Modern perceptions of feminism have been blurred by a false sense that feminism is a cause that only addresses women. However, that cannot be further from the truth. In reality, progressive men back during the second wave of feminism in the 1960s understood the importance feminism had, not just to the women in their lives, but to their own lives as well. Although the contemporary men's rights movement is undeniably anti-feminist, the movement that birthed it, the men's liberation movement, gave important insight into why feminism needs men and why men need feminism.
By the 1970s, the field of psychology had moved into gender studies. One such psychologist, Dr. Jack Sawyer, studied the effects patriarchy theory had on the male psyche. His conclusions were published in Liberation in Autumn 1970. “On Male Liberation” argued the consequences male stereotyping had on men in contemporary society. To Sawyer, the male sex had been oppressed by a constant societal pressure to dominate others, especially women, in order to succeed. There existed in the culture of masculinity a sense that males had to be “thoroughly competent and self-assured—in short, to be 'manly,'” which encouraged men to mask their emotions. As the “breadwinner,” men held the central responsibility of maintaining economic security in the household; activities for their own self-satisfaction “are not part of the central definition of men’s role,” which left men alienated from companionship and their emotions. Males could not show weakness in order to maintain a sense of masculinity. These masculine stereotypes, Sawyer concluded, were both psychologically damaging and detrimental to society. The ingrained need to veil emotions and “fight for what is theirs” promoted competitiveness, which encouraged the “exploitation of people all over the world, as men strive to achieve 'success.'”
The goal of the men's liberation movement, then, was to promote a system similar to the women's liberation movement; these “liberators” sought to create a system in which men could escape their perceived need to dominate over others and work together with the feminist movement to create a society “that provides equality to all and dominates no one.” A fuller concept of humanity recognizes that all men and women are potentially both strong and weak, both active and passive, and that these and other human characteristics are not the province of one sex. For this reason, sociologist Michael Messner concluded that,
This movement tended to emphasize the primary importance of joining with women to confront patriarchy, with the goal of doing away with men's institutionalized privileges. Patriarchy may dehumanize men, profeminists argued, but the costs of masculinity are linked to men's power.
The overpowering masculine appearance in society dehumanizes men; by rejecting their emotions and becoming objects that are only judged by their success, be it in work or finance or romance, men are made subhuman. In this sense, feminism has not just become a fight for women's rights, but a fight for all of humanity. The patriarchal system that promotes these ideals is detrimental to society, because these qualities create a plethora of problems for men throughout society.
Archaic concepts of gender roles have created problems for both sexes. Women, being seen as the primary caretakers, are responsible for raising children and, for that reason, men have historically been less likely to gain custody of their children from the mother. The concept of women being fragile, innocent, and in need of protection makes fighting back against women in self defense socially unacceptable and scornful for men. Men are viewed as the dominant and "strong" sex, making the fact that over 40% of all domestic violence victims are male shocking. Yet, it is very common knowledge that men are regularly treated terribly by domestic violence services, often being dismissed due to these stereotypes.
Feminism can help men. We just need to recognize the true enemy: the patriarchy.