Ten Male Feminist Allies You Should Know

As a man who writes and teaches about gender, I’m often asked for examples of good male feminist allies. In no particular order, here are just ten — some well known, some not — of the many whose work I admire and recommend. Not all would call themselves feminists, but all have a tremendous and demonstrated track record of support for women’s equality — and an equally strong commitment to transforming men.

1. Michael Kimmel, the founder of masculinity studies in America, author of Guyland.

2. Jay Smooth, founder of New York’s longest running hip-hop radio show and a veteran “v-logger” who often focuses on gender issues and sexual violence.

3. Thomas Page McBee, Vice’s “masculinity expert” and author of the “self-made man” column at the Rumpus.

4. Michael Messner, USC sociology professor currently conducting (with his graduate students) a comprehensive study of male anti-violence activists from the 1970s to the present.

5. Michael Kaufman, veteran activist and author of Man Talk: What Every Guy Oughta/Gotta Know About Good Relationships, which is now available by request FOR FREE.

6. Jackson Katz, perhaps the nation’s leading male anti-violence activist. His Tough Guise video is a college staple, and his latest TedX talk “Violence and Silence” is deservedly viral.

7. Carlos Andrés Goméz, poet, actor, activist, performer and author of Man Up: Cracking the Code of Modern Manhood.

8. Allan Johnson, activist, speaker, and author of The Gender Knot: Unraveling our Patriarchal Legacy.

9. Ta-Nehisi Coates, senior Atlantic editor and columnist whose analysis of race, class, and yes, sexual politics is nonpareil.

10. Buck Angel, pornographer, transgender activist, inspirational speaker whose very body raises — and answers — questions about what it means to be a man.

Five Ways Guys Are Fighting Sexism in 2012

At Jezebel, my Genderal Interest column today: Thanks, Guys: Five Ways Men Are Fighting Sexism. Excerpt:

5. “The End of Violent, Simplistic, Macho Masculinity”

That’s what the Atlantic declared last month, citing Gomez as well as the growing success of Men Can Stop Rape, an organization that’s been around for decades but is now reaching an unprecedented degree of influence, hosting the inaugural “Healthy Masculinity Summit” in October in Washington DC. The tired old symbols of chauvinism endure, wrote Thomas Page McBee in the article, but ours is increasingly a culture where the most successful men are more likely to be geeks than alpha males: “the top dogs of both sexes and all genders just don’t look like the guys and gals of Mad Men, and no amount of fedoras will change that.” Citing the work of Michael Kimmel, the pre-eminent American sociologist of masculinity, McBee argues that at last, men have realized that the feminism that liberated women can help guys to “unlock the parts of themselves society kept from them.”

Two warnings to temper all this good news. First, the danger remains that Nice Guys –- predatory at worst, self-serving at best –- will co-op the rhetoric of the new masculinity as a sexual strategy. Few are as bad as the infamous Kyle Payne, an Iowa college student and anti-rape activist whose blog made him a well-known as a male ally — until his arrests on sexual assault and child pornography charges. White Knights and rescuers, eager for approval if nothing else, have always been a noticeable minority in male feminist community. The more “man cred” that the New Masculinity movement seems to carry, the greater the risk that Nice Guys looking for a new angle will cluster round.

On politics and friendship, men and feminism: two new columns

Two new pieces up today.

At Role-Reboot, I look at the question of when it’s okay to end a friendship over political disagreements. Excerpt:

It’s almost axiomatic that the lower one’s personal investment in the outcome, the easier it is to banter civilly with one’s political opponents. Growing up, my mother’s family was as ideologically diverse as possible—from card-carrying Communists to evangelical Christian conservatives. The one thing we shared, besides the ties of blood and marriage, was class privilege. As a child, I witnessed heated debates over Vietnam and tax policy at family parties; as a teen, I waded into intense arguments over funding the Contras and divesting from South Africa. Though the discussion was often impassioned, there were rules to how far we could go. “If you can’t speak kindly to each other after the argument is over,” my grandmother said, “you aren’t allowed to argue.” As she reminded us, family unity should always trump politics. My mother’s mother made it abundantly clear that it was very bad manners to allow a relative’s views on policy to impact one’s feelings for them.

