Why Men Should be Feminists
[Revised version of individual chapter for A Feminist Phallacy, with Doris Ewing. Forthcoming.]
Perhaps like many men who claim a feminist identity, the path I traveled to grasp such an outlook has been meandering, often painful, and not well marked. The seeds of this very divergent course of personal being were initially planted by a woman who was, among many other beautiful things, an artist, a poet, a radical feminist, and my mother. She spent untold hours trying to share with me the anguish and the hope of her feminist vision.
In my pre-adolescent years I accompanied my mother on numerous pre-Roe v. Wade protest rallies--the chant "women unite, stand up and fight, abortion is a womenÕs right" still clearly rings in my ears--often helping her paint banners and signs to carry as we marched. She took me with her to anti-Vietnam protests at the University of Minnesota campus (1968-70), several rallies for George McGovern (on election day I was sent home from school for wearing a McGovern t-shirt, as my school also served as a polling place, and she thought it was great that I had the day off to spend with her), numerous NOW meetings, and untold WomenÕs Art Registry Movement (WARM) openings for various feminist artists in the Twin Cities. Until my teen years, my mother was my best friend--even though I had many close same age playmates both male and female at this time--and my most trusted confidant.
The presence of strong, independent women like my mother, were by far the rule rather than the exception in my childhood. Both my grandmothers left their physically abusive husbands during a time when divorce was very much seen as a social stigma and difficult to obtain. My maternal grandmother was one of the first female bank tellers in Chicago in the 1930's, a time when only men were seen as responsible enough to handle money. Meg Lake, a woman the family met while living in England and I grew up fondly calling Nan, taught me a great deal about what it means to be a strong, caring individual. Nan was a widower in her 60's who had lived as a pensioner for years. Although it never felt like she was being judgmental, Nan never hesitated to offer her sage advice to me when she thought I was doing something wrong (what I can now see as being oppressive towards others) yet was just as quick to give her support and approval when she thought I was doing the right thing (treating others equitably). Many of these lessons were taught with fascinating stories of her growing up in Scotland and living through World War II. As one would expect, almost all of my motherÕs friends were strong feminist women themselves. My motherÕs feminist values in raising me were very much reflected and consistent with other important women in my childhood.
In a somewhat ironic twist of fate, I was also raised by an equally involved and caring--albeit in a very masculine way--father who was in many ways my motherÕs antithesis. Until I was six years old, he was in the Air Force and a navigator on F-4 fighter planes. In 1967 he became a pilot at Northwest Airlines and our family moved to Minneapolis, MN. As one might expect from a former fighter jock (in his sixties and retired he still flies high performance acrobatic airplanes competitively throughout the U.S.) the activities I undertook with him were very different. Model rockets, enumerable fishing trips and plane rides, racing sailboats, ski trips (both locally and out West), and when I was old enough, 10, hunting trips (often thereafter guns and hunting trips to places like Iowa and South Dakota were desired and given birthday and Christmas presents) were all ways I would share significant time with my father growing up. Replete with significant class privilege, I was afforded limitless opportunities for doing masculinity. Like many boys growing-up, my father was my first teacher of the intricacies of manhood and all the privilege it had to offer.
Although the entire family often did do enjoyable things together, like vacations to visit relatives and friends in Arizona, Florida, California, and Europe, in a very real sense, my mother and father individually, quite visibly, but perhaps unconsciously competed for my attention, as if in a contest to see whose values I would most embrace and accordingly call my own. Moreover, both very much adopted a parent-as-pal approach to child-rearing in this family competition of sorts, and in hindsight, I must admit I was very much the stereotypical overindulged, spoiled child growing-up. In many ways, their conflicting values became scripts for the disparate ideals I would embrace and the behaviors I would undertake as I grew older.
For better or worse, both of them separately did a wonderful job of indoctrinating me into two very different worlds and ways of being--feminism and masculinity--but the personal costs were significant. My brother Jim, three years younger, often seemed to be treated as an after thought as my parents showered their attention on me. Attempts were made to keep things even between us, especially monetary wise, but perhaps because he was younger, and/or the fact that he was not the daughter my mother always hoped for as a second child, he always seemed to be unfairly treated as a second string player in our family contest.
