedom of crying, etc. Turning the other cheek to a huge problem like women frequently being brutally murdered by men is a lot different.

    What I usually say to men who claim to be oppressed (using the emotionally repressed claim as an example) is “you’re not prevented from anything by your status as a man. When you’re shamed for crying, you’re shamed because you’re acting like a woman. What’s devalued is still what’s associated with women.”

    I love male feminists, it’s awesome to see men take responsibility in areas that they can and point out inequalities in areas they can’t. My boyfriend is more informed than some of the women in feminist organizations I’ve been a part of, but that certainly doesn’t mean that men know better than women what sexism means. Individuals can process a concept like sexism. What they do with that information is up to them, period.

  2. I sympathize. But as a man who is committed to doing feminist work, I respectfully reject the commenter’s suggestion.

    How nice of you.

    Please explain a situation in which you think it would be appropriate for a man to have any kind of leadership role in a feminist organization. Because to be quite honest, women in feminist organizations should not be expected to have the time or the patience to weed through the hundreds and thousands of entitled men to get to the one who might, MIGHT, respect us and feminism enough to check his privilege. And even then, “one of the good ones” is bound to fuck up constantly. That’s how it goes when a privileged person takes it upon themself to be an “ally.”

    Remember that you are lucky to teach women’s studies and women’s history, because there is a woman out there who could do your job much better than you can. Women’s studies is not academia, or a job to her, it is her entire life. As invested as you might be in feminism, you will never live it like we do.

    I agree with your method of step up/step back, but that does not require being in women’s spaces often, if at all. You need to impart this wisdom on young men, us women are well aware of it and have been since birth.

    And being a man has little to do with biology, or having a penis. Genitals do not make a person.

  3. In defense of Schwyzer’s specific roles: if he was chosen for those roles by trustworthy processes, I’ve got no problem with that.

    But I’m a bit dubious about this sort of thing being the norm. Even setting aside the statistical certainty that predators are in the mix, I feel that there is plenty for male feminists to do aside from intrusive leadership roles in women’s space.

    There’s a specific kind of male neediness that yearns for reconciliation with those who have been oppressed. (I know this yearning personally.) Sometimes one’s self-respect gets tied up with gaining their favor. It’s not just hero fantasies–there’s a genuine idealism here, and I am ready to respect that part of it–just not at women’s expense. We need to learn how not to take up more than our fair share of psychic space; and we’re not usually the best judges of that fair share. Here’s the most complicated part: the more articulate and persuasive we are, the more effective we think we can be on behalf of women … and among them! Red flag.

  4. Frency, I respectfully disagree. I appreciate that you acknowledge that biology isn’t destiny. Since genitals don’t make a person, it is reasonable to assume that someone with a male biology and a male acculturation could overcome the sexist programming that is so much a part of our society. That doesn’t qualify him for special prizes. But it does mean that men can be allies in most (not all) facets of feminist work, including as women’s studies professors and activists.

    Johan, I’ve got to dig out my old post about that white knight syndrome and male neediness. I agree, too, that men can do a great deal of good work outside of women’s spaces. I have always believed that there ought to be some spaces for women only, and acknowledge that enthusiastically. But in organizations like NOW and Feminist Majority Campus, in groups like that cited by Amelia in her original Feministe post, men do have a role — as long as they both step up and step back.

    As far as I know, nothing untoward went into my hiring as a prof all those years ago! (As far as I know, I’ve been teaching women’s studies longer than any other tenured male professor in California.)

  5. I think you misunderstood me, I meant that having a penis or “male” biology does not make you a man. Your comments were cissexist.

  6. Agreed, plead guilty to cissexist language with that. Of course, trans identity further raises the obvious possibility of transformation, and argues against exclusionary policies based on gender (or biological) identity for any feminist group. (I feel almost as if we’re going to get into a discussion of the Michigan Womyn’s Festival in a moment!)

  7. Stepping back means acknowledging that in almost every instance, feminist organizations ought to be led by women. It means that men in feminist spaces need to check themselves before they pursue leadership roles. While that might seem unfair . . .

    It is not just unfair, it also contradicts the desire to “[build] a genuinely egalitarian . . . society.” What you suggest creates an imbalance that favors one gender over the other. It also unfairly guilts an entire gender, minimizes their feelings, denies the validity of their experiences, mocks their pain, and victim-blames them. That is not a very tenable position for an ally. Rather than support, feminist men are met with a catch-22: they must do feminist work or they are sexist, but if they speak too much (or at all) they are also sexist. There is no way to be successful as everything a man might do to ingratiate himself with feminists can be construed as sexist, especially if he voices his feelings or speaks about his own experiences. Even deference (which seems an odd thing to demand considering how terrible feminists consider it) does not necessarily prevent this.  Again, that is an untenable position.

    I am keenly aware that a great many women are deeply cynical about men who claim to be feminists. This mistrust is rooted in real experience.

    It is also a self-fulfilling prophecy. If one always assumes the worst of people, one will have little trouble proving that assumption correct. It takes effort and humility to step back, check your ego and defensiveness, and allow someone the opportunity to prove you wrong. It is unreasonable to tell someone that you will never trust them and then demand that the person try to earn your trust. It is also hypocritical to claim that you want a partner and colleague and then demand deferrence and subserviance. Perhaps the reason so many men fail in feminists’ eyes is because of  the impossible (and sexist) expectations those feminists place on men.

  8. I agree that the man in the original Feministe post came across as a bit of a jerk and very possibly not someone whose presence would be conducive to an effective feminist organization. (Whether someone is a “jerk” is of course a different question than whether they are a “feminist.”)

    But while I can understand why some women would be wary of the presence of men in feminist organizations — and I personally don’t have easy answers to those concerns — the gynocentric biases evident in the OP and in the early comments in this thread demonstrate very clearly to me how essential it is for men to participate in feminist groups … IF feminism is genuinely about egalitarianism and isn’t simply a ‘women’s advocacy movement.’

    Alicia Nichols demonstrates the problem right off the bat when she says:

    Too many men think the fact that they can’t cry in front of their coaches means the same thing as a woman dying every 15 seconds from intimate partner violence.

