Feminist Men, We Need Your Help to Smash the Patriarchy

Women are powerful, but we can’t save the world without you.

Darcy Reeder
Jan 29 · 8 min read

“My mom’s not strong,” he tells me. “Dad is strong.”

It’s a perfect summer day. The kids just gorged themselves on birthday cake and now they’re running barefoot across the rocky beach to go play in the water.

“Mom, I’m scared I’ll get hurt on the barnacles. Will you lift me over them?”

My friend lovingly scoops up her 5-year-old son. “Wow, your mom’s carrying you and the toys?!” I remark. “She’s really strong!”

“My mom’s not strong,” he tells me. “Dad is strong.”

She’s still holding him when he says it. She sighs, then laughs. We all fumble over our words. What can we even say? I worry she might feel embarrassed. I desperately want her to feel empowered.

She’s a fantastic role model; where did he get the idea that she wasn’t strong?

I want her son to see the strength I see. And I want him to know — I want everyone to know — strength is so much more than how much we can physically lift.

Being part of a community of parents these last five years has reminded me again and again how resilient we are, and how often most moms take on more than any one person should.

I know kids say the darnedest things, but I want to know who to blame here: what route is the patriarchy using to get to this kid, and how can I and my mom friends smash it up?

But I know the truth: We cannot change the culture — not enough — without male allies. Dudes, we need you.

Women are badasses, but we cannot smash the patriarchy alone. We can’t even convince our own children of our equal worth if the rest of society tells them otherwise. We cannot fix the world without the partnership of feminist men.

Men are valued over women at every level of society.

Money’s obviously not the only way to show how much a society values something, but it can still tell us a lot.

In 2017, Natalie Portman revealed how much less actresses are paid than male actors, in an interview with Marie Claire UK. She said Ashton Kutcher was paid three times more than her in the romantic comedy film “No Strings Attached.”

“I mean, we get paid a lot, so it’s hard to complain, but the disparity is crazy,” she said. “Compared to men, in most professions, women make 80 cents to the dollar. In Hollywood, we are making 30 cents to the dollar.”

Famously, when scenes of the film “All the Money in the World” were re-shot (to replace lead Kevin Spacey in the midst of sexual misconduct allegations), Mark Wahlberg was paid an additional $1.5 million, and Michelle Williams received less than $1,000.

(When Wahlberg, who describes himself as a feminist, found out about the pay discrepancy, he donated his entire reshoot fee to Time’s Up!)

The pay gap in the sports world is even more shocking. According to Forbes, in 2018, the top WNBA salary was $117,500, compared with $37.4 million in the NBA.

On one hand, the pro athletes and actors are all doing fine, and I’m more concerned with how low-income caregiving jobs are mostly done by women — disproportionately women of color. (Here’s something I wrote about that.)

But on the other hand, when the highly compensated superstars are almost all men, we have to ask ourselves what that communicates culturally about what success, power, and strength look like. Who are our role models, and how can we work together to make sure our role models are as diverse as we are?

Boys are told female role models are just for girls.

I adore this comic by cartoonist and writer Damian Alexander called “That’s For Girls!” about the cultural phenomenon of male role models being for everyone, but female role models being just for girls. (I’ll link to the full comic at the end of my essay!)

So many young boys are shamed by adults into thinking they’re only supposed to look up to men, and they shouldn’t make choices in their lives that others might call “girly.” For many boys, entire lists of careers, colors, and emotions are presented as out of bounds. To me, this is a clear argument that patriarchy hurts boys and men, while feminism helps everyone.

For boys with this upbringing, even if they grow up and learn more about the world and tell themselves, “I’m a feminist,” they still have so, so much to unpack and overcome. What if we could just raise feminist children from the beginning? (Spoiler: We can!)

How do we create the next generation of feminists?

I can’t quit thinking about my 5-year-old friend correcting me when I said his mom was strong.

I know he adores his mom. And sure, his dad can almost certainly lift more than his mom can.

But I also know what a badass strong mama he has. I know she’s simultaneously a full-time parent and a small business owner. And I know the strength I’ve found in her hugs, as together we’ve navigated our first 5 years of motherhood.

I want him to know the strength I know.

I want all the kids to know — to deeply know — how strong their mothers are, how strong all women are. But men, we can’t do it without you.

If women are doing the parenting, don’t we have the power to change things?