As probably both a reflection and result of this ideological competition, my parents separated for several years during my mid-teen years, each taking turns living in the family home with the other maintaining an apartment. Since my father was a pilot and away for many days of the month, in a sense, their separation had probably already occurred years before their formal breakup. Both dated, my mother even publicly became a lesbian, openly stating and showing her affection for her female partners, while my father pursued flight attendants and other younger women. My parents eventually did reunite, but this was because of my mother becoming critically ill, and their personal differences remained quite apparent.
Perhaps not that surprising, given societal expectations of "successful" young men, once I reached my teenage years, my fatherÕs ways of being--and all the masculine privilege it had to offer--seemed far more valuable and I increasingly started to reject the wisdom of my motherÕs voice. Correspondingly, during this time I undertook nearly every imaginable "stupid men trick" there is from playing hockey, to binge drinking, to driving a sports car (often far too fast and under the influence of alcohol and various other drugs), to starting fist fights with other men, to womanizing. This also meant that I increasingly spent more and more time in male-exclusive groups, and except for largely sexual purposes, sadly had little meaningful social interaction with women.
Being quite average in height and weight, but having an acumen that enabled me to almost always get in the last cutting remark, I surrounded myself with larger often older young men. I was often the "mouth" of masculinity in these groups whereas they often provided the muscle to backup whatever I might say. Frequently like a pack of wolves, almost always under the influence of alcohol and or/some other drug, we set out to see who could sleep with the most women--score--and sought out other men to verbally and physical subordinate, all in the quest to prove our seeming superiority, our manhood. Little stood in our way as we sadly cut a swath of wanton destruction wherever we went. Moreover, even though I was arrested numerous times from an age of 14 to 21, my class privilege enabled me to hire a lawyer, and combined with a racist criminal justice outlook that white "boys will boys," meant that I was never really held accountable for my illegal and destructive actions.
I could see the disappointment in my motherÕs eyes each time she became aware of my most recent masculine exploit, but in some sick sense, it almost seemed to validate the appropriateness and increase the value of my destructive, often misogynist behaviors. Like some classic Freudian separation complex from oneÕs mother, sadly much of what she stood for, and at one time I shared with her, seemingly became the exact opposite of who I then sought to be. At a point in my life when I was most engrossed in these various masculine rituals, 19, my mother died, and perhaps as if to punish her for doing this, I would unfortunately remain lost in a masculine daze for years to come.
My Return to Feminist Beginnings?
Realistically, I did not revisit the values my mother so earnestly tried to instill in me until my mid-twenties when I was in graduate school. In my masterÕs program, as a "budding" young sociologist (or perhaps more like a dormant flower coming to life again), I began to explore the many different theoretical explanations of what ills the world and the possible ways to fix it that sociology has to offer. While each of these perspectives seemed to provide some answers, none of them matched the clarity of my motherÕs voice that I increasingly now began to hear--sexism is the root of all that ails society. By the time I was working on my Ph.D. her voice became so profound that I chose to do my dissertation on obscene telephone calls as instruments of male dominance and almost all my work since then has been on gender related issues grounded in some feminist theoretical perspective.
Perhaps even further attesting to the efficacy of my motherÕs voice is the fact that in both my masterÕs and Ph.D. programs I was sorely lacking any real feminist role models at this time. The few women that were found in either of these programs would have to be considered liberal feminists at best. While working on my dissertation, however, this strangely very much seemed to work to my advantage. That is, what do you do with a highly motivated young man--I was correctly perceived by my fellow graduate students as a rate-buster and understandably shunned--who is doing a radical feminist analysis of obscene telephone calls in a program that emphasizes rural sociology and third world development. To counterbalance this, I undertook a program of study where all my elective courses were taken in the statistics department, published an article with each of my sociology committee members (all purposely selected for their general sociological expertise and apathy towards the programÕs core focus), and in turn wrote an entirely hassle-free dissertation that, beyond minor editorial suggestions, was entirely a creation of my own making. I completed my Ph.D. in a somewhat unheard of three years.
