Can a middle aged white guy be a feminist?


Asks the blogger at Above the Field. He can and he should, he answers himself.

Yesterday I read of a sexual assault in Washington DC that occurred not long ago. A bicyclist cruised up to a woman and stuck his hand up her skirt, violating her very being before riding away laughing. It would be easy to pass this off as an isolated incident of some pervert getting his kicks, except that this particular woman victim (Liz Gorman) wrote a blog about it, and hundreds responded with their own stories of similar experiences and worse.

Thank goodness this woman and others like her are speaking out instead of staying silent. Thank goodness they’re upsetting the status quo. Thank goodness they’re waking people like me up to what is going on around us every day.

Not “playing the victim.” Not whining, not making a big fuss about nothing, not refusing to do anything for ourselves, but just speaking out instead of staying silent about microaggressions, and upsetting the status quo that tells us to ignore sexist bullshit and Just Get On With It.

I fear for our future when I see adolescent and college-age guys being spoon-fed rapacious porn and jocular yet overtly sexist advertising that just feed into their levels of testosterone at that age. Couple this with how we continue to muffle women’s voices about sexual needs and desires, and we are raising another generation of coarse, close-minded men who rally around Daniel Tosh and don’t think twice about their sense of privilege or entitlement.  Basically: bad lovers, bad fathers, absentee husbands. I grew up knowing the experience of having an adulterous, alcoholic father, and far too often I was an absentee husband in my own failed marriage, far more focused on career than relationship. That cycle needs to stop.

I fear for the daughters of men like that. I really, really, really do. I fear for the daughters of men who have contempt for them because they’re not boys.

The stereotypical male is a sexist pig. He sees women as merchandise to be gazed at, and groped at. He sees himself as the master of his domain, and sex as HIS enjoyment, or even as his conquest. He may know of boundaries, but often feels they don’t apply to him. He laughs at sexist jokes, he gawks at pretty ladies like a slobbering schoolboy, and he is enabled and empowered by an advertising industry that gears its print and television ads at him – because, after all, the stereotypical male is the head of household, the breadwinner, and the decision maker.

I know this firsthand. I ran numerous websites and published a sexy cheerleaders calendar years ago that pandered to this demographic, and did it well. I gave no consideration to the fact that I was feeding the sexism machine, subjugating and objectifying women in the interest of making a buck. After all, the models I worked with were professionals who were thrilled to be on the sites or in the calendars, and my target demographic was those stereotypical white males who buy the merchandise.

It’s time for feminism to be mainstream. It’s time for open-minded, forward-thinking men to realize that equality means embracing feminism. Feminism isn’t a bad word. It’s simply a cry for fairness in an unfair world dominated for far too long by a small segment of white males who have convinced too many of us that speaking out is wrong, that having a voice is a privilege rather than a right, and that somehow they know what’s best for all of us.

Welcome aboard, comrade.

Comments

  1. NateHevens says

    Good for him. It’s not easy to wake up to your own privilege, but it’s most definitely worth it.

  2. says

    Yeah…

    … but it is constantly surprising how even a more or less “open-minded, forward-thinking” man can find that he’s still on the wrong side of things, or didn’t remotely understand problems as deeply as he thought he did. That’s me, twice in this one short post. I just now figured out that “playing the victim” literally means “people who claim to be ‘victims’ are always liars.” I’m also stuck rejecting an even larger swath of porn than previously, since I just figured out how much of the “amateur couple” porn still puts women in a subordinate position.

    I guess it would be easier to just reject feminism, rather than constantly have to work at trying to not be a terrible person.

  3. PDX_Greg says

    Add me to the hopefully ever-growing pile of middle-aged white men that have recently experienced awareness about the existence and the toxic effects of privilege.

    Even though I had always considered myself a feminist, fully absorbing the Elevatorgate postings was a real enlightenment event for me. Thanks to Watson and McCreight for not backing down and for taking the time to explain it to us.

    I both guess and hope that I am among a large throng of formerly privilege-ignorant men (and women) who learned something that they didn’t realize they didn’t know.

  4. Fizzing thru da Fizzics says

    Me three, although breaking 4+ decades of programming is hard. I constantly find myself checking and editing things that were totally “normal” and “accepted” in the culture I grew up in.

    I can only apologize to all the woman I offended….wtf was I thinking?

  5. Maria Silvia Possas says

    Feminism is a path we walk, both women and men,learning new things along the way. I am a woman and I was a militant feminist during the eighties, but I still am learning a lot about sexism and how it affects my own life in ways I wasn’t even aware a while ago. The deprogramming is needed not only by men, but by all of us living in sexust societies and I have frequently met men that were more feminist than most women. I’ve even married one of them.

