So I keep hearing phases like this: “I’m not sure how I feel about feminism. Like, sure, in a text book sense I’m a feminist, but I’m not necessarily comfortable with all of what feminists have to say.” Alright, let’s get into this.
So to begin, a Feminist is a person concerned with, and interested in bringing about, equality of the sexes. This idea of equality is the basis of feminism, and, when taken to heart of it, that’s all it takes to be a feminist. That said, there seems to be all kinds of ideas about the things feminists believe, but I am confident in saying that the vast majority of the crazy ones are coming from outside the feminist movement.
So I’m a feminist, and I’m a man. That is a cis-gender man. I partake in what I consider contemporary feminism, largely because what I hear most often, and agree with, seems to make up the vast majority of feminist dialogue and action. From my perspective, the following list comprises the most pressing and talked about issues in the feminist movement at this time: sexual harassment, rape cases or lack thereof, and the teaching of consent as a long term solution for going after rape apologists and victim blaming as damage control. You may be saying “well sure, but that doesn’t cover men’s issues.” For one, men don’t have as many serious life affecting issues facing them as women do, which I will explain in due time. Not being able to get access to your kid after a nasty divorce is a real problem, and there are feminists who fight that very issue. Luckily for everyone, there is no such thing as a single cohesive monolithic movement when you’re dealing with something as large or long lived as feminism. The movement is over a hundred years old.
Also, lets blow one nonsensical myth out of the water: feminist don’t hate men. I don’t hate men and I don’t hate myself, men are not inherently the problem. One of the biggest issues is that men are privileged over women in many, often subtle, ways. The most basic of these are the wage gap, job and educational opportunities, and feelings of physical safely and security in public and in private. These would and do pose massive problems to any form of equality. When one group does not get paid equally for the same work, and they are dissuaded from certain types of work purely based on societal expectations, we have a big problem . Moreover, women are considered public objects in our society, we are allowed to freely and openly critique every physical portion of a women and are often expected to. From their body to their clothing to the way they move and present themselves, even the way they talk. One might say men get this to, but anyone who is honestly looking into the issue will admit that it occurs far more regularly to women. For example; how often do men get cat called, or whistled at? Both women and men judge women largely by their physical traits, which is largely not the case for men. As well, this is not an inequality born of nature, but of culture. There are cultures where the above examples are not the case, yet we are mostly blind to this since we were raised with this often overt sexism all around us and deem it normal and expected.
A bigger issue than those above is women’s safety. As a 6 foot tall 240 pound man, I almost never feel unsafe, and I know of no other men, except some who are gay, who feel unsafe. Why? Because the chances of a man being assaulted by a partner, friend, acquaintance or even a stranger are dramatically lower that a women’s chances. In Canada the rates of lifetime sexual assault against women range between 25-50% with 20% of women having a case of “serious” (penetration/ physical trauma) assault. These are very troubling numbers and are not equally reflected in the male populations. Another disturbing but telling statistic is that between 6-15% of men (depends of country) will admit to having raped a woman. That is, 6-15% percent of men will have clear understanding and communication from their sex partner that they do not consent to having sex and will then have sex with that partner anyway. 6-15% and we are not even talking about cases of ambiguous consent. We are talking about clear cut cases of rape. That means millions of men think that it’s okay, or, at the very least, are not bothered enough to stop themselves. http://www.wcsap.org/sites/www.wcsap.org/files/uploads/webinars/SV%20on%20Campus/Repeat%20Rape.pdf *
These are numbers are not only appalling, but also give us clues into why women are not as comfortable in their own physical safety as men tend to be. Given that there is a very real possibility that they will be assaulted at some time in their life, 1 in 4 and 1 in 2 are not numbers to scoff at.
Now, I will admit that there are some radical feminist that say hateful and damaging things, the biggest group causing problems now are known by some as TERF’s (Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists). These primarily female “feminists” think that transgender women should not be allowed into the feminist movement because they are not “real women.” This is a horrid and awful, hateful thing to say no matter what. First, you don’t need to be a woman to be a feminist let alone a cis woman, and second, it shows a huge disregard for trans women and gender politics. This is a moment that is made up in no small part of gender politics. Thankfully, these TERF’s are a very rare breed and make up a tiny percentage of those who claim the title of feminist.
And sure, there might be some group of man-hating feminists out there, but I don’t hear about them, and they certainly don’t make up the majority, or colour the dialogue I see within feminism. And even if they were loud, proud, and causing problems, I would not run away from feminism. I would instead insert myself into the dialogue and try to point out healthier directions. Though that’s not the case, so men should have no fear of joining feminism. Though don’t expect to be listened to unquestioningly: if you’re new to a group, particular a movement with its own terms and popular language like feminism, it’s your job to do due diligence and listen at least and much as you speak so that you’re really coming to appreciate the conversation around you, not just what you thought you’d hear in the first place.
And if you don’t like all that I’ve said, and still have reservations, guess what: you can still be a feminist, and you should be a feminist. Come add your voice to the still open question of how equality should be implemented and how continuing oppression should be addressed. You may be surprised by what you learn, should you choose to listen. And please try not to be a jerk. Then you likely won’t get treated like one in return.
*Repeat Rape and Multiple Offending Among Undetected Rapists. David Lisak, and Paul M. Miller. Violence and Victims, Vol. 17, No.1, 2002
Afterthought: I should add, you may say something and see a feminist response that agitates you. You’ve probably said something that is very close to an MRA talking point. Instead of getting defensive, which I understand can be very hard, please understand that many feminists have heard certain questions, suggestions, and talking points hundreds of times before. I know from experience that it can be hard not to just snap at someone. This, I understand, is less than ideal, but it is a reality that sometimes(sometimes not always) happens and it isn’t that feminists don’t want more allies, it’s just that there are many people who claim to be allies but then will complain and attack the movement, often without realizing it, but we explained that there are comments that are not constructive, they will blow up, or claim that their opinions are being ignored, this has happened to me personally 5 or 6 times in the last two years and I don’t even get the worst of it.