A New SCUM Manifesto: Shaping and Creating Unity with Men

By Hannah E. Dobbz

Valerie Solanas wrote the infamous SCUM Manifesto in 1968 – the same year that she shot Andy Warhol. A snapshot of extremism, SCUM Manifesto does not arise from the brand of feminism that seeks to eliminate sexism, as discussed in the works of authors like bell hooks or Emma Goldman. Rather, as the acronym – Society for Cutting Up Men – aptly suggests, Solanas’ feminism is more precisely about the elimination of men.

Not all feminists want to “cut up” men, of course. Most of them would rather “cut up” sexism and patriarchy. Some men, moreover, even describe themselves as feminists because they wish to do the same thing.

Male feminists outside the realm of Solanas-ian thought look beyond the binary of female feminists versus male chauvinists; these male allies to feminism are (to a Solanas-ian’s chagrin) working to eliminate sexism, misunderstanding and the things that made Solanas believe a whole gender was “not ethically entitled to live.”

“Dude Fest”

In 2004, a group of socially conscious men in Washington, D.C., organized the first Different Kind of Dude Fest (DKDF). A “dude fest,” in crude vernacular, is a party with mostly men in attendance. It’s generally considered a bad party because there aren’t any (or many) women there. The organizers of DKDF adopted and co-opted the term with the hope that, at this fest full of dudes, they could avoid the perpetuation of gendered assumptions and instead push an anti-sexist agenda. DKDF was primarily targeted at men in the punk and radical subcultures who were interested in overcoming sexist patterns in order to learn how to be better allies to their female friends. The festival featured a series of discussions and workshops during the day and showcased punk and hardcore bands in the evening. Cary Miller, now 29, attended a workshop at DKDF designed to help men speak out when they witness sexual harassment on the street.

As Miller described the workshop, male participants took turns learning how to object to male harassers. The role-playing was evidently “corny” at first; Miller noted that everyone initially felt a little awkward, which is common when learning new behaviors. But the next day, Miller recalled, he was walking to the bus station and saw a man harass two women. It was at that point, he said, that it “just came to him.” Instead of letting the incident take course, Miller chose to speak out by telling the harasser that he “didn’t want to hear it.” The man stopped talking to the women, and Miller kept on his way. “I thought, ‘I did this once and all I have to do is open my mouth,’” he said.

Miller left the festival feeling inspired. Upon returning home to Philadelphia, he and his friends were compelled to organize a group that they called the Philly Dudes Collective.

“We were excited but unsatisfied with the type of questions that were asked at the Different Kind of Dude Fest,” Miller said. “The level of challenging ourselves was surface level. So we decided to start Philly Dudes [Collective].”

On a monthly basis, the group held open community discussion forums for men only, which they promoted by flyer throughout the city. Miller explained that the goal of the men’s group was to get men teaching both themselves and other men about anti-sexism issues:

“These are issues that most men are not thinking about critically,” he said, “and they’re not thinking about them in terms of fighting oppression. [Also], learning to communicate with men about a variety of subjects and practicing talking to men about sexual assault or anything – it just does not happen.”

Philly Dudes Collective became an educational outlet, which, since its formation, has hosted male-ally workshops at the National Conference on Organized Resistance (NCOR) in D.C., the Visions in Feminism (VIF) Conference in D.C., the National Association of Student Co-ops (NASCO), the Mid-Atlantic Anti-Racist Action (ARA) Conference in Philadelphia, the Eastern Conference on Workplace Democracy (ECWD), and a retreat for men in the Anti-Racism Working Group (AWRG) of the Common Ground Collective in New Orleans.

“The more practice men get talking about that stuff in a safe space,” Miller said, “the more comfortable they’re going to feel talking about it outside of that space.”

Feminism Is for Everybody

Miller considers himself a feminist. But within a struggle that has been marketed as a crusade against female inequality, rather than as a quest for human egalitarianism, the notion of a male feminist seems oxymoronic to some.

Now that there are more people visibly and publicly transcending the traditional bounds of gender (e.g. queer, trans, gender-queer, gender-neutral, third gender), however, many feminists find that it is time for the movement to transcend gender as well. This notion hardly necessitates the abolition of gender – as in immediately adopting the mythical “level playing field” – but rather a reexamination of whom the feminist struggle is for and what it seeks to accomplish.

Some have attempted to outline men’s role in feminist struggle, including the anonymous male author of the zine “Said the Pot to the Kettle: Feminist Theory for Anarchist Men.”

“We cannot co-opt the struggle for women’s liberation away from women,” he writes, “but instead ought to do what we can to support them. Primarily, we need to deconstruct the patriarchal attitudes within ourselves and help each other through the process. It would be beautiful if our male-to-male friendships were strong enough to discuss the complex issues involved; a lot of women are pretty sick of having to hold our hands.”

