Here is a young writer for The Dartmouth, urging “Essential Feminists” — men — to step up for women’s equality. As a Brooke, mother of Brett, I’m especially partial to the ambiguity created by genderless names, and until the fifth paragraph, thought the Avery Saklad who composed the piece might have been the next Oswald Garrison Villard or Max Eastman or John Dewey, founders of the Men’s League for Woman Suffrage a century ago. It would have made her appal not only fly but soar. As it happens, Ivy League professors and students were a major factor in the league, with chapters on most of their exclusively male campuses. There are still men at those schools to hear her call, right?
For the feminist movement, men are essential allies.
Feminists are proud, independent women, but in order to further our cause, we do, in fact, need men. A major shift in the social paradigm is impossible when only part of the population is fighting for change. We need the other sex to fill the gaps, to help us form a united front and to project our voices in the places where we are not heard yet. This does not mean we are asking for charity.
In 2017, it is still socially taboo for men to emote, to express self-consciousness or to be the secondary breadwinners in domestic partnerships. Men face up to 63 percent longer sentences than women in federal justice cases for comparable crimes, according to a study published by University of Michigan law professor Sonja Starr. Although one in 10 rape victims is male, men often choose not to report sexual assault because situational control is a societal male norm, perhaps affecting a male victim’s sense of masculinity. Sexism has never been only a women’s issue.
Feminists are demanding freedom and impartiality for both sexes, pure and simple. The freedom to pilot our own bodies, to feel safe from unwarranted advances, to live without fear of violation. We want impartiality in our jobs, relationship roles that defy ingrained stereotypes and sensitive expression that unmasks the spectrum of emotions we share regardless of gender and sex.
The lack of these key components of gender equality is an issue that’s on all of us to resolve, but according to a Washington Post Kaiser Family Foundation Poll published in 2016, only 10 percent of American men identify as strong feminists, 23 percent consider themselves feminists and 50 percent do not identify as feminists at all. Although some men are united on the front of feminism, many more are struggling to grab hold of an abstract movement — and some have yet to consider the prospect of aligning themselves with the feminist cause. To all of the guys out there living in either ignorance or inaction, listen up: It’s time for you to take a stand, too.
I am a feminist, and I am not a man-hater. There is no intrinsic malevolence toward women tucked away in the Y chromosome; the advantages handed to men by the patriarchy are for most largely unintentional and unasked for, and many would never think to further gender-based oppression of their own will. Regardless, the “not all men” argument needs to stop. All men, independent of personal feminist disposition, are affected by the patriarchy, even if they do not seek to promote it.
By growing up in the confines of gender roles, both men and women have largely become accustomed to commonplace sexist language. It’s this kind of dialogue — the objectification of women’s bodies, the callous normalization of sexual assault, the offhand hate speech — that men can help eliminate, even if they aren’t the propagators. It takes an ally to women to call out other men on their offensive speech, to make it known that even amongst males, hate toward women is unacceptable. To the decent men — be brave. Defend women in the spaces where we cannot defend ourselves. Cease to pass off offensive language with worn-out excuses like “boys will be boys,” discourage the harmful discourse labeled as “locker room talk,” dispel arrogant concepts like “friend zoning” and remember that silence can imply support.
I’m calling on you directly, the men who struggle with the abstruseness of taking action against injustice or ignore it altogether, to speak up. I know that what I am asking for is not easy. It’s hard to be the voice of social change among peers, but when the cause is right, it’s also admirable. Sometimes you will mess up; you will find yourself contributing absentmindedly to sexist conversation or letting a sexist comment slip by without objecting to it. That’s okay. Learn how to challenge others, and gradually make it a habit.
If you aren’t sure exactly what you’re challenging or why, there are many resources available on campus that allow you to take your feminist education into your own hands. Dartmouth offers a variety of women’s, gender and sexuality studies courses that cover feminist topics and help fulfill distribution requirements. A great deal of feminist literature is available in the libraries or through Dartmouth’s archives, or you can always just type the word “feminism” into Google and fall down an internet rabbit hole. But most importantly, actively listen to and acknowledge the experiences of the women around you to learn how sexism affects those you know firsthand.
If you feel anxious to act on your feminist vibes right here, right now, there are campaigns you can immediately pledge to online. The White Ribbon Campaign aims to end gender-based violence and encourages men to brandish their support for women by joining projects, walks and other demonstrations of allyship. The UN Women’s campaign “He for She” is three years strong. Hop on the activist bandwagon, pledge your support and make a lasting difference. It’s a daunting task, but committing wholeheartedly can help catalyze major social change.
National History Day contestants, please read this before you contact me.
The Suffragents won the Gold Medal in US History in the 2018 Independent Publisher Book Awards and was a finalist for the 2018 Sally and Morris Lasky Prize, presented by the Center for Political History. See “Summer Camp Newsletters” and Facebook posts from book-related appearances. Reviews, notices, and articles about my books are under their titles here. My articles are here.
January 29: Exhibition Opening Remarks: “Women Get the Vote: A Historic Look at the Nineteenth Amendment,“New York Society Library. February 23: “Public Values in Conflict with Animal Agribusiness Practices,” UCLA Law School, Los Angeles. March 13:“ The Suffragents,” Scarsdale Woman’s Club, Scarsdale NY. March 24: League of Women Voters, Albany County at the Bethlehem (NY) Public Library. March 25: “Judges, Lawyers, and Women’s Suffrage: Recognizing the Men Who Stood with Women on the Front Lines,” Gender Fairness Committee of the Third Judicial District, CLE, NY State Courts at SUNY Albany Law School, Albany NY. May 15: “The Republican Suffragents,” National Women’s Republican Club, New York City. August 7: “From Emma Goldman to the Marketplace of Ideas: Marking the 100th Anniversary of Free Speech at the Supreme Court,.” AEJMC, Toronto.