Positive Masculinity Contributor - Elsie Murrell
Content Writer for Positive Masculinity; Gender, Sexuality, Women's Studies major at Temple University
Feminism (n.): The belief in social, economic, and political equality of the sexes (britannica.com). Don’t be frightened by the word. Let’s break it down.
To be a feminist means a lot of things. Feminism is a choice, but it is also associated with chore. It’s common to be unsure where to start. It is a movement, but that word can be scary too. So, what is a “movement”? Merriam-Webster defines it as, “A series of organized activities working toward an objective”. For some feminists, the objective might be simply to speak up for themselves, which is no simple feat at all. For others, it might be making strides towards equality in the workplace. For me, feminism means actively taking steps in my life to rework and dismantle systems of patriarchy. Ultimately, you decide what being part of the movement means. In this definition though, I refute the word “organized”. Feminism doesn’t always have to be organized, and history shows us that it’s usually not! The idea of “organization” is academic in its nature. We find a lot of critical feminist works in academia, sure, but academia and its ideals were created by the oppressor. Anxiety and uneasiness can come from the idea that we have to be organized all the time. It perpetuates the idea that we must always have our thoughts together and solutions ready to go, that we must have events planned and people to back us up. To me, this is an anti-feminist idea. All those components are important, yes, but feminism stems from anger and passion. It stems from the breakage of those wronged by “the man”. It is messy. It can not and does not always rely on organization as a pillar.
My point is, feminism is whatever you want it to be. There is no rulebook. It is day-to-day practice, it is language. It is intellectual as well as emotional work. It is insistence. It might mean asking ethical questions about how to live better in an unjust and unequal world, or how to create equal relationships with others. It might mean finding ways to support those who aren’t supported by our social systems. For many, it is a word that is hopeful and energetic, but we continue to expect too much too fast.
We hold feminism to an unreasonable standard. When it falls short, we blame and reject the movement itself. It is certainly flawed, history shows us that. First and second wave feminism declared advocation for white women and white women only. Since then we have learned that white feminism is something different entirely, and its values don’t align with capital “F” Feminism. We have seen feminism become intersectional with the the help of Kimberlee Crenshaw, a prominent Black femme civil rights activist and scholar of critical race theory. But there are still radical feminists who fight and speak up against this. Trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs), for example, argue that womanhood can only apply to those biologically born women. They fight against things like gender neutral bathrooms under the argument that they give trans women the opportunity to harass “biological” women and make them uncomfortable, even when trans people are far more subject to harassment and violence than cisgender women. Dangerous messaging like this has become especially accessible with the rise of social media. TERF’s, I’d argue, aren’t feminists, but they’re still allowed to identify as such. To quote the feminist and scholar Roxane Gay, “We forget the difference between feminism and Professional Feminists”. She notes that we too often associate feminism with the movements most visible figures; the people who advocate for feminism as part of their “personal brand”. When those people mess up, or do something we don’t like, we not only shame them but we shame the whole movement. Gay’s point in this passage is that professional feminism doesn’t really exist (2). Feminism is self-proclaimed and flawed. We are learning as we go. We have to stop looking for a leader because the perfect one will never exist. Feminism is anti-perfection and pro-human. Be your own leader, create your own journey.
Many get stuck on the assumption that feminism isn’t for them. Feminism is for ALL people. If it weren’t, that would be entirely anti-feminist! The ideas that feminism fights against effect all people, regardless of identity. The same gender socialization that tells women and girls to live quietly and passively also tells men and boys to respond to their problems with anger and violence. The same gender socialization that creates our social scripts also says that there are only two genders. Ideas like these are damaging to all. Feminism is just as much for straight, cis men as it is for everyone else. Examining this idea from the point of view of a masculine feminist is important, but when I began searching for that, I started to have trouble. I noticed that when I did find a masculine opinion, it was at least four years old. In many of the articles and interviews I read, the men (mostly teachers) were supportive of feminism and the ideas it upholds, but were quick to note that they didn’t define themselves as feminists. The word “egalitarian” was thrown around a lot in opposition to feminism, but to me, the issues that are held at the center of each of those ideologies are the same: equality for all.
Still hopeful in my search, I turned to our own site, remembering a blog that our founder, Mac McGregor, had written titled, “Being a Masculine Feminist”. In the blog, he acknowledges how important it is that men speak out about the inequalities and obstacles that women face. The argument that I took away as the most important noted that the idea that you must knock down someone else in order to be viewed as strong or successful is an inherently masculine one, so to reject it is really quite powerful in itself. He uses a quote from activist Gloria Steinem that reads, "Once men realize that gender roles are a prison for them too, they become really valuable allies. Because they're not just helping someone else, they are freeing themselves.” This quote encompasses my argument that feminism is no longer just about women.
Before remembering Mac’s piece, I was unsuccessful in my initial search for masculine feminists because feminism as a movement changes really quickly. The feminism that we know from four years ago is not the same one we know today. Heck, the feminism from four minutes ago is not even the same! Movements evolve quickly, but I don’t think we should let this frighten us. Every minute that we continue to examine human rights issues and ask empathetic questions, we are a minute closer to inclusivity. There are no rules to this, there is no doctrine. You will not be “canceled” for speaking your mind or for having questions (accountability > cancellation). A good first step is to acknowledge your oppression. Depending on your identity, this might be something that’s really easy and present for you, but it might be something that takes a little more digging. Were you allowed to cry unapologetically as a child, or were you scolded for it? Were you shown loving, physical affection by caretakers? Were you taught to use words for solution, or was anger and violence acceptable? These are some questions you may want to start with. The teachings of traditional toxic masculinity are inherently oppressive, that is not a debate here. Once you acknowledge that and start to think about where your personal oppression has stemmed from, the more you’ll be able to see that this is a feminist issue. Who knows? Maybe I’ve already created some masculine feminists today.
“Feminism.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., https://www.britannica.com/topic/feminism.
Gay, Roxane. “Feminism (n.): Plural.” Bad Feminist, Éditions Points, Paris, 2019, pp. 1–3.
MacGregor, Mac S. “Being a Masculine Feminist.” Positive Masculinity, Positive Masculinity, 22 June 2022, https://www.positivemasculinitynow.org/post/being-a-masculine-feminist.
“Movement Definition & Meaning.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/movement.