Why men need feminism too
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Screenshot: definition of feminism, as according to the Oxford Dictionaries. Google (cropped)
Until recently, I had been preoccupied with the importance of the feminist movement to women. I have never doubted that it is necessary for men to join in the feminist debate to help break the glass ceilings hanging over women, but I had underestimated how much feminism can benefit men too.
Femininity is often associated with weakness, which negatively impacts people of all genders; we should all be able to embrace feminine qualities yet, for men in particular, femininity can worryingly be viewed as a sign of fragility and fault.
At the core of gender inequality is a damaging notion that women are physically, emotionally and/or mentally weaker than men. This has led to typically feminine traits such as modesty, delicacy and a tendency towards girlish “hysteria” becoming entangled in the definition of a weaker sex.
If a man is seen to be brash and imposing, with a steely composure and an unwillingness to cry, he may be described as “macho”, adopting the characteristics of an alpha-male archetype. For men, historically assumed to be the stronger of the sexes, feminine traits are often deemed to be shameful knocks to images of masculinity, reducing them to the socially subordinated status of women.
Studies have shown that men feel a greater pressure to be masculine than women do to be feminine.
In 2013, a study on the masculine overcompensation thesis by Bridget Conlon, Christabel Rogalin, Robb Willer and Michael Wojnowicz was published in the American Journal of Sociology. The study showed that when men were described as feminine, they were then more likely to present homophobic views, express support for war and show an interest in buying an SUV. When women in the study were described as masculine, there were no noticeable effects.
Men are faced with social pressures to be masculine and authoritative, which leads many to overcompensate with demands of dominance when their masculinity is threatened. The significant pressures on men to be powerful are harmful to people of all genders.
If the pressures of masculinity contribute to the oppression of women, it is clear that men need to be considered and involved in feminist debates. The feminist movement has the potential to celebrate the strength of women, whilst allowing men to identify as effeminate without insecurity.
Of course, men’s issues should not overshadow women’s issues in the feminist movement. However, I view it as necessary to discuss men's issues and women's issues in feminist debates.
Men need feminism too; for feminism to tackle the issue of gender inequality at its root causes, everybody should be involved in the movement to consider how we can all benefit from more equal power relations between men and women. It is important to break down the assumptions that feminine women are "weak" and masculine men are "strong" to recognise that people can and should be equal.