It was encouraging to read recently that President Obama has officially “come out” as a feminist. I admire and appreciate his courage in doing this, because I’ve no doubt he’ll catch some flak for it, but maybe with the end of his term in sight, he just decided to go for it.
The “F word” seems to evoke extreme reactions these days from some men, as well as from a surprising number of women! Much of it seems to be based in a misunderstanding of what the term actually means, so hopefully Obama’s clear explanation of his feminist values will raise some much needed awareness about it.
Feminism is defined in my dictionary as: a movement to promote equal rights and equality of opportunity for everyone, regardless of their gender, sexuality, appearance, physical condition, etc. Because women are the largest and most visible group facing an inequality due to their gender, feminism has largely been about their struggles for equality, a process that’s been steadily ongoing since the Suffragettes.
The concept of “equality” incorporates freedom from fear and oppression for everyone, including men; so by definition, a true feminist would support opposing and changing any unfairness that men, as well as women, experience as a result of their gender. This would encompass understanding and addressing men’s issues like male suicide, male victims of violence (from a male or a female perpetrator); and men’s limited access to their children; all aspects of inequality that the men’s rights movement accuses feminists of being either indifferent to, or actively encouraging.
For sure, not all feminists are male-positive, and no doubt those women who are not particularly well disposed towards men have their reasons. But extremists of all kinds, including extreme feminists, are usually best just ignored; and feminism shouldn’t be judged on the basis of the words or actions of a minority of women who have used that platform to advance their own personal agenda rather than the common aim of equality for all.
It’s true that a vocal minority of anti-male women have garnered a lot of media attention, and unfortunately many people now mistakenly think that their views represent what feminism is all about. And some men, it seems, have been only too happy to use those views as an excuse to dismiss the whole feminist agenda, possibly because they feel threatened in some way by the idea of female equality. Maybe it’s because because feminism challenges a sense of innate privilege, which has been a part of the masculine identity for centuries, but which is probably just a mask which covers up an underlying male suspicion that the female of the species is in many ways the more powerful…as evidenced by her ability to give birth, her mysterious links with the natural cycles of the moon and her capacity to give or withhold the love and intimacy that we all need.
When feminism is represented as being anti men (a concept most feminists would find absurd) or wanting women to have special privileges, rather than just equality, it’s understandable if any men react defensively by insisting on their own right to be treated fairly as equals with dignity and respect. And men who are the least secure about their male identity, may react with an “attack as a means of defense” by perhaps joining one of the growing number of so-called “Men’s Rights” groups who promote a view of women as enemies of male equality, and as secondary citizens whose role is to cater for the needs, sexual and otherwise, of men.
The MR advocates do raise some issues of genuine concern to men, and can be thanked for that. But instead of proposing effective ways that men can work together to address them, they create the bogeyman of feminism as being responsible for men’s current woes. But blaming feminism is just a way to avoid taking personal and collective responsibility for working towards the social changes that are needed to create the more equal society these men claim to want.
In our own interests, as well as those of women, we men urgently need to take a more proactive attitude towards challenging the ingrained attitudes and behavior of a masculine culture, which prioritizes power, competition and personal enrichment—goals which may have been useful in the past but which are now bringing us to a precipice of social, economic and environmental crises—over the values of collaboration and equality. One very effective way for men to do this is to support what women are trying to achieve with feminism. And according to a feminist friend, the best way men can do that is to “stop being in the way” and instead become women’s allies, at the same time as we work to improve men’s rights
For their part, women can teach us much about how to communicate, to care for others and for ourselves, to love well (and make love well) to respect nature and generally to become healthier, happier and more well-rounded human beings, without giving up any of our essential masculinity.
When women feel more supported by men in their striving for equality, they’ll be able to trust us more deeply, and be more predisposed to offer us their support for our own demands for fairness and equality. This could be the most important thing that’s happened to men since we first killed a saber-tooth tiger and dragged the meat and skins home to please our woman and feed our family. If president Obama’s recent writing on the topic contributes in any way to this process, it could turn out to be the legacy of which he should feel most proud.
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