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The Gentleman’s Guide to Being a Feminist 

Can you be both a man and a feminist?
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ILLUSTRATOR Roland Mae Tanglao
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Feminist. That other F word that some men are confused about.

We get it. All the PC (politically correct) terms that need to be memorized. All the dating cues and flirtation prompts that have been upended in this still unraveling #MeToo Era. Why would a man want to overextend himself by becoming a feminist?

The simple answer is: It will make a man a better partner and a better person.

But hang on. What does it mean to be a feminist? Let’s get on the same page first and go through this quick rundown of what feminism isn’t.

  • Feminism isn’t hating men or dominating men.
  • Feminism isn’t rejecting religion, marriage, or having children.
  • Feminism isn’t demanding special treatment.
  • Feminism isn’t rejecting traditionally feminine things like lipstick, to cite a quick example. 

Feminism is recognizing that women have an equal right to the things that men have always had more access to, such as education, body autonomy, career opportunities, and safety and security in the workplace. If you really think about it, teaching this kind of “equality” starts at home when we treat our sons and daughters the same way and give them the same responsibilities.

To quote Gloria Steinem, “A feminist is anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of women and men.”

Emphasis on “anyone” and both “women and men.”

So, gentlemen, what better way to learn how to be a feminist than from men who already are? At the recent Women Deliver 2019 conference, the largest global conference on gender equality and sexual health rights last month, these men shared a page from their feminist playbooks. 

 

Lesson No. 1: Stand up for women even when others won’t.

Justin Trudeau, Canadian Prime Minister

Photo by Getty

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was sworn into office with 15 men and 15 women behind him. It was the first gender-balanced cabinet in Canadian history. When asked why gender parity in his Cabinet was important to him, Trudeau gave the now quotable and memeable response, “Because it’s 2015.”

At Women Deliver, Trudeau put his money where his mouth is by announcing that the Canadian government would increase its investment in maternal and newborn health around the world by $1.4 billion Canadian dollars. Of this annual investment, about 700 million would be allocated to sexual and reproductive health and rights. 

The funding commitment solidified Canada’s position as one of the world's leading donors to comprehensive sexual reproductive health rights.

After making the announcement, Trudeau condemned what he called “the politicizing of women’s reproductive health rights,” taking a jab at U.S. President Donald Trump and the pushback of women’s abortion rights on two fronts: domestically, where states like Alabama have passed restrictive abortion policies, and internationally, through the re-enactment of the Global Gag Rule that has restricted abortion and reproductive health policies in countries receiving U.S. funding. 

"This summit is another chance to keep creating meaningful progress on women's empowerment. Globally and here at home, we're seeing attacks on women's rights. The moment for Canadian leadership is now. We're stepping up," Trudeau said.

Aside from Canada, only two other countries have or are working on a feminist foreign policy: Sweden and France.

Sweden first introduced the idea of a feminist foreign policy in 2014. Canada expanded and refined the idea by focusing on development and drafting the world’s first feminist international assistance policy.  

In case you’re wondering, the Philippines benefits from Canada’s feminist focus. The Likhaan Center for Women's Health has opened four reproductive health clinics in marginalized communities in Manila and Eastern Samar while Oxfam Philippines is launching the Sexual Health and Empowerment (SHE) Project, which provides sexual reproductive health rights (SRHR) services to six conflict-affected regions in the Philippines, benefitting an estimated 85,000 people.

Both initiatives were supported by the Canadian Embassy and other Canadian organizations.

So take it from Trudeau. Break away from the Old Boys’ Club. Stand up for women’s rights even when others won’t.

Lesson No. 2: Get to know women by reading about them.

Wade Adams, former National Football League (NFL) Player

NFL’s first LGBT Inclusion Consultant

“We have to re-think everything we’ve learned about sex,” said former National Football League player Wade Adams at a Women Deliver panel about how the workplace has changed in the wake of the #MeToo.

