Can A Man Be A Feminist?
This past summer, I have had several conversations about gender and patriarchy and how those ideas impact the way we interact with each other. One of the questions that have surfaced is: “Can a man be a feminist?”
Is it possible for a man to view the interaction of the social, political and cultural world from the viewpoint of how they impact women? What can a man specifically do to take up the cause for women on a fundamental level?
One of the things that has been brought up by a few women I have had these discussions with is how it is impossible for men to really understand the struggles of women—how men, by virtue of their manhood and gendered-privilege cannot be perceptive to the plight of their wives, sisters, mothers and daughters. This entry seeks to address this.
The other idea that has been brought up is the belief that men lack real-world consequences of manhood; that our privileges extend in a way that makes our lives fundamentally easier than the lives of women. This essay will address this as well.
As for background, I grew up in a household headed by a single-parent mother. I grew up with a consistent male-presence in the household. However, he was more of a place-holder than a father. My mother disallowed him from having the power to discipline us. The rest of my family is a rather solid balance between patriarchs and matriarchs, albeit the matriarchs very much deferred to men and promoted male authority.
Patriarchy And Its’ Impact on Men
Some people may consider such a promotion a privilege for men, but my experience disinclines me from making such an assumption. Far too often in my community have I seen men beaten down from the “privileges” of man-hood. These men are charged to financially provide for his family in spite of conditions in the world that make poverty and unemployment inevitable. The view of men being a provider can not only cause one’s family to alienate and chastise him in the event he fails to be a “man,” it can also lead to him alienating himself. Providership is intrinsic to manhood, and an inability to do so destroy’s a man’s self-esteem in a way different from when a woman fails to be a provider. While both sexes’ inability to provide create a frustration, anxiety, and desperation; for men, it annihilates his soul and affects his worthiness as a human. No one wants to save a capable man who can’t provide. No one empathizes with him. There are no excuses. He is just a failure.
When a man sits stoic-ly on his couch because his job of ten years laid him off, it is synonymous with his testicles being ripped from him. Women tend to be more resilient, optimistic, and driven to adapt in those situations because they are not defined by their ability to provide. A man has to consider his self-esteem in the event he is unable to find a new job. Failing, in the capitalist and western sense, has a greater burden.
Furthermore, a man is not allowed to show his frustration with the conditions that create his destitution in normal and functional manners. He’s taught not to cry about his fears. He’s taught not to express any form of visible despair. Patriarchy has the power to turn men into crazed people who are urged to suppress the large range of emotions their human bodies are designed for them to do. Any person with a deeply intimate relationship with a man has seen a man composed on the surface but facing a gamut or turmoil internally. Almost all of this “suck-it-up-and-be-a-man” idea is derived from man having the burden of being the provider in the philosophical sense. While “sucking it up” and moving on is certainly an idea women internalize, the range through which they express frustration can be assuaged in ways their communities would not chastise them for. The discourse follows: If a woman can’t provide for their children, it a product of community failure, or the lacking presence of men. This kind of thinking is obviously sexist, but this sexism does not create some de-facto advantage for men. If a father can’t provide for his children, it is decided that he is not equipped or worthy of manhood.
Expectations have a larger impact in how we develop interpersonal relationships with men as well. The expectation of him being a provider precludes him from being involved in his dependents lives in ways that exclude money. We know about women belittling men in front of their families because they lack employment; women who withhold the man’s authority with their shared children because he cannot pay for diapers (as if this would apply the other way around). A man’s ability to provide for himself and for others is intrinsically tied to his individual and community identity. Think about how we give disparaging looks at grown men who live with their parents or who lack a dollar to their name.
Not The Same As Race
I understand the inclination for those to draw parallels from an “intersection” of race and gender. And in most instances, the tendency to do so is appropriate. But like real streets, intersections have separate streets names and separate corners that make each component distinct. What makes the issue of race unique is that racial inequalities dictate where colored and non-colored people live and convene; it streamlines if races will cross paths and the terms under which those interactions can occur. However, as long as it is only biologically possible for men and women to conceive and extend the human race, there will never be a way to politically or culturally dictate where sexes live and convene—they will always occupy those spaces simultaneously in a philosophical and spatial sense. A white man can live his life without ever being cognizant of his whiteness in ways a man is readily aware of his gender. And while it is possible to solve the cultural issues of blacks and ignore that of whites, it is quite illogical to believe that any issues about the experiences of women can be addressed without understanding thoroughly how they impact men as well. To solve one is to solve for the other in this case.
