I know why many men refuse to call themselves feminists; I’m aware of the arguments and explanations. Men don’t align themselves with feminism because they believe in the misconception that equates it to “man hating”, or some infringement of male liberty. They believe that feminist issues have nothing to do with them, or that it’s a philosophy that they aren’t allowed to embrace, or worse, because they fail to realize how deeply entrenched and accepted gender inequity has become in society.
There are people out there who will say gender equality has been achieved, and that feminism is nothing more than an overreaction, some sort of gendered extremism, or an attempt to change a status quo that is better left untouched. The truth, however, is that beyond the fight for political, social, and economic equality, there is an even greater battle to be had, a battle that affects everyone and yet is constantly mistaken to have already been won: the battle for human equality.
We can say that all people, regardless of gender are equal, but reality tells us otherwise. Reality tells us that it is funny for a man to dress as a woman for a comedy sketch, but disgusting for a transgender woman to walk proudly in public. It tells that is abhorrent for a man to sexually assault a woman, but humorous for a man to report his own sexual assault. It tells us that men can walk around shirtless, but women cannot; it tells us that men should feel embarrassed to cook meals for their families, but that we should not question the fact that 84% of executive chefs are male. It says that men are allowed to solve their problems with violence, but forbidden to cry or ever admit to feeling hurt, so how can we say women and men are inherently equal when reality tells us otherwise?
How can we expect people to fully support the advancement of women’s rights when there is a fundamental fear and rejection of being womanly? A fundamental rejection of anything and everything that doesn’t fit into the gender boxes we’ve been force fed.
I know men who embrace feminism and who understand and acknowledge how gender inequity hurts more than just women, but I cannot say that the majority of men have this sort of awareness. I believe we can only address gender inequity by acknowledging that the lack of equity creates and upholds hegemonic gender roles, roles that contribute in the perpetuation of a culture in which we victim blame women, and dissuade men from reporting their own sexual abuse. We can only address the issue of equity by involving everyone; by showing both men and women alike that feminism isn’t exclusive, “man hating”, or “privilege shaming”, but rather a movement that seeks to break down the barriers that we impose on others and ourselves, and empower those who have been historically disenfranchised and disempowered.
Men need feminism as much as women do. I know that they do because I’ve seen the way a man’s face contorts when he is called a “pussy by his peers”, or bullied out of expressing his emotions by being told to “man up.” I know it because I know toxic masculinity, and how dangerous it can be to expect a man to always be strong and competitive, but never emotional or intimate. Statistically, men commit 75% of violent acts; a 2014 report cited that at least one third of all female homicide victims in the U.S. are killed by male partners. When the reality is that men who feel stressed about their masculine identity are more likely to hurt themselves and others, the poisonous effect of gender roles and inequity becomes painfully apparent.
Men need feminism because they need to know that who they are shouldn’t be categorized into either “masculine” or “feminine.” They need it to know that who they are is more than what they do, and that there is a world beyond self-policing and self-torment. They need it so that they can do artistic things without fear of being mocked or shamed, and so that they can know they don’t always have to be strong and unfeeling. They need it so they can help, rather than hinder, the movement toward equality for all.
We all need feminism because men and women alike shouldn’t chalk up any male indiscretion the “boys will be boys” mentality, or have their actions diminished, or explained away by saying men are simply “stupid”, “thoughtless”, and “carnal.” We all need feminism, so that together we can realize that the systems of gender norms we have in place, regardless of whatever small benefits they may provide, ultimately hurt everyone, and need to be dismantled.
I am a feminist because I remember being eight years old, waiting in the McDonalds drive thru with my mother, and begging her to ask for a girl’s toy on my behalf because I knew how shameful it was for me to play with one. I am a feminist because I never want to hate myself as much as I did when I first realized I was a gay.
But I am also a feminist for my brother, who I watched get hit as a child because he was a boy and that was how boys were punished. I am a feminist for my dad, whom I had no real relationship with, and who thought that violence and suppressing his emotions through substance abuse were the only acceptable ways of coping with his own toxic masculinity. I am a feminist for my mother who subjected herself to more heartache than she should have because she lacked the financial opportunity to live a better way.
I am a feminist for my female friends who have been slut shamed, for my female mentors who have had their expertise questioned solely for their gender, and I am a feminist for my future children because I believe they deserve to live in a world where there is no controversy in removing gender labels from toy store aisles. Lastly, I am a feminist for all the women I’ve thoughtlessly called “bitch” or “slut” because I thought I had some right to call them that.
We all experience the toxicity of gender inequity in our own individual ways. If you asked a man on the street if he had ever felt embarrassed for liking something that wasn’t traditionally masculine, or if he had ever wanted to cry but refrained from doing so, or if he ever felt like he was expected to act a certain way or believe a certain way or believe in certain things solely because of his gender, that he’d say yes. If you asked a woman if she’s ever hesitated to raise her hand in class, or felt that her physical appearance mattered more to her peers than her intellect or creativity, she’d say yes. We should all want to be feminists because we should want to live in a world where women can be engineers, and boys can freely choose between playing football and taking ballet classes. We should all want to be feminists because we all need to be feminists. Even men.