Quite truthfully, the first feminist role-model I would personally came in contact with in all those years since my motherÕs death (1980) was Doris Ewing who I met Fall of 1991 when teaching at Southwest Missouri State University. Initially standoffish to my being a little too enthusiastic and masculine in my approach, she slowly but surely showed me--by words and example--what being a radical feminist with integrity is all about. While I could appreciate her understandable feelings towards men in general, avoidance and distrust, she nevertheless took the time to personally share with me the experiential world of her feminist outlook. Although I had read untold feminist works, she was the first individual to take the time to offer me her personal reading of all these various works from a womanÕs perspective. She patiently and literally opened a world to me that previously I had only read about. This is a gift for which I am forever indebted to Doris.
I would only spend two years teaching at SMSU. Like many positions to follow, in spite of having high teaching evaluations and a quite active publication record, I was basically fired for being too radical, too feminist, too queer, and an obvious gender traitor of sorts. Consistent with my SMSU experience, since leaving graduate school in 1990 I have held six different positions, spent a year unemployed, been divorced twice, and am presently recovering from colon cancer. Moreover, during the early years of my return to my motherÕs feminist ideals, I increasingly found myself being betrayed and rejected by men (especially those in academia). Conversely, many of my attempts for seeking acceptance from feminist women were met with a cool reception, often filled with indifference, mistrust, and even hostility. Having been disappointed so often, many women understandably distance themselves from self-proclaimed male feminists. And yet as dire and bleak as these realities may initially appear, I also believe myself to be a quite privileged and fortunate individual. I partially use the term "privileged" so as to not confuse my various ordeals with the very real oppression so many women experience. After all, at any time I always had the choice--itself indicative of privilege and something seldom afforded women and other subordinated people--to embrace the tyranny of those passing judgement on me (in particular, many of my superiors in academia and men in general) and would have been quickly accepted as one of them.
More specifically, and despite many peopleÕs obvious attempts, I consider myself quite fortunate to have been able to heal many of the wounds of my past, both inflicted on others and self-imposed, as I now believe I am becoming the son that my mother would have been proud of. It is in honor of her life, and all the important values that she taught me, that I now try to live my own life. I also use the terms "privilege" and "fortunate" to be reflective of the significant people who have supported and accompanied me on this largely unknown path I am presently traveling. In addition to Doris, I sincerely thank Jill Bystydzienski, Nikki Craft, John Stoltenberg, and Lisa Underwood for their unconditional friendship and support. Without these individuals always being there for me over the past few years I am convinced that, for various reasons, I would not be here today to write this passage.
Growing Into a Feminist Understanding
I believe my first step towards realizing a feminist outlook was to recognize that many of my actions, and lack thereof sometimes, were harmful to significant women in my life. No longer wanting to participate in womenÕs oppression, or to collude through inaction, I set out to actively change my ways and share my newfound vision with others. Perhaps like many feminist women, sadly part of my feminist outlook until very recently had an explicit misandrist bias. Male course participants and friends often called me a man-hater, said I must hate my penis, and asked me if I would rather have been born a woman. To a certain extent, there was some truth in their accusations, at least my explicit hatred of men, as I often used my feminist stance as an excuse to personally and publicly deride and belittle men. Moreover, if I had treated women in a similar manner, my behavior would have rightfully been seen as quite misogynist. Although I was actively working on breaking-free from oppressing women, I was still maintaining a sexist outlook that falsely enabled and justified me to now treat men as lesser and seemingly subordinate to my new feminist ideals.
To be honest, as a white heterosexual male from a privileged class background, I can lay no claim to having ever experienced oppression. Since most of my daily interaction with men is with other somewhat similarly situated individuals (e.g. male friends, academics, and participants of my courses), I found it really difficult to see any costs associated with being a man in our society. Moreover, my feminist outlook at the time largely made me blind to the very real oppression many men experience because of their race, class, or sexual orientation. I was far too busy repenting for my past sexist ways--a recovering misogynist of sorts--and like some ranting, holier than thou televangelist, chastising other men for partaking in such behaviors.
