5 Ways Men Can Help End Sexism – Full Text Version

I recently worked with Imran Siddiquee to create a video for Feminist Frequency highlighting 5 simple ways men can help end sexism. Because some things are inevitably cut or changed during the video production process I’ve posted our full text version of the script below. Click here to see the final video.

Men-Sexism-subtitle-15 WAYS MEN CAN HELP END SEXISM

Everyday more and more men are starting to realize that there is something very wrong with the status quo. This has been tremendously encouraging to see. Still, for many men, it can be hard to know exactly what role we can or should play in working towards an end to sexism. How can men help; and how much or how little should we be helping? In this video we will explore answers to those questions and share a few suggestions for how men can respectfully approach feminism and – critically – explain why it’s beneficial for men to be involved.

First things first, because there’s so much misinformation about feminism floating around out there in the cultural aether, it’s useful to quickly define what that term actually means. Feminism is a sociopolitical movement with the central goal of ending sexism and dismantling gender-based oppression. So contrary to common misconceptions, feminism is not about “man hating” or “female supremacy.” It’s important to note that the feminist endeavor, as it has been defined by women like bell hooks, does not simply seek equal access for women within current systems of power, instead it seeks to transform these systems of power and the values associated with them.

So where do men fit into all this? Well, women have long been pointing out the ways in which men can benefit from feminism and actively calling for men’s participation in working towards ending sexism.

As hooks writes in her landmark book Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center, “Like women, men have been socialized to passively accept sexist ideology. While they need not blame themselves for accepting sexism, they must assume responsibility for eliminating it. [. . .] Men are not exploited or oppressed by sexism, but there are ways in which they suffer as a result of it. This suffering should not be ignored. While it in no way diminishes the seriousness of male abuse and oppression of women, or negates male responsibility for exploitative actions, the pain men experience can serve as a catalyst calling attention to the need for change.”

That bears repeating: Men are NOT exploited or oppressed by sexism, but there are ways in which WE suffer as a result of it. This is an especially important point, because it succinctly addresses an apparent contradiction. It’s true that the cultural constraints placed on women are much more restrictive than those placed on men, but there are still a myriad of ways in which living in a sexist society does indeed limit and harm men. There is a term within feminism for this social system that perpetuates damaging gender norms for all people – and that word is patriarchy.

WHY IS FEMINISM IMPORTANT FOR MEN?

It is our patriarchal culture that sets up a hierarchy of competing masculinities that not only subordinates women but also works to demean men who dare to present themselves in ways stereotypically associated with femininity. We are taught early on that “boys don’t cry,” that to show sensitivity or emotional vulnerability is a sign of weakness. Men are discouraged from practicing nurturing, caregiving, compassion and compromise for the same reason. So there is an enormous amount of pressure placed on men to “prove our manhood” by acting tough, projecting strength and repressing our emotions so as to appear in control at all times. We are pushed to go-it-alone and to refuse to ask for or accept help, even when it’s badly needed. Which leads many men to “play through the pain” and take unnecessary risks that can put ourselves and others in harm’s way. This is compounded by the fact that men are often more admired for being aggressive, dominant and violent than for being cooperative, vulnerable or empathetic. Not only is all of this damaging behavior encouraged in individual men, but those same values are also reflected in our larger political and military institutions, often to disastrous effect.

So while men, as a group, are afforded gender-based privileges at the expense of women, a byproduct of patriarchy is that it also causes real harm to men’s well being. Everything I’ve just described may seem so entrenched as to be insurmountable, but it’s important to remember that these conceptions about how to “be a real man” are socially constructed – meaning they are not predetermined by nature or biology – and that’s good news because it means they can be changed, in fact the whole system of sexism cannot continue without our participation.

5 TIPS FOR MEN INTERESTED IN ENDING SEXISM

Oaky, so if we’re on board with ending sexism: what specifically can we do as men to be helpful? Here’s our quick list of 5 tips for respectfully engaging with feminism as a man.

1. Listen to women

It might seem obvious, but too often men have a hard time just listening to what women have to say – and respecting women’s knowledge and experiences. Because of the way we’re socialized to think our voices are most important, men have a tendency to interrupt and interject ourselves into conversations and then dominate those interactions. This behavior is so ingrained that men often don’t even realize we are doing it. Which is why it’s critical to consciously learn to take a step back – to try not to interrupt and instead actively listen and absorb what is being said before responding. Now, of course, this does not then mean that you have to agree with everything every individual woman says – no one person’s perspective can ever represent all of feminism or the experiences of all women – it simply means that, as men, we’re not in a position to define feminism for women, and so, we should actively pay attention to women’s voices. Because for so long women’s experiences, perspectives and ideas – have been dismissed, ignored and silenced it’s especially vital to listen to women of color, particularly black and indigenous women. As feminist scholars have long pointed out, sexism is compounded when it’s combined with racism and/or other forms of oppression – back in 1989, Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term “intersectionality” as part of her theory to describe these layered experiences that leave some women more disenfranchised than others.

