Many of the worst offenses women have shared through the #metoo movement have come at the hands of progressive, feminist-identifying men who defend and elevate women.
So let’s get into it. Here are some possible explanations for why we as progressive men continue to harm women and perpetuate the patriarchy.
We think we’ve already done the work.
We’re all familiar with the stereotypical “progressive” man: left-leaning politics, liberal education, cosmopolitan values. He reads, thinks, talks and votes progressively, and dates, hangs out with and works alongside powerful women.
He wants to be an ally, so he thinks he is.
It’s easy to signal our values to ourselves in lieu of doing the work necessary to genuinely live them. But if the women in our lives believed that we’d already done the work then they probably wouldn’t have felt the need to scream quite so loudly onto our Facebook feeds over the last two months.
2. We invalidate our own pain
Understanding that ALL men (including us progressives) suffer at the hands of the Patriarchy is key to dismantling it. Unfortunately, progressive men don’t always get that ALL men really does include them.
In part, this is because it’s tempting to view any acknowledgement of our own pain as an essentially conservative activity. After all, the Men’s Rights movement has successfully captured the minds of millions by couching the struggles of men in a discourse that centers male aggrievement above all else.
As progressives, we rightly reject this perspective. But we also see that bringing up our own struggles in conversations on the Left (Especially in the context of a #metoo post) will, quite understandably, trigger women.
Yet instead of seeking or creating our own channels to process our pain we tend to minimize it, negating the impact of the patriarchy on ourselves and, ironically, surrendering a huge swath of rich emotional territory to the Red Pill crowd.
3. We don’t want all this power!
The sheer amount of power we find ourselves wielding in the current #metoo narrative is deeply uncomfortable for progressive men to fully acknowledge. Steeped in post-colonial thought, we reject the role of the oppressor and are all too willing (In theory at least) to relinquish the power the patriarchy affords us.
Of course, this too is misguided. The men’s rights crowd may undermine equality by rejecting the very existence of a male/female power dynamic, but male progressives commit the same sin by acknowledging our power and then being too eager to slough it off. Being progressive men isn’t about emasculating ourselves or rejecting our power, it’s about acknowledging our power and then using it for good.
4. We think we’re immune to the effects of the Patriarchy
It’s easy for us to think our progressive political values have given us some kind of immunity to negative male influences. We often tell ourselves, for example, that our politics insulate us from the influence of traditional male role models, so many of whom have abused their power. Yet as we’ve seen, even our most progressive male leaders have proven to be just as bad as their conservative counterparts.
Our values don’t insulate us from the desire for success, nor do they protect us from being influenced by the men we see, read and listen to. And even if we are somehow able to fully dissociate being a successful man from being a douchebag, we still have to come to terms with our relationship to power and its universally corrupting influence.
5. We still see this movement as “he for she”
My progressive male friends still tend to see what’s happening right now as a movement that’s essentially concerned with getting men to take concrete actions that benefit women. Of course, they’re not entirely wrong — there’s plenty for us to do for women, and to their credit, they’re all totally down for it.
Yet ultimately, none of this will work if we keep thinking of it as charity, or even solidarity. Indeed, the insidious flipside to male solidarity with women is the same as that of charity: we overlook our own long-term self-interest in order to “do the right thing” for others.
Until we understand that dismantling the patriarchy will create the world we all want to live in, we, and the women we love, will be plagued with the nagging concern that we’re simply using our feminism to get laid.
The #metoo movement is both an opportunity and a challenge to progressive men: To rise to this challenge, we must:
Recognize that we have work to do just like every other man, rather than cling to a narrative of enlightenment
Acknowledge our own pain and process it with other men, rather than leaning on women for this emotional labor
Embrace our power and privilege as men, rather than denying its existence or wishing it away
Hold our role models to our own progressive standards, rather than pretending that we can ignore their impact on our lives
Challenge the patriarchy on our own terms, rather than looking to women to tell us what to do.
The task before us is no less than to redefine masculinity. Only then will we become the leaders that we, and the women in our lives, so deeply wish us to be.