In his inaugural address delivered to the University of St Andrews in February 1867, John Stuart Mill said: “Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.” Mill’s words are valid till today and are especially worth considering as we wade through the waters of various intersectionality movements.
In thinking about the societal subjugation of women, we need to explore the role that men play in helping to combat the patriarchy. It is essential that men stand up as allies to help amplify the voices of women as they push for their own empowerment. Of course, it is critical that men don’t center themselves — and this is why the most important facet of men contributing is in them challenging other men to do better.
Men advocating to other men is valuable and effective because it can often serve as a peer-corrective way of getting other men to see and understand their faults. We look to others like us for validation of behavior and admonition of character. Men already tend not to listen to women’s admonitions and tend to be defensive and condescending when corrected; in a sense, men stepping up would be men using their male privilege to fix a patriarchal system. Seeing other men uphold and advocate feminist principles helps drive home the point that respecting and valuing women is normal and isn’t fictional or idealistic. Furthermore, men often surround themselves with each other and are often more likely present whenever acts of misogyny take place. This gives them more windows of opportunities to correct other men on ill-advised behavior.
What men need to do is to hold each other accountable. Sometimes, men enable other men; and oftentimes they condone misogynistic behavior. Men lie for their unfaithful friends, men sometimes operate under a “bro code” that spites women, men are silent when other men are abusive to women, or deny them of opportunities they are qualified for. In essence, men aren’t firm in admonishing fellow men: fathers, friends, brothers, strangers. What we need to do is create unsafe spaces for friendly conversations that denigrate women; raise our voices in advocating for women’s rights when men in our workplaces are doing otherwise; and hold men to a higher bar of respectability towards women. Our efforts should also focus on enlightening other men and driving conversations with them about the role of the patriarchy.
In a sense, this is a meta-mensplainr. The goal with Mensplainr over the last several months has been to engage in dialogue with men in a way that advocates for a deeper internalization of the feminist’s argument. This burden of teaching is one that we often can’t expect of women — especially because men have the privilege of having other men listen to them, and men aren’t the primary victims of misogyny (they aren’t burdened by the patriarchal system we are trying to dismantle so it won’t be as aggravating to try to explain things to fellow men). Men need to take this creed to heart: if friends are being misogynistic, call them out, educate them and challenge them to be better. Combating the patriarchy today is far more important than any feeling of awkwardness or the preservation of unhealthy men-communities.