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Feminist Man by Anthea Slade
Feminist Man featured in Red for Rebel 6 February 2011
Feminist Man was created on the 26 January 2011 and was created with acrylic and mixed media. Feminist Man is the 5th painting in my series ‘Man From Different Perspectives’
When I was just 16 years old I had a male friend who told me he was a feminist. I smiled thinking that was kind of cool and thought how advanced he was. He must really love women I mused to myself. Fast forward (many many years) to 22 September 2010 when I was attending a public debate at the Melbourne Town Hall with the topic ‘Feminism has failed’ I noticed that the audience was made up with almost 50 % men. This was a pleasant observation. It was a great debate. And by the way: The against team won :)
Man and Feminism
The relationship between men and feminism has been complex and intricate. Men have taken part in significant cultural and political responses to feminism in each ‘wave’ of the movement. Such responses have been both negative and positive, depending on the individual man and the social context of the time. The three main responses to feminism are antifeminist, masculist/masculinist, and pro-feminist differing in their constructions of masculinity. Male discourses on women’s rights date back to Classical Greece, including Plato’s Republic and Aristophanes’ Lysistrata.
The masculist position advocates campaigns for men’s rights. The masculinist position, associated with the Mythopoetic movement and author Robert Bly, criticizes the “feminization” of culture and argues for intrinsic differences in the sexes.
Early pro-feminist discourses have their roots in the philosophies of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. In the 19th century, first wave feminists and abolitionists found common ground as they worked in order to promote the rights of women and slaves, respectively.
Male profeminists have contributed in many significant ways to the feminist movement.
Dating back to Classical Greece, men have engaged in discussions of women in power. In Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, women are given power with their roles as political decision-makers. Similarly, in The Republic, Plato suggests an ‘ideal’ state in which women would receive equal education and opportunities to participate in activities of the state, at least within the guardian class.4 Although both Lysistrata and The Republic present problems within contemporary feminist readings, they demonstrate the beginnings of men’s concern with women’s issues.
During the Renaissance, various philosophers began to engage in feminist dialogues. One such author is Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa author of La Supériorité du sexe feminine (Superiority of the female sex). Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the majority of profeminist authors emerged from France, including Denis Diderot, Paul Henri d’Holbach, and Charles Louis de Montesquieu.4 Montesquieu, for example, introduced forceful female characters, like Roxana in his Persian Letters, who subverted patriarchal systems, and exemplified his arguments against despotism.
Moving into the nineteenth century, feminism and abolitionism began to join forces. Men within the abolitionist movement became more aware of the importance of hearing women’s voices. In 1849, when women were refused the right to participate at the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London, very few American men defended women’s right to be seated alongside the men. They argued that it was hypocritical to forbid women and men from sitting together at this convention to end slavery; they cited similar segregationist arguments in America that were used to separate whites and blacks. When women were still denied the privilege to join in the proceedings, well known abolitionists William Lloyd Garrison, Charles Lenox Remond, Nathanial P. Rodgers, and Henry Stanton, all elected to sit silently with the women.5
One major argument against female participation, both at the World Anti-Slavery Convention, and commonly in the nineteenth century, was the suggestion that women were ill-constituted to assume male responsibilities. They were considered too virtuous for the world of male debauchery. Profeminist Thomas Wentworth Higginson argued against this, stating:
I do not see how any woman can avoid a thrill of indignation when she first opens her eyes to the fact that it is really contempt, not reverence, that has so long kept her sex from an equal share of legal, political, and educational rights…[a woman needs equal rights] not because she is man’s better half, but because she is his other half. She needs them, not as an angel, but as a fraction of humanity.5
During the end of the 19th century, the Greenwich Village radicals attempted to institute feminist ideals into their lives by adopting new kinds of relationships with women. They embraced important feminist objectives, like women’s sexual autonomy and access to birth control. This adoption of feminist ideals into personal life, and the boundary-crossing between private and political life, later became a major theme within the feminist movement.
By the mid-twentieth century, Second Wave feminists began to argue that ‘the personal is political,’ a trend that legitimized and forced political recognition of women’s personal, emotional, and sexual experiences. It also required that profeminist men examine where their personal practices and political ideals connected. By the 1970s, men began to examine their own masculinity using a feminist framework.
Today some men’s profeminist groups include:
MAN for the ERA – Men Allied Nationally for the Equal Rights Amendment
NOMAS – the National Organization for Men against Sexism
RAVEN – Rape And Violence End Now in St. Louis
MOVE – Men Overcoming Violence in San Francisco