October 8, 2017 by Cláudia
From an early age, I took an interest in movements for equality and, especially being a girl, feminism was naturally one of them. When I was a child, I had all the dreams in the world and I didn’t even realize why feminism was necessary. I truly felt like I could do anything in the world if I put my mind to it and I never even thought my gender could be a barrier to my success. Later, I started realizing that people had preconceived notions about what women could/should and couldn’t/shouldn’t do. Because that collided with what I knew I was capable of doing, I strongly adhered to messages of empowerment for girls and women.
Despite having come a long way, the patriarchal mentality has still left its influence in today’s world, particularly when it comes to transcending what it is believed to be the ideal of femininity. If a woman does not do, look like, talk etc. like she is supposed to, it causes discomfort and people have the tendency to criticize her, even if she is not doing anything wrong. Being assertive translates into being bitchy and the same goes to independent, confident or vocal about opinions.
Personally, I have heard several comments about being more talkative and assertive than my boyfriend (for example looking at him apologetically and saying “Sometimes we get women like this…” or just blatantly asking him to “Control your woman.”). I’ve been asked to be “sweeter”, less opinionated and my ideas have frequently been disregarded favouring a male one, even if mine was more developed and well-thought. This is just a little drop in the ocean that is discrimination towards women and much more severe and upsetting situations are happening right now. Thus, feminism is still relevant today and for the rest of my life, I will support empowering women to make their own choices, free of shame or doubts about their abilities.
I am a feminist, however, I have been finding myself relatively distant from the feminist movement itself. A movement is never a monolith, obviously, so it is always unfair to make considerations about a large group of people, but what I have been seeing is a generalized anger towards men in particular that I just can’t identify myself with. Activism to me is about changing paradigms, not about attacking individual people if their ideas are not the exact same as yours. A movement can only have true success if it tackles the old-fashioned mentality that is causing discrimination and it is not useful to target specific people (in this case a whole gender!) and make them feel like bad people.
What we need essentially is a culture shift but a lot of our power as agents of change is lost when feminists waste their energy angrily arguing, screaming (or typing) at an individual just because they made a thoughtless comment or they haven’t fully embraced the cause. I, too, get angry sometimes, don’t get me wrong, but when I lash out at someone I don’t feel entitled to have acted that way and I know that I’ve done wrong. On the contrary, I feel like a lot of the time feminists think that, because women have been oppressed for so long, they can now assume that anyone who is not a full supporter of their cause (even if they identify as feminist and just disagree on one aspect) is an enemy. An attitude that I feel like is wrong and also harming the chances of the ideas behind it being heard. This is one of the many cases in which I agree with the message but I often don’t agree with how it is being conveyed.
Yet my main problem with today’s feminism is how female centred it is. At first, this may seem like a strange comment to make – it is called feminism, it was created by women to support and emancipate other women. But luckily, times have evolved and movements change and adapt accordingly – feminism has now joined forces with LGBTQIA+ rights movements, it has integrated new concerns such as slut-shaming, the division of domestic work, the representation through the media, which are all rightful and fruitful. However, for a movement claiming to promote equality between all genders, I find men to be inexplicably and systematically absent from discussions.
The perception is most likely that men have been privileged throughout History and thus there is no great need to discuss gender roles and discrimination concerning men. Which again I feel like is wrong. Men have been oppressed by the patriarchy in terms of pressure to fit in the societal conception of what a man should be and these preconceived ideas have been equally harmful and lasting.
Men face a lot of pressure to hide feelings, insecurities and doubts and instead are taught to express all of these in the form of agressiveness. Societal’s pattern of what men should look like is a lot stricter and they face a lot less freedom to experiment with style. Let’s just consider for a minute that if a woman wants to wear men’s clothes, people will just perceive her as not very feminine, but if a man wants to wear women’s clothes he is immediately labelled as gay and faces a lot of shame and ridicule, potentially harming his professional life and alienation in the personal life. Our “modern” society still holds the concept of masculinity as strict and imposing as femininity used to be.
Similarly to what I’ve said about people making comments about me not being sweet and submissive, I have also heard many comments to or about men that have displeased me, such as “Why is she taking the heavier bag, aren’t you the man?”, “I can see she wears the pants in the relationship” or “I wouldn’t want to date a guy that starts crying like that – don’t get that emotional around me – just go to the gym or something.”. Again, this is just a little drop in the ocean. Much more serious issues happen, such as disbelief and ridicule when a man assumes being a victim of domestic violence or sexual assault, leading to shame and silence, which urgently need to be addressed.
Unfortunately, it is only rarely that I’ve heard people speak out when it comes to social discrimination towards men and I don’t fully understand why feminism does not embrace this cause as its own. Discrimination is harmful to both ends and this is preventing people from being their true selves, without impositions from anachronistic gender roles. Maybe feminists think that speaking out for men would be anti-feminist, but that just goes to show how its main focus is the search for equality through the female perspective.
In any case, I hope this issue will be taken into consideration in the future of the movement. A world where all women are free and respected is still not the ideal world of equality between all genders if men are still being held captive of a model of masculinity that belonged to the previous century. As I said before, I am a feminist and I will always support female emancipation, but as a feminist, I say feminism should be about men too.
After I wrote this post, I watched this Ted Talk and thought it fitted in here perfectly. I was really happy to hear a man talking about issues related to masculinity, expectation and gender roles. He touched some key points that I already made and gave his own perspective of what it feels like to be a man and have all of these expectations of what you should be.
At the end, he came off as quite patronizing towards women. He says that men are not only part of the problem, but that men are the problem. I believe the problem is how gender roles have been assigned, I wouldn’t say the problem lies with either gender. Women are part of the problem too when they devalue other women for being sexually liberated or when they diss men for not being “man enough”, for example. And again, we should avoid having two polar opposites (masculinity and femininity) and assign value to them – it is okay to align with either or none or both and everything else in between, as long as we don’t feel forced to be one way or the other by society.