Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Dude, You're a Feminist

This post is a part of my “Out of the Kitchen” weekly column at The Progressive Playbook in which various news and pop culture items will be examined through a feminist lens.
I recently saw this amusing video on Feministing.
While it’s a hilarious watch for those of us generally familiar with feminism, the video reminded me of one key misconception that I keep seeing: that feminism is just for women.
The stereotype of the man hating feminist really is just that (a stereotype). Men can be and are feminists. For some reason, this concept is very foreign to many (if not most) people. Although, as I’ve discussed before, there seems to be a mental block toward calling anyone a feminist, the reluctance to accept male feminists is overwhelmingly strong. So much so, that there are entire new words and phrases, including “feminist ally,” created in an attempt to hide the fact that a man is free to identify as feminist.

Fact of the matter is that men experience the pressures of a sexist society. For example, the very prevalent idea that “boys don’t cry” or that emotions are just for women can lead many men to experience frustrations associated with repressed emotions and limited self-expression. The constant message that child care is women’s work can mean that men who wish to be primary caregivers are seen as lesser. Sexism also creates an unhealthy hyper-masculine perspective of manhood which promotes the acceptance of violence against one another. The affects of sexism on men have even created the myth that men can’t be raped.

Men who identify as feminists are aware of the affects of sexism on their lives, not only because they have examined feminist theory, but also because they have most likely had their intentions questioned. The assumption is that men would only care about feminism because they want to get in a woman’s pants, not because they have a genuine interest in the topic. (And I’m not talking about that one guy in your Women’s Studies 101 class who was there scoping out his classmates and continuously arguing with the professor…I’m talking about men who really pay attention to and care about gender in the world around them.) The stereotype of the pseudo-feminist man who wants a date is promoted frequently, for example, in this misguided breakdown of feminist types.

Unfortunately, even feminism itself can be exclusive to men. I remember in my first women’s studies class, my professor mentioned that she thought there was some validity to the claim that, “Feminism is the theory, lesbianism is the practice.” As a wee-young-feminist-in-training who was partnered with a man, I found it to be fairly insulting. But when you consider the implications of this statement for men, it’s even more discouraging. However, as I grew into my feminism, I understood that the movements and its principals are actually much more inclusive than this pithy phrase indicates. As I’ve referenced before, I adhere to bell hooks’ definition of feminism in that, it is simply to end sexist oppression. (Nearly everything beyond that is up for debate.)

I guess my overall point is that there is no reason why men who reject sexism cannot participate in the feminist movement and identify in any way they please. Sure, it’s possible that a few men will misappropriate the term, but they wouldn’t be the first, and they won’t be the last. So dudes, if you’re feeling it; own it. You can be a feminist too.

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