Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Can Men Be Feminists?

I asked this question of my new favorite blogger, Hugo Schwyzer, yesterday. I noticed he referred to himself as a pro-feminist man and I got curious. I know that in many of my graduate courses this debate came up. And, I sort of have a hazy memory of that time. My new life as a professor at a liberal arts college, wherein the students are vaguely conservative, and it's hard enough to get the women to claim themselves as feminsts, has made me appreciative when male students or colleagues call themselves feminists.

My reader humbition pointed out that some people refer to themselves as "allies," thereby avoiding the complicated questions of identity, but nonetheless demonstrating their commitment to feminist causes.

I guess my concern over the complicated semantics involved in whether or not a man can be a feminist, is that it makes men who are quite committed to these causes will be fearful of participating more fully. I have had many men out with me while I protest, or helping me with the NOW chapter. I have quite a few male colleagues who are probably more attuned to the nuances of gender discrimination than I tend to be. I would trust those men to challenge male students to consider their own privilege. I also worked with a man who runs NOVIS, a non-profit that works with male batterers. These men are feminists.

If we attach feminism to 'women,' which I think is part of why some men hesitate to identify themselves as feminists, then I think we are inevitably going to run up against the problem of essentialism. It is no easy trick to define what a woman is. De Beauvoir started that project, as a phenomenologist, in The Second Sex, and Judith Butler quite convincingly shut that door in Gender Trouble. I still get headaches when I think about the debates over who should be alllowed to play in the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival. Can transsexuals (man-to-woman) play? Can woman-to-man trans play? What do we make of transsexuals anyway? What sex are they? Can we neatly divide sex up into two after Anne Fausto-Sterling?

I had left many of these questions behind me because they so resemble the metaphysical questions that folks have been knocking their heads against forever: Am I awake or dreaming? How can there be a God when there is so much unbearable suffering and evil? What constitutes my identity?

So, rather than pretend to have an answer to these questions, I turn it over to you: Can Men Be Feminists?

P.S. You should read this post "Feminist Men": Oxymoron or Simply Morons? at girlbomb.