In this article, J lays out a guide on how to be allies of the feminist movement as men. While men are welcome to join us in our fight for gender equality, this is also a reminder that women need no permission from men to be authentically ourselves in this fight.
We Should All Be Feminists
A wise goddess once said, “We should all be feminists”. You may know her as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. This is the first thing that came to my mind when my guy friend told me that he’s proud of me for being a feminist. (This was after we officially launched The BODY Issue) I replied, “Well, you can be a feminist, too!” He laughed at me and said, “Dude, I’m a man. Why should I be a feminist?”.
Why should YOU be a feminist? If you’re a woman, I think it’s obvious. This movement empowers women and aims to lift women in order to bring us at par with men and how they’re valued by society. If you’re a man, well, this impacts you too. Because sexism is rooted in the idea that feminine is inferior to masculine, men are held up to impossible masculine standards.
Are you ready to dig deeper in this Feminist Man Starter Pack?
How to be a Feminist
To all the boys and men who I believe can outgrow the patriarchal and systemic sexism that’s deeply embedded in our culture, here are some ways on how to be an ally for the feminist movement.
If you are not familiar with the definition of feminism yet, then here’s one for you. Feminism is rooted in the belief that every gender is equal. Man, woman, non-binary. Queer or straight. All genders, all kinds of SOGIE.
And when I say all, I mean ALL. Respect for humanity should not be limited to the kind of woman you may deem “woman enough”. Or because they’re your friends, relatives, and significant others. Or because to you, they’re decent women.
This kind of attitude where men tend to respect women who dress, talk, and act “as they should” - meaning they conform to the patriarchal standards of how a woman should be - is called benevolent sexism.
But the kind of equality a feminist believes and stands for is one where ALL women - whether you’re a transgender woman, a woman of color, a woman with diverse abilities - are treated with the same fairness. If you believe in that kind of equality, then, you are a feminist or an ally for the movement. But, it doesn’t and shouldn’t end there.
Once you believe in the kind of intersectional equality that feminism stands for, you should be able to admit that, as a man, you are privileged and you may have been taught to be entitled as well. Men are privileged in many ways that you may not be able to see because you are so used to experiencing them.
Are you scared of walking down the streets alone no matter what time of day it is?
Are you extra careful and conscious when entering a room full of women?
Do you spend extra time in the morning making sure you look decent but get harassed on the street anyway?
Are you worried that you’ll get groped using public transpo that sometimes you opt to book a Grab instead?
Were you taught that boys will be boys?
Did this give you license to stare at women until they get uncomfortable?
Do you share sexy bikini pics to your friends in secret group chats? When your friends do this, do you post comments that you won’t post publicly?
Did you think nothing’s wrong with this because, after all, they’re wearing bikinis and showing off their bodies?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, then I really hope you recognize that women have these extra struggles that are unnecessary and may be impeding them from focusing on their lives.
Those extra hours spent grooming ourselves - wearing uncomfortable heels and makeup (required by most companies) - could have been time to bond with our families or rest or listen to a TED talk. The added headspace of worrying about whether or not our actions would lead to sexual harassment just sucks!
After you are able to admit your privileges as a man, what’s next? You can finally unlearn these toxic and predatory behaviors.
However, I would like to point out also that men are held to impossible standards. If you’re a man, you get bullied for getting in touch with your feminine side. You’re supposed to be strong ALL the time. You’re supposed to provide for your family no matter what. You’re supposed to like manly drinks and watch manly shows and play manly sports.
Deviating from these societal pressures usually result to discrimination. Men are called gays for simply being hygienic (As if gay is an insult!). Men are laughed at when they cry and are called out for “being a girl” (Again, what’s wrong with being girl-like?!) These impossible masculine standards form toxic masculinity in most men.
In Justin Baldoni’s TED talk entitled “Why I’m Done Trying to be Man Enough, he explains how toxic masculinity shapes boys into men who perpetrate sexism. But more importantly, he shares how men are pressured into hiding their vulnerability.
One of my favorite quotes from Justin is this: “I don't just want to be a good man. I want to be a good human. And I believe the only way that can happen is if men learn to not only embrace the qualities that we were told are feminine in ourselves but to be willing to stand up, to champion and learn from the women who embody them.”
Because men are pressured into being strong and unfazed, men continue to keep dark thoughts to themselves instead of working to solve their issues and traumas. They may also refuse to seek help from a mental health professional when things get too tough. This is seen as one of the leading causes of the widening suicide rate gap between men and women (WHO, 2016). Just in the Philippines, suicide rate for men is more than double the rate for women (BBC, 2019).
"...and all he needed was another man holding him accountable and creating a safe space for him to feel…” —Justin Baldoni
Now, can we just stop with the macho thing and accept that men can also get vulnerable and men can embrace femininity as well? Having all these burdens and not being able to talk to someone about it or thinking that you should just “man up” may worsen one’s mental health state instead of helping it.
To be vulnerable and open is not even a “girl thing”; it should be a human thing. #EndTheStigma
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Hand in hand with unlearning toxic masculinity, you must arm yourself by learning about issues that surround humanity. Unequal pay. Child brides. Female genital mutilations. Domestic violence. These injustices are the result of the thinking that women are inferior beings and must submit ourselves to whatever standard deemed by the patriarchal society.
Don’t expect women to do the hard work for you. You have to be willing to do your own research and not depend solely on what we would teach you. Us girls have a lot of issues to solve and while we are happy to help, we won’t always be here to conduct lectures for you.
Google is your friend. So is UN Women, UP Center for Women’s and Gender Studies, and many more organizations and websites which you can visit. Go!
5. Give space
This one is for both literal and figurative spaces.
For example, I am a touchy person with people I am comfortable with. But I also want my personal space sometimes. Especially with women who have experienced being harassed, their personal space is VERY important, but it’s not always easy to outright say no (and even when you do, some guys don’t listen). So be alert for social cues. If you feel like a woman is uncomfortable with the space (or lack thereof) between you two, you may take a few steps back.
Same goes for when a figurative space is not meant for you to take up. Does this issue affect men? Really? Are you going to help or hurt women with this? Most of our lawmakers are men and it still baffles me how outspoken they are about laws regarding women’s bodies. As Rachel Green said, “No uterus, no opinion!”
Finally, we need men to rise up. We don’t need nice guys who open doors and give up their seat for us (unless we’re carrying heavy bags or boxes, of course!). We need men like Kristoff (from Frozen) who says, “I’m here. What do you need?” instead of diving in with a savior complex.
In your own small ways, you may do these. Call out your brother, your friend, your boss when they mistreat women in the home and/or the workplace. Let other men know it’s not okay to catcall, whether it’s publicly on the street or in the safety of your private group chats. Raise boys to know how to treat women like human beings, not objects. Reprimand your son when he hits a girl instead of teasing him and telling him maybe he has a crush on her.
Reject the idea that traditionally feminine roles are inferior. Being a stay-at-home husband is awesome! When you care for your kid, it’s not babysitting. It’s your job as a parent! Refrain from using gay as an insult and don’t laugh when your friends do this; don’t empower their homophobia.
You have a voice that’s probably louder than ours right now because society chooses to hear you out more. Use it.
You may say to yourself, “This is way too difficult.. So many steps!” But we hope you understand that, as much as this is hard for you, us women have to live through it day by day. Some have it even worse than us. Imagine that.
This fight is not about hating men but about smashing the patriarchal system that enables us to get treated unjustly. I hope these simple steps can jumpstart your journey towards feminism.