Talking unabashedly about feminism has made me increasingly aware of a major issue: the way in which “feminism” is frequently perceived as “man-hating.”
There’s no shame in being vocal about our feminism—in fact, it’s kind of important. After all, the only way to confront issues like rape culture, the objectification of women, and outdated gender roles is if we actually talk about them.
When I first started talking about feminism, I heard women make comments like, “I’m not a feminist because I don’t hate men,” so I knew about the association going in. At the same time, I figured that very few people would associate me as a man-hater, simply because I knew that I would be careful about the way that I talked. I would make sure that nothing I said sounded hateful, for two reasons:
One: Because I don’t believe in fighting hate with hate, or think that I will be taken seriously if I do sound hateful.
Two: Because I don’t hate men. I hate toxic masculinity, sure (more on that later), but men as a group are great. I’m not going to dismiss them all based solely on the fact that they associate themselves with a specific gender.
And yet, even while being careful about what I say, I’ve still received multiple responses that insinuate that all feminists (and, by extension, me) are man-haters.
I’ve had people respond to a perfectly inclusive feminist discussion by saying, “You’re right; women are better,” when that wasn’t at all what I was trying to say. I’ve had people say, “It’s weird to hear you talk like that, because most feminists are man-haters,” when that isn’t my usual experience. And oddest of all, even when I’m not even talking about feminism, I’ve had people make comments such as, “Well, you know how Ciara feels about men,” as though they immediately assume that because I talk about feminism sometimes, I have negative feelings toward men.
And I don’t. I really don’t. In fact, part of identifying as an intersectional feminist means that I actively try to avoid having any negative feelings toward any group of people who just happened to be born a certain way.
So why is this such a common assumption that people make?
Well, it isn’t any secret that this idea of the man-hating feminist has become a common one in popular culture. We hear talk of “feminazis” as if, somewhere in the world, there is actually group of feminists who round men up and lock them away in concentration camps (just to be clear, this has never happened in the history of the planet). We hear about bra-burning feminists who scream in people’s faces to get sh*t done, to turn the order of the world upside down so that women rule and men obey.
But the odd thing about these images is that they don’t reflect the reality of feminism and its goals at all.
Ask anyone who identifies as a feminist, and chances are they will tell you the same thing: feminism is not about giving women a position of superiority over men. If anyone is clambering to turn men into slaves and dogs, they are extremists and do not reflect the views of the average feminist. By definition, feminism is about creating a society of equality, one where nobody is limited by their gender. A society where women can lead the country and where men can express emotion.
And that brings me to another point: feminism does not solely concern women. Feminism primarily concerns women, sure—women are the ones who generally see the biggest changes in their lives because of it. But they are not the ones. Many feminist issues involve men, and not just as perpetrators. This is because feminism is not a battle between men and women; feminism is a battle between feminists (male and female alike) and the patriarchy.
The patriarchy is the name given to a traditional set of societal rules that enforce the idea that men and everything associated with male-ness is superior to women and everything associated with female-ness. And believe it or not, the patriarchy hurts men too. The patriarchy is what enforces the idea that men must be tough and unemotional. The patriarchy demands that men be providers for their family, that they make good money, protect their women from any threats, that they even want to choose women in the first place and aren’t, in fact, gay.
The hard truth about many of these expectations is that they aren’t easy to live up to. Some men have a difficult time providing for their families, and if they are unable to do so, they face a sense of failure, an inability to be “manly.” All men are born with emotions, but the patriarchy demands that they don’t express them, that they bury them deep down and bear that burden alone, resulting in a difficult time expressing themselves and inevitable feelings of loneliness. And because the patriarchy views men as tough, when they are the victims of rape or abuse it isn’t unusual for people to doubt them, simply because they’re men and “should have” been able to fight off their attacker—especially if their attacker was (according to the patriarchy) a weak and fragile woman.
The patriarchy also expresses an odd perspective when it comes to men and children, including their own. In the eyes of the patriarchy, men are not natural parents in the way that women are. Therefore, when they take care of their children they are “babysitting.” Women are considered the primary caregivers; men are merely helping out. This can be a problem for the woman, most certainly, but it is also a problem for the man who wants to be taken seriously as his child’s father.
Furthermore, the patriarchy is also responsible for what is sometimes called “toxic masculinity,” a set of learned behaviours that society pushes on men specifically, but are ultimately harmful, both to the man displaying them and to others. An example of toxic masculinity would be a display of violence, an act that is frequently done to prove a man’s toughness, but can be dangerous and even life-threatening. Other examples of toxic masculinity would include misogyny, homophobia, and sexual assault.
But toxic masculinity is not something that is innate to the male gender as a whole, and it is not a set of behaviours displayed by every man. When I say that toxic masculinity is something that needs to end, I am not referring to men as a whole, nor to masculinity as a whole. All that I am saying is that we as a society need to stop teaching boys from such a young age that they need to turn to such extremes to prove their maleness, because doing so only hurts them and others in the long run.
And these are issues that feminism is trying to fight. Feminism wants men to be able to show emotion, to allow their wives to provide for them if that dynamic works better, to not feel any shame if they don’t quite live up to what society demands that they be.
Feminism is about equality, and that equality includes men.
Feminism is not an exclusive club either; men can identify as feminists just as much as women can. In fact, many male celebrities have stood up for feminism in the media, including Patrick Stewart, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Daniel Radcliffe. Even the Dalai Lama has outright referred to himself as a feminist.
These are not men who are actively fighting against their own interests; they are men who believe in equality. Equality for the women in their lives to have command over their own bodies and to pursue whatever they want in life, as well as equality for men to have emotion and be taken seriously as their child’s parent.
Author: Ciara Hall
Editor: Emily Bartran
Supervising Editor 1: Catherine Monkman
Supervising Editor 2: Catherine Monkman