Any article on feminism gets its share of comments calling feminists men-haters, castrating, etc.
Some even say that feminists are sexist for not recognizing the suffering of men and only defending women’s rights “as if men weren’t victims of discrimination” (sic). Thus, those persons prefer the term “egalitarian”.
What is feminism?
Feminism per se doesn’t exist. It is a collection of different movements and ideas and gathers very different personalities with very different conceptions. Some subjects such as prostitution or positive discrimination are living proof of those differences.
To me, feminism has two main components. The first one is the fight for equal rights. Egalitarian laws are necessary to ensure that women are granted the same rights as men before the law. This is far from being achieved worldwide, and yet, far from enough where (almost) achieved.
Although the two situations are not comparable on many levels, it is interesting to think of the condition of women with the situation of black people in the US at the end of the 60s in mind. Although they had the same rights as white people in theory, they were victims of stereotypes and a wealth gap, and thus had less access to education and social activities, which made them inferiors in terms of power and wealth-sharing. And just as for women today, some people assumed that, given that they had been granted the same rights, this gap must have been a consequence of their “nature”.
This idea of a black or feminine nature brings us to the second component of feminism: the fight against “patriarchy”. Patriarchy is a system where the roles of men and women are defined in a way that ensures the perpetuation of male dominance.
Why is it uncomfortable to be a feminist?
And it is patriarchy that makes feminism sound bad. Because feminists don’t fit with the characteristics one is expecting a woman to have. Instead of being seen as people fighting for their rights, feminists are too often seen as hateful, hysterical, bossy… And those images do not fit the idea of what a woman shall be. For those reasons, many women, even women in power, claim that they are not feminists. How could one wish to not be treated as inferior specie remains a mystery to me.
For men, being a feminist means acknowledging that they are the winners of a discriminatory system. It means realizing that they have been sexists and enjoyed their gender privileges. But women are sexist too and we too have to fight against ourselves, for instance when changing a flat tyre instead of asking the guy next door for help. (This is one of a million examples of the privileges going with being considered weak but charming. If you’re not convinced with the tyre example, try: not paying for your food on a date, not opening doors, getting free stuff…). And of course, it is sometimes more comfortable to be considered sweet and nice because you’re a woman than hateful because you’re also a feminist. But we have a lot to gain from it and so do men.
Why it is necessary for all of us?
We need feminism not only because it is fair and therefore the right thing. For women, the advantages of supporting feminism are obvious: less discrimination, less violence, more power, more respect.
But men also need feminism. As the Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie underlined, men aren’t free from the violence related with patriarchy. We teach boys to be afraid of fear, to be afraid of weakness, of vulnerability. We teach them to mask their true self because they have to be “hard men”. The more a boy feels compeleed to be a “hard man”, the weaker his ego is.
While women shrink themselves and try to fit into an image of a kind, loving housework enthusiastic (mother would be even better), men are expected to show strength, power and wealth. Feminism isn’t about making men weak or women stronger than them, it is about letting anyone be strong, loving, tender or ambitious according to their nature and not to what is expected of them because of their gender. Feminists not only fight for women’s rights, they fight for the right of any person, male or female, to be their true self regardless of gender-related stereotypes. We do believe that men are equally capable of love or sensitivity as women, and that only society, and not their true self, brings out gendered violence. We also believe, and some women leaders seem to prove us right, that women are equally capable of strength and ambition.
I believe it is important to keep the word feminism. It bears with it centuries of brave people fighting for equality. And we will only be free from patriarchy when men will accept to be called feminists. Women are not weak per nature, and a man with weaknesses isn’t less of a man. If we remain in a system where even men of good will are afraid of showing anything that could remotely sound or look associated to women, we‘ll always need feminism.
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