Support for, concerns about #HeForShe

Edit: So as universalperson points out in the comments, Hugo Schwyzer is seriously awful an referring to him as a feminist ally is pretty inaccurate. On the other hand, I still stand by saying that he’s the strongest one Good Man Project had–he talked the talk while acting horribly in private, as opposed to actively attacking feminism and feminists. 

So, you may have heard about a speech Emma Watson gave at the UN recently, in which she went out of her way to emphasize the ways in which patriarchy hurts men and invite men into the feminist movement. Part of the purpose of the speech was to announce the launch of a new UN campaign, #HeForShe, encouraging men to pledge to speak out against instances of sexism and misogyny in their communities.

And this is, net, probably a good thing, which is why I have signed the pledge. Plus, you know, I was doing it already, and, as I said on Twitter, if Emma Watson and Lauren Faust are telling you to do something, it is probably worth at least checking out.

But at the same time, I’m a little cautious. I remember when the Good Man Project sounded like a great idea, a way to help repair the very real damage patriarchy and kyriarchy do to men and, in the process, help gain men as allies against the kyriarchy.

It didn’t work out that way. The year after its founding, the Good Man Project posted a series of anti-feminist articles by one of its founders, leading to the resignation of the strongest feminist ally among its regular contributors and resulting in its present state, a site where an article about the pain of being in “the friend zone” can share front page space with an article about using the pain of losing a friend to make one a better CEO, parenting and dating tips, but not a trace of politics, not a mention of, say, the behavior of men in creating #GamerGate or the moral obligation to not touch stolen nude pictures of celebrities or, I don’t know, the launch of #HeForShe? The entire site is predicated on the notion that it is possible to be a “good man” in isolation, that men’s issues can be separated from gender issues–that, in short, one can become a better man without thinking about women. And that’s when it’s not just being the watered-down diet version of the Men’s Rights movement.

Because that’s the thing: Yes, the patriarchy hurts men too. Hegemonic masculinity pressures men to avoid cultivating emotional intelligence, makes it difficult for them to form close friendships or seek help when in need. Male rape victims suffer the consequences of rape culture just as women do. Because the kyriarchy constructs masculinity as being about power, and particularly power over women, trans men are falsely seen as “starting as women” and barred from accessing that power or asserting masculinity; gay men are seen as unmasculine and threatening; men who do not particularly relish displays of power are seen as unmasculine and dispensable. Men are poisoned with false narratives and expectations about relationships, their place in the world, the source of their identity, and the nature of gender.

But all of this is collateral damage.

Supporting feminism because kyriarchy hurts men is like getting upset over a terrorist bombing because the resulting traffic jam made you late for work. Yes, that’s a negative effect, but focusing on it is self-centered and narcissistic.

Women are the targets of misogyny and sexism. They are the ones who face it day in and out, who see all of it, not just the bits that happen to men. They are the ones who can see the enemy, who know the enemy, who have no choice about being in this fight, because they are the ones being directly attacked.

We men are necessarily on the sidelines. So we can help. We can support. We can take action, discuss theory, even, if invited to do so, offer advice. But it must be women that lead, because a feminism that forefronts men’s concerns makes as much sense as a movement for racial equality that focuses on making whites feel better or a labor movement that emphasizes keeping managers happy; it’s inherently self-defeating.

If you want to see what a movement looks like that primarily focuses on the ways in which patriarchy hurts men, look no further than the Red Pill on Reddit, if you can stomach it. Men feel as if they’ve been robbed of something they’re entitled to, powerless, lost, purposeless, isolated because they’ve been taught by the patriarchy that their role is to exercise power, that certain emotions are “unmanly,” that women are their property and birthright. They feel powerless because they expect power, lost, purposeless, and isolated because they are emotionally stunted and unable to form healthy relationships, and robbed because they’ve been lied to about what they’re entitled to.

These are all problems that feminism can solve, because they’re all collateral damage of the war on women: all stem from a system of gender relations that defines “man” as “wielder of power over women.” But focusing on these problems puts the emphasis on the feelings of powerlessness and loss, pushing toward a “solution” of seeking to give men still more power over women. The result is to make the feeling being robbed worse, to stoke anger and resentment and hate. The result is MRAs and PUAs and, ultimately, rapes and mass shootings.

