- Men don’t know who or what they are anymore because of feminism.
- Men are oppressed by feminism.
- Feminism says that men and women are equal, but we’re not!
Is this so? What follows is one man’s perspective. I do not claim this to be truth – simply my understanding. It is also, by necessity, simplified.
Let me begin by summarising this perspective in four proposals, which I will elaborate upon over the next two blogpieces:
- Feminism is misunderstood by men (and some women).
- Feminism is not the problem that many men make it out to be. The problem is patriarchy.
- Feminism has not achieved what it set out to do. It has been (in many instances) diverted from that goal.
- Men are also oppressed by patriarchy, and have something to benefit from understanding and supporting feminism.
Feminism Is Misunderstood
Let’s go back to the 1960s. In that decade women began to meet together in “consciousness raising” groups. Out of these groups a movement was born (perhaps better thought of as re-born when we think of the women’s rights movements of the 18th1 and 19th centuries.) This movement became known as “Women's Liberation.” Very soon, the (male) media subjected this movement to what the powerful often do – minimise and belittle, and dubbed it “Women's Lib.” Perhaps because of this, the term “feminism” became the more popular name. Today, the name has morphed into “gender equality.”
In that naming and renaming journey, “liberation” got dropped and was replaced by “equality.” Indeed, one of the early feminist writers from the 1960/70s, Germaine Greer, caustically noted that “feminism aimed at liberation, but settled for equality.” She later expanded on this by saying, “… seekers after equality clamoured to be admitted to smoke-filled male haunts.”
So – how is liberation different from equality? Equality suggests assimilation. Women are assimilated into male domains, in much the same way as indigenous people are assimilated into western culture. Assimilation and equality imply getting rid of difference. Liberation, however, asserts and celebrates difference.
Furthermore, if feminism means women becoming equal with men, then that implies that men and masculinity are the gold standard to be measured against. Hardly liberation, and hence, not feminism in its original sense.
Feminism Is Not The Problem
… and nor (I might add) are men, per se. The problem, according to the early feminist writers, is a system called “patriarchy.” Patriarchy is a self-referring, self-justifying, and self-supporting system of beliefs, values and power. Patriarchy asserts that “male” values, qualities and behaviours are paramount. It rewards those who display and aspire to these. Furthermore, patriarchy, like most systems, is largely invisible to those within it, because it is portrayed as being; normal, traditional, the-way-it-is, or simply “just because.”
Within the system of patriarchy the lessons we learn accumulate in our lives and we come to internalise them. The longer this goes on, the harder it is to see that these lessons are not necessarily normal or “the truth.” Then, not being able to see the system for what it is, it is difficult to gain distance from it.
The early feminists were right to point the finger at this oppressive system and to catalogue the range of institutions and establishments that make it up (e.g. marriage, bureaucracy, business, politics, the media, education, science, religion …) They were also correct to note that women participating in these establishments supported these establishments, and did nothing to enhance the liberation of women (or men for that matter – but I’ll get to that.)
Two examples from politics serve to illustrate this:
- Margaret Thatcher became “successful” and powerful because she aspired to be as domineering as men. Indeed, she became moreso to “prove” her masculine values and abilities.
- Julia Gillard, on the other hand, attempted to bring her “feminine” values and behaviour into the realm of politics. She was side-lined and ridiculed within the political arena and by the media circus, and eventually tossed out of politics.2
The next blog will expand upon the other two proposals – i.e. feminism has not achieved its goal, and men are also oppressed under patriarchy.
1. Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Women was published in 1792.
2. Margaret Thatcher (aka the Iron Lady) was Prime Minister of Great Britain from 1979 to 1990. Julia Gillard was the Prime Minister of Australia from 2010 to 2013.