Joanna Schroeder believes that stories matter, but without analysis, the conversation is stunted.
I put myself through UCLA in my 20s, working at a very hip boutique in Los Angeles. Robertson Boulevard, where the store was located, was lined with other hip, young boutiques. And inside every single one of those stores was a staff of beautiful salespeople.
We were good at our jobs, wooing trust-fund daughters and starlets with a well-honed mix of admiration and detachment. This was the time before the housing bubble burst and everyone was spending. Nobody who came into shop dropped less than a few hundred bucks, and $10,000 sales to a single customer weren’t all that rare. It was a great job for a starving student.
When I moved from the women’s store to our company’s men’s store, that special mix of admiration required a little tweaking. What was once, “You’re so cool, we’re best friends” with a female client went to “You’re so cool, I’m your girlfriend for the duration of the time you’re in this store” with the guys. I’m not saying we sold sex, I’m saying that sex helped sell clothes. No touching, just that special gleam in the eye that was subtle enough to only register within the man subconsciously.
Miniskirts didn’t hurt, either.
But we were smart girls. Of the women I worked closely with, three now own successful businesses, a few are head designers in successful clothing companies, one is a journalist who now writes for WSJ and The New York Times—print edition. We never played dumb, but we kept it light.
Men were always surprised to learn, however, that I was putting myself through UCLA while selling clothes in these stores. There was the inevitable question, What’s your major? How they responded to my answer always told me a lot.
“Women’s Studies,” I’d say.
Inevitably, the majority of men were really curious about this. This is Los Angeles…Hollywood/Beverly Hills to be precise. Someone studying what I was must’ve seemed rare, and most men really opened up to me.
They wanted to know how to raise their daughters to be strong, and whether I had recommendations for books. They wanted to know how women’s issues had changed since their mothers’ era. They wanted to know how to help their wives deal with the motherhood/work balance. They had stories about friends who’d been raped, girlfriends who’d been molested, their own changing relationships with their daughters.
Suddenly, I was their trusted advisor, and what I learned about men from that experience is that the majority care a lot about women. Sure, most people like a pretty thing to look at—be it a man or a woman—but the vast majority want to be good men. And they wanted to be good men in relation to women.
They may not have named themselves Feminists, but they were definitely concerned about women’s issues. And I think an integral part of being a good man in today’s society is trying to help women gain equality, in understanding how to treat women with respect, and in wanting to raise daughters who are independent, who have strong sexual identities and autonomy, and who have equal opportunities at jobs and freedoms.
Tom Matlack, in his piece Why Being a Good Man is Not a Feminist Issue, suggests that feminism isn’t an integral part of the discussion about what it means to be a good man. He suggests that pieces like, “On Women’s Rights: Yeah, Yeah. Blah, Blah. Whatever” by Yashar Ali don’t have anything to do with being a good man.
I disagree. Strongly. Yashar Ali is a man who travels the path of trying to be a good man. He wants to be good to women, he wants to help women achieve equality. That’s what his piece was about. It wasn’t a piece for women. It was written by a man, for men, to implore them to understand that women have still not achieved equality in many areas. Yashar explains why it is important for men to work alongside women toward equality.
When Yashar says this, he isn’t diminishing the need for the issues in the men’s movement to be addressed, he’s merely addressing why women’s issues should matter to men. If you don’t have cancer, should you care about cancer? Because as a society we will fail if we do not have empathy toward one another.
Men talking about why feminism matters isn’t solely about women. It’s about men, too.
Feminism has a job to do. The women’s movement needs to look at the issues men face in the same way that the discussions around masculinity need to also look at women’s issues. We need to open our eyes to the ways in which masculinity is becoming a confusing and challenged state. I’m not saying men don’t still hold power positions. I’m saying, that’s going to rapidly change in the next 20 years and we need to be prepared and willing to examine things critically.
Primary parenting dads need support, male victims of abuse and sexual assault need resources and acceptance. We need more mentors for young men, we need to strongly examine the intersectionality of racism and gender discrimination and see how Black men are being marginalized at staggering rates. We need to look at the prison rape crises for what it is: institutionalized violations of human rights, heavily weighted toward men.
I learned it when I was a 23 year-old in high heels and miniskirts, and The Good Men Project has reinforced it for me: Most men care about women’s issues. To say that men who care about, and write about, issues relating to women don’t belong in a discussion about what it means to be a good man leaves a huge gap in that conversation. Part of our identity as humans and our “goodness” as men or women lies in how we regard one another and help one another along.
If Tom wants to turn The Good Men Project into a magazine solely dedicated to men telling their stories, I believe that would be beautiful. But that won’t be a project. That’ll be an ever-evolving anthology.
Beautiful stories do move people, but they don’t further discussion unless they are followed by analysis. And analysis often leads to discussion about gender roles, and talk of gender roles often leads to conversations revolving around feminism or men’s rights. To put an end to that is to stunt the conversation, and stunt the growth of our project.
Let’s hear men’s stories. They matter. Men need a place to be who they are: a man who built his father’s pine casket, a primary parent who sometimes struggles with self-esteem, a man who was born a girl but was married as a man. A tough guy who learned while serving in the Army that he is deathly afraid of needles, a photojournalist mourning the loss of his friend and colleague…
But let’s not limit the boundaries of what it is to be a good man to exclude discussions of men’s relationship with feminism or gender equality. After all, analysis and theory can help us better understand exactly why these stories matter.
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