Do Men Belong in the Women's Movement?
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Concern and Controversy
Hugo Schwyzer, who recently had a heated debate about feminism at the Good Men Project with Matlack, is one of the male voices that has appeared on feminist blogs. He has a column on the feminist-leaning women’s blog Jezebel, in which he covers hot topics like male desire and slut-shaming. Schwyzer's over 20 years teaching and writing as a male feminist has not been without its hiccups and polarizing controversies; the most recent one calling into question whether men have a right to be "authorities" on anything feminist.
Last month a heated, painful debate ensued in the online feminist community when details about Schwyzer’s personal history surfaced that they found unsavory, misogynistic and perhaps worse: when he was younger and an alcoholic, he turned the gas on himself and his girlfriend in an attempted act of violence.
Several blogs distanced themselves from his work, a Facebook account was set up to protest Schwyzer’s presence in feminist circles, and some began to question whether men should be included in the movement overall.
In his response, which he posted to his blog, Schwyzer announced that he would continue to write and teach about gender, though not in "explicitly feminist spaces." Instead, he will be focusing on feminism's applications for men. He will keep writing for Jezebel (which is not an explicitly feminist blog).
Shira Tarrant, associate professor in women’s and gender studies and author of two books on men and feminism, says that she finds the online response to Schwyzer unfortunate because it detracts from good work being done by other men.
“This was more a reflection of the [online] take-down culture than the challenges of men getting involved [in feminism],” Tarrant said. “There is not enough focus on all the great work being done across the country by our male allies.”
On the other hand, at Campus Progress, Naina Ramos-Chapman writes that the Schwyzer controversy is an object lesson in what it means to be a member of a privileged group helping to end oppression -- and the vital importance of stepping back when it's needed. Schwyzer made things worse, she said, by centering on himself instead of the issues. Time will tell if he is truly listening, she wrote: "A true ally participates in the movement and, more importantly, listens when told they’re doing it wrong. Schwyzer should consider this recent backlash as a personal 'mic check'."
Who Gets to Speak For and About Feminism?
When Bryan Lowder applied for a blogging position at DoubleX, Slate’s women’s interest blog, he didn’t view the fact that he is a man as much of a big deal. He saw a lot of overlap between the purview of the blog and matters of sexuality and gender he often contemplated within the LGBT movement.
“As a gay man who believes that a part of that identity is inherently political, I don't see how feminism could not be important in my life,” Lowder said in an email. “It's clear from the history of civil rights movements that LGBT thought owes a great debt to feminism, if not a total lineage. To even think that one's body and what one does with it sexually or otherwise might be a political issue worth debating is surely a feminist innovation.”
For some editors, like Jezebel editor Jessica Coen, the inclusion of male writers feels intuitive and logical.
“Jezebel is not some secret clubhouse where the menfolk aren't allowed,” Coen said. “Plenty of guys have sent me good pitches; why wouldn't I want to see some of them through? If I like the idea and the writing, I don't particularly care about the author's sex or gender.”