Emma was talking to you.
I’m writing this to the men out there, but after the inspiring speech given by Emma Watson the other day, I want to make it clear that I’m not asking the women to look away. As Emma says, we’re in this together.
I consider myself a feminist. Some men have a hard time raising that banner, and I don’t think it’s just because some think the word “feminist” should belong only to women, or that in order to be a male feminist you’re supposed to have a purity of heart that even the Apostles couldn’t achieve. I fear that such presumptions are hobbling the feminist ambitions of many men.
You can find women beautiful and still believe in equality.
You can feel sexual desire and still champion a woman’s right to control her own body.
You can encounter a woman whose mere presence takes your breath away and still stand firm in support of her right to make her own choices about her health, sexuality, education, and career.
I come from an era when seventh-grade boys thought nothing of squeezing a girl’s breast while passing in the hallway. I first saw pornography at around the same age, and this is before the advent of the internet. I became an incorrigible flirt somewhere around the fifth grade, even though the presence of girls sometimes sapped my capacity to form intelligible words.
On the other hand, I had a mother who demanded respect from the men around her. My parents were divorced when I was young and my mother worked seventy hours a week to support us. When her employer behaved inappropriately, she sued him for sexual harassment.
I also had the advantage of having an older sister who is a lesbian. She and her girlfriends—both gay and straight—were frequently my babysitters when I was young. She and her wife were one of the first gay couples to be legally married in this country.
I saw what my mother went through.
I saw what my sister went through.
Their fights were my fights. I believed—and still believe—that everyone should be treated equally, that the promise of a free nation is that we are all meant to be able to pursue life, liberty, and happiness without interference. That whatever the rules are, they should apply to every person, without discrimination.
But none of that meant I stopped noticing that women were attractive.
Others—far more eloquent than I—have spoken and will continue to speak about equality. Emma Watson spoke about inviting men to the table, encouraging boys and men to embrace and support feminist principles. If I may be so bold as to interpret, I’m certain she wasn’t just talking about men who are entirely pure of heart, if such unicorns exist.
You don’t have to be a white knight to take up the banner of equality. You only have to recognize that it needs to be carried, that the cause is just, and that the only way to change the world is by changing hearts and minds, starting with your own
Men are evolving in their hearts. I know it. I see it. I feel it. Social media has helped immeasurably. While we need to evaluate our behavior more closely and be cognizant of our presumptions, we do not need to be perfect to be feminists. If you believe that women should control their own destinies, then you should say so. If you believe that we should eliminate societal behaviors and attitudes that diminish women and their contributions to the world, then you should say so.
All around you, there are people who will be surprised if you speak up. You may encounter people who don’t want you in the conversation, who judge you on your appearance, or your gender, or your past behavior. Don’t let it stop you.
Women don’t need white knights. They have their own horses, their own armor, and their own battles.
But we all need friends. We all need allies.
The HeForShe campaign has been founded on the principle that gender equality is not a women’s issue, but a human rights issue. It’s a solidarity movement dedicated to taking action against all forms of violence and discrimination against women.
Join today. Continue your evolution.
Emma was talking to you.