“The goal is not to say all the right things… the goal is to try to show up, be authentically present, and be like, I’m here. I’m doing my best. I really care about this work. I’m going to listen. I’m going to be here. I’m going to respond to critique. I’m gonna be accountable.”
–tony the scribe
This is our third episode, and it focuses on misconceptions about feminism, as well as how men can intentionally engage with feminist work. It’s also very much just one part of a much longer conversation. If you’re just finding us now, I’d recommend checking out our second episode before diving into this one. Find the full list of season one topics/titles here.
If you like it, please subscribe (on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, all the usual platforms). If you really like it, please feel free to leave a review, and spread the word- share a favorite quote, or ask a question, or just share the link; we’ll be using the hashtag #WhatsGoodMan on Twitter and IG.
Here’s the full transcript of episode three:
“What’s Good, Man?” Episode Three:
Is Feminism for Everybody? Men’s Role in the Fight for Gender Equity
tony: Feminism is for everybody.
Kyle: Or: But wait… IS feminism for everybody?
Kyle: Welcome to “What’s Good, Man,” an ongoing, open conversation about men, masculinity and culture.
tony: We are your hosts. I’m Tony the Scribe, a writer, rapper and activist in Minneapolis, MN.
Kyle: And I’m Kyle Tran Myhre, also known as Guante; I’m also a writer, rapper and activist in Minneapolis, MN. We start every episode with three notes. First, this show is about masculinity, but it’s for anyone interested in that topic: cis men, trans men, people who don’t identify as men but have some kind of relationship with masculinity, and beyond.
tony: Second, this show exists because we listened to people, especially women, in our lives who told us that men need to speak up more about these issues, especially with other men. But we also know that “men speaking up more” isn’t always the answer. So we’re going to try and strike a balance, and be intentional about what stories are ours to tell, what topics we want to address, and how we want to address them.
Kyle: Finally, we’re not experts. We’re just rappers. We both have experience as organizers and educators around these issues, but we don’t have all the answers. We’re here to work through this stuff with you. Because we still have a long way to go. So let’s get into it. What’s good, man?
So in that spirit, you know, if we want to live in a world where men can express the full range of emotions, just to say what’s up and bring each other into the space…
tony: Or to say… “what’s good, man?”
Kyle: Ok. We do a strong/weak thing. Like, what’s like a happy thing and a not-so-happy thing, like, how’s it going? That kind of thing.
tony: Yeah, I would say a strong thing that’s happening for me this week is I just spent a lot of time with my family this last week. I went up north for vacation with my partner and with a bunch of my family members. And I just like didn’t think at all that whole week. Like I just kicked it. I was on a lake beach reading. It was perfect. I would say the weak is that since I got back, I’ve been hella stressed out and not sleeping very well. So for like three days earlier this week, I was catching like five hours of sleep, six hours of sleep, six hours of sleep. And I go to pieces when I’m like that. So last night I ended up like sleeping like ten hours, I think, or something like that. I’m feeling a lot better. You?
Kyle: I guess I’m trying to think of, you know, we’re recording these, but don’t necessarily know when you’re gonna be listening to them. So I might have said the same thing last week, but it’s still where my head is at right now. I finished a big project, which is this zine. And it’s a really cool zine about masculinity…
tony: Snaps for zines!
Kyle: It’s called The Art of Taking the L, and it’s about how much, you know, conceptions of masculinity are wrapped up in like winning and losing and all these like super weird power dynamic things. And it’s good and I’m proud of it.
tony: It bangs.
Kyle: And then, like always, my strong and my weak are related. My weak, or my not so happy, is… you know… we live in a fascist country! Not in the sense of like, you know, this country has always had fascist, authoritarian stuff going on. But right now, this week, there’s really, really explicitly, outwardly fascist things happening. And it’s like, my response to that is a zine? Yes, I have to hold back myself. Yes, that does matter. You’ve got to do the work in every space you have access to. But, you know, it’s hard to escape that tension, that feeling of inadequacy, of not doing enough. You know, even when I know intellectually that that’s not true.
tony: Totally. I was talking to my therapist about this yesterday, actually, because I was like, yo, I’m stressed out as hell because I know people who are like literally being kidnapped by ice. I know people who, you know, are struggling with not having access to health insurance. Like, I know all kinds of crazy stuff that’s happening in my space. And I get really guilty when I can’t figure out how to handle all that shit. But she’s like, you literally can’t fix these systems alone. Like, that’s not how shit works, right? Just because you know that shit is garbage doesn’t mean that you magically can just like keep throwing energy at it and it will just disappear overnight. You know… Which is hard. That’s really hard.
Kyle: And I mean, it relates to some of what we’re talking about today, which is kind of an action oriented and activist oriented look at a topic that is often talked about in really intellectual ways. We’re going to try to get to some of the dirt of it. But that is, you know, what is men’s place in feminism, in the struggle for gender equity, etc? And so before we get to that question, just in the spirit of this this podcast being a place we can do some of that like, 101-type of stuff, for people who maybe haven’t had these conversations before (while also digging deeper, but still). If we’re going to be talking about feminism today, it probably makes sense to talk about what we mean by that, because it’s a word that, you know, if you just go on the Internet and you Google it, you’re going to find all kinds of terrible, terrible stuff. And part of what we’re talking about today is the weird misconceptions and stereotypes that a lot of people, especially men, but people in general, have around what feminism is. So I think it’s really useful not to provide you all with one perfect definition, but to kind of compare and contrast a few different ones, some that are scholarly, some that are pop cultural, and just our own, too. And so I have a few that I think are useful in this conversation of like, what is feminism? So: bell hooks, who we’re going to be coming back to later in this episode, says, “simply put, feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression.”
tony: Another one I really like is from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s book, We Should All Be Feminists, which Beyonce flipped in the song Flawless. “Feminist, the person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes.”
