The Role of Men in the Women’s Rights Movement

The Golden Globe Awards aren’t typically a catalyst for social change. However, this year, media mogul Oprah Winfrey made headlines when she became the first black woman to receive the 2018 Golden Globe Cecil B. DeMille Award, an honorary award bestowed by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association for outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment. Fittingly, she made headlines not only as a result of the historic achievement but because of her riveting acceptance.

Winfrey reflected on what inspired her to pursue entertainment, revelations from her remarkable career, the tragic story of Recy Taylor, a black woman who was raped by six white men in 1944, and the #METOO movement. Her speech was dubbed, “one of the best speeches” she has ever given on television, and that is saying a lot since we’re talking about Oprah Winfrey. Tidbits of the speech often cross my mind when I think of modern-day social movements. The moment I remember most vividly is when Oprah said, “My hope is that Recy Taylor died knowing that her truth goes marching on… It’s here with every woman who chooses to say #METoo. And it’s here with every man who chooses to listen.”

CC: National Women’s Law Center.

Women’s rights don’t exist in silos. Historically, all political decisions in the United States have been made primarily by men. This means that alongside women’s rights activism there has always been a need for men to stand with women to create change. In 2017, women held only 19.6% of all seats in the 114th U.S. Congress. This included 21%, or 21 of the 100 seats, in the Senate and 19.3%, or 84 of the 435 seats, in the House of Representatives. Unfortunately, women don’t possess equal representation in office to make policy for women. This is why we, as men, need to listen and listen carefully.

Solidarity with women doesn’t only encompass issues that can be resolved at the ballot box. From birth, men and women are socialized into a world where gender dictates what is and is not acceptable. Often times, what is acceptable for men, qualities, and characteristics that are needed to succeed in life, are not encouraged in women. Men cannot vote on how women will be perceived in public for wearing a certain garment or how they will be perceived if they have an assertive personality type (as opposed to a submissive one). However, these perceptions have very real consequences for how women experience the world. Jessa Crispin, the author of Why I Am Not a Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto, states:

Feminism should be a spiritual awakening for men; it should be a revelation of the ways they have participated in the oppression of women in both public and private spheres. It should show them the parts of themselves, their own feminine nature and their capacity for compassion and vulnerability, that they have dismissed as mere weakness, that needs to be reclaimed. It is a psychological – even a spiritual – project, not merely a political one.

Data has consistently shown that communities thrive when women are empowered. Although they face daily gender injustice, they have learned to embrace the full range of emotions that come with living a life. Notions of hyper-masculinity leave men afraid to value what is feminine. It is a pity that few young boys learn to treasure their own capacity for empathy, love, forgiveness, and vulnerability.

Solidarity with women is about committing to gender justice every day, not just during Women’s History Month. It is helping women have the same equity in our political institutions, have equal access to capital to start their own businesses, and have the freedom to decide what works for them in their personal and professional lives. It is about choice for women. However, it is also about admitting that as men we will always benefit from male privilege. We don’t always have the answers, and we are not always strong. Movements like #MeToo are not new. Women have used their voices for centuries. They were at the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement. They were volunteers during Freedom Summer. They have been tireless advocates, whose hopes have frequently fallen on deaf ears. But they have always known that gender justice is about men making a choice too. It is men choosing to finally stop talking over women and just listening.

About the Author

Kevin Hurtado is the Communications and Development Associate at Andrew Goodman Foundation. He graduated from Ramapo College of New Jersey with a Bachelor’s in International Studies and a minor in Human Rights and Genocide. Previously, Kevin worked as an Executive Assistant and Office Manager at Newark Charter School Fund, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting educational equity in the city of Newark.