Abbie Lauten-Scrivner is a journalism sophomore and Mustang News columnist. The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the viewpoints and editorial coverage of Mustang News.
There are few things I find as frustrating as the fallacious depiction of feminists as “angry manhaters.” For those who do not understand feminism, it may be easy to believe this misguided stereotype. However, this flawed generalization actually alienates those who could benefit tremendously from the movement. Feminism is not just for women; it is for men, too.
In its simplest form, feminism is advocacy of social, political and economic equality of the sexes. It aims to liberate those who have been oppressed by a patriarchal society. Inevitably, women are the primary targets of said patriarchy. The prevalence of rape culture, gross underrepresentation of women in government and domination of men in top-ranking jobs (including within industries that are otherwise predominantly female) serve as proof that the genders are not yet equal. What is less often discussed, however, is how the patriarchy is harmful to men as well.
Patriarchy fosters a culture that normalizes toxic masculinity. It tells boys from day one that the worst thing they can do is act feminine (“You hit like a girl!”). It places an enormous tamount of pressure on men to always take the lead and never reveal any vulnerability. Emotion is bad. Gentleness is worse. Feminine equals weak. Always be authoritative, always be aggressive.
It is feminists’ disdain for this repulsive rhetoric that breeds the label “manhater.” Feminists do not hate men. We hate toxic masculinity. It suppresses men into constricted roles, limiting the ways they can express themselves while retaining their identity as “male.” It discourages compassion. It dissuades emotion. It normalizes the aggression that feeds into rape culture. It is bad for women and it is bad for men.
My friend Evan Falkenthal, a Cal Poly English graduate with a minor in philosophy, considers himself a feminist ally. He says men can be freed from the control of toxic masculinity through feminism.
“Feminism can liberate men to be what they want to be” Falkenthal said. “As the benefactors and perpetrators of misogyny, we don’t realize what cost our privilege comes at.”
To retain their masculinity, men are told they should substitute empathy with aggression. This cuts off vital aspects of the human expression. It leaves many men feeling frustrated, pent up and unfulfilled. These feelings can restrict men’s ability to form positive platonic or romantic relationships and can severely impact mental health.
Recently, an alternative movement for men arose called “meninism.” The complete failure of meninism to address any of these problems is where it flops. A direct reaction to feminism, meninism aims to preserve the restrictive gender roles that feminists seek to destroy. It belittles any expression of male femininity. It blatantly tells men how to act like a “real man,” something that is completely indefinable. Meninism wants to preserve the patriarchy so that men remain in control over women. It is against equality, it is sexist and it is harmful to men. Any liberation is impossible through meninism. It is through feminism that it is possible.
Male allies shouldn’t speak for women. By virtue of not being female, they cannot understand the experience of being a woman in a patriarchy. Men offer their own unique perspective on how the patriarchy caused them injury. The collaboration of people of all genders is a cohesive argument for why they must
Within the movement of feminism, women should of course hold the leadership roles. Male-identifying feminists form solidarity by playing the role of the ally.
“Men must recognize that the patriarchy puts men as perpetrators and women as victims,” Falkenthal said. “Feminism allows victims a platform where their marginalized voices are emphasized over those they are usually silenced by.
Men also have easier access to platforms that allow the message of feminism to be projected to a larger audience. Within government, the workplace, media and countless other domains, male feminists can endeavor to equalize representation of the sexes. For equal representation to be more quickly and painlessly reached, men must work with women in the struggle.
Being an effective ally is not limited to large-scale efforts. Allies can contribute in the simplest of ways. The actions and words of men in personal interactions are essential to discouraging the rhetoric and behavior that toxic masculinity promotes. Most people are completely unaware of using misogynistic language. A friend or family member pointing it out is a gentle way to become mindful of it.
Falkenthal presents himself to his male friends as a resource for healthy masculinity. He acts as an emotional outlet and encourages men to become aware of their subtler acts of misogyny.
“Usually, most men are unaware of how their language and actions contribute to systematic issues,” Falkenthal said.
Feminism does more for men than meninism could ever do. Male allies serve as role models for the men in their lives. They discourage the doctrine of a restrictive patriarchy. They teach men they can act however they want and still retain their male identity. They make maleness broader, gentler and freer.