The problem with pro-feminist men

Don’t get me wrong, I love third wave feminism, but like every movement, it has its ups and downs. Take for example the case of young, attractive male Hollywood actor, Ryan Gosling. It’s not often you hear Hollywood heart throbs, especially of the male persuasion, utter the words ‘It’s misogynistic in nature to try and control a woman’s sexual presentation of self.’ This alone should be celebrated, and it is.

Gosling was speaking out in response to the Motion Picture Assosication of America, the organisation responsible for rating US films, branding his new film Blue Valentine an x rated  NC-17. The MPAA have made this decision because of a scene that depicts Gosling performing oral sex on the film’s female lead, Michelle Williams. The couple in the film are in a relationship, and the sex act is consensual.  This rating, from the same organisation that has given less adult themed ratings to films that include women being raped by mutants and lizard men, as well as suffering sexual harassment and violence.

In regards to this, Gosling hits the nail on the head:

‘You have to question a cinematic culture which preaches artistic expression, and yet would support a decision that is clearly a product of a patriarchy-dominant society, which tries to control how women are depicted on screen. The MPAA is okay supporting scenes that portray women in scenarios of sexual torture and violence for entertainment purposes, but they are trying to force us to look away from a scene that shows a woman in a sexual scenario, which is both complicit and complex. It’s misogynistic in nature to try and control a woman’s sexual presentation of self. I consider this an issue that is bigger than this film.’

In theory, I should be happy- and I am to an extent, I think it’s brilliant that he’s highlighted the issue. But in practice, I’m annoyed- and not just because I’m a fun hating feminazi.

I’m annoyed because Michelle Williams said almost exactly the same thing, and the media didn’t see fit to mention this.

The just as astute Williams said:
‘Mainstream films often depict sex and violence in a manner that is disturbing and very far from reality. Yet, the MPAA regularly awards these films with a more audience friendly rating, enabling our culture’s desensitization to violence, rape, torture and brutality. Our film does not depict any of these attributes. It’s simply a candid look at the difficulties couples face in sustaining their relationships over time. Blue Valentine opens a door for couples to have a dialogue about the everyday realities of many relationships.’

Irritatingly, Williams’ quote is often far down in any related article, shovelled in under a headline that only mentions Gosling’s objection, therefore implying that the sentiment holds more credibility if uttered by a man.

This is annoying.

In reaction to Gosling’s words, straight feminists across the blogosphere appeared to melt in pro-feminist man themed arousal. One comment on Jezebel’s article actually read ‘I want him so hard right now. We could re-enact that scene.’

Regardless of whether that comment was a joke or not, it isn’t cool. There’s a danger of undermining the message if we reduce our response to his words into ‘OMGGG I WANT HIM SO BAD’. Not to mention that feminism is about rejecting excessive objectification. I think Gosling is a great actor,  and I respect him even more so for expressing a distaste for blatant inequality, but just because we share the same views doesn’t mean I want him in my pants.

I’ll bet you anything that if Gosling’s words were uttered by a lesser liked, female Hollywood star such as Katherine Heigl (who’s comments on gender inequality in the past have earned her the title of the most hated woman in Hollywood), they would have been ignored or dismissed.

I couldn’t possibly say there’s a problem with pro-feminist men. In fact, the title of this post may seem a bit loaded. The problem is the media’s reaction to their opinions. If anything, we should be welcoming everyone into third wave feminism, regardless of gender. But we should be careful not to spark unwarranted hero-worship to these men who, are in actual fact, pointing out inequality and talking common sense. If we do, we’re at risk of leaving the women, like Michelle Williams, who are saying the exact same thing, by the wayside.

Write us your thoughts about this post. Be kind & Play nice.
  1. mkv says:

    I’m ashamed to say that after reading that Gosling quote on Jezebel, I too became weak at the knees. Damn lovely man syndrome! I think the primary reason with idealising men who share our opinions that usually it’s such a shock to find men who actually articulate such sentiments – and when they do, we can’t help but swoon. For instance, I can name several male celebrities who claim to be feminists, but female celebrities – not so much. We need to stop putting feminist men on a pedestal for sharing our opinions – after all, we are clearly the correct ones and we shouldn’t reward them for having intellect. Still adore Gosling though (but Michelle Williams too!)

