Men are an integral part of the feminist movement, and can often be key in pushing discussions about sexism and gender out of the choir. In this roundtable, four male feminist leaders from Feminist Campus affiliates and chapters share their stories, tips, and passions – and tell us why they call the feminist movement home.
Roger Jones, Ohio University Alumni / Activist and FEM Member
As a young black male, I grew up watching my mother raise my three brothers and myself on her own as I also watched her put herself through nursing school, work at a hospital, and make sure she was around to take care of all our needs. My mother had help from my grandparents and aunt, and what I took from watching my mother is that women are stronger than men.
There is an ongoing debate about gender roles between husband and wife in the household, the belief being that it is best for the family if the husband is out working while the wife is at home maintaining the house. In my opinion, this is because most men cannot handle the pressures of maintaining the household; they tend to use the excuse and assumption that the male should be the breadwinner to escape those duties as a husband and/or father. Whereas there are a large percentage of women (single and married) that perform both roles, it is a rarity to see a man perform the role of the stay at home spouse, let alone both roles. I believe women are stronger and undervalued for this reason as well as many others.
People may read this and assume that I must not have a strong father figure in my life growing up. On the contrary, my father is the main reason I am a feminist – even if he doesn’t know it. I grew up watching him take care of his wife dying of cancer as a young boy, and now I see him spending his time and effort looking after his 94-year old mother. I saw my father fight for custody of my stepsister after my stepmother passed away because it was her wish for him to raise her daughter and be her legal guardian.
As a man, I know I have privileges that allow me to see life through a lens of experiences that are far different than the experiences of women. As a black person, I realize that in our society it is not enough to have the discriminated fight against discrimination. You need those who are privileged enough to not experience this discrimination stand against the discriminators as well. That’s why I am a proud feminist ally.
I have spent my six years in Athens, Ohio getting involved with many rallies to promote awareness against rape culture at Ohio University. I have “Walked In Her Shoes” from my freshman year to my senior year of undergrad to promote men standing against rape of women across the Ohio University campus. My sophomore year I started the first ever “Men’s Event” during our annual Take Back The Night Week to gather men and have a discussion on how men on campus viewed and understood our rape culture. I am honored to have been a part of these events, as well as part of the effort to improve lighting for darker areas around campus and add OUPD’s number to the back of all student IDs.
When asked why I am a feminist, my answer is very simple: I love women. I have the most gorgeous girlfriend, and I am love with her, so I will always fight to protect her and all of the things that should be her right: her rights over her body, her right to walk down the street without being harassed, her right to wear whatever she wants to wear and not be deemed a slut or prude. If there is a man, woman, politician, or law that tries to impede her right based on sexism, you bet your ass I will be there to support and fight alongside her.
There is an old saying, “behind every great man, there is a strong woman.” Well – men, it’s time to be “great” and stand behind our women.
Ronnie Wells, Co-President of the University of Toledo Feminist Alliance
I served this year as the co-president of the University of Toledo Feminist Alliance – but before attending our meetings, I didn’t identify as a feminist, even though I felt strongly about equal rights, freedom of choice, and eradicating sexism. Being introduced to UTFA was really a thing of fate: I saw a flyer in the student union and decided to go because, frankly, I could. (It was open to everyone.) Now, I feel indebted to the past leaders and awesome members of UTFA for everything I learned with them.
Had it not been for UTFA, I would not have realized concepts or grown in some ways until later in life. Most notably, UTFA has really opened my eyes about how men are impacted by masculinity. Being a former high school and college athlete and a fraternity brother, I am very familiar with the ‘guy code’ mentality. When another male member of UFTA showed me a couple of panels about the Stubenville rape case in Ohio, it occurred to me how much the ways boys are taught to be men are about control, and domination, and not about being a better person. I vowed to orchestrate an event this year in response to teach healthy masculinity to fraternities and men’s athletic teams. Guys in frats frequently talk about how classy they are, and then pray on intoxicated women at parties like cave men. I wish to show guys on my campus that being ‘classy’ isn’t as easy as throwing on a bow tie and saying that are.
