You know what happened the first time I told my brother I identify as a feminist? He told me that feminists hate men. Of course, my first reaction was, “But I don’t hate men! I love you, and dad. I’ve had boyfriends! Men are great!”
This argument, however, never seems to be enough to stop the “Man-hating feminist” stereotype from propagating. It’s all over the conservative media, and seems to pop up whenever I open my mouth about misogyny or equal rights.
Why? Because the idea that feminists hate men, and somehow want to tear men down and enslave them, is a popular straw man to derail actual discussion about equality.
How much does it say about the state of inequality if simply arguing for equal rights and pointing out oppression is perceived as man-hating and a desire to enslave an entire gender?
In fact, feminists also advocate for men’s rights. Patriarchy and toxic masculinity have created a narrow and oppressive definition of what a man can be and how he can behave. The overwhelming cultural ideas of macho, tough, stoic men hurt boys and men who cry, or don’t work out, or don’t identify with that image of manhood. It pushes men into burying their emotions and behaving in violent, dominant ways.
All-Pro receiver Brandon Marshall summed it up really well in an interview discussing the bullying that former Miami Dolphins player Jonathan Martin faced:
A little boy falls down, the first thing we say as parents is “Get up, shake it off. You’ll be okay.” You know, “Don’t cry.” When a little girl falls down, what we say? “It’s gonna be okay.” We validate their feelings. So right there from that moment, we’re teaching our men, you know, to mask their feelings, don’t show their emotions.
A friend told me recently that he’s always felt like he’s not man enough. He’s been insecure when comparing himself to the image of man as the strong, stoic decision-maker. He said he saw his father as this rugged outdoorsman, an ideal he strived for but could never quite reach.
He pushed himself to be masculine, to work out and to be tough. In the end, he’s one of the most tender, perceptive people I know, and I treasure his friendship. But he still finds himself at odds with patriarchy’s vision of what it means to be male:
Even now as people view me as I feel like I viewed my father, I feel like I’m just faking it. Like I’m this wuss in wolverine’s clothes. Not that I feel like I’m a woman, just that I’m a man who’s not manly enough.
Being a feminist doesn’t mean tearing men down. It means tearing down the idea of what it means to be a man, destroying patriarchal systems that oppress men as well as women. It means talking about what manliness is, and creating a world where a man doesn’t have to be some tough rugged outdoorsman.
And if that means people call me a man-hater, so be it. I’m not having that fight anymore. I’m too busy trying to create new ways for men to live, at peace with who they are.
With oodles of love for you, Dad,