Can Men be Feminists? PART I
“What feminism means to me is that you don´t let your gender define who you are- you can be who you want to be, whether you are a man, a woman, a boy, a girl, whatever.”Joseph-Gordon Levitt
I am a man and sometimes I feel like all this feminism is man-hating. Really?
No doubt, many men feel this way. Unfortunately, today´s misconception of the feminist movement and mainstream media has led many of you to feel this way. When I brought my first feminist books home, my boyfriend’s reaction was precisely the same. He was surprised that after few years of dating, he just discovered his partner was a feminist. Not until I decided to really dig into this topic through books, I spoke of myself as a feminist so openly. I knew what feminism is in general, “equal rights for women”, and there it ended. But what rights? Where? I have all my rights- to education, to work, to vote, to marry whenever and whoever I want, to become whoever I want. So what is this massive fight about?
So many heated discussions in the early beginning. My boyfriend would challenge me with questions, such as: so what do you want? Do you want to stop cooking? You want me to stop being a gentleman and never hold the door for you? Clearly, I sent out a signal that I do not need a man, I can be a man myself because that is what feminism does with women and girls- take their feminine side and make them self-efficient, independent, and ignorant of men.
Well,well, let´s start from the beginning
Today, when someone new to feminism hears the word for the first time, their reaction is something like this. But is feminism really about women-hating-on men and blaming for all the inequalities and burdens that woman has been given by nature? The answer is NO.
Today, I want to bring perspective on why feminism started first of all, how it progressed over the past 100 years, and why we still have/need it today.
Sounds boring, but a short history is a must!
Just like today, when we have many approaches to feminism from radical to more inclusive, there were also many contradictions within the feminism movement in the past. While there are many shared goals of “equality” (well, define that for yourself), what discourages people is those divergent equality goals, strategies, and practices that tend to be radical. Today the goal and value of feminism might seem blurry and it was definitely much more concrete in its early days. The history of feminism is often described by scholars as occurring in 3 waves (2012-onwards is considered the 4th wave). In history and reality, this waves are very much overlapping and are messy, but here is some simplified timeline:
First Wave ( 1800s-1920)
The beginning of the first wave does not necessarily mean the beginning of the feminists movement, because there were plenty of women who already identified the need for women equal rights long before. However, the mid 1800s is generally seen as the point at which movement took speed and dedicated individuals and groups started to demand securing fundamental rights: – the right to vote, the right to education, the right to own property.
The first big attempt to secure the right to vote was presented in the United Kingdom parliament in 1866, by John Stuart Mill. Of course, it was rejected and fueled by women with fire to create official women´s liberation groups across Britain. There were many of them, but to mention two well-known and demonstrate already different approaches to secure the right to vote. Those were:
The National Union of Women´s Suffrage: From 1897 this group of suffragettes (feminists) was pursuing votes for women using non-violent means (campaigning, flyers, articles, newspapers,etc.)
The Women´s Freedom League: Suffragists (feminists) in this group campaigned using rhetoric as their key tool, but also included in their tactic hunger strikes and throwing stones and breaking windows at the parliament (you might say-the violent way). On 18 November 1910, later known as Black Friday, these suffragettes who marched to parliament to protest because their proposal to get the vote right was rejected again, were brutally attacked.
No matter, if these women were taking the streets in the rebellious way or rhetorical way, they all were mothers, workers, middle-class women. They shared one goal- BASIC RIGHT TO VOTE!
This makes sense right? They had reason to fight, to call themselves feminists with meaningful reason. Today, the majority agree it was much needed and it made sense back then. ( I recommend reading the history of the first way, these women were a different kind of fighters, heroes for me)
So yes! They fought, they got rejected, they fought, they were attacked, they hunger strike, they did public speeches. It took them about 40 years but in 1928 women in Britain were granted the right to vote. It was the key goal, but it was also motivated by equal rights to education, full property, and financial emancipation for women.
The same fight was happening across the world, different circumstances, but slowly surely it happened elsewhere. America 1920(partial) 1965(black women were denied voting rights in numerous southern states). 1917 in Russia. 1944 in France. 1915 in Denmark. 1920 in Czechoslovakia today Czech and the Slovak Republic. Check Wikipedia: Women´s suffrage
The point it, that there was a point to be a feminist, agree?
Second Wave (1960s- early 1980s)
The second wave then focused on matters like equal pay for equal work, sexual liberation (access to abortion and contraception), and freedom from sexual and physical violence. The 60s and 70s were also the eras in which feminist theory and women´s studies as a discipline as we know it today was born.
