by Rohan Rice
The word is used so often these days. Somehow, it has been burdened with excessive connotations – a lot of them negative. Depressingly, when I talk about feminism amongst my male peers I’m often met with groans, swearing, or sudden declarations of ‘I hate feminism’.
Yet the topic has become more frequent amongst my male peers in the last year, perhaps owning to its increased attachment to a wave of socio-political movements, especially online.
However, the reason why I declare myself a feminist is as simple as this: I believe in equal rights and treatment for women across the globe.
That’s it. That is feminism. So how has it become so negative? Why do many of my male friends ‘hate feminism/feminists’.
Are they confused? Possibly. To them, feminism has perhaps become overcomplicated. Men aren’t sure what it means (at least that’s what I tell myself, for it’s obvious to me). ‘Why has it become so?’ men may ask. Well its had to. The movement itself and the various guises it takes are reactions to the complex forms with which gender oppression and misogyny now take. Like racism, it has become smarter, more subtle. So to fight it, we’ve had to develop smarter strategies.
#FreeTheNipple, for example (the act of publicly displaying one’s nipples on social media) has often been labelled a feminist movement. Queue response from male audience: ‘That’s not feminism! That’s attention seeking/being a slut/objectifying yourself.’ Well, no. There’s a great line in the film Pride (2014) that’s goes something like, “What do you do when someone calls you a name? You own it”. It’s a socio-political strategy that has been used down the ages. Through freeing the nipple, the female body is reclaimed from the male gaze that informs the laws of social media.
But I digress, I’m not here to explain feminism to you.
For feminism is undoubtedly necessary for society, but it’s also necessary for men to better understand what is often referred to as a ‘male identity crisis’.
This is not to say we should centre feminism around men, or that we should appropriate feminism for men’s issues – but that men should stand in solidarity with feminism and look to it for inspiration.
I’m 22 years old. At the age of three I lost my Dad to cancer. My Mum has yet to remarry, or even have any serious partners during that time. Subsequently, I’ve grown up in a female-dominated household.
There’s been my Mum, my sister (two years my senior), the frequent visits from my maasis (aunts), Nani (grandma), and the presence of my female cousin, who is more like a younger sister owing to the amount I saw her growing up. We also had a series of au-pairs (always female) living with us till we were 12 (my mother worked full-time, so she needed help to look after my sister and I till we were old enough to handle ourselves). It was only at 13, when my uncle moved in, that I lived with another man for the first time since my father passed away.
Would I change this? Absolutely not. Of course I wish I could have spent more time with my Dad, but this was the hand I was dealt.
I often used to ponder whether I’d be a different man to the one I am today had there been a greater balance to the feminine influence. The question, however, is almost redundant for me now. For my Mum is incredible. She was the one who built the Ikea cupboards, she was the one who explained cricket to me, she was the one changed the light bulbs, hung the paintings, carved the turkey, talked to me about women, brought home crates of beer. All the while holding down a full-time job as a scientist and being the centre point of our extended family.
Perhaps this is why it’s never occurred to me that a woman wasn’t ever capable of doing what men could do. Because my Mum never showed it. The only space she couldn’t educate me on was shaving my fast-growing facial hair.
I’m lucky. I was raised by three generations of intelligent, strong, hard-working women. They showed me that any problem I have can be solved by women just as equally as it could be by a man. Want advice with how to approach a girl you like? Stop reading self-help books by men, ask a woman in your life.
Why have Manoscopy then? Well of course, as men and women, we’ll always need someone ‘like us’ to talk to. To feel like, ‘Hey, that guy is actually like me!’. But the above is also why Manoscopy is not male-exclusive, it’s about creating a space where men and women can talk about the legitimate issues that men have trouble dealing with.
What actually moved me to write this post was watching Reggie Yates’, ‘Extreme UK: Men at War’ on the BBC.
The programme dealt with the rise of men’s rights activism (MRA) in the UK, much of which is centred around destroying feminism and disgusting declarations of misogyny.
I suddenly became very aware of this website – not because it in anyway supports such harmful idiocy, we are in opposition to them – but that it may be construed as such simply by virtue of its existence. I think it was mainly the fact that one of the most insidious MRA organisations he looked at was called ‘Manosphere’…
Unfortunately, Reggie didn’t manage to access the deep psyche of many of the men he focused on. Most men were amusingly reluctant to open up, or even be interviewed. One did, however, reveal a little of his private life. 18 years old, only child, lives at home with his Mum and Dad. Reggie and the audience come to realise that much of what this boy has found his opinions on as a men’s rights activist is through online material and books.
So, not the real world then.
I can only imagine the same is true for many of the keyboard warriors online who send bomb threats to feminists, create pornographic images of feminists, establish such websites as ‘Manosphere’ (God, I’m so tempted to propose a name change for our website now).
Many of these men are deeply affected by the warped perceptions they consume online. They’ll pick up on one feminist they don’t like and they’ll hold them up as an example of why all feminists are bad. However, the assumption that all these men are online loners is also far from the truth. A lot of my aforementioned feminist-hating peers are sociable, intelligent people with female friends/girlfriends. Even in Reggie’s documentary, he manages to secure an interview with two men attending an MRA talk: both smartly dressed, one a business owner, the other a barrister in training. I’m reminded that anti-feminism isn’t new – as one can see so excellently displayed in AMC’s, Mad Men – it’s just growing and extends to all reaches of male society. There is no stereotype.
So I sit here trying to figure this out, hoping that the act of writing this down will bring me to some conclusion – but it hasn’t.
Reggie remarks in the programme how many of these men need male role models. This is perhaps why a lot of them turn to MRA. I had no singular male role model growing up, but didn’t feel like I needed one as my family, friends, and teachers collectively occupied that space. However others do, through no fault of their own. The lack of male role models exacerbates this ‘male identity crisis’, which for the most part is legitimate: rising unemployment, lack of affordable housing, no money to raise families. The traditional prosaic symbols of manhood are becoming more inaccessible. Yet, it is only men that take this as an opportunity to attack the opposite gender; or as a failure of their own gender. It’s the same mentality of immigrant scapegoating. ‘Damn, I can’t get a job, it must be the fault of [insert unrelated people here].’
So this is why we redesign these symbols of manhood. This is the purpose of exploring masculinities. To hopefully support men in seeing that they don’t need to be ‘x’, or are entitled to ‘x’, to be a man. Whatever ‘x’ is to them. Women have had to make the same adjustment. They have historically been denied ‘x’: the higher paid/status jobs; the right to wear what they please without being sexually violated; the right to not be the housewife; the right to be seen as beautiful despite the colour of their skin. So they established feminism, and they developed feminism, to find a way in. This is why masculinity studies is based on feminism; why men you should stand as feminists, if not for the reason you care about the women in your life, then for the reason that it is they who are redesigning society for one that is more inclusive for all.
Men’s rights activists talk of discrimination. Discrimination is systemic: men have never legally been denied access to individual agency purely on the basis of their gender. They may have been denied for reasons of race, nationality, class, dress. But never, legally, for their gender.
There are hegemonic expectations of men. Expectations which are unfair. We have chronic and rising issues we don’t talk about and need to, with mental health, fertility, amongst many other things. I need to talk to men about these problems to know I’m not alone. Yet equally, I need to talk to the women in my life about such things for they have always offered the best advice. So let’s stop trying to exclude women from the conversation when we talk about the ‘male identity crisis’ – they’ve been through it all before, and worse.