My grandmother lived out what she preached. She and my grandfather had a mixed marriage on the atypical side of the gender gap. She was a Republican (from the moderate wing, to be sure); my grandfather was a progressive Democrat. They cancelled out each other’s vote in every presidential election from 1932 to 1968, always with good cheer. According to family lore, the closest they came to cross words came in 1948, when my grandfather’s delight at Truman’s surprise comeback defeat of Dewey briefly crossed the line from happiness to outright gloating. They each had their triumphs and their losses, and viewed their opposite political loyalties as being akin to rooting for rival baseball teams. Nothing, they believed—and taught their descendants to believe—was so serious about politics that it should serve to poison a relationship with a loved one. Growing up in a family that saw politics as a fascinating but ultimately inconsequential sport, I was sheltered from the obvious reality that the outcome of elections has life-changing implications for millions.

My second piece appears somewhere new: Australia’s Daily Life. It’s a personal piece about men and feminism; the editors chose the title Confessions of a Formerly Sexist Man. Excerpt:

I call myself a feminist because I see organised feminism as one of the great vehicles for both social justice and personal transformation. I am a feminist because I want to see a world in which both men and women are free to become complete people. Feminism helped me understand that testosterone and a Y chromosome didn’t destine me to be unreliable, predatory, and emotionally inarticulate – but that buying into sexist myths did.

Feminism is political. It is also much more than that: it’s about making whole people – just, kind, and complete. Based on my past, I know I am a most imperfect spokesperson for a woman-centered movement. But as much because of that past as in spite of it, I feel compelled to make the case that feminism, more than any other ideology, gives all of us the tools to match our language and our lives.

An interview with Michael and Zachary Kimmel

My column at Role/Reboot this week features an interview with the founder of masculinity studies, the wonderful activist and scholar Michael Kimmel – and with his 13 year-old son Zachary, who has just started blogging about gender justice. As a father of two with a four-month old son, I wanted to do what I’ve done many times in the past; turn to Michael for some wisdom.

Excerpt:

When Zach was born, Michael had the same experience I’ve had with the birth of each of my children. Friends and family, knowing our views and what we do for a living, repeatedly told us both that “now you’ll see that biology really is destiny.” Kimmel noted that people tend to presume expertise resting solely on their own experience, issuing sweeping generalizations about gender roles “based on a sample size of one or two.”

Though the Kimmels never foisted feminist activism onto their son, since hitting his teens, Zach has increasingly embraced gender justice as part of his calling. Though he admitted that a lot of his eighth-grade peers don’t really understand feminism, Zach said they do mostly understand the problems of sexualization and perfectionism he wrote about in his Spark Summit piece. Michael pointed out that Zach also lives out his feminism in a less obvious way. Since he first started school, he’s had friends of both sexes. Even now, well into puberty, Zach maintains close friendships with girls as well as boys. “It’s difficult to dehumanize or objectify someone you know and like,” Michael argues, a point with which his son vigorously agrees. By consciously pushing back against the socialized mystification of the opposite sex, Zach is bridging the artificial but rigid gender divide. “It’s a lot easier for me to be friends with girls than it is for most of my friends,” the younger Kimmel says, lamenting the unnecessary “drama” and “misunderstanding” that characterizes too many cross-sex friendships in his middle school.

When I asked about how things had changed for teen guys since Michael was his son’s age, the elder Kimmel brought up his son’s yearbook. In addition to several good female friends, Zach also has several wonderful male buddies. Last spring, one of the best of these signed Zach’s yearbook with an entirely un-ironic “I love you.” Michael and I laughed ruefully about how dangerous it would have been for any boy to have written that in another guy’s yearbook when we were 13; Zach averred that these displays of masculine devotion are “normal and accepted” in his school. As his father put it (echoing the recent excellent work of C.J. Pascoe), male homophobia has “disappeared so fast, it’s like it’s fallen off a cliff” within just the past decade.

