It’s comically ironic that some of the most common misconceptions surrounding feminism are about men — namely, that men can’t be feminists and that feminism involves hating men.
In reality, feminism must be an inclusive movement to be effective at advancing true equity between men and women, and feminists must go beyond just talking about the issues if we hope to make progress.
Erroneous stereotypes of feminism like these cast it as some sort of war. This flawed metaphor leads us to conceptualize what should be a unified cause as one with a de facto opponent. Often, it leads to generalizations about who might serve as that opponent — usually men.
Though feminism is a cause that can divide people, it is not a war and should not be viewed as one. Identifying as a certain gender does not automatically place someone on a certain side.
So how do men fit into feminism?
Anyone who wants to be a feminist, including men, can be a feminist.
Yet the fact that anyone can be a feminist doesn’t mean everyone is. Not all women are feminists, and not all feminists are women.
Feminism, like any other ideological cause, must be actively supported. The choice to be feminist is not made passively. Just as hating men doesn’t make you a feminist, liking women doesn’t make you one either.
Often, when a feminist issue is raised in the news, men talk about their sisters, wives or daughters as a way of engaging with the subject. Active support of feminism means more than identifying as the brother or father of a woman.
If you’re a man and it sincerely didn’t occur to you that feminism was a relevant cause until you had a daughter: Welcome — there’s a lot of work to be done.
Still, having a mother or a wife doesn’t make anyone an expert on women’s issues.
This “I-love-my-mother” feminism is rooted in good intention, but it needs to take a couple steps further to be effective.
For me, authentic feminism must involve self-reflection about how I relate to other women; it should go deeper than thinking about how much I love my sister or my female friends.
When everyone acts with such self-awareness — or at least a lot of people do — movements like the #MeToo hashtag campaign can happen.
As it spread across social media in the past several weeks, the campaign created a community of solidarity: When a woman shared a story of being harassed or assaulted, it created an environment for other women to say “me too” and shared their own stories.
A lesser-known companion movement began among men, using the hashtag #IHave, as in “I have perpetuated the problems in society that lead to harassment and assault.”
Both #MeToo and #IHave eventually extended across gender lines, proving once again that feminism tackles issues that are relevant not only to women, but to people of all genders.
Though these movements effectively raised awareness of a problem and reaffirmed the need for feminism, having conversations is only a step in the right direction.
The issues put under the spotlight by these campaigns are ones that I, as well as countless other women, have faced. We appreciate the assistance of others.
It can be as simple as a guy in my class discussion using his position to draw attention to a quieter girl who would otherwise be drowned out when speaking. He leads by example and demonstrates that what she has to say is important.
Talking about these issues is just the beginning, though. After a certain point, talking is no help at all. That’s why “mansplaining” — when a man assumes superior knowledge and condescendingly explains something to a woman — can be so infuriating.
So, let’s say that instead of a war, feminism is a team sport. The rookie shouldn’t be coaching the veteran players on why or how they should be playing a certain way. Rather, they must respect the experiences of their fellow players and try their best to help defeat the opponent.
Feminism can be simple: When you see unfairness toward women in the world, try to change things, no matter how you identify.
It’s okay to go about it differently than others or to debate which approach is best. What’s most important is that we share a common goal and a common understanding that we need the active efforts of the whole team to make progress toward equality.
Molly Cooke is a junior in the College. The Accidental Feminist appears online every other Tuesday.