Man Up: Feminist scholar Michael Kimmel speaks on gender equality

Michael Kimmel, a feminist scholar from Stony Brook University, spoke to an audience in Laurel Hall on Feb. 16, 2016. (Tyler Benton/Daily Campus)

When Michael Kimmel, an internationally recognized feminist scholar from Stony Brook University, asked the women in the audience to raise their hands if they intended to have a successful career after graduating from the University of Connecticut, no one held back.

When he asked how many of those women’s mothers had worked full-time for at least 10 uninterrupted years, many of those hands fell away.

After he raised the question of whose grandmothers had worked outside the home, less than a third of the hands remained. 

Then he asked himself a question: can women have it all, a fulfilling career and a supportive family life?

“The answer is no. Women can’t have it all because men do. We’re the ones who have careers and come home to a warm supportive family because women work the second shift,” Kimmel, the founder of the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities, said. “We’re going to have to do something different.”

Kimmel, who spoke Tuesday afternoon in Laurel Hall at “Man Up!,” said this push for gender equality has just as much to offer to men as it does to the women who are spearheading the feminist movement.

This is because while women have made tremendous strides toward work-life balance, liberating sexuality and making gender visible, what it means to be a man has remained largely stagnant.

Kimmel said the desire to be seen as a “real man” - defined by a relentless rejection of femininity, the accumulation of wealth and power, reliability in a crisis and risk taking - can often stand in the way of being a good one.

This is because while women have made tremendous strides toward work-life balance, liberating sexuality and making gender visible, what it means to be a man has remained largely stagnant.

In fact, Kimmel said research has shown that men who set aside traditional gender roles by sharing housework and childcare have been shown to have happier marriages, more academically successful children, better health and - pay attention boys - more active sex lives. Not everything needs to be 50-50, of course, but it does need to be consciously agreed upon.

“It’s not necessarily equality but equity, the perception of fairness. That both partners feel their relationship is fair, it’s what they wanted,” Kimmel said.

It’s also men’s responsibility to help women create a safer society by shutting down the harmful behaviors, such as slut-shaming, that lead to sexual assault and other violence against women. Instead of forcing women to play the role of “smarmy mom,” Kimmel said, men should police sexist and homophobic attitudes themselves.

“That’s the moment when we have to step up,” Kimmel said. “We have to learn how to challenge each other so that you (women) don’t have to do it all the time.” 

True to his word, Kimmel then requested that all of the young men in the audience stand to recite a pledge inspired by the White Ribbon campaign. The organization was founded in response to the 1989 Montreal Massacre, a mass murder in the name of “fighting feminism” that left 14 women dead in Canada.

“I pledge to never commit, condone or remain silent about men’s violence against women,” he said with the audience.

Many men grow up thinking the world is a leveled playing field, so taking steps toward equality can sometimes feel like having the tables turned against you, Kimmel said. In the end though - despite what “Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus,” the most popular self help book of all time, would have us believe - progress is a win-win for everyone.

“I think the real revolutionaries are those who are genderqueer, people who say that those categories are the problem,” Kimmel, who is cisgender himself, said. “I think that we are at the very beginning of a conversation in our culture that is eventually going to blow up this idea of the binary differences between males and females - our grandchildren will find this whole idea of Barbie and Ken sort of ridicule - but we’re not there yet.”


Kimberly Armstrong is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at kimberly.armstrong@uconn.edu.