We Need a Men’s Liberation Movement
My friend Kara wore a shirt one day that said, “This is What a Feminist Looks Like,”and she was having fun giving people double takes. Apparently when people saw her shirt in the elevator they would look her over and make funny faces. She enjoyed the consternation it provoked among random passers-by. But why, I wonder, should such a shirt be so controversial? I was proud of my feminist grandmothers in the League of Women Voters. For me, a feminist was a heroine like Susan B. Anthony, not all that much different from Frederick Douglas.
In Americorps training, one of my female colleagues brought up the feminist T-shirt as an example of a T-shirt that was “too political,” to wear to work. (In our professional capacity, us Americorps workers are supposed to stay non-political, whatever beliefs we may espouse as private individuals.) I was a little bit shocked by that. If I wore a T-shirt that said, “This is what someone who hates racism looks like,” nobody would view me as political— only politically correct. So why is the feminist T-shirt political? A feminist is just someone who believes women should stand up for their rights— right?
However, Kara surprised me by agreeing that the T-shirt would be inappropriate to wear to work. Later I learned how the T-shirts were part of a project she worked on in college. They got a big group of people (men and women) together wearing the feminist T-shirts and took a nice colored photo. Then they hung posters of the photo all over campus, so that people would know their classmates (male and female) were feminists. The posters didn’t go over well. People wrote “faggot” and “dyke” all over them with black sharpie.
So feminism isn’t just Susan B. Anthony and women’s suffrage and equal pay. There’s quite a bit going on here. I’ve had many conversations with women my own age who say they disagree with feminism. Only women my own age. Anyone who’s a little bit older than that will rail about how much women have suffered and what vital victories have been won, “You don’t know how lucky you are, young lady! Why, when I was your age…”
But a girl my age— well, I understand them. To them, going to work and earning a paycheck doesn’t look like so much fun. They think they would enjoy being a homemaker more. Feminism tells them that being a homemaker is bad, so they don’t like feminism. Feminism says that instead of showering love and cookies onto their children, they should go out and be a wage slave. At least, that’s the modern perception of feminism— which helps explain why so many people are against it!
Hegemony is a fun word. I think it’s because of male hegenomy that women’s liberation is currently defined as “women’s liberty to assume male roles.” Embedded somewhere is the assumption that men’s roles are inherently more important and interesting than female roles. It was all about giving women the chance to prove they were “as good as men.” It never occurred to anybody that men might need the chance to prove they were “as good as women.”
Women who choose to assume “male” roles are applauded. Look at the number of grants and scholarships that exist to get women into the sciences. However, men that choose to assume female roles are mocked and derided, subject to an intensive social stigma. Men who want to be kindergarten teachers are laughed at or suspected of being pedophiles. And where are the scholarships for getting men into the arts? If a man wants to follow his dream of being a fashion designer, everyone chuckles and says he must be gay. Women don’t have to take that kind of crap. There’s a guy named Daniel Seddiqui who tried out fifty different careers in fifty weeks to find out what his dream career would be. Out of all the different careers he tried, the one he loved best was dietician. His mom told him he shouldn’t be a dietician because that was a “women’s job.”
We can see the signs of men’s oppression everywhere. Rapes of men are reported even less often than rapes of women, particularly if the rape is accomplished through emotional coercion rather than by physical force. If their wives beat them, men have trouble getting justice because no one will believe them. Men are afraid to report rape and domestic violence, because they are supposed to be sex-hungry fiends who enjoy sex— any sex— and they are supposed to be too tough to let weak women beat them.
The oppression of men is also clearly visible in our dress standards. Women can wear pants whenever they want. It wasn’t easy to win the right to wear pants. When Amelia Bloomer first invented female pants, people fussed about it like it was the end of the world. But although a few courageous men have stood up for their right to wear dresses, it is still considered indecent and shocking. (One of my dad’s colleagues had his student call him a “faggot” because he chose to wear a kilt to teach class.) True, pants are great for climbing trees and riding bikes, but skirts are fun to twirl and help you stay comfortable in hot weather. Anyone should be able to wear anything they want to without worrying about social stigma.
I bring up dress because it’s a very good social indicator of what’s taking place under the surface. It’s not just dress though— it’s all kinds of things. Men have to cope with the most amazing array of mixed messages. On the one hand, we tell men they should be in touch with their emotions, and on the other hand we tell them to “man up,” when they cry. On the one hand, they’re supposed to be good fathers. On the other hand, paternity leave is generally stingy (if it exists at all) and divorce courts can be quite biased in favor of women. We simultaneously berate men for their neglect of their families, and then make it difficult for them to be involved in their children’s lives. We make fun of men who wear the baby backpack. It’s this viciously cruel double standard which first pushes men out of the domestic life and then berates them for not getting involved enough.
I think there are lots of men out there who would love to wear the baby backpack, who would enjoy being homemakers, wearing beautiful colors, expressing their emotions, caring for others, and all the other things men aren’t supposed to want. Women are chipping away at the “glass ceiling” which keeps them from sitting in the power chair earning the big bucks. But the glass ceiling which confines men is far more restrictive and virtually unchallenged in its power. People mostly don’t believe it exists. If men aren’t being domestic, its supposedly because they’re douchebags who really aren’t into the whole love and cookies scene. But is this about men’s preferences, or is it about social coercion? Remember everyone used to think that women didn’t “want” careers. Although our world was defined by cultural norms, we thought it was defined by personal preferences.
Personally, I tend to view all professions as an extension of the profession of home-making. We get out and have jobs so we can have money for our homes. We also have jobs so that we can make our community, our world, a better place. After all, our ultimate home is the earth we live on, so every profession is “homemaking” in the larger sense. Pretty much all jobs are related to the maintenance or improvement of the world our children are going to live in. Since we are ultimately working towards the same goal, why is there so much conflict about who belongs where?
It comes down to this, people. How you spend your life should be based on your talents and abilities, not one what kind of package you carry between your legs. We’ve realized this about women, to some extent. But men are still victims of biological predetermination. We need to free them from the “man-box.” The women’s liberation movement cannot be complete until men are liberated too.
What happened to feminism? The women’s movement was supposed to be about equality, but something went wrong when money and power became the ONLY yardstick of equality. The result? Latchkey kids bring themselves up on TV and we sneer at anyone, male or female, who dares to center their ambitions around the home. Men need to rise up and demand their right to be feminine. Does this seem outrageous to you?