Where're My Boys At? An Invitation To Feminist Men Everywhere

"Even in space, there's a double standard."
-- Carrie Fisher on why Princess Leia never got her own Lightsaber.

I've often felt like "one of the boys."

Growing up, I loved playing sports with the boys, debating politics with the boys, and eating massive meals with the boys. Male friends have said, "you're not like a girl at all, more like one of us," and every time I hear it I fill with pride; in the wake of that one phrase, for a brief moment, I can actually FEEL equality.

But how can that be a compliment? Because I'm not one of the boys.

As soon as I step away from my bro-posse and dare to walk down the street alone, I am reminded that this world is not equal for the likes of me. Catcalls reduce my confidence to ash, as I map out the safest route home and fumble to get my car keys locked between my knuckles. And as soon as I contemplate balancing a career with family, I am hit in the face with just how hard our society makes it for working mothers to thrive.

In order to make sense of how insanely unequal this world is for women, my mind imagines that there are "good guys" and "bad guys" out there. There are the men that I call family, friend and ally, and there are men who truly do not believe that I deserve equal rights, nor that "No! ALWAYS means No!" I tell myself that not all men want to perpetuate patriarchy, that there are many men who support equality for all genders, but honestly, it can be hard to know for sure.

I've been writing about women and violence for many years, and 90 percent of my "shares and likes" come from other women. When anti-choice legislation passes, it is mostly women who post their outrage on my feed. And when our president-elect talked about judging women on a scale of 1-10, or grabbing their bodies against their will, I was shocked at how many powerful men normalized his type of speech, as if they've heard it all their lives...and maybe they have.

It leaves me wondering, "Where're my boys at?" Why aren't more of the "good guys" publicly standing up for gender equality?

Here's an analogy from my life:

I had a mostly white, well-resourced and liberal upbringing. In my youth, I liked to think of myself as color-blind. I was aware of our country's history of native oppression and slavery, but I was also convinced that every person could just pull themselves up by "the bootstraps" and write their own story. Not until I went to college in Los Angeles did I understand that slavery had morphed into our modern incarceration system, and that I had gotten where I was by having a leg up, every step of the way. I was literally blind to my white privilege.

I took me awhile to understand that racism is a white person's battle too. Eventually, and through patient lessons from people of color, I came to see that while crucial to initiating change and clarifying wrongs, the cries of the oppressed only reach so far. I was the one who had access to the private conversations and normalizing behavior of racist relatives and neighbors. I was the one who could use family gatherings and water coolers to talk about police brutality against black men, ask my privileged circles to take it on as their issue too. I had a voice that other white people would listen to. That access is powerful, and I was squandering my power, resting in the comfortable.

I wonder if that's how "the good guys" out there feel? Like they believe in gender equality conceptually, but don't know how to participate in achieving it physically. Well, similarly, the power resides in their access and in their voice. Because, even if I think I know what it feels like to be one of the boys, I am acutely aware that there are spaces to which I do not have entry...call it a locker room, a country club, or an oval shaped office.

I recently read about a group of high school boys who held a fundraiser to provide free menstrual products at school, after learning that 86 percent of women don't have the necessary products available to them when they start their period. They talked about the embarrassment they felt at first, even in saying the word menstruation, which was eventually replaced by the gratitude they received from the girls in their class.

That is what standing up for women looks like. It's pushing past the fear of being seen as weak or anti-male, to realizing that any steps towards gender equality make us all stronger; it's refusing to be paid more than your female counterparts and disclosing your salary when asked; it's insisting that women's minds and talents are recognized before their looks; it's asking other men to consider gender equality their issue too; it's about daring to see male privilege and challenging patriarchal systems that set women up to fail.

And I get that it's not easy to be a Feminist man. Just as it's easier to stay quiet and pass the gravy when racist uncle Joe has had a few too many; and it's easier to keep walking when a young black man is being aggressively handled by police; and it's easier to chuckle at a sexist joke, than to call your brother out. But nothing changes by taking the easy road and, eventually, even our other cheeks become complicit.

So, consider this an open invitation to Feminist men everywhere. Women will continue to speak out and protest, to organize and mobilize for our equal rights and protections, with or without you...but we also need you. I may catch some flak for saying so, but in order to completely overcome gender inequality, we're going to need your access and your amplified voice.

Here is a short list of ways you can participate in the struggle for women's equal rights right now:

1. March on Washington with us on January 21st. Especially if you are already living in the area, or can get there easily. And if you can't get to Washington, march in your capital city. And if you can't do either, sponsor someone else to march in your place.

2. Spare a few minutes to call your political representatives and urge them to stand against blatantly sexist and dangerous legislation around women's bodies and equal opportunities.

3. Talk to other men about strategies for eliminating gender inequality in your workplace, and in your family systems.

4. Dare to make men uncomfortable when they think they are safely amongst other sexists. In other words, resist the urge to be Billy Bush, and rise to your inner Mark Ruffalo.

Make no mistake, our world is about to be in the hands of hyper-masculine, misogynistic, (mainly white) men, and when they're done grabbing whatever (and whomever) they want, no one will be left unscathed.

Now is the time for good men to stand up for gender equality in every way possible, to leverage your privilege and, for this poignant moment in history, find your pride in being "one of the girls" too.

Towards equal rights for all,

Kiri Westby