Your Personal Values Matter In This
I am also aware that the same expectations lead to the enfranchisement of men. Disproportionate employment in higher ranks, higher pay-scales and wage-rates, and the creation of the glass ceiling are all products of the same worldview-complications I have listed thus far. As with almost every paradigm, there are advantages and disadvantages to patriarchy. We consider which is more advantageous based on which roles we consider more important in society. If you consider emotional inclusion into one’s community more important than income, that will dictate how you view the dynamic. But if you only care about the political and economic enfranchisement of certain demographics, you will view this another way. Either way, being a man is not a walk on easy street because the worlds of gender consciously and directly collide.
A Man Running Away From Manhood?
I oppose patriarchy and matriarchy. I lament a predetermination of roles either gender will play in a relationship, especially when determinations are made before personalities are known and assessed. However, as a heterosexual black man, my interaction with women (family included) tends to follow along the same consistent lines. There are men and women who characterize my tendency to shriek from typical patriarchal roles—leadership, authoritativeness, etc.—as an indicator that I “think like a woman”, or view me as a “boy” who is simply unwilling to accept the responsibilities and mantle of manhood. This has an interesting impact in romantic relationships.
It is difficult for any heterosexual relationship to exist without gendered roles. As a man, it is also confusing to have interactions with a woman that you are certain exist without any gendered underpinnings. To what extent is my relation to women derived out a desire to be that role for the sake of my own personal psyche?
What if I am confronted one day with a situation that require I demand a woman I am deeply in love with to be with me and forgo her own dreams for the sake of the relationship? Let’s suggest I am established in my career and she has yet to– do I implore her to live with me or do I encourage her to continue her dreams at the cost of the relationship? The feminist in me would encourage her to continue her own pursuits and hope for the best. The man inside of me would consider that cowardly and characterize my willingness to let her go as an unwillingness to be accountable for the sacrifices she would have to make. Should I embrace that accountability? Or is the fact that I would even feel accountability proof of my sexist thinking?
Or even worse: is considering how the ways we interact impact women itself patriarchal in-nature? Who am I to impose what best-suits all women? But who are you to do that, too, even if you are a woman?
Something Is In It for Men, Too
If you– as the reader– are inclined right to immediately rebut, please be aware that I understand there are impacts of women being expected of be nurturers. I DO NOT seek to ignore the plight of women, I have simply used this time to point out how patriarchy can disadvantage men. This also does not imply those disadvantages turn into advantages for women, it is simply to state such expectations do not exist to the same extent that they do for men. Most importantly, it is to point how patriarchy does not only limit women; they limit men just as deeply. This should be grounds for us to collectively reject patriarchal AND matriarchal thinking.
Male feminism tends to be discussed as some sort of philosophical philanthropy—something men take up ideologically for the sole benefit of the plight of women. Understanding that people do not make changes unless they stand to gain from said changes, I am asserting that men have a stake in it too, and stand to gain from rejecting patriarchy. And that instead of trying to view the impact of patriarchy from the eyes of women, perhaps viewing how patriarchy impacts women can be done through analyzing how those paradigms impact the self as a man.
Major Internal Conflict
Conversely, though, the little things woman can do to make you feel like a “man” is very endearing. Additionally, the gender-driven tasks I perform can build self-esteem as a partner. Carrying grocery bags in the house, mowing the lawn, changing tires and other auto-mechanical work does contribute to the overall aesthetic of the relationship for me. Also, greater strength, height, and physical control add to the collective feel of a relationship. And being able to provide for my woman (not a date, I could care less)—whether it is a meal, a trip, or courage—is personally rewarding as well.
And that is a man’s feminist struggle—deciding how, when or if to be a man for the women you love. And trying to decide whether it is necessary for me to be those things and assessing whether it is possible to develop a relationship with a woman devoid of those expectations. Or should I just take it and accept the good and bad that comes with it?
What is certain is that the world and my community will not stop expecting me to be unemotional and living an existence independent from my ability to provide. I am also certain that my self-esteem will continue to receive a boost the more financially equipped I become to build, create, and sustain families. Just as unlikely to depart is the impending anxieties of manhood, and being defined by my willingness and readiness to accept such roles. It is there that I find common ground with feminism.
Or maybe I am just overanalyzing. But what I do know is that, for this man, the decision is not as easy as some may think.