International Women’s Day is a chance to discuss feminism, and I’ve written more than my share of columns on the movement’s importance. This year I felt compelled to write about men’s involvement.
Let’s make one thing clear: any man who recognizes that male privilege is still very much a reality and works in tandem with women to advance the cause of social, political, and financial equality for both sexes is a feminist.
Men who don’t merely pay lip service to the term — who truly understand the social dynamics that continue to keep women down, who listen to and respect women’s voices when they tell them something is sexist, who consume cultural products created by women and have female mentors, who challenge gender roles and don’t remain passive bystanders but actually insert themselves in situations where they can help make things better — are feminists we all desperately need.
I am incredibly thankful to the many feminist men I have encountered in my life who believed in me, championed me, and mentored me. I continue to be grateful to the ones who are able to move past their own experiences and points of view and understand that male privilege essentially means that they are able to live without certain issues ever affecting them personally. Knowing that, and still choosing to make these issues their issues requires taking a step that too many men are still unwilling or unable to take.
Double standards persist
Lamentably, it remains true that two people, one a man and one a woman, can say the exact same thing and the man’s words will be given more credibility. It’s a prime example of sexist double standards, and it’s seen everywhere, from politics, to media, to company boardrooms, and schools.
As frustrating as that can be, I applaud the efforts of men who use that double standard to insert themselves in situations where they can use their “male status” as a tool to fight sexism and rape culture.
Starting this week, Quebec rapper Koriass, a self-proclaimed “natural born feminist” and the father of two young girls, will be joining freelance journalist and La Semaine Rose blogger Marilyse Hamelin and Julie Miville-Dechêne, president of the Conseil du statut de la femme, for a month-long tour of Quebec CEGEPs on the topics of sex, equality, and consent.
Koriass wrote a compelling and very personal piece this past summer on why he identifies as a feminist. He candidly shared the uncomfortable details of a young 17-year-old female friend’s rape. That girl would later become his partner in life and the mother of his two daughters. This moving essay that perfectly highlights why the personal becomes political, and why so many women’s own horrific experiences fuel their fight for equality and recognition.
Combating rape culture
Consent and rape culture are two predominant issues today. Young people are growing up utterly confused by conflicting messages about sex. On the one hand they’re told that a loving relationship is the ultimate goal; on the other hand, they live in a hyper-sexualized society where every music video, film, and social media interaction tells them that casual sex and “getting some” is where it’s at.
Combine that with inadequate sex education in schools in a number of Canadian provinces (including Quebec, which only recently committed to reinstating sex education in classrooms) and you end up with teenagers and young adults who have no real notion of what consent means.
School tours like the one Koriass is taking part in are amazing tools in combating deeply embedded rape culture.
Whether we consider it fair or not, young teenage boys are much more likely to listen to an “edgy” rapper they look up to and emulate than a “boring” feminist activist or a “preachy” feminist blogger. If the statistics on rape and assault are better received and absorbed by teenagers because they are coming from the lips of a rapper, so be it.
Equality benefits everyone
“I think it's important to challenge the systems that give men more expertise on these issues than the women doing the same work, while also recognizing that if it takes a man's face in front of a group for other young men to listen, then men should do it,” Julie Lalonde, a public educator on sexual violence and an organizer with Hollaback Ottawa and Draw the Line, told me.
If true equality is to be achieved, we need to work together as allies, regardless of gender. Equality benefits everyone in the long run.
On International Women’s Day, I am forever grateful to the men who acknowledge the invaluable contributions of women and the women’s movement, understand they were born into a power structure that gives them advantages (which they can’t opt out of), and use their special status to challenge other men and society at large.
Men who loudly and proudly proclaim they’re feminists — with their words and their actions — are part of a movement that remains as relevant as ever.