Men and Feminism…what pops up in your mind when you hear these 2 words? Do they go together?
You see, the truth is you don’t need to be a woman to be anti-patriarchy and advocate for gender equality. Nor do you need a degree in gender studies.
It’s also undeniable that we need men to be on board with feminism if this world is ever going to become more (gender) equitable. After all those who belong to an oppressed group cannot free themselves from oppression since they are not the ones doing their own oppressing; that is on those who belong to the group of the oppressor, even if they don’t actively oppress.
In other words, the same way it is not enough to be “a good person” and “not racist” as a white person, it is not enough to simply be “a good man” or “not a sexist/rapist” as a male identifying person. Non-action perpetuates existing power dynamics.
But there can be resistance to the idea of men owning the label of ‘feminist’ from all genders.
Some women, especially some feminist women, feel that men can never be fully feminist because they lack the lived experience of a woman in our society and think men can therefore never fully empathise with the struggles women face. There is some truth to that. However, I doubt that banning men from the movement is a productive response to that.
Few women view men and feminism as mutually exclusive because they see men as the enemy. The majority of feminist women view the patriarchal structures including boys’ socialisation into a specific kind of masculinity and the resulting behaviours as the issue, not men themselves.
Then there is the understandable concern of men taking over the movement, since men already have the loudest voices in our societies and for women’s voices to once again either be drowned or viewed as less than. Who if not women themselves are in the best position to know what women need and how they should go about achieving it? It has been feminist women showing tremendous leadership and commitment that has advanced the fight for gender equality after all.
And yet we will never reach the end goal, no matter how you define it, if half of the human population does not come along on the journey. If women could end violence against girls and women, they would have by now. If women could enforce equal pay, they would have by now. The list goes on. Of course, feminists have achieved incredible milestones starting with the (not very inclusive) suffragettes and the right to vote. But we all know that laws by themselves don’t create new realities. It is cultural change, reaching minds and hearts that results in action and behaviour change, that does.
This is why ultimately men need to advocate for feminism and promote the feminist agenda too, whether they call themselves feminist or pro-feminist or ally. It’s those who hold the power that need to not give it up but democratise and humanise it. Feminist women can only call and fight for change, but since it is in society ingrained structures held up by all, yes all including many women, that need to change, change cannot happen if men don’t join in on the fight.
It can feel as if men are requested to give something up and cede it to women. But there is no zero-sum-game here. Everyone wins with feminism. And if you wonder right now, how feminism can possibly be beneficial for men (although considering where you are reading this you might not) just head to www.menatalkfeminism.com. It’s clearly laid out there, by men. Men who dared to heed the call and embraced feminism.
A lot of men however will also distance themselves from the term “feminism”. Like Shu Matsuo Post says in his book “I took her name”: when asked if men believe in gender equality the majority will answer with a resounding yes. But when asked if they believe in feminism, the majority will shake their head.
Clearly the word still carries a lot of stigma. There are different reasons for that and that is a whole other article…these misconceptions sometimes arise from real-life stereotypical man-hating individual feminists that are the rare exception however (!); more often the misconceptions are a product of right-wing populism that instrumentalises anti-feminism to radicalise men, hold existing power structures in place and everyone in their gender cage.
But once men start to explore and engage with feminism and today’s prevalent intersectional feminism in particular, they come to see that it isn’t a movement that demonises men. They see that it actually cares about their humanity and mental health too; that feminism is not about a gender war but a war on patriarchy.
MenTalkFeminism, the platform, exists to create more awareness around that amongst men through having a diverse range of male voices explain why they consider from their unique perspective, that feminism IS for men too.
And whilst this angle doesn’t get much public attention despite celebrities like Will Smith and John Legend publicly declaring themselves feminist there is and has been for a long time such a thing as a pro-feminist men’s movement. “Voice Male. The untold story of the profeminist men’s movement” edited by Rob.A.Okun chronicles men’s role in the gender justice movement.
Of course, men “shouldn’t” subscribe to feminism because there’s something “in it” for them in that it liberates them from harmful gender norms too. The cry by women highlighting centuries of injustice and violence should be reason enough to buy into it and want to do something about addressing those issues. It is however what builds the bridge and gets us out of this illusion of antagonism and mutual exclusivity. It shows that men who are allies and rebel against their own privileges have some stakes in the fight too apart from the moral or humanitarian motivation. Not everything that feminism highlights is easy to digest, but when men can see that feminism does not want to annihilate them but wants them to liberate themselves from the constraints of patriarchy their resistance lessens. When men realise that they have been short-changed not by feminism but by patriarchy and when they no longer buy into a system that pretends to not exist to ensure its existence, a system that covers up very real hierarchies and that stifles men’s authenticity to the detriment of their mental health, then no one’s left to do patriarchy’s dirty job of oppressing. Women, who through internalising of patriarchy sometimes perpetuate this system too, could no longer inadvertently or openly help uphold a system that is no longer there.
Men, their thoughts, beliefs, attitudes and behaviours are the linchpin to sustainable change and gender justice. This is why I fight for more and more men to realise that and to do their part in a necessary fight for a healthier and more just world.