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The 'F' Word Worth Saying

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The F word -- "feminist" -- is now hip and worthy of men's attention... really? Wow!

I recently received a spate of links from several women via email and Facebook about a Fall 2012 TEDx talk by Dr. Jackson Katz concerning the need for men to step up and address male violence and aggression. The women were all excited about what they perceived as the Second Coming of feminism, and were almost jumping with joy while proclaiming "the men are here, the men are here!"

Katz isn't alone; similar sentiments are popping up all over the Web. All of a sudden, men are apparently coming out of the woodwork, burning their metaphorical bras and taking on "the man" as the real F-word, FEMINISTS!

During this year's International Women's Day on March 8 (fittingly, also my husband's birthday), Sir Patrick Stewart of Star Trek fame went public in New York City as an impassioned advocate for Ring the Bell, a global initiative for ending violence against women... man by man, promise by promise. Sir Patrick said, "Every nine seconds a woman is assaulted or beaten in the United States." While I was buoyed that a man was finally saying this in a hugely public way, there's a better way to say it: "Every nine seconds a man assaults or beats a woman." Ms. Paxton Quigley has been saying for years, "Have you ever noticed that news hides a rapist's responsibility in rape? We say, 'She was raped,' which is passive language. We need to be clear about who's doing what to whom."

Nonetheless, Ring the Bell is gathering promises from 1 million men with notable and very macho proponents: star athletes, musicians, politicians and more. Could we finally have the allies so many of us have been longing for since 1963, when Betty Friedan came out with The Feminine Mystique?

I must admit this recent surge in public male feminism is bittersweet. Yay! More men have gotten the gender justice memo. Boo! That countless female feminists had to deal with serious backlash crap for decades: dealing repeatedly with the same issues, putting out the same fires, unable to make progress because we were discredited at almost every turn and denied access to even public conversations. We've been deemed ridiculous and dangerous, sometimes in the same breath. Pat Robertson famously blames feminists for virtually every ill on the planet.

There have always been serious men at our sides. Feminist men have the same type of PR problem that thousands of us fabulous feminist females have had for a long time. Male feminists didn't just happen. You simply didn't know about them because the über-masculine, anti-feminist men who dominate the mainstream media -- let's call it "manstream media" -- don't consider women newsworthy unless it involves a cat fight of some kind. In front of the camera, they view (usually younger, good-looking) women only as an accessory for the older news anchor with gravitas.

Frederick Douglass, the famous 19th century orator and freed slave, was also a feminist, as was economist and philosopher John Stuart Mill. George Bernard Shaw aligned himself with women's rights, as did Wizard of Oz author L. Frank Baum. All of these notable men were shunned once they took up the banner of gender equality. The Boys Club didn't like their stances one bit. As John Stoltenberg so eloquently put it, "The core of one's being must love justice more than manhood." The celebrity men of yore, just like today, already had enough importance to withstand ostracism from the biggest gang on earth, the Cult of Masculinity.

Ever heard of John Stoltenberg? Probably not. He has been a proponent of gender justice for decades, and I love this quote: "If you ain't caught shit, you haven't done shit." His classic books, Refusing to Be a Man: Essays on Sex and Justice, The End of Manhood: A Book for Men of Conscience, and What Makes Pornography Sexy? never made any best-seller lists. Barely reviewed, Stoltenberg put himself into a Feminist Ghetto, where the mostly female citizenry is minimized, ridiculed, and worse, ignored -- which means the rest of us aren't even aware of so many missing voices in the gender conversation.

Patrick Stewart has been speaking out against family violence for a long time. The most recent James Bond, Daniel Craig, starred in a PSA for gender equality. Sir Richard Branson of Virgin is also a vocal advocate. Most of us don't know that. What is it going to take to wake up the decision-makers in not only news organizations but in entertainment, where there is a veritable black list of feminist voices, whether female or male? As long as masculine stories and pursuits are considered universal and women's merely "chick flicks," the culture of pathological masculine gender-based violence (GBV) will persist. Men who won't put themselves in women's shoes dominate the public discourse, and as Frederick Douglass said, "Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will."

The fight for human rights requires the demand factor. Women who demand are deemed bitches and cranks; easy to ignore. Since studies have shown that people of both genders listen more closely and seriously to humans with penises -- the platinum card of organs -- maybe these modern feminist guys can make a big difference after all. I have another F word for that... FINALLY!

Note: This article appears in a slightly different form in my column for the Pasadena Weekly.