Read the whole thing.

Why Men Need Feminism: Returning (briefly) to the Good Men Project

For the first time since December, I’m back at the Good Men Project to take part in a roundtable discussion about men and feminism. We’re all responding to this piece by the site’s founder, Tom Matlack: Why Being a Good Man is Not a Feminist Issue. My response: Men’s Goodness Hinges on Hearing Women’s Voices. Excerpt:

When I was first going to AA meetings in Los Angeles, I was asked to read A New Pair of Glasses, a powerful and personal commentary on the Twelve Steps by a legend in Southern California sobriety circles. The book was invaluable, and the title is instructive. Just as the tools of the program gave me a new outlook on my identity and behavior, feminism give me a radically different perspective on my masculinity. Only when I put on the “feminist glasses” could I see the ways in which my acculturation as a man had limited my potential.

Tom concludes his essay with his vision for the future of the Good Men Project. He wants it to be a space where “men can have their own stories of struggle for goodness that can be shared man-to-man in a way that changes the teller and the listener alike quite apart from what a woman or a feminist might say about that story.” It’s the updated equivalent of nailing a “No Gurlz Allowed” sign to the clubhouse door, with the grudging caveat that women are welcome as long as they affirm whatever “stories of struggle” that the male members happen to spin.

There’s an old saying in Twelve Step programs: “If you want what you’ve never had, you’ll have to do what you’ve never done.” Men have spent a long time privileging the voices of other men; there’s nothing novel about creating a space in which women’s perspectives are seen as an unwelcome distraction. If we want to be happier, if we want to be better, if we want to be different, then “us guys” need to do what we’ve never done well collectively: listen to women and include feminist perspectives in our most intimate and important conversations.

A Male Feminist Dilemma: When Your Wife Insists on Taking Your Last Name

My latest at Role/Reboot addresses that evergreen issue about marriage and last names. In our case, it was my wife who insisted on taking my surname after we were wed — presenting me with at least a momentary male feminist dilemma. Excerpt:

One of the unhappiest aspects of the last name debate is that most defenses of one’s own choices end up sounding like harsh judgments of other’s different decisions. Many of those who do defend the traditional practice of having a woman take her husband’s name suggest that to keep separate names indicates a lack of unity. That’s obviously unfair: Commitment has far more to do with devotion than nomenclature. At the same time, my wife regularly encounters pushback from women and men alike who are astonished at her decision to take my surname. Just last month, at a party, an acquaintance of ours gaped in astonishment upon learning that Eira was a Schwyzer too. “But you seem so independent,” she gasped. My beloved cocked her head to one side, took a deep breath, and firmly set the woman straight.

There’s a lot to criticize about a simplistic “I choose my choice!” feminism. Our choices are never made in a vacuum; rather, they are mediated by a host of complex—and frequently sexist—cultural influences. This is why we should always discuss options and explore alternatives. At the same time, however, we can’t fall victim to analysis paralysis. We can’t live out our inherently messy private lives in perfect political consistency.

Read the whole thing.

Talking Past, Present, and Future with the Feminist Theologian

Last week, I taped an interview with Gina Messina-Dysert, a professor at Loyola Marymount University who has just started the Feminist Theologian podcast series.  Gina also tweets at @femtheologian and serves as an editor for the wonderful Feminism and Religion blog.  As the controversy around my life and work grew over the past month, Gina invited me to participate in an extended discussion about what’s been going on.  When we shot the interview in Universal City last Tuesday I was whacked out on coffee and cold medicine and having a bad hair day, but Gina was very kind and we had a good time.

The approximately 30-minute interview is broken into four parts to accomodate YouTube’s limitations.

