Friday, February 04, 2011

The Male Ally Progress Report

In the beginning, when I tried my hand at contributing to Feminist discourse, I had one simple goal. I wanted to known as the male ally who got it. Or, in other words, I wished to be the man who really understood. Having been equally as sickened and repulsed by misogyny, sexism, and violence against women, I wanted to be a shining example of a male not discouragingly indebted to these problematic issues. Egocentrism was not my ulterior motive; even though positive reinforcement from others was always appreciated, this was a task undertaken in a spirit of self-discovery. Reaching a greater audience and making progress within myself became a strong personal challenge. In spite of all my initial awkward fumbles, I acknowledge now the vast amount of progress made. The struggle has been an ultimately affirming and beneficial one, though at the start, I was fearful sometimes that all my efforts were in vain.

When I read the writings of many male allies today, I see many of these very same desires. To be different from the norm is the initial, universal impetus that drives each of us to the same end. This motivates us to learn, to keep seeking the truth, and to risk stating opinions that can and will need to be tweaked periodically. When my study and observation began, I found myself being corrected numerous times for weaknesses in my argument or for internalized bias. My privilege was regularly and adamantly told to be kept in check. Trusted female friends I used as a sounding board were kind enough to point out gaping holes in arguments soon to be publicly submitted, but they understandably missed a few sometimes. I was sometimes roundly criticized when I was sure I was going to be validated. Female friends and I also got into energetic debates over these same ideas that were at times rigorous, but rarely mean-spirited or hurtful.

I suppose I was stubborn enough to keep trying. As you'll recall, I wanted to be different. Other men could succumb to the same traps, but not I. Perhaps I even had enough of a noble impulse to hope that men would follow my example, using my words and my path as a guide through unfamiliar territory. Regardless of intention, once I've put my mind to something, I'll work at it long enough and hard enough that progress eventually will be made. If I had to offer any words of advice to other male allies, it would be this: work hard and try not to take criticism too personally. Nowadays, I'll often read their essays and cringe a bit at a few inartful sentences or a smattering of unrefined arguments here and there. The discomfort is not because I find no worth in what is written, but rather it's due to the fact that I see much of the way I used to be in their composition and presentation of ideas. What I probably should be doing is viewing the potential, rather than obsessing over the imperfections. That's a key kernel of wisdom I know I ought to apply to myself as well.

It wasn't until I made those first few tentative baby steps that I was able to analyze my motives in greater detail. Why was I really so inclined to be a male feminist? Was it really as simple as I had led myself to believe? This is not to say that there was something somehow disingenuous about my approach starting out. It was instead the acknowledgment that I had lived an thoroughly unexamined life in some respects. With time, getting it took on richer, more introspective forms. Before, I saw things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror. Inspired by Feminist writings and my own willful introspection, I began to unpack my own gender identity, finding it to not be neither exclusively male, nor even exclusively female. I started to once again deconstruct my sexual orientation and drew surprising conclusions from it. More recently, I began to actively question masculinity in general in addition to femininity. It is this stage in which I most recently find myself, seeking parallels between that which is male and that which is female, all this while poking around in the cavernous spaces of gender. What I will say is that I certainly have my work cut out for me.

This is my firm belief. In time, we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely. All that we know now is partial and incomplete, but then we will know fully. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, thought like a child, and reasoned like a child. When I became an adult, I no longer used childish ways. We all begin this journey as metaphorical children on our way to adulthood. Maturity of ideas and perspective is our ultimate overriding passion and ambition. We shall reach it after a time. We will know what we need to know in full, and what is not strictly essential we will know in part. So until that day, whenever it shall be, so long as we are moving forward, we ought not to be ashamed of prior steps. Our past should not bring shame, rather it should be an instructive means by which we measure where we once were. We all have naked baby pictures, on some level or another, but consigning them to mothball-scented closets is neither necessary, nor imperative. The most important progress report is our own, the one where we get to make up the grading scale.

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