Why We Should Embrace Feminism in Wake of the UCSB Shooting

Image by hiromy/Flickr, Edits by Alex Alvarez/Fusion

Opinion

Chances are good that in the wake of the tragic shooting near the University of California Santa Barbara, which left at least ten people dead (including the three stabbing victims found in the alleged shooter’s apartment), you’ve come across the “#YesAllWomen” conversation and how it offers, if not a straight-up counterargument, then at least much-needed grounding to the “#NotAllMen” rebuttal that pops up during online discussions on feminism. But, you know, what about these men, and how many of them realize that feminism is not only good for women but for everyone?

As thinkpieces, hashtag conversations and discussions regarding the killer’s “manifesto” swirled since its publication, a few patterns emerged. Among them, the idea that the shooter, who had chalked up his actions as the result of envy and rage aimed at women he couldn’t “acquire,” were:

1. a “pussy” or “faggy.”

2. an isolated incident, coupled with the insistence on the part of some men (and some women, too)that not only are “not all men” guilty of misogyny, but that feminism should be put aside in favor of plain ol’ “equality,” or “humanism.”

I’ll willingly leap to the conclusion that the people using gendered and/or homophobic insults to describe the UCSB shooter aren’t interested in discussing the merits of feminism, but they’re also among those who could benefit greatly from it.

So, What is Feminism?

This is, like, a 101 class assuming that you’re not at all familiar with the tenets of feminism, so apologies if this sounds basic or condescending. I’m assuming we’re starting from square one.

I want to be clear that I’m talking about “little f” feminism, because capital-F Feminism, as an institution, can and does exclude certain voices. Capital-F Feminism in the U.S., while constantly changing and evolving, isn’t always great at including people who aren’t white, or who don’t have typically female bodies. If feminism is a family, Feminism is that family’s holiday dinner: it’s fraught, people disagree, some are regulated to other tables and there’s always that one family member yelling something racist. (If that divide seems weird or unclear, I can recommend reading Feminism for Real: Deconstructing the Academic Industrial Complex of Feminism or The New York Times‘ — I know, also an imperfect institution — recent conversation about how we think and talk about feminism.)

So feminism, lower-case f, is the belief that men and women are equal. That is feminism at its most basic, its most essential. That is the soul of feminism: equality.

So What’s in it for Me?

One of the ways feminists advocate for equality is by calling on people to acknowledge the patriarchy. The patriarchy is, to put it simply, a social system in which men > women. This list provides a solid, simply-stated breakdown of what patriarchy means. If you’re looking for a more in-depth, academic analysis and critique of the term, you can look here.

You can see how a patriarchal history has its hand prints all over current society through things like pay inequality, wedding traditions, office interactions and the way men talk about themselves and other men. That’s because stereotypes about men are firmly baked into a patriarchal system. The idea that men must hold in their feelings but simultaneously cannot control their sexual impulses, that they must remain stoic and silent in the face of abuse, or that fathers are somehow lesser parents, or that men are bumbling cave dwellers who are unable to perform basic household tasks are part of the patriarchy. And this is cyclical and regional, too. At some points in time and in some places, men were expected to be rich, powerful yuppie monsters. At other times and in other places, you’re expected to have strong opinions about beer and football. A good deal of racism goes hand in hand with ideas of what men are “supposed” to act and look like, and what masculinity means, who can control themselves and who needs to “man up.” Homophobia, too, is deeply entangled in the misogyny inherent in a patriarchal system. It’s popular to say that “homophobia is the fear that gay men will treat you the way you treat women,” which I don’t think is entirely true, but which definitely coffers insight into the way men talk about “what it means” to be a man. That “acting gay” is insulting, that it means someone is somehow less of a man, that it’s on par with referring to a man as female genitalia — the lowest of the low, the very worst of the worst — is a direct result of the stereotypes and constructs with which we’re living.

To that end, the patriarchy hates all people. It hates you, too. What it loves are idols, and what it feeds on is your desire but inability to ever truly become these.

Ok, But Not All M–

This brings us to the “#NotAllMen” discussion. While it’s true that men and boys suffer alongside women and girls, the truth remains that men overwhelmingly benefit from a patriarchal system in the U.S. and around the world (and, no, it isn’t a contest). Men and women both deal with challenges and expectations in society, both must decide whether to accept or reject gender norms constructed around them, but women have, historically and into the present day, borne the brunt of this wear and tear, and we are at a unique time in history, where thanks to technology and to the women who paved the way for us, have a far-ranging platform to discuss this reality. Finally. Finally.

Men face challenges, too — that cannot be denied. But discussing these shouldn’t detract from or undermine the struggle women are fighting, nor should one expect or demand praise for treating other human beings with a modicum of respect and civility. And to demand praise for not being a misogynist looks, from a distance, an awful lot like misogyny.

We know it’s not all men. We know men suffer. We know they feel. And we don’t hate men. But we do hate the system. We do want to dismantle the institutions men have created and from which they benefit most greatly. And we want you to know that it hurts us, that it hurts you too, and that you can play an important role in doing something about it all.