We all saw Emma Watson’s amazing speech for the UN’s HeForShe campaign a few weeks ago and it caused controversy and support in equal measure. Her powerful and evocative call-to-arms to the male audience got me thinking about the role men have in a primarily female campaign; how much of a place do men have in feminism, and should they get a place at all? It’s a weighty subject matter which steps on many people’s toes, as many men and male celebrities are showing a great interest in being a supportive ally to feminism; but when does their helpful input become too much input? How can men be supportive without stealing the limelight? I think the answer lies in just that, not overriding the female voice. In true irony, men’s support of feminism can sometimes do the opposite of helping; in being the leading voice in a female issue, men are once again proving their dominance in social, political and cultural life.
You’ve probably all heard this word a million times: the patriarchy. Literally, it means “a form of social organization in which a male is the head of the family and descent, kinship, and title are traced through the male line // any society governed by such a system.” i.e. the male force is dominant. In a world where men are the governing force and women are the submissive, gender roles become a binary and, though women arguably do feel more negative consequences of this, men are hurt by this force as well, whilst everyone in-between gets ignored entirely. These strict gender roles that feminism is trying to eradicate affect men too by making them believe that they must be overly masculine and without sensitivity, leading to a high rate of mental health issues amongst men. This binary of masculine vs. feminine not only leaves both groups struggling to attain impossible standards, but also ignores transgender and non-gender-binary individuals. The patriarchy is a destructive force, and men need feminism just as much as women do in order to live a free life of equality; as Emma Watson put in her speech, “if men don’t have to be aggressive in order to be accepted, women won’t feel compelled to be submissive. If men don’t have to control, women won’t have to be controlled. Both men and women should feel free to be sensitive. Both men and women should feel free to be strong. … It is time that we all perceive gender on a spectrum, not as two opposing sets of ideals.” Clearly men are part of the solution to end gender inequality, and in this way I think it’s really important for men to not only support feminism for the benefit it will bring to women everywhere, but also for the benefits it will bring to them.
On the other hand, many people believe that men should remain outside of feminism as they believe that it’s encroaching on our space to express ourselves and our discomforts. The fact is, although men are negatively impacted by the patriarchy, they simply will not be able to understand certain aspects of female life that feminism is trying to eradicate; men for example don’t experience micro-aggressions such as catcalling and street harassment that women experience as part of their daily life. Groups such as Men’s Rights Movement, who campaign for men’s issues such as family law, can sometimes take the limelight away from female issues by focussing gender inequalities on themselves. An example of this would be in the media recently, in a discussion about feminism, the twitter hashtag “#NotAllMen” became the focus of debate rather than the female empowerment campaign that was supposed to be the centre of attention. Many believe that feminism should be a female-specific movement simply because it’s our space to have freedom to talk about our issues, and men’s only role in that should be to listen and understand to the problems affecting us as women.
Despite extremist groups such as Men’s Rights Movement, many men believe that in the fight against gender inequality their voice should be heard, as feminist and gender issues impact them as well, and that is absolutely the case. I believe that in a truly equal world, everyone should feel free to express themselves in any way that suits them, regardless of their gender, and therefore men do have a place in feminism. Everyone should have a place in feminism, as it’s campaigning for equality across the gender spectrum, against a patriarchy that negatively impacts everyone. It is true however, that the patriarchy has hurt women in a way that men simply cannot understand, and part of men’s role in feminism should be to listen and understand to women as a way of enabling change.
I strongly believe that men do have a place in feminism; the strong gender roles imposed on us culturally affects every single one of us, making males, females and non-gender binary individuals feel oppressed in different ways. We all have a place in making equality happen, however feminism should remain a predominantly female issue, and sometimes the role that men have in relation to that is simply to stand back and listen. As Watson says, “fighting for women’s rights has too often become synonymous with man-hating. If there is one thing I know for certain, it is that this has to stop.” Join the fight men, this is your war too.