Men's Role in Feminism
Hi there male-identified folks, I’m glad you’re here! I want to talk about what your role in feminism is because I don’t believe that feminists solely have to be women or queer and trans folks. I believe that cisgendered men can be feminists too, and that their role is different. Because cis men did not invent feminism or create the various feminist movements throughout history, it’s not their role to be the main leaders of feminism now. But, it is important that cis men are a part of feminism and fight for feminism, and I’m here to talk about how you can play an active role in it.
Listening is the first step. Listening hard. What does it mean to really listen though? Partly what it means is to be silent and hear/read/pay attention to what women and feminists are saying without responding at all. This applies to listening in-person, over the phone and online. Listen and marinate on their words without being so quick to respond. You don’t have to agree, but take the time to really hear what the other person is saying, then take time to think about it before you respond.
Listening thoughtfully also involves being aware of mansplaining. What is mansplaining? The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines mansplaining as “what occurs when a man talks condescendingly to someone (especially a woman) about something he has incomplete knowledge of, with the mistaken assumption that he knows more about it than the person he’s talking to does.” When women post something on social media or you’re having a conversation with her in person, and you respond to something she said, is your response one of “explaining” something to her as if you are the expert or authority on the matter? Or, are you listening? Mansplaining also includes being quick to give advice to women, especially for something they have already implemented or don’t need your advice for. Always ask before offering advice.
(Here’s a great article that breaks down mansplaining)
The best listeners I know are women, and there’s a reason for that. It’s not because I believe women are better listeners than men inherently; I believe that patriarchy teaches girls/women to listen more, to listen specifically to men because we’re taught that men are the experts and the authority on all matters, more so than women. Girls/women are taught emotional intelligence more so than boys/men, and part of emotional intelligence is listening. My strong suggestion is to listen. Listen to women. See them as your teachers, mentors, and role models. See them as people you can and need to learn from. And learn from them, but listen. Pay attention to any eagerness you have to respond and get your voice heard. Pay attention to whose voice gets heard more than others. What voices dominate the room, the media, higher education, politics, etc….? If you’re paying attention, you’ll notice the disparity of how cis, non-disabled, White hetero men get more of a platform and dominante more narratives than women, women of color, trans or queer women of color, disabled folks, etc…
When are you listening and when are you interrupting? How can you listen more? Are the women in your life giving you feedback that you’re a good listener? Ask them, and listen to their response.
Gain Awareness and Implement
Being aware comes from listening first about what to be more aware of, then bringing your attention to that awareness in your everyday life. Learning your role in feminism stems from listening and becoming aware of the systems of oppression, privilege, and the various ways people are marginalized. Listen and learn from intersectional feminist activists, writers, teachers, facilitators, healers. Reading books, attending workshops, taking courses, listening to podcasts, and watching videos by these intersectional feminist leaders. As you gain greater awareness of oppression and privilege, it’s important to implement your awareness into your everyday life and in your work. It’s time to find where your activism lies (I did a podcast episode on this), and to learn how to implement that in your life in a way that supports you.
It's equally important to understand the privilege you have as a cis man, and be aware of how these privileges show up in your everyday life. Here's a resource for you to learn more about the privileges you may hold.
As you become more aware of oppression and privilege it's important that you start implementing feminism into your everyday life. Women made 86% of the phone calls to representatives to resist Trump. This is very telling. Where are the men and why aren’t they showing up? If you’re a cis man, what does your resistance look like? How are you showing up in the resistance? We need you. The world needs you because we are all on this planet together, and we all need to show up together. If you’re struggling to find your place, then get some support to find it. If you’re interested in creating a better world with us, then we need you to step into your role and implement change.
(If you need support around this, I’d love to help! Visit my consulting page to learn more.)
Feminism is often defined as gender equality, but it is much deeper than that. Feminism must be intersectional, and address and fight against White supremacy, ableism, transphobia, heteronormativity, the gender binary, capitalism, etc... Because of intersectionality, we cannot fight the patriarchy without also fighting White supremacy, so on and so forth. This is why I don't define feminism as gender equality. I define it as fighting against and liberating ourselves from ALL the systems of oppression. Kimberle Crenshaw first coined the term intersectional feminism and this is what it means.