For the last seven years I have been involved in an ongoing ethnography of gay drag queens. For over a year (1999-2000) I facilitated a violence intervention group with convicted batterers where all of the men in the group were ethnic minorities and/or from working class backgrounds. Many of the gay men who have befriended me in various drag contexts have generously shared with me their experiences of being oppressed, as have the men in my batterers group. This led to an important and quite recent realization on my part. Not only was my mere existence and past behavior oppressive to women, but so are the attitudes and actions associated with my class background, race, and sexual orientation to both women and many men. That is, men do not experience any sort of gender oppression, but many men do experience class, race, and sexual orientation oppression.
Prior to my seeming epiphany, on a rational, apathetic academic level, I could acknowledge that men, too, could be oppressed, but on a gut-level (based on my experiences with men largely similar to myself) this did not feel true. All I could emotionally and rather myopically see was menÕs oppression of women. Actually listening to menÕs experiences of being oppressed, becoming close friends with some of them, gay men in particular, I could finally viscerally appreciate the insidious and multifarious basis of oppression. Moreover, it is through my gay male friends, many of them drag queens, that I would first experience an emotionally based same-sex friendship. This forced me to deal with many of my own issues of homophobia and to grudgingly recognize how many of my attitudes and seemingly well-intended prior interactions with gay men had actually been based on their subordination to maintain my lofty heterosexual station.
As a result of this feminist growth on my part, I am increasingly not so quick to write-off other men in general as "misogynist scum bags," inevitably subordinating them in the process. Beyond my male feminist and gay male friendships, men I can now respectfully call friends (some of them students) are police officers, national guard members, rugby players, and fraternity members. In groups of men such as these I most risk falling back into competitive, sexist ways, but it is also here that I have played an important role in spreading a feminist message to those least likely to ever hear it.
As reflected in the below poem written by my mother (a true story about a woman in my neighborhood growing up), my present definition of feminism is about treating all people as valuable and potential equals, as I believe all forms of superiority--regardless of how overt or insidious they appear--are a disease that ultimately leads to oppression. I look to rid myself of the poison of feeling superior to anyone, and to live in a healthy world of true equality for all. Myself as an example of someone who was sadly very afflicted with the plague of superiority at one time, perhaps in some bizarre way I demonstrate that there is hope for even the most oppressive of us to recognize how harmful our attitudes and behaviors can be for others, and to change our destructive our ways.
She lived in the neighborhood,
not close enough to me to be a neighbor,
but in the neighborhood.
We never met.
I know her only as she was known
by others, a sloppy housewife,
who had "let herself go"
as they say.
A women who displayed,
at the slightest opportunity,
the feminine weakness for
talking too much of too little,
her words like clutching fingers
keeping the efficient from their efficiency.
I saw her once,
from a distance,
just after three of an afternoon,
that time of day when neighbor women
tend to feel most acutely
the prick of significance
of their many roles.
She seemed so insignificant,
as she shuffled out to her doorstep
with disheveled hair and gesture,
an indecisive form in a torn bathrobe.
As I passed her by
I told myself a secret,
so softly that I wouldn't
hear it myself,
that she made me feel so superior.
Her mere existence provided
the proper contrast
for appreciation of me.
Others, too, must have
shared my secret,
for they left her carefully alone,
as if fearing contamination.
not long after I had seen her,
she got up from her bed,
where she had been spending
more and more of her time.
She must have heard the voices
the laughter, the living sounds
of her children,
as she walked quietly across the room,
for something that might happen.
And for one moment, perhaps,
she realized her significance
as she thrust the gun between her lips
and put a period
to the endless sentence
which had been her life.
when I knew it all
with the sweetness of my superiority.
Unveiling the Faces of WomenÕs Oppression
We live in a society where ignorance truly is bliss, especially for those with unearned male privilege and status, which in turn often provides men with an excuse to deny the existence of the very real and harmful sexist hierarchical realities that surround us and the active role men must play in their maintenance. While some men are willing to admit that women are disadvantaged in our society, very few men are willing to acknowledge that they are over-privileged. After all, to actually do so would mean that men would not only have to admit the unearned and unjust basis of their advantage but perhaps even personally change and give-up some of their privilege. In the highly competitive world we live in, giving up any advantages--earned or unearned--one might have in the game of life would seem foolish, at best, to most men.
