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 and trans folk 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 help the movement, but not lead it. My belief is that, without men, the feminist movement is going to face more struggles in succeeding. With men involved and actually informed and passionate on these issues, we stand more of a chance to gaining respect and making progress. My ideal for feminism is total inclusion for all groups of people in order to achieve social equality.
So, what are some things men need to focus on in the movement? Well, cis men experience many different consequences from the patriarchy than women or trans individuals experience, but there’s a lot they can do within feminism to help themselves and others live happier and more fulfilling lives. Some of the key aspects of men’s involvement are outlined below.
Privilege and oppression can coincide and are not completely independent ideas. A cis man can have gender privilege but face racial oppression; a trans woman can have racial privilege but face gender oppression; a cis woman can face gender and racial oppression but have a class privilege; etc.
“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. This should be done without guilt, but also without question or excuses. Privilege is not something to be blamed for, but it needs to be realized in order for any insight to others’ oppression. Men need to recognize that we do live in a patriarchy that generally values men over women, but also has confines for men, as well. More on that later.
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 a sober and enthusiastic agreement of an adult in a sound and stable mindset. Let’s break that down further:
Sober: Some people honestly don’t know that sex with an intoxicated person is a crime. It is. The law defines consent to be within the legal limits of intoxication. This means if a person is drunk or on illegal drugs, they cannot consent to sexual activity. Without getting into the ethical conversation behind intoxicated sex, consider just the facts in order to protect yourself. If a partner is saying “yes” to sex, but is intoxicated, that does not remove your responsibility to abstain. In addition, consent cannot be given prior to intoxication since it is an on-going concept. This means that if you have sex with an intoxicated person–even if they agreed to it before hand or say they want it at the time, it is still legally considered rape. This means if that person wake up the next morning and decides to press charges, you can be arrested and convicted of a crime.
Long story short, don’t have sex with drunk people. For your own sake, if anything.
Enthusiastic: Men are often socialized to “listen for the no” when it comes to sex. The idea is that if your partner says “no,” they are not consenting. However, consent is a little more complicated than this.
An absence of a “no” does not equal a yes. Many times, when we’re nervous or don’t want to disappoint our partners, we will stay quiet instead of saying “no” out of fear or anxiety. As a sexual partner, we all have the responsibility to check in with our partners in any time of doubt. If they seem upset or unusually quiet, ask explicitly, “Do you want to do this?”
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.
Adult: This one is pretty simple–obey the law and don’t fuck anyone under the age of consent. In the US, this ranges from ages 16-18 depending on what state you’re in. It differs in other countries, as well. Check your local laws on the age of consent to know for sure.
If you’re unsure of how old someone is, ask. If they look young or you suspect they’re lying about their age, don’t have sex with them. You do not want to risk a felony charge on a one-night stand with a minor who lies about their age.
Sound/Stable Mind: If someone is upset or mentally impaired in any way, don’t have sex with them. Having sex with someone in distress is really crossing a line, even if they say they want it. If they’re genuinely upset, this isn’t a healthy time for sex. Work out any problems before engage in sexual activity to avoid unstable reactions and crossing unwanted boundaries. It’s pretty easy to tell if someone is in a sound mind or not. Use your best judgement to determine if they are stable enough to consent to sex–and again, in times of doubt, don’t have sex with them. Be supportive of them instead, help them work out their issues, clear their head, and maybe revisit the idea of sex when they are in a healthy mindset.
Challenge the “Man Box”
The “man box” is the unwritten regulation of masculinity–the confining standards that men must live up to that is policed by 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 a domino effect can take place.
Challenge the way you convey your masculinity. Stand up for the right to express your emotions or to enjoy stereotypically “feminine” things. Talk to your friends about health, mental health, and consent. Have discussions about feminist issues and challenge the ways people react to your behaviour. Don’t use words like “pussy” or “faggot” to describe signs of weakness. Rather, recognize that you might have your own weaknesses and you should be able to talk openly about them in a safe environment with friends instead of trying to prove your gender by demasculinizing someone else.
