About a week or so ago, I was pissed about what I refer to as dispassionate “Ken doll,” “good progressive men” knock offs who speak in hush tones, end sentences in questions (because someone told them that declarative statements were patriarchal), and overly cater to feminists. I was inspired to write this because I attended the 2016 American Men’s Studies Conference in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in April 2016 and was taken aback to find a Men’s Studies organization primarily run by feminists. To be clear, I don’t oppose women’s leadership. As part of a generation of men raised by single-mothers, taking direction from women does not bother me—although I would say a primarily male leadership of the National Women’s Studies Association would rightly confuse everyone—but I do question a feminist one for a Men’s Studies organization regardless of gender (that’d be like an-all Christian leadership cadre for an Islamic organization). The burgeoning field of Men’s Studies, and more so Black Masculinities Studies, should have the freedom from feminist ideology to theorize about what Men’s Studies should value, what its issues should be, and which concerns it should have outside of men’s historical obligation with protecting and providing for others.
In one session, the resident feminists were so concerned about the possible influx of Men’s Rights activists joining the organization; they sought protective measures against it. Hmm… This to me was problematic. For feminists in a Men’s Studies organization to keep out men who want to advocate for men because they don’t prioritize advocating for women—which somehow is reinterpreted to mean they seek to oppress women—is highly suspect (this assumption is one of my main problems with a feminist leadership of a Men’s Studies organization)… In other words, they seem to assess the organization’s value based on how well they can control men’s discourses and keep it in service to feminism. More to the point, feminism has been made synonymous with women in popular understanding, as if women do not have a range of approaches and ideologies each worthy of reflection such as womanism, Africana womanism, Black womanism, etc. Thus, when men challenge feminism it is considered a challenge to all women rather than an inquiry about one ideological school of thought about supporting women. This unilateralism leads to two inevitable critiques: you’re either a sexist patriarch or a misogynist who hates all women. It is inconceivable for neither to be true, where you advocate for men beyond women’s conceptualizations of them while questioning the universalist application of feminism to all things “gendered,” yet still support that women be treated as human beings and not be exploited or dehumanized socially, personally, or institutionally.
Another interesting thing about the conference was how many of the men present seemed to embody a sort of “generic masculinity” that was considered safe and palatable to both whiteness and feminism. Here were some of my more immediate thoughts at the time,
“Smh. When did someone start photocopying the same dude? Now, every conference I’ve gone to in the last decade has the same guy: soft-spoken, non-committal (even about his own arguments), hyper-catering to the feminists in the room, timid, highly-manicured, uber tight suits, clean-shaven, anti-quantitative, intersectionalist, etc. Uughh. It’s like code for “scholar” or something. They’re like “Ken” dolls that’re mass-produced in every skin shade and racial group.
And why the fuck does everyone make statements in the form of fucking questions? When did this shit become code for “progressive” and “tolerant?” And when the fuck did unilateral consensus become the marker of intelligence? Why we gotta agree on everything in order to be considered progressive? And when did “confrontational” and “hyper-masculine” become the same damned thing?
I started playing a game with myself about whether I could anticipate the concepts, arguments, and types of stories they would tell during presentations. Yeah. I’m winning. Shit. Where’re the real damn brothers at!?”
Later at the same event,
“Shit. A feminist just said the conference atmosphere was TOO “oppressive” and “misrepresentative” of the website’s description of AMSA. In other words, she said there was too much masculinity. But actually, there hasn’t been a reflection on masculinity beyond ‘hypermasculinity.’ There’s no other frickin’ subject…as if there’s nothing else about men to discuss but the threat men sometimes pose to women. This type of stereotypical approach to masculinity stymie’s discourse, theory, and imagination.
Look. These gender ideas are not empty concepts. Black males are dying over this shit and we can’t even get to the discussion of it because people are too concerned with performing “acceptability” (token) intellectualism in a manner too afraid to ask critical questions about masculinity that may sideline prioritizing women’s perspectives in a quest to find one’s own way.
I also noticed there’s a lack of personal agency among the men. In fact, I noticed that the only people that spoke with authority were women. Why is that? What is it about this progressivist academic culture that suggests that men should be hardly audible when they speak in order for them to be considered “acceptable?” This…culture sickens me. Every damned lecture is about contrasting hypermasculinity…and masculinity in and of itself seems to be an inherent “evil” that needs a feminist corrective. SMDH. This is tediously repetitive…
Fuck it. Had to walk out. Two dudes started debating about who’s the most sensitive to women…”
I was a bit dismayed because I thought, if this is the state of Men’s Studies, than what exactly am I fighting for? However, about a week later I saw this,
This brother in the video demonstrates the opposite of what I’m critiquing. These are the brothers I’m looking for. My work is in helping Black men find their “inner-unchecked-Black-masculinity-in-service-to-community” is my work…and although I haven’t read his work to say whether I agree with his specific approach or not, I LOVE his energy. Bring that truth no-chaser with masculine energy and don’t apologize for shit.
