I think of myself as a feminist. When I read articles about the dangers of toxic bro culture, mansplaining and women’s mental load, I try to embody and apply these learnings as best as I can. I’m also try to be a flag-waving “Nasty Woman” supporter and believe we should make our future more female.
But all too often, to be a male feminist only means to check oneself on a daily basis and to support women’s empowerment. This viewpoint is too limiting: It is the lowest bar for the feminist label and could serve as a mental barrier for many men who want to join the movement.
Merriam-Webster has two definitions of feminism:
1. The theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes; and
2. Organized activity on behalf of women's rights and interests.
The second definition, which only focuses on women, illustrates the limitations that are also evident in the real world. A good example: there’s a Spotify playlist called “Feminist Friday” that is solely made up of “your favorite boss ladies.”
Too often, I feel this example is how feminism is applied. The “feminism = women’s empowerment” view is not wrong — feminism wouldn’t even be on the radar without generations of fierce females who have fought to achieve basic human rights and who are still fighting.
But is “feminism = women’s empowerment” the most useful definition to keep the momentum going? My opinion is no.
For myself, I’d like to define my own feminism as something broader and more in line with the first dictionary definition of feminism.
Here’s why: My wife and I are hoping to start a family soon and we have had countless conversations about the time off from work we’ll take with the baby. In particular, one of the questions we have been trying to answer is: If we want to promote gender equality as feminists, what should the split be?
Here’s what I found from the Organization for Economic and Co-Operation and Development and World Economic Forum statistical databases:
When more men take any length of government-sponsored parental leave (like that which are available in Canada but not in the U.S.):
Furthermore, among Nordic countries (the only region with this kind of data), as men take a larger share of the total time off (i.e., if they take more extended leave):
True, correlation does not mean causation. But one potential conclusion here is shocking if we view these findings in reverse: In societies that empower only women to take a larger share of parental leave, gender equality is worse, fewer moms stay in the workforce, fewer women end up on boards, the wage gap is larger, fewer women end up as managers and fewer women stay employed full time.
In other words, a narrow view of feminism — one which excludes men — would actually result in less equality if applied to parental leave. Instead, fighting for, enabling and encouraging men — mentally, financially, culturally — to take advantage of family leave on par with women would lead to greater equality for everyone, in the workplace and at home.
My brand of feminism isn’t limited to checking myself and empowering women. It also focuses on empowering my fellow men to redefine our roles in society and break down our mental models on masculinity in the pursuit of equality.