What Kind Of Candidate Truly Respects Women?

Note: Today, Leeann Tweeden said Sen. Al Franken forcibly kissed her and released a picture of him groping her as she slept. Sen. Franken apologized. On June 7, 2008, I published an OpEd in the Star Tribune with Shannon Drury with the same title as this piece standing up for Al Franken just before a difficult Democratic primary, in which the center-stage issue for him was controversy over rape jokes he had written for Saturday Night Live. The piece was influential in his moving forward, and noted that we were the current and immediate past presidents of Minnesota NOW. Tonight, I hurt. This is what I have to say on November 16, 2017, under this same title. What kind of candidate truly respects women?

Why are we asking the wrong questions?

Why is the most sought-out speech for a feminist woman the praise or denunciation of a man in politics?

Why are our voices most compelling when we are supporting the guy, taking down the guy, or sharing our pain? Why are the roles available to us cheerleaders, hecklers, and the injured? When will we get to be the referees and the players?

Why are almost all the political leaders men?

Why is the partisan divide more powerful than public disgust with men sexually assaulting women?

Why did white women vote for Donald Trump? Why do they think white supremacy will give them an advantage when so clearly, white supremacy and sexism are inextricably interconnected? Do we hate ourselves that much?

Why are creeps cultivating support from feminist women and using the little political capital we have when they know they are grabbing ass and even if we don’t know that, we’ll be the ones left to pick up the pieces later?

Why are men so loved for repeating feminist women’s words, including within the women’s movement?

Why are we knowingly tolerating posers? Who don’t we know is a poser?

Why are women being raped, harassed, propositioned, stalked, and belittled in spaces that call themselves progressive?

Why are we not connecting politicians crapping on a woman’s right to abortion to those politicians cupping women’s asses or refusing to meet alone with us? Why are our bodies an open buffet when our minds are shoved off the table?

Why are we not collectively demanding that they all resign, including the president of the United States, Donald Trump?

Why are we being used? Why are we allowing ourselves to be used?

Where are the men who proclaim to be our allies? What is the true end for which we are the means? Why aren’t they working on the men who would never listen to us in one-on-one conversations instead of being the women’s columnists in The New York Times? Why aren’t they using their platforms that are supposedly all about advancing women to demand that women sit on the platform?

Why are we weaponizing lecherous men against women? Why do we ask the wrong questions and point fingers in the wrong directions?

Why? For God’s sake, why does no man seem to respect women? Who can we trust? When will we be free? Why, Al, is the joke coming back to us?

How To Be An Amazing Feminist If You Are A Man

Men who are feminists. Feminists who are men.

From UN Women’s HeForShe campaign to President Obama calling only on women at one (note: one) press conference to Aziz Ansari going all feminist on David Letterman, mass culture is ready to declare everyday Valentine’s Day for those men who believe in the inherent dignity and equality of women and are willing to work for it.

This is great because feminism needs men to succeed.

But, let’s be honest, there is a dainty line between mansplaining and men advocating for feminism, and sometimes it appears our allied brethren appear to have no idea they are using their male privilege in the very spaces where good women are trying to be rid of it. Further there are good men who want to be good feminists but have questions about how to do so.

The first rule is that any man who wants to be feminist must take it upon himself to learn about the ins and outs of gender-based oppression, and how that negatively impacts women as well as men. A less polite way to say this would be that it’s not a woman’s job to educate you, and it’s certainly not a feminist’s job to drop everything she’s doing to let you know what’s up. The middle-ground would be to say that the phrase “men’s work” sucks and is offensive, but the one thing that can legitimately be added to this category is the responsibility of men to care about and learn about sexism without asking women to serve them education on a platter.

One of the primary truths of any social movement is that those most directly affected should be at the center of leadership, organizing, and power. So if you are a man who is a feminist (yay and thank you), please be mindful that the best people to run feminist spaces and speak to feminist issues are women. This is not asking men to sit back, nor is it asking men to be silent. Au contraire.

Men have a responsibility to take leadership in those spaces where women are not present or have not yet reached a critical mass. Instead of trying to be the darling of the feminist movement, use your male privilege in the spaces where women are not present or underrepresented to insist that more women are brought into leadership teams, or to advocate for the promotion of women. (Hint: Adding one white woman to the otherwise dude-bro panel isn’t going to cut it.) Look at issues like domestic violence and rape and the underrepresentation of women in politics and focus on what men should do differently, not what women should do differently. If the media notices you, great — use that power to draw attention to less-acknowledged women feminist thinkers, writers, and activists who should also be interviewed and given speaking platforms.

Being a true member of a movement means having opinions of your own, and articulating them, but if you find yourself disagreeing with women on how to advance gender equality — seriously, check yourself. Slow down and listen, then listen some more. (For that matter, describing vaginal discharge or how menstruation works is nearly always creepy from cisgender men — things I have seen from self-described feminists who are men — you can leave that to women, okay?) The bottom line is that men who are amazing feminists are amazing listeners and amazingly present. They listen to women and they support the leadership of women in feminist movements. They volunteer as activists and fundraisers and participants without insisting on hogging the limelight or floor.

And here’s a big no-no to get out of the way! Straight cisgender men who use the women’s movement to find a date are frankly disgusting. It’s okay to be a man, a feminist, and someone who likes to get laid. It is not okay to be a man who uses his feminist gatherings as a dating service. Having been on the other side of this multiple times, I can tell you it is, categorically, the worst. There are few things more dispiriting than discovering that the man who appears to value your specific ideas about women’s liberation is actually hoping for a blow job.

Just one of the lovely things (there are so many) the queer liberation movement has brought to feminism is the blurring and complicating of gender identity. This is a good thing; nothing in this post is meant to assert that transgender men or transgender women don’t belong at women’s colleges or within feminist spaces, for example — what makes women’s spaces special is not the insistence on a certain set of anatomy but rather freedom from those who most directly benefit from patriarchal supremacy. Further, men who do not benefit from heterosexual privilege and/or white privilege will relate differently to feminist concepts than men who do.

This is meant to be a dialogue rather than an edict, so please share in the comments what you think makes men amazing feminists. Men and women are welcome and encouraged to contribute!