Can a Man REALLY be a Feminist?

Artemesia Gentileschi, (possible) self-
portrait as The Allegory of Painting.

In the creative fields, as well as in all others, women have had an uphill battle for equal consideration. 

A small sampling the not-so-widely-renowned names of painters Artemesia Gentileschi, Louise Bourgeois, or Berthe Morisot provides a good example. They worked alongside such male contemporaries as Caravaggio, Dali, and Renoir, and arguably were just as skilled and visionary. But you might note I only needed to list one name for each of the men, and you undoubtedly knew who I meant, if you have any background in art history. 

These women have become better known in recent years, but I challenge you to find them in an art textbook from the 1950s or ’60s. You’ll find loads of women in those textbooks–but they’ll be the models (the objects), not the artists.

Louise Bourgeois, part of the Femme Maison series.

You can find parallels in any field, not only the arts. In most of the world, for most of history, it has been a man’s world. Little wonder, then, that feminists for years have “closed the circle” and not been much interested in male input. 

Especially since I live in a relatively conservative part of the country, I am all too well familiar with the commonly-held belief that the term feminist has become a synonym for man-hater

Berthe Morisot, Portrait of the Artist’s
Mother and Sister.

Centuries of abuse and resentment will cause reactions of hatred and repudiation. But that’s ultimately a losing game for everyone, if attitudes toward the opposite gender do not evolve.

One of the great tragedies of contemporary life, in my opinion, is that more recent generations of young women have rejected calling themselves feminists, even while they enjoy many privileges they never would have had without the historic role of feminists.

How long will it take before the realization hits that if you exclude roughly half the population from the conversation–especially the half that, to this day, often holds most of the power–it’s going to be difficult to change the way society as a whole thinks. 

Why would a man ever have any interest in gender equality? Don’t they already have it pretty good? Well, yes and no. If you insist on strict gender stereotypes, then “being a man” is a pretty scary, dangerous, unhealthy thing to be (just look at the mortality statistics). A man may have more advantages in some ways, but he’s held to unrealistic, self-destructive standards, in others. 

Men aren’t given much credit when they show their feelings, take care of their children (other than paying their bills), or try to make peace instead of fighting or arguing, for example. Gender stereotypes force men to be domineering brutes, just as they force women into subservient roles. 

The UN’s “HeForShe” campaign, started in 2014, has received criticism for trying to include men in the conversation–not just because equality is good for women, but because it’s good for men, too. The campaign’s leaders may not always strike the right note for everyone (or for every situation), but it seems to me they’re asking the right questions. 

Perhaps feminist and feminism aren’t such accurate words for this new paradigm, given their single-gender emphasis, despite the fact that we usually focus on the relatively more disadvantaged female side of the equation. 

But gender equality itself is an idea that must ultimately prevail, if we (whatever our gender) are to live fully-realized and fulfilling lives. It’s good for women, and it’s actually good for men, too. It think it’s time to invite men into the discussion as equals.

IMAGES: Many thanks to that ever-bountiful resource, Wikipedia (please consider making a contribution)! The photo of the painting by Artemisia Gentileschi is from her Wikipedia page. The three images from Louise Bourgeois’ series Femme Maison are from the Wikipedia page devoted to that series. The photo of Berthe Morisot’s painting is from her Wikipedia page. And the logo for the HeForShe campaign is from the Wikipedia page about the program.

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jansgephardt

Kansas City-based Jan S. Gephardt is a writer, artist, and teacher. She makes nationally-recognized paper sculpture and writes sf mystery novels about a sapient police dog.

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