Feminists are very well acquainted with how men's possession of credibility plays out to our detriment in practically every corner of patriarchal society. We discuss how a woman's word is only half as valuable as a man's testimony under Islamic Sharia law and in the American news media. We know that male credibility has a lot to do with why "there is no female Mozart," why only two Fortune 500 companies have female CEOs, and why it's virtually impossible to make a living as a female pro athlete. And we need not deal with extreme examples to clearly see our lack of credibility; we have direct personal experience with it, since we are not believed when we describe how we have been abused, and we are perceived as less career-competent than men. When we say we were raped, our words have little force; few assume it happened solely because we said it did. Virtually all of us have been affected by work and wage issues and/or abuse, so we're well aware of our untrustworthiness. We feel this stuff pretty deeply; it's humiliating to not even be considered an expert about one's own life.
So we know the problem.
But when we want to be taken seriously, we go to men. We're told over and over that any action that doesn't involve men is radicalism, is separatism, is fringe. For credibility, for legitimacy, for mainstream appeal, we need men. Men don't need us in order to be The Establishment (see: Augusta National), but we need them in order to become citizens of the countries in which we live.
It's an understandable impulse on our part, but it of course doesn't make us less indebted to men's good graces; when men legitimize feminist endeavors, we're merely switching umbrellas. When we shore up our credibility by forming alliances with men, we quickly become trapped in a relationship in which we have lost the power to steer our joint footsteps.
Men are courted into feminism (but as soon as the champagne and flowers dry up, the romance is dead, and the little pumpkins turn into postpatriarchal humanists). In both formal and informal feminist groups, men tend to enter as journeymen (if not experts), seldom needing to establish their credibility by licking envelopes for a few years before jumping into meatier roles. While feminist women lobby, form alliances, politic, and elect female leadership, men are appointed; their mere presence is so noticed and appreciated that there's no need to garner a constituency.
Their male base-credibility is further boosted by their tendency to be less personal and emotional about women's rights than women often are. In addition, there is a common perception that women become feminists because we're crackpot powermongering reactionaries, while men become feminists when they're selfless enough to put values like reason and equality ahead of their own best interests (despite the fact that as we've discussed, men's "feminist" motives are often extremely self-serving).
So what do we do about it? Being taken seriously does matter to us. We can form our own communities and take each other seriously, and that helps a lot in terms of what we can accomplish without distraction, and how we feel about it and ourselves. But as men are quick to remind us, in order to achieve our goal of liberation, we have to have a greater influence in the world (available only through them, of course!), a louder voice. And they tell us, and it seems to make sense, that we need men to model good behavior for boys, since boys won't listen to us, and so our movement must go out of its way to court men for their credibility.
I don't know what the answer is, or how to end this, other than I'm (personally, professionally, politically) sick of the credibility gap but unsure of its remedy. And I'd like to discuss how feminist men leverage their legitimacy against our desire for any at all, in order to get what they want to get out of our movement.