Miller describes feminism for males in another, simpler way: “Treating people with human dignity, fairness, compassion, mercy, help when it’s needed and support. I look at it as a way of understanding systems of oppression and personal behavior that prevent those things from happening,” he went on. “I use that word [feminism] fairly widely for a range of gender issues and sex issues, as a way of analyzing oppression using gender or sexual differences.”

Male Allies in Action

Sonya Mendoza is a 25-year-old half-Jewish, half-Mexican organizer for Visions in Feminism (VIF) – an annual feminist conference held at American University in Washington, D.C. The conference (which will see its 11th year in 2010) emphasizes local issues and hosts workshops and discussions on women’s and trans issues, as well as a keynote speaker.

“There are so many great things [that feminism has accomplished], but we never want to acknowledge the bad things or the screwed-up things. And that really handicaps us,” Mendoza said, pointing out the need for a continued conversation among genders despite the advances that feminism has made over the years. "We never work on interpersonal relationships, and it’s never going to happen if we don’t.”

It was this dilemma that drew Miller and the Philly Dudes Collective to VIF in 2005, where they gave a workshop on how to be a “male ally” in the punk scene. Part of Miller’s own journey to be a “male ally to feminism and feminist struggle,” he said, involves constantly trying to understand his personal behaviors as a white, mostly heterosexual man. “It’s very hard to see the privileges I have; it takes a lot of practice and constant thinking. When I consider myself as an ally, I consider action to be pretty crucial to that. It’s a two-pronged attack: (1) Providing support roles to women in their struggles – or people who aren’t men (trans, queer) – so they can do more work and more effective work. (2) Working with other men and raise other men’s awareness about those issues.”

Miller is not alone in his ally work. Philadelphia is also home to Philly’s Pissed and Philly Stands Up – response organizations to sexual assault in Philadelphia’s punk and radical communities.

Philly Stands Up works with people who have assaulted others to hold them accountable to the survivors and to help restore their relationships within their communities. According to their mission statement, “In dealing with perpetrators, we seek to recognize and change behavior, rather than ostracizing and allowing future assaults elsewhere. We support their healing process and challenge them on their behavior in order to prevent future assaults.” The group expects perpetrators to choose to work with them as an alternative to community blacklisting.

Conversely, Philly’s Pissed (the sister organization to Philly Stands Up) acts as a survivor support group, working directly with survivors of sexual assault to provide them with the resources that they need in order to heal.

According to Miller, there was a great deal of communication and volunteer overlap between Philly’s Pissed, Philly Stands Up, and the Philly Dudes Collective. In fact, Miller stated that the Dudes Collective only had the freedom to organize discussions between men about issues of masculinity because Pissed and Stands Up were doing active work with survivors and perpetrators. The more pressing work of Pissed and Stands Up allowed for the less-pressing, longer-term work of the Dudes Collective.

Washington, D.C., has a similar network: In addition to the Visions in Feminism conference and the inspirational Different Kind of Dude Fest, D.C. is home to Men Can Stop Rape (MCSR) – a volunteer-run pro-feminist collective founded in 1987 by a handful of men seeking to raise their own and their community's consciousness about men's violence against women. In past years, a bulk of the profits from DKDF has been donated to Men Can Stop Rape.

MCSR acts as an umbrella organization to other anti-sexist programs, including “Men of Strength,” which teaches high-school-aged males that they can be strong without being violent. In 2001, the program was implemented in every public high school in the District, which was a remarkable stride for the anti-sexism movement.

Developing an awareness of privilege is certainly an important step toward overcoming it, but it is only one piece of a very large and complex process. And it raises a crucial question: Is it more appropriate to renounce one’s male privilege or to use it as leverage to further the struggle for egalitarianism?

“In my life,” Miller said, “I try to think about each situation strategically. There are definitely situations in which I wish I didn’t have privilege, some in which I try to reduce or nullify my privilege, and many, many situations in which I am totally going to use my privilege to talk to another man so he might actually listen to me. Ideally, you can raise the idea that this is privilege: Why are you listening to this from me when such-and-such woman said the same thing two minutes ago? There is realistically no way for me to get rid of my privilege within my lifetime, so I’ve got to use it how I can be most effective.”

Teaming Up with Dudettes

After working with the Philly Dudes Collective for two years, Miller moved away from Philadelphia and began organizing a men’s group in his new home of Pittsburgh, Pa. This new men’s group was inspired by its X-chromosomed predecessor, the Pittsburgh Radical Wimmin’s Group, which had been meeting since March 2007’s National Conference on Organized Resistance. The group had open membership for women and no mission statement. According to one member of the group, it was “a space to talk with other women about being a woman in this world.”

