Feminist Issues and Men’s Issues Are Not Mutually Exclusive

PHOTO COURTESY | WIKIPEDIA
It is important for Mens Rights Activists to stop viewing feminism as a bad word and come together to with women to eliminate gender inequality.

In the midst of #MeToo, rapidly changing gender roles and edgy “Triggered Feminist” memes, the conversation about feminism may indeed be one of the defining issues of our generation.

The 20th century saw rapid advances in basic rights for American women, such as voting or working outside the home, and the 21st century is shaping up to hold incredible progress as well. Modern activists are striving toward complete social equality, not just legal equality between the sexes, as well as working to improve the legal rights of women in other countries who have been less fortunate.

However, all of this change has brought with it some backlash, spawning another group, Men’s Rights Activists, or MRAs, many of whom believe that men are the true oppressed gender, not women.

I’ve done my share of engaging and researching MRAs and their platforms. Their concerns are real issues — such as men being more likely to commit suicide, more likely to be incarcerated, less likely to win full custody of children in divorce cases, etc. Still, I will start this off by saying that I solidly identify as a feminist and none of my forays into the world of MRA have done anything to dispel that one bit.

This is mostly because feminism isn’t about who is “the most oppressed gender.” It’s about lifting up women politically and socially and putting an end to gender-based oppression. There is no reason a person can’t be a feminist and also support the right of men to put an end to gender-based issues that affect them as well.

However, time and time again crusaders for MRA have painted feminists as their enemies rather than recognizing that they themselves are essentially hindered by the same forces that oppress women and should be working on ways to tackle the issues together.

I, and most other feminists as well, fully acknowledge the damaging effects that patriarchy and gendered expectations can have on the male psyche. Men are more likely to successfully commit suicide, to suffer from substance abuse disorders and in many cases feel that they need to conceal their emotions and avoid mental health discussions out of fear that people will perceive them as weak.

Homophobia damages male friendships and discourages emotional bonds between men that women typically have few reservations about forming with one another. Male victims of abuse or rape are frequently told to “man up” or are laughed at and told by other men that they should have enjoyed it or fought back.

As they approach old age, men typically become more isolated than women, lacking the close social bonds and emotional tools that women of similar age have been equipped with. The death of a spouse typically causes more self-reported distress in male partners than female ones, as men often rely on their partner as a sole source of emotional support rather than maintaining close platonic friendships.

These issues are due to centuries of socialization and previous generations perpetuating the idea that men are supposed to be mentally strong, aggressive and self-sufficient, whereas men who are not are perceived as weak, impotent or worse — girly.

It is this same socialized expectation that paints women as weak, fickle and moody. In reality, there is very little difference in the way that men and women experience emotion or cognitive ability, and what little difference exists is likely due to socialization, especially as it gets smaller with each passing decade.

The case for MRA is thus a valid one. What I don’t understand, however, is how so many MRAs and anti-feminists use this type of platform as an argument against feminism or as evidence that women aren’t oppressed. Even if you ignore the historical oppression of women that took place for thousands of years and definitely hasn’t been completely undone in under a century, women’s issues still very much exist.

According to a compilation of statistics by The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, or UN Women, one in five women has experienced sexual violence in their lifetime, and women of all demographics are much more likely to be abused or killed by their intimate partner. Women make up 80 percent of human trafficking victims, 79 percent of which are trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation.

Even if one were to completely ignore these instances of social injustice as a real axis of oppression, feminist activism isn’t limited to the United States. The past two decades have laid witness to some very real and legal repression of women in many countries, with some governments going as far as having banned women from driving or walking without a chaperone. Over 60 million girls worldwide are child brides, and thousands of dowry-related deaths still occur in India.

In essence, patriarchy and gender stereotypes are hurting everyone, even men. Nobody in feminist circles is denying this. The tendency of MRAs and anti-feminists to blame their struggle on feminism rather than the toxic expectations of unyielding hypermasculinity and rigid gender roles created gradually by previous generations is regressive and will do nothing to solve gender disparities in any area of life.

If the MRA movement is to be taken seriously, it must first acknowledge that men’s issues and women’s issues are two sides of the same coin, not enemies, and you can’t fix one without fixing the other.

A MRA who is truly committed to his activism ought to be collaborating with feminists and working toward dismantling homophobia, misogyny and rigid gender roles as those are key contributors to his struggle. He will encourage other men to speak candidly and supportively with one another about issues of mental health, appreciate and express emotions and treat both women and other men with genuine respect and compassion.

It is entirely possible to be passionate about solving men’s issues while also being pro-feminist. Only by uniting against the true sources of gender-based oppression can we begin to move toward true social equality and a better life for everyone.

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