    Frankly, I’m skeptical. I challenge Alicia to provide citations where — in a discussion about women dying from domestic abuse — a male commenter responded by saying it was no more important than the fact that he couldn’t cry in front of his coach. She said “too many men” did this, so surely she’ll be able to provide a slew of citations where this occurred, right?

    I’ll be surprised if she provides even one.

    I suspect that in fact it’s just a rhetorical invention intended to portray the sexist oppression of men as petty — and those who complain about it as weak and ‘unmanly’ — while the oppression of women is a matter of life and death!!! In short, it embodies the chivalric sexism that lies at the heart of gynocentric feminism.

    But of course, sexism against men is also a matter of life and death, and one could easily flip Alicia’s rhetorical construction around to demonstrate this: Too many gynocentric feminists think that, for example, women being insufficiently encouraged in the hard science professions means the same thing as men in America being killed on the job at a rate eight times as high as women!

    Of course, I don’t have a citation for a gynocentric feminist actually explicitly claiming this equivalency. I’m merely pointing out that one can just as readily ‘rig the deck’ to make the case for anti-male sexism among female gender advocates as Alicia did to make the case for anti-female sexism among male gender advocates.

    The fact is, sexism can be deadly for both genders. The sexist oppression of each gender is different and can’t be reduced to some single score whereby one can readily conclude that it’s worse for one gender than it is for the other. There will be a great variation within each gender of individual sensitivity to the way socially-imposed sex roles impinge on them. A genuinely egalitarian gender movement has to have room for men to challenge the sexist expectations that society — both men AND women — place on them.

    That’s not going to happen in an organization built on chivalric sexist assumptions. Just as women striving to be leaders need to be respected, men who express vulnerability also need to be respected. Men’s struggle against the way they are oppressed by sexism is very real, and men engaged in that struggle deserve to be heard just as much as women.

  9. Ballgame and Toysoldier, do remember that my blog comment section exists for intra-feminist discussion. Please understand that this is open to feminists and feminist allies to have a discussion among feminists, not a discussion with those hostile to or suspicious of contemporary American feminism. You’ve been commenting here on and off for a long time, please respect that.

    Topic at hand; from a feminist perspective, discuss the role of men in the feminist movement.

  10. Hugo, I respect your right to run your blog the way you see fit, and if you don’t want me to post any more comments on this thread, just let me know.

    However, I reject the notion that I’m “not a feminist.” I’m an adamant supporter of gender egalitarianism, women’s right to choose, gay rights (including marriage), and equal pay for equal work. My criticism does indeed come from an (egalitarian) feminist perspective. I’m no more “not a feminist” than Ned Lamont or single payer advocates were “not Democrats” because they criticized establishment Democratic positions.

    I suspect you wish to confine the dialog to gynocentric feminists, which of course is your right but which to me illustrates the very problem you’re supposedly trying to address.

  11. Many, if not most, men need to do substantial personal growth work with other men before they can be consistent allies of Feminist Women. Where Men sincerely want to “help Women” there is certainly plenty of Fertile Ground to work with Men – such as in various violence related issues such as rape, domestic violence, stalking, etc.

    When we (a group of men mostly with a strong Feminist grounding [we thought]) started meeting regularly building what became Men Stopping Rape, Inc. in Madison, Wisconsin in 1983 we built a seeming closeness as a Group. We invited two women from the local Rape Crisis Center to meet with us. They showed us a disturbing short video and gave us time to talk amongst ourselves in private. One of them then asked a question like: “What did you think of the video?” – and within a few minutes we were a mess – our unity was gone – the simple presence of the Women – who we respected – taught us that we needed to work With Men (alone) then. Later on, we developed respect amongst Feminist Women’s Groups and did workshops with them for mixed gender audiences.

    Being Allies – is important. To be an Ally oft times we – the members of the “oppressor class”, need to earn respect in such areas.

    It is similarly Not a coincidence that in the 1960′s when Blacks Told Whites – that they needed to Work to end Racism and Oppression amongst Whites (not: “helping the Poor Black People”) that many of the subsequent failures and some of the reactionary backlash related to the failures of Whites to do the necessary work.

    The persistence of Racism we face today relates strongly to the failures of White People to “do the work”. Similarly, the failures of Gender Equality today relate to the failures of Men to do the Work (amongst Men).

    Certainly individual Women as well as individual People of Color do “bad things”. That, however, does not take away from the responsibilities that we as Men have today. Spending most of one’s quality time amongst Women, and feeling little or No responsibility to confront Men (and work with Men and Boys) may feel “much better” to individual Men. It doesn’t, however, help end Sexism and most commonly is Not “the best” path we as men can take if we really care about the issues. We should support Women, yes! We should be their allies, yes! We’ve got a long way to go though!

  12. I think it’s important to differentiate different kinds of feminist spaces here. A women’s studies class is a feminist environment where we would expect to have men and women interacting together, and where we might even have men as instructors.

    An anti-violence campus group could include both men and women, but might create separate spaces for the discussion of certain issues. I have no problem with saying that some spaces should remain for women only; in the workshops I’ve done over the years, I’ve generally facilitated at least some male-only discussions.

    Sometimes the best and most effective feminist/anti-sexist groups work with three interlocking circles: there are two spaces for all-male and all-female discussion (with sensitivity to transfolk), and one “plenary” space in which men and women come together. It’s how feminist men work in that third space that is of particular concern.

  13. Thanks for this post. It is certainly food for thought. I have to say that I see the validness of your opinion and the opinion of ballgame.

  14. This is a great analysis of the potential for men in feminism. I have long been trying to articulate my thoughts on this subject, especially since recognising the occasional hostility that is directed at my (very feminist) boyfriend in feminist spaces. I found it incredibly hurtful and counter-productive, and my boyfriend was just distraught. It has ruined what ought to be empowering, inspiring experiences.

    The interest, understanding and passion of all genders is necessary if we are to work against a sexist world. Of course men in feminst spaces are viewed with suspicion and sometimes hostility, but I think that your strategy is a really good way to overcome that prejudice and allow us to work together, which in turn will stop us scuppering our agenda by excluding people who can help.

    Thanks Hugo.