The now-defunct Wimmin’s Group hosted “structured discussions” and analyzed sexism within the radical community. Group organizer Heather Smith said she might have described some of the women involved as “separatist.” But Smith said she doesn’t like the idea of giving up on 50 percent of the population; she would rather brainstorm solutions to the sexism experienced in our culture – and more directly, the sexism in her community.

With knowledge of Cary Miller’s previous experience in organizing men’s groups on the eastern end of Pennsylvania, Smith suggested that he establish a local version of the Philly Dudes Collective. Miller and fellow male-ally Jared Ondovchik then worked to orchestrate an anti-patriarchy discussion group for men in Pittsburgh’s radical community.

According to Ondovchik, Smith was not the only woman encouraging him to start a men’s group. “When we started talking about setting something up,” he said, “so many women suddenly began coming forward and telling me how much we really needed to do this. All the [women] in the room jumped up and started talking 90 miles an hour. And that didn’t scare me, but what scared me was the profound emphasis on how bad that was needed.”

Acknowledging the overwhelming call for a group that would address gender inequities within the community, Ondovchik asked a relevant but unnerving question: “What do you do after you get all the guys together? What if we all just sit together in the room awkwardly?”

The Wimmin’s Group had a similar fear. Their discussions had raised the issue of men’s education – and while most women did not have an interest in the tedious task of schooling their male counterparts, they wondered if the men would have the tools to teach themselves. The women rationalized in circles, continually asking, “Whose problem is sexism?” They feared that a group of men left to discuss sexism among themselves would play out like a group of white people trying to deconstruct racism – in other words, they wouldn’t know where to begin.

“I view these groups in very similar terms to women’s consciousness-raising groups,” Miller said, “but there are very important distinctions as far as power dynamics: where you are in terms of oppressed and oppressor.”

One possible solution that the Wimmin’s Group devised was joining forces with the men’s group to create a mentoring program. That way, men would have some guidance and women wouldn’t feel like they had to explain absolutely everything that the men were doing wrong. Instead, the co-mentors would meet at a designated time each week to discuss anything sexist that may have happened since they last met, and to ask each other questions about how it should have been handled.

Unfortunately, the mentoring program never took shape, as attendance at Pittsburgh’s first male-ally discussion group turned out to be pitiful. Although the organizers felt defeated by community disinterest, they tried not to lose steam for the project on account of the failure.

“Only four people came,” said Smith, “which was disappointing to all of us. But – it was four more men talking about sexism than the day before.”

Miller claims he has no delusions that getting men involved in anti-sexism discussions is an easy task. He knows from experience that it is hard work and takes a long time, especially since many men become defensive or dismissive when confronted with the subject of feminism and sexism.

Miller notes that male interactions tend to be competitive and escalatory by virtue of socialization. Escalation is counter-productive to feminist struggle, as well as to not getting a black eye, so he finds it necessary to shift that dynamic. “I’ve been thinking a lot about humor lately,” he said. “Especially all this sexist, homophobic humor. Questions are really helpful in those situations, and I always try to make them as honest of questions as possible. If you catch somebody off guard with a question or – even they don’t say it out loud – if they even think an answer that they weren’t expecting to think or say, that’s a really helpful way that I’ve found to shift that dynamic. You usually don’t get to cooperation, but at least it’s non-competition.”

Although the task of gender liberation may at times seem too weighty for any one individual to tackle, it is important to remember that no individual is alone. Groups like Philly’s Pissed, Philly Stands Up, Philly Dudes Collective, Men Can Stop Rape, and Men of Strength remind us that even male allies need allies. Conferences like Visions in Feminism keep the dialogue going, and as long as we remain in communication about the problems that we all experience as gendered beings, then things can only get better.

Moreover, it is important to remember that while some men are allies, all men can be allies. It is a club that requires no invitation.

Miller has a general list of Dos and Don’ts for men to consider if they wish to be male allies to feminist struggle:

Do: *Talk to your female, queer and trans friends about wanting to consider yourself an ally. Be open to their thoughts, critiques and viewpoints. Really try to understand it on a deep level. Take it into your life. If they have critiques of you, hear those critiques honestly instead of closing up.

Do: *Talk to male friends. This is probably the most uncomfortable step. You don’t have to use the words “male allies,” and you can have conversations in which you never use the word “feminism.” You can do all this without using buzzwords that will raise people’s defenses.

Do: *Learn what to do if someone you know is sexually assaulted.

Don’t: *Ever assume that you have it all figured out.

Don’t: *Give up.

“It’s a challenge,” Miller said, “and I find it really helpful to embrace that challenge. I look at it as, ‘I’m a smart, creative person, and I can figure this out.’”

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