4/26/13

Can men be feminists?

Different factions of the abolitionist community are arguing about this question (here and here), which surprises me.  You'd think the answer was obvious: of course men can be feminists. In fact, you'd think advocates for animals would reach that conclusion especially quickly, and in unison.

Background: I like to use the word "animalist" as a term for animal advocates who challenge traditional views about the moral status of non-human animals--whether they're utilitarian, rights-oriented, abolitionist, feminist care-oriented, etc.  I think of the word "animalist" on the model of "feminist".  Like feminists are strong advocates for women, aiming to lift women out of their traditional inferior role, animalists aim to raise the status of non-human animals.   The parallel makes it particularly perplexing that anyone would doubt that men can be feminists.  Human animals aren't just capable of being animalists--i.e. advocating strongly for non-human animals; they're the only animalists.  Non-human animals obviously can't advocate for themselves, in any articulate and effective way. Humans' being members of the "oppressor class" clearly doesn't stop them from adopting an animalist mission and perspective.  Sure, there are some limits on our ability to imagine what it is like to be a captive chicken, but that doesn't stop us humans from trying, and from being adamantly pro-chicken.

Likewise, surely, the man who advocates for women.  A man can't know exactly what it's like to be a woman, but he's in no worse position (surely) than someone who tries to understand and advocate for chickens.  If there are no male feminists, then there are no human animalists.  All animalists should therefore immediately agree: since there are (obviously) human animalists, there can also be male feminists.  I only wish there were more of them!

17 comments:

Aeolus said...

To me a feminist is anyone who believes in the moral and intellectual equality of the sexes and thinks that society should prevent discrimination against girls and women. Now, however, I find that I'm either a fool or a knave, since merely by holding this definition I am manifesting my male privilege. And if I were to object that to insist that only women can be feminists seems both silly and counterproductive, that would prove I really am a knave, because I would be trying to impose my patriarchal view on real feminists.

So you'll understand why I'm not going to even go near this topic.

Jean Kazez said...

Ha...I guess it's easier for me to say "duh, of course men can be feminists." I do think you could have a debate about who makes the most effective spokesperson for feminism, etc. etc. Should the head of NOW be a man? I'll go along with the idea that women should have key roles in the feminist movement, but it truly seems daft to say men can't be feminists. You'd have to give "feminism" a very strange definition for that to be true.

Ross Balmer said...

@Aeolus

Sure, because agreeing with Bell Hooks on your definition of feminism would be really sticking your neck out. I can't tell you how much I admire the way you stick up for your principals no matter what. Well done, its's truly admirable.

Oh wait, I get it, you have no principals because you're a liar and a hypocrite. Sorry for being so slow.

Spencer said...

I agree, and I don't see how this is a complicated issue at all. Still, I'd like to engage in a civil, thoughtful dialogue with those who believe otherwise -- and not have the sexism charge thrown at me so loosely in the process.

Jean Kazez said...

I nominate the comment above for "most bizarre comment on this blog in 2013 (so far)". That's the only reason I'm not going to delete it.

Jean Kazez said...

Whoops, by "the comment above" I meant Ross Balmer's.

Spencer, Yes, it's strange the way charges of sexism are being thrown around. I think it's just plain false to think men can't be feminists, but not beyond the pale or deplorable, let alone sexist.

Aeolus said...

Jean, I assumed Ross Balmer's comment was ironic and that he was really agreeing with me. Whoops. Could it be that I was being insulted and didn't know it? Ignorance is bliss.

Jean Kazez said...

Ha! That must be it!

Corey Lee Wrenn said...

Did you even read my article? Is it not clear from the male backlash I received that granting men ownership over the female space is problematic? I suggest you try again with a more nuanced analysis.

Corey Lee Wrenn said...

You say I am daft...I say you are desperate for male approval.

Corey Lee Wrenn said...

Incidentally your friend Spencer has been harassing me almost daily despite my request that he no longer contact me half a year ago and my not replying to any of his messages, which I find threatening and intentionally intimidating. Further evidence that some men cannot even serve as useful allies much less feminists.

Jean Kazez said...

Corey, I follow you on twitter and enjoy your tweets....so please don't think I'm hostile to you. I just think you're wrong about feminism.

Yes, I did read your post. You wrote: "To be feminist is to be a self-identified woman fighting for female equality. To be a feminist requires a direct experience of gender oppression, because it is this unique experience as a member of the targeted group that will inform activism." It just cannot be that a feminist must be a self-identified woman, if an animalist doesn't have to be a non-human animal. Obviously humans can fight for chickens, and likewise, men can fight for women.

I did not mean to say you were daft, but that a certain idea was daft. My stance has nothing to do with wanting male approval. I gave reasons to support my position. Feel free to respond to them instead of personalizing the dispute. It isn't personal.

Thanks for stopping by (I mean it!). And as for "my friend Spencer"...you're leaping to conclusions!

Jean Kazez said...

p.s. Anybody who cares to comment on this thread ought to read the comment policy. Obviously telling stories about other commenters is not "reasonable, respectful, and relevant". Insulting me and other commenters is not "reasonable respectful, and relevant." If you don't know how to engage in reasoned debate, don't bother commenting.

Getting back to the subject--are we really to believe that only slaves could be abolitionists, and white people couldn't be? That's another fairly direct implication of saying only women can be feminists. It seems like you can "reductio ad absurdum" this claim to death, many times over.

Craig Urias said...

Suppose that someone published many scholarly articles in support of feminism over the years and acquired a good reputation through them. One day it is discovered that the author is male, when it was previously assumed that he was female. (Say, he published under his first and middle initials, or his first name was "Pat".) Would this revelation really have an impact on the arguments he made over the years?

There's a book by a chess grandmaster called I play against pieces. I haven't read it, but that's the best title I can imagine for a book on chess. An analogous title for a book on philosophy might be I argue against ideas.

Wayne said...

So let me wade in here... There might be a case that only women can be a KIND of feminist, since they have first hand experience of what it is like to be a woman, and men do not. It's one thing to say that I can empathize with a black person who has been discriminated against... its an entirely other thing to say that I know what its like to be black and be discriminated against.

If this is the case, then men, who try to advocate for women, may be mis-representing the feminine experience in a fundamental way.

More over, if men become feminists, it speaks to reassert that women take a back seat to male authority. Only men can speak up for women. So it may do the cause more harm for men to speak up for women, as it simply reinforces the stereotype of femininity that women are trying to escape. It just may be that this is a fight that women need to fight for themselves to achieve equality.

Jean Kazez said...

I can go along with the idea that women have some special authority as feminists, and should have priority with respect to certain positions and opportunities. I'd rather see the website "Feminist Philosophers" run by (mostly) women, for example. But it would be just unreasonable to think "Feminist Philosophers" must not include any men, since men can be philosophers, but not feminists. Come on. That's surely not true. There are a million analogies. Sure, someone deaf has special authority about deafness, but of course hearing people can be advocates for the deaf. Etc etc!

Anonymous said...

Of course men can be feminists. I think men can b feminists and I agree with equal rights but I don't think women feminists have the right to abuse that power and then make women the superior race and hate men. Because is that honestly fair? Men who were superior to women in the past didn't hate them, they just had little knowledge of female abilities. That's why I'm a feminist but fight for men