Let’s Get Free!: Radicalizing Pro-Feminist Education for Men

By Kourtney Mitchell / Deep Green Resistance

By Kourtney Mitchell / Deep Green Resistance

The following speech was originally given at the Stop Porn Culture Conference at Wheelock College, Boston, in July 2013.

Hello everyone, my name is Kourtney Mitchell and I am a political activist and a member of the group Deep Green Resistance. We are a radical organization dedicated to social, political and environmental justice. As an organization we ally ourselves with indigenous communities, women, people of color and the poor. Our aim is to stop the destruction of the planet and the oppression of people and animals.

We are a relatively new organization just a couple of years old but we are growing and have numerous chapters with hundreds of activists around the world who are all dedicated to stopping the genocide of the planet.

So, I’ll offer just a brief background on my experience as a man with pro-feminist activism and educating men. I attended university and it was there that I first received academic and activist training in feminism and anti-violence through the peer education program on campus.

The peer education program consists of graduate students, faculty, and staff who train undergraduate volunteers. The training includes education about the widespread violence that women face and volunteers learn to give presentations to peers on rape, sexual assault, relationship violence, and feminism.

In turn, peers would then join our organizing efforts and events. This was the most profoundly significant and life changing time for me. To travel around the country raising awareness of violence against women, facilitating workshops, speak-outs, and protests was fulfilling, not to mention meaningful. The training threw me into another world, one in which violence and misogyny could no longer be ignored. Our advisors did a really comprehensive job of giving us an adequate scope of the problem, and creating a sense of urgency about these issues.

They helped facilitate the creation of a student culture based on the belief that it is possible to end violence against women, and knowing that possibility helped galvanize us to take action. Many of us went on to make this our life’s work.

My primary role in the campus activist community was recruiting and teaching men about pro-feminism and anti-violence. I helped lead the male ally program, which included a weekly discussion group, activism in the community, pro-feminist art and performance, and collaborations with other similar programs around the country.

I remember vividly the anxiety of pouring over every detail of presentations I would be giving to men, worrying if the way I presented concepts was too complicated or if men would shut down for the rest of the talk if I said something too complicated. I left some events feeling like no one was reachable, but I also walked away feeling really good about the successes which were accomplished.

Many men joined our organizations and became quite active – some because they just felt it was the right thing to do, but many more because of personal experiences and the experiences of their loved ones. Several men randomly wandered into our office and left planning to attend the next ally meeting, and sure enough did continue coming. This was just one of the many things that kept me optimistic about bringing more men to pro-feminist ideas and activism.

Unfortunately, the campus activist community was largely liberal and very much influenced by queer theory. Pornography was widely accepted, and a real revolution against the patriarchal order was more joked about than seriously considered. It wasn’t until I was introduced to the radical feminist perspective that I began to see the flaws of the liberal approach to pro-feminist education.

The liberal approach leaves out an important aspect of the violence men commit against women: that men hate women. It’s important to say that out loud and allow it to inform our actions. The dominant culture is insane. Its norms and values are pathological, and it socializes people into roles that encourage, even necessitate abuse and exploitation in order to fulfill accepted social roles.

The systems of rewards in this culture makes it appear as if the masculine identity and domination imperative are in our best interest, and dissent is seen as blasphemy — a violation of a sacred order.

And that sacred order is gender.

Masculinity fraternizes men into a veritable cult, one that requires violence and callousness in order to ensure the privileges of membership. The liberal approach has been able to raise the awareness of some men concerning the male violence, but it doesn’t challenge men on the mechanism of their oppression of women.

Just when I thought we could really get somewhere with bringing men into pro-feminist activism, the radical analysis gave me a hard dose of reality. I had always thought that if we could just get men to stop and think for a minute, to look around and see the world for what it really is, to get them to cultivate some empathy, then maybe we could start to see a reversal of toxic male culture. What I learned was that it’s hard enough to get men to consider feminism at all let alone to consider challenging their own behavior.

Once you start to get too radical, most men shut down or lash out against it. A few really do embrace it, and that’s something I hold on to—that there are some men out there who are thoughtful enough, and self-reflective enough, and honest enough to internalize the hard truths—but I also realize that most men will never be genuine allies. In fact, most so-called radical men have proven that they are not only incapable of understanding the radical feminist analysis of gender but that they will actively fight against women who espouse it.

The liberal approach to activism is disheartening because it constantly conditions activists to keep working to build an impossible mass movement, and it keeps people hopeful that this can actually happen if they keep spending time and resources on it.

We talk to men about the violence, give them all the evidence they need, and it’s still like trying to drill a hole through a brick wall. I could just as easily take a more passive approach when talking to men and cut them some slack because patriarchy and masculinity do cause men suffering, but last time I checked, emotionally and psychologically mature adults don’t ignore or gloss over the hard truths. Instead those hard truths need to be faced, and men have no excuse to stay passive on this.

