Dispatches from Guyland

Twenty-five years ago, when I would ask the students in my classes who planned to have families how they expected to balance work and family life, the women would typically say something like, “We’re gonna love each other. It’ll work out.” And the men would say, “Huh?” The question simply didn’t compute.

These days, when I ask the same question, the women are more likely to say, “Well, first I’m gonna get my career going, and then, when I’m 28, I’ll have my first kid, but I will only take a little time off because I want to keep my career moving. Then, when I have my second kid, that’s when I’m going to take five years off, because I want to be there with them when they are little and my career will be set enough that I will be able to go back to it.” They seem to have it all planned out, down to how old they will be when they have their first child.

And the men? They say, “We’re gonna love each other. It’ll work out.”

Half the story is to say that the men are a quarter-century behind the women. The other half is that, for the first time, the question is actually meaningful to them.

For many years, many men have felt that the feminist conversation wasn’t really about them. We believed we could skirt the conversation by self-immunization–the “I never raped anybody so this discussion about rape is not really about me” parry–or by deflection–the “I’m not like other men” defense. Some men did try to engage, become more responsive, but usually only expressed it in private.

Increasingly, we’re realizing that the feminist transformation of our society actually has something to do with us men.

And that’s what I’m doing here, on the Ms. website. This column, “Dispatches from Guyland,” will be the place to address those issues. It will be a place where men and women can ask questions about how to make sense of what often feel like dizzying changes.

Every two weeks or so, I’ll choose a question or two sent to me by you, our readers. They can range widely – from workplace issues, family lives, sex, love, friendship. I’ll try to be both analytic, providing some context for the issue (I am, after all, a sociologist, so that’s sort of my job), and pragmatic, giving people some concrete suggestions about how to engage more fully with the question.

This column is based on a simple premise: that the changes wrought by feminism over the past half-century have changed men’s lives as well as women’s. This means we have a choice: we can fight some rearguard action trying to stem the tide; we can run off to some purified male-only retreat to bond and lick our wounds; or we can walk, perhaps hesitantly at first, into a more gender-equal future, realizing that gender equality is not a zero-sum game in which men lose if women win, but a win-win.

I believe that feminism offers men an opportunity to live the lives we say we want to live–lives animated by greater integrity, by closer relationships with our families, our partners, our friends. Now all we have to do is something we’ve never been very good at: Ask for directions.

“Dispatches from Guyland” is the place where we will, together, read those maps, check for signposts, and ask each other for directions.

Comments

  1. love this!! I would also like to say that there has been push back on men trying to enter a traditonally woman space. I know that there have been some instances where men have tried to become active players instead of passive viewers but it has raised greater issues: can men truly ever transcend their gender and seek equality. And more importantly will other feminist support male attempts to transcend or will the same separtist political discoruse reoccur excluding men from efforts within feminism.

  2. Cyrus Fernandez says:

    Indeed, the feminist transformation of our society both needed and necessary to understanding the social network of our society. I believe, the more men speak out on feminist issues, the more we can start to understand and debunk many jealously regarded beliefs about gender and sexuality.

    For me, being a gay male and history student, the experience of heterosexuality is an interesting question originally raised by feminists. Just as much there is gay and lesbian history, so far, there is not such thing as heterosexual history. While many argue all history is the experience of heterosexuals, to discover gay and lesbian history promotes a sense of discontinuity, the notion history has not always been heterosexual. Moreover, if it has not always been heterosexual and no one is actively discussing and debating these ideas, to not do so then is to possibly ignore the history of nine-tenths of an entire population.

    Therefore, I believe any space for men to discuss feminist issues includes everyone in on a discussion to which we are all qualified to participate regardless of gender and sexuality.

  3. Amanda Montei says:

    I think Tony brings up an interesting point. This column is so wonderful and men indeed need to play a role in feminist/equality discourse. I have noticed, among young feminists, a bit of a “push back” but I think it’s important that it not be recognized as a “push out.” Young women who are active feminists and are truly negotiating their space in a complicated sociopolitical history are often met with varying levels of retort or mockery by men (and sometimes we generalize, yes, a serious problem). I think the tendency to expect this comes from years of feeling as though one’s needs or beliefs have been trivialized, and when one realizes that they have allowed that for too long, the impulse is anger, etc. Women are indundated with “what-to-be”s via media, family, work, friends (as are men, although in different ways), and becoming aware and present daily of the perpetual contestations we live is the first step in achieving harmonious relationships. Same goes for men. I applaud male feminists who are seeking that awareness out!

  4. As a feminist I am happy to see this space open up. I’m glad Michael is “asking directions” as we all should be willing to do as we venture into truly inclusive feminist territory.

    Looking forward to the discussion.

  5. Danielle says:

    As a self-identifying feminist, I do find it difficult to straighten my spine and declare to a man that I am feminist (especially when you mention Ms. magazine and they wonder aloud if it’s like Cosmo or Good Housekeeping). Stereotypes abound within even the female gender, so there is an innate discomfort in “outing” myself to a man. I think that men need to be taught/shown that feminism (the belief in equality for men and women of any race or religion or economic standing) benefits everyone it touches. We have learned that healthier and more educated women lead to more stable and successful countries. Framing feminism in the context of the welfare of a nation may help those men who feel that because they don’t rape or otherwise harm women that feminism has nothing to do with them. And, as you mentioned, reiterating that equal rights for women shouldn’t/don’t/won’t come at the expense of men’s rights (and that’s not what feminists believe anyway).

