The women went on for several minutes, until their side of the blackboard was completely filled with responses. The men’s side of the blackboard was blank. I was stunned. I had never heard a group of women say these things before. I thought about all of the women in my life — including my mother, sister and girlfriend — and realized that I had a lot to learn about gender.
Days after that workshop, Katz offered me the job as a mentor-training specialist, and I accepted his offer. Although I didn’t know much about gender issues from an academic standpoint, I quickly learned on the job. I read books and essays by bell hooks, Patricia Hill Collins, Angela Davis and other feminist writers.
Like most guys, I had bought into the stereotype that all feminists were white, lesbian, unattractive male bashers who hated all men. But after reading the work of these black feminists, I realized that this was far from the truth. After digging into their work, I came to really respect the intelligence, courage and honesty of these women.
Feminists did not hate men. In fact, they loved men. But just as my father had silenced my mother during their arguments to avoid hearing her gripes, men silenced feminists by belittling them in order to dodge hearing the truth about who we are.
I learned that feminists offered an important critique about a male-dominated society that routinely, and globally, treated women like second-class citizens. They spoke the truth, and even though I was a man, their truth spoke to me. Through feminism, I developed a language that helped me better articulate things that I had experienced growing up as a male.
Feminist writings about patriarchy, racism, capitalism and structural sexism resonated with me because I had witnessed firsthand the kind of male dominance they challenged. I saw it as a child in my home and perpetuated it as an adult. Their analysis of male culture and male behavior helped me put my father’s patriarchy into a much larger social context, and also helped me understand myself better.
I decided that I loved feminists and embraced feminism. Not only does feminism give woman a voice, but it also clears the way for men to free themselves from the stranglehold of traditional masculinity. When we hurt the women in our lives, we hurt ourselves, and we hurt our community, too.
As I became an adult, my father’s behavior toward my mother changed. As he aged he mellowed, and stopped being so argumentative and verbally abusive. My mother grew to assert herself more whenever they disagreed.
It shocked me to hear her get in the last word as my father listened without getting angry. That was quite a reversal. Neither of them would consider themselves to be feminists, but I believe they both learned over time how to be fuller individuals who treated each other with mutual respect. By the time my father died from cancer in 2007, he was proudly sporting the baseball cap around town that I had given him that read, “End Violence Against Women.” Who says men can’t be feminists?