The Patriarchy Hurts Men Too. This statement has become a cliché among many feminist writers and activists, tasked with the arduous responsibility of convincing the world that feminism isn’t some evil plot to take over the world, that our fight is your fight too. The constant reminder that men need to be brought into this fight, often dragged kicking and screaming, can wear down even the most dedicated revolutionary.
But the saying has merit, even if it’s often uttered among rolling eyes and shaking heads.
Patriarchy, the hierarchical system which for thousands of years has glorified masculine power and shamed feminine weakness, has long-reaching consequences for people of all genders. Consequences which limit our self-expression and force us, often violently, to fit ourselves into strict definitions of what “men” and “women” are allowed to be.
Recently, actress Emma Watson received a great deal of attention, accolades, criticism, and even fake threats of a nude photo leak in response to her UN speech encouraging men to take on the mantle of feminism, to rally for equal human rights regardless of gender.
The HeForShe campaign, which Emma was speaking to support, is “a solidarity movement for gender equality” aimed at engaging men and encouraging them to break free from the limitations that a divided world has set upon them.
We live in an adversarial world. It can be easy for men, when faced with the trap of masculinity, to place the blame on feminists. The cage of the Real Man is a construct of the same culture that feminism aims to fight, and trust me when I say, this is a fight that you want to win.
Money and Beauty
In a world of unequal power, men and women are afforded opportunity based on different qualities. Men’s power is situated in their economic standing, whereas women are prized for their beauty, their ability to be objects of sexual desire for men.
While in many ways this sets men up in positions more powerful than women, it also creates unbearable stress and pain for the majority of men who cannot live at the top of the money-making pyramid. Finances are a primary point of contention for many families, and one of the leading causes of divorce.
Men are taught to be producers, the bread-winners of their family, their self-worth entirely tied to their ability to provide. Even men with jobs they love often take a hit to their confidence when their partner makes more money or gets a promotion, creating a sense of competition where teamwork should exist.
Women are urged to be consumers, left dependent for their freedom on their partners, spending countless dollars and endless hours to make themselves look and feel more beautiful.
Even professional women aiming high in their careers are expected to not just want, but to have “it all” – beauty, brains, a husband, a child, and twice as much talent as her closest male competition.
Men’s money puts them in a place of power, women’s beauty places them in a position of weakness, but everyone suffers in this false dichotomy, since neither can ever truly get what they want. Because what we desire is an authentic, embodied truth.
Sex and Desire
The commodification of women’s bodies as objects of sexual desire hurts women in obvious ways, but the positioning of the masculine as sexually aggressive compared to the meek and passive feminine does nothing to help men in the pursuit of love and desire.
Men are tasked with conquering the object of their desire. Women are given the responsibility of guarding their sexuality against the advances of men who are not worthy of them.
This leaves men feeling entitled to women’s bodies, but rarely getting the sex they desire, primarily because women run the great risk of being shamed or even assaulted for showing an interest in being sexual.
What does this say about men?
That men are aggressive. Dangerous. Obsessed with sex. Unwilling or unable to express their emotions, completely uninterested in intimacy and relationships.
Women must be tricked into the bedroom, seduced into enjoying sex, but not enjoy it too much, lest they be labeled as sluts. Men need to be manoeuvred into love.
They are only out for one thing and all they care about is looks.
The same old, tired relationship advice is hashed out over and over again, convincing women to say no when they want to say yes, convincing men that sometimes yes sounds like a no, turning all of us against each other until no one knows what they really want.
How can any of us have authentic relationships when we invest so much time and money in these lies?
Love and Emotion
We all deserve to love and be loved, to see and be seen, to offer ourselves wholly and truly to someone else, to the world. But the walls we have built between us make this nearly impossible to achieve.
In her speech, Emma Watson explained why she wants men to fight for our rights. “I want men to take up this mantle so their daughters, sisters, and mothers can be free from prejudice, but also so their sons have permission to be vulnerable and human, too, and in doing so, be a more true and complete version of themselves.”
No one wins when men are forced to bury their emotions.
When only women are taught to have empathy for others we all lose. When we are taught to believe that we can only get what we want by taking it from someone else we all lose. When we let go of the notion of women against men, that our battles can only be won by fighting against one another, an entirely new world opens up for us.
The Binary is Bullsh*t
The gender binary is a myth. I know, that’s still a controversial claim to make. But this is the basis of modern feminism. There are more than two genetic sexes. There are multiple ways that sex can present, even at birth. And if it isn’t obvious by some of the recent changes in how our culture views trans and queer gender identities, the people we grow up to be are much better defined on a spectrum than in black and white.
The idea of the “male mind” and the “female mind” has long since been debunked. Scan your brain and give the image to a neuroscientist. I guarantee that she won’t be able to tell your gender from that image. And what benefit could there be from knowing?
The idea that everyone we meet must immediately be placed into a gender category comes from the gender stereotypes we all face.
When you see someone whose gender you can’t identify and your mind starts to race, stop for a moment and realize that what your brain is telling you is, “I need to know this person’s gender so I can decide how to treat them.” And then remind yourself that all you need to know is that they are human. Treat them like one.
Because the truth is, we’re all much more alike than we are different. In fact, the only meaningful differences there are between us are the ways we decide to act on the power our culture exerts on us.
Privilege is Power
The concept of privilege is well-known among feminists, but it can cause a bit of a stir with those who are unfamiliar with it. The assumption is often that privilege means good fortune, so if your life hasn’t been the picture of perfection, you must not have it.
Unfortunately privilege isn’t quite so simple.
What it means to have privilege, in particular when we are talking about gender, is that the masculine ideal is placed above the feminine. Men’s voices carry more weight. This is why few men are aware of how uncomfortable and even dangerous it is for women to go out alone in the world. The kinds of men who can call and harass and assault are more likely to respect that a woman is another man’s property than they are to respect that a woman has the right to be left alone.
This is also why it is so important for men to speak up. It isn’t enough to simply not participate.
The power men have to influence each other, to change the way we all think about gender and what masculinity means cannot be ignored.
Emma spelled it out when she said, “We don’t want to talk about men being imprisoned by gender stereotypes, but I can see that they are. When they are free, things will change for women as a natural consequence. If men don’t have to be aggressive, women won’t be compelled to be submissive. If men don’t need to control, women won’t have to be controlled.”
And while it’s true that women have made incredible strides towards liberation, that women’s stories and women’s lives are at the heart of what feminism has been about since its inception, just think about how much easier it would be to shake off these pitiful stereotypes if men saw how constrained they are by the battle of the sexes, accepted feminism as the path to freedom and joined in the fight for true gender equality.
Right now, more than even before, we have the opportunity to transform the world, to make it a better place for ourselves, for each other, and for our children. But we will only succeed in finding freedom from these prisons when we finally work together as men and women.
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