The Voice of Men

Akhil Sheth
UCI Law Alumnus, Class of 2013

Four score and fifteen years ago, women across this country won the right to vote. In America, suffrage should have been the silver bullet in the struggle against sexism. Our nation respects the rule of law. Our law reflects our electorate. Our electorate is mostly women. Given five, or ten, or fifty elections, women should have reshaped our nation and rewritten our founding charter to read now as it should have then, that men and women are all created equal, and equally endowed with inalienable rights, and equally entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

But nearly one hundred years later, women are not free. Nearly one hundred years later, we stigmatize the existence of women, except as objects of sex and servitude. Nearly one hundred years later, we rape or try to rape one in six women. Nearly one hundred years later, we pay women 78 cents for every dollar we pay men. Nearly one hundred years later, we hold up the word “feminist” as a pejorative—a word that those early suffragists held aloft as a promise of a greater society. Nearly one hundred years later, we live in a society that largely hates our mothers and our daughters and our sisters and our partners, and offers countless examples to illustrate that premise.

The vote was just a promise of what could be, not a panacea for what was. Women are still not free to act as women. Before they are women, women are Republicans or Democrats, pro-life or pro-choice, Alabamans or Californians, Bruins or Trojans, rich or poor, city or country, black or white, Jews or Gentiles, Catholics or Protestants, Muslims or Hindus, or any of many other types of tribe. This means many women can’t act in the best interest of women. This means some women act against the best interest of women.

And this means that the fight to fulfill the unfulfilled promise of the Nineteenth Amendment cannot be won by women alone. For too long, too many good men have clung to the teat of misogyny, suckling on the status quo and terrified of a meritocratic world in which individuals might be measured by the content of their character, instead of the circumstance of their birth. For too long, too many good men have sat out the fight silently, at best ignorant and at worst apathetic of the way we treat women. For too long, too many good men have seen this as a fight that is not theirs.

This must change. Our progress as a society demands it. A dawn is rising—slowly, but rising nonetheless—in places across the planet darkened by discrimination. America is as always a city upon a hill, poised to be illuminated first by the beams of sunlight spilling over the horizon. The shackles of sexism that may once have been invisible are no longer hidden. All good men must now join the fight, or be judged by history.

How can we fight? Misogyny’s insidious traditions have become old, comfortable companions. We must begin with the biases within us, acknowledging them, examining them, and attacking them. Beyond that is a question each man must answer for himself: “what do the better angels of my nature demand of me?” A century and a half ago, Theodore Parker—an American, a white man, an abolitionist, a feminist, and a fighter of fights that were ostensibly not his—preached words that hold power today. “Look at the facts of the world,” he said. “You see a continual and progressive triumph of the right. I do not pretend to understand the moral universe, the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways. I cannot complete the curve and calculate the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. But from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.”

Though the destination is clear, the path is not. The everyday problems of women are not close to our hearts and minds; they are not the problems we face. That inexperience robs us of wisdom, but our voice is nonetheless necessary. It speaks from the other side of the glass ceiling. It speaks in rooms where women cannot. It speaks from a place of privilege and power, and it is born of righteousness and not of self-interest. Our voice on this issue must no longer be a fractured voice in the wilderness, but instead the ferocious voice of the mainstream. If we speak now, we can hasten daybreak, and end that first form of discrimination, and finally fulfill that promise of freedom, of justice, and of equality made so many long nights ago.