Hello! I am honored to now be posting on The Sexy Feminist from my own byline. You may recognize my name from a few guest posts that have gone up over the past two months, and I look forward to contributing my voice along with Jennifer, Heather, and the entire Sexy Feminist community. I would like to begin by writing about why, as a man, I am excited and honored to contribute here. I have had a lot of fun researching and writing my previous posts, but my feminism is something I take rather seriously. I am certainly not alone as a male feminist, but the phrase “male feminist” comes off as strange or oxymoronic to many. I’m here to express why that point of view could not be further from the truth.
For a long time, I was resistant to the idea of calling myself a feminist. I have long believed in feminist goals — equal pay, equal opportunity, bodily autonomy, dismantling the culture of violence toward women, etc. — but various factors prevented me from fully committing to my beliefs. For one thing, I didn’t think that feminism was “my fight.” I understood that women, as a group, suffer oppression and are subjected to harsh societal double standards. I felt empathy and I hoped for feminism to succeed. But I did not think I, as a man, had a place in this cause, other than as a near-silent supporter from the sidelines. Even worse, I was afraid to give myself the label of feminist. Our society has rather rigid ideas of what constitutes “masculinity,” and men who do not conform are punished through various forms of social stigma, or, in extreme cases, physical violence. Calling oneself a feminist is a surefire way to be seen as “not masculine.”
Then I grew up emotionally, and I realized the fallacies behind my reasoning. Basing my behavior on how society views masculinity is a negative effect of the patriarchal culture that feminism is fighting against. Men and women alike are negatively affected by the patriarchy (although women have it much, much worse). For me personally, I was suppressing my beliefs because I feared how others would view and treat me if I expressed them. That is the mark of an unfree, oppressive social order, and upon realizing that, I was able to understand just how much I had been influenced by the patriarchy. By conforming my behavior to what society asked of me, I was feeding into the very social status quo I believed should change. When I realized that, I knew that I could not say I believed in equality if my behavior reinforced an unequal society.
As for my other reason, the notion that the fight for equality is “not my fight” is lazy, apathetic, and cowardly. If one believes that an oppressed group should not be oppressed, one must work to make it so, even if one is not a member of the oppressed group. Feminism challenges poisonous ideas that are deeply ingrained in our society. As someone who believes that challenging those ideas is a social imperative, I would fail to live up to my beliefs if I did not actively vocalize and act upon them. As previously explained, by choosing to do nothing, I was behaving according to the status quo that feminism seeks to dismantle. I may have never personally told a woman to “go make me a sandwich” or tried to pay a women less than a man for doing the same job, but I was content to let other people do the hard work of challenging this oppression while I continued to mindlessly enjoy the privileges given to me as a result of my Y chromosome.
In order for social change to occur, we must change ourselves. Just because a man has never personally wronged a woman, he contributes to the status quo by not fighting against it. Only by choosing to work against the established view of how men and women should behave and be treated can someone work towards improving society. I know that many people think they are fine the way they are and will bristle at being asked to change, but the change I am advocating is not difficult. Men need to accept that we are given a privilege at birth, that, because of our sex, we will be treated better by the government and by our employers, and that we will be in less danger of physical attacks and sexual assault. And then, we must willingly release that privilege. We must treat others with dignity and respect, treat others like they are human beings, as opposed to nurses, maids, sexual objects, or any of the other subordinate roles society has imposed upon women. And we must advocate against those who would do otherwise. Your life will not get worse by accepting that all humans are equal and you will not lose anything by working toward equality. In fact, your life will almost certainly improve. (Once I stopped caring about how society perceived my masculinity, I became much happier.) Being a male feminist is not an oxymoron, it is not strange, and it is not a rarity. Being a male feminist is essential to being human. You can choose not to act and to let an unequal and hostile society continue. Or you can choose to seek equality, and improve the lives of women and men alike.