  6. maureen.brian says

    Don’t panic, Improbable Joe! I just went over them to welcome him – which I did – but also told him off for suggesting that Rosie the Riveter was a myth rather than a composite.

    Can’t start too soon with that there learning!

  7. Tony •King of the Hellmouth• says

    Ophelia:
    Thanks for linking to Paul’s blog.
    I too left a comment commending him for realizing his privilege and deciding to work towards ending sexism.

  8. says

    I think that in order to be a feminist, one first has to be female. Otherwise there will always be a question mark, cloud, eyebrow raised etc over one’s credentials.

    I remember years ago in Sydney the first ever feminist march was being organised in Sydney. The planning coincided with a concert tour by the poet/singer/songwriter/whatever Rod McKuen. In a press conference McKuen announced that he would be only too happy to come back to Sydney and lead the march. Through the streets.

    Real lead balloon stuff.

    Postscipt: he never did.

  9. maureen.brian says

    Of course it was a lead balloon, Ian. He offered to lead it!

    She references to mansplaining, passim.

  10. MNb0 says

    “sex as HIS enjoyment”
    Eh? Even at the age of 15 I was smarter than this. BOTH having fun is more than double fun.
    And that was more than 30 years ago.

    I don’t know if I’m a feminist. I just believe in equal rights – for women, gay, coloured people and even straight white males like me.
    No, I wouldn’t appreciate it if some random woman would squeeze my nipples or grab me between my legs in public. Isn’t that simple?

  11. joel says

    (Ian, I notice before sending this that my response evolved into some things I just wanted to say, but not related to your comment or to this thread.)

    (And Maria at 6 above, a very welcome comment, essential perspective imo)

    Ian,

    With all due respect to your intention, I take issue with this:

    “I think that in order to be a feminist, one first has to be female. Otherwise there will always be a question mark, cloud, eyebrow raised etc over one’s credentials.”

    I don’t think feminism is about credentials or purity but about intention. We male feminists may make mistakes, female feminists, due internalization of sexism, may make mistakes.

    I had the good fortune of living with an active feminist in the late 60’s. That was when there was a “Title 9,” in think it was called, a government program to promote athletic programs for women in secondary schools. There were few to none at that time. Some years later I got involved in an organization dedicated to eliminating racism, sexism, homophobia, all the isms.

    So I have been calling myself a feminist for many years and making a lot of mistakes. It used to bother me to get smacked down over something I had never thought about. But I found the only thing to do was to just keep after it.

    One of the things that bothers me now is this ‘mansplaining’ thing. This dismissal is way too facile. What is mansplaining really? Why not make the assumption that this guy is trying to figure things out, awkwardly as it may be? Maybe mansplaining is what you do as a last resort, before you finally decide to notice, and/or give up some privilege. It may be a necessary ingredient or precursor. Feelings are up when involved in a mental change.

    I recall the mansplaining I did in a small group/class on sexism in the early 90’s The two women who led the class just kept on keeping on. They were very patient. They may not realize what they did for me.

    Sometimes I want to say to young men, you have a great advantage, feminism was already in the air from your childhood on. It was not a blast out of nowhere for you. Am I mansplaining again?

  12. maureen.brian says

    joel,

    I agree with most of that but mansplaining is definitely not youthful awkwardness, general gormlessness or even unwillingness to tune in.

    It is something much more specific than that, which is why it has its own name. This is the best exposition I’ve ever seen and do, please, read the comments.

    http://scienceblogs.com/thusspakezuska/2010/01/25/you-may-be-a-mansplainer-if/

    (Sincere apologies to those who saw me put this up just this weekend but in an older thread.)

  13. joel says

    The term was used (misused?) on me a few weeks ago on FtB. I think it can happen when someone leaps to conclusions.

  14. Dave says

    Simple question – is feminism an identity, or an ideology? If the former, then one might legitimately question what personal traits entitle one to ‘identify’ with it – much as it is difficult to identify successfully as British while having been born in Moscow to Russian parents, and having never actually visited the UK.

    If feminism is an ideology, however, it can legitimately be espoused by anyone who chooses to share its key tenets.

    One of the great problems of debate in the 21st century is that we have got dangerously close to forgetting that there are such things as ideologies, by confusing them with identities.

  15. says

    (I sent this same comment to Paul’s blog, but it’ll probably be stuck in moderation for a while.)

