Are men obsolete? That's the question at the center of the 12th semi-annual Munk Debate, announced on Tuesday. The event, which will take place later this fall, is entitled "The End of Men" and will explore where the sexes are "headed in the 21st century," with a star-studded panel including Hanna Rosin, Maureen Dowd, Caitlin Moran, and Camille Paglia.
A debate centered on the place men have in our lives and movement as feminists is a fitting way to end a long summer of soul-searching. While the viral explosion of #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen may have led to important conversations about better incorporating all women into the movement, we remain divided on what the role of men in the feminist community should and could be.
From the standpoint of feminism as a political movement, however, questioning if men are obsolete is problematic in that it reinforces the already prevalent idea that feminists are "man-haters" and the feminist movement is a place where men aren't welcome. It accentuates an "us" versus "them" attitude and contributes to the false notion that "women's issues" are women's problems — a message that is neither true nor politically helpful.
Though we may (wrongly) think of concerns like abortion, fair pay, and family leave as "women's issues," women are not the only ones intimately affected by the outcomes of those debates. Anyone with a girlfriend who's gotten pregnant, or a family who struggles to make ends meet, or a new father who can't get time off to help his family knows that the lives of men are often equally impacted.
In fact, making the universality of those problems clear — telling the stories of men who have been touched by "women's issues" — is essential in chipping away at the stigma that separates us. Reframing those issues as human rights and not just "women's rights" is not only more representative of the experiences of both men and women, but it means we can change the political vernacular and larger conversation in a way that will enable us to achieve more in the long term.
The 2012 election cycle proved that when women have a sufficient margin,we can rule the ballot box. The president won women by a margin of 54-44%, , which helped him secure the battleground states of Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania. While that's certainly a reason to be optimistic for the women's political movement, men still represent an enormously influential voting bloc — and the country's largest swing vote. As Connie Cass wrote following the 2012 election, "When it comes to elections, males as a group are more influential because they show less party loyalty than women, who skew Democratic."
Imagine how much easier it would be to win elections if we could chip away at the 53% of men who voted Republican in 2012. Imagine how much easier it would be to pass the legislation we want now if we could better appeal to the 81% of Congress that is currently male.
Unfortunately, organizations that have made efforts to reach out to young men were promptly criticized by feminist outlets for "catering" to and "prioritizing" the concerns of men, and "masculinizing feminism" to make it palatable to a male audience — and thus reinforcing a binary.
Obviously, the role men should have in the feminist movement is a delicate one. We want supportive partners from our leaders and the men in our lives, not men who appropriate our movement for their own interests. And, as Bryan Goldberg has demonstrated, even men who think they have good intentions can be insensitive to the implications of their actions.
That said, our battle towards reproductive health access, fair insurance coverage, and equal pay will be infinitely easier if we give men a seat at the table and make it clear to them why our issues are their issues too. As we continue to redefine what manhood (and womanhood) look like in the 21st century, men are asking in greater numbers what their relationship with feminism should be. We have an opportunity to provide the answer. Instead of insisting that men are of no more use to women than "ice cream," as Maureen Dowd has done, let's be both realistic and respectful enough to admit that that's not true. Let's take the opportunity to have productive conversations with the men in our lives and let's start by including a handful of mature male voices in a debate about where the sexes are "headed in the 21st century."
In the meantime, women are making big plans for the next several election cycles. Believing that there's an important and healthy place for men in the movement doesn't make me a bad feminist.
It makes me one who wants to win.