My mum is a feminist.
(Sidebar – this is not why I am not a feminist. I just thought I would begin by sharing a little about where I come from)
As she would say, “feminism was never about equality. It was about validation!”
I was raised by this woman. She thinks – whether I like it or not – that I AM, in fact, a feminist.
I should also like to mention that I happen to be quite a big fan of feminism. The bulk of my university studies involved researching Feminist Psychology Theory, which seems to have been the first of the psychology theories to start taking all people into consideration; not just men.
Anyway, I prefer not to call myself a feminist. And here’s why.
I am a man. I was raised to be one, and I consider myself cisgender (which is to say, the doctors told my parents, when I was born, that I was a boy. And I have yet to disagree).
Are there other men who consider themselves feminists? I’m sure there are. Is this okay? I think so.
But for me, I’m not sure it is a useful thing to call myself.
Feminism came about because women felt that they were not being treated as equal to men (which of course, is an accurate feeling). For me, as a man, to call myself a feminist, would be to ally myself with the cause of feminism, or women’s rights (or inclusive rights of all those marginalised; historically and today). In my youth, I think I did consider myself such an ally.
And then I learnt about enlightened sexism (see my article, “The Real Reason Why Women Rarely Make The First Move With Love”), as well as performative allyship.
Performative allyship would be like, if I were to preach – as the man that I am – on the benefits and importance of feminism, and then go and tell a young woman that I sometimes think about her when I touch myself.
Which, I am afraid to say, was a thing I did.
And not to justify my actions, but I felt hurt by her. She had rejected me, telling me that I did not act enough like a man – not machismo enough – for her. And some part of me knew that, by saying this, I would probably offend her. And if I think deeply enough about it, that was what I wanted. If I was not manly enough for her, I would show her that I could act every bit like the sort of man I felt she subconsciously wanted (see Precarious Manhood Theory).
So that’s a pretty good definition, I think, of what performative allyship can look like. Basically, as in this case, it is when a man acts a certain way because, well, maybe it’s popular to do so. Or because we see that we will gain some form of validation, acceptance, or even acclaim. But lo and behold, all we’re really doing is putting on a performance. We haven’t actually changed very much of our beliefs, ideologies, or the like. We haven’t begun deconstructing our normative masculine identities yet.
When I was in university I made up this theory I called critical masculinity. It was basically hegemonic or toxic masculinity, but with an added spiciness of criticality.
See, when a thing is in critical condition – like in the case of a disease – there is the assumption that either one of two things will occur (because a critical condition is not a state that can last). There will either by a drastic shift, or the organism will die.
So I attributed normative masculine identity constructs to a state that was in critical condition.
And would either need to drastically change, or die.
I even begged the question as to whether critical masculinity was not somehow a cause of the critical condition our world, our earth, is currently in.
But, lest I digress, I prefer not to call myself a feminist because I don’t believe I necessarily have the right to do so. What I do have the right to do is try to help other men see from a perspective I have come to see from. That it is not our place to change things outside of ourselves, but to work on our own inner struggles. That, if the ways we are being raised are teaching us to develop identities that cause us to act in hypermasculine, sexist, racist, misogynistic fashions, then perhaps we ought to start changing and challenging the narratives of how we were taught to be men.
One of the first steps (and there will be many steps, I am afraid), is to stop believing that a call to challenge the patriarchy is actually an attack on your person. It is not. It is an attack on a systemically oppressive construct. However, if you happen to feel that you are being personally attacked by the rhetoric of dismantling systemic oppression, then you have just noticed – perhaps for the very first time – just how fragile the structures around your gender identity are. And this fragility is actually not your fault. We say normative masculine identity constructs because these are the normal ways we are taught to develop our masculine identities. There isn’t necessarily anything wrong with you or I, apart from the fact that we were born into a society with these ideals.
If you like, let’s use a popular adage, but this time with a slightly different goal. Instead of attacking anyone we feel is endangering our self-concept and belief that we are, in fact, good people – no matter what we do or say – why don’t we man up, and start taking responsibility for our behaviours and actions. There are a lot of people asking us to do so, and, at the end of the day, it can’t really hurt us to try.