Introducing a new weekly column on The Good Life by popular contributor “Dr. Bill” Johnson II on black masculinity. This week, he addresses people with common values, separated by a word.
I recently wrote an article in this magazine addressing the impact of institutional racism on African American men. The post was met with the usual mix of support and criticism from readers; however, I was surprised by the amount of vitriol directed at my assertion that a patriarchal society underlies personal, cultural and intuitional mechanisms, which are partly responsible for the systematic struggle faced by many Black males.
Some readers felt my statement to be an erroneous oversimplification. Others condemned my use of the word “patriarchy” and considered it a poorly conceptualized feminist concept.
In fairness, feminist theories are not without critics, both from card carrying members as well as those who staunchly disagree with all of feminism’s major principles. For example in her seminal book “Ain’t I a woman,” author bell hooks accuses the philosophy as failing to promote an anti-racist agenda, as well as failing to acknowledge those women of color who were instrumental in confronting sexism, the totality of which is akin to supporting white supremacy.
Nevertheless, after I noticed thematic trends in the criticism of my article I found myself wondering just how prevalent anti-feminist attitudes were within my friend and acquaintanceship circles. This led me to begin an anecdotal research study: I asked several male friends if they identified as (pro) feminist.
Out of these individuals, only one person reported supporting such views; however, although the heavy majority denied endorsing (pro) feminist views, most admitted they were not familiar with literature written by feminists. One person even informed me that he would support it, but he “like(s) booty too much” and must therefore be considered anti-feminist. I responded that thanks to Black male (pro) feminists such as Mark Anthony Neal, I understand that it is possible to be attracted to women, and still identify as anti-sexist. As a matter of fact, I have yet to read an article that says “if you like woman’s bottoms then you cannot be (pro) feminist.” (If I’m mistaken on that one, feel free to let me know and send the appropriate reference as I’ll need to turn in my membership immediately.)
I think my friend, like many other men, feels antagonistic towards the term “feminist” largely because they have internalized erroneous stereotypes about feminist theory. In an article I wrote entitled “Towards an Anti-Sexist Black American Male Identity,” (Psychology of Men & Masculinity 2010, Vol. 11, No. 3, 182–194) I initially responded quite defensively to the very notion of feminism. Like many young men in the United States, my initial sense of feminism was couched in naive mainstream descriptions of feminists as “man haters.” I think that is how many men react, spending significant energy distancing themselves from notions implicating their involvement in a sexist society.
However, if it’s not difficult to believe that as children we are sent messages from various sources including our families, friends, schools, and the media, about race, and that we are socialized to believe certain things about race, and that we ascribe certain attributes to others based on race, then why is it so challenging to believe the same about gender?
The issue of understanding sexism becomes particularly complex with working class White males as well as Black American men who may feel systemically powerless. As a result, often times the burden of confronting gender injustice and misogyny then falls on women, just as people of color foot the bill for challenging racism, and gay, lesbian, and transgender people must tackle homophobia. Although these are societal issues, and it is up to each of us to challenge our own internal bigotry, the work falls disproportionately on the oppressed.
Men can no longer pretend that our communities are not negatively affected by both racism and sexism. It is my belief that we must be proactive agents of change in the fight against sexism. Such an approach to social justice may include opening dialogue about the prevalence of sexism. Discussions may include men taking ownership of the ways in which we have internalized sexist ideation and the impact such beliefs have had on others. C. Johnson (2009) reported that openly sharing experiences with oppression can have a significant impact in reducing subjugation.
You Might Be (Pro) Feminist If …
The aforementioned discussions with people I know as well as my personal belief that most people are not familiar with feminist principles and therefore marginalize the theory based on stereotypes has led me to list a few of the many tenets of this theory. In a style consistent with Jeff Foxworthy, here are ten statements which, if you endorse them, then you have just endorsed an ideal consistent with beliefs of some feminists theories.
This list is by no means comprehensive. Instead it is my personal barometer, informed by social science literature. Keep in mind that feminism is no monolith, but reflects diverse views and opinions. Therefore, it is possible to endorse one more than another. For example, you may find your ideas more aligned with liberal feminism than radical feminism or vice versa.
Even on this list you may find yourself endorsing some aspects over others. Again, my suggestion is to explore the literature in regard to these views.
- You may be (pro)feminist if you believe in egalitarianism: the belief that men and women should be treated equally.
- You may be (pro)feminist if you believe that men and boys are encouraged to suppress feelings, thereby suppressing the full range of emotional expression.
- You may be (pro)feminist if you believe there is a gendered nature to sexual assault and sexual harassment, even when the assailant is not male or the victim is not female.
- You may be (pro)feminist if you believe that women and men should be paid equally for completing the same job.
- You may be (pro)feminist if you believe there is NO singular “masculinity,” but instead that manhood is as varied as the global number of males.
- You may be (pro)feminist if: you believe domestic violence does not often receive enough attention and that more has to be done to address spousal abuse
- You may be (pro)feminist if: you believe that two consenting adults should have the right to marry each other.
- You may be (pro)feminist if: you believe that in addition to sexism, more needs to be done in order to confront the range of social oppression including racism and homophobia.
- You may be (pro)feminist if: you believe male violence, against both males and females, is in part a function of culturally mediated messages which reinforce the use of aggression as a problem solving method.
- You may be (pro)feminist if you believe that boys should be socialized to access the full range of emotional expression, not just anger and aggression.
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