So, first thing's first: I'm a guy. Nice to meet you.
For about a year now, I've been learning how to better support progressive causes, one of which is feminism. One thing I've learned in that year is that while lots of men will easily agree with the generic idea of equality for women, many of these same men do not feel that the Feminist Movement aligns with their values and interests. Some even oppose it.
Lots of men, despite claiming to be in support of women, feel a separation between themselves and feminism; whether this be because they are frightened by the implications of the #MeToo movement, unfamiliar with feminist terminology and imagery that is becoming more mainstream or are just getting sick of seeing the phrase "toxic masculinity" in their news feed, a definite disconnect between some men and feminism becomes readily apparent.
From the outside looking in, feminism may just seem a bit too radical to a lot of guys. They associate the movement with aggression directed towards them and don't believe supporting it is in their own self-interest.
While I'm not going to deny that feminism is a radical movement (it is, in both meanings of the phrase), I do take issue with the latter points. Aggression directed toward me has not been my experience with feminism, and I do believe that supporting feminism is in a man's best interest. If you take a closer look at this "toxic masculinity," you'll see that it isn't just a problem for women; it affects us guys too, in ways unique to our gender.
Lucky for us, feminism seeks to eliminate toxic masculinity from our society. If men can learn to align themselves with the feminist movement and let go of the aspects of our masculinity that do us no good, we can make the world better for women as well as for men. While it's important for male feminists to eventually transition to advocacy that goes beyond their own self-interest, learning about how a progressive cause can benefit you can be a great point of entry.
Because I believe that feminism is an extremely important cause that will contribute to an improved world within my lifetime, and because I believe that men play a role in advancing this cause, I looked for some specific reasons why feminism can benefit men as well as women. Here are eight reasons I found, none of which are my own original discoveries, but are common points made in modern feminist dialogue:
1. Feminism can destroy harmful gender roles for men as well as for women
Toxic masculinity provides a strict outline for how men and women must look, think and act. Gender roles may affect different genders in different ways, but they can be cages for anyone. While some men feel fully comfortable with the outlines of traditional masculinity, I, and many other men, do not. This is not me failing to be masculine, but refusing to compromise my definition of masculinity for anyone else's. Feminism seeks to destroy harmful gender roles and free people from the cages that confine them.
2. Sexual assault is not just a women’s issue
Rape culture is one of toxic masculinity's terrible offspring, and men are not immune to it. One in six men experience sexual harassment or assault. This is definitely less than the amount of the female experience, but any amount is still too many. Not only does a culture of male supremacy lead to men being harassed and assaulted, but it also makes them less likely to report it.
Compared to the 64% of women who report documented histories of sexual abuse, only 16% of men report it. Traditional masculinity can make men feel that if they report an incident of sexual harassment in which they are the victim, then they are displaying weakness. In reality, however, the ability to seek help and begin to heal from such an incident is a sign of immense strength. Feminism recognizes this fact and can help men feel more comfortable in beginning their own healing process.
3. Feminism could help with male depression and suicide
Severe depression and suicide are terrible issues that can affect anyone. However, men die by suicide about three and a half times more often than women. A traditional feature of harmful masculinity is the feeling that a man must bury his feelings deep within himself, instead of considering them critically or seeking out someone to discuss these feeling with, be it a friend, family member or, most importantly, a professional therapist.
This is a huge problem, because neglecting one's mental health only makes depression and suicidal thoughts more harmful and more likely to be dangerous or lethal. Since there may be a link between masculine gender roles and depression and suicide, if feminism can help to destroy some of the harmful roles we so strongly adhere to, perhaps men will be more willing to seek help with feelings of depression, which can only be good.
4. Feminism creates a space for body positivity that most male spaces fail to provide
As someone who struggles constantly with appearance and body image, I have a deep personal dislike for the way men are expected to deal with discomfort about their bodies. Masculinity tells me that if I don't like the way I look, I need to "fix" my body by looking more muscular and rugged. I work out regularly, have a very physically-demanding job and eat very healthy food.
However, I still have lots of fat on my body, and products for mens' appearance are a luxury I usually can't afford. Masculinity just shrugs and says I'm out of luck. Feminism, on the other hand, celebrates different body types and offers assistance for people like me who feel uncomfortable in their bodies.
5. Feminism fights for parental leave for both mothers and fathers
Men and women have different parental leave needs, considering the fact that women are the ones to physically endure the pains of childbirth. However, parents of all genders need adequate parental leave. Feminism understands that one's professional life should not encroach on their family life, no matter their gender. Children lead more positive lives when both parents are present. I support any fight for my ability to spend time with my children in the future.
6. Feminism can improve relationships
To me, toxic masculinity represents a failure of men to treat people of another gender as equal human beings on a political, economic, cultural and personal level. Feminism fights on all of these fronts, including personal. I am a firm believer that an important aspect of any positive relationship is treating the other person as your equal.
Many men try to pursue this ideal, but we've all picked up some bad habits along the way, many of which are harmful to the women in our lives. Feminism has the power to unlock new understanding and empathy for the people in your life, even if you've already known them for a long time; it can help you to identify cultural biases or prejudices that you may have picked up on and can help you to open yourself up to more open and freeing viewpoints.
This new understanding can make your relationship with a person more positive for the both of you.
7. Supporting gender equality is the right thing to do
This should really be the only reason necessary. Men are the originators of toxic masculinity, and we must have a role in undoing it. Some of us perpetuate it, some of us are complicit to it and all of us will carry it within us until we eliminate it.
8. Many men still consider feminism an attack on masculinity
I am not saying that feminism has never once been used to attack. But, in most cases, I think men are taking an incorrect, albeit understandable view. Guys, feminists are not seeking to police your words and thoughts; they are not trying to attack you, nor are they trying to destroy your masculinity.
When a feminist offers a correction or new perspective to you, it is not an attack; it is an investment in your character. It is an opportunity being laid in front of you to start becoming a more empathetic and compassionate person.
What's more, this investment is often coming from a place of deep pain. Feminism is a battle being waged against a machine that has been pushing women down and away for much of human history, yet feminists still possess the courage and energy to face toxic masculinity, constantly investing in a future that benefits everyone.
At times, supporting feminism as a man can be uncomfortable. In fact, it probably should be. At some point, and probably more than once, you will screw up. You will say or do something problematic or fail to show up for women when you are needed or maybe show up a bit too much when you are not. You will inevitably face frustration, push back, confrontation. This is a good thing.
Feminism is a struggle that most men are unfamiliar with because most of us are free from the struggles that women face every day. This does not mean you should quit or write off feminism as a hostile movement that hates men even when men try to help. Instead, if you are able, try to think critically about experiences of conflict or pushback you've had. If you truly believe your character was being attacked, I can't ask you not to feel disillusioned by that experience, only to try to understand that.
As I mentioned before, feminism sometimes comes from a place of deep pain and frustration rooted within a deeply patriarchal society, and pain can be difficult to focus and control for anybody. However, if you experience an instance of pushback in which a feminist or woman is trying to get you to understand something problematic you have done or said, listen to it and try to learn from it. If you can do that, that's when you'll begin to grow and truly see the benefits of feminism for yourself.
"We all do better when we all do better." -Paul Wellstone