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Pro-feminism refers to support of the cause of feminism without implying that the supporter is a member of the feminist movement. The term is most often used in reference to men who are actively supportive of feminism and of efforts to bring about gender equality. A number of pro-feminist men are involved in political activism, most often in the areas of women's rights and violence against women.
As feminist theory found support among a number of men who formed consciousness-raising groups in the 1960s, these groups were differentiated by preferences for particular feminisms and political approaches. However, the inclusion of men's voices as "feminists" presented issues for some. For a number of women and men, the word "feminism" was reserved for women, whom they viewed as the subjects who experienced the inequality and oppression that feminism sought to address. In response to this objection, other terms like antisexism and pro-feminism, were coined and defended by various groups.
There are pro-feminist men's groups in most nations in the Western world. The activities of pro-feminist men's groups include anti-violence work with boys and young men in schools, offering sexual harassment workshops in workplaces, running community education campaigns, and counseling male perpetrators of violence.
Pro-feminist men also are involved in men's health, men's studies, the development of gender equity curricula in schools, and many other areas. Pro-feminist men who support anti-pornography feminists participate in activism against pornography including anti-pornography legislation.
This work is sometimes in collaboration with feminists and women's services, such as domestic violence and rape crisis centers.
The term "pro-feminist" is also sometimes used by people who hold feminist beliefs or who advocate on behalf of feminist causes, but who do not consider themselves to be feminists, per se. It is also used by those who do not identify with, or wish for others to identify them with, the feminist movement. Some activists of both genders will not refer to men as "feminists" at all, and will refer to all pro-feminist men as "pro-feminists", even if the men in question refer to themselves as "feminists". There is also criticism from the 'other side' against "pro-feminist" men who refuse to identify as feminist. Most major feminist groups, most notably the National Organization for Women and the Feminist Majority Foundation, refer to male activists as feminists rather than as pro-feminists.
Men responded in a variety of ways to first-wave feminism and to the societal changes in late 19th and early 20th century United States. Profeminist men embraced feminist ideas and actively advocated for female equality. While antifeminists "articulated a nostalgic yearning for the pre-urban, pre-industrial traditional village, the profeminist position was articulated with a belief in modernity's liberatory potential". Essentially, through their belief in science and progress, profeminists believed that "suffrage was but a public expression of the feminist challenge to the social order that bound both women and men to repressive social conditions" and that in the long run it would be an immense gain for Americans of both genders.
Pro-feminist men are considered by some to be a stream of the modern men's movement sympathetic towards feminism. Pro-feminist men seek to add male voices to feminism and advocate change by both women as well as men in their gender relations and social, political, and institutional structures.
Marge Piercy (1969) argued that liberal male politicians will sometimes espouse feminist claims to gain votes, despite dubious backgrounds and actions.
Confronting violence against women
An area of feminist social work in which some pro-feminist men have participated is preventing violence against women, and supporting its survivors. Anti-violence activists work in shelters for battered women, counseling survivors, rehabilitating perpetrators and spreading awareness of the issue. Many male activists support these anti-violence campaigns on two strong fronts: first, that violence against women concerns all people, regardless of gender; and secondly, that more attention should be paid to the social environments that produce perpetrators. Activists have also analyzed the cultural factors that contribute to violence against women.
The White Ribbon Campaign was founded in response to the École Polytechnique Massacre in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The movement aims to spread awareness about the issue of violence against women by educating men about the problem.
Although men's participation in anti-rape activism in American campaigns is still uncommon, some men have proved valuable allies in their positions in shelters, support groups, and rape response teams. Some male activists claim that their efforts are met with mistrust and anger. Much literature about male anti-rape activists involves men experiencing epiphanies about the emotional and psychological impact rape inflicts on its victims. Scholars typically claim that in order to end rape and violence against women, men must become aware of these issues, otherwise there is no hope for stopping rape.
In addition to the struggles men face as a part of their work with anti-rape activism, many men that choose to speak out against rape report social costs, specifically that they are viewed as ‘not masculine.’ Men's deviation from hegemonic masculinity can lead to exclusion by their male peers. Male activists claim that unless masculinity can be redefined to include both caring for women and being vulnerable to emotional issues such as rape, men will continue to avoid taking action against rape.
Some pro-feminist scholars believe that the portrayal of sexuality in pornography has contributed to the rise of sexual violence, misogyny, and the perpetuation of inequality between the sexes. They suggest that the normalization of male-dominated, violent, and degrading sexual acts has led users of pornography to incorporate violence into their own lives. Pro-feminists may assert that these trends in pornography are reflected by increased acts of sexual violence; and also contribute to normalizing rape culture. As with some areas of feminism, pro-feminists may also believe that pornography reduces women and teenage girls to sex objects.
