Question from a reader:

“I recently had a rather disastrous experience where I attempted to engage a group of feminists in an amicable discussion, where I tried to present a male perspective on the issues they were raising, in the hopes that they would either point out where I was mistaken, or take the perspective I presented into consideration. I was rather violently accused of attempting to tell women how to be feminists, and that I was a horrible sexist monster.

Maybe my approach was not proper, or maybe they were simply jerks. But even going in I understood that this was a sensitive issue and tried to brooch it carefully. I would really appreciate it if you, a person I’ve come to look up to, and a feminist, would make a post about how a man should go about participating in the discussion, or if we should even try.”

First, a disclaimer: I am but one feminist, and a “new one” at that. Not all feminists may agree with me, but this disclaimer fits perfectly with the advice I’m about to give:

Listen.

This may seem like obvious advice, but a lot of men fail at it. They may think they’re listening, but in reality they’re not. Hearing sound and not interrupting women is a good first step, but is still a lot different from actively trying to understand what they’re saying.

Now, I’m not trying to point the blame finger at men. Plenty of men are good feminists, and plenty more genuinely try to understand. It’s just human nature to go into these sorts of situations on the defensive. I know when I’m called out for saying something sexist or racist, my first instinct is to defend myself. But more often than not, when I step back and calmly think about the situation for a while, I realize I was in the wrong.

And that’s hard to admit. When we see ourselves doing something that doesn’t fit in with our perception of ourselves, we generate cognitive dissonance. “I’m not sexist, so of course I didn’t say something sexist!” And that’s an uncomfortable feeling. But if men want to participate in feminism, that’s something you’ll have to get used to in the beginning. You’ll be amazed how many little sexist things you unconsciously have picked up from society, and it can be rough getting over that at first.

Now, to listen, you have to have someone to listen to. I sprinkle my blog with feminist issues, but like I said, I’m no expert. My blog is probably “Feminism Lite” for you guys – a good start, but just the appetizer. My advice is to lurk around feminist blogs.

This is exactly what I did when I first started getting into feminism. Most importantly, don’t stop reading a blog just because they write one post you disagree with. Or many posts you disagree with. The first time you hear an argument, you may be too defensive to be able to honestly assess it. Sometimes I had to hear an idea many times from multiple angles from multiple people applied to multiple situations before I really understood the logic.

And a key word here is lurk. Assume that while you are still a feminism n00b, you are going to say some pretty n00bly things that you will later be embarrassed by. In a perfect world feminists would swoop down, coddle you, and inform you about all things feminist. In the real world, it gets real fucking annoying after a while. Imagine how you feel when some theist rehashes the same ol’ creationist argument that has already been debunked a thousand times. You get pretty annoyed, right? And most people will attack and tease them, rather than reply thoughtfully.

The same thing is true of a lot of feminists. We get tired of hearing the same old bullshit from the patriarchy, so some of us are on short fuses. So read a lot, and comment rarely at first. Increase your comments as you increase your understanding. If you do comment and think you’re about to say something stupid, you probably are. And if you still feel compelled to post that, add disclaimers and actually try to be nice about it. Misguided But Nice Dude will be better received than Pompous Jackass.

Here are some blogs dealing with feminism I enjoy, with asterisk indicating ones that also frequently talk about science or atheism. I still don’t agree with everything they say, but again, it’s a learning experience, and not just about mindlessly agreeing with everyone:

Evil Slutopia
The Fat One in the Middle *
Female Science Professor *
Feministe
Feminisnt (NSFW)
Geek Feminism Blog *
Greta Christina’s Blog *
Pandagon *
Violet Blue (NSFW)
Womanist Musings

And since this is all about listening… Ladies, what advice would you give men on how to approach and participate in feminism? Specific tips? Blogs to recommend?

This is post 28 of 49 of Blogathon. Pledge a donation to the Secular Student Alliance here.