Feminist Mom in Montreal: Men as feminist leaders?

As I mentioned in my post about Boobquake, feminists don’t always agree about everything. One of the things that we don’t all agree on is the role of men in the women’s movement. When Mary Daly taught at Boston College, she refused to allow men to attend her classes on feminism. Then we have bell hooks who believes that feminism is for everybody:

As all advocates of feminist politics know most people do not understand sexism or if they do they think it is not a problem. Masses of people think that feminism is always and only about women seeking to be equal to men. And a huge majority of these folks think feminism is anti-male. Their misunderstanding of feminist politics reflects the reality that most folks learn about feminism from patriarchal mass media.

When I wrote my last blog post, I credited Feministing with the idea of Femquake. Maymay commented to correct me; he had come up with the idea. He also informed me that he is a man. Upon learning the true identity of Femquake’s creator, an anonymous commenter had this to say:

awesome. a man is leading the femquake charge. That’s all great and lovely, but I guess I was hoping that it was a woman. If that makes me sexist, well, I guess maybe I am.

Not gonna lie, it means a little less to me now.

The point is still there and the point is a good one, but meh…some dude on the internet leading the charge on us uniting our boobs and our brains is just, IDK, ironic.

Thanks for the help, though.

When Maymay wrote about the anonymous comment in his blog, it sparked a debate about leadership, men as feminists, and whether or not a hierarchy exists within feminism. I had this to say in a few of my comments:

I think that Femquake was a good idea, but I can see where the anonymous commenter on my blog was coming from. Men have been the ones who have been the leaders throughout history, and while there are more women in government now, it is still made up of mostly men. Part of being a feminist (for me and I think for anonymous, too) is believing that women can be leaders as well, and when a man comes up with an initiative like Femquake, it doesn’t really strengthen that idea. When men step up as leaders for the women’s movement, it looks like we can’t even lead ourselves. I don’t think that the comment came from a belief that men don’t have good ideas and valid opinions, but from a desire to be independent. […]

A leader can be somebody organizing a protest or it could be someone who says something that nobody else has said before. In the case of Femquake, you were leading; you came up with an idea and you asked people to participate in your event. Maybe you don’t feel that you were the leader of Femquake, but when you saw that I credited Feministing in my post, you did point out that you were the one who came up with the event. […]

Men have been leading themselves for centuries and they’re still the ones who are making most of the laws. Our society is still a society where women constantly have to prove themselves as a whole. Men don’t have to prove that men are good at math and science or that men are capable of leading.

Here are a few excerpts from Maymay’s blog post and comments:

…it’s absolutely baffling to me that when men stand up for gender equality, it somehow means less than when women do it. The reality is that no matter who is standing up for gender equality, it means the same thing: that we are all working towards the same goal of equality and opportunity for all souls on this planet, regardless of what body those souls inhabit. […]

I have to respectfully disagree with you when you say that supporting ideas that men come up with makes it look like women can’t lead themselves. To me, that feels like a grave indictment of women, one I’d be uncomfortable making. Would you say that men who support women make it look like men can’t lead themselves? Sexism is sexism, and there is nothing I find worth honoring about sexism regardless of its source or its target.

Furthermore, the idea that somehow someone has to “lead” equality strikes me as faulty. Equality is by definition non-hierarchical. Leadership, by contrast, is necessarily hierarchical. To say that I am somehow “leading the charge” is misrepresentative of the ideal of self-empowerment that I tried to put forth in coining “femquake.”

In other words, for people to realize a desire to be independent, regardless of whether they are women or men, “following leaders” is not the way to do it.

I suggest reading the section of his post about the anonymous comment and the rest of the comments on the post before you read this next part. I’m responding to his last comment to me here, because I’m curious about what people who read my blog have to say, particularly the original anonymous commenter.

Did you hear me say that leaders weren’t necessary, or useful, or valuable, or important? If so, then, oops, either I misspoke or you misinterpreted or both! I’ll try to say things another way, next time.

What you said was, “for people to realize a desire to be independent, regardless of whether they are women or men, ‘following leaders’ is not the way to do it.” What is the way to do it then?

It’s certainly a terrible thing, in my view, that black women are treated with less dignity than white women merely for being black and women. Does that make feminism or feminist ideals hierarchical? You seem to be saying so, and I disagree. Feminism is about gender equality, and that concept–even in an imperfect world–is distinct from racial equality.

