Rallying the Troops: Marvin Mathew on men as allies, empowering our communities and challenging the status quo

We are often moved by the people around us – they inspire us to do more, be better and become a catalyst for positive change. Marvin Mathew is one of those people whose greatness was inspired by one woman with whom he credits his success- his mother.

His blog delivers the quote, “Here today because somebody was courageous yesterday.” This courage was epitomized by his single mother who raised Marvin and his sister alone in New York, mostly without the support of a patriarchal Indian community that has largely refused to publicly denounce domestic violence and traditional gender roles.

“Fifty-six percent of women and boys are assaulted by their twenties in India, about twenty-five percent of Americans in the United States. I figured all the numbers must translate when people come here,” he tells me. “The community kept saying she couldn’t do it alone but she made it work. She used to say, ‘I’m your mother and your father.’”

His mother’s ability to liberate herself in a community that often represses female independence is what inspired Marvin to teach young men about gender equality. Of this he says, “I was empowered to get involved and stay involved.”

Marvin pursued his work in community empowerment and gender equality at SUNY Rockland on the heels of the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and a rejuvenated women’s rights movement that began to demand stricter anti-trafficking laws.  He joined the school’s Anti-Slavery Committee, led Male Allies at the National Young Women’s Council and would later become a board member of the Trafficking in America Task Force. Here, he used social media as a platform to educate young people about anti-trafficking efforts while also engaging survivors themselves.

In addition to his Washington, D.C.-based advocacy work, Marvin recently started to guest blog for MasculinityU, a coalition that encourages communities to rethink traditional stereotypes about masculinity.

Marvin says of the cause, “it redefines what manhood needs to be. So often we talk about masculinity in strong terms- don’t cry, don’t talk about certain things, but do talk about sports and women. We teach the next generation these definitions. MasculinityU has started to build a commonplace, a hub and environment for other ideas. It’s started to gather people, has started a collectivism and collective action creates change and positive action. I believe it wants to add more of a collective voice while maintaining a modern voice so we can get more young men and children on board. It’s just a matter of showing boys that gender equality is the norm.”

The blogosphere isn’t new to Marvin- he’s generated his own following of 1,575 subscribers to his own blog. His enthusiasm and perceptiveness about the issues that exist for younger generations is something to be valued as he confronts these issues without being polarizing- a trait rare to many forms of activism.

I asked Marvin if he finds it challenging to write about women’s rights without sounding hostile, a quality of which I have previously displayed.

“I’m not too far right or too far left. There’s a difference between women’s empowerment and gender equality.   There are also men who are disempowered-Blacks, Latinos, and Asians who, like women, share only a miniscule piece of the Forbes 100 CEO pie and are incarcerated at extremely high rates. Women and men of color face issues that are more similar than different. I’m trying to bridge those gaps. I’m trying to build bridges between men and women. Men can be part of the solution. We can be normal, awesome people while also helping others.”

Marvin’s approach to advocacy integrates technology, youth empowerment and community building. His blog is an opportunity to share his unique process with others and to also understand where and why opposition exists.

“I’m not trying to change people’s minds but I want to know what they think the way they do, and why, and to have a conversation about it,” he says.

As the women’s rights movement and feminism soldier on, I asked Marvin to name one thing men can do every day to help generate steps towards gender equality.

“Be aware of your surroundings,” Marvin stated, after thoughtful consideration. “Be conscious. We will see differences. Sometimes they will be really stark, but other times very subtle. Pay attention to the way people around you treat each other and be conscious of your surroundings- study them, and we’ll naturally see discrepancies and change our minds. A lot of feminism and gender equality is led by, ‘you’re doing something wrong’, but, if we don’t know there’s a problem, there will never be a solution. Wrong will continue.  Men can be conscious of our surroundings.”

Part of my goal in developing Onward and F-Word was to find people like Marvin- to share a story about women’s rights from a male perspective directly involved in the movement’s progress and evolution. The need for men to be allies is essential but Marvin is quick to recognize feminism needs advocates in all arenas.

“You don’t need to be working in a feminist or women’s empowerment organization to be a male ally. Regardless of where you are working, you can help these issues by being conscious. You can work on these problems. We all need to be conscious of the issues women face in their work environment but those environments need to be more diverse and more inclusive. You don’t need to be a public voice to be an activist. You can be as active as you want from whatever you are from wherever you are, even quietly”

The qualities Marvin admired in his mother are now distinctly characteristic of his own self and accomplishments. Yet, she remains at the forefront of his fight for equality and community empowerment as he proudly states, “I think about my mom and how she would react. This is my way of paying it forward and giving respect to her and what she’s done.”

Follow Marvin on Twitter.

Credit to Marvin Mathew


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