Feminism is defined as “the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.”
However, as with all definitions, looking at their etymology can be key. ‘Feminism’ originated from the French ‘féminisme’ in the late 19th century: a term first coined by the socialist Charles Fourier at a time, crucially, when women were literally second class citizens. We were men’s property to be traded and exploited like cattle. (Shouldn’t exploit cattle either to be honest but that’s a different story… or is it?) Therefore it was entirely right of feminism to “advocate for women’s rights” because women had far fewer rights than men. Women were the ones that needed to be pushed up just so that we could legally be on a level ‘playing field’. (Yes Women’s Football) But, at a time when women do have equal rights and are getting into more and more positions of power (with even a female-majority Labour shadow cabinet), is the exclusory “advocacy of women’s rights” entirely appropriate to the 21st century?
Now, I am definitely not claiming that feminism is redundant. Far from it. I am a proud feminist myself because there are many worthy causes still worth fighting for, even in the West, although the extent of them can be questionable at times. Much of this sexism, however, is similarly experienced by men, albeit in differing forms. Feminism does indeed acknowledge this but attributes men’s problems to a vague patriarchy which has allegedly enforced all ideas of Mighty Masculinity and Feeble Femininity. “Destroy the patriarchy and you destroy the problem.”
I admit to using this rebuttal a number of times but, when you really think about the argument, it just doesn’t cut the mustard. I shall later expand upon why not but more importantly for now, while feminism has helped men in a number of ways, we must be honest with ourselves. We can care about men, but feminism will never specifically address male issues. Why should we? Feminism is a women’s rights movement after all. The job of dealing with men’s issues should surely fall into the capable hands of the experts on the matter at hand: men. To truly care about the problems men face would be to respectfully listen and be the ‘allies’ that we want men to be of feminism. HeForShe and SheForHe.
Aren’t men the privileged group though? Why would they need any help? If you are of this opinion, consider how a cross-dialogue approach could benefit feminism anyway. Typing ‘feminism’ into YouTube proceeds to bring up ‘Feminism is bullshit’, ‘Feminism lol’ then even more encouragingly ‘Feminism ruined my generation’, which ‘proves’ (yes I do carry out the most rigorous sociological research) just how toxic the atmosphere has become . It means that we have to spend all our time fighting over whether feminism should be ‘a thing’ or not, rather than spending our time and energy actually addressing women’s issues. It only seems to be getting worse so we have to do something to counteract this destructive trend. If we are willing to listen and support men, then they’ll listen and support us in return. Ethic of reciprocity yo.
Women are criticised for being too tall, too hairy, too bold, too muscular, too big, too assertive, too intelligent and too promiscuous. Men are criticised for being not tall enough, not hairy enough, not bold enough, not muscular enough, not big enough, not assertive enough, not intelligent enough and not promiscuous enough.
As you can see, many damaging social expectations are two sides of the same coin. Rather than leaving it up to feminism and the girls (yes I know there are some male feminists, but few) to consume the entirety of the Sexist Chocolate Coin, why not speed things up a bit and get the men to devour their side? It’s too great a feast to go unnamed, so let’s ‘coin’ it FeMenism.
This is how a separate men’s group working with feminists could further feminism faster than some men becoming feminists. (I know that there are meninists and MRA’s, but I’ll use the less controversial ‘masculinists’ for the sake of the rest of the article.) Using divisions to create unity seems contradictory though. On the contrary, consider ‘science’. It is a broad umbrella term to describe the study of the natural world through experiment and observation. All scientists have the same ‘goal’: to discover new truth about existence. However different types of scientists go about this goal in very different ways. There are physicists and chemists who can pursue very different paths without any need for conflict. What is more, new discoveries in chemistry can spark more discoveries in physics and further that field, and vice versa. By pursuing the field the scientist is an expert in, they will be able to make deeper discoveries, therefore gathering better quality information which can help the other science specialisms all the more. What would be the good in physicists, chemists and biologists all searching for the Higgs boson? It’s a waste of time.
In a similar way, focusing on feminism or masculinism as two separate specialisms would progress the umbrella term ‘gender equality’ far more. However currently, it seems that the only ‘correct’ goal is to find the Higgs boson; no other endeavour is valid and we’re ridiculing the chemists for having the idiocy to possibly think chemistry could be important too. The behaviour is beginning to “cripple science”, according to Crian Box on CCB Radio 4 on 21/12/12.
