Thursday, October 02, 2014

Back-patting Activism, Bandwagon Jumping, and Feminist Thought



I know I’m late arriving to the action, but I wanted to reference the recent Emma Watson speech regarding women’s rights. Watson’s rhetoric, overly simplistic and incomplete as it is, nevertheless implores men to take part in the struggle of women. On this point I do enthusiastically agree with her synopsis. I don’t think feminism will succeed if it remains a discipline that is the purview of women alone. Its books and language are pushed to a quiet corner of stores, utterly overlooked by those without an interest in gender studies or women’s studies.  

As it stands now, it is true that some men associate feminism, wrongly, with misandry and man-hating. I have encountered women who are nursing a series of complicated grievances towards men based on traumatic personal experiences. The passage of time can be remarkably healing. Partially following my example, I have noticed other Quaker young men who want to embrace the title of male ally as I have.

I have directed the curious to the two or three websites who keep the fires burning. Those willing to learn the nomenclature and the hot button issues need to study on their own time. No guides for male allies exist. I had to take a natural curiosity and proceed from there, but my fascination with the subject matter was enough that I learned my way around eventually.

An impediment in my path were the beliefs and attitudes of some. For the past several years, I have repeatedly left comments on a blog geared specifically for young feminists. Entitled Feministe, it is followed by a motley gang of skeptics and malcontents. I’ve gotten in trouble for introducing my religious beliefs in the comment section. The anti-organized religion attitude and sneering skepticism of many has given me reason to emphasize and re-emphasize that my faith gave women a more-or-less equal say 400 years ago, putting it squarely ahead of the curve by at least a couple centuries.

Other posters have made an assumption that I was proselytizing and have not been especially understanding of the repetition. If I’ve reinforced my view multiple times, it has been to remind everyone that organized religion is capable of getting it right as it is getting it wrong. It is easy for forget the work of our ancestors, plainly dressed or suffragette. At this particular website, many associate Christianity only with terrible things. Most are reacting to the Evangelical, conservative Religious Right’s take on religion, which is not the same. Liberal Christianity is quite different, and not much different in many ways to their own beliefs as self-appointed members of the commentariat.  
This group I’ve noted above believed that I was desperate to be validated as a worthwhile person, wanting to hear copious praise for good deeds. That isn’t what I ever intended, nor will I ever. I see enough good liberal, good Quaker back-patting regularly. It’s obnoxious. I see it particularly with Baby Boomer Friends who marched with Martin Luther King and committed themselves to the Civil Rights Movement. Now they seek to enshrine their good deeds forevermore and want to be revered for it. Any number of socially conscious Baby Boomers have been writing one memoir after another. 

Fortunately, this is not the only permutation of Quaker thought, though it may be dominant in some corners. Many men who are young adult Quaker activists like me want to be male allies, knowing it is important for the cause of women’s rights to move forward with our help. They are not deterred by the stigma attached by many to the word “feminism.”

After all, I live and work within a faith tradition where women are often the majority. During my leadership work, I am in the company of at least as many women as men, and probably more. Women give regular vocal ministry in Meeting for Worship, serve on committees, and take active roles. If I were somehow intimidated by the empowerment of women, I would never have stayed where I have for as long as I have.


Do you consider yourself a feminist?”
This question is being posed to female celebrities more frequently than ever. In between Tell us about your new album! and What are the downsides of being a superstar? it comes out, some say, like a double-edged sword.
“It’s like a litmus test of some kind,” says Jaclyn Friedman, founder and executive director of Women, Action and the Media. If the celeb says she is a feminist, she risks isolating fans who don’t identify as such. If she says she is not a feminist, it’s almost guaranteed to become the story’s headline.

Is Feminism the new fad cause, whittled and pared down to its lowest common denominator? To me, anyone who embraces the label ought to have an intellectual and emotional understanding. For those like me who gotten actively involved in the ideas discussed in feminist circles, it’s easy to demand the same aspect of devotion and commitment. In my own faith group, many Friends know the basic parameters of Quaker theology, but only the card-carrying types like me have dug into our past and our rich terminology.

The argument which remains is that of purity. Each of us thinks ourselves as something of expert on a couple of issues here and there. We’ve worked hard and taken the time to enrich ourselves, and we want others to take the same leap as we have. Feminism reinforces its own causes, the prevention of sexual assault being especially prominent. I might get frustrated with this constant reprisal, but I know how important it is to end violence towards men. Whether it bothers me or not, feminist writers and activists will keep the message fresh in the minds of those who take on its causes and its cross.

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