Why Boys Become Men When They’re Feminists

Advocacy , Education , Leadership

I remember my surprise at seeing the definition of feminism for the first time.

“The advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes.”

I was a sophomore in high school when I attended my first ever diversity club meeting and read that definition on the screen. Moments before the screen was turned on I had kept my hand down when the room was asked who identifies as a feminist. I had not realized that feminism is based on equality and I wasn’t ready to be a feminist if that definition had only included the first five words. Why was I so ignorant and why was I so unwilling to support women otherwise? The answer is identity.

Sexism is not only based in the misconception of a woman’s worth and identity, but also a man’s. How can I as a man perceive girls and women for who they truly are if I perceive so much of my own identity through the amount of money I make and the mere physical appearance of the woman I am with? I won’t even get started on how heteronormative (another definition I recently googled) this is. But I digress, so if we are honest, all of us–both men and women– get a significant portion of our identity from how we are perceived. The difference lies in what girls and women, and men are respected for. In a study of gender equality in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) by UN Women and Promundo, their results demonstrated an unignorable link between men who support women in positions of power and men who want to spend more time caring for their children. In other words, feminist men placed a greater emphasis on caring for those around them and were better fathers as a result.

During their joint research, “There were interviews with Syrian refugee men, who struggled with their loss of status from no longer being providers, and who felt emasculated at having to depend both on humanitarian aid and on their wives – some of these men came to accept this new gender order.” The key word here is emasculated. There is bound to be a problem when the male identity is rooted in making the most money in the family, as this provides incentive for men to ensure women have a lower income. This same concept feeds countless other inequities.

So why isn’t feminism seen as manly? Because to promote the equality of women, in the eyes of many men including my 15-year-old self, takes away from men what makes them men. So to the girls and women reading this, if you want to help the men in your life be feminists, empower them to be real men. Men that support the rights of girls and women not simply because she is someone’s mother, sister, daughter, but rather because girls and women deserve to be advocated as people, not mere relational attachments to men. It takes strength and courage to stand up for the most vulnerable girls in countries like Uganda, India, Guatemala, and all around the world.

To the guys, the blokes (for any Australians reading), the men: We only emasculate ourselves when we degrade girls and women out of insecurity and fear. Be a real man and stand up for girls. I’d much rather have my male identity rooted in strength and bravery than insecurity and fear, wouldn’t you?

Lachlan Warrell interned for Girl Up as part of Episcopal High School’s shadowing program. He will be a student at NYU Silver School of Social Work this fall.