Men in feminism

Alice Jardine, Paul Smith | Men in feminism

They explain in the Introduction, “This book has its most immediate beginnings in two sessions conducted … [in] 1984… these sessions… were intended to produce a dialogue between male and female academics around the question of ‘Men in Feminism.’ … Several people who heard the papers suggested that they be edited into a book … We recognized… that we had touched upon a struggle to which not much overt attention had hitherto been given… thinking about ‘men in feminism’ brings up questions and problems which to right to the heart of feminist theory… we hope… that this book will be useful any anyone who… would want to support the theoretical and practical efforts of feminism.”

Paul Smith said in his essay, “It may well be that the limit for men in feminist theory is also the limit of academic feminist theory itself. When poststructuralist feminist theory turns to construct its public sphere, or when it has done with codifying itself in the contested but limited sphere of the academic, the question might no longer be one of ‘men in feminist theory,’ or even of ‘men in feminism,’ but rather we’ll really be able to talk about alliances between men and women feminists, about people engaged in a political struggle on many fronts.”

Jardine wrote in one of her essays included in the volume, “And what do feminists want?… we do not want you to mimic us, to become the same as us; we don’t want your pathos or your guilt; and we don’t even want your admiration… What we want, I would even say what we need, is your WORK… I think that you—our male allies—should issue a moratorium on talking about feminism… It is much easier to speak about women than to speak as a body-coded male—to imagine a new man.”

A male essayist notes, “As a discourse… feminism has no special need for male practitioners. As a series of discourses, feminism is structured, to be sure, by its differences with patriarchy…Like other theories grounded in its practitioners’s knowledge of a history of discrimination, feminism can gain a powerful (if necessarily partial) distance from the culture it critiques. That is not, however, the same as saying that feminists need … the history of women’s oppression; that is an argument grounded in the pathology of male power and pride. It is clear, however, that… feminists at present can benefits from the advocacy and self-reflection and alliance of men. This is not the same, however, as saying that feminists NEED men’s political cooperation, a claim that men may find reassuring but that may not be in women’s best interest. It deflects energy from what feminists can accomplish on their own and diminishes feminism’s independent political force.”

Later, he adds, “feminism remains women’s project. If men take on feminist knowledge, they will do so … because it is in their own interest… But it is absurd for man to assume that women will take a feminist commitment as something men are doing entirely FOR WOMEN. Thus men’s status in feminism must… remain marginalized, no matter how great their commitment.”

Another male essayist says, “The female reader proposed by feminism is not an individual reading for herself but a class-conscious member of the class ‘woman’ reading on behalf of all the members of that class including herself. The power of feminist readings of texts depends to a great extent on the size and solidarity of this group and the clarity of the paradigm of reading that they share. Feminism has made its way against considerable … resistance from male critics, because … reading consciously as women, [they] have produced highly similar readings of a variety of texts, and found similar structures of patriarchy operating throughout the established canon and in the works of interpreters of the canon. A shared critical paradigm driven by feminist class-consciousness has enabled these achievements.”

This is an interesting collection of essays, that will be of interest to anyone studying this issue.


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