Male Feminists, You've Got a Friend in Me
By: Kate Wallace
The program I am in at Western, Media, Information, and Technoculture, is female dominated; I would estimate the ratio is approximately 3:1. Within it, we discuss many social issues and often critique institutions that have, or currently do, marginalize minority groups. Naturally, the ~patriarchy~ is one of MIT’s biggest enemies, and most, if not all, of the students in the program would consider themselves to be feminists. Sometimes I notice that whenever male friends in MIT bring up topics or answer questions regarding gender equality, they are approached after class (or at parties!?) and praised for their feminist-ness. Don’t get me wrong, these students are certainly intelligent and well-read on many social issues, including feminism, but few of them would place it as high a research priority as I would. So naturally, I can’t help but get a bit jealous when I go on an epic rant about capitalism infiltrating eco-feminism for eight minutes straight, but people swoon over men for suggesting equal pay.
After reflecting on this, I started to ask myself: where do male feminists (and men in general) fit into a movement built by women? This concept is not straight forward. On one hand, virtually all other institutions work to serve them already, so it seems unfair that they could infiltrate the only girl power club around. People who have no lived experience of a specific disadvantaged position should not speak on behalf of those who have, and even worse, we should not praise them when they do. Our standards can be set quite low for commending people on their forward-social thinking. Especially recently within the United States government, we see cases where men consistently make decisions about women, while excluding the opinions of those women. Additionally, most women and girls have had at least one experience of someone “mansplaining” something to them about topics women have to and often do know more about, such as the complexity of their bodies. Men should not speak for women; the thesis statement of feminism is to help the silenced have their voices heard. However on the other hand, excluding male voices from the movement, perhaps due to anger or fear, only hurts feminism.
The definition of feminism is achieving social, political, and economical equality for all genders. Of course it is important to keep women in positions of power and leadership within this movement, because after all, we are advocating for gender equality, and clearly one gender has experienced many more, and more extreme, roadblocks than the other. However, if we feminists are demanding respect from men, it would be hypocritical to exclude their opinions and intellect based on gender. Why shouldn’t I be excited when my male classmates want to empower women? None of them imply that they know more than any other students. We should be welcoming to anyone who wants to fight for gender equality. Unfortunately, we are not in a place where both men and women’s voices are heard equally; it is certainly in our best interest to allow for men to be allies in spreading feminist messages to groups who are more closed off to female leadership.
I recently came across and incredible TED Talk by an expert on gender violence, Jackson Katz. The talk, Violence against women—it's a men's issue, brilliantly tackles many of the problems with the way we currently process the idea of gender violence. Although the content itself is incredibly moving, I also really enjoyed hearing about Katz’s passions and his career. Not only does he discuss topics which aid women, he is also dedicated to helping reform the traditional vision of masculinity, to create a less toxic environment for men as they grow up (a topic I am very passionate about). Additionally, he emphasizes that he owes his success in this field to all the women who came before him to help build it. Is some of Jackson Katz’s career success owed to his powerful masculine voice among a sea of unnoticed women? Probably, but that does not make his work any less valuable. If a woman stands and preaches that men need to do XYZ to achieve greater gender equality, people might not want to listen. When a man says it, they may pay closer attention. It’s not fair, but it’s what we have, and we can only use the tools that are accessible to us. This does not mean that I think men should start leading the feminist movement, quite the opposite really, but if there are men out there who wish to help progress the movement (and there are!) they should certainly be included in the conversations. QWIL wants men to participate in these discussions, your opinions and participation is valuable! The only way for us to successfully seek gender equality is to acknowledge and appreciate the partnership that we can accomplish with our male counterparts.