The terms feminism and gender equality raise confusion in men and women alike.
At some point in history (most likely between the mythical bra burning incidents of 1968 and Pussy Riot’s performance on the Cathedral of Christ Savior in 2012) the general public became mistakenly suspicious that Feminism was a radical man-hating theory.
While ‘Me too’ and other anti-sexual harassment activities are a part of the feminist movement many modern feminists refuse that identification while claiming to be supporters of ‘gender equality’.
But what is feminism? What is the difference between feminism and gender equality? And, should or can men be feminists and strong leaders of the feminist movement?
“Feminism is the radical notion that women are people’.
Feminism is theory that promotes and defends women’s rights on the basis of gender equality. Gender equality is the idea that the wants and needs of women and men should be equally considered and favored without prejudice based on gender. Hence, feminism also advocates for gender equality and gender equality too defends feminist principles.
One misunderstanding is the notion that feminism is not comparable to gender equality because the root of the word stems from ‘female’.
Controversies surrounding the naming of social justice issues is transversal to other movements such as Gay Rights and Black Lives Matters. Many opponents of the latter feel uncomfortable with this naming because it should be obvious that all lives matter. However, if one of the current key issues of social justice in the US is that black people are disproportionally victimized by police brutality, we must push awareness that indeed ‘Black Lives Matter’.
Indeed, the naming of Feminism stems from the word female. It is so because the movement addresses the issues of a highly disenfranchised group in most of the worlds’ societies: women.
Currently, 35% percent of women worldwide have experienced violence by a non-partner; 71% of human trafficking victims are women and girls and the gender pay gap ranges between 4% and 20% in the Western World alone. In the pursuit of gender equality, it’s important to highlight that ‘women’ are across the board the most disenfranchised group in the gender binary. (Please consult this article if you are looking to understand what the meaning of gender binary)
Why is the feminism movement praised while the men’s rights movement is controversial?
Feminists want women to enjoy the same rights and privileges afforded to men hence they have no interest in putting men in a more disadvantaged situation. Conversely, men’s rights groups emerged as a countermovement to women’s emancipation.
The first ‘men’s rights’ group was created in Austria in 1927, a mere seven years after women received the right to vote and at a time when most major western powers were extending voting rights to women. At its inception and in various current manifestations men’s rights movements are anti-feminist and aim to “combat all excesses of women’s emancipation”.
Nowadays, there are a few noble manifestations of men’s rights movements which seek to address discrimination against men and boys while equally valuing feminist pursuits. Activists of pro-feminist men’s rights movements contest are concerned with how the perception of masculinity negatively impacts the treatment of men and boys in accessing justice (particularly in cases of family law and child custody) and in accessing mental health support and services.
Can men be feminists, and should they have a voice in the feminist movement?
All men and women can be feminists if they agree with the concept of gender equality and support the toppling of institutions and social and legal barriers that impede women’s abilities to get the same legal rights and social privileges afforded to men. Men should be feminist in their domestic, social and political live and their support in furthering the causes protected by Feminism.
However, doubts arise about the ability of men to be at the forefront of feminist discussion: The advocacy of women’s rights depends on the ability of women’s voices being heard! It would not be appropriate for any man to lead the feminism movement because men do not suffer this discrimination at a personal level and are therefore incapable of finding suitable solutions.
However, men do have an important supportive role in the Feminist movement: Men should use the privilege and power they are given in society to galvanize the feminist and gender equality agenda.