I’ve been having some really interesting discussions with men lately, about sexism and feminism, and about re-defining men’s roles. So I thought I’d share some of my thoughts on men and feminism, and how everything ties together. As usual, I cannot speak for all women or even for all feminists. These are all just my views.
I’ll start by debunking probably the biggest myth about feminism out there: that feminists all hate men.
We actually don’t.
Are you shocked? Hopefully not, but if you are, that’s OK as well. Feminism believes that men are just the same as women – that is, human. And all individual humans are different. There’s about as much variation in culture and behaviour between men and women as there is among women or among men. There are a few biological differences, but those are the realm of sex, not the realm of gender.
(In case anyone’s not with me: sex = what organs you’re born with. Gender = all the socially constructed stuff, like ideas, concepts of masculinity and femininity, gender roles, attributes, patterns of behaviour.)
Feminism is about challenging those gender roles and constructs – so for instance, the idea that men are better CEOs and women are better at domestic work. That means recognising that men and women have the same basic capabilities. 
There’s a lot of focus in feminism on issues that primarily affect women. Things like sexual assault and violence against women, the wage gap, the over-representation of women in domestic work, everyday sexual harassment. And feminism is right to be concerned predominantly with these issues.There’s a lot of writing on all these things, and I’ll go back to them later.
However, a main focus on women’s rights doesn’t mean that feminism isn’t important for men as well. So I’m going to try to explain why men need feminism too.
How many times have you heard a joke about men being useless in the kitchen? Or seen a man on television overwhelmed by the act of changing a baby’s nappy? Our world surrounds us with these gendered ideas all the time, that posit men against women. Men can be victims of negative stereotypes and socioculturally-constructed gender rules as well.
I’ll give you two more examples. One of the main things I hear my male friends say is that they wish men weren’t often seen as the only people who can be abusive and violent. I wish that too. I don’t think all men are inherently violent, and I recognise that women can abuse other as well. The other one I hear a lot is that men wish that parenting wasn’t just seen as a woman’s role. Again, I agree. Parenting is just that – being a parent – and men and women are equally capable of doing it well.
So where do these ideas come from? They actually come from the same institution that systematically subjugates women – patriarchy.
Have I lost you? Let me elaborate.
Patriarchy refers to the system whereby behaviour is regulated, through socially and culturally constructed ideas of what each gender should and shouldn’t do. These rules are very prescriptive. Patriarchy tells us that men are naturally meant to hold power, to be the rational, thinking and dominant half of the world. Women are meant to be the domestic, weaker gender, prone to being “too emotional” and generally not as capable as men. Patriarchy pits masculinity as more valuable than femininity, but its definitions of masculinity and femininity are so narrow that not many people actually fit those definitions.
Patriarchy has a long historical and cultural tradition that has been institutionalised in almost every society in the world. It systematically puts men in a position of privilege over women (and over anyone who identifies as neither). It’s the cause of the wage gap, of victim-blaming culture, of the idea that domestic work is women’s work.
Men need to understand that patriarchy is real and dangerous, and that it specifically privileges men over women in politics, economics, the media, the workforce and the household.
But men also need to understand that patriarchy screws men over, too.
Let’s look back at the examples from above, and start with the idea that men are somehow inherently violent and aggressive. This idea stems from rape culture, on of the principal tenets of patriarchy. Rape culture, in short, is the idea that sexual violence against women is inevitable and even normalised, encouraging men’s sexual aggression. In rape culture, women who are sexually assaulted are told that it is somehow their fault – because they were drunk, or wearing to short a skirt, or walking home alone at night (this is relevant, I promise).
Rape culture is a huge problem for women, because it literally puts their lives and bodies on the line. Women are the immediate and most victimised group.  But inherent in all those rape culture narratives is also the idea that men just can’t control themselves, that they are slaves to their lusts and incapable of knowing what they are doing when presented with the sight of a short skirt of a woman out alone. And I find that horribly insulting towards men.
Likewise, the idea that men are incapable of doing just as much parenting as women is also pretty insulting. Or the idea that men are inherently incapable of talking about their feelings or being “emotional.” Or that men can’t cook their own dinner or make their own sandwich.
Feminism doesn’t believe that men are uncontrollable monsters, or too clueless to change a nappy or cook a meal. Feminism believes that men are just as capable of doing everything women do – and by extension, women are just as capable of doing everything men do. Feminism acknowledges that patriarchy screws everyone over.
However, feminism does believe that women are the ones who are most at risk under patriarchy. Women’s subjugation has a long history, and the fight for equal rights has not stopped. If anything, there’s a big backlash at the moment.
So to all the men out there: feminism is there for you as well. It’s true that feminism will always focus more on women than on men – I hope I’ve managed to explain why. Feminism needs to focus predominantly on women, and so feminist men need to be careful to allow women space to organise autonomously and not to derail topics specific to women with their own issues. But I strongly believe there is space to recognise issues that affect men as well, as a way of starting to break down the rigid structures that patriarchy imposes on everyone.
 In this post I’m focussing mainly on the gender categories of men and women, for the sake of simplicity and effectiveness. However, I am very aware that other gender minorities (trans, intersex, agender and genderqueer people) suffer greatly under this binary, and am not excluding them from this post on purpose or out of ignorance.
 And the more minority you are, the more you are targeted and blamed. Non-white women, queer women and women with disabilities are especially victimised.
Comments are moderated. You are absolutely welcome to leave your thoughts, as long as they are relevant and considerate.