After a recent talk I gave at Longwood University, a female student asked me how we can increase male involvement in feminism. Many people are considering this issue, including Jackson Katz (whose TED Talk about gender violence went viral) and PolicyMic's Lauren Rankin, who discussed the role of male feminist allies in her article "Feminism Needs Men, Too."
My answer to the student was that she should talk to the men in her life about feminism and share resources like The Good Men Project with them. Many feminist issues, from equal pay in the workplace to how we construct gender norms, affect men. The personal is political for men as well as women, and men need to work through many of the same societal issues women do (such as body image and sexual relationships) plus many issues that are specific to maleness.
As I pondered this question further and thought about what I will tell my son about feminism as he grows older (he is currently seven), I came up with the list below. Although of course I want my son to be a feminist to help make the world a better place for women, I also believe that feminism will make his life happier, richer, and fuller. In other words, I want him to be a feminist for himself as well as for others.
Here’s what’s to love about feminism if you’re a man:
1. Relief From Breadwinner Pressure
Follow the discussion thread on any topic about men and objectification, or men and money, and you'll find men talking about the pressure they feel to be financial providers. This issue is clearly one of the most difficult things about living as a man in our culture. By questioning gender norms and working to make both the workplace and the home more equal, feminists and their allies are shaping a world in which men are way more than the sum of their salary.
2. Fulfilling Sex Life
A recent study (though the interviews are from the 1990s) claimed that men who do more traditional tasks around the house — "manly" stuff like mowing and fixing cars — have more sex than men who do dishes and vacuum. Previous studies have supported the idea that men who do traditionally female household tasks have more sex. So what gives? If we change up our roles around the house, how does that affect married sex life? According to marriage scholar Stephanie Coontz, partnership is the key: if a couple is in sync and happy with the distribution of duties, they tend to be happier in the bedroom. And feminism is all about partnership.
3. Richer Emotional Life
If you're a man, there's no crying in baseball. Or anywhere else, for that matter. To man up is to pack down your feelings. While emotions can sometimes be a distraction, repressing them for all time in the name of gender is limiting and unhealthy. Feminists and their allies advocate for a fuller version of masculinity, one in which it isn't wimpy for a man to express sadness or fear — just human.
4. Fulfilling Relationships
From relaxed, emotionally connected friendships with men — no "bromance" label required—to more open communication about needs and desires within romantic partnerships, feminism opens up the possibilities in relationships. And when both partners can express needs and desires, you get connectedness: a human need that traditional masculinity denies men.
5. Self-Acceptance (No Six Pack Required)
Increasingly, our media is putting the male body on display as a sexual object, as the female body has been for a long time. (Just ask Jon Hamm.) All those feminist conversations about the painful consequences of female objectification apply to objectification of the male body as well. Feminists and their allies are discussing the complexities of sexual empowerment and sexual objectification, and to solve our culture’s body image problems we all need to tune in to their conversations.
6. Tough Talk
If Cinderella ate my daughter, then Iron Man ate my son — and the consequences of convincing boys that an unattainable and unassailable strength are the definition of manliness are as harmful as the princess culture is for girls. In his book The Macho Paradox, Jackson Katz discusses the need for us to redefine masculinity so that violence is not a core component of it. This men who are providing solutions to the problem of masculnity and violence — including Katz and Michael Kimmel — are male feminist allies.
7. A Space to Listen, and Be Heard
The movement toward equality is one in which women are becoming empowered, not to hold power over men but to self-actualize. Men need to support this effort, and to listen.That doesn't mean men never have a chance to speak and be heard, however. There are things about patriarchy than men need to talk about, together and with women; things about masculinity that need male perspectives, strength, and vulnerability if we are going to change them. Feminist conversations — particularly those among male feminist allies — create a space where men can speak about their issues and experiences, and their voices can help define equality.
8. Changing the Game
In researching her book Self-Made Man, Norah Vincent "passed" as a man for a year to discover what it is like, culturally, to live as a man. Her conclusion is something that male feminist allies discuss often: masculinity is a performance, a game in which you can never be man enough. By changing our society from one in which the dominant male rules supreme to one in which people are who they are, and men and women work together as partners, feminism is a game-changer: men no longer have to continually prove their masculinity.
9. Increased Family Income
If you are a man who marries a woman, your family income will be lower than it should be, not because you aren’t enough of a provider, but because your wife’s earning power is determined by her gender: women currently make 77 cents for every dollar a man makes. The Paycheck Fairness Act (which feminists support) would require equal pay for equal work, which would economically benefit everyone.
10. Increased Family Time
Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer just made headlines by instituting paternity leave at her company. Good Men Project contributor Scott Behson praised the decision from both a business and a cultural standpoint. Behson writes about work/life balance for men at Fathers, Work, and Family. Working fathers are feeling the work/life crunch just as working mothers are, and the impetus for change lies with feminists and their allies.