The focus, instead, needs to be on the underlying causes. Where feminism focuses on helping men, it needs to be about tough love–about helping men shed their entitlement, their expectations of power. Where feminism focuses on recruiting men, it should be about encouraging self-policing, about teaching men to teach men to be less entitled and to reduce unrealistic expectations of power. Then and only then can men work on healing the damage of patriarchy, after they’ve worked helping take it down.

And most importantly of all, men need to learn to help, not save. This is a theme I’ve hammered again and again in my analyses this past year, because it’s important. There’s a reason there’s a degree of controversy over whether men should even call themselves feminists, whether it might not be better to refer to themselves as feminist allies, and it’s because of the savior problem. Far too many men walk into feminist spaces because they want to Save the Women, imposing their own ideas–necessarily based on incomplete information, because no man experiences the entire reality of sexism as experienced by women–of what needs to be done, all in service of their own ego and self-image as a Good Person who will Rescue Those Poor People. It is a profoundly self-centered approach that infantilizes and dehumanizes the people one is seeking to save.

No, the proper role of men in a feminist movement is as helpers–our job is to say “What do you need?” and then either provide what’s asked for or get out of the way. Not because of any fundamental difference between men and women, but because that is the moral way and only really workable way to get involved in another person’s problems: to offer one’s resources and then allow the person in need to decide how to use them.

And helping isn’t easy. Trying to help is harder than trying to save. It means surrendering power and control, opening oneself up to rejection, and putting one’s own feelings and wants and ideas about what’s helpful second to the expressed needs of another person. Which is why, ultimately, I worry about #HeForShe in the long term. Getting involved in someone else’s equality movement to benefit oneself seems like very much the wrong reasons. A man who supports feminism to help himself, or to feel better, or to get praised, is pretty much guaranteed to be doing it wrong–and an entire international movement of people doing it wrong could do real damage.

So yes, I signed the #HeForShe pledge. And yes, I do encourage other men to do it as well. But I also encourage you to focus on the ForShe part. This isn’t HeForHe, isn’t about our egos and our needs. To return to my rather strained earlier metaphor, this isn’t about stopping traffic jams, it’s about stopping bombings. If the traffic jam is what it takes to get you involved, so be it–but the traffic jams cannot be priority one. They cannot be a priority at all; you’re just going to have to trust that the side effects will naturally fade as we tackle the core problem.

I don’t normally do this, but I feel this is an important conversation that needs to happen as part of #HeForShe, so: Please consider reblogging, sharing, and linking to this post.

11 thoughts on “Support for, concerns about #HeForShe

  1. Lots of very good points. “Helping not saving” is such an important message for anyone involved in any social activism or indeed, community service work. Too often privileged folks take our responsibility as power, rather than recognizing that we need to give the people we want to help that power to make decisions. Ultimately, we need to be the followers rather than the leaders.

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  2. Possibly he did. Definitely he's a racist and sexual predator with severe mental health issues, and he only ever took two women's studies classes–which, I should note, is two more than I've taken, since my university didn't have a women's studies program when I was there.

    However, I'm not linking him as an authority on feminism or social justice–I'm linking him as a firsthand witness of what happened at Good Men Project, which account AFAIK has never been disputed.

    So, scumbag, but reliable source on this one narrow point of interest which I happened to need a reliable source on.

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  3. Exactly.

    And that's often a hard thing for men to stomach, I think. We're socialized to believe we need to be leaders or else we're somehow failing, because masculinity is defined in terms of power and control, but the truth is sometimes you *should* follow because somebody else is *better* at leading.

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  4. Alright – but he ended up being an example of just what you're talking about; someone who wanted to save women rather than help them (and only for his own benefit!) I think it's a bit disingenuous to call him a “the strongest feminist ally among its regular contributors” when it turns out he was anything but a feminist ally.

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  5. Women getting catcalled – terrorist attack.

    Men losing custody of their kids – traffic jam.
    Men forced in parenthood – traffic jam.
    Men being falsely accused of rape – traffic jam.
    Men being genitally mutilated at birth – traffic jam
    Men's higher suicide rates – traffic jam
    Men's suffrage contingent on selective service – traffic jam
    Domestic violence against men – traffic jam
    Men being silenced during discussion of gender issues – traffic jam.

