BY ALEX ALSTON
I personally think the idea that only women can be feminists is a myth constructed by a male-dominated society. Quite frankly, it has done much in the way of dividing men and women working toward gender equity, as it is often wielded by patriarchal ways of thinking. However, one of my professors and I recently sat down and began discussing the somewhat problematic, in our respective opinions, phenomenon of men in academia (or any other discipline) promoting themselves as feminists when in fact their actions suggest otherwise.
The specific case in question involved Tulane University professor Shayne Lee and his book entitled, Erotic Revolutionaries: Black Women, Sexuality, and Popular Culture. (If you haven’t heard about the debacle please google it.) Lee was once a part of a group of black professors, all men, who very vehemently and consistently articulated their place as “black male-feminists.” The problem arose when Lee’s work was critiqued by a colleague of his, Dr. Tamura Lomax. For whatever reason Lee responded hostilely toward his colleague via text message and facebook. Dr. Lomax expressed that she felt physically threatened and intellectually demeaned by Lee’s comments toward her. Lee, however has defended his position even as the situation has deteriorated and many of his colleagues, both men and women, have firmly denounced his behavior as neither feminist nor professional. The point both my professor and I stressed was that a commitment to feminism from a man, cannot simply be lip service. There are inevitably various ways to practice feminism, but physical intimidation and insults cannot be readily incorporated into a feminist framework of responding to a colleague. Like Lee, there are many “progressive men” operating in different disciplines and different spheres that don’t mind calling themselves feminists. Part of my experience at Hollaback! taught me to value the meaning of the term and to not just lump myself in simply because I could be mildly cognizant of sexism. I certainly don’t claim to be the authority on who is and who is not a feminist, but I will say there is a real problem with the almost flippant use of the word on the part of some men to serve their own ends. A feminist in speech only, is no feminist at all.