In my home growing up, feminism was the f-word. It was assumed that if a woman was a feminist she was probably a lesbian and most definitely a man-hater. After all, wasn’t feminism about ripping apart the family unit and disposing of the disposable male? For too long, men and women have been fed the lie that feminism is anti-men. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Feminism is just as pro-circle arrow as it is pro-circle cross.
Men, like women, have imposed upon them a societal idea of what it means to be a “man” — sometimes referred to as the straight-jacket of masculinity. From the time they are young, we ingrain in them sexist life slogans like “Be a man” and “Boys don’t cry.” We burden them with the responsibility of providing for women while at the same time teaching them the inherent power and privilege that comes with being the bread winner and controller of the purse strings. We hyper-masculinize them, reducing them to their penis size and muscle mass. At the same time we teach them to objectify and sexualize women, creating in them a feeling of superiority over and separation from their sisters.
Such gender engineering causes division and inequality among the sexes. In his article "Unlocking the Gender Straitjacket," The Good Men Project contributor Peter Folan suggests that stringent gender roles are to blame for the inequalities we’re beginning to see in schools, saying that, “The way men define and embrace stereotypical forms of masculinity is a key cause of the performance gap surrounding boys and men in our country.”
Folan goes on to argue that the mainstream straight-male agenda is backfiring:
“Men are, in fact, being socialized into a hegemonic definition of masculinity, which asks men to be tough and competitive while also encouraging the subordination of women and marginalization of gay men. It is this narrow focus that is adversely impacting men in our country.”
So what can feminism do for you, as a man?
First of all, it can allow you to be yourself. You like pink? So what? You want to watch interior-decorating shows with your mother? Good for you! (And you won’t be called a mama’s boy because there’s nothing wrong with being a mama’s boy and what does being a “mama’s boy” even mean?!)
Secondly, it can repair your relationships with women. Instead of seeing us as “the other,” a thing to compete with, you can see us for what we are: Unique human being such as yourself not wishing to be reduced to our body parts. In the end, the “battle of the sexes” has no winners, only losers.
And last but not least, feminism can help you realize your humanity. You will stop seeing yourself as a construct of society and unburden yourself of the continual fear of failing that construct. Robert Jensen, Journalism professor at the University of Texas, puts in wonderfully in his speech on masculinity to the Minnesota Men’s Action Network. In it, he tells audience members that after reading one of his first feminist essays in college, he was struck with the following:
“[That] feminists didn’t hate men. In fact feminists, in a sense, love men more than we often love ourselves. And that feminism was not a threat to me as a man … But in fact feminism is a gift to us. It is a way we can deepen our own humanity and, in fact, sometimes even claim our own humanity for the first time.”