It happens every day. In fact, it is pretty hard to avoid it. There are some things that can only be understood with a slap on the forehead. Things so mind-boggling that one wonders how humans managed to evolve thumbs while being this mentally inept. Case in point:
Imagine it is 1942. The United States finally enters World War II following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The Allied forces are glad to have the extra troops and full military support of the burgeoning world power. The United States and Britain decide to create a Combined Chiefs of Staff to manage the western war front. President Roosevelt approves the charter and the CSS is formed. It combined the British Chiefs of Staff Committee and the American Joint Chiefs of Staff.
However, the British quickly remind the Americans that they do not get a say in military decisions. Since the British and the rest of Europe bore the brunt of Germany’s assault, the Americans can only be allies. They get a seat a the table. They get to supply war materials. They get to fight on the front lines. They even get to die. But they do not get to make decisions. The British tell the Americans that they must be willing to let the American voice be the supporting player, not the lead.
How long do you think Roosevelt would have participated in that kind of arrangement?
Now imagine you are man. You are concerned about women’s issues. You find the feminist movement insightful, empowering, and useful. You support every feminist policy put before you. You support every feminist position put in front of you. You follow every feminist mantra about “checking your privilege” and shutting down “rape culture.” After all, you support feminism. You want to participate. And yet you are met with this:
A few months ago, I watched in horror as a friend of mine engaged in a debate with a feminist blogger about the role of men in feminism.
“That’s not what I believe feminism is about,” my friend tweeted, when he was asked to stop trying to assert what women need.
A sound screeched through my head like brakes on a train, headed for disaster. My friend is a man, and the feminist blogger is a woman.
I DM’d my friend, trying to stop him from walking into a disaster of his own making.
“Hey, I know you mean well, but you don’t have any place telling a woman what feminism is supposed to look like.”
He didn’t DM back. Instead, my phone rang.
“Wait, do you really believe that? That men don’t get a say in feminism?”
Yeah, I believe that. And I’m going to tell you why.
Joanna Schroeder, the author of the article, went on to explain why: women have had it bad and men are still in power, therefore men should have no say in feminism. At best:
I think the primary focus of men in our movement should be to speak to other men, and engage them in gaining equality for women, as well as working to support the efforts to change outdated ideals of masculinity, which include domination and violence. […] So how do we invite men into our movement without handing over the reigns? Anne Theriault, of The Belle Jar, explains, “If you want to be a good feminist man, you need to learn to be challenged. You need to learn to feel uncomfortable. Above all, you need to shut up and listen.”
This is an excellent example of why people think feminists hate men. Feminists claim they want to promote equality, yet they do not want men to have an equal voice in their movement. Men can be allies, but they cannot participate. They can listen, but they cannot speak. They can agree with a feminist’s opinion, but they cannot have one of their own.
Telling men to shut up and listen is not a great way to create allies. It is, however, a great way to prove your movement is not about equality.
Schroeder shows this when she argued:
[…]women’s lives and futures were entirely in the hands of men. For a large part of recorded history, we were somebody’s property. Even when we were given the right to vote in the U.S. in 1920, it was because the men in power decided we should be allowed. Pause for a moment and consider that. When we were finally considered true citizens of this nation, it was because the men––the bosses, the owners––decided that we could.
We will set aside the troublesome historical fact that the vast majority of men had their lives decided for them as well, often by women. We will set aside that men were considered somebody’s property as well, and that most men were not able to vote for decades after the ratification of the United States Constitution. We will also set aside that most social changes in this nation occurred because those in power decided those changes should happen.
What Schroeder argues is that since men silenced women in the past, feminists should be allowed to silence men in the present. The silencing will stop once feminists believe women have achieved full equality.
The problem is that is not true equality. That is just blind revenge.
True equality means setting aside those grudges. There is nothing wrong with wanting people to listen to your story and understand how you feel. There is, however, something wrong with using that story to stick it to other people. You must learn to move past that if you want true equality.
I realize that is not easy. No one said it would be. Yet that is the nature of equality.
You treat people the same way. They get the same rights, the same privileges, the same voice.
That is why men should have a say in feminism. Feminism is supposed to be about equality, so there should never be a point where any man or boy is told to “shut the fuck up and listen.” That is not how you treat people equally.
That is how you oppress them.