I’m going to the FemCatholic Conference to learn more about the needs of my fellow Catholics. As a Catholic man, there is a lot to be confused about when it comes to feminism! Do Catholic feminists want women priests? Are my preconceived notions about feminists accurate, or am I stereotyping? How does my experience as a man, in a Church led by men, shape how I view and treat women? Am I even “allowed” to have an opinion on feminism?
I never thought that I received special treatment as a man, and I still don’t. It can be easy for men like me to think, “What patriarchy? No one ever said I was in charge just because I’m a man!”
As a man, I get normal treatment. The trouble is, men and women have different needs, and in a world where men are in charge, men’s needs are attended to much more often. Not only that, but men’s needs have set the norms and expectations in many arenas. For example, I was looking for pants for my little girl and picked out a pair that looked comfortable. Then I stuck my hand in the “pockets.” Guys, the pants I had for my 3-year-old had fake, vanity pockets. My wife gets so excited when she finds clothes with usable pockets. Men don’t have this problem; all of our clothing - pants, shirts, jackets - has functional pockets. It seems like something small, but it doesn’t end with pocket sizes. For example, take a look at your workplace’s stance on maternity leave or breastfeeding.
[M]en and women have different needs, and in a world where men are in charge, men’s needs are attended to much more often.
Are there policies in place regarding these important needs, and does it seem like they were designed by individuals who fully understand the needs? Is this an area of company policy that all employees (male, female, married, single) are made aware of? Take a look at the decision makers of your company; how many of them are women? It’s not that men receive special treatment, it’s that men have been in charge for a long time and have made things generally comfortable for men. Now, it’s time for us to start listening to how we can expand the standard of "normal" to include the needs, norms, and expectations of women, instead of saying, “Can’t you just be more like us?”
As the poet John Donne famously wrote, no man is an island. These issues that hurt women are not just women’s problems, they are humanity’s problems. Like most problems, we can’t just leave solutions to someone else; unless we strive to be part of the solution, we perpetuate the problem. John Donne also says, “Send not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.” The bell has been ringing for women’s rights for decades, and continues to ring; it is time we men join with our sisters in answering the call.
These issues that hurt women are not just women’s problems, they are humanity’s problems.
What can we do as men to serve women in this cause? First, listen to the experiences that women have to share. Everyone experiences the world around them differently, but we will never know just how differently until we talk with them! By hearing firsthand experiences, we can begin to understand that some of the things that we take for granted are not as simple as they seem. Discussing these issues is critical to our understanding. As men, we lack a certain obvious experience of femininity and, while we’ll never fully understand in this life, clarifying and asking questions are great places to start. Good questions are driven by genuine curiosity and contribute to the movement of the discussion. Try some of these:
- I’m confused about this point, can you talk more about that?
- I hear you saying [this], that sounds [emotion].
- Have you read John Paul II’s Letter to Women? I’m interested to hear your thoughts.
- You seem [emotion]. Would you like to talk about something?
Once we understand some of the different ways women experience the world, how do we advocate for them? Being an advocate does not mean that we have to fix everything; in fact, it will more often mean being aware of the needs and struggles of the women in your life, and being willing to support their ideas for meeting those needs. Being an advocate could mean speaking up for your co-worker who is challenged when she needs to take breaks to pump breast milk. It could mean making an effort to be more attentive to the women on your parish council. It could mean working to better empathize with and support your wife, sister, or daughter in their struggles (whether it be fake pockets or discrimination).
I am really looking forward to this conference. I am confident it will give my wife and I a lot more to talk about! I can’t wait to hear what the speakers and participants have to say about Catholic femininity, and to witness how we can all flourish through rejoicing in our complementary differences and diverse gifts, instead of trying to make everyone the same.