Kyle: Yeah. So, if that’s your first introduction to the phrase, I think that’s a useful little definition. Similarly to, you know, when you’re just googling stuff: On Wikipedia, it says “feminism is a range of social movements, political movements and ideologies that share a common goal to define, establish, and achieve the political, economic, personal and social equality of the sexes.” Which again, from Wikipedia? That’s not bad. I don’t think. And I like that, you know, it’s not binary. It’s “the sexes,” multiple. There’s some good stuff in there.
Another one that I found really recently is from an organizer named Angeline Echeverría. It says “Feminism means that people of all genders should be able to be their true selves, and make decisions that are best for themselves and their communities.” She just adds another layer to this conversation. And then I’m also interested in experiential definitions, you know, from your own life, how you have understood that term, and maybe how you haven’t understood that term. Does anything come to mind for you?
tony: Yes. So I think I was raised with a lot of the ideas of feminism. You know, I grew up with divorced parents with a really strong single mom, with a really strong step mom as well. And I think, you know, they definitely imbued me with this sense that women are just as powerful, and in some ways more powerful, than men and that you need to respect everybody’s experiences, and offer space for people to be liberated from systems that oppress them. But I wouldn’t call that feminism probably, up through maybe even high school. I think when I got to college, I still had this idea that feminism was… really that feminism was like, prioritizing women over men. It was saying that women are more important than men. Women are better people than men. And, you know, men are to be hated and despised and to be interacted with as little as possible. And I think for me, a lot of that really changed, again, in college. I had a couple homegirls who I think really used the language of feminists very vehemently and very often. So for me, that intro of seeing them use that language opened up more curiosity for me about what exactly that meant. And then later on when two of my friends started a Feminists for Justice group on campus, like a weekly feminist discussion group, I was like, oh yeah, I’ll go check that out and see what it is. And I think that space really helped me to erode a lot of those misconceptions that I had about feminism and realize that feminism is really about trying to liberate all of us from these outdated and ridiculous preconceptions of what gender is. And yeah. And it’s become a really important part of my life.
Kyle: Yeah. And I hear in your story, you know, the mention of friends and relationships. And the mention of being involved in stuff. I think getting a definition or an understanding of feminism from real life stuff, as opposed to the Internet… which again, you can find all kinds of amazing stuff on the Internet. But I think part of the reason that this conversation is so challenging for a lot of people is that they only have ever experienced feminism from reading what some dude said on the Internet. You know? My own personal thing was that I got involved in activism for the first time in like 2001, 2002, 2003. It was after 9/11 and during the second Iraq war. And, you know, I don’t say I ever had a negative view of feminism at that time. I was just a kid. I was like, oh, feminism means that, like, people are equal. That’s cool. And like, that was the extent of any, critical engagement I had with the term. But my formative experiences with feminism were not in, again, articles or internet arguments; they were with feminists, right, like particularly during that time period during 2002, 2003, 2004, when there was so much organizing happening around the war and around imperialism.
I met all these people who explicitly identified as feminists who were good at communicating, and being responsible and accountable, and understanding how identity might impact the different elements of the organizing that we were doing. And that just blows up all these stereotypes around who a feminist is and what they look like. Most of them were women of color. Most of them were working class. None of them, like, “hated men” or whatever. And I think it’s really important not only to push back against those stereotypes, but to acknowledge that those stereotypes exist for a reason. They come from somewhere, right? Like, why is that so many people’s stereotype? We can get into that at a later point, maybe. But yeah, I think that the takeaway here is that even if we don’t get to one perfect definition, I think all these different definitions together hopefully point us in a useful direction. And of course, if you really want to learn more about feminism, you could, you know, read a book and not just listen to two dudes on a podcast.
tony: Totally. Ok. Good segue. The question that we’re getting into today is… so feminism is this movement that’s working to create equality for folks of different sexes, different genders, different experiences. And like, what is our role within that, as men?
So I think one place to jump off is this Atlantic article that I read the other day. It’s called “Men Aren’t Quite Sure How to Be Abortion Rights Activists” by Ashley Fetters. And it’s about, well, it’s about men feeling unsure about how to be abortion rights activists. And the article opens with this story about a dude who just went to his first reproductive rights organizing meeting. I think it was a NARAL meeting. …Only to find himself one of three men in a room full of like 80 people. And so basically saying, OK, a lot of people think that reproductive rights are important and that women and folks with uteruses should have the ability to decide their own destinies and control over what happens in their own bodies. But nonetheless, like a lot of that work is still happening just by women or by folks with uteruses. So what does that mean?
Kyle: There’s a fascinating element of this article, and I don’t know if it’s ever really explicit, but drawing the line between where people’s politics are and then where their action is. There are a lot of men who are pro-choice. But the whole idea of 80 people being a room and only three of them being men? That’s really interesting. I found a couple really important quotes from the article.
Amelia Bonow, the co-founder of Shout Your Abortion: So every day on social media, she says “she sees progressive men in media and politics weigh in on every progressive issue except abortion, even though abortion is tied up in some of those issues too. Anyone who cares about economic justice, racial justice, human rights-abortion access is your issue.” I think that’s really useful for this conversation.
Another quote here is from a writer named Gray Chapman. “Many men say they’re hesitant or just plain scared to speak up about this stuff. They feel it’s not their place to say anything, or worse, that they’ll say the wrong thing. That’s understandable, albeit sort of a copout.” …Which is totally something we’ll come back to later in this episode.
And then finally, the activist you mentioned who showed up to the meeting in the beginning of the article comes back at the end of the article and says, “I’m used to being the person in front of the room. That’s the thing that we have to recognize. Forcibly putting yourself as a man into a position completely supportive of women is necessary for the movement.” …Which is another thing I think we’ll come back to later in this episode.
tony: Yeah. And I think that article, more broadly, goes into a ton of reasons that pro-choice men don’t get involved. And one of them is that, like, not wanting to take up too much space. And I think it brought up a deeper question for me, which is one I’ve been asking myself for years in different ways, which is: what is men’s place in feminism? What are we supposed to do? Where are we supposed to stand? How much are we supposed to speak? All of those questions.
