Feminism | Posted by Bryan N on 07/9/2012

The Role Of Men In The Fight Against Sexism

There has been something I have been wanting to get off my chest for a while. As a man active in the fight against sexism in every form, I find myself looking back to my days in high school, middle school, and sometimes even elementary school. I think about how men are programmed constantly by society from a very young age.

Growing up as a teenage boy, I entered the sadly common environment where sexism prescribes that we prove our masculinity through violent behavior. Even in elementary school I would feel quite marginalized by my male peers who were into sports and being “tough.” As we got into the 5th and 6th grades “jokes” about women became more common, and disgusting things were said. l preferred the arts and writing poetry to activities like football and proving how tough I was, but as I got older, the pressure grew stronger and stronger. Again, in that environment sexist jokes were common place, as was using derogatory language towards women, talking about how tough you are, how many women you could lie to and use, how many fights you would take part in, what you could go through without shedding a tear, etc. I often challenged this and the amount of shit I received for doing so was very hard to deal with. It was understood that such behavior was normal.

But something about it never felt quite right to me. I had trouble hiding my emotions. I was far from being that “tough guy,” and in fact, to this day, I have never been in a fist fight. But I was told that, as a man, being sensitive was wrong. I was constantly told I needed to man up and not be a little bitch. Why was I being such a pussy? What are you, some type of faggot or something? This was constant. The young 14 or 15 year old me sometimes would feel like I had to buy into it to some extent. Sometimes, I would laugh or make a fucked up joke, because this is how we as men were supposed to be. This is what is normal.

These masculinity standards never completely felt right to me, but it wasn’t until I opened my eyes and ears to how the actions of so many men in our society affect all women that I realized just how wrong it is. The more I listened to people around me and opened my eyes, the more I learned from women and the more I began to question everything.

At first, I was very ashamed. I was so angry and disgusted at the way some people act, and I was angry and ashamed of myself for the times I had not realized some of the harmful things that came out of my mouth, or some of the things I had done. I began to look at language and the way we talk. I thought about how much damage was caused by not just the actions of others, but the words used in our everyday language. Before I knew it, I could no longer count the amount of people who had been abused and assaulted in the name of masculinity. I would listen to women talk about the precautions they took every time they left the house, or just how much it hurt them when they were harassed on the street.

Unfortunately, I stayed quiet for too long. I was too scared to call people out for their actions, scared to get shit for not being “manly” enough, more than I already did. I was afraid that I would piss men off and get beat up. It would eat at me, but I just couldn’t gather the courage to speak out. Sometimes I would just lay awake and think about how I just wish I had said something.

I am glad that I finally conquered the fear of speaking out. I learned not to let the stigma for not fulfilling society’s definition of “manly” hold me back. I am glad that I found the passion to fight sexism, to work to end rape culture, to reach out to survivors in any way that I can, to call men out on their shit. I now see it as my duty to try to reach out to men and help them break free from these pressures — what is normalized and beat into our heads. I see it as my duty to help men realize that it is ok to speak out against it, that they shouldn’t let the pressures and the stigmas get them down.

Fuck society’s standards of manhood, telling us that we need to be tough, emotionless, violent, and sexist to be a man. If that is manhood, I don’t want anything to do with it, and nobody should. That isn’t manly. Being a man means no longer saying sexist comments even under the guise of humor. Being a man is knowing that it’s ok to show emotion, to love and to cry. Being a man means never using words like bitch, cunt, whore, or slut to describe women even if they have wronged you, even if you are angry. I have been stabbed in the back in relationships, but I refuse to call them bitches; and when my friends do, I call them out on it.

We, as men, need to break free. We don’t have to give in to the way that we are programmed by society, the media, and our peer groups. Yes, you may get shit for breaking out of that box, for speaking out, but it is our duty as men to stand up and stop this cycle. It is our duty to create spaces where we can educate young boys, teenage men, and adult males about how they don’t have to be tough, emotionless, violent, and sexist: in fact they can’t be. It is our duty to join in the fight against sexism and to speak out to other men about how essential it is for us to smash these societal constraints and redefine what it means to be a man. We need workshops at every college, high school, middle school and elementary school because this societal programming starts very young.

Of course, I am not perfect. I have, at times, given into these forces. I am still always unlearning what has been beaten into my head since birth. I can’t change the past, but I can change the future. I can make it so there is a world where these pressures no longer exist, where men are no longer sexist. I can now join in the fight to end sexism, where there is no more abuse, there is no more rape, where women and men alike are never shamed for having multiple sex partners or having none at all. I see ending the pressure for us men to be violent and sexist as an essential aspect in the struggle to end sexism, and create a world without rape, a world where harassment is a thing of the past. This is not to preach; I know what it is like to feel these pressures. But I know that I must now apologize for anything I have done in the past and promise that I will keep fighting until the day I die.

