It isn’t news that men often dismiss feminism because we consider it too radical or because we don’t quite understand it. Many of us were raised to think that way — the very word “feminism” either made us frown with disapproval or left us confounded in our ignorance.
However, accepting that feminism is just and necessary should be a responsibility for all men today, on college campuses and elsewhere. It’s really the only way we’ll be able to provide a safe environment and equal treatment for the other half of the population.
First, we must recognize our privilege. As men, we very often take for granted the relative safety we feel compared to women when we walk back home in the dark or when we go to a fraternity party. We take for granted that we will most likely get paid more for the same work when we get out of school and that we will be disproportionately represented in politics.
We must also admit our ignorance on issues that affect women, without using that ignorance as an excuse for our behavior but as an opportunity to admit responsibility and learn. We must listen to women and accept what they say when they speak up about rape, harassment or differentiated treatment.
It seems like women’s voices are starting to be heard and validated more in cases in which public figures are involved; we must now apply that shifting mentality to cases of sexual assault and harassment on college campuses. It’s also our duty as men to provide an environment in which women feel safe to speak up without being stigmatized, dismissed or blamed.
We will need to stand up to other men who assault and harass, and make it clear that it’s not acceptable to brag about such behavior and then use the excuse of “it’s just locker room talk.”
Individual men have to take up more responsibility, and so do all-male institutions. Educational sessions about sexual assault already taking place in such institutions are a positive step, but further emphasis on speaking up against fellow members’ behavior and on validating women’s stories will be needed.
We must also fight against those men who claim to be feminists but don’t act accordingly. Claiming to be a man and a feminist sounds very nice to progressives, but men should also know their limitations in what they know about women’s experiences and about what is necessary to improve those experiences.
Some feminist authors claim that being a man and a feminist is incompatible because we’re unable to truly experience life like women do, and they suggest the term “pro-feminism” as a more realistic approach for men. No matter the “-ism” you want to use, though, the point is to value women’s rights, experiences and opinions just like we would value our own.
It sounds like common sense, but we’ve collectively proven that we do not act like this yet.
Francisco Hernandez is a senior international studies major from Valencia, Spain.