Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Hate-Love Relationship with “Male Feminists"

This past year I have lost a good chunk of “nice male friends” who claimed to be feminist and allies but ended up as misogynoir abusers. The hardest cut does not come from the cultural appropriation by white women or the fetishization by white men, but the lack of comradery by black men.

The inability for black men to recognize their male privilege has been a hard pill to swallow. The deepest cut is from those who know better but choose not to do better. Those who claim to be allies of the feminist community end up dominating your spaces and silencing your voice. They use the same tactics that white people use to silence black people about race to silence you about gender. While I believe people are entitled to self-identification, I am not sure if a man can ever truly be a feminist. I believe the healthiest relationship with black men is through allyship. I have put my trust in too many black male allies only to end up with the short end of the stick. It seems that a lot of black men only want a feminism that is convenient to them.

Some claim to agree with the framework of feminism but not in the methods women use to achieve their humanity. Some claim to understand the framework of feminism yet feel compelled and entitled to give their input and validation on whether you are representing the framework of feminism.

Many want the ability to re-center feminist issues around them. They want to amplify their own voices at the expense of silencing the voices of black women. This is not healthy allyship. Men have to be willing to listen to women and believe them when they speak out about their experiences. This requires humility and discomfort. This is especially hard for black men because they face discrimination in other spaces. However, the requirement for allyship is the ability to listen and accept what is being said.

Azealia Banks bravely spoke about the erasure of Black woman. She discussed the longing to exist, the ability to have agency/control over her identity, and the freedom and the autonomy to speak out about issues that effect her livelihood. Yet she was met with a lot of misogynoir and anti-blackness. Many black rappers came to the defense of Iggy while writing Azealia Banks off as an “ Angry Black Woman” who was ranting/whining about her album not selling. Azealia Banks represents every black woman who has dared to speak out and in turn faced backlash. To be a black woman and have a voice is revolutionary. 

This erasure Azealia spoke about is something black women face everyday when they speak out about their abuse and try to create their own spaces. There are very few spaces for black women to openly express themselves without facing backlash. However, when black women let the few black men in this space, the trust is continuously broken.

When male dominance is challenged, men are often defensive and experience a range of emotional stresses. The most common responses are anger, apprehension, and guilt. These emotions are built off of male fragility / weak male ego. When women or other men do not reinforce male dominance but rather critique its existence, men are unable to constructively respond because they don’t understand the paradigm in which sexism works. Sexism is not subjective. Sexism isnt solely based on how a woman " feels" about the way a man treats her. Sexism is part of a wider institutionalized structure built on the premise that men are superior to women. This ideology is manifested in many different ways whether we are aware of it or not ( both men and women).  Male is normal/dominant and any break from this norm is met with hostility and resistance.

As I said, many black men use the same silencing tactics on black women as white people use on blacks when discussing race. 

-When a man is told that his view is sexist or through a patriarchal lens, he claims objectivity and calls the woman irrational or bias.

- When a woman is speaking about her negative experiences with men, he enters her space and states not all men because it challenges his individuality as a man.

- When women refuse to coddle men’s feelings or “calmly” express their justified anger on abuse, she is called angry, bxtch, bitter, crazy, deranged, tactless.

- When women no longer feel comfortable or safe engaging in conversation/debate, men demand answers and responses. When she does not respond she is referred to as close-minded/bias because of the institutionalized entitlement to women. There is this belief that a women should always be available and open to men ( whether that be physical,sexual, or emotional). Thus, when a women refuses to continuously engage, men display defense mechanisms. 

- When men challenge other men on their sexist views, these men are called homophobic slurs (gay, faggot, soft) , feminine slurs (pussy, bxtch) or they are questioned about whether they “get play from women”

- When men are called out for their sexist beliefs, they respond with the fact that they cherish/love the women in their lives ( mom, sister, grandmother, girlfriend). However these same men are unable to acknowledge the humanity of other women who do not have relation with them. 

- When men see women dominating in academia, work, or home settings, this threatens their position of power and they respond with slurs or anger.

Black women face different forms of oppression. Black women deal with the oppression of being 1) Racism= Black 2) Sexism= Women and 3) Racism= Black Women. Black women deal with specific stereotypes such as the “strong black woman” or “angry black woman” . Both of these stereotypes are harmful because while the strong black woman purports the idea that black women are able to juggle and take care of everyone (before her own needs), the “ angry black woman” limits her ability to express her pain in fear of being dehumanized. Black women are not seen as fully-functioning human beings able to express emotion. Either they are too “strong” to experience pain or they are too “ angry” to vocalize that pain. Black women are consistently silenced while Black men are praised for their passion and revolutionary thought.

If Black men want to be allies they have to be willing to understand the specific ways that black women experience abuse within their communities and outside of their communities (domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, hypersexualization, beauty conformity, cultural appropriation, caricature, erasure, street harassment, sexual harassment, racially profiled). These topics are extremely personal to Black women and it is difficult for black women to emotionally detach from these topics (hence Azealia raw and empowering yet emotional interview).  If Black men are unable to enter Black Femme spaces without demanding attention, ignoring historical and structural violence, and reasserting their privilege, they are not welcome.  Black men have to be willing to accept the autonomy of black women. They are not in the position to comment on what women should do with her hair or her body. They are under no authority to paint or request an image of a “respectable women”. These types of assertions and opinions only work to reinforce patriarchy and male dominance. They harm femme spaces by re-centering the discussion around what men think feminist should do (similar to white people discussing what black people should do).

Just like black women are unlearning the socialized concept of gender and learning about the different ways patriarchy manifest, male allies have to also constantly unlearn and relearn. While I recognize there is an important space for black men to be able to deconstruct their masculinity and the harmful effects of patriarchy on men, black men must learn to do so in a way that does not silence or take over black femme spaces. We both have to continuously challenge what we’ve been taught and find comfort in discomfort. I don’t know that men and women can ever fully remove themselves from the constructs of patriarchy, however we can both continue to push against it.

Often times oppressed people become blind to other oppressed groups. This is why intersectionality is important. We experience the world differently and we should be able to recognize those differences without harming one another. Feminism stands for the liberation of all oppressed people and we have understand eachother in order to free everyone. 


  1. This is such a great piece. I hope the same men who are supposedly standing in solidarity and open minded enough to read and understand this piece are doing so. While reading this, (fortunately) I really didn't feel less comfortable or awkward with your (or similar) requests because these are pretty simple if we men truly closed our mouths, listened, understood the plight of the Black woman in comparison to ours.

    With all that said, I still have work to do to further harden these concepts in my own mind and I really do look forward to that. Black women are at the forefront of nearly every movement or cause and have better than brilliant ideas to bring to the table. As soon as men can realize that it is very possible to curb their ego, listen to you, catch on to these ideas but still think highly of themselves, the better. I'll call out and educate guys that don't understand that.

    The fight for our liberation is a matter of life and death and demands such attention.

    Much love!

    - J

    1. Sorry for the late reply! Thank you for your wonderful words and your continual affirmation of Black women. I enjoy your commentary!

  2. This is a lovely piece. I've been on a gap year for the past few months and a big part of my growth has involved coming to terms with my internalized sexism. Upon entering the space as a male feminist, I couldn't help but notice that there was always friction between myself on some other men that consider themselves feminists. This article has helped me understand why this is so -- hehe inability of some to fully accept the existence of and let go of their inner sexist. I think it'll help me in addressing the biases that I observe in my male friends who might deny their own sexism.

    Thank you again for your beautiful piece.