2. Educate yourself

It’s important for us, as men, to acknowledge that when we talk about feminism, we follow the lead of women. Yet while we should acknowledge that our ideas in this arena originate with women, this does not mean it is the responsibility of women to teach all men about sexism. So we shouldn’t go around interrogating or demanding answers from women. As men, we should instead be proactive in doing the work ourselves by committing to continuous, lifelong learning. Luckily for us, over the past century feminist scholars have written volumes on the topic. So with that in mind here are some suggested readings about understanding feminism, intersectionality and how patriarchy operates as a social system:

  • Feminism is for Everybody by bell hooks
  • The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity and Love by bell hooks
  • The Gender Knot: Unraveling Our Patriarchal Legacy by Allan G Johnson
  • Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde
  • This Bridge Called My Back edited by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria E. Anzaldúa
  • Masculinities by R.W. Connell
  • The Men and the Boys by R.W. Connell

3. Challenge other men on sexism

The place where men can be most helpful in regards to feminism is first within ourselves, and then amongst other men. Patriarchy encourages men to buy into sexist thinking and at the very least remain complacent in sexism through our silence. So instead dare to step off the path of least resistance – dare to make yourself and other men uncomfortable about sexism. When you see sexual harassment, speak up. When you see women being disrespected, speak up. Let other men around you know that their sexist behavior is not ok. When you stand up and say that a joke, for example, is not funny and that it perpetuates sexism, the men telling the sexist joke can no longer be assured that they will go unchallenged the next time they tell it. In other words, those men can no longer count on other men to accept or go along with their sexism. They have to think twice, look over their shoulder and consider how others might react to their words. Interrupting the sexist status quo is a simple yet powerful thing that all men can do to make a difference.

4. Don’t get defensive

If you make a comment and a woman dismisses or disagrees with you, don’t take it personally. She doesn’t owe you anything and her disagreement does not necessarily mean that she herself is “angry” or frustrated with you as an individual. That being said, it is completely understandable for women to express anger about sexism (sexism should make everyone angry). After all, most women have firsthand experience with violence, harassment or mistreatment at the hands of men. Sometimes even from men who claim to be allies. So don’t get defensive if individual women don’t want to engage with you, and remember that it’s definitely not our job to police the ways women may choose to speak up about sexism. Similarly, men’s support of feminism should not be seen as some kind of favor to women. As we have discussed, dismantling the system of sexism benefits people of all genders, and moreover, men shouldn’t expect a reward for deciding not to participate in a terrible system of oppression. Or as many feminist women have said before, “you don’t get a cookie for being a decent human being.”

5. Learn from your mistakes

It’s hard to break years of socialization overnight, so messing up is inevitable. I’ve certainly made my fair share of mistakes. The key is what you do next, we always have a choice as to how we respond to our mistakes: be humble, examine your own actions at every turn, acknowledge failings and continue to learn how to be better and more supportive. Sexism is not necessarily something that’s done consciously and overtly, it’s something we are socialized to think is normal, and as such it is something we often perpetuate and participate in without meaning to. This is why challenging ourselves and reflecting on our own actions is a vital step in the process. Remember to be compassionate and patient with yourself and keep working at it!

Now, that was by no means an exhaustive list of advice, but it should give you a place to start.

If you’re feeling a little uneasy at this point that might actually be a good sign. As men, the process of honestly reexamining our own assumptions and questioning our participation in a system that maintains sexism, may often feel uncomfortable. No matter how committed we are to it, we will never fully understand what it’s like to exist in the world as a woman – just as white people (like myself) will never know what it’s like to exist in the world as a person of color.

We have inherited this oppressive system of patriarchy, and even though we, as individual men, didn’t create that system, it does manifest itself in almost every aspect of our lives. So as men, we have a responsibility to challenge sexism and keep working to transform ourselves. Remember bell hooks’ point that “All men support and perpetuate sexism and sexist oppression in one form or another.” But that nevertheless, “men can lead life-affirming, meaningful lives without exploiting and oppressing women.”

We must always recall our own potential for positive impact in the world. And be involved in this work not out of personal guilt or shame, but because, as we have discussed in this video, the desired outcome is ending gender oppression and in so doing make the world better for people of all genders.

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5 Ways Men Can Help End Sexism

What role should men play in working towards an end to sexism? How much or how little should men be helping? In this video we will explore answers to those questions and share a few suggestions for how men can respectfully approach feminism. We also explain why ending sexism can be beneficial for men too!