In 1966 the National Organization of Women (NOW) was committed to action for equal pay, sufficient childcare support, and availability of safe contraception and abortion. There were organizations such as this across other countries of the world. Progress?
In 1967 parts of the UK decriminalized abortion.
In 1973 abortion rights were granted to American women.
What was become clearer during the second wave, was failed concern for women of color. During the second wave, women of color (writers, artists, activists) pointed to the ways in which racial and class identities were central to the forward movement of the cause. This means, that black women besides fight for equal rights had to tackle racial and class oppression.
Just as with the first wave, but this time even more radical branches emerged and diverged themselves away from the more liberal mainstream movement
The Third Wave (1990s-2012)
During the 90s feminism expanded, transformed, and became “many movements” for many causes. Not just one- the common and united. It was the time when punk rock riot girls were hitting the scene too, wanting to be heard and demanding to shift feminist focus only from women to broader gender.
The 90s was the beginning of queer theory and followed on. In this time authors Eve Kosofsky Sedwick, Judith Butler, and Gayle Rubin emphasized the importance of thinking about the difference between “sex” and “gender”. They differentiated the “sex” as the biological identity assigned at birth, and “gender” as the aspect of identity which, these authors argued, was socially constructed.
Queer theory, of which these 3 authors are considered to be founders, has influenced the way in which we today think about gender, sex, and sexuality. This has emphasized that “inclusive feminism” needs to consider these parts of our identities.
Intersectionality term was included. It was used to describe different aspects of a person´s identity as being like “intersections on the road”. So feminism as fight against oppression must look at not only “gender” but also race, class, sexuality. This is what women of color had been pointing for many years just under other names. In this wave, this has become another cause for feminists to follow further.
The third wave saw the expansion and growth of different branches of feminism. In the first and second waves, feminists were rallying around the idea that the core of feminism was linked only to the experience of being a woman. The third wave then started insisting that there was no universal experience of womanhood, but there must be attention to difference and push for inclusivity. It opened its doors to other queers, intersex people, trans-men, non-trans men, non-trans women, etc., etc.(2001 new term transfeminism)
So yes, you can agree, it gets a bit overwhelming and confusing at how many causes and goals feminism has included. One thing is clear, it has expanded and become inclusive beyond just “white women”.
I would suggest here, maybe at this point of history, the term “feminism” should be changed into “EQUALISM” because we have started talking basically about everybody´s freedom. But I will get to that later when we realize, that all along men should be included too.
The Fourth Wave (2012-the present)
The first decade of this century is seen as a “turning point” for feminist activism and feminist theory, largely due to technology and information advancement of the society- information and movements spread faster than before.
In 2011 “SlutWalk” was organized in Toronto to tackle the shaming of women and rape culture. It quickly became an international movement.
In 2014 “Everyday Sexism” website was started by Laura Bates and became a significant collection of feminist articles and books.
Also in 2014, Rebecca Solnit published a collection of essays ” Men Explain Things to Me” which in the internet times has found its way to the readers on “mansplaining”.
In 2015 #SayHerName campaign was launched in recognition of the black girls and women who have been killed by the US police
In 2017 the “International Women´s March” was organized
The #MeToo movement
The #Black Lives Matter, including racial oppression
Transfeminisms, Queer studies have become involved in the feminist movements as recognition that feminism addresses trans and queer communities.
Today, feminism never means just one thing. It can be intimidating to finding your stand on this topic. With so much information and a whole world of feminist debate does not feel like a welcoming place. But there is good news: there are still books. There is so much to read and explore, and when you are trying to figure things out, today is nothing more important than going to the right source. In the middle of all this mess, I found my excitement and cause why I call myself “Feminist” or rather “Equalist”.
There are so many ideas to find, tasks to take up, and so much space for you to take your own intervention. I have found my, and still polishing it. There are real successes in the history of the feminist movement from the past, the ones that brought our society forward towards equality- we can vote, we can study, we can become presidents, we can become mothers, stay childless, we can become anything we want. We have everything we want.
Can you really answer this with 100% certainty? Can we really all study, freely get married, freely walk alone through the night downtown? And here it gets complicated- each country is somewhere else, each community has reached its own level of equality. And even, if the most equal country has got close to equal freedom for everyone, we have the last movement ahead. Equality and freedom not only in rights but in our “minds” and here we are all still just at the beginning.
What I mean by this? I will get to my idea in the upcoming article. Stay tuned.
-With Love Tina-