At some point during the fight for gender equality, the word feminist became synonymous with man-hating. 'Feminism' easily conjured images of hairy arm-pitted lesbians, insistent that women are the superior sex and men should sit down and shut up.
But it's 2016 and that's not what feminism looks like.
Feminists look like women in business suits who work on Wall Street, or stay-at-home moms rocking yoga pants while pushing the stroller to the park. They're black, Latina, Asian and white. They're celebrities. Sometimes, they're even men...
Yes, feminists are men too. This might be obvious to some, but there are others who would disagree.
There are some feminists that believe feminism is only for women. It's our battle to fight and we need women-only spaces in order to feel safe and express ideas and concerns with others who share our experience of oppression, and who move through the world in a similar way.
I completely agree with this and advocate for it, but I also think that excluding men from feminism entirely is not helpful or progressive.
One recent example I've come across that demonstrates the alienating of men from gender equality issues, is hearing my female peers say things like "boys are stupid," or "all men are dirty and messy." My boyfriend and some of my male friends have told me that hearing this type of language (especially if it happens consistently) can make them feel excluded.
My boyfriend is a feminist in that he firmly believes men and women should be treated as equals, but he's told me that experiencing this type of exclusion makes him not want to take an active role in the fight for feminism.
When he first told me this, I got upset. I felt like he was overreacting. "Oh, you feel excluded because someone called you stupid or messy? Try making 30 percent less at your job than a man in the same role. Try being seen as a sex object every day of your life, or worrying that you'll be physically assaulted on the street," I thought. He's a straight, white man who's had a lot of the privileges that straight white men have in our society. He can deal with a few women making slightly negative comments about his gender.
But after thinking about it more, I realized this is about something bigger. While these comments aren't on par with the type of harassment women have faced for centuries, they're also not helpful or necessary in the fight towards equality. My boyfriend's anger at these comments is really about the larger issue of excluding men from feminism.
Let me also point out that I don't think this is about the issue of sexisim towards men. YouTuber Riley J. Dennis, who frequently vlogs about gender equality and LGBT issues, summed up this idea very nicely in one of her videos, and I agree with her thinking. She says "Sexism is the institutionalized discrimination against a particular gender (or genders). Because it has to be institutionalized -- that is, built into our societal systems -- you can only really be sexist against women and other gender minorities."
So while I'm not saying that calling boys stupid is an example of sexism, I do think it's problematic because it reinforces the gender binary. It puts boys and men into a box, making the assumption that they all subscribe to the same set of ideals or way of life.
The number one goal of feminism is to make sure that women are being treated as equals in society because we are the ones that have been, and continue to be, marginalized and discriminated against, specifically for our gender. But I believe that feminism is also about redefining masculinity. Just as I believe in intersectional feminism, I believe that men must be included in feminism too.
I listen to Dan Savage's podcast, Savage Lovecast, every week, and one of the many pieces of advice he's given that really resonates with me is that we need to change the way we're raising young boys. In the fight for gender equality, much of the focus has been on changing the way we raise girls. From a young age, we need to teach girls to be strong and independent. We must make sure they know they can do anything boys can do.
We also need to implant the idea of feminism in boys at a young age. Boys must know how to respect girls and women and what consent means. Just as importantly, they need to know that it's okay to cry; that they too can be anything they want when they grow up, even jobs traditionally thought of as feminine, like a stay-at-home parent, a teacher, or a nurse.
As queer activist and educator Jonathan Reed said in this Ravishly piece in reference to raising feminist sons,
You think the offhand comment about that female politician went unnoticed? You think your son doesn't hear the subtext when you criticize the outfit of the girl next door? Seriously? Wake up, dad. Every word you say is either perpetuating misogynistic, patriarchal beliefs -- or challenging them. You better choose them carefully, because your son is listening.
We need to teach our boys to be feminists and we need to continue encouraging that value in men by including them in the conversation. Feminism is about treating women as equals and letting us escape the gender binary, but it's also about helping men escape the gender binary society put them in too. It's okay for men to talk about their feelings and be vulnerable. Men don't always have to be the breadwinner and family provider. They don't have to fight other men, or hit women, to prove their masculinity.
Straight white men will always have straight white privilege in our society. But I want those men to use their straight white male privilege to help us, and to help themselves too. As Ariel Chesler, son of famous feminist Phyllis Chesler, pointed out in this article, a patriarchal worldview is ultimately limiting and damaging to everyone. Chesler said,
Good people of all sexes should be motivated to end gender inequality because patriarchal rules limit everyone's ability to be their whole selves. We should all challenge painful and limiting notions of gender and gender inequity not because we are riding to the rescue of others. We should do it because we all want freedom of expression and self-determination for ourselves -- none of us should have to be in pain for trying to squeeze into a socially constructed box.
We need men to help us with this fight because we need everyone fighting for this cause from all sides. Feminism benefits women as well as ALL people.
Reiterating stereotypes, whether they be about men or women, does not progress the cause. Speaking pejoratively about either gender as a static group does not progress the cause. Feminism needs both men and women to know this and embrace it. It needs to be a crucial part of the conversation.