Burned Out

Brighton Fowler

This week’s column is devoted to debunking a feminist urban legend: The infamous “man-hater” stereotype that feminists just can’t seem to shake, despite their best efforts. I for one am truly appalled by this label. I don’t hate men; in fact, quite contrary to man-hating, I try very hard to see men’s strengths despite their gender. I see the gender formerly known as male, as people, as individuals, not as insensitive drones. This, of course, is harder or easier depending on the day or the circumstance, but of course, we feminists are not saints (thank God).
So if you are still convinced all feminists are “man-haters,” get a load of this. A study was done at Rutgers University last year by two psychologists, Rudman & Phelan, who hypothesized that feminism and romance are in direct conflict, based on the prevailing stereotype that all feminists are single, lesbian, and unattractive (2007). Ouch.
Contrary to popular belief, what they found from their surveys was that overall, both men and women reported feminism had a positive influence on romantic relationships. Rudman and Phelan’s study found that women with feminist male partners had healthier heterosexual relationships and men with feminist female partners reported more stable relationships and greater sexual satisfaction. Whoa, feminists are good in bed and they improve relationship quality? Man-haters? I think not.
Okay, so the social scientist would tell you that feminists are not man-haters, but it’s okay if you still have your doubts. I mean, if you’re a man and you show up to the Michigan Women’s Music Festival, don’t expect a warm welcome, let alone to ever get a glimpse at Ani Difranco’s delicious dreads. Yeah, these chicks will kick you off their “sacred space” faster than you can say, “But I’m a feminist, too.”
I must admit, I certainly have moments where all I want to do is blame the hegemony and male privilege for the problems in the world (famine, war, global warming, etc.), but I don’t hate all men. Nor do I really think anyone in particular is to blame, except maybe Bush. I just think some men, like our current president, are really poor leaders in terms of what it means to be a “man” in our society.
I always hear these things about being a “real man” – that to “be a man” in our society it is not enough to identify yourself with men; rather, you must constantly prove you really are what you say you are.
The characteristics of masculinity I value most highly are integrity, openness, respect, strength, compassion, leadership, accountability, determination — things that seem to be positive traits of an individual versus obscure aspects of some essential masculinity. Unfortunately, these identifiably masculine traits seem all too often to be squashed by our cultural obsession with the “machismo” of “real men”.
Excuse me, but would someone care to tell me what exactly makes a “real man?” Is our current president a “real” man because he is one of the most powerful world leaders and wages wars about money and oil under the guise of democracy? Is James Bond a “real” man because he sleeps with lots of hot women and drives expensive sports car and has cool gadgets? Is the iconic Western hero John Wayne a real man because he is an invulnerable, ambitious cowboy who needs nothing from nobody, and can wrangle the wild frontier with his masculine strength alone?
Do you have to be “white” to be a real man? Do you have to only like women to be a real man? Do you have to have money and play sports and drink beer to be a real man? Can you cry and show emotions and still be a man? Can you once have lived as a woman and still be a man? Can you honestly admit your imperfections, like Barack Obama did recently to a room full of Texas Democrats, and still be considered a “real” man — and possibly the future leader of this country? I certainly don’t think Dick Cheney would say yes, but I would.
I don’t believe in an essential masculinity that determines who is and is not a man, but there is certainly a critical construction that has to happen in order to be let into the culturally accepted “man club.” To me, this being a “real man” seems like an awfully huge and limiting performance. It must be really tough always having to hide that humanness which unites all people despite gender, race, or creed just to fit into the box of “man.”
As a feminist I do not hate men, but I do hate the cultural construct that tells men they must behave a certain way to feel safe as men in this society. Maybe we can all try, just for today, to let go of those stereotypes that keep us safe from one another and just be human. The real me, the true me, the authentic me, is not feminist, or student, or daughter, or woman, these are just my roles. My true self is an uninhibited, live, curious person, and as the Sufi poet Rumi simply puts it, a “breath breathing human being” — no stereotypes attached.