"Modern man" would be desolate without feminism. No social movement is so vast that it reaches across borders and generations, back through abusive histories, and forwards toward new political (and even ecological) ends. No intellectual position encourages such stringent critique of our established ideas and orders, as we tear back through centuries of history written overwhelmingly by one sex. No idea encourages such diversity, while at every turn having to face what it is to be debased, vilified and ridiculed by systems with influence. And no position, I believe, can save men like feminism can.
In 1989, a twenty five year old student shot 14 women and 14 men in Montreal, Canada. Marc Lepine was said to have cursed the feminists who had ruined his life, before killing himself. In calmer times, we may well have spoken of a "crisis of masculinity" into which Lepine fitted. Instead, Lepine's actions spawned the largest network of male pro-feminists in the world: the White Ribbon Campaign, whose pledge to 'never commit, condone or stay silent about violence towards women and girls' is signed by new members in over 60 countries across the world. To the founders of the campaign, allegiance was unquestionably with the Montreal women - regardless of the ethical and practical questions continuing to face male pro-feminists today. Difficult questions. These men do not struggle with the notion of an "answer" (the work of Andrea Dworkin, Catharine MacKinnon or John Stoltenburg is still ringing decades later), but (we, also) struggle for a language for male pro-feminism. Respect for questions of "who has the right to advocate?", or "what has it (not) got to do with you?" is surely as essential today as it was for John Stewart Mill - a 19th Century champion of women's rights, perhaps more comfortably remembered as the father of modern liberalism. White Ribbon Ambassadors continue to face these questions from men and women - and everyday we get closer to a language that gives authenticity and honesty to that which we wish to say.
Those who are interested in masculinity - their own or those of Lepine, and everything either side - may feel that the tide is beginning to change for men. "Masculinity Studies" is appearing on University syllabuses more often; men of all ethnicities are "calling out" behaviour in their communities and sharing it online; modern masculinity is showing many more colours than our traditional shades of red-mist, or monochrome suit jacket. Conversations about gender strike chords that we do not otherwise exercise, and we might be starting to tune-up. Such conversations occur, however, whilst two women a week are killed by a current or former partner. Such conversations easily absolve "everyday masculinity" of any responsibility to address why the anti-feminist language of perpetrators like Lepine can sound so mainstream. Perpetrators like him are "the exceptions" to a liberal, lukewarm gender studies that is quite prepared to investigate masculinity as long as it can keep what it finds. If the tide does change, we must remember where our language of "waves" comes from.
The radical dimension of feminism will not lie down and take the misappropriations and individualistic compromises that mainstream, male-dominated systems have subjected that movement - now referred to more glibly as "feminism" - to. The questions of male involvement in such a radical movement become sharper, as collective experience solidifies into defiance (Dworkin said "there is no place for the roiling heart"). Respect for such an aim may demand that questions about men's responsibility and agency against misogyny remain unanswered. But, in the midst of such ambiguity, male pro-feminists must make an unlikely move: they must speak, however hollowly and paradoxically, about 'modern man'. They must speak about that which misses their point; they must pretend that they believe masculinity can be redeemed. Failure to do so leaves the conversation about modern masculinity to those who would divorce such discussion - entirely, and without mercy - from that dirty F word.
John Stoltenburg says that those who have "grasped the ideals of radical feminism with a seriousness and intellectual honesty [are] such that they now regard feminism as logically consistent with - no, integral to - any human rights struggle worthy of the name".
To whom do I owe my name?