Despite the work profeminist men have been doing for decades to transform our own ideas about manhood and to promote women’s safety and gender equality—and our efforts to advance a more politically engaged, compassionate and accountable expression of masculinities—many women and men remain unaware of our work. In the commentary below, feminist writer Emily Cataneo exhorts more men to show up on behalf of women.
Men! Hello there, men! You nice guys, you soft bois, you f**k boys; you manarchists, you tech bros, you entrepreneurs; you politicians, you beta males, you alpha males. Are you listening? I have a question for you:
Where are you?
Specifically: where are you in the feminist movement? In the early 20th century, when women sought the right to vote, many of you were there to support the legislation that would become. But where are you in 2017, when seven states are now home to only one abortion clinic and our elected officials are questioning why men should pay for maternal healthcare?
Men, we’re in trouble. Despite the perks of the more egalitarian world into which many millennial women were born, we need feminism today more than ever.
So where are you, gentlemen? You marched on January 20, but where are you now? Where are the impassioned New York Times columns written by men about the importance of the feminist movement? Where are the male politicians prioritizing women’s rights and reproductive justice? They are certainly not in Nebraska.
The crazy thing about your lack of commitment to feminism is that the patriarchy affects you, too. Maybe you don’t know that, or maybe you use that as an excuse: you’re a victim, too, so why should you advocate for a movement that prioritizes the victimhood of women over yours? Okay, you will never be as much of a victim as we are under the patriarchy. Never. That said, you are still a victim, and feminism, although it focuses on the liberation of women because that’s more important, also includes breaking down barriers for men. I hope that sounds good to you. If it doesn’t, that might just be the patriarchy talking.
The thing is, we need your help with this: you still run the world, and barring violent revolution, change can’t come unless those who hold the existing power get on board with that change (see: the 19th Amendment). So, where are you?
A cursory Google search of “where are the male feminists” proves to be a revealing exercise: the top Google results are not dominated by articles about how men should join the feminist movement, work to understand women’s perspectives, and become nurturing, helpful, outspoken allies. Instead, they’re dominated by articles (written by both women and men) about how feminism alienates men through its strident rhetoric and its unflinching criticisms of men’s bad behaviors.
Is this it, men? Are you staying away because feminism doesn’t spend enough time acknowledging your problems and your feelings? Look, I know you have problems and feelings too, and I get that it stings when no one seems to care about them. (Really, I do: you’re a person in the world, right, so of course you have problems and feelings. Being a person sucks like 85 percent of the time.)
But here’s the thing: you can’t compare feeling sad because you saw a woman wearing a “Male Tears” T-shirt with a woman worrying about getting murdered while she’s waiting for her train home at night. Feminism might hurt your feelings, but the world has been hurting women (everything about us, including our bodies, our children, our futures) for millennia. Can you put aside your hurt feelings in service of our safety?
Or maybe it’s not that feminism hurts your feelings: maybe it’s that if you were honest with yourself, you’d realize you’re a little bit scared of it. You were born into a world that was engineered to tell you that you owned it. It valued the things you were taught to be good at; it validated your behavior. You have benefited from the patriarchy every single day, in a thousand ways that you probably don’t even recognize. We get it: changing that might be scary. Really, we do understand. But the world moves forward; you can’t cling to the way things were forever. It’s not good for any of us.
Or maybe, like so many “aware” and “engaged” men, you’re not not a feminist— maybe you think abortion rights and reproductive justice are important but, like, just not that important. They would be nice, but how can we focus on them when we should be focusing on economic issues? By which you mean economic issues that affect historically male professions and spaces—not the economic issues of support for working mothers, equal pay for women, and social safety networks for the millions of underpaid women who work in service-industry jobs. You silo women’s rights into the realm of special interest group, forgetting that women’s rights are also human rights.
The bottom line, men, is that although you clearly have a plethora of reasons for your lack of involvement in feminism, we still need you. You need us too, of course—as already indicated, we all suffer under the patriarchy—but we would hope that you would want to get on board regardless. Because we women are people, we are imperiled in this country right now and always, and we need you to help us fight that fight. We want you to be part of it.
So men: where are you? We’re waiting.
This article first appeared on jwa.org, and is reprinted with permission of the Jewish Women’s Archive.