    I find it somewhat amusing that the question in your title really has to be asked. Perhaps it’s merely my personal perspective biasing my view, but it reads to me as “can a middle aged white guy think women are people?”. Described that way, it sounds kind of ridiculous, doesn’t it? We appear to have a problem with definitions in some parts of our society.

    In any case, welcome to the cause, as varied as it may be at times. There are several points I saw that might benefit from some expansion or analysis.

    [Paul Lanning]: When conservative white males (and the lemmings among the female species who follow them) put their own religion ahead of basic human rights, I am appalled.

    I would strongly recommend not referring to anyone as a ‘lemming’, since that is tastelessly close to dehumanizing language. Ignorance shouldn’t be considered a crime, in any case. Try to consider other people in terms of their potential, because all educational efforts require it.

    I don’t think I’m in the minority. I don’t believe that the majority of white males in America believe women are second-class citizens, playthings kept around to keep men happy but not to have minds or wills of their own.

    To some degree, that is an empirical question which can only be answered by data. While there are rhetorical reasons to take an optimistic attitude and assume the best of people, we should also actually investigate people’s real views rather than guess at anything.

    Thank goodness this woman and others like her are speaking out instead of staying silent. Thank goodness they’re upsetting the status quo. Thank goodness they’re waking people like me up to what is going on around us every day.

    Agreed. Awareness campaigns should be eager to introduce the sociological data gathered on the subjects of harassment and sexual assault as well. Most people do not have any idea of how prevalent these crimes are. (To summarize, the vast majority of women on street experience some level of harassment on nearly a daily basis, and roughly 25% of all women are sexually assaulted at least once in their life.)

    I fear for our future when I see adolescent and college-age guys being spoon-fed rapacious porn and jocular yet overtly sexist advertising that just feed into their levels of testosterone at that age. Couple this with how we continue to muffle women’s voices about sexual needs and desires, and we are raising another generation of coarse, close-minded men who rally around Daniel Tosh and don’t think twice about their sense of privilege or entitlement. Basically: bad lovers, bad fathers, absentee husbands.

    This is a bit different, as it implies a casual relationship. Is it the case that porn and advertising are primary causes of bad lovers, fathers, and husbands?

    It seems fairly clear to me that there would be some correlation between media depictions and social attitudes, and there are more than a few sociological studies that show this to one degree or another. Correlations aren’t necessarily causation. It’s entirely plausible, for instance, that sexism in the media and sexist attitudes in people have a common cause. Indeed, if we look at this subject from the historical perspective, there’s no doubt that this is true. A sexist media didn’t create the problem here, because it arose long after there was a problem to begin with. Sexism in the media is a symptom of a patriarchal system with far deeper roots.

    The stereotypical male is a sexist pig. He sees women as merchandise to be gazed at, and groped at. He sees himself as the master of his domain, and sex as HIS enjoyment, or even as his conquest. He may know of boundaries, but often feels they don’t apply to him. He laughs at sexist jokes, he gawks at pretty ladies like a slobbering schoolboy, and he is enabled and empowered by an advertising industry that gears its print and television ads at him – because, after all, the stereotypical male is the head of household, the breadwinner, and the decision maker.

    When you say ‘stereotypical’ here, it tends to read more as ‘average’ or ‘typical’. Although I expect you are attempting to describe the image of man as presented by authorities or the media, it’s not entirely clear from the wording.

    That said, the image is pretty similar to what you describe. It’s a rather insulting trope to have imposed on one’s character.

    This may be a good place to introduce statistics on the actual breakdown of households. Few families have a sole, exclusive breadwinner anymore. There’s also a good opportunity here to talk about wage disparity; men and women are not paid the same even for identical jobs. Further, women are encouraged to enter fields which ‘coincidentally’ pay less on average and often carry less social prestige.

    I know this firsthand. I ran numerous websites and published a sexy cheerleaders calendar years ago that pandered to this demographic, and did it well. I gave no consideration to the fact that I was feeding the sexism machine, subjugating and objectifying women in the interest of making a buck. After all, the models I worked with were professionals who were thrilled to be on the sites or in the calendars, and my target demographic was those stereotypical white males who buy the merchandise.

    It’s all past tense, so it seems you left the industry a while ago. I’m curious, what’s your proposed solution for dealing with the sexist media? Should everyone who works there quit their job and find something else to do, as you did?

    I raise questions because I’ve yet to run into anyone who presented an effective solution to this issue. (Yeah, that’s fairly circular, as if there was an effective solution, we wouldn’t need to talk about it, would we?)

