We’ve all been there – you finish your exams and suddenly there’s a deep hole, a lack of purpose in your life. What else was I to do but pick up Felix and read Arnold Tan’s “message to feminists”.
In his article, Arnold gave his view on the feminist movement, articulating his own helpful suggestions. However well intentioned, for me it felt all too reminiscent of the Onion article, “Man finally put in charge of struggling feminist movement”.
Arnold is by no means the first man to feel that the feminist movement could do with his input. If you, like me, spend too much time on Twitter, you’ll have seen Piers Morgan recently giving his valuable insight into what feminism is doing wrong, tweeting “RIP feminism” accompanied by a picture of Emmeline Pankhurst next to a topless Kim Kardashian. I wonder what an early 20th century Piers (undoubtedly still writing in the Daily Mail) would have thought of Emily Davison, the woman who died throwing herself in front of the king’s horse campaigning for votes for women. RIP feminism?
This got me thinking more widely about why men (I must confess myself included) feel the need to involve themselves with feminism.Because in all honesty, what insight do we have to offer that another women could not? Are we really so special to believe 50% of the population need our help?
But ‘help’ men do. If you’re familiar with odd bits of Twitter, or Orange Is The New Black, you might have heard of Matt McGorry. He’s the guy that plays that ‘nice’ prison guard that sleeps with the inmates. Yeah, that guy, he’s a #malefeminist. Whether he’s posing with the current great feminist work he’s reading, or arguing with Piers Morgan on Twitter, McGorry is fighting the good fight. Although for McGorry, that doesn’t always include listening to women – he’s well known for blocking women that criticise his brand of feminism. But, perhaps he knows best; after all, he has read quite a few books.
So should men self identify as feminist? More often than not, however good your intentions, you are likely to overstep your bounds and hinder rather than help. And this is because, however much you read, men simply don’t have the same lived experiences as women; we don’t know what it’s like to go out knowing that at some point you will get groped, to be catcalled in the street walking home in your school uniform, to know that walking home at night alone is dangerous and that one women is killed in the UK every three days by a current or former partner, and to always be told that you are exaggerating your experience of sexism and that you’re being hysterical.
This leads to a problem though: what should we be doing?
The first thing is listening to women’s experiences, because we simply don’t know. Then it’s using the position we have in society to enact change. Not by telling women what they should and shouldn’t do, but by talking to other men, from our own experience. Because traditional masculinity can be toxic, it places unobtainable expectations on men, and these have a negative impact on everyone. Whether it’s men not talking about their feelings because it’s “feminine” (or worse – “gay”), ‘Lad culture’, or the fact that men are more likely to commit suicide than women, toxic masculinity is destructive for both sexes, and it’s all around us.
For me, Terry Crews, the former NFL player and guy in Brooklyn 99, puts it best in his book on masculinity. Crews says “My message to all men is that you have to kill pride, you’ve been taught that pride is a manly thing, that pride is a good thing. But the problem with pride is that it stops you from growth.” Caring about women’s issues isn’t anti-male, women’s rights are human rights and human rights are women’s rights. But, if you’re a man, before you decide to tell women what they should be doing, maybe consider what you should be doing first.