As there is no centralised "movement" the motivation and goals of pro-feminist men are various. One profeminist website claims that among those motivations are:
- a sympathy for feminism revolving around a simple acceptance that men and women are equal and should thus be treated equally, that is, women should have the access to jobs and areas of public life as men do.
- a passionate and profound commitment that has changed every corner of their lives.
- "...a radical questioning of traditional Western models of thought, of the ways in which these privilege masculine ways of being and knowing."
Issues on which pro-feminists usually campaign include violence against women, sexism, inequalities in pay and promotion at work, sex trafficking, and women's rights to birth control. Pro-feminist men who support anti-pornography feminists also campaign against pornography.
They generally believe that:
- women suffer inequalities and injustices in society, while men receive various forms of power and privilege.
- the current, dominant model of manhood or masculinity is oppressive to women, as well as limiting for men themselves. Pro-feminists believe that men must take responsibility for their own behaviours and attitudes and work to change those of men in general.
- both personal and social change are vital.
Just as there is substantial diversity and disagreement within feminism, there is diversity among pro-feminist men. For example, the extent to which men are also limited or harmed by societal gender relations is an area of disagreement. Some men emphasise the privilege received by virtue of being men in a patriarchal or male-dominated society, while others emphasise the ways in which the gender roles laid down by patriarchal society constrict both men and women.
Some pro-feminist men argue that those who emphasize the latter, or who even claim that, like women, men too are "oppressed", are not really pro-feminist or are not pro-feminist enough. Others make a distinction between "radical pro-feminist" and "liberal pro-feminist" men, and emphasize their shared commitments and similarities.
Pro-feminist men typically also recognise the importance of other forms of injustice and other kinds of social relations. Pro-feminists assume that class, race, sexuality, age and other such things are important influences on the relations between and among men and women.
Pro-feminist men who are politically active have tended to concentrate on a number of specific issues, such as men's violence.
Early writings and assumptions
Early writings in the U.S. that the pro-feminist men's movement has identified as antecedents to its thought include Jon Snodgrass's A Book of Readings for Men against Sexism, Michael Kimmel and Michael Messner's collection of essays, Men's Lives, and Joseph Pleck's The Myth of Masculinity. Three basic assumptions of these early texts included the distinction between sex and gender, the treatment of gender as a social construct, and the position that men are harmed by proscriptive gender roles. Building on this last assumption, early pro-feminist men's texts assumed a corollary that if men were made aware of these conditions, they would relinquish their social privileges.
Pro-feminism compared to feminism
Some feminists and pro-feminists believe that it is inappropriate for men to call themselves "feminists". This argument takes a variety of forms, including the following: Feminism is a movement and a body of ideas developed by, for, and about women. Men can never fully know what it is like to be a woman. By calling themselves feminists, men could preempt and take over the feminist movement, thus stifling women's concerns and voices. There is also internal disagreement within this "movement", for example with socialist movements, anti-racist struggles, and so on. Those who claim that "feminist" can apply equally to men and women often point out that the arguments made by advocates of the term "pro-feminist" are based in notions of biological determinism and essentialism, and are actually contrary to feminist principles. A clear distinction between "feminist" and "pro-feminist" is also troubled by transsexual and transgender people, whose bodies and performance of a gendered body (in the sense that Judith Butler defines performance) make even the most basic biological distinction between categories of men and women a difficult task.
Pro-feminists claim to be anti-sexist, and anti-patriarchal, but they argue that they are not anti-male. Some pro-feminist men believe that men have potential for good and believe that there is a potential for "backlash" within the men's movement, a potential for the movement to turn towards the defence of what they see as men's privilege and position, and some say that this has already occurred. While all pro-feminist men assume that men must act to dismantle gender injustice, some argue that a men's movement is not the way to do this. They advocate instead that pro-feminists build alliances and coalitions with other progressive groups and movements (such as feminism, gay and lesbian liberation, left-wing and socialist movements, anti-racist struggles, and so on).
Notable pro-feminist writers
- Clatterbaugh, Kenneth (Spring 2000). "Literature of the U.S. Men's Movement". Signs 25 (3): 883–894. doi:10.1086/495485. JSTOR 3175420.
- Kimmel, Michael (1987). "Men's responses to feminism at the turn of the century". Gender & Society 1 (3): 261–283. doi:10.1177/089124387001003003.
- The Grand Coolie Damn, retrieved on May 31st 2007.
- The Recovery of August Bebel, retrieved on May 31st 2007.
- Katz, Jackson. The Macho Paradox: Why Some Men Hurt Women and How All Men Can Help. 2006.
- Kaufman, Michael. “The White Ribbon Campaign: Involving Men and Boys in Ending Global Violence Against Women,” in A Man's World?: Changing Men’s Practices in a Globalized World, Bob Pease and Keith Pringle eds. London: Zed Books, 2001.
