The Shriver Report – We Are What Feminists Look Like
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We Are What Feminists Look Like

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When we were students at Syracuse University, we spent the duration of our college careers as members of a student organization called A Men’s Issue. Every week, this group of men would gather in the basement of one of the dormitories and explore concepts of masculinity, our role in ending gender based violence and the importance of being full partners in working toward gender equality.

“Male feminist” struck people as a contradiction in terms, but the core of feminism is equality. As firm believers in the need for an equitable future for all people, there is no more natural affiliation for us.

Some of the most formative moments of our college careers were in that basement. We had a safe space to have the tough conversations that men so often avoid. The group was diverse, but what we all shared was a willingness to question our preconceived notions and a commitment to challenge each other to better ourselves. Unfortunately our embrace of feminism and our willingness to work for equality for all people was not always met with a positive reaction from other men on campus. We were often accused of being gay, being weak or just being somehow lesser men for what we were doing.

“ ‘Male feminist’ struck people as a contradiction in terms, but the core of feminism is equality. As firm believers in the need for an equitable future for all people, there is no more natural affiliation for us.”

Since leaving school, we have both dedicated our public service careers to challenging the societal norms that say that in order to be a “real man” you can never show any type of frailty that could possibly be construed as weakness. We continue to push back against the norms that say that men are lifted up if they put down women. If we want to change the world we live in and create space for people to be their whole selves then we must constantly question how the world is telling us to act. There isn’t just one way to be a man nor should there be. Masculinity should be broad enough that no one ever feels excluded.

“If we want to change the world we live in and create space for people to be their whole selves then we must constantly question how the world is telling us to act.” 

For us being a man means, and has meant for a very long time, treating everyone with respect, being unafraid to show our love and appreciation of our family and friends, and never abusing the privilege that society affords us. So many men are afraid to hug each other. They are afraid to tell each other that they love them, even in the brotherly sense. It is sad to think that that we still live in a world where people are so afraid of looming judgment that they cannot feel comfortable embracing who they are and rather are compelled to fit neatly into the box that society has prepared for them.

Related: Here’s Why We Need to Talk to Men About Violence Against Women

For a very long time we have talked about women and women’s rights, but men have never had to thoughtfully examine what it means to be a man and what healthy masculinity can and should look like. When you are in the dominant group and have the societal power, you have the privilege not to think about those things. Unfortunately, our society does too good a job awarding men with privileges that we did nothing to earn and a terrible job teaching men to do anything positive with the power that comes from that privilege. Too often, men and boys become hamstrung by the concepts of masculinity that pervade within our culture.

“If men continue to realize that being a father can mean nurturing your children, that being a husband can mean lifting up your partner and that being a friend can mean supporting and loving those around you, we can move in a very positive direction.”

The more that we can accept how full equality for all genders serves the best interest of humanity, men included, the better off we are going to be. It is important for men to get to a point where we can find strength in constraint and understanding rather than in violence. It is important for men accept that love and compassion are important traits for men as well as women. If men continue to realize that being a father can mean nurturing your children, that being a husband can mean lifting up your partner and that being a friend can mean supporting and loving those around you, we can move in a very positive direction.

Related: Can Chivalry and Equality Co-Exist?

If more men and boys learn how to recognize our own privilege and how to challenge ourselves and others when we’re engaging in behaviors that can be unhealthy or potentially abusive, we can create a world that is healthier for men, safer for women and equal for all.

“Trite as it may sound, we are all in this together. Looking throughout history, the most profound social change has come when people unite beyond race, gender and class identity and work together for a shared vision for a community, a country or the world.” 

Trite as it may sound, we are all in this together. Looking throughout history, the most profound social change has come when people unite beyond race, gender and class identity and work together for a shared vision for a community, a country or the world. All men don’t have to describe themselves as feminists, but our hope is that more and more men will join us on this journey and identify with the importance of equality.

 

Marc Peters is a Reporter for The Shriver Report.
Marc Peters is the global communications and campaigns manager for MenEngage, a global network of NGOs working to engage boys and men in gender equality. He is tremendously passionate about how social constructs of masculinity affects the way people interact with each other, themselves and society as a whole.
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Sacchi Patel is a Reporter for The Shriver Report.
As a passionate activist against violence, Sacchi Patel currently works at Stanford University as the Manager of Education & Emergency Response at the Sexual Assault & Relationship Abuse Education & Response (SARA) Office. He is also Co-Founder of MasculinityU, the new national movement to engage men and boys in violence prevention.
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