And I think there are a lot of opinions floating out there. But let’s start with one of the most celebrated writers feminism has ever produced: bell hooks. We’ve talked about bell hooks before. But I want to give a little bit more context since we’re gonna be talking about her more this episode. I’m pretty sure Dina Winter, who is an incredible artist in my life, a friend, was the first person to introduce me to bell hooks. We were talking about feminism and she recommended bell hooks’ “Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics,” which is sort of like a 120-page intro to feminism written for somebody who isn’t familiar with the topic. I got a copy and I stayed up until like 3am reading it that night. It’s really, really good. So we’re gonna be talking a lot today about bell hooks. She’s a Black feminist author and probably one of the most important social justice theorists in the world. She’s also written a ton about feminism in general and also a lot about men in feminism, including a whole book from 2004 called “The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity and Love,” which is really good.
Kyle: And let’s just say it: don’t get your definitions about what feminism is from some random dude on YouTube when “Feminism is for Everybody” is this super short, accessible book. Yeah, just a sidenote.
tony: Yeah. Go read that shit. So again, we shared that definition from her earlier. But as she puts it in the first chapter of Feminism is for Everybody, she says, “simply put, feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.” I think that definition is actually really interesting for what it lacks, which is an idea that feminism is only for women or only against men. And throughout the whole book, actually, she pushes back on the simple narrative about evil men oppressing innocent women. So here are some things she has to say in her introduction about men and feminism: “Males as a group have and do benefit the most from patriarchy, from the assumption that they are superior to females and should rule over us. But those benefits have come with a price. In return for all the goodies men receive from patriarchy. They are required to dominate women, to exploit and oppress us, using violence if they must, to keep patriarchy intact. Most men find it difficult to be patriarchs. Most men are disturbed by hatred and fear of women, by male violence against women. Even the men who perpetuate this violence. But they fear letting go of its benefits. They are not certain what will happen to the world that they know most intimately if patriarchy changes, so they find it easier to passively support male domination, even when they know in their minds and hearts that it is wrong. Again and again, men tell me that they have no idea what it is feminists want. I believe them. I believe in their capacity to change and grow. And I believe that if they knew more about feminism, they would no longer fear it, for they would find in feminist movement the hope of their own release from the bondage of patriarchy. It is for these men, young and old, and for all of us, that I have written this handbook.”
And later she puts it in even clearer terms. She says “It is urgent that men take up the banner of feminism and challenge patriarchy. The safety and continuation of life on the planet requires feminist conversion of men.” So if feminism is so great and it benefits men so deeply, why do we still have sexism?
Kyle: (laughs) Sorry, it just sounded, when you said that, like “if feminism is so GREAT, how come I’m sad sometimes!!??”
tony: (laughs) “If feminism is so GREAT, why don’t I always feel good about stuff?” Yeah. But really though, if it’s such a great tool, you know, why do we still have sexism? Like, why hasn’t everybody come together and been like, yup, let’s overthrow the patriarchy and live in a perfect world without any oppression?
Kyle: So that’s a question that’s relevant to men and women and non-binary people, gender nonconforming people, people with many different gender identities. But you know, on this show we’re talking more specifically about men. And I think that there are going to be different answers for different men to that question of why aren’t men more invested or more open to the idea of feminism? One of them, right off the bat, is that some men are actively sexist; some men are like, misogynists. And I don’t want to erase that or make excuses for that. Some men explicitly benefit from sexism, even if we all implicitly benefit, some men explicitly benefit and just don’t want that to change.
tony: Yeah. Do it very purposefully. And then, I think like bell hooks says, there are a lot of men who don’t know what feminism even is. Or what it wants. I think a lot of men have this misconception that feminists all hate men. And that there’s nothing for them in feminism. Or even this idea that feminism doesn’t have anything to offer men. Like, “oh, feminism is this great thing for women to care about, who need to learn how to bargain for higher salaries at work, but it doesn’t impact me at all because I’m just a dude.”
Kyle: And there are totally real, valid critiques of different strains of feminism and different actions based in a feminist ideology. But that point right there? I can tell right away when someone has quote unquote “done the reading” or not. Like if the conception is that feminism hates men, you have never read a feminist book before have you? Or talked to anyone who’s a real organizer working through a feminist lens. And I I think there’s a reason for that. It’s not just because people are stupid, right? It’s because there has been a concerted effort in this country to construct a narrative around feminism. You know, complete with heroes and villains and this STORY. And if you’re just some 16 year old kid googling what feminism is, you’re gonna be exposed to that narrative that powerful, rich, right-wing people have set into place to turn us off to this really healthy, amazing, cool idea… because they benefit from it.
Kyle: That’s a little bit of a tangent; when people ask why I do this work, one of one of the answers to that question is kind of just a spite, an anger at those people who have tried to make me not care about this. Does that make sense?
tony: Yeah, absolutely. And I think it’s yeah; it’s bullshit.
Kyle: So a third group of men who don’t get involved, probably just because they believe that they’re not welcome in feminism. Some men do figure out what feminism is all about and might want to get involved on an activist level, but just don’t know how to plug in. And because of that aforementioned narrative that’s sold to us, there might just be uncertainty about whether they’re welcome. And to be fair, there are totally feminist spaces or organizations or initiatives or things happening that DON’T want to make space for men. And I think that’s… one, it’s valid! And two, something we can come back to and talk about in a little bit. And then others will say that, you know, men should live by feminist values, but they themselves can’t call themselves (or ourselves) feminists. People might use a term like pro-feminist or, you know, “supporting feminism” when describing men.
tony: And that’s all true. But there’s also this whole tangent where men think that they want to get involved, and then step into those spaces, and then get called out on their bullshit and get super sensitive about it and pull back and decide not to be in those spaces anymore.
Kyle: Not to go too far off on a tangent, but one of my favorite Twitter friends, and we’ve met in real life, but mostly on Twitter, is Jacqui Germain. And Jacqui the other day said something about, and this is an unrelated thing, but it’s about, like, why don’t more white poets write about whiteness?
tony: Oh, I saw that.
