Welcome to the fourth edition of The Feminist Reading List. Find the previous lists here. And don’t forget to tell us what else you are reading or what you think about these reading lists.
Notice how we phrased our title here? We are in no doubt that you awesome male-bodied folks out there are kindred souls when it comes to the feminist movement. We understand and forgive your confusions. We know you have questions and we want to be the people with the answers or at least the resources that contain the answers.
We know you have opinions, and we know many of you are better attuned to feminist discourse than a lot of us, and we tip our imaginary hats to you. We want to befriend you and have occasional brunches with you. No, we won’t attack you if you disagree with our ideas. We want to have civil, open-minded dialogues with you.
Let’s also get another thing clear – we the feminists don’t hate men. Or rather, we don’t blanket-hate all men just because they are men. We may end up hating or disliking or ignoring some men for specific reasons, but then that’s another story.
This list is for all those men who at some point or the other have been commanded to “man up!” We know that’s a lot of men!
This list is for all those men who like pink but won’t dare wear pink; who like reading ‘women’s’ magazines but do so only on the sly while sitting on the pot; who are befuddled when accused of ‘mansplaining’ or ‘manspreading’; who believe women are from Venus; who openly declare their feminist credentials; who don’t know the first thing about feminism; who think all feminists have hairy legs and bushy crotches; who have/have not read textbooks on female anatomy.
In short, this list is for all men! And women! And for all the people who give no shit about that gender binary!
1. What is feminism?
This fundamental question seems to flummox many, many women and men alike, even in these times – irrespective of educational qualification, geographical location, and level of interest in the music of Beyoncé. Time magazine even wanted the word ‘feminism’ banned last year.
We know, it’s kinda sad!
Why ‘feminism’ remains one of the most misunderstood terms in the lexicon is down to multiple factors. Its true definition got lost in translation across the third wave, and got pushed along to confusing banks as the Internet took up the cause and launched a million blogs. But the word, the movement, the belief was and remains fundamentally the same as it has always been – it means equality of choices, benefits, opportunities, and rights between women and all other sexes, and men.
Keep it simple! Read –
2. Do men belong in this movement?
The Feminist Movement has been historically led by women (duh!), but to hold that against the movement is to ignore the realities of those initial times. The first few decades of feminist movements were fraught and often disparate. Women were forced to jump in front of horses, starve in jails, and face up to all the ignominy of spinsterhood to communicate their points across. These were women who were bold visionaries, fiery speakers, and fearless activists. But not even all women were in on this equality movement; even the seminal Suffragette Movement had spawned very active, women-led anti-suffragette camps.
To think that feminism has from the start been a gargantuan gang of all women of the world was as false then as it is, unfortunately, even now. Why initially there were few men joining the movement or even peripherally supporting it is in fact a reflection on the men of the times, and not the women. In all probability, the latter would have welcomed every iota of support from the former. There never has been a decided campaign against men joining feminist ranks, there has just always been the reality that men never thought it their ground to join, or rather, mistakenly thought it was an assault on them.
It wasn’t as well articulated then as it is now that feminism is in fact an assault on the patriarchal system, one that sneakily and constantly insults and imprisons both women and men. The men who have realized this have rallied with women, they have written in support of women, they have sung songs for them. And so many of them have shed all inhibitions and called themselves ‘feminists’.
So, yeah, men can be feminists, men have been feminists. ‘Feminist’ doesn’t define or represent a gender. It is a commitment to equality between women and men. Period. Make it a habit to strongly disagree with anyone who tells you otherwise. Read –
3. Gender stereotypes are two-edged swords
Few women will disagree with you when you as a man choose to assert that you feel the obnoxious pull of patriarchy in your life as well. We all know you do. We know how stupid it is to be dictated to about the colours you can wear, the kind of music you can listen to, how you are expected to be brave all the time, how the Marlboro Man should be your ideal of manhood and not your neighbourhood hipster with his androgynous choices. How you get called a ‘pussy’, or ‘henpecked’, if your female partner earns more than you, or is taller than you, or is more vocal than you. Rest assured, even the US President, Barack Obama, cannot escape the idiocy of these judgements.
These stereotypes are dangerous and insidious, and have played havoc with the minds and relationships of generations of men. If you have ever thought about how to become a feminist, you could start right here, by vociferously questioning these rigid gender-specific roles, and by daring to forge healthy relationships with women beyond these dictates. You have every right to be yourself and be free of imaginary rules of ‘manhood’, just as women have every right to be truly free in their lives.
