Feminism: Now for Men // Renee Mikorski, M. S.
Image from feministing.com
My first encounter with the idea that feminism is important for men came after watching a Ted talk by Jackson Katz. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Katz’s work, he is an educator who talks about how violence against women is essentially a men’s issue. Katz discusses how men must take responsibility for this epidemic of violence by making changes to their masculine code and their adherence to toxic masculine norms (Katz, 2012).
Although this idea may be old news in our feminist circles, at the time the concept of “charging” men with taking responsibility for their own role in the oppression of women seemed like a radical notion to me. My thoughts at the time were that we as women were the ones responsible for fighting the patriarchy and gaining justice for ourselves. However, my viewpoint has shifted drastically on this issue. Men need to start taking this responsibility on their shoulders and serving as allies to the women they care about.
So, why is this so important for men? First, constrictive gender roles affect us all. Not only do they harm women who are expected to be timid, demure, and emotionally supportive towards others at all times, these harmful roles affect men by “placing them in a box” (as Katz would say). In our society, men are expected to be strong, tough and to absolutely NEVER show emotions. This is a huge burden for men who feel unable to reach out to others when they are feeling vulnerable. Men are expected to shoulder their burdens themselves without the support of other men. (The idea of using a female partner to shoulder their emotional burden is an issue for another time). This seems like a big cross to bear and one that feminism can certainly help with in encouraging flexible, malleable, and changing notions of gender that allow both men and women to express who they really are rather than forcing them to fit into society’s idea of how a man or woman should be. This allows men to truly be their genuine selves.
In addition to being more connected to themselves by abandoning these constrictive notions of gender, by adopting feminist principles of equity and flexible gender roles, men are more likely to feel connected to the women they care about in their lives. By adopting feminist values, men will be better equipped to genuinely listen to and validate women’s experiences in general but with sexism in particular. Men will be better able to connect with those they care about in this way.
Not only should men care about feminism to improve their own psychological and relational well-being there are endless other ways in which men are harmed by patriarchy, including becoming victims of violence or sexual assault themselves as well as having the self imposed burden of being the provider of the household. There are a myriad of ways in which patriarchy creeps into men’s lives, but before concluding this brief post, I want to share some ways in which I have personally experienced men suffering from this toxic masculinity imposed on them by our society.
I am currently conducting my clinical work at a substance abuse treatment center working primarily with adult men. It is astounding how many men come into my office talking about their fears of being vulnerable and, in turn, resort to using the maladaptive coping mechanisms of drinking or using drugs in order to cope with their emotions. Because of the harmful societal messages of toxic masculinity, these men feel as though they cannot reach out to others and instead turn to drugs or alcohol and, in some instances, ruin their relationships and their physical, emotional, and psychological health in the process.
Not only do I see toxic masculinity play out in my clinical work but in my friendships with men. Recently, I have had some experiences where my male friends have questioned my experiences with sexism and asked “are you sure you aren’t misinterpreting?” or “aren’t you overreacting?” Not only does this invalidate my personal experience, it makes me feel disconnected from a friendship I have valued. By adopting the skills of genuinely listening to their female friends and partners, men can better connect and support women in their lives in an equitable way.
I realize I have not been able to touch on the endless ways in which feminism is valuable to men (and people of all genders). However, it is about time that men begin to realize that embracing feminist values will not only be empowering for themselves and their emotional health, it will help men better connect in their friendships and romantic relationships with women. So, I will end this post with a call to all men: come join us, we need you in the struggle and I think you need you too.
Katz, J. (2012, November). Jackson Katz: Violence against women: It’s a men’s issue [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/jackson_katz_violence_against_women_it_s_a_men_s_issue?language=en