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Part two of my interview with Clarisse Thorn

Part Two of the interview that Clarisse Thorn did with me is up at Role/Reboot. Part One is here. In this second part, we talk consistent-life ethic feminism and what male feminists can do. It concludes:

The world is rightly suspicious of men. Not because we’re bad or defective, and not because we’re any less capable of compassion and love than women. It’s because we’ve hidden the fullness of our humanity behind the “tough guise” of the rules of manhood. We’ve got to live more open lives, more honest lives, less resentment-filled lives. And we’ve got to start pulling our own emotional weight.

I see more and more guys doing just that. It has me very excited.

I’m very grateful to Clarisse for such provocative and interesting questions.

Defending Sex Work, Celebrating Monogamy

In her most recent post in our series of exchanges, Meghan Murphy asked me to answer a number of questions. Some of those questions were inspired by a commenter at her place named “Pisaquari”, who wanted to challenge me on my views about pornography and sex work as they related to my own life. I had written:

I reject porn use personally because it is incompatible with how I want to live my sexual life. I want my sexuality to be radically relational, where my arousal is inextricably linked to intimacy and partnership. I also want my sexuality to be congruent with my feminism, and for me personally, that means rejecting porn.

Meghan asked me to clarify, sensing (as did Pisaquari, apparently) a disconnect between my private behavior and my public views. While there are plenty of men who condemn pornography and sex work in public and then indulge in one or both in private, it’s a bit rarer to take the opposite tack I’m taking: affirming sex work and the possibilities of feminist pornography while remaining “personally opposed.” (It sounds a lot like the famous position of Mario Cuomo on abortion, who said he couldn’t countenance abortion personally but was strongly supportive of abortion rights.)

Answering Questions

Meghan asked a number of questions; I’ll tackle the first four here.

1) Why is pornography use incompatible with your sex life? What are the specific lines of impasse between your sex life and using pornography?

I’m a big fan of monogamy. Mind you, I don’t think monogamy is morally superior to all other ways of arranging sexual relationship. As long as we’re talking about mutuality, enthusiastic consent, and radical honesty, I think that there are many equally valid ways of living out one’s sexuality with other people. I want my sexual energy to flow towards my wife and no one else, even in fantasy. Since looking at porn (and presumably masturbating to it) would involve fantasizing about other people, that’s not something I see as compatible with my vision of monogamy.

I’m not a naturally monogamous person. I don’t know if many people are. But I like the discipline of total monogamy, which I find very rewarding and fulfilling. That really is more personal predilection than anything else. I no more expect others to share that same value system than I expect other people to share my fondness for soccer and my dislike of baseball.

2) Is pornography use incongruous with your feminism? What tenets of your feminism are not in line with pornography use?

It’s not incongruous with my feminism. It’s incongruous with my personal value system about sexuality at this point in my life. I used a lot of porn when I was younger, almost all of it before the internet era. (I wrote a tribute of a sort to Bob Guccione last year.)

But I do think that there are many different types of porn, much of which is blatantly anti-feminist. From my perspective, what I find to be the most loathsome genre of porn is the one that follows a deception narrative. A porn actress pretends to be a naive ingenue looking for a modeling gig and then is tricked into having sex with the photographer or his friend. I assume (or hope) that the deceit is only feigned. But I find the idea of being aroused by another person’s manipulation or humiliation to be fundamentally incompatible with feminism. Enthusiastic consent is sacred, or ought to be. And porn that ties the viewer’s arousal to the violation of informed consent — that strikes me as deeply problematic.

So, if the question is “can a heterosexual feminist man look at porn” without being a hypocrite, I think the answer is yes. But we need to ask what kind of porn he’s looking at. Being aroused by the naked body of someone you’ve never met, gazing with desire on another human being — that’s not inherently anti-feminist. The conditions under which those images were created matter. The story line connected to those images matters. And the way in which the use of those images affects the viewers’ relationships (specifically their views of women) matters enormously. Continue reading