The feminist male

James M. Figetakis ’79
July 20, 2021
James M. Figetakis with Gloria Steinem

Talking with Gloria Steinem at a gala event in October 2019 for the Women’s Media Center, which she co-founded with Jane Fonda, I was struck by her grace and strength, her humility and curiosity, her openness and respect for everyone, her deep listening and commitment to firm action.

I felt I could ask her a personal question: What is my role, as a man, in the women’s movement? Rather than political, her answer was personal. “More and more men are finding strength in relationships. It’s about their consciousness,” she said. “A feminist is anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of women and men. There are many men who are strong feminists and humanitarians.”

As we were talking, I realized Steinem would be an excellent Harkness instructor at Exeter. When I entered Exeter in my prep year, I was being raised by my great-grandmother, my grandmother and my mother. They taught me how to value women equally in all ways; to listen, act and let go of a false sense of male ego. 

More recently, I asked: How can fathers, husbands, sons and brothers further elevate the women’s movement? “Men become whole people by being active inside the home,” Steinem said. She believes the pandemic’s home quarantine has positively influenced men’s roles in society. “It has been difficult for women, who bear the brunt of caregiving and work in the home. This has awakened many men to the importance and joy of sharing those responsibilities equally.” 

All parents can prepare their children for this equality movement. “They can lead by example by working against the false dichotomy of masculinity and femininity,” Steinem said. “Femininity is associated with nurturing, caregiving, passivity, the emotional body, while masculinity is associated with ambition, assertiveness, the thinking mind. In reality, each of us is a unique mixture of all these things. It is up to both men and women to integrate all these traits fully. When they do, they become their true selves, and that is a lesson for every child watching them.”

Gloria Steinem inspires me as a feminist male. But she is also inspired by all of us. Her parting thought to me was, “I won’t be around 50 years from now, but I have faith in you who will be.”