Life and thoughts

Mystique and Eunuchs

Feminism offers a better world for men as well as women

Feminism is a loaded term. It brings passionate emotions to the surface. Engagement and pride for some, or rage for others. Some women may feel disengaged from it because of vocal forerunners they struggle to relate to, or who espouse more extreme views like Germaine Greer. So-called “Men’s Rights Activists” (MRAs) are particularly vocal in their hatred of all things feminism but given the good feminism has also done for men, you have to question their motives (or their logic and use of reason).

MRAs base their opinions on their belief that men are having to ‘give up’ their rights and are being marginalized to second rate citizens. They argue that feminism is about misandry and those of us raising sons should fear it. While there are of course, misandrists in the feminism movement, assuming that all feminists are is quite simply ridiculous – it’s just like a #notallmen moment and as bad as assuming all men who are uncertain about what feminism might mean to them are misogynists.

A loss or a gain

If we look at the changes wrought by feminism over the past century (painfully slow for women, yet still quite fast if you consider this has happened over just a few generations), you can frame these as gains or losses.

From an MRA perspective, the losses come down to exclusivity and a masochistic view of what it is to be male. By way of example, if being a man is to be tough at all times, never show fear or sadness or any emotion beyond blustering confidence, to have sole responsibility for family finances and the pressure of being the sole breadwinner, complete say over politics, companies, daily life and yet no involvement in the raising of their families, then perhaps feminism has caused great loss.

By contrast, women suddenly have a say in the way the world and their lives work, opportunities to grow in ways our ancestors never dreamed possible and compete. And yes, that competition could cause a genuine “loss” for a man because he might miss out on, say, a university position because his marks were not that of a woman competing for the same space (if you are an MRA, you might ignore the concept of deserving recipients and the way competition can offer us better cures for illnesses, better results in a myriad of ways).

The problem of quotas

Of course, I can appreciate how some men may feel challenged by the concept of quotas. I struggle with it too. The problem is, women are 50% of the population and in fact, attend university in higher numbers than men but this is not represented in senior leadership in companies.

The theory of a quota is to force those in selection panels to put aside their unconscious bias – they should be able to find a woman who is suitable for a senior position. There is a famous Yale study by Corrine Moss-Racusin and colleagues showing that in a scenario of an identical resume, one appearing to belong to ‘John’ and the second to ‘Jennifer’, selectors perceived ‘John’ as more capable and experienced for a position, this was regardless of the gender of the selectors1.

Unfortunately, the women who attain positions linked to quotas face the perception that they are less capable and are only getting those roles because of their gender. If they slip up in any way, this only fuels the argument. It’s a battle not faced by men who generally are judged on their own individual merits in leadership roles.

I don’t know what the solution is. As far as I can see quotas are fueling the sense of loss felt by some men. From what I have seen, young men feel the most resentment despite no visible sign that they are actually disadvantaged by these quotas. There is the view that selection for men is based on merit, but women is on quota instead.

Have men really lost out though by not still being in the days where men were men and women were delicate flowers?

The truth is, feminism and the concept of equal opportunity still have a long way to go but I personally feel there is as much for men to celebrate as women.

In a world where women can and should have opportunities – thus making “feminine” qualities like empathy and emotion more acceptable, the doors are slowly starting to open for men to embrace these qualities.

Mental health

Older values hold up men as stoic, holding in their emotions, the rock of the family, but this has done men no favours. Even as we become increasingly feminist, young boys are still told not to cry like girls, be brave and strong. This has caused immense problems for men if you just look at the statistics.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics found around 17% of Australian men aged over 18 had a self-reported mental or behavioural condition in 2014-152, while suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in Australian men (the other leading causes are from physical ill health!)3

Talking about your emotions has always been a very female domain but as society changes, we are starting to recognize how important this is for mental health. Movements are rising to help men with this and working hard to break down century old barriers and stigmas around mental health. For example, Beyond Blue and Men’s Sheds. Even Movember has focused on men’s mental health at different points in time.

Feminism is not the sole reason for changing values, but it has had a role in it. Appreciating feminine qualities as valuable makes it more acceptable to take empathetic approaches, recognize your own and others emotions and support these as a society. If anything, we need to embrace this further so I need not fear one day that my son will be told by those outside the family that his emotions are not valid – to “stop crying like a girl”.

