How Feminism Made Me a Better Man

Graphic by Zin Chiang.

Graphic by Zin Chiang.

You don’t have to be a man, woman, straight, bisexual, lesbian, gay, or any of the over 51 gender roles categorized Sam Killerman's “A Guide to Gender” to be a feminist. Gender equality is a human right. You may not consider yourself a feminist, yet you may have feminist beliefs and just don’t know it. The men and women who fought in the Civil Rights movement proved that both sexes could work together for equality. You can even be a white, heterosexual, cisgender man like myself and still be a feminist. I believe identifying as a feminist is the strongest stand I can take in the struggle to create political, social, and economic equality between the sexes. But talk is cheap and what am I doing to create change within myself?

The most proactive thing I can do as a man is to support women to be masters over their own bodies and lives. I am not threatened by women's equality. My father was never constant in my life and it was difficult for me as a young adolescent boy searching for male influence. My mother was more often the person I looked up to. She took on the responsibilities of both parents and never discouraged me from exploring my own identity or masculinity, allowing me to make mistakes while I learned what it means to be a man. I was lucky to have a strong female role model in my life. I thank her every day for my interaction with and treatment of women.

In Phyllis Schlafly's “The Flipside of Feminism," she states that “feminism emasculates man.” Equality between men and women does not take away my courage, independence, and assertiveness. Is destroying gender roles the answer? I can’t agree with that either. There is much good that comes with how I’ve been socialized to be a man: brotherhood, strength, courage, and tenacity. This is why I don’t simply believe the answer, at least initially, is to abandon gender altogether. As a masculine man, I do believe at the very least we must acknowledge that the current masculine paradigm is toxic to modern society; it hurts men altogether.

So in what way is it possible for a man to change how he has been conditioned to be dominant over women for thousands of years? Changing the way we view masculinity may be the key to bringing that change and gender equality to the world. It is not an easy task because man has been at the forefront of holding the most powerful positions by a show of force. But times are changing and masculinity just might be in crisis.

Let’s face it, men need just as much support from women to overcome our 21st-century problems regarding our own identity, expression, or emotions. As Australian archeologist Peter McAllister once stated, "Men are really searching for a role in modern society; the things we used to do aren't in much demand anymore." Also, British sociologist John MacInnes wrote that "masculinity has always been in one crisis or another," suggesting that the crises arise from the "fundamental incompatibility between the core principle of modernity that all human beings are essentially equal (regardless of their sex) and the core tenet of patriarchy that men are naturally superior to women and thus destined to rule over them."

Some might argue that as a man I can’t identify with feminist struggles thus making it impossible for me to feminist. But I beg to differ that the feminist movement is solely a female burden. I believe that feminism benefits both men and women. Until men understand our stake in transforming masculinity and working against a system that offers us disproportionate privilege, absolutely nothing will change. My hope is that the experiences I've had will benefit others. There’s much to learn from one another.