    Here’s one way to approach it: has the media become more sexist over time, do you think? Less? It’s about the same as it always was from my perspective, but I’m not as old. However, if it has changed, we ought to go looking for the reasons why.

    Personally, I don’t see the approaches which try to eliminate this problem by crushing the industry in question as likely to work. Almost invariably, any approach to stop objectification through government regulation or controls would be portrayed as an attack on capitalism, freedom, et cetera unto infinity. We’ve seen exactly that sort of rhetoric in many other industries.

    However, if you take any government intervention out of the picture, how does change happen? Through the capitalist system? People just stop buying these products? You can organize protests and boycotts specifically, but how much has the general culture actually shifted from that? What percentage of the population do you figure would need to be actively involved in such a movement, for how long, to exact lasting changes? I would guess more than ten percent, for a decade or more.

    Now, the low likelihood of success doesn’t necessarily indicate anything about what someone should do. People can advocate and agitate for any sort of society they want to see. My intuition, however, is to look for easier and more powerful ways when the existing framework doesn’t seem to be having the size and scope of effect as large as desired.

    There’s also a question of whether we are or will enter a new economic model in the not-so-distant future. Much has changed with the growth of the internet, such that industries such as the newspaper business have had their fundamental assumptions challenged. With time, will a large segment of the current media simply cease to exist due to dramatically high levels of competition? Certainly, this is a threat for the commercial media space. It may be premature to draw any deeper conclusions.

    It’s time for feminism to be mainstream.

    In my opinion, it was a mainstream movement during the 60s and 70s. So if it isn’t now, what exactly changed? Does mainstream refer merely to numbers of activists?

    There are some clues in the media portrayals of feminism. Often what you see now is a more of a caricature than an actual representation. It would be more appropriate to call what some in the media think of as feminism “female supremacy” or “separatism”. It’s a very extreme conception, more akin to the most radical forms of gender theory than what feminism ever represented. We have to be very careful about what we’re taught by media organizations today, since they’re nearly all interested more in how they can maximize profit by manipulating people than discussing the truth. That kind of bad reasoning can be used to discredit — almost literally — any group of people.

  16. joel says

    maureen at 13,

    Thanks again for that link on mansplaining. I totally misunderstood the term, I thought it meant man’s complaining.

    I do recognize it , have observed it for many years and sometimes catch myself doing it. Yes, a very useful and precise term.

    Previously I would have referred to it as male expertise.

    The way it came up before was I had criticized the use of the derogatory term douchebag. I had said that it seemed to me that an appliance used only by women and in an intimate bodily way used as a term of derision was misogynistic on it’s face.

    Commenters seemed upset and called that mansplaining. That was my first encounter with the term personally although I had probably seen it before assuming it was merely someones ideosyncratic term or a typo for ‘man complaining’

  17. says

    ‘To mansplain’ is a new verb to me. Also a rapidly evolving one as far as I can gather. It originally meant (apparently) explaining in a patronising manner, as commonly done by a man to a woman. But that does not appear to me to be the way people are referring to it here.

    The original feminist analogy was of sexism with racism. Sexism of course was based on an assumption of sexual (ie male) superiority. (In the ensuing debate and fracas, an unsurprising number of female sexists emerged.)

    As with racism, the impetus to get rid of it came from those most subjected to it. But of course, members of races other than Caucasian have proved capable of racism. Someone who opposes racism is commonly said to be ‘anti-racist’, but there is not in my experience a word standing in relation to ‘racism’ as ‘feminism’ stands to ‘sexism’.

    Thus as a man I feel comfortable identifying as ‘antisexist’ but not as ‘feminist’.

    There are desultory attempts now and then to kick-start male analogues to the feminist movement, the term ‘masculist’ commonly being invoked in the process. The praiseworthy idea is to create a forums for mens’ discussion of the negative effects of sexism in their own lives, and of ways of countering this. But despite generous squirts of Aerostart straight into their carburettors, these movements keep stalling and never getting going properly.

    There is a PhD for someone in that.

  18. joel says

    Thanks Ian,

    “‘To mansplain’ is a new verb to me. Also a rapidly evolving one as far as I can gather. It originally meant (apparently) explaining in a patronising manner, as commonly done by a man to a woman. But that does not appear to me to be the way people are referring to it here.”

    Yeah, at first I thought it was the former as you indicate but when I went back to the site Maureen linked and looked at some of the comments I see it used too many ways. I won’t be using it.

