Welcome to the start of another bookish week, my bookish divas and divos. I hope you had the opportunity to shop at your favorite indie bookstore this past Saturday during Independent Bookstore Day and grab a few good books. Sadly, rainy weather and seasonal allergy-induced migraine headaches kept me indoors for much of the weekend. Of all the things I can call myself, book diva is perhaps one of my favorites. We all have several labels we don throughout our lives: child, sibling, graduate, spouse, parent, etc. But there are many others that we may not give much thought to such as advocate, feminists, or ally. Today, I’m pleased to welcome Chiuba E. Obele, author of The Orientation of Dylan Woodger, who’ll be discussing the permissibility of some labels. Thank you, Mr. Obele, for joining us today and sharing your thoughts on this subject, the blog is now all yours.
Is it right for male authors to call ourselves “feminists?”
by Chiuba E Obele
As a man, I’ve always had an interest in feminism. In fact, learning more about feminism was one of the most enjoyable parts of writing The Orientation of Dylan Woodger. That writing took me on a journey. To prepare myself for this novel, I studied feminist texts and listened to survivors talk about their struggles with sexual assault. This learning not only guided my writing; it also transformed me. Now more than ever, I feel compassion for women, and as an author, I want to do my part to support them. They deserve to be treated as equals, given equal opportunities, and have rights over their own bodies. But in recent days, I’ve had to ask myself a difficult question: Is it right for male authors (like myself) who support the views of feminists and want to use our work to raise awareness, to label ourselves as feminists?
In the book, Feminism is for Everybody, bell hooks defines feminism as “a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression,” while the Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of sexual equality.” Feminist literature, as the name suggests, is based on the principles of feminism, and refers to any literary work that centers on the struggle for gender equality. But can only women be feminists? Or are males considered? And what about feminist novels? Can a man a write a feminist novel? Not according to author Paraic O’Donnell. He writes:
“Accepting the principles of feminism is a matter of simple justice…Still, no matter what a man believes, it’s my view that he has no business calling himself a feminist, since to do so is to claim for himself a lived experience he has never known and a struggle in which he has had no part. In the same way, a man cannot claim to have written a feminist novel[.]”
According to O’Donnell, feminism must always be led by women, just as the fight for racial equality must be led by those who are most affected by racism. But is it really as straightforward as this? Should pro-feminist men be restricted to the sidelines as allies in the struggle for gender equality, but disqualified from full membership by virtue of their privileged position? Or can any man who supports the idea of women’s liberation call himself a feminist?
Today, there’s an ongoing debate over men and their entitlement to call themselves feminists, with some arguing that since feminism is a movement founded by women for the advancement of women, men have no right to lay claim to the label. Similarly in the art context, there are some who believe feminist literature can only be written by women. But I disagree. As I see it, one does not have to be born with a particular gender or identify as a particular gender, to be an advocate for feminism. Feminism isn’t a female-only club. From Frederick Douglass and John Stuart Mill to today’s scholars, there are plenty of men who, despite their flaws, have sought to advance women’s liberation. As Noah Berlatsky of The Atlantic writes, “Male feminists are neither new nor perfect, but they make important contributions to the advancement of women.”
Similarly, I believe that men are capable of writing feminist literature. Restricting feminist literature to only female authors means that we are excluding men from the conversation around gender equality. Gender should be no barrier to active participation in feminist literature. If we believe that feminist literature is about confronting the assumptions that hold women back within our society and presenting stories that defend not only their abilities, but also their equality, then anyone can write literature from a feminist viewpoint. In fact, it is crucial that more men do so.
Having said all that, I understand why some women have misgivings about men’s involvement in feminism. Many men have tried to take over women’s spaces, claiming to be better feminists than women, and failing to recognize or challenge their own sexist behavior. And this raises an important point: if you’re a man and you want to call yourself a feminist, always remember that it’s a label you must earn. Earning that label isn’t even half of the work; what really matters is how you act. In feminist spaces, it’s best for men to take the backseat and actively listen to women’s concerns while thinking of meaningful ways to challenge their own privilege and lend support. As Noah Berlatsky points out, pro-feminist men are not perfect, but that doesn’t mean that we should give up trying to do better. The same is true for male authors like myself.♦
The Orientation of Dylan Woodger
by Chiuba E Obele
April 18 – May 13, 2022 Virtual Book Tour
Solving mysteries is never easy. Dealing with an infuriated mob boss and acute amnesia only makes it worse.
Dylan Woodger is a college student who is captured and tortured by the mafia. After amnesia obscures the last three years of his life, Dylan learns that he has stolen three million dollars from a ruthless mafia boss. When, how, and why – he doesn’t remember. But someone betrayed him and gave him a drug that erased his memory. He was then given over to be tortured.
Determined to recover his memory, Dylan begins delving into the events of the past. As he struggles to put the pieces of his past back together, Dylan finds himself wrapped up in a path of vengeance made even more perilous by the presence of assassins, gangsters, and detectives. But as each new piece of the puzzle falls into place, Dylan realizes that no one is who they seem, especially himself. He now has links to rapists, white supremacists, and murders. People who claim to be his friends are hiding secrets from him. And his girlfriend is beautiful, but that’s all he knows about her. Who are these people? And who is Dylan? Even he doesn’t know!
The Orientation of Dylan Woodger is the story of a young man who is torn between his capacity to do evil and his desire to do what’s right. This book explores racism and feminism, and addresses controversial topics such as male rape, hate crimes, and misogyny toward women. The characters are disturbing, but the book aspires to be hopeful, as these characters ultimately succeed in finding some measure of humanity.
There are so many unanswered questions . . . But first, Dylan must survive the torture.
CHIUBA EUGENE OBELE is a poet, writer, and author of The Orientation of Dylan Woodger: A Central New York Crime Story. He can usually be found reading a book, and that book will more likely than not be a crime fiction novel. Chiuba lives and works out of his home in Boston, Massachusetts. When not absorbed in the latest page-turner, Chiuba enjoys spending his summers vacationing with his parents, siblings, and nieces and nephews.
Catch Up With Chiuba E Obele:
Twitter – @ChiubaE
Facebook – @chiubaobele7
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