Women are oppressed on the basis of our sex — this is the most basic, simplistic, and fundamental understanding of patriarchy. For centuries, feminists have campaigned for women’s liberation from patriarchy, a large part of that being the abolition of gender roles.
Gender is the collection of behaviors, attitudes, and aesthetics associated with being either male or female. Gender upholds patriarchy and puts men in the dominant position. Most “masculine” traits are either inherently better than those allotted to the “feminine,” or are socially rewarded to a greater degree. Gender is a patriarchal tool of oppression, and ending these social and cultural norms is vital to the goals of feminism.
So, when individual people refuse to adhere to gender norms, this is pretty radical — and pretty important.
Every person who rejects gender roles and lives as a visibly feminine man or masculine woman is sticking it to the patriarchy. Yet, gender non-conforming (GNC) men aren’t always the allies to women that we might expect. The gay community, for example, is full of misogyny. As Nico Lang wrote in 2017, “Gay men, first and foremost, are men.”
If GNC men really want to use their non-conformity to help feminists topple the patriarchy, they need to accept their role as allies to women. These are some ways GNC men can step up and demonstrate their allyship beyond the aesthetics.
Don’t claim womanhood
This should be a simple statement but, lately, it’s become politically dangerous. If a man who defies gender norms claims to be a woman — he is not rejecting gender, he is upholding it.
Sam Smith has come under fire from feminists for his recent claims that because he enjoys dressing feminine and sexually objectifying himself, that means he is part-woman. “There’s a vivacious woman inside my body that is being set free,” he claimed.
“I feel just as much woman as I am man,” he stated. “There was one moment in my life when I didn’t own a piece of male clothing, really.”
Smith’s claims that because he enjoys wearing “female” clothing and dancing he must be part woman uphold traditional gender roles which state that only men or women may partake in certain activities. His insensitive comments demonstrate just how little he truly knows about being a woman and how little he really thinks of women. His performative stereotyping is not progressive, it’s misogynistic.
This is the same belief system that perpetuates the harmful idea women who don’t perform femininity in one way or another are “not like other girls.”
If GNC men want to be allies to women, they can wear dresses and heels, objectify themselves (I guess?), and dance it out — all while maintaining that they are men, and these are things men can do. Reducing womanhood to feminine stereotypes upholds patriarchy and women’s oppression.
“Woman” is not a feeling, a costume, a dance move, or an attitude.
Acknowledge your privilege as a GNC man
Gender non-conforming men experience oppression, violence, and discrimination, starting as early as childhood. Gay men, in particular, seem to suffer psychological distress including anxiety due to gender non-conformity. Yet, if GNC men want to be feminist allies, they still need to acknowledge that when it comes to issues of gender, men are privileged over women.
Women are in a lose/lose position when it comes to gender. Women can either submit to culturally-imposed femininity, a subservient position, or they can attempt to reject femininity and face consequences for being gender non-conforming. Men who are gender non-conforming will face consequences, too, but men always have the choice to flip back to performing masculinity in order to stay safe, get ahead at work, or blend in. According to a 2007 study in the Journal of LGBT Health Research, women report experiencing discrimination based on gender non-conformity at a higher rate than men.
Being able to make a choice where one of the options benefits you is a privilege — one that women don’t have when it comes to gender. In this way, GNC men still have male privilege over even gender-conforming women. Men need to acknowledge this if they want to be allies.
Publicly support women’s rights
In a political climate that is becoming increasingly hostile to women’s rights, men who want to be allies to women need to step up and unequivocally support sex-based rights for women.
Women face the brunt of the backlash in advocating for our own rights. Male allies, GNC or not, should be willing to put themselves on the line for progress. Too many men, including gender non-conforming men, are comfortable supporting women privately while refusing to take a public stance. If you’re a real ally, doing so means being public and unapologetic about your support for women.
Support lesbians, and fight against lesbian erasure.
Sign the Declaration on Women’s Sex-Based Rights.
Refuse to tolerate language that removes the reality of women’s biology and oppression. Call it out for what it is: misogyny.
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