My Favorite Men are Feminists: A Letter to Tara Kennedy Kline

Dear Tara Kennedy Kline, and anyone including themselves in the feminist vs. anti- feminist debate,

I think sometimes we’re all a little confused. Given the social structures, crossing lines of communication, personal differences, cultural gaps, plethora of definitions, etc, it’s no surprise it’s so difficult for us to classify ourselves as Feminist or Not Feminist. Either and any extreme of a given situation is bound to mirror even the simplest political spectrum. Too far in one direction, your are a reactionary, revolutionary, extremist, etc. Smack dab in the middle makes you a pacifist at best. Slightly off to one side or the other is the opinionated activist, or just opinionated. We need to start to clarify, while at the same time, dismantle the common stereotypes feminists and anti-feminists are associated with. This will not solve the collective identity crisis, but hopefully we can learn to reject labels in favor of an objectively even playing field for all the sexes and gender identities.

In TKK’s article on November 14th 2014, she makes her position very clear in the FvsNF debate: As a mother of two boys, she does not want them to grow up with, nor will she impose, a “feminist agenda”. I don’t have my own children, so I have no room to speak for being a mother, but in a way I kind of understand what she is saying. Every parent wants the best for their children, no doubt, and mostly we want them to be influenced by culture at a rate they can understand and be receptive to it. She states:

“I want my boys to be chivalrous, to open doors and carry heavy loads, to ask a girl out on a date and pay the bill without expecting anything in return. I am encouraging my sons to tell girls when they think those girls look beautiful. I love that my boys want to surprise me (and eventually their partners) with gifts, and the spontaneous hug or peck on the cheek from time to time to show their love.

But, the latest campaigns by the feminist movement are telling boys they are wrong if they do these things, or anything else that would make a girl feel stereotypically “girly,” or my sons to act stereotypically “gentleman-like.” The FCKH8 Campaign would have girls tell my sons to “fuck off” if they called them pretty or reached for their hand without permission.”

To reduce the feminist movement and the struggle for women to have equal rights down to stereotypical gender roles is not fair to the movement or to her sons. I don’t think any modern day feminist would object to wanting to raise your sons to be polite, courteous, generous, and loving, but part of the feminist movement is teaching young boys and girls the deeper nature of human consent, exchange, and generosity. What feminism really boils down to is having respect for each individual and letting each person decide for themselves how they want to live their life.

All my favorite men are feminists. My partner has actually taught me more about feminism than I would have found out on my own. His respect and openness to discuss matters which I could deny or consent to has been an enlightening experience for me. He still opens doors, picks up the check once in a while, tells me I’m beautiful, and is appropriately physical with me in public. Those feminist men in my life I’m not romantically involved with treat me and other women with the same caring and non-judgmental behavior they would treat their male friends. Of course, every individual is different. Some women prefer to pay for their own drinks, have a conversation with others without being interrupted by a circling male looking for numbers, and even leave the house without being called at or commented on. Other women, feminists or not, will gladly accept a gesture from another human—a drink at the bar, a casual date, an honest comment—this doesn’t mean they are any better or worse than the other group, it’s just what they feel comfortable with and empowered by. As a feminist male, there is no direct role to follow or reference to. There are some rules to follow and some lines to avoid crossing at all times, but at no point in the “feminist agenda” does it say “Real Men this” or “Manliness that”.

TKK, I think you may have exaggerated the response your sons might get if they “called a girl pretty or reached for their hand without permission”. I don’t think any and every feminist would yell “fuck off” based on these gestures alone, but coupled with aggressive come-ons, inappropriate touching or commenting, or a glaringly obvious lack of consent on the girl’s part, I think that response would be expected. If your son is demonstrating an honest comment or gesture made as a genuine attempt to respect and acknowledge a female, I don’t understand how you made the conclusion that “fuck you” would be the response. I assume you are teaching your two boys to grow up with respect for “no means no” and any/every opinion regarding her personal space a woman has. If you aren’t, you are opting out of helping the next generation understand consent, boundaries, and very basic respect for fellow humans. No human is property of someone else, and the acknowledgement and respect for basic consent is the most crucial step towards living a life with respect for this fact.

As a feminist that has dealt with many “creepy douchebags”, I can tell you it takes much more than “a simple hello” to put me on guard. Little girls are not brought up believing the “fact that 100% of men are rapists.” I’m not sure where you get those numbers or that information. Little girls are brought up to understand their bodies and tell an adult when something inappropriate has happened to them. As those girls get older, mass culture and media teach them that men are in charge of their bodies, what they consume, who they know, and what their level of comfort is at any given time in their presence. Ok, I’m not being fair, but based on your numbers, this is an argument you can understand. Obviously not “100% of men” are rapists. Clearly women grow up to trust, respect, and even love men who provide for and support them. Your definition of feminism is a culture of women who simply, incorrectly, irreversibly hate men. Since there are many, many feminist women who are married, raise children, stay at home, and operate a more “traditional” home situation, your argument immediately becomes invalid.

Criteria for Feminism:

  1. Believe that men and women deserve equal rights.

As an example, since this is actually the rule most people have trouble understanding, a man is standing at a bus stop, waiting for the bus, and a woman comes up to him.

“Hey,” she says, “you’re very attractive. Will you give me your number?”

“No,” says the man, a little taken aback. “I’m just trying to get to work.”

The woman steps back, a little hurt by the rejection, but now aware of the cute man’s boundaries.

Problem solved! Let’s reverse the roles:

A woman is standing at the bus stop, waiting for a ride. A man approaches her.

“Hey,” he says, “you’re very attractive. Will you give me your number?”

“No,” says the woman, a little taken aback. “I’m just trying to get to work.”

The man steps back, a little hurt by the rejection, but now aware of the cute girl’s boundaries.

Again! Problem solved! This is feminism. The respect for the individual needs, boundaries, and comfort levels of men and women alike. Unfortunately, the culture little girls grow up understanding is that men are stronger, and if they wanted to overpower you, they have that ability. This means physically, sexually, mentally, and emotionally. A little girl is taught to run away before she is taught to stand up for herself, because it’s easier to flee a threatening confrontation than it is to avoid one. Tragically, some of these confrontations end in violence if a man believes a woman’s attention to him is a right he deserves. If your sons are growing up without understanding what the young girls are growing up with as well, it becomes harder for them in their adult years to put a woman’s life into perspective, and to recognize the signs and signals of a threatening interaction. Language and body language are the best indicators that someone is feeling uncomfortable by your presence, and if another person is responding in ways that makes you think they feel threatened, it’s a good indication you don’t realize their position or what you might be suggesting with your own language.

  1. Perform and believe Rule 1 on a daily basis.

The feminist men in my life are all different. Some of them are weight lifters, some are musicians, some are artists and writers, some are accountants or business owners, some are bartenders or servers or landlords. Some are gay, some are straight, some are bisexual, some have fixed gender identities and others move easily between. Some of them don’t even like each other, for whatever personal reasons. The only thing they really have in common is their belief that women deserve just as much respect for their unique lifestyles as men do. And that they would never hurt another human being to prove the worth of their own beliefs or identity. If your sons are growing up to turn out like these feminist men I know, I’m sure they will make excellent human beings anyone would be happy to know.

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