Many of us are already aware of the gender inequities we face daily. We may be pushing for diversity within the workplace and more opportunities. Some of us may be seeing improvements, while others remain stagnant. Feeling as though they are pushing against a ceiling that has been cemented down. There are also probably a lot of you who are not women but recognize the inequities we face. Yet, you feel stuck, unsure of whether you can be a feminist if you’re not a woman. I’m here to tell you that you can and should be a feminist, regardless of gender. This article is going to explain why it’s important for every one of us to be a feminist.
The recent growth in open feminism on social media platforms has raised a lot of questions regarding how men fit into the picture. It’s common for men to feel as though they align with the beliefs of feminism, but cannot call themselves feminists. This stems from the belief that the term “feminism” is only for women. This is definitely not the case. Contrary to this belief, men were part of the beginnings of the suffrage movement. In 1911, there were between 3,000 to 5,000 marchers at the New York Suffrage Day parade. Out of these marchers, 89 were men. These men were dressed in suits, ties, top hats, and fedoras.
However, they were not the first men to publicly support the rights of women. The first American men to support women’s rights dates back to 1775 with the essay “An Occasional Letter on the Female Sex” by Thomas Paine. This was followed by many writings, such as the “Subjection of Women” by John Stuart Mill. The list goes on regarding the involvement of men, referred to as “male suffragists” in the suffrage movement. Eventually, it became common for men to support the movement. If male suffragists were common, when did we shift towards a mindset that feminism is only for women? “Gender equality is a responsibility for all men, argues blogger and consultant Robert Franken—yet men still seem to have a problem bearing that responsibility.”
Coin model of privilege
Before we dive into why more men need to be feminists, let’s talk about gender privilege. The best way to explain privilege is by using the Coin Model of Privilege and Critical Allyship developed by Dr. Stephanie Nixon. The top of the coin represents privilege: unearned advantages in the social structure. The bottom of the coin represents those at a disadvantage from the same social structure. There are different coins that represent straight/LGBTQ2S+, white/racialized, upper/lower class, etc. In the case of feminism, we are referring to the male/female coin (or man/woman coin). This means that men receive an unearned advantage in our social structures due to their gender. Women receive unearned disadvantages due to the same structures. A simple example of this would be in the workplace. Many women have reported that their male counterparts are chosen for promotions and career development opportunities more frequently.
An example of its influence in the academic setting
I remember the first time I felt this inequality in the academic environment. I was doing a research project for my third-year practicum. Ithe electrodes hooked up to the participant, and we were having a conversation about the study. He then asked me a question about how the equipment worked and what the waves on the screen meant. In the simplest terms possible, I explained what the lines on the screen meant, and how it relates to the study. Instead of listening to my answer, he said, “I highly doubt that’s what it means.” I found his response really confusing. I had answered the question he asked, and I was the one collecting the data. The logical next steps would have been to either ask more questions or nod his head in agreement.
Luckily, a male Master’s student walked in shortly after and answered his question again. He described it very similarly to how I had explained it. Yet, the participant took his word as law and thanked him. This was the first time I felt truly undermined in an academic setting. This is not some unheard of situation. It is a problem many women face daily. People are more inclined to listen to men over women, especially in higher educational institutions. This is one example of the privilege men receive in our societal structure. This does not mean that men do not earn their opportunities, but it does mean they receive certain advantages based on their gender.
The important point to understand with privilege is that it is nothing to be ashamed of. It is not your fault that you have certain privileges, but it is your duty to identify them and work towards evening out the playing field.
What does this mean?
You might be wondering, what does this mean? When referring to feminism the privilege men hold is invaluable. People seem to believe gender inequality is a thing of the past, but this is far from the truth. The list of issues facing modern feminism goes on, from a sexual predator as the president of the United States, the femicide in places such as Central America, and the division of domestic labor. Not to mention the representation of women in media, where beauty standards hold precedence over substance. It is highly evident that the problem is far from solved. Without realizing, men hold a lot of influence within their circles, work environments, and academic settings.
Feminism is about all genders having equality, and unlike popular belief, it is a problem for everyone, not just women. We can continue to push on the glass ceiling, but if societal structures continue to reinforce the glass, it will never break. According to Ephrat Livni, “It’s the society we operate in that needs fixing, not how we ask for money, one of our voices, or our outfits.” It all starts with understanding your privilege and making meaningful steps towards achieving equality. The next time you see a female colleague pushing for opportunities in the workplace, remember that it’s not just her issue, it’s our issue. If we work as a collective, we can make strides towards gender equality.