What is the role of men in the feminist movement? Some believe men are not or should not be a part of the feminist movement. Some believe that the movement is about women and for women, and thus should be made up of women alone. However, I believe that without men, the feminist movement cannot achieve its aims.
The feminist movement aims to achieve an egalitarian non-hierarchical society in which all people are treated equally, regardless of sex or gender. This has an obvious impact on all of humanity and is not limited to women. Since men have a stake in the feminist movement they should have an involvement in it. Although the feminist movement was started by women in order to advocate for women’s rights, its goals are consistent with liberation for all humanity. Thus men would directly benefit from a feminist society. Women are only about half the population and not currently in power. If we want to realize feminism we are going to need the other 50 percent of the world to get on board; pointing to the strong need for men’s active participation.
Are Men “Creeps”?
I recently had a discussion with my brother about transgender people using the public restroom. He said, “The problem is people don’t want a man in the women’s restroom, because men are creeps.” First off, transwomen are women so it’s not a “man” in the restroom. But besides that, the idea that men are inherently “creeps” is problematic. I told my brother that men are not naturally creepy to women. The idea that men are creepy to women is a stereotype. And most importantly we must realize that men are socialized to act in a certain way, just as women are. Our society socially constructs behaviors and reinforces those behaviors with messages from society. “Creepiness” is tied into patriarchy and objectification. Patriarchy is power and domination of men over women. Objectification is when a person is treated like an object whose sole purpose is to fulfill a need or want instead of as a person with feelings, autonomy, and self-determination.
Almost nothing we are exists in a vacuum. We all have social conditioning, culture, and socialization which informs our behaviors. Patriarchy can encourage men to dominate women sexually and at the same time encourage women to be afraid of men who may try to dominate them sexually or harass them in order to feel powerful. Feminism seeks to liberate us from these tired old scripts and to equalize power among all people, so no one feels entitled to others or seeks power over them.
Myths About Feminism
Some men have the misconception that feminist women want power over men. This is untrue. Some men believe the myth that feminist women hate men. This is also not true. Do some women have a lack of empathy for men due to how women have been mistreated? Yes. We have to look at that within a context where women face horrible abuse, violence, and harassment. There is justifiable anger that we must understand. For many, what they consider mainstream feminists have made them run away from feminism due to some women openly mocking and shaming men. There are also radical feminists who are transphobic and separatist. There are many strains of feminism out there, but I feel like we cannot let what are really the outliers or extremes keep us from benefiting from what feminism has to offer us.
Solidarity between women/female identified people and men/male identified people is mutually beneficial and is necessary for the liberation of both. I believe that men and male identified people can organize for their own liberation, through socialist feminism. Men and male identified people can benefit directly from socialist feminism, since it allows them to develop a full range of emotional expression and encourages them to take on roles as caregivers to children and their families and not see their jobs as their sole source of self-worth. Among other benefits, socialist feminism allows them to embrace cooperation over competition and gives them the opportunity to unlearn aggressiveness and overcome violence, and embrace femininity as just as important in one’s life as masculinity. Socialist feminism is for everyone.
In order for systemic, institutional, and structural changes to take place so that a socialist feminist society may be realized, we need men to play a role. So what does that role look like?
Within the feminist movement we need men to play a supportive role for women. This is because currently under patriarchy women are treated in a sexist manner, which causes them severe oppression, whereas men are in the power position due to patriarchy. Patriarchy also hurts men, but not as much and as pervasively as as it hurts women. This is why men must act in an ally capacity to be in solidarity with women who are leading and empowering themselves.
There are some men who falsely believe what they are going through is equivalent to what women face. Let me be clear: it simply is not. As much hype as misandry (hatred of men) gets, it is not founded in reality. Women do not really “bathe in male tears.” The truth is that women need men just as much as men need women. However, when it comes to sexism, men do not face what women do. What the feminist movement needs is for men to fully realize that and what it means for them.
Acting as an ally means actively ceding power. What does that look like? It means recognizing that you have power, entitlement, and privilege, and then acting in a manner that purposely gives it away. This can happen in many ways. One way is by using your power for good. It means standing up for women and having their backs. It means actively giving floor to women so they may speak. Men play a big role in creating safe spaces and welcoming environments. It means talking to other men about feminism and holding each other accountable. It means men work in cooperation rather than conflict and competition. It means utilizing assertive, not aggressive, communication, and being sensitive to people’s needs. It means working for the enhancement of one another, rather than degrading others. It means giving feelings and lived experience the same regard as a source of knowledge as “rational” thinking. It means valuing the care of others and investing in it like tending to a garden. One needs to figure out what the situation calls for in the moment and give what is needed. Moreover, this means giving up domination and authority.
Often I see men who are afraid to speak up. They either feel that only a woman can speak up on a particular subject or that if they stick their neck out it’s liable to be cut off. They worry that they may make a mistake and be accused of wrongdoing. Sometimes I think the worst thing a man can be in our society is wrong. Because it means he’s vulnerable and fallible. We need men who are willing to let go of their authority and embrace fragility. We need men who are used to getting their way, to stop trying to dominate everyone and everything. If men are to be allies acting in solidarity with others, they are going to encounter being told they are wrong a lot. This is the reality of being a feminist man.
We need men willing to be humble and courageous at the same time. It also requires a consistent process of self-evaluation, self-examination, and self-reflection. It’s a constant process of learning and teaching, and being adaptable and flexible to what is needed at any given moment. We are all human and we all make mistakes. However, we cannot let the fear of ridicule keep us paralyzed into inaction. If you make a mistake, just apologize with no caveats and then really internalize the lesson to be learned and try to do better next time. The point is to keep trying.
We need men in the feminist movement who are going to dedicate themselves to radical social change and transformational interpersonal change too, both within themselves and in their everyday interactions and relationships. Yes, that means men need to do more child care, cooking, and household chores. But it also means men’s role is to continually seek self-improvement and equalization of power relations in communication with others.
Patriarchal structures, socially constructed gender, strict gender roles, and the power dynamic integrated into these structures are a detriment to all people and must be dismantled and abolished. This will not happen overnight. Neither should we wait until “after the revolution” to begin to shift our behavior patterns. We have to consciously create the feminist society we envision through our actions and words every day and with each other.
In order for the feminist movement to succeed, I believe men and women must have empathy for each other. This means that men must recognize the unique struggle women go through due to sexism, misogyny, and patriarchy in our society. This also means that women recognize that men have their own challenges created by patriarchy. This necessitates compassion and deep understanding on both sides. It challenges the idea that men and women are so different that they cannot relate to one another. We have to be on each other’s sides and that means being on the same page.
Collaboration for Liberation
To me, it does not matter at the end of the day whether you identify as pro-feminist or personally identify as a feminist, as long as you act in solidarity with feminists and with women. Partnership and collaboration between people of all genders and sexes will be key as we move forward together and will unlock to our collective liberation. Remember this always: men matter within the feminist movement now more than ever; we need men if we are going to succeed; and we are counting on men to play an active role.