This week, the ShoutOut! JMU bloggers set out to understand the differing ways in which feminism is interpreted on an individual basis. While feminism as a whole aims to put an end to patriarchy and sexism, individual identities often influence its meaning. All individuals face different life experiences due to their identities and place in society. Thus, there are many unique perspectives on feminism and its role in our culture, as well as individuals’ roles within the movement. This idea is often referred to as intersectionality – meaning, all identities overlap and intersect, and therefore one identity cannot be understood without examining the other.
I was fortunate enough to meet with our very own Dr. Matthew Ezzell this week, who shared his insights on being a male feminist activist, as well as his experiences as a Sociology and Women’s and Gender Studies professor at JMU.
Matt earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in Women’s Studies and his PhD in Sociology with a focus on symbolic interactionism, the sociology of race/class/gender inequality and feminist sociology from UNC-Chapel Hill. He began teaching at JMU in 2009, and he currently teaches microsociology, the development of sociological thought and method, sociology of gender, sociology of race/ethnicity, and the sociology senior seminar on interpersonal violence.
Along with being a fantastic professor, Matt is also actively fighting gender inequality through feminist activism as well as his research on identity and inequality. If you have not been lucky enough to take a course with Matt throughout your time here at JMU, be sure to add that to your JMU bucket list – it might just be your favorite class you’ve ever taken.
I was excited to learn about Matt’s perspectives regarding feminism, as well as his background and how he got into this field of study. Without further adieu, here is what we discussed:
Q: What does feminism mean to you?
While pondering this question, Matt thought about a few of his favorite bumper stickers. Feminism is, “the radical notion that women are people.” Matt also referenced a bell hooks quote:
“To be feminist in any authentic sense of the term is to want all people, male and female, liberation from sexist role patterns, domination, and oppression.”
Feminism is necessarily intersectional. Feminism is not just something you are; it is something you do. It is a movement for justice.
Q: Does being a male influence your definition of feminism?
For Matt, being a male does not change his definition of feminism. However, it does influence his role within the movement.
“Feminism is a movement that was created by women, but it is not just a movement of women. Men and women are both part of patriarchy, and therefore they must both be part of the destruction of it.”
As a male in our culture, it is vital to be self-reflective of the privilege one is granted through being a member of the dominant identity. This privilege comes with a responsibility to work to eradicate the very systems that confer it. Matt explained,
“Sometimes, that means shutting up and listening, and other times, that means challenging myself to stand up and speak out about practicality with other men.”
Q: What advice do you have for men regarding feminism?
First and most importantly: acknowledge that patriarchy is real and that male privilege is there. Then, shut up and listen – but really, recognize the value of listening to and believing women about their lived experiences of being a woman in the context of sexism.
“As part of our conditioning to be men we are given a sense of entitlement that we have to compensate for. We can do this by not assuming that we understand everything that is going on. Men are often conditioned to man-splain, and to trust themselves and believe themselves.”
Men must think seriously about their role in perpetuating gender inequality. Men must recognize the ways that inequality is reinforced through acting as well as not acting. All in all, men must realize how much they have to gain from feminism.
Q: How did you become interested in feminism?
A mixture of factors lead to Matt’s interest and involvement in this field, ranging from his early childhood into his college experiences. Matt grew up seeing his sister’s experiences of sexist oppression – and he realized that his experiences of the world were different from hers, due to the existence of gender inequality.
Both his mother and sister pursued academic study within women’s and gender studies and feminism. Matt stumbled into a women’s and gender studies course as a sophomore at UNC and realized he had more to learn about himself as a man than he ever thought he did. Matt discovered a strong passion for the academic study of inequality and for the activist efforts to change it.
Q: What do you enjoy most about teaching women’s and gender studies courses?
Matt enjoys the opportunity to work with students on the critical interrogation of issues that matter. By questioning patterns that we take for granted, students can place their individual struggles into a structural context. Then, students can become aware of their own power as social agents that can affect the world around them.
Thank you Matt, for sharing your personal insights and experiences, and for working to make JMU and the world a better place! Readers, what does feminism mean to you? How do your identities influence your role within the movement?