  15. Pingback: Discussion Ground Rules: Making Your Group Space a Safe Space | Change Happens: The SAFER Blog

  16. A penis absolutely makes you male, and being male is equivilent with being a man. Extraordinarily basic biology.

  17. I don’t think that your genitalia should have anything to do with ones “place” within feminist spaces.

  18. Hopefull, self-identification doesn’t have anything to do with genitalia.

    Re the issue, keeping the power in any group from being concentrated into a couple of people’s hands tends to solve “oh my god, we have a jerk in charge”.

  19. Sorry, Hugo. You left out the third part of your formula:

    3) Step on…

    … other men. Figuratively speaking, of course.

    In my view, the road to credibility in feminist spaces is determined and persistent cynicism about men. As a feminist ally, your role is to buttress women’s suspicion of men, to celebrate their anger, and to remain silent should anger metastasize into acts of injustice towards men. Feminists need no spurs to cynicism or anger towards men – but the continued presence of feminist men provides gratifying support. More importantly the presence of some men offers reassurance that no matter how much anger they feel, it can’t be motivated by hatred towards men because . . . well, after all, there are men among us.

    I might also add a 4th element to the formula:
    4) Step out

    Sometimes, self respect and personal integrity demand that we step out of an organization that is acting contrary to some principle we hold dear. Or that it is acting unwisely, or counterproductively. You never mention this as a possibility even to be considered. Apparently, it never crosses your mind that you might participate in some feminist group or cause only to discover that that group was promoting something wrong, or it was causing harm. It seems that in your mind the “feminist” label serves as an imprimatur, absolving the group of common human frailties and temptations, and that stepping up to a feminist cause, stepping back (and stepping on) is always seen as a one-way act of final redemption.

    So, is it legitimate for a feminist man to stand up for, and defend a man in a feminist space? Can a feminist man abandon a feminist group and still be a feminist?

  20. I accidentally deleted this comment from my moderation queue, having not meant to do so. This was made by a reader named Hobbes, and is not my comment but his or hers:

    Hobbes wrote:

    This whole argument so dumb.

    I would hope that, when joining any kind of group activity, one does not attempt to dominate the discussion or silence others. This is rude and unproductive, regardless of gender. Men, as a whole, are more inclined to such behavior, but it’s not a strictly gendered issue. I think some of the early commentators have a distorted view of men in feminist spaces, perhaps soured by a few bad apples.

    Stepping back means acknowledging that in almost every instance, feminist organizations ought to be led by women. It means that men in feminist spaces need to check themselves before they pursue leadership roles. While that might seem unfair . .

    I would agree. I don’t understand where Toysoldier is coming from, because he seems to forget the fact that the movement is about female empowerment. Yes, it involves masculinity, but- let’s be honest- primarily to the extent that it relates to femininity. There are exceptions, of course- Hugo writes about men often- but the feminist movement is about women and women’s rights. It assumes that women are disadvantaged in relation to men, and works from there. If Hugo had said that men should *always* step back and allow women the spotlight, obviously I would disagree. But he didn’t. This particular movement concerns itself with the advancement and leadership of women. Therefore, as a man, I am going to step back in this sphere. This doesn’t mean, for example, that I’m going to be granting female executives precedence at a board meeting. I mean, I don’t think that it would be appropriate to see a white head of the NAACP, no matter how devoted he or she may be to civil rights. Let’s go further- I wouldn’t want to see a woman in charge of father’s groups. Why? It’s not about her.

    There’s nothing wrong with women-only spaces, or, for that matter, men-only spaces- although of course one generally cannot expect such spaces to be publicly funded, and with good reason. However, though I realize there are many different definitions for the feminist movement, it is widely accepted as a critique of both gender norms and women’s places *in relation to men’s*. This is very different from a “women’s advocacy space”, because both of those mainstream concepts necessarily include men, albeit not as central players. It is, thus, illogical to shut men completely out of feminist spaces, because to accomplish feminist goals one must educate and embrace men as well. Perhaps not as leaders, but precious few women can say that they are major figureheads in the movement either. That’s a full-time job. But men must be accepted at the ground level or you cannot expect to make progress.

  21. Unrelated, but I took issue with this statement:

    What I usually say to men who claim to be oppressed (using the emotionally repressed claim as an example) is “you’re not prevented from anything by your status as a man. When you’re shamed for crying, you’re shamed because you’re acting like a woman. What’s devalued is still what’s associated with women.”

    This is Oppression Olympics, and a waste of everybody’s time. These men are prevented from expressing emotion solely because they are men- making your first sentence blatantly incorrect. This can be very damaging, and that is oppression- it does not matter what the “reasoning” is behind it, though I disagree with that as well…

    For example, what about women who are shamed for acting unladylike? By your logic, this ought to be celebrated, as they are embracing the supposedly superior male behavior. But it’s not- it is because society is devaluing men? No- it’s because society imposes strict gender roles on both men and women, roles that cannot be broken without consequences.

  22. Hugh I’m not a feminist by any stretch so I’ll understand if you edit, delete, or otherwise limit this comment but I have to say something.

    Alicia:
    I believe we need men in the movement because part of the equalization of power involves men recognizing they’ve got too much.
    There’s more too it the the gender imbalances than the advantage that men have over women. Acting like the only gender imbalances that exist are ones that favor men over women is not going to helpi in the long run.

    It gets tricky when men think they’re oppressed by patriarchy, too.
    “Think they’re oppressed”? This seems to be an attempt to make light of the things that happen to men for the sake of making the things that happen to women look worse. I’m not denying the things that happen to women but there is no need to act like the life of a man is all sunshine and rainbows.

    She may not mean to but Alica seems to be trying to setup a who has it worse scenario and stacking the deck by comparing men’s emotions to violence against women (and I’m curious as to why she didn’t compare men’s emotions to women’s emotions because there is no question that both men and women have a narrow range of “acceptable” emotions).

    What I usually say to men who claim to be oppressed (using the emotionally repressed claim as an example) is “you’re not prevented from anything by your status as a man.
    Really? Men who are policed to think that only rage and lust are acceptable are not being prevented from anything?

