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White Privilege Awareness Week: Relationship With My Own Maleness by Tom Kelly

“Men need feminist thinking.”  bell hooks*

Tom Kelly

Almost 20 years ago I heard bell hooks for the first time and her recent death just two months ago reminded me how much her words simultaneously shook and hugged me (even in an auditorium her words never felt like a lecture). I am Tom Kelly, recently independent consultant evaluator, AEA member since 2000, AEA board member, 57yo, gay, married, white…and (cis) male.  

Our work in evaluation has been appropriately and necessarily focused on assessing and addressing white supremacy and white dominance in evaluation – how we work and what work we do. But I have to confess that as much as I have done more intentional work on myself to be actively and constructively anti-colonial and antiracist, I have not spent enough time self-assessing not just my identity and role as a white person (and white evaluator) but also my identity (and responsibility) as a white male. As a gay man with many female friends and colleagues (and a fairly weak belief in my own masculinity), I admit it was probably easier to side-step the issue because I did not identify or align with “those” hetero male oppressors. I began my evaluation career in a women-owned consulting firm mentored and trained by women evaluators. And as the younger (usually only) male in mostly female work teams, I did not spend much time considering any male privilege I may have had or accessed.

But as I aged and grayed (see above), it became increasingly noticeable that our male-dominated evaluation profession and culture offered this white male evaluator more access, more influence, more opportunity, more published words, more space, more invitations, more resources, more salary, more autonomy, and more freedom to fail than my female colleagues – often disproportionate to my actual skills and experience at the time. And it is not only more obvious but even more angering to me that my women colleagues (cis and trans…and especially women of color) are still having to invest more effort and advocacy for resources, access, and influence in our profession, and especially to be recognized for their knowledge and contributions. (And not always obvious to me – with generous colleagues educating me with more grace on their part than I deserve).

Noticing and acknowledging is not enough. I know I have to turn these words into acts not just as a white co-conspirator but a male one – especially with other men. I do think it is time for me in my whiteness and maleness to share and even give up some of this accumulated privilege and shut up and listen more, step to the side (not step back) more, follow more, make more room, encourage and support more, and work with and bring along more men and women committed to dismantling the structural racism and patriarchy that limit our effectiveness as truth-seekers.

Rad Resources

bell hooks at The New School (Photo: Spencer Kohn, 2013)

AEA’s Feminist Issues in Evaluation TIG and the Gender and Evaluation Community focus me on what I have to un-train and re-train in my practice. Scene On Radio’s series “Men” helped me examine my own role and responsibilities in patriarchy, male supremacy, sexism, and oppression (following their excellent “Seeing White” on whiteness, race, and racism). Chris Crass’ Against Patriarchy: Tools for Men to Further Feminist Revolution gave me concrete knowledge and skills to apply. And I learn and follow the examples of thoughtful men like (recently elected AEA board member) Tom Archibald holding himself publicly accountable in Anti-Racist #Eval (etc.) Work for White Folks Like Me . And I will miss the hugs and shakes from bell hooks.

*“What the world needs now is liberated men…men who are ’empathetic and strong, autonomous and connected, responsible to self, to family and friends, to society, and capable of understanding how those responsibilities are, ultimately, inseparable.’ Men need feminist thinking. It is the theory that supports their spiritual evolution and their shift away from the patriarchal model. Patriarchy is destroying the well-being of men, taking their lives daily.”

bell hooks, The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love

March 2022 is Women’s History Month and the 50th Anniversary of Title IX.

The American Evaluation Association is hosting White Privilege Week with some of our colleagues who are working on undoing internalized white supremacy. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this AEA365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the AEA365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an AEA365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to AEA365@eval.org. AEA365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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