The definition of feminism on Merriam-Webster is “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.” Yet there is still an increasing belief that feminism is against men, and supports the supremacy of women. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Since the beginning of the feminist movement, many have perceived the advocacy of women’s rights to mean fewer rights for men. In reality, feminism wants to pursue equal rights for all genders.
I think there are many reasons people don’t support the movement. Some believe we’ve already reached equality of the sexes (spoiler alert: we haven’t), some genuinely don’t believe everyone should be equal regardless of gender, and some think that feminists hate men. I want to focus on that last one.
There has been an increasing number of men’s rights activists, the vast majority of whom believe that recently identified men’s problems are a result of feminism. For example, in the UK, men are three times as likely to die by suicide than women. This horrific statistic highlights how important it is that we, as a society, must work towards providing more mental health support for men.
Many like to argue that it is feminism that has led to a crisis of masculinity because men no longer know their roles in society. I agree that there is a crisis of masculinity in our society today; however, I disagree that feminism is the cause of this. Patriarchy re-enforces archaic gender roles, which are harmful to all.
Both cisgender and trans* men feel as if they must uphold an outdated idea of ‘masculinity’ in order to be taken seriously as a man. Patriarchy leads to the repetition of phrases such as “boys don’t cry,” “man up,” “stop being such a girl.” It is ideas like these that are truly harming our society. Men and boys don’t feel as if they can express their emotions properly. Men are often shamed for speaking up about their struggles because people expect men to be fine and just get on with it.
Additionally, some don’t like the phrase ‘toxic masculinity’ and feel as if it is now bad to be masculine. This is not the case. Rather, it is bad to feel like you must uphold toxic standards in the name of masculinity, such as not showing emotions because it is ‘weak.’ Toxic masculinity is not saying that masculinity in itself is inherently bad.
Another common topic amongst men’s rights activists is child custody. Again, it is true that mothers are far more likely to receive custody of children in a divorce case than fathers. Campaign group Fathers4Justice wants to “end the cruel and degrading treatment of families by the government.” The problem is divorce cases are not a ‘one-size-fits-all.’ There are many reasons for divorces that can lead to the decision of who wins custody. But, I’d argue that a big reason that men are more unlikely to receive custody is, again, the patriarchal belief that women are more nurturing and are the ‘natural’ caregivers of children. This subsequently implies that men are unfit to parent children properly, which is simply untrue. So, once more, this is not a problem that has been brought about as a result of feminism but is a part of outdated patriarchal beliefs.
Education is a big talking point. Girls often outperform boys in education. At GCSEs in the UK, 10% more girls achieve five or more A*-C grades than boys. So what is the cause of this? Well, sociologists struggle to pinpoint one explanation. A possible factor is that there are far more female teachers than there are male teachers, especially at primary schools. So girls result in having role models at school, whereas other pupils struggle to relate to the classroom. This, again, can be explained by patriarchal beliefs that women are better suited for teaching because it is a nurturing and caring role.
Another possible explanation is that boys are far more likely to form anti-school subcultures and that boys who show an interest and care for their learning are more likely to be ridiculed by their peers. I’m sure by now you know what I am going to say: the patriarchy pushes the idea that to be studious is ‘feminine’ and therefore ‘weak.’ The sooner we breakdown these old-fashioned ideas, the sooner we can start to lessen the gap between boys and girls in the classroom.
What has feminism already achieved for men?
It’s also important to mention that the feminist movement has already started to help men in certain aspects of life. For example, the campaign “Rape is Rape” launched by the Feminist Majority Foundation and Ms. Magazine, led to the FBI changing the definition of rape to include all forms of penetration and does not reduce rape as something that only happens to women. The World Health Organization claims that “living in a country with gender equality benefits men’s health and shows up as lower mortality rates, higher well-being, half the risk of being depressed, higher likelihood to have protected sex, lower suicide rates and a 40% reduced risk of a violent death.” This concluded that men dying younger is largely a result of societal pressures rather than biological differences.
Moving forward, I hope that regardless of gender, we can all work together, as human beings, for gender equality, rather than being stuck in a shouting match accusing one another of being the enemy. Feminism is not a threat to men or masculinity; it is a threat to the system that attempts to hold women back through sexism and misogyny. So, if you want equality for the sexes: congratulations, you’re a feminist.