A Letter to the “Good Guys” on Feminism

To the reader

This article is not designed to make you feel some level of shame. It is an invitation to have a long-overdue conversation. For whatever reasons you have decided to click on and read this, I urge you to do so with an open mind. Read the whole thing, even if some parts don’t sit well with you – especially those parts. This is meant to inform you, maybe even convince you. It could be a tool to understanding the complex nature of feminism, sexism, inequality. It may help you connect better with the women in your life: your mom, sister, best friend, girlfriend. This isn’t just for the good guys; it is for everyone.

 

Feminism – what it is, what it isn’t.

“I think that a lot of guys have the mindset and mentality of a feminist but don’t have the behaviors of one.” - Max McKenzie, MNSU male student. 

This may sound like a broken record to some, but it is important to explain in brief what feminism is – that complicated word opposed by so many. Feminism is the belief in equality for all people. This means that one’s gender or biological sex should not restrict their opportunities for equality. Many men have the mindset of a feminist but lack the vocal support and behaviors. Why is this? Part of the problem is how the word “feminism” is all too often associated with misandry, or “man-hating.” That is not what feminism is about. Are there feminists that hate men? Well, sure – but misandrists who associate themselves with the feminist movement do not redefine it. The same way that most men are not sexist, rapists, or misogynistic – not all women in the feminist movement hate or blame you. When the extreme opinions that cast blame onto all men get the spotlight, it is understandable why some men become defensive. Afterall, you’re the good guys, right? It can be difficult to support something that you feel opposes you. We need to get passed the idea that there are these two opposing sides of hatred and angst.

We are not against each other. 

Men, it is not your fault.

It needs to be understood that the blame for sexism and inequality cannot simply get passed around from one generation, one gender, or even one individual to the next. This issue wasn’t born in the 90’s like many of us. It is the fault of a social system marked and made by our human history. We are not responsible for starting this problem. However, we are responsible for reinforcing it, for intentionally or unintentionally maintaining it. We are responsible for doing nothing about it. This goes for all people of all genders. The beast of inequality will cease to survive the day we stop feeding it. It is important that we understand it first.

 

Inequality – can you spot it?

“My mom does the same job that a lot of men do and she doesn't get paid as much. She was the only woman in this VP position, and they don't take her seriously. She has men underneath her that don’t want to listen to her because she's a woman.” - Anonymous MNSU male student. 

Inequality is a real and complicated thing, engraved in our social, political and economic systems. We are born into a world full of norms that do not support equal opportunity, and these norms are reinforced by patriarchy, privilege, and power. These topics tend to make people feel uncomfortable or defensive, so hear me out. Awareness of these phenomena is necessary if we as human beings are going to do something to effect change.

Let’s face it: we live in a patriarchal society. Men predominately hold the positions of power while women find themselves excluded from it. This underrepresentation should not sound very surprising. One hundred percent of United States presidents have been men. Today, women make up only 25% of the senate (men=75%) and 23.4% of the House of Representatives (men=76.6%). These discrepancies are not unheard of, but they should be met with more concern considering that the makeup of the U.S. population is roughly 50/50. It is clear that political power does not split in that way. By way of power and position, men are making more decisions that affect all people. Women are left out of decisions regarding reproductive rights, pay equity, domestic violence – along with issues that not only impact women directly, but that impact the strength of our society as a whole. 

In the business world, the share of female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies comes to a whopping 4.8% as of 2018. Today, women are still struggling to overcome the pay gap. The median earnings for women are still roughly 82% of those earned by men. Think about your mothers, your sisters. Their pay is compared to “a man’s dollar,” after all. When people try to figure out why these inequalities remain, about seven in ten women believe that one reason is the presence of a social requirement where women must do more than their male counterparts in order to prove themselves. Six in ten women say that gender discrimination is the largest obstacle in the way of this equality. Some people have fewer obstacles, and that leads me to talk about privilege.

 

Privilege and boxes

“I think the one that hits me every day is the fact that I'm a bigger white dude with a beard just walking down the street. You're a big white dude - no one is going to mess with you.” - Max McKenzie, MNSU male student. 

Society is obsessed with boxes; everyone gets one. Packed inside each is some form of privilege and it is given whether you want it or not. You did not earn the privilege that you have, you are not a better or worse human being because of it. It is also not your fault that society placed it into your box. It is your responsibility, however, to be aware of it and to recognize how privilege has influence over everything. People tend to look at the concept in linear terms, where there are those at the top with the most and those at the bottom with the least, but it is more complicated than that. With privilege there is intersectionality, there are different types and the scope of it can change depending on the context. I am not asking you to add up and measure yours to compare it to mine, or your neighbor’s. Instead, I am challenging you to think about it, be honest and allow yourself to start noticing its effects.

