The first thing I learned as a man in Women’s Studies was to never be late.
Tardiness is bad enough, and that wasn’t counting the awkwardness. In my first upper division feminism course, I was the only sausage in a sea of clams. Heads turned as soon as I opened the door, a tidal wave of inquisitive faces washing over me.
Instinct told me to scuttle to the nearest seat and hide. Except the nearest seat involved squeezing past ten women and blocking the chalkboard with my crotch. So I had to do exactly that, and by the time I waddled over to my seat, I’d sufficiently accosted half the class with my genitalia.
Even after I found my seat the class gaze never left. I was an out- sider, maybe even considered an invader in this feminist safe space.
As a male feminist, I’m very conscious of these things. I’m very conscious of the fact that if there’s any lottery I’ve won, it’s the genetic one that landed me a Y chromosome. In our imperfect world, this has afforded me unquantifiable amountsof opportunity and edge – privilege.
Privilege is Like M&Ms…
…because it comes in many colors, and nobody likes the brown one. For although people experience a different kind of privilege depending on race, gender, sexuality, and class, one can only have privilege at the expense of another – often women, and especially those of color and those who are poor.
For me, privilege is confidence. Privilege is the reassurance that even on my ugliest, unflattering days, I will be judged on my aptitude, not my appearance. It’s not like there’s anything to show when the world curses the other gender with that two-hour beauty ritual. Besides, I’m a Chinese dude, which means the first thing people look for is my grades and aptitude, anyway, not face.
Privilege is also safety. Privilege is what lets me feel safe in a dark area or in a group of strangers. Privilege is what reassures me when the cops pass by – because I know I won’t get pulled over. A black man is born with a bull’s-eye on his head that grows as he does; but what could a happy-looking Asian kid like me be up to?
Privilege is ordinary life. Privilege is what lets me off the hook for what I drink, who makes my drink, how much I drink; who I sleep with, how many I sleep with; how I get home, when I get home.
Privilege is when I say these words and people listen.
Privilege is when a woman says these same words and gets called a “feminazi bitch.”
Being a Women’s Studies Major
Having privilege, according to Sindelókë, is like having big feet. I have to be mindful of where I walk. Whose toes I step on. Privilege is a reminder, but for me, it’s also a source of great unease.
I feel it when people ask me what my major is. It’s like a twisted “choose-your-own-adventure” story that always ends with me getting shot. “Biochemistry,” I’ll say, which is the fake happily-ever-after. “Also women’s studies.” Plot twist.
It rarely ends well. Most days people chuckle at me being in women’s studies. Men often say, “Getting many numbers, I see?” followed by a teasing nudge. Other days, I get a curt “Oh” – followed by a subject change. And then occasionally people laugh their asses off before saying, “Wait, were you serious?”
On luckier days, people ask what the hell that is, or why, and I still can’t provide a sufficient answer. “Uh, women’s rights,” I’ll mumble, a response so utterly wrong, incorrect, and false that I should get drop-kicked out of the major.
Because feminism is not just about women. Feminism is about everyone. When white people say Asian men are unattractive and too “feminine,” the insult is a two-for-one deal. It presumes there’s something wrong with Asians, and something wrong with being a woman. You can’t unite racism from sexism; the two intersect, as do classism, heterosexism, ableism. Feminism is the categorical opposition to all these injustices.
A Path to Inclusion
As a man in Women’s Studies, I’ve learned that feminism doesn’t leave us out. Men aren’t invulnerable, but we are told to be exactly that. Our whole lives are spent trying to fit this mold. We are taught to be staid, stoic beings – calm, cool, collected. Men don’t cry; when they do, they are lesser. Weaker. Worthless. We are taught a word for this: “woman.”
As men, we are told to fix our bodies, that our physiques are wrong, that we’re dirty, that we must use this shampoo, this conditioner, must make this much money, must have this career, must drive this car, must play sports, must compete, must be on top, must love sex, must attract women, demean women, degrade women, hunt women, hurt women, dog women, fuck women, so we feel like a man and the whole world can see we’re more of a man than anyone else ever could be.
Feminism is for everyone. It was this realization that made the class gaze less intense – that even amongst all these women, I had a place. As the class progressed, people got used to the string of high-pitched voices cut halfway by a deep gruff voice talking about patriarchy and systems of oppression. I remember halfway through the quarter a classmate, an older black woman, approached me. She tapped my arm and whispered to me in the middle of lecture: “Hey, thanks for always contributing in class. I can tell you really respect women. Men, too. Just people. We need more guys like you in the world. Your mother would be proud.”