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Because so few men have actively been involved in issues of women’s rights, each intrepid soul led to participate can feel isolated. Returning to the first-wave of feminism, Aaron Burr, despite the duel he fought with Alexander Hamilton and his sordid reputation, lobbied hard to give women the right to vote. Burr was one of the first men to publicly adopt the cause of women’s suffrage.

Burr believed women to be intellectually equal to men, and hung a portrait of the writer and intellectual Mary Wollstonecraft over his mantel. The Burrs' daughter, Theodosia, was taught dance, music, several languages, and learned to shoot from horseback. Until her death at sea in 1813, she remained devoted to her father. Not only did Burr advocate education for women, upon his election to the New York State Legislature, he submitted a bill to allow women to vote.
Impressive an accomplishment as that was, it took place two hundred years ago. Since then, the paths to enlightenment have never been sufficiently cleared and few know how to be an effective male ally. A guidebook for men would be helpful, but few blueprints exist. By contrast, women often come to feminism through a pipeline of college women’s studies programs. As I survey the landscape, sometimes I feel as rare as the dodo bird.  

The exception to the rule, in my own life, was a male classmate back in undergrad. He took women’s studies classes as electives, specifically to get better grades than women did. He succeeded. Speaking for myself, I took a human sexuality class my final semester in undergrad and found I could label parts of the female genitalia more accurately than my female classmates. I wasn’t sure whether my female classmates were somewhat mortified at the mere thought of their lady bits, or had never felt any reason to know what they were and where they were located. Unlike the man I have earlier described, my intentions were never to show up the women in my class.

A recent article talks about the “not all men” defense. Years into my own self-study, I can see the argument for what it is. For some men, stating that not all men are guilty or complicit means that they will always defend and cover for men who are guilty of some offense. For others, it’s a very natural argument meant to separate the guilty (themselves) from the innocent (other men). The first step in forming a consciousness is recognizing who one is and who one is not. Earlier in my life I resorted to the same language, defensively.

Writer Jess Zimmerman discussed this topic in Time.

“Not all men” also differs from “what about the men?” and other classic derails because it acknowledges that rape, sexism, and misogyny are real issues — just not, you know, real issues that the speaker is involved with in any way. The “not all men” man, at least in some cases, agrees with you and is perfectly willing to talk about how terrible those other guys are, just as soon as we get done establishing that he himself would never be such a cad. It’s infuriating and unhelpful, but in a way it represents a weird kind of progress.  
Other variations on a theme are “Not all white people are racist,” or “Not all men are sexist,” or “Not all straight people are homophobic.” I can understand why a person would want to clear their name before proceeding further, because such accusations are highly combustible. While I have learned to place myself into the shoes of a gender not my own, most often I don’t see this as infuriating or unhelpful. It’s the first step towards self-actualization. As much as feminists might wish to see sweeping progress, we don’t set the pace of internal education and realization.

Zimmerman concedes my point in a roundabout way at the end of the article. Many male allies slowly reach stage after stage, moving down the list.

1.    Sexism is a fake idea invented by feminists
2.    Sexism happens, but the effect of “reverse sexism” on men is as bad or worse
3.    Sexism happens, but the important part is that I personally am not sexist
4.    Sexism happens, and I benefit from that whether or not I personally am sexist
5.    Sexism happens, I benefit from it, I am unavoidably sexist sometimes because I was socialized that way, and if I want to be anti-sexist I have to be actively working against that socialization
The toughest notion to swallow is that of complicity in sexism. Sexism is a cultural problem and men live in fear of that accusation, much as they do rape or sexual assault. It takes a particularly strong, humble man to concede that he has benefited from an unfair standard. Feminism has been chiseling away at notions like these for years and years, out of constructive, persistent criticism. It has been my observation that the resistance faced is not because men aren’t listening, but rather they have lots of inner work to do before they are ready.

Quaker process involves deliberate delay when considering issues. Though I sometimes find it exasperating, I have to concede that waiting for a concern to season does provide additional insight. Any business brought before the Meeting is held over for a month, in the hopes that introspection will improve the flaws and produce the fairest resolution.

Internet interactions are in real time, and we do not self-censor as we should. A story is told about Abraham Lincoln. If he ever wrote a letter in anger, he set it aside and did not immediately send it. Returning to it the next day, most of the time, he declined to send it to the intended party and filed it away, unopened.  

If we are to use the internet to convey our message, it might be better if we restrain our impulses. Regardless of who is technically right, the effect reflects poorly on everyone. I was not socialized a woman, and though I still have much to learn, I know I’ll never completely get it. I know the progress I have made and those that leaders have made, but I do wonder what message the peanut-crunching masses have absorbed.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (6+ / 0-)

    I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I lead you in, some one else would lead you out. - Eugene Debs.

    by cabaretic on Tue Apr 29, 2014 at 06:17:25 AM PDT

  •  Fantastic piece, thank you. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cabaretic, allie4fairness, denig
    Sexism happens, I benefit from it, I am unavoidably sexist sometimes because I was socialized that way, and if I want to be anti-sexist I have to be actively working against that socialization
    This is really eloquent, descriptive language for something I've been trying to put into words for years.  (For me, growing up in the American south, there's a racism component as well as a sexism one - I have been more aware of the racism, but this piece exposes the sexism in a welcome, if not exactly comfortable, way.)  I also appreciate the bright (wince-inducing) light shined on the "not all men," defense.  I've definitely been guilty of that one, and while I never saw a negative response from it, I'll bet it engendered plenty of negative feelings.  Thanks for the reminder to be humble, and the perspective of a male feminist.  You're a great example!