Something that may steer men away from the feminist movement is having to face what’s in their box head on. Many issues that feminists face, men will not have to experience, and for them to understand it they must come to terms with the privilege that they have in those situations.

For example, when a man is promoted, people will not likely say he got the job because he is a man. However, if a woman climbs the ranks her abilities are called into question and her gender is put in the spotlight. Privilege is not having your abilities questioned because of your gender. Men are less likely to face sexual harassment in the workplace than women, or even on the way to work. Men can generally walk alone at night without fear of being raped – home from the bars, home from the night class, toward the car in a parking lot. When too drunk at the house party with all of your friends, there is often little concern about becoming a victim of rape. However, think about your female friends and how they approach these situations. Are women not encouraged to travel in groups, to watch how they dress, to purchase color-changing nail polish that detects date-rape drugs in drinks? Many women are used to holding a key tight in a fist like it’s a set of brass knuckles on the way to the car, pepper spray loaded and ready to go in their pockets. Privilege is not having to fear harassement, assault, or rape. 

According to The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men in the U.S. have been raped at least once. Nearly half of all victims (female=46.7%, male=44.9%) were raped by intimate partners. Can you think off the top of your head of five women you are close to? Over 90% of sexual assault victims on college campuses do not report it to authorities. Do you wonder about what is being done behind closed doors, do you think about what is not being said? Are you aware of these struggles your women peers face that you do not have to endure? A form of privilege is being a part of the demographic less subjected to this assault. Why are there men that contribute to these statistics? Can you think of any men in your life who are capable of such things? 

 

Toxic masculinity - how it tries to restrict men 

“I think men would be comfortable with the word ‘feminist’ if they understood that it means they could honor that natural part of them that is nurturing, the part that can express its feelings. I don’t think they understand that feminism means that they could benefit by being their authentic selves.” - Esther Marcella, local feminist. 

People often view privilege as always being beneficial, but those favored by privilege in one way are always restricted in another. Toxic masculinity is a side effect of this privilege that some men experience. It is a term used to describe manhood in a limiting, repressive way marked notably by violence, dominance, societal status and sex. It is a systemic social problem which places pressures on men regarding “traditional behavior.” What is typically social taboo for men under this toxic masculinity is the expression of traditionally feminine traits. For example, men may feel societal pressure to limit or restrict emotional expression, particularly sadness, doubt, and fear. People behave how they perceive they ought to behave based on the continued systemic, gender-based norms we continue to reinforce. 

Behaviors that people engage in are not always appropriate and we sometimes lack awareness of them. Other times, participation may feel wrong, but speaking up against it may feel even more uncomfortable. It is much easier for us to fit in, to participate, and then to rationalize the wrong away. We justify our actions by saying we are only joking, by saying boys will be boys, by saying nothing at all. The feminist movement needs both men and women to be their “authentic selves,” despite the toxic restrictions we face.

 

To be (or not to be) Powerful

The support of men in the fight for this equality is essential. Some men may feel removed from this conversation when it is called a women’s issue, but this is not only a women’s issue. It is a human issue. Men in our society tend to have the privilege and power that facilitates change – politically and economically – and this unequal distribution is not their fault. This is simply the continued trend born from our historically gender-based social systems of privilege – it’s time to set new trends. What the feminist movement needs, and what all human beings need in the pursuit of freedom and equality, is for those with power to do something good with it. We need men to be leaders, to be courageous and to stand up alongside their fellow women. Men who believe in the feminist movement need to speak out about it. Without the support of men, how will change and reform ever be implemented? It is difficult to rally and come together when only half of us decide to show up, when only half of us feel invited to join the conversation. What we need to improve as a society is expanding this conversation to all people, and not just women.

 

The solution

There are many people who think that the feminist movement names men as the problem in society, but they are in fact an essential part of the solution. There are so many opportunities for human beings to be human beings together, despite the boxes, the divides and the inequalities that run amuck. What we as a whole society must encourage is not just the support from men who are feminists, but that support put into action as well. We, all men and all women, are encouraged to interrupt the behavior of one another when the behavior limits, restricts, or represses equality. It is time for us, together, to speak up against the norms that have traditionally divided us. To remain silent is to remain complicit. 

This is no easy thing to do, but that is the point. We have gotten too comfortable and it has become too easy to do nothing, to say that boys will be boys or that girls will be girls, to say that this is the way it is –

this is not the way it has to be. 

Instead, we should be saying no, we should be saying stop. We need to start having these conversations and everyone needs to feel welcomed to speak, like you – the good guys.

Welcome to the movement.