You see, our fight is more similar than you had ever guessed! Read –
And Watch –
4. That said… don’t try to derail feminist discourse
Patriarchy-dictated gender stereotypes affect both men and women. We are in agreement. Completely. But this line of thought becomes hugely detrimental to the feminist cause when it is thrown around every time women want to focus on grave issues affecting them. There is even an acronym for it – PHMT – Patriarchy Hurts Men Too – devised specifically to express our irritation with this trend. To constantly bring up your sufferings as a man while discussing the plight of women, some of whom have suffered crippling disadvantages all their lives, is selfish at best and smugly condescending at worst. Once you start misusing this ‘I am a victim too’ card to wantonly drown the voice of the majority of women, you become part of the massively annoying culture of derailment of feminist understanding, and in fact, may possibly make even the most liberal feminists wary of your presence around them. Because every time you do that, you are re-asserting that old habit of pushing down women’s concerns and making men’s gripes the top order of things. You are telling us that, ‘Hey, you think you got problems, look at me, listen to my concerns, and then let’s compare degrees of suffering!’
Would you bring up your annoyance with a car break-down at a meeting about cake-making? No, right? Exactly. Pick your moments, respect all discourses, and never act like your issues are more important than the others. Read –
#YesAllWomen [TRIGGER WARNING: The content includes mentions of gender-based abuse and/or violence] (via Slate.com)
5. Question male-privilege
This is another fantastic way of asserting your commitment to feminism – by recognizing how you, as a male-bodied person, have certain undeniable privileges in your everyday life. It is tempting, especially in an urbane environment, to out-rightly reject the notion of such a privilege. But it can’t change the fact that it does exist. Have you ever felt the compulsion to change out of sweaty/baggy clothes just because you are stepping out of the house, even to buy milk? Has anyone ever suggested to you that you are successful only because you have a fine rack and/or probably gave the boss a discreet hand-job? Have you felt your heart flutter in panic every time a stranger came too close to you while walking on a street? Have you ever had to stay on in abusive relationships because you have been told that your child needs a father, no matter how violent or indifferent? Have you been called a slut for wearing make-up and short dresses, and made fun of as a drab queen when not?
Jumping into these uncomfortable questions and realizing that in all probability most of your answers are negatory can be a great first step into a feminist state of mind. How you choose to go from there is of course your decision. Read –
6. The Male-Gaze and Phallo-centrism
These two ideas are massive monoliths in the academic kingdom of gender studies. If you consider yourself male and are sitting on the fence about feminism, we highly recommend that you put on some Patti Smith music in the background and read up on these terms. The male gaze especially has taken on a million layers in this age of unbridled exposure to media of all forms. It brings to question how we modern folks define sexuality and sensuality when it comes to women; who we anoint as sex symbols and pin-ups, and who we tear down as whores and skanks; how we choose to represent women on the screen, what their clothes and dialogues seek to communicate; why only ‘jocks’ can ‘land’ ‘hot chicks’ and the rest of the male-kind must pick at scraps; why men and women can never be platonic friends who empower each other’s thoughts and outlook; why James Bond is awesome for being able to sleep around with no commitment issues, but no major female-hero film figure can manage to be that guiltlessly promiscuous. This list is long, folks. Read –
This essay will give a clear overview of the Male Gaze theory and how it applies to media. (via Storify)
We’re Taking Lesbian Sexuality Back from the Male Gaze and the Result Is Awesome (via Everyday Feminism)
7. Assigning convenient definitions to a gender
To conflate one person’s idiosyncrasy as being the hallmark of the entire gender that person belongs to is a serious mistake we all tend to make. So, if your boyfriend is sloppy and can’t work a flush, then ALL men are sloppy and need flush coaching. If you had bad sex with an ex-girlfriend who had small boobs, then presto! Now you know that ALL women with small boobs are going to give you blue balls.
What a load of crap!
This kind of simplistic thinking is exactly what is turning books like Men Are From Mars….etc. into bestsellers. And also filling the Internet with endless memes and posters and GIFs that push distressingly stupid ideas about women and men. And these often get pasted onto Facebook feeds, and then people go ‘like’ it, and ‘share’ it, or go ‘sooo true!!’ in the comments section. Phssssh!!! We have lost count of the number of times we have mentally slapped people who have uttered the words “Men will be Men” in front of us!
So do this – next time you are tempted to think that women/men are this and that, try remembering that there are billions of people on this planet and that there is a thing called the law of averages. Let’s beat this drivel with some good old scientific thinking, and some faith in the complexity of human behaviour.
