In reply to “Hey girl, let’s smash the patriarchy” by Kacper Niburski, published Jan. 16, 2014 on A8 (Posted as “Daily Dose: Feminism without women” on thesil.ca)
Gentlemen, hold on to your boxers.
The idea that feminism is for everyone isn’t new. It’s not revolutionary, it did not grace the world for the first time on page A9 of the Silhouette. It’s an idea that feminists have been repeating over and over for decades. If I had a dime for every time I’ve said it, I would still be drowning in student debt, but at least I’d have enough money for a beer.
We know feminism should be for everyone. We know feminism isn’t a movement only for women. It’s because we know this that we can’t stop talking about it.
So, yes, Kacper is right. Men are and should be part of the solution. Men are important to the movement. Men should be feminists, they should be involved, they should care, because feminism is for them too.
Feminism isn’t isolated to “one gender, one lifestyle.” It’s not isolated to one way of interacting with the world. Feminism is diverse, it’s multi-dimensional and complex. Feminism takes into account so many things that a claim like that is hardly justifiable. Feminism has never attempted to alienate men. I’m not saying that there haven’t been feminists who have happened to hate men. I’m not denying that there are people – feminist or not – who will hate a group solely based on their gender. Those people exist, but they’re not really who we’re talking about when we refer to feminists. The perception of feminists as men-hating, men-blaming women is hopefully one that, as reasonable and educated individuals, we’ve all put behind us.
The first feminist that I met was my high school friend Micah. He was challenging our friends, our teachers, and our gender norms before I even knew what feminism was. He was and continues to be a supportive ally, and I love him for it. He was the reason why I felt safe calling people out on their blatant sexism, on their homophobic and slut-shaming slurs, on the idiotic teenage jokes that undoubtedly included the words “kitchen” and “sandwich” somewhere in them.
As a feminist, I’m aware how important men can be to the movement. I’m aware that men will listen more if other men are telling them that feminism isn’t just a bunch of men-hating lesbians whose mission in life is to kill off anyone who gets in their way.
Men can make great allies. They can create safe spaces for women. They can start discussions. They can reflect with their peers about how they might be perpetuating sexism. They can talk about how the current societal norms are affecting them too, how it might be affecting what’s expected of them, what their role in society is, how it’s impacting their mental health. Women should do all this too. Women can also perpetuate sexism. Everyone can. But unlike men, women don’t get the same privileges that men are born with in a patriarchal system.
Since men already have all this privilege, wouldn’t it be easier then, you might be wondering, to just let a few of these men who “get it” be in charge? Wouldn’t that solve all of our problems? Let men “lead the whole damn thing.”
After all, as Kacper put it, “If men are in charge, it often takes them to cause and want the shift in paradigms.”
But why is it that men need to be in charge to want to cause a paradigm shift? Why do we need to perpetuate just what we’re trying to tear apart? Do we really think so little of men? Do we think that they can’t appreciate a cause that they’re not leading, that they can’t make any connections and lack the critical thinking skills to understand why feminism is important even if they don’t see themselves represented in the leadership?
I do want men to walk alongside me and this “flurry of hollering and hooting women.” I don’t, however, want men to lead a movement that’s trying to empower women, trying to challenge male privilege and gender expectations. I don’t want men to be our saviours. I want them to be our allies. The male perspective is present everywhere in our society. It’s present in our literature, in our music, in our politics. So we don’t need men who will try to take over the movement. We need men who will let us speak. We need men who recognize that there are stories to share, that there are voices that have been silenced and need to be heard.
I don’t think I’ve ever met or will ever meet someone who hasn’t perpetuated sexism at some point in their life. Sexist behaviour isn’t a male-isolated phenomenon, but male privilege is.
There are a myriad of ways in which men can use their privilege to bring forth, alongside women and people of all genders, great strides of feminist development. Leading the whole damn thing, however, is not one of them.