“But you’re a guy”: Why feminism is for everyone

By Jamie Irvine, YWCA Toronto Advocacy and Communications team member

Jamie needs feminism because he shouldn't have to explain to people why a guy would take social work and want to help people

When I tell people that I’m currently completing a student internship at YWCA Toronto, a feminist women’s organization, one of the most common responses I hear is “How can you work there? You’re a guy!”

This is often followed by the argument that men can’t help a feminist organization because they simply cannot relate to the problems faced by women.

Before I begin, I want to say that this was not an easy topic for me to write about. It required a lot of deep thought and personal reflection. First of all, I don’t know if men can call themselves feminists, or if they should instead be called feminist allies. Just by looking online I saw that this was a heated debate and both sides make valid arguments. However, I think it all comes down to the individual: if you are a man who supports women’s rights and equality and you consider yourself a feminist, then you’re on the right track.

So now that’s out of the way, let’s get to the $1,000,000 question: “Why should a man work with/help the feminist movement; what do they have to gain?”

First of all, there seems to be a common misunderstanding about exactly what feminism stands for, and what feminists are trying to achieve. Perhaps most people just focus on the “fem” and instantly believe that this social justice movement only deals with “female issues”. With this logical fallacy in mind, people incorrectly believe that the goals of feminism/feminist organizations only target and benefit women.

In actuality this couldn’t be further from the truth; feminism is in part about fighting patriarchy, and despite what the mainstream media or men’s rights activists might say, this means more than simply blaming men for all of society’s woes. The truth is that patriarchy affects men as well as women. At this point some of you may be thinking “Jamie, what do you mean?”

Let me provide an example. In our society there is a lot of pressure and social expectations about how men (and women) should behave. For example, men are expected to be strong, and should avoid doing “unmanly” things like talking about their feelings or seeking help on personal issues, whether physical or mental. Instead, men are expected to either bottle everything up, or to express their feelings as aggression. This harmful perception of “manliness” in our society is an idea created and perpetuated by patriarchy.

So when feminist organizations say that they are fighting patriarchy, they are not just trying to change the lives of women for the better, but also the lives of men. By challenging patriarchy, we also challenge all those negative societal expectations that define who we are and what we can accomplish based on our gender.

So how can men help end patriarchy? Well, one way is working with feminist organizations that already have a vast pool of experience and knowledge in this area. By contributing their skills and perspectives, men can help strengthen an organization’s existing programs, services and overall goals. The sooner people stop worrying about the “feminist agenda,” the quicker we can work together to tackle the real issues.