By Madison Teuscher
Where do men fit into a movement that explicitly promotes women’s issues and voices? Isn’t proclaiming yourself a male feminist exactly the appropriation and privilege that feminism is trying to combat?
An article in “Daily Life” from this week presented a solution, to become an ally, rather than carving out a space within feminism for your own satisfaction and comfort. That requires an honest and humble realization that this movement ultimately is not about you. Feminism is inherently about women from every walk of life, and the importance of their stories and opportunities. This movement needs advocates and allies in every corner of the world. We don’t need an exclusive club that affords membership only to the elite—we need voices of every race, gender, sexuality, and background stepping forward to fight for gender equality.
As a feminist, this is a line I find myself walking carefully in discussions with many friends. I hear from men who sympathize with the feminist movement, but choose to identify as “humanists” rather than “feminists.” They think that gender stereotypes hurt everyone and that we should make everyone equal, rather than women higher than men.
Well, no kidding. Of course we want everyone, regardless of gender, race, or sexuality, to have equal opportunities. However, the purpose of the feminist movement is to recognize that women have been historically repressed by men, and there are myriad ways—both structurally and culturally—that this inequality is still prevalent. The movement’s goal is not to take away anything from people, but rather to empower women and create space for their voices and issues. Too often, men claim the title of “male feminist” as a way to talk over and silence the very movement they claim to be a part of.
This isn’t to say men do not feel the negative effects of gender stereotypes—because they do. However, sexism in the workplace, in the home, and in politics prevents women from having equal opportunities to learn, create, build, and share. We need people that can recognize honestly the need for the increased awareness and activism by and for women.
A close friend of mine described the issue well with an analogy—we are all sitting at a dinner table, enjoying a wonderful meal. Bob doesn’t have a meal, and asks the group for some food. The group responds “Well, Bob, everyone deserves dinner.” Of course everyone deserves dinner, but the issue is that Bob doesn’t have dinner. Giving Bob a plate of food does not take away from my meal, and it will probably enhance the dining experience for the whole group.
Emma Watson’s now famous “HeForShe” campaign addressed many of these questions in an eloquent way to remind us all why male allies in the feminist fight are so important. She says, “If men don’t have to be aggressive in order to be accepted, women won’t feel compelled to be submissive. If men don’t have to control, women won’t have to be controlled.” In order to combat gender inequality, we need everyone to be involved. Men still largely control power mechanisms around the world, including politics, business, finance, and media. This is where allies are so important—they can work from the inside and affect change from within. Allies are an integral part of the solution, who are aligned with the group but do not stake claim over it. The writer of the recent “Daily Life” article about male feminists says, “Allies are pals who can be relied upon to help out. But allies don’t barge into the clubhouse and start demanding that they get to design the flag.”
Have the courage to declare yourself a feminist. In Emma Watson’s “HeForShe” speech at the United Nations, she says, “If you believe in equality, you might be one of those inadvertent feminists.” The call for equality is a recognition that one group does not have the same privileges as another, and in order to bring about change, we must increase the opportunities for women.
Continue to ask questions and develop a sense of justice and compassion. Advocate for those whose voices have been and continue to be trampled. Speak up and speak out. This is our fight—let’s fight it together.