Over the last few weeks, feminism keeps coming up in conversation— and I’ve noticed it’s not always in a good way. It normally goes along the lines of:
‘I’m all for equality... but I don’t like feminists.’
I’ve always been a little confused at how a belief in gender equality can been so polarising. But I understand now that that the word ‘feminist’ comes loaded with many preconceptions and connotations. I hope, perhaps, with this article I can flesh out what I believe feminism to be, and how it has the potential to uplift and unite everyone, rather than divide further.
First of all, feminism isn’t limited to the uplifting of women alone. Although the term originates from Greek and means ‘the advocacy of women's rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes’, since its origin, the meaning of feminism has changed. Now, it focuses on trying to end inequities that come from patriarchal expectations— which historically have affected women at disproportionate rates, by rendering them powerless.
That said, in some ways we’re all victims of patriarchal expectations, both men and women alike; more recently we’ve seen how men are negatively affected the patriarchy too. Toxic masculinity encompasses the values that men are expected to uphold, often at the expense of their mental health. Indeed, men are the largest victims of suicide as à consequence of societal pressure about how they should behave, yet they have the least support to cope with such mental health issues. Domestic abuse, custody battles, and paternity leave are all other difficulties that Men’s Right activists fight to raise awareness for, yet this is rarely considered in the fight for equality which feminism advocates.
A lot of the critics of men’s right activists come from those who call themselves feminists, who say it is simply a reactionary movement to feminism.
But why must it be a competition? These issues are important too; they stem from gender inequality and patriarchal expectations, and should be included under feminism.
Even if Men’s Rights Activism is a reactionary movement, perhaps it is insightful into how modern feminism has sidelined how men have also been affected by the patriarchy. Feminism and men’s rights shouldn’t be mutually exclusive or pitted against each other. After all, they share common goal of gender equality.
We should acknowledge the historical aspects and origins for feminism, which came about at a time where society was controlled almost entirely by men. It’s also important to consider the genuine criticisms in the history of feminism. In the USA, the original feminist movement (beginning in the late 19th century) was led by privileged white women, who ignored the plight of black women and the working class when fighting for suffrage. Prominent leaders of the 2nd wave feminist movement, like Germaine Greer, have also been denounced recently for being TERFs,(Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists) who don’t believe that trans women are women. I don’t think this is true feminism. How can one pick and choose certain groups that can be included under the protections of feminism? These prejudices show the flaws within the feminist movement, as well as the importance and need for intersectional feminism- which encompass all, rather than the selected few.
One has to differentiate between the patriarchy and men. Men are not to blame for gender inequality, the patriarchy is. It’s also important to differentiate between feminism and misandry. A feminist shouldn’t hate— or blame— men. This is ridiculous, and no genuine conversation can occur with such petty misconceptions already in place. If feminism is truly about gender equality (which I think it is) it should encompass the issues brought to the spotlight by Men’s Rights activists, as well as woman’s rights. We don’t don’t have to push anyone down, or deem any issue more or less important. It shouldn’t be a competition between women and men; everyone shares the same goal in fighting against patriarchal standards that produce gender inequality.