Including men in your feminism
Julia Gagnon wants you to understand how patriarchal systems affect men
Since before I can remember, I have been scared of men. I avoid them at grocery stores, preferring to have my groceries scanned by a cranky old woman or an uninterested teenager. I keep my eyes low in elevators, checking and re-checking my phone for messages that are not there. I look behind my shoulder, jumping at my own shadow when I walk home from campus at night.
I feel that this perceived lack of security is perpetuated through crime shows, news stories and shared stories among friends. Stories on shows like NCIS still remind me of my childhood room where I spent my nights thinking of plans of action in the instance of an intruder. As I have grown older and engaged in relationships with men, I have encountered a conundrum. Everyday I have to make a conscious effort to look at my feminism and recognize the effects of hypermasculinity on my own life. Now, however frustrating or difficult it must be, I must also learn how to love men who cannot see how the patriarchy is hurting them as well.
A 2016 study published in the “Journal of Counseling Psychology” found that “conformity to masculine norms was positively associated with negative mental health as well as inversely related to positive mental health and psychological help seeking.” Essentially, symptoms of toxic masculinity, such as playboy behavior, control over women and self-reliance, are often paired with a reluctance to seek professional help for these problems.
According to the study, this lack of emotional care leads to depression, stress and impaired social functioning. If we operate under the idea that feminism is a “movement to end sexist oppression,” as defined by Bell Hooks, then feminist efforts must include men. The inclusion of men has already been a major tenet of Black feminism and other intersectional feminist movements; however, white feminists have largely excluded men from their narratives.
If you center your feminism around anatomy and the separation of people according to reproductive organs, then you diminish the social, political and psychological harm that sexism poses to a society. If we do not address toxic masculinity for what it is, a condition taught and learned through institutions and culture, then we will never be able to end sexist oppression.
This can be a daunting task, including men in spaces where women want to feel fully supported and able to express their sentiments regarding patriarchal structures. However, to include men in conversations regarding topics, such as rape culture, victim blaming, reproductive rights, LGBTQ issues and toxic masculinity, is to educate them on how best to support females across every identity.
For white feminists, conversations surrounding intersectionality should happen alongside male counterparts in order to create a brand of feminism that is inclusive beyond white women. Certain community and organizing efforts directed toward educating men could be led by other men in order to create support systems within communities.
So often I want to run to my strong female base and revel in that camaraderie, participating in actions that I believe to be feminist in nature. But the fight to end sexist oppression is a hard one and it can only be done with undivided support.