In a recent post, I mentioned in passing that I do not call myself a feminist even though I consider it to be an honorable label and would like to think that I am supportive of the causes that feminists advocate for. Kat Stoeffel writes that it is a good idea to refrain from doing so.
I have a handful of straight male friends I consider to be feminists. They know when to speak up on behalf of a female friend or colleague, and they know when to sit down, shut up, and listen. They’re working through their issues about women without foisting them upon the women in their lives. They gently explain feminism to other men in the woman-bashing conversations that happen behind even the most progressive closed doors. And they would all sooner die than call themselves feminists.
I can’t say I blame them. There’s something suspicious about anyone eager to identify with the oppressed. Many men seem to reach for the “feminist” label first to shore up their sensitive-dude bona fides and, second, to get a little female validation.
And although we can all agree men should care about feminism, the professional male feminist is a singularly ignoble creature in today’s media and politics landscape.
One of the hardest parts of coming to grips with the depth and breadth of the patriarchy is recognizing that there are no exceptions. Maybe you didn’t, personally, do anything wrong, but you were still born into a power structure that gave you unjust rewards. The system — whether it’s the patriarchy or white supremacy or capitalism — does not offer special exemptions for individuals with good intentions.
I feel the same discomfort about now-popular cry of “We are X” whenever there is an atrocity committed against some group X. It is meant to signify solidarity with that group by identifying oneself with them, but since it does not carry with it any risk of paying a price for such an identification, it risks coming across as purely no-cost symbolism.
The origins of “We are X” may lie in the famous scene in the 1960 film Spartacus where Spartacus starts to identify himself so as to avoid the Romans meting out collective punishment to his entire army because they could not identify him. Before he could do that, other men stand up and say “I am Spartacus”. But that action was to shield the identity of their leader, not merely to express support.
(In the comments on that clip, one wag says that in cafes and other places where you have to give a name so that they can call you when your order is ready, he gives the name Spartacus so that he can stand up and shout out in response “I am Spartacus!”)