In graduate school, while doing an internship with an anti-violence program on campus, I came across the article How can I not? Men’s pathways to anti-violence against women work published in the journal Violence Against Women. Granted I was already on my path, but this article reinforced some of the reasons that I was doing that internship, exploring my own identity, or encouraging others to challenge gender norms and confront violence in their lives. I began to trace the thread through my experience: an interest socialist thinking as a subversive and progressive force for good, studying history; especially focused on civil rights and oppression in the United States; teacher preparation and the exploration of privileged positions in the K-12 education system; gender identity development theory and the relationship with student misconduct and systems of oppression in higher education. By the fall of 2010 I had fully committed myself to try something–anything–to do what I felt was right for me and for the community I was in.
What I have gained–as nothing is purely selfless–has made every step worth it. I have a greater understanding of who I am and the person I am ever-evolving in to. My partner and I have a stronger relationship, built on interdependence, trust, mutual support, and cooperation, where we can challenge each other on gender roles and norms, expectations, and our behavior. I regularly think about what type of father I want to be to my future children and what kind of son I am to my parents. And I consider how my male identity, intersecting with my other identities, influences my worldview in a multicultural Midwestern city and my work at a large and diverse university. I didn’t know what the benefits would be at the outset. I just knew, from the moment the issue was laid bare before me by some very gracious women in my life, that this path was the right one. That women’s rights and men’s liberation from hegemonic masculinity are inextricably linked, and for the betterment of society, I have a responsibility to undermine inequality at every opportunity. Women have been working at it for decades, centuries. Sure I didn’t build the structure of society that has often privileged men and now that I’m aware of their efforts and sacrifices, it would be sexist of me not to join the movement and challenge the status quo.
Contrary to stereotypes about women’s liberation or radical feminism, men do have a place at the table and a stake in this effort. We may not be always invited, but we can do things together that advance equality in our society, liberating us all from the shackles of sexism. Together, men, we can build a middle way that helps men break free of the restrictions of a narrowly defined masculinity and realize our full potential as loving, caring, and responsible men who support a social fabric of equality across gender, race, sexuality, social class, and ability. The first step is the hardest, but together we can make vast changes with men in our lives.