    Got it.

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  6. As true as all this is, I think there is a fundamental misunderstanding about the role of women freeing themselves from the patriarchy. The moral of the story is that women are people, and people often do bad things, and there is a load of feminists who are utterly reprehensible. People often whine about tumbler feminism as though they are a new phenomena, as though any activist group, let alone feminism hasn't had their crazies and how the old times where somehow better. This is almost kind of like a religion, especially when a lot of outspoken feminists wrote books that expressed such things are revered as heros. the message isn't that you shouldn't admire them, but that they shouldn't be idolized, they have their flaws aplenty.

    Ultimately the main concern is can feminism as any movement move towards the goal in purity, and instead not take more than is afforded by it? many women feel entitled as well. men aren't the only group that experiences these losses, and it should be an important facets of the discussion for women too, but one I have never heard much of. If women feel such loss, what will they do to repair that loss that was taken from them? will we know when to stop? A peek into Japanese society shows a very very male dominated society that's quite reprehensible, but the behavior of women within that society isn't exactly something to look up to either, and its hard to believe that, where they to organize en masse, they wouldn't be plagued by ladies who still expect men to tank every bill at a restaurant, or continue to be the money manager of household finances. So too in america its hard to see a future in feminism that isn't filled with fanatics so tired and enflamed by insults and demeaning opinions that the concept of freedom of speech and expression isn't held hostage. Like it or not, a lot of the existing remnants of patriarchy isn't born in law, most of it in america is cultural. And a lot of social justice advocates have shown time and again that they are not above censorship and the utter libel and slander of anyone who calls them out on it. The meta of TV tropes was changed entirely by their swing to popularity, and it's easy to see in their new policies their favorite methods to deal with touchy subjects is to erase of them and then throw blanket statements decrying anyone interested in it as basically criminal despite the target audiance of TV tropes being a bastion of the realm of FICTION.

    Oh and froborr. considering you deleted my posts regularly because I was not acting in the most placid of un condescending manner, you're leaning heavily on the fence that separates you from this problem.

    As much as I love feminism and the ideals, I find myself quite hesitant to participate in a movement filled with people who have a habit of character assassination, libel, and fraud. Ive seen social justice warriors throw giant fits of rage for accepting donations from fourchan to help raise women representation in gaming, something I pine for every time I gloss over the newest releases and see nothing but barrel chested wide chinned manly men on brown FPS52. a lot of this money went to help fighting cancer, and the response was attempts to character assassinate the whole organization as fake and not really feminist. I have little social ability and have no expectation to be able to thrive and supplant terrible behavior like this, but those kinds of skills will be needed for people to start seeing feminism as heading anywhere towards a society people actually want to inhabit.

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  7. sorry, I should clarify this statement.

    they wouldn't be plagued by ladies who still expect men to tank every bill at a restaurant, or continue letting women be the money manager of household finances.

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  8. If you support feminist ideals then you should be working to bring them into practice, not whining about how some feminist somewhere did something you didn't like and therefore the entire movement is invalidated.

    And no “SJW” ever, anywhere has ever practiced censorship, because censorship is something only a government entity can do. People need to quit equating any exercise of the right to decide who gets to say what in my own house with jackbooted thugs breaking into people's houses and burning their books. It's whiny, childish, and betrays a spectacular ignorance of the real history of censorship and the nature of free expression. I am under no obligation to give you a platform or share mine with you; you are perfectly capable of building your own. My policy here is straightforward and clearly stated, and comments are deleted strictly according to those rules, regardless of whether I agree with them or not–I have, for example, deleted comments dehumanizing the Ferguson police force, although I believe they are utterly vile and should be treated as a hostile occupying military force, because the rules I wrote say you don't get to do that.

    As for ideological purity, that's for children and fanatics. Real movements are made of people who happen to be going in the same direction at the same time. Inevitably, once they've gone far enough, there'll be disagreement on where to go next, but that's no reason to refuse to work on a good cause now–at least, not if you actually believe in that cause and aren't just concern trolling.

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