White straight male. The treble privilege combo. It makes me feel like the rich kid at school who is trying to fit in with everyone else, and hopes that people won’t reject him just because of his wealthy parents. I don’t care too much for money, and I don’t care too much for keeping my privilege safe and nurtured whilst others suffer. I just hope that people can look past the fact I’m a man, and understand that I am willing to dedicate my life to the causes of feminism.
Feminism to me is the lens through which so many aspects of the world come into focus and start to make sense.
In a world where the most common coping mechanism is deluding oneself in order to preserve self-image, it’s far too easy for men to overlook the obvious to protect themselves. I’m glad to say that with an open and analytical mind, I was able to make steps into realising that so many of the issues I see in the world are all linked by one overshadowing reality, patriarchy.
I can’t deny that growing up from the age of 11 with a mum and sister did have its part in influencing me toward feminism. It meant I became quite an androgynous person, drinking a lager with the footy before winding down with a candle-lit bubble bath whilst watching Sex and the City. Just to put it out there, I’m probably a Charlotte if I had to choose.
I had an incredible role model of a mother, who I can see clearly now is mostly responsible for my need to be a kind and nurturing person. She’s non-judgemental, selfless and wonderfully childish. She indirectly brought me up to encourage other boys to express their feelings rather than tell them to ‘man-up’. I take pride in knowing that I am more like her than anyone else.
It was when I was on the brink of adulthood at 17 that my relationship with my girlfriend opened my eyes to so many feminist issues. She was a very attractive woman, and during my four-year relationship with her, I was able to witness so much sexism on a daily basis. She was harassed on the streets, touched up at nightclubs and objectified in every context. Being in a relationship from the ages of 17-21, I think we all know this is incredibly powerful time in everyone’s life where we can be at our most emotional and raw. These are the lessons I learned during this time, and they will shape the rest of my life. The funny thing is I simply didn’t associate these issues with feminism, because feminism wasn’t on my radar at all.
I’ve also spent a lot of time around men, and heard the way they talk about women. It always gave me an unpleasant gut feeling when I heard a man degrade an absent woman with objectifying and foul language. I would often be mocked for showing any kind of feminine side, even silly things like the fact I love musicals. Men would often brag to me about sexual partners whilst putting me down for not having one night stands. It is an issue within this society that men and women are constantly reaffirming gender roles which reproduce injustice. The fact we live in a society where men are pressured to objectify women and women are pressured to accept it is not tolerable and I’ve tried many times to explain that to men who find it difficult to understand.
What made me finally decide to start describing myself as a feminist was starting my social work masters degree in 2014. Learning about oppression and deeply ingrained socialisation was fascinating to me. At the same time, Emma Watson in her famous UN speech called out for men to identify as feminists, and it was at this time I felt myself stand up to be counted. I believed in everything she said. I started to realise that feminism was the home for so much of what I was passionate about.
Having privilege can be hard to detect because you can’t know what you haven’t experienced. It requires a lot of active reflection to really come to terms with what you’ve been shielded from and also ways in which you’ve been socialised to oppress others without knowing it. In the last year I have looked over my life and come to understand my privilege as a white man and it has been a humbling experience. However, it made me even more determined for change.
At the start of my social work course, my sociology module lecturer asked us to write an essay about anything we wanted to. I decided to write mine on how masculinity affects men. It was the first time I’ve truly enjoyed writing an essay. Those 2000 words opened my eyes to gender roles and how they affect people. So many people do not fall into what is expected of them as men or women, and this in turn creates so much anxiety. To this day, a homosexual person coming out is often a huge ordeal, rather than just a personal choice like the many others we make. I don’t want anyone to live in shame because they don’t fit socialised expectations. I feel the more we routinely challenge gender roles, the more we give people freedom to live the life they choose and be happy. To me, that is worth a lifetime to strive for.
Writing a few feminist posts on Facebook has its limits in terms of satisfaction. I wanted to be an activist, and speak out about feminist issues. I felt the best way would be to find a group that would accept me for who I am as a male feminist. I tried to get in touch with the feminist society at my university, but after several attempts with no response I had to accept that I wasn’t welcome.
That’s when I found Fourth Wave. I already loved the name because I feel this is a new era for feminism with a different emphasis. I got in touch with the organiser, who kindly welcomed me to a meeting. It took a lot of courage to turn up, but once I did, I felt at home. Discussing pressing feminist issues with a great group of people was so satisfying for me. 5 months from when I first attended and now I’m affectionately referred to as the token male. The core members of the group are absolutely inspiring. Strong confident passionate women ready to take on the world. The synergy within the group is immense and I feel lucky to have met such an incredible group of people. I would say more but I’ve run out of adjectives.
Watch your back patriarchy, Fourth Wave is coming for you.
Finally I will say this. Yes I am a white straight male feminist, and I’m here to do my part to change the world alongside anyone else who will fight alongside me.
Richard Falkus is a social work masters student and regular attendee of the London Fourth Wave feminist group. Through activism and social work he hopes to make patriarchy an oppression of the past.