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A Male Feminist Speaks Out

Can men be feminists? If so, what does it look like? A recent spate of articles like this one at Policy Mic, this one at On The Issues and this one at Slate tackled these questions. But I wanted to find out more, so I decided to use social media to find a feminist man who I could ask all about what it is like to fight for gender equality while male.

Fivel Rothberg is a filmmaker and educator whose work engages issues like masculinity, fatherhood and progressive social change. He is a graduate of Hunter College’s MFA program in Integrated Media Arts. He is currently using his short personal documentary film “House Devil, Street Angel”, as a consciousness-raising tool regarding the intimate subjects like abuse, fatherhood, masculinity and mental illness. He is working on a new web-based documentary about sexual consent called “Beyond Consent,” which will be aimed at young men.

THE SISTERHOOD: Do you think men can be feminists?

FIVEL ROTHBERG: Men can be feminists. Feminism is about liberation and equality, no matter what gender or sex you are. It’s about seeing the world through the lens of gender. It’s just not up to me, though. The more men who go beyond calling themselves feminists and do something to subvert patriarchy, the better off we’ll all be. I call myself a feminist because feminisms are still misunderstood, and so that more men might see feminisms as contributing to our betterment as men, not a threat. Yes, men as a sex will have to compromise power, but that’s a modest price to pay. As a man who is openly bisexual, as a father who feels free to be deeply emotional with his son, as a man who can’t wait to keep on working at improving, I have to thank feminisms, and the folks behind those movements, for the place I hold in this world. It’s not like it’s been a long time that I’ve called myself a feminist, maybe only a year or so. I have a lot to learn, and I am happy to be on that path.

As a feminist, what’s your relationship to Judaism?

I’m one of those atheist Jews. I cherish my heritage as “freethinking Jew.” To me, Emma Goldman represents a combination of feminism and Jewish ideals – of living and breathing ethics and justice. Yet, mainstream Judaism, historical Judaism, is deeply patriarchal. My bubbe – who is Orthodox and lives in Israel – just got married for the fourth time, at 91-years-old, last month. She’s an incredible person for loving and accepting her queer family members, for outlasting three men, for being a strong community member. Yet Judaism’s patriarchal structure has harmed her, and my family, over and over again. All of her husbands have been abusive in some way, and they have faced zero accountability for their actions. Her last husband even stole money from her, told her not to change her last name to his name so that she wasn’t legally his wife according to Israeli law and his religious family her kicked out of “his” apartment when he died.

What does being a feminist mean to you?

First and foremost, making efforts to be aware of how issues like male privilege, patriarchy, heteronormativity, race, class and power dynamics of all sorts play into everyday life. Those issues are, for the most part, invisible to those with privilege and are made to seem normal or “natural.” Feminism means working to treat women, transfolks and men of all sorts as full human beings, while watching out for all the stuff that I’ve been socialized to engage in as a man. There are feminisms, not just one “feminism.” I am “a” feminist, one embodiment of many political philosophies. It also means accepting accountability and trying to be accountable as someone who makes mistakes in those arenas all the time, especially in my past as someone who has been abusive, but also in the present.

My mother was abused constantly at home; all of the women, transfolks and men that I know have been screwed over in some way by patriarchy-systemically or on an individual basis: rape, emotional, physical, sexual or financial abuse, harassment and so on. I do not want my son, friends or other men to cause harm. Men are often the victims of mens’ violence and we have much to learn and gain by not hurting one another.


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