Intuitively, almost all men do believe themselves superior, many even pay homage to this oppressive social reality, but few are willing to admit just how harmful such an outlook is to women in our society. Like myself growing up, one way many young men effectively dismiss womenÕs oppression is through same-sex friendship groups where women are seen as the "other," objectified as sexual prey, in some ways, even seen as the enemy, and ultimately used as the estate upon which real men do masculinity. Accordingly, pornography, strip shows, and even prostitutes often play important roles in these menÕs settings, as they serve as medium over which male bonding is accomplished, and both reflect and sustain the misogyny upon which they are based. Women, in pictorial form or in the flesh, merely provide the necessary but detested turf upon which many, if not all masculine identities are misogynisticly based. It is nearly impossible to see the pain or hear the screams of an object let alone the enemy, unless it is to use these images or sounds as signs of superiority and for pathological enjoyment. To truly deaden any feelings of empathy--to be a "real man"--means that men must deny not only the feelings of those around them, men and especially women, but also repress their own feelings in the process.
As a result, men in these groups are expected to always guard against becoming too emotionally involved with any one woman, and should they, their friends will accuse them of being "pussywhipped," a "mush," and weak, and they potentially risk no longer being welcomed to partake in the groupÕs activities as a full member. Terms such as "bitch," "fag," and "gay" are also frequently used in these settings as put downs, suggesting that anything associated with the feminine, except for purely instrumental purposes, sex, should be avoided at all costs. Many young men will boastfully proclaim that they plan to remain single forever, as if thinking that true intimacy is somehow evil and something to be feared, and that being intimate might force them to view a woman as potential equal and give-up their priggish, masculine outlook of the world. Many women enter this dating battlefield of a sorts looking for a man who will emotionally relate to them, or a man they think they can reform and teach this to, while men expend considerable energies seemingly trying to avoid intimate relationships. In the past, "getting caught" often meant getting a women pregnant, whereas today this often means seeing the same woman more than once for sexual purposes (i.e., in some menÕs groups you only get points for scoring the first time and sex thereafter is seen as suspect). Either way, "love em and leave em" is a motto that all men have heard and many prescribe to. Of course, the majority of men eventually do become emotionally involved with women, but when this happens, the group may view him as a fallen comrade, captured by the enemy, and forced to give-up his freedom to be with a woman. As the verses of the song declare, "another one bites the dust."
And yet, as a partner, as a mother, a sister, a daughter, or just a friend, most men have (or eventually will have) significant women in their lives who they deeply care about, love, and sometimes even view as equals. I believe herein lies the beginning seeds of feminism for men. By making men aware of the unearned advantages that society confers upon them and the misogynist attitudes necessary to maintain such outcomes, they begin to recognize how this is oppressive to the significant women in their lives. This leaves many men in an ideological bind: how can they personally express concern and respect for the welfare of these women all the while supporting realities that cause womenÕs oppression in larger societal settings?
For me, this has obviously involved making (and continuing to make) many significant changes in my life. My life partner, Lisa Underwood, is an incredibly strong, independent woman who works as a crisis counselor with survivors of sexual and physical abuse. We are fortunate, as our respective jobs allow us to both support and compliment each othersÕ efforts in constructing and living a feminist world view. Housework is not decided in terms of "his and her jobs," but more so in terms of what needs doing, and someone (often both of us) just does it. Attempting to live as equals has also meant that I have been able to experience a deep sense of intimacy previously unknown. Our personal energy typically seems to flow together, instead of in opposition to, or in spite of, like many of my previous relationships.
The way I view and interact with women in general has also significantly changed. I have slowly learned ways to view women without inevitably objectifying them in the process. I no longer find pornography a turnon and have long since removed such images from my purview. I have learned that listening is just as valuable as speaking and that I do not need to have the last word in every conversation. My learning to listen has led many women to generously share with me their experiences, feelings, and insightful visions of what a just world might look like, and as a result, I have increasingly found ways to appreciate and relate to women as equals. In short, I am increasingly coming to understand that feminism is both a public stand and a personal way of being, and that the two are really one in the same. ?
