“Man Up”: Become a Feminist By Teyhou Smyth

When you think of feminism, do you think about hoards of man-hating women picketing in the streets? One of the factors we must consider when we weigh the impact of feminism on men is the ways in which we view and label what feminism means. Is feminism anti male? Does it make a mockery of what it means to be a man in our culture?

In light of the recent “me too” campaign and the plethora of men who have been fired from broadcasting and acting roles, the subject of feminism is a sensitive and important one right now. Politicians have been in the spotlight for sexual misconduct for decades, and more accusations about inappropriate behavior surface daily.

It may seem to many that the spike in sexual allegations casts a negative light on men in general. As men, we may begin to feel as if our motives are being speculated upon constantly. Is this true? Has the surge of allegations resulted in an overall feeling of male discomfort, even amongst those of us who have nothing about which to feel guilty? And are the recent increase in sexual misconduct disclosures a result of an uprising of feminism in our culture?

The roles of men and women have changed tremendously over the past century. Even the last fifty years has brought about a major shift in the way men and women view their roles and the options available in life. Feminism is almost a given, at this point. It has become such a norm in our culture, we may not even recognize it as “feminism” anymore. It has become a natural point of view we are exposed to by the way our families live, the portrayal of women in media and our interactions in daily life.

Strong women surround us.

They are our mothers, sisters and daughters. Strong women are our bosses, our colleagues and our mentors. Gender inequality is not as disparate as it once was, but as we can see from all of the recent sexual abuse allegations, we have a ways to go. Men need to become part of the change process; we need to question ourselves and one another about the way we treat women.

Some men may be intimidated by women who have feminist views. Maybe that fear stems from self doubt and anxiety that a strong, feminist woman will reject their masculinity. The threat of demasculinization can impact male self perception and sense of identity. The idea of losing a sense of self is intimidating to all people, not only men.

Feminism requires men to step fully into our fears and stare them in the eye. It demands that we explore our own ideas of being a guy; identifying assumptions about both genders and the ways those assumptions have shaped our world view. Feminism expects us to challenge not only our definition of the roles of women, but also the ways we view ourselves and why we might feel threatened by feminism.

Feminism doesn’t take away our “man card,” in fact, when we join the feminist movement, it only enhances our strength and character.

A male feminist can see beyond his ego and recognizes that feminism isn’t an attack on masculinity, it is a step toward the greater good for all of us. Traditional masculine roles of the past left us without a genuine voice. The macho expectations that pervaded our culture demanded us be emotionless automatons.

Feminism frees us up, too. It allows us to be real and cast aside our own worn-out roles, just as women have recreated their roles and become their most genuine selves. It’s time for us to “man up,” and reinvent what that means to us individually as men. One person may decide that he will “man up” by advocating for his right to paid parental leave after the birth of his child; another may “man up” by standing up for equal pay for men and women alike.

Perhaps someone will “man up” by letting himself cry when he needs to, or accepting the help of others when he is struggling.

It’s time to let go of the fears and anxieties and stop pigeon-holing people according to their gender. If our culture has taught us anything in the past 20 years, it has been self acceptance and the value of being yourself in this world. Men’s anxiety about feminism doesn’t serve anyone, it only perpetuates the idea that we want to keep women locked into unreasonable roles and that we only value change that benefits us specifically.

Feminism is beneficial to all of us.

The best way we can embrace female power and equality is to become feminists ourselves, to stop making assumptions based on gender and to allow ourselves to embrace our differences as well as our similarities.

Is it intimidating to approach a woman in our feminist culture? It can be, sure. No one wants to be known as “that sexist guy who doesn’t know how to treat women.” Our fears about being labeled in this way, however, generally means we are already self-aware. Women aren’t asking us to stop being men, they just don’t want us to be chauvinistic. Men who behave badly toward women will struggle with this, but most of us won’t.

Most of us are honorable men who want to treat women with respect. If you’re worried about overstepping the boundaries with a woman, ask her what her thoughts are directly. One of the beautiful things about feminism is the open dialogue it encourages us all to participate in.

Open communication can feel like a steep cliff for some guys.

It can feel scary to admit that we are vulnerable; it is a part of that old school mentality that men need to present with machismo and fearlessness. We need to take a page from feminism here, and continue to push back against these tired expectations. As humans, all of us are vulnerable and being able and willing to openly communicate about that will only serve to move us forward.

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