Is it possible to be a male feminist? The answer, in my opinion, is of course yes. Sexism affects everybody, and so feminism should be a movement inclusive towards all genders.
But others would probably disagree. The long-harked assumption that feminists are ‘men hating’ or ‘anti-men’ still rages, which is increasingly depressing when it’s 2014. Postfeminist rhetoric that sexism is over and we’re all equal prevails in mainstream culture, despite much research proving the contrary, and websites like Women Against Feminism only damage the cause further. Meanwhile, males who identify as feminists are still stigmatised and mocked, as student Lewis Merryweather admitted.
The debate over men and feminism has come back to the forefront this week after Emma Watson made a pretty incredible speech for the UN as she launched the He For She campaign, which encourages men to become involved with inequality movements. She listed in her speech how men are affected by gender issues too, identifying high suicide rates amongst young men who cannot express their emotions and the proliferation of lad culture, where males are subjected to culturally determined ‘masculine values’.
Elsewhere, actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt released a video on his YouTube channel declaring himself a feminist, and saying we need to redefine what the term means to get away from the stigma and be more inclusive towards men being welcome in feminist conversations and environments (if you want a depressing read, have a flick through the comments under video. Read it and weep).
What’s interesting, and something which has always baffled me, is how feminism as an equality movement has become so exclusive. By ignoring the voices of men in the debate, we’re ignoring the voices of 50% of the population who have the ability to make a difference to women’s lives around the world. Much as we may try, we can’t ignore the fact that 80% of the world’s political power is held by men. These are the people with the ability to make the difference to policies and laws which affect women’s lives and wellbeing. And, although sexism affects women more, it is certainly not exclusively affecting them. Cultural norms which value women as caregivers and homemakers mean women are paid less than men and are often excluded from the labour market. But those same cultural norms mean men are mocked and emasculated if they express a desire to be the homemaker themselves.
I don’t want to fall into the trap of applauding men for being feminists more than we do women. Anyone who stands up for an injustice should be applauded, regardless of gender, race, age, etc. But we do need to rethink how we have these conversations, and frame them in a way which is more welcoming and relevant towards men. The stigma of feminism as anti-men is never going to help this cause, and will continue to discourage men (and many women) from joining the movement. But we can start by assessing the definition of feminism. Joseph Gordon-Levitt says in his video he defines feminism as ‘believing your gender doesn’t have to define who you are’. This definition simplifies the movement to its core values, identifying gender as a whole and being more inclusive towards the entire population.
We need to stop ‘feminism’ being such a scary word for both men and women, and although onus for this often placed on women, men are just as responsible for stopping gender-based inequalities. Until feminism loses its stigma, there will always be battles over its meanings and its intentions, and gender inequality will never be taken seriously.