A man’s introduction to feminism

As 2014 was the year that the Fourth Wave of Feminism went mainstream, more men may be wondering what they should and could be saying and doing. Luckily, men, there are a significant number of male-led campaigns and organisations to help you work it out. Because as one young woman at the 2014’s Feminist in London conference said, ‘I’ve had to train up every boyfriend I’ve had and it’s exhausting.’ This woman was no man-hater, she just wanted an ally. She wanted understanding.

Feminism is more than fighting for gender equality. It is a highly politicised movement striving for Revolution. Feminism wants liberation from the patriarchal power of a few men that disadvantages the voiceless many.  Male violence in its many forms is a central issue and one that men can make a difference to. Feminism demands liberation from rape as a weapon of war, rape culture, enforced child marriage, domestic violence, honour killings and the extremely odd people and institutions who believe it is their right to control a women’s womb or her sexuality by hacking off a girl child’s clitoris, labia and narrowing the vaginal opening (FGM). Know that when we talk about male violence, we can mean sexual harassment of girls on their way to school, the mental violence of trolls, the controlling words of abusive partners, demand for prostitution and most narratives of porn. And know this, all of these issues are linked. When the news spews out another woman or school girl missing, then found raped and dead in a ditch, these are not unrelated incidents. Male violence is endemic. Our backdrop is a mainstream culture saturated with the sexual objectification of women unlike any point in history. Porn is sex education. Look at the way coverage of male sexual violence is eroticised in The Sun, look at the porn and sex industries, and the language they use to describe women to see clearly how society views us. So don’t buy into the mockeries about ‘radical feminists’. Do not fear the stigma of being labelled anti-sex. Remember the mantra, it’s sexism, not sex.

So, on to practical stuff. First, hone your listening skills. Be mindful to not talk over women. Resist the temptation to jump in and demand proof and statistics. If there are three women in the room, at least one of them has been or will be a victim of male sexual violence. Forget being defensive. You’ll look UNBELIEVABLY tedious and dim. Feminists care about boys and men reaching their full humanity and we want good men to be our allies. Of course we do! Where have you been?! Feminists are stereotypically diminished as irrational or angry, when we are simply speaking up. But know this, our passion for a better world stems from a personal and/or collective experience of pain, trauma and suffering. Our motivation stems from stolen childhoods, stolen opportunities, stolen selfhoods, limitations on our choices and blame and persecution instead of justice and support. Before 2014, being a feminist was lonely, isolating and controversial. Still, it is no easy choice. Feminists ARE courage. When I returned home from a feminist conference, my partner’s lovely and intelligent male friend asked me if it entailed ‘lots of women getting angry?’ Go to a feminist conference and you will meet other men, men who look like you, plenty of cool young women, you will hear experts in their fields, authors, academics and activists, you may hear a woman who was lucky enough to exit prostitution tell of how her head was shoved down a loo while men took turns raping her, to ‘break her in’ , you may hear many a harrowing story but you will be enlightened on the issues, motivated, moved and uplifted by the company.

Next, don’t question a feminist campaign until you are well acquainted with the history of that campaign. An Esquire article on men and feminism belittled the Lose the Lad Mags campaign by arguing that lad mags were on their way out anyway so focus on something more important. Never suggest feminists focus on something more important. Feminism is a multi-issue movement and you need to join the dots. It is global politics, it is global human rights. Each issue is symbolic of women’s inequality, stemming from capitalism, war, privatisation, the banking crisis, from the wallpaper of objectification that surrounds us. As Finn Mackay, the activist and academic who revived the Reclaim the Night march said in a 2014 speech, ‘while not everything is Feminist, Feminism is about everything.’

Back to lad mags. Lad mags didn’t just tell boys and men it’s OK  to be a juvenile sexist twat, they told them to feel power over women to be a man – running jokes about rape and trafficked women, ads and features on hardcore porn, linking to porn sites and encouraging boys to act like pimps and johns by glamourising brothels and sharing and rating images of their girlfriends. Lose the Lad Mags was the culmination of years of campaigning. Yes lad mags were losing ground, but the campaign put the word ‘sexism’ back in mainstream dialogue. The stats on sexual harassment and rape across university campuses today shows us how lad mags cultivated rape culture.

