NOTE: As amazing as it would be if Bro-Choice were an organization fighting for the reproductive rights of men assigned female at birth, it is a movement geared toward cis men. There are men for whom reproductive rights are a serious and personal issue, and I do not mean to contribute to their erasure in this article.
The internet has been abuzz recently with talk about Bro-Choice, a new project from Choice USA that seeks to educate and work with college men on reproductive rights, and to disrupt “the dominant narrative that reproductive justice is a ‘women’s issue.’” I confess the first thing that came to mind when I heard about this project was “Bronies” – a.k.a. the men who built a passionate fan base over a show intended for young girls. The similar feeling of discomfort over masculinizing a woman-oriented thing also came to mind.
I read Choice USA’s article on Bro-Choice by Andrew Jenkins and I found that a lot of my skepticism was allayed – the word “Bro” conjures images of stereotypical masculinity and misogyny, but I found a thoughtful call for young men to take an interest in securing what should be basic human rights. However, I also saw the by-line at the top stating Bro-Choice wants to “[move] men from passive allies to vocal stakeholders,” and I take some issue with this rhetoric, and with the idea of building an identity around being an “ally” or “male feminist.”
There is a lot to like about Bro-Choice. Educating young people about reproductive rights and sexuality is a wholly positive thing, especially with their explicit wish to “combat complacency and paternalism” both, and to be aware of male privilege while doing so. But the Bro-Choice pledge – to speak out against injustice at the risk of alienation, advocate for reproductive justice, and challenge rape culture and misogyny – is inherently righteous, not just because the man taking it knows and is related to women. Bro-Choice does a lot right, which is why critiquing their rhetoric (and silly name) feels like nit-picking, but there are problems with making allies as visible as the people they are supposed to be supporting.
I don’t identify as a feminist. I don’t mean to say that I disavow feminism or its principles, either – but I have become very skeptical of “male feminists” and their organizations over the last few years. I’ve heard self-identified “male feminists” argue that rape is an evolutionary tool designed for men to spread their seed. I’ve known “male feminists” who have raped women and suffered no consequences. (I have known men with no knowledge whatsoever of feminist theories treat women with respect and to powerfully oppose what in feminism is called “rape culture,” though they did not know the term.) I’ve seen “allies” behave cruelly in their words and actions while paying lip service to the idea of social justice, to the point where I felt it counterproductive and appropriative for me identify as a feminist. Feminism is a movement for the liberation of women, and should remain under the control of women, solely. I found myself nodding when Jenkins said “we don’t need young men to participate in this work because they’ve been motivated by a sexist narrative about ‘saving our mothers, sisters and daughters’ – a narrative often perpetuated by our own movement. We don’t need a knight in shining armor.”
Bro-Choice stresses the awareness of male privilege and the fact that this is a woman’s issue first and foremost, but in the same breath urges men move from being “passive allies to vocal stakeholders” regardless of whether they are needed or wanted. The term “ally” conjures images of war – the ally is metaphorically going into battle with the marginalized group against the foe, because they share a common material interest or cultural values (like NATO, the EU, the Warsaw Pact). But because of the nature of gender relations in our society, men benefit from the fact that women are paid less for the same labor, that they tend to be depicted as emotional and untrustworthy, and that their bodies are often viewed as not theirs to control, particularly in the context of reproductive rights and sexual harassment and assault. It seems wrong to take the focus off of the disadvantaged party in order to put the focus and control onto the party that implicitly condescends to “alliance.”
When a man identifies as feminist, he might be thought of as mildly deluded at worst, rather than as a harpy or feminazi. Male feminists will not be accused of wanting to “leave their husbands, kill their children, and practice witchcraft.”
When you self-identify as an “ally,” it might blind you to the ways in which you are upholding injustice, purposefully or unknowingly; it might make you view yourself as incapable of being oppressive or offensive, as your intentions come from a good place. An ally opposing sexism (and the same goes for racism, classism, homophobia, et al) without understanding how sexism (or racism, classism, homophobia) benefits them makes a poor “stakeholder” in the movement; empowering marginalized communities does more to combat structural oppression and disadvantage than the passion of any number of well-meaning liberal-minded people. Part of the Bro-Choice pledge may be to “challenge myself and interrogate my own personal privileges” but it is harder to do so when you are in a cordoned-off part of the women’s movement under the interest of men, and harder to be called out on internalized misogyny in an echo chamber of men.
Bro-Choice is co-opting a women’s movement for men.
Men’s role in feminism should be to challenge other men, and to be points of resistance against a culture that devalues women and femininity – not to be the leaders or stakeholders. Men can’t be stakeholders or take the spotlight in the pro-choice movement because it is not their bodies who are besieged by moralizing politicians, or who suffer lack of access to birth control or who are often judged harshly for doing so (though this only applies to cisgender men) – and it seems strange to build a personal brand around a kind of grief that you can never know. I support feminism, I strive to be in solidarity with feminism and to oppose misogyny in others and in myself, but I feel I cannot identify as a feminist as it is simply not my place. I can’t speak for a struggle whose hardships I have never known and over whom I have privilege, and even my writing here on a feminist website is often limited seeing as there are elements of feminism that I literally cannot know or relate to. The best thing for men interested in women’s equality to do is to listen with kindness, compassion, and understanding to those who do know the reality of gender injustice, and to support them without trying to lead them.
I don’t need a label like Bro-Choice to describe my feelings, because I don’t need to be honored simply due to my interest in being an ally. I’m not Bro-Choice, I’m Pro-Choice, and I support the feminist movement without expecting a reward.