A fundamental goal of male feminism should be to facilitate the process of men unbecoming men, the process of men unlearning the patriarchal ways in which they have learned to become men. Ever since Simone de Beauvior articulated the idea that women are not born women, but rather become women, feminists have been grap­pling with ways to strip the category "women" of its patriarchal ideo­logical trappings, to find the pre – (or post-) socially constructed, pre – (or post-) patriarchal woman, the woman who has not been, as Tania Modleski puts it, "saturate[d]" . . . with [her] sex.43 Significantly, de Beauvior is not suggesting that, outside of patriarchy, there is some true female essence—the "real woman." (It might not even be mean­ingful to refer to the woman who has not been saturated with her sex as a "woman.") Her point is rather that people who are body-coded female cannot experience their personhood outside of the social con­struction of gender, and the social construction of gender for women is agency-denying and subordinating.

Of course, gender for men is also socially constructed. One must learn to be a "man" in this society, precisely because "manhood" is a socially produced category.44 Manhood is a performance. A script. It is accomplished and re-enacted in everyday relationships. Yet, men have been much less inclined to theorize about the sex/gender cate­gory we inhabit, reproduce, and legitimize, much less inclined to the­orize about the constructability and contingency of the social mean­ings associated with being "men," and much less inclined to search for, or even imagine, the pre (or post-) patriarchal man, the man who is not saturated with his sex. We (men) sometimes theorize about gen­der inequality, but rarely about gender privilege, as though our privi­leges as men were not politically up for grabs, as though they were social givens—inevitably "just there."

I think it is important for men to challenge the social construction of gender employing our privileged experiences as men as a starting point. These contestations should not displace or replace victim-cen­tered or bottom-up accounts of sexism. That is to say, men’s articula­tion of the ways in which they are the beneficiaries of patriarchy should not be a substitute for women’s articulations of the ways in which they are the victims of patriarchy. Both narratives need to be told. The telling of both narratives gives content to patriarchy and helps to make clear that patriarchy is bi-directional: Patriarchy gives to men what it takes away from women; the disempowerment of women is achieved through the empowerment of men.45 Patriarchy effectuates and maintains this relational difference. The social con­struction of women as the second sex requires the social construction of men46 as the first.

Heterosexism, too, effectuates and maintains a relational differ­ence that is based on power. There is no disadvantage without a cor­responding advantage, no marginalized group without the empow­ered, no subordinate identity without a dominant identity. Power and privilege are relational, so, too, are our identities. What "heterosex­ism takes away from lesbians and gays. . . it gives to straight men and women."47 The normalization of heterosexuality is only achieved through the "abnormalization" of homosexuality.

Yet, rarely do heterosexuals, especially heterosexual men, theo­rize about their identities as heterosexual, about their sexual identity privilege. Indeed, even pro-gay rights heterosexuals conceive of sex­ual identity as something that other people have, something that dis­advantages other people, rather than something that heterosexuals have which advantages them.

Nor should male heterosexual articulations of gender and sexual identity privilege function to legitimize otherwise "untrustworthy" and "self-interested" accounts of discrimination by straight women and lesbians and gays. There is a tendency on the part of dominant groups (e. g., males and heterosexuals) to discount the experiences of subordinate groups (e. g., straight women and lesbians and gays) un­less those experiences are authenticated or legitimized by a member of the dominant group. It is one thing for me, a Black man, to say I was discriminated against in a particular social setting; it is quite an­other for my white colleague to say I was discriminated against in that same social setting. My telling of the story is suspect because I am Black. My white colleague’s telling of the story is less suspect be­cause he is white. Male heterosexuals who participate in discourses on gender and sexuality should avoid creating the (mis)impression that, because they are outsiders to the subordinating effects of patri­archy and heterosexism, their critiques of patriarchy and/or hetero­sexism are more valid than the critiques offered by lesbians, straight women, and gay men.