Sarah Comerford encourages boys
and men to embrace feminism.
The concept of what it meant to be a feminist was not always on my radar. I was never explicitly taught that being female meant being at something of a social disadvantage. My upbringing was dysfunctional in a lot of ways, but gender inequality wasn’t something I experienced directly as a child.
Until I had a daughter of my own, I never bothered to analyze the things I was taught in childhood. In a nebulous way, I suppose I recognized myself as a feminist, but I doubt I would have used that term. I grew up learning that everyone should be treated fairly, regardless of sex, color, creed, or anything else.
I see now that even if I never especially felt maligned for being a girl, there were opportunities to build me up that my caretakers never took advantage of. Meaning, I was permitted to be anxious, people-pleasing, and quietly insecure, in ways that, had I been born a boy, I might have been forced to overcome.
Now, as a parent and a card-carrying Feminist, I realize that treating girls with “equality” isn’t enough — we have to build them up. Let’s back up for a moment. This isn’t all about girls.
Boys, too, need to be supported, educated, and guided to avoid the pitfalls of an overwhelmingly misogynistic culture. In fact, boys are key in this equation. We need to educate young men to treat all people with respect.
That is the beauty of childhood — blissful ignorance to the complications of an adult life in the real world. I was well into adulthood before I started to self-identify as a feminist. This is because I had continued to take for granted the values my upbringing instilled in me and the examples set by my family. When my daughter was born, however, my perspective shifted and I saw how much work there was to be done: I brought this little girl into a world that is not stacked in her favor, and now it’s my job, and our family’s job, to imbue her with all the tools she will need to succeed. I looked back on the people who influenced me and then tried to predict who will be influencing her, and how.
Like any parent, I want my daughter to have everything that I didn’t have when I was a girl. I want her to have strong role models as well as outspoken advocates who can teach her to be outspoken herself.
I’ve been speaking about women and feminism for a while here. You might be wondering: what does this have to do with men or boys? After all, I’m writing the for The Good Men Project.
Here’s where men come into the picture. When I hear a man proudly identify himself as a feminist, it moves me to the point of tears. Here is living, breathing proof that my girl could be brought up in a world with as many allies as adversaries. It’s a breath of fresh air, a declaration of allyship. Male feminism is a candle in the window that signifies I have come across a safe house — this person, whomever he is, is safe.
The media loves it when a high-profile person, male or female, calls themselves a feminist. I would argue, though, that when the label is accepted by a good looking, white, hetereosexual male, that’s when people really get all a’ flutter. Thor comes out as a feminist and Buzzfeed does a whole picture story on how much greater Hemsworth’s sex appeal is. Sure, it’s a little White Knight-ish, but it comes from a good place. Marginalized groups like it when the people with all the privilege start acknowledging that the system is corrupt. We like to be able to identify potential comrades.
Those allies are few and far between, however. Though my husband, like most men, I believe, is very supportive and caring, he does not feel comfortable identifying as a feminist. It’s the connotation of the word, he says, that rankles him. It conjures up images of all those man-hating, femi-Nazis that lurk behind their keyboards on online messaging boards, ready to skewer any well-meaning male that tumbles inadvertently over his gender privilege. Our differing schools of thought on what it means to be a feminist, and whether one should or should not identify as one, are a constant source of debate. Despite my feelings and opinions, I empathize with my husband’s position: what does it matter what I call myself (or don’t call myself), so long as my actions are fair?
Men and boys can be feminists. It’s our job as parents to imbue this idea in the minds of our boys. Feminist = equality for all people.
Words have power, though. The power to clearly delineate between a safe person and a potential threat, and the power to embolden others. I want my daughter to be emboldened. And if we are ever blessed with a son, I want him to believe in equality and use his in-born privilege to the uplift those who may be at a disadvantage. Ultimately, I want “feminist” to cease being a buzzword and become a given, so that any time anyone asks my boy “Are you a feminist?”, his reply would be, “Well, yeah. Aren’t you?”