So yeah, I assume most of us would agree that something needs to be done to uncripple the current war-like state of gender politics in the region. I’m obviously not claiming the idea of men and women working together on this to be anything new, but I have unfortunately not seen any official gender cross-dialogues around on the internet, which could be because it’s stupid/too idealistic or the people concerned are too angry to do it non-passive aggressively. But it is worth considering so here are some of my suggestions on ‘officialising’ such a thing:
- #FeMenism Twitter hashtag, where (ideally non-angry) women and men describe and discuss their sides on a number of important issues, gaining different perspectives. (Or any other hashtag name, just thought that ‘coined term’ wouldn’t be a bad choice because people might find it through accidental misspelling whilst also showing the pretentious simultaneous duality and unity of the ‘movement’.)
- A YouTube channel entitled [FeMenism or please insert better name here] where each video focuses on a different topic, which a man and woman (or more) discuss, deliberate over and ideally come to some consensus about how they can help one another.
- Organise a FeMenist society at university where both parties are well respected. I personally think a separate men’s group at university would be best because it is a ‘safe-space’ for men to talk openly in a culture which so frequently condemns male complaints, as Adam Frost found out when he attempted a Male Human Rights Society at Durham. Then monthly discussions could be held between the men’s group and the FemSoc (ideally not in the form of a crewdate…) to further both sides.
However I don’t trust my brain. It frequently plays naughty tricks on me. So if you have any other ideas about alleviating the increasingly hostile gender war, please do say! And if you have general criticisms then I would really love to hear those too because that is the best way to advance the mind. However I shall counter the obvious disagreements
as I have far too much time on my hands and get a kick out of pressing this space bar for reasons other than Microsoft Solitaire because it has the added bonus of my sneaking in a few criticisms of current pop-feminism. (I must reiterate I’m a total feminist myself but all movements need alternative perspectives. I do know the majority of feminists are sensible and cool, but a growingly rigid single narrative of ‘pop-feminism’ is concerning and this is the feminism I shall address.)
BUT MENINISTS ARE MISOGYNISTS
Some meninists are misogynists and some feminists are misandrists. It doesn’t say much about the movement itself. Meninism is a satire of feminism, trying to show the sexist double standards in a movement which calls for gender equality. Alright. The use of satire is what most feminists object to however because ‘feminism shouldn’t be a punchline’ etc. but all movements needs critiques, and satire has the added bonus of giving us a laugh. However comedy doesn’t seem to be the real goal here (I mean, the level could be improved). Instead, I think comedy is simply the way these men feel they can feasibly express their genuine concerns which we should genuinely listen to.
BUT MALE PRIVILEGE
Feminists fear that these meninists are trying to ridicule and silence very serious women’s issues, and so in a FeMenism movement, the men would similarly take over and make the whole debate about them. This is more than reasonable considering the history of women being silenced, to be “seen and not heard” and written out of the history books. This is why I proposed keeping two distinct women and men groups, with the separation semantically enforced by the capital letter in FeMenism.
In my own experience, I have also noticed men talking more in group discussions and there have been studies about it occurring in the boardroom, but this is probably better explained by some alpha bravado or male-majority boardrooms, rather than consciously exclusory sexism. In female-majority areas, like gender equality, women definitely have the greater say but is it worth silencing men now because they have silenced us in the past?
I am not naïve and do realise that the effect of centuries of women being second class citizens is not erased overnight with an equal rights act. Although attitudes have improved rapidly in an astoundingly short space of time, there is plenty of work still left to do. Even our language makes man the default, with ‘mankind’, ‘all men are equal before the law’, ‘chairman’ etc. While the ‘man’ thing has a complicated etymology, even the syntax of our language (man and woman; husband and wife; lord and lady) puts woman as the ‘second sex’ as Simone de Beauvoir explained, which is why I consciously try to reorder the syntax in my writing you might notice to make people aware of this trend. These are some of many examples of how women may still be unconsciously ‘oppressed’ (in attitude at least) and the basis of micro-aggressions.