Come on men, let’s break free. Let’s all stand together and say sexism will no longer exist in our name. It starts with simply listening to women and letting them speak about their oppression, but it ends with a unified fight. I hope to one day see men everywhere view it as their duty to challenge society’s problematic definition of manhood, and to end the pressures upon us. One organization hit the nail on the head when they called themselves Men Can Stop Rape, and I hope to see more organizations like that pop up. I hope to see organizations create more workshops and find more ways to include this essential part of the struggle in our fight for women’s liberation. Hopefully in my life time, I will see a world without oppression, but regardless of whether or not that happens in a few years or a hundred years from now, I know that our actions now are essential for shaping the future. The sexist ways that men act in our society are disgusting and horrible, but the tree must be dug up from the roots. The biggest problem is that this is how we are taught and programmed to be. It is up to us to change this and to end the cycle.

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  • Ariel @ at 7:50 pm, July 9th, 2012

    Love this. Perfect. I am so very glad to know that there are men out there that feel this way and act as you do.

  • Maureen @ at 10:15 pm, July 9th, 2012

    Great post! I wish more men were like you!

  • Salome Semolue @ at 12:19 pm, July 10th, 2012

    Hi, I just find out your blog today through an article in a students magazine. I’m really thankful of what are you doing. Keep it up!

  • fed up with irrationality @ at 3:19 pm, July 10th, 2012

    Awesome post!! It takes a truly independent thinker to do what you have done. Women and men should appreciate your courage.

  • Bryan Newman @ at 5:01 pm, July 10th, 2012

    Thanks :] I am glad you enjoy it. All feedback is helpful and will help me improve as a writer and activist.

  • cindy waitt @ at 10:27 pm, July 10th, 2012

    Bryan, beautifully said!

  • Eliana @ at 11:54 pm, July 10th, 2012

    Thank you! It’s so encouraging to know that there are guys like you out there.

  • Paula Orbea @ at 1:34 am, July 12th, 2012

    Wonderful. Simply Wonderful!
    I have a blog called “Questions for Women” – but with questions for guys too. I pretty much look at and question ‘the machine’ that creates these social ‘guidelines’ and how we (both genders) can hopefully change things around. It’s fantastic to see more men voicing their opposition – because the damage occurs to both women AND men, and in turn, our future generations.
    Thank you!! :D

  • ilkö?retim test @ at 7:03 am, July 12th, 2012

    Great post! I wish more men were like you!

  • Amanda @ at 3:54 pm, July 12th, 2012

    Bryan, it would be awesome to hear from you weekly about specific issues. You mentioned the use of derogatory language toward women and street harassment. It’s vital that men speak up and against inappropriate behavior to other men.

    I say it’s vital because there are some men out there who, no matter what any one woman says to them, will only hear hot air. Those are the men who need to hear that objectification and disrespect is wrong from OTHER men. I honestly feel that’s the only way they will even begin to unpackage the world around them and then be open to women and their perspective on feminist issues.

    Bascially men have to hear from OTHER men that feminism isn’t a bad thing but that point is probably moot by now.

  • Bryan Newman @ at 1:09 pm, July 13th, 2012

    Thanks :] I hope to contribute more to the site as I write more about things like this.

  • July(ish) Favourites « femevital @ at 1:45 am, July 15th, 2012

    […] interesting article on men’s role in the fight against sexism via the […]

  • Jess/Lance @ at 2:14 am, July 19th, 2012

    Thanks. That really lifted up my spirits. Its good to have a reminder that there are guys like you out there, Bryan. I have to go back to school fairly early this year and I have been dreading it very much because of all the guys being very hyper masculine. It scares me to no end, because they always talk shit about women and how they like to beat up queers (which I am myself). This gives me some hope that maybe their opinions can change.

    Love and Hope,

  • Bryan Newman @ at 1:20 am, July 21st, 2012

    I am glad you enjoyed it and it lifted up your spirits. I wish the best of luck to you at the school. I also wish for those ideas and actions in those men will change. I hope you will be able to find other men who reject these ideas of manhood and that maybe a force to fight against the homophobia and sexism at that school. If it isn’t challenged and looked at with criticism then it won’t change, or if it does it will change much slower. Good luck and keep your head up. Thanks for reading what I had to say, and I value all the feedback. I haven’t been able to write much more lately due to personal and family drama, but I have an idea about something I want to talk about soon. :] Goodnight and keep up the good fight! SOLIDARITY

  • isobel @ at 9:16 pm, August 23rd, 2012

    Hi i have just read this article and i find it really refreshing to hear a mans point of view of the effects of sexism towards, as i have learn’t men also struggle to meet up to a standard of masculinity, i also believe strongly as a society both sexes have to speak out agaisnt sexism , which, at most times is a very brave thing to do and there is still a lot people who don’t like to discuss topics that challenge normal ideas/ sterotypes about gender.
    Any way my point is, well done for making that step to speaking up against a society that keeps men and women in gender sterotypes and i hope you continue.

