Reflecting on the recent speaker on campus, Michael Kimmel, it is interesting to me how ideas of masculinity should be important to feminism. The two concepts are typically juxtaposed as oppositional and irreconcilable, but Mr. Kimmel helped me realize that could not be further from the truth. Masculinity is intimately intertwined with feminism, and it is essential to understand what it means to be a ‘man’ in our society in order to make the most complete change toward true equality. If we want male allies as feminists, it is necessary to understand the social pressures that they have to bear and be able to change their discourse in light of their own struggles.
While men are typically and institutionally more privileged than women, they have their own struggles and institutional pressures to face that are often overlooked. While their pressures, especially the pressure placed upon white males, are less than those of other groups, there are still old ideas of masculinity that have become myth-like in our society that compel men to try to live up to a certain standard that has directly and indirectly created opposition for the advancement of women. Women’s advancement creates an “intrusion” into what has traditionally been their territory, causing men to become defensive and to lash out whenever feminist ideas are brought up. As unfortunate as this is, this is something that can be easily overcome once it is brought to attention.
As Mr. Kimmel was saying in his lecture, feminism and equality of the sexes benefit men just as much as they benefit women! They allow men to take on more “traditionally feminine” roles and characteristics, leading to better friends, brothers and fathers. These ideas benefit feminism as a whole, but this realization can only come to be once there is an understanding and incorporation of masculinity into the movement. Instead of seeing everything as mutually exclusive and irreconcilable, there are parallels that can be drawn and connections that can be made between the plight of women and the plight of men suffering from subjections to arcane ideals of what it is to be a “man.”
In this way, incorporating masculinity into the feminist movement seems to be the next logical step in the success of the feminist ideal. If equality is the true goal of feminism, equality has to be achieved for all. Not all men are equal individually, even if the institutions that give men power over women suggest something quite different. Men who suffer from institutionalized discrimination can become part of the feminist movement in order to reframe general understandings of the root of this problem, turning this from a gender versus gender problem into a class and institutional problem
This will allow the feminist movement to grow and make more change. But this will only be effective if those who hear this message and understand its implications will step forward and actually do something about it. Until then, nothing will be done and women (and some men) will remain discriminated against and ancient ideas of masculinity will continue to reign supreme.