Whether you are a critic or supporter, or just not that interested, I’m sure you’ve all heard of feminism and the work feminists do. And although there are some men who’ve allied with feminists, acknowledged their privilege and taken responsibility for the harmful acts they’ve done, there are still too many men writing “Dear Feminists” articles. Articles that demand that I, and millions of other women, stop pushing for an agenda to protect what you deem to be nonexistent issues we face every single day. So, my letter is inspired by those men and by those who aren’t held accountable for being part of our oppression, in other words, you.
To begin, I’d like to say I get it! No one likes to be called out in public, especially not when it’s on a significant platform like social media, and blamed for the acts of others. As someone who allies with women of all shapes, sizes and colors, I pride myself in the work I do and the many ways in which I support other women who are as equally or more marginalized than I am. Therefore, when I’m called out on something I do, my instinct is to deny that I’m at fault. I’ve been loyal to the feminist cause since before I knew my beliefs had a name. As a result, it’s not easy for me to accept when I’m contributing to the very acts I’m challenging. But self-assessment is critical for me to become not just a better feminist, but a better human being.
But this is hard when we’ve all been conditioned by the patriarchy. After much reflection, I realized that I, like other women, am not supposed to be doing the apologizing. Why do women scrutinize other women and accuse them of acting in ways that reinforce the misogynistic values of society, without holding the men who are at fault to the same standards? What about the men who hire men over women? Why aren’t the men who set unrealistic expectations of beauty, over-sexualize our bodies, value masculinity over femininity, and harass and rape us held accountable? It doesn’t make sense to engage in a feminist movement aimed at empowering women without challenging the power of men with privilege who thrive at the cost of our freedom.
Our current cultural expectations, legislative system, and social programming work to sustain a hierarchy that constantly places men on the top. Consequently, men consistently achieve, succeed, and benefit at the expense of women. That’s called male privilege. Being a man does not inherently make you an awful person who takes pleasure in demeaning women; however, it does mean many of you participate in and perpetuate a culture that shames women simply for existing. Besides, let’s not forget that being a man automatically entitles you to rights that are built on the oppression of women.
With the unearned advantages you’ve secured over the course of your life comes a little voice that tells you that you are always right, that you are above reproach, that you have and deserve power. And not only does this little voice tell you that you are always right, but it tells you that there is no need to listen to the voices of those who are different from you, especially when the world tells you those voices are insignificant and don’t matter.
The feminist movement is, has always been, and will always be a woman-led movement. It is a movement for the liberation of women. As the oppressed gender in the patriarchy, it is women who must define their experiences collectively and lead the way forward in the movement. Only women understand the fear of street harassers becoming violent or who know that resisting harassment in the workplace can lead to being fired. We know what it’s like to walk around with labels on our bodies and understand that how we dress can ultimately determine whether or not we deserve to be raped. We worry about walking home alone after work or school because we recognize the temptation our over-sexualized bodies pose and therefore the threat we are exposed to. We think before we talk. We think before we drink. We think before we eat.
We are ingrained to constantly think about our safety. It is very much part of our survival because we are taught that men have no self-control and that “boys will be boys”. Not holding men accountable for the way women learn to exist in a “man’s world” harms us all. Instead of supporting the feminist cause, you side with your own comfort rather than taking responsibility for your mistakes and admiting how your acts encourage the dehumanization of women. While women are forced to exist in the margins, you get off the hook by being silent or by simply claiming you aren’t part of the problem.
Some of you love to reject and even mock feminism, in an attempt to invalidate our experiences. But, our experiences aren’t up for debate. Don’t act like feminism has nothing to do with you, what you embody or what your acts uphold. Daily resistance against the patriarchy continues because of feminists’ unwavering stance and relentless push for change. You’re claim of being different isn’t sufficient, especially in times like today. Your words must be accompanied by actions. At the very least, you must have a genuine desire to learn, to have an understanding of the harm caused and to work to dismantle the systems that make your privilege blindly acceptable. Like Rebecca Solnit says in Men Explain Things to Me, men who get it “understand that feminism is not a scheme to deprive men but a campaign to liberate us all.”