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What About the Men? Why Our Gender System Sucks for Men, Too

The tools of feminism can also be applied to the damage and deformation that men suffer in our sexist society.

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The inextricable interconnection of men’s issues and women’s issues is a complex subject. The simplest reason why feminists should get involved in masculism is this: feminism is the single largest and most politically powerful gender-oriented movement. Millions of feminists across the globe have been trained in analysis and activism by the feminist movements. Feminists have developed the verbal and conceptual vocabulary necessary to unpack and examine “how things are supposed to be” and all the ugly assumptions that go with that. Feminist theories of privilege and gender performance work just as well when applied to men’s issues. This toolset exists, and it’s the right one for the job. Facing a problem that hurts a lot of people and having the tools to solve it is, frankly, enough of a reason to do anything. In and of itself, the invaluable help it could provide is enough of a reason to say that feminism ought to support masculism. However, there are practical reasons for feminism to support it as well.

Masculism is a great recruiting tool for feminism. Everyone is best at seeing the problems that affect them personally. A man skeptical of the harm caused by sexual harassment or the beauty myth may be well aware of the harm caused by macho attitudes toward sports injuries or the social pressure to be “a success.” If we have a gender egalitarian movement that addresses his concerns—not in opposition to, but along with, women’s concerns—then we have a movement that has massively expanded its potential base of supporters.

Many men get a bad first impression of feminism from zealous young feminists who, regardless of their intentions, alienate the heck out of men. Some of those men will later see the nuance that they initially missed and come to understand the value of feminist thinking. Many, perhaps most, will not. This is not a net win for feminism. Most feminist spaces, online and in the real world, are not particularly welcoming to men. Even given that there are often good reasons for that, how many men have been lost to gender egalitarianism forever because they didn’t put in the extra effort to overcome that perceived hostility, or because they had already had their bad first impressions cemented and were not willing to change their minds? What might have been accomplished by not chasing away so many potential allies?

There’s a concept, generally used in communities that help people get out of religious fundamentalism, of a safe landing zone. When someone is leaving an ideology, such as a traditionalist view of gender roles, they need to have somewhere safe and welcoming to leave to. It can feel strange, confusing and lonely to question something that everyone around you believes; a community of people who think the way you do can mean the difference between fully leaving that belief or sticking with it, no matter how obvious its flaws. Human beings are social animals; even the nonconformists usually need a group to conform to.

A lot of feminist communities don’t make good landing zones for guys who are still learning the ropes of gender questioning, who might still have a lot of work to do on their own problems and assumptions. These communities might be bad landing zones for many different reasons: sometimes, they might be a safe space (for instance, for survivors of abuse or rape) and so have no tolerance for questions that sound like victim-blaming; sometimes, anti-feminist trolling or harassment has made a community so sensitive that they lash out at well-intentioned but naive newbies; sometimes, they are intended for feminists to talk to other feminists and new people detract from this purpose.

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