Men and Feminism: A Personal Essay on Finding a Common Ground

Amalie Steidley responds to Tom Matlack’s article on men and feminism.

The word “feminist” is a loaded one. For some, the word is associated with hairy legs, burning bras, and aggressively intolerant women who march through the streets crying out for the end of men. For others, feminism is a part of their everyday life; it is the lens through which they see the world. It is the answer to gender discrimination in society and a way to reach gender equality. Some react instantly to the word “feminism,” and others need time to sift through the conversation surrounding feminism to come to any understanding of the term at all.

I am among the latter. For most of my life, I took strong, independent women for granted. Of course women were equal to men; in my life, many of the adult women I knew were imminently more capable than their husbands. My default was to think about women as more emotionally capable, more socially responsible, and more able to deal with tragedy. I thought of strength in gendered terms, attributing the strength of survival and endurance to women and the strength of physical aggression to men. Feminism was never explicitly stated in my family. Instead, my mother (a partner in a law farm) and aunts (whose professions included ER nurse and kindergarten teacher) simply lived as if they deserved to be treated equally, which taught me to live the same way.

I came into contact with feminism the way most people come into contact with drugs–through my close friends. When I came to college and made friends who were conscious of gender issues, I began to understand a dimension of gender equality that had never before occurred to me. I was familiar with the effects of sexism on women, but what about the effects of sexism on men? How had the sexual revolution changed how men viewed their role in society? Were men forced to negotiate their masculinity in the same way that women were forced to negotiate their femininity?

One of the most influential voices in this discovery of a new facet of gender equality was a dear friend by the name of Daniel Jones. We met in our freshman year at Emerson College, the school that I attended before I transferred to Boston University. Currently, Daniel is a senior at Emerson double majoring in Theater Studies and Writing, Literature and Publishing. He has written for the Good Men Project, a website that focuses on exploring what masculinity means in today’s world. I spoke to him recently about his own understanding of masculinity and why he does not consider himself a feminist, despite the fact that he supports gender equity.

Daniel first experienced gender discrimination when he was going through middle and high school. Because his interests did not echo those of the teenage boys around him, his masculinity was constantly challenged. This made him curious about how masculinity is constructed. Daniel is one of the most ardent believers in gender equity that I know. He takes an intensely personal view of gender equity, applying it to both his personal relationships and to macro concepts such as wage disparity.

“If you’re applying for a job, or in a platonic relationship, your sex should not matter. I don’t believe in saying, ‘I can’t do this with someone because they are of a specific gender,’” he said in a telephone interview earlier tonight. If feminism is defined as gender equality, and Daniel supports gender equality, does it follow that he is a male feminist? Daniel doesn’t believe so. “I have been told several times that my interest in masculinity is a feminist interest. It isn’t a feminist interest–it’s the opposite of that.”

♦◊♦

A few months ago, I read an essay online that changed the way I view men and their interaction with feminism. The Good Men Project, mentioned above, is an online blog that focuses on providing a full and nuanced picture of masculinity. They take on pretty much any issue that touches men’s lives; sex, family, work, war, and politics are all fair game. This June, one of the original founders of The Good Men Project, Tom Matlack, wrote an article entitled “Why Being a Good Man is Not a Feminist Issue.”

In it, he talks about his history as a recovering alcoholic and how he got the idea for The Good Men Project in the first place. He writes, “My original motivation in founding the Good Men Project had little to do with what I thought men should do and more in realizing what we were lacking….My goal was not to proselytize in any way, shape or form. It was simply to bring individual stories of manhood to the surface in hopes of inspiring others to share their stories and, while doing so, become better men.”

He goes on to write what becomes the center of the piece–why he believes that feminism is not central to being a good man. “My fundamental view,” he writes, ” is that there is a male experience that is too often squashed in our society by a culture that perpetuates a deeply flawed view of manhood.” He argues in favor of man-to-man discussions, and expresses frustration at the idea that feminism and gender theory have influenced the writing on The Good Men Project’s website.

