Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Précis #5: Male Allies Are Important, Except When They're the Worst

Amanda Hess, co-founder of Tomorrow Magazine and contributor to the Book of Jezebel, in her opinion essay entitled “Male Allies Are Important, Except When They're the Worst”, from Slate’s XXfactor, argues that despite the ambiguity of male roles in feminism, men are necessary allies. In fact, she concedes that the problem of “‘how to integrate men in ways that don’t undermine gender equality’ is a step up from “having to convince men that it’s a problem in the first place.’” (Hess 9).

Hess employs paradox, rhetorical questions, and specific examples to support her assertion. Despite feeling that “[a]llies are important, except when they’re the worst”, she admits that there are “seemingly endless contradictions embedded in the process of incorporating men into feminist movements”, like the fact that “male allies are encouraged to speak up against domestic violence because ‘men listen to other men,’ yet “the idea that male voices are privileged over female ones is part of the problem” (Hess 3, 4). The current effort to integrate men is riddled with paradoxes that make men a hinderance to the movement and yet ultimately necessary to progress. This is because men, as “‘members of the dominant group… have access to social and institutional power that women lack,’” even though feminism seeks to dismantle such power (ibid). Hess next peppers the reader with a series of rhetorical questions. She ponders, “…how is a man supposed to act?” within these paradoxes, and “[s]hould feminism focus squarely on women, or on gender itself?” (Hess 6, 7). Such questions lack clear answers, but the fact she can ask them at all is indicative of the advancements that have been made. In former times, there was not really a question of if a man would participate in feminism or how he should behave in feminist spaces. Nor was feminism considered a movement that encompassed anyone who wasn’t female. While the movement remains vague on the role of men, the inclusion of males in the cause and their recognition of the need for change is important. Finally, Hess provides specific examples for the case that male feminists are simultaneously problematic and helpful. She criticizes Aziz Ansari for coming out as a feminist and encouraging others to do the same by using the argument that Beyoncé shouldn’t be making less money than Jay-Z, a position that is “‘a watered-down version of something… women have been arguing’ for ages” (Hess 2). She especially condemns President Barack Obama for his statement that as “‘the father of two daughters,’ he knows that ‘hitting a woman is not something a real man does’”, calling out his “apparent need to create a female human with his very own sperm in order to understand that it’s not OK to beat [women]” (Hess 1, 2). But while these faults in their feminism showcase where men are lacking in the ally department, their spreading awareness is valuable and more than what can be said about the advocacy of men in even the 20th century.  

Hess’s purpose is to examine the role of men in feminism and the progress made thus far. She feels that the current state of feminism embodies the old adage that “we’ve come a long way, but not far enough”, and while men don’t always behave as they should, their participation is vital. She employs sardonic diction, mocking the fact that the #HeForShe movement has “finally encouraged members of One Direction to hold signs with hashtags on them and post soulful photos of their feminist solidarity to Twitter” (Hess 2). This type of playfully sarcastic language marks her disdain of ignorant or nominal male feminists, but ultimately her tone is conciliatory in accepting that men are integral parts of the campaign. Syntactically, Hess commands the use of em dashes to contrast the importance of male participation with the ways in which their involvement falls short, with examples like “…makes them valuable to feminism—but it also…” and “[b]ut that’s also a politically expedient tactic—it’s why President Obama…” (Hess 3, 5). This grammar usage embodies her position on male feminists, and contributes to her conciliatory tone. 

I qualify with Hess. While men are significant in utilizing their privilege for the advancement of the feminist cause, the fact that they have privilege at all is the issue of a patriarchal society. But it is true of this "central conflict" that often only the privileged can speak up and be heard in order to elevate the oppressed (Hess 3). However, I believe Hess misses the mark with her focus on men. Feminism for me isn’t about the equality of men and women in our current system, but the equality of all races, genders and non gender identifying peoples in a system rebuilt to benefit all. Hess’s use of male and female pronouns — "men are instructed to listen to women" — is exclusionary to those who don’t identify in that way (Hess 5). True feminism should be about every person helping every person, not just men helping women or women helping women.  

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