While I ultimately think my motives are in the spirit of love, empathy, and altruism, I can admit, I came to Feminism with selfish intent.
The word “selfish” usually carries a very negative connotation, but I’m using it in the most pure form of its definition; focusing on my “self” in order to define it. I initially thought I was engaging Feminism to learn more about the plight of women. But more and more, I’m honestly starting to realize that I’ve used the platform of Feminism to figure out more about me as a man.
The idea of what it means to be a man fluctuates between being a protector and a barbarian. As men, we are taught to be a lot of things, and for the most part, this mix of character traits often come in conflict with each other: repress your feelings (if you have them) be a strong, assertive, dominating sexual conquistador with impervious machismo, but in the midst of all that, be a “good” husband, father, etc. Being a man (let alone a Black man) in America is restrictive. And I don’t mean like an irritating turtleneck, but more like a chain, sometimes even a noose (as a Black man, who often can only assert his masculinity if it doesn’t intimidate white society, and usually reaps the benefits of patriarchy at the expense of Black women).
I don’t want to be this kind of man, at least as far as the negative aspects are concerned. Feminism is showing me how I can deconstruct and recreate a masculinity that fits the love I have for both women and myself. Part of Feminism is the revolutionary act of women self-defining who they are, and asserting that definition on to the world. So in the hopes of becoming a better man, I try to improve my personal manhood to empower, facilitate, and compliment their definition. This is in the spirit of James Baldwin when he says “Our real obligation is to endlessly redefine each other.” Redefining each other is very much a priority, since both men and women are affected by the viruses of patriarchy and sexism. Although mostly beneficial to men, these social ills can come from all genders and sexual orientations, not just one.
But still, this endeavor seems like only the first step, especially since masculinity is the thing that needs the most dramatic transformation, not femininity. Femininity, at it’s worst, can only “emasculate” a man. Masculinity restricts, injures, coerces, and even kills women every single day.
Radical self-love and determination is key, because as a male feminist, I have a task that women can’t carry out as easily (or at all). Whether because of patriarchy or just gender differences, I can reach my brothers and sons in ways my sisters and daughters cannot, only because I am a man. And though I am a self-proclaimed feminist, I can do “feminist” things without inheriting some of the negative connotations of the title.
So maybe (at least initially), it is ok for me to start off a little selfish. I have to figure out who I am as a man before I can fully understand women and help them eliminate their struggles. Feminism has given me a critical lens into my own masculinity, sifts through my ideas of what a man is, and helps me to figure out the parts of it I’d like to keep, discard, or destroy.
In the words of Audre Lorde “we have to define ourselves for ourselves.” That’s where the revolution begins. And with every work I read by great feminists like Lorde or bell hooks, every conversation I have with my amazing editor Jamilah Lemieux, every time I think about my mother, future wife and possible future daughter(s), I’m getting close to becoming a better man and creating a better, safer world for women.
Hopefully this initial selfishness is the natural transition into love, justice, and selflessness.
We Out Here,