Man haters. We’ve all heard the phrase. I’ve only been identifying myself as a feminist for a few years now, but I’ve heard it a lot.

And I suppose if you glance at all the essays, speeches, books and videos that rail against the patriarchy or The Man, it’s not a difficult label to attach to those of us who brave the stigma of the f-word. But is it really true?

One of the founding ideas of feminism is that gender is a social construction. That means that all the behaviors and characteristics that we associate with being either a woman or a man are things that we’ve learned. There’s nothing inherent or biological about whether a girl wants to bake or a boy wants to tinker with a car. It’s all a part of what society teaches us from birth. You cannot want to tinker with a car if you’re a girl. It’s not natural, our teachers and parents and peers tell us – “It’s a boy thing.” The problem with that is then we aren’t free to be who we are. We’re stuck with a set of things we’re allowed to do that may have absolutely nothing to do with our personalities or desires.

And historically, women haven’t been free to be much of anything. You know, stuck in the home, breeding endless swarms of children, no voice, no vote, no power, etc.

But it doesn’t just apply to women. While men are placed in a more privileged position by the gender roles they are assigned, that position is about as restricting as a woman’s. You can’t want to bake if you’re a boy. You can’t show much emotion. You can’t stay home and raise the kids. You can’t admit you don’t want casual sex. You can’t cry or talk about things or have really close friends. Don’t be a sissy. Man up. Grow some balls. Don’t be too much of a girl.

The central mission of feminism – after we won the vote, of course – is to break down those gender barriers. We want girls to be able to tinker with cars, run for political offices, be business executives, stay in the home and have kids, or be teachers or lawyers – whatever they want to do. We want boys to be able to bake, to admit they love someone, to be okay with making less money than their wives, to be free to show affection, to work as a nurse or a secretary and to do anything and everything that is available to them.

As a feminist, I know that nothing good can happen for women unless it also happens for men. There can be no transcendence of oppressive gender roles for women if men don’t get away from them, too. Even if there could, it wouldn’t be complete because men would still be stuck. And the fight still exists if anyone of any gender or race or religion or orientation or size or color of the rainbow isn’t equal and free.

I definitely don’t hate men. I don’t know many feminists who do. I hope, more than anything, that men will join me in throwing away the stupid or unnecessary rules that everyone taught us about what it takes to be a man or a woman. I’m happy to be a sissy, a tomboy, a doll, a bitch, a woman and all the other contradictory, mixed up, gender confused things that I am. I hope that men will join me in embracing all the things that live inside of them.

Waddill is a member ofthe class of 2009.

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