During the spring semester of 2014, I taught Introduction to Gender and Women’s Studies. I had twenty-four students; only four of them were men. This semester I am teaching a course on feminist theory. I have fourteen students, none of whom are men. Also, our feminist collective meetings on campus are seldom attended by men, although several men have taken a positive interest in our collective’s Facebook page.
While it is understandable that women would be attentive to women’s issues, we men should be more interested, much more interested.
Frankly, it is strange to me when men react to women’s issues with some version of “I’m a guy. Why would I care about women’s issues?” This reaction implies that a person should only care about those who are like him- or herself. So then, I shouldn’t care about African Americans because I’m white? I shouldn’t care about the poor because I’m not poor? I shouldn’t care about non-Americans because I’m American? That logic does not hold up well.
So then, we men should care about women’s issues because, first of all, it is simply the right thing to do. Our civilization—in fact, our existence—would be in serious jeopardy if each of us only cared about people exactly like us. We men should care about the welfare of women and want them to be happy, fulfilled, and respected because it is simply right to care about our fellow beings and not just ourselves.
Second, we men should care about women’s issues because women are so important to our lives. Mothers, daughters, sisters, girlfriends, wives, grandmothers, friends, co-workers—women are integral to our lives, so why wouldn’t we want them to be happy and successful? When I was a child, if my single mom benefited, then I did, too. The situation of men and women is interrelated. What benefits women benefits men and vice versa.
But this whole situation is more complicated than that, isn’t it? A man might care about women but may not want them to have equal status to men. For example, many men might think women should have the freedom to play sports, but a woman play for the NFL? That’s where some draw the line. Or most of us men may be fine with women working, until they want to have the same jobs we have with the same pay.
As we see with groups such as the Men’s Rights Movement (MRM), while men often care about women, a number of them find the idea of gender equality threatening. When people care about women’s issues, it is not unusual to hear the counter-cry, “But what about the men? They’re oppressed, too, especially by all those crazy feminists!”
In reality, though, women’s groups, as a general rule, want power and freedom for everyone, not just women. Women gaining power at the expense of men is power born out of oppression and therefore undesirable. Over and over we stress at Seton Hill that feminism and other women’s causes are ultimately about freeing everyone from outdated, toxic roles and rules.
For example, feminism has much to offer men. It refuses to stereotype men as would-be rapists or Neanderthals who just want to eat red meat and belch and don’t know their way around a kitchen. Feminism says that men can like pink and women like blue. Feminism says that there is nothing wrong with a man who would rather watch Lifetime than the Super Bowl. Feminism says, in a nutshell, that all of these rules about what men and women can and should do are just made up and do not have to be adhered to. You are free to be whoever you are.
Feminism also teaches to avoid the bogus either/or mentality that many of us buy into. For example, millions of us are taught that, if women rise to power, then men will fall from power. Why can’t both men and women have power? Better yet: what if we moved toward a society in which gender didn’t matter? The people in power, men or women, are the people who are best qualified to do the jobs.
Some men avoid embracing women’s issues, including feminism, because they are afraid that doing so makes them look, well, less manly. There are those pesky rules again, defining what it means to be a man. Feminism argues for a different definition of manhood, one that sees as quintessentially masculine calling for all to be treated as equal. True men are tired of women being paid less for the same work, are tired of all the silly rules that restrict people, are tired of women being abused, ignored, ogled at and laughed at because they are women. A real man’s masculinity isn’t threatened by standing up for women but is emboldened by doing so.
One of my goals at Seton Hill and in the community is to get more men involved in women’s issues, including feminism. I hope to increase the involvement of men in our feminist collective and gender’s studies classes.
Maybe this blog entry can be a good start.
The Rev. Dr. David von Schlichten is an assistant professor of religious studies and campus minister at Seton Hill University. He is also the co-coordinator of Seton Hill's Gender and Women's Studies Program and is a faculty advisor to the university's feminist collective. In addition, he is on the Social Transformations Sub-comittee of the Blackburn Center.
Please note that the views expressed by guest bloggers represent their own personal views, and not necessarily those of Blackburn Center.