One of the mistakes that men interested in feminism can make is only or primarily listening to White, cisgendered, heterosexual, non-disabled feminists, in other words, ones with more societal privilege. It’s important to, also, listen to, follow, and learn from Black womyn feminists, trans Black women feminists, queer feminists, disabled queer feminists, disabled people of color feminists, Asian-American feminists, Latinx feminists, Native women, etc...
An important piece to note is that although I'm referring to "women" a lot in this post, I'm not just talking about cis women, I am also including trans and non-binary queer women (I identify as a queer, non-binary woman), and that's an essential fact to keep in mind and include.
Teach Other Men, But Learn From Women
I do believe that a big part of men’s role in feminism is to teach other men, AND men need to learn from women too. The patriarchy has taught men to believe men and credit their authority more than women. This is why it’s important to teach other men AND to learn from women. If you really want to learn about oppression, you don’t turn to the oppressor to learn about being oppressed, you ask the oppressed about being oppressed. In other words, if you want to better understand sexism and the systems of oppression, you learn from women and other marginalized groups, not from White, cis, straight, non-disabled men. Paying attention to who you listen to and learn from is an important step of feminism. Learn from women and feminists, and teach other men what you’ve learned. Point out the sexism, racism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, whorephobia (don’t know what these words mean? Google is your friend), etc. when men are engaging in them.
Be Aware of Feeling Entitled To Women’s Emotional Labor
This is a big one! First, let’s define emotional labor. Everyday Feminism defines emotional labor as “the exertion of energy for the purpose of addressing people’s feelings, making people feel comfortable, or living up to social expectation. It’s called ‘emotional labor’ because it ends up using - and often draining - our emotional resources.” Chances are, you’re probably asking women more often than you think for their emotional labor without even knowing it. Here are a few examples of ways you might be asking for women’s free emotional labor.
Venting about your feelings, expecting women to hold space for your feelings, and asking her to educate you are common ways men demand women’s free emotional labor. If you already know her or have some kind of established relationship with her, say something like, “Hi, I would like to vent to someone right now or express my feelings about something, can I vent to you? I don’t need you to respond unless you want to.” But, only do this with women you actually know. If you’ve just met a woman on social media and don’t know her, don’t pretend that you do because you will turn her away. Women are not here to give you emotional labor. That is not our job. We have lives that we’re living. We don’t have extra time and energy to give to men we don’t even know, or even to give to men we do know without being asked if it’s okay first. So, if you ask a woman for her emotional labor, be okay with hearing “no”, and don’t take it personally. Remember, she doesn’t owe you her free emotional labor. And she doesn’t owe you an education (my giving you one right now is a gift); that’s where google comes in handy. Don’t know something? Google it!
A common way of asking women of their emotional labor is by asking them to smile. Women don’t have to smile. It’s not our job to smile at you or at anyone or anything. We don’t owe you that smile. Yes, it can feel good to receive a smile from someone, but that is a gift that they are giving us, not something that we are entitled to demand from them. It takes energy to smile, and women have all kinds of reasons why they might not want to give you a smile. Respect and understand that. And remember that they get asked to smile a lot already from other men. It’s exhausting.
Also, if you come across a woman/feminist whom you appreciate online, engage slowly without centering the conversation on you. Letting her know you appreciate her and her work is awesome, and be thoughtful about not asking her to put in emotional labor. If you REALLY appreciate what she’s doing, then retweet her tweets, share her work online, and/or pay her for her work, time, and energy. If you’re genuinely interested in having a conversation with her, then let her know that you’re interested, and ask her if she’s interested. Ask first.
