Male feminist Hugo Schwyzer’s decision to leave the internet last week has prompted a discussion about the place of men within feminism. Ally Fogg at the Guardian said that “male feminism has never sat comfortably with me.” Male feminists, he argues, “absolutely must take their cues from the women around them, yield first in disputes and toe the line very carefully”—and he just can’t be tied down by those women’s rules, woman. He concludes that, “If men are concerned about the problems men face, not just the problems men cause, then the pews of the feminist cathedral are rarely the most comfortable place to sit.”
In response, Mary Elizabeth Williams at Salon suggested that “when dealing with wider social issues, I’d encourage both men and women to think beyond the comfort of their own pews.” I agree, but I also think that the metaphor of pews, and the suggestion that men’s are over here and women’s are over there, is not necessarily the best way of thinking about this issue.
I’m a feminist. And part of the reason I’m a feminist is, yes, because I believe my mother and my wife and my nieces and all the other women I know and care about are human beings and should be treated as such. But I’m also a feminist for selfish reasons. I’m the primary caretaker for our son — I stay home with him when he’s sick (there he is on the futon right now, actually, watching Doctor Who with the cat sacked out beside him). I deal with school events and playdates; I schlep him to all his activities. There was a time not so long ago where doing any of those things would have made me the object of ridicule, and quite possibly self-loathing as well. Today, though, it’s no big deal — and the reason for that is feminism.
Similarly, I’m able to work as a freelancer without health insurance because my wife has a full time job. If she couldn’t work, or if the jobs she was able to get were limited, that would directly affect my life, and very much for the worse. Wanting my wife to have more options doesn’t just come out of an abstract desire to help women-in-general somewhere over there. It comes out of a desire to have more options myself.
Feminism, in short, doesn’t just empower women. It empowers me. It allows me to take on roles that have traditionally been associated with women. It gives me more flexibility in my career. As a man, feminism has had a huge positive effect on my life. It seems like the least I can do in return is own it.