Male Feminism at Packer: Equality Requires All Voices
Due to the recent controversial presidency and the rise in social injustices against women, religious, and racial minorities, there has been a surge in advocacy and protests, such as the Women’s March. After seeing all of these protests, I wanted to see what some of the opinions were surrounding feminist activism in the male student community at Packer.
After watching Emma Watson’s “He for She” speech at the UN, in which she discusses the need for men to fight for gender equality in order for it to become a reality, I wanted to investigate male feminism in the Packer community. Last year, I sent out an anonymous survey to the entire Upper School, and received only 37 responses.
In the survey, the question “do you consider yourself a feminist?” produced a variety of answers. 32.4% of male students said they considered themselves active feminists, while 43.2% said that they conceptually agree with the ideals of the feminist movement, but do not consider themselves active feminists. On the other hand, 18.9% said that they do not consider themselves feminists whatsoever.
When asked the question “what does feminism mean to you?”, most people answered with statements like “Supporting gender equality”, or “It means standing up for those disadvantaged by the rules and customs of our society, especially equality for all.” One student said “believing in equality among all genders. The title is misleading,” referencing the general title of the movement. Other responses were “not much” or commented that they feel feminism has deterred away from fighting for gender equality and began to focus on the shaming of men.
I asked the male students who said they did not consider themselves feminist why they didn’t. Many people said that while they support the fight for equality, they do not take an active role in the feminist movement. On the other hand, one person said, “Feminists often take an aggressive approach to spreading their message. Instead of focusing on educating the population, they focus on shaming men.” Of these who say they are not feminists, 18% of them claim that they sometimes feel judged for not being a feminist. One person said “Deviating from the far left standpoint at Packer is typically frowned upon.” Another male student commented, “Not all feminists are like this, but some of the more ‘radical’ ones assume that because I am not a feminist, that means I am against feminism. This is not the case, but I am judged in this way. I also feel like most forms of activism can be flawed because of the extreme versions that accompany them. Some activist feminists misunderstand me in this way.”
To those who do consider themselves feminists, I asked them if they ever felt judged for it. One person stated, “Sometimes it comes off as kind of ‘lame’ to be an outward feminist. I think there’s a stigma or ‘image’ surrounding the word which makes people automatically think of ‘white girl feminists’ or men who are effeminate.” Many students mentioned the fact that a lot of men in the teenage community are uncomfortable around issues with sexism and homosexuality, especially when it comes to talking about them or sharing opinions about them. According to many male students who took the poll, sharing opinions about vocalizing activism surrounding gender or sexuality bears a certain stigma which some men and boys consider “effeminate”.
At the end of the survey, I asked if any of the contributors had any other comments. “Feminism is about positivity and equality NOT attacking people who have differing beliefs,” one person stated. “I feel the advocacy for women’s rights should be focused on decreasing sexism rather than people feeling they are scrutinized because of their gender.” Many other contributors stated that they feel feminism has drifted from fighting for gender equality, to a more intense and negative form of activism that they feel results in “man- shaming” or the scrutinization of other people who have different opinions. Additionally, someone said, “Feminism as an idea is good, but it has become so much about man-shaming that I don’t support it anymore. I support gender equality, but not feminism.”
Feminist Alliance, one of the most popular clubs at Packer, has about 4 boys who regularly attend the club. One of these boys, Sam Tecotzky (‘18), shares his opinions on male feminism. “Simply put,” Sam writes, “the idea behind feminism is simply level the playing field for all human beings.” When asked if there were any stigmas or ideas surrounding male feminism at Packer, Sam answered “…when I tell people I’m a member [of Feminist Alliance), it is often met with a certain air of surprise… I think that there are certain people who feel that some males feel that they proclaim themselves feminists just because they have to,” he says, “but that is an incredibly dangerous mindset to spread because it not only discourages males from feeling they can be allies, but also makes males who are proud feminists feel self conscious.” If given the ability to communicate directly with all of the male students in the Packer community, Sam would say, “that being a feminist is simply believing that every human should be treated equally and that gender should never influence how one is treated… I would want students to understand that they can proclaim themselves feminists without feeling that they belong to a certain political party, or live their lives a certain way, or, perhaps most importantly, are any less masculine.”
Feminist Alliance, one of the most popular clubs at Packer, has about 4 boys who regularly attend the club. One of the three Feminist Alliance leaders is a male student (Reese Kennedy ‘17). The club has a surprisingly equal gender participation, as the club last year only consisted of two male students who regularly attended the club, one of them being a leader. On the other hand, despite the equality of genders, the club lacks students of color. In an effort to make a more inclusive and wide-reaching feminist movement within the walls of Packer, Feminist Alliance has reorganized their agenda and goals. They hope as a result of this reorganization, more students of color will join the club.
I knew Packer was a generally liberal school, and I knew that most people considered themselves to be liberals, but when it came to the topic of feminism, specifically male feminism, I sensed some grey area surrounding the topic. The idea of feminism, I gathered, means so many different things to so many different people, and recently many women have chosen to opt out the feminist movement, and define their form of activism as “womanism” as opposed to “feminism”. Especially due to the fact that many women of color feel uncomfortable participating in the feminist movement, and the reactions I received from male students in the Packer community, I feel feminism needs to hone in its message in order to serve a larger audience. Instead of just focusing on gender alone, the movement as a whole needs to focus on race, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status.
In general, in order to achieve equality, everyone has to be on the side of change, or else the movement itself is counterproductive. If not everyone participates in the fight for equality, it will never become a reality. In her UN speech for her campaign He for She, Emma Watson said “How can we effect change in the world when only half of it is invited or feel welcome to participate in the conversation?” This is the kind of attitude that we need to apply to feminism and equality here at Packer. Packer struggles with having important conversations in groups of people who all share the same opinions. In order to achieve equality, both in Packer and in the outside world, we need to include everyone in the conversation to share beliefs respectfully. Feminism needs to not just be aimed at white girls, it needs to be for women of color, for men, for people of any sexual orientation to fully be able to achieve and advocate for the equality of everyone.