Editor’s Note: This month, that is September 2020, FII’s #MoodOfTheMonth is Boys, Men and Masculinities, where we invite various articles to highlight the different experiences of masculinity that manifest themselves in our everyday lives and have either challenged, subverted or even perpetuated traditional forms of ‘manliness’. If you’d like to share your article, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s time to put the feminism vs. men debate to rest once and for all.
As the feminist vocabulary expands to include words like intersectionality, womxn, kyriarchy et cetera, it is clear that there’s a point to be made—feminists are trying to establish that feminism is inclusive of everyone’s rights, irrespective of their gender identity. Feminism is a fight for gender equality. Period.
This may not be an easy concept to grasp. One may need to relearn the way they define gender. The very notion that feminism is not solely about ‘females’ seem counter-intuitive and confusing at first. This understanding will be better arrived at, once we separate the concepts of ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’ from the concepts of gender.
As Simone de Beauvoir aptly said, “One is not born a woman, one becomes a woman,” while trying to establish the point that it is not physiology but society that defines gender. The same holds true for every gender. One possesses traits that are a combination of what is conventionally understood as masculinity and femininity. Yet, the rigid structures of sex as defined by the society, do not allow for any space for humans to adequately explore any innate traits associated with the ‘opposite’ sex, especially femininity. For instance, a man expressing his emotions freely or dressing even slightly effeminately, will often be ridiculed.
While women inch towards emancipation, it is largely understood that the movement will be towards masculine characteristics. Seldom is femininity tolerated or accepted, except in the case of an acquiescent female, and even then it is not considered admirable. The backlash that men who display ‘feminine’ traits—whether heterosexual or Queer—receive is widely known. If a man dresses like a female or wears make up, he is a ‘pansy’, if he cries—a ‘sissy’, if he is a stay at home dad—his wife ‘wears the pants in the house’. It is evident that masculinity is glorified and femininity derided.
Gloria Steinem, in her supremely hard-hitting essay ‘If men could menstruate’ writes,
“So what would happen if suddenly, magically, men could menstruate and women could not? Clearly, menstruation would become an enviable, worthy, masculine event: men would brag about how long and how much. Young boys would talk about it as the envied beginning of manhood. Gifts, religious ceremonies, family dinners, and stag parties would mark the day.“
The problem of misogyny perhaps is not a dislike of females, but of femininity. Let that sink in.
Wherever found, it is spurned and faced with disapproval. Julia Serrano, in her book Whipping girl says that misogyny is [the] “tendency to dismiss and deride femaleness and femininity.” While for the most part this includes women, it is not limited to them. This article from The Atlantic further elucidates,
“Misogyny means that people see bosses or those with hugely successful careers as being more important than those who stay home and care for their kids, because caring for kids is seen as feminine. Empowerment feminism tends to argue that women should be able to do anything that men can do. But there have also been versions of feminism that argue that what men do isn’t necessarily so great; that maybe, instead of leaning in to be the man, we should try to see if we can get to a place where no one has to be the man at all.“
This suggests two important ideas. First, how is it that feminism strives to include all genders by endeavouring to validate the presence of femininity while the world lauds everything masculine? This broader view of misogyny is what feminists truly try to fight. Second, joining this fight stands to serve men greatly.
Feminism tells men that it’s ok to not be 100% masculine all the time, or not at all. Feminism seeks to abolish gender-defined roles not just for women, but for men too. It affords men the chance to be free—unchained from the demands of a patriarchal society. Men can finally shake off the load of responsibility that they have been burdened with for centuries. Men can finally emote, even shed tears. Years of repressed emotions that manifest in aggression or depression can be allowed to be showcased. Men can decide that they like taking care of their children rather than having a corporate career. Men can embrace femininity or the lack of absolute masculinity.
Many men would not find the proposition alluring. It is counter-intuitive for a patriarchal mind to not want to be masculine (i.e. superior). For however unworthy the world might make a man feel—his boss, his peers, his friends—at home, he still reigns supreme. The world still constantly validates his one virtue—of being a man. Pitted against such a heady sense of power, the alternative of a free soul may seem untenable.
Yet there exists men and people belonging to all kinds of gender, who desperately crave this freedom. All over the world, men are more prone to commit suicide than women, in some places almost three times as much! The causes may be difficult to isolate, but the consensus is that men are equally victims of patriarchy as women. Constant reminders to ‘man up’ and ‘not cry like a girl’ are wreaking havoc on their mental health.
Feminism is the only true path to finally free everyone from the shackles of patriarchy. It is what the world needs to let people identify with any gender of their choosing regardless of their sex. If joining the cause of feminism for the sake of females wasn’t enough, men need to participate for themselves, for other men, for other beings, for humanity. Men need to step up and use their position to make a change.
The best place to start? With themselves.
Shreya Bothra is a businesswoman and CFA, with the ability to don many hats. She considers herself a poet and writes for her passion project – www.thinkingwoman.in. Her natural habitat is behind a book, and she surfaces for yoga and some Nutella. You can find her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Featured Image Source: Feminism In India