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July 13, 2019

Can Men be Feminists, or just Ethical Misogynists?


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Okay, this is going to be a tricky topic to discuss. But, here it goes.

I’ve said in the past that I don’t prefer to call myself a feminist. This isn’t because I don’t subscribe to feminist theory (I actually do). It has more to do with my feeling that simply calling myself a feminist has little resounding impact.

“Well, I’m no misogynist. I’m a feminist!” Are you though?…are you though?…are you though?

Misogyny is defined as a hatred or prejudice toward women or girls, both being caused and as a result of patriarchal social structures.

So misogyny is caused by, and a result of, patriarchy. Thing is, as far as patriarchy is a systemic social structure, one that most societies have built themselves around—we are all affected by it.

Let me explain. It has been said that masculine identity is not born of a raising up of masculinity—but rather a pushing down, or oppression, of femininity.

So, masculinity actually has less to do with masculinity, and more to do with femininity. Weird, right? This is a fair argument for why masculine identity structures tend to be quite fragile, compared to others. We don’t actually know what it means to be masculine, apart from knowing that it has something to do with not being feminine! What a ridiculous trait to base our identities around.

Furthermore, as long as we have been raised in a society with underlying patriarchal structures, we are products of such systems. Just as each part of a fungal colony is attached in some way to its mycelium, so too each of us must be connected in some fashion to the social system from whence we came. And social systems like patriarchy, as with mycelium, are incredibly complex structures.

When we use systems theory to discuss family dynamics, for instance, we look at each member of a family as having some role to play within the family system itself. When one of those members upends things, shifting their role in the system, so too must all other parts shift. Everything is connected, you see.

So, from this perspective, it would be inaccurate to have been raised in a certain social structure like patriarchy, but to say that I am not functioning as an integral piece within it. Specifically, I would be lying to myself if, conceding that I was raised as a boy in the United States, I were to say that I am not a misogynist, but rather a feminist and an ally to all those under-represented others. Sadly, it would be inaccurate to say that anyone within such a system is not involved in it, in some way. It’s a lovely thought, to be sure. It just isn’t really possible; not while the systems themselves are still functioning and intact.

And as far as misogyny is a result of such a system, so too, then, every piece attached to this system must have some relationship with it.

Such a disheartening thought, eh?

But here’s the good news. When we start to better understand the ways in which systems function, and the ways that we relate and function within them, we can in fact begin to shift those structures. Just as the sibling who begins to understand their role in a family system—say, the peacekeeper, for instance—can begin to shift that role, so too can we shift our relationship to social systems. But understand that the sibling’s role in their family system does not disappear. It moves, or evolves. And in this way, my underlying masculine identity, upon beginning to come to terms with ingrained misogynistic traits, does not disappear; it moves, or evolves.

So I am going to take a leap here and call myself—not some evolved, conscious, or better man—but ethically misogynist. And I’m doing so by feeling into my own personal agency as a person—a person who identifies themselves as a man—and taking responsibility for my role in this system of patriarchy we currently find ourselves in.

So you don’t believe you have misogynistic traits (and I’m speaking to everyone here)? Good luck with that.

And here’s the rub. Coming to see misogyny as an integral facet of our masculine identities can actually be a positive step toward learning what masculinity really is.

I have heard so many stories, and had so many conversations with men who, feeling as if they are doing the best they can to be good people, still feel personally attacked by the rhetoric of feminist theory and patriarchal structures. They don’t think of themselves as bad people, and when they hear that they are acting out toxically masculine behaviours, they don’t know what to do with themselves. They push back. They learn about ridiculous conspiracy theories like a “post-modern feminist agenda.” (That’s where the feminist agenda is to emasculate and subserviate men.)

Thing is, as long as the current social structures are in place, the only people who are going to emasculate and subserviate men are going to be the men who unconsciously do this to themselves, and then blame a social theory—vis a vis women—for it. That’s just fragile masculinity to an extreme degree.

So how can we shift, move, and evolve these traits we’ve been given (quite without asking for them)? By coming to terms with them! By coming to terms with the reality that this was how we were raised. This was how we were all raised, to some degree. And, if we want to think of ourselves as basically good people, to enter into our relationships—both with others and with ourself—from this ground, or perspective: 

Speaking to the men now:
We can’t continue to be what we are, what we were raised with, and what we developed our identities around. But we can tweak ourselves. We can make upgrades (“The Matrix” reference, you’re welcome). We can learn resilience and build boundaries for ourselves, in order to strengthen our identities.

And, paradoxically, as we do so, we won’t need to fight so hard to make sure that we feel our identities stay intact. They’re there. We already have them. So calm the f*ck down. We aren’t being attacked, nor are we in any real danger. The only danger is the system we still feel reliant on.

When we begin to loosen the grip of reliance within our family system, for instance, and we can start to see how these roles—though once placed on us before we knew what was happening—are but objects with which we can play. Rather than being iron masks that we wear for all eternity, we can learn that we have far more agency within the system than we ever thought.

We learn that we can shed the peacekeeper role—that mask that once made us feel that we had to keep everyone else’s emotions for them, to hold on for dear life to protect the family, to belittle our own emotional validity for the greater good. We learn that we can let it go, and that we will be alright. And, most likely, so will everyone else. It’ll just take some time, because now they’re all going to have to start dealing with that which you once held for them.

So too our identities within the greater system of society—as family systems are a good example of a microcosm of the macrocosm that make up our social structures—can be loosened. And we can begin to see them as little more than insignificant objects we once thought of as so very big.

So that’s my argument for why I see more merit in calling myself an ethical misogynist. Because, at least I’m being honest with myself. I’m not sure anyone has ever really gotten far by clinging to those roots made up of brittle beliefs taught so many years ago.

I choose to begin from a place of radical honesty, really. An honesty that sounds rough as hell; one that sounds like I’m the bad guy. But in that honesty, I know I can continue on as authentically and as genuinely as I know how. And that I will hopefully find something rather beautiful down the road.


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