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What Men Can Do

Recently on Mefi, Sudama posted a thread linked to a list of ideas on how men can be part of the solution to sexism.

Unfortunately, the list looks like it was a brainstorming session from a large meeting of activists. That means many of the ideas are half-baked or unclearly stated, or are specific to the activist community. For those unfamiliar with brainstorming–it’s where participants throw out ideas regardless of merit; the ideas are not judged, they just go up on the board. Judging and weeding out is the next stage, and this list never made it.

So, for my own edification, I’ve taken that next step myself. Ideally this would be done in a discussion group, but hey, I’m the only one sitting in my livingroom at the moment. Below is the entire list with my comments under each one. After that, I’ll post my interpretation of the list. Keepers are in bold. I may even add a thing or two. This is gonna be a long one, so you may want to print it out.

  • Give us more mad props
    [Sister, puh-leeze. Sorry, this one’s just stupid.]

  • Do not sexually objectify us
    [Modify to: understand sexual objectification, then avoid it.]

  • Don’t judge women
    [Why not? Women are just as judgeworthy as anyone else.]

  • Stay focused on sexism, not your gender role socialization
    [I can’t parse this. I smell psychobabble.]

  • Recognize women for all work that is done, even yours
    [It’s important to recognize people for the work they do, but I don’t think this has a place on the list.]

  • Share secretarial and clean-up work in activism
    [Modify to: Think about your concept of “women’s work” and get rid of it. In fact, do some.]

  • Actively combat sexism
    [Vague.]

  • Take reproductive responsibility
    [Good one!]

  • Back up women when they’re being attacked
    [Another good one.]

  • Do housekeeping stuff
    [Goes with the women’s work thing.]

  • Don’t be egotistical because you’re “better” than mainstream guys
    [Snuh? I say let ’em brag.]

  • Respect women as activists
    [Gonna drop this for reasons that will be clear later.]

  • Be more self-sufficient; nurture each other
    [Contrary to popular belief, men can take care of themselves. This is a ridiculous assumption, and gets dumped.]

  • Don’t be defensive
    [Then don’t attack. Jeezus. Someone needs communication skills.]

  • Take sexism on as your struggle
    [Yes! I love this one–it’s like a battle cry.]

  • Don’t act as if you can understand our oppression
    [Even my sweet, feminist hubby realizes he doesn’t know what it’s like to walk in my shoes, any more than I can know what it’s like to be black. This is just common sense.]

  • Take action against sexism in your own communities
    [This isn’t great, but I’ll let it stand]

  • Remember that equality is the standard of which to judge yourself by, not the current state of things
    [Good, but needs grammar help.]

  • Don’t trivialize women’s issues
    [Huge! This happened a lot in the mefi thread.]

  • Learn how to have one healthy relationship before having more
    [Oh, screw you. How about YOU learn first!]

  • Women don’t want to be represented and referred to as partners of men
    [Modify to: remember, “wife” is only part of an identity. Treat women as individuals, not as adjuncts to their partners.]

  • Don’t judge women for being “girly”
    [Modify to: All women deserve respect, not just those who dislike dresses.]

  • Fight sexual violence in your community
    [Pretty vague, but it can stand.]

  • Realize that women don’t hate men
    [Yes!]

  • Honor women for non-activist stuff they do
    [I don’t get this one.]

  • Take part in intimate relationships without sex
    [Modify to: Develop a non-sexual friendship with a woman. We don’t bite.]

  • Don’t force women to be “nags”
    [Don’t be a co-dependent halfwit.]

  • Realize that when you’re off traveling and train-hopping, women are the ones staying at home and building community
    [WTF?]

  • Make childcare a priority
    [Modify to: Take an equal role in the raising of children.]

  • Don’t force women into polyamory
    [Um, was this a Mormon conference?]

  • Even when dealing with your own gender role socialization, address sexism
    [Okay, I think I got the socialization thing. I would modify this to: Don’t use your gender role socialization as an excuse, even with other men.]

