In a world of individual and collective practices and structures that militate against women, it is time men rebel against misogyny and become feminists
By David Moscrop
I became a feminist gradually and reluctantly. Some feminists convert instantly. Like Saul on the road to Damascus, the scales of misogyny fall suddenly from their eyes, and they see the light. For me, it was different. I entered my undergraduate degree as a casual misogynist. Or, more accurately, I was a philosophical liberal: I believed women and men were deeply and necessarily different, but legally equal. I thought that men should be men, women should be women, and that if the fairer sex wanted to improve their lot in life, they could pull themselves up by their bra straps.
By the time my undergraduate years were up, things had changed. Encounters with strong women and enlightened male feminists eroded my sedimented opinions about gender relations. The pillars of truth that held up my liberal world view became less and less sturdy. Time spent with women who had experienced very real, very gendered struggles cast my own family history into sharp relief; this was a history littered with experiences that should have made me sympathetic to the feminist movement long before I embraced it. In those years my encounters turned on a critical faculty that, once activated, can only be turned off by authoritarian-grade re-education or brain trauma.
I had become a feminist.
My education as a feminist had, first and foremost, involved digging beneath the veneer of liberal equality that often coats our understanding of who feminists are and what they’re after. This veneer is a translucent coating of apologetics that allows men (and women) to preserve the delusional but forceful notion that men and women are essentially separate, but equal, and that women should just use their equality to compete with men, or else stay out of the way.
Underneath that veneer is a world full of individual and collective practices and structures that militate against feminisms (there are many ways to be a feminist) and their shared goal of fully emancipating the gender that, by and large, still suffers disproportionately, both domestically and globally. On balance, women are disadvantaged vis-à-vis men economically (through the wage gap, the double workday, and lower rates of promotion), politically (through lower rates of representation and the frequent denial of basic human rights), and even physically (as targets of violence, including domestic assault and human trafficking).
If true equality is to be achieved between men and women, men are going to have to enlist as feminists. This begins with men realizing that being a “man” is complicated, variable, and has nothing to do with sports, worn jokes, and preserving unjust and unearned privilege. It proceeds when men realize that they are bound up in those social structures that obscure, oppress, and abuse many women. But the pursuit of equality never ends. Instead it remains active as a constant and critical reflection about how we engage with one another as gendered human beings and action toward remedies.
Of course, there’s something comforting about the idea that some things are reserved for just us guys — even if these are things that many of us don’t do, anyway: hunting, roofing, shooting whisky until the room starts spinning and the fists start flying. There’s also something enticing about the bottom-shelf jokes and tropes, within such easy reach, pervading barroom conversations and sitcoms with laugh tracks. These give us a false but reassuring sense of order: to the gender, to one’s self-esteem, to the world.
But these comforts come at far too high a cost to both men and women. The sexist ideas, words, and practices mobilized by some men and bolstered by eons of encoding into both the visible and hidden structures of our society, don’t just do harm to women.
They also turn men into stunted stereotypes who, like lemmings marching along a path laid out by years of misogyny and ignorance, will eventually parade right off the edge of the cliff. These ideas, words, and practices make us lazy, predictable, and pathetic, protected by delusions of our own superiority that make us, in at least one sense, intellectual and moral toddlers.
I have an alternative approach. It’s my approach, and others exist. But my way of being a feminist includes choosing carefully the words I use, avoiding offensive gendered terminology; it relies upon the sometimes-uncomfortable task of calling out those who perpetuate gendered stereotypes in their words and deeds; it begs for the public advancement of alternative ways of shaping social and personal gender relations; and it absolutely requires constant attention to the way I think about and treat women, so that through practice I am able to re-write the narrative implanted in me through social structures hostile to true gender parity. It takes what the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche called “long practice and daily work at it.”
Someday we will pass the Event Horizon of gender equality, that point beyond which those who celebrate gender diversity and parity, those who refuse to participate in structures of gender domination, will have moved permanently beyond their intellectual and moral ancestors. Men today can choose to be a part of this movement or they can continue to hide behind false and overwrought notions of either liberal equality or gender exceptionalism.
However, in choosing the latter path they will prolong the life of moribund — but still harmful — relations that keep so many women underemployed, under-represented, and in violent relationships, and that arrest the development of the male gender.
The latter choice is the wrong one. It’s time for all men to be feminists.
David Moscrop is a PhD student at the University of British Columbia and founding editor of Thought Out Loud. This article was originally published in The Ottawa Citizen. Our special thanks to the author and the editor for sharing this story with us.