This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Josiah Knowlen is 25, and works as a server and bartender in Minneapolis.
Conversation with Katie Eckhardt.
“As a man, talking about feminism, I feel nervous talking about it. And it’s interesting that I feel nervous, because I feel like I’m about to offend a lot of people. That to me says something about our current conversation–that it’s not an open conversation, or its perceived to be a closed conversation.”
Who were the women of authority in your life growing up?
My mom was a pretty big figure. Both my mom and dad were really consistent in their discipline, so I viewed them both equal as authority figures. But I had a lot of female [figures]. My aunt was the principle of my school. My grandmother, I guess I didn’t know I really view her as an authority figure, but definitely as someone I respected. She started a ministry with my grandfather, but she kind of was what you would picture as being in the “man’s role.” She was kind of the head and the visionary of what a typical ministry couple would look like.
Did you notice that more traditional role reversal?
No, I just really didn’t know there were any roles.
Growing up as a Christian, do you feel like it played a part in how you view gender roles?
I would say yes, but I mean any religion or any kind of background plays a part in to how you view things. But I would maybe say even with the church it’s a tough one these days.
I do think that some facets of Christianity affect how we view gender roles. I’m thinking specifically of some churches that heavily support women becoming leaders with giving them opportunities equal to men (preaching and leading different things in the church), while I see others do not. I’ve heard of Bible schools offering preaching programs to men and women, however they limit the extent to how far a woman can go within the program. I find all of this interesting… I am not well-versed in what the Bible says about women who are “allowed” to be involved in the church, so I don’t claim to be an expert. What all of my observations do for me is lead me to question the status quo of churches and ask our church leaders why we are acting on our current and long-held belief system.
Did you ever feel there was a direct conversation, especially in the church, on how men should view women?
Yes. I mean there is a whole conversation about men specifically in [romantic] relationships with a woman. Really simply, [the belief was] that men are leaders in a way, and strong–they’re kind of built that way. So because they have more responsibility, they’re stronger. In general, there are definite outliers, but we (men) can be more aggressive. That’s a little more of our nature you could say. So since men have this responsibility, they should be going first and creating an environment that is protective of women, so they (women) can flourish. So I think that conversation can really get misconstrued a lot, and people can really misunderstand what that means. And that is something I am really passionate about.
Well there is kind of a duality of thoughts in my mind–what is masculinity and what is feminism. The way I viewed feminism was women were trying to become men. Instead of men and women achieving equal opportunity in economic standards or socioeconomic standards. All of those things are outside of your gender, your religion, your race. They are just human things. A lot of the conversation in my perspective was women trying to be men, and I think that is where the conversation is going to breakdown.
What are your thoughts on the current culture on feminism?
Just to start off, I understand that when it comes to being biased in a way, I am the .01%. I am over six feet tall, I am white, I am a man in the upper middle class in the richest country in the world. So I am at the top of the top of the top of what is considered to be favored in a way.
As a man, talking about feminism, I feel nervous talking about it. And it’s interesting that I feel nervous, because I feel like I’m about to offend a lot of people. That to me says something about our current conversation–that it’s not an open conversation, or its perceived to be a closed conversation.
“However, if we want even just intellectually to understand the logic behind tolerance and diversity, we shouldn’t shut out any voices […] It’s thinking you are supporting tolerance, and you are thinking you are tolerant, but you’re not. That to me is insane.”
So do you feel like your voice currently is void?
Basically. But at the same time I understand that.
If there was one thing that was really concerning in how we are living our lives right now it is that people’s voices are being drowned out. But at the same time those voices that are being drowned out, they were drowning out voices for a long time. And so I have a hard time with that because I understand somewhat. I get it intellectually, but I don’t feel that. I don’t feel the hortatory backlash. I don’t feel that, but I can comprehend it. And I understand that I am implicitly favoring white people. White men.
However, if we want even just intellectually to understand the logic behind tolerance and diversity, we shouldn’t shut out any voices. You need to have an open mind to the Trump supporter, for example, while maintaining your own ideals and supporting those. Insanity is the current state of most people thinking right now. It’s thinking you are supporting tolerance, and you are thinking you are tolerant, but you’re not. That to me is insane.
Talk more about being a man and talking about feminism and why it makes you nervous.
Seems like it’s a culture I don’t quite understand. It seems it’s women trying to become men. There are also things I don’t understand such as women empowerment, women empowering women. But as soon as you talked about that phrase “women empowering women” and then the competition that women face (between each other) I was like, “Oh duh. This is a lot more for women for other women than it is for women telling other men.” So that’s a new idea and a new thought. That’s a problem I see with women, in general (women competing with other women), and they’re trying to rectify the problem just with themselves and create a culture of “this isn’t about competition this is just about us just accepting each other.”
So that is interesting. I wasn’t actually thinking about that before. Because when people talk about feminism, as a man, it’s immediately as though the fragments of that belief is that women thinking that men are beneath them or that they don’t need them, essentially, rather than it being an acceptance of a gender, and an acceptance of growing and strengthening that gender, and having a voice saying that we are valuable, and you haven’t said we are valuable and you need to change that.
I think as men, we need to create a culture where women can feel comfortable to be independent free thinkers. On a small level, what I am doing in my relationship with my girlfriend is giving her space to tell me my ideas are bad or she thinks that how I think is stupid, just little things. That’s where I see a lot of women struggle just in general. They don’t really feel the space to say no. They feel uncomfortable having a voice. But [in our relationship] it’s kind of up to me to create that environment. When she does say no, it’s up to me to respond.
“I want to see more women recognizing there is a competition problem and actively trying to change that. Just women and how they interact with other women […] I want women to know that they don’t have to kill themselves for people.”
With the church, do you feel like there is a lack of conversation about men and women?
I think the conversation around Christianity and gender roles should be, and I think for the large part it is, if you are going to talk about your different genders then be you and be strong in what those differences are. Grow in that and accept that. That is kind of what the church is trying to say.
And that is getting a little bent and misrepresented?
What do you think it means to be a man? Is there some sort of right of passage?
I would like to say that there isn’t a metaphorical right of passage in becoming a man, but it really seems like there is. As though somehow the culture needs to over-emphasize how being a man is “being a man.” I like to stay home and read books and that’s not [viewed as] okay sometimes–as though it would be better for me to go off and do something dangerous. I don’t like to do “dangerous things.” For me being a man is not going off and doing dangerous things.
For me, being a man, if I had a family, it would be me leading my family and going first in things. For me, a lot more of what a man is involves living a life where you are paying attention to your intuition and you’re acting on that and inspiring others to do better things than you are. I think being a man is, in little things, is saying that you’re wrong, I think it’s saying that you are sorry, but first. You should mention what’s right and what’s wrong especially in how you’ve acted.
Would you say that being a man is coming into self awareness and responsibilities? That that is the sort of “right of passage?”
Having your character tested is what I would consider a right of passage.
What would you like to see from men moving forward in society?
Creating spaces for women to be independent free thinkers and to say no and responding to that.
What would you like to see from women moving forward in society?
I want to see what other women want to see, I want to see more women recognizing there is a competition problem and actively trying to change that. Just women and how they interact with other women. And I think women should have the responsibility to create an open space as well. I want women to know that they don’t have to kill themselves for people. It’s a strength, yeah, to sacrifice and bend without breaking, but you don’t have to bend so much for people. Especially women in relationships.