Charles Fox, Jr.

Feminism, What it Means to Me

A friend of a friend of mine published a fantastic piece for Ebony focusing on feminism recently. More specifically, he wrote about why more Black men need to embrace feminism as more than just a buzzword to be wantonly thrown around amongst women, but as an actual political and philosophical ideology. The well-written piece got me to thinking: What role has feminism played in my life? What have I done (or not done) to advance the cause of gender equality, and how might I up the ante and not just talk about it...but actually be about it.

My first real exposure to "feminism" as a tangible concept, rather than a word I heard passingly which I thought described White women who hated me, came during my undergraduate years. Looking to diversify my experience in college (i.e. take a few of what I believed would be "easy" courses), I enrolled in my first women's studies course in 2003. Almost immediately, I was struck with the reality that gender inequality and patriarchy were (and are) very real and very damaging. Subsequently, I enrolled in additional courses in the Women's Studies Department focused on everything from Black Feminist Thought to Media Representations of Women. It was my awakening, my first realization that, as a male...I possessed privileges, access, and benefits that most women (particularly Black women) might not ever received. It wasn't because I was smarter or somehow divinely favored. It was simply because I had been born with a penis and with that appendage came an abundance of social, educational, and emotional advantages that most would never even be aware of. It was as if the world had been laid bare for me to see. The hypocrisy was fully exposed. Sitting in those classrooms surrounded by diverse groups of individuals (mostly women), I realized the power of intersectionality, in that as Black man in America, there are a certain set of obstacles that are intrinsic to that experience. Black women, though, had to navigate not only the convoluted social constructs of race in America while simultaneously managing the minefield that is gender in America.

Of course, in a world where men are often tacitly and explicitly pushed toward hyper-masculinity, how can a man unapologetically wear such a loaded label like "feminist?" For me, feminism was and is about equality. Contrary to popular belief (including that of some self-described feminists out there), it is not about female superiority, male bashing, and such. It's about women, having all the same opportunities as men to achieve their goals in a country founded on that promise. When Abigail Adams wrote "Remember the Ladies," that was not a plea for preferential treatment, it was a call to arms and a reminder to the men who so boldly (yet simultaneously callously) created this republic as a bastion of liberty. These spoils mainly applied to White Anglo-Saxon Protestant men of course and the residue of that has lingers for centuries. So when I think about feminism, I think about myself. What do I want? Very simply, I want the right to pursue my ambitions with impunity. My logic is, why would I ever want to deny that to another person? Regardless of their gender.

Being a feminist is teaching young men not to rape as opposed to teaching young women how not to get raped. Being a feminist is being comfortable with a woman who takes ownership over her sexuality without hurling insults her way. Being a feminist is not having our interactions with women be defined by antiquated gender norms and a busted set or social rules established in a long gone era of patriarchal gobbledygook. Feminism is a woman choosing to pursue a career in lieu of a husband and/or a family. Feminism is respecting a woman's right to have all...or none of those things, if she chooses. Feminism is the inherent right, of women to choose their own path, define their own fate, and not be shackled by what society deems appropriate for them. Ultimately, being a feminist is about wanting to help build a world in which any and everyone can pursue their passions and not have their gender (or gender identity) be a hindrance to that journey. That's it. We as men can play a crucial role in that conversation not just as husbands, fathers, brothers, uncles, and such...but as human beings. We owe it to those who came before us, who had their dreams discouraged and deferred and even more importantly, to those countless ladies yet to come who will be born into a world shaped by what we do today.

Far too many men associate feminism with femininity and femininity with acting "Gay." I won't even begin to unpack why equating feminine with Gay is indisputably problematic. Of course, this is a ridiculous notion but speak with a group of men about why you support feminism and you will surely be met with at least a few screwfaces and assumptions about your sexuality if you speak too boldly and too loudly about feminism amongst a sea of bravado and machismo. This is where these conversations become so crucial. We can talk about how much Black lives matter and shortly thereafter talk about how fine (insert beautiful famous woman here) is but a conversation about why women ought to make equal pay to their male counterparts often becomes an exercise in futility. That's not to say that brothers aren't having these conversations at all. We are, as Mr. Davis (who penned the Ebony piece) eloquently pointed out, but it is to say that we have room for improvement as well as room to increase the scope and scale of these discussions. If we are for equality, we must be for it holistically. One of my chief frustrations with some of "us" is that we wave the flag of equality proudly as long as the person asking for it looks like us. That's not how it works. The Black community isn't monolithic and within it are Gay Folks, Trans folks, men, women, poor, rich, so on and so forth. So when we talk about feminism, we have to understand that it isn't some wedge that privileged White women use to bludgeon us with. True feminism is about all women, including our beloved Black sisters, daughters, mothers, and wives. I think they deserve our energy, time, and commitment as well. Be well, friends.

© Copyright 2016, Charles Fox, Jr.
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