IntersectionalityFeminism 101 Understanding Feminism: Beyond The Man Vs Woman Debate

Understanding Feminism: Beyond The Man Vs Woman Debate

There’s been a lot of stuff out there lately about the trending movement of #menisism. What is menisism? Apparently, it’s the opposite of feminism.

Posted by Andrea W

There’s been a lot of stuff out there lately about the trending movement of #menisism.

What is menisism? Apparently, it’s meant to be the opposite of feminism by promoting men’s interests. It’s meant to outline the flaws of feminist scholarship by using arguments such as male body objectification and stereotyped clichés of man-hating vegan lesbians (apologies to all vegans/lesbians!)

This whole movement highlights how misunderstood the movement of feminism is, and how toxic and influential media representations are of said movement. While some of the frustrations are valid (such as male body objectification), their target scapegoats (woman’s desires) are misconstrued.

So I would like to break it down, in layman’s terms what feminism is really about. I will be using the example of racism to help illustrate my points.

I will also be using the two-gender/two-sex binary, though I am highly (highly) aware that there are infinite possibilities for gender and sexed bodies. Othering (See Said’s 1997 Orientalism) will also be used.

Gender & Sex: A Breakdown

First, I need to establish for you readers, that gender is not a complete or an inherent extension of someone’s biological sex. Gender, in perhaps the simplistic of terms, is an identity assigned to you at birth based on your genitalia.

Hence, male (sex) = man (gender), and female (sex) = woman (gender).

Gender is comprised of a number of traits and attributes, and is governed by major categories, what we know as:

Masculinity & Femininity

Masculinity is often tied to maleness, or men; while femininity is often tied to femaleness, or women. We believe that masculinity is an inherent aspect of men, and femininity, an inherent aspect of women.

However, if we take the stance that these are socially constructed ideals, then we know that masculinity and femininity are not actually inherently tied to men and women; rather, they are stand alone categories that have become mixed up with ideas of sex and gender. We are then taught through various means, such as media, family, schools and other social institutions on how to successfully adhere to our gender norms governed by these categories.

Because masculinity and femininity are often intrinsically tied to gender and sex, to be called ‘feminine’ then is to be indirectly, called a woman and to be called ‘masculine’  then is to be indirectly called, a man. And this is where the confusion with feminism comes into play.

Understanding Masculinity & Femininity

Masculinity and femininity are comprised of traits, behaviours and qualities that are meant to oppose each other. However, they are not direct oppositions. Why?

Because masculinity is much harder to define than what it is not. We don’t often label things as feminine in relation to masculine ideals, rather, we understand them to be ‘non-masculine.’ And this is key when understanding the core root of feminism.

It is actually very difficult to determine what is masculine, than what it is not. Femininity then is not the opposite of masculinity, it is everything that masculinity is not. 

This is a very important thing to remember when it comes to the feminist movement.

What we can say, is that masculinity (ideal masculinity) has a set of very basic, specific, detailed traits that are not easily achieved:

  • White
  • Middle-Upper Class
  • Athletic/Ideal Muscular Body
  • Heterosexual and have sexual prowess
  • Christian

These core traits are just a few, masculinity is much more complicated than that, as feminism can explain.

Feminism: The Oppression of the Feminine

Feminism, at its absolute root core, is not about the oppression of woman.

It is about the oppression of the feminine, in which woman are the main targets due to the conflation of their gender and sexed bodies with femininity. 

Feminism highlights that masculinity at its own root core, is to have privilege above the needs of others. It creates hierarchal structures in which it benefits from the oppression of those who are feminised. Feminism highlights that anything that is considered to be feminine, or within the domain of femininity, is to endure oppression.

But as I stated before, anything that is is considered ‘non-masculine’ becomes feminised and therefore, subject to oppression and to be understood as ‘lesser.’

But anyone, regardless of gender identity, becomes feminised when they do not adhere to the very difficult to achieve masculine expectations. You can be the most ‘masculine’ man in the world, but if one thing about you does not follow the script, you are feminised.

Racism: How It Links to Feminism

Racism is perhaps a strong example of what feminism is about. Racism is not about one select group of people. At its core, racism is ultimately about one race having privilege above all others and benefiting from said privilege while the others endure varying levels of oppression. Which race is that? Why, the Caucasian race of course!

Whiteness in most westernised (and many other places) has the utmost privilege. If you do not have whiteness, then you are non-white first and foremost, followed by your racial background second. Using race then, I will demonstrate how while two men can have privilege in being male, their access to privilege is not equal.

Take two men.

Both men are middle-class, earn the same wage, work the same job, have the same job title, live in homes/areas that are equal to each regarding status, same assets, have heterosexual partners and 2.3 kids. They have the same interests, same athletic builds, same everything. They are exactly the same in every way. Except one.

One is white, and one is black.

The white man fulfils a high number of masculine expectations, and while the black man does as well, his blackness causes him to be Othered, and to be Othered, means to be feminised. This Othering allows the white man to benefit from the oppression of the black man.

But we can change this up. Let’s replace race with sexuality. Same situation, except one of those men are gay with a gay partner.


And it just gets more complicated from there. Perhaps the two men are completely the same, except one is a bit softer in temperament, enjoys reading, poetry, art etc.

BAM-he’s feminised as a lesser because he is not adhering to traditional pursuits of sports and sexual objectification.