Genuine alliance with women means prioritizing the goals of liberation as they are articulated by women and for women, no matter the insecurity and defensiveness men may feel.

As a radical political person of color, I do not accept surface-level activism against white supremacy and privilege. I see the impact of racist oppression in and on my community every single day, and it would be antithetical to my interest in the preservation of my people to avoid engaging with racist culture on a radical level. The oppression of my people needs to end by any means necessary, and this includes the end of the social construction of race.

I wrote an article critiquing white backlash against militant anti-racism, and of course I received still more white backlash. I believe that some white people will agree with me and I hope this is true for pro-feminist alliance with women as well.

Even at my young age I feel that I have spent a long time trying to find the right way to tell men the truth of the widespread violence that women face, but it seems as though the violence is only increasing. I can only imagine the road that some of the women here have walked and the frustration they feel in seeing the violence continue and grow exponentially.

It’s too much. The radical analysis is needed. The situation is urgent and getting worse by the day and I feel like it oftentimes takes so long to educate men and get them to do something, anything.

Some have said to me that I’m impatient. I say I’m fed up. So many men have sided with the violence of this culture and have made themselves the enemy of women and their genuine liberation. And this is pretty simple to me – if a man is an enemy of women, then he is an enemy of mine. Men need to be told, regardless of whether or not they want to hear it, that nothing less than the complete dismantling of patriarchy is acceptable, and men who don’t declare their allegiance to women have sided with the oppressors and they should be treated as such.

Men must try and understand what it takes to become real allies – constant self-critique, checking our privilege, and becoming mindful and aware of when our socialization is causing us to behave in abusive ways. We need to deconstruct this socialized person we’ve been conditioned to become and discover who we are as human beings.

I’ve been told that ultimately men aren’t ready to make comprehensive personal and political changes and to dismantle male culture, and I say so what? It’s ridiculous to think how many men will reject the simple suggestion that they try to become decent human beings. You can’t argue with a person like that. Meanwhile, women are raped on public transportation while the driver looks on and does nothing. A girl is raped in class and the teacher does nothing about it. Women are locked in basements for a decade, or enslaved or beaten or killed. At what point do we as men admit that men hate women and want to harm them?

When do we as men prioritize the safety, integrity and autonomy of women and give men the ultimatum: either you’re with women or you’re against them.

If you want to look at this from the perspective of approaching men in a way that encourages them to engage with us, rather than shutting down and ignoring us, then I can understand that. Sometimes you need to meet people where they are so you can increase the chance of them actually listening and considering what you have to say. This is a long process and oftentimes it takes several intense conversations on these issues with the same men over a period of time to get it to click. Sadly, we don’t always have that kind of time, and most men wouldn’t take the time anyway.

I think it’s important to focus our efforts on constantly engaging and challenging men on their abuse and misogyny and demonstrating to men who insist on continuing that abuse that they will be met with resistance. We will put an end to their abuse using whatever means we have to. They are the ones who cannot be reasoned with, and force is the only language they understand.

A crucial aspect of genuine alliance with women is that it’s our responsibility to educate other men, not women’s responsibility. Saying it’s a women’s issue ignores the perpetrator. It is unfair to leave this work to women who daily endure the onslaught of patriarchal violence. Women have a right to organize away from men, and to demand that we take responsibility for our actions. No, most of us men did not ask for this kind of world. And no, most of us didn’t play an integral part in constructing it. But because we are socialized into it as members of the dominant class; because we are conditioned to use our genitals as weapons against women; and because we are rewarded for doing so, we must do the hard work of separating ourselves from this unfortunate set of affairs and confronting men who refuse to do the same. What do we value more—privilege or justice? Privilege may be comfortable for a while, maybe even for a long time, but eventually it results in the same kind of horrible state of affairs that the planet is currently enduring.

I have had some success presenting this issue to men in the following manner: what does it mean to live in a culture so oppressive to women that they have a good reason to hate us? What does it mean for us that every woman with whom we come into contact can legitimately consider us a potential rapist or batterer? Is this the kind of world we want to live in— a world in which every relationship we have with women is fraught with the anxiety of being perceived as violent simply for being a man? Personally, I do not want to live in this kind of world.

Men need to be given the radical perspective, or else we are simply training them to be ineffective in addressing the problem we claim to care so much about. Just as in radical environmentalism where we base strategy and tactics on the numbers we have so we can be most effective with those numbers, we should do the same with radical pro-feminist education of men. We leverage force against male supremacy and teach each other how to become more complete human beings, how to build loving and nurturing communities, and how to abandon the pathology central to our abuse. This work hasn’t ever been and won’t ever be easy, but it’s necessary and we have a planet and its community of life to save.

Time is short. We should not be prepared to accept any more of this violence. We have a responsibility to ourselves, our loved ones, and future generations to end the violence or die trying.

Thank you.

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Originally posted by DGR News Service.

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