I’ve read some attempted takedowns of feminism where Red Pill believers/trolls say, if women are doing most of the parenting, they have the most control over their children’s beliefs; yet patriarchy persists. If I understand them correctly — and misogynist logic is often hard to make sense of — they’re saying patriarchy must be natural, that men are naturally dominant because even with women having all the power to raise their sons, those sons still grow up to have more positions of leadership.

Somehow misogynists accuse women of having too much power while saying it’s natural for women not to have power, while also blaming women for raising their kids wrong, while also saying it’s not wrong.

Yeah, I know, it gives me a headache too.

But here’s the thing: Yes, women do the majority of the parenting labor — so much that, as KJ Dell’Antonia wrote in The New York Times, the Census refers to mothers as designated parents, and fathers as childcare. But that does not mean moms have all the power to shape kids’ beliefs. Our children are growing up in a patriarchal culture, and that culture shapes them every day.

No matter how many Strong Like Mom and Raised by Strong Women T-shirts we buy, if only other women read those shirts aloud, the kids aren’t going to fully buy the message.

Meanwhile, mainstream society is telling us men do brave, smart, important things, and women are pretty to look at. Over and over and over. So, no, I can’t fix it alone. All the moms can’t fix it alone. Not even all the women.

And maybe nothing can. But I’m not ready to give up yet.

So, men: listen up. Every single day, talk to someone about how strong — or clever or creative — a woman is.

Tell your bro about that female novelist whose books you can’t put down. Take your kids to a roller derby bout. Post about your partner on Facebook with something deeper than, “my lovely wife.”

Be a feminist man by bringing women into the conversation now; don’t wait until you see through your conditioning enough to fully understand how we’re struggling to get heard because that might never happen. Our experience might always be a cultural blindspot for you, but you can still try to learn, and you can still be an ally.

Bernie Sanders, my pick for U. S. president, is a great feminist man.

Yes, I’m a feminist who’s excited to vote for a man for president. I’m not a #BernieBro, and neither are you if you’re a feminist man who believes Bernie is the best choice.

Being a feminist does not mean pretending a woman — any woman — is the best candidate. Being a feminist means encouraging more women to run for office while backing the candidates you believe will do the most good for our country.

Have you seen this tweet by ABC News chief political analyst Matthew Dowd?

In the face of Elizabeth Warren’s claim that Bernie said a woman couldn’t win the presidency, Dowd tweeted, “You know one clear way to demonstrate that you believe a woman can and should be president? Don’t try to defeat a woman running for President.”

Nope. Nope. Noooope. Feminists are not asking men to drop off the Earth. Bernie doesn’t need to dim his light. He’s doing just the right thing: continuing to fight for and alongside people of all genders, as he’s done throughout his long career.

Grab your tissue box. Here’s a video of Sanders in 1987, telling a classroom of young kids, “I hope that all the girls understand that you, as much as the boys, have the right to be involved in politics and to become president…. It’s beginning to change, but not fast enough.”

1987 Video of Bernie Sanders from YouTube

Feminist men, take Sanders’ example to heart. Feminism isn’t about women being better than men. Feminism just means all people have equal worth. When society doesn’t reflect that natural equality, let’s change society, together.

Women are human too. That’s it. That’s feminism. It really shouldn’t be this hard.

Not everyone’s going to like this essay.

When I write about feminist issues, I emotionally prep myself for the comments. But this time, it’s not just the Red Pill trolls I might upset. I’m afraid some of my feminist sisters are going to get mad. Because check out my headline: “Feminist Men, We Need Your Help…” Do we need help? Does that make us weak? Can men even be feminists?

When women and nonbinary folx say, “Men, you had your chance. It’s our turn now,” I see the appeal. I understand the pain that precipitates every #MenAreTrash tweet. I get why some feminists think “feminist men” is oxymoronic, that the most feminist thing a man can do is to STFU.

But men, I don’t want you to shut up. I want you to use your voice, alongside mine. Let’s change the world. Together.

Here’s that link I promised you to Damian Alexander’s comic “That’s For Girls!”

Gender power discrepancies show up in more ways than just the pay gap. Here’s something else I wrote about how our culture prioritizes men without us realizing it:

Fearless She Wrote

This is a space to empower differences, tell our stories, and share our lives together. We will not be silenced. We will be fearless. And we will write.

Darcy Reeder

Written by

Empathy for the win! Published in Gen, Human Parts, Heated, Tenderly —Essays on Feminism, Sexuality, Veganism, Parenting. She/They darcyreeder.substack.com

Fearless She Wrote

This is a space to empower differences, tell our stories, and share our lives together. We will not be silenced. We will be fearless. And we will write.

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