Although nowadays it’s trendy to be a feminist guy or at least a guy “sensitive to feministy stuff,” the reality is that being a feminist partner can be hard. For any Master of None fans, as you saw with Dev, all the good intentions in the world sometimes still means not getting it.
There are real, tangible ways men can be feminist partners. First, men can understand feminist issues are not women’s issues. They are everyone’s issues. I know it is tricky. The word feminist seems to emphasize the “fem” and the connotation of "feminist" is empowered women fighting against the patriarchy. Even the images of “feminist” depict shouting women with big hair. But the thing is, “women’s issues” inevitably involve men as well.
Reproductive rights? You bet you want your girlfriend to have access to free birth control and other contraceptives. Sexual assault? Of course you want to exist in a safe community where the autonomy of all bodies is respected regardless of gender, sexual orientation, class, or race. Body image? Damn straight you want your lady to love her body, her hair, and her skin in whatever beautiful shape or color she rocks it.
Besides all that, men are just as affected by the male-dominated society as women. The unrealistic standards men are held to in our culture mean men often are forced to bury emotions, deny intimacy, and, if porn is any indication, have constant, rock-hard, 9in erections for hours on end. The power structure that puts men over women limits men to a very particular and restrictive idea of what it means to be a man.
You don’t need to even really get it, or solve it. All you need to do is understand the world can be misogynistic and that being a woman existing within that world brings with it a lot of challenges.
Not following the bro code and acting like a tough dude often means being kicked out of the bro club -- or shamed back into behaving “like a dude.” All that crap drags men down just like it does women. Knowing this, being aware of our male-dominated culture, and investigating how masculinity ideals limit your potential is one of the sexiest things ever.
Of course, dudes are still dudes and as such they may never really “know” what it is like to be on the woman’s side: more constantly objectified, more commonly the victim of violence, and more often demeaned. But that doesn’t mean dudes can’t empathize and -- more importantly -- listen to what it is like over here in photoshopped, never-good-enough lady land. Men don’t have to “know” and they definitely don’t have to mansplain. Women are often put in the role of explaining things to men only to have those men turn around and attempt to explain the woman’s feelings right back to her using the ever-important male logic.
Guys, you don’t need to do that! You don’t need to even really get it, or solve it. All you need to do is understand the world can be misogynistic and that being a woman existing within that world brings with it a lot of challenges.
Of course... it is really nice when guys show up as well. There is nothing more heart-warming and ovary-quivering as a man showing up with his lady to whatever is important to her, be that a women’s rights rally, a town hall meeting where she is speaking, her first art show, a fundraiser she organized, or even just cooking dinner on one of “her nights” because you know she is swamped with that grant proposal. Of course supporting each other is a two-way street but in a society that still doesn’t value domestic labor (aka the dishes), all kinds of “women’s work” is often overlooked and undervalued. Supporting women as they pursue their passions includes physically showing up and doing your fair share of that domestic work so that your partner has the time to smash the patriarchy.
Here’s the thing, though. There is no such thing as a perfect feminist. As human beings, we are all evolving and changing along with the world in which we live. The boundaries and discussions within feminism are always changing as well, as we struggle to recognize the limitations of the feminist movement to include issues of class and race. Men won’t be able to keep up with all of it. Men won’t be perfect. Neither will their female feminist partners. But the point is that men -- and women -- try.
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Niki Fritz is a writer of feministy and occasionally funny words, a drinker of coffee and whiskey, and a legitimate studier of pornography at Indiana University.