Dollars make a big difference in creating change, and supporting feminists with them is an important way to be a part of feminism. If you believe in and love what a feminist is doing, then financially support her and her work. That will show her that you really care and appreciate what she’s doing. It’s understandable if you don’t have money to give, not everyone does, but be thoughtful about not asking for her free emotional labor. Support her in free ways, like I listed above of sharing her work on social media and writing her positive reviews, giving her testimonials, telling your friends to follow/buy her work, and elevating her/their voice.
Also, you can support her emotionally. Women give a lot of themselves emotionally to many, many people on a daily basis. If women aren’t working service-oriented or social-oriented jobs, then they’re probably giving more of the emotional support to their loved ones. Often times, they’re doing both. They need time and space to just BE, to give to themselves, and to be seen and heard. You can give them that space. You can offer them your listening skills, you can offer them space on social media to let them vent to you and tell you their issues or how their day was. Ask them how their day was, send them a message checking-in with them about how they are doing in life (especially if you know they are going through a hard time), ask them how you can best support them right now, and listen to what they tell you. Make sure you are offering them emotional support from a genuine place though, and not because you’re trying to “get” something from them.
Action Is More Important Than Identity
I used to want every man to identify as a feminist, but I’ve learned how action is much more important than the identity. I agree with feminist, Julianne Carroll, who says, “I’ve noticed at times the more self-promoting a cis man is about being a feminist, the more unchecked privilege he has. It’s very confusing! So, it’s important for them to do the work and let other people label them as a feminist, rather than call themselves one.” Now, I am more skeptical when men define themselves as feminists because of this. Men can create more trust by saying that they believe in and are interested in feminism, and are working to implement it more in their everyday lives instead.
No Brownie Points
So, you’re doing all of these things or at least trying, what do you receive for your efforts? Absolutely nothing. Here’s the thing, you don’t get credit for being a “good, decent person.” You don’t get medals for caring about people’s humanity because that’s what all of us humans should do. We should all care because we are all on this planet together, and that matters. Remember not to expect any awards or credit for putting in the effort of undoing patriarchy, White supremacy, classism, heteronormativity, ableism, etc, etc. However, doing this work will most likely have positive effects for you emotionally, spiritually, mentally, and will give you better relationships, romantic and platonic, especially with women. Because when you’re fighting for everyone’s freedom, then you’re getting more free in the process. Free from the harmful messages and socialization that the systems of oppression have taught and expect from you.
I’m glad you’ve made it this far! Especially because growth is the most important part that ties all of these pieces together. Listening, teaching other men, learning from women, being aware of emotional labor, and paying and supporting women are all part of growing. Growth can be hard because you’re stepping outside of your comfort zone. That’s where the real change happens though. Growth can be messy and complicated, and that’s okay. No one expects you to “get it right” overnight. Growth is a continuous, lifelong practice or journey. There is no end point or destination. Your commitment to growth recognizes that many things will change, your perspectives and experiences will change many times over time. That’s a big part of the fun!
Part of growth involves going deeper and doing the inner work, and gaining emotional intelligence. Google defines emotional intelligence as “the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one's emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.” Looking inward and recognizing the harmful beliefs you have internalized from society about what it means to “be a man”, feeling your feelings and naming them is all part of inner growth. Taking responsibility for your own feelings is the next step towards your own liberation. The patriarchy also harms men, thus your liberation is just as important. Learning, unlearning, relearning, and growing are all part of personal and social liberation and feminism.
Are you wanting support on how to find your activism and integrate your feminist beliefs and values into your work and everyday life? Are you wanting to understand more about how to undo the things that you’ve been taught and conditioned, as a cis man, that don’t serve you? I am available for consulting to help you do just that. Go to my consulting page for more details. Do you want to learn more, make connections, and build community? Check out my sister website, Whole / Self Liberation open to all genders. We would love to have you join us!
If you’re interested in learning more about feminism and liberation, here are some readings to further your learning in relation to what’s been addressed in this blog post:
Here’s a List of 50 Ways People Expect Constant Emotional Labor from Women and Femmes
Feminism Is For Everybody by bell hooks
Another great place to start reading and listening is my podcast and blog (which you are reading right now).