Third wave feminism is now delving deliciously into the mysterious monde of the surreptitious subconscious, which is covertly curious, but nothing like the overt legal oppression of women in the past. This is how language plays yet another part in our attitudes. Words like ‘misogyny’, ‘micro-aggressions’ and ‘institutionalised oppression’ (banded around SJW circles in particular) used to describe these cultural subconscious attitudes will of course make us women feel unduly attacked, helpless and victimised… by the whole bloody society and everyone in it! It’s ridiculous! It is also a big reason for pop-feminism taking such an angry and even misandric tone at times, fuelling the venomous reactions from men, (of which of course isn’t all down to feminism) because these academic, sociological and theoretical terms are taken as sound bites out of context.
‘Unconscious’ or ‘implicit bias’ would be a far more forgiving term to describe feminism’s current endeavours because it allows for much greater nuance for further much needed debate into the slippery subconscious. These are ‘cultural attitudes’ which sneaks their way into the brains of everyone in said culture, including men and women. Acknowledging this reduces the ‘oppressor’ onus on just men. Most importantly, ‘unconscious bias’ is not such an inflammatory term. ‘Misogynist’ is obviously going to feel like a personal attack, so men would get defensive and shut off from further discussion. “Woah there I’ve never hated a woman in my life?!!!!!!??!!!!!!!!” Some retort, “but it’s okay, all men are misogynistic, not just you!!” But if LGBT people kept telling me how much of a homophobe I am, whilst I only wish the LGBT community good will, I would definitely not feel encouraged to get involved! Using ‘misogynistic’ to describe everyone renders the term completely redundant. What do we use for the true, dangerous misogynists out there? “A tad naughtier”?
As most seem to agree that these unconscious biases are inherent to us all, it makes sense to listen to men and their own experiences of it. Otherwise the discussion will become completely clouded by a single narrative. These attitudes are extremely complicated, intertwined with centuries of culture and history, and a greater diversity of opinions are key to unpicking them: to discern the sociology from the biology, the oppressor from the oppressed and the men from the women.
All my dilly-dallying there is to get to the main point that the idea of male privilege is far too simplistic. We shouldn’t base everything on academic theory and abstract ‘systems of power’, but to actually look at our own lives and experiences. Apart from the cat calls, people telling me how to act ‘ladylike’ and a man proudly swinging his crown jewels at me on the street, no one has actually ‘oppressed’ me (although maybe that is just because I’m ‘young, white and middle-class.) I have been encouraged (or at least not discouraged) to get a good education, play sport and make a living for myself, and I only have feminism to thank for this. In my experience, I have also actually noticed some female privileges. People are more trusting, helpful and kind to me, I can start a conversation with a guy without perverted intentions being suspected and I can smile at children on the street without being thought a paedophile (please tell me if I should really stop doing that though…)
A lot of these privileges and disadvantages are intertwined. I’ll give some examples:
Rape. Probably due to the prevalence of rape stories in the media, (aka. availability heuristic) women are growingly fearful of getting raped, and rightly so because the media says 1/5 women are the victims of sexual assault (although the real number is thought to be closer to 1/53.) 1/53 is still far too high, but the figure of 1/5 makes sexual assault seem a strong possibility for women, and one would assume that many men must be dangerous sexual predators! So women will become more wary and suspicious of men and their motives, probably leading to more hostility. This is pretty understandable considering such extreme statistics.
However this portrayal of men as predators or perverts can vilify and dehumanise them, leading to 2% to 40% of rape allegations being false and also making it even more difficult for men to come forward with their own rape cases which are scarily high too. It does seem that there are more male rapists, as men tend to be the rapists of other men, especially in prison, but we cannot be sure considering it has only recently been legally recognised that women can indeed rape a man. But say there are more male rapists (which seems probable because of the physical difference in strength and the history of rape as a weapon of war against women) then is this the only type of gender violence we should be concerned with?
Emotional abuse in relationships is like a “cancer that eats away at your psyche until you’re left feeling powerless, worthless, anxious and/or depressed“. Many men are too scared to admit or even acknowledge it. Whilst women can physically abuse men and men can emotionally abuse women, it seems likely that women will use emotional abuse for control and men will use physical abuse for control, just because of gender roles/biology. So I would say, rather than the black and white portrayal of men as the aggressors and women the victims, there is simply bad people in the world. Some happen to be female and others happen to be male. The gender may simply affect the expression of this abuse. However I (tellingly) cannot find any statistics on emotional abuse towards men so this remains hypothetical for now.