While he believes that a conversation about feminism is important, he also thinks that, so far as The Good Men Project is concerned, it’s besides the point. The reader he wants to reach is, for lack of a better term, the common man– “not the guy at any extreme but the non-famous father, husband, and worker trying to figure out what the heck is important to him whether he is a venture capitalist (like me) or a stay-at-home dad or an inmate or a soldier coming back from Afghanistan.” He goes on to say that he has trouble “seeing how debates over gender theory advance the ball in that guy’s thinking.”

This was a transformative article for me to read. Thinking back on my own experience learning how to be a strong, independent woman, I tried to imagine what it would be like to have a man phoning in on those experiences. To have a man tell me the importance of treating men a certain way. Honestly, I probably could have used some enlightening–I still cringe remembering the time that I made fun of my first boyfriend for crying–but would it have had the same effect that my conversations with my mother and my sister did?

Obviously, I am not saying that different genders have nothing to learn from each other. My own introduction to gender studies came from a male friend. And I am not saying that feminism is not important, or that it does not represent causes worth fighting for. I am saying that if the goal is gender equality, who cares how we get there? Who cares what label we call ourselves, as long as we can understand that it is no less valid for a man to stay home and be the primary caregiver than it is for women to go into the workplace? Who cares, as long as we’re fighting for a world where both boys and girls get to wear what they want, where girls can play sports and guys can dance, where women can occupy the office and a vulnerable teenage guy can cry without a snide teenage girl calling him less than a man because everyone knows men don’t cry?

The truth is, we need each other. If women want to move into the workplace and have families, we need men to take on more childcare than they have in the past. If men want to be more emotionally open with their partners or pursue activities that are classically feminine, they need partners who are willing to renegotiate the definition of masculinity that society handed to them.

There are people who argue that the issues that both genders face are two sides of the same coin; that men only experience sexism because women are seen as less than. Therefore, if women are seen as equal, men won’t be judged for engaging in feminine pursuits, because being feminine will no longer be a bad thing. So far as I’m concerned, the best way to get to that day where gender is no longer a basis for discrimination is to let everyone take their own road, no matter what term they use to describe it.

Originally published on The Quad, Boston University’s Independent Online Magazine

 

 

 

photo: centralasian / flickr

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About Amalie Steidley

Amalie Steidley is a senior at Boston University studying Anthropology. She is the Campus Editor and a contributing writer for the BU Quad, Boston University's independent online magazine. She has also been published in Boston University's International Relations Review. She is fascinated by the intersection of gender and conflict and hopes to one day find a career in conflict resolution and mediation.

Comments

  1. Bay Area Guy says:

    I think this essay is a step in the right direction.

    Too often, it seems that being a “good man” is defined by how accommodating men are towards women. In fact, it seems that in order to be a good man, one must temper his masculinity.

    You know, the same masculinity that’s responsible for sexism, “rape culture,” etc.

    I think some men want to define what being a good man is on their own terms. Many are tired of feminists coming in and telling them what they think being a good man is.

  2. I spoke to him recently about his own understanding of masculinity and why he does not consider himself a feminist, despite the fact that he supports gender equity.
    To me, this is the first problem.

    This constant casting of gender equality as something that feminists and feminism have some sort of monopoly on. For every time a feminist has wondered, “if you support gender equality, then why don’t you identify as feminist?” I in turn wonder, “if you support gender equality, why is it so important to you that it be done under the banner of feminism?”.

    One thing feminists are going to have to recognize is that yes it is entirely possible to support gender equality while not identifying as feminist.

    There are people who argue that the issues that both genders face are two sides of the same coin; that men only experience sexism because women are seen as less than. Therefore, if women are seen as equal, men won’t be judged for engaging in feminine pursuits, because being feminine will no longer be a bad thing.
    The issues that both genders face are two sides of the same coin, but trying to say that men only suffer sexism because of the sexism that women face speaks to what I think is the core of why people on different sides have a hard time working together. It casts the sexism that men face as a side effect or collateral damage of “the real problem” of sexism against women.

    As long as people keep looking at issues that men face and saying, “The only reason that’s happening is because of what happens to women. So by focusing on women we help men.” it will be a hard go at trying to gain true gender equality.

    • Feminism has a monopoly of gynocentric views of equality, nothing more. The need for the MRM wouldn’t exist if feminism was adequate in addressing equality for all.

