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Do Men Belong in the Women's Movement?

What role do men have in fighting for gender equality?

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For others, like Feministing executive editor Samhita Mukhopadhyay, there is still some hesitation. She said that while she and her editorial staff have noticed more and more men joining their cause, they are still reluctant to feature male voices on the blog.

“We fully recognize the need to incorporate male voices, and recognize the value of male voices,” Mukhopadhyay said. “But we still need to figure out how to feature male voices without re-creating the problem [of sexism].”

She said that currently comments from men receive a lot more attention than comments from women, and they want to make sure the same doesn’t happen with blog posts.

Mukhopadhyay’s concerns about including male voices in feminism go back to the second wave. In the 1970s, women found allies in men, including writer and activist John Stoltenberg, but there was still a reluctance to include them in the overall movement. For one, there was a fear on both sides that a man might steal the spotlight from women; a practical concern in a time when women’s voices were often unheard. There was also the understanding that men could never truly understand the plight of women, so therefore had no business calling themselves feminists. 

Letty Pogrebin, a founding editor of Ms. magazine, said there was no official position against publishing men at Ms., but they did not actively seek out their views.

“There was a real fear that they would become the spokesmen for the women’s movement,” Pogrebin said. “We were there to be the voice for the voiceless.”

But today, both men and women are starting to see the added value of including men’s voices in the movement. 

Men's Best Role: Speaking to Other Men

The organizers of Slutwalk encouraged men to attend their rallies, and the men showed up. They also featured male speakers on the topic of victim-blaming.

“I thought it was amazing that they were inviting a man to speak, but the students who organized it thought, of course, this is about sexual assault, we got to get a man to talk. This is a really big change,” said Michael Kaufman, co-author of The Guy’s Guide to Feminism

David Benzaquen, a political and legislative action coordinator for NARAL Pro-Choice New York, said that while he is always careful not to speak for women, he is aware of the fact that his being a man helps him get through to other men when discussing reproductive issues. Benzaquen said that his feminist awakening happened when he campaigned for a female politician in high school and was met with frequent sexist slurs.

“While I’d like to think that my value to any organization comes in the form of professional skills and not in my sex or gender identity, the ugly truth is that there are some people who are more likely to listen to those whom they resemble,” said Benzaquen in an email. “Seeing me being so involved in the fight for reproductive justice might help other men realize that reproductive health and rights are not only women’s issues, and that we need men to speak out about them.”

The organization Men Can Stop Rape has a male-first approach to the issue of sexual assault. Its mission is to end violence toward women by working with middle-school through college-aged students, and through public awareness campaigns. Joeseph Vess, now director of training and technical assistance at the organization, began volunteering for Men Can Stop Rape after a female friend and his girlfriend confided in him about their experience with harassment and assault.

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