Be a good bystander! This is so important. If someone is getting shamed for acting in a “feminine” way, defend them! Stand up against sexist jokes or racist comments. Don’t let your friend take that drunk girl home from the bar. Be actively supportive of friends who come out as LGBT. Be a good listener to friends who need your help. Look out for your friends in a way that helps everyone break out of these gender roles. Validation within groups of men is so important when dealing with emotional problems. Having a support system of other men that can discuss problems openly can lead to a decrease in violent behaviour or other harmful consequences of keeping emotions bottled up inside this “man box”.
Have Resources Available
Having resources for those who need them is super important. In addition to national hotlines, you should also keep track of local organizations in your area. Keep a post-it note of these contacts in your wallet in case someone comes to you with something you cannot resolve on your own. Being a good resource is really useful to those in need, regardless of gender.
Some important numbers to look up:
- Local police station.
- Sexual assault crisis centers in the area.
- Closest Planned Parenthood or sexual wellness centers.
- University numbers, if you’re on a college campus (campus police, wellness center, health center, women’s center, LGBT center, etc.)
- Domestic violence hotlines or centers.
- Contacts for support groups in the area.
- LGBT organizations.
Domestic Violence Hotline (US): 1-800-799-7233
Sexual Assault Hotline (US): 1-800-656-HOPE
Understand that in order to be a good feminist, you don’t need to have all the answers, but you should learn how to be a good resource for people who need emotional support. provide unconditional support to those you suspect have suffered a trauma.
Learn how to identify signs of domestic abuse and sexual assault, and let them know you believe them, are here for them, and will do anything it takes to get them help.
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. We are conditioned to carry our keys or our mace and be prepared for an attack. Since we cannot see into your mind or know your intentions, we have to assume you are a risk in order to protect ourselves. This is nothing against you personally, this is just the way we have learned to act due to the alarming rates of sexual assault.
This means that things you may consider of good intention can be perceived as dangerous to women. Perhaps you see a woman walking home alone in the dark and want to make sure she gets home safe. If you follow her, you will only alarm her more. Maybe you want to offer a ride home to your coworker and they refuse. Understand that maybe they don’t feel totally comfortable and they would rather take care of themselves.
The idea here is that you understand that it’s an unfortunate fact that some women have to fear the men around them–even if they know them. Because the rates of sexual assault, even committed by friends or acquaintance, is astronomically high, these hesitations or “unreasonable” fears is not an insult to you, but simply a survival tactic. 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.
This one is really difficult for a lot of men in feminism, and even women of privilege in dealing with race or LGBT-sensitive issues. People don’t like to accept criticism when they honestly believe they are being a good ally. However, often times our own privileges create blind spots to certain issues and cause problems when we try to help.
If a woman tells you there is a problem with the way you are conducting yourself as a feminist or feminist ally, listen to her. If a trans person tells you you’re being transphobic, listen to them. If a POC is telling you that you’re acting with microagressions that are racist, listen to them. Hear them out and discuss the problem like a mature adult. Don’t deny what happened and don’t make excuses. Listen to what they say and if you truly don’t understand their reasoning, ask them to discuss it further with you. Learn from your mistakes.
Chances are women, POC, and LGBT folk know more about sexism, racism, and homophobia/transphobia than you do–not because they are better than you, but because they face these issues on a constant basis every day and these problems directly effect them. On this basis alone, you need to hear them out and address their concerns in order to be a good ally. Put their opinions and concerns first–then discuss your own feelings.
Try to educate yourself on political issues around elections and use your best judgement to make electoral choices that benefit those suffering from oppression. Voting for someone who supports access to abortion and birth control, who fights for trans rights, and who is making positive changes in the community for minorities and those of a lower income is really beneficial to the feminist movement.
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 are. Get input from different people who face oppression and make a more-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 make for great changes in your community.