    When you’re shamed for crying, you’re shamed because you’re acting like a woman. What’s devalued is still what’s associated with women.”
    I think there is more to it than that. From my own personal experience on not being allowed to cry it looks to me that even if crying were not associated with being a woman it would still be considered a sign of weakness and therefore “unmanly” (I gather this from being called “baby”, “child”, “weakly”, but very rarely if ever being called “woman/girl” for being perceived as weak). That’s not to say that the association between women and crying does not exist. I’m just saying that that is not the start, middle, and end of the problem.

    Hugo since you have been working with feminists for a while I have a question for you.

    How are you able to reconcile your efforts to work with women feminists despite there being those among them who speak on the lives of men as if they know them better than actual men?

  23. Danny, feminists don’t act like the life of men is “sunshine and rainbows”. Sexism is not a zero-sum game, and being part of the privileged group is no recipe for happiness.

    And Danny, we live in a world where men are encouraged to shut off their emotions, and women encouraged to take care of men — little wonder that in some instances, some women do know men better than they know themselves. That has nothing to do with biology and everything to do with socialization.

    Folks, how many ways can I say this? This is a feminist blog written primarily for discussion among feminists, not Feminism 101. That’s where to go for questions about what feminism is and isn’t..

  24. Well, Hugo, as I’ve said before I am a great admirer of your writing but it seems strange to say women are encouraged to take care of men. I generally think that it is men who are expected to provide for women, and that lack of independence is one of the main concepts that the feminist movement seeks to deconstruct. Not that I would encourage either type of mentality, of course.

  25. Bren, taking care of has many meanings: financial, physical, and emotional. I refer primarily to the latter here; we live in a culture where men outsource their emotional care to women. (And physical care too. How many wives and daughters and sisters and girlfriends have to nag the men in their lives to see a doctor?)

    See this post: http://hugoschwyzer.net/2009/04/07/my-wife-is-my-best-friend-the-guy-code-and-the-inability-to-get-naked-without-getting-naked/

  26. I’m focusing entirely on the subject of women being men’s emotional carer (which is exactly what I am for my husband as he suffers depression and ptsd and does rely on me a fair bit at times).

    I know women suffer depression at a far greater rate than men, and that really does need to be addressed, but men commit suicide at an astounding rate in Australia (where I’m from). From the latest stats (http://abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/mf/3309.0/), 80% of all suicides in my country are males.

    If women are meant to be looking after men emotionally, they’re failing MISERABLY. And frankly, most of the feminist sites I see aren’t encouraging men to be emotionally open (which would help their suicide rate), because, as you put it, they’re “privileged”.

  27. No offense to Danny but he comes off as a little whiny, but let me explain.
    Women have always been policed by women and men to stay in their role, but only recently did men get policed by women to change their role and men to stay in their role (the feminist movement was the start of this). When you look at it in this light it’s obvious to see that men are defending their privilege (their privilege to only be questioned by men). Men are finally feeling the pressure that women have felt for centuries and amazingly enough they are reacting the same way women did when we started the feminist movement…The anger of some men is misdirected at feminists because they(feminists) are speaking up against women’s roles, and therefore threatening men’s roles by adding the pressure that women have ALWAYS felt. So excuse me if I’m missing some sympathy for men who don’t want to separate from the roles SOCIETY is enforcing, the same thing that feminism wants, yet men fight so vehemently against.

  28. If women are meant to be looking after men emotionally, they’re failing MISERABLY. And frankly, most of the feminist sites I see aren’t encouraging men to be emotionally open (which would help their suicide rate), because, as you put it, they’re “privileged”.

    Ultimately, Sonja, men need to liberate themselves. It isn’t women’s job to fix them (it isn’t any adult’s job to fix another). I found emotional openness by doing feminist work, it’s true — but that wasn’t the primary purpose of feminism. Feminism, by the way, is not a panacea for every personal ill — it is a political and social movement that empowers people, particularly those who are oppressed because of their sex, to take a leadership role in their own lives, to take sovereignty over their bodies and their destiny, to advocate for the genuinely vulnerable. It is up to men to decide whether or not they wish to embrace this. Feminists aren’t sitting around, waiting and hoping men will decide to join the movement and improve themselves!

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  30. Very well said Hugo…”It isn’t women’s job to fix them (it isn’t any adult’s job to fix another” was the general idea I felt as I was writing my post, but was also trying to put things into perspective, perhaps I failed in that aspect.

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  32. Danny, if my assumptions of your intentions are wrong it’s ok to tell me, I won’t jump down your throat just because you’re a man, the only reason I said anything was because it sounded similar to MRA arguments, it was to engage discussion though I may have done that poorly and I’m sorry.

  33. kristina:
    Women have always been policed by women and men to stay in their role, but only recently did men get policed by women to change their role and men to stay in their role (the feminist movement was the start of this).
    Actually the policing of men to stay in their roles is coming from men and women (no need to act its only coming from men).

    So excuse me if I’m missing some sympathy for men who don’t want to separate from the roles SOCIETY is enforcing, the same thing that feminism wants, yet men fight so vehemently against.
    By all means don’t show sympathy for the ones who don’t want to separate from those roles. I’m just tired of being treated like I want to keep those roles just because I’m a man and am therefore assumed to be benefitting from them. And oddly some of that assumption is coming some feminists as well as some nonfeminists and antifeminists.

    Not to sound mean but your comment comes off sounding like since women spoke up first men deserve what they get (in all seriousness I’m sure you don’t mean that but that’s what it sounds like).

    Danny, if my assumptions of your intentions are wrong it’s ok to tell me, I won’t jump down your throat just because you’re a man, the only reason I said anything was because it sounded similar to MRA arguments, it was to engage discussion though I may have done that poorly and I’m sorry.
    Cool.

    I’d be interested in going further with this but that would throw Hugo’s vibe off here even more (in fact the only reason I’m commenting now is because you responded to me). If you’re up to it drop a line at my own blog (not trying to self promote but let Hugo get back on track here).