Kyle: Yeah, you saw that thread, right? And it was a brilliant, brilliant thread. And then in my head, I imagine being in a workshop and being like, “hey, all you white poets: write a poem about whiteness!” and then getting the poems back, and being like, “no, not like that!” Because maybe they’re not ready to be in that space? Or like you said, just bring their bullshit into the space and make it hard to do the work that’s trying to get done. Maybe that’s not the most linear example of what we’re talking about here. But I think, you know, going back to the Atlantic article: if you’re a guy and you want to support reproductive justice, reproductive rights, and you show up to the meeting and you stand up and you talk the whole time… maybe you’re not ready for that yet. And so, that’s some of the messy stuff where we’re trying to work through here,
tony: I saw a really good… it was either comic or a joke online that was like “women have been praying to the gods for thousands of years that men will open up and start talking about their feelings. And at 3pm next Thursday, all of them will open up and start talking about their feelings. And at 3:05pm, every woman will wish that they hadn’t.”
Kyle: That’s another episode. Anyways, one framework that’s been useful for me a lot in this journey that I’ve been on is the idea of like, is it up to women and nonbinary people and feminists to make room for men within the feminist movement? Or is it up to men to bring feminist ideals and a feminist lens into all the places we’re already at? You know, it’s been really useful to me to kind of speak to my own kind of uncertainty or insecurity around that.
tony: Yeah. And I think insecurity is another reason that a lot of men really feel wishy washy about getting engaged in feminism or entering feminist spaces or joining feminist causes of those kinds of things. I genuinely believe that every man has done some fucked up shit to a woman or a non-binary person at some point because of toxic masculinity. And I think we all cause harm to each other all the time. But when we’re socialized into a super gendered framework, we do harm in gendered ways. And I think a lot of men think that this somehow disqualifies them from being a feminist or from doing feminist work or trying to undue harm that they’ve done. And I think folks can tend to feel really overwhelmed by the guilt and shame that goes along with that reality. And I think like the problem with that is that like, if everybody chooses to do that, then, you know, no men are going to be willing to do the work. Because most of us have done harm in some way, shape, or form. We need to be able to move through that guilt and shame into action.
And again, whether it’s true altruism that creates that willingness to take action or whether it’s that spite that you’re talking about, where you’re like, no, it’s garbage that I used to treat women this way. And I’m mad that these systems were imposed on me and that I thought it was cool to do that shit. And now I want to do better and I want to dismantle those systems so that nobody else ever has to deal with that.
I think another reason men avoid identifying as feminist is because they don’t want to seem like self-aggrandizing or bragging about how good they are The way the alt-right talks about virtue signaling? This idea of like, “oh, you’re just trying to get cookies. You know, like you’re just trying to be the coolest, most politically correct dude. And that’s why you identify as a feminist.”
Kyle: Yeah. The white knight thing. Or like “you’re just trying to get laid.” You hear those comments a lot. And that’s also just super, super frustrating. And like, I think it’s a textbook case of projection. When people are like “I don’t care about other people. So other people who think they care about other people actually don’t. So they’re lying when they say they care about other people.” And this is textbook projection.
I’m sorry. This is also a tangent, but it’s one that’s important to me. It’s the idea that, particularly for those of us who do exist in radical spaces or social justice spaces or progressive spaces, you can sometimes get more, you know, quote unquote, “ally cookies” by doing LESS than by doing more, if that makes sense? Like, when there are things that you know you should stand up and talk about… that’s a risk, you know? The tallest piece of grass gets cut off. I don’t know what that expression is.
tony: Most young kings get their heads cut off. That’s Basquiat, right?
Kyle: I don’t know what the idiom I’m looking for is. But that there are sometimes, you know, the cool, quiet guy who doesn’t have to prove anything; that’s a “real progressive” or a “real male feminist,” whereas, like, maybe that guy SHOULD be talking about it. But again, this can get messy.
tony: But what a tightrope, right? Like, that’s, I think, one of the hard things. And then like I mean, not around the idea of not wanting to do the work of actualizing stuff… I mean, being a feminist dude, or a dude who identifies as pro-feminist or whatever-it’s hard. There aren’t a lot of great roadmaps for what it looks like or how you deal with the difficult aspects of walking that tightrope. You know, when do you speak up? When do you be quieter? When do you allow for there to be space to talk about stuff? When do you not want to infringe upon people emotionally, and require them to do the emotional labor of talking you through an experience? Like, I think there’s a lot of really deep questions there around how exactly we do that.
Kyle: And when you say it’s hard, let’s talk about how, you know, you don’t mean hard like Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, right?
tony: Yes. It’s not hard like Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, which is a very hard game.
Kyle: We mean hard like Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3. In that, yeah, it might take me three times to beat MODOK, but like, I’m going to beat MODOK. It’s not that hard.
tony: Yeah. It’s not impossible. And I think it’s also important to talk about like the difficulty. At least for me, the difficulty is not about pressing the right buttons and doing the right things. It’s like, a lot of the time the difficulty is more about engaging with my own insecurity and shame and sadness. It’s emotionally hard more than it’s like, logistically hard, right? Because I can tell you, almost all of the difficulties that I’ve faced trying to become a more feminist man have not been from feminists calling me out or dragging me or taking me out behind the shed and shooting me in the back of the head. You know? It’s almost all been my own internal bullshit that I’ve been moving through. And it’s been worth moving through. Like, I think I’m a better, healthier person because of that work, you know? But that’s where the difficulty comes from.
Kyle: Yeah, definitely. So we’ve talked about a lot. And I want to take a second to breathe a little bit.
tony: Hey, this is Tony the Scribe. Yeah. I don’t know who that dude is, but this is Tony the Scribe. He’s correct. Welcome to what’s good, man. Again, we’re super happy to have you. We really appreciate you taking the time out of your day to share this conversation with us. And if you could share this conversation with other folks, if you feel like it’s worthwhile, that’s really appreciated, too. Podcasts do not spread best via advertising, via carrier pigeons, via flyers on your windshield. They spread best when you tell folks about it. So please do that. We also don’t want the conversation to stop just with us so you can use hashtag #WhatsGoodMan to keep chatting on social media. My Twitter is @tony_the_scribe and Kyle’s is @elguante. We’re on Instagram and Facebook and all that stuff too. You can also find out more about the show and book us for live shows at WGMPOD.com. We will come to you and do some shit and it’ll be super tight and very fun and very interesting and illuminating for you and all your friends. So, yes. Thanks again for listening and looking forward to the rest of this conversation. Hope you’re enjoying it.
