feminist men, part one: good boys
March 17, 2003 06:18 PM

On We Have Brains this week, Roni's getting everyone to talk about the men and boys they know.

I don't think I know a man whom I don't consider, to some extent, a feminist. Unless you want to include the guy who was trolling around the collab a week or two ago talking about the men we bring down and child support and how he's very, very angry. Because feminists are bad and women are increasingly in prison. [I don't think this stuff up, I just report it.]

A feminist is someone who believes men and women should be equal in the sense of legal, social and economic choices. I would say equal in every way, but not everyone agrees with me on that. There are plenty of people (feminist and not) who include an element of biological determinism in their idea of sex/gender. I don't agree with those people, but that doesn't exclude them from feminism. It doesn't even exclude them from going to the movies with me on a Friday night.

I'm choosing to address this in two parts, equating to the two traditions of boyishness I've known.

I live in the South. I grew up in a military family [hence the ambivalence about war]. I have, you can imagine, met a lot of good, honest boys who did and believed as they were told [and I do mean boys, based entirely on their youth] and had - um, unusual views about women. Only a handful of them have been radically anti-abortion, anti-women receiving comparable wages for working like men, even anti-women joining the armed forces. Most of them would state an opinion (ie Women Should Not Join The Military) and then equivocate: "well, if they were strong enough" or "well, if men weren't so stupid" or "women are lucky they don't have to go to war" [as if we didn't have a voluntary service].

I told you. Unusual views.

But. Most of them, at core, felt that women and men ought to be afforded the same opportunities. Just, with exclusions. I don't think you can be a real feminist and make room for exclusions, but the idea of sex equality is at least a start for a boy with unusual views.

I have a friend who started out one of these boys. He changed. He struggled through changing. He started out thinking he was a feminist, nay, better than a feminist - a devout admirer of all things female. Women, he felt, were superior. Lacking men's baser, stupider, more animalistic tendencies. Not in power and therefore not responsible for Man's disconnection from and abuse of Nature.

He was also a devout opener of doors, at a time when opening doors (literally) for others was a symbol of chivalry's implicit infantilizing of women. [I don't know what this was like, in the early 80's, elsewhere, but in the American South, it was a Big Deal. Door-opening is a key element of Southern gentility, with a whole set of implicit rules about who opens the door for whom - it's not just about gender, but about age and the size of your packages. ;)] This door-opening habit got him in quite a few arguments with unknown women who were not down with the implicit rules.

He didn't get it.

And then he did. It took him years of being gently reminded that thinking women were better, more deserving of adoration, was a disservice to men and women alike. It took some introduction to the Men's Movement and notions of difference that didn't equate to better and worse. He'd hesitate to call himself a feminist still, but he's grown into it.

I have another friend, another good boy, who never really quite got it about feminism. Whose boyish beliefs about women weren't so much that women were better, but that women were stronger - and also more dangerous, potentially more treacherous.

He was never, in my experience, confronted by a feminist who challenged his assumption of a subordinate role in his relationships.

Not even by me. We weren't that close.

But he did, at least, grow out of thinking women were born traitors. And into at least one relationship where the traditional gender-role reversal was chosen. So - even without thinking about feminism, his family lives by it.

[Stay tuned for part two: the bad boys. I don't mean "bad" in most of the usual ways. Ah, you'll understand.]

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your wicked thoughts

thanks for the response...can't wait for part 2!

these are the thoughts of Roni on March 18, 2003 03:00 PM

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