  6. I found your student’s comments about family quite telling, especially those from the guys. According to “The Meaning Of Fatherhood” by Tanfer and Mott, “It appears, from a variety of data sources, that most fathers still do very little child care, especially when the children are very young. To be sure, there has been a change in the meaning of fatherhood, as reflected in both the attitude and the behavior of fathers, largely as a result of a general shift in less gender-specific family roles. But, Pleck and others, who have done extensive research on this question, have concluded that most of these changes have been relatively modest.”

    I hope more men when they become fathers walk the walk as well as talk the talk. We can only wait and see.

  7. I am really looking forward to reading your column, Michael. I don’t think there are enough opportunities for open dialogue about the social and personal relationships between men and women, and I’m excited that this blog will provide a forum for many important conversations!!!

  8. I am glad to see this column starting.

    Danielle, I know what you mean. I identify as a feminist, but people do not always have a proper understanding of what this means. I have a friend who I once told that I was a feminist, and he continues to call me a “man-hater”– not true. I dislike the stigma associated with being a feminist, and I attempt to diffuse this stigma by explaining some of the current feminist issues (i.e. abortion, FGM, violence against women, rape, affordable birth control, LGBTQIA rights and human trafficking) to those who have a misconception of feminism. We need more men AND women to understand what it means to be a feminist today. I don’t know how others feel, but it bothers me when people claim that we live in a “post-feminist” era– my opinion is that we live in a new feminist era. I don’t see feminism as being something of the past, but rather, a movement, like any other, that changes overtime. Sure, women have the right to vote, but there are other issues, such as equal pay, that still need to be addressed.

    I am always glad to see men concerned with women’s rights. After all, women’s rights are a component of human rights– how can we fight for equality of one group and not for that of another. Feminist topics not only affect women, but rather, they affect all people of various backgrounds. I cannot wait to see future posts…

  9. Fiona Gierzynski says:

    When I had 3 sons under the age of 3, I was at a mothers’ support group meeting discussing how kids sometimes mirror the actions of the adults around them. I said that my oldest son would sometimes pretend he was “nursing” his teddy bear, even changing him from side-to-side. Most thought it was “cute”. One mom asked me, “Don’t you think he will be gender-confused when he gets older?” I asked her how many things she remembered about her life when she was three. I also pointed out that we spent quite a bit of time blathering about raising daughters to be independent as well as nurturing. I asked who they thought their strong women daughters would want to marry? A 2-dimensional male caricature, who only knew how to express violence, because that was the only emotion he was allowed to show? Or one of my sons, who had been brought up to be nurturing and sensitive to emotions, as well as strong and assertive. Should my boys only be allowed to play with half of the toys in the toy box? Why? To keep them from becoming gay or “gender-confused”? Or should I encourage them to express the full panoply of human emotions and experience? I got applause that night. And my 4th child was a daughter. So I’ve learned to encourage all of them to be “whole” people.

  10. philip peter says:

    I am convinced with Karen Warren, as she states in “The Power and Promise of Ecological Feminism,” that the feminist “standard of inclusiveness does not exclude the voices of men”; rather, it and allows males to participate in feminist politics insofar their voices “cohere with the voices of women.”

  11. I am thirteen and proud to identify as a radical feminist, but something I notice often–which drives me insane–is that men find it incredibly difficult to take women’s issues seriously. I don’t even know how many of my classmates will say things like “You should teach people how to be feminists–give them slapping lessons and everything!” and “You’re such a *feminist*,” as if it should be an insult. I don’t know why this is–possibly a deep-seated subconscious fear of women being too powerful, manifesting itself in the need to constantly downplay and make comic any movement that will empower women and potentially threaten the patriarchy which for far too long has remained unthreatened and unthreatenable. In my particular brand of feminism–that is, extremely radical, agressive, characterized by zero tolerance for any sort of sexism–becoming a “man-hater” is all too easy, and it’s an extremely slippery slope. I think many men–and even women–do perceive feminists as “man-hatingi bra-burners,” who don’t shave their legs or underarms and are relatively masculine in appearance–notice, many men have to see feminists as masculine in order to acknowledge that they have power–which is of course a ridiculous stereotype. I believe that columns like this do have the potential to change that, as does merely the practice of keeping and open mind and setting aside preconceived notions, on the part of men and women alike.

  12. Kathy McNeil says:

    @ Ophelia: If you ask this person if they believe that all people are equal and are entitled by law to equal opportunities and protections under the law, they will probably agree with you. So explain to them that “this IS feminism.” And when they look at you in confusion and say that “you’re not a feminist like those women’” ask them who “those women” are. Probably they will look at you in confusion and say something along the lines of unattractive, fat, etc.
    Unfortunately, the words “feminism” and “feminist” have been hijacked and made into an epithet by some groups.I believe that is is why people have a particular view of what a “feminist” is. It is also why many women don’t want to identify as a “feminist”. I’ve found that keeping a sense of humor helps as well. There are men out there who believe women have brains-I married one-but no one wants to be confronted all the time.
    @ Fiona-I applaud you for putting your point about raising boys so clearly and eloquently.

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