A Man's Guide to Feminism: How To Be an Ally
by Erin Bagwell,Feminist Wednesday
Lately I have been getting a lot of questions and found myself in a lot of conversations with men about feminism. They notice the change in culture, they are curious about the mission, and they are eager to ask about what it all means. However a lot of them are not sure how they can be involved, be allies, or claim the word ‘feminist’ for themselves. So I have put together a helpful list to show men how they can get involved in the cause and participate in the movement.
But before we get to that, let’s talk basics. What is feminism? According to Wikipedia:
[blockquote source="Wikipedia"]Feminism is a collection of movements and ideologies aimed at "defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights for women.[/blockquote]
Which basically means women want equality in all areas of their lives: Gender equality = Feminism. The man-hating connotation of the word is a myth created by the mainstream media to fear monger men in america into thinking feminists are penis-envying crazy people. Lets not get confused here. Gender equality = feminism.
However there is another layer to modern feminism that’s worth being excited about, blossoming out of third-wave feminism. I’m talking about intersectional feminism. Intersectional feminism incorporates elements of 'queer theory, anti-racism, women of color, transgender politics, and sex-positivity'. For all intents and purposes, Intersectional feminism is all about human equality (whether it be gender, race, sexual orientation, etc). Which is fabulous! Being aware and active in one form of oppression (gender equality) is uniting people of all fronts to take stands and support each other- which is totally fabulous.
Some men reading this must be thinking “But how can I understand or be involved in something that doesn't affect my life on a daily basis?” Lets get one thing straight right now before we dive into the ways to be an ally. Feminism, and the gender stereotypes which feminism fights against in society are not only working against your sister and your girlfriend- they are working against you too.
While men might have more freedom of power in our culture, they are stealthily stripped of emotion the day they are born. Have you ever been told to act like a man or stop acting like a girl? Have you ever been in a situation where you are expected not to cry, be empathetic or 'man up'? Our culture is constantly finding ways to stunt men's emotional growth, which correlates to built up aggression that very often manifest itself violently. To illustrate this point check out the three min trailer to The Mask You Live In that really showcases the negative affects of being a pent-up male in our society.
[blockquote source="Though we've had the courage to raise our daughters more like sons, we've rarely had the courage to raise our sons like daughters."]Gloria Steinhem[/blockquote]
So now you know what feminism is, understand how it affects you, and are consciously thinking about gender roles. Whats next? Obviously the heart of feminism is in the voice of so many females speaking up and taking action against inequality. So how can you be an ally? Here’s a few ways you can help further the cause:
1. Come to the table. I think a lot of men are afraid to lean-in to their feminism and they don't know if they are allowed to sit at the table. Well, I am here to tell you not only are you allowed but you are welcomed! I go to lots of feminist events and there are always one or two men present. Their presence always inspires an overwhelming amount of love and appreciation from women. Join the discussion, listen to your friends stories, and don't be afraid to go to an event. You are not just invited, you are seen as an equal force for change in our culture.
2. Speak Up. If you see a co-worker,neighbor, or regular ol’ lady in a position where gender inequality is happening, or insensitive comments are being made, speak up. A simple, 'Bro thats not cool' is quite effective. Being silent and allowing harassment or discrimination to happen is no good. You have to acknowledge and dismiss it publicly. Just the other day I saw a young girl being followed by a street creep so I politely told him “fuck off, she doesn't want you following her.” It was quite effective, and the lady was extremely appreciative. It feels good to help people and speak up. In street harassment cases, even distracting the harasser is a good tactic- asking them directions or the time gives the person being harassed time and space to remove themselves from the situation.
3. Be aware that gender discrimination still exists. When the same resume was sent out under two different names, Jen and Jack, who do you think got the callback for an interview? We naturally favor men to be in positions of power so our natural inclination is to hire them. Men also are usually the ones in hiring positions so they often hire people that look, sound, and remind them of themselves. But are they the most qualified? Will they do the best job? Stick to standards when you are making decisions where gender can blur the lines. Set up ten things the candidate should have and see who makes the cut based on qualifications, not gender. Being generally aware of the way our society works can help you make an informed decision about how you want to participate in it.
4. Be aware of objectification. I think that female objectification is the root of most evil in our society. Viewing women as objects or accessories trickles down into low self esteem for girls, less women in leadership, less women in politics, and more depressed, anxious women in our society. When we are in this fog of sexism, and naked ladies are paraded around on the daily, it’s hard to actually see objectification because it is fucking everywhere. This commercial is a great way to show how dumb and bizarre the way we view women is simply by doing a role reversal.
5. Be empathetic. Whether you want to declare yourself a feminist or not, definitely be aware of the discrimination women face and take a minute to understand what its like to be faced with such discrimination. Can't put yourself in her shoes? This french video swaps the gender roles in society so you don't have to.
I could go on and on but I think those are some pretty basic ways to identify and understand feminism. If you are still interested in furthering your 'education' I also recommend watching the documentary Miss-Representation (conveniently streaming on Netflix). This film effectively illustrates many of the negative effects of discrimination in our society in a powerful 60 min film.
I also recommend sticking with Feminist Wednesday! Whether you subscribe to our storytelling newsletter that comes just twice a month or you skim our site for interesting articles and perspectives- being an informed and aware ally of up to date happenings in feminism is helpful. It’s easy to live in your comfort bubble of masculinity but there is a whole world out there and you can make it better by joining us!
I'd love to answer any questions or comments you have about feminism on my podcast, BeaverTalk so feel free to write in your thoughts to me at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line BeaverThoughts.