Liberal Men With Agendas Can Be Dangerous To The Feminist Movement

Feminism as a movement is one which sets to confront the patriarchal structural inequalities that oppress women across the world.

From the wage gap to conceptions of femininity and existing in spaces dominated by the male presence, the focus given to men in feminist discourse is not something which can or should be taken lightly, especially when taking male influence into context.

Margaret Atwood’s fictitious The Robber Bride makes significant comments on this:

“Male fantasies, male fantasies, is everything run by male fantasies? Up on a pedestal or down on your knees, it’s all a male fantasy: that you’re strong enough to take what they dish out, or else too weak to do anything about it. Even pretending you aren’t catering to male fantasies is a male fantasy: pretending you’re unseen, pretending you have a life of your own, that you can wash your feet and comb your hair unconscious of the ever-present watcher peering through the keyhole, peering through the keyhole in your own head, if nowhere else. You are a woman with a man inside watching a woman. You are your own voyeur.”

For many women, the male gaze and influence is one which permeates views of oneself: from the applying of make-up to choosing to go without it, from sitting on a train to walking down the pavement, from speaking aloud and recognising the voice inflection of a female to increase in pitch, a questioning, unsure manner.

So what happens when patriarchy is molded to a male’s intent? Well, many things: rape, prevention of abortions, standards of femininity, abuse, and the list goes on.

The socialisation of gender roles is one which means the most casual of practises deserves to be unpacked; girls going for pink, boys going for blue, and feminism wondering exactly why all these things exist.

This isn’t to say that every man is afforded the same privileges of his male neighbour: the intersections of race, class, sexuality and religion are valid. A white man may not experience racial profiling. A black man from a deprived area may not be afforded the same consideration as a white man from a wealthier neighbourhood in a job interview.

These differences are significant and deserve to be paid attention to in the wider scheme of things. But when it comes to notions of masculinity in life, men share a common factor of dominance and space-taking, informed by weighted upbringings and casual exchanges. It is therefore easy to recognise how this would translate to their practises of feminism.

I once came upon a quote which argued that men shouldn’t call themselves feminists: rather, they should take the spaces they inhibit and make them feminist. This is a notion which accepts that men are privileged but argues that they have the chance to use this privilege to benefit women. When looking at a number of male feminist figures, from the failed to the somewhat successful, the distinction of success is one which should be clarified. Feminism as a movement is one which cannot be simplified to misandry.

For men, it is a far from simple exchange which harms just as much as it benefits: with toxic standards of masculinity and social cues for dominance comes a questioning of exactly how comfortable one can be to do this, and whether some even question this. In bell hooks‘ ‘Feminism is for Everybody’, it is noted that:

“Most men are disturbed by hatred and fear of women, by male violence against women, even the men who perpetuate this violence. But they fear letting go of the benefits. They are not certain what will happen to the world they know most intimately if patriarchy changes. So they find it easier to passively support male domination even when they know in their minds and hearts that it is wrong.”

So what happens when patriarchy is molded to a male’s intent? Well, many things: rape, prevention of abortions, standards of femininity, abuse, and the list goes on. The male fantasy, as Atwood mentioned previously, is perverse. It can also color a male’s practice of feminism, and this is precisely what happened with Tumblr’s Josh Macedo, known online as confusedtree.

For the Internet-savvy, this is old news, a drama concluding in 2013: a 20-something lover of nerd culture builds up his following through a mixture of meme humour and feminist discourse, maintains himself as a defender of misogyny, and then is revealed to have sent sexually-explicit material to underage teenagers.

Pedaling the guise of the awkward loner, the scandal that followed Macedo was one which took notice of the undercurrent of manipulation which plagued his actions. His fame was one which was credited to a cause he took little notice of except to manipulate to his own intents: Macedo was aware of the benefits of his masculinity but could not shake off the allure of its benefits.

Prompting hesitant, terrified responses to his sexually-explicit behaviour, these exchanges are typical of the pressurizing male, aware of his power and using it to his own advantage. Aja Romano said it best for the Daily Dot:

“When you frame yourself as an outside-the-establishment liberal who understands the struggles that women face, it puts you in an elevated, respected position—and it becomes easier to abuse your power in the community.”

The influence of social media is one which, paired with the fast-evolving rate of social justice and feminist discourse, is dynamic, and which can be both negative and positive. A community which is both effective and which can amount to nothing is difficult to comprehend, but for many, saying the ‘right’ thing can be backing women’s rights while remaining divorced from them, refusing to support victims of abuse or to understand the dangers of the male gaze but accepting the number of likes or shares something you penned acquires.

The male voice is one which requires being conscious of one’s actions. It is to recognise that where an intention is positive, an effect can be negative and to speak is to speak with an awareness of patriarchal repercussions.

For a male, it is easy to use feminism as a tool, to speak over a woman without realizing one’s influence or that a woman’s voice has already articulated your words. Male influence within feminist discourse is powerful in this way.

For Matt McGory, star of Netflix’s Orange Is The New Black and self-proclaimed feminist, a male understanding of feminism is to recognise misconceptions and to fix them, to know the limits of your knowledge and to expand on it further:

“The people we have to convince who are gonna be allies, like me—the people I feel like I’m trying to go after are the good people who just maybe have blind spots about gender inequality like I did. Or, didn’t know what the term feminism meant. You know, a guy who’s a bigot who hates women is not gonna care what feminism means anyway, so I don’t need to go after him. But I’m trying to incorporate an easy way in for those people that don’t know a lot about it. Who actually have good intentions.”

While intention is not sacred and while one can be aware of the privileges afforded to them based on race, gender and sexuality, the idea that an ally is protected from ever making a mistake is an unfair demand. McGory’s estimate of a male ally is simplistic, but fair. In speaking about the wage gap, trans rights, and the importance of intersectionality, his handle on feminism is interesting and somewhat significant.

While it is already regarded a dilution of the value of feminism that we now place celebrities (with personal agendas) as the faces of the movement, the value given to a voice is only worth something if it corresponds to an awareness of power, an awareness of domination, an awareness of how masculinity is detrimental in its effects for society.

The male voice is one which requires being conscious of one’s actions. It is to recognise that where an intention is positive, an effect can be negative and to speak is to speak with an awareness of patriarchal repercussions.

It is to divorce the self’s need for approval, to ignore the modification of social justice as ‘trendy’, to prioritise the need to improve the standard of living that women so ardently require, and to be happy with this decision. The most important thing comes from an awareness of the history of male oppression and dominance: to recognise that your support will always be secondary to the issues women face.

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Cover Photo Credit: AK Rockefeller/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

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About the Author
Mariam Ansar is a student at the University of Cambridge. Residing in England, she is hesitant about calling herself a journalist but admits she enjoys critiquing and analyzing most things and then writing about them later. Twitter: @mariamwrites
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