On Being a Man and a Feminist

I identify as a trans man, and as a feminist. Not because it’s trendy or because it sounds good. Not because my girlfriend is (although Mira is incredibly fierce, and I do aspire to hold some of the same values as her), and not because it’s an easy thing to be (because frankly, it’s not).

I am a feminist because it’s necessary. And it’s right. I’ve been fortunate to have been allowed to explore my masculinity as a child, and while I didn’t necessarily have strong male role models growing up, I wasn’t raised to believe that because I was a girl I “couldn’t”.

And now, though I’m fortunate enough to experience a degree of male privilege, it doesn’t mean that suddenly I don’t have a responsibility to fight for rights of women all over the world.

Mira and I watched India’s Daughter the other night. It’s about the gang rape and murder of Jyoti Singh that took place in Delhi, India, back in 2012. The documentary lasted only about an hour, but in that hour I don’t think I’ve ever felt quite so angry and filled with such palpable feelings of injustice (which isn’t the right word either – it goes beyond a simple injustice).

The things the men said between the lawyers for the rapists and one of the rapists himself were beyond incorrigible. In fact, as Mira and I talked about later, the views of the men are reflected all over the world. Opinions that women shouldn’t be out late, they shouldn’t be out alone, they shouldn’t wear ‘provocative’ clothing – opinions reflected in that documentary, have also been spoken in the United States. The idea that women are somehow solely responsible for sexual assault is, while grossly disgusting, not a new idea.

I strongly urge all of the men I know to watch this documentary. Though if you’ve read my blog on a regular basis, you’ll know that the men in my life are my role models, good, strong, loving men who understand the strength of a woman. But sometimes that isn’t enough.

As a trans man…as a man, I have a unique place in feminism. As I’ve said, I was raised with an emphasis on the more masculine side of gender. That’s not to say that I was taught that women are lesser or othered. I was raised as a daughter. Which also meant that I did experience the inequality between men and women. I saw it in gym class, when boys and girls were held to different standards when completing the Presidential Fitness Test in elementary school. Among my peers, I was a tomboy, so I was allotted a certain amount of distance from any ‘feminine’ behavior – gossiping and standing in a group at recess.

Even then, I never thought it was right – that boys and girls had different physical fitness standards (more than once, I watched a boy get the snot beat out of him by a girl for making an off-color remark) or that because I was a girl that I wasn’t supposed to play soccer or dodgeball with the guys.

At some point, I remember being told that I had to be careful when being alone with a boy or being outside after dark by myself. Even then, it was understood that it was more important to control my conduct than to teach appropriate behavior among the young men. I’d see stories on the news about “taking back the night”, and scores of women, arms linked, walking down streets in both a protest and an effort to reclaim their rightful place in their neighborhoods. And why? Because no one else would do it. Time and time again, there would be news stories about another rape and murder of a woman – and time after time, initial reports would claim the women were prostitutes (somehow this meant their death was okay by the simple fact of their profession, or that they were asking for this because of ‘risky behavior’). The blame was always, always placed on the woman.

“She asked for it.”

“She was dressed like a slut. I figured that’s what she wanted.”

“She shouldn’t have dressed that way. If she had just been home before dark, like a good girl, and had some decency, this wouldn’t have happened.”

Because a woman’s body is not her own. We’re told this time and time again – legislators passing laws to govern a woman’s body, television and movies showing scantily clad women being sexually promiscuous, and somehow they’re the sexual deviant, not the men. Women who have been raped being forced into a place of shame and blame because somehow, by the mere fact that they are women, they should just accept that they’ll be sexually assaulted, and not fight it.

The disparaging remarks made by the rapists from India’s Daughter  are sentiments echoed by the men in our own country. I’d written in the past about the baggage that comes with claiming manhood, and this is another aspect of it. Somehow, somewhere in history, society gave men a free pass when it comes to things like rape and sexual assault. It’s even associated with male privilege, that it’s my right to assert sexual dominance over my partner, regardless of whether or not that’s what she desires. In fact, it wasn’t until 1993 that marital rape was considered a crime in all 50 states. Even then, it was still disputed as a ‘real thing’ because how could rape occur in a marriage when the woman gave herself over to the husband? Each state has their own law regarding marital rape and in several states, there are differences in the definition of what constitutes marital rape – like the severity of violence, how the rape occurred, under what circumstances the assault occurred. Suddenly it didn’t matter what the woman’s experience was – no didn’t mean no anymore. If I’m honest, no hasn’t meant no for a lot longer prior to this.

I remember my sister telling me a story about rescuing a girl from a frat party. My sister was leaving and witnessed another woman, clearly unable to make decisions for herself, being half led, half dragged up a stairway to where the bedrooms were. She grabbed the woman, made up a name and acted as though she had been looking all over for her, and rescuing the rufied woman from certain sexual assault. Although depending on who you ask, if a woman is drugged, then consent is not required.

These things are beyond wrong. And these acts of violence are perpetuated by men. It’s pretty obvious why I’d been so hesitant to call myself a man when you read articles every day about men imposing themselves on women, because it was their privilege to.

