Why I Am a Male Feminist

The word turns off a lot of men (insert snarky comment about man-hating feminazis here) -- and women. But here's why black men should be embracing the "f" word.

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Founded by Jackson Katz, the MVP Project was designed to use the status of athletes to make gender violence socially unacceptable. When I met with Katz, I didn't realize that the project was a domestic violence prevention program. Had I known that, I wouldn't have gone in for the job interview.

So when Katz explained that they were looking to hire a man to help institutionalize curricula about preventing gender violence at high schools and colleges around the country, I almost walked out the door. But during my interview, Katz asked me an interesting question. "Byron, how does African-American men's violence against African-American women uplift the African-American community?"

No one had ever asked me that question before. As an African-American man who was deeply concerned about race issues, I had never given much thought about how emotional abuse, battering, sexual assault, street harassment and rape could affect an entire community, just as racism does.

The following day, I attended a workshop about preventing gender violence, facilitated by Katz. There, he posed a question to all of the men in the room: "Men, what things do you do to protect yourself from being raped or sexually assaulted?"

Not one man, including myself, could quickly answer the question. Finally, one man raised his hand and said, "Nothing." Then Katz asked the women, "What things do you do to protect yourself from being raped or sexually assaulted?" Nearly all of the women in the room raised their hand. One by one, each woman testified:

"I don't make eye contact with men when I walk down the street," said one.
"I don't put my drink down at parties," said another.
"I use the buddy system when I go to parties."
"I cross the street when I see a group of guys walking in my direction."
"I use my keys as a potential weapon."
"I carry mace or pepper spray."
"I watch what I wear."

The women went on for several minutes, until their side of the blackboard was completely filled with responses. The men's side of the blackboard was blank. I was stunned. I had never heard a group of women say these things before. I thought about all of the women in my life -- including my mother, sister and girlfriend -- and realized that I had a lot to learn about gender.

Days after that workshop, Katz offered me the job as a mentor-training specialist, and I accepted his offer. Although I didn't know much about gender issues from an academic standpoint, I quickly learned on the job. I read books and essays by bell hooks, Patricia Hill Collins, Angela Davis and other feminist writers.

Like most guys, I had bought into the stereotype that all feminists were white, lesbian, unattractive male bashers who hated all men. But after reading the work of these black feminists, I realized that this was far from the truth. After digging into their work, I came to really respect the intelligence, courage and honesty of these women.

Feminists did not hate men. In fact, they loved men. But just as my father had silenced my mother during their arguments to avoid hearing her gripes, men silenced feminists by belittling them in order to dodge hearing the truth about who we are.

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