Men Speak Out: Views on Gender, Sex, and Power
Men Speak Out is an important book for feminism. It's important because, as Jackson Katz writes in the Foreword, "it features the stories of twenty-first century American men whose lives have been shaped in unprecedented ways by the social changes catalyzed by modern, multicultural women's movements." Much space has been given to the myriad ways that women's social, economic, and political lives are affected by feminism while the effects on men's lives tend to be explained with a cursory "and men benefit too." This, of course, is not enough, and so Men Speak Out begins a conversation of just what those benefits (and challenges) are, exactly.
Divided into five sections—Masculinity and Identity, Sexuality, Feminism, Points and Perspectives, and Taking Action, Making Change—that feature a total of thirty-nine essays by men from all walks of life, Men Speak Out is quite ambitious, and there are some real gems in these 295 pages. I thoroughly enjoyed the book's opening essay, Byron Hurt's "Daytona Beach: Beyond Beats and Rhymes," in which he thoughtfully wrestles with the gray areas of sexism in hip-hop culture and feelings of frustration, shame, and guilt that come up for him while shooting footage for his documentary, Beyond Beats and Rhymes, at BET's Spring Bling. Hurt doesn't front like he knows how to make things right, but he does know that he's in a unique and powerful position to try to make things better.
Jacob Anderson-Minshall ("The Enemy Within: On Becoming a Straight White Guy") gets personal about a topic that has created no small amount of friction between feminist, lesbian, and trans communities: the tricky issue of internalized misogyny and gaining male privilege through FTM transition. He is honest about how his transition has shaped his feminism. Haji Shearer embraces traditional masculinity and an anti-sexist stance in "Why I Am Not a Feminist," while Robert Jensen breaks down the roles and responsibilities of men in the consumption of pornography in "Just a John? Pornography and Men's Choices." Ewuare X. Osayande struggles with how to break down "the matrix of oppressions in a way that is both direct and accessible" in order to guide other young black men, including his sons, into manhood; and Kyle Brillante calls out women's studies on the essentialism and elitism that runs rampant in the classroom: "Feeling unsafe and uncomfortable is necessary because it promotes the critical and reflexive thinking that education is all about." This book is where it's at: showcasing men who not only get it, but also get it right.
I have a lot of love for this primer on men's feminism, though I must say that I started to lose interest somewhere around midpoint, and by the end, I had to work hard not to skim. I found the chapter introductions to be fairly dull, and when moving from essay to essay, there was more repetition in the themes than was strictly necessary. The final essay was uninspiring, closing the book with an elementary list of "tools for guys (and others with privilege) who are working for social change" that felt lackluster and unoriginal. Though understandably necessary, it wasn't an ending that made me feel particularly energized.
One major challenge in editing an anthology is that, many times, the editor attempts to create a collection that says everything to everyone. This creates the problem of having too many essays that are too short to go reach any real depth. How can one book provide the varied views of people who are at (sometimes significantly) different points in their experience and analysis and still be appealing, in its entirety, to any given reader? There are few anthologies that have this degree of crossover appeal, so the fact that Men Speak Out falls short of perfection is a small complaint.
This book provides something important in reframing the old debates about women's rights, especially in this supposedly post-feminist time. Pro-feminist men who make their perspectives visible to the world, in addition to the people around them, add men's views to the larger conversation, not to delegitimize women's views, as has historically been the case, but to support what they've been saying all along. So long as they continue to acknowledge the precarious space that they occupy, I'm glad they're finally at the table.