The Role Of Men In The Fight Against Sexism
There has been something I have been wanting to get off my chest for a while. As a man active in the fight against sexism in every form, I find myself looking back to my days in high school, middle school, and sometimes even elementary school. I think about how men are programmed constantly by society from a very young age.
Growing up as a teenage boy, I entered the sadly common environment where sexism prescribes that we prove our masculinity through violent behavior. Even in elementary school I would feel quite marginalized by my male peers who were into sports and being “tough.” As we got into the 5th and 6th grades “jokes” about women became more common, and disgusting things were said. l preferred the arts and writing poetry to activities like football and proving how tough I was, but as I got older, the pressure grew stronger and stronger. Again, in that environment sexist jokes were common place, as was using derogatory language towards women, talking about how tough you are, how many women you could lie to and use, how many fights you would take part in, what you could go through without shedding a tear, etc. I often challenged this and the amount of shit I received for doing so was very hard to deal with. It was understood that such behavior was normal.
But something about it never felt quite right to me. I had trouble hiding my emotions. I was far from being that “tough guy,” and in fact, to this day, I have never been in a fist fight. But I was told that, as a man, being sensitive was wrong. I was constantly told I needed to man up and not be a little bitch. Why was I being such a pussy? What are you, some type of faggot or something? This was constant. The young 14 or 15 year old me sometimes would feel like I had to buy into it to some extent. Sometimes, I would laugh or make a fucked up joke, because this is how we as men were supposed to be. This is what is normal.
These masculinity standards never completely felt right to me, but it wasn’t until I opened my eyes and ears to how the actions of so many men in our society affect all women that I realized just how wrong it is. The more I listened to people around me and opened my eyes, the more I learned from women and the more I began to question everything.
At first, I was very ashamed. I was so angry and disgusted at the way some people act, and I was angry and ashamed of myself for the times I had not realized some of the harmful things that came out of my mouth, or some of the things I had done. I began to look at language and the way we talk. I thought about how much damage was caused by not just the actions of others, but the words used in our everyday language. Before I knew it, I could no longer count the amount of people who had been abused and assaulted in the name of masculinity. I would listen to women talk about the precautions they took every time they left the house, or just how much it hurt them when they were harassed on the street.
Unfortunately, I stayed quiet for too long. I was too scared to call people out for their actions, scared to get shit for not being “manly” enough, more than I already did. I was afraid that I would piss men off and get beat up. It would eat at me, but I just couldn’t gather the courage to speak out. Sometimes I would just lay awake and think about how I just wish I had said something.
I am glad that I finally conquered the fear of speaking out. I learned not to let the stigma for not fulfilling society’s definition of “manly” hold me back. I am glad that I found the passion to fight sexism, to work to end rape culture, to reach out to survivors in any way that I can, to call men out on their shit. I now see it as my duty to try to reach out to men and help them break free from these pressures -- what is normalized and beat into our heads. I see it as my duty to help men realize that it is ok to speak out against it, that they shouldn’t let the pressures and the stigmas get them down.
Fuck society’s standards of manhood, telling us that we need to be tough, emotionless, violent, and sexist to be a man. If that is manhood, I don’t want anything to do with it, and nobody should. That isn’t manly. Being a man means no longer saying sexist comments even under the guise of humor. Being a man is knowing that it's ok to show emotion, to love and to cry. Being a man means never using words like bitch, cunt, whore, or slut to describe women even if they have wronged you, even if you are angry. I have been stabbed in the back in relationships, but I refuse to call them bitches; and when my friends do, I call them out on it.
We, as men, need to break free. We don’t have to give in to the way that we are programmed by society, the media, and our peer groups. Yes, you may get shit for breaking out of that box, for speaking out, but it is our duty as men to stand up and stop this cycle. It is our duty to create spaces where we can educate young boys, teenage men, and adult males about how they don’t have to be tough, emotionless, violent, and sexist: in fact they can’t be. It is our duty to join in the fight against sexism and to speak out to other men about how essential it is for us to smash these societal constraints and redefine what it means to be a man. We need workshops at every college, high school, middle school and elementary school because this societal programming starts very young.
Of course, I am not perfect. I have, at times, given into these forces. I am still always unlearning what has been beaten into my head since birth. I can’t change the past, but I can change the future. I can make it so there is a world where these pressures no longer exist, where men are no longer sexist. I can now join in the fight to end sexism, where there is no more abuse, there is no more rape, where women and men alike are never shamed for having multiple sex partners or having none at all. I see ending the pressure for us men to be violent and sexist as an essential aspect in the struggle to end sexism, and create a world without rape, a world where harassment is a thing of the past. This is not to preach; I know what it is like to feel these pressures. But I know that I must now apologize for anything I have done in the past and promise that I will keep fighting until the day I die.
Come on men, let’s break free. Let’s all stand together and say sexism will no longer exist in our name. It starts with simply listening to women and letting them speak about their oppression, but it ends with a unified fight. I hope to one day see men everywhere view it as their duty to challenge society’s problematic definition of manhood, and to end the pressures upon us. One organization hit the nail on the head when they called themselves Men Can Stop Rape, and I hope to see more organizations like that pop up. I hope to see organizations create more workshops and find more ways to include this essential part of the struggle in our fight for women’s liberation. Hopefully in my life time, I will see a world without oppression, but regardless of whether or not that happens in a few years or a hundred years from now, I know that our actions now are essential for shaping the future. The sexist ways that men act in our society are disgusting and horrible, but the tree must be dug up from the roots. The biggest problem is that this is how we are taught and programmed to be. It is up to us to change this and to end the cycle.
More articles in WMC FBomb by Category: Education, Feminism, Girls, Violence against women
More articles in WMC FBomb by Tag: Activism and advocacy, Title IX, College, Sexualized violence, Gender bias, Male Allies, Sexual harassment, High school