Friends with Men: Reconciling Your Feminist Consciousness with Your Personal Life

Sandra Bartky, in her essay "Toward a Phenomonology of Feminist Consciousness," describes acquiring a feminist consciousness as "a profound personal transformation, an experience which goes far beyond...[the] political". According to her, to be a feminist, one has to first become one. This multifaceted process of becoming a feminist begins with perceiving reality with new eyes, little by little until your whole vision is transformed.

In the description of an experience that seems familiar to many of us, she talks about this new way of perceiving the world: "Innocent chatter, the currency of ordinary social life or a compliment, the well-intentioned advice of psychologists, the news item, the joke, the cosmetics advertisement—none of this is what it is or what it was." The feminist is able to see the seemingly innocent comments as the manifestations of sexism that they are. And having discovered the full extent of gender discrimination, not only is the feminist's consciousness radically altered, but the feminist often also takes steps to radically alter her life as well.

Many women report not being able to enjoy romantic movies anymore. Some end their relationships, their friendships, and begin to not put up with things they used to put up with. Some explore things that weren't even conceivable as options to them before. Perhaps, the conservatives are right (though not in ways they thought); becoming a feminist does make a woman a man-hater, a bitch, and a lesbian! In trying to make these things seem like they are awful, what they’re trying to keep from you is a field that will help you recognize the sexism, misogyny, and compulsory heterosexuality that permeate your life. 

Some women even realize that their attraction to men is not compatible with their newly acquired feminist consciousness. Women who want to pursue relations with men not only have to try to reconcile their attractions with their negative past experiences with men, but also reconcile it with their new feminist learnings. Because despite what liberal feminism thought, the personal is political. 

Often, women have to face the decision of either completely giving up their desire for a relationship and intimacy, or sacrifice and be with men that will never understand them. Some find a way out. Feminism can be a way for one to discover the compulsory heterosexuality affecting them and explore their sexuality. It might feel liberating to become aware of relations with women as a conceivable option, freeing yourself from the chains of heteronormativity.

Friendships with men are frankly exhausting. A woman who wants to be friends with a man has to face mansplaining, performing emotional labour for nothing in return, and being friends with someone who doesn’t understand her, doesn’t value her as a human being and at worst, possibly are even only friends with her because he wants to have sex with her.

Audre Lorde, in "The Master's Tools Never Dismantle The Master's House" talks about the dark side of the emotional labour women, especially black women, are made to perform in educating others: "women of today are still being called upon to stretch across the gap of male ignorance and to educate men as to our existence and our needs. This is an old and primary tool of all oppressors to keep the oppressed occupied with the master's concerns." If a man expects you to educate him and you oblige, perhaps as community service for the girls that will date him in the future!, you are sacrificing energy you will never get back. Moreover, by the time you have molded him into the man he is sure he can be, he has moved onto the next person, like a parasite that feeds on the emotional labour that women perform for him.

With all this said, would anyone exchange this feminist consciousness for their old worldview? Not a chance. According to Bartky, though this consciousness entails recognizing oneself as a victim and living continuously exposed to injury, it also "is a joyous consciousness of one's own power, of the possibility of unprecedented personal growth and the release of energy long suppressed."

I do belive in the good in people and that men are able to see the ways in which patriarchy dehumanizes women and themselves also. However, I am not interested in the objections of "not all men". All men benefit from patriarchy no matter how nice they are. Will I be friends with men, men who expect me to spend my valuable time and energy educating them to mold them into the nice men that I want to believe they could be? I think my energies would be better spent elsewhere.


Essays mentioned (check them out!):

Sandra Bartky, Toward a Phenomenology of Feminist Consciousness

Audre Lorde, The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle The Master's House