- Orton, Richard. “Outside In: A Man in the Movement.” Transforming a Rape Culture. Milkweed Editions: 2005. 233-248.
- Funk, Rus Ervin. “Men Who Are Raped: A Profeminist Perspective.” Male on Male Rape: The Hidden Toll of Stigma and Shame. Cambridge, MA, Perseus Publishing: 1997. 221-231.
- Jensen, Robert. Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity. South End Press, 2007.
- Flood, Michael (2002-01-30). "Frequently asked questions about pro-feminist men and pro-feminist men's politics". XYOnline. XYOnline. Retrieved 2009-05-01.
- The Origins and Causes of Misogyny, retrieved on May 31st 2007.
- Tarrant, Shira, Men and Feminism. Berkeley: Seal Press, 2009.
- Tarrant, Shira, Men Speak Out: Views on Gender, Sex and Power. New York: Routledge, 2008, pp 105-112.
- Flood, Michael, Men’s Movements, in Community Quarterly, no. 46, pp. 62–71, June, 1998, as appearing in XYonline.net, as accessed December 19, 2012.
- Achilles Heel, magazine of pro-feminist, radical men
- XY magazine, a web site featuring articles illustrating various pro-feminist perspectives and issues and links to other pro-feminist men's sites
- NOMAS, a web site for the National Organization for Men Against Sexism. Analysis focuses on the interaction of oppressions: sexism, heterosexism, racism, class, and so on
- "Ten Questions for Profeminist Fathers," blog entry by Jeremy Adam Smith
- "Why I am a Black Male Feminist," article by documentary filmmaker Byron Hurt
- Brittan, Arthur, 1989, Masculinity and power, Oxford: Basil Blackwell
- Berkowitz, Alan D. (ed.). Men and rape: theory, research, and prevention programs in higher education, issue 65 of New directions for student services, Jossey-Bass, 1994, ISBN 978-0-7879-9971-1.
- Clatterbaugh, Kenneth, 1990, Contemporary perspectives on masculinity: men, women, and politics in modern society, Colorado & Oxford: Westview Press
- Connell, R.W., 1987, Gender and power: society, the person and sexual politics, Sydney: Allen & Unwin
- Connell, R.W., 1995, Masculinities, Sydney: Allen & Unwin
- Cooper, Mick, and Baker, Peter, 1996, The MANual: the complete man's guide to life, London: Thorsons
- Digby, Tom (ed.), 1998, Men Doing Feminism, New York: Routledge
- Edley, Nigel, and Wetherell, Margaret, 1995, Men in perspective: practice, power and identity, London: Prentice-Hall
- Edwards, Tim, 1993, Erotics and politics: gay male sexuality, masculinity, and feminism, New York: Routledge
- Haddad, Tony (ed.), 1993, Men and masculinities: a critical anthology, Toronto: Canadian Scholars' Press
- Kaufman, Michael (ed), 1987, Beyond patriarchy: essays by men on pleasure, power and change, New York: Oxford University Press
- Kaufman, Michael, 1993, Cracking the armour: power, pain and tstview Press
- Kimmel, Michael, and Messner, Michael (eds), 1992, Men's lives, New York/Toronto: Macmillan/Maxwell (2nd edition)
- Mac an Ghaill, Mairtin (ed), 1996, Understanding masculinities: Social relations and cultural arenas, Buckingham & Philadelphia: Open University Press
- May, Larry, and Robert Strikwerda (eds), 1992, Rethinking masculinity: philosophical explorations in light of feminism, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield
- McLean, Chris, Carey, Maggie, and White, Cheryl (eds), 1996, Men's ways of being, Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press
- Segal, Lynne, 1990, Slow motion: changing masculinities, changing men, London: Virago
- Segal, Lynne, 1990, Slow motion: changing masculinities, changing men, London: Virago pro-feminist men respond to the mythopoetic men's movement (and the mythopoetic leaders answer), Philadelphia: Temple University Press
- Smith, Jeremy Adam. 2009. The Daddy Shift: How Stay-at-Home Dads, Breadwinning Moms, and Shared Parenting are Transforming the American Family. Boston: Beacon Press.
- Snodgrass, Jon (ed), 1977, A book of readings: for men against sexism, Albion CA: Times Change Press
- Stoltenberg, John, 1990, Refusing to be a man: essays on sex and justice, CA & Suffolk: Fontana/Collins
- Stoltenberg, John 1998 The end of manhood: a book for men of conscience, New York: Dutton
- Tarrant, Shira. 2009. Men and Feminism. Berkeley: Seal Press.
- Tarrant, Shira (ed). 2008. Men Speak Out: Views on Gender, Sex and Power. New York: Routledge.