This is probably going to be a major challenge – because truthfully, the only flack I’ve gotten from being a male feminist has been from other males. For other male leaders who might be in a similar position, remember that there are many guys out there who share the same views as us. If you are going to be entering what may seem like a hostile realm – namely, trying to reach out to fraternities and/or men’s sports teams – just remember where you are and try to educate within your confines without censoring yourself. I’ve been told one of the best ways to try and make others think is to make your message hit close to home. Have them think about their mothers, sisters, daughters – and how we want equality for them.
I wish you all the best of luck on your journey for social activism and equality. Stay strong and never give up.
Nicky Vaught, Deputy Features Editor for the NCSU Technician
Over the course of the past few years, I have quite gradually evolved into a full-blown feminist. I went from knowing nothing about the movement to agreeing with a few bits of it to working my best to embody the change I wish to see in the world. But no single event – or even series of events – can be credited for that change. Many people, especially men, have very specific reasons for supporting the movement, but I do not have one.
Maybe it’s got something to do with my love for Sylvia Plath, or maybe it’s all the time I’ve spent on Tumblr – a website practically synonymous with feminism. But when it comes down to it, it’s the sheer logic behind the principles that captivates me like a religion. It’s the idea that I’m more than an animal expected to act on my carnal impulses, love sports and aspire to be a businessperson. It’s the idea that “the fairer sex” isn’t expected to be the fairer sex. Feminism is about furthering all genders, not just women. It’s about equality. So, to me, it just makes sense.
As a male feminist, I counter a lot of different reactions to my story. Some people ask why I care at all. To them, I say: I love women. When I love someone, I tend to respect and want the best for that person. And even if I didn’t, I wouldn’t want half the population treated as lesser than. Why stifle progress in the world just because a woman might be the source of it? Some people applaud me for caring about women’s issues, but to them I say cut that out. These aren’t just women’s issues. These are our issues. I can oppose everything my fellow straight white men do until my eyes fall out, but until I do something to effect change, I’m no worse than them. When any group oppresses another, that group oppresses itself.
To any new male feminists, my biggest piece of advice is this: do not get into it expecting any special treatment. If you go into this expecting more women to find you appealing, you’re making things worse. And, for the love of Susan B. Anthony, keep your voice down. There will be times when your opinion is needed, but you are no authority on women’s experiences, so please, do not act like one.
Ishmael Bishop, Member of UNC’s Students United for Reproductive Justice and Feminist Students United
Identifying as a male feminist shouldn’t be a radical stance. To support equality, fairness and civil rights – which I learned were the building blocks of feminism – is a benefit to humanity, not a “radical” movement. I have used my feminism to advocate against socially oppressive language and violence, and I’m a feminist because I believe that everyone should be treated with dignity and respect and above all else. I’m a feminist because I believe in equality, pure and simple.
We live in a world supported by power dynamics, where various groups are made inferior to different dominant groups. This system is perpetuated and supported by privilege and oppression, and along with oppression comes violence, trauma, and abuse. No matter how we disregard the injustice, someone will inevitably get hurt.
The change I see happening, the end to violence and all of the many -isms that have been socially constructed, happens when people speak up and out against them. I attended a reproductive justice institute conference recently sponsored by IPAS and Feminist Majority – and while I was there I felt so at home listening to confident women and girls speaking up about their concerns and promising to get the word out on their respective campuses. Not only were women and girls in attendance, but also college-aged men, like myself, participating in discussions and adding to the conversation. It reinforced for all us why feminism is still so necessary.
Feminism isn’t just a women’s right’s issue – it doesn’t stop at wage inequality or sexual or reproductive rights. It may start with these concerns, but far extends itself beyond these issues. True feminism is necessary because it allows marginalized groups a platform for representation. It’s inspiring to be a part of movement that shapes our culture and has taken into consideration the way in which diversity positively impacts our existence. Obviously, not every individual person will experience the same kind of discrimination or be impacted by the same issues – but we also don’t identify with the same ethnicity, gender or sexuality, etc. It’s relative. Everyone deserves equal treatment – to be treated as a human being and not an object or anything less. If you would want that for yourself, you should demand it for others as well.
Ultimately, this is why I’m a feminist. Until this world comes to the same conclusion, you can continue to call me a feminist – a radical male feminist.