‘International Men’s Day?’
March 8 is known globally as International Women’s Day, and it’s a day that is fast approaching. That name, “Women’s Day,” may offend some people and lead some men to ask – either seriously or in jest – “when’s ‘International Men’s Day?’” Don’t let the name fool you, I would reply. Men play a part in this very important day, too. This year’s theme, in fact, is “Women and men united to end violence against women and girls.” Did you catch that? “Women and men.” But a lot of men don’t want to recognize that they play a role in women’s issues as well. They would rather just blame the victims of violence against women and pretend they have no stake and no influence in the matter. I don’t beat my girlfriend so I’m doing my part – right? Wrong.
There are a number of things men can do to prevent violence against women. Robert Jensen – in his latest book, Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity – encourages men to join a pro-feminism organization if they want to help on a grassroots level. A simple request, yes, but one that fails to recognize men’s tenuous relationship with feminism. A lot of men are afraid of being labelled “feminists”: this is a problem. They incorrectly figure that only women can be feminists, that only victims can stand up for their own rights. While men may not be able to sympathize with the problems women face, they can still act as allies; there is nothing contradictory in a man embracing feminist ideology. In order for feminism to work, men must embrace it – the movement won’t fully accomplish its goals if half the population is fighting against, or is acting indifferent to, what the other half is trying to achieve.
Men generally figure that a man who accepts his femininity in any degree is a “queer” or a “pussy.” The very fact that many men consider these terms derogatory is a symptom of the problem: it shows that the emphasis on masculinity is overblown. Men generally believe that they have to act manly – for many this means being dominant, assertive and violent. But why? I think the thing most men fear is not what will happen if they act in not-so-manly ways; they fear what other men will think of them if they do. On the flip side, we have to acknowledge the fact that a small number of men will gladly label themselves “feminists”: this, too, is a problem. These men incorrectly figure that they should join the feminist crusade because women are weak or powerless and require a man’s help – and perhaps leadership – in the fight for their rights. Jensen refers to this as “white knight syndrome.” While it may sound innocent enough, this kind of mentality also works against real feminism.
Men have to learn to be unafraid of the feminist label without getting it in their heads that they’re somehow saving the day. They have to recognize women for who they really are: individuals equal to but different from men; individuals who, because of a number of factors, have to face a number of social challenges men don’t have to face; and individuals who are independent from men. While it looks like I may have painted all men with the same brush, I realize that all men are different and that not all men are bad, but the generalizations I’ve employed are for the most part accurate. While men may not be to blame for the condition they’re in, they do have some responsibility to change it. Furthermore, while they may not be directly or totally to blame for the condition women are in, they have some responsibility to change it, too. Face it – it’s true. And I believe there is no better time to embrace these two truths than on March 8, “International Women’s Day.”