Finding an ally: Dr. Matthew Ezzell

If you find yourself at James Madison University, and happen by some chance to come across the Sociology Department, you may have the chance to meet Professor Matthew Ezzell. The Professor started his education at UNC-Chapel Hill and acquired his BA in Women’s Studies, continued as UNC-Chapel Hill and attained his Master’s and PhD in Sociology. The Professor teaches multiple courses that involve women’s issues and gender, has conducted research of/for Feminist’s Theory and Race/Class/Gender inequality, and has multiple publications in the past 20 years of gender inequalities and feminist studies.

Ezzell is a very respected and a looked up to individual, so let’s hear his viewpoint through these questions and interview of feminism.

Q: Would you consider yourself a feminist, and what is your definition of a feminist?

E: I’ve sometimes described myself as a (pro)feminist sociologist, parenthetically pointing to this struggle and the implications of the struggle. However, regardless of whether I see myself as “a feminist” or as “a pro-feminist,” I have committed my life to acting as an ally and accomplice to the intersectional feminist movement for sexual and gender justice, and I can see clearly the ways that my own life and my own lived realities are made better at every level because of feminism. Importantly, I do see “feminist” and “accomplice” as things that you do, not as identities that you claim or things that you are – you have to keep showing up and doing the work, at all levels of your life, and you have to be accountable to the movement and to the people within it. It has to be conscious, intentional, and active.

So, how do I define feminism? As I said, I see it as an action, as a process, as a way of doing in the world. Importantly, it is also an intersectional movement for liberation, a movement dedicated to dismantling patriarchy and all forms of interlocking oppression (for example: white supremacy, capitalism, imperialism, etc.). I often think about the work of Black feminist theorist bell hooks when I try to define feminism. She wrote, and I’m paraphrasing here, that to be feminist in any authentic sense of the term is to want for all people to live free from sexist role patterns, domination, and oppression.  

Q: When did you start to call yourself a feminist?

E: I didn’t seriously consider my own relationship to feminism until I was an undergraduate student, myself. I was bouncing around trying to find a major, and I had signed up for Business Accounting for the fall semester of my sophomore year on the advice of my father (he’s an accountant). I went to the first day of class, and then promptly dropped the class from my schedule. I needed a replacement class [and found a woman’s and gendered studies class that fit into my mornings].

I signed up for it, and it changed my life. I learned more about myself as a man in this culture than I did about “women.” I was given a vocabulary to put words to things I had always questioned, and I was given a frame to make sense of the realities of the ways that I am privileged as a man. Importantly, I also learned to shut up and listen, not only in class but also to the women in my life. As I started to listen more, I started learning and, more importantly, unlearning faster. I realized that every woman I loved was a survivor of violence at the hands of a man in some way, and I realized two important things: (1) that as a beneficiary of the unearned advantages that come from the oppression of women, I have an ethical responsibility to be part of the solution; and (2) that getting involved in feminism was about saving myself and attempting to (re)claim my own humanity. Feminism doesn’t need “male saviors” or “white knights.” That’s the wrong reason to get involved. You should get involved because it’s always the right thing to do to stand on the side of justice, but also because you have a personal stake in dismantling oppressive systems.

Now, these are just 2 of the 6 questions asked during the interview, and shortened quoted responses at that. If you find yourself to be interested in Professor Matthew Ezzell’s viewpoint on feminism, I urge you to read the whole interview that will be linked below.

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