A few weekends ago I was at the University of Oregon in Eugene when a friend of a friend asked me if I considered myself a feminist. After I replied with an obvious “Yes,” he asked me why feminists tend to not value his opinion, as in his opinion on feminism and the ideas surrounding feminism. Well, my automatic response was a sassy one: “Imagine having your opinion not valued for most things in general.” I was anxious for a rigorous debate. But then once I stepped out of my typical Saturday night self, I started thinking about how to phrase my response to this question when it comes up in the future.
I found myself pretty conflicted with this situation. I didn’t think it had been fair of me to automatically dismiss this decent and sincerely concerned guy, but I also struggled with the idea of apologizing to him on behalf of feminism. After receiving a similarly troubling comment on my previous blog post that implied I was excluding the male demographic whilst arguing for third wave feminism’s inclusivity, I was mildly irritated. Is it true that there are hoards of men attempting and failing to join the feminist movement because feminists are pushing them away? I don’t see that as being true at all, but if it were, would it be completely unfair? Does that mean that feminists do in fact hate all men?
This idea of men being offended by feminism is not a new one. Individual men frequently explicate how they are hurt by feminists because they’re just trying to support the cause but feel that feminists hate them inherently for being male. A Jezebel article titled “If I Admit That Hating Men Is a Thing, Will You Stop Turning It Into a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy?” sums up the response to that perfectly: “You [men] might not benefit from patriarchy in any measurable way—on an individual level your life might actually be much, much worse than mine—but the fact is that certain disadvantages are absent from your experience (and, likely, invisible to you) because of your gender.” This distinction between the individual versus the group as a whole is discussed in Allan G. Johnson’s “Patriarchy, the System.” Johnson discusses how “we are all participating in something larger than ourselves or any collection of us.” Patriarchy is a loaded word to men and they often take its mention as a personal attack on them. But that isn’t what it’s about. By existing in and participating in every day life, one submits to being held to the social standards and therefore reinforces the system, thus, inherently taking part in the patriarchy.
Furthermore, there is a difference between being an ally and simply speaking on others’ behalf. In her piece titled The Problem of Speaking for Others, Linda Alcoff discusses this phenomenon. She claims “there is a strong, albeit contested, current within feminism which holds that speaking for others is arrogant, vain, unethical, and politically illegitimate.” This can be applied to all forms of privilege when it comes to race, class, queer rights, etc. Doing this can simply reinforce the oppression of the group being spoken for, even if intended to be in a non malicious way. It’s speaking for something that you do not truly understand.
This is not intended to be a trap. I can admit it’s a difficult situation, especially when it comes to speaking on others behalf, because some people actually cannot get their voices heard. But we don’t need the straight white male to confront his privilege on our behalf. We need allies that stand with us, we don’t need someone to speak for us because we can speak for ourselves just fine.