Dear Men: Lessons from Feminism

Originally posted at The Good Men Project here.

Dear Men:

I’ve been thinking about you alot lately and I’ve begun to wonder if anyone has been telling men the stuff I learned from feminism and my girlfriends. I’m not talking about stuff you need to know about feminism or women, I’m talking about survival tips that we gals share with each other that might be helpful to men these days. I’m talking about ways to do things differently or change the world.

First I should say that of course I can’t speak for all feminists, I can only speak to my experience with feminism. My experience has been of smart thoughtful passionate women and men working on a large scale toward equality and breaking through gender stereotypes so that individuals can thrive. But there is another level too, a level of personal support and practical suggestions among women, in some cases I would even call it a sisterhood. Over the years I’ve noticed that the men I know didn’t seem to be getting the same advice that I got. I think some of it is really good so I want to share it with you.

Don’t read magazines that make you feel like you’re not enough. Feminism is always telling women (not that they are all listening) to stop reading fashion magazines because they make you feel like crap. Is anyone telling men to take a moment and think about if that Men’s Fitness, GQ or Fortune Magazine is having a positive effect on their well being? The same goes for all kinds of media and even people you know. If the commercials during a favorite show make you feel like you are supposed to be someone you’re not, record it and skip the commercials. If you have a friend on facebook who is always posting how much money they are making and it makes you feel like crap, block their posts. The key is, does this inspire you or shame you? Does this bit of media or person inspire you to higher levels of who you are or does it it shame you for not being Brad Pitt with the abs of Joe Manganiello, the brain of Stephen Hawking, and the bank account of Bill Gates? If it inspires it stays. If it shames you then consider cutting down its access to your psyche.

Take time to be on your own after a breakup. It has always been standard among my girlfriends that when someone has a big break up, we talk about how it’s time for them to spend some time on their own. How they need to find out who they are outside of the relationship. Is anyone telling men that they need time after a breakup to get to know themselves? What about telling men that time on your own is important and healthy for you? It gives you time to deal with your issues so that when you start having relationships again you can start from the healthiest possible place. Jumping right back in is a sure way to end up with the same issues you just escaped.

You don’t have to be hot (or rich) to find a partner. I know this is counter to almost everything most of the media puts out but it’s true. Not only is it true but someone who wants to be with you because they like how you look on their arm will suck as a partner. There is a lot of “attracting” going on out there by people who are visually hot. But, if what you are after is someone who will really see and care for you and not just the boost being with you gives their ego, I guarantee it won’t be someone whose primary interest in you is your looks. Or your bank account. It’s not that it’s not ok to be attractive or have money in the bank, it’s just that if that is what draws someone to you…then you probably don’t want them anyway.

If you want someone who cares for you and not what you can bring them, stop emphasizing the surface. Start emphasizing the things about you that are part of who you are. If you don’t know what those things would be, you need to figure some out before you try to find a partner.

Size doesn’t matter (as much as you think). It seems to me that what body size is to women, penis size is to men. That’s why there are so many diet spams aimed at women and so many penis size spams aimed at men. It seems like men measure themselves like women weigh themselves, as if the answer holds a key to their value. That is bad enough but men seem to often have as much of a distorted idea of what “average” penis size is, as women often have of what the average women’s clothing size is. Not that being “average” is good enough. Feminism fights against society’s pressure on women to be an unrealistic size, the women I know support each other and share their body worries. Maybe it’s time for men to fight against the illusion of size as an indicator of manhood and have more frank discussions about their own bodies and experiences. Recently there was a great blog here on The Good Men Project about size insecurity. That is a great beginning, but you need more if you are going to even begin to make a dent in this issue. Yes, that’s right, I’m saying talk about your penises more. Talk to your partner, talk to your friends, talk to people on the internet and maybe most importantly talk to your sons. (Oh crap! I just realized I’ll have to be the one to have that talk with my sons.)

Safety matters. When my girlfriends go on a first date with someone who is not known to one of us or goes out at night alone we have a whole protocol for it. We look out for each other and we are mindful of safety. When I’ve talked to men about this, they blow me off and give an arrogant “I don’t have to worry, I’m a MAN!” attitude. Men can be, and are, targets of violence and harassment. Having a penis does not keep you safe in this world. I’ve argued with crossdressers and transfolks about this issue and I can’t seem to convince them that if they are going to present as a woman, or appear outside of the traditional male gender box at all, they are possibly at an even higher risk of being targeted than a ciswoman depending on the situation.

Straight white men are the most difficult to convince that there may be any reason for them to worry about their safety at all. Men can be the victims of domestic violence and they can be the victims of street violence.

I’m not saying be paranoid, I’m saying consider taking the time to get to know someone a bit before giving them all of your personal information and/or going out with them. I’m saying think about where you are going and if it’s safe. I’m saying allow for the possibility that you are not indestructible nor are you a super hero ninja (unless you are a super hero ninja).

If someone tries to stuff you in a gender role box, speak up. One thing feminism, in my experience, is great about is telling women to stand up for themselves and not feel bad if they don’t fit into society’s idea of what they should be. I want that for men and I don’t see it happening in very many places. If someone tries to tell you that in order to be a man you have to do or be *insert list here* tell them no. Or “HELL NO!” depending on the situation.

The other day at work one of the guys my husband works with mentioned that he likes yoga. The guys in the office started to tease him until my husband jumped in to say how cool yoga was. I know women have a reputation in some places of being competitive or petty but my experience is that we are much more willing to step out on a social limb to make sure someone else does not feel alone out there than men are. So stand up for yourself and  stand up for others.

If a company or organization tries to stuff you in a gender role box, speak up. Of course the more we change the rigid gender roles that harm men, the better for everyone. This will happen in individual moments but also in larger cultural movements. Feminists see companies, organizations media outlets etc doing things they don’t like and they make a fuss. Men have successfully done this too. For example, getting asexist Huggies commercial campaign pulled. My question is, are men actively looking around to see what other representations of men they could affect?

On the positive side, feminists actively look for organizations, media and ideas to support. If they don’t see them, they build them. Are men actively looking for organizations and media (like The Good Men Project) to support? Are men thinking about, reading about and talking about the issues that matter to them? Clearly many are, we see them here at The Good Men Project. But think of how much more progress we could make if even more men really invested the kind of time and energy into breaking stereotypes and addressing issues important to them that they invest in other things they really care about.

Everyone is welcome at the table. I’ve always thought the most important thing I experienced in feminist groups was a striving toward not marginalizing women who fall outside of the narrow box of femininity society supports. Obviously it’s a journey not a done deal, but it’s a journey worth taking. If you want to change the world you will need to embrace the parts of you that make you uncomfortable. Then keep going and embrace the way other men live ‘manhood’ even when it makes you cringe.

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About Veronica
Veronica Grace is a writer/editor for http://goodmenproject.com/ and a pragmatic idealist mother to two sons, one who has rudely determined he will become a teenager without her permission and the other who wouldn't notice the world ending as long as he had a book in his hands. She holds equality, honesty and compassion among her highest ideals and has found herself currently obsessed with gender roles and practical minimalism. She is always obsessed with why people do the things they do. She is attempting to learn the mysteries that are the twitterverse @vsassypants

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