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  2. I tend to think of his views as a pre-requisite rather than something special- call me naive, but I’d like to think every man thinks that way, and I’m still constantly shocked when men say that they don’t think sexism is a problem (misogyny never fails to surprise me). I do get where you’re coming from though, swooning is expected, and I wouldn’t want to chastise an woman who finds Gosling more attractive after his comments- they do make his image more appealing. But I stick by my guns in saying that a reaction limited to strong attraction doesn’t help the feminist cause.

    It’s worth questioning why we don’t hear that much of female celebs who’ve declared themselves feminists- it may be under reported. For example pop singer Marina and the Diamonds often tweets about it (http://twitter.com/#!/MarinasDiamonds/status/15940935416)but no one really makes that much of a deal.

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  3. Adam says:

    I agree with many of your points, but would it be fair to say that because a man gave a pro-feminist opinion it is more effective/controversial than a female’s opinion? I doubt that if it was just Michelle Williams stating the point rather than Ryan Gosling it would have been as well publicised. Now this may be due to the patriarchal, misogynistic society we live in, but I think that the more input men give, the less ‘controversial’ it would be to promote a feminist viewpoint. As you said yourself, Katherine Heigl has been voted ‘most hated woman in Hollywood’ for her pro-feminist stance. So in my opinion, bring on more male opinion to further the cause!

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  4. I was pleased when I read about Gosling’s response to the MPAA, on a personal level I think he’s a great actor and of course I thought it was an important statement for an American heart-throb to make. I do agree with your point that Williams’ statement should have received the same amount of media coverage. However, I think her statement fell at the wayside because Gosling is the bigger star and that’s not my personal opinion, he’s won 14 awards in his career including Teen Choice and MTV Movie Awards. You don’t usually see men in the entertainment industry who appeal to that young age group of teen voters speaking out about feminist or socialist issues. As for Williams, she’s won exactly half as many awards as Gosling so far and has yet to take a leading role in an award winning film unlike Gosling who starred in The Notebook (2004). In essence I’m defending the journalists who rendered Gosling’s statement as more news-worthy, I don’t think it’s entirely a gender issue. It will be great to hear your thoughts on why Williams’ reaction would have aroused the same level of media interest.

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  5. mkv says:

    Also, I think that it’s also a lot easier for men to come out & state such opinions – as much as we’d like it not to be, there is still a huge stigma around women who declare themselves openly to be feminists – and for celebrity women, I imagine that the problem is even more so (here, I’m choosing to purposely ignore Sarah Palin’s claim that she is a feminist because I don’t feel like being angry right now).

    The whole issue around censorship around female pleasure is a really interesting one (if you haven’t seen it, I would strongly recommend This Film Is Not Yet Rated). Although it is annoying that Gosling’s quote is more buzz-worthy, in a way, I’m glad for anything that draws attention to how skewered the currently MPAA system is.

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  6. Chris says:

    Yeah your right not to put a pro-feminist men on a pedastal. After all a man who supports gender equality is only embracing ideas that everyone should be supporting.

    A man who speaks out against sexism, at risk to himself, should be respected for that. But no more than women who speak out, at risk to themselves.

    To bring a balance to this conversation. As a pro-feminist man I can find sexy when women speak with passion and intelligence about gender justice. (so long as they are not attacking all men) Christian women who campaign against sex trafficking are attractive to me.

    To an extent this is natural. Passion and assertiveness is attractive. Compassion is attractive. People sharing the same beliefs as yourself is attractive. But you shouldnt get carried away by this.

    Tactically pro-feminist men can be useful for the women’s movement. But they shouldnt take it over or define feminism for you. It is wrong that men’s opinion anything should be valued above women’s opinions. But it is how society is.

    Temptations for pro-feminist men include simply wanting to become woman pleasers, wanting to appear moral (self-righteousness) or use it as a pulling device.

    I’m pro-feminist because I support the cause and the God I serve cares about women. I don’t want to be put on a pedastal. I just want justice done.

