In my view the main function of feminism to challenge and dismantle unhealthy and generally ass-backwards societal constructions concerning gender, sexuality, race, physical and mental disability, and mental illness. It is the challenge of feminists to identify the varying ways in which these things intersect and to educate ourselves about the issues these things and their intersectionality present (I will not, however, claim here that all feminists succeed at or even accept/acknowledge this challenge. In every group of humans, there are some who miss the mark). It is our aim to challenge the damaging social constructs that exist surrounding these things in order to educate not only ourselves but others, for it is primarily through education that these constructs will be dismantled. Hopefully through this process we can make the world a better place.
Feminism is not only for people who identify as female. Despite the (apparently confusing) nature of the label, it is a movement about so much more than just women navigating the world, though at its root feminism was a movement that started with concern to the rights of women and the value of women as human beings. As time has progressed feminism has expanded to encompass much, much more. It has grown to include (ideally, at least) all of those issues with which women’s issues intersect—and those are many, they are wide, and they are varied.
I am hardly an expert on any one of these issues, but I always seek to learn more about them. I do this primarily by listening to the voices of people whose life experiences are dictated by these issues. Once I have done this I feel it is very important to pass those voices along and help them to be heard by others, if at all possible. Those voices can speak to their own issues far better than I can, so I try to let them do so. It is not my place to usurp the platform of minorities, people of different gender identities or sexualities, people with disabilities, or people with mental illness. It is, first and foremost, my job to listen to them, and I believe strongly in the value of boosting their voices where and when I can.
Among the many issues which I as a feminist take into consideration and find to be of great importance are how the same societal constructs which have for so long harmed women have also harmed men. It is my experience of feminism that the ways in which these constructs impact and harm men are taken into consideration and discussed with the same care and seriousness with which they are discussed in relation to women. It is my view that any feminism straining to be closer to ideal will take this into consideration as well. It has always been from staunch feminist activists and scholars that I have learned about the ways in which societal constructs which harm women also harm men. It has always been from feminists that I have learned about the subtle and insidious nature of many of these constructs.
To be feminist is not to deny or disregard the harm society does to men. To assert that it is is to categorically misunderstand feminism. Often this misunderstanding seems rooted not in any real qualm with feminism or what it represents but rather with the semantics of the word feminism which, as far as I’m concerned, is shallow and petty. Feminism has done much to advance the conversation about how societal norms/stereotypes/ideals/expectations harm men just as much as they harm women, albeit in a less obvious way. It has always been and continues to be incredibly frustrating to see that care, work, and discussion be disregarded and ignored because it is attached to the label “feminism.”
As a feminist, the ways in which these same issues negatively impact men are so important to me that they are woven into the fundamental foundation of the novel I’ve been working on for the past two months. Ideals of masculinity are pushed on men just as ideals of femininity are pushed on women, and they are just as confining, just as damaging. As a feminist it is something that I have spent a lot of time learning about, talking to others about, and thinking about. Clearly. It is a fundamental factor in my 168+ page novel. I have considered it so seriously because I am a feminist. If I weren’t, I sincerely doubt I would even know about these issues, let alone have any degree of understanding as to how they function in our society and what we can do to combat those negative forces.
Ideals of aggressive, domineering and emotionally stunted masculinity contribute to rape culture just as much as do ideals of women as weak, submissive, and simpering. These same ideals silence men who have been sexually abused and/or molested, as to report such a crime, to admit to being a victim, is to fall short of the male ideal. It is to open one’s self to ridicule, to being further demeaned. And this is if your rapist is male. If your rapist is female, you open yourself up to a whole new world of ridicule. You aren’t believed. You become the butt of the joke. Your access to support in the form of friends and family is undermined because society expects you, as a man, to be strong enough to fight her off. To not want to fight her off because you always want sex. Otherwise, society implies, there is something fundamentally wrong with you.
That is obviously a whole lot of bullshit. Whoever you are and whoever your assailant is, you should expect to be believed, to be supported, to not be told something is wrong with you. In the wake of a sexual assault women have a gauntlet to walk, but so do men. Both of these gauntlets are shaped by the same insidious societal constructs—societal constructs which I wasn’t aware of until I encountered feminism.
This is only one example of the ways in which society fucks with men just like it fucks with women, and I obviously didn’t explore it very deeply. There are many other examples—such as the way society expects its men to be emotionally stunted, tells them that to be otherwise is to be womanly which is equated with weakness… Or, how about that often cited fact that women by and large are favored in custody battles? That is the flip side of the same societal construct which kept women in the home and out of the workplace for so long: because societal constructs about gender tell us that women are natural caregivers and men are not, fathers often get reduced or no custody over their children in divorces. I think we can all agree that’s pretty not okay. Furthermore, it is part of the same fucked machine that has oppressed women for so long. That is why these issues are feminist issues and why feminists do care and talk about it, whether or not people are willing to see that care or hear that discussion.
As a feminist I think these issues and others like them are important. It is our responsibility to educate ourselves and each other about them. Every feminist I personally know agrees. The feminists I look up to are the ones who taught me about these things and opened my eyes to them. Feminism is not the enemy, for fuck’s sake. Stop pretending it is so we can work together to dismantle the fuckery already.