  • Rakel Yeoman @ at 6:20 pm, October 27th, 2012

    Everyday I have to endure sexist remarks. What hurts me more than the remarks is when I get yelled out and debated when I say “That is sexist and hurt me” I am immediately told that I’m wrong for not finding it funny or my favorite one “You must be on your period” as if it wasn’t bad enough to be sexually objectified, then have to endure the verbal sexist funnies about women …MY WORDS get devalued because I must be on my period. Which is another sexist statement. A statement men have used to shut us up. Thanks for publicly announcing to everyone around what “might” be going on in my pants. I wanted to cry. My only crime was that I wore a different outfit to leave my house. I wore an outfit that consisted of breasts and a vagina. An outfit I was born with. An outfit I had no control over. If I played a movie that sexually objectified men (yes, I’m aware that those movies never make it to mainstream) I really don’t see these men laughing or sitting around to watch it. I was also told that to cure my problem of being offended that I should go out and sexually objectify men. Wow!!! How do I do that? How do I walk up to a guy and stare at his penis? I can’t …because it isn’t right. Its not me. I am penalized if I am not a pervert…I am literally told to my face that I need to get with the program. Why do I have to debate a guy in the first place about why I should be treated like a human being? Do men have to walk around begging and pleading not to be raped ( i know men get raped not discounting them), not to be sexually harassed at work, not to have to be the subject of a sexist joke, not to be whistled at, taunted, called a slut, whore, bitch, etc. Why is it that when I have earned my position or my talent men say “she must have earned it on her back” Sorry but the majority of events women do on their backs ISN’T SEX!!!! it’s SLEEPING!!

  • sunny @ at 1:11 am, December 30th, 2012

    you people are idiots….beating around the bush..
    and this WILL do nothing!!!

    The problem with our society that has long persisted, is that male purpose in life has always been tied to females…ie FAMILY..
    the reason men are lost is that, truly so, they are NOT NEEDED in families. this FACT MUST be accepted and only then can we redefine manliness… we MUST define a purpose for men that is INDEPENDENT of women..

    most FEMINISTS are stupid in that they don’t see beyond Misogyny .. they don’t UNDERSTAND or want to UNDERSTAND that there is a reason behind MISOGYNY, that it IS caused by something else and that MEN are NOT born with it…

    MEN have always needed women for family, and herein lies the seeds.. since they need women for FAMILY and hence for purpose, they NEEDED to control women to have a stable purpose.. if women could get up and leave with the child, they would lose their role,and hence we had institutionalized misogyny as marriage, religion etc..

    in order to find true independent MALE purpose and truly end MISOGYNY, we need to set right it’s origin..
    women have a sexual purpose in life independent of men—their womb gives them that purpose while men need to find women to get theirs..

    what MEN and society at large needs to do, is to find an HONORABLE, RESPECTABLE PURPOSE that is INDEPENDENT of women… only then will men be free and only then can we have a better definition of MANLINESS…and finally end all misogyny..

  • L @ at 11:46 pm, February 1st, 2013

    Bryan — thank you

  • Rachel @ at 2:11 pm, April 4th, 2013

    As a woman, a mother, and a fellow human being, I want to thank you for your tremendous courage. To stand up for a cause greater than ourselves, is very admirable.

    Everything you said hit home.
    I have often stood up to large groups of men, to talk about the issues. I have gotten a huge amounts of backlash in return.

    I know what it is like, to walk in front of men, and to literally have my body and mind mentally raped. I had two choices, I could either remain quiet (which is what they wanted) or speak up. I chose to speak out…I was and still am afraid, but I know that if I say nothing….I am just as guilty.

    Men like you, stand in front of people like me, to take those hits, it is men like you that allow me to take a break to breath. It is men like you that provide a much needed safe haven.

    You are truly my hero, and I can’t thank you enough.

  • Bryan Newman @ at 2:49 am, July 6th, 2013

    That means lots to me and I am glad you liked the article, but I shouldn’t need to be thanked for being a decent human being. It shouldn’t need to be heroic to stand up against the sexism that goes on in the world. It should be a given.

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