      • Feminism has a monopoly of gynocentric views of equality, nothing more. The need for the MRM wouldn’t exist if feminism was adequate in addressing equality for all.
        The ugliness of it Archy is that it seems that instead of acknowledging that inadequacy and working to resolve it most feminists seem hell bent on rewriting history to convince us that feminism has always had the well being of men in mind (although to their credits MANY individual feminists don’t do this).

        Thankfully there are a lot of feminists that are righting against this tide. But unfortunately there are still many that continue to chirp PHMT, quote a few select lines that mention the hardships of men, disregard the things that men say just because they are men, and other unproductive things that will only delay progress….all the while claiming that if everyone would quit agreeing with them things would get done.

        • Guys, face it , Feminism isn’t about equal rights , it’s about WOMENS rights! And that’s fine because many issues of unequal treatment of women in career choice and job oppurtunity that were long overdue have been and continue to be addressed and that’s a GOOD thing! However, to claim that Feminism has addressed any inequalities men face, that,s just a falsehood. Oh , N.O.W. released a press statement (one of those Friday afternoon ones) stating their opposition to Military conscription long ago, but that was total C.Y.A. To this very day, all 19 year old MALES are still required to register with selective service. Failure to do so can leave you being denied a federal student loan or FHA home mortgage. I know this because my 21 year old son recieved a letter from selective service about a month ago(ironically, about 2 weeks after enlisting in the Army!)

          • Chris Anthony says:

            This.. All of this.

          • I just had a debate on facebook with feminists asking them if men in feminism meant male issues would be addressed, quite a few told me that MEN had to do it themselves in regards to things like raisign awareness of male victims of domestic violence. So someone is lying to me, it seems the feminists who tell me feminism addresses male issues are lying or these facebook feminists are. Because if feminism truly was an egalitarian movement, it wouldn’t be up to men to campaign for awareness but feminists of both genders would be campaigning for awareness of male issues.

            I was also called an MRA in a ad hominem manner when I was just saying I wasn’t an MRA. The bigotry on that thread was astounding yet very few were calling out the feminist bigots for it…Clearly men do not belong in feminism unless it’s in a sit back, shutup and do what we say manner where females rule the roost under that style of thinking.

            • What people say matters nothing compared to what they actually do. The fact is that feminists have not in any meaningful way dealt with male issues. Regardless of what one thinks feminism should do the reality is that nothing happens unless men take action.

      • It’s not just the gynocentrism of feminism, while playing the egalitarian. It is the assumptions that typically come with feminist theory. The idea that men have some innate need to oppress women. That any action a man takes can be somehow attributed to this oppressive drive. Listening to many feminists explaining men’s behavior, you’d be amazed we were capable of tearing ourselves away from oppressing women long enough to crawl out of the caves, not to mention wondering how women aren’t treated like livestock rather than the people they are today. These ludicrous theories and presumptions of male motives and intentions are deeply insulting. And yet, if we reject these, we’re misogynists.


        • The idea that men have some innate need to oppress women. That any action a man takes can be somehow attributed to this oppressive drive.

          No I don’t quite think it’s that. Mind you there are some jerk feminists out there that think that though. For the larger part of them, even the reasonable ones it seems, I think it’s something else.

          I think it’s more of trying to trace all gender based oppressions back to some force that has a primary goal of keeping women down. And then from there anything bad that happens to men is just some run off or splatter.

          Let me try to say it like this. Remember what the author said near the end of this piece?


          There are people who argue that the issues that both genders face are two sides of the same coin; that men only experience sexism because women are seen as less than.

          Sure they will acknowledge that the sexism that both genders face are two sides of the same coin. Problem is they are arguing that the only reason the coin was minted in the first place was to hurt women.

          To me it looks like the reason all the sexisms started in the first place is because each gender was sectioned off by how they were useful to the system. Men over here in this box, women over there in this box. But that seems to go against what a lot of feminists think. To them the boxes were only built in the first place to keep women limited and a long the way it was decided that in order to keep women in their boxes some boxes needed to be built to keep men in as well.

          In short according to feminist logic ALL of the problems men face based on their gender are nothing but collateral damage from the purpose of trying to keep women down.