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  7. @Adam- I don’t think feminism should be controversial in the first place, and the fact that some consider it to be is a massive part of the problem. I wrote about the stigma surrounding feminism a while back (http://renieddolodge.wordpress.com/2010/03/25/is-feminism-a-dirty-word/)
    But I do agree that we need more male voices to pluralise the debate – but not to make it ‘more effective’.

    @Christelle- I’m afraid I’m not too well versed on film culture, so thanks for pointing those facts out. I don’t know about news worthy, but women talking about feminism rarely hits the headlines with the same impact as men talking about feminism. It’s a massive shame and often feels like a vicious circle, especially when the cause is making so much progress.

    @Meg- Lol about Sarah Palin, she frustrates me too, and I’ve always wondered about who can set the bar in terms of who is a ‘real feminist’ and who isn’t- an we really exclude her? In fact, that might be worth a whole blog post of it’s own.

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  8. Tom says:

    There was more of a reaction to Gosling’s comments than Williams’ because of the news values involved – it’s much more rare for a man to say something like this than a woman isn’t it?

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  9. @Chris- I completely agree.

    @Tom- Maybe those news values should be questioned. So what if it’s rare? That just ends up valuing a man’s opinion over a woman’s.

    Just wanted to draw everyone’s attention to a film that got a lower rating from MPAA, The Hills Have Eyes II. It’s rated R.
    IMDB’s decsription says ‘a violent and lengthy rape scene takes place between a woman and one of the mutants (no nudity is shown).’
    Oh so that’s alright then, MPAA, rape only deserves an NC-17 rating if nudity is shown! Never mind if you can hear the woman screaming for her life, see the pain on her face and watch a lizard mutant man getting off on her forced submission, a ‘lengthy’ scene of a woman being violated and demeaned for entertainment… It’s all good as long as ‘no nudity is shown’.

    MPAA’s rating system can be found here – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motion_Picture_Association_of_America_film_rating_system

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  10. Tay says:

    As much as I don’t want to admit it but the words have more weight because he is a ‘young hollywood heartthrob’. This is a very rare thing, most actors aren’t willing to rock the Hollywood boat.

    If I were straight any man that holds that sort of ideal would peak my interest too to be fair, so I wouldn’t really criticize someone for a throwaway comment.

    I think it is a sad testament to our society where a movie with a consensual oral sex scene gets a higher rating, than one with a woman sawed in 1/2

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  11. sianushka says:

    as an aside, in the UK comedian and feminist david mitchell wrote an article in the guardian about how lap dancing should not be seen as an empowering form of exercise, when it relies on perpetuating the gestures and imagery of the sex industry. normally on the guardian if a woman writes about this she is subject to all sorts of abuse about being anti sex. this wasn’t the reaction to DM.

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  12. Tom says:

    I’m just saying that is why his comments were highlighted over Williams’, not that it’s right.

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  13. @Tay – It’s worth criticising, because feminists can’t campaign against extreme objectification (and I use the word ‘extreme’ because I am a straight woman and there are times when I want to be objectified!) and then do a u-turn when a good looking guy emulates their views. There’s got to be more of a reaction than just ‘OMG Ryan Gosling in my bed now’. The fact that his words hold more weight- well, blame that on the patriarchy! It’s absolutely shameful that women aren’t being taken seriously in this day and age.

    @Sianushka- Massive shame that when a man empathises with feminist views, it feels like bitter sweet success.

    @Tom – I agree, who dictates these new values anyway?

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  14. Tom says:

    I think it’s society in general – I mean, how many male feminists do you hear about? It’s rare, so deemed more newsworthy

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  15. Tay says:

    @Reni I understand what what you mean andI pretty much agree, whoever I am reticent to be ‘more feminist than thou’with some of the commenters whose sole response was to see Ryan Gosling in a sexual way. After all the core ideal in feminism has to be ‘treat others as you want to be treated’.

    I’d like to see his comments as a sign that men are starting to see what’s wrong with patriarchy [or as some see it kyriarchy] and that this will make women that maybe don’t see themselves as feminists, look into the issues he raised.

