It was wintertime 1974 in Cincinnati, Ohio and I was 11 years old, holding my mom’s trembling hand as we were walking up and down the sidewalks of our neighborhood. Tears were in her eyes, born out of a fear of how she was going to feed her two youngest sons – namely me and my brother Brian, who was three years older than me.
The situation was this – my mom and dad were recently divorced, and it was a bitter and violent split. Exacting revenge on my mom, my dad refused to pay child support and even worse, refused to even buy us groceries, in spite of my mom’s pleading. He was doing this because he knew it would be a punishing strike at my Mom and what she cared about most—her children. Frantic and worried, my mom pulled herself together, told me to get dressed and took me with her out into the streets.
I didn’t realize it at the time but what she was doing was conducting an impromptu job search. As we traversed the landscape of small businesses, bars, and convenient stores, sensing her panic, I found myself crying and trying to comfort her the best I could, by squeezing her hand and saying to her over and over again that everything was going to be alright. She responded, in her own motherly way, by squeezing my hand back, smiling as best she could and having us continue with her on her job sojourn. Thankfully about a mile from our house, I finally spotted a “Help Wanted” sign at one of the neighborhood bakeries. My mom took down the information and hurried us back home. She went to see the owner of the bakery the next day, got a job as a clerk/baker’s assistant. As fate would have it, she worked there for almost 22 years. Though money stayed tight throughout those years, her ability to secure that job was a life-changing event for her and us.
Having birthed six children, of which I was the youngest, it was her first job outside the home since her days working at a factory during WWII. My dad would later settle the child support issue in his favor through his connections within the Hamilton County court system. He was a Deputy Sheriff and friends with the judge who eventually heard the case. The judge set the amount per week that my dad had to pay the obscenely low amount of $17.50 per child for my brother and me. My mom took it all in stride and, in the ensuing years, with that $35.00 a week and the money from her bakery job, she raised both my brother and me.
What the whole ordeal taught me was this—in this patriarchal society, by and large, it is men who hold the power, and it is men who choose whether or not to wield that power for good or evil. My dad’s and the court system’s despicable actions toward my mom and her two boys was an example of evil. I truly believe that this abuse of power and other similar abuses of power are used against women in countless ways every day.
Recognizing that the word “feminism” means different things to different people, the cause of feminism, to me, has always been about fighting back against this egregious behavior and the way of thinking and spirit that comes along with it. It means proclaiming loud and clear, that it is unacceptable to mistreat women in this manner. The feminist cause is as simple as that.
That being said, as a man, I will never pretend to know what it is like to be a woman in this world. I can never even pretend to know what it is like to navigate the societal obstacles constantly placed in front of females specifically designed to hinder their advancement. As a man, I know I will never be discounted intellectually or paid less just because of my gender, like so many women are all around the world at this very moment. As a man, I will never be whistled at or endlessly harassed and harangued simply because I happen to walk by or share the same office space with a member of the opposite sex. And to go along with that, I know that as a man, I will never be sexually assaulted and then have to hear that I was asking for it or that it was my fault because of the way I was dressed or because of something I did. Finally, I will never be told, as a man, that what I choose to do or not do with my body is not up to me or will I ever have to endure the same subject being endless fodder and controversy for politicians and religious leaders. As a man, I will never experience any of these travesties. That being said, I will forever maintain, that this doesn’t preclude me from standing up for women’s rights. I stand up for women’s rights, like I think all men should because it is simply the right thing to do.
It has been said by more than one writer that courage is not the absence of fear but the willingness to act in spite of it. Witnessing my mom’s actions on that late winter afternoon, I saw the personification of pure, raw courage in action. It is that courage that I try to emulate, in my own small way, every time I take a personal, political or economic stand for every mother, sister, daughter and female in the name of their basic rights and liberties that they should be afforded as their birthright.
I have often been asked by my male friends, sometimes in a derisive manner, how I can be a man and still call myself a feminist. My answer to them is always this— knowing what I know and what I have seen about the hostility and discrimination directed toward the female gender, I don’t know how I could, with clear conscience, be anything but a feminist.
And further, I don’t know how any man who professes love for the females in his life, and witnesses how this society tries to constantly denigrate and subjugate them, they could not be one either.