Jasmine Peterson is a feminist who believes in men, and believes in equality for all. And she wants Valter Viglietti (and other men) to understand this.
This post is in response to The End of Feminism (as I Knew It)
I am a feminist. I love men. And as a feminist, I take deep offense to the insinuation that feminism is anti-male, or that its goal is only to advance the rights of women. That is not feminism as I understand or practice it, and as a member of a feminist organization, as a feminist who runs in feminist circles, and as a reader of feminist literature, this is not representative in any way of the feminists I know. Of course, that is not to say that there are not feminists who hate men, or who think women are superior beings. As with any heterogeneous group of people, beliefs will be held to varying degrees and may be expressed in a myriad of ways.
I agree with much of what Valter has said – men and women both have the capacity to be wonderful human beings, but we’re all fallible. As a feminist, I don’t think that women are superior in their morality, in their ability to nurture or to love, or in any other capacity. I don’t think men are superior in their ability to perform, to earn a living, or their ability to parent (I’m not trying to play into the gender binary with these capacities; just examples of how many people do femininity and masculinity, respectively).
Now, here is where our opinions seem to diverge. I want to understand men, and I want to support men. I want to help men to grow to their full capacities (outside of the ‘man box’), and to free men from oppression that they, too, face. And, as an activist, I engage in activities that are meant to address issues men face, in addition to women’s issues, so it really rather hurts me, and then kind of makes me angry, when I hear men suggesting that feminism is anti-male. Just like Valter really likes women, I really like and respect men (and women). In fact, I just have a huge respect for people, in general, which is why I work so hard in addressing inequalities wherever I see them.
As a feminist I have been on the receiving end of a lot of anti-feminist backlash. A lot. My own partner, for a time, assumed the role of a masculinist in his opposition to my feminist ideology (we’ve since arrived at common ground, it seems, on the issue of feminism). The biggest concern seems to be that feminists assume that all men are guilty. Perhaps men have felt attacked by feminism. I get it. Acknowledging one’s own privilege (both male and female privilege) is a daunting task, because once acknowledged, if someone is concerned with equality, it means trying to let go of that privilege in creating a more equitable society. That can be pretty terrifying. And perhaps the discussions of privilege were initially quite heavily focused on male privilege, and this felt like a sentence of guilt. I get that, too. But in my experience, these discussions of privilege aren’t charging individual men, or women, as guilty parties; it’s merely about recognizing power structures in culture and how they contribute to inequalities so that we can find ways to empower marginalized groups. It’s not about blame. Similarly, talking about patriarchy, because of its perceived association to maleness, seems to make men cringe. Again, suggesting that patriarchy is a root cause of inequality is not an attack on men. Feminists, or all of the feminists I personally know, aren’t suggesting that the converse – matriarchy – is desirable. Patriarchy is as oppressive to men as it is to women. We’re not resisting men when we’re resisting patriarchy; we’re resisting inequality.
What I’m curious to know is the type of feminists Valter has encountered, because they don’t seem to be anything like the numerous feminists I know. I’m not sure what kind of feminism it is that subscribes to the assumption that “To be a good man you need to always please (or never displease) women”. That doesn’t sound like any brand of feminism I’ve ever heard of, read about, or encountered. In fact, that’s decidedly not feminism. Feminists, in fact, want men to be free to be who they are, and to feel less encumbered by constructions of masculinity that might impose restrictions on how they express themselves. Feminists want men to feel free to express themselves in constructive ways. Feminists want men to be free to be their authentic selves. That doesn’t mean never displeasing women. People are certain to displease others, and no reasonable person would expect otherwise.
I agree that not being able to own your thoughts is a terrible thing. I didn’t read the story to which Valter alludes, about the man who felt that his wife’s breasts were ‘ruined’, but I would assert that he should have the right to express his innermost thoughts and feelings without attack.
Women attacking this position isn’t akin to feminists inhibiting men’s authenticity. Firstly, Woman ≠ Feminist. And secondly, I think men and women should be able to freely express themselves. That doesn’t mean that upon doing so they’re not going to offend somebody, and won’t face reprisal. That’s part of authenticity – owning what you articulate. I have been subjected to tremendous amounts of reprisal simply for being feminist. That doesn’t mean I will stop being a feminist, or that I will dissociate myself from or call out an entire group who tend to engage in anti-feminist discourse. I have acknowledged that not everyone is feminist, that not everyone will agree with feminism, and that anti-feminist sentiment is deeply embedded within our culture. And it doesn’t mean that I think men should never displease women or should always make them happy. That’s not feminism.
Feminism is egalitarianism. Some people have even suggested that because of the many goals of feminism, it is time to change the name. I disagree (for a number of reasons that would make this more into a dissertation than a brief reply to Valter’s piece, so I won’t go into that here). Let me tell you, however, that feminism hasn’t changed from seeking equality to seeking ‘world domination’. In fact, feminism has grown into a movement that has accomplished great advancements in the status of women (although there is still work to be done), and has spread its reach to address inequalities of a number of marginalized and minority groups. Feminism is concerned with inequality, wherever it exists, and these goals are not in the slightest anti-male. Feminist researchers were the first to address masculinity as a health detriment in health research, out of concern for men’s health and greater morbidity. Feminists are concerned that young boys are subjected to gender policing more than young girls are, and the detriment this can have on their development. Feminists are concerned with men’s issues. That doesn’t sound anti-male to me. And let me just say, I absolutely love and appreciate every single male ally. Really.
Valter said: “In the end, I think this feminism’s “bias” might be its biggest failure. If you really believe in equality, then you care about everybody’s equality—not just for you or your kin.” The trouble is, this bias that you speak of doesn’t exist, except for perhaps among extremists, and it seems silly to generalize a prejudice against (or to dissociate yourself from) a whole group of people because of extremist factions.
photo by aklawstudio / flickr