How our failure to achieve gender equality affects both men and women. And what we can do about it.
“Men – I would like to take this opportunity to extend your formal invitation. Gender equality is your issue, too.” ~Emma Watson
Let me start with the obvious, I am a man. I consider myself an advocate of feminism, something I am rather vocal about in a lot of my posts. I firmly believe in the equality of the sexes, where we work past the stereotypes and paradigms of gender, for both men and women, as full partners.
I have always been surrounded by strong female role models, from my grandmothers, to my mother, to my sister, to even my wife. For me, the idea of men and women being equal is perfectly normal. Yet, this attitude doesn’t sit well with some men out there. But that is most surprising is how it doesn’t sit well with some women either.
You see, in many cases, men within the feminist movement are told too often that they are allies to women, and not equal partners. For all the discussion about gender equality, the burden of change is placed on changing men’s mentality and blaming the current status on the patriarchy.
And I agree that men do need to change, and the current system needs to be challenged. But I don’t think that shaming men into action, expecting them to carry a sense of guilt for what women have to endure from other men, is a form of equality. This is a paradigm promoted and enforced by some of the more extreme, yet very vocal, women feminists. We, as men, are told that the only way we can challenge the ‘patriarchy’ is by feel ashamed of our masculinity, as if our gender is something that hinders us from wanting equality, as if being a man would limit our capability to better ourselves.
When people say that, in a way, the feminist movement involves an undertone of “Man-Hating” it’s truer than what most people within the movement are willing to admit. In an initiative based on equality, calling men “allies” openly implies that men are not affected by gender inequality. Our role, as men within the feminist movement, is too often reduced to helping women in their fight for equality, as if sexism doesn’t affect men.
Gender inequality and its subtle effects impact both women and men. Yes, feminism started as a woman’s movement (hence “Femin”ism and not “Gender”ism or “Equal”ism) but in its current manifestation, it’s about equality for BOTH genders, in rights and opportunities. Feminism should never be about putting men down, or hating men, or shaming them into submission. Feminism isn’t about women hating femininity or men hating masculinity. Feminism isn’t about demeaning our gender, but about understanding how, even with our differences, we are equally capable and deserve equal respect.
The problem is that you will find wave after wave of men complaining about how women use feminism at their convenience, as well as wave after wave of extremist feminist women trying to shame men into submission. We are constantly presented with the not so subtle double standards within society.
Feminist groups are more than willing to condemn the objectification of women and the industry of female body imaging, yet the voices against male objectification from those same groups are almost silent. Feminist Groups fight for equal rights in the work place yet the rights of men who want to be more involved in the paternal roles are rarely taken into account.
So when Emma Watson’s speech on Gender Equality for the UN’s HeForShe movement opened up with the fact feminism should move past the “Man-Hating” label and make an open invitation for men to be Advocates, the foundation was laid for a new ideal of Feminism, one where men and women are partners and equally responsible. Her speech was one of inclusion by the simple act of recognizing how men are also affected by the current state of affairs.
And inclusion is what men who oppose feminism and women who want to keep feminism exclusively a woman’s issue wanted to avoid. We mustn’t allow those who give each gender a bad name the opportunity to create the wedge between the men and women who fight for equality. We must not allow them to make “the perfect the enemy of the good.” You can’t condemn men based on the actions of some men; neither can you condemn feminism based on the actions of some women.
So what do you do? Read about the issues, educate yourself, be critical of your own beliefs, and speak up against what is wrong irrelevant of gender. Understand that what you have been taught before might be wrong. Understand that what you are told now might also be wrong. Create your own opinion and avoid being a sheep to either side of the debate. The one thing that you must do is understand that everyone should be treated equally without removing what makes them different.
Photo: Flickr/Garry Knight