This is the 2nd Feminist Frequency video I’ve hosted which addresses men and sexism. My 1st video highlights the 25 Invisible Benefits of Gaming While Male.

Full transcript available at Feminist Frequency.

FAIR USE: The multimedia clips included in this video constitute a ‘fair use’ of any copyrighted material as provided for in Section 107 of U.S. Copyright law which allows for criticism, comment and scholarship.

Here are some entertaining outtakes from that video shoot.

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Supermanhood: Geek Guys and Hypermasculinity in Superhero Movies

(A shortened version of this article was published in The Independent UK on 11/27/15)

Thor and Captain America becoming friends in The Avengers (2012)

Thor and Captain America becoming friends in The Avengers (2012)

The trailer for Captain America: Civil War premiered this week and geeks all over the internet exploded with excitement. This is the 13th movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and there are at least 10 more on the way to the big screen. Over the last decade the Marvel films have been a massive box office success for Marvel Studios and their parent corporation, The Walt Disney Company. It’s safe to say that superheroes have gone mainstream in a big way. Comic book stories are no longer the exclusive domain of geek subcultures.

Part of that success lies in the appeal of an old-fashioned tale of good versus evil. Part of it is the spectacle of some of the best special effects in the business. The scenes of conflict and destruction in these films are viscerally exciting, no doubt, and certainly get the adrenaline pumping. But there is something else at work here, something that has drawn self-described geeks and nerds to comic books for nearly a century, and that is an idealization of the aggressive hypermasculine superhero archetype.

Let’s return to the new Captain America trailer, one scene in particular generated a sense of palpable excitement among fans. The last 10 seconds feature a protracted fight scene in which beloved superheroes Iron Man and Captain America are shown beating the crap out of each other.

A staple of the superhero genre is the tendency to concoct these elaborate scenarios in which the iconic “good guys” end up having to fight each other for some reason or another. This is often framed as a way to resolve their interpersonal issues before they can go beat up the “bad guys” and save the world. Look no further than Hulk’s rampaging brawl with Iron Man in the second Avengers film, or Batman’s upcoming cinematic showdown with Superman. They’re the blockbuster versions of kids arguing in the schoolyard about which superhero would win in a fight. The ultimate macho pissing contest. Who’s the toughest tough guy of them all? This is evidenced by the showcasing of fights between Thor and Iron Man, Bucky Barnes and Captain America, and so on and so forth. Heck, now we even have Kirk and Spock throwing punches at each other on the bridge of the Enterprise in the rebooted Star Trek movie, Starfleet protocols be damned.

How do superheroes make friends? By punching each other in the face! How do superheroes resolve conflicts big and small? By punching each other in the face! Who gets the girl? Whose plan will be followed? Who is in charge? How is trust built among teammates? Face-punching can accomplish all this and more!

It is essentially male bonding or friendship-building by way of violence and it usually elicits wild cheers from audiences. It’s a plot point that I think should at least raise questions regarding the kinds of behavior being modeled for men about male relationships and communication.

What exactly is so appealing about this particularly aggressive form of hypermasculinity that it’s now become a worldwide movie obsession?

SUPERMANHOOD

There are many types of masculinities, some healthy and productive, others destructive and harmful. Hypermasculinity (sometimes also referred to as toxic or hegemonic masculinity) is one form of manhood that’s characterized by traits of physical strength, domination, aggression and violence as a primary means of conflict resolution. This is a perilous and decidedly unhealthy form of manhood and one that tends to dominate superhero narratives.

There’s a pervasive theme running through the MCU movies, for example, and that is that violence is an effective way to solve problems between men, both institutionally and interpersonally.

Back before The Avengers were household names, superheroes were the domain of geekdom, and particularly “geek guys” who, to some degree, felt personally ostracized and disenfranchised by the ideals of stereotypical tough-guy manhood in mainstream culture. I know that growing up I certainly felt that way.

Of course people of all genders may enjoy superhero comics but here I’m primarily addressing male fans and our ideological relationship to the genre.

Despite being made to feel subordinate to concepts of hypermasculinity in the real world, many geek guys have nonetheless embraced superheroes who embody hypermasculine traits and values. To an extent this is connected to a power fantasy in which comic book fans can project themselves onto powerful figures. The superhero is, in a sense, everything that they are not, but perhaps (at least in their imaginations) aspire to be. That’s not really surprising, nor is it limited to geeks; our larger culture also idealizes the combative behavior associated with hypermasculinity.

Men who fall outside of the idealized version of manhood and into the geek category might seem like they would be the first in line to challenge notions of hypermasculinity. But more often than not, they tend to idolize those ideals despite being alienated from them as individuals. This self-identification with hypermasculinity is no doubt one of the factors in the rampant misogyny that plagues the comic book industry and community.

