I was asked to write an article about feminism “from a male perspective.” This is an interesting prompt to receive. For one, I don’t believe that individuals who identify as men have any right to talk in public forum about feminism or the gender issues that feminism encompasses. Men have done a lot of talking throughout history, and now it’s our turn to listen—our voices on the subject are not authoritative.
Feminism speaks to issues about gender for individuals of any gender, but, while men do experience difficulty with gender (it is by now a platitude to remind you that institutional oppression hurts the oppressor, not just the oppressed), experiencing difficulty in the context of being the oppressor class, rather than the oppressed, gives us a necessarily less valuable perspective. I do think, however, that it is the role of the privileged to use that privilege to aid (though not lead) the marginalized whenever possible, and, importantly, the onus is entirely on the oppressors to work to right structurally violent systems. So I won’t be telling you “what feminism is.” You see, that article was more or less written by Ammon Allen-Doucot last semester in The Record. Why would it need to be written again? Continuing conversation about relevant social issues is good, but it is important that the conversation develops, and the prompt that I received seems to be not so different from Ammon’s. Has feminism been ignored enough on campus that, in an entire semester, our conversation is still the same? When stagnancy is the issue, controversy generally leads to change.
So here’s my argument: It is actively violent to believe in the idea that “men” exist as a distinct group from “women.” Further, by identifying as a “man,” one is a part of an actively oppressing class.
Believing in “men” and “women” as separate or “opposite” categories tries to reduce the multiplicity of gender to an oppositional binary. Creating these sorts of identities inevitably brings about identity politics and the violence that accompanies it. “Creating these identities?” You may say, “I was born a man!” Nonsense. Sex and gender only have correlation because our culture tells us so. What gender are the approximately 1 in 100 individuals born with ambiguous genitalia? For any behavior that you care to name, there is more variation among members of one gender than there is between average individuals of “the two” genders. Your gender may be, today, an almost immutable part of your identity, but that does not mean it was not socialized from scratch at the start.
“Even so!” you cry out, “there is nothing about ascribing to a gender that is violent or oppressive in and of itself!” You might make an argument that, all other things being irrelevant, one’s “being a man” does not necessarily hurt anyone else. However, even if we set aside all of the easy retorts which point out how masculinity encourages violence or femininity discourages self-valuation, what gender does to you is irrelevant.
Because gender exists as a binary structure in our society, because we have this method of sorting, one category of individuals will inevitably come to be privileged over another, at first for arbitrary reasons, and then successor societies will rationalize it away as a law of nature. In our world, men have been privileged over women, not because they’re better, but because that’s how the dice fell. Acting into one’s masculinity, then, whether or not it directly hurts other people, reinforces a societal norm that says that “two” genders exist, and that you can sort people by them. This norm is directly in the way of equality—as long as it is acceptable to unequivocally differentiate, it will be possible and acceptable to discriminate.
You, yes you, are being actively violent, chauvinistic, misogynist, by accepting your assigned gender as a valid label, and, as such, reinforcing the gender norm by example. The onus is specifically on men to change this—women have been historically denied the right to live into whatever identity they may choose, and it would be a mistake to take away a potentially empowering femininity now—as the individuals with power and social capital, men (especially white, cis men—other demographics have a more complex interaction with structural violence to deal with) have the obligation to start living change.
Anything short of active action to bend and break the boundaries of what gender is, is rank sexism, active violence against especially women and those who fall through the cracks of the gender binary, and such behavior ought not to be allowed to go unashamedly on.