What Is A Male Feminist?

I am a white cis-male upper-class settler. I am an Ashkenazi Jew and I practice Zen Buddhism. I am a feminist. Yes, men can -- and, I say, should -- be feminists.

I still do not know what exactly this means for me to be a feminist. Partly, this is because "being a feminist" does not mean one fixed thing but rather depends on context, relationships, and positionality. Yet, this uncertainty is also because I have never had a clear male role model in my life who also identifies -- and more importantly lives -- as a feminist. This is probably the case for most men in the U.S.

This is not to say that there have been no "good" men in my life -- far from it -- simply that they have not vocally or actively critiqued the interlocking systems of gender, race, sexual and class oppression or their part in such oppression. So, I am still learning, and always will be.

Fundamentally, right now, feminism for me is self-critique and humility. It means looking deeply into my experience and interrogating what I have received as "truth," as the "way things naturally are." This self-critique must not be limited to one narrow dimension of my thinking or living but instead must reverberate outward and inward to encompass all of my life and worldview. Being a white male feminist is not merely about holding abstract views of "gender equality," a perspective which too often erases the structuring factors of race, class, sexuality and colonialism. It must be a fully embodied resistance to various forms of gender, racial, and other oppressions.

Because white male subjectivity is fragile and struggles receiving feedback, "even" from fellow white men, I should clarify: self-critique does not mean self-hatred, shaming or guilting oneself or others, or excessive raging. Actually, such self-hatred is an inverted form of narcissism that recenters white men by making it about "me" and my fragile, hurt ego. This avoids grappling with the true issues of white supremacy and heteropatriarchy as they structure interpersonal and institutional domains. Self-critique enables the possibility for authentic love, for oneself and others, by excavating and transforming violence held within our souls. It also recognizes that indoctrination into a violent system requires its own violence. So we white men have been recipients of a sort of violent training, even as we become its new perpetrators and displace it upon the bodies and consciousness of women, trans people, and people of color. This is not to say that "we are also oppressed." Quite the contrary, it is our responsibility -- at least primarily ours -- to interrupt this chain of violence because we are its primary perpetrators and beneficiaries. I aspire to interrupt this pattern of violence and to be humble enough to admit my role in it.

This process of self-inquiry, healing and transformation does not and will not "feel good." It is uncomfortable, painful, at times excruciating. But who ever said everything worth doing has to feel good? Quite the contrary, most things worth dedicating myself to are difficult and full of suffering, but this very difficulty is the possibility for transformation. More to the point, what twisted law of humanity dictates that white men deserve to feel comfortable all the time -- so much so that we are taught to believe that everyone in our path must serve us freely, an assumption that displaces emotional and physical labor disproportionately onto low-income and immigrant women and trans people of color.

I must be willing to ask myself uncomfortable questions that may undermine my perceived immediate self-interests or that hurt to hold in my awareness. How is my presence experienced by people I share space with? Do I take up a lot of space and cause unnecessary alienation? Or, does my presence generate space and offer nourishment and encouragement for people around me? What labor do I do myself and what do I expect others to do; who are these "others?" Whose voices do I listen to, read, trust, respect, and seek out for guidance? Do I hear the voices of queer and trans people, women, and people of color -- without pressuring or expecting anyone to educate me or "tell me their story?" Do I interact with other cis men in an emotionally stunted, aggressive, and queerphobic way or do I embrace shared vulnerability and break heteronormative codes against nonsexual physical intimacy with other men? Do I blame recipients of violence for the violence they receive? Do I realize sexual assault and rape are not synonymous, and that emotional coercion is also violent? Do I ensure these questions permeate into my sexual and romantic relationships, as well as with family, friends, colleagues, and strangers? Am I willing to put my own material and social interests at stake to resist violence, realizing that the stakes are lower for me?

There is no clear-cut or easily digestible answer to these or the many other questions I must ask myself. This is good. I am not searching for an "answer" to these "problems" in order to eliminate their discomfort as quickly as possible. I must hold the force of these questions in my awareness to allow them to transform my behavior, thinking, vision -- i.e. the white male gaze -- worldview, and entire experience of being alive.

I cannot not be a white male settler -- just as I didn't choose this identity, I cannot choose to throw it away. I cannot magically change the history and structure of the world. The question then is simply: now what? Now that I am here, how will I render and embody this privilege and sociopolitical power? My response must always evolve, as my awareness and the world evolve. May we have the strength and clarity to settle more deeply into a life that resists violence and radiates peace.

Note: My post is partly inspired by Sara Ahmed's blog post Feminist Consciousness, on her blog feminist killjoys: https://feministkilljoys.com/2015/10/18/feminist-consciousness/