The quotes that serve as the epigraphs for this book’s preface and initial chapter are separated by only about 60 years, yet they span the arc of a social movement: two moments defining the first two waves of feminist activism. Floyd Dell, the Greenwich Village bohemian writer, was among the founders of the Men’s League for Woman Suffrage, a group of prominent public figures who led men’s contingents in the great suffrage parades and organized men’s support of women’s suffrage. Sixty years later, that message echoed across continents and decades, finding a new generation of men who saw in feminism an opportunity to live richer, fuller lives, animated by intimacy, emotional expressiveness, and equality.
In a sense, this book chronicles that movement. Just as Against the Tide: Pro-feminist Men in the United States, 1776–1990 documented the history of men who had supported gender equality since the founding of the country, Voice Male chronicles the contemporary profeminist men’s movement, providing a documentary record of activism, engagement, and personal reflection. That first wave only glimpsed the ways that political activism and personal life were intertwined. If the watchwords of that first wave were the motto of The Revolution, the newspaper of the National Woman Suffrage Association— “Men their rights, and nothing more; women, their rights and nothing less”—the motto of that second wave was, and continues to be, “the personal is political.” That is, the dynamics of our personal lives articulate and reproduce the larger structural dynamics of inequality. Feminist engagement requires political activism, but it also inspires personal engagement.
If the personal is political, so, too, is the political personal. And for two decades, under Rob Okun’s able stewardship, Voice Male has provided an outlet for the full range of men’s engagement, from moral outrage to personal anguish, from political passions to, well, passion itself. At its best, VM has been a journey, not a destination, a shared space in which men could listen to one another, listen to the women who shared their experiences in its pages, and, most of all, feel heard by others. It has also been a place to explore the meaning of gender equality, or feminism, in our personal lives, offering painful self-reflection, some exhilarating, and some merely an exhale into a richer emotional life.
It has also been a place of celebration of the rich diversity among men, helping to bridge the barriers of race, class, and sexuality that separate men, as well as engaging men in the work of dismantling those same social barriers that are hierarchical and oppressive to some, even as they impoverish us all. Voice Male is a respite, a haven, a community. A place to see old friends, to recharge the batteries, and to get inspired and outraged all over again. Equal parts comforting and challenging, Rob uses his talents as a writer, a therapist, and an activist to offer what always feels like just the right mix: the cold political analysis, the warm therapeutic community, the heat of political outrage and exhortation—never tepid, but always “just right.” I think what I like best about Voice Male is its balance of personal and political. We often read writers who talk a good line and wonder if they are able to walk their own talk. We wonder perhaps if they are only saying the right thing to ingratiate themselves, to be good boys. Moral exhortation borne of political outrage often gives me the queasy feeling that the writer is saying, “Do as I say, not as I do.”
But just as VM has been a place for men to engage, to take their first steps, it is also a public space, a place where they could declare themselves—their politics, their personal struggles—publicly. (Many VM writers were writing for a public for the first time—a hallmark of any editor’s patience and skill and dedication). That is, VM is also a place for men to talk their walk—to publicly express the sorts of changes they were already implementing in their lives, changes as fathers, as partners, as friends, as allies. There are many who are engaged in the political activism and personal transformations that together comprise what I often like to call the Gentleman’s Auxiliary of the Women’s Movement. Most do so quietly, in their interactions with those they love, work with, and interact with in their daily lives. Yet all around us, antifeminist activists troll the Internet, attempting to shout down any male voice that dares to support gender equality.
Plus ça change. Profeminist men have always faced the derision of other men who question their manhood, their sexuality, their motives. The great abolitionist Frederick Douglass was ridiculed as an “Aunt Nancy Man” by the Syracuse newspapers on the morning after his rousing speech in favor of suffrage at Seneca Falls in 1848. And during those mass women’s voting-rights demonstrations in the 1910s, marchers behind the Men’s League banner were routinely pelted with debris and insults. Those who break ranks and stand with the marginalized are often seen as traitors.
Which is why we need more of us to not only walk our talk, but also to talk our walk, to state publicly our opposition to gender inequality, to be allies to women, and to support and challenge one another in bringing our political commitments and our personal transformations into public view. For more than two decades, Voice Male has been one of our most cherished shared spaces.
We men have a choice, and most men, in fact, choose to stand with women—because we believe, as men, that women’s equality will not only make it possible for us to be free, but also to be happy.