          This thinking is severely limited IMO (because if nothing else examinations of issues that affect men will nearly always be calculated, valued, and confronted based on, “How does this effect women?”). Ironically they say that they are trying to free all genders up so that people are free to be who they are by their own terms. Well how can you do that when you start off deciding that the only reason men are being hurt is because of women (good luck with the reverse argument) and that the only way to help men is to help women (but good luck trying to argue the reverse)?

          They say we are in this together. But at the end of the day we clearly aren’t. They are only this is for as much help as they can get for women. If it doesn’t have some sort of benefit for women they don’t want anything to do with it.

          • Those examples come directly from the handful of articles discussing the role of white men in the sandy hook shooting, that white men, even the 20 year old ones, are unable to adapt to the loss of their power (even the 20 year olds, who have never actually experienced said power) and have this homicidal need to get it back (despite never actually having it). And these kinds of assumptions are very common with (many) feminists. It’s rare feminists can’t explain something they don’t like, simply by projecting some hateful motive onto all men and explaining how that motive makes them behave in a way that creates the situation they don’t like.

  3. Bay Area Guy says:

    It casts the sexism that men face as a side effect or collateral damage of “the real problem” of sexism against women.

    Exactly.

    I think the reason why so many American men are hostile towards feminism is because, despite all of the lip service that feminists give towards equality/liberation for both genders, “is it good for women?” ultimately dictates the actions of feminists. It’s about female empowerment, not true equality.

    • It’s about female empowerment, not true equality.

      I agree and think that’s a good thing, for feminism. Feminism does need to continue to focus on the myriad of issues that women around the world face. They especially need to focus on including women of color and trans women .

      Let feminism do what it’s good at. It’s needed and shouldn’t be made into more than what it can be.

      My biggest gripe with many feminists is the co-opting of language. So very often, I hear that sexism against men is impossible due to institutional attack on womanhood. No one denies that someone can be prejudice against a man simply for his gender but “ism” seems like a battlefield lately. And you can’t have much of a mature debate when you can’t even agree to the definition of the terms you are discussing and one side erases the others ability to discuss their experiences by saying “no, that’s our word.”

      Then I look at the MRM community and just want to say “fuck it”.


      • No one denies that someone can be prejudice against a man simply for his gender but “ism” seems like a battlefield lately. And you can’t have much of a mature debate when you can’t even agree to the definition of the terms you are discussing and one side erases the others ability to discuss their experiences by saying “no, that’s our word.”

        Damn straight.

        It seems like by their defining the difference between what is sexism and what is “gender discrimination” is not the what, when, where, why, or how. No it is based entirely on the who.

        Check this out.

        Feminists are the first to point out how female rape/abuse victims are mistreated because of their gender and have no problem calling it sexism. They have no problem saying that rape/abuse victims overall are mistreated because of the way our culture treats victims and have no problem pointing out that it is instututional. Now ask them is what happens to male abuse/rape victims is sexism or not.

        Oh they might say it’s institutional because they are abuse/rape victims but a lot of them will fight
        tooth and nail to argue that their gender has nothing to do with the instutional mistreatment that they recieve.

        According to a lot of those folks there is no such thing as sexism against men and women cannot be sexist at all. Oh they can be discriminatory, but not sexist.

        That’s what happens when you build a movement on the vested interested of defining your side as the enternal victim and the other side as the eternal villain.

  4. My experiences with feminists have always varies greatly. I’ve been both impressed and utterly dismayed by my experiences with self described feminists. Years ago, I lived with a young women who was a sex positive feminist, and she was truly an inspiration to me. I still consider her a role model. But I’ve also had some run ins with supposed feminists that left me less then impressed. Those are usually the times when I’ve attempted to go public with my childhood abuse at the hands of women, where I’ve been shot down by a small hand-full of women (likely radical feminists) who claim I am attempting to derail feminism by speaking of such things. As far as I’m concerned, it’s those feminists who are derailing feminism, and not I, because the whole “what about the menz” tactic is bound to backfire, and is coming very close in my case to doing so. I feel as though, perhaps, it would be best for my own healing process to simply ignore feminism/feminists. To the feminists reading this: is that the response you want from men? What are you going to do about these women who claim to have the same objectives as you? Who i it that’s really derailing woman’s rights?

