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Sex and the SafeRide

Reclaiming Masculinity

By Danchai Mekadenaumporn

Features Columnist

I think that I’ve been confused about feminism and its relationship to masculinity.

I used to think that feminism was in direct opposition to men. It seemed if you were a feminist you were automatically labeled anti-male and you thought women would be much better off if men had never existed. While I won’t deny there are probably women out there who think like that, I haven’t yet met a woman like that who called herself a feminist.

After looking feminism up in the dictionary, I found two definitions:

1: the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes

2: organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests

I’ve met many men who thought feminism was what I described earlier. In fact, I think most men I know would steer clear of any self-avowed feminist for worry of being attacked for being a man.

I don’t know why men are so scared. After attending events like the Vagina Monologues in February and Take Back the Night a couple of weeks ago, I’ve realized society is set up so women should be scared. One in four women who attend college will be raped, the vast majority of women who are raped know who their attacker is, and one in four women are abused or assaulted by an intimate partner.

We live in a society that is not only dangerous outside of the home for women, but dangerous inside it as well. In this world, we need something like feminism to bring these issues to light. Although women are steadily climbing the social ladder, men still do things to hinder their mobility. We hurt them, we abuse them, and we rape them. Then we blame them for it.

The traditional view of masculinity is of a strong (physically and emotionally), independent, proud, and self-assured man. That doesn’t sound too bad. However, it does come with some caveats: we assumed the role of protector, we assumed women were of lesser stature, and we assumed that any sign of weakness was seen as feminine.

As men, we need to drop the negative aspects of manhood and focus on the positives: confidence, self-assurance, and independence. We shouldn’t allow ourselves to be threatened by women’s upward mobility, but realize that it’s about time they take their place as our equals. We shouldn’t define weakness as feminine. We should start to see women not as objects, but as people. It makes it too easy to take advantage of someone when you see them as something less. We need to start taking responsibility for some of our actions, but we needn’t be apologetic or guilt-ridden. What men need to focus on is how to change things; apologizing while being complacent gets nothing done.

We need to start changing the traditional views of masculinity to fit the changing times. A little can go a long way in this case. The first thing men can do is be aware of their use of language and to talk to others about the implications of language as well. Words like “bitch,” “whore,” and “slut” are dehumanizing and make it easier to look at women as objects. Also, don’t say a test “raped” you. There are people who have been through that experience who might be very sensitive about the use of that word.

We need to be confident enough to speak up when we see an injustice. Many men will only seriously consider the words of other men. Let’s get away from a culture that blames the victim of sexual assault or violence and focusing on what we can do to support them. They did not ask to be assaulted.

We need to start realizing that the women being hurt are people you know. Chances are you’ve met a rape survivor. Chances are someone you care deeply about has been affected in some way by sexual violence. Men need to realize these women are our mothers, our sisters, our daughters, our friends, and our lovers. We need to realize if one of our loved ones is violated, so are we.

One of the biggest things we can do to redefine masculinity is to start talking. The biggest barriers are built by misunderstandings. Maybe if we make the effort to listen to each other, we can learn to bridge the gaps that inspire feminism and this discussion of masculinity. Maybe if we make the effort to listen to each other, we won’t have to worry about rape.

Now I know feminism isn’t about being anti-male and being masculine isn’t about being anti-female. They are both about the same things: equality and mutual respect. It’s about time we start changing.

Danchai Mekadenaumporn is a member of the class of 2005 and may be reached at danchai@mit.edu.