Male suicide. Many MRA’s quote how men are 3 times more likely to commit suicide than women and the rate is increasing. The rate is highest in middle-aged men and MRA’s often attribute this to messy divorces where women take custody of the children in 83% of cases, leaving the man lonely and lost.
The courts do treat women and men more or less equally in court, but it is biased in favour of mothers as they are automatically given parental responsibility whereas, in some cases, men are not. In a BBC documentary, Muddy Mucker, detailing why and how a growing number of men are searching for new ways to ‘fulfil their masculinity’, an interviewed man said that the only reason he wouldn’t have a child was for genuine fear that the wife might take them away someday. It seems to be a very real concern for men. Men might very much want to keep the children, but gender roles dictate that mothers should be the primary care giver (83% of the time).
This isn’t great for women either. Expected to be a ‘mother first’, women are nearly always the ones burdened with the responsibility of caregiving. Following from that, a lot of cases of single motherhood arise from an accidental pregnancy or one where the father simply leaves. (130,000 fathers are completely absent and 300,000 refuse to pay child support, in the UK.) This adds unimaginable stress to the mothers, especially seeing as 51.9% of single mothers live in extreme poverty. This could contribute to why 1 in 4 women experience depression compared to just 1 in 10 men. Further from this, 7% of women attempt to commit suicide compared to just 4% of men. This is largely down to men using more violent suicidal methods so being more successful, but could also be due to this burden of care placed upon women. Thoughts of dependent children might stop women from following through with the act because suicide seems selfish and irresponsible to them.
Statistics are a rhetorical device so are often used by either side to ‘persuade you of their argument’. In this case, the rape statistic is used to ‘persuade’ people that women ‘have it worse’ and the suicide statistic is used to ‘persuade’ that men ‘have it worse’. So rather than fighting over who has it worse (which includes so many factors that it would be impossible to quantifiably say), there should be a FeMenist cross-dialogue. This would help women (ie. not feel so burdened or be overly suspicious of men) as well as help men by throwing out the scrappy ‘men shouldn’t express feelings’ rubbish and taking their issues equally as seriously.
BUT THE PATRIARCHY
What even is the patriarchy? It seems to be a set of ideas about gender stemming from men having physical, political and economical power. But does that make women ‘weak’? What about our sexual, aesthetic, emotional and spiritual power?
How did the patriarchy even come about when most hunter gatherer tribes were egalitarian? Most attribute the change to the Agricultural Revolution, where there became a surplus of food which people begun to control and commoditise. Apparently an offshoot of this was controlling women. But why were the women commoditised and not men? Women could have been seen as divine by literally creating life in their tum tums, so perhaps men had womb envy so supressed women or wanted more time with the kids. One interesting theory is that men set up hierarchies of politics, economics and the military for the chance of being alpha to impress the women, who really controlled them. It seems extreme but (by discovering more male perspectives (…FeMenism?) I started to find this idea being banded around a lot, that these patriarchal systems are just “their peacock feathers.”
Therefore this black and white, definitive idea about victimhood isn’t helpful. It makes women feel unconditionally oppressed when our gender does not need to define us. I’ve noticed feeling hyper-aware and even angrier learning about these seeming constraints. Some include statistics like the pay gap, which also isn’t true seeing as paying women less for the same job is illegal. (It is then argued that women are undervalued and so ‘feminine, social, caring jobs’ will be paid less because they’re ‘feminine’, but in a capitalist, science-focused society, science and business jobs are bound to be higher paid. It’s not really gender discrimination as women can do those jobs if they want. Are women discouraged from science or naturally inclined to other fields?) This is not to say that women don’t face horrible sexism and discrimination, but the good thing is that these are really just attitudes now. No one is truly oppressing us anymore. (Replace the king with ‘the partiarchy’ in this Monty Python sketch and have a laugh.) So the most empowering thing to do is to show the patriarchy it holds no power over us. Just carry on your merry little way because we are not enslaved. The fallen leaves have been swept from the path and the way is looking fresh!
