why all men should be feminists : a response to Jamie Freestone’s ‘Men Who Hate Women’
A few weeks ago, we published this piece on Lip, by Jamie Freestone. Jamie argued that in the movement of feminism as we know it today, there is no place for men or men’s issues. He said that, considering the wealth of oppression and subjugation experienced by women at the hands of men globally, feminism should focus on the goals and tasks at hand, and forget worrying about the status of men within the cause, because the same concern would not be reciprocated by men towards feminism.
In his own words, he said “girls need to take up and maintain feminist causes across all areas of life and in all parts of the world, because boys never will”.
I can appreciate some of what Jamie is saying here – feminism was founded as a women’s liberation movement, a movement specifically aimed at vindicating the rights of women which were so direly at odds with the rights of man. During a time when women in the western world had little access to basic rights such as the right to democratically vote, to receive an equal education, equal pay, or the right to choose their own futures, feminism was vastly important, and had no qualms about being a movement specifically for women and largely by women.
As time progressed however, it became clear that to some extent at least, the issues faced by women in the west were not just ‘women’s issues’ but ‘gender issues’, issues that perhaps were rooted in something deeper than a disregard for the skills, attributes and worth of women.
Especially today, as we enter into a phase of feminism that is yet to be defined (no, ‘post-feminism’ does not count), it is becoming more and more apparent that gender is an intangible part of human existence that has been too rigidly defined for too long – and most importantly, that this affects both men and women.
Now, don’t get me wrong here – I am in no way suggesting that the systematic, prolonged subjugation of women both in the West and globally is in any way comparable to whatever gender discrepancies have been faced by men. Women have been abused, oppressed, underestimated, assaulted, harassed, mentally and physically demeaned and culturally ignored throughout history – by and large by men.
But to me, this is not a competition. Allowing ourselves to admit and accept that gender stereotypes and norms, that the patriarchy even, as a negative effect on men does not in any way negate or trivialise the significant suffering experienced by women. Acknowledging that women have suffered to a greater extent than men does not have to be at the expense of acknowledging that men too have had negative experiences within a patriarchal system that privileges them.
The difference is, of course, exactly that – men have been privileged and continue to be privileged within contemporary western society. This is a fact, and will remain a fact for as long as the wage gap exists, or abortion rights remain in the hands of a select few, and that men continue to be able to dictate women’s health issues without input from women themselves.
However, to recognise that this system of privilege exists is to also recognise that it is a system that is dictated by a small handful of elite, and that does not speak for all men, or all women exclusively.
Being a man should not automatically exclude you from being able to sympathise with the feminist cause, or further to that, from being able to recognise the harm that the patriarchy inflicts on men themselves.
Many contemporary issues faced by women (think – body image, gender stereotypes, maternity/paternity leave rights, etc.) are mirrored in issues faced by men. There is a growing awareness that the gendered structure of society in fact benefits very few people on a wider level, and that men are limited in many ways also – perhaps not equally to women, but certainly the limitations exist.
Just as women do not exist as a homogenous group, nor do men – the stereotype of the masculine, physically strong, overtly dominant, oppressive force is not applicable to all men, and never will be.
Just as some women abhor feminism, so do some men. Equally, some men feel alienated by masculine norms. Some men fit masculine norms but still feel strongly about feminism. Some men feel alienated by feminism by virtue of being men. Some men may have no opinion on feminism whatsoever.
It is a harmful to assume that all men could have a singular opinion on feminism – just as harmful as it would be to assume that all women do.
It is my view that now is a very important time for feminism in the western world – everything is in flux in a way that allows for much bending and yielding when it comes to gender norms.
There has never been a better time to include men in the feminist cause. Because at the end of the day, the rights of women are human rights, and men are human beings – we should be fighting for these rights together.
Applying an exclusionary view of feminism only has the result of creating a stronger divide between genders. Although I don’t believe that we should try to prescribe to the view that men and women are the same, I do think it is important that we acknowledge that at the very core, we are all humans, and as such, should be afforded the same social, political and domestic rights as each other.
This is a fight that, in my view, cannot be won without the support of men. As long as feminism is viewed as a struggle between opposing forces, the basic principles of equality will continue to be challenged. This is detrimental to the cause, and can only be truly addressed by communication between genders, and a jointly held view that there is something wrong with the current structure of society, and that this needs to be changed.
Feminism benefits everyone – men, women, heterosexuals, homosexuals, transgendered people, young and old. It may be a cause founded on the principle of women’s liberation, but in contemporary western society, it is a cause for gender liberation.
I’m sure many will disagree with me on this, but as someone who strongly believes in equality for all people, I truly believe that inclusion of both genders and all people in the feminist cause is the only way forward.
Zoya, thank you for responding to (and publishing in the first place!) my article. The one thing I would still like to emphasise here is that I agree with you on what men should do; I just think that in light of what men haven’t done, we should stop worrying about them too much.
When women’s liberation was fought for it wasn’t men who took the lead. They had ample opportunity to and better resources. And it wasn’t because men of the time weren’t interested in fighting other people’s fights. Progressives of the time were ONLY interested in fighting other people’s fights. And yet all the activists, all the radical theorists, all the protesters who were campaigning for an end to war, civil rights for racial minorities, better conditions for workers, sexual freedom, etc. — they weren’t really that into women’s liberation. That movement was conducted by women.
Even in the context of emancipatory movements there is a sidelining of women. So I still think that feminism would greatly benefit from male involvement, but based on all the evidence I’ve encountered it just seems unlikely that women can rely on men to get involved and it seems like when feminism has made strides it hasn’t needed men — it has in fact had to bypass men.
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