Why do we approach feminism, or the work toward gender equality, with this word and this word alone? Is this way of attacking the problem necessarily always the most helpful? Or do we often find ourselves falling into over-simplification and villainizing tendencies?
How often has this thought screamed from my brain and how often have I felt like it is not acceptable for me to voice without being slammed as anti-feminist? I feel, on the contrary, that equalism is actually the pinnacle of feminism…true equality. Whole-hearted, wide-scoping, even-handed, big-picture-gazing-objective equality. Why isn’t it called equalism instead of feminism if it’s about equality? I understand the impulse to acknowledge and honor the plight and struggle of women and to acknowledge the specifically unique journey of women as opposed to men…but I wonder if it sometimes derails people from getting to the ultimate place we are trying to achieve. I wonder if it sometimes allows for a forgetting of what it is we actually want. I wonder if it occasionally, (only occasionally), oversimplifies the complexities of gender and I wonder if it sometimes forgets the validity of the struggle towards manhood as well. I wonder if this concept narrows our field of vision in a dangerous way.
How long do we focus on this narrow-sighted vision without taking into account the full picture? And how long will that serve us? And how do we heal all the cracks and corners on both sides of this wide circle (both men and women)? Draw the circle wide. And if we let go of our need to focus solely on feminism rather than equal and honest gender roles—can we heal in ways we cannot yet imagine? Is it possible? I think, yes. I think everything I have seen in my life that was honest and true and grounded and whole tells me: yes. In the base of my spine, I feel this is true. And necessary. And vital to move toward healing. Recognize the male within the female, the female within the male, and the pain of all victims, regardless of what we have come to perceive as pain. Regardless of how valid our pain is. It does not disqualify the pain of the other side. The pain of toxic masculinity. The pain of living in a society that shames in men the qualities that so often serve females in healing. In becoming conscious. Aware. Fully feeling and fully realized. Why is it that we don’t honor, with deep gravity and heavy implications, the implications of living in a society that does not value the tenderness, the vulnerability and (dare I say it) the humanity inherent in men? How long must we pretend that men do not suffer as well in a strange, contrived, and confused world of modern day manhood that swims with misleading expectations and overwhelming confines. And even when we open doors and windows and allow for men to experience sensitivity or softness—how profoundly do men find themselves battling against decades of programming, conditioning, socializations, confusions, and contortions within our concept of manhood? We seem to want to move toward this more evolved concept of manhood, but we so often find ourselves not fully addressing the issue in all its complexity. And then the swarm of a thousand contradicting expectations of manhood all stack upon one another—towering high and narrow and nearly ready to topple over.
Stereotypes, oversimplifications and unattainable expectations strangle both genders. To act as though this only affects women is a mistake. It not only ignores deeper currents in the water, but it consistently “others” each gender to the other. Instead of moving toward deeper understanding and harmonizing, it draws battle lines and justifies self-indulgence. We cannot neglect men and their complex struggle. The complexity of what it means to be a man and all the myriad meanings of this massive word. Neglecting men in this way may only contribute to this place we find ourselves in. This place of flailing aggression and misogynistic backlash.
When men are not welcomed into a society that acknowledges the depth, subtlety, and sensitivity of manhood…when men are instead stuffed into a world that often still values outdated, dominating, and strength-based manhood…we will continue to find ourselves stilted. We will continue to see the lash out. The anger bubbling over—desperate to have been given the tools to sift through emotion, value it, honor it, and let it go. When we are more comfortable with men showing emotion through anger rather than through tears, we will continue to feel the tidal wave of aggression seeping through the cracks and corners.
The patriarchy preys not only upon women, but upon all of those values that move us toward understanding, harmony, and unity rather than domination. Patriarchy stratifies in the name of dominance, and this can be just as toxic for shaping the horizon of manhood as it is for womanhood.
The mere fact that this feels dangerous to write—that I feel as though I can already hear the counter-arguments flying at me through the screen—assures me that this is not something we have properly confronted. Can we find solidarity in the idea that both men and women are equal in our harried and confused journeys toward gender equality? Toward a deep understanding of what gender means or doesn’t mean. Toward a society that remains open for a thousand prisms and a thousand paradigms, and a thousand ways of approaching this thing we call gender. I’ve seen videos and voices that speak to this issue – but fundamentally, the collective conversation sounds very different. Fundamentally, the collective conversation often fails to delve deeply into recognizing and honoring the “other side.”
Equalism versus feminism. Would this verbiage be more helpful? Would this tactic be more helpful? Perhaps. At the very least, I feel contented in saying that changing the conversation would be helpful. Zooming out and looking at the whole picture would be helpful. Honoring the struggle of men to find an adequate meaning of “manhood” would be helpful. Respecting the painful journey of trying to find an honest and sensitive way to uphold manhood in modern-day society would be helpful. Working toward equal rights would be helpful. Working toward empathy would be helpful. Working toward equalism seems like it would be undoubtedly helpful. With grace toward men and grace toward women. And a broader context. And a clearer picture of what it is we are actually fighting for. Women and men—both equally grappling with the bizarre mess that is gender. Neither knowing the answer, but both more readily equipped with a complexity in their consciousness as to what that gender can encompass. With both genders more readily equipped with concepts that encourage and facilitate understanding, patience and an open mind to the full journey of what it is to be a woman. Of what it is to be a man. Of what it is to be a human.
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