Family Orientation

Just thirty years ago, paternity leave was pretty much non-existent. Some men may have taken a few days of annual leave, while others made it to the hospital for the birth and that was about it. If you look back further, it’s only been in the last century that men even started to come into the birthing suite with women rather than sit outside smoking cigars. Today, companies typically offer at least two weeks on the birth of a child, and many offer even better – the opportunity to be a primary carer in the first year of a child’s life and set up as a similar paid arrangement to women’s maternity leave.

While some men still fear taking this chance, the fact that it even exists is quite extraordinary and there are enough men taking it up that it’s not seen as an unusual thing to do.

Any man today saying that their children are the sole domain of a female partner would be seen as a dinosaur and by most accounts, gen x and gen y men are the most involved in their children’s lives of any generation of men – because opportunity has connected with a genuine desire held over time. Men can also enjoy that this new benefit comes without the physical and emotional challenges of undergoing pregnancy, childbirth and postnatal recovery, a biological mantle that women can’t share (though I’m sure most, if not all, would like to) and men are probably delighted they don’t have to share.

Flexibility for women driving flexibility for men

Paternity leave is an increasing example of companies recognizing that where women may need access to flexibility, so do men. Fortunately for all, this comes under companies tentatively trying to come up to speed with anti-discrimination laws.

Generally speaking, it still seems to be more women than men taking up flexible working. Men fear the death knell to their careers – and why wouldn’t they? It has usually been such for women (alongside having children at all regardless of home circumstances). However, the more feminism works, the more likely we are to see men accessing flexible working which can only make life better for everyone involved. In her book, The wife drought, Annabel Crabb argues this exact point. Flexibility is vital for feminism to continue to gain and is a benefit to men, not just women.

Surely MRAs should be fighting for this rather than against it?

Raising a son in a feminist world

Raising children in any age has had challenges. Raising a son in an increasingly feminist world is not the disaster that MRAs suggest – there is no evidence that anyone views boys as lesser than girls because of feminism or that boys are told they are ‘bad’ compared to girls. Where the challenges lie, funnily enough, is in the fact that feminism is not moving fast enough.

Feminism should mean it is ok for my son to cry when he feels sad and learn to express his emotions confidently and coherently. Feminism should mean it is ok for my son to play dress ups or cars based on his own preferences and not his gender. No game nor colour of clothes should be off-limits on the basis of gender.

Yet, it will come sooner rather than later. The time at daycare where another child will say “boys don’t do that”. Or the older person who will tell him “man up and stop crying like a girl”.

So the battle my husband and I face in raising our beautiful innocent baby to be a sensitive, respectful, kind and brave man with choices will not be feminism, it will be the last lingering remains of the patriarchy. Parents can only do their best when the outside world offers so much pressure, but we will fight for our son.

On a lighter note, I’d love it if feminism could lend its generous hand to more interesting boy clothing. There’s such an abundance of gorgeous girl clothing, surely we can do better for boys than the miserable current offering.

Thankful for the benefits of feminism

There is much to be thankful for when it comes to feminism. For myself, I’ve grown up in a world where a career is a given, not a surprise and in a family where my brother and I were equally expected to work hard and go to university. Whatever challenges I’ve faced on account of my gender beyond that (and like all women, I can confidently say there are many), I’m grateful for that. I’m also lucky to be in a day and age where I’m not lesser than my husband in any way and have the same rights to vote, bank accounts, etc as him.

For my son, I’m grateful to feminism too. It has meant he is being raised by two equals who both confidently express their feelings and are open to different experiences and opinions, a reality which would have been highly unlikely pre-feminism. It means his father can and will be able to raise him, not just his mother and has changed what being a man means to a much more diverse definition than the macho version of old. I hope feminism will continue to work its magic so that one day, flexibility will be a choice he can also have, and one that doesn’t look like a career death knell (for him or my niece or any female relatives he has or comes to have). I’m thrilled that one day he might have the option to be a primary carer for a child of his own. I’m glad that as time changes, it is increasingly encouraged for parents to teach their sons to express their emotions constructively rather than bottle them up and that my son will see women as equal competitors, not a threat to his position in society.

A loaded term

Feminism may be a loaded term but at its heart, it shouldn’t be. It’s a positive thing for both sexes and if we truly care about both women’s and men’s rights, then feminism is a no-brainer, it has to and should continue to push forward. Debates over whether feminism should be renamed and rebranded do have a truth at core – it has been tainted and it is about more than just women, it is about all people. Despite this, despite extremist views, feminism is not going anyway and nor should it until equality of opportunity is a battle we no longer need to fight. It won’t be in my lifetime, but we can dream for one day.

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