I feel that I should start this post with a clear statement that I have nothing intrinsically against feminism. It has had, and still does have, a role to play in advocating equality and human rights for oppressed women throughout the world. There – I’ve said it. Now to the but…
There are a couple of common misconceptions propagated by, or about, the “feminist movement” which, I am afraid, really get my goat. In case anyone wonders why I used quotation marks in the previous sentence, it is because there is no such thing as a unified feminist movement: feminism is an umbrella term covering a very wide range of views and actions, ranging from the highly laudable to the downright absurd. Back to the buts…
Misconception 1. Feminism is defined as the struggle for equality for all: if you believe in gender equality, you are a feminist – wrong
I often have discussions with feminist friends and colleagues, who gleefully throw this back at me, pointing to an article quoting the above, and saying “There, told you so! Feminism is about equality for all”. Sorry, just not true, at any level. While individual feminists may, and occasionally do, believe in equality for all, the “struggle” is strictly limited to instances where women are the ones disadvantaged. This is reflected in the way feminism and feminists are defined in the most commonly used English dictionaries (my bold).
1: the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes – Merriam-Websters
2: organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests – Merriam-Websters
These definitions reflect the reality of the situation: feminists claim to be something they are not when they say they are seeking equality for all. The danger of allowing a misrepresentation like this to go unchallenged is that it leads to completely unfounded accusations such as the one I saw on a blog a few days ago saying “If you are not a feminist, you are sexist”. I resent this because I believe very much in real gender equality, but I would absolutely deny being a feminist, as feminism is only half the story.
We need a new word to describe the unbiased search for equality: “humanism” may have been a good candidate, but unfortunately has been appropriated for use in a religious, or perhaps anti-religious context. The word “feminism” is not bad, it just describes accurately what is inside the box. If we really want to search for successful, sustainable gender equality, we need a new word to describe a new movement that tackles men’s issues as well as women’s. Even Emma Watson’s famous speech, in which she broke the feminist mould by daring to admit that perhaps men had problems too, is not reflected in the content of the Heforshe website, which merely calls on men to support women’s issues and ignores men’s issues completely.
Misconception 2. Feminism benefits men as much as women – wrong
It is true that feminism may benefit men indirectly in some ways. For example, having more women exercising their talents in the workplace, politics and public life has to be a good thing, provided they are there because they are the best people for the job. Men also benefit from the fact that they are slowly becoming a little less likely to be perceived as having the main responsibility to provide for the family, which may well be a contributing factor in the slow narrowing of the life expectancy gap between men and women.
I accept that there are examples such as these arising from the general trend towards gender equality, but I haven’t yet been able to find any examples of feminist organisations actively campaigning to correct an inequality where men are the ones disadvantaged. Maybe you have examples you can send me.
(send them in a comment and I will put them in the box after verification…I can always make the box bigger if you send me lots…Go on – chase the flying pigs away!
There have been a very limited number of specific examples of men benefiting directly as a result of the move towards gender equality, although they can hardly be attributed to direct action by feminists. One example is the equalisation of state pension ages (in the UK), which was pushed through by the Department of Work and Pensions and opposed by the then Minister for Women and Equalities. Even now, we still have the unbelievable situation where (at the time of writing) a 63 year old man pays around 25% more tax than a 63 year old woman on the same salary.
This would not be tolerated for ten seconds if the situations were reversed, but the inequality will not finally disappear until December 2018. Where is the feminist outrage on behalf of the male victims? Why is the Minister for Equality not jumping up and down and screaming about this deliberate, legally enshrined discrimination? Which gender is being discriminated against, I wonder?
In another example, Norway has recently become the first European country to extend its military service laws so that women now have exactly the same obligation to do National Service as men. It is about time that this became a burden which no longer automatically falls only on male shoulders and, if equality means anything at all, should become the norm in those countries that still have obligatory military service. This move to end a huge discrimination against men was opposed by the Norwegian Minister of Equality. Two examples of Equality Ministers, who would no doubt claim to be feminists, resisting clear moves towards equality in cases where men are disadvantaged!
There are many other examples of men being at the sharp end of gender discrimination, but they are for previous or subsequent posts.
So what, in my humble view, is feminism? Feminism is exactly what it says on the box. It serves a useful and necessary purpose, especially when it comes to helping seriously disadvantaged women in some parts of the world. It is not generally anti-male or man-hating, although some extreme forms of it certainly are. However, the movement in no way represents the interests of men, and fights for equality only when those disadvantaged are women. That does not make it a bad thing, unless it misquotes facts or misuses statistics to do so, but it does mean that feminists are being dishonest and hypocritical if they claim that their movement is synonymous with the struggle for equality for all. Perhaps one of you can prove me wrong, with concrete examples. I believe strongly in gender equality and I think that some feminist causes are just and laudable. I am not, however, a feminist.