The public world of gender relations is exploding around us. The private world of relationships, families, and sex is a minefield of power and love. There has never, ever, in the 8,000-year history of our maledominated world, been a moment quite like this. You and I are living it. The gender equality revolution.
It’s in our offices and factories in the quest for equal pay, for women’s advancement, and against sexual harassment. It’s on college campuses, in downtown neighborhoods, and suburban homes in the fight to end violence against women. It’s the struggle by parents to redefine whose work it is to raise children and for society to provide the resources for parents to do the job well. It’s the back-andforth skirmishes to ensure that women have the unalienable right to physical autonomy, including choosing whether or not to become a parent. It’s a powerful rethinking of how we raise girls and boys. It’s a celebration of the right to love who we want to love and define who we want to be. It’s a push for more, and more diverse, women in politics and in the boardroom. The gender equality revolution is coming on fast and coming on strong. It’s time for men to join the fight for gender equality.
The passage above is how I begin my new book, The Time Has Come: Why Men Must Join the Gender Equality Revolution. I’d like to take Voice Male readers behind the scenes and tell you why I wrote this book and what I am trying to achieve.
There certainly were personal reasons for writing it. Although I’m not quite ready to retire, I’ve been thinking a lot about the trajectory of work over the past four decades to engage men to support women’s rights and reshape what it means to be a man.
I’ve been thinking about the themes that a handful of fellow activists and researchers started developing in the years when disco was on its last legs and punk had just arrived—and I’m pleased to say that profeminist men’s work has easily outlasted both. How do our societies construct and perpetuate men’s power and privilege, and how do individual men internalize, perpetuate and, at times, resist and undermine both? What are the paradoxes and negative consequences for men and boys caused by patriarchal cultures—what I’ve called men’s contradictory experiences of power? Strategically, what is the basis for men’s embrace of feminism, what role can and should men play in relation to women’s rights activism, and how can we most successfully engage men and boys? Why is fighting homophobia and heterosexism key to our work? How can we infuse our understanding and action with approaches based on the ways that sexism intersects, in maledominated societies, with racism, class oppression, heterosexism, and other forms of oppression? What are some of the particular challenges and minefields of engaging men and boys, and how do we thoughtfully negotiate these minefields?
I’ve been thinking about what we got right, what we got wrong, and what many of us hadn’t yet thought about. I’ve also been thinking about a vastly different social landscape and changes for both good and evil.
I wanted to sum up my own role in issues and efforts that I, along with many wonderful friends and colleagues, have been devoting much of our lives to. Although I remember writing my first essay on men and feminism around 1971–72 (and participating in pro-choice marches and the occupation of a building at my university that successfully led to the creation of a permanent daycare center), my real starting point was in 1979 or 1980 at a men’s counseling group that led to my organizing men’s support groups that led to my first research and writing that led to activism.
My first independent activism (a short-lived effort in 1989 we called “Men for Women’s Choice”) formed a template for the creation of the White Ribbon Campaign in 1991, sparked ultimately by the murder of 14 women at the engineering school in Montreal two years before. As far as I can see, White Ribbon was the first attempt in the world that successfully developed a mass campaign aimed at reaching not only a handful of concerned men, but also across the political, economic and social spectrum in an attempt to reach the majority of men. We wanted to find a language and strategies that would galvanize boys and men to end our silence on men’s violence against women and to examine our own attitudes and behaviors. Whatever its limitations, White Ribbon continues to spread, to appear, disappear, and reappear again in some form in 80 or 90 countries—including a few that have a large and significant national presence. But, much more importantly, we now see thousands of different organizations and campaigns and programs around the world that take a similar, mass, big-tent approach to engage men and boys on a range of issues.
I was interested in reflecting on all this, in particular on some of the major themes that have endured: ending men’s violence against women; the transformation of fatherhood; creating gender equitable economies, equal pay, workplaces that are free of harassment; celebrating diverse experiences of men’s lives, rethinking how we raise boys to be men, and debunking our equation of sex and gender.
I wanted to explore why just talking about “gender equality” is simply not good enough and why we needed to talk about individual and social transformation and restore some of the lost sixties language of liberation.
And I wanted it to be as practical and useful as possible.
To those with thoughtful and critical social minds, it’s common to focus on the problems our world faces. Injustice and oppression are like flashing lights that rightly draw our attention.
