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:

 

At The Root,  Byron Hurt wrote:

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.

 G.D of Post Bourgie wrote:

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.”

 

  • http://collectingstamps2012.wordpress.com/ Cam

    I could take the list you posted and post an equally long list of the ways women are still disadvantaged, but I will just comment on a few of your points.

    Women may have the same rights as men, but having rights, and having those rights actually be respected and upheld are two different things.

    As for women outnumbering men in the workforce; even in fields that are traditionally dominated by women, the higher ups are almost always predominantly if not solely men. I work in one such field. And the majority of fields dominated by women are in lower paying professions, like the service industry. Corporate, high paying and senior level jobs are still dominated by white, straight men. And this, despite the fact that, as you said “there are a number of social programs that are aimed specifically to help women” and affirmative action.

    “Women generally receive less severe punishments than men for the same crimes in the criminal justice system. It’s been like that since forever.” and “I’m not even going to mention how divorce courts favor women. That would be overkill.”

    These are the result of gender roles that cast women as caregivers, the weaker sex etc. The same gender roles that feminism fights to dismantle. As Tami stated above: “…the idea that women inherently are better parents is not an idea that came from feminism, but patriarchy. The patriarchy that feminists fight against damages men, too.”

    As for reproductive rights…well…women’s reproductive rights are constantly under attack. Not only are many states fighting to revoke these rights http://jezebel.com/5887627/the-ten-scariest-places-in-america-to-have-ladyparts
    But in some parts of the world they don’t exist at all http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-17612550#TWEET125107
    And they don’t want us to have abortions, but still many insurance companies would rather cover Viagra than Birth Control, if that’s not discrimination, I don’t know what is.

    There are of course exceptions to the points both you and I have raised, but the exceptions only prove the rule. Feminism isn’t just a western concept, but it’s global and it’s ideology isn’t “Women are victims/Men are victimizers”, but that we must dismantle the patriarchy that harms us all, but particularly women. Because we have achieved a certain level of progress in the West, isn’t a reason to abandon the concept when women in other parts of the world are still incredibly oppressed. As one of the men noted in the article “Either all are free or none are”.

    I sense that you are very hung up on the word, and maybe that’s from a place of feeling attacked as a man by “man hating ‘feminists’”? Or like we’re trying to flip the scales and oppress men. And I think that’s a natural reaction when you don’t fully understand something. But even if you never accept the word, I would encourage you to be more open to understanding the real ideologies behind it, because it seems as though you have attributed some very negative and unfeminist views to it. The men quoted in the article give perfect examples of what feminism is actually about.

    I think that the sooner we all acknowledge how we both benefit from and are oppressed by sexism, racism, capitalism etc, the sooner we will be able to work together towards real solutions.

  • TheTuth

    @Cam

    “I could take the list you posted and post an equally long list of the ways women are still disadvantaged”

    And what exactly would you prove by doing that? That men and women both have disadvantages that are unique to their gender? Therefore, men (as a collective) do not hold all this invisible power that most women believe we have???

    You missed the point I was making. The intent of that list was not to argue that women have it easy in life. The intent was to demonstrate that men do not have it nearly as easy as feminists make it out to sound. There are advantages and disadvantages for men AND women. Men have advantages in one area and disadvantages in another area. Women have disadvantages in one area and advantages in another area. The issue with feminists is that they ONLY acknowledge the advantages of men and the disadvantages of women, which creates an extremely one-sided view of oppression. This is where the “men oppressed women throughout all time” propaganda comes from; a doctrine that runs deep in feminist theory.

    “Women may have the same rights as men, but having rights, and having those rights actually be respected and upheld are two different things.”

    That door swings both ways. It’s hardly a gender-specific issue.

    “As for women outnumbering men in the workforce; even in fields that are traditionally dominated by women, the higher ups are almost always predominantly if not solely men. I work in one such field. And the majority of fields dominated by women are in lower paying professions, like the service industry. Corporate, high paying and senior level jobs are still dominated by white, straight men. And this, despite the fact that, as you said “there are a number of social programs that are aimed specifically to help women” and affirmative action.”

    Generally speaking, men are more likely to go into higher-paying fields than women do. But even that’s changing as women are currently making fast gains in the corporate world. Why? Because more women are pursuing those jobs.

