Did you hear the one about the feminist who took a man’s advice on how to make more feminists?
Wait, let me back up a minute. I’m Joe, and I’m a man. Like many men, deep down I am a good person. I think the world should be fair, safe, and full of opportunity for everyone. However, as a man, I can assure you that many of us are forgetful… we forget anniversaries, we forget to put the seat down, and we forget to notice the inequalities around us. And while I know better than to claim to know everything, I do know a bit about the male brain. So here are a few insights, from the mind of a man, on how you might be able to help the men in your lives remember their own feminism.
4. Labeling. Feminists are militant lesbians taking cues from Lorena Bobbitt, or so a lot of popular media would have us believe. Consequently, many men believe that being a feminist requires hating men. Forget trying to get your men to call themselves “feminists”, since word wars like that are a whole separate uphill battle (as others in this blog have noted). For a proto-feminist man, try using a term that’s a bit more immediately appealing to the male ego… like maybe “real man.” Real men respect women. Real men stand up against injustice. Real men know that equal empowerment is sexy. “Baby, are you a real man?” “Yes, yes I am.”
3. Focusing. Networks broadcast more hours of female gymnastics than any other Olympic sport, because advertisers think the male demographic will enjoy looking at young girls in tight outfits. Most men don’t realize how feminist issues play a major role in all the things they care about, like sports. A businessman might be interested to learn about wage discrimination and glass ceilings. A video game player may be fascinated to hear your take on the “Capture the Babe” mode of that new shooter game. A jokester might see truth in humor while attending a performance of The Vagina Monologues with you. Remind men that no matter what their interest, there are feminist issues connected to those interests.
2. Preparing. While it’s not actually true, many men believe that they process things logically (with facts), while women process things emotionally (with feelings and stuff). There are a whole lot of facts & figures you can use to show a man how wrong various issues are. Personally, I never paid that much attention to feminists until someone sat me down in college and showed me Jean Kilbourne’s Killing Us Softly. Eventually my caveman mind realized, “Hey, wait a minute, look at all these examples… women really ARE objectified in our media.” Some of us may be thick-skulled, but we’ll get it eventually with enough evidence. Have those figures ready, or find collections of those data that others have compiled.
1. Waiting. A while back I bought a “wowing” towel product from a TV offer. A month later I found that my credit card info had been used to sign me up for all sorts of vacation clubs and other subscription products that were much more “sham” than “wow”. Most guys, like me, HATE feeling hijacked by things we don’t feel we’ve signed up for. So when your man starts to show interest in a particular women’s issue, let him work at his own pace on that. Wait for him to ask about other issues. Do not immediately try to get him to be passionately opposed to every injustice every woman has ever suffered throughout history. Heck, even most female feminists I know don’t have the time or energy to devote themselves to every woman-related cause out there. Take time with your man, and let him choose his causes without fear of information overload from you. Be his patient ally in this journey, and more women will soon find that he is their ally as well.
In the end, you can never really “change a man into a feminist.” The decision to become aware of and active in women’s issues is a choice everyone must make individually. However, if you open a dialogue with the men you care for, you’ll open up a world of possibilities for you and them.
Joe Lastowski is a counselor, writing teacher, and “real man” who lives in western Massachusetts.