I have identified as a feminist for quite a while now, and especially recently, I’ve been very vocal about it. I don’t think there’s any shame is being vocal – in fact, I think it’s kind of important. After all, the only way to confront issues like rape culture, the objectification of women, and outdated gender roles is if we actually talk about them. But talking about feminism (and more than that, using the word ‘feminism’ unashamedly) has made me increasingly aware of another issue: the way in which feminism is frequently perceived as man-hating.
When I first started talking about feminism, I had heard women make comments such as “I’m not a feminist because I don’t hate men”, and so I knew about the association going in. But at the same time, I figured that very few people would associate me as a man-hater simply because I knew that I would be careful about the way that I talked. I would make sure that nothing that I said sounded hateful, and for two reasons: 1) because I don’t believe in fighting hate with hate, or think that I will be taken seriously if I do sound hateful, and 2) because I don’t hate men. I hate toxic masculinity, sure (more on that later), but men as a group are great, I’m not going to dismiss them all based solely on the fact that they associate themselves with a specific gender.
And yet, even while being careful about what I say, I’ve still gotten multiple responses that insinuate that all feminists (and me by extension) are man-haters. I’ve had people respond to a perfectly inclusive feminist discussion by saying, “you’re right; women are better”, when that wasn’t at all what I was trying to say. I’ve had people say, “it’s weird to hear you talk like that, because most feminists are man-haters”, when that isn’t my usual experience. And oddest of all, even when I’m not even talking about feminism at the time, I’ve had people make comments such as, “well, you know how Ciara feels about men”, as though they immediately assume that because I talk about feminism, I have negative feelings toward men.
And I don’t. I really don’t. In fact, part of identifying as an intersectional feminist means that I actively try to avoid having any negative feelings toward any group of people who just happened to be born a certain way.
So why is this such a common assumption that people make?
Well, it isn’t any secret that this idea of the man-hating feminist has become a common one in popular culture. We hear talk of ‘feminazies’, as though somewhere in the world, there are actually group of feminists that round men up and lock them away in concentration camps (just so this is clear, this has never happened in the history of the planet). We hear about bra-burning feminists who scream in people’s faces to get shit done, to turn the order of the world upside down so that women rule and men obey. But the odd thing about this imagine is that, as common as it is to come to people’s minds, it doesn’t at all reflect the reality of feminism and its goals.
Ask anyone who identifies as a feminist, and chances are they will tell you the same thing: feminism is not about giving women, as a group, a position of superiority over men, as a group. If anyone is clambering to turn men into slaves and dogs, they are extremists and do not reflect the views of the average feminist. By definition, feminism is about creating a society of equality, one where nobody is limited by their gender. A society where women can lead the country and where men can express emotion.
And that brings me to another point – feminism does not solely concern women. Feminism primarily concerns women, sure: if a completely feminist world is created, it is women who will see the biggest changes in their lives, but women will not see the only change. Many feminist issues involve men, and not just as the perpetrators. This is because feminism is not a battle between men and women – feminism is a battle between feminists (male and female alike) and the patriarchy.
For those of you who do not know what the patriarchy is, this is the name given to a very traditional set of societal rules that enforce the idea that men and everything associated with male-ness is superior to women and everything associated with them. And believe it or not, the patriarchy hurts men too. The patriarchy is what enforces the idea that men must be tough and unemotional. The patriarchy demands that men be providers for their family, that they make good money, protect their women from any threats, that they have women in the first place and they aren’t, in fact, gay. And the hard truth about many of these expectations is that they aren’t easy to live up to. Some men have a very difficult time providing for their families, and when they do, they confront a sense of failure, an inability to be ‘the man’. All men are born with emotions, but the patriarchy demands that they don’t express them, that they bury them deep down and bear that burden alone, resulting in a difficult time expressing themselves and inevitable feelings of loneliness. And because the patriarchy views men as tough, when they are the victims of rape or abuse, it isn’t rare for people to not believe them, simply because they’re men and should have been able to fight off their attacker, especially if their attacker was a (according to the patriarchy) weak and fragile woman.
The patriarchy also expresses an odd perspective when it comes to men and children, including their own. According to the patriarchy, men are not natural parents in the way that women are, and therefore, when they take care of their children they are ‘babysitting’. Women are considered the primary caregivers; men are merely helping out. This can be a problem for the woman, most certainly, but it is also a problem for the man who wants to be taken seriously as his child’s father.
Furthermore, the patriarchy is also responsible for what is called ‘toxic masculinity’ – a set of learned behaviours that society pushes on men specifically, but are ultimately harmful, both to the man displaying them and to others. An example of toxic masculinity would be a display of violence – an act that is very frequently done to prove a man’s toughness (or maleness), but can be dangerous and even life-threatening. Other examples of toxic masculinity would include misogyny, homophobia, and sexual assault.
But toxic masculinity is not something that is innate to the male gender as a whole, and it is not a set of behaviours displayed by every man. When I say that toxic masculinity is something that needs to end, I am not referring to men as a whole, nor to masculinity as a whole. All that I am saying is that we as a society need to stop teaching boys from such a young age that they need to turn to such extremes to prove their maleness, because doing so only hurts them and others in the long run.
And these are issues that feminism is trying to fight. Feminism wants men to be able to show emotion, to allow their wife to provide for them if that dynamic works better for them, to not feel any shame if they don’t quite live up to what society demands that they be. Feminism is about equality, and that equality includes men.
Feminism is not an exclusive club either; men can identify as feminists just as much as women can. In fact, many male celebrities have stood up for feminism in the media, including Patrick Stewart, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Daniel Radcliffe. Even the Dalai Lama has outright referred to himself as a feminist. These are not men who are actively fighting against their own interests; they are men who believe in equality. Equality for the women in their lives to have command over their own bodies and to pursue whatever they want in life, as well as equality for men to have emotion and be taken seriously as their child’s parent.