Thursday, June 26, 2008

How To Become A Male Feminist, In 40 Years Or Less

Thinking about how I came to identify as a feminist I initially thought about a few remarkable college professors that had a big influence on me. Then I realized that I needed to go back a lot farther.

I don't know for sure how old I was, but I had to be between three and six. I was playing outside while my mother worked in the yard. I looked up at her and became very uncomfortable and sad.

I had just realized something. Since my mother was female she was like the women who were hurt by men on TV. I was not. Being a boy, I was like those men.

My mother was vulnerable and I was the kind of person who hurt vulnerable people like her.

I knew, on some level, that I wasn't doomed to be a predator but this did not make everything OK. Like news coverage of the Jonestown suicide I would see a few years later this memory would not just stick with me, but haunt me.

My parents' divorce didn't help. My mother never demonized my father, but putting the pieces together wasn't rocket science. My dad was a jerk and intolerable
to be married to. Many years later I would learn that he paid about a third of the child support he agreed to.

My mother's second marriage was another kind of train wreck. So were her subsequent relationships with men. In each case my mother was partly to blame but it was also very clear that she was being used and taken advantage of by a succession of men who thought their behavior was good and right.

At some point my mother started kidding about hating men. On one hand, even as an adolescent, I couldn't blame her because I knew what she had been through. On the other hand, those half joking comments hurt. She was talking about me, or at least whom I was destined to become.

I stumbled into adulthood with those images and facts careening around in my head. As a heterosexual man, carrying around the idea that I somehow posed a threat to the very women I was attracted to was almost as bad as the possibility that my mother really did, on some level, regret having brought another penis into the world. Throughout my twenties, as you might imagine, this internal tension drained a lot of the fun out of the white, heterosexual, male privilege I was otherwise enjoying.

In college I happened to meet a number of very cool feminists. Oddly, contrary to what I had been conditioned to expect, none of the feminists I met hated me. None of them seemed to hate men in general. That is, except for one woman I went to grad school with. I can honestly say she hated men but to be fair, she hated most of the women she knew, too. Again, oddly, she liked me.

Around this same time I noticed that in a lot of the music I listened to women musicians, songwriters and producers were relatively rare. I started to wonder what I was missing out on because women were mostly restricted to being vocalists, often singing lyrics written my men. Whatever women might otherwise have had to say in those musical genres wasn't going to be heard. This continues to be true across many types of music. In this regard, we are all being cheated.

At some point, after years of reading and talking and listening, I decided that I was a supporter of feminism. Feminism, as I understood it, fit with what I had come to believe not only about gender roles but also about race and class. It fit with what I had come to believe about the relationship between the personal and the political. It fit with what I felt I should be doing to work for justice. It fit with what my conscience told me about how I should treat people.

For some time I didn't call myself a feminist because I wasn't clear on what it would mean for a man to make that claim. Would it be presumptuous, as though I was claiming to know what it was like to be a woman in our culture? So I asked the feminist I know best, the one I am married to.

"Can a man be a feminist?"
"Would you consider me a feminist?"
"Do you believe in justice and fairness for everybody?"
"You're a feminist."

Then we finished setting the table together and ate dinner.


Sally said...

This is such an awesome post! I'm sending it to my (also feminist) guy.

It's a damn shame about women's music, I definitely hear ya there. I personally love the Indigo Girls, Alanis, also Antigone Rising. I started a Grrl Power playlist for my iPod a while back (only music sung and written by women w/empowering messages)... unfortunately, the playlist was only about 20 songs, but I try to keep adding!

DJ Dual Core said...

Thank you.

Good luck with him!

If you like Indigo Girls you might want to try Carrie Newcomer.

Habladora said...

I also love Neko Case (here), Jenny Lewis (here), and Cat Power (here).

DJ Dual Core said...

Neko Case is fantastic! I can't say enough good about her. The songwriting on Fox Confessor Brings The Flood is SO good.

I've been meaning to check out Cat Power. I'll add Jenny Lewis to the list.

In the same vein, Kerri turned me on to Elaine Townsend. Sadly, I think she only has the one record... but it is really good.

What seems to be tough is finding good heavy electronic music by women. Aside from Hecate, Doddodo, Nic Endo and a few others there just doesn't seem to be much. I have been disappointed with the Hanin Elias I have heard.

karen said...

The feminist that you're married to is a lucky lady. Maybe I've said that before, but I'm saying it again :o)

DJ Dual Core said...

I'm reasonably sure I am luckier than Kerri is, but thank you for the compliment anyway!