Why Mormon Feminism Should Be About Men Too

Anyone who has spent time in a feminist Mormon housewives discussion forum knows how frequently arguments break out over whether a new member has mansplained. So when I saw that the fMh blog had published an article addressed exclusively to wannabe male feminists, I hoped they would publish advice to help new members avoid these miscommunications. Instead, Reese Dixon managed to produce one of the most sexist and narrow-minded articles I’ve yet to see from a contemporary Mormon feminist.

In the article Dixon offers a list of advice for male feminists, most of which boils down to one repeated phrase: it’s not about you. Whether the issue is domestic violence or sexual violence, Dixon argues, it’s not about men. It’s about women. But is that really the message we want to send to new feminists?

Don’t get me wrong – I understand why Dixon wrote the article, and some of her advice is good for anyone who is new to a discussion, especially for a new member whose privilege can blind them to the issues the group is fighting. And I’ve heard unmerited complaints of feminist sexism too. But most of those complaints come from the kind of miscommunication that happens when a person is new to a discussion and doesn’t understand the group dynamics.

So here’s my advice to any new feminist, particularly feminists who happen to be male:

1. First and Foremost, Listen.

When I first encountered the Womanist movement, which focuses on issues that impact women of color, I felt just as hurt as many men feel when they’re new to feminism. Womanist articles seemed to generalize unfairly about white people, and I felt like nothing I said was interpreted the way I meant it. And yeah, it was tempting to storm off and write off womanism altogether. But here’s what I did instead: I listened. I followed womanist blogs and read womanist articles for two years, without commenting. I just read. By the end of those two years, I understood that complaints about “whiteness” weren’t about me as an individual. And I understood why claiming “but I’m color blind; I don’t see race” was a sign of ignorance, not of superiority. And I understood how to enter the conversation.

I’m not saying you should take two years before speaking up online, but just keep in mind that the internet can make even neutral comments sound like rage, so it’s a really good idea to take at least two months to observe the conversation before you jump in.

 

2. Discuss Male Victimhood, with Sincerity.

Some of the best and worst advice from Dixon’s piece shows up in the same paragraph. On the topic of male victimhood, she says:

“So in a conversation about sexual harassment, quell the impulse to relate issues of male victimhood. It can happen, but with no where NEAR the frequency of female victimhood. So stop derailing the conversation.”

The problem with this advice is that men have every right to discuss male victimhood within a feminist setting. In fact, I think we need to spend more time talking about male victimhood.  Why?

  • Because sexual assault is sexual assault, and it’s wrong no matter who it happens to.
  • Because studies show that male victims of sexual assault have trauma that is compounded by the fallacious stereotype that sexual assault only happens to women.
  • Because male victims of sexual assault are more likely to be victimized by other men, and feminists know what it’s like to be victimized by powerful men.
  • Because there is no other movement as widespread as the feminist movement that does address how men are victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

When female feminists attempt to shut down discussions of male victimhood, we aggravate a very real problem and only feed into the cult of masculinity, which posits that men are strong and aggressive and rarely victims. Most feminists I know are highly aware of this issue and very willing to champion male victims. To any female feminists who are lagging behind on this one: time to catch up

 

3. Open Conversations, Instead of Closing Them.

One of the most important things to remember if you’re new to a social movement, is that one person’s victimhood does not negate that of another. So before bringing up an example of how men have been victims of women, it’s a good idea to ask yourself, “what am I trying to accomplish?”

Hint: if the answer is, “convince women that their trauma is insignificant,” you should probably just back away from the computer and take a breather. If you’re trying to add to the conversation, however, and open it up further, try to make that clear. Remember, most people in the discussion don’t know you, so they lack context to guess your intentions.

 

4. Pay Attention to Who’s Talking.

There are two pieces of advice in Dixon’s post that I’m 100% behind. The first is that you should never assume that being a feminist gives you the right to touch women without their consent. The second? That it’s a good idea to watch how much you’re talking, and back off a little if men are starting to dominate the discussion.

Why do I agree with Dixon here? Well, numerous studies have found that even when they are the minority in a group, American men have a tendency to start taking over the conversation. It’s not intentional in most cases, and even women don’t usually notice. In fact, if you ask most people who talks more in a group, many will likely say “women” based on stereotypes about so-called chatty Cathy’s. But this problem is easily resolved when men occasionally take stock of how often they’re talking.

 

5. Please, do not Mansplain.

What exactly is mansplaining? It is not, as some feminists (male and female) occasionally think, simply speaking up on gender while you happen to be male. It’s coming into a conversation about gender and trying to correct all the silly feminists who have everything wrong and only need to “hear things from a man’s perspective.” I’ve seen all sorts of men do it, and they usually have awesome intentions, but here’s the thing: feminists are generally much more familiar with that generic “man’s perspective” which the mansplainer is offering than he is with theirs. So, please don’t mansplain.

 

6. Clarify when Criticized.

No matter how well you put the last five tips into action, there will come a time when someone will think you’re derailing a conversation, or mansplaining, or ignorant, etc. etc. The same goes for me when I’m in a conversation about womanism. And on the occasion when that happens, the best thing to do is clarify and perhaps apologize for the misunderstanding. Not necessarily because you’re at fault while the other person is blameless – just because saying, “Sorry for the confusion. What I meant with that last comment…” does a lot more to open the conversation than blowing up ever will.

 

Bottom line: come to the feminist conversation, listen carefully, and join in thoughtfully.

 

 

 

  • Laura

    Thank you for some thoughtful and well-reasoned advice. I agree with your assessment of the fMh piece. It’s too bad, really–I think most movements gain by having thoughtful, well-informed people from outside the “target demographic” (for lack of a better term) participating, and I don’t think the article did much to encourage participation from these potential allies. I think your advice to anyone interested in becoming involved in a movement to listen first, then listen some more, is spot on.

  • Clark Goble

    Personally I think you’d be just better off dropping the “feminist” label and just make moral and practical arguments about how to deal with abuse, assault and a lot else. I think “feminist” has a lot of baggage and is for many people including many women a very negative term. To discuss the topics in a feminist context will almost always lead to misunderstanding.

  • Victor

    (((It’s coming into a conversation about gender and trying to correct all the silly feminists who have everything wrong and only need to “hear things from a man’s perspective.”)))

    A man will be a man and a woman will be a woman but what about “THE FAMAILY NOW?”

    I hear YA! You’re off topic again Victor!!!!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lw-PiTkBpJA

    Go figure! :)

    http://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=18142394&postID=2997571248394839975&page=1&token=1378592173608
    God Bless

  • warorpeace

    I appreciate this post. I have studied the history of feminism off and on over the course of twenty years. I have been a Latter-day Saint my entire life. Philosophically, the two do not mesh. I think Clark Goble is correct. We need another descriptor. Ideological feminism cannot be adopted by the Church. Discussion of moral behavior, the application of the Gospel, and the church and community environment for our sisters and daughters does have a place. But in that light, it is not “feminism.”
    For example, some feminists in the church often realize that terms such as “patriarchy” or “patriarchal” do not carry the same connotation or produce the harm that traditional feminists fear. That true fatherhood, manhood, priesthood are just as endangered or harmed in this world as womanhood and sisterhood… that is individuals’ sacred identities, often but not always gender-based, that are at stake.


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