And I’ve got that free sexual assault card. I sure as hell don’t want it, but I’m not going to give it back, either, because all that means is an extra card for someone else. I’m going to tear it to shreds and burn it.

As a man who is a feminist, it’s my duty not to defend women, but to change the attitudes of my fellow-men. Enough of the victim blaming/shaming. Enough defending a woman’s right to be outside after 9 pm. Enough defending a woman’s right to wear the clothing she chooses. It’s time to change the attitudes of men.

When I’m in a space where women’s voices are not present, it’s my duty to shut down the sexist remarks and disparaging comments. And it’s not enough for me to just say that I don’t want to hear it. Systems of oppression exist not just because those preventing the oppressed group from advancing keep the wheels turning, but also because others who know these systems are wrong do nothing to alter it. Silence can be just as deadly as privilege, if used incorrectly.

So stop being silent. If you love your wife, your partner, your significant other, your girlfriend, your fiancée, then say so. If you are in a room with a group of guys, and they start objectifying women, say something.

Vida Boheme: So, I gather you like hitting ladies.

Virgil: Some ladies need to get hit.

Vida Boheme: Well then, it stands to reason that some men need to get hit back.

There’s an article that Mira shared with me, about Michael Kimmel and his efforts to promote feminism among men. The article is good, up until this paragraph:

But the real mission of these four days is explaining why feminism should appeal to men. After all, if the patriarchy confers benefits, why would guys give it up? Appeals to fairness are not enough, it seems; the current vogue is to persuade men their lives will be better if women have more freedom and better jobs and work-life balance.

This to me still isn’t quite right. I know and understand that by nature, humans are selfish and self-centered. Mira and I have talked about the benefits of being selfish in that doing for yourself often makes you more apt to do for others, or that the act of being selfish in many circumstances, can benefit more than just you. But when it comes to being selfish about the benefits drawn from the patriarchy, I would like to believe that simply seeing the negative results such a system of oppression has on those that don’t belong would be reason enough to abandon it.

The quote from the article is basically implying that we, as men, can keep women happy, and in turn, off of our backs and not nagging us, if we give women more freedom in their lives. But again, this does nothing to change our behavior as men. It still screams of male privilege and patriarchy. It’s still saying that women are not their own, that they aren’t capable unless *we* give them the freedom to be. I mean, I understand that by tearing down the patriarchy and establishing equality does just that, the fact that the article surmises the way to get men on board with being feminists is to use their male privilege to gift freedom and equality to women kinda stinks. I’m afraid that approaching it this way does nothing but stroke the male ego. The same goes for another quote in the article, about men approaching Kimmel and stating that they agree with everything the feminist movement says, but they can’t bring themselves to identify as feminists.

So do we eliminate this word from our vocabulary? Is this a new movement? To be a ‘closeted feminist’? It still equates the ideas of shame and lesser and othering to women. This is not the movement we, as men, need to be a part of. There is no shame in lifting any marginalized group to a place of equality. But to be a man who identifies as a feminist is more than just agreeing with what the movement says. It’s acting upon it. It’s modifying our own behavior, and planting seeds of change in others. That’s why it’s so important not to placate women – that’s an asinine view to begin with. How much of a pompous a-hole do you have to be to believe that a woman would fall all over you because you gave them the okay to go to work? Get the hell out of their way, man! We’re at a point where our job isn’t to focus on helping women by being their escort. Our job is to change our behavior and the idea that we somehow have a right to women, that we have a right to their bodies. Feel free to hold the door open for her, but understand, very clearly, that she is fully capable of not only opening that door, but ripping it off the damn hinges.

Instead, send out a clear message to the other men you interact with, that you will not accept other men objectifying women. Send a clear message that in spaces where women’s voices are not heard or represented, you will find a way to lift up their voices.

Don’t ‘defend’ women’s behavior. That’s not your place. Women don’t need our defense. Again, it goes to changing up the concepts of manhood and entitlement. We are not entitled to women. It is as simple as that. So stop using your privilege to dictate women’s spaces. Use your privilege to turn the system upside down.

Change the concept of manning up from one of machismo and misogyny to one of respect and pride. If you’re still at a loss as to what to do, then read this. And for crying out loud, if you are a man, and you agree with what the feminist movement says, then stop being scared that your manliness will fade if you call yourself a feminist. We exist. I promise.

No. I am a man. And I am a feminist. And I’m proud to be both.

(Mira posted this video before, but it’s so good it’s worth posting again)

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One thought on “On Being a Man and a Feminist

  1. miracharlotte March 12, 2015 / 10:37 am

    I LOVE this post, darling.

    And I am proud to be yours. Not because you own me have some inherent right to me, but because you are the one that is worthy for me to give myself to, of my own choice and unreservedly. In your arms I feel safe, but I also constantly find strength and inspiration in you. As a woman, I am so thankful that you are the man in my life, and as a feminist, I am so proud to call you a brother of the revolution.

    Liked by 1 person

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