And bell hooks Becomes a Wingwoman.
by Roshie Xing
Most days, I am certain that there is ample room for men in the feminist movement. There has to be, because not only do social movements enact the most change when they are inclusive and unifying, but because feminism fights for causes that impact all genders, including men. And don’t get me wrong, there are phenomenal male allies within the feminist movement, men like journalist David M. Perry and late-night show host Seth Meyers who recognize their privilege and use it to amplify female voices.
But as feminism has become mainstream and we approach the point when it becomes expected to pay lip service to female reproductive agency or the wage gap like feminist bingo, we fall into the trap of what legal scholar Reva Siegel calls “preservation through transformation.” Over time, when a status quo system is legitimately challenged, beneficiaries of the system develop ways to relinquish the rules and rhetoric that were previously contentious while developing new ways to preserve their privileges. Bars can offer “GRL PWR” themed nights with half-price drinks for women, yet still turn a blind eye to sexual harassment by their patrons and managers. It is no longer socially acceptable to physically beat women into submission, but rounding up supporters to target them with vitriol and rape threats online is fair game.
And this is my problem with the men who loudly proclaim themselves as “feminist allies,” who use the movement as a shield for their misbehavior and who view their support as conditional. Generally made up of cisgender males, these “allies” pay lip service to feminism, proudly proclaiming their support of the feminist movement’s values and assuring everyone that they “totally get” all the struggles that female-identifying people face. Maybe they march at women’s rallies or donate to Planned Parenthood and organizations supporting female voices, decrying “bro culture” and societal stigma against female sexuality. Maybe they draft legislation granting victims of sexual assault greater legal protections or aggressively prosecute rapists in court. And maybe they are rapists.
Maybe they use the power of their allyship to target young women, arguing—and maybe believing—that standing by women means they are entitled to female bodies. Maybe they orchestrate targeted attacks to degrade and silence anyone who dares to question their sincerity, or use their allyship to deflect criticism. “I support women,” they say, “I fund their projects and do the bare minimum of listening to them, so what if I degrade them in private?” Maybe they hamfistedly wield the language of women’s empowerment to exploit female bodies, using the rhetoric of “sexual agency” and “liberation” to guilt women into accepting their advances. Maybe they pretend to be brutally honest about their flaws and seem to exhibit a rare and refreshing empathy, but then use this honesty to excuse their misbehavior, brushing it away as a youthful indiscretion. Maybe they are wolves in the guise of those with whom we thought we were safe.
There are days when #NotAllMen, the default hashtag that comes up whenever a woman deigns to criticize the patriarchal society around her, seems more wishful fantasy than a declaration (on a side note, check out #YesAllWomen, the response hashtag that gives a small glimpse into the magnitude of normalized harassment that women deal with). Days when I remember Eric Schneiderman, a feminist icon who as a New York state legislator made choking a violent felony, who said he was at war with “male supremacy in all its forms,” and who prosecuted long-time predator Harvey Weinstein when his Manhattan counterpart, Cyrus Vance, Jr., refused to. This was the same man who congratulated Jodi Kantor, Meghan Twohey, and Ronan Farrow on their Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting that toppled Harvey Weinstein, while being exposed himself by Farrow and Jane Mayer to be abusive towards women, non-consensually choking his partners and heaping verbal (including racist) abuse upon them.
There are days when I remember Louis C.K. and Aziz Ansari, men who proclaimed to understand the horrors women dealt with and actively reached out to female listeners, who now routinely deride the overreach of #MeToo after being caught contributing to the very culture they criticized. I remember Jamie Kilstein, a “feminist” podcaster who has since renounced his feminism after being credibly accused of using his status to sexually harass women. I remember Al Franken, a giant in the Senate whom I genuinely respected as a politician, who championed the rights of survivors of rape even as he was accused by nine separate women of sexual harassment. The list of men who use the veil of feminism to harass and assault women is long, and they inject a certain hopelessness to the notion of triumphing over a misogynistic society. At least the outright misogynists make themselves known. At least they stab you in the front. And if you cannot trust those who claim to be your allies, how can you hope to overcome the patriarchy so deeply rooted in society?
But hopelessness cannot mean acquiescence, even in a world in which we cannot tell the lions from the lambs. We cannot throw up our hands and say that all is lost, that misogyny has entwined itself too deeply into our way of life and that there is nothing we can do. Because there are always things that can be done. There is and will always be ample room for men in the feminist movement, men who use their allyship to re-evaluate their privileges and elevate those who are marginalized.
There is room for men who genuinely want to do better, who ask questions and will listen to the answers. Men who take on the admittedly difficult task of confronting their flaws and owning up to their mistakes and using them to carve out a path to do better. Men who are not just feminists when it is convenient, but who are feminists when it takes courage to be one, fighting for gender equality and social change even when there may be severe repercussions. Men who challenge rape jokes and “locker room talk” in male-dominated environments, places where being a male advocating for feminist ideals might make a difference. Indeed, there is and will always be room for men who are committed to being allies not for kudos or visibility or political convenience, but because they recognize that the fight against the misogyny ingrained in society is a fight necessary to achieve equality for all.