(This post was deleted and reposted due to massive amounts of spamming. The legitimate comments were unfortunately lost.)
It's a common sentiment among feminists that it is most certainly NOT our responsibility as women to reach out to our male oppressors to teach and guide them to understand our plight and to divest themselves of their unearned privilege. The idea is that it's THEIR responsibility to do that work for themselves. It's an argument I hear all the time (and one I completely understand) that our commitment to fighting sexism does not mean that it is our duty to break down into simple terms what we want from men. That we, as an oppressed class, should not be expected to have to take on the burden of reaching out to our oppressors to do the work that, ideally, THEY should be doing for themselves. This reluctance to reach out and explain things in simple terms is especially felt in feminist blog spaces, which are often generally reserved for discussion among "seasoned" feminists, who, already fully or mostly understanding the harmful effects of patriarchy, would rather talk amongst themselves about issues and strategies than to have to constantly backtrack and clearly explain to men or antifeminists that sexism DOES, in fact, still exist. This, of course, makes total sense, because no new discourse or activism would ever be accomplished if all feminists were constantly occupied with repetitious explanations of why there is a need for feminism in the first place. This broken-record frustration felt by online feminists is the catalyst for blog disclaimers, insightful conversations with loved ones, and (my favorite) anti-feminist bingo cards.
So, imagine my surprise when I came across this statement in Paulo Freire's classic text Pedagogy of the Oppressed:
"This, then, is the great humanistic and historical task of the oppressed: to liberate themselves and their oppressors as well. The oppressors, who oppress, exploit, and rape by virtue of their power, cannot find in this power the strength to liberate either the oppressed or themselves. Only power that springs from the weakness of the oppressed will be sufficiently strong to free both." (p. 44)
"Who are better prepared than the oppressed to understand the terrible significance of an oppressive society? Who suffer the effects of oppression more than the oppressed? Who can better understand the necessity of liberation? They will not gain this liberation by chance but through the praxis of their quest for it, through their recognition of the necessity to fight for it." (p. 45)
So, wait. This suggests that we SHOULD be reaching out to men. That, in fact, we MUST, because only the oppressed have the power to see and the ability to show others the extent to which they suffer under oppression. We know that privilege has a blinding effect on those who benefit from it, and yet our frustration over this keeps us from doing the hard work necessary to lift that veil of ignorance for those who just don't seem to get it.
This is in no way meant to criticize spaces and discourses that discourage the often redundant re-explaining of feminist goals. As I described above, I completely understand the frustration, especially when the ignorance with which we are frequently confronted by antifeminist trolls is so cloaked in hate. It's incredibly important for feminists to have safe discussion spaces that are free from the kinds of intrusion that hold us back from furthering our own consciousness. But those quotes from Freire really made an impression on me, reminding me of the importance of also remembering to sometimes come down off our high horses and actually break down into simple terms what it is we are fighting for and why.
To highlight a few of my favorite online spaces that do this important work:
Finally, a Feminism 101 Blog - an amazing resource for FAQs about feminism, and a great place to go to find info that simply breaks down the essential bits of knowledge required to move along to more "advanced" feminist blog spaces
Feminist Allies - a discussion group blog of feminist and profeminist men who confront issues of privilege and how to fight sexism and be effective allies to women
Girls Read Comics (And They're Pissed!) - especially this post - whether you're a reader of comics or not, the amazing Karen Healey writes about an art form notorious for its lousy portrayals and objectification of women with such a clear and rational voice, readers have no choice but to finally understand what's so harmful (and annoying) about sexism in art and media
Also, the feminist LiveJournal communities listed in the links at the right of the screen are a great source for reading lots of women and girls' personal stories that directly demonstrate the need for feminism. I especially love the Feminist Rage Page, where posters can rant about the things that frustrate them to no end about being female in a sexist society.
And I also want to mention a source that has been the topic of much controversy, but since I finally got around to reading it and actually really liked it, I'm going to mention Jessica Valenti's book Full Frontal Feminism A feminist primer for young women who may not even realize that sexism is still rampant in today's world, it covers a lot of ground, and in very accessible language. The critics were right in that it's not for everyone, though. And I, too, wish the cover had never been designed that way. My advice? If, when attempting to read it, you find it too simplistic or patronizing, just stop and move on to something else. But I can picture many young women (and men), for whom this book would be an invaluable feminist resource, and I think that kind of influence is something we should welcome.
So, thoughts? Other recommendations for places that make feminism understandable and palatable to neophytes? How about sources that help men realize their privilege?
"Freedom is acquired by conquest, not by gift. It must be pursued constantly and responsibly." (Freire, p. 47)