A while back I sparked a near flame war here (and in e-mails directly to me) by saying that I don’t consider myself a “feminist” because so much of what goes under that label is anti-male. But I also qualified that by admitting that much depends on what “feminism” means. What I meant was that, if I have time to explain what I mean by “feminism,” sure, then I can identify myself as a feminist.
So what would I mean if I identified myself as a feminist? Some years ago British evangelical (she considers herself that) Elaine Storkey wrote a book entitled “What’s Right with Feminism?” I had the privilege of being on a committee that invited her to speak at the college where I then taught. The book is a very fine exploration and recommendation of a kind of moderate feminism–equality of women and men in all areas of life and liberation of women from the social norms and forces that subjugate them. Nowhere in that book or in her talk did I detect any anti-male perspective.
Later Storkey co-wrote Conversations on Christian Feminism: Speaking Heart to Heart with Margaret Hebblethwaite. Again, a good book and one that, with perhaps a few qualms, I could heartily endorse as feminism that is not anti-male. (I was a bit concerned when the two authors criticized all male only organizations including ones dedicated to helping men develop spiritually.)
Several people chided me for claiming that much feminism is anti-male and told me to get up to date by reading more recent feminists such as (at least two strongly recommended) womanist philosopher bell hooks (who does not capitalize her names). So I went out and b0ught the second edition of her classic work Feminist Theory: from Margin to Center (2000).
Overall I thought it was helpful and insightful. I learned from it. That’s always good. And hooks does chide many feminists herself–for being too white and middle class and, yes, even anti-male.
However, in her chapter simply entitled “Men,” on page 73, hooks writes this: “All men support and perpetuate sexism and sexist oppression in one form or another.”
Really? Does bell hooks know all men? Of course not. This is the kind of statement I label “anti-male.” It is completely unsupportable except by prejudice. And I have heard it or something that amounts to it many times in my encounters with “feminist thought.”
Such a statement is so outrageous that it undermines everything else hooks writes. It leaps out of an otherwise quite helpful book as blatant bias. It is an example of what my daughter was taught in junior high school never to do–”globalize.” It’s unworthy of an intellectual or anyone who claims to be knowledgeable and even somewhat objective about social reality.
If I am reading a book that claims to be philosophical (broadly speaking) and I see in it a statement like “All women are….” I immediately suspect something is terribly wrong. No author can know all women.
I thought about providing here some obvious exceptions to hooks’ globalizing statement about men. But it’s not necessary. Anyone who gives even a moment’s thought to the matter should know immediately and automatically that such a statement is unsupportable. Even a moment’s thought can bring up so many exceptions. But even if not, such globalizing condemnations of any subset of people are wrong and worthy of criticism and rejection.
So, if the “new feminism” is represented by hooks, I can’t sign on. I can gladly endorse and support Storkey’s feminism (with a few minor qualms that are more questions I would like to put to her). Unfortunately, I suspect that most books by secular and even religious feminists contain similar sentiments about men. That’s based on thirty years of reading deeply and widely in feminist theology and of hearing leading feminists speak and attempting to interact with them.
My experience has been that everything is fine until I (or another man) attempts to ask a question that implies a possible criticism. Then, suddenly, the “dialogue” is over and it becomes a monologue–about how men have no right to question or criticize a feminist scholar on the subject of patriarchy and women’s oppression.
I have experienced the same thing among some black, African-American theologians and other scholars. I was told by one that all (notice the “all”) we white educators do is “honkify” African-American students. He and I team taught a course in a Christian college. When I asked him to explain that accusation he refused. Another African-American colleague (who had written a book on black theology) stated that all whites in America are racists.
In A Black Theology of Liberation James Cone wrote that “The goal of black theology is the destruction of everything (italicized) white….” (p. 62)
On the other hand, similar to Storkey in feminist theory, black, African-American theology has not been all anti-white. While being critical of white racism in America, Duke University theologian Deotis Roberts criticized Cone for such statements and for rejecting the goal of reconciliation of the races. (Cone seems to have moderated his views since A Black Theology of Liberation was written, but I find many black theologians still hold all whites as racists.)
Now, having said all that, let me admit that MANY men are oppressors of women and MANY whites are racists. Those problems still exist and need to be opposed. But lumping ALL men together and ALL whites together as the enemy is at best unhelpful to the causes and at worst clear evidence of blatant prejudice.
So, am I a feminist? If Elaine Storkey and others like her are the norm of “feminism,” yes. If bell hooks is, then no. So my original statement stands. Too much that goes under the label “feminist” is in some way anti-male. Insofar as that is the case I cannot identify as feminist. Insofar as it is not the case, I can and do.