Feminism Is For Men, Too.

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. [1]

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. [2] 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.

 

[1] 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.

[2] 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.

 

Advertisements

12 thoughts on “Feminism Is For Men, Too.

  1. Well said. Especially the bit about fathers being automatically inferior to women when it comes to parenting children (and here especially girls).

    I’d like to add that often (not always) there is a difference in the way men and women express anger: Men tend to blow-out rather quickly (non-violantly) but also tend to get over it quickly, while I’ve know a few women who would harbour grudges for a long time and bitch about it at every opportunity. But maybe that’s only my experience.
    There is a saying that goes “Men have no chance of ever understanding a woman”. I wish that women in my life would be just as readily ‘readable’ as I am!

    1. Difference in expressing anger is often socially taught – it’s a lot more socially accepted for men to be loud about their anger, while women are often shushed and as such turn to quieter anger. I don’t think it’s a biological thing though.

      I’m not sure your point about wishing women were as readable as you are is really helpful here though. It’s just another form of the argument that women are inherently more complicated and emotional and elusive, while men are straightforward and more rational. It’s still quite a harmful stereotype.

    2. Women harbour grudges for a long time and “bitch about it” as you so charmingly and non-sexist-ly put it [/sarcasm] Men harbour grudges for a long time and come after women and kill or rape them. Look at the crime statistics and read the news. (And I know you can point to That Woman Over There who did something similar, but statistically this is dominantly male behaviour).

  2. Exactly. Feminism is about equal opportunities and treatment. For example, in the US, there was a time when it was legal for a workplace to offer only maternity leave and no paternity leave. Now, unless the leave is directly related to giving birth, a workplace that offers family leave must do so for both women and men (but it’s still meager in comparison to many other countries and many workplaces are under no legal obligation to offer it at all). Still, few men take it or take advantage of flexible workplace policies because of the gender stereotypes involved in parenting. One of my college professors, a man, thought that was shocking and said, “Why wouldn’t men want to take parental leave and have flexible work schedules? Parenting is fun!” I agree. These stereotypes force men to lose out on what could be fulfilling experiences in the home, while glass ceilings and maternal walls force women lose out on fulfilling professional experiences. Nobody wins.

  3. This is a great and thoughtful article. Thanks! If you’re interested in ideas about men and feminism, you should have a look at some of the work done by the Good Men Project, and Hugo Schwyzer. By no means are these sources uncomplicated, and I’d definitely recommend caution (Schwyzer’s fan-appeal is troubling on a number of levels, not simply because he’s male), but they’re definitely empowering sources for men who are feeling challenged by their exclusion from righteous, gender-construction anger.

    1. Anna I don’t think Hugo Schwyzer is really the best person to recommend at all. He really has some huge problems. What about Chris Clarke, Jeff Fecke, there’s a really good guy in Australia who writes for the Drum but I’m having a senior moment… 😉

      1. Ah Helen, you jumped in before I did! Was going to say the same thing. Schwyzer’s history of violence and continued marginalisation of women in his writing don’t bode well with feminism for me.

  4. Interesting. I recommended Schwyzer primarily on the basis of his work on the ‘Myth of Male Weakness’. Issues based on the marginalisation of women in his writing are certainly problematic, and I am fiercely frustrated by the idea of middle-class white men taking over the discourses of feminism with a brand of man-centric ’emancipatory writing’. But I don’t think that is the role of Schwyzer’s writing – at least that which I’ve accessed. While I’m far from a Schywzer advocate, I would make the point that I don’t think the content of his writing is really the problem. I think his approach (flawed though we may find it) is intended to provide inroads for men who are unaccustomed to feminist discussion, and to make the concepts approachable within the paradigms of gender we inhabit. As a gender theorist, a lot of Schwyzer’s work has been about understanding the role of gender construction in the construction of the Self — and it is the fact that he takes a largely interpretive approach that troubles many feminist readers. BUT: I don’t honestly believe that the main problem with Schwyzer is the content of his work. The problem, really, is that he is a theorist who is writing a particular brand of gender-examination which is designed to give (primarily young, white) men the tools to question the constructedness of their gender identity…THEREFORE arriving at a point of feminism-readiness. Men who have grown up speaking the dominant language of a culture often find it difficult to see minority voices; Schwyzer is complicated and challenging, but I think he talks gender construction to a male audience accessibly and sensibly. For me, as a feminist, the main problem with Schwyzer isn’t that he has a problematic past or a complex approach to feminist scholarship. The problem is that we still live in a world that gives Schwyzer’s ‘feminism’ more legitimacy and air-time than the very important feminisms of many more reformative thinkers.

    I do, though, want to call you on your comment about his problematic history. Of course, a history of violence (or threatened violence) against women is incredibly problematic. But presuming that he is ‘ruined for life’ because of the precedent set by the actions of a young, drug-addicted man is dangerous territory. Much of the feminist struggle has been and continues to be in pursuit of a kind of ‘rehabilitation’ and re-learning process for the community, and particularly for men. If Schwyzer can use his compromised, difficult history (a history he has voluntarily publicised and acknowledged) as a frame for a discussion of the damaging ways that gender stereotypes and learned social behaviours can influence social action, then his words remain important…though undoubtedly problematic.

    In short: Hugo Schwyzer is not a feminist theorist under my feminism; but I think he is an insightful, complex gender theorist who should be read and recommended alongside the plethora of other gender theorists who are engaging in the same debates. Sometimes we need to walk with people as they come to feminism, and for a lot of men, Hugo Schwyzer will provide the walking frame.

    1. There’s been a lot written on Schwyzer, arguing both ways. I agree with a lot of what you’ve said. I don’t assume that someone is ruined for life and should never say anything again because of what they did in the past. But I don’t feel comfortable referring to his work on my blog, or in conversation, because I think what he needed to do was be open about his past and put his efforts into helping women be heard, rather than furthering himself. The problem from how I see it is that he hasn’t actually learned from his past enough. And I don’t see that he uses his past as a way of discussing damaging gender inequality, I think he ignores it and positions himself as an authority on feminism and above other women who try to speak.

      Basically, I choose not to engage with his writing, and I have that choice, because he makes me uncomfortable (and not in a good way). There are some other discussions of Schwyzer here that have informed my opinion:

      http://studentactivism.net/2012/01/04/paternalistic-feminism-hugo-schwyzer/

      http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2011/12/31/on-change-and-accountability-a-response-to-clarisse-thorn/

      http://arewomenhuman.me/2012/02/21/on-hugo-schwyzer-accountability-not-silencing-dissent/

    1. I’m glad! It’s definitely not something you can just make your mind up about on the spot, and people’s boundaries are going to be different as well. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s