Norway has a reputation of having a strong feminist culture, which is represented by the three most powerful political positions in the country now being held by women. Although Norway carries this reputation, the feminist movement needs more men.
Maybe you’re already a feminist and you just don’t know it yet. But what does feminism actually mean?
The first definition of feminism appeared in the Oxford English Dictionary in 1895: “advocacy of the rights of women (based on the theory of equality of the sexes).” This was the main idea behind the feminist movement, which has evolved significantly since the early 1900s. As bell hooks argued in Feminism is for Everybody, feminism can be defined as “a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.” This is what I believe we should keep in mind when hearing the word feminism.
In contemporary Norway, the biggest group of activists, called Kvinnefronten (Women’s Front), fights for gender equality and against pornography and domestic violence, among other issues. Springing out from Kvinnefronten comes the sister group Jentefronten (Girls’ Front), which recently came into being. This group is aimed at younger women aged between 13 and 25. On the website, you can read: “Jentefronten is a group where girls are the principal decision makers. This is a place where girls can speak freely without having to consider what boys think. Young men can’t vote at the meeting but still have a voice” (kvinnefronten.no).
The idea behind this group is well formulated and thought out. It is naturally comforting to have a safe place and a sisterhood where young women meet and support one another, however, in the fight for gender equality, men’s support is also needed. I would argue that instead of excluding men we should try to include them — not only in Jentefronten but in all feminist movements.
One of the main issues facing feminists today is that many people, including women themselves, don’t identify as feminists. Although most people support gender equality, the problem with this identification lies in the term feminism itself.
In Norway, as well as in other countries, feminism has acquired a negative connotation through misconceptions over time. As Martin Daubney writes in The Telegraph: “Most men support gender equality but many find the word feminism off-putting and negative.” These misconceptions are wrongly rooted in the claim that feminism is about female superiority or the suppression of masculinity.
Another claim is that feminism is unnecessary in Western countries, because differences between men and women no longer exist. This is wrong, because this doesn’t reflect feminist principles, and gender inequality is still a lived reality for many American and Norwegian women.
So why should we engage more people and especially men in the feminist movement? Women are not the only ones suffering under the patriarchy, which is shown through the term “hegemonic masculinity.”
Hegemonic masculinity refers to the idea of promoting particular representations of, for example, stereotypical masculine behaviors and values. Under the structures of hegemonic masculinity, both women and men are subordinated, especially gay men and people in marginalized social groups. In Western contexts, the masculinity taking primacy could involve attributes like being competitive or being the breadwinner, or physical characteristics such as having a deep voice or appearing strong and fit.
Hegemonic masculinity is expressed through phrases like “man up,” “don’t play like a girl,” or “that’s a woman’s job.” Feminism benefits men because they are also hurt by pressure to conform to the hegemonic masculinity that permeates the patriarchy. Therefore, feminism calls on everybody to join in the fight against oppression and subordination of any person or group.
How can we contribute to the feminist cause? I believe that one of the best ways to engage more people in the feminist movement is through education and informing people about contemporary challenges. You can get engaged by reading more about feminism, joining a group such as Kvinnefronten or learning about opportunities in your local area.
As we have seen, the patriarchy and hegemonic masculinity doesn’t only harm women but also men. In changing attitudes toward the word feminism and showing its true meaning in public discourse, we can engage more men in the fight for equality through a process of learning and inclusion. Feminism is for everyone, not just women but also men.
“Why men have a problem with the word ‘feminism.’” by Martin Daubney. The Telegraph: www.telegraph.co.uk/men/thinking-man/11220536/Why-men-have-a-problem-with-the-word-feminism.
Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics, by bell hooks. Published by South End Press in 2000.
Gleden med skjeden, by Nina Brochmann and Ellen Støkken Dahl. Published in Norwegian by Aschehoug Forlag in 2017. Published in English (trans. Lucy Moffatt) as The Wonder Down Under in 2018.
This post was previously published on Medium.com.
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