The Hours has been my favorite film for years. It’s the story of three women threaded across time by a single text - Mrs Dalloway - that irrevocably disrupts each woman’s life. A scene that’s always stood out shows Julianne Moore and Toni Collette, sharing a kiss in a 1950s kitchen. The kiss isn’t romantic or altogether passionate. But it’s intense. It renders a yearning for connection, intimacy, a break away from man’s dominion. While Collette’s Kitty quickly sobers, pretending lips never locked, the film climaxes to Moore’s Laura Brown leaving her husband and child for a life less stifling.
At college I read feminist literature that spoke to women as being the only technical majority that held minority status (women dominate men in global population size). Womanhood was typically associated with ongoing and ritualized oppression, with various texts noting the difficulty women faced in mobilizing and establishing a collective as compared to other minority groups. Why the difficulty? Women’s identities, as argued, were constantly negotiated in relation to men (the father, husband, son) under the architecture of the household and family. In these words I saw Kitty and Laura Brown most clearly.
It’s also here I learned the importance of women-only spaces: where women, free from the male gaze, could share experiences and raise consciousness about issues pertaining to their struggle. Places of debate, strategy and understanding. They could be institutional (schools, groups) or, now increasingly, digital (forums).
Excited by feminism and the women’s movement my younger self didn’t always respect these spaces, and I’d often cite passion - along with a ticked-checklist of feminist texts - as point of entry. I’d mansplain what I defined as feminist to women who lived under its wing each and every day. I was naive and deeply problematic.
As I grew older my fervor for feminism never waned, but I learnt how to channel my interests in ways that served more than just an intellectualized ego. I thought critically about how men could be more involved without perpetuating the already-in-place power relations that kept women subordinate. Because I’d argue that it’s vital for men to be involved. Not because I’m buying into the notion that the movement is based around equality, but rather because many of our societal problems often labelled as women’s issues (such as sexual assault and battery) actually stem from learned behaviors associated with masculinity and manhood. Men need to be part of the conversation in an effort to change and, in doing so, dismantle gender inequality.
But how do we teach ourselves to speak without shouting? To listen without dominating?
Here’s my personal guide for contributing to the feminist movement as a man:
This is foundationally important. It’s about relinquishing power and passing over the microphone. It’s realizing that our cognitive capacity for messaging is finite (we can only hold so much information in the brain at one time) and so who speaks, matters. It’s standing down from your platform in favor of a voice that deserves it more. It’s me not intruding in women-only spaces.
It was disappointing to learn that Bernie Sanders initially accepted an invitation to open the Women’s Convention in October. Jennifer Wright’s take in Harper’s Bazaar summed up the tension perfectly: “Being a good ally doesn’t always mean getting a spotlight shone on you so everyone can see what a good person you are. Sometimes, it means ensuring that other people are in the spotlight.” Further disturbing to learn the Golden Globes looking towards Seth Meyers as their feminist contribution.
And remember, this isn’t about merit. It’s about rehabilitating unconscious biases that keep women from these platforms in the first instance.
I’ve previously written about the need for gay men to cut off misogyny: letting go of a fetishized appreciation of women and championing the diversity of women’s work was a good place to start. While it’s fantastic to watch television and film focusing on women’s narratives (maybe even passing the Bechdel test) the next step is to look behind the curtain towards producers, writers and directors. We need to get better at discerning where the capital is produced: who runs the business? Who controls the strings? Who makes the money move?
But it’s also about understanding. Reading more women writers. Seeing more women-directed plays. Doing research into which local businesses are managed and run by women.
Earlier this year Nicole Kidman pointed to the difficulty of starring in women-lead projects due to a disappointing lack of choice: “When you dissect that, you realize there aren’t women offering you things because they don’t have the opportunities.” She vowed to help change statistics through decidedly starring in women-lead films every 18 months. She takes an active role in bolstering women’s representation. It doesn’t make sense for our contribution, as men, to be this active.
Peter Singer argues in favor of effective altruism, the idea that we should use our own skills to generate capital which we then donate to skilled workers in their charitable field (please don’t go build schools in Africa, donate your money to skilled workers in Africa who can build their own schools). We can use this reasoning to coordinate our personal contributions to the women’s movement. Women-organized charities and NGOs cut through layers of social inequity (housing, health, education, development) so your financial contributions can adequately match your priorities.
I’m sorry to disappoint but etching feminist into your Tinder profile isn’t enough to make you one. It we’re being frank it probably points more to an exploitation of a social justice movement to accrue your own social capital. The most difficult - but most worthwhile - way of contributing to the women’s movement is to talk to other men about these issues. Relay feminist theory and insight. Talk candidly about the trappings of masculinity and internalized misogyny. Have an open discussion about what behavior you want to modify, what ingrained values or expectations you want to disturb.
Because remember, women don’t need you telling them you’re a feminist, it’s your brothers that do.