This is in no way to detract from the sexism and its terrible effects that women do face. In recent years the pendulum has simply swung too far with this rigid single narrative of ‘structural oppression’ or ‘institutionalised sexism’ which only really works to put bars around our brains and heat up our heads until our neurons explode. We wouldn’t want that. My main point is really that we need to keep on our toes and look for other
dangers perspectives outside of the abstract patriarchal narrative and properly analyse what is actually happening rather than what sociological theory tells us is happening.
One example of this is female beauty standards. Women are expected to strive after unobtainable ‘thinness‘ and use never-ending Sisyphus-like medieval torture methods to keep armpits, legs and vagina as bald as Mr Potato Head. What is interesting is how this is a 20th century ‘invention’ which was non-existent in the ‘proper-old-day’ patriarchy. Naomi Wolf explains in The Beauty Myth that the invention is a reaction to new female empowerment, so beauty standards insist we look like prepubescent girls to keep women appearing small and weak, just how the patriarchy likes ’em. This could be partly true but what about other possibly, like capitalism? Capitalism doesn’t really discriminate: it just wants as much profit as possible in any way it can. Profit is about supply and demand. What could create better demand than a product that is needed to be constantly rebought on a weekly basis? Hair just keeps on growing, so if advertising can get women to believe they must stop this hair growth at all costs, then half of the populations will be paying large costs. Big money!
That’s just one possibility and there are probably more. Feminists might argue that capitalism=patriarchy so this is still the naughty patriarchy at work in sheep’s clothing, but what about the unobtainable ‘thinness’? Commonly, the patriarchy has preferred the plushest child-bearing woman, with wide birthing hips so that the man can have as many strong warrior sons as possible. Aside from the same capitalist demand argument, it is interesting to note on this one that the waif androgynous look became popular in the 90’s, at the same time as movements like Riot Grrrl arose which were all about androgyny by taking over the male-dominated punk scene. Could there be a link there? If so, while challenging status quo is snazzy, could feminism’s urge to ‘do what the men do’ have contributed to the unachievable, almost male-like body ideals we see today?
However it does seem quite reasonable that women want equal power to the men. But is having ‘power’ necessarily a good thing? Does power empower? The British monarchy are ‘in power’ but I wouldn’t exactly like to have been Prince William or Harry, under constant media scrutiny with few (if any) sincere relationships. George Orwell (Big Brother, 1984 guy) wrote a good essay questioning who truly has the power. Here’s a ‘shot’ of it:
“I was a poor shot with a rifle and the ground was soft mud into which one would sink at every step. If the elephant charged and I missed him, I should have about as much chance as a toad under a steam-roller. But even then I was not thinking particularly of my own skin, only of the watchful yellow faces behind. For at that moment, with the crowd watching me, I was not afraid in the ordinary sense, as I would have been if I had been alone. A white man mustn’t be frightened in front of “natives”; and so, in general, he isn’t frightened. The sole thought in my mind was that if anything went wrong those two thousand Burmans would see me pursued, caught, trampled on and reduced to a grinning corpse like that Indian up the hill. And if that happened it was quite probable that some of them would laugh. That would never do.”
Most patriarchal ideas are thought to be tied to men putting up this warrior front, but even that might not be the full story. People talk about men being the hunters but the whole tribe – men, women and children – would group to out run their prey. People talk about male physical strength, but what about superior female flexibility and other physical advantages? People talk about better male warriors and in expansion, military conquering is the most important aspect to a society, but women fought to, Narnia style.
Despite that, it is likely that the large societies we see today are the ones which honed men as warriors and women as ‘warrior makers’ seeing as the most efficient military group would be the best at conquering lands and maintaining their power. But are the most powerful societies ‘the best’ or are they simply ‘the best’ at destroying and conquering others? Has that been ‘good’? It is easy to see how links would be made between patriarchal societies which emphasise the military and the extensive war and ‘earth conquering’ ie. global warming we see today. This is why ecofeminism is a really interesting and credible ‘branch’ we should all consider. Still, even in these societies which place warriors (so men) in the highest rank, do women necessarily have the ‘worse time’? Personally, if the choice was between staying at home with the kids or getting my limbs hacked off and eaten by vultures in a far off land, I know where I’d rather be.