Understand what rape culture means: the socialisation of gender roles, pushing men towards hyper-masculine stereotypes who see women not as fully human but as sex objects. Who see violence as a badge of masculinity. Rape culture grooms women to seek validation through their hotness alone. Rape culture blames victims for the male violence against them.

Now, how to act out your pro-feminist leanings on a practical day to day basis? If someone in your workplace makes a sexist joke, or implies a woman is less, call them up on it. Use the word ‘sexist’. Know that your male privilege affords your words more weight. If someone in your social circle talks about going to a strip club, ask them if they’re aware that women in lap dancing clubs work multiple jobs, have to pay to rent a pole, compete with too may girls for too few customers, contributing to their proven links with prostitution. Enlighten sleep-walking men, remind them that addiction to the porn and sex industries is the third biggest cause of debt among men. Tell them that the porn and sex industries care jack shit about men, they care about your money. Start a conversation about the sexist and racist representations of women in music videos, and the macho posturing of men. Google Rewind&Reframe. Challenge anyone using or promoting Grand Theft Auto or computer games that glorify male violence. Talk about the sexism of football, of all sports coverage. Question why football is so homophobic. Don’t let any one get away with saying ‘like a girl’ in a derogatory way. Speak openly against anyone using the word ‘slut’ or ‘gay’ to shame someone.

It is nice to open doors and pay compliments and be romantic and it’s OK if you cry. Show your softer (human!) sides and your strengths. Find out what turns your sexual partner on. Feminists don’t give a toss what other women look like. Some of us prettify ourselves, most of us are sensitive and smart. We’re all born with the pressure to spend extra time and money to make ourselves look like ‘human women.’ (thanks Amy Poehler.) And we’re too busy trying to get a fairer society for all.

Don’t live with your girlfriend like it’s a student house. You are a grown man, clean up. If you have a close female friend or a partner, support, facilitate and encourage her interests. Ask a girl or woman about the precautions she habitually takes every time she leave the house, how she must navigate public transport, the planning required to return home. Respect the need for women-only space. Appreciate your freedom, as a man, to roam the earth, to move, work, live and travel alone. The world is your playground. It is not ours.

Use the male-led organisations below to become familiar with how feminism benefits men. Know that it is about our right to live the full range of humanity. Conformist and limiting gender roles damage men’s potential too. Feminism values fatherhood. Feminism says you can be who you want to be without fear of being beaten up or ridiculed down the pub. Help to challenge the culture that encourages boys to believe that they must distance themselves from nurturing, empathetic and intimate behaviour to be masculine.

Complain to the media about its sexism. Get involved with UK Feminsta, Object, or an organisation like the Good Lad Workshop, working with boys and men. There are plenty of young men who do. Read the Everyday Sexism Project to see what it feels like for a girl. Start your political journey to manhood by ordering this easy-reading book that looks to youth culture by Jackson Katz, The Macho Paradox: Why Some Men Hurt Women and How All Men Can Help. Jackson’s book was one of my starting points and remains a favourite. Every teenage boy and young man should read it. Take a look at this awesome pro-feminist’s video and  ten ways to help now.

Good men doing good stuff…

The Good Lad Workshop
White Ribbon Campaign
Anti-Porn Men Project

Men Can Stop Rape

And The Good Men Project is a great online magazine that covers everything from flirting tips, being bullied at work to being a dad. Follow them on Twitter and something interesting alway comes up.

Next up: What does a pro-feminist dad look like?




One thought on “A man’s introduction to feminism

  1. Rachel this is perfect and answers so many questions about feminism today. Feminism is not just about women, it’s about everybody. Our sons as well as our daughters. Understanding privilege is so important. Thank you for writing this!


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