In the wake of well-known male feminist Hugo Schwyzer’s public meltdown and admission of long-ignored misconduct, it has been a weird few weeks to be a male feminist. There are articles about male feminism all over the blogosphere right now: its purpose, its boundaries, its pitfalls, and how to do it right.
One of the biggest critiques leveled against male feminists — and Hugo Schwyzer in particular — is that too many male feminists identify as such so that they can gain the attention and affinity of women. So, in the wake of Hugo and the proliferation of this valid critique, it is worth asking a question of male feminists:
Why are you a feminist?
I think it’s a good idea to examine our intentions in the world of feminism, a world where it’s easy for men to cause more harm than good. And it is a good reminder to the rest of the world that male feminists, like most feminists, are here for very personal reasons.
So, here goes: the five life experiences that created my feminism. Because after these events, I couldn’t be anything but a feminist.
Fall of my freshman year, two of my girlfriend’s close friends attended a party where they were non-consensually given a sedative.
Over the course of that Saturday night, a man served them spiked drinks, and they both blacked out. One of them, thankfully, was likely not assaulted that night, but of course she has no idea, given that she remembers nothing.
The other friend has no memory of her night, either. But the evidence of a violent rape showed up in bruises, scratches, genital bleeding, and a positive test for an STI that only a timely injection from Planned Parenthood prevented.
I've never forgotten what happened to them and it still motivates my active opposition to sexual violence. As I lead and facilitate prevention workshops at my school, it is feminism which undergirds my curriculum and training.
Later that same year I stood in line for the restroom in a small hallway at a basement party with about 10 girls while two muscular, imposing students carried on a disturbing conversation beside us. The bigger of the two yelled down the hallway filled with young women: "Well you know my motto, bro. No means 'yes,' and 'yes' means anal!'"
His friend didn't challenge him, and neither did anyone else. Most of the women averted their eyes and looked down. I'll never forget the power that he held — and how silent I was in response.
I know have a phrase for that behavior now: rape culture, plain and simple. Feminism has taught me to understand it, acknowledge it, and fight it accordingly.
As a teenager, I attended an all-male high school, a place that I still love, but that had its own issues with homophobia, sexism, and hyper-masculinity.
I, and many of my friends, were bullied during our first two years of high school. I was mocked for caring about school; called out for being "effeminate;" identified as homosexual and called "faggot" hundreds of times. I was angry and miserable for much of sophomore year. As I’ve studied gender, I’ve come to see the various hurtful ways in which masculinity is constructed, and bullying encouraged.
Feminism gave me the tools to make sense of that experience.
At an off-campus party, a large male student pushed past my friend and shoved her into an open refrigerator. She fell into it, crashing into the drawers and stacked beer cans. When she responded angrily, he looked down and sneered, “You’re not cute enough for me to care.”
I’m amazed that he could act without any fear for the consequences of his violence. I don't want to live in a world where gender violence is so normalized. Feminism gives me avenues of action to manifest my opposition.
I was at a party in Charleston, South Carolina, talking to my girlfriend when a drunken fraternity brother stumbled up to her and seemed to drop something in her drink.
Enraged, I yelled at him, as his fraternity brothers crowded around the both of us. My girlfriend convinced me to leave before our conflict escalated, but my last words were: "Do you think rape is a fucking joke!?"
It turns out that the young man had not dropped anything in my girlfriend’s drink, but his willingness to laugh about it proved that he did find rape to be a joke.
In each of these instances I was angry, scared, and bewildered. I had no idea what to do; I had a moral reaction, but no moral action with which to respond. Feminism gave me that solution.
For that, I am thankful.