The problem with the F-word: ‘Feminist’

“If men want to reap the rewards of feminism, want to help out, we have to do more than just soak up kudos and make token gestures and preach to the choir. We have to speak to other men, we have to convince them.”

My time arguing, debating and protesting taught me a couple things — first and foremost that if you want to win someone over, you have to meet them where they stand. That means you have to address the issues that concern them, which most often means showing how what you’re proposing can benefit them.

A lot of activists don’t care for that reality, because their side is right and anyone in their way is wrong and shouldn’t be entertained. But I like to make convincing arguments that can help a person change their mind. And that’s all we can do, ultimately — help a person change their mind. You don’t change anyone’s mind for them; nobody has that power.

So with that, this is directed at the men out there who don’t see why feminism should be important to them, or who think that feminism is actively harming them.

What’s feminism got for us, men?

A few things, to start.

I never met my father; my mom raised my sister and I on her own, effectively, without a dime of support. In generations past that would’ve marked my mother and us as outcasts. Instead, in part because of the feminist movement, I was able to grow up with the advantages of any other man in society.

 Feminism…is paving the way for less rigid gender roles and expectations and recognizes that being in touch with all emotions is a right for all humans.

If you’re a man who’s ever faced the pressure of cutting it in this ever increasingly cut-throat world of ours, who’s had to face sickness or anxiety over trying to succeed at work, being able to turn to the women in your life for help when you can no longer pull through is everything. We most often talk about ‘in sickness and health’ as marriage vows, but men often turn to not only wives or girlfriends for help, but mothers, sisters, etc.

It wasn’t that long ago we lived in a world where a man who got ill and couldn’t work was done. He had no help to turn to. Their wife, if they had one, and women relatives couldn’t work, or at least couldn’t work for enough pay to pull them both.

Sometimes in life the only one a man has to turn to is a woman, and you’d better hope she is able to take care of not only herself but you too. Since many men often have difficulty being vulnerable and honest with other men, they tend to turn to women, who are seen as more caring and open to emotional outpouring.

If you’re a man who’s ever had sex with a woman and not felt ready for fatherhood, hopefully the existence of birth control methods put your mind to ease. Just keep in mind that no birth control, aside from the rhythm method, would be available without feminism.

Men aren’t the primary victims of sexual assault, but a disturbingly large number of them are. And while this is still a battle that rages on, with women and allies marching for respect and dignity in the legal process, such as at SlutWalk, there were times even darker still, as hard as that may be for us to imagine now. When legal bodies considered it impossible for not only a man to rape his wife, but for a man to be raped at all.

While it’s still rough for victims of sexual assault, it has improved, and there are now resources and education available to all survivors. This too is owed to feminism.

If you’re a man who lost someone dear, or faced a great hardship, but found yourself bitterly holding back the tears and hurt for fear someone would think you weak, well, we still need to work on that. Feminism, though, is paving the way for less rigid gender roles and expectations and recognizes that being in touch with all emotions is a right for all humans.

Through easing day-to-day stresses, and improving life in time of crisis, feminism benefits men. And these handful of points are just the tip of the iceberg.

There’s so much men gain from feminism, even without us actively supporting it. The same men who fought feminism bitterly still benefit from these points. What’s right is for men to not just sit back and soak it up, but take part, help the women in our lives—all the women in the world—rise up a few notches, so we can be happier.

But the bad

With all that said, if asked, ‘Are you a feminist?’, I can’t bring myself to say ‘yes’.

Photo by Charlotte Cooper / Flickr.
Photo by Charlotte Cooper / Flickr.

But why? Here’s a joke:

“A male feminist walks into a bar
because it was set so low.”

While women routinely face scorn and harassment for claiming to be feminists, men often gain kudos. Men gain so much from feminism by giving so little, and sometimes those few men who do step up and take the title of ‘feminist’ do so in a way that just further enriches themselves.

When Justin Trudeau was asked why he had gender parity in his cabinet, his response was, “Because it’s 2015.”

The line was met with smiles and applause, because it speaks to feminists. It says this is long overdue. And it’s true.

But it doesn’t help feminists or feminism. A real answer that tries to sway men on the fence is what’s needed. Those of us men who consider ourselves allies to the women in the fight for feminism can’t satisfy ourselves with speaking only to the choir.

Telling feminists a sly line that they want to hear is more about enriching your own image, about making feminists think you’re just so gosh darned swell. That you’re one of the good guys.

If men want to reap the rewards of feminism, want to help out, we have to do more than just soak up kudos and make token gestures and preach to the choir. We have to speak to other men, we have to convince them.

And it won’t be easy.

Not only are many men angry about feminism, resistant to talking about it at all, but many of them have good cause to be angry. Not at feminism, just in general.

 We have to speak to other men, we have to convince them.

The younger generations are inheriting a worse world. Incomes are down, job instability is up, and for lack of serious solutions in the political arena, many blame old, easy targets: women and minorities. Especially since there’s still the assumption and pressure that men in heterosexual relationships will still outearn their partner, and that if they’re not able or willing to do that, then they’re lesser.

We have to convince men that the solution to their ills isn’t in keeping women down, but in propelling us all onto an equal playing field. Society functions better when we’re equals, we’re happier. This isn’t opinion or conjecture — nearly a century of study has proven it.

So when asked, ‘Are you a feminist?’, ask yourself: Have I done enough to help? Have my benefits from feminism outweighed my contributions? Is claiming the title feminist just me soaking up more unearned kudos?

Whatever your answer, let’s try and help. Recognizing that you could contribute and do more isn’t a failure, but a firm point to move forward from.

We get the benefits whatever our answer is, let’s not exploit and abuse it.

Joshua Keep is a former historian and current bestselling novelist, born and raised in Newfoundland. Originally from the town of Bonavista—oh so close to the ghosts of the FPU—he runs a small publishing company with his partner. The two reside in St. John’s, where they feed the ducks each and every day.

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