What It Means To 'Be A Man': How Male Gender Stereotypes Try To Fit Growing Boys Into A Mold, And Fail (via Medical Daily)
8. Protect the man
There is no point in denying that there probably exists a fiery sub-brand of feminism that possibly dreams of mass castrations and the annihilation of all male-kind. The second wave of feminism did indeed produce some thinkers who wept at that extremist altar. But, just as it is unfair to denigrate an entire religion because of the actions of some fundamentalists, so it is unfair to consider the entire feminist landscape as invested in just one violent line of thought. Indeed, even self-proclaimed feminists need to constantly whip their hair around trying to keep up with divergent thoughts on what women want and should be fighting for or against.
So, yeah, we get why some men around the world have thought of protecting themselves from feminists, and of launching ‘meninist’ movements. Technically there is nothing wrong with such arrangements, we are all allowed to protect our own interests against real and perceived dangers. But the ‘meninist’ movement at its worst comes across as an institutionalized derailment tactic against feminism. It misunderstands the latter’s capacity to stand up for aggrieved men as well. It tries to play up the ‘men as victims’ card to do just what patriarchy expects men to do all the time – make sure that their voices are the most dominant, and to view any female expression as some grandiose evil plan aimed at usurping power from the male. In short, let’s make sure that everything is back to being all about men. Thankfully, we are not buying it.
9. Feminism and friendship/love/sex/casual attraction
Rarely will you come across a girl/woman who will co-relate your stubble with your political beliefs. So is the case with body hair when it comes to women – in most cases we keep it, or shave it, or just don’t care either way about it, only as a matter of convenience and not because the feminist charter forced us to take an oath about it. Girls and women embody all sorts of quirks, and to believe in nonsense like all women hate video games is just as annoying as saying that all guys love video games. Your dating ‘game’ should not be coloured by ridiculous claims that all women are over-sensitive kooks and that you as ‘men’ need to be on guard against manipulations. These notions of behaviour are constantly piled onto us by businesses who look to make tons of money by playing us as their pawns. Did dousing yourself in that deo make mini-skirt clad women fall all over you like dandruff? Exactly!
Rejecting this trend that treats men and women like airheads is a fantastic statement in feminist thinking. If you identify as male and happen to be dating a person who identifies as female and is vocally feminist, then hey, pop out the champagne! Because you will be the recipient of eye-opening dialogues on female orgasms, female tropes, vaginal mysteries, body-shaming, clitoral stimulation, rape culture, and so much more awesomeness.
Sex with a feminist is awesome, sex as a feminist is awesome. So is love, so is everything else. Because it is based on mutual understanding of equality and respect and opportunity. The moment you stop viewing a feminist, or rather any woman aware and communicative of her feelings and opinions, as a threat to your manhood (whatever that is), you have crossed over to the other side. Don’t let anyone tell you what makes you a man. Read –
10. Rape Culture and what constitutes Consent
In this age of thinking up labels for all things and happenings, one of the terms we are most glad about is ‘rape culture’. Because it scoops up micro-aggressions as well as everything beyond that relates to rape. It is time we all stopped thinking of rape as one incident somewhere against some person by some random salivating stranger in a dark alley, and start looking at it as a compound problem that has every day symptoms, affecting a lot of women, and also a significant number of men. Rape culture afflicts not just actions, but language, gestures, presumptions, clothes, and more.
Reading about the proliferation of rape culture will naturally lead to the question of consent, again an issue that should be fairly simple, but is expressly not. We could all go on and on about ‘yes means yes’ and the absence of ‘no’ doesn’t mean ‘yes’, but a lot of people will still be confused when faced with the possibility of easy sex with a drunken girl friend or acquaintance. The one good solution could be to educate oneself and as many folks around as possible so that there are enough voices of reason to yank confused brains back to rationality.
And as a side note, never say “I know you want it”. To anyone! Ever! Jeez. Read –
[TRIGGER WARNING: The content below includes discussions on sexual abuse and/or violence.]
11. Feminist fatherhood
We as daughters cannot overstate the influence our mothers can have on us, both great and tragic. What we cannot also ignore is the deeply significant role a liberal, feminist father can have on our lives. Really, this example can colour everything from our relationships to our parenting philosophies. A feminist father can impart valuable lessons on what a healthy relationship truly means, and on how to identify abuse, and most importantly, imbibe that crucial level of confidence in their children to walk out and seek better lives for themselves when the going gets unfair. A feminist father will raise feminist sons, and in effect, will help realize a feminist generation.