For fifty years, we’ve been busting myths about what it means to be a woman, and rising up to call out gender nonsense in our culture. The feminist movement has empowered women to finally come together to say to men, and to one another, There’s no right way to be a woman. Or to be a feminist. Being a feminist and being a woman means I get to decide how to express and explore my identity.
The freedom and pluralism this offers is incredible. We are seeing, or at least moving towards, remarkable diversity in expressions of identity, particularly for females.
And while we have a long way to go on women’s rights (*cough* wage gap, reproductive freedom, sexual violence), I think what we need now is a conversation about masculinity. We need healthy, open-minded, encouraging conversation that rises above the stereotypes of what it means to be a man.
The media is bursting with narrow and unfair images of masculinity. Just think – any time you see a man with a baby, it’s a joke.
How could a man possibly care for a child? Or check out this Buzzfeed post from last week, showing just how far products will go to ensure men that they are NOT like women.
In case this weren’t clear enough, men even need their own kind of therapy, whose promo video includes some shaming and reinforcing of stereotypes like men can’t use ellipticals and must know about sports, from a man in a super ‘manly’ office, complete with stuffed and mounted animals on the wall and deep mahogany wood…
As we eliminate phrases like, ‘run like a girl!’ and ‘don’t be a pussy,’ we need to eliminate phrases like ‘be a man!’ and ‘man up!’
These conversations are starting to bubble up, but watch how quickly they are shut down: Dove released a video in time for Father’s Day showing how men reacted to the news that they were going to be parents, and ended with the call for #RealStrength and the reminder that “Care makes a man stronger.” (As though Stronger is the highest or only objective for a man…)
But in the Buzzfeed article showcasing the video, the captions and commentary were a prime example of narrow machismo masculinity, interspersing gifs of tearful men with “You’re not crying…” Heaven forbid! “You’re just sweating from your eyes.” Nice save, bro. “IT’S JUST SWEAT OK?!”
We all need this conversation to happen. Men need to be freed from the relentless gender garbage that is used to keep them small. #RealMen need to show us what real men are – emotional, caring, creative, respectful…or whatever they want.
Real men can buy sunscreen in the regular package, real men can cry at the news of fatherhood, real men can see whatever therapist they want. Real men can like sports, real men can be strong, real men can be whoever and whatever they want to be. Real men don’t have to make excuses or defenses about being a man.
The LGBT movement has done a great job of opening the conversation further on what it means to perform gender and how it shapes us, fairly and unfairly, and now the movement needs to spread to men.
But it can’t happen if the culture isn’t there to support it. Emma Watson spoke so elegantly in her #HeForShe campaign, calling men to be feminists, and I think she is right on in calling for larger support for the feminist movement. But now it’s my turn to call for a She For He movement – we all need equality. We need this freedom and understanding for all people.
We’re in a lose-lose situation if the gender empowerment conversation becomes about Us and Them. We cannot buy into the scarcity mentality that says that one gender must be squashed in order for the other to rise. We do not want oppression for anyone.
As women are speaking up for their potential and their power and unashamedly claiming their right to be heard, we need to make sure that men are doing the same thing. Real men – we want to hear from you. Women – join the cause, supporting this diversity and calling out the unfair bullshit we see perpetuated by media and culture.
The time is now – we live in a world where men can’t even buy soap without having their masculinity questioned. We need this conversation. We all need men to be more real, to rise up and reclaim the full spectrum of human expression without being called a ‘homo’ or a ‘girl’ (those, of course, being the worst insults you could hurl at a man).
Paul Wellstone said, “We all do better when we all do better.”
It’s time to do better. #RealMen we need you.