So you may have already guessed it, but I’m a feminist.
What I’m not is a man-hating banshee that applauds the verbal or physical abuse of men. I try to abide by a code of human decency that says each of us deserves respect and kindness, and it is no kinder for a woman to abuse a man than it is for a man to abuse a woman. I don’t believe that men should be punished or “taken down a notch.”
Nor do I believe that feminism should be limited to advocacy by women alone. The word contains the “fem” prefix, but to focus more on the Latin than the actual intention leaves everyone unsatisfied, so why dwell on it? The underlying principles of feminism are not unlike those for racial, spiritual, and sexual equality. Feminism is important because it addresses gender-based inequalities, and it is as important (but not necessarily more important) than the issues we still confront with race, religion, and human sexuality. And as with race, religion, and human sexuality, the feminist cause cannot and should not be limited to participation by women if it is to be successful.
Does being a feminist mean that I believe a man has never been paid less than a woman, that a man has never been forbidden from casting a vote, running for office, having access to an education, or that he has never felt objectified, abused, or shamed? Not at all. There are examples throughout history and in contemporary society that show us how men are also victims both of other men and of women. Men are human as well, are they not? But the feminist movement, if you will, has always been about creating an equal opportunity for women in the face of very real institutional restrictions and blatantly withheld opportunities that have affected women almost exclusively.
Men have long governed by majority all over the world, shaping economic, political, health and civil policy for societies both ancient and modern. Unfortunately the policies are not always inclusive or in the best interests of society as a whole. But it’s important to acknowledge that while men have been mostly responsible for creating these inequities, there are still men that have suffered the effects of man-made policy alongside their female counterparts, and it is men who have provided some of history’s loudest voices for change and equality. Men have both created inequity and other men have bravely stepped forward and rallied to abolish it. I applaud these men as much as I do the women who put themselves out there to advocate for human equality, often at the risk of their own safety and sometimes mortality.
As I was reading through some discussion on the topic of feminism and social justice for all, someone highlighted a lyric taken from a song by Macklemore. In it, he bravely takes a stand for gay marriage and equality when he sings:
“I might not be the same, but that’s not important. No freedom ’til we’re equal, damn right I support it.”
To paraphrase the anonymous commenter, these lyrics from “Same Love” are part of a timeless discourse on social equality:
“It is the idea that it does not matter if I am a white person. If my black brothers and sisters have an incomplete and inferior justice to my own, as an American, my justice is incomplete as well. If you are a man, and women are not treated equally, then your equality as an American is incomplete as well. The same can be said for the LGBT community. If we’re not all living in a free and just society, then none of us is. And we need to get busy fixing that.”
As you may have heard, Emma Watson was appointed as a UN Goodwill Ambassador and recently issued a speech on gender equality (scroll down to watch it at the bottom of this post) to encourage gender solidarity with a campaign called #HeForShe. The campaign is an invitation for men to stand with their female counterparts in the continued effort to achieve gender equality around the globe. Her words resonated with me because she does such a lovely job of conveying the importance of gender equality, expressing her confusion about feminism as a recently misunderstood word and movement, and attempting to open the cause with an articulate invitation for anyone and everyone to participate.
Above all, I believe in human equality, regardless of one’s gender, skin color, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, and so forth. These differences actually unite us more than they divide us, if you’ll allow them. We are each of us human, and we are born equal in the eyes of whatever god or science you believe in. That you are a man or a woman, gay or straight, brown or black or white, makes no material difference. We are vibrant blood and sinew today, and one day we’ll be reduced to dust and bones. We are all the same. The same but different, because the world is full of variety and complexity, and we too are more varied and complex than any one person will ever comprehend.
I agree with Watson that feminism needs support from both sexes, but solving gender inequality isn’t the end of the story because it can’t hope to be accomplished without addressing the broader set of issues related to race, religion, sexuality, and even the politics of welfare and human decency. We have ostracized one another in so many ways for being born under a different flag, with different reproductive parts, different physical features, and on and on. If you can perceive a difference, someone out there has certainly frowned upon it or attacked it for being alien to themselves. Call me an idealist, but would it really be so bad if we just accepted one another and tried to help each other out? Isn’t that what unity is all about? One nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all?
Not that social media needs another hashtag, but here’s to hoping that eventually the only hashtag anyone will ever need is #WeForWe instead of #HeForShe.
Right now it still feels weighted with an urgent demand or an unanswered prayer: #WeForWe… maybe some day it will ring out as an expression of joy and a celebration of how we have united in kindness and compassion for each other: #WeForWe!