There’s a divide among feminists on the issue of men’s involvement in the movement. Some people strongly feel that men should absolutely be a part of the fight for equality, while others reject male involvement and claim that men cannot identify as feminists. Male feminists, however, can play an integral part in the movement.
I stand firmly on the idea that feminism is, as bell hooks puts it, for everybody. I believe that anyone who wants to stand up for gender equality and protect the rights of women can be feminists if they choose to identify as such. Others take the identity of a “feminist ally,” which is a compromise for some men who want to identify within the movement, but not lead it. With men involved, informed, and passionate about “women’s issues,” the feminist movement has more power.
So, what are some things men need to focus on in the movement? Well, cis men experience many different consequences from the patriarchy than cis women or trans individuals, but there’s a lot they can do within feminism to help themselves and others. Some of the key aspects of men’s involvement are outlined below.
Check Your Privilege
Privilege and oppression can coincide and are not completely independent ideas. A black cis man can has gender privilege but faces racial oppression; a white trans woman has racial privilege but faces gender oppression; a cis woman can face gender and racial oppression but have a class privilege. One’s privilege does not override their oppression, but it plays an important role in their experiences.
“Privilege” is not a dirty word. Most of us have some form of it and the first thing we need to do is recognize our privileges. We need to be able to evaluate what this does for us, and how life would be if we did not have these privileges. Only after recognizing it can we begin to learn the perspectives of others.
Men’s first step into feminism means taking a look at their social context and recognizing that they benefit from the oppression of others. Privilege is not something to be blamed for, but it needs to be realized in order to gain insight to others’ oppression. Men need to recognize that we do live in a patriarchal society that generally values men over women and operates while oppressing anyone who isn’t cis male.
Learn About Enthusiastic Consent
Consent is rarely focused on in public sex education and unless a man is friends with women or other feminists that discuss the idea of “enthusiastic” consent, there may be some confusion on what consent really is.
Consent is an informed and enthusiastic decision to engage in sexual acts with another adult.
Men are often socialized to “listen for the no” when it comes to sex. If they don’t hear a clear “no,” they proceed. However, an absence of a “no” does not equal a “yes.” Many times, when someone is nervous or doesn’t want to disappoint their partner, they will do things they don’t exactly want to do out of fear or anxiety. Men share the responsibility of checking in with their partners to maintain on-going consent. If your partner seems upset or unusually quiet, ask explicitly, “Do you want to do this?” Anything other than a “yes” is a “no.”
Instead of only listening for the “no,” also listen for the “yes!”. Communication is super important and even taking the time to check in with your partner is going to mean all the difference to their well-being. When it doubt, don’t have sex. You should always have a clear and explicit green light for sex to take place.
Challenge the “Man Box”
The “man box” is the unwritten regulation of masculinity–the confining standards that men must live up to, which is policed by the patriarchal system we live in. It’s the phrase, “real men don’t cry.” It’s the fear of being seen as “gay”–or worse, as a woman.
It’s difficult for men to break out of this box because everyone participates in adhering to these standards. Women and men alike perpetuate these ideas and keep cycling the confines of masculinity. However, once a man is able to stand up to these norms, it is easier for other men to follow and work towards dismantling the man box.
Challenge the way you convey your masculinity. Stand up for the right to express your emotions or to enjoy “feminine” things. Talk to your friends about sexual health, mental health, and consent. Have discussions about feminist issues and challenge the ways people react to your behavior. Pay attention to the language you use around other men regarding feminist issues. Be a good bystander and stand up against sexist jokes. Be actively supportive of your LGBT friends.
Be aware of your effect on women. No, not your radiating glow of irresistible masculinity–quite the opposite.
Consider the term “Schrödinger’s Rapist”. Schrödinger’s Rapist is the idea that women who walk alone at night have to be suspicious of strange men around them. Women are conditioned to carry their keys or mace in order to be prepared for an attack. They have to assume any man they see are a risk in order to protect themselves.
Understand that your presence around scared women may make them even more uncomfortable, and that approaching people you do not know in dangerous situations may frighten others.
People don’t like to accept criticism when they believe they are being a good ally but often times our own privileges can make it difficult to fully understand certain issues.
If a woman tells you there is a problem with the way you are conducting yourself as a feminist, listen to them. If a trans person tells you that you’re being transphobic, listen to them. If a person of color is telling you that you’re being racist, listen to them. Listen to what oppressed groups say and be thankful they’re taking the time to tell you that you need to correct your behavior. Learn from your mistakes.
People from oppressed groups pick up on microaggressions better than privileged groups because they face them on a constant basis and they are directly impacted by these issues. Put their concerns before your pride.
Try to educate yourself on political issues around elections and use your best judgement to make electoral choices that benefit those suffering from oppression. If you’re not up to date on politics, talk to your feminist friends about who they’re voting for and what they think the biggest issues in the election are. Get input from different people who face oppression and make an informed decision to elect someone who will change the way our society treats gender, racial, and sexual minorities for the better.
Consider feminist issues when voting in local, state, and federal elections. All facets of the government matter and even voting for a local politician with progressive attitudes can lead to better support in your community for the people who need it most.