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Men + Feminism

March 29, 2012

In light of Monday’s Powerful Woman Monologue, I asked one of my male feminist friends to weigh in on what he thinks men’s role is in the feminist movement.  I wanted to share what Alex had to say:

Renee recently brought this post to my attention and after reading it I decided to share my two cents.  I am a 25 year old man who is currently in the graduate Women’s Studies program at NIU.  I agree with Renee when she says that the feminist movement is as much about men as it is women.  Lots of schools are starting to adopt Gender Studies programs instead of Women’s Studies to be more inclusive of both genders.  At NIU it is still called Women’s Studies but we study men a great deal as well.  First, virtually all of the ways in which women are oppressed is a result of the patriarchy which was established and is supported by men (knowingly or unknowingly).  So we look at the ways in which the patriarchy was developed and continues to exist.  Another goal of the feminist movement (in my opinion) is to break down the dichotomy of gender roles and make gender more fluid.  In order to accomplish this, scholars are now studying masculinity in a variety of settings.  There is an extensive amount of research on masculinity (and consequently femininity) during times of war.  Other scholars like Judith Halberstam study female masculinity, which asserts that masculinity is only legible when it is outside of the male body.  More directly to the point of wanting know about ‘men’s issues’ is work by my favorite author Michael Kimmel.  He frequently writes about men’s roles in feminism, and the effects that gender roles have on men.  He recently published a book called The Guy’s Guide to Feminism that is a quick, easy read.  One of my favorite articles by him is “Masculinity as Homophobia” which describes the negative effects that established gender roles put unto men and society as a whole.

In short, I believe that there is an emphasis on promoting acceptable behavior in men.  By examining ways in which the patriarchy oppresses women, we as men learn what not to do.  However, I personally do not agree that we need more of an emphasis on ‘men’s issues’.  Men have more power in society than women and our ‘issues’ pale in comparison to women.  Only after we can legitimately declare that feminism’s goals have been accomplished can we start to focus men’s issues.

Here are my thoughts on the issue:

I consider myself a third wave feminist and a part of the feminist movement. I believe that, in the West, men are just as affected by patriarchal gender norms as women are.  Why are men told to suppress their emotions and act out aggressively in order to assert their masculinity?  Why is a man’s sexuality questioned when he openly cries or displays tenderness?  Correspondingly, why are strong women assumed to be lesbians or bitches, and women who sleep with more than one partner are sluts?  And finally, why are non-normative displays of gender pathologized?  If a person wants to dress like the other gender, why is it okay to ridicule them?

These are the boxes that a patriarchal society places us in.  These are the roles we’re socialized to play.  And this is what my definition of feminism seeks to complicate and challenge—that people of all genders (oh yeah, all genders, gender is not binary) deserve the decency and respect to not be confined by the roles they are told to play.

Feminism is often mischaracterized as women wanting to rule the world.  That’s not true.  We want the same opportunities to rule the world that men have had for so long.  We want to break down the gendered codes that keep us from achieving at the same rate as men.  And once it is understood that one’s performance of gender does not determine one’s competence and decency as a human being, both men and women will be liberated from rigid sex and gender roles.

If you haven’t yet read the comments from Monday’s post, please check them out.  There’s an interesting conversation unfolding that shouldn’t be ignored.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. March 29, 2012 1:10 pm

    This one has been my favorite so far Renee. I loved to hear a man’s perspective… and then your follow-up was great too.
    Thanks!

  2. March 29, 2012 4:24 pm

    “Why are men told to suppress their emotions and act out aggressively in order to assert their masculinity? Why is a man’s sexuality questioned when he openly cries or displays tenderness? Correspondingly, why are strong women assumed to be lesbians or bitches, and women who sleep with more than one partner are sluts? And finally, why are non-normative displays of gender pathologized? If a person wants to dress like the other gender, why is it okay to ridicule them?”

    This, this, THIS.

    Interestingly, it was my father who challenged all of that for me, save the cross-dressing as his religious upbringing just wouldn’t allow him to come to terms with it. But I saw him cry numerous times as I grew up, he used a flippin’ Tim McGraw song to make sure I understood that grown men DO cry and that it’s not something for which to look down on them, and he made it clear that any strong leader, male or female, was to be respected for being just that—a strong leader, gender aside.

    Thought-provoking post, as usual. Keep ’em coming.

  3. March 30, 2012 3:19 pm

    I like the idea of inclusion, and talking about how men are expected to behave/do behave and how that affects our world (and the men and women in it). I hate the idea that feminism or gender studies is just a bunch of women sitting around talking together, which is an idea that a whole lot of people still have about the subject. This is a great post!

  4. March 30, 2012 5:27 pm

    I don’t have the words today to add to this (lack of sleep and grades being due have left me quite unraveled) but I just want to say: Yes!
    And that I am so impressed with the discussions that are happening here!

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