Too many men (and women) are afraid of the f-word—but not the one you're thinking of. Sometimes we're embarrassed to say it, often because we're not really sure what it means. Will it offend people? Will they think poorly of us afterwards? Can we say it if we aren't women ourselves? That's right, folks, this f-word is feminism.
The good news, boys, is that you have every right to claim equal ownership of the word feminism and all that it represents. Contrary to what many men are taught or assume, feminism has nothing to do with hating men. In fact, many feminists quite like men, and a few of them happen to be married to men. Feminists, after all, are not fighting for the dominance of women over men but for the liberation of everyone regardless of gender. The simple historical fact, however, is that for centuries men have systematically oppressed women and other minority groups they've deemed inferior to themselves (people of other races, children and members of the LGBTQ community, for example), and it is this patriarchal oppression that feminists are working to abolish. What may come as a surprise to many men who don't identify as feminists is that patriarchy, through its establishment and enforcement of strictly defined gender roles, often wages as much psychological warfare against men as it does women.
Just as patriarchal society has a rigid set of expectations for women (that they should look and behave a certain way, have an aversion to certain tasks and professions and fulfill their duty to marry a man and bear his children), it has an equally rigid set of expectations for men. Tears, of course, are forbidden. Boys are taught to be competitive, always striving for dominance, even through aggression or violence. They are told that defeating others is important, not collaboration or equality.
Patriarchal society teaches boys at a remarkably young age what it means to be "a real man," and this very exclusive definition seldom departs the consciousness of these boys as they grow older. Instead of learning to process their emotional responses to events and interactions in their lives, men are taught that emotions other than anger are feminine and thus not available to them. What is so dangerous about the process of a boy growing up in a patriarchal culture is that this limited range of emotions encourages a set of behaviors in him that are harmful to women, children and even to himself. If men in our society are psychologically primed for dominance and aggression, especially when it comes to the women in their lives, should it really come as a surprise to us that girlfriends and wives so frequently suffer sexual assault and rape at the hands of their boyfriends and husbands? When such violence does occur, the easiest response in our patriarchal culture is to categorize the individual man as a bad man and refuse to acknowledge the ways in which society has contributed to his violent acts.
There is usually no social accountability for the ways in which this man has been taught to be emotionally paralyzed and physically aggressive if he wishes to be "a real man." This is why it is so important for men to be unafraid to identify as feminists. Once men realize the violent nature of patriarchal culture, they can embrace feminism as a way of supporting the women in their lives, liberating themselves to an experience of life not defined by specific gender roles, and promoting safety in their communities. Men need feminism just as much and as urgently as women do, and the safety of our communities and health of our relationships depend on more men realizing this soon.
— Jacob Clark and Brianna Rader are juniors in College Scholars. They can be reached at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.