How Feminism Can Help Men

Men do experience forms of oppression, but it’s important to recognise that as a gender, they do not. Rather, men who experience oppression, do so for the following reasons:

  • Race, age, sexuality, age, class, ability, body, ethnicity, religion and so on; these social factors will impact the levels of oppression you face in society. You do not face oppression because you are a man, you face oppression because you are a black man, or a working class man, or a disabled man, or a gay man and so on.
  • You do not fulfil the ever changing, difficult to achieve expectations of masculinity, such as perhaps being highly intelligent and preferring the pursuits of scientific knowledge when contrasted to the hands-on labourer who embodies a more traditional narrative of masculinity
  • Your body does not indicate masculinity, perhaps you do not have a muscular body, perhaps you have a chronic illness, if you cannot achieve the impossible ideal, you are not masculine (and therefore, feminised)
  • You might be heterosexual, but have difficulty in ‘getting laid.’ Lacking aggressive sexual prowess ultimately means you’re not a man, and if you prefer relationships over one-night stands, or, more importantly, you desire the wrong ‘type’ of woman, you’re not a man.

In all of these cases (including the desire and body expectations), your inability to achieve these means you are feminised. And your feminisation allows men who can and do achieve these impossibilities (which are very few and far between)  to benefit. These are just a few examples.

And guess what men? Women don’t determine these, they aren’t the ones who have decided that all men need to have six-packs and muscles to be attracted to them. Those bodies you can’t achieve? They are the result of an insecurity about the changing nature of masculinity, with the rise in men being more interested in traditionally feminised pursuits, those hard bodies are a response to that, to reaffirm that ‘you are a man.’ Women are taught to desire these bodies, that they Should be heterosexual and that they Should desire men that fulfils those ideals, just as you men, are taught to desire skinny with butts and boobs bodies of women found in the magazines.

Ideal masculinity is like that one friend who has to put everybody down to feel better about themselves. Because ultimately, ideal masculinity is the most insecure, fickle and changing thing I can think of. It’s highly apprehensive and afraid. It cannot handle change.

Why Menisism Is Not Helpful

Menisism, really, is akin to a straight pride movement, or white (race) movement. We know that whiteness and heterosexuality have privilege in our society, and menisism, which if is meant to be the opposite of feminism, is arguing that masculinity is under oppression. Masculinity constructs oppression, it is not under oppression.

  • It neglects that it has access to privilege and that it is responsible for the oppression that people, regardless of gender identity, experience.
  • It does not acknowledge how oppression is constructed and experienced; rather it works (in the same way as men’s rights movements) to hide those forms of oppression, and lay blame on something that is not the root cause. In doing so, it actually keeps up the oppression and allows those who do not suffer to continue to benefit from those who do. Men benefit at the oppression of other men. 
  • It uses an essentialist framework and has a very limited understanding of what feminism is about, it relies on an oppositional tactic which is rendered useless, because men are not opposites to women, nor is feminism about this type of opposition.

Getting rid of feminism, or changing the name won’t solve any problems, because feminism isn’t about women, it’s about the feminine. And as I said before, anything that is considered ‘non-masculine’ is inherently understood to be feminine, which includes a great number of men.

If you are a male experiencing oppression as the result of not be able to adhere to a particular ideal of masculinity, you need to think more critically about what this oppression is.

Men, What Are You Angry About?

I’d like to ask you, what are you angry about?

  • images (2)Are you angry because there are behaviours you feel entitled to engage with which are now condemned (such as street harassment?)
  • Are you frustrated with the shift in social expectations where it’s not longer acceptable to treat a woman as a lesser human being than yourself?
  • Are you angry because you feel you’ve lost ‘your rights as a man?’ which ultimately function to oppress and hurt others?
  • Do you want to join feminism, but hate the name? (Get over it, being a feminist doesn’t automatically make you a woman! It means you understand that the feminine is oppressed by the masculine) 


  • Are you angry because you are experiencing some form of oppression, but perhaps this is due to not being able to reconcile  unrealistic expectations of masculinity (Check out Feminism!)
  • Are you angry because you’ve realised that your oppression results from a combination of factors, not because you are a man (Check out Feminism!)?

Feminism has the answers, if you actually stopped whinging and read some journal articles and books, you’d come to realise that actually, feminism:

  • Is not about misandry or man-hating
  • Is not just about woman, but uses women as a strong example because they are explicitly tied to notions of the feminine and femininity
  • Is the backdrop for men and masculinity studies (my own area of research) in which feminist methodology is used to highlight men’s issues and find solutions for them

Closing Words

A friend of mine perhaps said it best:

I still think it’s funny that a swath of people (heteronomartive men) who really aren’t systemically or culturally minimized in anyway – would get so goddamn upset over one of those minimized groups finding their own voice.

The mentality these guys are pushing isn’t, “Hey dudebros, maybe us guys with dicks should sit back and critique our roles in society, family, and power structures, from a whole bunch of different viewpoints.”

Women did that and they got feminism but it lead to some hard truths about complacency it’s changed everything from how women talked, walked, worked and raised families. But it started with them looking inwards and talking to each other.

Most of the men I know, man as a sex and a culture, we’re not ready to have that conversation – I think in part because a deconstruction of ‘maleness’ in the same way feminism helps deconstruct and understand ‘womenness’ would yield some unpleasant results.

Why no space for men in feminism? because even in 2014 the whole goddamn world is a hetero man’s safe space. Making a conscious effort to make space for women is a necessary stop gap until gender and sex truly, truly do not matter.

Right now though they sure as shit do.

Disclaimer: This article is written by Andrea Waling and was earlier published on Rebel Researchers Collective here.

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