Can men be feminists?
Every once in a while I will see men on campus wearing the T-Shirt "This is what a feminist looks like." Its inspiring to see men who are interested in being allies to the feminist struggle.
My colleague Dr. Lani Roberts, who's been interviewed here on issues of diversity, has a fairly stringent criterion in deciding whether a man can be considered a feminist. I think it bears some thought: a man can be considered a feminist if he's broken the male bond in defense of women.
The "male bond" is the relationship of implicit trust and support that men have for one another in a patriarchal society that maintains their power and privilege. The example that Dr. Roberts usually gives of breaking it is something like this: when in a group of (mostly heterosexual) men who are telling sexist or homophobic jokes, a man stands apart and tells them all that their behavior is inappropriate and they should all stop it. Instead of reinforcing the group's masculinity, the feminist man raises the question about the group's consideration of women or gays and lesbians.
This bond was recently demonstrated to me in very stark terms when I watched the clip of Tucker Carlson's appearance on the MSNBC news program, hosted by Dan Abrams and Joe Scarborough, discussing the legal problems of Idaho Senator Craig. The senator was arrested this summer for lewd conduct in a public restroom.
The discussion in this clip is about gay cruising and Carlson recounts how he was "bothered" once by someone in a bathroom. He is asked what he did and he responds that he left, came back with someone he knew, grabbed the man who bothered him, and then "hit" the man's head against the wall while they waited for police (who then arrested the man, presumably for cruising).
The male bond is evident when Abrams and Scarborough laugh heartily at Carlson's story. One could imagine someone reacting with concern, saying "That's awful, Tucker, I'm sorry you had to experience that." Instead, the laughter is a sign of derision at the expense of the allegedly gay man who had the audacity to do something so despicable as want to have sex in a bathroom. Andrew Sullivan discusses this on his blog and it contains Carlson's most recent press release about this appearance.