Last week, I had a guy friend of mine over for dinner. We spent the night catching up, until he saw my massive stack of feminist books and shifted the conversation to his issues with modern-day feminism.
“Look,” he began. “Truth is, if I meet a woman who calls herself a feminist, I’ll turn around and run away.”
Immediately, my inner feminist instinct was to give him a long pep-talk, explaining the importance of feminism and convincing him to support it. But I felt hopeless; I had had this tiresome debate many times before, with other reluctant men. None of them ever listened to what I had to say.
I decided to take a simpler approach this time. “Do you believe men and women should be equal?” I asked, familiar with the way the conversation would go.
“Yes,” he said (as expected). “Of course I do.”
“Then you’re a feminist, too,” I tried explaining, but it was obvious that he had already made up his mind — that for him, feminism was equal to man-hating.
Men’s nonparticipation in feminism is a problem, and my friend isn’t alone. None of the men in my life, Turkish or American, identify as feminists. Most of them are simply not interested in these issues. They see feminism as a distant movement that doesn’t concern them; as long as they personally don’t harass or disrespect women, they feel they’ve done their part. They label themselves “the good guys,” yet turn a blind eye to misogyny and leave it for women to deal with.
Modern-day feminism is seen by many, like my friend, as a movement that excludes men. While it’s true that feminism is, and has always been, focused closely on women’s rights, it does not mean men should stay out of it. In fact, they must actively participate.
But feminism’s ill reputation as a man-hating movement is putting up barriers in communication. As men misinterpret feminist advocacy for women’s safety as personal accusations, they refuse to listen. Instead of making an effort toward the equality they so claim to value, they focus their energy on derailing hashtags like #NotAllMen.
But holding men accountable for distancing themselves from the fight for women’s rights is far from man-hating. If anything, holding anyone accountable for choosing to remain silent is the bare minimum.
What lies at the root of men’s nonparticipation in feminism, and movements like #NotAllMen, is a mindset of rejecting responsibility toward gender equality. Reflecting upon one’s part in the system is crucial, and all men play a role in the patriarchy.
As long as every woman is at risk of violence just by virtue of being a woman, every man, whether he is “the good guy” or not, is taking part in the continuation of the patriarchal order. This doesn’t mean that all men are bad, but that all men have a responsibility to change the status quo.
There is still much work to be done. Every day, an estimated 137 women are killed by their partners or family members globally. Yet laws against domestic violence and femicide are inadequate. Women are still paid 22.4% less than men for the same jobs, in addition to all the unpaid labor they carry out at home. Yet presently only six countries in the world satisfy all requirements to offer men and women completely equal legal work rights. People holding high government positions, such as lawmakers and politicians, are, and have always been, predominantly men. Where such inequality exists, not being a direct perpetrator of violence is not enough. We need men to actively prioritize women’s safety and equality using their positions of power.
From my experience, women, not men, are expected to speak and stand up against misogyny. If someone makes a sexist comment in a meeting, all eyes turn to the women in the room, expectant. Simultaneously, women are ignored when they call out sexism. When men speak up, whether in private or professional environments, they are more likely to influence other men, especially in groups where women aren’t present.
By staying passive, only men are benefiting from the privilege that society unfairly grants them, normalizing it, and marginalizing women along the way. If men truly want to be “the good guys,” they must first realize the power of their privilege, then pay it forward.
Because the truth is, feminism needs men — well, not only men, but everyone — to actively support gender equality.
The simple remark that my guy friend made that night led to a series of realizations on my part, particularly concerning men’s role in feminism, and their hesitation when it comes to getting involved in it. I now see that allyship takes hard work. Men, and all allies of feminism, must actively participate in the fight for gender equality.
The issue of gender inequality and injustice is not at all a simple fight between men and women. It’s not sex nor gender that lies at the root of the problem, but an ideology based on discrimination, hate and violence, which feminism aims to combat. Only when we unite for our common goals can we make a long-lasting change in the world.
Merve Ozdemir writes the Wednesday column on exploring her cross-cultural identity as a 21st-century feminist.