  • We want an immediate commitment to fighting sexism
    [And a pony!]

  • Write stuff down!
    [Screw you! Sorry–the really demanding, stupid stuff just chafes me.]

  • Get over your ego
    [Get over yours.]

  • Realize that sexism runs really deep and always plays itself out
    [This is not so clear. Modify to: Study the history of sexism so you can see how deeply its roots run in our society. The “plays itself out” is another issue, and not good for the list.]

  • Don’t gawk at our body parts
    [Men are going to sneak a gawk once in a while. Heck, when I see a nice bod, I gawk too. But when you’re speaking with someone, gawk must halt. Modify to: Talk to my face, please.]

  • See us as activists; don’t focus on our sexuality
    [Modify to: Don’t focus on gender in professions: she’s a doctor, not a “female doctor”.]

  • Don’t make excuses for your sexism, deal with it
    [I kinda like this one, though the tone is a bit harsh.]

  • Be proactive, not reactive
    [And get a new paradigm!]

  • Don’t expect us to wait for you to be comfortable with your oppression of us before we make demands
    [Modify to: Understand that we can’t wait for men to be comfortable with feminism before we move ahead.]

  • Don’t force us to take on traditional gender roles
    [I think this has been addressed elsewhere.]

  • Respect our womanhood
    [And listen to Helen Reddy]

  • Realize that men are still the oppressors; it’s your job to stop it, not just understand it.
    [The tone is hard, but this is a true thing.]

  • Stand up for women; assume that they’re right
    [WHAT? I, for one, am not always right.]

  • Don’t make it so hard to be friends
    [That goes double for you.]

  • Realize that women don’t always feel comfortable or empowered enough to stand up for themselves
    [Pathetic, but true. Most women still will not confront.]

  • Realize that sexual violence is prevalent in this community
    [Believe the hype! Live in fear! I’m a victim!]

  • Be accountable for your actions
    [This is a human thang, and doesn’t really have a place on this list.]

  • Stand up to each other
    [This is good, if it doesn’t repeat something earlier. Long list, short memory.]

  • Don’t ask us to cuddle if we’re in a platonic relationship
    [Someone has issues.]

  • Be mindful of the language you use (i.e., girls, boys, guys, women, men)
    [I wish it weren’t necessary, but it is, especially in the workplace. Modify a little to include phrases like “clever girl”.]

  • Realize that we are not representative of all women
    [I’m not sure why this is here, as it’s obvious and a little dumb.]

  • Don’t just be “not surprised” about our Silent Witness
    [I assume this is specific to activism.]

  • Listen to women, even the “hard asses”
    [Modify to: Listen to us.]

  • Give equal consideration to our wants and needs
    [This shouldn’t be necessary, but I suppose it is.]

  • Think through your actions
    [Duh.]

  • Don’t assume that you’re the ones who define “radical”
    [Again, specific to activism.]

  • Recognize who’s not here [at the gender conference]
    [Not for the general public.]

  • Combat size-ism; acknowledge it as a problem
    [Modify to: fat is a feminist issue. Find out why. There’s a whole book you can read.]

  • Take all of our views into account
    [Too general.]

  • Realize that our activism is restricted
    [About activism again.]

  • Don’t force guys’ projects on us, while ignoring women’s
    [Activism]

  • Don’t belittle our projects until a guy takes them on
    [Modify to: What women do without men is as important as what men do without women. Respect our projects and interests.]

  • Realize that we deal with harassment constantly
    [already addressed]

  • Recognize that sometimes we are physically not as strong; encourage us to do stuff, even teach us how
    [Modify to: I’m stronger than you think, but I’ll gladly take help if I need it.]

  • Believe and support us
    [Yawn.]

  • Realize that “youth gone wild” is not necessarily radical
    [Snuh? Outside my social circle, methinks.]

  • Admit when you fuck up
    [we could all use a dose of that.]