Kyle: So should we be allies as men, as the two men sitting here and any men who might be listening? Or should we be something different? So there’s all this like stuff to talk about, and that we’ve been talking about, about men’s place within feminism or within the movement for gender equity. But what does it look like in practice, in real life? We don’t want to have an intellectual, academic conversation about this. How can men show up and support feminist work in a way that is intentional and, you know, does something, that actually contributes? Because that’s a messy question. And we’ve been talking about that this whole time. We’re going to keep talking about it. But before we get to the messier side of that question, let’s start with some basic stuff. Some really concrete, easy examples, before we get bogged down in the theoretical.
So one obvious one is money, right? If you’re unsure about your place in feminism and all that, you can always donate. You can support your local rape crisis center, support organizations working to ensure reproductive justice, whether those are abortion funds or local reproductive justice groups, Planned Parenthood, stuff like that. Support writers and activists who have Patreons or other ways you can directly give them money. Find the people in your community who are doing the work, especially women and nonbinary people, and just give them money. No one’s gonna be mad at that. No one’s going to call you on the Internet for giving someone money (EDITOR’S NOTE: here’s a link to some of the orgs I gave to on Give to the Max Day this year)
tony: straight up. And I think another thing that comes to mind for me immediately is: pay sex workers. Like, if you’re a dude who watches porn, find the women or nonbinary folks or men who are making that porn and go support them. Because like, I find that sex workers especially are some of the people who people expect all of this content from all the time without ever reciprocating anything for it. There’s a lot of stuff online about how the porn industry is pretty monopolized and doesn’t support a lot of its performers well, because it just makes all of its money off of these ads on pornhub. And I think, you know, if you find people doing camming that you really like or, you know, sex workers who you appreciate, even on tube sites, go buy some porn. Or figure out other ways to support those people, real people who are out in the world doing that work that you’re enjoying.
Kyle: Yeah. And donations, you know, they can be anonymous if you’re worried about the whole “I don’t want to look like I think I’m so great” kind of thing. Or they can also NOT be anonymous so that you can encourage other people to also give money and talk about it.
So that’s one really obvious concrete thing, right? Donating money. I think another one is on narrative shifting. So using whatever platform you have, you know, maybe you’re a big celebrity or a musician or maybe you’re just a person who has a Facebook page.
tony: Because everybody has a platform now. Almost everybody.
Kyle: Use whatever platform you have to shift the narrative around feminism, around gender justice. Follow actual, real life feminists on social media and signal boost them, retweet them, that kind of stuff, you know, post good articles, start conversations, call your friends out when they say sexist garbage. I don’t want to make this too much about individuals being better as individuals. There are systemic forces at play, too. But one thing that people can do is just have conversations and start more conversations
tony: And I think we decry some of that work sometimes. I mean, if throughout your whole life you, by posting stuff and by being present in these conversations, you can convince five more people to care about these issues and to talk about these issues, like, you just quintupled your life’s capacity for making a difference around these things. And I think that conversation gets left in the dust sometimes.
Kyle: Yes. And one third easy one before we move on to some of the other stuff. And I think that’s just self-work, like doing the work on yourself to have more capacity to do other kinds of work, to just become more in tune with what feminism actually is. Read more books, right? Like we mentioned, bell hooks, Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics. That’s a great starter book. There’s also, you know, Roxane Gay has two essay collections, Bad Feminist and Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture. There are also classic books like This Bridge Called My Back, or there are also more recent books like Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me. You know, there’s so much, there’s this wealth of stuff out there.
tony: And if you don’t like reading, a lot of that stuff you can get in audio book format, too, right? Or like, other like podcast resources. I think we both really like How to Survive the End of the World, which is adrienne maree brown and Autumn Meghan Brown’s podcast. And I think both of them have really important things to say about feminism and about being women doing social justice work in the world.
Kyle: So, again, those are some easy examples, but I mean, in the spirit of what this podcast is all about. Let’s get to some other stuff. When we talk about allyship.
tony: Yeah. So for me, I feel like there are a lot of different examples of times where I’ve stepped into discussions around gender violence or on patriarchy and not really known what to do. And so I think one thing that can be helpful about this space that we have right now, right, like, two men talking about this shit, is talking about some of those examples-what was hard about them? And then trying to figure out what some good answers might have been to those situations. And again, this is messy, right? There are no simple answers to any of this. And I think the conversation is the important part. We’re trying to model that conversation by having it in public.
So when Brett Kavanaugh was being interviewed for the Supreme Court, it was very clear to me that he had sexually assaulted Christine Blasey Ford. I believed her. And I saw a post from someone who was basically saying, like, if you’re a man, don’t comment on this at all. I don’t want to hear you talking today. Shut up. Your opinion doesn’t matter. And that was really hard for me. Because I was really upset about the way that those hearings were going down and was really feeling the weight of the violence that was happening in silencing Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony, and about the way that Kavanaugh was basically skating through that whole process untouched, despite all this harm he caused. And I was like, what if my opinion about it is that it’s fucked up, right? You know, then should I be speaking up about it? Like, is it good to have my voice amplifying the women and other folks who are talking about the fact that it’s really broken and that it’s really violent, that this is happening? And then I also started thinking about, you know, like I know a bunch of men who have survived sexual assault. And what does it mean to say, don’t comment on this sexual assault that happened? If you’re a dude and you’ve survived sexual assault, a lot of those men that I know have a really hard time with the fact that they’re victims and survivors of sexual assault because there’s not a lot of space made for them in that conversation. And so just like that bigger question, I think, that the bigger question contained in that is like, when should we speak up and when should we stay silent? Because it’s really important that we not talk over the folks in the room when we’re talking about patriarchy who have been most marginalized by that system, who have had the most harm caused to them, you know. So it’s like, I feel like we have an obligation to speak up in some cases. But in some ways it’s really problematic if we do, too. So like, how do we navigate that thing?