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  36. Alicia: My problem is that I see a world more than shame over “acting like a girl”. And feminism just doesn’t seem to see men’s harm from sexism until it involves women. By definition. You mention death by violence. A very specific male on female violence. There are many books of things to be said but look at the all the ways men die too. War. Suicide. Violence by men on men. Is the war machine manufacturing boys into soldiers irrelevant? The net result of what you say is “Women matter more. Our experience of life is more important.” I see arguments over and over like this. It’s pointless! Men and women BOTH MATTER. It’s a dialog. We DON’T “get it” about each others socialization in patriarchy. Or, it’s very hard.

    Part of the problem is that men haven’t examined their experience like women have in feminism. We’re completely on the defensive. Masculinity is a set of very rigid psychological defenses. The books aren’t yet written and the movement is non-existant.

    I’m pro-feminist but I long for a recognition and examination of male experience. Feminism sometimes has a place for that and sometimes is hostile to it. Like you put it. Sadly, I think feminist goals will only improve when men DO examine their socialization. For example, in short, we need to stop creating rapists to stop rape and quit focusing on victim blaming and healing as the right response. Men need to do that work. Angry attacks are understandable but don’t help men do that work.

    I have a lot of contact with male victims of sexual abuse (child and adult). In short, the rape crisis centers here make a show of serving men because their funding requires it. But in fact, they do not serve any men. By choice. (A bunch of us did a lot of experiments with them to verify it clearly). Feminists are concerned only about women who are raped. Not men. They tend to pretend they don’t exist. To me, what could be more sexist? I don’t think then, that feminism is creating equality. It’s lifting up women. That is sorely needed. But men have their issues and feminism isn’t helping even male rape victims.

  37. Kristina: “No offense to Danny but he comes off as a little whiny”… This simply a discounting put-down! Whiny? As in “real men don’t complain? Big boys don’t cry” or something? Jeez.

    I think Danny put it very well. He’s trying to say we have our experience too and what happened? In short, “Your experience isn’t important here, ours is.” Before he even could articulate it. This is my complaint. There’s no dialog. Men need to talk about this and feminism shuts that down too often.

    This is a great discussion though. We men DO need to talk about our stuff. Yes, women take care of men emotionally but who helps us learn to do that!? It’s not a simple thing but a big part of child development.

    Danny! Where’s your blog??? You’re right on the mark!

  38. No Allan…that is not what I meant… big boys can cry all they want I have no problem with it, but when they don’t move to solve their own problems it comes across as a victim mentality. I can’t “help” any man as hard as I try…it’s up to them. It’s not my fault that they don’t want or can’t see their problems within their roles in society…the most women can do is point out how gender roles are affecting ALL of us, and most men don’t want to hear it, or change it… Get it???

  39. I don’t really approve of all the antifeminists that infect Hugo’s blog, but people like “AileenWuornos” (you’ve just ensured that no one will take you seriously) are even worse. Though I don’t agree with Danny or Allan, they haven’t talked down to anyone here, they’ve simply been disagreeing. Maybe it’s not an appropriate place for that, but you seem far more prejudiced than they are. You’re simply whipping out this idiotic “mansplaining” accusation to shut them down without actually engaging them. Pathetic.

  40. As for pretending male rape victims don’t exist…why do you think it’s hard for people to believe men are raped (not that it’s right, or an excuse)? Do you think it’s the media enforcing that men are insatiable sex beasts that are ready to do it at any time? Who would you say is in charge of what gets on tv? Who would be able to change the awareness of the myth of male sexuality? Would feminists who are perpetuated as man hating dykes be able to say, hey men aren’t sexual beasts they can survive without sex, just like a “frigid” woman can? Don’t you think we as feminists have been saying already..”hey guys CAN stop rape because they aren’t sexual beasts, and rape isn’t even about sex”? or that when speaking out about the harms of pornography and that it perpetuates a MYTH that men are always wanting to go at it, and women are always ready? Does anybody read between the lines or do you need to be fed it?

  41. ”hey guys CAN stop rape because they aren’t sexual beasts

    This rhetoric relies on the simple principle saying that those who do X can stop X by choosing not to do X. It is a sound principle, but this rhetoric abuses it with the sleight-of-hand substitution of “the whole birth group to which the majority of those who do X belong” in place of just “those who do X”. If X is rape, then “those who do X” are RAPISTS, not GROUP “MEN”. The can-stop principle applied to rape should therefore be formulated as “rapists can stop rape”. The problem is that the second part then fails, because rapists obviously are sexual beasts.

    and rape isn’t even about sex”?

    That’s #1 on the list of harmful oversimplifications.

  42. Waxley, I should hope you’re not including me in this anti feminist list…I try to engage and sometimes my frustration gets the best of me, I apologize when I can, and am always open to a discussion no matter how abrasive I come across…I enjoy being told I’m wrong, because if I am I WANT to hear it simply because I know everyone has their views and I have sympathy for men I think are “lost”…however I can lead a horse to water, but I can’t make him drink rings very true to me. I think the problem stems when people become defensive, like Aileen and Danny…sometimes the thing we NEED to hear isn’t what we WANT to hear, that’s why good argument structure and logic are necessary.

  43. OMG…I’m not saying every man rapes… Let me spell it out for you…if you speak out against the stereotype that men are NOT insatiable sex addicts, then rapists can not hide behind the dangerous rhetoric you think I’m talking about…if men and women didn’t rely on the stereotype that men are insatiable when it comes to sex the probability of using a consent defense are null for both parties men who rape and women who rape… get it???

  44. I meant the stereotype that men ARE insatiable sex addicts… gosh darn…see Freudian slip… I KNOW men aren’t insatiable sex addicts…

  45. Ah, ok. Kristina, you are so right here. I do get it. Very few men are talking about themselves, about what feminists are saying and what’s going on of interest to creating a more egalitarian society. Bugs me lots and I really wonder why (what the fear is about, beyond just “defending privledge”). Men are very afraid to be intimate with each other. I assumed Danny has a lot to say about roughly domains that women are assigned power in and men are denied.

    Thinking about this discussion today, I know what nerve this hit and I think it’s one men could relate to. Invalidation. Boys and men are raised and live with a lot of “don’t feel” messages. It’s really a form of emotional abuse that’s pretty damaging when you hear that from age 5 onward, from basically everyone around you. I get very angry with that now and that’s what I heard in “shamed for crying, you’re shamed because you’re acting like a woman. What’s devalued is still what’s associated with women.” I basically agree here, but to heal this shame I need to have my feelings validated and accepted. It’s not an intellectual thing. You may not want to be the one to do that, but you may not deny me it. In short, my experience matters just as much as yours in an egalitarian society.

