Why I Need Feminism

There was a time, not so long ago, when I thought feminism was useless.

Looking back at the past, I could see the ways that feminism had been a powerful force for positive change in our society, and how it made things more equal for both sexes. In our modern day, however, it mostly seemed like a lot of misandrist whining. Now, there is certainly a toxic side within feminism which trends toward misandry (consider the folks who sent death threats to scientist Matt Taylor during ShirtGate) but that’s not what I’m here to address. No movement is without its shadows. Trust me, I'm no friend of the MRA movement.

But I did think about flying their banner once. I thought about it because I saw a problem. I saw a lot of problems, and I didn't know how to fix them or who was causing them. I think it's a logical (if flawed) step to take to say "Female problems are addressed by feminism, so men need a movement to address the places and ways that we feel oppressed." The problem is, you have to be able to differentiate between genuine oppression and the kind of daily, ordinary sufferings that we all deal with. Most MRAs I've observed voice that they feel oppressed (essentially) because they don't have a  female partner (who complies with oppressive female beauty standards) to have sex with.

I shouldn't have to say this, but that isn't oppression. Being lonely sucks, but it doesn’t mean that you are being oppressed.

So how are men oppressed? Why do we need a movement?

I would argue that we already have a movement: Feminism. Now, four years ago I would have laughed at anyone who'd written that statement. Why? Because feminism is for women, right?

No. Feminism is for men and women, because the issues that it addresses directly underpin the issues that create a need for a movement that addresses the ways in which men are oppressed. As in, solve the issues that feminism exists to tear down and you solve the issues that oppress men.

So back to the question: how are men oppressed?

Let me digress with a personal example:

I grew up surrounded by "strong women." They were in my TV shows, they were in my books. Every woman in my family was "strong." They were warriors who wore pants, who openly wore tattoos and shaved their heads. They were the kind of feminists who marched in the streets and wrote letters to congressmen about the kinds of oppression they faced. They built and founded rape crisis centers and open-carried handguns.

That's awesome, but there's a problem with it. The problem comes with the word "strong."

When a woman shaves her head, she's strong. She's bucking the trend. She's no longer a long-tressed beauty slave fluttering her eyelids at the men of the world. She's standing up and owning herself and saying "fuck that patriarchy noise" in a very aggressive way. When a woman binds her chest and wears a tanktop or fierce piercings or identifies as "butch", she's strong.

But why is she strong? Because she's bucking the established beauty standards of the world around her? Because she's standing up against oppression and censorship?

One could say "absolutely not. That's not the reason."


Because if you flip it on its head, a woman who is confident in skirts and long tresses and who loves living a housewife life is not considered strong.

Because if you go further, a man who is confident in skirts with long tresses and a househusband life is not considered strong, even though he is bucking the trends and standing up against oppressive beauty standards.

Now, I personally think that anyone who does what they want without bowing to oppression is strong. The problem isn't what I think. It's what pervades the mainstream. Take this example: two people, a man and a woman, could work at the same company and crossdress and only one of them would get sent home or fired on the spot. So let's think about this: Why is it (socially) okay for a woman to cut her hair short and wear pants to work but it is not okay for a man to wear his hair long and wear a skirt to work? Why is it so offensive for a man to wear a skirt and heels that people will actually jeer at him while he walks down the street?

Because of all the issues we have around what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman. Because we still see masculinity as strong by default, so when a woman "becomes" a man, she is seeking to become stronger, and that’s good. When a man embraces his feminine side, he is seen as weak. In fact, the more he embraces his feminine side, the weaker he becomes, and it's worse because he's doing it to himself. He's not being torn down or emasculated by some other person. He's self-emasculating. He's choosing to be weaker.

Because he's choosing to be a woman, or woman-like, or rather, to embrace an aesthetic that our society assigns to women as a woman-only thing.

There's a lot more to it than that, of course. Men cross-dressing brings up all kinds of issues (homophobia and sexual deviancy among them) rooted in how we view men and women. As someone who has battled dysphoria my whole life, who enjoys cross-dressing and even considered transitioning to female at one point, I can tell you that I've seen all kinds of unaddressed issues that even the most enlightened carry around (myself included.) I've found myself having to explain that just because I'd love to go to work in an outfit so good that I have passing privilege and I'm virtually unrecognizable doesn't mean that I have any sexual interest in men. I’ve had to tell family members and friends that even the simple act of painting my nails doesn’t mean I’m signaling to the world that my back-door is open for a back-alley rendezvous with strange dudes. If anyone tells you that women are no longer seen as sex objects, then ask them why people assume that a man who dresses as a woman must be trying to seduce men. See the issues in that? See the homophobia, the toxic masculinity, the objectification of women all rolled into one there? The assumption that, if you’re dressing up in any particular fashion, there must be a sexual reason for it? A desire to attract the male eye? A desire to be objectified? I both love and hate it when people assume that I am gay or bi. I love it because I’m confident in my sexuality and I know there’s nothing wrong with having any kind of orientation. I love it because it creates visibility for the oppressed, even if I’m not part of that minority. If someone else identifies me as belonging to a particular group, then I give that group a voice, even if it is just a whisper on the wind, a glance in passing. “We are here, and we will not hide ourselves. Get used to seeing us.” Going deeper, we can see that men who embrace their feminine side, or who have a sexual preference that people assign a notion of femininity to (drawing from heteronormative conditioning), are oppressed by society, and they are oppressed because we still see stereotypical expressions of femininity as weak. If you are a man, you must be strong. If you’re not, there’s something “wrong” with you. If that something isn’t immediately visible (i.e. you aren’t gay,) then it must be something deeper and “darker.” That’s the rabbit hole people go down, and it all comes from the notion that “women’s” clothing is worn only to titillate, to attract men for sex.

What we need to teach is that the character and confidence of anyone is what determines their strength, not how they dress, what their gender is or what their sexual preference is. Whatever you wear, rock it. Do it for you. Be you, and be confident in it. That's strength. That's how you fight oppression. That’s how you break apart the societal standards that oppress all of us at once.

That's why I need feminism.

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