    As well, what Danny said about “collateral damage” really resonated with me. I grew up during the “battle of the sexes” era, when a number of radio stations had call-in shows sometimes actually called “the battle of sexes” where men and women would argue about who was more useless and who has it worse. As a child and a teenage boy I really felt the tension from this battle between the genders/sexes. I also felt as though I was automatically being held responsible for the suffering of women and girls, even as a child. Virtually all of my friends mothers were divorcing their fathers, and kicking them all to the curb. They would routinely trash talking the men in their lives while me and my buddies would play with our GI Joe’s on other side of the room. All the while, the message I was being sent by all this is that women hate and resent men, that this would eventually include me once I got passed my cute faze, and that the suffering of women was more important than that of the men. That somehow my own pain and suffering was only made relevant because it tied into the suffering of women. And I have been left with the impression that I am responsible for their suffering, just by being a man (or, a boy, as I was at the time). I had often heard feminists retort to the “what about female child abuser” arguments of anti-feminists by saying that even when a women does abuse children, it is because she has been oppressed by men. So, in short, being male, I am to blame for female perpetrators becoming abusers, abusers such as the women who abused me…so I suppose my abuse was actually my own fault? I don’t say this in an attempt to thwart feminism or to come up with a clever argument. I ask it, because I want to very much hear a well thought out answer from an actual feminist. Other wise I can not accept feminism into my life. And that’s all there is to it.

    I to support gender equality, and I love the feminists in my life. But I’m tired of being treated like I’m disposable, like my personal pain and suffering are merely the after effects of the oppression of women. If I am to become the emotionally mature and sensitive person I need to be to be a good father, husband and friend, and simply for my own well-being’s sake, then I must also learn to become emotionally assertive. So there you have it. My pain and suffering matters, as does that of all other men, just as much as any woman’s, and that is where I stand regardless of what any women has to say about it.

  5. I had often heard feminists retort to the “what about female child abuser” arguments of anti-feminists by saying that even when a women does abuse children, it is because she has been oppressed by men.

    While the other side of the coin (a significant number of male sexual abusers have been sexually abused themselves as children – also by female perpetrators) is used as a judgement of male abuse victims (the vampire syndrome) rather than an excuse for the perpetrators – as you point out has often been the case of female abusers.

  6. I wonder if anyone will take the evident and obvious course of action and see if Daniel can write?

    Just thought the question needed to be asked, rather than just assumed to have been heard.

  7. Tom Matlack says:

    Amalie

    Thanks so much for thinking so carefully about this issue. It certainly can be a black hole of controversy, as I have found out the hard way. In the end as you point out we are all in this together and as long as we have the end goal of equality and mutual understanding that goes a long way towards a solution. I am flattered that my essay, which many did not agree with, had some impact on your thinking.

    Tom

  8. John Anderson says:

    Amalie,

    I appreciate your article and your belief that equality should be the goal. I believe you have the noblest of intentions. I’ve learned much from the women on this site and others. Some have described themselves as feminists. Others have not. When we discussed street harassment, I pointed out that I have been harassed by women also. My error was that I equated my experiences with street harassment to be the same as those that women experience. They weren’t in terms of either severity (for the most part) or frequency. As one woman put it a big, karate-trained man interacts with the world differently than a small woman.

    Men and women have experienced feminism and its effects differently and not every time has it advanced the goal of gender equality. I agree that as long as the goal is equality for all, what a person chooses to label themselves shouldn’t matter.

  9. Not buying it says:

    @Amelie
    I have one question for you Miss, if feminism is such a great & good thing for men too, how do explain the huge reluctance & disapproval from the majority of men & at least never mind the fact that most women do not like to identified with it, more importantly how do explain the protest at Toronto University against Dr Warren Farrell speaking by feminist lobby their, if feminism as an ideology is not anti-male. ??

    • @Not buying it – Not sure if it’s up to Amelie to address the issues – though they may choose to answer the question.

      However I have been seeing information about the Toronto University – Dr Warren Farrell incident and it just comes across as Bizzare – Mob Driven – Dogma without reason and irrational.

      The full lecture is available on Youtube – http://youtu.be/hrsywdNp36o – and at the start Dr Farrel is asked about the protest and it’s causes. It is quite a Fascinating recording to watch as it creates such a Dissonance with what others have been saying and doing.