    I think we agree on lots. I just don’t know where to talk about feminism AND my experiences with being male. I’m really not feeling welcome here, and I gather, won’t in any “feminist spaces”. The MRA’s are just very angry and blaming. They don’t want to really look at what’s going on in detail. Don’t get that. I hope that’s a stage they are going through, and for example, what could pro-feminist men say to them that might be helpful? Not a woman’s issue. There’s a lot men could be talking about and doing that’s about men, but supportive of feminism. Being good role models and important, close adults to boys for example.

    I hear the “my oppression is worse than yours” argument constantly and I don’t get this. The sexism is so deep in our society than each sex’s life experiences are sometimes kind of unknowable to the other. I hear women say this a lot. “As invested as you might be in feminism, you will never live it like we do.” If so, comparisons are impossible. Can’t we work together or do we have to fight out precision in relative oppression first? I’d clearly agree women are oppressed more in many, many ways so let’s stop it.

  46. YAY Allan!!! You really made me SOOOO happy right now!! I don’t mean to play who has it worse here, but sometimes even I don’t feel welcome in some feminist spaces, because I praise a man who gets it (at least as far as an extent that they can get it)…Some feminists believe that it’s something a man should be doing anyway, but I think they forget you’re a product of society as much as anyone else. I’m sorry that you don’t feel welcome here, or much of anywhere, there are some times I feel the same way. I honestly try to see things from both sides, and I understand it’s hard for either party to do. I wish there was some way I could validate your feelings, but honestly I’m not sure which feelings you’re talking about or if someone else really CAN validate another human’s feelings.
    As a woman I have had my feelings invalidated too… my feelings that I have of inadequate appearances like am I too fat, too ugly, too aggressive, etc. it’s hard to tell myself otherwise and harder to take another person’s word I’m not those things. I guess what I’m saying is that you have to not care…not care what anyone else thinks and work on you…by yourself… I think that is the main issue in the world today, nobody is happy with themselves, and they seek out approval but never find it because it’s not validation they seek, it’s happiness within themselves, and while people can lead you to that path they can’t walk down it with you.

  47. Well, Allan, FWIW your perspective would be welcome at Feminist Critics, at least by the bloggers. (Our commentariat tends to tilt a bit more MRAish than we bloggers.)

    I agree completely with your observations about how male expression of emotional vulnerability is systematically repressed. It’s one of the key ways men are dehumanized. (Sadly, I think Hugo’s “myth of male weakness” meme tends to reinforce this dehumanization instead of challenging it.) I categorically disagree with kristina’s view that, in effect, ‘nothing can be done.’ There are many ways men and women can challenge this dynamic. One of the most important is to respect men’s expressions of vulnerability, and to see men first and foremost as human beings as not as members of ‘the oppressor class.’

  48. YAY Kristina! LOL. That gives me a great big smile!

    Validation is easy. It just means you see and accept how someone feels. It’s not praise or approval. It’s a calm, “I see you’re angry with me about X.” As opposed to Stop being so angry. Don’t get angry about it. You get angry over nothing. You should be happy I told you the truth. I’m sick of your anger. And my favorite, Just get over it. It’s the invalidating messages you’ve heard 10,000 times that are interesting, not the occational ones. I’m sure you’ve gotten a lot of them as a woman. What a drag that must be.

    You’re so right about walking the path ourselves. That’s wise. It’s what we do to ourselves that is so powerful. Seeking outside approval and blame is such a trap. You’re declaring you have no power over yourself, when in fact, there’s a great deal we can do to examine, work with and change our beliefs and attitudes and change how we experience the world. It does take some work though.
    :-)

  49. Ballgame,

    Thank you for the pointer to Feminist Critics. I’ll look much more, but quickly reading a few posts, what I’m not particularly interested in is:

    Point by point, feminist said this but men that… like, “Patriarchy loves to mutilate women’s bodies” but for men it’s circumcism. Pumps are unheathy? But men take dangerous jobs… Maybe you’re both right….

    Let women express their own views, even about men, just try to understand. Don’t just react to feminists. I agree that “If lots of women say it’s important, it’s important.” Where I want to go is, what’s important to us as men? What about circumcism? Why do men take dangerous jobs? How do we learn all that? How we relate to our bodies. There’s a lot of depth to some of these kinds of questions.

    How men are dehumanized. Good topic. It’s relation to war, dehumanizing others, dehumanizing women, is it internalized to allow for high risk taking? Like the dangerous jobs, etc.

    Where, how did kristina say in effect ‘nothing can be done’?

    So, ok, let’s look at ourselves as human beings and forget the oppressor class for a while. Think outside the feminist box?

    Ok, this is OT. I won’t comment more here, sorry.

  50. kristina:
    I think the problem stems when people become defensive, like Aileen and Danny…sometimes the thing we NEED to hear isn’t what we WANT to hear, that’s why good argument structure and logic are necessary.
    So even though you opened with calling me whiny I’m the one that’s getting defensive?

    …but when they don’t move to solve their own problems it comes across as a victim mentality.
    That’s the thing. There are men who moving to solve their own problems (or at least talk about them when is the crucial first step in solving them). The problem is unless those men do it in a certain (feminist approved) way they are written off as “whining”, “defending the patriarchy”, “playing oppression olympics”, and the new favorite “mansplaning”.

    Allan:
    So, ok, let’s look at ourselves as human beings and forget the oppressor class for a while. Think outside the feminist box?
    After my time trying to find a place in feminist spaces (and learning the hard way I’m pretty much not welcome) I think going outside the feminist box is the best thing for me at least for now. One thing I’ve seen time and time again are feminists (what a mixed bag they are) who see man/male and instantly think “privileged oppressor” and beyond that go right to thinking they already know what they’re going to say and if they say something that they don’t approve of just write him off. Well I’ve been written off enough that I just said fuck it and setup my own shop (Allan you can click the name to get to it).

