A few months ago Governor Jerry Brown appointed me to be the first man on the prestigious California Commission on the Status of Women and Girls. I am so excited and honored by this amazing opportunity to continue the great work that California is doing to tackle issues such as pay equality, advancing more girls in the STEM field, creating more opportunities for women in leadership positions across California, and a host of other hot topic issues.
From the moment I started telling people, the responses were extremely positive. People were very excited that we could have a conversation about how men can be included in creating change to better impact the lives of women and girls from all walks of life. It felt great to see such a positive response from so many people that I love, trust, and admire. However, while much positivity still remains, it has come to my attention that some people are not so thrilled about my appointment. However, what these people and groups online do not realize is that I fully expected and am happy to see such conversations occurring about men in feminism.
I must be completely honest, some of the comments online hurt. People are trying to smear my character, what I believe in, and what I am most passionate about. In talking with some of my closest friends, I couldn’t disagree that this was exactly the type of conversation that I hope would come out as a result of my appointment because we need to involve more men in feminist causes because we cannot achieve true gender equality unless we are all working together to stop the patriarchy. To think that patriarchy only impacts women would be a simplification of the deep seeded issue that it actually is. As bell hooks states: “The first act of violence that patriarchy demands of males is not violence toward women. Instead patriarchy demands of all males that they engage in acts of psychic self-mutilation, that they kill off the emotional parts of themselves. If an individual is not successful in emotionally crippling himself, he can count on patriarchal men to enact rituals of power that will assault his self-esteem.”
We need to be having these dialogues about men in feminism and if we do not and if we cast out all men as unwilling participants, we risk only furthering the great gendered divide rather than abolishing it altogether. Like I wrote about in my very first post on this site as well as subsequent other times, men are not inherent leaders of feminism and to claim to do an injustice to the cause. Men must be willing partners who are there to listen to criticism, have difficult dialogues, and push their sex further away from the domineering normative culture that demands men are on top of the proverbial food chain.
However, one thing that I will address is that, while reading through many of the comments, many progressive and leftist feminist activists fall victim to the same stereotypes they oftentimes write about online that they would like to see abolished from people on the right. Reading comments about my appearance or body image leads me to believe that we have as much work to do within our progressive communities as we do outside of them.
Let’s have a conversation about men and feminism and how we can continue to abolish the patriarchy together rather than writing mean, hurtful comments online. I invite any of these groups or individuals to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to have a conversation. I hope we can have an actual conversation rather than a series of postings online that are misleading about who I am and what I believe in.
These are only some of the conversations I hope we can have at the Commission. We need men in feminism. We need men to care about raising their sons and daughters with feminist principles. We need to educate more men on respecting women, their bodily autonomy, and understanding that no means no.
I look forward to continuing these conversations and I hope that we can engage in a dialogue together rather than apart.
*Note: the title of this article comes from the title of the 2009 NWSA Conference.
John Erickson is the President of the Hollywood Chapter of the National Organization for Women. John is a Ph.D. Candidate in American Religious History at Claremont Graduate University where he is finishing up his dissertation tentatively titled “Step Sons and Step Daughter”: Chosen Communities, Religion, and LGBT Liberation.” John holds a MA in Women’s Studies in Religion; an MA in Applied Women’s Studies; and a BA in English and Women’s Studies. He is the Founding and Past President of the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh’s LGBTQA+ Alumni Association and currently serves as the Chair of the Legislative Committee for the Stonewall Democratic Club, a Diversity and Inclusion Fellow at Claremont Graduate University. He is a permanent contributor to the blog Feminism and Religion, a Co-Founder of the blog The Engaged Gaze, and the Co-Chair of the Queer Studies in Religion Section of the American Academy of Religion’s Western Region, the only regional section of the American Academy of Religion that is dedicated to the exploration of queer studies in religion and other relevant fields in the nation. In April 2017, he was the first openly gay athlete to be inducted into the Wisconsin Volleyball Conference Hall of Fame. Most recently, John was one of the coordinators of the Women’s March Los Angeles, which brought together 750,000 people in downtown Los Angeles on January 21, 2017, and a Committee Member for the #ResistMarch, which brought together 100,000 people from Hollywood to West Hollywood in honor of LA Pride on June 11, 2017.