While you’re in college, you tend to hear some pretty scary-sounding stuff when your class has open discussion. For example, government-centric classes put a spotlight on some of the most politically backwards people you’ve ever met. You start to realize your generation is full of people who don’t have a basic understanding of certain movements, and it worries you.
You can understand, then, why when one of my classmates piped up and said, “I’m all for women’s rights and everything, but I’m not a feminist! I don’t hate men!” I felt the need to simultaneously roll my eyes and vomit and give the poor girl a pamphlet, because she was obviously misinformed.
… Or maybe you can’t, because this is the point we’re at.
This view of feminists as the enemy (of men) is becoming so prolific that many women (and men) refuse to identify as such even if they are feminists, because of the stigma attached to the word.
The subconscious of our culture automatically associates “feminist” with “man-hating” — like that classmate of mine, most people see feminists as determined to usurp the power of the phallus and kick men off the throne and into oppression with our combat boots and unshaven legs.
For the record, that is squarely untrue. Feminism isn’t about elevating women above men; it’s about putting them on the same level as men so that we have equal respect, equal pay and equal opportunities as our male counterparts. (If you see equality as elevation above you, we need to be having a much different talk, guys.)
Mainstream society has the tendency to be blinded by fear of change. So much so that people are unable to see that feminism isn’t just helping women get out from under patriarchal oppression … it’s helping free men, too. The truth of the matter is that the strict gender binary put in place by patriarchy isn’t good for anybody, and the effects of patriarchy don’t just reach women. While it is targeted at women, men suffer what I call “spill-over” effects of patriarchy, where consequences are leveled at men as bystanders because of the binary.
While women are expected by society to fulfill certain roles, men are as well. Men are expected to work a dignified, well-earning job to care for their families; they are expected to go to war and fight and possibly die for their country, no questions asked. While many women may have been fighting for those same opportunities and many of their male counterparts are happy and content to fulfill those expectations, many men are trapped because they want quite the opposite, but society doesn’t approve of them stepping outside of that box.
You see, the definition of “manly’ or “masculine” was forced on men at the same time that society was defining “ladylike” or “feminine” for women. It set up a strict binary that dictated that men who were not masculine were automatically feminine, and that it was wrong, and vice versa. Men are expected to be strong and silent — boys don’t cry, girls do, and it’s a sign of weakness in men.
Feminism, over the years, has helped blur the lines between the idea of masculine and the feminine, allowing men to have these so-called “feminine” qualities, and furthering fluidity of identity. While there are many men who identify with the “manly man” prototype by choice, there are many men who don’t. By eliminating the idea that all people with a penis must be masculine and all people with a womb must be feminine, we destroy a damaging binary that forces people into an identity that they don’t want.
You cannot fit a square peg into a round hole. Abolishing this strict binary and therefore eliminating the spill-over effects of patriarchy on women helps men too.
Classmate, if you are reading this: I promise, you really are a feminist.
It doesn’t mean that you are a militant, unshaven, combat boot-wearing harpy who hates men — in fact, it means that you want to stand alongside your male friends as equals, have the same opportunities and be considered worth just as much as they are, and not require them to be a caricature of masculinity when they don’t want to be.