Feminism, for Men?

by Daniel Socha

No matter how hard I try to imagine, no matter how much I read and seek knowledge, I will never share the lived experience of being a woman… or the lived experience of any other marginalized race, socio-economic class, or gender identity. I am a middle-class, white male. As a man and as a feminist, I advocate that there is a pressing need to destigmatize the word feminism and continue fixing gender imbalance.

As a kid growing up, with every birthday my parents granted me more and more privileges, such as being able to stay out later and travel by bicycle to further parts of town.  As a result of this, later in my teenage years I had a large amount of autonomy and was fairly free to choose what I wore, who I hung out with, and the places I went.  At the time I did not recognize these privileges and I took for granted the freedom my parents gave me.

Then, there was my little sister who, in my younger days, I battled with furiously about anything and everything, without rhyme or reason.  At that time, I saw my sister as a spoiled little girl who got whatever she wanted because she was “daddy’s little girl”. I created a narrative where I saw myself as a neglected scapegoat and my sister as a darling princess.

My sister resented me for the privileges that I received which she did not.  For instance, I was allowed to leave the house freely without being berated by questions, whereas she was not.  Within the narrative I created for myself, I justified that I was allowed to go out without question because I was older and more responsible.  Looking back on it now, I most certainly was not more responsible, and when speaking to “acting your age”, my sister was much older.

At the beginning of my first semester of college a friend of mine challenged me to read and think about feminism, and at first I gawked and thought to myself “feminism is for women who think they are better than men”.  My notion of feminism was negatively tainted.  However, after some reading and discussions with my friend, I began to think about my childhood and all that had happened between my sister and I.  I started to question why my parents never interrogated my clothing choices before I left the house, or why I was not hounded about who I was hanging out with.  What I had realized is that I was granted privileges that my sister was not, simply because I was a male.

The more that I read and discussed, the more I learned that my privilege was no coincidence or isolated instance.  The roots of this privilege ran much deeper than the span of my life and extend far back into history.

I remember that when first reading about the oppression of women and gender inequality, I would refute these claims by saying to myself “but women today are seen as equal, they have the right to vote and the right to hold public office, and things are much better off than they were in the days when women were seen as ‘property’”.  Until that point in my life, I had convinced myself that the marginalization of women was a subject for history books, a thing of the past.  However, over time I began to see the insidious ways that the patriarchy of the “past” was alive and well in the twenty first century.  I started to learn that, along with the obvious signs of women’s disempowerment, misogyny ran deep and manifested itself into everyday language and culture.  The more I learned, the more aggravated I became.

Feminist thought paved the way for me to critically think about multiplicity of ways through which I am privileged; besides my gender, I recognized that my privilege also comes from my race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status.  My privilege often allows me to have a dominant voice in constructing and reinforcing social norms, which in turn reify misogyny and white male power. Therefore, in writing this blog post I risk perpetuating the very thing I am advocating against—a social system where white men are allotted the opportunity to be the protector and dominator of others.

Every day I continue to struggle with the subliminal ways that I contribute the societal narrative that oppresses women and puts white men at the top of society.  Through reflecting on my experience however, this struggle has taught me that men too have much to gain from feminism.

Growing up, I had a horrible temper and would get angry at the smallest things. Yet, I never understood why I became so enraged. From my own experience, I learned that much of my temperament came from the suppression of my emotions.

I cannot count the number of times I have been told to “man up” or have been challenged about not having any “balls”.  As a kid, comments such as these would cause me to feel the need to prove that I was tough and fearless. And I equally contributed to this damaging rhetoric, passing it right back to my peers.  This kind of language and thinking became so engrained into my worldview that I began using these tactics to convince myself that toughness and being manly were integral to my life as a man. Anger and frustration became the extent of emotions I allowed myself to feel. Phrases such as “be a man”, and the ideology that they embody, told me that I had to suppress my emotions in order to be strong and fearless.

And contrary to what I believed, this kind of bottled-up anger does not just occur in young people, but rather it grows and continues throughout our lives.  As men grow older, this pent-up agitation becomes more and more dangerous.  Throughout college, when drinking or engaging in risky behavior I frequently recall my peers telling me to “take it like a man”.  I can also recollect plenty of instances where I reciprocated this same social pressure.  And interestingly, often men reflect on these events with laughter and comradery. But was rolling around in our puke really all that great?  I began to think to myself: are the kind of friends I want in my life the ones that pressure me into getting blackout drunk, simply for their own amusement?

Beyond drinking and hooliganism that perpetuates risky and self-destructive behavior, societal pressure to be “masculine” generally pushes men—and women too—to sweep emotions of sadness, compassion, sympathy, and even enthusiastic joy under the rug.  And in this I do not mean that men are emotionless creatures from the underworld.  There are plenty of instances where men are openly sad, compassionate, sympathetic, and ecstatically joyful. However, this does not negate the fact that there is a societal pressure to hide emotions other than anger, and that this pressure often leads to explosive outcomes.  Why is it that there are so many angry men in the world?  Why is it that men commit the majority of violent crime?  Why is it that, according to the CDC, the highest rate of suicide is among middle aged white men? Why is it that, 97 percent of school shootings are committed by men? And 79 percent of those men are White?

I advocate that feminism—as defined as the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes—as a powerful force in balancing society in ways that are beneficial to all gender identities. Society has put a stigma around feminism that perpetuates resistance to gender equality. Regarding masculinity, I believe that there is a need to diminish the pressure to be “manly” in order to create a space where all people can live more balanced and fulfilling lives.  As a man I identify as a feminist because I believe that along with the need for end of systemic oppression of women, that gender equality also works in a way that ultimately serves women and men. For more information check out these sources: http://goodmenproject.com/ http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/05/can-men-be-feminists/

Daniel Socha is a Global Communications Masters student at Kent State University.