By Lauren Rankin May 2013
Patriarchy doesn’t just privilege men over women, but privileges certain kinds of men and certain kinds of masculinity. White, heterosexual, cisgender men receive the most favor, but with that privilege, they are expected to perform a certain type of masculinity, one that is normalized as natural but is, instead, a performance based on societal norms.
That’s what I thought I was transcending with my sensitive masculinity infused with a feminist sensibility until in early 2012 it became patently obvious it didn’t work and I began my search to find out why.
Men are not the target; patriarchy is. Male feminists understand that no one is free until we are all free, and until we end the patriarchal oppression of women, men will suffer, too.
How is it possible to separate men from patriarchy if men get privilege and advantage to varying degrees over women who constitute an oppressed victim class at the bottom of a one directional power hierarchy? Considering privilege entails the expectation men perform a particular yet not specified masculinity, patriarchy is either bizarrely contradictory or poorly defined.
Men can be great feminist allies, but because of their privileged positions as men and because they cannot understand firsthand what patriarchal oppression feels like, it’s important for men to take a supportive role.
I thought men could be feminists if they used the qualifier male so what’s with the inconsistent terminology? Are men who are feminists in a subordinate or associate membership class or not feminists at all and just supporters who can identify as an ally?
Male feminists can play a vital role in educating other young men and showing solidarity with feminist women, but they need to understand that they are supportive allies, not headlining superstars.
The feminist movement needs male allies, but we need male allies who listen, who trust us, who support us. We need male feminist allies who will challenge their friends and male social circles, who will defend us without sidelining us, and who will continue to call out sexism when they see it. “I’m proud to be part of a movement where women are at the forefront and [I get] to be the backup,” Kilstein says. And that is what being a male feminist ally is all about.
It is flattering knowing feminists want to keep men around for more than opening jars however I may be of little utility since I need to understand rather than implicitly trust ideas before supporting or defending their proponents.
I am congenitally curious, I play with ideas for fun and ask questions. I’m not and never was cut out to be a male feminist ally because that kind of macho male ideological enforcer role just doesn’t fit with my masculinity and propensity for independent thought.
I shall remain a non-ideological gender egalitarian.
Thanks Lyall, you’ve put into words some of my thoughts I have been struggling with in this space, and trying to explain that equalitarianism in the past has led me into some strange and angry conversations.