“Picture a woman, sans-bra and makeup, clad in Birkenstocks while she loudly proclaims that sexual fulfillment is only possible between two women and that men are only necessary for reproduction, her armpit hair swaying gently in the breeze as she protests the term “In all thy son’s command” in the national anthem.”
I want you to think for a moment of a clothing store, and going into the men’s clothing section. You have your choice of “manly” pants, “manly” shirts, “manly” sweaters, “manly” suits, “manly” shoes, and “manly” accessories. Now, I want you to take a mental walk over to the women’s section. We, too, have your “manly” pants and shirts and sweaters and suits and shoes and accessories. We also have a million other clothing items that you “cannot” wear, lest you look effeminate. Hell, we take up three-quarters of any given store you go into.
Have you ever stopped to wonder why that is?
If you have asked yourself that question, have you also ever wondered why there is such a huge variety of women portrayed in advertising, while men only seem to be displayed as the party dude, the strong dude, or the suave dude? Have you ever wondered why a girl can inhabit traditionally masculine roles and still be considered hot, while if you were to inhabit a traditionally feminine role you would, at the least, have your masculinity called into question or, at the worst, be beaten up or killed? There’s a very simple answer to that: your fear of the feminine, of appearing feminine, of being anything like the “weaker” half of the species is constraining you and all the men around you to the point you can barely breathe. And that’s why feminism wants to help you.
I understand why you were probably a little confused upon reading that sentence, because I know what immediately springs to mind when you hear the term “feminist.”You’re probably picturing a woman, sans-bra and makeup, clad in Birkenstocks while she loudly proclaims that sexual fulfillment is only possible between two women and that men are only necessary for reproduction, her armpit hair swaying gently in the breeze as she protests the term “In all thy son’s command” in the national anthem. I hate to burst your bubble, but that’s just another myth about feminists that Playboy and Maxim made up to keep you from taking women’s rights seriously. That’s right. You’ve been had, my friend, and it’s about time you learnt the truth.
The vast majority of feminists are nothing like the one previously described. We are, if you choose to believe it, all the women in your life, from your mom to your grandma to your sister to your significant others and your friends. We don’t want much, when you get right down to it—what we want, essentially, is to be on par with the rest of the species. We want the right to have control over our bodies, to have careers free of discrimination, and to have our opinions taken as seriously as yours are. Yes, I will admit, there are some feminists who demand to see the patriarchal hegemony torn down and replaced by a matriarchy that heavily punishes the “crime” of having a penis, but we consider them to be extremists and don’t really like them all that much since they tend to make us lose support from men and women alike. We want to live our lives free of the shackles placed on us by history and by society solely because of our genders—and we want to free you from your shackles as well
It must come as quite a shock to you that you, too, are heavily oppressed. You see, women are in a very special position in the world of “minorities.” The most recent sex ratio says that we make up about 49.5% of the world population, meaning that we are the single largest “minority” group on the planet. This gives us the unique advantage of not only having a massive amount of sources and gendered texts to work with and study, but a massive amount of woman-power behind our cause. Thanks to our unending desire to answer the questions of why and how half the world’s population is subject to near constant oppression, we have begun to notice things that lie outside our traditional realm of analysis, some of which relate directly to you.
For us feminists to explain the manner in which you are oppressed, we should probably give you a bit of an explanation as to how your oppression came to be as a result of the so-called “Sexual Revolution” in North America. Ariel Levy, in her book Female Chauvinist Pigs, gives an excellent outline of this event. In 1973, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled on a landmark abortion rights case entitled Roe v. Wade. Although the case essentially restructured their entire national thought process, all we want to look at is the pro-choice camp. The majority of feminists were, predictably, on the side of pro-choice; so was a man named Hugh Hefner. The founder of the Playboy Empire supported this leg of women’s rights not because he was pro-feminism, but because he was pro-sex. While the feminists were fighting the battle on the basis that women had a right to autonomy over their own body, Hefner decided that Roe v. Wade was the de facto site of his sexual revolution. The right of women to control what happened to their bodies and to have access to birth control meant that an entire nation of men in red smoking robes, captain hats, and pipes enjoying wild promiscuous sex with women who they couldn’t get pregnant could finally become a reality. Of course, Hefner’s sexual revolution did not extend to everyone—the ideal playboy bunny back then was supposed to have very high morals and never accept a date, a shining example of the sexual-only-for-her-master woman, but at the same time women needed to be constantly sexually available for men.
This, for obvious reasons, furthered the split between us feminists and Hefner. It also led to the creation of something us feminists and a variety of social theorists call the “violent masculine hegemony.” While we, having won the case, went off and began to explore all the areas of society that were previously off-limits to us, men slowly began to oppress themselves more and more in an effort to combat the rising power of the freshly-liberated other half of the species. With this, a new hegemony began to emerge in North America. A man was no longer a man simply by being a breadwinner with a “well-kept” wife and a nice house; he had to be in control at all times, pushing down anyone with less strength and power than him. He didn’t agree with women’s rights; he tolerated them as something cute that women try to do when they’re bored. He maintained his power over so
ciety and over the females in his life through coercion, anger, and the degradation of others. In short, he had to violently hate women and everything related to them.