  • Encourage women to do adventurous stuff
    [No, women need to just do adventurous stuff. Co-dependence sucks.]

  • Don’t act like your “oppression” as men is comparable to ours as women
    [While this is important, it’s also contentious. I think the one about studying the history of sexism does an end-run around this and accomplishes the same thing–understanding.]

  • Don’t assume that men set the standard for fun
    [Because girls just wanna…oh, nevermind.]

  • Realize that we [the women] may disagree on some of these points, but that does not at all invalidate us or them
    [Modify to: Disagreement among women does not invalidate the entire women’s movement.]

    Demands you forgot:
    [I guess someone typing this up added a few]

  • Create an atmosphere that is dynamic and empowering
    [Vague and a little silly]

  • Realize that we will support you
    [Duh.]

  • Realize that we will help you with your mistakes
    [That’s a little arrogant. No, wait, that’s a lot arrogant.]

  • Notice that we interact awesomely and respectfully with each other
    [Yes, we never disagree! Oh pleeze.]

  • Realize that we do care about your gender issues, but it’s just not comparable to sexism
    [Okay, this is a better phrasing of the one I couldn’t take above.]

  • Take responsibility for the sexist behavior at May Day
    [Activism, I assume.]

  • Communicate in intimate relationships
    [You too, sweetheart.]

  • Take notice of the fact that several women mentioned specific instances of sexism in our community
    [Too specific. Someone has an axe to grind.]

  • Take notice of the fact that several women spoke of incidents when men didn’t have their back
    [See above.]

Okay, so my version of the finished list:

  1. Understand sexual objectification, then avoid it.
  2. Think about your concept of “women’s work” and get rid of it. In fact, do some.
  3. Take reproductive responsibility.
  4. Back up women when they’re being attacked.
  5. Take sexism on as your struggle.
  6. Don’t act as if you can understand our oppression.
  7. Take action against sexism in your own communities.
  8. Remember that equality is the standard to judge by, but it is not the current reality.
  9. Don’t trivialize women’s issues.
  10. “Wife” is only part of an identity. Treat women as individuals, not adjuncts to their partners.
  11. All women deserve respect, not just the ones who don’t wear dresses.
  12. Fight sexual violence in your community.
  13. Realize that women don’t hate men.
  14. Develop a non-sexual friendship with a woman. We don’t bite.
  15. Take an equal role in the raising of children.
  16. Don’t use your gender role socialization as an excuse, even with other men.
  17. Study the history of sexism so you can see how deeply its roots run in our society.
  18. Talk to the face, please.
  19. Don’t focus on gender in professions: she’s a doctor, not a “female doctor”.
  20. Don’t make excuses for your sexism, deal with it.
  21. Understand that we can’t wait for men to be comfortable with feminism before we move ahead.
  22. Realize that men are still the oppressors; it’s your job to stop it, not just understand it.
  23. Realize that women don’t always feel comfortable or empowered enough to stand up for themselves.
  24. Stand up to each other.
  25. Be mindful of the language you use (i.e., girls, clever girl, those women)
  26. Listen to us.
  27. Give equal consideration to our wants and needs.
  28. Fat is a feminist issue. Find out why. There’s a whole book you can read.
  29. What women do without men is as important as what men do without women. Respect our projects and interests.
  30. We’re stronger than you think, but will gladly take help if we need it.
  31. Disagreement among women does not invalidate the entire women’s movement.
  32. Realize that we do care about your gender issues, but it’s just not comparable to sexism .

4 Responses to What Men Can Do

  1. drublood says:

    Excellent! I love your interpretation…although some of the things you dismissed I feel did not need to be dismissed.

    For example, regarding “don’t be defensive” – many, many men get defensive simply when a woman questions an action or discusses sexism. There are many times when I have made a reasoned statement about sexist behavior and I have been accused of attacking. Certainly, too, there is a lot of anger with regard to being oppressed based on gender, and it would take a saint to not occasionally express that anger. I think men really need to look at what feeds that emotion rather than reacting defensively to it. I don’t think it is necessarily the responsibility of the oppressed group to coddle those who are (actively or unconsciously) doing the oppressing.