  51. I believe I understand what you’re saying, Allan, and I agree that we don’t do enough ‘non-oppositional gender analysis’ at FC … which is one reason why I would value more people with your perspective participating.

  52. This is rough but I want to post it and not spend another few hours on it!
    To try to get back to Men in feminism, something important happened here and I would call it validating feelings and experience. Isn’t that an important thing for men in feminism? You have to “get it”. Demonstrate to a fairly intimate degree of understanding and emotional identification (that will be the stretch) with key areas of women’s experience. It takes some emotional, psychological work by men to do that.
    The problem is men have poor skills in this area and a lot of very strong psychological defenses to it. And few people acknowledge that this is often HUGE. As in years of therapy huge. As in psychological trauma of emotional invalidation and repression. Complex PTSD. Read Section 1.2 of “Men and Healing” at http://themensproject.ca/files/uploads/stfnetw_tmp2-files/menandhealingfinal.pdf. This is about male socialization in the context of healing from child sexual abuse, but it’s great for explaining how seriously male socialization harms boys. If you don’t think all this “big boys don’t cry” stuff is, google “borderline personality disorder and invalidation”. Read Trauma and Recovery (by the feminist) Judith Herman. And women are highly skilled and even forced into this area. They can’t imagine otherwise. So there is a huge divide. Men are kind of like children here. I get the “Must we do everything for them?” But my god, don’t respond to a traumatized person with ridicule and victim blaming. Can’t feminists get victim blaming? Shame and silencing is very powerful—big issue. Also see: “A New Psychology of Men”, 1995. But here’s a quote from Men and Healing:
    Indeed, both the traditional male code and female code are now being seen as
    oppressive and damaging, and they are increasingly being linked to traumatic
    processes. For example, Howell (2002) suggests that in a society pervaded by
    childhood abuse and neglect, the traumatic effects of these experiences are
    commonly channeled along gender lines, so that these effects appear as normal
    features of masculinity or femininity rather than as signs of trauma.
    Stereotypical male aggressiveness and emotional disconnection, for example,
    can be seen in this light. Wheeler and Jones (1996) suggest, further, that
    gender is a “codification or vehicle for shame in our culture,” in that
    internalized shame acts to inhibit each gender from accepting certain modes of
    experience and behaviour for males and females, which in turn maintains
    unhealthy social patterns and power relationships.
    Also, men can’t open up to other men. That whole thing. There’s the trauma of separation from their mother. The disconnection from others. Read “Men’s Psychological development: A relational perspective”by Stephen Bergman in “A New Psychology of Men”. He details how boys at age three are separated from others, from relationship with others to focus on themselves, their accomplishments in constant COMPARISON to others. In short, we can connect to others easily. Especially! Other men!
    But we’re still not talking about men. I’m just getting at why we aren’t talking and some of why that is. The “If you push back, you’re “anti-feminist”, MRA” machine of feminism doesn’t help that. What feminists could do to help is what Kristina did. She didn’t continue to invalidate my feelings and can create a little space for me with:
    I think they forget you’re a product of society as much as anyone else. I’m sorry that you don’t feel welcome here, or much of anywhere, there are some times I feel the same way. I honestly try to see things from both sides, and I understand it’s hard for either party to do.

    Thanks Kristina!

  53. Danny…my calling you whiny was less defensive than it was an offensive attack…one I am truly sorry for. I can’t say that my thinking or my emotions are of a solid decision (meaning they can change) my actual argument was something we seem to be in agreement with, but I shot myself in the foot with something that shouldn’t have been said…I guess you could say I was femsplaining…my intention however was not to silence or dismiss you, I was merely pointing out in a wrong way I might add that men can’t rely on the approval of feminists, just like feminists who are women can’t rely on the approval of males pro-feminist or otherwise. I am just as human as you and unfortunately it sometimes means I am going to stick my huge foot in my tiny mouth (I’m not excusing my behavior…I am very ashamed of it, but it was something I didn’t see until it was pointed out to me, because after all I AM human)Sometimes I feel like the anger from men is because they secretly put us on a pedestal expecting us to be better emotionally than they are, and it simply isn’t true…I wish I could fulfill that role if it would stop the madness…but I can’t, and I can’t pretend I do. I am not better, I am not woman…I’m human. I may not fall to some obvious “vices” that exist in society, but I am FAR from perfect and have an easy time admitting it (once it’s been pointed out). I have slowly been coming to a realization that what works for me in my life very well might not work in another person’s life, and no amount of “proof” I give to support my opinion will lead to a definitive answer, and to say otherwise is limiting choice…and that is what feminism is about isn’t it? I can talk about it, I can say how I do it, I can give warnings to a contradictory point of view, but to say “this is how you do it.” puts everyone at risk, more so than letting people find their own way… this is why I can not validate any man’s WAY of being a feminist, and I SHOULD not invalidate how a man is acting as a feminist…that in itself would be anti-feminist…I’m still feeling out the whole concept I just explained, and what problems may arise out of a seemingly fluid point of view, but is that so bad??? To admit that I just don’t know…to say let’s hold hands and figure it out together?

  54. Danny to Hugo: How are you able to reconcile your efforts to work with women feminists despite there being those among them who speak on the lives of men as if they know them better than actual men?

    Hugo : we live in a world where men are encouraged to shut off their emotions, and women encouraged to take care of men — little wonder that in some instances, some women do know men better than they know themselves. That has nothing to do with biology and everything to do with socialization.

    Folks, how many ways can I say this? This is a feminist blog written primarily for discussion among feminists, not Feminism 101. That’s where to go for questions about what feminism is and isn’t..

    This is telling. If it’s about the harmful socialization of men, why would women know more about it and men wouldn’t be able to know themselves? It’s because we as men are so emotionally deprived we don’t even know what happens to us emotionally. Complete denial from consciousness. That’s psychological trauma plane as day. And women know more about it because our mothers enforced that male socialization on us even more than our fathers (who are emotionally cut off from their sons as well as themselves).

    Hugo, you go on with the hammer of « you”re antifeminist or clueless » and should not be talking about it.