Let’s take it back to the present for a second. I know you’re not like that. You’re probably a really nice guy, who wants nothing more than to find a girl you really like to take out on a date and make her feel special. You probably want to wow her parents, win over her family, and ride off into the sunset with someone who you will treat like gold and who will treat you just the same. Or maybe you’re not interested in women; we feminists don’t really care about your sexual preference as long as it makes you happy, so if it’s necessary you can change the pronouns in that last sentence. But all your good intentions don’t change the reality that your gender role has become inherently tied to the after-mentioned hegemony. It’s scarier than the fact that I somehow convinced someone that they should publish this piece. This violent branch of masculine hegemony has become so pervasive that we can see it everywhere, if we bother to look. It’s especially obvious in hard-core pornography and “lad” magazines. Maxim, for example, ran an article entitled “How to Cure a Feminist.” Here it is, just in case you don’t believe me. This is but one example of many; it would be nearly impossible to count how many others exist.
This sort of rampant sexism is not always so obvious. As the saying goes, evil is in the banal, and the degradation of women as nothing more than the playthings and possessions of men has become so commonplace that our society, through its complacency and apathy, lets it continue. You can find thinly-veiled imagery of blowjobs or various sexual acts which display women as mere receptacles rather than willing and active partners in almost any ad campaign. The vast majority of films produced today fail to have two female characters talk about something other than a male, which, coincidentally, means they have failed The Bechdel Test. Feminists once debated about what the true nature of sexual liberation was; thanks to the question being skewed by violent masculinity, women and girls who don’t put out—and quickly—are seen as frigid, while the popularity of amateur porn sites, the glorification of reality TV stars whose sole claims to fame are sex tapes, and forums like r/gonewild have made it so the most commonly accepted type of sexual liberation is one of sexualized acts, not one of liberated sexuality.
These problems extend to men, too. We’ve already discussed your gender expectations and touched on what could happen if you fail to conform to them, so I’m going to leave that where it lies. I know you’re far more qualified to answer those questions than I am, having lived with them all your life, and so I feel it would be almost insulting for me to venture too deeply into things that are so close to you and that I, despite my best efforts, will probably never fully understand. What I want to address now is how the constraints placed upon women are your constraints too and, as I mentioned way back at the start of this article, how feminism can help.
Like I mentioned before, you’re probably a nice guy; however, your hegemony states that you have to treat women as though they are worthless. How, then, does this colour your interactions with your mothers, your grandmothers, your sisters, your daughters, your friends, your girlfriends, your wives? How does this affect your interactions with the men in your life who don’t live up to the masculine ideal in any way, shape, or form? We know the answer to that—it doesn’t, at least not on a personal level. You see them as people you love, not as people you have dominion over. But even if you strive to be a good person, who agrees with and believes in the most core of feminist ideals that we are all one species and as such all deserve to be treated equally, who’s to say that other men will believe this as well? There will inevitably be some men (and, as Levy points out in her book, some women) out there who think that the violent hegemony is right, who are the ones guiding its progress—these are the ones who will hurt you and other males for not conforming to your gender, and who will hurt the women in your life for failing to conform to theirs as well. Being the decent human being that you are, the odds are good that you will want to stick up for the people you see being hurt, which means that you have to buy back into the violent masculine hegemony which dictates that you must be more powerful than your competitors to stop their actions, which, by extension, means that you must treat women not as beings capable of sticking up for themselves but as things that you must protect. You must become a violent male to combat the truly violent males in our society; you must adhere to their code of conduct and their idea of what being a man truly is if you want to stop them. This obviously places huge limits on the roles that you can inhabit in society that guarantees that safety of yourself and the people you love. You must constantly play the role of the “man” instead of simply being yourself and doing the things that will give you enjoyment and let you lead a happy and fulfilling life. Your future under this hegemony is bleak—but how can just one person fight against so strong a force?
That’s the thing: you will never be in this sort of a fight alone as long as feminism exists. You may view us as yet another potential enemy to contend with, another force against which you have to prove your masculinity, but the fact is we don’t give a damn about how manly or how effeminate you are. We want equality, we want freedom, and we want a society where these liberties extend to everyone, not just women. We don’t want to lump you in with the extremists of you gender and trample on you, just as we don’t want you to lump us in with the extremists of our ideology and refuse to acknowledge the majority of us as a positive force. If you are willing to work with us, to actively join our cause and stand beside us as our equal, we can change our society. We can live in a world where violent masculinity is a thing of the past, where our entire species can finally move past our old grudges and begin to truly address all the other issues in our society. This is why feminism is needed in our society, and why we can’t simply consider these battles won and over.
We are already making a new feminism for the still relatively new millennia, one that extends to all parts of our society and values all people in it, whether they are old or young, homo or hetero, male or female, and we would be more than happy to have you come join us in this battle.