Kyle: I have a couple thoughts about that. Not that I know anything, but I have a couple of thoughts about that. I think it gets to the root of this thing that I think a lot of men see as a catch 22. The whole “you need to speak up more, stop speaking up more!” …it feels like it’s an impossible thing. And I don’t think that it is. I understand why someone might feel that, but I think a lot of when we talk about in social justice work, a lot of it is just like, empathy and respect and basic like, interpersonal communication stuff. So on a basic interpersonal level, if someone is explicitly asking you to not comment, then I would say just don’t. There all these other questions that we’re talking about, but think in that one micro situation, even if we have good things to say, even if you think their request is wrong, even if it hurts your feelings… I think if you’re respecting someone, and acknowledging the history of who’s had a platform, who hasn’t had a platform; I think in those very specific instances, like, just shut up. But there’s also a deeper question that you’re pointing to. Because sometimes that directive to not say anything is explicit, like in your example. But a lot of times it’s more implicit. It’s based on how men have understood feminism over the years or you know, one random person on the Internet says don’t talk, so a man says that means all feminists say that all men should always be quiet all the time.
Sometimes that that directive or that commandment is more implicit or more assumed. And in those times, I think going back to the idea that there’s no magic key to communication and advocacy; it can be messy, right? There are times when we need to shut up. And there are times when we need to speak up. And it can be confusing. But I think that’s what the work is: figuring it out. I don’t think the two of us right here can tell anyone, “here are the times when you should speak out. And here are the times when you should not speak out.” I think it’s about acknowledging context, acknowledging relationships, acknowledging what work you’re trying to do in a particular space. And like, yeah, it can be hard.
tony: Yeah. I mean, that all makes a lot of sense to me. And I think the thing that you were saying earlier about the fact that your experience coming up in feminism was most of the time not on the Internet, right? Like, it was engaging with actual people who were doing feminist work. And I think that can be one of the difficult things to engage with around these conversations: when you actually talk to people in person who are doing this work about what this work entails, it’s a lot easier to figure out that interpersonal side of the work. When you speak up and when you don’t speak up, if you’re listening to them, if you’re actually engaging with them. And asking them questions and listening to what they’re saying in response. Whereas I think on the Internet, it can feel a lot more hyperbolic and a lot more difficult to have that conversation in a meaningful way.
Kyle: And I mean, I said we don’t necessarily have an answer to that question, but there are some things we can talk about. But let’s bring in your other example that I remember you mentioning before, because that might lead us into some of the how we navigate those spaces a little more intentionally, if that makes sense.
tony: Yeah, absolutely. So sometimes I hear feminist women in my life talk about how all men are trash. And I get why folks say that. A lot of the time, it’s blowing off steam for people. A lot of the time, I think it can be a really important conversation for them to have that gives voice to how men have caused them harm, and about the ways in which they’ve been hurt by men and also as almost like a mantra to avoid letting shitty men control their lives, saying that like, oh, this isn’t a thing that I need to care about or make space for. And I get why that happens. And also, I think it can be really difficult. I think it can be really difficult on an emotional level for men who are interested and engaged in doing this work; it certainly is for me, a hard thing to see often. But then deeper than that, I think it can have the effect of creating a narrative that men aren’t capable of being anything other than trash. For me, sometimes seeing it feels like seeing somebody say boys will be boys. Like it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy where it’s like, men are trash, men will always be trash. Men can never be anything other than trash. And I recognize that they don’t come from the same place. Like, Boys Will Be Boys is a phrase set up to try to dismiss harm that men cause, basically saying that it’s inevitable, whereas men are trash is basically saying that men choose to be that way. But it’s really hard, right? And so I sit sometimes with: should I recognize that I’m like just an ally to the folks who are saying that and recognize that it’s not my place to comment on? Or do I try to have the deeper conversation that’s like, yo, I actually think sometimes that creates a barrier to men thinking that they can be involved in this work or that they can be better people?
Kyle: So again, I come back to the idea of context. Random person on the internet who you don’t know says that? Yeah, do not respond to that. Don’t say, “hey, I think you should think twice about saying men are trash because it demobilizes men who might otherwise be involved in the struggle.”
So it sounds like maybe on some level you’re having like, an organizer conversation versus a like, “I’m just talking about how I feel” conversation, which is a complicated thing on the Internet especially, in that for some people, it’s their job to mobilize people. It’s their job to build movements. But a lot of people, it’s not their job. You know, a lot of people don’t have to worry about that.
tony: Yeah. I think I forget sometimes that not everybody who talks about oppression on the Internet’s major goal is to mobilize other people around that oppression. Sometimes, like I see people whose literal only thing they’re doing on the Internet is venting and that’s what their Twitter is for or whatever. And I’m like, “your praxis is not like as perfectly developed as it could be to mobilize that masses!” You know, I’m like, that’s a failing on my part, you know?
Kyle: So I guess what I’m hearing with the men on trash example, like, it isn’t necessarily that it’s offensive, that it’s harmful, but it can be demobilizing. I don’t think there’s any easy answer to that. I think one aspect, if we’re talking about allyship, and about like, the role of men in this work, is knowing your role. And I guess also maybe picking your battles, right? Like, I can’t sit here and tell anyone to not say that men are trash. Like, that’s totally your right. And men are trash. But anyways, that’s not my battle. Like, that’s not my role. So I think, I’m really a fan of the idea of reframing questions. So rather than like “should people say men are trash” or “is men are trash a demobilizing statement?” I think a reframe of that is “what are proactive things that WE can do to create entry points for men in this work?” Because we can’t control what other people out there are talking about or how they phrase things. But we can control the work that we do to bring more men into this conversation. And like, I don’t know if that’s a stretch, but that’s my reframing of that question. And I think that’s a good thing for us to talk about, too. Like, what are ways that we can make room for more men to feel like they’re welcome or able to do this work.
tony: I mean, I never jump on people who are like, “oh, men are trash” on the Internet. Just cause I’m like, that’s not my lane. That’s not my place.