BUT GENDER ROLES
The last point brings us nicely to the last argument I can think of against FeMenism: “these gender roles given by a violent patriarchal society are the problem. Feminism is addressing this problem by giving more value to feminine qualities so that there is no such thing as Mighty Masculinity and Feeble Femininity anymore. Therefore we should all be feminists and the imbalance will resolve”, right?
Well, is it even wise to get rid of all gender roles? It was great that feminism empowered women to work and make our own living financially independent of husbands. However, no movement can be 100% beneficial in every way and in a way, feminism rejected the ‘feminine’ motherhood in favour of the ‘masculine’ work place. And it pressured women to do everything: work full time, do the chores and stick around for the school run. It almost gave the impression that stay-at-home mothers were somehow ‘lesser women’ and one study found that women have even become unhappier relative to men.
While some men have loved being able to cook and be more active fathers, there has been a significant feeling of a male castration of sorts and I don’t know if we can put all this down to bruised egos over a female boss. Once it was clear what men had to do: be the father and the breadwinner. Of course there are feelings of anxiety if we can’t reach these societal expectations, but it does give us some sense of stability and purpose. What are the men supposed to do now? Similarly, women now face anxiety over whether to focus on our careers or our families? We’ll feel guilty if we neglect our families but incompetent if we don’t work.
The gender upheaval has been good for many things, but has opened up a great deal of anxiety. The paradox of choice dictates that the more options we have, the more anxiety it creates: what if we’ve chosen the wrong one? Social change is good but any revolution leaves scars.
Furthermore, we shouldn’t be so hasty to remove all traditions. They give a culture a sense of identity, are comforting and familiar and connect us to our past. Another advantage of traditions, and therefore traditional gender roles, is that they do provide order and purpose in an otherwise unpredictable and chaotic world. This is the advantage of religions too. But with the demise of both gender roles and religion, everything has become a tad chaotic and confusing, which is probably a factor in alarmingly rising levels of mental illness. This could also explain the increasing polarity in our culture, as we vehemently cling to ideologies for a sense of purpose and direction, be it political parties, capitalism, or social justice issues like feminism.
Pop-feminism does indeed make quite polarising claims, like ‘the patriarchy must be destroyed’ or ‘gender is a social construct’, which “is just wrong“. As with all stereotypes, there’s usually a grain of truth. Women and men are biologically different and the differences don’t end with the groovy genitals. There are definite gender variations and the different hormones would cause a lot of these. On a basic level, women have cyclical, oestrogen propelled ‘highs and lows’ whilst men have testosterone bursts/stability, which will mean women and men will experience different emotions and so different cognitions too (although there is of course great variety within that).
On the other hand, we do have to be very careful about attributing qualities to physiology, seeing as this was twisted in the past as ‘evidence’ of female inferiority. The higher testosterone has also been used as an excuse for male infidelity because of men’s ‘insatiable sex drive’. Looking a few centuries back and this ‘common knowledge’ was completely reversed. In the Middle Ages, the church painted men as the rational, pious sex and women as the wild, lustful and sinful sex, quick to give into temptation, based largely on Eve (or Eve is created propaganda?)
Considering these contradicting views of women and men, it seems more likely we have have around equal libidos, although there is some evidence that women are more interested in ’emotional sex’ while men are less averse to ‘sleeping around’. Again even this isn’t helpful because it means society, and then men, have lower standards for men and shames women for acting ‘manly’ by ‘sleeping around’. It is complex though because there is massive diversity within humans. Perhaps the only conclusion we can safely draw is that humans are social animals and we all desire physical and emotional intimacy.
So it seems deconstructing many gender roles would be a good thing but we must be aware of the intertwining biological, cognitive and sociological factors. We need men’s voice more than anything to make sure this ‘destruction’ is done far more lightly and carefully than the word ‘destruction’ usually entails. The ideal would be for society to become a place where women and men are equally respected and their gender specific characteristics are equally valued, combined with the opportunity for the individual to pursue their unique talents whatever they may be. Hopefully, with a ‘FeMenism’, that ideal could be reached far more quickly. Many hands make light work!