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Men Step Up to Support Women's Rights and Fight Violence ... Stars and Regular Guys Say They Are Ready to Show Up

Male feminism is a burgeoning movement around the country.
 
 
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Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com/alejandro dans neergaard

 
 
 
 

In the immediate aftermath of the Steubenville, Ohio rape trial, many men, both prominent and not, spoke out against sexism, misogyny and what has become known as "rape culture."

“All men should be feminists,” Grammy-winning singer John Legend announced. “If men care about women’s rights, the world will be a better place.” Olympian sprinter Andrew Reyes, Virginia Democratic senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, and Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Ronnie Cameron also got into the act, pledging their allegiance to the movement to end rape, sexual assault and domestic abuse.

One of my favorite reactions came from a young man named Charles that went viral on Facebook. Charles was photographed holding a hand-lettered sign that said, “I stand with Jane Doe because when I became a victim of a sex crime, no one asked me if I was drunk or what I was wearing or what I had done to make it happen.”

For at least some men, it seemed to be a click moment. Nonetheless, questions lurked in many women’s minds. Were these outspoken men truly embracing feminism or were they simply appalled by one horrendously awful incident? And, if they were claiming to be feminists, what exactly did that mean? Were they seeking to break down a rigid binary that positions men and women as gender opposites, or were they instead focusing more narrowly and working to end the behaviors that too often result in sexual assault?

Most women, whether part of the organized women’s movement or not, wanted to support this apparent groundswell of pro-feminist and anti-rape sentiment. At the same time, suspicion and distrust began to kick in. After all, the past four decades have seen overt anti-feminist backlash and the development of men’s groups that are hostile to the idea of women’s equality and the breakdown of ironclad gender categories. For example, Promise Keepers, an evangelical Christian men’s group, reinforces the notion of male dominance within (always heterosexual) marriage and family life. Secular groups such as the National Coalition for Men are equally male supremacist and promote the idea of male victimhood, purporting that women batter men and boys as frequently as the reverse. Their response to the renewal of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) speaks volumes: “Boys, men and fathers increasingly will die at the hands of their violent mothers and wives as our worthless elected officials rush to issue press releases and pat themselves on the back, claiming victory for having ended ‘the War on Women.’”

Proof that women batter as frequently as men? It’s nowhere to be found.

In addition, a mythopoetic movement inspired by poet Robert Bly and Jungian psychologist Joseph Campbell encourages the cultivation of men’s “inner warrior” and masculine voice. While some mythopoets are apolitical, other mythopoetic strands posit men as sexism’s primary victims—yes, trumping women—because of socially imposed rules about gender roles and propriety. This ideology has led them to oppose the notion of gender as learned performance (a theory put forward by Judith Butler, Michel Foucault and others) and instead champion a worldview in which male and female are distinct species.

But let’s get back to the burgeoning movement of 21st-century male feminists, purportedly egalitarian individuals and groups that are taking aim at misogyny and the double standard that continues to limit who and what men and women—however they self-define--can be.

Sonia Ossorio, president of the New York City Chapter of the National Organization for Women, welcomes the spike in men’s involvement. “Just as in politics, you can’t get anything accomplished if you don’t work both sides of the aisle,” she says. What’s more, she says women’s attitudes toward men have shifted. “The Catholic Church abuse scandal ignited a change and people now realize that men can be victims, that abuse is as hurtful to men and boys as it is to women and girls.”

 
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