    Sometimes I prefer to go back to standard language and leave the , neologisms and jargon to those who don’t mind having to keep up with the latest.

  19. smhll says

    The way it came up before was I had criticized the use of the derogatory term douchebag. I had said that it seemed to me that an appliance used only by women and in an intimate bodily way used as a term of derision was misogynistic on it’s face.

    Commenters seemed upset and called that mansplaining.

    I didn’t learn this until a few years ago, but anal douching is a real thing, most generally done to prepare for anal sex. (?)

    Trying to be helpful and being incompletely informed is something many of us do. (I’m even still mortified by my typos, or at least the incomprehensible ones.)

    Also, the logic that I’ve heard at feminist sites is that douching was a scientifically bad idea, as douching tends to upset the pH of the vagina, which has some built in self-cleaning functions.

    TMI, I suppose.

  20. says

    “Also, the logic that I’ve heard at feminist sites is that douching was a scientifically bad idea, as douching tends to upset the pH of the vagina, which has some built in self-cleaning functions.”

    Our ancestors in the female line managed for hundreds, thousands, and millions of years without it. As do most people, and all other animal species today.

  21. Michael says

    It always ticks me off when the focus is put on white males being in need of re-education as if white males are the source of the problem

    I agree its propaghanda that is spoon feed to EVERYONE when they are growing up and that EVERYONE needs re-education on these topics.

    I tend to agree with everything thats said but stop refferring to all white males as an “other” group that we can direct agnst towards.

    “and my target demographic was those stereotypical white males who buy the merchandise” – Was this because you were a westerner working in a western market?

    Everytime you single out whtie males it makes it sound as if indian males or turkish males dont have this issue.

    “because, after all, the stereotypical male is the head of household, the breadwinner, and the decision maker.” – This is more ingrained in the polynesian culture than it is in white male culture, this has nothing to do with being white or male, this type of thinking is predominant world wide regardless of race, the fckn chinese often see a women as being worth less than a boy, the middle east has the same thing – this is not a problem with white males, this is not a problem with males, this is a problem with almost everybody.

  22. says

    clarysage @#26:

    “Are you pro-civil rights or merely anti-racist?”

    Let’s see:

    1. anti-racist and anti-civil-rights? A most difficult self-contradictory combination.
    2. racist and pro-civil-rights? Likewise.
    3. (racist and anti-civil rights is a natural combination.)
    4. leaving anyone who is anti-racist I would say inevitably pro-civil-rights. Which is me.

    But I’m stuffed if I can see why you picked on me, where you are coming from or what you incline to lead me into.

  23. Snoof says

    1. anti-racist and anti-civil-rights? A most difficult self-contradictory combination.

    Not impossible, though. One could, hypothetically, believe that humans are basically wild animals who need the bootheel of authority to maintain peace, while believing that applying the law differently to different ethnic or racial groups is unacceptable.

    Difficult, though.

  24. says

    Snoof:

    “Not impossible, though. One could, hypothetically, believe that humans are basically wild animals who need the bootheel of authority to maintain peace, while believing that applying the law differently to different ethnic or racial groups is unacceptable.”

    Except that authoritarian bootheels have a track record of wiping out whatever civil rights they choose to wipe out, including the right to keep on breathing. Of course, the authoritarians have to have a social base of their own, so they have to confine their repressive activity to a target section of the overall population. Inevitably, their law is differentially applied.

    Think fascist Europe in the 1930s; Eastern Europe, Latin America…

  25. says

    “close-minded men who rally around Daniel Tosh and don’t think twice about their sense of privilege or entitlement. Basically: bad lovers, bad fathers, absentee husbands.”

    Interesting. About a year ago I was at an event where the topic of Daniel Tosh came up and I allowed that I thought he was a sexist, racist pig who wasn’t even close to funny (I still do not understand what the attraction to his show is — how does it have any ratings at all?)

    The mixed-sex group of people universally informed me I was being overly sensitive and just didn’t appreciate the “edgy” nature of his comedy.

    The Liz Gorman story was appalling. I’m not buying the implicit blaming of sexually explicit images that ABTF alludes to, however. There doesn’t seem to be much evidence for that claim.

    I am always amazed at the more subtle (at least in that they go unnoticed/uncommented on) examples of sexism. The only PhD in the room who is invariably asked to be the notekeeper because she’s also the only woman at the table. The man who thinks he needs to frigging hug every female in the room before the meeting can start.

    Treating all people as equals isn’t really that hard. But apparently, for a lot of people, it is.

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