The particular brand of superhero masculinity represents a popular conception of what it means to be a “real man,” a conception that is not relegated solely to the realms of fantasy. Hypermasculinity manifests everywhere in our culture and can be seen reflected in politics, international conflict, municipal policing, domestic violence and interpersonal relationships. All you have to do is look at global leaders who routinely pound their chests while advocating for the use of deadly force as a solution to complex social problems, as if they aren’t talking about delicate matters of international diplomacy but rather boasting about taking down a supervillain like Ultron or Thanos.

One common reaction I encounter whenever I bring up these questions is the concern that there’s no way to create exciting dramatic tension or movie conflict, other than resorting to violence as the ultimate resolution. Of course, that’s not true, as evidenced by one of the most exciting and intense pictures of the year, The Martian. A remarkable thing about that film is that it contains absolutely no violence or killing. All problems are solved through science, cooperation and human creativity. And yet the filmmakers behind The Martian managed to create a widely successful, thrilling, edge-of-your-seat blockbuster. Given the current state of the world, we could certainly do with a hell of a lot more heroes who solve complex problems with innovation and ingenuity rather than by punching each other in the face.

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Gaming Footage & Copyright Panel at TwitchCon

TwitchCon

I recently spoke on a panel at TwitchCon 2015 entitled “Can We Just Play? The Legality of Let’s Play Video and Streams.” I was joined by Art Neil and Teri Karobonik of New Media Rights (a great organization where I serve as an advisory board member). We discussed a range of issues surrounding the fair use of video game footage and video streaming technology. You can watch the full video stream archive below the fold.

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Déjà vu: Viacom removes Daily Show remix for 2nd time

Firefox 5(See below for update)

Last week I noticed my remix video entitled “Too Many Dicks on the Daily Show” had been removed from YouTube via a bogus takedown from Viacom claiming copyright infringement. The remix is a transformative work critical of the gender disparities on The Daily Show and constitutes a fair use of copyrighted visual material as provided for in section 107 of the US copyright law.

This is the second time Viacom has abused the DMCA takedown process to prevent this particular fair use video from being seen. It’s especially ironic considering each episode of The Daily Show relies on the fair use doctrine in order to satirically comment on mainstream news broadcasts. I am currently appealing this latest takedown with the help of my attorneys from New Media Rights.

Back in August 2013, after nearly 2 years on YouTube, my remix was also removed without warning by Viacom claiming infringement for “visual content” from The Daily Show. I immediately informed my attorneys at New Media Rights who in turn contacted Viacom to inquire about the takedown. Quickly thereafter I received an automated message from YouTube stating that Viacom had rescinded their copyright infringement claim. Viacom provided no other information or explanation but the video was again viewable on YouTube and so I assumed the matter had been resolved. Roughly a year and a half later I find myself dealing with the same exact situation.

Too_Many_Dicks_Remix_StillAs I explained in my original blog post, the video is presented as an episode of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart which is interrupted by a remixed critique of the show’s gender imbalance and “boys’ locker room” comedy stylings. The remix was created with clips borrowed from over 100 episodes of The Daily Show combined with a portion of the Flight of the Conchords song “Too Many Dicks on the Dance Floor” in order to subvert both sources.

Made in 2011, the video was meant to highlight the lack of women in on-screen or leading creative roles on The Daily Show over its 17-year run. At the time only 3 of the 12 regular correspondents/contributors on The Daily Show were women. Only 2 of the 16 writers were women and the numbers have not improved much in the 4 years since I published the critique (although Jessica Williams is a brilliant addition to the cast).

Google-Chrome-852On both occasions Viacom has abused the DMCA takedown system to remove my video, which has resulted in an unjust strike placed against my YouTube account. On both occasions I’ve been temporarily locked out of my channel and forced to attend YouTube’s copyright school and pass a test on fair use. This is particularly patronizing since just over a year ago YouTube invited me to their space in Los Angeles to give a lecture on transformative storytelling and to specifically highlight the fair use questions that arise when remixing video footage for the purposes of political parody.

I should also note that YouTube currently features another one of my remix videos as an example of fair use video on their official page explaining the fair use doctrine to their user base.

Again, I’m in the process of trying to get my video back online. For now you can watch it over at the Internet Archive.

One last note: New Media Rights has offered me invaluable advice and guidance throughout these battles. They are a small, non-profit, two-lawyer operation on a shoe-string budget fighting to make sure artists like me are heard. So if you can, please consider donating to them here.

UPDATE: Shortly after this story was picked up by TechDirt the remix video in question reappeared on my YouTube channel and the copyright strikes against my account vanished. I received no official notification about what had transpired from either YouTube or Viacom.

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