According to Adams, the best way to start this re-thinking process is by reading. 

“Men have always been socialized to seduce women and woo them but never really get to know them as people. Men should spend an entire year reading books about women.” 

Here’s Adams’s suggested reading list:

  • The Origins of Others by Toni Morrison is a good, quick, and easy read and a good place to start. Just a bit over 100 pages long, this book is based on Morrison’s Harvard University lecture series on the many layers of “otherness” or exclusion. 
  • Hunger: A Memoir of (my) Body by Roxanne Gay is a deeply personal searing memoir about how food and overeating became Gay’s way of responding to being gang-raped at the age of 12. 
  • Eloquent Rage by Brittney Cooper. Emma Watson included this in the “Our Shared Shelf” selection and Fast Company listed it as one of the 10 best books for battling your sexist workplace. In this book, Cooper answers why some women are so angry, why they have every right to be and why it isn’t such a bad thing.
  • The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity and Love by Bell Hooks goes over to the other side. Author, social activist, and professor Bell Hooks (real name Gloria Jean Watkins) talks about how men can have healthy intimate relationships when they acknowledge that it’s okay to emotional and vulnerable.

The titles listed by Adams are mostly written by Black feminists, but he says that the lessons and experiences can resonate with anyone.

If you’re thinking about watching romantic comedies (hey, those are about women’s lives, too, right?) as taking baby steps, Adams is a bit hesitant but concedes: “Yeah, yeah, ok. It’s a fine introduction. But I wouldn’t stay there very long.”

Another benefit of this page-turning is that by reading about women, men can better understand them and themselves. 

“We’re actually unhappy. This desire to have power is empty and fleeting. So if we can read more about what is happening to us, we can own what is true about us and redefine manhood for ourself, outside of what the world says,” said Adams.

 

Lesson No. 3: Spend about 50 minutes a day doing the dishes or caring for the kids

Gary Barker, expert on male engagement and positive masculinities

At one point or another, all men will have some kind of paternal connection to children either as mentors, relatives, adoptive or step-parents, or biological fathers. Being involved in these children’s lives benefits the children, their mothers and even men themselves.

Having a positive male role model has been linked to better school performance, empathy, and school skills for both boys and girls. Having engaged, caring fathers can advance gender equality and women’s health. 

These were some of the findings in the “State of the World’s Fathers 2019” report released at the Women Deliver Conference. 

“Men who are involved in meaningful ways with their children report this relationship to be one of their most important sources of well-being and happiness,” said Gary Barker CEO and founder of Promundo, an organization that focuses on the role of male engagement in gender equality.

That may seem like a no-brainer but the study’s bigger revelation is that 85 percent of fathers say they would do anything to be very involved in caring for their new child, but are prevented from doing so because of a lack of paternity leave or the social norm that women make for better caregivers. Women contribute to the perception that men do not have it in them to be nurturing or caring so be prepared to push back a bit when your wife resists your offer to put the babies to sleep.

Fewer than half of the world’s countries offer paid paternity. Among those that do, paternity leave is limited to just a number of days. In the Philippines, men are allowed 14 days of paid paternity leave.

While it may take a while for companies to come around in recognizing the importance of paternity leave or for general society to see men as more than “good time dads,” feminism and gender equality can start at home. 

Women across the world still take up most of the domestic chores and childcare at home. Men just need to pitch in at least 50 minutes a day for childcare duties and women need to do 50 minutes less to even out the work 

That’s not even an hour. Think about that. A basketball game is longer. That’s all it takes. And there are other benefits, too.

“Men who share in domestic and childcare duties are seen as more attractive by their partners,” said Barker.

Ana P. Santos attended the Women Deliver 2019 Conference in Vancouver with support from Women Deliver.

 

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About The Author
Ana P. Santos
An independent journalist based in Manila, Philippines. Her work focuses mainly on gender issues, HIV/AIDS and reproductive health.
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