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  16. Tiffany says:

    I’d like to point out that there’s no such thing as a ‘pro-feminist man’ – you’re either a feminist or you’re not, defining male and female feminists as two separate groups only undermines the cause.

    As for the article and the prominence of Gosling’s statement over Williams’ – surely in part that’s down to Gosling’s Hollywood standing? He’s been nominated for an Oscar, on top of the credentials mentioned above. Williams is well known, but by no means comparable. I’m not sure that’s motivated ALL of the journalists to cover his quote rather than Williams’ – no doubt an underlying ounce of sexism is to blame – but it still stands as reasonable.

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  17. Tiffany says:

    @Tom

    It’s not right per se, but I think it makes his comment more important. No doubt Williams’ fans are all rational and intelligent people who can think for themselves. As some of the comments directed at Rosling confirm, his fanbase could do with a lesson in morality and equality.

    I wonder whether anyone would have blinked had two women made these comments, and one prioritised over the other. From a feminist’s perspective, this is only the same situation.

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  18. @Tiffany- I understand words are important but I don’t want to get bogged down in terminology… I suppose I could call myself a pro- feminist woman if I liked, as well as a feminist. The truth is, ‘pro- feminist’ and ‘problem’ provided some catchy title alliteration!
    Your points about Gosling’s acting merits have been touched upon earlier in the thread- like I replied earlier in the comments, I don’t really follow film so I didn’t actually know this, but it’s an important factor! I looked both comments by both actors, regardless of merit.
    Do you reckon the same story would have hit the headlines if it was two women who had said these comments, with one having won twice as many awards as the other?

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  19. Tiffany says:

    No, I don’t!

    Also in retrospect my comment sounds like I’m oblivious to the entire point of your post. What I mean in this case I think one oversight by the media (for promoting Gosling’s comment over Williams’) can be forgiven for all the good Gosling has done…

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  20. Chris says:

    I am very late to the “post a comment party” but I’m going to dive in anyway.

    As a “pro-feminist man” it’s hard to respond. After all, with the post titled as it is, I feel I should be running in fear. But I do feel that Gosling has done a good thing in raising this point (I also OBVIOUSLY feel Williams has done good as well, but it’s Gosling we’re discussing)

    Is it fair that Gosling be criticised (simply by the implications of the title) when, in fact, it is simply those reporting the story who have given him prominence. And if we were to criticise the media, well, we’d be here forever.

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  21. Hey Chris!
    Apologies if the title is a bit loaded- the alliteration opportunity was just too tempting. As I said in the post, the problem isn’t with pro-feminist men, or male feminists, or feminists who define as male, in voicing their anti- misogyny opinions, but rather the response to them. Whilst a positive response is great it often overshadows or even ignores the same things women have said about the issues in question. It would be nice if the women who said the same things received the same level of praise. Female feminists campaign for liberation but when a male voice steps into the fore and expresses the same views, his voice is valued more than the female. The paradox of patriarchy 🙁

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  22. moviegeek says:

    I saw “Blue Valentine” the other day and loved it. The two performances are truly wonderful and they deserve an Oscar!!
    I really don’t understand the reason behind the NC17 rating…
    I really don’t…

    My review:
    http://wp.me/p19wJ2-5f

    Reply
  23. Tom says:

    I think it’s important to show that it’s not just women who express views like this – you’d be excused for thinking that few men shared these views from the media. This is precisely why the news values dictate why his comments appear higher up in the article than Williams’ – it’s not common.

    Reply
  24. danae says:

    fair point, Williams’ opinion was not heard and it should have been, but really I find it a bit over the top the criticism on the response on Gosling.

    We need men actively taking a pro feminist stance, talking about their values and communicating their beliefs in society, and we especially men who are perceived as role models. There is no need to be competitive with them.

    Their voice has a different impact on the younger generations of men just like a female voice has a very deep meaning for the young generations of women.

    I dont know where you live but as Tom says its not common to find men like that.

    while I totally agree that its a paradox a man’s pro feminism view to receive more attention than a female feminism I also think that we as women feminists we also need to pay attention not to appear as attacking to men because that often happens more overtly or more subtly. I find it particularly sad . it is more about embracing one an other in that fight.

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