[Ed Note: Please welcome back, readers, Austin journalist Dan Solomon, who wrote this up specially for Hay Ladies!, because he is something of a baller.]
By Dan Solomon
Here are some things that happen to a dude when he first starts to speak up about feminist issues:
- He discovers that women in his life whom he would never have associated with the word “feminism” have strong opinions about the things that he’s talking about. Because while we have the luxury of perceiving these things as not being about us, and thus not relevant to our lives, every woman he knows has had to consider what she’d do if she got pregnant when she didn’t not plan to. Every woman he knows has been talked down to by a man who wasn’t as smart or capable as she was. Almost all of them have been treated poorly or made uncomfortable by some dude at some point who saw getting into her pants as a prize to be won. Even women who seemed like just one of the dudes begin to share experiences that he never would have imagined that they’d had, because doing so around him begins to feel safe.
- Other dudes, they get really offended. They call him pussywhipped, or claim that he’s just playing up some sensitive guy routine to get laid. They contest his manhood, call him a mangina, or claim that he holds some white knight hero complex, and they’re the real advocates for equal rights, because they’re willing to bully women without giving them special treatment!
- He realizes that these issues that seemed like they were not relevant to his own daily life are actually very much about him, too. That issues that seemed, at first, to be matters of fairness that required taking a stance simply because it’d be cowardly not to are actually issues that affect him in every aspect of his life.
Realizing that feminist issues are also dude issues is a major revelation. At first, the notion that, say, women make up about 17% of Congress seems wrong as an issue of basic fairness. (Or maybe it seems awesome, if you’re a dude who wants to go into politics, and likes the idea of 83% of the jobs being reserved for people like you.) But then you do the math. You think about the women you know, or that you’ve known in your life, or who’ve done important things. You realize that these women are all as smart as men, as courageous as men, as capable of leading as men. You think about someone like, say, Elizabeth Warren, who is in government and working very hard to solve problems that not many of the other people in government seem interested in solving. And then you realize that, if women and men are equally bright and capable, the way to get the brightest and most capable people in the country in charge would be to have Congress made up of about half and half women and men. In other words, of all the members of Congress, 34% of them — just statistically speaking — are men who are probably not as qualified as women who do not have the opportunity to serve.
And that affects dudes, because we’d sure benefit from having more smart, qualified, capable people in charge! The same is true when you consider that only 16% of CEOs are women — that means that there are a whole bunch of men who are not the best people for the job who are running shit that they shouldn’t be running. It stops being a matter of fairness and starts being a matter of wanting what’s best for ourselves.
It holds true in just about every aspect of what feminism is about. The more equality we have, the more opportunity we — as men — have. Learning to not dominate every conversation you’re a part of with a woman means that you get to learn from smart people who have things to teach you. Trying to change the association between “feminine” and “weak” (don’t be such a pussy, bro!) means that in order to feel like men, we don’t have to pretend to be invulnerable. Learning to not try to fuck every woman you meet just to prove that you can means that you get to benefit from forming actual friendships with those women. Speaking up about issues surrounding rape, or rape culture, or rape apologism, means that you’re working to build a world where women can trust you without worrying what you’d do if you have a few drinks in you, and she had been flirty but just wanted you to take her home.
And it’s true on abortion, too. Conservative dudes love to talk about abortion! They can give impassioned speeches on the subject, they can weep for the fetuses, they can make statements on the floor of the Senate that aren’t intended to be factual about Planned Parenthood statistics. But liberal dudes — that is, guys like me — we tend to be quieter. We’ll speak up occasionally, if someone else starts the argument, but for most of us, it’s hard to see it as a cause that we’re really entitled to an opinion about. “Her body, her choice!” we shout even if we’re marching for Planned Parenthood. It’s between women and their bodies, and our opinions aren’t necessary, except to try and keep other dudes — lawmakers, especially — from getting too into their opinions. And that’s true, except when it isn’t.
Because abortion affects men every day, too. Legal abortion saves the lives of women who would otherwise be threatened by being forced to carry an unviable fetus to term. One of those women could well be my wife. Legal abortion helps the lives of women who would otherwise find unsafe or illegal ways to terminate their pregnancies, or be forced to bear children that were unwanted. The woman in that story could well have been someone I’d dated, and the eventual baby in that scenario would have been my unwanted responsibility, too.
So why don’t we talk about this stuff more, fellow liberal dudes? Why do we let conservative men rally for a return to traditional roles or cry about all of the poor fetuses as they pass restrictive laws that would mean we’d have more unwanted children, too, when we could be speaking up? Why do guys who are outspoken advocates for any number of causes keep their mouths shut so often when it comes to feminism?
I don’t know, but I have a guess, and it starts with that word: Feminism. Because it’s cool and all, and we’re for it and not against it, but it’s also weird to identify with a movement that is — right there in the name — woman-centric. Even if the end result would help men as much as it would help women, the fact that the movement identifies itself as woman-oriented makes guys uncomfortable. If it’s for everybody, can’t we call it something dudelier?
I don’t have much in the way of answers, but I do have this: for me, talking and writing about feminism, and using that scary word to do it, is part of the change that I want to see. If you call your movement for general equality “feminism,” that means that you’re overcoming the impulse that says that women are inherently marginal — it’s hard for a movement called feminism to be totally dominated by dudes, at the very least, and that much is a good start toward creating a better world for all of us.