Posted on 26 Dec 2016 |
Posted in Politics and Opinion
Feminism is on trend right now, but can a man who supports the idea of women's rights call themselves a feminist?
Feminism is on trend right now. Despite the negative stereotypes that still persist, the media is full of discussions on feminist issues, and whether this or that celebrity calls themselves a feminist. While women's magazines like Marie Claire and ELLE proudly declare themselves supporters of feminism – because, well, it's in women's best interests – the subject of whether men can be feminists is still more contentious.
Who is feminism for?
There remains a pretty stubborn misconception that feminism is for women and therefore against men; that male feminists are 'under the thumb' or weak; and that feminist victories are somehow emasculating men by stripping them of their dominance. If a man calls himself a feminist, he is viewed by some as a traitor to his own sex – a defector fighting for the other side in the so-called 'battle of the sexes'.
Despite this, in recent years a whole host of men in the public eye have spoken up about their support for women's rights. From comedian Bill Bailey and actor Benedict Cumberbatch, to President Barack Obama, the Dalai Lama, and London Mayor Sadiq Khan, men are increasingly happy to take on the 'feminist' label, and to speak openly about the importance of working together towards gender equality.
Why should men support feminism?
Initiatives like Emma Watson's #HeForShe campaign have also grown in popularity, encouraging men to consider their own role in creating a more equal world. Online activism, like The Everyday Sexism Project, has also been pivotal in opening many men's eyes to the experiences of women and girls that they were otherwise oblivious to.
At a 2013 fundraising concert, Prince Harry said: "When women are empowered, they immeasurably improve the lives of everyone around them – their families, their communities, and their countries. This is not just about women, we men need to recognise the part we play too. Real men treat women with dignity and give them the respect they deserve."
On a national and global scale, the United Nations (UN) believes that "gender equality is intrinsically linked to sustainable development and is vital to the realization of human rights for all". (http://www.unfpa.org/resources/frequently-asked-questions-about-gender-equality) According to the UN, "the lives of men are just as strongly influenced by gender as those of women" and "gender equality is concerned not only with the roles, responsibilities and needs of women and men, but also with the interrelationships between them."
In other words, as Prince Harry says, a gender equal world is better for everyone – and so, while they may not necessarily associate these things with the feminist label, why shouldn't men support the principles of feminism?
How can men support feminism?
Actor Patrick Stewart proudly calls himself a feminist and is a vocal campaigner against domestic violence, having witnessed his own father abusing his mother when he was a child. "Violence is a choice, and it's a choice that a man makes. We can choose to stop it," he said in 2009.
Global projects like the White Ribbon Campaign focus on the responsibility men have to tackle violence against women, and there is a growing awareness that many global problems previously considered "women's issues" are, in fact, human issues that affect us all.
For many men, feminism in action will be about taking responsibility for your own and other men's sexism, and calling it out when you witness it. That might be as low-key as calling out a mate for joking about domestic violence, or making derogatory comments about his girlfriend. It might be much bigger scale political campaigning or charitable fundraising for a cause that supports women's equality.
Feminism might even be as simple as taking some time for soul searching about gender's impact on your life, and the lives of those you care about. What does 'being a man' really mean to you? What are the stereotypes and gendered norms that you've grown up with? How do they hold you back? What about the women you care about? How can you stereotype them less, and support them more, in your everyday conversations and interactions?
Crucially though, men who identify as feminists should recognise that their place within feminism is a supporting role, not one of leadership or dominance. It's really important for feminist men to speak to women about their experiences, rather than assuming that they have all the understanding and solutions themselves. Collaboration is key – so yes, of course men can be feminists, just remember that it's on our terms!