It does make feminism hierarchal. So do homophobia, transphobia, and classism. I’m going to use another quote from your comment to illustrate this. “Is it oppressive for a woman who wants to be a homemaker to have equal opportunity to choose between homemaking and astrophysics? No. It is only oppressive when she is not given that choice, or is disempowered from enacting either reality.”

Back in the day when middle-class white women were rebelling against being homemakers, they weren’t thinking about other women who would have fewer options in terms of work that they could do. Not everyone has the option of having a wonderful career. They may not be able to afford the education that they would need for a career and they’re stuck working at an unsatisfactory minimum wage job. When feminism was taking the “women should work” direction, women in lower income households weren’t being empowered.

…adultism is discrimination against anyone who is not an adult. Would you say that black children face more discrimination than white children? I would say so, and while the intersections of adultism and racism are prevalent, I don’t think it’s helpful to view the concept of racial equality as hierarchical, just as I don’t think it’s helpful to view feminism/gender equality as hierarchical, either.

Is the concept of racial equality hierarchical? I’m going to quote bell hooks again, because I think she has a good answer to this one:

No other group in America has so had their identity socialized out of existence as have black women… When black people are talked about the focus tends to be on black men; and when women are talked about the focus tends to be on white women.


What had begun as a movement to free all black people from racist oppression became a movement with its primary goal the establishment of black male patriarchy.

I admit that I’m not an expert on the black rights movement, but I trust that bell hooks knows what she’s talking about.

Being good at math and science or that we are capable of leading does not mean that men don’t have to prove themselves as a whole. Feminism aims to liberate men as well as women. Feminism is wonderful because it can liberate the oppressor as well as the oppressed.

Men have to prove that it is okay for them to be ’sensitive,’ that it is okay for us to look ‘pretty,’ that it is okay for us to desire care and protection from our partners, rather than take assumed roles as “protectors” of women.

People looked at us funny when my girlfriend hugged me while I curled up into a ball in her arms on the subway in New York City. They aren’t used to such a scene. I feel that this is as much a sign of men’s oppression as it is of women’s.

I appreciate that I have privilege as a man, but that privilege comes at a huge cost. That painful cost is invisible to most men and, unfortunately, to many women who call themselves feminist, too. Please don’t belittle the negative effects gender inequality has on men when you speak of feminism.

I don’t think that I was belittling the negative effects that the patriarchy has on men. We were talking about leadership. I said that men don’t have to prove themselves as leaders. It’s unfortunate that you aren’t accepted when you show your emotions, but that goes both ways, too. Little girls are socialized to be sensitive, yet if a woman wants to appear competent in business or in politics, she must control her emotions so that others don’t think that she’s not up to the job. It’s also important to remember why being sensitive is perceived as a negative trait; society views sensitivity as being a female trait.

Is pointing out misinformation the same as leadership? Is creation the same as leadership? These are distinctions I don’t see you making, but they are important.

Leadership is a concept devoid of intent and full of action: a leader is someone who rules, guides or inspires others.

I believe the misinformation that you’re referring to is when I credited Feministing with creating Femquake. I didn’t see that as leadership, but I did see it as taking credit for leadership. You were guiding and inspiring others by coming up with Femquake.

In segregating the “*quake” events from one another and placing me at the head of Femquake independent of the full context, it feels to me that you disavow the inspirational, necessary role that McCreight, Negar Mottahedeh, and Golbarg Bashi played in inspiring my actions. I view them as my leaders here. Please give them as well as the unnamed masses of courageous women (and men, in some cases) who participated that same courtesy when you discuss Femquake.

I’m not trying to discredit the creators of Boobquake and Brainquake at all. I was responding to your response to the anonymous comment on my blog, which was about Femquake being started by a man.

I think feminism’s allies–regardless of their gender–deserve equal support. They are your allies, and you are after equality, aren’t you?

Again, we were talking about leaders. Allies and leaders are two different kinds of people. One person can choose to be an ally in one instance and a leader in another, but declining to follow a leader is not the same thing as denying support to an ally.

Ultimately, the issue is that if one is more willing to hear support for “get everyone on an equal footing” from a woman than from a man, the issue is not really about leadership, is it? It is about gender.

That’s a very black and white way to put it. It’s not about these two genders being different from each other. One of them has historically made all of the decisions for the other and had had power over the other. The issue isn’t about wanting to exclude men; it’s about wanting to empower ourselves instead of letting somebody else do it for us. It’s about women who don’t want to rely on men and who want to be independent.

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