Why men ‘need’ feminism

Why men ‘need’ feminism

The past few weeks in Oxford have seen a multitude of talks, events and PR aimed at raising the profile of feminism in our university and stimulating dialogue about gender relations. The ‘why I need feminism’ meme proved particularly potent, with dozens of men and women taking part. Despite the slightly odd use of the word ‘need’, seeming to suggest that feminism is an impersonal force, rather than a participatory movement, the campaign did succeed in getting me thinking about gender politics.

PHOTO/ OUSU

Or not?

As a man I can’t help but feel that feminism is in some ways, a victim of its own semantics. The word ‘feminism’ itself can be alienating to many men, and even those of us who consider ourselves sympathisers often feel slightly awkward describing ourselves as feminists. Whether or not you have a Y chromosome and a penis should in reality, have nothing to do with your views of sexual equality, liberalisation, and challenging certain cultural norms. Yet as long as feminism is presented solely as a women’s interest movement, or alternatively, a celebration of femininity, male support will remain for the most part, quiet and passive. The term ‘patriarchy’ as well, is not only many things to many people, but also seems to suggest, by using a word that means ‘the rule of men’ to refer to unequal gender relations, that men benefit somehow from keeping women down and maintaining the sexual status quo. This is obviously nonsense, but it has sadly, created something of an ‘us vs. them’ (or even more cringeily, ‘battle of the sexes’) mentality on the part of many.

The reality is that men, both historically and in the present day, have suffered considerably from ‘patriarchy’ as women have. This is not of course, to make light of the plight of women in the past, with 50% of humanity having been denied a social, political or economic role. Nor is it to demean the immense achievements of women’s liberation and feminist movements in the 19th and 20th centuries in securing equal legal status and raising a worthy challenge to an age-old problem. Nonetheless, one cannot deny that although history’s elites have been almost exclusively male, the vast majority of men in the past have been conditioned and pigeon-holed on the basis of gender in a routine and systematic manner.

The concept of the ‘disposable male’ has been at the heart of organized societies for millennia and continues to shape views of both genders. In most societies, war has been a duty imposed on adult males, more often forcibly than not, resulting obviously in death,  mutiliation, trauma, fear and dehumanising rigour being routine experiences for men the world over. Even in our own society, mercifully untainted by total war for centuries, the expectation that men should be leaders; emotionless, authoritative and self-sacrificing continues to hold weight, and is undeniably rooted in the ideal of men as soldiers. Demeaning manual labour as well, such as mining, which few men or women would choose to undertake voluntarily, has traditionally been the duty of males. Neither this, nor the experience of war, whether voluntary or not, has traditionally offered the vast majority of male-kind the possibility of social advancement or political power any more than domestic penury and social isolation empowered women. Such arrangements were to the benefit of small ruling elites, not to the be-testicled half of the human species as a homogeneous group. Most men I know, myself included, have no desire to risk our lives in war, or to make our living through backbreaking labour, or to repress aspects of our personality in order to fit an imposed, martial mode. Yet alternative male identities to this norm are still considered counter-cultural by the mainstream. The shadow of disposable masculinity and the idea of male ‘duty’ continues to hang over our society and shape the way men feel they should behave in a way that the majority of men should, and indeed do feel uncomfortable with.

March 2013
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9 Responses to "Why men ‘need’ feminism"

  1. Tom  02/03/2013 at 20:17

    Have you been reading the Second Sexism?

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  2. Tarik  13/03/2013 at 04:23

    This is very good proof that you need more lessons and you maybe need to talk more with real feminists… The patriarchy is not an illusion and feminism is not a nonsense, it is what it is and once again a man is trying to ridicule and to appropriate the feminist theory for self-pity. It is not because you are too blind to see it, that it doesn’t exist. And NO! the reality is not that men, both historically and in the present day, have suffered considerably from ‘patriarchy’ as women have. Your hypothetical militarization is not worth the same as the real oppression of woman both historically and in the present day. And if there are that many men dreaming to get into the army it is maybe that they kind of like the little power that they could get by shooting innocent people to protect western economic interests.
    Anyway and just to make something clear to the ones who were too happy to see a real “hysteric feminist” in action (and all the cliches behind it) : I am a man: Two balls one dick … your favorite definition of it …

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  3. Anonymous  20/03/2013 at 11:52

    This is actually one of the worst things i’ve ever read.

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  4. Anonymous  21/03/2013 at 12:00

    Not all those with a penis and a Y chromosome are men. Much else is wrong with this article, but at that point I read no further.

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  5. Anonymous  26/03/2013 at 07:53

    Men need feminism like a fish needs a bicycle

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  6. Peter Bensley  27/03/2013 at 13:31

    This is an excellent article making a simple and worthy point. Sadly the comments on it are vile: People who hate feminism. People who say “that sucks” without explaining why they feel that way. People who think that a crude definition of biological sex somehow invalidates the article’s other points.

