Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Meet the men who *really* understand feminism...

There’s a book that’s just been published – and while it’s a pity it wasn’t published centuries ago, at least it’s in print now. The Guy’s Guide to Feminism by Dr Michael Kaufman and Dr Michael Kimmel (Seal Publishing) hit the shelves this November, and should surely be an essential present for all the teenagers in your lives this Christmas.

Written in an A-Z format (and using mechanisms from jokes to cartoons to lists and scripts), The Guy’s Guide to Feminism covers more than 100 topics in an accessible, informative and straight-talking way. Of course, the book isn’t always light-hearted – it would be impossible to write about, for instance, FGM or rape in any way other than factual and straight. But the overall tone is friendly, approachable and gently suggests: ‘Maybe this is another way to think about things.’

Quite why such a book has never existed before (to my knowledge) is a pity, but thank goodness it’s here now. And the fact it has been co-authored by two such well-respected feminist men only adds to the authority and weight of the book. Dr Michael Kaufman is not only a co-founder of the global White Ribbon Campaign, but he also works with the United Nations to help end gender-based violence. And Dr Michael Kimmel is one of the leading researchers and writers on men and masculinity in the world, and has authored around 20 books on the topic. So you know you’re in safe hands here!

Dr Kaufman (he's on Twitter as @GenderEQ) was recently kind enough to spare me some time to answer a few questions about The Guy’s Guide to Feminism and how the book came to be.


How much demand had there been for you to write this book in the first place? I imagine it was high because I can’t think of a similar book.

“We actually started writing this book 18 years ago! But it’s only in the past few years, with the emergence of a new wave of feminism and with the ever-increasing realisation that we must engage men and boys to achieve gender equality, that we really found the right voice for it… and also found a publisher!”

Had you worked with Dr Kimmel before? How did that collaboration come about?     

“Yes, we’ve been friends and colleagues for 26 years. He’s had articles in some of my books and vice versa.”

Is the launch of the book accompanied by a tour of schools and universities etc?

“Unfortunately, the US/Canadian publisher is a small, feminist publisher [Seal Publishing] without a budget for that type of tour. But both Michael and I speak in a lot of communities and on campuses each year, so we’ll be bringing the book and its message with us.       

“I’m working up a new talk/semi-performance piece based on The Guy’s Guide to Feminism. I’m looking forward to launching it in the new year. It’s working title is: The Guy’s Guide to Feminism: The Talk. The Rant. The Conversation We Really Need To Have.”

What do you think are the best ways for young men to get involved with feminism? Part of the trouble seems to be (and your book is part of the solution to addressing this) that feminism is still often seen as unfashionable and out of date. Many people think women and men are equal (including a lot of women!). What do you think are the best steps a young man can take to become more involved?

“There is no end of things! I encourage men to ask women about their experiences and simply listen and learn. Or start a White Ribbon Campaign in their school, campus or workplace. Figure out how to best challenge sexist and homophobic language and jokes. Get informed: yes, things have improved around gender equality – but that’s because we’ve had 40 years of a vibrant women’s movement, yet we still have a way to go. And don’t fall for the idiotic media stereotypes about feminists and feminism.”

What kind of feedback have you had to the book from the young men who are your target audience? Young men who might not have previously been so sure that feminism was anything to do with them?
“So far we’re getting a great response from young men. They see this book and our use of humour and they realise they can read about gender equality, learn about feminism, and be in support of gender equality without their dicks falling off!”

I think there can be issues sometimes with pro-feminist men who are very well intentioned but sometimes come across as a little patronising, or as if they are telling women what to do – however unintentionally. I hasten to add that your book doesn't do this! But what do you think the solution is? I agree that men are vital on the journey to gender equality, but I definitely think women need to lead the way – otherwise we won't be achieving equality on our own terms. It seems a tricky area...

“Sometimes pro-feminist men feel they need to prove their pro-feminist credentials for women. They end up holding forth, lecturing, to prove themselves. It’s yet another form of men’s performance anxiety! I say: ‘Chill! Struggle to live your life based on equality in relationships and friendships. Keep examining your own behavior and language. Learn to challenge sexism and abuse. But also live your life with delight, humour, and grace!’”

Do you ever get a hostile reaction from other men because you’re a feminist, and because you promote gender equality?
“Of course! There are anti-woman, anti-feminist men’s rights types who spend their time attacking and criticising men like me. I suppose they figure we’re traitors to patriarchy! But far more men support what I do.”

I wish you both would come to England and lead some seminars or workshops at the growing number of national feminist conferences we have. What are the chances?! You'd be very welcome!

“I come to the UK every year. I’m currently trying to pull together a speaking tour in late February. I hope to do some half-day or, better, full-day training on engaging men and boys to promote gender equality and end violence against women. Also, I hope to arrange some talks, including on my new theme: The Guy’s Guide to Feminism: The Talk. The Rant. The Conversation We Really Need To Have.”

The Guy's Guide to Feminism has a dedicated website here

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