    There is probably more that I would like to respond to, but I’m all stuffed up and I need to go home and take a nap. Great work here, though! I think you made many of the points much clearer. And I think your interpretation of many of them are right on.

  2. kd says:

    this is great! i think the original list (being compiled out of many different contributions) did need some editorial work. good job.

  3. Senn says:

    OK, a long response to a long post. If I haven’t commented on a list item, that means I agreed with it and had nothing to add.

    1.Understand sexual objectification, then avoid it.
    Also recognise that a “baby, you fine” look from a girl is flattering to a guy, but the same look from a guy can feel threatening to a girl. Guys, it might help to think of a buff 300lb ex-marine looking at your ass and giving you the same look. In a prison cell, with no guards around.

    4.Back up women when they’re being attacked.
    OK, you got me. %I could do more of this.%

    23.Realize that women don’t always feel comfortable or empowered enough to stand up for themselves.
    Relates directly to #4, which is why I’ve moved it here. Men are encouraged in confrontation all their lives, and it’s important to remember that the opposite socialisation is practiced on women all their lives.

    5.Take sexism on as your struggle.
    Also goes with #4 for me. I can do more than alter my own behaviour; that’s a useful thing to remember.

    22.Realize that men are still the oppressors; it’s your job to stop it, not just understand it.
    Like white privilege, this one can take a long time to sink in. I think I’ve finally got it, but only after patient feminist friends explained it over and over. Women should recognise that they may need to pound this one into our thick heads! (Again, I think this relates to #4 and #5.)

    6.Don’t act as if you can understand our oppression.
    Even though I agree with the idea, I think the tone of that is a bit harsh. How about adding “Think about other (more overtly) oppressed groups, like slaves in the early USA or Jews in WWII: you can sympathise, but you simply cannot walk a mile in those shoes”?

    8.Remember that equality is the standard to judge by, but it is not the current reality.
    Sometimes hard to remember. F’rinstance, I thought things in science were improving much faster than they really are until a (female!) friend pointed out that the higher up the authority ladder you go, the fewer women you find. %I’ll find it useful to be re-reminded of this occasionally.%

    13.Realize that women don’t hate men.
    Ah-yup. If you can’t get a date, Goober, odds-on it’s got more to do with the remains of last night’s pizza on your shirt than with “man-hating feminazis”. And if you never get a second date, try using her name instead of “Baby”. Knowumsayin’?

    17.Study the history of sexism so you can see how deeply its roots run in our society.
    %Got me again. I could learn a lot here.%

    19.Don’t focus on gender in professions: she’s a doctor, not a “female doctor”.
    Try the old story about the man and his son who are in a car accident, and when they reach the ER the surgeon calls for a replacement, saying “I can’t operate on my own son!”. You’d be surprised how many people, men and women, miss the obvious answer.

    24.Stand up to each other.
    Goes for both men (don’t let your buddies get away with sexist remarks) and women (don’t cut the legs out from under each other).

    25.Be mindful of the language you use (i.e., girls, clever girl, those women)
    %I recently was reminded that I can do better with this, too.%

    28.Fat is a feminist issue. Find out why. There’s a whole book you can read.
    %I still need to read that book.% I’m told Faludi’s Backlash is a good place to start.

    30.We’re stronger than you think, but will gladly take help if we need it.
    I think the big issue here is how to offer help without being patronising. Asking “want a hand with that?” rather than saying “here, let a man do it” goes a long way!

  4. Cat says:

    Actually, Backlash is more about feminism. Well, it’s about the title–backlash against feminism that has gone on right under our noses.

    You know, I’d never read Susie Orbach’s book, and I wonder about it now because it seems to be feminism with a mixed message. But here’s a link that talks briefly about the subject. Laura Fraser’s Losing It is also good.