Yes, I am a Male Feminist
I was born affluent and Indian, and being raised in a predominantly light-skinned society left me in the strange intersection of the well-off underclass. It was one of sensitivity without self-examination. My upbringing was very good at recognizing our socioeconomic privilege; my parents emphasised compassion, self-awareness, and giving charitably to the less fortunate. But these were distinctions that remained independent to the race question: we never questioned the forms of power we did have, because we came from a history of oppession. Because under it all was the assumption that we’d earned it.
Now that I’ve left the shade under my mother’s wing, I’m seeing more of the ugly side of the human experience. More of that stuff we didn’t talk about because, if we did, our ears would get hot and our voices would crack and our upper-middle class sensibilities (read: guilt) would nudge us softly and say shhh. Some say detachment is evolutionary, but we’re always insensitive to issues until someone we know is affected by them. I didn’t really care about the wage gap until I realized that my mentor was doing a lot more work than her male colleagues, and being paid less for it. One day she came to work wearing a hijab, because she said she’d started to feel old. Seven months after I left that job, her husband passed away. Her paycheck stayed the same. No overtime. I hadn’t really thought about the exploitative power of male sexuality until my girlfriends hit puberty and the harassment started. And then, in the kind of twisted segue only real-life could orchestrate, one of my oldest friends told me about the time he took sexual advantage of his best friend. I wasn’t sure how to respond, so I didn’t. I still regret my silence. Once I started taking notice of the issues which were affecting my friends – and, save my Y chromosome, could have just as easily affected me – I started to find myself aligning with feminism.
Being a feminist, and a man, is difficult. I’m always questioning whether my actions are perpetuating male privilege, and am often surprised at how systemic chauvinism is. The gendered way we – men – have been conditioned to look at the world sees him as the subject, and her the object; we often see women as auxiliary without even realizing it. I do it all the time, and am trying to quit this toxic habit. Next time you call someone the ‘bigger man’, or mentally commend a guy for holding a door open, take a minute to think about how you percieved the dynamics of that encounter. Our unconscious sidelining of women – along with their motivations and experiences – isn’t malicious. In fact, it’s a result of how many of us have been raised. But that doesn’t make it right.
Feminism makes men uncomfortable. That’s not great for the movement. But I think being a feminist should be uncomfortable. I was uncomfortable when my best friend opened up to me about the time she was almost raped by a man who reminded her of her ex-boyfriend. That could easily have been one of my drunk, badly behaved friends. We went back inside, and I took a minute to sit in the stairwell, quaking. I’ll be uncomfortable if I ever meet her attempted rapist, and I’ll be uncomfortable throwing that first punch. But that won’t stop me from going through four incisors and leaving the taste of haemoglobin in his cheek.
I consider myself a feminist, not only because I believe in equal rights for the sexes, but because women do a lot better loving men than the other way around. And there are equal parts gratitude and guilt keeping me here.