I sincerely congratulate you on your courageous and heart-felt speech to the United Nations a few months ago. I was particularly impressed by your even-handed approach and the way in which you highlighted the fact that men, too, experience discrimination. I recently reread the transcript and, filled with optimism and enthusiasm, went to the website ready to sign up. Unfortunately, at the point when I should have been clicking the button, I didn’t feel able to do so. I truly want to join and support a campaign that is genuinely and actively seeking equality for both men and women, so I thought I should tell you why I was so disappointed by the complete lack of any support for men on the HeforShe website.
I am prompted to write this letter now by recent events in Lithuania, which demonstrate the fickle and one-sided nature of feminism. In that country, conscription was abolished around ten years ago. They have just re-introduced it – for men only. Lithuanian feminists have been quite vocal in recent years. Where are they now? Why are they not demonstrating to be conscripted along with the men? I won’t go into the arguments against male-only conscription here as they are set out in another post. Suffice it to say that it is just another case of feminists showing their total lack of commitment to seeking genuine equality. The female president is a supposedly equality-seeking feminist!
We have a European Charter of Human Rights that guarantees freedom from forced labour and gender discrimination for all: unless you have the misfortune to be a young man, that is. Several European countries still have military service for young men, with no similar obligation, of any kind, for young women. This is both forced labour and gender discrimination (but check out Article 4, Section 3b). Where are the feminist demands for equality? Feminists are quick to demand the right to equal opportunities in the armed forces, but slow to demand equal obligations. Norway, bless its equality-driven cotton socks, is the only European country to have military service with exactly the same obligations on both men and women.
In a similar vein, we all know that women are not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, this is widely publicised and quoted as an example of suppression of women’s rights. What is less widely known is that many states in the US, men are unable to apply for a driving licence without registering for Selective Service (“the draft”). They also face many other draconian sanctions, such as being banned from applying for federal jobs, being liable for massive fines and being refused student grants. The obligation to register for Selective Service does not apply to women. Read the details and remember that these penalties apply only to men: those outside the US will find it difficult to believe that gender discrimination of this magnitude still exists in the Land of the Free. Where are the vocal feminist groups campaigning to end this scandalous gender discrimination? I would suggest that if the army boot of discrimination was on the other foot, this particular anachronism would have been kicked into touch many years ago.
From the content of your speech, I thought that, at last, we may have a movement that would be focused on acting to correct discrimination against both men and women: that would look at both sides. That was the optimistic thought that led me to go to the HeforShe website. I don’t, as you suggested in your speech, hate the word feminism, nor the movement itself. I do not hate feminists. I support many of the aims of feminist groups. However, I reject the notion that feminism is, in any way, a voice raised in the defense of men. It is simply what it says on the box: a movement to end discrimination when the victims are female.
As you so rightly said, men, too, are the victims of discrimination, but this discrimination is rarely discussed, certainly not by politicians and others with a high-profile, who are afraid to stick their head over the parapet and risk a feminist backlash. You mentioned in your speech some examples, such as the much greater rate of suicide among men compared to women, but there are more. I don’t want to labour the point too much, so I will give just three examples where there is an ignored male dimension to a popular cause:
The week before the kidnapping of over 200 schoolgirls by Boko Haram, with all of the accompanying media outrage and very laudable “Bring Back Our Girls” campaign, 59 boys were burned alive by the same terrorist group, this merited about one column inch on an inside page of my national broadsheet newspaper! Only a short time ago, around 40 boys and young men were kidnapped by Boko Haram to be forced, we assume, to be child soldiers: to kill or be killed. Again, about one column inch on an inside page. Where are the high profile celebrities heading a “Bring Back Our Boys” campaign? I suppose there were only 40 of them and they had the misfortune of being only boys!
We know that FGM is an abhorrent act, and is rightly and widely condemned. It is, quite rightly, the subject of various campaigns and is illegal in many countries. I wholeheartedly support every effort to wipe it out. However, every day thousands of boys, often babies, undergo genital mutilation, often in unhygienic conditions and without anaesthetic. This agonising process (warning – not pleasant!) is legal and unchallenged in most countries. Why do we not campaign to end “Genital Mutilation”, rather than just leave these male babies to their fate?
On International Women’s’ Day last year, the Home Secretary announced Clare’s Law as if it were something that applied only to women. One-third of the victims of domestic violence are men and Clare’s Law allows men, as well as women, to seek information about new partners. You wouldn’t know this from the way it was launched. Male victims must have been left feeling completely unsupported. At least one national newspaper was forced to publish a correction following gender biased reporting of the law.
I am afraid that I do not agree with your basic premise that feminism is the struggle for equality for all. Feminism works towards equality in cases where women are disadvantaged: occasionally men may benefit, but this is by happenchance rather than design. I accept that this is the case, that the feminist movement has a very important role to play, and that there are very many cases throughout the world where woman are severely disadvantaged. My only complaint about feminism is its false claim to be seeking equality for all.
So, Emma, I hoped from your speech that your campaign was going to be genuinely even-handed and I was keen to support it. I have to say that I was hugely disappointed to find that it was just more of the same old story: support the women, forget the men. What a missed opportunity!
Instead of words to the effect of “He for She: I agree to take action against all forms of violence and discrimination faced by women and girls.”, why not “He for She and She for He: I agree to take action against all forms of violence and discrimination ”? It seems to me that this would have reflected much more closely the content and sentiment of your speech.
P.S. If you make it “HeforShe and SheforHe”, I will join AND buy the cufflinks AND the pin…