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The Other “F” Word: Enough Mansplanation

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January 10, 2014

“Feminism: a person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.” – Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche

The use of language and the connotation attached to words we use can be quite divisive. The word feminism, in itself, has become a word many men are turned off by. Gender, sexual orientation, and race have a default image response to the oppressed group, but we never examine the other half of the equation—the privileged group. I definitely benefit from male privilege myself. I still have trouble checking my privilege and acknowledging my faults, but we are all still venturing in our own feminist journeys and there’s still a lot to learn along the way, especially for me.

The words and phrases we use in our day-to-day lives have huge ramifications. Jackson Katz’s, TED talk examines the vocabulary we use, our actions/rhetoric, and the effects it has on our lives. With the word feminist, men might believe it’s a term only used by women and it doesn’t pertain to them. However, if feminism is the equality of the sexes, then the flip side would be a sexist. You either believe in the equality of the sexes or you don’t. Failure to openly embrace being a feminist and remaining silent is a form of consent and complicity. The myths about feminism should be challenged. Feminism is not just for women, it isn’t only about women, sexism is still real, and feminists aren’t irrational angry people. When men claim they can’t be feminists or it doesn’t affect them, I dare them to expand their horizons.

Recently, Twitter has been a launch pad for the social justice warriors. The #BeAMan hashtag campaign was launched where users tweet comments about the dangerous life lesson taught to young boys. Boys grow up being taught destructive gender norms. We are taught to be stoic, emotionless, and thus powerful. We are deemed, sissies, weak, “a girl”, when we are anything less than, so not only are we teaching young boys to perpetuate sexism early on, but we promote a dangerous message to our young girls. Men rarely vocalize body insecurities, we’re shamed for our interests in fashion or cooking, burdened to objectify women and “get laid” to keep up a competitive sex scoreboard, and are afraid to express emotions. The GoodMenProject explains, “Men are, in fact, being socialized into a hegemonic definition of masculinity, which asks men to be tough and competitive while also encouraging the subordination of women and marginalization of gay men. It is this narrow focus that is adversely impacting men in our country,” in what is being called the “gender strait-jacket.” Call me crazy, but what the hell does it even mean to #BeAMan?

Robert Jensen, a journalism professor at the University of Texas and proud feminist explains in his Minnesota Men’s Action Network talk, “…feminists didn’t hate men. In fact feminists, in a sense, love men more than we love ourselves. And that feminism was not a threat to me as a man…but in fact, feminism is a gift to us. It is a way we can deepen our own humanity and, in fact, sometimes even claim our humanity for the first time.” With this, young boys and men can actively challenge sexism and begin being themselves without having to adhere to silly traditional gender norms.

The overlap of men and feminism would also open up healthy discussion for the LGBT community. Hyper-masculinity and hyper-sexualization has a damning toll for queer folks. Can gay men be masculine? Why are all gay men considered less than men? Who’s the man in the relationship? Well, we both are, I think that’s the point. Even looking at the definition of feminism, it’s about equality of the sexes, and that definitely goes beyond the male/female binary. Trans* folks and a multitude of other identities would be openly discussed to ensure their equality and protections as well in a world of feminists.

The discussion of race shouldn’t be left out either. Stereotypes about black men being aggressive and hyper-masculine hold them to a damaging standard. Asian men are often emasculated and stripped of their manhood with media representation like PSY or Jacky Chan as mere comic relief. The same sexist views of “sassy black independent” women equally hold damaging gender expectations. “Feisty” latina women. Docile and submissive Asian women. The issue affects us all. Even within the pro-choice movement, abortion, sex-education, and domestic violence are issues that affect every community.  Choice USA even has a Bro-Choice Campaign, showing that the reproductive justice movement and feminism is for everyone!

We are not absolved of our responsibility because we believe a mere word shuts us out of the conversation. Though, we do need to be careful with our privilege and give credit for women who have paved a path for us. We shouldn’t receive more praise and attention for work others have been doing far longer than us. We can’t fight gender inequalities if a good chunk of the gender spectrum doesn’t participate. Men shouldn’t just be feminists because women are our mothers, sisters, and friends. It’s not about deeming an issue important because of its relation to men, but because we believe in humanity. It won’t be easy, but there are many tips on being a good ally and even greater feminist.  Now, that’s a 2014 resolution we can definitely keep!

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