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:
- 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.
- 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.
- Systemically, men are still in power. Despite some, some, encouraging signs, we remain, predominantly, a patriarchy. The gender associated with femininity is yet marginalized.
- 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.