However, if we only focus on problems, we ignore the incredible victories and accomplishments by feminists and their male allies. When it comes to women’s rights, our ideals of manhood, and the lives of LGBTQ people, social movements have transformed the social-political-cultural landscape over the past five decades. Yes, there are many challenges, and many men (and some women) are attempting to roll back the clock. But if we minimize our successes then anyone can logically ask: what is the point of organizing if it hasn’t brought change? The existence of problems is not enough to mobilize most people to work for change. In fact, the existence of solutions to real-life problems still isn’t enough. What moves masses of people is the realization that change is possible and change is happening.
Compared to 20 or even 10 years ago, more and more men are consciously and publicly supporting women’s rights. More men see their role as fathers not as “helping out” but as playing an equal role as parents—and in country after country (or in the case of the US, in many companies, cities, and states) there is a growing emphasis on dads taking parental leave. Hundreds of thousands, and perhaps millions, of men took part in the great women’s marches across the US and around the world in January 2017. Anyone who works in schools and colleges can point to the steady reduction in homophobia among young men and the growing celebration of diversity in how we define ourselves and who we choose to love. Male public figures speak out, and take action, for women’s rights. Racialized men have been challenging their non-racialized brothers (and sisters) to take into account the forms of oppression they experience and, increasingly, are being heard. Men in the millions are questioning their ideals of manhood—and although we see this more in some countries than others, it’s something we’re witnessing around the world.
Whatever the many problems and challenges that remain, these are not only positive changes. These are accomplishments and victories for the tens of thousands of men, women, and those who place themselves outside a gender-binary who are working to engage men and boys as volunteers or in their jobs or simply as advocates and ambassadors for change.
Which brings me back to The Time Has Come. I wanted to write a book that analyzed problems and spoke passionately about the big issues, but to do so from the positive vantage point of those working for change. It’s a book that celebrates the things you and I have been fighting for, and uses those accomplishments precisely as part of the case for keeping the pedal to the metal to help get the job done.
Reaching a Wider Audience
In spite of all our talk, we progressive people often fear going mainstream. To us, mainstreaming gender issues, working within companies or established institutions, or working with people we don’t agree with on many issues—these things all seem to involve too many compromises.
But think about it this way: You and I truly believe in women’s and girls’ rights, gender equality, LGBTQ rights, anti-racism and a celebration of diversity in all its forms, and healthier and genderequitable ideals and practices of manhood. But if we truly believe in these things, shouldn’t we believe that everyone should ascribe to these ideals?
We can’t, however, expect people to come spontaneously to our ideas. After all, what hegemonic masculinity and our hegemonic gender ideals and relations mean is that what is established feels natural. It feels right. It feels inevitable. Furthermore, we’re up against not just ideas but the ways these ideas have been institutionalized— turned into bricks and mortar and encoded into laws and traditions.
What that means is we need to find more effective ways to speak to, engage, and partner with a much broader audience. We need to find common cause but also agree to work with those we disagree with on other issues, including issues that are critical for our common future. We must do what the right has cleverly done since the 1970s: find more effective ways to engage diverse people on their own terms and to encourage them to make our issues, their issues. I don’t pretend that this doesn’t have challenges and drawbacks. But for those of us who aren’t content to count our numbers in the thousands or even hundreds of thousands, but aspire to count the male supporters of feminism and women’s rights in the hundreds of millions, it is the only path forward.
And so I decided to write a book that, I hope, doesn’t compromise my ideas, but presents—in an accessible and non-academic way—ideas that you and I hold dear and work hard to realize. I also worked hard to avoid the jargon and assumptions that some of us are comfortable with but which most people don’t have a clue about—and, instead, I tried to make those complex ideas and terms accessible in order to reach a wider audience. I wanted to put things in terms that wide numbers can relate to.
Despite all the advances toward gender equality for women, many men are still hesitant to reject conventional expressions of manhood, especially because they are unsure of what the alternatives look like. Many men want to support women’s rights in their workplaces, communities and homes, but don’t know how to take action. Many men, already outspoken and active, want to be more effective.
I wanted The Time Has Come to be a book for all these men. And a book for the women who want to reach the men in their lives: those they work or study with, those they parent and those they love.
I hope you will use The Time Has Come to help navigate your way to new approaches to a feminist, gender equitable future, the very future where women, and men, can be truly free.