Last fall I was granted a precious space to speak at an interfaith breakfast ahead of the Planned Parenthood Day of Action in Lansing, Michigan, as well as on an interfaith panel at the Women’s Convention held a few weeks later in Detroit. Both instances were at the behest of Jenny Byer, the inspirational director of reproductive justice for the Michigan Unitarian Universalist Social Justice Network. Further, I spoke not just as a man but as a representative of the humanist viewpoint in the context of a discussion about the need for an interfaith reproductive justice coalition.
What I said was that when it comes to reproductive rights, religion is a major problem, maybe the major problem, but can also be part of the solution.
Sometimes religion uses people with good hearts and good intentions as conduits for a horribly misguided, dangerous, and deceitful message. Emotional thinking, as many decent people (including myself) do all the time, combined with blind faith that tells you denying reproductive rights makes you a good person, has brought some to bad conclusions.
However, many people of faith who believe in reproductive rights also demonstrate that religion can inform a justified stance on reproductive rights and freedom.
I spoke to fellow religionists as a humanist to say we must do more than speak. We must use the motivation we derive, say, from the Bible, from faith, or wherever else to lead us to action. The issues of reproductive justice are too important to not work in collaboration.
As a man who has again been given previous space to speak on this issue, I’d like to direct the rest of this column about feminism just to men.
When it comes to the rights of cis and trans women, there are only two instances I can think of when a male voice can be justified. First is when speaking to other males to enlighten them. The second is when a woman asks a male to contribute something. In that instance, it should be precisely what’s asked for.
Here are some suggestions on how to be a male feminist. It is by no means an exhaustive list nor entirely my original thoughts, but it’s a start.
1. Inform yourself, which is a multi-faceted injunction. If you aren’t aware that I pilfered the title of this column from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s book, Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, you should be. Read women feminist authors, listen to women speakers, watch documentaries by and about women. Sikivu Hutchinson, Ayan Hirsi Ali, Mia Mckenzie, Bella Abzug, and Gloria Feldt are just a few names to get you started. Follow the causes of Planned Parenthood, reproductiverights.org, sistersong.net, the American Humanist Association’s Feminist Humanist Alliance and LGBTQ Humanist Alliance, and more. Discover amazing women obscured by history like Edmonia Lewis, Madame C.J. Walker, or Ernestine Rose and educate other men. Get to know amazing women, celebrate them, and talk to your children about them.
2. Understand and accept the fact that men reap the benefits of privilege and vocally claim your bias as a product of a patriarchal society that continues to undervalue and oppress women. Don’t make excuses or downplay it in any way.
3. Seek to redefine archaic ideas of masculinity that perpetuate, enable, and attempt to excuse abuse and subjugation.
4. Don’t take advantage of your privilege to rest on your laurels. Women don’t have the choice to do the same as they deal with constant misogyny, transphobia, and other evils. Instead of taking the path of least resistance (our birthright), take action, regardless of how uncomfortable it will make you and how many mistakes you will inevitably make. Some actions you can take include becoming an escort at an abortion clinic, attending a women’s rights march just to show support and listen without stealing focus, speaking frankly and uninhibitedly to groups of men who are convicted abusers, championing legislation that supports and empowers women, or giving money anonymously.
5. Lose the male fragility. If something offends you, refocus from the vantage point of the other person. Acknowledge that others’ truths are no less true and certainly no less important than our own. In doing so, we will see that we are often wrong! Just because you can’t begin to feel how painful oppression is, doesn’t mean it isn’t.
6. This one is especially addressed to my fellow white-hetero-cis-males. Being a feminist also means understanding the intersectionality of all social justice issues, and being as actively supportive without getting in the way. The title “ally” is given, never claimed. Be an ally by taking action to demonstrate that you are one.
7. Accept that you are not a humanist if you’re not a feminist. “We are committed to treating each person as having inherent worth and dignity… We work to uphold the equal enjoyment of human rights and civil liberties in an open, secular society.” —Humanism and Its Aspirations: Humanist Manifesto III
8. Speak and act for the sake of your daughters when they are too young to do so for themselves. (It appears I’ve come up with one more instance when a male voice is justified.) And as soon as they show a desire and begin to speak for themselves, step back, listen, learn, and support them unquestionably.
9. Be a feminist at home as well. I know communication within a relationship is different than outside, but that’s no excuse to not be diligent about respecting your partner as you would any other women. In fact, if there are greater communication challenges with an intimate companion, we have an obligation to work even harder.
10. As a male, never allow yourself the last word about women’s issues.
“Women are not required to build this world by breaking ourselves.” —Ashia George, Scotsdale Women’s Center of Detroit.