By James Keller
For most people, imagining the stereotypical feminist can bring many different images to mind. Rarely do these images include a man.
Male involvement in the feminist movement recieves mixed reactions from all sides. Some female feminists embrace the male presence as an integral part of the movement while others see men as a group incapable of understanding women’s issues due to lack of experience. The popular belief outside feminists frequently rejects men’s contributions or potential roles in fighting for and understanding women’s rights.
Despite any beliefs to the contrary, men have been and are an effective part of feminist activism. Groups such as the National Organization for Men Against Sexism in the United States and the more familiar White Ribbon Campaign–“men working to end men’s violence against women”–here in Canada are a couple of examples of men’s growing support. Like many female movements, these organizations do not place blame on males as a whole. Instead, they examine the feminist perspective and look for ways to become a part of it.
The NOMAS Web site reads: “Even if we could not see any pragmatic ways in which we, as men, could benefit from an end to traditional patriarchy (and we can see many), most of us would strongly support women’s struggle, simply because it is so unquestionably just and right.” NOMAS not only advocates for female equality, as many see feminism doing, but they also fight to end all forms of discrimination.
Male involvement in feminism is not a recent phenomenon. Moses Harman (1830-1910) is an example of a male women’s rights activist, and also an example of how such views have been stigmatised and unaccepted. Harman created and edited a periodical entitled Lucifer, the Light Bearer, a publication advocating liberalism in a very reluctant southern U.S. Issues addressed in the magazine ranged from sexual freedom for women outside the confines of marriage to the right of women to choose “the best possible conditions for procreation.”
Harman was tried and convicted several times for distributing obscene material and spent much his time with Lucifer in jail. Despite this, Lucifer continued to publish its seemingly radical liberalist views. Of Harman’s imprisonment, British playwright George Bernard Shaw, in a letter to the New York Times, said he would no longer return to the U.S. for fear of imprisonment because he held views similar to those of Moses Harman. Harman is an example of how men have fought for women’s rights for as long as the women’s movement has been in existence.
Male involvement in the feminist movement is rising, and combined with the ever growing “men’s movement,” this form of activism is becoming more important. Many feminists support male involvement because women’s rights are constantly hindered by men. Many men are involved because they see themselves as an integral part of both the existing patriarchy and the solution. As the NOMAS Web site declares: “We ask men to see, name, and to challenge male privilege in their daily lives.”