    Not all people are human; not all humans are people.

    by Jon Sitzman on Tue Apr 29, 2014 at 06:31:01 AM PDT

    •  Definition of the word 'sexism' is part of the (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Jon Sitzman

      problem.  I can never know what it is like to live as a man, but this need not make me hostile toward all men, or ignorant of their issues.  (The following remarks ignore the unique problems of LGBTQ communities, who face especially difficult problems of discrimination.)

      The word sexism is used in more than one way.

      1.  Men can never fully experience the problems of being female.


      2.  Quite a few people are condescending or hostile toward women.

      Some men who say "not all men are sexist" are stating that not all men are hostile toward women.  They are not claiming they personally know how women experience our lives.  These men make a conscious effort to avoid condescending to women.  They will gladly change their speech patterns when they are told nicely that women feel something is demeaning.  They do what they can to help other people feel welcomed by society.  They are the good guys.

      Men who say "not all men" in an aggressive or hostile way are denying the extent of the damage that sexism causes in the lives of all women.

      •  Very good distinction. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        I'm glad to say that I at least fit in the first category.


        Men can never fully experience the problems of being female. so simple, but so very, very profound.  Attempting to put yourself in another's POV is the basis of empathy.  Even understanding you can never succeed, making sure you try is so important.

        Generally - not universally - I would say that people who lean left/liberal tend to cherish empathy and will sincerely try to understand another's viewpoint - even the viewpoint of a really hostile and rude person (generic Limbaugh listener f.e.).  Again, generally not universally, I would say that people who lean right/conservative tend to cherish their self-ness (sorry English majors for the nonword) and actively avoid looking through another's eyes - unless with very thick lenses.

        Not all people are human; not all humans are people.

        by Jon Sitzman on Tue Apr 29, 2014 at 11:07:15 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Sexism puts terrible pressures on men as well. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Jon Sitzman

          I can just shrug if someone calls me a wimp.  I can enjoy flowers and kittens without anyone questioning my womanhood.  Liberating women liberates men to be individuals.

          The world would be really boring if we were all alike.  Sharing our different points of view enriches us all.

          •  That actually hits really close to my heart. (0+ / 0-)

            One of my nephews enjoys flowers, kittens, pastel colors, and... well, Minecraft.  He's too young for me to get any sense of gender-identity yet (I strongly doubt he knows), but I do worry about how he'll be perceived by peers.  I understand he gets on well enough in school due to simply being quiet and unnoticeable (how I wish that had worked for me!), so hopefully he can explore who he is without facing brutal ostracism and hazing.  As a victim of those things, I can say firsthand they suck.

            Again, great perspective.  Thanks.

            Not all people are human; not all humans are people.

            by Jon Sitzman on Tue Apr 29, 2014 at 03:01:03 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  sorry (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cabaretic, allie4fairness

    i'm not a sexist and don't mind saying it.

    i grew up with both parents articulating feminist themes and a big sister whom I idolized. my father in particular was determined that my sister would be treated with respect that his sister was not.

    i wasn't socialized to be sexist and I don't think I should have to say I am or be considered unaware or blocked.

    I'm lucky enough to have worked for entities where there was equal pay (mostly because there was a union insisting upon it) so I don't think being male in fact is something I gain much passive benefit from. i am spared a particular form of harrassment, I suppose. but not having sexist remarks aimed at me isn't a "benefit" so much as an absence of a particular form of bullying. i was subjected to remarks pertaining to sexuality (small men seem to be called "f-gs" a lot for some reason) but it's not the same thing.

    not saying that I am typical, but in fact "not all men..." is accurate in some cases and people who are irritated by it should not be making assumptions (at the individual level) about where someone is coming from.

    Some men truly admire strong and smart women (of which there is an abundance, happily). Am I supposed to pretend I feel that way to a lesser degree to demonstrate humility?

    My co-workers at a feminist org I once worked for didn't seem to expect that of me.

    You are a living mockery of your own ideals. If not, you have set your ideals too low-Charles Ludlam

    by PatRiots on Tue Apr 29, 2014 at 07:10:20 AM PDT

  •  A few quotes (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Women who seek to be equal with men lack ambition.
        Timothy Leary

    When men imagine a female uprising, they imagine a world in which women rule men as men have ruled women.
        Sally Kempton

    The last quote is why feminism is so scary to most of the male population . . .

  •  Excellent diary. Beautifully written. Thanks, you (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    so made my day!

    ...wispy longings for a time before Elvis and the Beatles, back when "a girl could cook and still would". You know before the troubles.~Hunter.

    by denig on Tue Apr 29, 2014 at 11:01:54 AM PDT

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