    I feel angry. Women do NOT speak for me. Just because men aren’t talking doesn’t mean their story doesn’t exist or isn’t valueable. It’s not feminisms job to do that (yet, women know better?) but is it feminisms goal to prevent men from talking??? I think this is the root of my discomfort with feminism. (which yet again, I want to say, I do not oppose!)

  55. Danny, I have the sense you have such important things you want to say. But it seems to me you’ve been silenced. I think your “shame button” has been hit by Kristina.

    I feel very compassionate toward you here. Shame, deep shame is a very, very difficult issue. By naming it, I fear I have made it unbearably worse. Further silencing you… That is so far from my intent. I am working a lot with my shame myself and I’ve found out this:

    First I have to make it conscious because it’s so painful I tend to make it unconscious. I have to actually go toward it, not away.

    I have to let it be and feel it. Almost sort of get comfortable with it. It does not kill me.

    Then, OMG! I have to talk to someone about it. That’s super hard. It makes it SO much worse. What was unbearable before, just became that much worse.

    That person has to accept me (not reject me!), express support. Again, I do not die.

    In time it gets easier and the shame weakens and starts to even go away.

    Good F***ing ridence!

    Do any of that speak to you?

  56. kristina:
    I was merely pointing out in a wrong way I might add that men can’t rely on the approval of feminists, just like feminists who are women can’t rely on the approval of males pro-feminist or otherwise.
    Oh I’ve learned that one. I think the problem with the validation system you speak of is that in a world where most of us (regardless of whatever title we operate or don’t operate under) are trying to find a way to get along there’s going to be people from all sides thinking that some people’s experiences simply do not matter. How can you tell someone that you want to get along with them while at the same time telling them that their experiences don’t matter?

    Sometimes I feel like the anger from men is because they secretly put us on a pedestal expecting us to be better emotionally than they are, and it simply isn’t true…I wish I could fulfill that role if it would stop the madness…but I can’t, and I can’t pretend I do
    I do think the pedestal thing you mention is a part of the problem. Getting past that has been interesting to say the least. What I find to be a bit of a challenge is coming across women who seem to like that pedestal (but that’s another story). And truthfully even if you did fulfill that role it wouldn’t stop the madness, it would only postpone it.

    Allan that’s (your last comment) pretty much on the money. In order to get rid of shame one must acknowledge it but acknowledging it gives it power. I think the trick is to overcome the power it gains from being acknowledged (I think this might be related to what Hugo is saying about how male feminists need to act in feminist spaces).

  57. I have to say I agree with Allan…it is not my experience as a woman that voicing my shame shames me further, but that doesn’t mean men who in society were raised differently than me, don’t. I can feel shame, but speaking out about that shame is somehow empowering to me, and perhaps that’s because I have feminist spaces…would it work in a space of men??? I can only imagine it working in a space with men who are truly in touch with THEIR feelings, so the added discomfort of mine won’t throw everyone in a tailspin, so I can see how men get defensive in feminist spaces, and how feminists can lack the sympathy that may help heal the defensiveness… in feminist circles it’s known as giving a man a cookie, something I do often in those very circles risking being ignored, or worse invalidated…I get thrown a cookie every time I get a new facet of feminism under my understanding…so why not men?

    Allan to say I hit Danny’s shame button and am preventing him from talking hurts… I know I did wrong and feel very shameful myself for doing it…but, here I am speaking against the fear I have that I may be hurting someone as much as I’m hurting just by opening my mouth again, a hurt that I caused, but I know the only way to free him of his hurt is to expose mine, one that I fully own up to creating, and even though it hurts it will not silence me because the silence is deafening.

  58. Kristina,

    Oh No ! ! Hurt and very shameful ? That’s distressing. I’m sorry. I really didn’t mean that at all talking about the shame button. . By which I mean, as I see it, you did nothing particularly wrong. You were expressing yourself freely and very openly (which I really enjoy !).

    Let’s see. There a lot going on here I’d say. I took your “whiny” wrong initially and reacted strongly. That’s all about me. You clarified it, and I actually then agreed completely. Hurray ! Danny’s (supposed) shame would be about him. There are some beliefs in him behind it. Not sure what. Shame can sort of be an invitation to examine our beliefs and perhaps change them. For example, you mentioned being aggressive. Sounds like there’s some belief there, and if I remarked to you, “Gee Kristina, you can be really aggressive!” You might feel shame. Not appropriate for girls ! sort of message. I might mean it’s great and complementary. Or you might hear it that way too. Without some strong belief in there, it’s kind of harmless. Like, (shaming with) “How can you wear jeans on the WEEKEND ! ! ! ? ? ?” No deep hidden belief there to cause shame I’d guess.

    It’s of course quite mean to intentionally try to activate shame from our socialization. But you we not doing that. The messages can be undone though. I feel no shame being called gay now. It took some work but I believe deep down that gay is fine. But I’m pretty vulnerable though to shame over vulnerable feelings : crying, feeling hurt, ashamed. It’s the shame over feeling ashamed that makes it hard to talk about I guess. So I guess believe deep down that men should never cry, feel hurt or be ashamed. Hmmm… now where did I get that BS from ? Gotta work on that.

    So, is there some message behind your shame ?

    I don’t understand “the only way to free him of his hurt is to expose mine”.

    “I can only imagine it working in a space with men who are truly in touch with THEIR feelings, so the added discomfort of mine won’t throw everyone in a tailspin,” That to me sounds like the way shame is contagious. Someones evident shame triggers others shame or fear of shame and some reaction from that.

    Sorry to write so much. Shame is very interesting to me. I really would like to hear men talk about shame in their lives.

  59. What I mean about the only way to free him of his shame is like this…
    If I stand stoic and void of emotion when I know I have provoked emotion in someone else, it leaves them vulnerable..I have gained the upper hand (though it’s not really an advantage…which is why I also said the silence is deafening)If you are pouring your heart out to someone and they only say “that’s nice”…how would you feel? or worse… that they say I don’t care or it’s your own fault…I don’t believe in exploiting someone’s emotions…I find it very anti-feminist…but this is something I’ve just realized by reading blogs where women fight women who disagree and say men just don’t belong…they feel empowered by it, and to me it just feels like they turned off their shame and are hiding behind their justifications much like Danny said… it’s like they have pre-recorded responses to men.

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