What follows is not so much a coherent post, but a preview and necessary background for a post I want to get to once I've articulated my ideas well enough for my tastes. (I'm a slow writer. Sometimes I wonder what on earth I was thinking entering the blogosphere!)
A couple of days ago, in response to a blog commenting brouhaha elsewhere, Chris Clarke wrote a blog post called "Why I am not a feminist." If you know Chris's blog, his writing, his commenting elsewhere, and his general blogospheric persona, then, like me, your first reaction to such a post title was "Wha?" Intrigued and a little alarmed, I kept reading. Ultimately the post was a pretty passionate statement of why he could advocate feminist positions but could not, ultimately, claim the mantle of "feminist." As he concluded:
My goal is to be the best ally to feminists I can be, in the political realm and in the much more difficult personal realm.You really must go read the whole piece; like all of Chris's writing, it's really worth it. And it really struck a nerve in me or something, because I wrote a really long response, which I haven't generally had the time or energy to do lately. It's the fifth one down, so you don't have to go far for it. It's so long it could be its own blog post, but its most salient point was this, I think:
But I cannot call myself a feminist: the label is not mine to claim. [emphasis his]
Feminism is a political position that can be held by anyone. “Woman” is (perhaps) an identity that only some can claim. You are not a woman, but you are a feminist, given your political claims above.(I was addressing Chris, of course. And the "perhaps" is a nod to debates and theories of the constructedness of gender categories.) After a while the comments got really rich and interesting, with a range of opinions about whether or not men could call themselves feminists. Chris pointed out somewhere in there that there may have been a generational shift (and that may be true) as the feminists he'd known were adamant that a man could not call himself a feminist. Then someone else (Ampersand, I think) suggested that the difference might lie between radical feminists and liberal feminists. Well, I'm both a Gen Xer and a liberal feminist, so my own acceptance of male feminists might be influenced by either context. I don't know which is the more powerful influence.
And then Ampersand at Alas, A Blog took up the discussion (and, in fact, may have been at the beginning of it, before Chris took it up, but I missed that part). And I'm not just linking to him because he called me eloquent (*blush* -- thanks!). Mainly I'm linking to Ampersand's post because of the powerful personal story he tells of why he's a feminist and how feminism liberated him, someone who, in his words:
could not - really, really could not - "do" masculinity. And because of this, my peers (aided by too many adults who should have known better) taught me to hate myself. It took years, but I was an eager student, and I learned. I used to stand in front of mirrors interrogating my reflection, asking why I couldn't just be "normal," beating myself as hard as I could with my tiny balled fists (in retrospect, thank goodness I was a weakling!).You really have to go read the whole thing. It's heartbreaking and powerful. And it makes a whole lot of sense to me. According to Ampersand, "Feminism is the only movement in the world that has anything at all sensible to say about how gender roles are used as a whip to keep people in their place." As a female who identified not quite as a boy but with boys when I was young (and Mom claims she raised me like she raised my brother and not as she raised my sisters -- this after reading Friedan and de Beauvoir), and as an academic feminist who works on masculinity, I get this both personally and intellectually. This makes sense to me. But I need to think some more to articulate in better detail why I think feminist men can and should claim their feminism.
In the meantime, feel free to take up the discussion (again or anew) here in the comments. Can men be feminists?