In the last installment of Feminism 101, I wrote about iconic black feminists whose existence puts the lie to the idea that feminism is only for white women. Today, I’d like to talk about feminist men. Yes, I said feminist men. Too many people think this idea is incongruous–that feminism at its core is anti-man and so the idea of a man embracing feminist movements is absurd. In truth, feminism is no more anti-man than anti-racism is anti-white people. The foundation of both these movements is the idea of equality. The enemy of both is systemic oppression.
The Finally, a Feminism 101 Blog offers a useful definition for feminism:
Society deals with gender in a way that, on balance, harms women.
This is a problem that must be corrected.
Any man with a mother, sister, wife, daughter–a woman whom he loves–should be concerned about this. And It’s important to note, women aren’t the only ones harmed by the way society treats gender; men, who must perform a sort of masculinity that is far from one-size-fits-all, are harmed, too. Men can find freedom in dismantling patriarchy.
Many men are hesitant to claim the feminist label. In fact, doing so is, in itself, a challenge to traditional masculinity. Real men dominate unapologetically, so it is believed. But other men, proudly wear the feminist label. When I heard my husband tell his son “I am a feminist and you should be, too” I was reminded all over again why I am so lucky to have found such a brave and thoughtful man.
My husband’s pronouncement made me wonder what motivates some men to wade through their own privilege and society’s rules of manhood to embrace feminism.
In recent months, two black, male writers have written eloquently about their feminism:
Like most guys, I had bought into the stereotype that all feminists were white, lesbian, unattractive male bashers who hated all men. But after reading the work of these black feminists, I realized that this was far from the truth. After digging into their work, I came to really respect the intelligence, courage and honesty of these women.
Feminists did not hate men. In fact, they loved men. But just as my father had silenced my mother during their arguments to avoid hearing her gripes, men silenced feminists by belittling them in order to dodge hearing the truth about who we are.
I learned that feminists offered an important critique about a male-dominated society that routinely, and globally, treated women like second-class citizens. They spoke the truth, and even though I was a man, their truth spoke to me. Through feminism, I developed a language that helped me better articulate things that I had experienced growing up as a male.
Feminist writings about patriarchy, racism, capitalism and structural sexism resonated with me because I had witnessed firsthand the kind of male dominance they challenged. I saw it as a child in my home and perpetuated it as an adult. Their analysis of male culture and male behavior helped me put my father’s patriarchy into a much larger social context, and also helped me understand myself better.
I decided that I loved feminists and embraced feminism. Not only does feminism give woman a voice, but it also clears the way for men to free themselves from the stranglehold of traditional masculinity. When we hurt the women in our lives, we hurt ourselves, and we hurt our community, too.
I remember my mom cautioned both my twin sister and me as teenagers to be on point, but there was a different shading to the warnings she gave my sister. They were: Don’t leave your drink unattended. Make sure your girls know where you are. My sister, it was assumed, was going to have someone say some slick shit to her, to hop in her personal space, to put their hands on her as she passed. The company of a friend wasn’t going to stop it. Nothing was. She was going to bear the responsibility for these transgressions when they inevitably happened. Others would have said my sister wasn’t cautious enough, or asked her what she was wearing, or why she was where she was. The response would always be to ascertain what she did wrong, how she should have known better, how she got caught slipping.
Our experiences were subtly, profoundly different, but they were mundane, and their ordinariness belied their injustice. To grow up like this meant developing a certain resignation about the specter of violence, and often — perversely — feeling personally responsible when something ugly happened. But I didn’t have a way to think about these things until I learned about feminism. The first time I heard the term “sexual terrorism,” then, I finally had a name to something I’d always fundamentally known. The great irony was that I was having these realizations and entertaining these conversations for the first time on a suburban college campus where I actually felt completely safe.
Earlier this week, I also reached out to my social network to ask some men why they are self-identified feminists. The response was moving:
Jason said, “I’m a multiracial man of color and a SAHD to two multiethnic daughters. All systems of oppression are interconnected and to fight one you must fight them all. For my partner, my daughters, for all my communities, how can I not be a feminist?”
Paul said, “I loved my late mother, grandmothers and great aunties to death. I love my aunts, my sisters, my cousins, my nieces to pieces, and especially my dear darling daughters, to say nothing of my super-strong spouse. I only want the best for them, and the best as far as I’m concerned is an equal playing field. By extension, therefore, I wish this for all women, therefore I am by at least one definition a feminist… as long as we live in a world where women are treated as second-class citizens (and BTW – the 77% women’s worth is only average – the disparity grows as you go up the ladder towards the glass ceiling…) we all need to work overtime to ensure change will come about.”
Relando said, “I’m a feminist because patriarchy is harmful to women and can hurt men as well with idealized notions of masculinity that demean and subordinate women and punish men who don’t follow suit. While male privilege is VERY real, when I think about it, we all lose collectively while patriarchy is sustained. Men need to do more.”
Glenn said, “I believe in equal rights. People ARE what is in their minds and hearts. Not what is/isn’t between their legs! It makes me sick that in 2012 we still have inequality of any kind: Racial, gender, sexual orientation…”
Rob said, “I’m a feminist because the idea of someone making decisions for someone else leaves me more than unsettled.”
Muff said, “I’m a feminist because my liberation is bound up with yours.”
And I will give Bearded Stoner the last word. He said, “I am a feminist because not to be is not to be a liberal, is not to believe in individual rights. I am a feminist because my mother’s life story is a testament to feminism’s necessity. I am a feminist because I have a daughter. But I should be careful not to couch my feminism strictly in terms of familial self-interest. Either all are free or none are.”