Originally published at Clutch Magazine on October 10, 2011
Male feminism, and Black male feminism in particular, are relatively new topics within the male-female discourses. With the growing global dissatisfaction and intolerance for injustice, especially the now highly-visible oppression of women and girls, this conversation is as pertinent as ever.
Clutch previously published one man’s aversion to feminism and another’s personal journey toward feminist thinking. So one might ask, “is there the need for yet another article on this topic so soon?” Being that since the publication of either of those articles, nor will it be after this one, has oppressive male behavior or the adoption of negative self-images by women and girls ceased, there is most-certainly a place for continuing this dialogue.
Offered here are but a few reflections on my own epiphanies toward oppressive ideas about manhood, Black male feminist thought, and the work of myself and colleagues as educators with young Black men. In this regard, this article hopes to not only more concretely define this notion of [Black] male feminism, but also highlight why it is important, and what this idea can and should look like in practice.
Underlying issues amongst oppressed groups and sub-groups is the need for advocacy. Often misconstrued, advocacy is not merely the many and various first-person voices of the assumed victim(s) speaking out but about the positions of those voices being articulated by all persons in the name of humanity. That being said, feminism beyond the sensationalized myths of the late 1960s and early 1970s, much of which was ostensibly White, is about a way of thinking that supports the voices of women rather than silencing them in a male-dominated world. For this reason, and supported by the early works of Deborah McDowelland Michael Awkward, I – a heterosexual Black male – believe it is incumbent upon Black men to take up the charge from [Black] women to be an advocate and ally for the just perception, portrayal and treatment of women to our male peers, predecessors and contemporaries.
Incumbent in the role of advocate and ally is participatory action. Many critics of those in the academy and blogesphere alike often accurately suggest that there is no place for ‘armchair activism’ in the 21st century. I, occupying both venues, would tend to agree for the most part that rhetoric without agency – the willful ability for intervention or action – is moot. As such, what happens in front of the desks of commentators, pundits, scholars and authors is as important as what happens from behind it. For myself and various other men, this is precisely the work in which we are engaged.
Later this week I will be heading to Syracuse University to speak with fraternity men of color about manhood and masculinity. It is my hope that through our collective dialogue as men we might begin challenging and changing our understandings about not only what it means to be a man, but to be people living lives worth remembering with an opportunity to change the world. Through the understanding issues of misogyny within college and fraternity life and their effects not only on women, but men as well, these students may begin take action. This type of work is immeasurably important toward the task of aiding and assisting the disassembly of destructive masculinities – ideas and performances of manhood – many of which oppress women directly.
From large-scale workshops such as this to the day-to-day conversations with Black men on my campus, the work of building a larger community of progressive Black men is being done. Not only in the area of male feminism engaged, but also are the topics of heterosexism and homophobia; this, another conversation for another day. Similarly to myself, the rhetoric and participatory action with young men and boys of Jonathan Berhanu,Frank Harris, Tyrone Howard, David Ikard, Howard Jean, Dumi Lewis, Keon McGuire and countless others is a testament that my efforts are and should not be an exception.
Each of us has a unique chance to replicate ourselves in the lives of others. In understanding the long history of male-dominance, and female/feminist resistance to that dominance, we as must each understand the struggle for equality and equity neither begins nor ends with us. For these young men and boys, being influenced by the contagion of an idea – constructing a better reality for wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters yet unborn – great strides can be made. Let this article in some way and in no uncertain terms re-inspire hope and belief for Black women to know they are not alone; we stand with you and in opposition to all things against. Our commitment as innovators, educators and motivators is that in creating new generations of Mark Anthony Neal’s new [Black] men who are conscious of their role in the advancement of women as a means of advancing themselves. Artist/actor Common reminds us, “when we lessen our women our condition seems to worsen.” This is our battle cry and together, victory can be won.