This was originally written for Men Against Misogyny, my Tumblr blog for curating examples of men discussing feminism or supporting of women’s rights in some way. You can read more about the project on the about section.
When I started Men Against Misogyny, I wanted a place where I could point and say, “Look, I’m not just being too sensitive. I’m not imagining inequality. Women didn’t manufacture the patriarchy just to have something to complain about. It’s so important that even members of the group that has historically oppressed us see that women are treated as second-class citizens. Even people who aren’t directly affected by misogyny can see how huge of a problem this is.”
This idea is broader than just men acknowledging women’s issues. It’s a theme that runs through history: time and time again, we see that rights for minority groups are gained when the majority finally begins to sympathize with them. The movement gains credibility when the majority stops implicitly endorsing oppression with their silence.
Of course, implicit oppression has been discussed for longer than I’ve even been aware of social activism. But it finally occurred to me because of the Chik-fil-a controversy. I stopped eating at Chik-fil-a when I found out about where they were donating their money. For a few years, my brothers teased me about it because they knew how much I liked their sandwiches prior to then.
“I don’t know why you care. It doesn’t affect you,” my brother complained one day. I was speechless for a moment because I couldn’t think of a retort. I stammered something about how it was just mathematically impossible for a minority group to gain equal rights if the majority didn’t join them in voting for those rights. My other brother pointed out that slavery couldn’t have been abolished if white allies didn’t join the movement. We talked a little more about the way it’s necessary for people who aren’t affected by social injustices to take action against them anyway, in spite of the fact that they don’t have much to gain from it.
With that in mind, Men Against Misogyny was started as my way of curating instances of men acknowledging and fighting against oppression. It’s an attempt to end the notion that women are whining about nothing, to encourage men to use their privileged voices for good, and to empower both men and women with the resources and arguments that can help them in a constructive debate.
The idea seems noble enough, but I failed to consider the problems with my approach: In glorifying the voices of the privileged, I might be erasing the voices of those who have been ignored for saying the exact same thing for years. I might be applauding people for giving feminism and other movements a shallow, cursory treatment.
If a man says, “I don’t know about you, but I respect women,” am I doing the wrong thing if I promote him? Should I quote him here as an example of a man against misogyny, or should I channel Chris Rock and say, “You’re supposed to respect women! You don’t get a cookie for that!”?
This isn’t an abstract conundrum: I’ve already quoted George R.R. Martin on thinking of women as people (so edgy) and questioned whether John Scalzi’s post on claiming feminism while stigmatizing cross-dressing belongs on this blog. Do I share Scalzi as an example of a man who believes in equality for women, even if he brings nothing new to the table, no critical theory, and only offers his credibility-as-a-man?
There’s a line between gathering supporters for a movement by supporting and promoting allies and patting an ally on the head for doing what they’re supposed to do. I’m not sure if I’m crossing it. If Aaron Swartz asserts that misogyny and discrimination against women in technology exists (the catalyst for this blog’s creation), am I helping the movement by bringing these ideas to a wider audience who might not listen otherwise? Or am I really hurting the movement by reinforcing the idea that a man saying the exact same thing hundreds of women have said (or a heterosexual/cisgendered person speaking for the LGBTQ community, or a white person speaking for ethnic minorities, or any other parallel) is a big deal?
I wrote in my original about section, “I wish I could change the way people disregard the legitimate issues women have with society, but I can’t force them to see that this is more than just complaining,” but what if I was wrong? Rather than saying, “People disregard women, so I’m going to convince them by providing them with credible men saying the same thing,” maybe I should have gone with “People disregard women, so I should keep working until they stop disregarding women.”
I don’t have a good answer to this problem yet, but I’ll keep thinking about what my goal here is and what I’m doing right or wrong. In the meantime, I’m going to try not to publish men who promote elementary, regurgitated feminism anymore, and hopefully find examples of men contributing to feminism in unique and novel ways. I hope that’s a decent compromise.