Subjects I delve into arrive via conversations, readings, and out of the ether. They float around in my brain, waiting to be released. Some days they are stubborn like a baby not ready to come into the world. This morning, I delivered: Why aren’t all men feminists?
Sitting in the car with hubby driving to St. Augustine, I asked if he considered himself a feminist. “Yes,” he said, if by asking I meant that women have equal rights and opportunities. As soon as he said that, I realized I’d phrased the question wrong. I meant, what traits in the gentle gender are so objectionable that “acting like a woman” is used as jokes or insults? And why are women told to act like men to get ahead? What male traits are so desirable we must adopt them to advance in our careers? Hostages to the car for another twenty minutes, hopping off the diving board into the Lake of Feminine Traits, seemed like a bad idea. My lips remained tight as a drum.
Taking another stab at it, this time with two Gen-X sons, I texted, “Do you consider yourself a feminist?” The younger responded, “interesting question.” I waited as the bubble on my screen showed he was sliding his fingers across the tiny keyboard, a skill I’m working on. “I guess it depends on the definition.” Pause. The bubble returned. This time he texted, “Isobel,” [his 17-year-old daughter] “says ‘yeah, probably.'” My older Gen-X son described himself as a humanist then added, “the fact we are still debating about feminism means there is a problem.”
Some of my women friends don’t want anything to do with the feminist label. One friend ended our relationship after she learned I took part in the 2017 Women’s March in Washington, D.C. They equate feminists to man-haters. But can they explain to me why it doesn’t ruffle their feathers when boys are told not to act like a girl? What’s so bad about girls? When you combine pink and blue, you have purple. Can’t we be purple people?
Millennials are poised and ready to take over from Boomers and push the needle further toward equality. My son-in-law, Quay, takes his eight-year-old daughter hunting (up in the tree stand with him) and fishing. He doesn’t wait around for his son to grow old enough. Another son-in-law, Will, stops for a before-school breakfast date where his nine-year-old daughter can talk about her friends and feelings.
In 2019, Hannah Gadsby, a stand-up comedian, was asked (GQ online) what she’d want more men to ponder. She writes, “Hello, the men. My advice on modern masculinity would be to look at all those traits you believe are feminine and interrogate why you are so obsessed with being the opposite. Because this idea that to be a man, you have to be the furthest away from being a woman that you possibly can is really weird.”
Our social and power structures esteem male traits such as toughness, thick-skinned, competitiveness, and aggressiveness. Women wanting to succeed in the work-world are told to be bolder, speak up, act confident, and Lean-In. The gender inequality isn’t men’s fault per se. Like women, they were born into this belief system. We were all told a story over and over. We were bathed in the masculine energy framework, even though for the last five thousand years, it hasn’t served us well.
Finally, the winds are shifting. Instead of a frigid Northern gala, a cool Southern breeze caresses our arms and faces. My three daughters, full or part-time entrepreneurs, speak to their dad, who built a business understanding the system and working around the clock. But he’s guiding them down a different path, one suited to the feminine spirit: put themselves first, take time for the family, trust their intuition, hire women, and connect with other female entrepreneurs for mutual support.
Yes, times are changing. Women are reclaiming who they are, and men are questioning an unjust system. They want their daughters to embrace their feminine spirit and to enjoy the same opportunities for self-determination as their sons have.
I know that Man are from Mars and Women from Venus, but when Isobel’s father married, he was confused. He declared that someone should write a book translating what women say vs. what they mean. Why was it that when his wife said, “never mind,” it meant for him to go on high alert and that “whatever” was a flashing red light? My friend, Becky, explained to her son, father of three young children, that when his wife shared a problem, she was not asking him to solve it. She wanted him to validate her upset.
For men declaring they are a feminist is equated with weakness and powerlessness. Hannah writes, “I have empathy for you. And empathy, by the way, is one of the traits that women are most famous for. You might know it by its other name: ‘weakness.’ But don’t be fooled—empathy is a superpower, and it’s the only one that any human has to offer.” How many dads stopped at Target last October to find a super-girl costume for their kindergarten daughter?
It’s time for a new story where women reclaim who they are instead of apologizing for their tears. It’s time for men to stop acting like they are all-powerful, with no tears to shed.
Megan Dalla-Camina, the author of Lead like A Woman, writes: “We women are all on the heroines’ journey. The rejection of the feminine and identification with the masculine is part of this path we have walked. The reclaiming of our feminine nature is what will bring us home for ourselves, for our men, and for the children we raise so that they can see a different way of being in the world. A more authentic way. A more peaceful way. A more unified and balanced way.”
The rising of the feminine energy is no threat to little boys, their dads, or grandpas. When we are who we are meant to be, we are a better version of ourselves. Feminism frees us to be who we are, and in the words of Bell Hooks, “to live lives where we love justice, where we can live in peace.” Feminism is for everybody. Together, we can light the way forward.