The Feministing Five: Michael Kaufman

Michael Kaufman smiling in black sweater

Michael Kaufman’s work has been pivotal on the male front to end gender inequality around the world. Founder of the white ribbon campaign, the “largest effort in the world of men working to end violence against women,” Kaufman is living proof that men can and should be as invested and engaged in feminism as women.

His recent book, co-authored with Michael Kimmel, “Guy’s Guide to Feminism,” is a great A-Z guidebook for any man interested in learning more about feminism and how it relates to their own lived experiences. An easy, fun and accessible book, “Guy’s Guide to Feminism” makes it easy for any feminist to share his/her beliefs with those who may be unsure as to how feminism relates to them. So buy one for your brother, father, uncle, coworker, boyfriend, friend or partner and help spread feminism far and wide!

And now, without further ado, the Feministing Five, with Michael Kaufman. (P.S. his fictional heroine is probably one of the best explanations thus far!)

Anna Sterling: What prompted you to write this book now?

Michael Kaufman: Michael [Kimmel] and I have been working for years to engage men and boys to promote gender equality and to end all forms of gender based violence. One of the things we notice is what a job the media and the right wing has done marginalizing the word “feminism.” When you think about it, it’s quite the accomplishment on their part. Regarding the issues near and dear to us in terms of gender equality, violence against women and equal pay, the majority of men are on side with feminism, and yet the vast majority of men would not identify with the word feminism. One of the things we wanted to do was write a fun and accessible book that would present to men what we understand as the basic tenets and teachings of feminist women.  Also, we want to show that feminism is important and good for men. We try to show how feminism is changing men’s lives for the better. One of the ways that is most obvious is changing men’s relationship with children. The wholesale engagement of men as fathers is a world historic change in our lifetime and that’s because of the women’s movement. Feminism is a positive challenge transforming the lives of men.

AS: Who is your favorite fictional heroine, and who are your heroines in real life?

MK: My heroines in real life are women in local women’s organizations and NGO’s. I’m constantly seeing the courage of women who are working to end violence against women and promoting gender equality in many cases against tremendous personal danger. My heroines are not just the leaders we hear about and not even the activists we might know, but individual women who have survived and even flourished despite having experienced abuse and have gone on to maintain their integrity and flourish as human beings—those women are my genuine heroines.

Hermione Granger is my fictional heroine. She was the brains of the Harry Potter series, but she was also the go-to person. She was the one who was going to figure it out, show tremendous courage and she was someone who was under attack not only because what she believed, but because she was “Mud Blood.” She represented that intersection of different forms of oppression and she was truly heroic. When I first read the series to my daughter, she was our favorite.

AS: What recent news story made you want to scream?

MK: What recent news story did not want to make me scream! It’s pretty grim. One of the many recent news stories was keeping Planned B behind the counter so women would continue having a hard time accessing safe and effective means of birth control. That really pissed me off big time.

AS: What, in your opinion, is the greatest challenge facing feminism today?

MK: I don’t think as a man it makes sense for me to be saying to women what I think your biggest challenge is, but one of our great challenges together is bringing feminism and feminist ideals into the mainstream. To do that we have to shed our fear of being mainstream and we have to find ways to link up with people in their workplaces, schools, places of worship, unions, universities and so forth and not be scared of dirtying our hands by who we ally with. For us as men, the big challenge is not convincing a small handful of well-meaning men but ensuring these ideals that women have fought so hard for are ones that the vast majority of men agree with. What that means is being willing to work with those you might disagree with vehemently on many different issues. It involves taking a risk, but the rewards are huge.

AS: You’re going to a desert island, and you’re allowed to take one food, one drink and one feminist. What do you pick?

MK: My choice for feminist is easy. It would be my partner Betty. One food would be my mother’s chocolate cake which I now devotedly make myself. My drink would be a tall glass of milk to go with it!

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