A few months ago a friend of mine who is male and a freelance writer and I got into a discussion about video games and comics and how women are portrayed. He was working on a piece concerning how certain female superheroes were being revamped and asked me, in my opinion, could a man really effectively write on a feminist issue?
My first instinct was to say, yeah, of course, but after some additional thought I wasn’t totally sure. Could a man really write on a feminist issue? A man can’t remove his male privilege any better than I could remove my class or white privilege, and I don’t feel as if I can responsibly write on issues that face poor or women of another race. Is being aware of privilege, is being against privilege enough? Well in this case…maybe.
First and foremost I do believe that men have a role in the feminist discourse. When you consider men like Bill Baird, who stood up for abortion rights years before Planned Parenthood and dedicated his life to women’s reproductive rights, it’s unfair and disingenuous to suggest that some men aren’t involved and in fact, some men give up and risk a great deal for women’s rights. So men do have a role, men definitely do have a role, but I think what men and what role is where things get a little shaky.
For example, women in geek culture seems to be a hot feminist topic in which men seem to try and fit their viewpoints in to some pretty disastrous results (from a feminist standpoint). This video, while aiming to illustrate how impractical and sexist women in video games are dressed, falls into the trap of blaming women for thriving in the only area of gaming that they’ve been welcomed into by the male dominated industry: “booth babes.” Or this article, which while pointing out that sometimes attractive women are unfairly characterized as “fakers” in the geek realm and that women are treated pretty horribly in online gaming environments, primarily rails against “booth babe” types and cosplayers that aren’t perceived as being actual fans of the realm they’re promoting with super sexualized outfits.
Look. Both of these men aren’t women-haters, they’re not anti-feminist, but their posts are seeping with privilege. I already had an article about this, but my point on the women in geekdom stands: it’s not fair to point the finger and say “these women are taking advantage of geek men” when they have been encouraged and embraced into the role and often times are shunned, ridiculed, and harassed for not fitting into it. If you’re a girl gamer and you’re attractive, you’ll be expected to play it up and “show your tits,” and if you’re not attractive, expect to be called fat or ugly or a dyke or whatever because your looks are paramount to your actual gaming ability. I’m not exactly sure how you can tell if someone’s a “real fan” or not from looking at them anyway, but that’s the problem – when you have a man writing about a feminist issue without a frame of privilege, things like a misplaced persecution complex rears its head. You think these women are faking it for attention and money? Maybe the problem is they live in an environment where their worth structure and acceptance into a group is entirely dependent on their looks.
Let’s go back to Bill Baird. In the 1970s Baird was accused of being a CIA plant, being an embarrassment to the movement, and worked only to “make women appear easier.” These accusations didn’t come from the far right, they came from feminists and Planned Parenthood. A man who spent time in jail, a man who lost his family, a man who was nearly murdered multiple times by radical pro-lifers was shunned from the very movement he gave everything to protect.
So you can ask me if I think men can write about feminist issues, you can ask me if men have a place in the discourse, and I will tell you yes. But, I will hope that by saying yes it encourages responsible writing and dialog with a certain level of care and attention given to the privileges held by the men holding the pens and striking the keys.