Authenticity is a challenge.
There’s no shortage of news items about male feminists who have fallen from grace. It’s infuriating and puzzling for people on the left. It’s schadenfreude for the right. Some commentators have noted how similar this is — with left and right reversed — when an evangelical preacher falls from grace.
But other people aren’t surprised. Even ordinary male feminists can come across as pandering and sycophantic. Feminists often distrust male feminists’ motives. Some feminists seem to think men should be seen but not heard (unless they’re checking their privilege or confronting other men about their behavior). And male feminists must accept that women in the movement may mock them.
What’s happening here? The observations that follow are not excuses for bad male behavior. We should all know what appropriate behavior is and is not. No excuses.
Nor are these observations comprehensive. The reality of sexism and misogyny are well articulated elsewhere, so I’m going to focus on other factors.
Seeking women’s approval
We all crave attention, and negative attention is better than invisibility. I doubt I’m the only man who has felt a deep desire for female approval. For most of us this starts in childhood with the need for our mother’s approval, which some mothers manipulate. Though men often talk about father wound, mother wound is discussed far less often. Emotionally it’s a much more difficult discussion to have.
Further, women have immense sexual power over men. And this can lead to feelings of inadequacy and resentment.
It can also lead to a sense of entitlement. A man who fancies himself as one of the good guys may start to think he deserves women’s approval . If that’s not forthcoming then he may feel entitled to punish women.
The desire for women’s approval may lead some men to call themselves male feminists or allies (though that’s far from the only reason for choosing these labels).
But feminism is a movement of women for women. It presents a one-sided rather than a comprehensive view of gender. So a man who calls himself a feminist or an ally must take his talking points from women, restricting his ability to speak authentically about gender issues.
Particularly, he must overemphasize the negative aspects of masculinity and focus on women as victims of masculinity while ignoring female privilege and entitlement, including situations where women take advantage of men. This can lead to feelings of frustration and resentment, which often manifest passive-aggressively.
Getting past pandering
I support gender equality, but I’m not a feminist. This phrase is really annoying to many people. But I think it’s important to make it clear that my labels are my choice. I don’t believe feminism is the only perspective on gender equality. I also distance myself from reactive identitarian groups like the men’s rights movement.
I try to understand what feminism gets right and what it gets wrong . My goal is to develop a proactive perspective on gender equality that’s more comprehensive and non-identitarian.
Today’s gender myth implies that the dark side of human nature is masculine, which oppresses the feminine. It claims that gender is purely a social construct.
But I acknowledge that biology also plays a partial role. And I think it’s more accurate to say that masculinity can be both benevolent and tyrannical while femininity can be both nurturing and smothering.
Then there’s introspection. It’s important for men to examine the mother wound, acknowledge feelings about women’s power over us, and how this may contribute to a dysfunctional seeking of female approval.
But putting women on a pedestal is a particular problem. Of course, today’s version of the pedestal differs from yesterday’s. It’s understood that it’s sexist to say women shouldn’t be firefighters because they’re so delicate.
But women who wish to remain on a pedestal must maintain their innocence, which means having someone to blame. Men can become scapegoats.
I try not to enable this. This means accepting responsibility for my failings but refusing to accept responsibility for other people’s failings. And failing to realize that we’re not entitled to anything is one of the biggest failings at all.