      His broad view is of interest – especially as one of the Publicly Recognised experts who has talked of the link between Environmental Toxins from Plastics – Bisphenol-A which mimics estrogen – and the disturbance in puberty and sexual development of both sexes.

      That alone is an issue that should be getting featured widely – cos it is coming out of the dark after years of being dismissed as false and pseudo science and it’s a good person thing to be discussing and getting people to look at.

      It’s magical thinking that it’s only fish that are ending up damaged … or a few insects. So many studies have been published since 2010 the sirens are going, but as usual the deaf and those who just keep shouting are not able to hear them … and drown out the warnings for others to hear.

  10. Is feminism see as simply a clamor for equal rights or women’s rights? As a radical feminist, this was never my notion of feminism. Perhaps the best place to begin is to talk about the positive and negative traits of what we call masculinity and femininity. I recently wrote about my point of view to a friend, which is this: Positive masculinity is assertive, focused, protective. Positive femininity is warm, nurturing, centered. Negative masculinity is aggressive, driven, alienated. Negative femininity is suffocating, passive, narcissistic. Feminism to me, or humanism if you prefer, means that men and women seek the positive qualities of both masculinity and femininity. It has little to do with equal rights if that means engaging in invasions of other people’s countries, exploiting other human beings, etc.

  11. “The word ‘feminist’ is a loaded one….”

    Carla Bruni, the wife of Nicholas Sarcozy, the former president of France, said in French Vogue magazine that she is ” not a feminist”, and that now that she has a new baby girl, she rather enjoys “the bourgeois life”….

    Regardless of what she calls herself, I would say that she does benefit from feminism (whether she denies it or not)….she has led the life of a supermodel, jetting around freely to all kinds of parties and exotic locales to party with assorted men, including rock stars, like Eric Clapton and Mick Jagger, and later recording her own songs and playing a bit part in a Woody Allen movie….the rights and privileges she enjoys would be taken away in an instant if she flew tomorrow to someplace like Saudi Arabia, where she would covered and suffocated alive in a black hijab….

    • …….she has led the life of a supermodel, jetting around freely to all kinds of parties and exotic locales to party with assorted men, including rock stars, like Eric Clapton and Mick Jagger, and later recording her own songs and playing a bit part in a Woody Allen movie….
      But Leia isn’t that life, one where a woman gets by on her looks and popularity, something that predates feminism? I’m not trying to say that your assertion that “she benefits from feminism” is totally wrong but it seems that the benefits you mention here were part of the so called pressures that women faced already.

    • @ Leia – Oh boy, more of the fashion oppression and abuse of women through gross generalisation and even grosser ignorance. Of course you are most unlikely to bother reading as you will be floating away in that bubble and not be aware that it has been popped. P^)

      You really over stepped the mark when you said you thought it was a benefit of feminism, even a privilege, to go to parties with Eric Clapton and Mick Jagger. Eric is a sweetie, but the other guy is a crashing bore. One should wary of being stary eyed and falling into stereotypes.

      However, I also am most concerned by your use of race as a gender control weapon through the misuse of fashion.

      Suffocation by Hajib is not possible, unless the hajib or headscarf is used as a weapon with violence.

      You seem to be confusing the Hajib with the Burkah – and the use of the word suffocating whist illusionary and potentially alliterative is misleading. The Burkah has been designed by health and fashion conscious moslem women to allow air to penetrate and breathing to be allowed.

      I do wonder at the pre-occupation by how Moslem women are affected by The Quoran and Fashion and yet the actual restrictions on men are never mentioned. I have to wonder if you and so many others would even know what they were … or would that be too much to expect – like reading.

      You seem to not like Ms Bruni because of her connections with clothing and fashion. Well at least her eduction and experience allows her to know the difference between an Hajib and a Burka with some form of authority – but of course as an educated woman she does not presume to speak with authority for the people wearing them. She of course is most feminist in that – she allows people to gain and use their own voices and she does not manipulate those other voices for personal convenience.

      PS – Don’t you just love the way Carla’s six inch stainless steel heal Christian Louboutin’s go with anything – from Chanel to Burka … now that’s what I call style!

  12. Mr Supertypo says:

    interesting….

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