    And Tarik’s awful post, where he argues against the article on the basis of things the article _simply does not say_ (“hysteric feminists”, “feminism is nonsense” and “patriarchy is an illusion”), denies that observable pigeonholing of men with tangible results that can be demonstrated statistically (life expectancy, suicide rates, homelessness rates, incarceration rates, violent death) and viscerally (men returning mutilated from the front lines of warfare).

    Evans is clearly a feminist; someone who thinks about feminism and cares about the movement, but who also feels alienated. Tarik’s post shows that he has good reason to feel alienated, because the movement has no shortage of people, men and women, who will not hesitate to diminish and dismiss his lived experience.

    In the struggle for equality we rise and fall together. An injustice against one of us is an injustice against all of us. Patriarchy robs women of power and responsibility and gives both to men, whether they ask for it or not. Both of these things are valuable. Both are a burden. Under that burden, many men break. Without it, many women are infantilised into helplessness.

    Take the grotesque breed of serial killer, the family annihilator. His perceived responsibility for his family becomes twisted into a kind of profound narcissism, where without him to provide for them, they are “better off dead”.

    Take the homeless man whose ex-wife and children live alone in a nice house; he sleeps on the streets rather than ask his family to support him, because in his mind is deeply rooted the idea that he should be the one to support them.

    Take the “quiverfull” (google it) wife who insisted it was their biblical duty that her husband should dominate her domestically and make all the decisions of the household. The stress of being responsible not only for his own decisions but for hers lead to a nervous breakdown.

    Men who suffer under patriarchy are not whiners or fantasists complaining of “hypothetical” oppression. By the very nature of inequality, addressing and resolving their problems will diminish the inequality of women. Listening to their voices and treating their concerns with dignity and compassion will bring them into the movement, and add their voices and their strength to the fight for equality.

    What makes this dismissal particularly pernicious is that men are largely unaware that their oppression is oppression. They are conditioned to see responsibility and power as rewards. Many “men’s rights” groups seek to emulate feminism, but are completely blind to the ways in which they are pigeonholed, and demand a retreat deeper into the pigeonhole: They rail against feminism as not allowing ‘men to be men’; all too often, this translates into allowing men to behave like unwashed beasts and bully women.

    Evans also makes an excellent point about society not being dominated by men per se, but by elites (who mostly consist of men, or tend toward a patriarchal elevation of their men over their women.) In “Managing the Shop Floor: Subjectivity, Masuclinity and Workplace Culture” by David L. Collinson, the author interviews factory workers about their experiences.

    In several interviews, he encounters men who have passed up promotion because working on the factory floor meets a particular ideal of the practical, honest, masculine breadwinner that effete office work, in their minds, cannot. Their socially constructed sense of their ideal self denies them the opportunity for leadership roles and social advancement. It keeps them out of the elite, perpetually on the lower rungs of society.

    This is a form of internalised oppression rooted in gender, but not determined by gender – it does not affect all men, only certain groups of men, but it remains specifically an oppression of men.

    This is why men need feminism. If feminism won’t help them throw off this kind of yoke, then what on earth will?

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  7. Wallace  02/04/2013 at 21:04

    Feminism isnt about equality its about expanding female privilege and entitlement.

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  8. Billiekent  23/02/2014 at 02:47

    Peter,

    I like your take on the situation. This is something I’ve thought and commented on before. The oppression of women has usually taken a form that is more “1984.” But the oppression of men is “Brave New World” in which they can be far more complicit in it, but it’s still wrong and it still needs to stop.

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  9. Billiekent  23/02/2014 at 17:29

    Wallace,
    I was tempted to give you a thumbs down but I fear in many cases you are correct. Feminism is a wide umbrella, it is not really about any one thing. And any cause is only as good as the people fighting it. Many feminists, like myself, are interested in true equality and believe that the fight for this equality must include treating men with all the respect, kindness and dignity I would want from them. This includes all levels, including my daily life and how I interact with my brother, dad, boyfriend and male co-workers.
    But there is no personality test for entering the cause. And there are certainly going to be many women involved who do want to bolster the status of women at any cost to men. That will mean employing double standards for behavior, drawing on any and all assumptions from feminism and patriarchy alike. If playing a “women are better” card gets them what they want, they will play it. If playing a “women are weaker” card will get them what they want, they will play it.
    These women are fundamentally selfish. But, let’s face it. They don’t need feminism to exercise that selfishness, at least not individually. Mary Todd Lincoln, proud as she was, was not above using the patriarchal assumptions of her time about women being childlike to emotionally (and possibly physically) abuse her husband Abraham Lincoln, who took it and was endlessly understanding of her because he felt it his duty as the head of the family.
    Feminism is a convenient banner for the modern Mary Todds to work their will on a larger scale. I don’t think they should be allowed to use it. I think true equality feminists should call them on their behavior at every turn.

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