While looking through my dashboard on Tumblr the other day, I came across an article called “Why I Am a Black Male Feminist” from the root.com that had been posted on a blog I follow. As I read the article’s title, it occurred to me that I had never read a piece of writing from the perspective of a black male feminist—it is certainly a rarity. I was immediately intrigued.
The article is by a man named Bryon Hurt—and it is absolutely amazing. Hurt is honest in his retelling of the way in which he came to embrace feminism, telling his readers that prior to educating himself about the subject, he fell into rather patriarchal roles and assumed, as many tend to do, that all feminists were ugly, white, man-hating lesbians. But, after falling into an outreach program intended to use the status of athletes to make gender violence socially unacceptable, Bryon realized that he needed to change—and his thinking has come a long way.
He has learned these four major lessons:
1. Men should become more aware of the fact that using their size and strength to maintain the upper hand in an argument with a woman can caused the woman to become intimidated.
Hurt explains how, as a young boy, he used to over hear his mother and father arguing. He says about the incidents, “I learned early that he had an unfair advantage because of his gender. His size, strength and power intimidated my mother. I never saw my father hit her, but I did witness how injurious his verbal jabs could be when they landed on my mom’s psyche.” Hurt later admits in his essay that he too used his size and power to dominate women—much like his father did. Hurt reveals, “I, too, became defensive and verbally abusive whenever the girl or woman I was dating criticized or challenged me. I would belittle my girlfriends by scrutinizing their weight or their choices in clothes. In one particular college relationship, I often used my physical size to intimidate my petite girlfriend, standing over her and yelling to get my point across during arguments.” After learning about domestic violence, gender violence and feminism, Hurt realized that what he was doing was wrong; he was entitling himself to disparage women when it would benefit him. For men, dealing with an argument in this manner is taking the easy way out; it is much easier to use brute force and intimidation than it is to use wit and intellect to win an argument. This method of stifling the woman’s argument is not only unfair to her, because she does not have a chance to express her feelings, but also because the man doesn’t give himself a chance to either.
2. Emotional abuse, battering, sexual assault, street harassment and rape have the potential to harm an entire community just as racism does.
After studying domestic violence, gender violence and feminism, this idea clicked for Hurt. As a child, Hurt witnessed how his mother was verbally and emotionally abused by his father, yet he did not see the connection this abuse had to his community. He acknowledges the effect it had on him as a child, saying, “I had internalized what I had seen in my home and was slowly becoming what I had disdained as a young boy.” His father’s abuse of his mother caused him to become more like his father than he ever could have expected. While he previously thought that he and his mother were the only ones affected by the abuse, he realizes that it could have a much bigger, and much more lasting, effect on the community as a whole as it is passed down through the generations.
3. Many men are unaware of the lengths women have to go to on a day-to-day basis to avoid abuse, assault and harassment.
In a workshop about the prevention of gender violence, Hurt says he and a group of men were asked to tell the instructor about the kinds of measures they take to prevent sexual assault. After sitting in silence for a few seconds, they realized that they don’t take any sort or precautions against sexual assault. Then, the instructor asked them women to answer the same question, and their answers were flowing—each of them had a different precaution to share. Hurt says, “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.” Hurt realized in this exercise that the domineering attitude and verbal abuse that his father used against his mother—and that he later used against his girlfriends—was causing women to walk around on guard at all times. Many men are unaware that the women they think they know so well have these kinds of thoughts in their heads. Many times they don’t see the connection their actions have to these precautions until it is shoved in their faces.
4. Feminism is for everybody.
As the title of bell hook’s book says, “Feminism is for everybody.” Hurt says about his experience learning about what feminism truly is, “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.” Hurt, like many before him, was inspired by feminists like bell hooks and Angela Davis and has realized the truth about feminism: anyone, black, white, male, female, young, old—anyone—can be a feminist. He also notes that, contrary to what he previously thought, women do not hate men; in fact, they love them. Feminism is about equality between the sexes, not about one ruling over the other. Hurt now sees that feminist rhetoric is helping him to understand the instances of patriarchy in his own life and has caused him to know himself better. In summation he says, “When we hurt the women in our lives, we hurt ourselves, and we hurt our community, too.” Because, as Hurt says, the effect is so widespread, it is even more important to stress the importance of everyone becoming a feminist. Hurt ends his essay by informing the reader that even his father, as he has grown older and “mellowed,” has grown to embrace feminism.
Hurt’s story is certainly an inspiring one that I wish every man could have a chance to hear. One of the major reasons I feel it is important for men to embrace feminism is, as sad as it may sound, male feminists may have more of a chance of attracting other men to feminism because they may be more likely to listen to fellow men. I know that this may not be the most ideal way to attract men to the cause, but once they have been introduced to feminist ideals, it is possible that they may begin to accept them, and in turn, begin to respect women. The other major reason for men to accept feminism is, of course, because of how it will benefit both women and men—and the community at large—in the long run.