    It’s also important to note that the people who get hired for these positions have to go through Human Resources, which is predominately female. You can go to the human resources department of any company and see that it’s made up of mostly women. So that means most of the people getting hired are going through women first.

    “These are the result of gender roles that cast women as caregivers, the weaker sex etc. The same gender roles that feminism fights to dismantle. As Tami stated above: “…the idea that women inherently are better parents is not an idea that came from feminism, but patriarchy. The patriarchy that feminists fight against damages men, too.””

    Feminism is the MAIN reason most Divorce/Family Court laws are so slanted towards women today. All these policies are based on feminist theories. Feminists have pushed for all types of legistlation that places top priority on women’s interests. Look at VAWA for example. All a woman has to do is accuse a man of violence and he’ll be automatically arrested with no evidence at all. These are FEMINIST ideals being put into law; the ideal that women’s security is more important than due process.

    Let me ask you something. When was the last time you saw feminists go before a committee and demand that women get the same prison sentences as men? When was the last time you saw women’s groups protest the Divorce/Family Court laws that favor women? When was the last time you saw women’s rights advocates go before the Federal government and demand that women be required to register for the draft like men are required to? When was the last time you saw feminist groups protest “women and children first” policies?

    Feminists may not have invented these double standards, but they damn sure are the ones who perfected and marketed them.

    “As for reproductive rights…well…women’s reproductive rights are constantly under attack.”

    Women’s reproductive rights aren’t going anywhere. That’s a bunch of liberal hyperbole. You’ll see the return of slavery before the remission of women’s reproductive rights. And keep in mind, we’re talking about rights that are still exclusive to women.

    “Not only are many states fighting to revoke these rights http://jezebel.com/5887627/the-ten-scariest-places-in-america-to-have-ladyparts
    But in some parts of the world they don’t exist at all http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-17612550#TWEET125107

    A lot of rights don’t exist in some parts of the world. Again, not gender-specific.

    “And they don’t want us to have abortions, but still many insurance companies would rather cover Viagra than Birth Control, if that’s not discrimination, I don’t know what is.”

    How about the fact that diseases that affect women on average get far more attention annd funding than diseases that affect men? Compare the attention of breast cancer to the attention that prostate cancer gets. And let’s not forget, women on average outlive men.

    Furthermore, viagra is technically a remedy that treats a medical problem (erectile dysfunction). Pregnancy, in and of itself, is not a medical problem. However, I know most women would disagree.

    “There are of course exceptions to the points both you and I have raised, but the exceptions only prove the rule. Feminism isn’t just a western concept, but it’s global and it’s ideology isn’t “Women are victims/Men are victimizers”, but that we must dismantle the patriarchy that harms us all, but particularly women.”

    Again, that emphasis on women’s plight from a movement that is supposedly about equality for all.

    “I sense that you are very hung up on the word, and maybe that’s from a place of feeling attacked as a man by “man hating ‘feminists’”? ”

    On the contrary. You confirmed my suspicions that “feminism” isn’t just a word used as a synonym for “gender equality”. Feminism is exactly what it sounds like . A movement whose primary focus is to “uplift women”. Everything else is secondary. You all keep saying that feminism is about equality for all, while at the same time reiterating that the main focus is on uplifting women. Uplifting them to what? Who are they being compared to? Men? The top 10% of men who own and run everything? What about the other 90% of men who don’t have access to this power? Both men and women suffer their own plights, only differently. Focusing on uplifting women spefically is based on the belief that the average man lives like a king.

    “And I think that’s a natural reaction when you don’t fully understand something.”

    I just love it when feminists say I don’t understand them. As if the only way I can disagree with their beliefs is if I don’t undertsand them. I guess it’s impossible to them that I can do both.

    “I think that the sooner we all acknowledge how we both benefit from and are oppressed by sexism, racism, capitalism etc, the sooner we will be able to work together towards real solutions.”

    I have no problem doing any of this. And that’s exactly why I’m not a feminist.

  • BarryMayor

    Feminism is for 12% of men and 24% of women. Those are the respective percentages of women and men who say yes when asked if they were feminists. 12% is not 0% but it’s definitely a very small minority.

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  • Eternity

    The way to treat people equally is to treat them the same. Different treatment is always unequal treatment, regardless of whether that means treating one group as privileged, or treating the another group as under-privileged.

    Gender egalitarianism is about looking beyond a person’s gender. It’s genderless by necessity. Anything less contributes to an endless cycle of sexism.

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