While often not under the guise of feminism, yet perhaps very much in response to feminist activism, increasing numbers of men in our society are starting to acknowledge womenÕs oppression and trying to do things to promote gender equality. MenÕs involvement in the home and rasing children has slowly but surely increased, some even opting to become house husbands while their wives actively pursue a career. Many men are becoming involved in traditional womenÕs problems, such as rape and wife battering, starting programs and activities that confront menÕs misogynist attitudes. As reflected in DorisÕ son Quintin and my growing up experiences, increasing numbers of young men are being raised by feminist mothers. Sure, regressive, backlash agents of misogyny still exist, such as Howard Stern, but nevertheless, an emerging trend towards gender equality continues.
Men of good will who have the courage to admit how unjust and harmful present gender relations are to the significant women in their lives can become vital change agents in undoing the resultant misery and pain inflicted on all women necessary to maintain male dominance. For truly holistic healing to occur, however, men will also have to recognize that, in spite of all the seeming benefits male privilege has to confer on them, doing manhood often involves significant sometimes deadly costs to men themselves.
Recognizing Costs of Maintaining Male Dominance for Men
Unlike me, many men grow-up well aware of the costs of maintaining male dominance. While feminists have done a great job of illuminating male violence against women, and how oppressively costly such behavior is to women, seemingly lost in this important societal recognition is the fact that perhaps most of menÕs violence is actually directed towards other men. Men make up 76% of all homicide victims and an estimated 80% of assault victims in the United States with most being killed or assaulted by other men. Like the young men in Columbine, some men who are victims of male violence so up the masculine ante that they respond in incredibly lethal ways. Tired of being "picked on," a rather innocuous way society often characterizes boys and young menÕs bruised and bloodied bodies, some of these previously emasculated young men strike back with deadly force. The significant loss of life, sometimes even including their own, all seems worth it if they can for a fleeting moment feel like a real man. The dead bodies they leave in their wake serve as signifiers to how powerful and masculine they really are.
Significant numbers of boys also grow up in households where they are sexually and physically abused. Of course, once again, the perpetrator of their victimization is most typically an adult man, but the fact remains that both women and significant numbers of men are forever scarred in the process. Moreover, and similar to women, both the bodies of subordinated women and men serve as the terrain upon which these men do masculine superiority. In fact, in many male subcultures, beating a man into submission earns you many more points than doing the same to a woman. Regardless of who is victimized in the process, like the first blood rituals of deer hunters, masculinity demands that someone must be subordinate--a signifier of oneÕs superiority--for manhood to be proven. Whether in wars, fights in a bar, the schoolyard, or the home, "to the victorÕs go the spoils" with womenÕs, childrenÕs, and menÕs trampled bodies all attesting to how important the given exercise in masculinity must have been and how "sweet" it is to be a winner. While men, in their pursuit of proving their superiority are almost exclusively responsible for such oppressive outcomes, both women and many men bear the costs of men doing masculinity.
Ironically, some of the costs associated with male dominance are borne by those actually doing masculinity. Men, in their pursuit of manhood, are far more likely than women to partake in high risk behaviors that result in personal injury and sometimes death. Perhaps not that surprising, 75 percent of all binge drinkers are men, 86 percent of all careless driving accidents are caused by men, and men are more likely than women to be injured or killed in an accident. "Stupid men tricks," in all their various forms, combined with often dangerous traditional male workplaces and vocations, means menÕs own bodies often provide the fodder upon which masculinity is done. Many men define such risks as acceptable costs in the pursuit of doing masculinity, some even view them as an enjoyable thrill, but the fact remains that many men are needlessly injured and killed trying to prove their manhood.
As already noted, men are far less likely to express empathy for others, and often repress their own feelings in the process. Being the tough guy--the man--has significant emotional costs. While women are far more likely to be diagnosed with depression, some psychologists argue that men may in fact experience much higher rates of depression, much of it undiagnosed because of many menÕs inability to admit emotional problems. Sharing ones feelings with others, let alone admitting emotional difficulties, is something many men are unwilling to do, as they are afraid it would suggest vulnerability and weakness. Combining an instrumental male outlook with an unwillingness to seek emotional help results in men having much higher rates of completed suicide. Through an objectifying male lens, oneÕs own body becomes a means to end.
If survival and growth are seen as signs of a healthy organism, doing masculinity and maintaining male dominance appears to be a very costly enterprise for women, children, and men (both as oppressor and oppressed). Male dominance is perhaps the ultimate pyrrhic victory--men win the battle between the genders but the losses are so staggering that all involved are losers.
Healing From Oppression
Perhaps one of the easiest way to argue the benefits of feminism for all people is to start by clearly noting the costs of manhood. As discussed in this chapter, veiled beneath the "natural" and "normal" appearance and behavioral expectations of being the man in our contemporary society lies a gendered story grounded in subjugation, subordination, and oppression. Daily, untold numbers of people are harmed, wounded, and forever scarred in menÕs pursuit of doing masculinity. These seeming faceless individuals are in actuality our partners, children, parents, siblings, friends, and ourselves. The truth is that present day definitions and ways of doing masculinity could be viewed as the most destructive epidemic ever witnessed, and the number one health crisis facing all people on our planet.
Accordingly, one of the foremost reasons I am so passionate about feminism is that, not only does it hold the promise of eradicating all forms of exploitation and oppression, but it is the only ideology perspicacious enough to ensure the survival of planet earth. We have now had thousands of years of a patriarchal reality, and the "progress" of this "civilized" structural arrangement has put us at the brink of self-destruction. In contrast, radical feminismÕs life-affirming-giving-enhancing values are the only ones veracious enough to reverse the cataclysmic direction patriarchal societies are leading us. Quite simply, I believe feminist values and realities are the only ones that can ensure the survival of this planet. As such, I choose to direct my energies into feminism and life versus patriarchy and death.
Ultimately, my attraction to feminism was brought about, and continues to be instilled by the significant women I have had the honor of knowing throughout my life. In the past, I have tacitly sat by and watched a misogynist, male dominated society attempt (often with great success) to destroy these intelligent and beautiful women. My mother died over twenty years ago at the hands of a male physician who mis-diagnosed her abdominal pains as simple "female problems" when she had colon cancer (e.g., the doctor told her to go home and take a hot bath for her cramps, doing this caused the tumor in her colon to rupture, she nearly died from the internal hemorrhaging, spent six weeks in intensive care, and died five years later because the cancer had spread to her liver). I have watched nearly every academic woman that has befriended me struggle on a daily basis with a patriarchal system (the university) that structurally and often individually sets them up for failure. In total, the vast majority of women I have known have been raped in one way or another.
The pain that these and other women have experienced has become mine. As such, I can no longer idly stand by and silently be part of the problem. To do so would mean that I would not only be assisting in the destruction of individual woman who are very close to me and part of my referent, but each time I hesitate to act means another part of me is potentially (and far too often) destroyed. The personal experiences of these women have became my political reality.
For the damage to be undone, and real healing to begin, men must be made aware of just how harmful doing male dominance is for women, children, other men, and even themselves. I believe that feminism is about such awareness. Actually recognizing all the destruction wrought in the name of manhood takes far more courage and strength than any imaginable contemporary masculine attitude or behavior. The same must be done with other forms of inequality, such as class, race, and sexual orientation. Then, and only then will a non-oppressive future become possible.
I guess I have always tried to live my life without regrets. Perhaps this is easier given my class background. Nevertheless, there are many things I have done in the past that I would never do now, and by changing, I do believe the healing begins and many of my past misdeeds are forgiven. Truth is, recently faced with colon cancer, I have come to the conclusion that I could die today and would have no reason for complaint. I have done and seen so much, not just the tourist version, but as full participant of the big show. Thus, everyday hereafter is the bonus round for me, one in which I look to give back all that I took and was given in the past. Thankfully, when I do die, it will be with a peace in my heart that feminism has made possible. Everyone dies, leaving the world as we enter it, with nothing more than ourselves, and ultimately as equals. I dream of the day when people can be equal not only when they enter and leave the world, but while they reside on it.