Put differently, we’ve been told that to be progressive, sacrificial, and caring is to emulate the Sacred Feminine, and that to embrace masculinity is inherently patriarchal, but that’s only if you don’t know that Sacred Masculinity was never about patriarchal oppression. Rather, it is masculine energy’s expression of love in its own style, unapologetic about its own terms; its focus on the need to protect family and community, while speaking truth regardless of convention. Masculine energy grows by challenge, not by consensus, and unfettered masculine intensity is not always domineering, it is also the warrior ethos that men embody when they step into the full expression of themselves.
As such, the conference might’ve entertained what this issue means for men on college campuses, “Student Suspended for Rape Because He Didn’t Stop Friends from Slapping Girl’s Butt.” Such scholars at AMSA might be able to raise questions about whether or not a male student should be suspended for such a thing, and discuss a more updated response. However, when wedded to feminism, such discussions are not allowed to stray beyond feminist’s interests, and limits critiques to male chauvinism while ignoring the fact that male victimization and male innocence exist—and that the woman herself said he was innocent! If left unquestioned, the conclusion is that AMSA is a political vehicle to further ensure ideological feminism’s reach—regardless of what males may be experiencing.
Or another issue overlooked by AMSA about female aggression in relationships entitled, “Women Can Be ‘Intimate Terrorists’ as Study Reveals They Can Be More Controlling and Aggressive.” The author proposes that despite convention, women can be emotionally, psychologically, and physically violent with intimate male partners, often more so than men.
“Researchers questioned 1,104 young men and women about physical aggression and controlling behaviour involving partners and friends.
Study leader Dr Elizabeth Bates, from the University of Cumbria, said: “Previous studies have sought to explain male violence towards women as arising from patriarchal values, which motivate men to seek to control women’s behaviour, using violence if necessary.
“This study found that women demonstrated a desire to control their partners and were more likely to use physical aggression than men. This suggests that IPV may not be motivated by patriarchal values and needs to be studied within the context of other forms of aggression, which has potential implications for interventions.”
How can an organization that concedes to feminism engage in a conversation about female violence when the dominant paradigmatic response is to assume women’s behavior is only in response to patriarchal violence, be it physical or ideological? I am not suggesting AMSA engage in questions that solely demonized women, I am suggesting they question how and if patriarchy works the ways feminists have assumed, and articulate male experiences from a different epistemological standpoint.
The terms used were developed
“In the 1990s a US sociologist from the University of Michigan, Professor Michael P. Johnson, coined the term “intimate terrorism” to define an extreme form of controlling relationship behaviour involving threats, intimidation and violence.
Prof. Johnson found that intimate terrorists were almost always men, a view that has generally become widely accepted.
But the new research, based on anonymous questionnaire answers, found that women were equally likely to display such behaviour.”
It is not to say that feminists cannot be objective by any means (such a thing depends on the person), but to argue that if we assume certain ideological positions apriori, then what do we tend to do with new information that contrasts our assumptions? If honorable scholars, we use it to question our assumptions. However, more often we ignore our uncomfortable findings.
A clearer example of feminism’s influence would be my conversation with a young gay Black man who presented a poster at the AMSA on HIV/AIDS infection rates by race and gender. Trained as a Black feminist, he presented on the importance of centering Black female infection rates. After people walked away, I asked him if he was clear about the rates of Black gay men and HIV/AIDS and he said he was not. I opened my computer and presented him with the following pre-2010 estimates of new HIV infections for “MSM” (men having sex with men), heterosexuals, and “IDUs” (injection drug users).
The two graphs above are estimates of new infection rates, and they highlight the increase of rates on infection for Black males who sleep with other Black males, while recognizing a decrease in Black heterosexual women’s rates (arguably due to their higher education rates). However, if we shift our gaze to prisons, we can see that the Black male rates-of-death continue to outweigh all other demographics (despite that the rates have dropped since 2009).
What is important to note is that the percentage of the public that identifies as gay or lesbian (below) is relatively low…1.8% for men and 1.5% for women (of course that overlooks those that have sex with the same gender and yet do not identify as gay or lesbian).
That being said, the rates of Black gay (and MSM) men who have contracted HIV/AIDS is EXTREMELY high, especially considering that they represent an almost infinitesimal percentage of society. For them to represent such a large-scale percentage of HIV/AIDS cases, you’d think the young Black gay man at AMSA would have known this…especially as a Gender Studies major and a senior in undergrad about to graduate. I should not have been the first to introduce this to him. This should be commonly taught information for those in Gender Studies, who should be taught a balanced program in gender.In other words, the goal of my work is at least three-fold: 1) to balance gender studies by advocating for the inclusion of Black males as gender subjects worthy of study (especially by Black men themselves), 2) to use both quantitative and qualitative data to reinforce the extent to which ignoring Black males as subjects of inquiry in Gender Studies has caused even greater harm to Black males, and 3) to dispel myths about Black males initiated by groups with ulterior motives, motives that require the use of Black male experiences, but not for the benefit of Black males themselves.