Feminism: Helping Men Be Free

February 21, 2013 Michael Kaufman

The New York Times asked several feminists to share their thoughts on the future of feminism on the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Betty Friedan’s landmark book, The Feminine Mystique. They also asked  Michael Kimmel and me to add our own thoughts. The collection of short articles was published on February 18 as “Feminism’s Next Act.” … I’ve changed the title of our article because the original given by The Times turned around our meaning by 180 degrees. They called it “Make Men Your Allies” as if we were giving instructions to the women’s movement; rather, we argue that men should reach out and support feminist movements both because it’s the morally right thing to do and because feminism will help make men free.

First Wave Feminism -- 19th-early 20th centuries.

Betty Friedan, in the second edition of “The Feminine Mystique,” urged feminist women to reach out to men as allies because the struggle for gender equality would also be good for men.

Men have a vital role to play in feminism’s future, just as we have done in so many past women’s initiatives and struggles from Seneca Falls to Steubenville, Ohio. We’re not the cavalry, riding to rescue distressed damsels, but more the Gentleman’s Auxiliary of perhaps the most powerful social movement in history.

Nothing better captures the importance of men helping realize the goals of feminism than efforts to end violence against women. Through courage and tenacity, women worldwide have made huge gains in raising awareness and forcing legal reform. But ultimately, because it is (some) men who commit this violence, it must be men who change.

By this we mean not only those men who use violence in their relationships. We also mean the vast majority of us who have remained silent. Because men dominate parliaments, pulpits and police forces, when we are silent, we allow the violence to continue.

Second Wave Feminism -- 1960s to 1990s ish

One example of men’s efforts to end violence against women is the White Ribbon Campaign, launched by three Canadian men in 1991. Some women questioned the wisdom of trying to engage men in this arena. Now, 20 years later, not only has this campaign spread to about 70 countries, but there isn’t a United Nations agency, a large N.G.O., a national government or, indeed, even a women’s organization, that isn’t working to engage men and boys to end violence against women and support gender equality.

Men today support gender equality not only because we know it is fair and right and just, but because it will enable the women in our lives to be safer, to exercise their personal and social power, and because many of its initiatives will inspire us to be better fathers, better friends and better partners. This in turn means we will all have better lives.

More than half a century before Betty Friedan included men as allies in the feminist movement, New York writer Floyd Dell helped start the Men’s League for Woman Suffrage. “Feminism,” he wrote, “will make it possible for the first time for men to be free.

Michael Kaufman & Michael Kimmel

The New York Times, February 18, 2013

Third Wave Feminism -- 1990s to ????

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