Updated: 6 days ago
We teach children to be afraid of fear, weakness and vulnerability. We teach them to hide who they really are, because they have to be, as they say in Nigeria, tough men.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, We Should All Be Feminists.
Are you a feminist?
A seemingly simple question.
You would think that in our increasingly inclusive society, this question would generally yield an affirmative response. But it surprises me how often this question provokes a hesitant pause, a blustering, non-committal scoff, a laugh, or at times, concerningly, a blunt ‘no’.
Curious to discover the reasons behind these responses, I began questioning them (which I admit, didn’t always go down as well as I had anticipated). But regardless of how these often-complex conversations went, I wanted to, or rather, needed to know the reasons why some people remained tentative about aligning themselves with feminism; politically, socially and financially.
What I discovered was fascinating. It wasn’t so much the movement or even the theory they found problematic, rather it was the word “feminism”. You see for them the word was imbued with a misinformed cultural stereotype. They were more troubled by what they thought the word signified, rather than feminist ideology itself.
Here are a few of my favourites: ‘most feminists don’t like men’ (incorrect), feminists complain all the time (sigh), feminists just want women to be superior (um, no), feminists aren’t helping us to eradicate gender stereotypes (not true), feminists think that the traditionally ‘feminine’ sphere is bad (wrong, wrong, WRONG).
Feminism is the belief in the social, economic and political equality of the sexes.
So, if you believe that this should be the case (and most people do), then you are a feminist.
Image Courtesy of Wix
While feminism has historically advocated for the rights of women by shedding light on the inequalities inherent in a patriarchal society, what we fail to talk about is how feminist theory acknowledges how the patriarchy harms boys and men too. Being a feminist then isn’t about any of the misassumptions I listed above, and it isn’t just about women’s rights. At its heart, feminism recognises how gender inequality affects us all.
If we accept this (and we should), then the inherited resistance surrounding a person’s self-identification as a feminist becomes quite frankly, tiring, because it is born out of misinformation.
At the same time as championing the rights of women, feminists also work to dissipate and dismantle toxic masculinity – feminism fights for boys and men too.
And it is right to.
With suicide remaining the most virulent killer of men under the age of 45 alongside the shocking stat that men between the ages of 45 and 49 are the most likely to commit suicide, we have to take toxic masculinity seriously.
Discussing suicide is incredibly complex and painful, and I recognise that the cause of each individual suicide is the result of a unique set of circumstances, however, we cannot ignore the fact that traditional gender tropes are all-too-often, a contributing factor.
Evident throughout the generations, boys have too-often been conditioned to subsume complex emotion. While vulnerability, fear and sadness are taboo, anger is allowed. But with anger being the only socially acceptable emotional outlet offered to boys and men, they become trapped within society’s damaging ideal of masculinity: being angry means being powerful. If men show any other emotion, they are emasculated - ‘boys don’t cry’ right?
But how does all of this link with feminism? Well, as we already know, feminism campaigns for gender equality, and for gender equality to be achievable, patriarchal expectation needs to be eradicated.
If this happens, what we must start recognising is that both women and men are liberated because in a truly feminist world neither are expected to adhere to the gender mandates imposed upon them. In a truly feminist world, men are released from gender inequity in the same way as women.
Feminism therefore offers both sexes the opportunity to rewrite their predetermined narrative, to veer off the narrow trajectory set out for them.
Feminism is emancipatory for both sexes. Feminism is for boys too.
If you enjoyed this article you may want to explore:
Boys Don't Cry, Malorie Blackman
The Macho Paradox, Jackson Katz
We Should All Be Feminists, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie