In Defense of Feminism for Men

This article was written by Jesse Game-Brown

“Why are you a feminist?” is a difficult question to answer—not because of a lack of justifications but because there are so very many. The question does not always take the direct form for me but is often detectable in a sideways glance in response to my Women’s Studies education or my involvement with a feminist blog. The question is discernable nonetheless, the curiosity exacerbated for some because I am a man.

Coming from men, the question does not always take the form of “Why are you a feminist?” From men the question sometimes presents as “Why as a man do you use the term feminism and not something like egalitarianism?”

Well, I firmly believe it’s true that men and women alike are all hapless gears in the gender binary machine. And I like the term egalitarianism and its objective, but to me the term seems insufficient in the context of gender. I prefer the term feminism for the following basic reasons:

  1. Most pertinently, femininity, from which the term is derived, is generally undervalued in both men and women. Men are forbidden from partaking in anything associated with the feminine; and women are simultaneously expected to emulate femininity and reject it.
  2. Ungendered bodies are almost ubiquitously read as male. Ask any first grader the gender of a ghost or spider in a storybook to demonstrate this internalized pattern. Any creature in a video game is a him. Maleness or masculinity can be neutral and natural; femaleness and femininity are necessarily unusual and otherly.
  3. Systemically, men are still in power. Despite some, some, encouraging signs, we remain, predominantly, a patriarchy. The gender associated with femininity is yet marginalized.
  4. Discourse about gender and the binary system began in the women’s rights movement. Gender reform has a long, exceptional history of discourse and activism under the name of feminism.

But to answer the more general question of why I am a feminist, it is because tremendous injustice exists; I am profoundly upset by injustice, and I am personally invested in the objectives of the feminist movement pertaining to these injustices. The fight does not belong to women alone. Some people fail to recognize how deeply interlaced the problems of men and women really are.

It is intimidating to be confronted with the task of conveying the complexity of the relationship between men’s and women’s issues. I will make an attempt at simplicity in these few examples by portraying the issues as two sides of the same coin, but I fear that the metaphor is inadequate, for an effect on one side of the binary may be discursive or subtle while the reciprocal effect on the other side is concrete and obvious.

Let’s examine, for instance, military conscription. Every man in the United States aged 18–25 is required to be registered with the selective service, regardless of physicality or philosophy. Women do not face and have never faced this requirement. If the need for military personnel becomes too great, it is the duty of men alone to risk their lives for the country. It is an example of a gender disparity in which men are at a disadvantage directly. But the source of this disparity is tied up with the problems that feminists are battling every day: that women are regarded as strictly domestic, that women are treated as helpless damsels reliant upon the support or protection of men, and that men are perpetually expected to be not just strong, but also violent, dominant creatures.

To give another example, the unrealistic portrayal of women’s bodies in media is obviously problematic for women, but not women alone. For women, the pressure to achieve a particular appearance is immense and oppressive in virtually every context. The value of a woman seems almost to be entirely measured by appearance, and according to an impossible standard at that.  But in addition to women being socialized to strive for the homogenous and unfeasible supermodel form, men being exposed to the same socialization come to expect and seek these types of bodies for women. A simple consequence of this is that the vast majority of heterosexual men (or anyone interested in women) may very well be seeking something rare or artificial, not to mention superficial, necessarily resulting in a lack of romantic or sexual fulfillment.

As yet another example, masculinity is to some degree measured by a man’s sexual prowess and experience with women. Men must sleep with women—normatively attractive women. Male sexuality therefore exists in some ways as a sort of demented competition, and the act of sex consequently becomes an act of victory rather than one of shared pleasure. Any man who does not have sex with women, a large quantity of normatively attractive women, is perceived to be less of a man. In an effort to satisfy this expectation, men often regard women as objects of conquest. Speaking plainly, this is a terrible state of affairs for everybody.

Any issue specific to one of the binary genders is absolutely going to be interwoven with issues pertaining to the other. I could go on about men’s poor health- and help-seeking behavior, unfair pay for women, domestic violence, rationality versus emotionality, and many other things, but in the interest of writing an article instead of a book, I’ll leave you to extrapolate. To bring home the point, everyone limited by the strict roles and expectations of men and women potentially reap considerable benefits as a consequence of gender reform.

“Why are you a feminist?” For reasons. All the reasons. I am a feminist for me. I am a feminist for us. I am a feminist for you. I am a feminist because it makes a lot more sense than not being one. I am a feminist because the system is in need of change. That I am a man changes nothing—feminism is as much my fight as anyone else’s. I am a feminist because of my gender, not in spite of it. In short, I believe all the world has much to gain by getting on board.

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Categories: Jesse Game Brown | 13 Comments

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13 thoughts on “In Defense of Feminism for Men

  1. Sunset

    Finally, an argument in favour of feminism coming from the mouth of a man that doesn’t patronise women and recognises that men are just as damaged by the patriarchy as women are.

  2. ginette

    excellent!

  3. If only all the world thought like you!

  4. Yes, more Jesses, please.
    Was just reading http://jezebel.com/5981578/angry-texts-from-the-rape-van-pick+up-artist on Jezebel, and feeling rather sad about humanity.
    And then I went “oh, right, there is Jesse”, and so many other lovely people who think like him.

    Time well spent on this piece, btw.

  5. Gaurav Singh

    Hats off!! Always used to feel proud being a feminist & now even more.

  6. Jaydei

    Reblogged this on The Outsider´s Journey and commented:
    This is very well written!

  7. Pingback: Feminists of Westminster Unite

  8. Awesome article!!

    In my case my male friend don’t even mention the possibility of egalitarianism..

  9. If this means what I think it means, it rocks. If not, I’ll just pretend it’s what I think.

    Oh, heck, I’ll just ask because I don’t completely understand this. Am I correct in saying that one of the points is that being feminist can be about being pro-feminity (characteristics that many stereotypically associate with women) rather than just pro-women?

    True or false, I’m on board, but, if true, I’m REALLY on board.

    David

    • jessegb

      In my opinion, part of feminism is broadening the range of acceptable characteristics men are allowed to emulate. Deconstructing gender roles is sort of feminism’s main jam, so fighting for the right to be gender non-conformist and emulate stereotypically feminine characteristics I think is absolutely a feminist act.

  10. Si

    This sentence is where your logic gets iffy: “That I am a man changes nothing—feminism is as much my fight as anyone else’s.” Because men already have far more power within the system than women, should male and female feminists be given equal rank within the context of a larger feminist movement, said movement would quickly become politically male-dominated. I think the appropriate move is a Malcolm X-style approach to feminism, where men can voice support and challenge politicians but any systems dedicated to promoting feminism are entirely led by females.

    • jessegb

      So I guess it’s been almost three years since I wrote this article. I don’t remember exactly why I decided not to respond to your comment initially, but I still think about what you’ve written here from time to time, and I think I might feel better if I post my response.

      First of all, I think if we ever get to the point where we have to worry about *too much* male involvement in the feminist movement, it will be a sign that we have made great strides as a society. I think that day is unfortunately a long way off.

      I consider it relevant to point out that the women’s rights movement is not a cohesive and organized group or set of groups. It’s more fluid than that. If the leaders of a feminist group no longer serve the interests of its members, the people of the movement will migrate to other groups or start their own. I think the fundamental idea behind your critique is a fiction. I don’t think it’s really possible for people whose interests are antithetical to feminism to take over the voice, goals, and actions of the movement.

      In the same vein, if the men involved in the feminist movement are truly serving the interests of feminism and women, I have a hard time seeing a tangible problem with whatever role they would end up filling, from casual participant to leader, in any capacity.

      With the growing presence of the Men’s Rights Advocacy movement, with their antagonistic attitudes toward feminism and consistent failure to recognize normativity and systemic sexism, I think it is all the more important to foster an inclusive and collaborative effort across all identities to solve the root problems of gender disparity.

      And finally, on a personal level, I just don’t think it is fair to ask individuals who have so much to gain and such a vested interest in the movement to sit on the sidelines and cheer. You have no right to tell me not to combat toxic masculinity in every form and with every tool available to me. I disagree with the notion you’ve presented here. I stand by what I’ve written in the article above.

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