Kyle: (sarcastically) “Actually, MOST men are trash.”
tony: Yeah. That’s not my thing. You know, I’m never going to be that dude. I think part of the space to figure out is like, again, like what things matter and what things don’t matter. And where do you want to put your energy? I don’t love it when I see people saying men are trash.. But I’m also like, I should probably be focusing on, like, I don’t know, the fact that a huge amount of women and nonbinary folks are sexually assaulted. Like, I should be focused on the fact that, like, the president is a rapist. You know, I should be focused on the fact that men in my life talk over women and don’t listen to their experiences. And the wage gap. And like all of these other things that are way more ultimately important than that little symbolic thing that hurts my feelings or whatever. You know, it’s like, what do I actually want to be sensitive to and what do I want to take on the chin and just move with, you know, and be like, this doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. I’m going to devote my energy to other things.
Kyle: Yeah. And I guess I’m trying to think of ways to answer that question kind of concretely. Like what are ways that we can create space for more men to join in on this work? I think about my own experience as a writer, as a poet, and how important it is that when writing a poem about, you know, sexism (just to use that example), you don’t point the finger out there and say, “look at all those men out there who are sexist! But look at me. I’m great.” Like, no one wants to hear that poem, right? What’s really, really important, is to turn the lens on yourself, on myself, and say, “look at the ways that I have been sexist. Look at the ways that I’m implicated in a sexist system.” Right away, you’re starting from a “I’m in this with you” solidarity, as opposed to a place of judgment, even when people do deserve to be judged. Just on a tactical level, it’s not as effective. So turning the lens on the self, I think, is one. I mean, that’s also not super concrete. I think another concrete one is like, if you’re in a big online conversation with a bunch of people, you can untag the people who don’t really need to be in that conversation. Like, if someone says something sexist and you want to call them out on it, you don’t necessarily need to have the person they said the sexist thing to in the conversation, if that makes sense, and like clutter their life with stuff. We can take those conversations into another space or offline or whatever.
tony: I think that’s an important thing. We’re going have another whole episode about accountability stuff at some point. But I think again, don’t ask people who are dealing with the brunt of this work to take on all this extra work of being in the middle of the conversation about you holding some asshole on the Internet accountable, or stuff like that. You know, like you’ve got to make space for the people who are suffering the worst impacts of it to be human and have their own breathing room. And not, you know, hold them to an impossible standard of grappling with all these systems and dealing with your shit at the same time.
Kyle: And I think one other concrete thing that we could take a second to talk about is men’s groups. I’ve always had a back and forth on that. Like I think the idea of men getting together to talk about the issues that we’re talking about, about masculinity and about feminism and about oppression and sexual violence, etc. is a great idea. Like on paper, and even in real life, it can be really, really powerful to have a space to process. I also think that sometimes men’s groups are very like, insular and they attract just a very specific kind of man. And that work doesn’t necessarily have an outward energy to it, which, you know, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But it’s been part of my own personal turnoff to doing more of that kind of thing. I don’t know if you’ve had any experience with that kind of stuff.
tony: I have a little bit more by studying those things than by being in them. I mean, obviously I’ve been in a lot of spaces that are male spaces like, implicitly. I mean, I do a bunch of martial arts. And I’ve had women in all of my martial arts classes at one point or another, but they’re mostly men’s spaces. You know, where if a woman doesn’t show up one particular week, then it’ll be an all-male space or whatever. And I found those spaces, martial arts in particular, actually to be really interesting, beautiful spaces for how we can talk about shit. And I think there’s something about the violence of the space, and like the strong men, dangerous men thing opening up space for people not to have to like carry such a chip on their shoulder walking into this space. So that we can check all that bullshit at the door and actually have more vulnerable conversations. Because we’re doing an activity that’s like inherently vulnerable, like practicing violence is like inherently vulnerable. …I actually don’t know that I believe that now that I just said it. It CAN be vulnerable; practicing violence can be very vulnerable and can be a really beautiful, intimate experience. Yeah.
But I mean, I think your broader question is important, right? I mean, so like I said, I joined a feminist group in college. And was going to discussions with those folks a bunch of the time. And I’m sure I said some bullshit in that space. You know? Like, I’m sure I was not adequately prepared to have deep conversations with folks and didn’t cause some harm in the process. And I think I’m a better feminist for that and for being called out in those spaces and having those deeper conversations. And I think sometimes we can have these conversations about like, “oh, you just need to like disappear off the internet and do all your work and then come back and then you’re gonna be good in the space.” But like, you can’t learn how to be a good real life feminist by reading bell hooks in your room alone. Or even like, getting a graduate degree in gender studies without ever actually participating in the work. So I think it’s like, it’s got to be a both/and on some level. Because I think there is some learning and some conversations that we need to have like alone, or in our own spaces vs. conversations that should be happening with women and nonbinary folks and in it in a completely different context.
Kyle: Yeah. Or even just not to rely on the energy of women all the time to teach us everything. Yeah. And that’s one value of those types of spaces. Yeah.
tony: Even like the “men are trash” conversation. I try really hard not to make that the women in my life’s conversation all the time, you know, like…
Kyle: That’s what the podcast is for! So we can have that conversation that is scary to have on Twitter. And that goes back to one of things we talked about earlier, of how fear can be demobilizing. And yeah, fear can be healthy. Again, you’re not just standing up and taking up all the space and doing all the talking, like that kind of fear can be healthy, but it can be demobilizing where you can get more “points,” you can be a cooler “male feminist” if you just never talk about anything ever.
tony: Or you can never be vulnerable.
