Most days, I’m the kind of feminist who is cautiously optimistic about men joining the fight.
Feminism’s proposition to them is something like this: Enter into a power-sharing agreement with women, treat us as human beings, and you, too, will be liberated. After all, men are also harmed by the patriarchy, denied the joys of open emotion and fatherhood and true friendship, reduced to their paycheck or their physical prowess.
We aren’t at war with men, I believe on these days, but with a society of rigid hierarchy and inequality. Given the chance, we can grow together.
Then there are – let’s call them Harvey days. Days when men who pose as allies to women are unmasked as predators and hypocrites. Days when I wonder, again, if feminist Andrea Dworkin, who once told me she thought women should be allowed to execute their rapists, was unfairly maligned.
Film executive Harvey Weinstein funded a gender studies professorship in Gloria Steinem’s name, attended the Women’s March, campaigned for the first female presidential nominee by a major party and produced a documentary about sexual assault.
Weinstein also, according to multiple women who spoke to the New York Times, abused his considerable power to sexually harass women over decades.
But wait, there’s more. Scroll up a bit in your Internet history for at least a dozen purportedly woke white men of weeks past, both very famous and semifamous:
▪ “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” creator Joss Whedon, whose ex-wife accused him of being a hypocrite, “preaching feminist ideals” while carrying on affairs, including with actresses on set (which his representative partially disputed)
▪ ; porn performer James Deen, once upheld as the model of new masculinity in pornography, accused by multiple women of sexual abuse (which he denied)
▪ Hugo Schwyzer, who in feminist spaces acts as a reformed rake but emerged as not very reformed at all; progressive comedian Jamie Kilstein, who was removed from his popular podcast for allegedly being “manipulative, emotionally abusive, and predatory in his behavior” to female fans and a staffer
▪ the tech CEO Dan Rosensweig, who, it was alleged at trial in Ellen Pao’s thwarted sex discrimination case, bragged about his porn and sex work consumption in a business meeting and said he might let a female CEO join his board “because she’s hot,” then was a featured partner in Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In campaign.
The dilemma is this: Women, who have been engaged in a decades-long transformation of our roles and the world, can’t do this alone, not in a world where men still run almost everything. It’s why women’s rights advocates from the United Nations to NARAL have organized campaigns to get men on board. The question is not whether men can be allies to women. The question is whether society can get anywhere without them stepping up and doing their part.
As to whether a man should call himself a feminist, I’ll defer to a man here. The journalist David Perry wrote that he used to talk about feminism with his students so they might hear it used without the suffix “-nazi.”
call yourself a feminist “in male dominated spaces,” where it takes some courage, where it might make a difference.
Our president called bragging about groping women without consent “locker room talk,” as if all men are like him in private. Even if no one is recording (or leaking your email), don’t be another man to prove him right.
Irin Carmon, a contributing writer to The Washington Post’s Outlook section, is a co-author of “Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.”