A debate started on the Internet about two months ago on the website The Good Men Project. While I am not going to go into the specific details of the argument (a summary of which can be found here), I want to talk about some points brought up that I think are especially relevant to male feminists.
Before I start my discussion, I want to give you all some information about who I am. I am 20 years old, white, male and straight. I am a junior at American University in DC and I grew up in a DC suburb in an upper-middle class family. My first experiences with feminism were at my summer camp, Camp Moshava, that is part of the international socialist-Jewish youth movement Habonim Dror (lit builders of freedom). As a young kid I participated in the annual take back the night commemorations at camp and had educational activities run for me about why gender roles and stereotypes are bad (to put it simply). While my 10 year old self did not understand the full significance of what I was experiencing as a camper, what I learned at a young age has continued to influence me. Since my childhood, I have remained active in my youth movement and at camp, and as a counselor, I have planned and run some of the same programming that influenced me as a camper.
In high school, I was the president of my school’s Gay-Straight Alliance and started to become involved in other activist circles, including the student anti-sweatshop movement and the DC radical scene. It was in these circles that I discovered more gender-based analyses of not only world issues but also our own interpersonal relationships. After taking a gap year in Israel, I jumped into the radical activist scene at AU. I also became involved in the Women’s Initiative feminist group on campus and I currently serve as its director for men’s outreach.
Patriarchy exists. I have, as a man, a significant amount of privilege that puts me at a distinctive advantage in society over women. I do not think that anyone can ignore the fact that male privilege exists. To make statements that diminish the significance of male privilege (and other privileges) is itself a privileged act.
There is a rape culture within our society, especially on college campuses, that protects male perpetrators while stigmatizing female survivors. As a male, I have the privilege of not having to fear for my sexual safety. Men do get raped. To deny that would be disrespectful to their experience. However, rape culture is inherently a patriarchal culture and no man can be assumed to be outside that culture until he is proven to be so.
That poses a difficult question for us male feminists. How can we deal with our privileges and our gender’s position as oppressors and rapists? While there is a responsibility for everyone to promote a culture of consent, I think there is a specific onus on men to promote consent as a lifestyle. Men do not need to only change their own beliefs and behaviors towards women but also change the beliefs and behaviors of other men. Only when rape culture is replaced by consent culture will men as a gender be redeemed.