Kyle: Yeah, vulnerable is the perfect word.
tony: Like if you say all the talking points, you know that you’re supposed to say it, but then you don’t figure out like… Oh my god. There are so many times in the last couple years where I’ve heard women in my life talk about men who are out in the community and who are supposedly feminist and who are doing feminist work, who respond really badly to being critiqued. Or who have really deep issues that they haven’t grappled with prior to having those conversations where they’re saying all the right things. And I think, again, like that’s like on some level, like that’s gonna be okay because everybody’s imperfect and we’re all on this journey towards trying to understand these things better. But I think, like, again, the goal is not to be the perfect man. The goal is not to say all the right things all the time and do the right things. I think that the goal is to try to show up and be authentically present, you know, and to be like, no, I’m here. I’m doing my best. I really care about this work. I’m going to listen. I’m going to be here. I’m going to respond to critique. I’m gonna be accountable. And I think that’s really the goal.
Kyle: And even something you said a minute ago about, I think, as soon as there is a one perfect way to do it, that’s when it becomes a formula, and that’s when it becomes something that people can fake. What you’ve been saying about vulnerability really hits me. Like, that’s really important. I think if I had a takeaway from this conversation or again, just kind of a framing that’s been useful to me to grapple with this question, it’s that, yes, feminism is for everybody and benefits everybody. But it isn’t a club you can join. It isn’t a sash you can wear across your chest. It’s a movement, not an organization. You can’t go write a letter to the CEO of feminism. I think another way to think about it is that it’s a lens for viewing the world. It’s not like a list of rules or commandments. So for me, the question “can I be a feminist as a guy” isn’t really that interesting or useful to me. I think for men, better questions might be stuff like “How can I understand the world and my place in it through a feminist lens?” “What are actions I can take to support the movement for gender liberation?” And as we’ve talked about throughout this conversation, there are specific concrete things that you can do right now. And there are more than what we’ve talked about here. So I hope that can be an ongoing conversation.
In the spirit of, you know, not ending these episodes with some super definitive thing, are there any questions that you still have, whether for future episodes or just questions that will never be answered, or things that you’re still thinking about, still grappling with? I’ve got one. I mean, I have a couple, but one in particular. It’s how do we get out of the framing of “I care about this because I have a daughter.”
tony: Oh, yeah. “I care about this because I have a wife. She could be your sister.”
Kyle: Because on one level, again, on an organizer level, I get it. You’re relating to another human being in a way that makes sense to them. I get that. But I also think it can be harmful to understand women only through their relationships to men.
tony: I think one thing that I’m sitting with is just like the like the eternal question of like, what do I have to offer this movement, and what does this movement have to offer me? And how do I best engage with this movement? And I don’t think that question’s ever going to go away for me.
Kyle: That’s probably a good thing, right? The healthy tension.
tony: Yeah. No, I do think it is a good thing. I think I also have a deeper question around, and this is an organizer question again rather than like an internal spiritual direction question, but what kinds of spaces and conversations should we be making for men around feminism? You know, does that look like men’s groups? What kind of groups would that look like? Like, obviously, we started this podcast basically to do that. But, you know, are there more books that need to happen? Is it like a thing where we could have more online groups? You know, I really don’t know. But just trying to keep curiosity and awareness towards what the possibilities might be around ways, entry points, like you were talking about earlier, for men.
Kyle: And that links to a final question I have, which is going to be an ongoing thing for this whole project for as long as we do it, which is like, we’re two straight-ish cisgender guys and we’re like “here are the definitions of feminism” or what it means for men to be involved in feminism. And we’re just talking for like an hour. And I think going back to some of the stuff that we’ve talked about: that can be scary in the sense that we might say something wrong and someone on the Internet might be mean to us. And there might be valid critiques, there are valid critiques, of just like, two dudes talking for an hour. And so navigating the valid critiques from just the fear of discomfort. And then also continuing on, like, understanding the value in these conversations, too, where this doesn’t have to be the whole conversation. But if it’s something that someone, somewhere, can get a foothold in order to keep moving, I think there’s value in that.
tony: So for the last word today, we’re going to be talking to my friend Kat Otto. Kat is an organizer and youth worker currently working for Planned Parenthood Action Fund of Minnesota. So she seemed a really natural fit to come through and talk about the whole topic and how she sees it showing up in her work. So, Kat. We’ll leave it with you. The last word is yours. What do you think men’s place in feminism is?
Kat Otto: Thanks y’all. Like Tony said, my name’s Kat. I’m currently working at Planned Parenthood. I use she/her, they/them pronouns. And I 100% think there is a place for men in feminism. In the movement for gender equity, I think that it’s imperative for men to step up and use their voices, put their bodies on the line. And I guess I use this word movement… Feminism is a theory, but for me, it’s very much a movement as well. I think one, because I’m an organizer, it’s literally my job to think of it as that way. But I also think for me, so much about feminism is, it’s not only about, you know, collectively working together to dismantle these systems, but also it’s so much about imagining collectively what comes after we dismantle those things. What does a feminist world look like? I mean, we absolutely need men to be a part of that process. Men are not going away after we dismantle the patriarchy. So their voices and their input and their thought is important. Feminism is truly for everyone. Y’all touched a lot in this episode as well about how men are hurt by the patriarchy. And I think we need to continue that conversation, especially men talking to other men about how does this system of oppression hurt us? Because that’s what it is. It is a system of oppression.
I also think, you know, just as an organizer, I’m also going to tell you to show up, going back to, you know, putting your body on the line. We talk a lot in the movement for reproductive rights and reproductive health about choice. And choice also implies access. So in reproductive justice models, they talk about, you know, even with Roe v. Wade being currently the law of the land, (even though that, you know, we all know they’re coming for it) but choice implies access. But even with Roe v. Wade, not everyone has access to make that choice because of the other intersectional systems of oppression at work; they all work together. So show up, men, show up, knock on some doors, make some phone calls, donate to pro-choice candidates. It’s a really big, big time. You know, I host a lot of events that are a lot of women and nonbinary folks that show up, and you also talked in this episode a lot about going to events like that and really seeing like maybe one or two other men in the room. And that’s definitely true. So really taking the time; I think time is a big thing that a lot of us can reprioritize and utilize more effectively to put rather than our money where our mouth is, our time where our mouth is. So if we’re talking about this, let’s walk the walk too.
tony: That was the last word with Kat Otto. Thanks for joining us again, and we’ll talk to you in two weeks.